Object Lessons from Some Rabbits

Lola Rapunzel, taken on her fifth birthday, Dec. 31, 2019.

If you have read this blog from the beginning, you are aware I have four rabbits. Each one of them got a post within the first month of going live.

I’ve been fortunate enough to share my life with many animals over the years; several dogs, a few cats, pigeons, doves, parakeets, love birds, fish, ferrets, and even a horse for a little while.

What catalyst caused me to bring home bunnies? Angora wool. It’s soft and nearly weightless, not to mention seven times warmer than sheep wool. What’s not to like if you’re a spinner/knitter/crocheter? Yep, that’s how those folks become “extra”. They bring home livestock. The lucky ones who live in the country can get sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas. Suburbanites, like myself, settle for rabbits. Though I wouldn’t exactly call it settling. Did I say bunny wool is soft?

My two English Angoras are pretty much retired from fiber production now. Angus is getting old. Every once in a while, he gives me a scare that he may not be with us much longer. While I wish I could keep him forever, there is no cure for age. He deserves a break from constant brushing. In fact, he’s being trimmed again. Between him, and the 5 yr. old doe, Lola Rapunzel, I’m set for life with bunny wool.

Bunnies generally have a hard time as pets, because most people don’t want to take the time to understand them. Unlike dogs and cats, who are predators, rabbits are prey animals. They require a different approach when attempting to make friends with them. Unlike a horse, which can literally knock you on your butt, when they’ve been spooked or upset; rabbits don’t have quite the same power. Though they bite hard enough to draw blood and can leave some nasty scratches with their strong back legs. One must be willing to learn rabbit language to gain their trust. A hand on the head is a sign of respect, and generally calms a rabbit who isn’t certain they want anything to do with you. You can’t be an emotional basket case when working with rabbits. Calm and patience are the order of the day, before you even get close to them. Their radar is always going for signs of threats, which indicate something might be about to attack and eat them.

They are also ruminants, not rodents, meaning they are grass eaters and strict vegans. Their systems are not designed to process sugar. (When I look at my waistline, I’m not so sure I am either.) My rabbits do receive a piece of dried papaya at bedtime, but it does dual duty. Besides being “candy”, it serves as a digestive aid to prevent wool block; something even short haired bunnies can get, if the loose hair isn’t kept off them. Rabbits can’t throw up, so everything which enters their digestive track only flows in one direction.

Most rabbits, with the exception of German Angoras, blow their coats four times a year. So, if you don’t like animal hair in your house, don’t bring a rabbit into your home. The stuff floats and will reach places, like light fixtures and the highest corner of a vaulted ceiling. (Angel hair) Daily cage cleaning is a must, as well.

Besides the uber-soft bunny wool, there would have to be other trade-offs to make the work worthwhile, wouldn’t there? It probably helps I didn’t get my rabbits until I was in my forties. After raising two daughters, and working with a variety of people from different backgrounds over the years, I learned patience. But my rabbits still had plenty to teach me, and were actually a major part of working my way through the grieving process after my mom died. Four hours a day, I had to put it aside and concentrate on my obligations to the bunnies. Since they wouldn’t cooperate with me while exhibiting strong emotions, they provided a bit of rest, even though I was doing chores. Taking time to earn their trust when I first got them, paid off. They have been bonded to me for several years now, and rabbits are actually playful, affectionate critters when they have confidence in you.

Other than being fed regular meals and being given a safe environment, rabbits don’t have high expectations for life. They’re pretty humble. Of the four rabbits I own, my sassy rabbit, Benjamin, might be the only exception. They don’t worry about changing the world or leaving a legacy behind them. I will always have fond memories of all four of them. Angus and Lola, however, will leave heirlooms behind them, even though it was never planned by them. All that wool I’ve saved up will last well beyond their lifetimes. It gives me an opportunity to provide blessings to others, while still having plenty to make something for myself occasionally. Provided a recipient of an item I’ve made with their fiber, gives it just a bit of care, they would be able to pass it on to another for their enjoyment someday.

Quote of the Week

Autumn passed and Winter, and in the Spring, when the days grew warm and sunny, the Boy went out to play in the wood behind the house. And while he was playing, two rabbits crept out from the bracken and peeped at him. One of them was brown all over, but the other had strange markings under his fur, as though long ago he had been spotted, and the spots still showed through. And about his little soft nose and his round black eyes there was something familiar, so that the Boy thought to himself:

“Why, he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!”

But he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real.

The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real, by Margery Williams https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/williams/rabbit/rabbit.html

I call Angus and Lola my Velveteen Rabbits after they get a haircut.

Kristal DeJong

Misdemeanors Against the English Language – Listen

Still a verb, made into a sign.

This may become a regular feature, along with other posts concerning the mechanics of communication. I’m still mulling it over.

I’m beginning with Listen because its misuse on television news media outlets has been driving me crazy for a few years now. (Mrs. Buchanan would not approve, people!)

Can anyone tell me what is wrong with this sentence?

Take a listen.

The noun here is “you”. Since this sentence is being used to address a whole bunch of “you”, leaving it unspoken is fine. What you have left are two verbs. Proper sentence structure is usually a Subject (noun), Verb (passive or active), and often another noun (object). The object is either by itself in simple sentence structure or embedded in a prepositional phrase. Action verbs indicate the subject is doing something. To determine whether a word is a verb, both active and passive verbs always have a past, present or future tense. Active verbs are the same word, with “ed” added for past tense and sometimes “ing” for present tense. The last I knew, Listen is an active verb. It is something one does, which is usually the brain interpreting sounds collected by the ears. The following examples illustrate its use in all three tenses. “I listened to my favorite song.” “I enjoy listening to my favorite song.” “I will listen to my favorite song.”

