How Social Media Killed My Creativity

I’m sitting at Starbucks, my brain fighting my typing fingers. My brain wants to stare out the window. It wants to get another coffee. Or maybe water. It wants to open another window on my computer. Pick up my phone and check Instagram. Post an advertisement. Think about my long list of things to do. It wants to do anything but focus.

In the past, I wondered how I got here. I know it started during the pandemic. But then I was finally able to isolate the problem: It began as soon as I used social media to market my book.

February 2018- spring 2020:

I barely used social media. My only source for a dopamine hit was in writing. I’d mull over ideas all day long, counting down the minutes when I could finally relieve my turgid mind and spill it all out on the page.

Summer 2020: I got serious about querying and marketing my story. I started a Twitter account. I began using Instagram. I decided to post more often on Facebook and opened an author account.

I created a website and began posting blogs.

I began querying agents.

I began using the internet like a crack addict. Twitter provided writer’s lifts and hundreds of followers. On Facebook, friends were excited about my endeavors.

Getting that “ding” of a new follower or like on a blog post sent dopamine spurting through my brain.

I had (and still have) two Facebook pages, an author Facebook page, Instagram account, Twitter, and my website. Keeping up with all the social platforms proved difficult. I purposefully organized my time and judiciously spent only thirty minutes at bedtime posting to pages and responding to comments.

Winter/Spring 2021: Twitter began to bleed. I began checking it throughout the day.

A friend introduced me to Marco Polo—a social platform in which you can leave video messages to a friend. I began using this for up to three hours a week to keep in contact with long-distance friends. It proved challenging since I didn’t have much time. I would listen to my messages and respond while on my jogs.

Spring/Summer 2021:

Jogging becomes more difficult. Sorting my thoughts becomes more difficult. And I know I switched the tense from past to present. That’s because it’s still a problem!

Fall 2021:

I heard about the advantages of TikTok, that it was an organic way to find followers and sales. While the former proved true, I’ve yet to see the latter.

TikTok took up an immense amount of my time but was REALLY fun.

In exchange for writing, I often posted a TikTok. Writing became harder. It was difficult to focus.

I now have about seven social platforms.

October 31st:

The epiphany happens.

I was on the treadmill when the realization hit me. Let me backtrack.

I was on the treadmill, feeling like I really wanted to stop. It had been happening every single time I jogged. This feeling had never happened before. Sure, there were bad days when I was low on energy, but the first ten minutes were never tough. Yet after three minutes of jogging, I wanted nothing more than to walk.

What was wrong with me? I looked at my phone, checking for Marco Polos. I checked Instagram. I checked Twitter. I checked— Oh my gosh.

I was focused on my phone. So focused on what I needed to do online, that I wasn’t focusing on what I needed to do on the treadmill. So I put my phone on airplane mode, switched on my music, and focused. And that’s when I remembered.

I remembered how much focus it takes to exercise. You know that old story of the frog slowly boiling himself to death? I was that frog, and for months, I’d been slowly boiling myself in social media and Marco Polo. Instead of focusing on sweating, breathing, moving, I was focusing on what I needed to do on my phone. And let me tell you, if you’re a person who sweats while you work out, then you will understand how much focus it takes.

My whole life I’ve been a focused person, but thanks to the constant interruptions from my children as well as social media, I’d been “cured” from tunnel vision.

It was why it was so hard to focus on writing. Social media was killing my creativity.

That day, I decided to make a change. I would go back to only checking social media at night. I would work on regaining my sense of focus.

I began on Monday. It was easy that day. My resolve was fresh. By Wednesday, though, I vividly remember picking up my phone, my finger hovering over the Instagram icon. It was amazing how I needed that dopamine hit between tasks. And it was then that I realized just how often I went on social media. It’s a strange thing. Just a tiny little hit. You are done with dishes, and you can’t remember what you’re supposed to do next. You pick up the phone, check messages, click on TikTok. See how many followers you’ve gotten in the past hour. Two new ones. Cool. You click out of it.

That was me. And the funny thing is that I had constantly been feeling overwhelmed by how much my brain had to contain, all the thoughts associated with being a mother to my three kids—what they needed for school, homework, lunch, clean-up. Then all the thoughts associated with being a teacher—lesson plans, emails, homework, timesheets. Then all the thoughts associated with being an author—new covers, editing, marketing, the vast hole of things to do.

And all the while, I cluttered it with even more thoughts. Social media thoughts. That transgender student who had just come out of the closet. The author who had just won an award. The witty TikToker who had just crested 300 gagillion followers. How could I get that many followers too? What should my next post be? Should I respond to the girl who was crying about someone discing adults who read YA?

