A Strange Thing to Fear

Fear is a common conversation topic this time of year, as decorated pumpkins take residence on porches and stoops, season lattes feature on every coffee shop menu, mainstream and hipster alike, and Freeform starts airing Hocus Pocus seventy times in a week.

Personally, I’ve got a couple of common fears. Spiders/insects. Open ocean. Mascots. The potential for an alien invasion. Clowns, for the most part. Talking on the phone. You know, the usual. One, however, might not be considered so… normal.

I just recently found out it has a name: kosmemophobia, the fear of jewelry. I’m reluctant to officially say I have this phobia, because I’ve never been formally diagnosed, but jewelry really does skeeve me out, to the point where it occasionally infringes on my life. I don’t want to touch jewelry, I don’t want it to touch me, I would prefer to be nowhere near it, and if I do have to touch it for whatever reason, I wash my hands numerous times afterward. Shaking hands with people who are wearing rings makes my skin crawl. Hugging people who have earrings on freaks me out. Just the word “earrings” makes me want to gag. I also don’t like little pieces of metal like paperclips, but that is far more manageable. My sister is getting married next year and I’ve already told her that, although I’m in the wedding party, I will not be wearing any jewelry.

This has been the case since I was a child, which is corroborated by my mother. I briefly had my ears pierced (thanks, peer pressure) and that was a traumatic experience I hope to never re-live. I will go the rest of my life without wearing any jewelry and I will be 100% a-okay with that. I lived a good portion of my life thinking that this fear is “weird” and I should grin and bear it for the sake of appearing “normal,” but now, I don’t really apologize for it. It’s not so extreme that I can’t handle it on a daily basis and I’m not really crippled by it, but I’m also not going to put myself in situations where I am massively uncomfortable just to keep up appearances. Honestly, I could have it a lot worse. I truly feel for the folks who have a strange fear who can’t function in certain situations or environments because of it.

I think people with uncommon phobias can at least take comfort in the fact that they are not alone, and someone somewhere out there likely endures the same type of spine-tingling apprehension they do toward the root of their fear. This time of year might be tough for some who fear the thought of Pennywise in the drains or Freddy Kruger in their dreams, but I have no fear of ghosts, goblins, or ghouls… unless they’ve got a necklace on.

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Scary Neighbor Lady

A few years ago, the trick-or-treat night in my neighborhood fell on an evening in which my last college class for the day ended at 6:30 PM. I lived alone at the time, and, as bad as it makes me sound, I had no interest in participating in trick-or-treat. I usually just turn the lights off so the folks walking around with their kids will know not to ring the doorbell. But, since I’d forgotten that I would be pulling into my driveway right smack in the middle of the event, I feared that I would have to suffer through being pestered by eager children hankering for some sugar. Plus, I had no candy in the house, though I did have plenty of carrot sticks, which are not generally a hit with the youth.

Nevertheless, I heated up some microwaveable macaroni and cheese for dinner (I was the pinnacle of health in those days), set up camp in my kitchen, and started to pound out my homework for the night. My computer was located in my kitchen nook, which was, unfortunately, positioned right next to a window. Therefore, from the right angle, the passing groups of ravenous candy-seekers could likely see me sitting there. I was absolutely certain that my doorbell would ring at least a few times and I would either have to ignore it, or tell the poor little ghosts, witches, and Iron Men that I had nothing to give them.

I sat, ate my dinner, and worked on an essay about the movie I’d just seen in film class. Through the window, I could see the kids walking about, going door to door, their laughter and cheer muffled through the pane. Reveling in their Three Musketeers, Hershey Bars, Skittles, and my personal favorite, Bottle Caps. Yet, though I expected it, not a single child rang my doorbell.

My porch light was on (I used to turn it on before I left the house for late classes, and had done so out of habit earlier that day) and I was plainly visible through the kitchen window, eating mac n’cheese and typing away at my desktop, and still, no one rang my doorbell.

In an attempt to pinpoint the reason why the neighborhood folks would be avoiding my house, since I was a relatively reclusive neighbor and spoke only to the people who lived to the right of me and the family across the street (the family across the street were GREAT neighbors and gave me free firewood during Snowtober in ’11,) I remembered an instance where, after seeing some of the neighborhood kids playing in my yard without permission, I yelled at them out the window to, essentially, “Get off my lawn.” There was a sort of “drop-off” in the yard marked with stones that was all-too-easy to tumble off and cause injury, which I did not want to be held accountable for. I mean, I could have been nicer about it or chosen some gentler phrasing, but if you’re gonna get kids who aren’t related to you and who are blatantly ignoring your property line in the first place to listen to you, you gotta be firm. At my behest, they scattered like the soot sprites in My Neighbor Totoro, and I never had to yell at them again. 