In the offending sentence, Listen is being used as a noun (object). Every time I hear someone use it in this manner, I ask myself “Where am I taking it?” or “Who am I taking it from?” The proper way to use it would be, “Please listen to the following story.” Yes, there are twice as many words in this sentence. Wow! Six in total. Instead of drawing my attention to something a reporter or anchor wants me to notice, all they’re really doing is distracting me with the misuse of a verb; and being impolite by demanding I do something. Instead of asking me nicely to pay attention. Yes, there are some words which can be both nouns and verbs. There is even at least one in this post, but it isn’t Listen.

A Different Perspective

Many eons ago, people used to make friends with those who lived close to them. Learning and developing friendships often begins when we’re very young and have no preconceived ideas about others. We just like them, for no other reason than they are fun to play with.

Then we start growing up and much of that precious innocence starts disappearing. Whose fault is that, I wonder? If children are born empty vessels, who really fills them? Parents are usually the first answer. Which is true until you send that child off to school. Perhaps from kindergarten until second grade, most of them get along pretty well. Though if you’re really paying attention, you might begin to notice slight cracks in their innocent shells. Small signs of selfishness, if you will. Perhaps name calling or bit of physicality against another child, because someone is playing with a toy they want. As anyone who has ever raised a child can tell you, the little darlings are not born patient. The only way a baby knows how to communicate their needs is by screaming in your ear until you figure it out.

Eventually, children start encountering the mysteries of public image. At that point, they are often faced with choices they aren’t always mature enough to understand, unless they have been given guidance which has been provided from a loving heart and always in their best interest. That guidance is sometimes wrong, because those providing it don’t always realize the lens guiding their compass has been compromised.

When I started this blog a couple of months ago, I made no secret of the fact I recently rejoined RWA (Romance Writers of America). Not long after, its board got drug into the middle of a mess created by some people who forgot they were part of the organization’s public face. (Published authors). It apparently got ugly from the beginning and involved the media darling word of the moment, Racism.

Let me point out right here and now, any word which ends with an “ism” or “ist” isn’t allowed in my vocabulary. Why? Because every single one of them comes from one source, and one alone; Selfishness. They are all covers, or excuses if you will, for what truly motivates every single unfavorable decision we make against others. (They have a toy we want, or we have it and they’re not going to get it). Both those that seem insignificant (using that blasted cell phone while behind the wheel of a motorized weapon); and ones which cause horrendous events which echo through history. (You know, wars which destroy millions, most especially the seemingly innocent. Gives new meaning to “He who has the most toys wins,” doesn’t it?)

The RWA members involved in their middle school tit for tat, forgot they were engaging each other in the modern equivalent of the village square, because they thought they were safely hidden behind their electronic screens. They not only overlooked the importance of protecting their professional images, and any previous good work they may have accomplished; they jettisoned the reputation of an organization whose core values are supposed to be about supporting each other’s successes, and providing the tools for achieving success. A very rare thing in this world. When another’s achievements are celebrated, we often sit back and pout because we weren’t just handed that big “***” toy chest. Sigh…

Due to the original intentions of the founders, the organization is made by the complete sum of its parts, whether we like it not. In other words, it goes beyond the board and extends to every single member. All members are expected to understand an organization’s core values and uphold them, otherwise why bother joining in the first place? That not only applies to what we do on social media, but the stories we choose to tell. There is nothing wrong with venturing into unfamiliar territory, as long as it’s being done for personal growth and greater understanding. An occasional gut check by the creator, for an honest evaluation of motivation, is never a bad thing; and shoddy work is problematic. At the very least, it opens up the door to erroneous interpretations.

When I joined RWA in the late nineties, I didn’t live anywhere near close. My nearest chapter was almost four hours away. Naturally, I couldn’t attend meetings every month, but when I did, I looked forward to the long drive. Why? Because those “local” ladies were fun to play with. Yes, RWA was all “women” at that time, and some of them seemed sexist, against men joining. It doesn’t bother me to see they’ve become more inclusive and men are also members, too. Afterall, they are half of that romance formula many of us like to write.

I don’t remember now, it’s unearthing in relation to when I started writing my book again; but that mouse pad sitting next to my computer is actually a 1999 issue of Romance Writer’s Report. Why did I keep that one only? I believe it was because of an article about tightening up those sagging middles. Still apropos and a darn fine bit of writing, if I may say so. Image my surprise, upon rediscovery twenty years later, to encounter a letter from Bertrice Small, answering a letter to a gentleman named Arnold. She suggested he would need to do a “sex change” if he wished to be a romance writer. Publishers wouldn’t give him the time of day otherwise. She even provided examples. Do the names Jennifer Wilde and Leigh Greenwood ring bells with anyone? Well, they might if you’re old enough. Double sigh… (No, dagnabit, I’m not a baby boomer. Just at the oldest end of Gen X.)

When I first received the apology letter from the board the day after Christmas, I initially thought. “Huh, that’s too bad, but it has nothing to do with me. As my day continued to pass, and I laid awake in bed until 3 a.m., I came to the realization I was involved whether I liked it or not, with an organization whose core values no longer seemed to align with mine. It had dissolved into something unpleasant, instead of being a joyous group of people united in a common cause, the promotion of “women’s literature”. Darn thing caused a huge pit in my stomach and gave me a nasty bout of acid reflux which lasted almost 24 hrs. I ultimately ended up leaving a comment on another blogger’s post pointing out the true infractions of everyone involved. I really didn’t want to write or leave that comment. Since he moderates like I do, it wouldn’t have bothered me in the least if his eyes had been the only ones to see it. Otherwise, I knew there was a very good likelihood I would be in put in a position of needing to provide more clarification.

