Interesting Finds

I both hate and love a short month. It goes by fast, but it also goes by really fast! I hope you had an excellent February and you didn’t get too cold. If you’re huddling under blankets trying to thaw, reading these tidbits will give you an excuse to stay there.

Did you know that February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month? One author, Shannon M. Parker, is doing a lot more than writing about teen dating violence in her efforts to educate and  prevent it. This one hits home for me since my mom has worked for nearly 15 years at a school devoted to teaching life skills to pregnant and parenting teenage girls. The stories I’ve heard from that place would curdle your insides.

This discussion, sparked by Peggy Orenstein’s new book, Girls and Sex, doesn’t skew very far from the previous topic since it all feeds the same monster. I’m not against porn, but I’m against an industry that uses women the way mainstream porn does.

This one is old, but still relevant in the wake of Trump’s travel ban attempt. Plus, Indigenous women’s issues are still not being taken seriously.

I’m ending on a positive note. Did you know there’s evidence that chimps have entered their own stone age? I recently finished reading Jane Goodall’s first book, In the Shadow of Man, and it has rekindled my love of primatology.

Ciao until next month!

 

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A New Way of Keeping Tabs: Things in My Face, Reader Edition

Early this month, I shared a post on Anxiety Ink about my newest means of keeping tabs on my writing goals. I created an ugly chart and I mark on it every single day whether I write fiction words or not. There’s no better way of keeping an eye on myself than with a bright blue item I can’t escape.

One month in, it’s really working for me. My return to reality week has been the hardest because I caught some bug on the plane home and I was just not present in my life. I nearly didn’t make my “write at least 3 days a week” goal that week, but writing on my chart made me realize that. So I opened my WIP and got some words down ASAP so I didn’t disappoint myself.

As I mentioned on Anxiety Ink, part of the reason I made the chart was because last year by the end of the week when I was finally able to sit down at my desk and see my progress, it was way too late to catch up. I was behind before I even realized it because I wasn’t keeping track where I could easily see my progress, or lack thereof.

One of my goals this year, again, is to read at least 68 books. Early on, I’m coming to understand that the same reason I failed at hitting my writing goals last year is keeping me from staying on top of my reading goals this year: I don’t know I’m behind until it’s too late.

So, I’ve commandeered a small corner of my 6 Month Plan and devoted it to tracking my reading. Every time I finish a book, I write down a number–my last read was the third one I’ve finished so a three went down in roman numerals. I also decided this would be a great chance to learn more roman numerals…mostly because I’m weird.

6 Month Plan (2)

I keep track of all the books I read on Goodreads, but I don’t pay enough attention. Goodreads is distracting so it’s easy to ignore my progress. My chart, which is pretty bare-bones, makes me so much more accountable to myself and makes shirking that much more difficult.

Have you taken steps to improve your productivity this year?

Feed Your Need to Recharge

The Toltec's are the eagles, the Mayans the jaguars.

The Toltec’s are the eagles, the Mayans the jaguars.

Last month, and probably the month before that, I talked about my vacation plans for the end of January. I also admitted that my January trip was the first relaxing vacation I had taken in nearly a decade. Honestly, that is far too long.

I’m a person who goes until they run themselves into the ground. I did it in high school. I did it in university. And now I’m doing it mixing the day job with the writing and blogging. I suppose it’s all well and good, until you take a break and find that getting back on the horse after a minor rest is a lot harder than you ever imagined it could be.

I have a lot of goals this year. And while I intend to conquer them all, I also intend to let myself have breaks before I hit the dirt. Acknowledging your need to recharge is the first step. The next is to feed your need to recharge. Which I did, and I am really excited to share some details!

If you look closely, you can see the pikes the Toltec's put these skulls on. Inside the formation archaeologists found the real thing the stones depict.

If you look closely, you can see the pikes the Toltec’s put these skulls on. Inside the formation archaeologists found the real thing the stones depict.

 

On January 22 my alarm went off at 3:45 a.m. (after staying up too late and not sleeping properly at all) so that I could be up and ready to be picked up at 4:45. Four of us had planned this trip, and only two of us are accustomed to such early wakeups, for the record. Our plane took off around 8, just as the sun was

starting to peak over the horizon, to take us directly to Cancún.

I’ve never felt humidity like I did standing in line for Mexican customs. But I was revved. I could smell the ocean. Once through the gates we went and found our shuttle and prepared for our hour long drive south to our destination. I have never been so grateful for air conditioning and bottled water.

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This trip served as my very first to the tropics and my first experience with an all-inclusive resort. My seven night stay was amazing. I took a lot of entertainment with me –books, my blogging notebook, my sketchbook, an empty notebook, and magazines– because I honestly expected to be bored. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that the only thing I opened was two of the four paperbacks I packed.