That day on the treadmill was a wonderful shake-up. Time to wake up and focus on what’s in front of me, not the random girl having an existential crisis in Alabama. And while I care, it’s really impossible to care for all these different things. You can either choose to care about social media, or care about your community. At least I can’t do both.

It’s been a little over two weeks since my decision to step back from social media, and it took a week before I stopped manically checking my phone. It became easier to focus on editing my story. It became easier to jog. My brain collected less clutter. I found myself more focused. More organized. More importantly, more disciplined.

And how do you think I had time to write this post?

I skipped checking my social media accounts. 😉

My Struggle as an Indie Author

Today is one of those days where the words “I can’t do this anymore,” escapes my mouth.

    If you’re a new author, I have something to tell you. Take every pre-conceived notion you’ve ever had, open a window, and throw them out. Well, as long as the notions are as such: “If I publish a book, people will be excited to read it.” Or “If I publish a book, the masses will buy it.” Or “Oh my gosh, I’m the next Stephenie Meyer.” (Yes, I actually thought that. Please, don’t laugh. You won’t keep up with me.) Or “I’m going to make millions!”

    Yes, Stephenie Meyers exist in the indie world (Marie Force, Lucy Score, etc.). Yes, people do make millions of dollars (see previous sentence). Yes, some people are excited to read my book. They are called “family and friends.”

    The inexorable indie problem that stares us full in the face happens once we hit the “publish” button: nobody is buying the book. And that’s the truth. If you’re a new author and these words send you into that spiraling hopeless pit-of-despair-from-whence-there-is-no-return, take heart. Let’s unravel the “why.”

    The #1 reason why nobody wants to buy our book is because NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT IT. Once you’ve struck the edges of your family and friend empire, there is nobody left. For some ridiculous reason, I thought that once I put my book out to the entire world, they would all see it, all love it (who doesn’t love a juicy, well-written, adventure-filled YA book?), and all buy it. But the truth is that Amazon does nothing for you. They don’t showcase it on their front page with a big blurb that says, “Amazon’s new rising star—author Claire Norsworthy.” Nope. In fact, if someone does a quick search of your title, they’ll be hard-pressed to find it.

    Which leads into my second reason nobody is buying my book. The market is saturated. In the early days of Amazon, a person could throw a book online and make millions. Those were the early days. In 2021, the market is so saturated that my book is like a grain of sand at Cannon Beach. Or a little twinkly star in a galaxy of others.

     So, to make my star shine brighter, there’s only one thing to do. Spend money. A frick ton of money. And that’s where I’m now at. Staring at my bank account longingly. Wishing it would grow and multiply with all my book sales. Again, that’s an idea I’ve had to chuck right out my open window.

    My indie-author friend tells me that I need to throw $1,000 into my next big marketing event. (*Insert several sigh-releases here) My first advertisement was a complete flop. I spent $20 on BookBub, imagining that the worst that could happen is I’d just make it back with no profit. It was a gamble, but it was a tester. My book had 1800 views. Guess how many clicks?

    ONE

    I’ll repeat that again.

    ONE

    It had one click. Zero sales. I showed my author friend (His name is Todd) the ad, and what was his response? “Uggg”

     Just what EVERY indie author wants to hear! But what did I learn? Marketing is an art. Marketing is not for the faint of heart. Marketing takes time, research, and a really good photoshop program.

    Being an indie-author also takes patience. Patience to wait for the artist, the alpha reader, the editor, the post office (who is sixteen days late in delivering my TWO DAY package), the beta readers, the format person, Amazon, BookBub, my friend’s review… I could go on and on.

    If it were up to me, my second book would have been out a couple months ago. Instead, I wait patiently, working on all the little things that overwhelm me and make me fail.

    I’m not sure how many times I’ve declared to my husband, “I quit. I can’t do this anymore.” But the ironic part is that I wrote a book about a girl who never gives up. In many ways, I am that girl. When I’ve gotten no sales, haven’t been able to send out my manuscript to my alpha reader, and nobody is clicking on my ads, I feel like Katie, lying on my belly on the cold asphalt, letting the rain pour on my back, succumbing to my defeat. With a groan, I realize I have to stand back up.

   I know that every human encounters trials that need insurmountable endurance. This is mine.

   Just like Katie, I need to turn the words “I can’t” into “I will.”

It is Finished!

💥COVER REVEAL!! 💥 The Emerald of Viridian by Claire Norsworthy. Official release date is Monday, June 7th.

After three-and-a-half long years, my book is finally being released to the world!

If you like YA urban fantasy like The Mortal Instruments series or The Folk of the Air series, give mine a try!

Five dying islands.