There were some who responded. I must thank them for taking the time to read the ramblings of a crabby woman crying her eyes out at 3 in the morning. Even if some of them didn’t fully understand the message, or didn’t want to because it may have unintentionally come a bit close to home. I even got accused of defending a racist. Did they make that comment because I said that person’s true crime was laziness? (One of the seven deadly sins, also known as Sloth) Or did they see the picture with the cute, fuzzy bunny being held by a white woman and make a judgement based on appearance? As I mentioned to one of them, one must consider carefully before making accusations, including our own motivations for doing so, especially when you aren’t personally acquainted with someone. And never name names. Those people don’t have to come out in public to defend themselves, but if they do happen to visit, and need a friend who is willing to listen on occasion, I’ll figure out a way to do so in private. In the spirit of any possible new friendships, I will let them know up front, I consider laziness a deadly insult; and I might forget myself enough to slap anyone who calls me lazy.

So, why did I bother wading into the middle of any of this? Like it or not, it was high time to for someone to speak up. Not just over the immature behavior of a few writers, but the immaturity many of us indulge on social media. The minute we think no one is looking, we believe it OK to revert to childhood. Not the good, nostalgic kind either. There is a reason why parents who care about the characters of their children, call them little heathens until they finally start figuring out the true value of respect. Not just for themselves, but everyone they encounter. Don’t forget this timeless adage, either. “Never hang your dirty laundry out to dry.” Poopoo undies are the least attractive thing to expose for all the world to see.

(Sorry, I had to do it. If that’s not an image guaranteed to make someone think twice, I don’t know what is. Dirty laundry exposed in the “real” public sphere is even worse. Anytime my brother and I forgot ourselves and used certain speech, my mom reached for a bar of soap. Not to mention it exhibits a lack of vocabulary and true creativity. Why would anyone want to color with one of those dinky boxes containing 8 crayons? Unless you are well versed in the science of color.)

Like or not, fixing RWA’s “mess” isn’t going to occur at the national level. It’s going to require a whole bunch of disheartened members rolling up their sleeves and getting to work on the local level. If you are an RWA member who happens to read this, support your local chapter and board members. They were actually the ones I thought of, when the first thing I encountered while searching, were news media stories, who caught wind all wasn’t well in the land of happy endings. (I believe that came from the New York Post)

Right now, I wish I was in a better position to do more for my local chapter. Our president, Jenn, tells us at every meeting, “This is your chapter. Tell us what you want.” I’ve been to every meeting since I rejoined. Having access to a physical writers’ group is the real reason I rejoined RWA. You are required to have the national membership to join a local chapter. My local chapter is now only five minutes from my house. I’ve had no complaints, since they seem like fun people to play with. I’ve also learned from them, and the book I’m readying for publication wouldn’t be the same without them.

Frankly, if there is going to be any rebranding going on, I would far rather be known as a relationship novelist (notice I did not say Guru.) Romance has the dubious distinction of being somewhat fleeting. Yeah, yeah, I can hear some of you now, “I don’t know, that seems like a rather broad category…” Not really, it’s existed all along. (See, divide and conquer has been going on for eternity. Even in the publishing world.)

If you have read all of my posts, I’ve mentioned reading lots of stuff, from many so-called genres. I’ve noticed something kind of odd about all of them. At their cores, they are ALL about relationships. In fact, there would be no story at all, without a relationship at its heart. For everyone who has ever read an epic fantasy series, you know full well those relationships will be tested to their limits, and not everyone will make it to the happy ending. Those characters watching each other’s backs, will be the only ones who will pull their friends to the other side. (Frodo Baggins never would have completed his mission without Samwise Gamgee.)

My dream in a book store? Two sections. The really interesting “Look at all the Cool Stuff You Can Learn” Side; and “Really Good Stories” in the other half. Not necessarily in alphabetical order. That way readers have to explore a bit, and “Gasp!”, occasionally discover something new.

What’s that? Three sections? Fine. The kids still get their section, too. I am all for fostering reading at a young age, after all.

Looking at the World Through a Broken Lens

I’m sure many of us have experienced a broken or smudged lens at least once in our lifetimes. If it wasn’t a pair of eye glasses, it may have been attached to a camera. It’s an annoying experience, isn’t it?

You’re using that lens because you need to see something clearly. Such as what you’re reading or where you’re going. The purpose of a photograph is to catch a fleeting moment you likely will never see again. Taking time to clean or replace a lens often means you will miss it.

But there is one lens which should matter to all of us. Sometimes, it’s also called our internal compass. Actually, they are two separate things and one informs the other. Just ask the seafaring folk of old who didn’t have GPS on a cell phone. You need both tools in order to reach your destination. With a dirty or broken lens, your compass can’t function properly. (Hey, that is doubly true for all those satellites we now rely on. They are equipped with both, you know.)

Let’s take a look at the moral compass. It’s really the only one we possess. Who are we allowing to influence our lens? Are they smudging or distorting it? If we are allowing others to touch our lens, who? Do you truly know who they are or understand their motivations for “informing” your lens?

The hardest part of using a clean lens is when we turn it on ourselves and take a deeper look at who we really are. It’s the very rare person who takes an honest look at themselves and comes away feeling that they are already perfect. The most annoying thing about achieving perfection? You can’t obtain it on your own, and it is pretty much a given few of us will even come close to achieving it during our lifetimes. (Yes, that includes me.)

I mentioned in my last post, who influenced me. My mom was a quiet person who tried to overcome her insecurities through a really good friend. Because he was her friend, she would never dream of misrepresenting his true character, in public or private. She met this friend as an adult, after she married and had two kids. (I was four at the time.) She doesn’t seem like the kind of person whose life would end by suicide, does she? I’m still not certain that’s exactly what happened. I live more than 1,000 miles away from where she did. During the last month and a half she was with us, I found myself fighting a growing sense of unease each time I spoke with her. My heart literally broke during our last conversion two days before she died.

Since I was too far away to do anything in person, I told her at the end of that conversation I was still there for her, despite any wrongs she thought were committed against me during my lifetime. I promised I would keep checking on her. The next morning when I called, I got someone else. Someone who should have been profoundly concerned over her state of mind. Instead, he blew me off. His way of trying to reassure me? “There’s nothing to worry about. She’s only been going off the deep end for a while.”

