Susan Parrish Terry

My grandmother had four children in four years.  My mother is the oldest, then came my uncle Gary, then my aunt Susan, and last my aunt Inkie.

I give this background to help give an idea of the person that Susan was.  The family was a bit compressed — not only in age, but in physical space.  It turned my aunt Susan into a toughie.  In fact, Lil Toughie was how most people referred to her off and on for most of her life.  I can’t think of many people that were more appropriately named.  The name Susan has become almost iconic for a tough and practical woman.  Her middle name, Parrish, was her mother’s maiden name.  This set the stamp, I think, on her for a devotion to family.

My aunt Susan had pretty features and all, but that wasn’t the point.  She was an amazingly beautiful woman from force of personality — from the way her soul glowed, if you will.  It was something neither age nor illness could touch.  One of my cousins commented, “Isn’t she beautiful?” the day before she died.  What with how wasted her body was, that might sound like a crazy comment.  At first, I thought it was.  But Sam was right.   Susan was beautiful right to the end.  Her beauty was never about the perfections possible in youth, even when she had them, but the beauty that comes from being yourself just as hard as you can.   She was that right to the end.

Susan was an artist.  While she dabbled in various mediums, probably one of her favorite was to make art from the gifts the Rivah gave her.  Shells, tops from crab pots and driftwood found themselves in her hands to be turned into painting.  The paintings usually incorporated the textural elements and shape of whatever she found.  She turned empty crab shells into Santas (like all my family, she loved Christmas), painted beach scenes on crab pot tops, and took her inspiration from the wind and salt and water. 

She loved her family.  She was deeply in love and passionately devoted to her husband.  Her children were the world to her, and I can remember clearly the joy and pride she took in each one when they were born.  She loved more than anything to gather her family in close to her.  Over the course of her life, she invited people to the family cottages by the river, hosted an enormous Thanksgiving gathering her entire adult life (a tradition her oldest son has started to carry on), had family parties to celebrate her grandmother’s birthday.  For Susan, it was all about the family. 

For many years she had a business as a daycare providor out of her home.   Children she kept still remember the care she gave them and the lessons she taught.  When the kids would get to be a bit too much – too rowdy or misbehaving, she’d always send then out into the yard to pick up stick in their tree-laden lot in preparation for cutting the grass.  Years later, one of the children she kept came back and told her he does the same thing with his children when they’re getting rowdy and need to burn off some energy.  It’s a great lesson on several levels.  When your energy and natural exuberence gets too much and you’re not behaving as well as you could, go do something useful!

Susan was greatly loved and will be deeply missed.  She made her corner of the world a better place by her life, and there’s not much better you can say than that.

Traveling with a Netbook

I’m on a bus traveling down to the airport to catch a plane home.  I have a lot on my mind about the trip, and to distract myself, I’ve been working.

I often joke my office is my purse.   Okay, that’s not really a joke.   I’ve been reading a book to get ideas for a course I’m developing, checking my email (the bus has wi-fi) and generally just doing a lot of the things I ordinarily do as part of my morning’s work.

I’d gotten a netbook with an eye to the fact I travel a few times a year and wanted something not too expensive and easily portable. So far, I’m liking travelling with a netbook.  The good battery and the compact machine make it nice for crowded travel.  The fact that it’s light to carry and fits in a purse doesn’t hurt, either.

I think my next “big” computer is going to be a desktop I’ll sync with my netbook.  The desktop will deliver lots of computing power cheap, for when I need that.  Then I can do 90% of my work on my portable machine.   As a writer whose work is often web-based, I just don’t need the computing power you’d require for video editing or high-end gaming.

The Real Vampire in Fiction

A certain very popular publishing company of women’s romance novels has decided to offer a new line of vanity publishing.   This link goes to Writers Beware, which might give you a clue to my opinion on the matter.  You pay to get your novel published and possibly edited if you’re paying at the higher tier.  No, you don’t have the full force of the marketing department behind the book.  Neither are you going to be able to count on the big chains stocking the book.

Vanity publishing has been around a long time.   As a business model, it’s great for the publisher.  The author almost never breaks even.

I’m fine with a business turning a profit, what with being a small business owner and a greedy capitalist meeself, and all. What I’m against is an unethical product that preys on emotional weakness, which this vanity publishing scam does.

I had an interesting epiphany in a Border’s a couple of weeks ago. I’m a very small-time writer. I do technical writing, SEO-type stuff… Any fiction writer who manages to make a living at it would probably call me a bottom feeder, and fair enough. But, this perspective does give me a “marketing mind” in a way that the stereotype of the writer from the coffee shop might not have. It got me to thinking in the YA section of that store. There was a Twilight display with books and merchandise and another dedicated to Harry Potter. I started looking at the newer titles in the section. Right now the trend in YA is dark fantasy and stuff with a Goth feel.