Each doomed to destruction.

One hope to save them.

Katie Edwards only wants one thing—the popular and gorgeous Jake Bronson. But when she is coldly rejected after asking him to the dance, she goes to bed that night knowing she no longer wants to remain the same.The next morning, she wakes hearing waves lap at the shore. Katie Edwards is not in her bed. She is lying on her belly in the warm, white sands of a tropical beach. A beach very, very far from Earth.

NOW AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER!

www.amazon.com/Emerald-Viridian-Claire-Norsworthy/dp/1943504377

www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-emerald-of-viridian-claire-norsworthy/1139485583

This image shows NGC 121, a globular cluster in the constellation of Tucana (The Toucan).

I’m Coming Out of the Closet to Say I’m Gay Okay

Several weeks ago, I received news that knocked the wind out of me.

Now that I’ve gotten click bait out of the way, let me back up and start over. Please don’t leave! What I have to say will likely annoy or even anger you—all of you—and for good reason; but, nevertheless, I think it’s an important, thoughtful stance I’ve taken up.

First—let me give you some background on myself. I grew up in a conservative, Christian home. Right was white. Wrong was black.

In college, I inadvertently (such a long story, it’s another blog post in itself) attended an independent, fundamental Baptist college. I sank my life savings in the college, with no way to escape its crushing grip but to graduate four years later, unsure whether I was brainwashed or stripped of any religion left in me.

Fast forward nearly twenty years. Still a believer. Still preserving core beliefs in various capacities.

Now to begin my story. It was over a month ago that I had a very vivid dream. It was a college friend who, years ago, I’d had a falling out with for no good reason. Since that fallout, it seemed he’d dropped off the face of the planet. With no other method of connecting with him than sending a good old fashioned text message, I did.

In my dream, this man had a wife and new baby. In reality, I knew nothing other than he had gotten married several years back. When I texted, he simply told me he’d recently gotten divorced and little else.

I owe my obsessive personality a big thank-you for brewing over his texts for the next three weeks. Shrouded in mystery, his texts claimed he’d feel comfortable talking to me over the phone about it within the week. Weeks passed. I obsessed more.

Finally, he called.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I’m gay.”

The words felt like a five-hundred-pound weight shoved upon my shoulders… along with an inexplicable Aha! It all makes sense now! Followed by a, Wait, so why were you chasing after girls all those years ago? Followed by a What the actual eff? You lied to me. You lied to us all… for years.

Which sent me into a tailspin of thoughts. The next morning, I actually had to call my husband at work (something I rarely do as he does not like to be disturbed while working) and unloaded. “Why did he lie to us?! I mean… he was my best friend. Why did he get married? Why would he do that?!” I may or may not have been yelling. I can’t quite remember.

Only my husband’s steady, calm answer speaking softly into me kept me grounded. “Claire, what was he supposed to do? He did all the things that his family would have wanted. He did all the things that a Christian church would have wanted.” And in my heart, I wondered that if he had not made those choices, would I have condemned him? Would I have pointed an accusing finger his direction and claimed, “You have not done all that you can to fight this?”

You see, I’m not just part of the church, I am the church, so my response matters. And so does the church’s. Ah. The church. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

For those of you not affiliated with the church, you can skip the next two paragraphs (unless you’re curious. Shoot. I’d be curious).

So, growing up in a white, straight, privileged, evangelical home, there were many things about myself I took for granted. My heterosexuality is one of them. The Christian’s knee-jerk response to homosexuality is a simple, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Okay, fair enough. But what about nuance? What about trying to understand a person’s story? What about not trying to change a person’s sexuality?

I write this with humility, knowing that I’m like a newborn baby with my understanding of the topic. I know I’m not fit to even write about it or give advice, so I want to emphasize that this is not advice. This is me sharing my own conclusions. I’ve only read two memoirs by gay authors, both on opposing sides of the spectrum, but they shared this common theme—You can’t change your sexuality. Seriously. This is something that Christians should probably understand. The response that my friend hates is, “You’re gay? Oh, that’s cool. Now read this book so you can change.” He’s well-aware of what the Bible says about same-sex attraction. He’s spent thirty plus years immersed in biblical culture and idealism. Thirty-plus years trying to change his sexuality. Thirty-something years battling self-loathing and struggling with his own self-worth.

But now he understands something: God sees his worth—all of it. Every part of him. This is not my cup. This is not your cup. This is the SSA (same-sex attracted) person’s cup. And who am I to have an opinion?