I wish I could say his attitude surprised me. Only, throughout my life, my lens had been under the influence of my mom’s very good friend. I never had a difficult time identifying this person’s true character, because he often subjected me to it with snide remarks and put downs. He had the same opportunity my mom did, to be included in the special friendship. It’s the best kind of threesome, after all. Instead, he allowed jealousy to keep him from something truly meaningful, because he was self-centered and believed he was no longer the center of her world. After all, he was the hot, popular guy who settled for the quiet, shy girl who didn’t think she was pretty. She spent more than 50 years with him. The entire time she tried to bring him into that special friendship. Her reward for it was a lifetime of mockery and disrespect.

Even so, my mom still reached out to others and made it clear her special friendship was never exclusive. She loved everyone, no matter where they came from or what mistakes they made during their lifetimes. Always, always with a spirit of humility. Which is the true reason I still love her, despite the grief and lack of understanding why I lost her the way I did. I admired her so very much for the way she represented her special friend. Because I didn’t think I had the courage to do the same. What hurt me the most, during our last conversation was when she said “My life’s not right with God.”

From that moment on, the Holy Trinity and I have had to do some hardcore relationship rebuilding. I seriously questioned if my entire life had been a lie. To say I have been angry is something of an understatement. What really happened? Someone finally managed to break the lens which allowed my mom to clearly see her special friend. In the process, he shattered mine too.

The whole reason I’m uncomfortable with the notion of building my brand? It’s not really mine to build, not if I claim to have a special friend. Yes, that friend is Jesus. I’m not ashamed of him. In fact, I don’t call myself a Christian. (There’s a “branding” issue there.) The master lens maker is my friend. For the past 4 ½ years, he’s been quietly rebuilding my lens. I’ve recently discovered he gifted me with the clearest, most beautiful wide lens; whose colors and clarity will never be matched by anything I could ever make on my own.

I’m Not a Follower

The problem with being a follower? You don’t always know who’s doing the leading and where you’re really going.

I mentioned in my earliest posts, I’m relatively new to social media, though this is my third blog. Otherwise, I’ve mostly avoided it as something not particularly essential to my life. I especially don’t like big corporations using it to pick my pockets when they already make enough money off me. Staying mischievously out of focus has been a point of pride for much of my adult life. (See the post “The Year of Being “Extra”)

Then I went and finally finished a book I started thirty years ago. Of course, I would like other people to read it and pay me for the privilege of doing so. Afterall, I’ve spent seven months working on it. Recognition is nice. However, I’m not particularly concerned over making any high falutin’ lists or winning awards. It is a matter of personal pride to set very high standards for any project I decide to complete, and I like being different. I’m getting old and cranky enough, it doesn’t bother me in the least to say, “I’m doing it my way.” If someone else appreciates my hard work, they do have my gratitude. Otherwise, I learned a long time ago, I don’t need the approval of others to feel as if my life has validation. While I do enjoy spending time with real people, I’m actually comfortable in my introverted skin.

Here’s my main issue with social media, especially the word “follow”. Blindly following someone simply isn’t my M.O. Whenever I get recommendations on social media, the first words out my mouth are, “I don’t know that person.” I’ve also seen other things which make me scratch my head, like a new app being advertised by a certain food channel, using the word win for preparing holiday meals and cookie swaps. When did those occasions become contact sports, instead of spending quality time with those who matter to us? They also push the opportunity to learn during real time with their celebrities.

Granted, those people arrived where they’re at due to hard work. I respect that and even like watching some of their shows. But I don’t need to spend personal time with any of them to feel like my life has meaning, maybe because I’ve been learning in the kitchen on my own for a few years now. I also associate my love of cooking and baking with some of my favorite people, like my grandmothers. The people who have loved me, and took the time to teach me because of it, are my influencers. My mom was my most important influencer of all, because she taught me to treat others with love and respect no matter what. Her influencer was Christ.

There are all kinds of suggestions and rules concerning the utilization of social media if you want to sell something. The notion I need to “build my brand” still cracks me up. Reality and I have a long relationship with each other. Frankly, I find ignoring it counterproductive, along with trying to convince the rest of the world my life is perfect. Life is short, and my brain is packed with ideas I want to create before I die. Sadly, there is no such thing as a perfect life for anyone. If you want true freedom, or secretly consider yourself a rebel, be at peace with your imperfect life. Just don’t allow it to hold you back.

When I was putting out a rather large fire in my backyard a few weeks ago, it certainly wasn’t my first impulse to write a blog post about it. (“Building my Brand”) By the end of the day, I was asking myself, “Why the heck not?” I didn’t do so because I wanted anyone to feel sorry for me. (I needed a blog topic. Really!) People do make “ass”umptions though, that I have a lot of time on my hands because I no longer work outside the home. Again, no I don’t. Perhaps because I’m a mother of grown children, whom I still see holding themselves back because they’re making excuses, I decided to put my foot down and give the two of them a proverbial kick in the backside. Only, it has to start with me, doesn’t it?

Since I dug my book out of my memory bank (sort of), I’ve frequently asked myself, “Do I really need others to read it that badly?” In the grand scheme of things, the answer is “no”. Resurrecting, and actually finishing, after setting it aside 20 yrs. ago, is a major accomplishment. One which I will always have, whether others read it or not. Granted, the idea of self-publishing and being an independent business owner is scary, not to mention an awful lot of work. I have not hidden the fact there is already plenty on my plate and privately questioned my sanity more than once. So, why do it at all?