“This is all just product,” I thought, as I was looking around.  Product follows trend in the entertainment world, and fiction is most certainly the entertainment business.

I think we’re trained that there’s something holy or elevated about books. In a way that’s true. The printing press spread ideas in a way that had been impossible before. The fact that a book is an expression of a human mind is pretty damn awesome. But not every thought we think is necessarily a priceless diamond. Often it’s just a drop of water. It’s when it’s taken in a wave that the water becomes an impressive force.

We’re also trained to think there’s something holy or elevated about art for art’s sake.  Does art have value?  Yes.  Again, art is an expression of what is not only uniquely human about us, but is often a deep expression of the times in which we live, the joys we celebrate and the pain we mourn.  But just because it is an expression of our mind doesn’t mean that art always expresses well.

We have always had to look for gems amongst the garbage when it comes to actual art. That’s not new. Dickens was a hack to the Victorians, remember. So was Shakespeare. Do we remember all the playwrights from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries? Of course not. Have you ever read some random fiction from Victorian times? Some of it was pretty awful. Most of it was “mix as before” that the publishers hoped would make them a pile of money.

The problem is that this vanity publishing scheme is not going to give writers who otherwise had no chance a real chance at publishing a novel.     Unless you’re really great at selling, you’ll never recoup your production costs, much less your time costs of writing the damn thing in the first place!   If you’re really great at selling, you have a better chance at the traditional method of publication, where you’ll be paid more anyway.  This, like all vanity publishing, preys on people with a handful of dreams and a hatful of ignorance.

Addendum: L’esprit d’escalier gives an excellent analysis of why this business model sucks.   As Ms. Brown so eloquently puts it, “Writers sign the back of the check!”

The Coffee Shop Office

Since my local Border’s has free wi-fi, I do go in to get a cup of coffee and do some work pretty frequently.  I’ve noticed that when I go, I’m seeing a lot of business meetings, job interviews, people writing, students working for a class, you name it.

I really enjoy going to a coffee shop to work every now and then.  I almost always get a lot done.  I would hate to have to work in any one specific place, but it’s nice that this is an option when I get tired of being in one place.

If you find yourself working in a non-office (be it your home office or a classical “real job”) why do you venture out to work?  Do you do it often?  Where do you go?

Wonderful wool

I was complimented three times today on the sweater I’m wearing.  It’s the one I call my Thursday Sweater because of the red and purple joke with the Mjollnir pattern.  I was even asked where one could buy such a sweater.  I commented that I’d made it and the woman sighed, “Of course.  You can’t find a good wool sweater in a store any more.  They’re all cotton.”

That may not seem like much, depending on where you live.  But cotton is awful for cold or clammy weather — be it for socks or sweaters.   Cotton or cotton blend socks are certainly easier to care for.  But they don’t wick moisture well.  If your feet sweat, you get clammy.   I was never the world’s biggest wool fan until I started knitting up here in New England.  Wool socks are a thing of joy, let me tell you!   Wool wicks moisture, and is wonderfully warm.  In damp weather, wool doesn’t get clammy and lose its ability to insulate well.  Oh no.  It retains heat beautifully even in a drizzle, or if you step in a puddle.

Sure, wool is a pain in the butt to care for.   But warm?  Oh dear lord…

Work from Home Course: Staying Human

“Individuals aren’t naturally paid-up members of the human race, except biologically. They need to be bounced around by the Brownian motion of society, which is a mechanism by which human beings constantly remind one another that they are… well….human beings.”

— Terry Pratchett

If you work alone, as you probably will if you’re working for yourself, you’ll need to make sure you get some social interaction.  Thing is, as tempting as it is to limit your human interaction only to those delightfully pleasant people that you choose for social circle, I’m going to caution you against that.

You need to make sure that you guard against cackling.  I hope you’ll forgive another Terry Pratchett quote, but since he’s a writer and presumably works alone a lot of the time, he probably knows what he’s talking about here.

It was all too easy to become a cackler. Most witches lived by themselves (cat optional) and might go for weeks without ever seeing another witch. In those times when people hated witches, they were often accused of talking to their cats. Of course they talked to their cats. After three weeks without and intelligent conversation, you’d talk to the wall. And that was an early sign of cackling.