Now, to make everyone who reads this angry. Here I go, jumping off my little suicidal bridge. This part is to those of you who support or are homosexual. Some of you think you are free of any sort of agenda. But lately, I will pick up a YA fantasy and find half the characters homosexual, as if same-sex attraction is not only common, but that teens ought to be gay when they are not. Take, for instance, Cassandra Clare’s book Chain of Gold. When you first open up the book, you’ll find a lovely colored picture of eight people (excluding the two hanging portraits). These eight people are our main characters. Of these eight people, five are heterosexual. The ones that are homosexual or bisexual all have partners with large roles in the book. This might not seem strange, but remember two vital things. First, this is straightforward YA, not LGBTQ. Second, this book takes place in the Victorian Era, a setting in which it was punishable by imprisonment to be homosexual. Instead of marketing nearly half the characters as gay, the author could have chosen one well-developed character and talked about their struggles.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn also takes this tack. Five of the major or minor characters are homosexual. Now here’s the truth. Only three percent of the population identifies as homosexual. That means if you have a hundred characters in your story, only three of them will be gay. One hundred is ambitious. From my reading, I’d say ten major characters and twenty minor characters sounds about right in a YA novel. Which means that in reality, there would be about ONE. One lone LGBT character. Much more than that, and you’re trying to force something on me.

The best LGBT character I’ve ever read in a YA novel was in Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely. In it, the main character finds out her brother is both gay and has a boyfriend. We meet the boyfriend who quickly gets wrapped up in the story. He is a black doctor—kind, smart, an anchor of wisdom. I’m sure I wasn’t the only reader who fell in love with him. His character is deep and well-developed. Readers from opposite ends of the spectrum saw that he could be both human and gay.

In conclusion, here’s what it feels like from the perspective of someone who is trying to remain true to their religious and moral values. They feel like some homosexual supporters are browbeating people to embrace, support, and affirm homosexual choices. But this coercion propels some fundamental Christians even further into their corner of hatred. What we should advocate is not affirmation of the act, but an awareness that all people should be treated with respect and dignity regardless of their beliefs, skin color, education, sexual affiliation, or socio-economic status. Treat others as you want to be treated: If you want to enlighten a person, first build relationship, then educate.

I have a variety of friends with whom I do not see eye-to-eye on many matters. None of them have ever forced me to agree on vaccinations, presidential elections, or recycling. (Okay, not gonna lie. Some have, but it is really annoying, and I don’t want to be friends with those people. Do you want to be friends with people who tell you you’re going to hell if you vaccinate your child?)

So why should people be forced to affirm gay sex?

Here’s the conclusion of the whole matter… for me.

A couple years ago, I was sitting in my mother-in-law’s back yard visiting with longtime family friends who are a lesbian couple. We visited, ate together, spoke Spanish together, and had a really good time catching up. After we’d left, I was sitting in the car, my mind once again forcing itself to make some sort of stance on the gay debate. And suddenly, I’m pretty sure I had a Holy Spirit moment, because I felt a load lifted from my shoulders and an internal voice whisper something to me: You don’t have to.

I don’t have to decide. I’m taking a neutral approach. I will let God be the ultimate judge. Not me. And let me tell you— It’s very freeing.

Remember what I said above? Christians/non-Christians: This is not your cup. Be a friend. Be normal. I don’t treat my heterosexual friends with privilege or reproach. I treat them like they are human. Like my friends who spoke Spanish with me on the lawn that sunny summer day. Or my now-best friend from afar. He’s still the same to me. Just as precious. And just the same. Except he dates guys, not girls.

And that’s okay. I’m gay okay.

Image by Jae Bano

In a Teacher’s Shoes

    I’m standing in front of my small audience of seven live, in-the-flesh students. My other eight students are hidden behind a camera and sitting on a desk next to me. I ask a simple question: “What does ‘tener’ mean?” Three students in front of me hazard a guess. “To be?” “To have?” “It’s something I can’t remember.” The rest of their faces are painted in thoughtfulness. I turn to my laptop, waiting for a response of any kind from the black screen of death. I hear nothing but crickets. I turn back to my flesh students. “Okay, and how do we conjugate ‘tener’?”

    As one, my students belt out, “Yo tengo, tu tienes, usted…”

    “Great!” I turn to my black screen of death. All students are muted. I stand up at the board and conjugate the word. “Online people? Can you see this?”

    Crickets.

    I work at a private a school, and because of this, our school was afforded the opportunity to teach for two live hours each day. Which means half (ish) of the high school student body peels themselves out of bed early, makes themselves presentable, and drives to school to sit in class for a whopping two hours before heading back home to finish their classes online. Those who don’t join me in school are online.