The answer is joy, my friends. The true difference between the book I began, and the book I ultimately wrote was that it brought me joy this time. Even though I tapped into some difficult emotions to put the conflict thumb screws on my characters, I gave them moments of joy too. Those moments were a pleasure to write. There were also some significant changes to some of the characters, especially the hero and his mother. I knew, deep in my heart, I couldn’t create a “hero” whose values were the opposite of mine. His mother was my biggest surprise, and she became my favorite character. She’s wise and funny. (Not like me, at least the wise part.) I firmly believe writers can only take a true position of authority when they’ve experienced something themselves. Just like my children, I discovered I’ve grown a lot since I first started writing.

Writing, in particular, seems to require a whole host of motivational tools. Why? Probably because most people who claim to be writers think it’s a chore. Nothing is a chore if you truly enjoy doing it, and doing it for yourself before worrying about others. That’s the only motivation I’ve needed. Since I’ve begun seriously writing again, I have no idea how many words I’ve actually written, though my slightly arthritic hands might know. I haven’t been keeping count, except for the length of my book. Even so, it’s been through several revisions. I write every day, at least a little bit, because it brings me joy.

Not compromising my standards to fit a mold, or meandering in the opposite direction of everyone else, brings me joy as well. I prefer the word visit when I check out another person’s blog, or engage on other platforms. If I’m listed on someone’s site or social media account, do me the courtesy of considering me a regular visitor, not a follower. You will get the same treatment if you visit me. I’m not interested in out-hustling anyone or competition of any kind. If someone discovers and chooses to read the book I’m releasing soon, I want them to do so, because they expect it to give them the same joy it did me while writing it. Not because I ran an effective social media campaign. (Since I read for pleasure, the joy factor is how I’ve always evaluated what I want to read.)

Quote of the Week

True happiness comes from freeing yourself of the expectations and judgements of others. It’s the hardest form of freedom to obtain, but the only one which really matters.

Kristal DeJong

The Year of Being “Extra”

Angus isn’t high maintenance. He’s extra!

It came to my attention recently, receiving “Extra” is considered a good thing. (Thank You Great Day Houston/Princess T and Princess Pham – 2019 Hot Toys) It seems reasonable giving extra is a good thing too. But what about being extra?

Someone else started me down this rabbit hole first. I have to give credit to Louis at the blog, Learning to Write and his post “The Institutionalization of I – 90”. He found a new interest and wasn’t spending as much time on his blog. He mentioned the saying “jack of all trades, master of none.” I’m just going to come out and say it. I hate that saying. Why? Because I’m one of those people. My younger daughter told me not too long ago, “Geez Mom, you’re so extra!”

My husband calls me Rick, after the proprietor of the Las Vegas pawn store featured on the History Channel. Yeah, so? (Karl’s saying. I think I’m going to start using it on him each time he calls me that. Nothing personal against Rick.) I like knowing stuff. Why? Because there is a world (and a universe) out there full of interesting things, and I’m curious. I’ve also learned as I’ve gotten older, trying something new, even if I’m not good at it, is an opportunity to learn and grow. Growing isn’t just for the whippersnappers you know.

How Extra am I? Let’s just throw it all out there this one time. Take a deep breath before you read this. I started off drawing then grew into oils, watercolors and mixed media (fine art); discovered reading and read lots of books; enjoy history; played steel guitar and piano in my youth; like more than one genre of music (at least 6 of them); sew, knit, crochet, make jewelry and play with resin; cook and bake; dabble in photography; worked for more than 10 years as a graphic designer; have a telescope on standby for amateur astronomy; and last but definitely not least, I write. Are your eyes glazed over now? I’m sorry. I tend to have that effect on folks, and that’s without giving them the full list of things I like to do. People seem to think I have lots of time on my hands. No, not really. I’m also a caregiver, remember? This is a lifetime of accumulated skills and interests. Because I was driven to do these different things, I made time for them. I also descend from people who do/did some of these things. (My paternal grandmother was a wonderful cook, sewed and reupholstered furniture for a living.)

So, what’s wrong with being Extra, really? Since I hope we’re all friends here, let’s be honest. “Extra” people scare the crap out of everyone else. They’re ones who got burned at the stake for being witches, and persecuted by the church. I hesitate to call myself a genius, but I can certainly identify with some of them. (I remember being given an IQ test in school once and didn’t do that great. Eh, I thought the questions were stupid nonsense totally lacking logic.) Let’s start with genius #1, Leonardo di Vinci. Dude liked both art and science. Was he recognized as a genius during his lifetime? Not so much. Being burned at the stake and other unpleasant punishments were still a thing during his lifetime, if you made others feel inferior. Galileo got put under house arrest for inventing the telescope and having the nerve to report his observations, that the solar system doesn’t revolve around us. Nicola Tesla weirded out many with his out-of-the-box ideas, unless he allowed others to use his crazy to line their pockets. Einstein’s father and educators thought he was as dumb as a box of rocks. Didn’t stop him from coming up with the Theory of Relativity or becoming the Father of Modern Physics.

I’ve mentioned my habit of spoiling movie plots for my family. I figured it out pretty quickly while watching The Incredibles 2. Why? Because I could identify with them. Same with Syndrome in the first movie. The kid had a superpower. It was his brain. Let’s see, what was his favorite saying? “If everyone is special, then no one is.” Here is the conundrum for those who are Extra. None of them asked to be that way. To quote Jessica Rabbit, “I’m not bad, I was just drawn that way.” But since we make others uncomfortable, we have to hide a lot of it, or have very few friends as a result. Perhaps introverts aren’t drawn that way. It’s a choice they’re forced to make if they want to be true to themselves. Like Sasquatch, we learn early on to hide behind rocks and stay mischievously out of focus. (Futurama) No wonder a few of us become super-villains!