‘Cackling’, to a witch, didn’t just mean nasty laughter. It meant your mind drifting away from its anchor. It meant you losing your grip. It meant loneliness and hard work and responsibility and other people’s problems driving you crazy a little bit at a time, each bit so small that you’d hardly notice it, until you thought it was normal to stop washing and wear a kettle on your head. It meant you thinking that the fact that you knew more than anyone else in your village made you better than them. It meant thinking that right and wrong were negotiable. And, in the end, it meant you ‘going to the dark’, as the witches said. That was a bad road. At the end of that road were poisoned spinning-wheels and gingerbread cottages.

Even for the most reclusive introvert[1] with the strongest hermit tendencies, this is something to think about in terms of being by yourself and working from home.

Now, I went from being an administrative assistant to being self employed.  Those early days at home when I didn’t have to answer to anyone but the occasional call from a client were sheer, unadulterated bliss.    No having to smile and be cheerful to people whose ideas I completely disagreed with.  No watching what I said when I read something I didn’t like on the news in the morning.  No inane chatter around the coffee pot or water cooler.  Ahh, it was such sweet bliss.

I didn’t realize I was going down a path that was unlikely to serve me well.  I was in Introvert Heaven.

I was not saved from cackling by conscious choice.    Or, rather a conscious choice had a serendipitous good effect for me.  Remember how I said it was important to get in your workout?  Well, my cardio of choice is swimming, which necessitates a pool to swim in.  This means I needed to be able to afford gym fees.

My membership ran out during a geologically slow period in my business. I happened to teach a woman in a computer class at about this time who worked the early morning shift at my gym several days a week, and was looking to find a replacement for a day or two.  Upon finding out that use of the facilities accompanied the low time-investment job, I applied for the unpopular shift and got the job.

Now, my goal was simply to take the worries of being able to pay my gym fees off my head in a non-intrusive way.  What I found out was that this job stayed important to me even after I no longer needed to worry so badly about the money.  Disinclined as I am to socialize, I could conceivably go weeks at a time without leaving my home or talking to people outside of my family — much less having to deal with their quirks, eccentricities or irritating habits.

That gym job forces me to interact with people regularly and to maintain a level of kindly sympathy for people.  Sure, it can be a “fake it until you make it” type of deal, but after smiling and being cheerful with people long enough, a certain level of benevolence does rub off to a degree.  It really does help keep you human.

If you work for yourself, have something else where you are committed to interact with people on a regular basis.  It can be a part-time job, church, a social group, a charity organization, hosting a freelance group where you all get together and work in someone’s living room on your laptops.  Anything, as long as you’re interacting with people outside of your immediate family.  It’s better if it requires that you’re benevolently cheerful and kindly. Even if you’re a reclusive introvert.  No, especially if you’re a reclusive introvert!

I discourage you from choosing a support group where it becomes the habit to complain about people in this.  Complaining and letting off steam may sound like a way to cope with difficulties, but it reinforces some negative patterns that will interfere with your earning power.

I’m probably making a poor assumption that the extrovert would not want to be self-employed or would not find these hints necessary.  But if you are an extrovert, I’d encourage you to work around people.  Many coffee shops have wi-fi.  Start a self-employment support group and get together to work during the day regularly.  Meet people for lunch as often as you can manage.  The isolation will get to you worse than it will the introvert, and you need to plan for it if you’re going to make a success of this.

[1] And I’m probably on the short list for this.

Writing and Real Work

Cranky introvert that I am, I can get tired of staring at the same walls sometimes at home.

I decided to treat myself to a workday at a coffee shop. My office is a netbook, so I can do that with the greatest of ease. The change of venue was enough to get me happy and excited about bidding, which was great. I got my day’s quota of work done in a lot less time than it usually takes. Forcing yourself to get your work done before your battery runs out is a great motivation even if you have ample battery power.

As I was wrapping up and treating myself to a couple of sessions of working on some material for which I have no direct client, I ran across a LiveJournal entry from another writer who has a hard time considering writing fiction “real work”.

I get that.  I have a hell of a time forcing myself to work on StoneFlower and Screwskinny if I am not meeting my income quota for the month.  Never mind that if I get the damn things done I’m looking at a month’s income or so from advances. Fiction doesn’t pay what work for hire until you’re at least a midlist writer — a classification of writer that’s swiftly disappearing anyway.  Screwskinny likely has more marketing tie-ins than merely the book, so we’re looking at a lot more money — if it sells.

Notice the language I was using in talking about working on my self-assigned projects.  I was “treating myself”.  Indulging.   That’s nonsense, of course.  I’m writer.  I mean, it’s my job, not my hobby.  Yes, the money comes quicker from the directly-paying gigs, and I do need to take them on to pay rent.   Money-wise, they’re important.