    My students’ desks are six feet apart; masks cover half their faces. And while I know masks are useful, they are murder on my brain. Earlier this year, I stared out at my students and blinked. “Is her name Grace or is that Sarah?” Shoot. My body pinged with panic. I should KNOW this. Normally, I have my students’ names down pat by the third day. It’s the third month, and I’m still shaky. Then I remind myself. Oh. It’s because I can’t see their faces online. They are simply a name. And when I can see some faces at school, half of it is covered by a cloth. Fortunately for me, I teach part time—I have less than thirty students. For those that have hundreds, I can’t even imagine.

I get one precious in-person class per week. The rest is online. Let me tell you how the online classes go:

Me: (Super excited for the day) “Hey everyone! How’s it going!?”

Spanish 2: Just the sound of air.

Me: “Hey guys! How are you!?”

Spanish 2: One person chirps “Good.”

Me: (Fifteen minutes later after we’ve wasted a bunch of time doing a connection exercise just so students can socialize) Okay, so we’ve got like thirty minutes to do an hour’s worth of stuff. Sigh of the long suffering. “So open your book to page 54, and let’s conjugate these irregular stem-changing ‘I’ verbs.”

Spanish 2: Crickets.

Me: “So could you turn on your cameras and turn yourself off mute so I can hear you?”

Spanish 2: No response. Thirty seconds later, one mute-mic blinks off.

Me: “Thanks, John, now can EVERYONE turn off mute and turn on your camera?!”

Spanish 2: One camera blinks on. It’s pointed at the ceiling.

Me: “Thanks for the image of your ceiling fan.”

Spanish 2: Another video blinks on. This time, it’s a lovely yellow wall I get to see.

Me: Thrumming my fingers, waiting.

Spanish 2: A minute later, another camera goes on. This time I get to see a face.

Me: Leaning forward, amazed to see my student’s precious face. (Don’t worry, readers, I only got to see it for about two minutes before he snapped his camera back off. But, hey, two minutes is better than a sharp stick in the eye!)

Finally, when all hope is lost of getting 100% participation, I give up and begin conjugating my verbs. The Zoom call is laggy. I hear one voice stridently conjugating the verbs exactly one word after me. I have to mute my speakers just so I can hear myself think.

When we are done, I check the time. We’ve got fifteen minutes left of class to achieve thirty minutes of content.

Me: “Well, I guess we’re out of time. Sorry I’ve gone so long and didn’t give you more time to do the video and homework. Again. For the zillionth time. Okay, now go watch your lesson video and do the homework! Adios!”

Spanish 2: A few “bye’s.” Everyone blinks from my screen and scurries to do something that is NOT Spanish.

    I’ve left the fate of Spanish in their young, frail hands. It takes extra hours to create all of their lesson videos- easily accessible online. They have video lessons, live reviews, teacher-access, homework, a physical textbook and online textbook. They have an online platform to keep them organized, remind them of upcoming assignments. They have everything at their disposal to be successful except for a live body to keep them accountable. And this- this is the one thing they need.

    Every time I scroll through the homework, a number 3 appears next to it. It means three people have turned it in. The same three people. Those are the ones that get their work in. The rest of them… I sigh. Each one represents copious emails. Zoom meetings. Unpaid private tutoring. Gray hairs. Wrinkles. An early grave.

Image by Sharon McCutcheon

    Time warp back to our classroom with Spanish one. I have half the class in front of me, half the class online beside me. We are doing a simple exercise. We’re practicing “feeling” words. I call on the fleshy girl in front of me. “Jamie, what the word for happy.”

Jamie: “Contento!”

Me: “Great! Samantha- sad”

Samantha: “Triste”

Me: “Charles- angry”

Charles: Thinks for a second “Enojo?”

Me: “Close. Enojado.”  All these questions have been answered in a matter of mere seconds. I Pause. “Hey, let’s ask our online people. Billy (*online person), what is the word for ‘sick.’”

Billy: Nothing. There’s no camera on. He’s muted.

Me: “Billy? What’s the word for ‘sick’?”

Billy: Still nothing. We wait. And wait… and wait some more.

Me: “Okay, Billy must not be there. How about you, David?”

We wait for David in the same fashion that we waited for Billy.

Me: “David? David?… Okay, Cindy? What’s the word for ‘sick’?” I can practically hear Cindy scrambling from her dazed stupor wherever she is in cyber land. Several seconds pass.

Cindy: “What was the question?”

Me: Pulling out my hair. “What is the word for ‘sick’ in Spanish!” I’m trying to ask it as a question, not a statement that comes out with the force of a nail gun.

Cindy: “Uh. I don’t know.”

Me: Desperate. I turn back to my students. The live ones. The flesh ones. My voice does sound desperate, riddled with despair. “Can any of you tell me what ‘sick’ is?