That list of things I like to do is long. However, I don’t know how to do everything. I did consider a career in Astronomy while in high school. What stopped me? Fancy-pants math. I don’t have the patience for the complicated stuff that takes pages of paper to solve. It’s not my language, and I’m OK with that. Unless I happen to get bored with my current interests. I might reconsider at that point. Trying extreme sports? Breaking a Land Speed Record? Are you nuts?! Then again, writing this post might be the equivalent of jumping off a cliff in a flying squirrel suit, without a safety parachute as backup. (Yeah, those folks are Extra, too.)

We’re approaching the end of the year, and everyone knows what that means, once the frenzy of holiday shopping is over. New Year’s Resolutions. Sure, you can try to achieve the usual goals of self-improvement. (Heck, I’m might do one or two of those, like getting back to walking the dogs first thing every morning.) I’m throwing down the gauntlet, here. I dare the rest of you to be Extra, too. Want to be special? How about earning it? Get outside your comfort zone and try something you don’t think you’ll be good at. You might surprise yourself. If not, keep at it until you are good. Then pick something else, and start over. Notice, I didn’t say “master it.” In my humble opinion, if you get good at something, you mastered it. To be truly Extra, take the Yoda approach. “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Afterward, put down the electronics and try some real social media. You know, a conversation with real people. Tell everyone you meet about your new interests and revel in the perverse pleasure of watching their eyes glaze over. Be prepared to listen politely when they get their turn, then vigorously debate why your interests are as good as theirs. You might both come away with a new hobby, and a new friend. Hey, don’t leave the kiddos out of this. When they get tired of playing with their “Extra” toys, encourage them to be Extra as well.

(Did y’all notice the word politely a moment ago? Might not be a bad idea for most of us to add the goal of being Extra Polite more frequently. Until it becomes an ingrained habit.)

Of course, since this is technically a writer’s blog, I’m also going to throw a challenge out there for both writers and readers. If you’ve never written a book over 50,000 words, dig deep and come up with at least one epic. Only write epics? Try a short story or novella. Developed your writing chops with fan fiction? (Jane Austen, Star Wars) Great! How about playing in your own worlds, with your own characters? Don’t worry about chasing trends, or if it’s your usual genre. Write that one story that has been calling to you and put everything you have in it, including excellent craft. You know, the technical stuff like grammar; extensive vocabulary, also known as coloring with the big box of crayons; proper sentence structure and punctuation; excellent plot (surprise me!); well-placed hooks and cliff-hangers; characters with depth; show, don’t tell; a satisfying and well-earned ending. That’s how you attract Extra readers to your work.

Readers, try something new. If you have never done so, read something challenging. I highly recommend Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. I read it 3 times in high school, for fun, starting my Freshman year. By the third time, I fully understood the story. It’s a classic for a reason. After you read it feel free to engage with me in a book discussion. Let’s see how much of it I remember after more than 30 years. For those of you who have watched Outlander on Starz, did you ever read the books? (I did, in the 1990s, when they first came out.) Don’t think you like to read? Whatever you do, don’t shortchange your children. At the very least, read with them and make sure they see you reading every once in a while, too.

Happy Extra New Year!

Kristal DeJong

Small, But Mighty

This is a variegated Kumquat tree I brought home a little over a year ago. It had five fruits on it when I bought it. It’s turning out to be a champion fruit producer, despite the Sun being a bit hard on it over the summer. (The curly, misshapen leaves were sunburnt.)

Last winter, I made an upside-down cake with the fruits I harvested. This year, I’m going to have a few more fruits. Kumquats are relatively new to me. If you have any favorite recipes for them, I would love to hear from you.

Is Suffering Necessary to Produce Great Art?

This sunrise photo was taken at a campground an hour west of Oklahoma City, OK, not a tropical island. It’s one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen, and it was gifted to me a little over year after my mom died. Remember, spectacular colors in the sky are only given to us right before and after nightfall.

This is a loaded question, one which has fueled heated debates with art historians for centuries. Many of the world’s most famous artists are well-known for being tortured souls, while others like Bob Rossi, were mocked for painting with Happy Blue. Being a life-time creative myself, this is hard one for me to answer.

Once upon a time, I would have replied with a resounding “no!” Because I considered myself a relatively well-adjusted person, who was reasonably happy and still felt capable of being creative. In fact, my creative outlets are my happy place. I can confidently call myself an introvert, the type of person generally believed to gravitate to the arts, but I am not going to claim it’s a requirement. However, I will say this. Introverts are attention seekers, like everyone else. Producing art is simply a means for us to say, “Hey, look at me!”, without others staring at our shy selves directly. (Banksy)

If you are blessed to live long enough, you will experience plenty of highs and lows. Alas, the lows seem to be more memorable, a bad mental habit most of us should work on more frequently. We took a hit in more ways than one after Karl suffered his back injury. It was a bruising experience for our entire family, and took several years to resolve. Something I’m certain a few too many Military families have been forced to endure. Not long after we finally settled matters, my mom died. Though I’ve lost other loved ones, like all my grandparents, nothing which came before compared to that loss.

Did it change me? Hell yes, it did. Now I have a choice, deciding if or how to wield the new tool in my emotional art supplies. I’m a Romance writer and not the least bit ashamed of admitting it. Being a reader of many genres, I’ve said it before and will say it again. “A good story is a good story, period.”

Going back to my fine art background, I’ve taken art appreciation courses. Personally, I think they’re bunk, asking questions like the differences between “art” and “craft”. Usually, art is given precedence as being more valuable, but the two usually overlap each other. Being a practitioner of both, I don’t differentiate between them. What I choose to produce at any given time depends on my emotions. Sometimes, I’m in the mood to challenge myself and will create something complicated. It’s nice to prove to myself, yes indeed, I can do it. On other occasions, I find quick projects equally satisfying. The robe I wore in last weekend’s blog photo, I made the previous week. (“Reading is the Gift That Keeps on Giving”) Yes, that photo was planned specifically for this blog, but making the robe was also a bit of stash busting. I’ve had the fabric and vintage sewing pattern which produced it for a few years now. Wanting to use it for my goofy photo gave me the motivation to finally finish it.