I suppose, at that time, I did not realize the toll my reprimand would have on my neighborly reputation. On that chilly October night, as all of the trick-or-treaters avoided my stoop, I came to realize that I had, in the eyes of a humble New England neighborhood, become the Scary Neighbor Lady.

But, instead of lamenting this, I decided to embrace it. So what if I could strike fear into the hearts of children with one bellow of “GET OFF MY LAWN!”? I’d never actually harm a kid, so I figured I might as well embrace my new reputation and use it to my advantage instead of trying to change it.

Although I never had to yell at the neighborhood kids again, they did end up fooling around in my yard one more time that I can recall, only it was the front yard instead of the back. My car was in the garage at the time, so they likely thought I wasn’t home. There’s a stone-lined drop-off onto my driveway that, if a child had fallen off, could cause pretty serious injury, so I definitely didn’t want them playing out there unsupervised. But before I could open the window to say anything to them, I met the gaze of one of the kids through the windowpane, and saw his eyes go wide with terror. I sharpened my glare, and that was enough. He motioned to his comrades to flee, and they sprinted away from my house and down the street, to play in some other neighbors yard, I assume.

I’ve since moved away, and have no such reputation in my current residence, but I like to think I’ve become an urban legend at my old stomping grounds, and that on trick-or-treat nights, the neighborhood kids still refuse to stop at “Scary Neighbor Lady’s” house.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Stress

Stress is my mortal enemy.

…Well, stress and woodpeckers, but the former occurs far more frequently than the latter.

I am always curious to know how others folks handle their stress, because I struggle with it and have yet to find a solution that sticks, especially now that I’ve more or less kicked my caffeine addiction (3 cups a day is my max, now) and can’t rely solely on coffee to soothe my nerves. I know coffee should have the reverse effect – for me, it’s more of a tranquilizer than a stimulant. It even makes me fall asleep.

I envy the “water off a duck’s back” kind of people, who don’t let negativity and pressure get to them – or, if it does, they are able to channel it in a productive manner or not show how badly it irks them. If I go into a day with a smile and good intentions, one stressful situation can throw me totally off-course. My fitbit often starts registering an accelerated heart-rate when my stress levels bubble up, and my natural expression is one of anger – I’m not even mad most of the time, but I assume it’s just my inner stress making itself known.

I guess those fidget spinner things that recently popped up are meant to help with that sort of thing; to assist with stress and anxiety. I tried it out, and let me tell you, it made me even more irritated. And when I see someone using one in public I feel the intense urge to slap it out of their hands. However, I used to carry a stress ball around in my purse and and it worked pretty well if I was on the go, especially while waiting in line at the grocery store or whenever I was forced to be in the presence of obnoxious children. Or adults. Recently, I’ve discovered shimmer pillows – and they are SO SOOTHING. I have no idea why or how it works, but I find them extremely calming.

Stress is a good thing sometimes, because it does, in a way, show dedication and perseverance. It shows that you care about doing a good job, or that you want a certain outcome and are bothered by the aspect of failure. But in large doses, it is a detriment – a productivity-killer. A blood-pressure raiser. Because in the throes of stress, it’s all to easy to plummet down the negativity slope and end up wallowing in a pit of frustration and despair, surrounded by “What ifs?” and worst-case scenarios.

I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to channel my stress and negativity into something productive or useful, and I’ve had some minimal success thus far. Stress often manifests itself into discouragement, for me – which, as a writer, is a total killer. But I’ve found that forcing myself to face my fears and confront the stress instead of hunkering down into a ball of blankets and waiting for it to pass, opening up a blank document and pounding out a free-write or some new chapters instead of throwing my hands up in failure, is the way to go. Stress is natural – I’ve faced the fact that I’ll never get rid of it entirely, because it’s just who I am. But I can learn to adapt and handle it better than I have in the past, and I’ve resolved to do just that.

And thus, I am curious – how do you handle stress?

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Sunlight

I used to think that sunsets signified “ending.” The final pink-orange slice of daylight to usher in the moon and stars. Relaxing on the porch with a nice drink or an evening latte and watching the sun dip below the horizon after a long, strenuous day or work or school. A time for unwinding and reflecting, appreciation for what has transpired, or relief at the approach of dusk.