Spanish 1: Blasting at me in unison “Enfermo!”

    And that, ladies and gentleman, describes my life as a distance-learning teacher. If 2020 taught me one thing, it’s that anything can be done. But flipping a high school classroom to distance learning cannot be done well.

New Year’s Resolutions: Ask Yourself- Am I a Jerk?

Last Saturday, I took my boys to one of their last soccer sessions. The younger two play from 10:00-10:40. The oldest plays from 11:00-11:45. Remember that now.

    On these days, I pull my car in backward, pop open the back hatch, and sit in the freezing cold while I watch my boys play. In the twenty minutes between sessions, I close the back, start up the car, and warm up four sets of numb little fingers and toes.

    It was during this twenty-minute interval last week that I encountered a Jerk.

    As I sat in the driver’s seat warming my own numb fingers, something out the window caught my attention. A woman was gesticulating frantically, pointing to the back of the car. Panic set in, and my mind began racing: Had I run a child over? Was something trapped under my car!? My heart was thundering, adrenaline propelling me to turn off my car and roll down my window in terror. What was under my car!?

    “Turn off your car!” the woman roared. Her face twisted in rage and disgust, her finger pointing accusatively from me to my tailpipe. “The exhaust!” After her display, she rolled her eyes as if I were a complete moron.

    I don’t remember what I said. I’m not even sure what my expression showed, but all I know is that I was stunned. I felt my face turn red, first from fright that somebody was hurt, then to anger at the way the woman had approached this situation. I stared out my rearview mirror and saw one lone boy in the field, far from my fumes. The woman proceeded to get out a chair and set it right next to the back of my car.

    My finger dangled over the ignition, fighting the urge to turn my car back on. The clock read 10:57. Only three more minutes before my son would start playing, and that was normally when I would have turned off my car anyway.

    My thoughts and emotions were a battlefield inside my mind. “Turn it on,” the devil on my shoulder whispered.

    “Just leave it off. What’s the point in creating a war that everyone will lose?” the angel said. Reluctantly, I listened to the angel.

    Afterward, I replayed a million ways that scenario could have unfolded without anyone being condescending and rude.

    I tried to put myself in the woman’s shoes. Hmm… I would like to set my chair here, but the exhaust from this car will make it impossible. I wonder if this person will be turning off their car soon. Heck. How about I just ask now. Proceed to walk over to driver side window and nicely wave or knock on window. “Hey, so sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind turning off your car because I’d like to set my chair where the exhaust is blowing out, but it makes it hard to breathe.”

    “Oh! Of course! No problem.” I proceed to turn off car and think of what a nice person I am and how nicely the person asked. Both parties are left feeling… Nice.

     Instead, I have a pit in my stomach and an urge to fight. I think about humanity and why we suck so bad.

    Maybe it’s Covid. Maybe it’s the recent Election. Or maybe it’s the way Portland has been allowing protestors to destroy my once-beautiful city, but lately I can’t stop myself from lobbing people into two varying groups: Jerks and Nice People.

    So I will now get to the moral of this post. How often do you ask examine your own behavior? When you are in a situation where you disagree with the other person, how do you react? This, more than anything else, is a test of your character.

    In the past, I’ve failed this test miserably. But the older I get, the more aware I become of my own behavior and the human I desire to be. Now my New Year’s resolution is to not focus just on outward fitness or appearance, but on inward beauty of character.

I wish all humans behaved decently, using their anger and conviction in a productive and purposeful way. I wish that instead of yelling at people for warming their fingers, we could treat each person with respect and dignity. I wish that when we took issues with people, we could remember their humanity.

    I believe that all humans are entitled to a voice, but if you want to be heard, use it kindly.

Sometimes Happiness is Hard to Find

    Many of my years were spent somewhere between the edge of unhappiness and a dark abyss. Those dark moments began in the eighth grade and ended at the age of twenty-five. In fact, I remember the day they ended. It was a very strange moment of realization. It was my 25th birthday, and I had just gone to dinner with my sister. I remember it being a sad occasion, wondering what I had accomplished in my short lifetime that had made any difference to me or the world. I don’t remember what she said that night, but I do remember the moments afterward, alone in my car and climbing up the West Hills of Portland, Oregon. And in that moment, I think I discovered Joy’s Treasure Map.