Career-wise?  It’s the writer who has the guts and self-discipline on spec that manages to get her stuff in the bookstores.  So the fiction and the other self-directed projects are very important to my career.

I’ve been asked to develop a specific course that I’ll be teaching in January.  Will I have a hard time working on that?  Nope!  That’ll be directly to a specific project for which I’ll be paid, both as a writer and a computer instructor.  I’ll feel virtuous every time I open that file, take notes, do interviews, or wander around the house delivering the pretend lecture1.  I have a client already there for it.

I think this is part of why breaking into writing books can be so hard, especially fiction.  Disciplining oneself to write and take that writing seriously when you have no idea in the world whether or not you’ll be paid for it can be hard when you have a million things demanding your attention, or when you’re looking at your bank account.  Once you’ve sold your first book, you might very well get an advance on the strength of an outline. Once you know you’re going to be paid, buddy, you have no problem at all calling it work.

1By the time I am in front of a class with a new course, I’ve taught it about four times. Then it gets blown all to hell because the students ask questions and have difficulties I’d never anticipated. Nature of the beast.

The New Fat Chick in the Gym

Hey, you gym bunnies?  I have a heads up for ya.  Some day you may wind up seeing a fat chick in the gym.  No, really.  I know that the media says we don’t exercise (because exercise magically melts the pounds away the second you step on a treadmill, dontchaknow?), but some of us do.

Now many of you are thinking, “Oh hey, cool.  She’s decided to work out.  That’s great!”

You know, you’re right.  Choosing to be active is a great health choice in many cases.  That’s why we do it, right?

Since chances are good that you prefer to be benevolent and supportive, I’d like to offer a few little tips.

  • Unless you know her really, really well, don’t say “I’m proud of you” the second you see her in the gym.
  • Yes, there are people who need the strokes and the hand-holding. Do you know that person well enough to know if she needs it? Be sure before you say something like that. The whole “I’m proud of you” thing can come off just awfully condescending from a stranger, even if your intention is to be benevolent.  When she’s done her first pullup, though, feel free to throw confetti and blow horns.

  • Be aware that body consciousness exists.
  • It may be the custom to parade around in the altogether in your locker room, regardless of age or body type. (It is in my gym!) However, it might take awhile before any new person (fat or not!) is necessarily comfortable with chatting with someone they don’t know well totally naked.

  • Unless asked, don’t monitor her progress.
  • Again, I know people like to be supportive of positive life choices, and that’s cool. There’s a difference between having someone be supportive and finding that someone has tried to make a project out of you.  The latter is a real pain in the butt.

  • Do be inclusive.
  • While I’m sure you know the rule about not bothering someone in the gym with headphones in, if she’s not wearing them, being friendly is good. You and I know that all it takes to be a member of the Cool Kids Club in a gym is showing up, but it’s not common knowledge among the uninitiated. Let ’em know they belong.

  • Don’t make assumptions about her fitness goals
  • She might be trying to take fat off. She might be working on her strength and not bothering with body fat percentage. She might be rehabbing an injury. Unless you know what her fitness goals are, your advice is probably useless. Wait to be asked.

Do I blame social gaffes on chasing someone away from the gym? Not entirely. If you really aren’t into being there, you’ll probably find just about any reason not to.   Still, if you want to make sure your gym is a welcoming, inclusive place, it’s a good idea just to be matter of fact about people being there rather than making a big deal of any one particular class of person showing up.

Dumb Choices

I’ve ranted about this before, though I forget where.

There’s a new marketing campaign to sell more crap manufactured food called Smart Choices.

There’s been some discussion on various forums involving health, fitness and eating where one idea came up that boggled me.  A parent was expressing the idea that it’s hard to combat the marketing techniques with the children.

You have got to be kidding me.

You control what goes in the grocery cart.    You control what you pay for.  Yes, little Knucklehead might roll around on the floor screaming and crying for his treasured Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.   No, the glares awarding you the Crappy Parent of the Year award from other grocery store patrons isn’t much fun when you don’t placate the child to make him shut up so they can go back to shopping in peace.   I get that.  I’m a parent.  Been there, done that.  Dragging a kid along the floor who has gone Gandhi in protest isn’t fun.

Thing is, little Knucklehead probably isn’t that dumb.  Screaming hurts one’s throat and cold grocery store floors aren’t really all that much fun to lie on.  If you keep saying no consistently, they’ll get the point.

If you can’t handle enforcing a no when it comes to cereal and you’re the one with the checkbook, I don’t even want to think of what it’s going to look like when your kids are teenagers.