20170731_052309Sunrises seem more like “beginnings.” The first glimpse of dawn, a pink-kissed morsel of hope breaching the darkness. The promise of something new, of a fresh start, often accompanied by the whir of a coffee-maker turning on or the crisp turning of newspaper pages. A time for aspirations, for sleepers to wake, for eagerness for the future, and setting down the right foot to progress with the waking day and hopefully accomplish something.

Often, sunsets and sunrises are presented in a “one or the other” type of scenario, but my answer to the “sunset or sunrise?” question has shifted more than once. With my job’s hours, I see both of them most every day. If I work an overnight shift, I come home to the sunrise, but if I work a mid-shift, I come home to the sunset, and both are their own unique experience. I used to think I preferred sunsets, but then I flipped to sunrises, and then flopped back. They each have their high and low points, their pros and cons; sometimes, they are even difficult to distinguish from one another.

I don’t think of sunsets as endings or sunrises as beginnings anymore, but rather, they are simply moments to indulge in; they don’t have to mean anything particularly significant. A sunrise can be an ending, a sunset can be a beginning, or they can just be snippets of beauty along a longer, winding road. If I’m lucky enough to get to watch the sun sink behind the distant mountains or rise and conquer the fallen night, then I just focus on seeing it, and appreciating it for what it is; a beautiful sight.

Maybe we don’t have to be sunset people, or sunrise people. Maybe we can all be both, and enjoy the endings as much as the beginnings, and appreciate their beauty.

This has been my pretentious musing mini-post for the week, stay tuned for a new Game of Thrones inspired post on Friday, all about recruiting new people to join “the Watch.”

Film Review: Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

Dir: Miguel Arteta
Starring: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Chloe Sevigny, etc.
Runtime: 1hr 23min
Rating: R
Spoiler Level: Super lite

After viewing this film, I’ll say one thing for certain; I am so glad that I was not invited to this dinner.

Beatriz_at_Dinner.jpgBeatriz at Dinner follows the titular character, an employee/massage therapist at a cancer treatment center, who ends up staying for dinner at a client’s house when her car fails to start. Beatriz attempts to navigate the evening while reflecting on her personal circumstances and how they compare and collide with the wealthy lives she is surrounded by, ultimately creating tension between her and powerful businessman Doug Strutt.

The film follows a relatively simple premise, and is buoyed by the stellar performances from the cast. Hayek is brilliant as Beatriz, the central character, and capably delivers a range of tangible emotion, from quiet, tempered despair, to deeply-rooted resentment, to cautious hope for the future. Lithgow is irritatingly good as Doug Strutt; I love Lithgow, but definitely felt that he needed a good punch in the face for this role. Britton, Sevigny, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, and David Warshofsky all play their parts as poised, simpering, shallow, occasionally frustrating, and yet multi-layered members of this dinner party. Each character could easily be a real person and each actor delivers a convincing and thought-provoking  performance with complexities that make it difficult to really hate any of them, with perhaps the exception of Lithgow. Everybody knows somebody like each of the dinner guests, and that is the strength of the film; it is a believable tale, with believable people and a relevant message. Even the “bad guy” isn’t just a standard corporate suit caricature; he’s got layers, like an onion. But the film is mostly carried by Hayek; the camera follows her every move, analyzes every tiny facial expression, and navigates her story, though it never really delves deep enough into her psyche to give us a clear picture of Beatriz’s motivations or the underlying reasons for her conflict with Strutt. There are clues left, and theories that can be woven together to make some semblance of an answer, but much of Beatriz’s psyche remains a mystery, even as the film draws to a close.

Since the film takes place predominately over the course of a single dinner, the pacing is a bit slow, but there is enough happening that the progression does not feel like a tedious drag. The tone is fairly balanced, and the dialogue is believable; I feel like I’ve heard people having similar conversations and discussing similar topics, but the writing did not feel tired or overdone. The tension in the film is also palpable; as the dinner drifts into different topics and controversial statements, the awkwardness and discomfort is real. There were several parts that made me squirm in my seat, as the discomfort was practically radiating from the screen. It’s a film that creates a very definitive mood, and it succeeds in it’s ability to generate a realistic atmosphere and emulate situations and characters that could very well exist in the world today, and probably do.

Unfortunately, the film’s efforts at subtlety occasionally miss the mark and fall more ham-fisted than is intended, or fly too far beneath the radar to be thoroughly detected. Overall, the film utilizes a commentary that is easily applicable to the world today and features an extremely prevalent message about society/money/greed, and for the most part, it comes across beautifully, but there are moments where the film picks up steam only to abruptly lose momentum and grow aimless. The end also left me with more questions than answers, and though I think films that stir up questions and make the viewer wonder are often a good thing, Beatriz at Dinner raises a few too many ambiguities and the conclusion comes across as “unresolved.” However, for the performances and the commentary alone, the film is definitely worth checking out, though lingering mysteries and dangling threads might leave you more frustrated than appeased. But if you’re looking for an action-based thriller with a quick pace, then this dinner party isn’t for you.