    Last night, my three-year-old waddled into my room at 9:30. For us, 9:30 may as well be midnight. Our house was completely dark, every light turned off, and every soul asleep except my toddler and me. The conversation began this way. “Mommy.” It came out as a raspy whisper. The kind that makes a parent roll their eyes and need to scream “What now!?!” (Insert pulling out hair, watering eyes, and the need to begin raving, “Why can’t you just GO TO BED!”) His little voice followed up the word by saying, “I can’t find my bunny.” Of course he can’t find his bunny because it’s in his bed where I tucked him in an hour ago, hoping upon hope that he’d actually fall asleep. (And we all laugh recklessly at this point. At least I do.) Of course, bunny is probably wadded up in tangled sheets that have been dragged off the bed for the one millionth time and are now lying on the floor (Which is exactly where I found Bunny at 12:30 later that night).

Actual photo of Bunny

    I’m not going to lie and say that I immediately saw this moment as an opportunity. Oh no. The truth is that I actually pretended to be asleep. But then he was right next to my face, peering at me with blinking eyes and calling my bluff. And that’s when I saw the opportunity. Sometimes I feel like a Venus Fly Trap. The boy gets too close, and I snap.

    “Come on, baby.” I patted the bedside, he crawled in, and I snapped him in my arms. He immediately began wiggling and talking loudly. I had to hush him a hundred times so he wouldn’t wake up my sleeping husband. Finally, I offered back tickles, and thirty minutes of coaxing him to sleep later, the magical moment happened. My baby fell asleep, his body tucked against mine, his arms hugging mine like a teddy bear, and I found heaven.

    Snuggles are hard to come by with my boys. Actually, they are darn near impossible. I’m a feeler. One of my love languages is touch, and so my boys aren’t surprised when I pour it on them. And whenever the Venus Fly Trap snaps, they usually do everything in their power to buck out of it.

    Last night I lay in bed long after I usually go to sleep so that I could drink in my toddler’s snuggles. And once again, I was reminded of Joy and all the places I find it. If you are like me and have struggled with depression, then this list is a reminder to you too.

    Joy begins early in the morning when it’s still dark and quiet outside and the whole house is asleep. I creep downstairs, open the fridge, and make myself a cup of Joy that usually takes the form of a Tazo chai latte. Then I open up my laptop and find my latest project (Either Emerald of Viridian or its sequel, or the Cardboard Box Brothers), and I immerse myself in a world of adventure, wonder, and excitement. For those that have found writing to become work: Remember the Joy you experienced when you first began your journey. If you are writing fiction, I think Joy might be easier to find because of the creativity and excitement that world-building brings. Even bringing fictional characters to life and having them live your dreams brings me so much Joy, that it sometimes creates bubbles of excitement throughout my day.

    Joy is found on hot summer days sitting outside beneath an oak tree and watching its leaves swish in the wind. It’s seeing my boys climb trees, wield sticks, and run-bare foot through green grass (Although I will say it’s not when they bring said dirty feet into my house and all over the white carpet.)

    Joy is in making chicken tortilla soup and watching your family gobble it down, knowing you haven’t just nourished their bellies, but also their souls.

    Joy is in apple picking, jigsaw puzzles, play dates, sword fights, Lego creations, matchbox car races, and watching your kids eat grapes that they’ve stuffed in their cheeks until they bulge like chipmunks.

    It’s in studying the faces of your sleeping children. It’s in watching them play and grow.

    It’s in opening the door to your home and allowing neighbors to run freely in and out. It’s in having friends over and going to their houses. And it’s in welcoming family at any time, rain or shine, day or night.

    Joy is in watching the pouring rain slide down your window panes and thanking God for a warm home. It’s in taking these moments and using them to make a hot cocoa and curl up around a blazing fire with a good book.

    Joy is in baking something wonderful on cold, gray days. It’s also in going outside on these days puddle jumping or looking at the lights on in the neighborhood homes, thankful for a community that cares.

    It’s in Seasons: watching the leaves fall, picking your favorite pumpkin, spicy lattes, cinnamon bread, Christmas trees, Valentine’s cards, Easter baskets, and glittering fireworks.

    It’s in watching snow fall from the sky.

    Joy is in praying with your kids each night and asking God to guide them to become young men and women after His heart.

    Joy is in the book I pick up at night, my soul thankful for the creativity of so many men and women who dared to dream big and who fought for that dream until it was finished.

    If you look hard enough for it, you’ll find Joy’s Treasure Map too. And you’ll be surprised at what it shows. Because it will show you the place you dwell, and if not, it will show you the possibility of your dream. All you have to do is open your eyes and find it.

It’s okay to be sad someimes. But it’s more fun to be happy.

This fortnight’s survey has been provided by special guest author Claire Norsworthy

Check out my poll on http://www.barbarasbooknalysis.com!