I hadn’t realized until we staked out our spots in the sand overlooking the Caribbean just how badly my brain needed to disengage. When I sat in the sun, I either dozed or people watched. I did a lot of people watching, which is in itself a writing necessity, so I shouldn’t feel too guilty. Not once was I bored.

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We planned two excursions, a full day at Chichén-Itzá and a half day tour through Río Secreto. Other than that we were lazy on the beach, explored our massive resort, ate at a few à la cartes, and popped into the little shops set up on the grounds.

The breakfast tamale was bright pink with pineapple and raisin chunks. The other was a yummy chicken tamale. The texture was odd, but overall they were tasty and filling.

The breakfast tamale was bright pink with pineapple and raisin chunks. The other was a yummy chicken tamale. The texture was odd, but overall they were tasty and filling.

The history nerd in me loved Chichén-Itzá, even though we had to get up at the butt crack of dawn for our two hour bus ride. Our tour guides were fantastic, I’ve never been so impressed. We were given traditional tamales half-way to our destination while the leader gave us a long rundown of Mayan history. We were then taken to a little shop to check out goods made by the local Mayans. After that it was on to our destination.

I had no idea that the Mayans had deserted the city long before the Spaniards came. And I got a refresher on the fact that the Toltec’s invaded Mayan cities before the Europeans had a chance. I was entranced learning about the local history from people of native descent who had much different information to share than the European-based textbooks I’ve been reading all my life. There was a whole world rising and falling in the Yucatán prior to the arrival of the Spanish fleets. As someone raised in a commonwealth nation, I sometimes forget that the world didn’t start and stop with the actions of Europe.

Once we were done touring the ruins, we returned to the hotel that owns the entryway into the site, Mayaland, and were served a rather traditional lunch. I didn’t think I’d enjoy lime soup or suckling pig tacos, but I was mistaken. I had promised myself to at least try the local cuisine while I was south and was happily surprised by most of it.

Once our lunch, and much needed time in the shade, was over, we hopped back on the bus and drove to a cenote. My waterproof camera failed me that day because it decided to be temperamental, so most of my pictures are blurry. I’ve never swum in a pit, nor in anything so deep, as that cenote. I had scoffed at the fact that we were required to wear lifejackets before I descended into the depths. After I leapt into the pool I was grateful.

The best image I have of the cenote from the relative top.

The best image I have of the cenote from the relative top.

Our time in the mineral water was too short, but our guides wanted to take us to one last stop: Valladolid. Our bus parked for 25 minutes next to the city’s main square and we were let out to explore. The square was beautiful, as was the San Servacio church across the street. What struck me most was the look at real Mexico. Being on the resort was nice, but there was no culture. I might as well have been at a hotel at home. The brief glimpse of the life in Valladolid was important to me.

The centre of the square. The fence enclosing the whole thing was designed to keep Mayans out, only the Spanish were permitted to enter.

The centre of the square. The fence enclosing the whole thing was designed to keep Mayans out, only the Spanish were permitted to enter.

My friends and I finished our ice cream and waited until the last moment before getting back on the bus and heading back.

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The church, which I did not enter because my one friend did not feel properly dressed for it and I concurred.

That was a wonderful day, one that will be permanently etched in my mind. The history I learned, the ruins I finally got to see firsthand, and the landmarks I was taken to are certainly going to inform my writing. History is always told by the victors, but you have to remember that there are other voices to find.

Our second adventure was short and no less interesting. Río Secreto is a relatively new site in Mexico, the underwater pathways were accidentally discovered in 2008. National Geographic has the rights, or whatever you want to call them, to the area so I was not allowed to take pictures inside and I was not paying the exorbitant fee for pictures that they were charging.

We did a roughly two-hour tour in wetsuits, lifejackets, and water shoes underground in part of the river system. We saw stalagmites rising from the ground, some meeting the incredible stalactites that are still forming, creating massive columns of minerals. The ancient coral from the Yucatan’s time under the ocean millions of years ago was still sharp –I crashed into a low hanging part that I didn’t see thanks to my helmet and sliced my hand on some, so I know it’s sharp.

A shot of Rio Secreto from perceptivetravel.com.

A shot of Rio Secreto from perceptivetravel.com.

During the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, at a specific time that I've forgotten, the shadows hit this snake just right and his tail is visible up the staircase.

During the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, at a specific time that I’ve forgotten, the shadows hit this snake just right and his tail is visible up the staircase.

We saw bats, a spider that has evolved to live in the pitch-black, we saw the tiniest red ants I have ever laid eyes on, and cat fish. At one point, in the centre, our guide had us all turn off our headlamps so that we could see for ourselves that no light enters that place. I’m glad we were in a group because there is some kind of primal fear that fills me in such darkness in strange places.

It’s secret places like that that I need to remember to include in my stories. We have so much magic in our world half the time you don’t even need to make it up.

As I think back, during my vacation I felt like I was in another world. It was too easy to forget that it was January while I dunked my head in the warm ocean and searched for shells in the sand. My life back home seemed unreal.