Overall rating: 8/10

Writing Techniques: Time

I think most folks can agree that there isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish all the tasks that need to be done. But – and I’ll admit, I’m biased – I think this is especially true for folks with creative careers/ambitions.

Like many aspiring writers, I have to work a day job. I do full-time shift work in a field that is totally unrelated to writing, so my schedule varies from week to week and shifts from day to day. For example, this week my start times are 7AM, 5AM, 5AM, 3PM, 4PM. Sometimes I have to work overnights, then flip it around to dayside right after. There are occasional bouts of consistency, but it’s hard to develop a routine when just about every day I have to adjust what time I wake up, go to the gym, prepare meals, do chores, etc, in addition to a work schedule that frequently changes.

So, the struggle becomes finding time to write. My schedule is obviously not as demanding as some, but it can still be difficult to find the appropriate work/life/other work balance. I’ll admit, it isn’t often, but there are days where I’m on the go from 5AM-6PM and by the time I get home, eat dinner, and take a shower, exhaustion takes over and the last thing I have energy for is cracking open a Word document and trying to put competent thoughts down into writing.

Weirdly enough, it was easier for me to schedule writing time when I was in college and writing I’m With You, even though I worked 2 jobs for the majority of that time along with a full course load every semester, and a partial course load in the summers and winters. Fortunately, my schedule, while busy, was consistent from week-to-week, so for the entirety of my senior year I didn’t have to scramble my plans and obligations around to find a solid chunk of writing time. For a while, Fridays were also dedicated to writing from about mid-afternoon on; my most productive writing sessions occurred during that window. Friday nights were also dedicated to being in my pajamas by 5PM, having cereal for dinner, and watching at least 2 episodes of Hoarders, but that’s irrelevant…

I can imagine that it is hard for a lot of people to schedule time for writing; but it’s important to do so, especially if your days are hectic. “Oh, I’ll do it later” all too easily turns into hours passing by unnoticed, and suddenly, it’s 11 at night, your alarm is set to go off at 5AM, and you haven’t written so much as a word all day, and that is the worst kind of feeling.

My personal strategy to combat this is simple; set aside a designated time (15 minutes at minimum) depending on the day. A white-board weekly calendar hanging above my desk assists with this. It’s such a basic plan, but writing down my schedule for the day makes it much easier to visualize the breakdown of the time I do have, so I’m able to set aside a specific block for “writing time.” This doesn’t work 100% of the time, due to unforeseen circumstances popping up or last-minute plan/work schedule changes, but that’s the great thing about white boards! You can erase and start over, good as new!

Ideally, I try and fit at least a couple of hours of writing into each day, be it a blog post like this one, character development, free writes, actual drafting, or just dabbling with an outline or some new ideas. On my days off from work, I can sometimes spend an entire day at a Word document, pounding out potential content or shifting between a couple of different projects. Some days are more productive than others, and that’s fine. I might (and by might, I mean, I definitely do) look back on previous writing and cringe at how poor it is, even if I only jotted it down the day before. It’s all fine; it’s all part of the process. As long as I get something of substance down on paper or in a Word document each day, I chalk it up as a victory. Journaling also helps with this, because it ensures that I do at least a bit each day, even if it’s just a sentence or two.

And when those “unproductive” days happen – where my schedule allows for no writing at all – I try and do better the next day instead of calling myself a failure and wallowing in despair. I mean, I never shut my brain off, so when I can’t fend off a sudden brainstorm or have a stroke of creativity, I whip out my phone and text the idea to myself. On my phone, I have a massive text chain to myself that is just random snippets of dialogue, scenarios, or descriptions, and it’s actually been very helpful when I’m on the go and only have a few seconds to jot down an idea. This tactic really helps when I conjure up bits of dialogue and want to remember it exactly, because lord knows if I don’t make note of it immediately, I will forget when I sit down to formally type it out later. You can’t control when inspiration strikes; I find that I have to write it down quickly, in a text or scribbled on a sticky-note, unless I want to lose it.

So, the gist is, even when there’s no time, never stop trying to make time for writing. I know that when I don’t write for any notable length of time, I feel unfulfilled, and it makes it so difficult to build or maintain momentum. There are never two non-writing days in a row, ever. Life does get in the way; but it can’t be a permanent obstacle.