Barbara’s Booknalysis

Claire Norsworthy was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. She began writing three years ago after having three boys in three-and-a-half years and was forced to turn to fiction for escape. Fueled by coffee and manic energy, she typed nearly one million words equaling roughly five full length novels.

In her first book, the story follows sixteen-year-old Katie Edwards after she is rejected by the boy of her dreams and wakes up in an alien world called Viridian. She has to navigate her role in saving the strange new world while also transforming herself on Earth. The first book in the series will be published in the spring of 2021.

Claire also caters to her children’s appetite for fiction and has started a children’s series about three brothers who discover a cardboard box that holds a life-altering secret. The first book of *The* *Cardboard Box Brothers* is also slated to…

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Inside the Mind of a Writer

  A few hours ago, I was running on my treadmill listening to the words of Fiona Apple: “Oh darlin it’s so sweet you think you know how crazy, how crazy I am.”

    I’ve always loved that song for one reason: I can identify with her inner mania. In fact, sometimes I think I thrive on it.

    I’ve often considered the broad spectrum of artistry: the thoughtful painter, the animated actor, the bold dancer, the boisterous musician, and the quiet writer. From the outside, many writers are shy, soft spoken, introverted. But the outward is a poor reflection of the intensity inside.

    If you’d asked me three years ago what my artistic passion was, I would have answered by laughing. Now, I know that it’s writing and always has been, despite my lack of creativity up until three years ago. Ever since the fifth grade, I inconsistently kept journals, pouring out my inner turmoil in a cathartic release of feelings that no other outlet gave me.

Photo by Banter Snaps

    In my early twenties, I meticulously detailed every aspect of my depression, isolation, and desperation. I dove into the nitty gritty of my love affairs and examined the existential meaning of life. I was crazy, and I knew it. I embraced it. There were secrets in my journals that only one other human being knows about. And I’ll tell you how he found out.

    My romance with my husband was a whirlwind. We dated for four months before we were engaged. When it happened, I’d already bought my wedding dress and I think even the invites were sent out. I can only guess it was close to the wedding because I’d already started moving all my things to his house. Namely, my books and old journals.

   One day I walked into his quiet house and began searching for the man I knew was inside. I climbed the stairs, looking into each room until I came to the last one. There he was, reclined on the floor, one of my journals in his hand. It was everything I could do not to launch myself through the air and rip it away.

    When he looked up at me, his eyes were a little blank and glassy. Oh dear God. He’s never going to marry me now.

    “I read most of them,” he said. His voice was pretty monotone. Maybe I interpreted it as dead.

    I just swallowed, waiting for my death sentence.

    “And?” I finally asked.

    “I still want to marry you.” His face broke into a smile. “Even though I know just how much of a freak you are, I still want to marry you.” I let out a huge sigh and gave him a hug.

    My husband knows me better than any human alive, and he still loves me, despite my madness.

    Years ago when I used to journal, I would chronicle the events of my life in an attempt to make sense of them. Now I take the chaos, embrace it, and throw it straight into my stories. Writing is a deep exploration of the human mind, drawing out its strongest emotions. And if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that most humans feel inner mania too. It’s the very reason we love to pick up a work of fiction and vicariously feel a character’s intensity caged inside of us that we have no means to express. I love the drama. I love fear, desperation, anger, even violence if I’m forced to admit it. I love the bad things not just because it’s part of our human nature, but because I love playing god and forcing good to be birthed from the bad. I also love love. (No, that’s not a typo.) I love forgiveness, acceptance, goodness, and redemption. And I love that I can create it with my keyboard.

Photo by Greg Razoky

   People hear story after story of musicians gone off the deep end with drugs, alcohol, and sex. Their art is so outward, so interactive and mutually experiential. The emotion I feel when I write is all internal and completely isolated. Often times, I’ll hit the trail with my ipod and go on a mental bender for thirty minutes while I jog. Nobody passing by has a clue of the scenes that flood my head during these times.

    When I’m writing, there have been countless occasions that my hands shake, my armpits sweat, and a feeling of euphoria steals over me. When I’m done, by head feels like it’s underwater, and I go through the motions of the day like a machine, fighting the wrung-out feelings from what I’ve just created. Let me tell ya, it’s intense.

Photo by Alice Alinari

    Writing isn’t work to me. If you were to ask my husband, he’d tell you it’s an obsession. He’s not wrong. I get cranky if I miss a day. I feel off. If you think reading a good book is fulfilling, try writing one. Imagine anyplace you want to go, and then the power of creating it. The power of creating people and places and bending them to your will. Maybe writers are just narcissistic control freaks. Or maybe it’s just me.

    In any case, as for those of you who scrutinize the writer… “It’s so sweet you think you know how crazy, how crazy I am.”