How does this help the writer? If you’re not certain, visit my post “Creatives are Whole Brain People”. Like all art, writing is a complicated discipline with many components which make it a complete work. And what is art? Human beings expressing their emotions, turning the most frustratingly intangible part of our existence, into something tangible, to which others of our kind can relate. The light, fluffy stories have just as much value as deep, dark thrillers which scare the pants off us. What resonates with a reader will depend on what we need emotionally at a particular time. After a difficult day, a light romp which makes us laugh might be a better choice than the deep, dark story. I guess it depends on one’s ability to differentiate between reality and entertainment.

Artists, regardless of the discipline they pursue, do it because they are seeking to leave a legacy behind them which says, “Look World! I really was here!” How long it lasts and how many it reaches, depends on how much of ourselves we are willing to give to the end result. I’ve mentioned more than once now, the book I started at the age of twenty-one is not the book I ultimately wrote at fifty-one. Yes, my dream is to make a living writing, but I’m not a book factory. I’ve always taken my writing very seriously. If it doesn’t meet my criteria as a picky reader, I don’t make it available for public consumption until it does. I would far rather leave behind a small body of work, which becomes a part of those who bless it with their attention; than to entertain them for five minutes, only to be forgotten just as quickly. Even these blog posts are revised and edited several times before I publish them.

I adore humor, and I’ll be the first to admit I like the snarky, irreverent stuff. (Mel Brooks) I watch TV shows and movies for the fun of mocking the premise/plot, or making predictions about the plot which often come true, much to my family’s frustration. Ancient Aliens and Star Wars, I’m looking at you. SpongeBob explained the whole alien thing when it comes to monolithic structures. “Oh, it’s a rock! The Pioneers could ride these babies for miles!” (Carnac, France is a Pioneer Parking Lot, people.) Out of the Star Wars movies, The Empire Strikes Back tends to be the one which most people agree is the best, but it is that dark moment which upped the stakes and made Return of the Jedi’s celebratory ending much more satisfying. Out of the recent trilogy, I’m withholding final judgement until I see the last one. I’m a big fan of most of the Pixar movies. My older daughter and I watched Frozen II last Friday. I finally watched Coco this past weekend, and was very impressed with both. They got me with plot twists I didn’t see coming. Ultimately, the best art, the stuff which stays with us the longest has depth. Depth is achieved by using contrast, both light and dark. Otherwise, you have a work whose aspect can best be described as flat.

I wrote a 90,000 word book, give or take a few words, and I had to make some hard choices. Though I would have preferred it, there is no way a light romp will sustain a story that length. It meant tapping into parts of myself I usually try to ignore most of the time, just so I can get through my day. I’m generally a private person, and my mom’s death is not something I talk about much with others, outside my immediate family. Even amongst ourselves, we don’t talk about it so much now, because we’re still trying to move forward. Without that pain, I couldn’t have written the book I recently finished. There were a few scenes I was crying so hard, I couldn’t see what I was typing. So, to answer my original question, “Is suffering necessary to produce great art?” After some reflection, I’m going to say yes, it is. There are just some occasions when imagination simply isn’t enough. (Sorry, SpongeBob) Writing to express and touch emotions is one of them. Embracing life’s dark, painful moments highlights how rare and special the joyful, peaceful gifts truly are. Both reflect the reality of the human experience, and together create something which stays with others for eternity.

Quote of the Week

I live light, dark and all the shades in between; therefore I am.

Kristal DeJong

It’s a Dog’s Life

Misty and Alexa

Though there are two in this photo, it’s actually the life of three dogs at our house. I know it seems the rabbits have top billing here, but the dogs have been around longer.

Our Queen Bee is Alexa. She’s almost 12 yrs. old, and had her name well before Amazon released its digital assistant. When our younger daughter got us the Dot for Christmas, we had to rename it. Otherwise, it was going to wake up every time we called the dog. Alexa is top dog here, not just because of her age. She’s bossy and territorial, except when it comes to the rabbits. I’ve mentioned before they freak her out. Most of her quirks are part of her breed(s) personality. We believe she is a Texas Heeler, usually a cross between Australian Cattle Dog and Australian Shepherd. Whatever she is, there is some Velcro mixed in as well. (True for all of our dogs, actually.) If she’s not laying on me during the night, she’s under the footrest of my recliner. These days, she’s not necessarily in any hurry to get up. I’ve gotten very good at getting out of my chair without putting the footrest down. I guess it’s her way of keeping me limber.

Belle, the Labrador Retriever, is nearly 10 yrs. old. Technically, she’s Karl’s dog and does spend a lot of time with him. It depends on hour of the day, or her mood. Sometimes, she just wants to be part of the pack. The rest of the time, if she’s with me, it’s because I’m doing something food related; getting close to afternoon pet feeding, cooking or eating something. While none of our dogs have been allowed to get overweight, they aren’t starved by any means. Belle’s existence is still very much motivated by food. In her mind, anything which comes in plastic packaging must be edible. She’s also never outgrown her tendency to swallow socks and underwear. Meaning we can never lose track of that stuff. Her little quirks drive me crazy. Even so, she’s a pretty mellow character most of time.

Then there is the Special Princess. Misty, our smallest dog (23 lbs.) is also the youngest. She’s going to be 9 yrs. soon. Unlike Alexa, she likes the rabbits. She wants to play with them. Unfortunately, there’s a language barrier, though Benjamin has no problem giving her some sass. Both she and Alexa are shelter puppies, meaning we don’t know their exact birthdays. Also like Alexa, she is a mixed breed, possibly a short-coated Toy or Boston Terrier and a Shetland Sheepdog. She is the Frack to Alexa’s Frick. (Or the Gilligan to Alexa’s Skipper.)