Worth 1000 Words #9: Snowtober 2011

Some of you, particularly those of you who reside in the northeastern United States, might remember the freak snowstorm of October 2011, which resulted in near state-wide power outages and general icy desolation in some areas.

383486_2063359704083_2085259487_nIt was Halloween weekend. My parents were visiting for a few days, and would be taking my grandmother (with whom I lived for a year and a half during college) back to PA with them for the winter. Saturday, afternoon, my father dropped me off at my second job, and all proceeded as normal… until the first fateful flakes began to fall. Within an hour or so, it was a full-on snow assault. I made it almost all the way through my shift, worriedly peeking out of the windows as white began to conquer the parking lot, until my dad appeared to pick me up and I bolted out the door.

The journey home was probably the most tense, stressful car ride of my life, but thankfully, my father is a skilled driver and we made it safely home. Had I been by myself, I never would have made it; the highway was a wasteland, the snow plummeted in droves, and cars were careening all over the place as folks tried to make it to their destination, dodging downed tree limbs and power lines.

Once back at home, the power had already gone out, so we dined on cold chicken by candlelight, dug out the spare blankets to stave off the bitter cold, lit a fire in the fireplace and played UNO to fight boredom, and mourned as our electronics slowly died. As the snow continued to fall, I fell asleep (beneath several layers) to the ominous snap-and-thud sound of breaking tree branches in the forest behind the house, praying that none would fall on the roof and crush me during the night.

The next day, New England was buried in snow/ice hell. Power was lost in a huge portion of the region (including almost all of Connecticut, if I remember correctly – I lived about ten minutes from the border) and because the weather was so wonky (it was warm right before the storm, then warm again immediately after) there was extensive damage that reached far beyond just NE. After I called out of work for the day, my parents and my grandmother left me to endure Snowtober alone, since I hadn’t heard anything about classes being cancelled for the following day or any time after. TO THIS DAY I STILL CANNOT FATHOM WHY THEY DID NOT IMMEDIATELY CANCEL CLASSES DUE TO THE DEVASTATION but regardless, I sat and waited it out. It was cold, boring, and I had no means of contact with the outside world. I did manage to get my homework done, though; we were covering Emerson and Thoreau in my American Literature class, and, in a true display of irony, our assignment was to read “Nature.” I didn’t laugh, nor did I develop a deep appreciation for transcendentalism as I paged through my literature textbook by candlelight, munching on a stale bagel.

I am proud of my alma mater, but I was NOT pleased to be going to class the following morning when over half of campus still had no power, despite the fact that the snow had already nearly melted. I am grateful, however, that the Writing Center where I worked still had power… I was able to charge all of my electronics in preparation for the long, dark night ahead. While I was there, doing homework and getting warm, the school released a statement announcing that classes were cancelled for the rest of the week, and students were advised to return home if possible.

This was AFTER they had us go to Monday classes, mind you; so classes were cancelled until the following Monday. I only went to one class on Monday, too, since night classes were cancelled and one of my professors wasn’t able to make it to campus regardless. It was very difficult to tamp the lid down on my rage, since I’d missed a free ride home with my parents the day before, and I couldn’t go for the less-expensive Amtrak option due to the massive power outage. Luckily, my dad loaned me money for a last minute plane ticket (which is quite a price-gouge for a day-before splurge) so I wouldn’t need to drive 6 hours solo through two snowpocalypse-plagued states in order to make my way home.

Driving home from campus that night (after the Writing Center closed) was a total nightmare, since power was still out and none of the traffic lights were operational. It was like driving through the zombie apocalypse sans zombies – though I was pleasantly surprised to see that my across-the-street neighbors, who were lovely people, had left some chopped wood for my fireplace on the front stoop. Things were looking up… until the next morning, I awoke to the shrill, shrieking tones of my burglar alarm blaring throughout the house. There were no intruders, I think it had something to do with the power outage. The alarm company also wouldn’t shut it off, because the house and account are not in my name, so I had to leap through several hoops to get them to have mercy on me (and my neighbors).

Less than five hours later, I’d been ferried to the airport by my godmother, and was nestled safely at home in PA with functional power. While at home, I did manage to snag 36 extra hours of work and by Thursday, I heard that power had been restored to my area of New England – which meant there had been 5 straight days of no power. I returned home on Sunday evening and life resumed as normal, as all traces of the Snowpocalypse began to fade away, and autumn picked up once more. It’s difficult to imagine how much difficulty and suffering a one-night snowfall can bring, but I hope to never experience another storm of the same magnitude ever again.