I thoroughly enjoyed being out of time and space for a while, but I’m glad I’m back. I have so much writing I want to do and goals to tackle now that I have a new mental calm. I really do feel recharged.

What do you do to fill up your creative batteries? What’s the last relaxing trip you took?

Interesting Finds

I’ve decided to change things up a bit and post my Interesting Finds segment on the last Tuesday of the month regardless of whether it’s the fifth one or not. I come across so many interesting articles during the month I’d love to share anyway so this won’t be a hardship for me.

Enjoy!

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Recently, a member of my book club discussed possibly reading a book by Lionel Shriver. And an anthology I just finished (and LOVED), contained a story by her. It makes me made that she’s a good writer because I have issues with how she uses her platform. Why? Read this response by a POC who walked out on her speech at the Brisbane writers festival.

Here is Shriver’s whole speech.

And here is an excellent discussion of both of those links by Jim C. Hines.

Moving on, have you heard of the Lone Stars Program? Basically, it’s Librarians making (awesome) book lists. Here are their next great reads.

If you don’t have Pinterest (why don’t you?), you’ll have to print this last one. It’s a reading challenge for 2017 that might help you expand your reading life. If you go to the actual website you can print the graphic for the 26 or 52 book challenge. I printed the 52!

Perception

world map

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the fact that I’m a reader and a writer, that I’m fascinated with perception, especially the ways people perceive themselves and those around them. I can’t claim to have a background in psychology, since I haven’t studied it since high school—and we all know that that does not count—but I’ve had a lifelong interest I’ve continued to cultivate on my own.

As a writer, perception is something I have to be aware of when it comes to the characters I create. Even within the same story, I have to know how the protagonist sees themselves and their enemies, and I have to know how the antagonist sees themselves and their enemies. Their inward and outward perceptions provide plot fodder, tension, and so much more to a narrative.

As a reader, it’s good to be in tune to these perceptions if you want to get the most out of what you’re reading. Especially if you’re reading about a character with a lived experience so different from your own who makes decisions you never would.

As a human being, it’s also important to acknowledge others perceptions so you can be a more sensitive individual.

Recently, a few things in my life have culminated to throw ideas of perception at me. First, these quotes from Socrates arrived in my inbox: “The nearest way to glory is to strive to be what you wish to be thought to be.” And, “The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.”

Second, this exchange occurred at my day job when one of my more acerbic clients came in. We chatted while she got organized, and she told me that days before she tore a strip off someone at the Canada Revenue Agency. She followed this up with, “I don’t like to do that to anyone, but I was mad.” Honestly, I can easily see her doing this often. Even routinely. She has a very cutting personality, and she has no qualms about making her displeasure known.

You never know if people say things like this because they shouldn’t enjoy yelling at other people, when in fact they do, but they don’t want you to think they’re horrible. Or whether people don’t realize their own habits and ways of interacting with others. This perception of herself versus my perception of her are so at odds. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. If she was a character, I could easily play with this aspect to add depth to my story.

Lastly, this happened, also at the day job. Just before Christmas, my co-worker, who is a wonderful person but not the most enlightened when it comes to people not raised in small town, Conservative Alberta—and those who identify with those ways—was helping one of our clients who is from the Philippines. She asked about his Christmas plans and then proceeded to ask him if he celebrates Christmas. The man is very quiet and didn’t really answer her verbally, but he did wish her a Merry Christmas as he left.

When he was gone, she commented that it must be hard for kids of other faiths to see their fellow students in school doing all their Christmas stuff with their families. Unfortunately, such narrow generalizations are a routine occurrence where I work. I have learned to just ignore them because doing otherwise is like smacking my head against a brick wall. There are comments that raise my hackles and I have to interject. This was not one of those comments.

All I could think as I gritted my teeth in exasperation was, “People of other faiths actually have celebrations of their own that are just as culturally significant to them as Christmas is to spoiled white kids.” I couldn’t stop myself from pointing out to her that a large part of the Filipino demographic is catholic, which means they celebrate Christmas. That elicited an, “I didn’t know that.” I bit my tongue against my caustic reply.

This example illustrates Christian privilege as well as the western perception that people who don’t celebrate Christmas are missing out on something fundamental. This lack of cultural knowledge, or even sensitivity, drives me nuts. When you know nothing about how other people live and experience life, perhaps you should keep your mouth shut and not make snap generalizations.

In any case, as riled up as it can sometimes make me, it’s important to know that other people don’t perceive the world as I perceive it. And that’s not always a negative. Even here, I said Christmas is only significant to spoiled white kids, which is not true. I know that’s not true. But my own issues with the holiday sometimes allow me to forget that and I’ll perceive it in such an ugly light.

Perception speaks to so much about our society and social makeup. There are so many endless possibilities when it comes to exploring it whether for science, fiction, or entertainment.

What’s your best story about someone else’s perception of themselves or someone/something else?