The two of them follow me all over the house most of the time, including being my writing buddies. However, since they’re getting old, they’re developing more of an appreciation for being on the bed with Karl. Every once in a while, I look up from whatever I’m working on and discover I’ve been abandoned. Oh well, it’s nice on occasion to put my chair’s footrest down, instead of climbing out of it.

Having senior pets is not new to us. During 31 years of marriage, we’ve owned a total of 7 dogs. Like everyone else, things have changed for us with the passage of time. After our current pets are gone, I’ve debated the possibility of not having any more. If one includes the rabbits, plus a couple of birds I had years ago, I think we’ve met our quota. Being without pets is a bridge we’re not in a particular hurry to cross since we love our fur babies, and did our best to give them long, healthy lives. Pet ownership is always a long-term commitment of several years in most cases. (Like my Energizer Bunny, Angus.) It should never be undertaken on a whim. We’ll just have to see what our circumstances are like at the time. Like many folks whose children have their own lives, we’ve had many discussions about down-sizing in one form or another, including being full-time RVers with our travel trailer.

My dream? If someone actually does build a house of the future which cleans and maintains itself, we and our future pets will be there the moment they finish it.

Reading is the Gift that Keeps on Giving

Besides being a writer, why would I be concerned over society’s trend toward a shorter attention span and not making time to read?

When I was growing up, my teachers, especially those in middle and high school, always put an emphasis on reading. According to them, it was reading which made the difference in understanding and retaining knowledge. I can personally attest reading opened and expanded my world, something I can appreciate because it took me a few years to discover those possibilities. (Busy with my horse acquisition program, remember?) While writing Heart of a Star, I discovered all kinds of interesting trivia, much of it random yet surprisingly useful, lurking in my noggin. The only reason much of that stuff is there is due to reading. At the very least, it gave me a starting place to do what I like to call lightening research.

I don’t have anything against audio books or podcasts as a concept, except my attention tends to wander. My brain is usually packed with a host of ideas it’s pondering, so I’m not usually lacking entertainment when I’m doing something else, like chores. That’s my version of multi-tasking. Otherwise, I feel giving my undivided attention to something is the height of efficiency. I can finish a project much faster when it has my undivided attention, and it is far less likely to have mistakes which need to be corrected.

“Knowledge is power.” Many of us who are supposedly educated have heard this saying. Yet those of us who receive education as part of our societal structure often take it for granted. However, human beings seeking power frequently restrict access to knowledge and information, when they are attempting to take control of a country or society.

Let’s look at the Romans. Their civilization started as a bunch of tribal backwoods rubes. (Folks often called Barbarians by those who thought themselves better educated and more sophisticated.) They gained advanced knowledge through the Democratic Greeks, due to a library system set up during the Hellenic period. The Romans themselves were anything except democratic. At the height of their power, they were all about enslaving those they conquered. Romans did value the written word, but not everyone had access. In Rome, reading and education were only granted to the privileged. The contents of Alexandria, Egypt’s famous library probably interested a few prominent Romans. I’m going to point you to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninis.

Ordinarily, most of us would like to think Daddy would stand up for us, and punch our jerk husband in the face for stepping out on us. (Remember Cleopatra?) I believe I can imagine exactly how the conversation went between these two, before Julius went on his diplomatic trip to Alexandria, for the purpose of inventorying its treasures for conquest. I’m all for fostering imagination, so I’m not going to spell it out for anyone. Just consider this. Lucius had a library of scrolls (a very large library) in his fancy vacation home in Herculaneum. It wouldn’t surprise me if a few scrolls from Alexandria landed in Lucius’ library.

Wherever they came from, Lucius ultimately did a very bad thing by hoarding and keeping all that knowledge to himself. His villa was covered in ash by Mt. Vesuvius, during the same eruption which destroyed the neighboring working town of Pompeii. (I learned about Mr. Lucius from the TV show “Unearthed” on the Science Channel. Who says educational TV no longer exists?) While his library has been discovered by archeologists, the scrolls are so fragile, due in large part to the volcanic heat treatment, it was difficult in the past to do anything with them. Some new technology may finally make it possible to see what information they contain.

True freedom comes from knowledge, and knowledge is best gained and retained by the written word. Supposedly, this theory was proved and supported by real science, according to my teachers. Who thought we weren’t reading enough in the 1980s! There is also still value in the printed page, as a means of resting the eyes and brain from all the electronic glare and noise, to which we constantly subject ourselves. Society has allowed itself to be manipulated and stressed by electronic devices to the point it should make us ask ourselves, “Who really owns who, here?”

Having worked in print as a graphic designer, the other senses can be engaged as well when you read. I may be a bit weird that I enjoy the smell of ink, but there are many kinds of different papers out there, in varying shades and textures. While digital may be able to capture color, I have yet to see it satisfy the sense of touch. A physical book is a total sensory experience which keeps us connected to our humanity. (I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. Ps. 139:14)

Do you consider yourself a rebel? Are you a freedom fighter? No? Have you ever considered the possibility you may have to become one someday? (It’s rarely a path we choose, but thrust upon us instead.) Alexandria’s ancient library was world famous for its approach to scholarship and collecting knowledge, though its fortunes rose and fell over the centuries, until it finally disappeared. It’s nice, a modern version has been created. But just like the ancient library, it’s located in an area which is unstable, both geographically and politically. Humanity itself is the true Library of Alexandria. Are you really too busy to read? What will happen when the day arrives that you need the knowledge of the ages, only to discover your mental library shelves are empty?

Quote of the Week

While jam is tasty, it becomes a faint memory once it’s gone. However, a good book will stay with you forever. (Yes, this is a reference to Christmas Vacation’s Jam of the Month Club.)

Kristal DeJong

Please note: The image at the top of this post is not a stock image, nor is it public domain. It was taken by me for use on this blog, and may not be used elsewhere without my permission or proper credit.