Sign on facsimile of sea life at Biosphere 2

I don’t know why it’s depressed, poor thing.  Perhaps it’s lost its zest for life.

With the recent recession’s layoffs, soaring prices and piled-on workloads, many people have succumbed to stress.  Their energy levels are at an all-time low.  Zest?  Forget it.  They feel sick, defeated and angry.  I’m one of them.  My job is in jeopardy.

What are the most common symptoms of stress?

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Stomach problems
  • Anger and irritability
  • Forgetfulness
  • Overeating or lack of appetite
  • A feeling of defeat or despair
  • Substance abuse

Stress can steal your zest.  It also causes serious illness if not addressed.

  • Heart disease.  Yes you can have a heart attack from stress.  If you experience chest pain that won’t go away, numbness or pain in your jaw or arm, nausea or vomiting, call 911 immediately.  Don’t try to drive yourself to the hospital or go with someone; ambulances have medical support you may need.
  • Stroke.  Numbness or paralysis on one side of your body, loss of balance, confusion, trouble talking or seeing, and the worst headache ever are signs of a stroke.  If in doubt, call 911.  Time is of the essence here.
  • Depression.  Fatigue and feelings of hopelessness, lack of concentration, sleeping too much or too little, thoughts of death or suicide all mark major depression.  Often people think of it as simply a sad feeling that a person can banish with the right attitude.  It’s not.

Serious depression, whether it’s situational or chronic, causes changes in brain chemistry.  If left untreated, it results in substance abuse problems, physical illnesses and death by suicide.

  • Migraines.  Throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head, visual and auditory sensitivity and nausea are some symptoms.  These painful headaches sideline you and keep you from accomplishing anything until they pass.

How do you handle stress and regain your zest?  There are several things you can do to start.

1.  Visit your doctor. 

Make sure your symptoms aren’t coming from illness.  There may actually be something wrong that stress has either caused or worsened.  Treatment may actually relieve it.

2.  Remember to breathe.

When we’re agitated, our breathing quickens and becomes shallow.  We don’t get enough oxygen, which makes the stress worse.  Take a long, slow breath in through your nose, and blow it out slowly through your mouth.  Pretend you’re blowing out a candle some distance from you.  Do this several times and remember to do it slowly.  This will ease your heart and respiration and calm you.

3.  Try to let go of things you can’t control.

Boy, is this a hard one for me!  You have no say over what other people do, but you do over how you react to it.   Sometimes under conditions of chronic stress, people’s response mechanism becomes extremely sensitive, so things that ordinarily would not bother them trigger an outsized reaction.  This can be physically exhausting.

Let it go.  Remember what you do when your kid throws a tantrum.  If you freak out on someone who attacks you, it only makes the situation worse.  Take that slow breath and keep your cool and the other person looks like the raving fool.

4.  Set your priorities and take them one at a time.

If it’s work stress, know that you can only do one thing at a time.  Multi-tasking is a myth.  Our brains can’t do it.  Get done what you can and don’t worry about the rest until you get to it.

5.  Find the humor.

Even if it’s the blackest comedy anyone ever conceived, you can find humor in almost every situation.  Look at cops.  They have some of the darkest gallows humor on the planet.  It keeps them from screaming.

Naturally, you will not want to joke about things that others are taking seriously.  Remember Gilbert Gottfried, the voice of AFLAC’s duck.  One ill-timed tsunami joke, and he’s quacking to a pink slip.  People do use humor to cope but when it’s not your disaster, it comes off as tasteless.

6.  Eat right and get plenty of sleep. 

You need to take care of your health.  No one else is responsible for that but you.

If you’re trying all you can and still not getting anywhere, find a qualified counselor.  There’s no shame in asking for help.  The counselor will help you identify your stressors and deal with them.   Above all, don’t lose hope.  Life is change and nothing lasts forever.  Your zest will be back before you know it.

Y Do We Try?

I made this LOL! That's my mom's cat, Ariel. She tried...to claim the bag. Didn't last.

Wondering why we keep trying in the face of overwhelming odds?  It’s because we can’t stand to lose.  We’re conditioned to compete and to win, to avoid that feeling of suck when we fail.

Take your job, for example.  Say things are stressing you out.  Most people will stay until they get fired rather than quit.  They just don’t want that designation, quitter.  Sometimes your boss will decide for you.  In some ways, that’s a relief, taking the burden off your shoulders.  In others it stinks, because then you don’t have a job.

If you’re truly unhappy and it’s not just a function of stress or immovable circumstances, it’s probably a good idea to take steps toward opening an alternative for yourself.  Don’t wait until there is a pink piece of paper with your name on it, or you’re left by the side of the road with a suitcase.

Try to make it better.

Your boss just put you on a performance improvement plan.   What do you do?  Well, time to look at why it happened, camper.  If they’re giving you a shot, and even if it’s bogus, it behooves you to do what you can to make an effort.   They may fire you anyway (because many PIPs are just a CYA so you won’t sue) but at least you can say you tried.

Open up a dialogue. 

So many people just hold it in until they explode, which isn’t good for health or happiness.  Before you get there, try to talk to people and let them know you’re overwhelmed.  If they don’t listen, find someone who will.  People in struggling relationships often don’t go to counseling since they think the other party should be there too.   But you’re doing something to help yourself.  Whether the relationship lasts or not, you still have to live with you.

If all else fails, know that failing is okay.

You put in a good faith effort to right a wrong that you did, or improve a condition of your own making and it doesn’t take.  What will people think?  Does it really matter?  If you can confidently say “I made a mistake and tried to make it right.  I will continue to ensure I don’t make that same mistake again,” then there is nothing to fear.  Even if you do screw up, you will recover.  Few mistakes are permanent if you learn from them.

If you’ve tried and failed and it has changed your direction, please share in the comments.

X-rated! Is your content suitable for all your readers?

I bet you thought I was gonna write a sex scene here, didn’t you?  Sorry!  Maybe next time!

The Internet is rife with all types of content, some of which is kind of raw for kids.  If you’ve got a wide range of readers, how do you keep your content from offending one or more of them?

Does double-take; is apparently not offended.

The MPAA uses X as a rating for films meant to be seen only by adults.  This is not a designation purely for sex, but also for exploitive or extremely violent content, unsuitable for minors.  The reason people think of it as a sex thing is its heavy use in the pornography industry.  Now they use NC-17 to rate non-porn films that are still too heavy on adult content.

You can use some of their guidelines for your own material.  In books, hey, anything goes.  I wouldn’t expect a nine-year-old to read Rose’s Hostage if (When! When! Not if!) it gets published, so I feel comparatively safe putting some of the old ultra-violence and a bit of in-out in there.

On a blog? Not so much.  Here are my own versions for bloggery.

G rated

A little kid could read the post and not freak out, get upset or go “Mommy, what does ‘in-out’ mean?”  It might be about Hello Kitty. Or my kitty!

PG rated

Using the term “in-out”  makes it PG.  I might run naked through the post, but it would only be played for laughs and my naughty bits would be covered.

PG-13 rated

There will be talk of violence.  I might hit someone.  There may be a slight slippage of my coverage and a flash of nipple.  The subject matter will be controversial, but still okay for people old enough to be thinking about their first prom.  One use of the F-bomb in a suggestive manner would catapult me into an R rating, if I were a film.

R rated

Now we’re getting into the good stuff.  *evilly dry-washes hands*  My post about sex scenes could theoretically be rated R for content, even though the worst thing I said was H-E-double hockey sticks.  If I posted a knife murder scene as an example (and I have two that are very graphic I could show you), I’d have to put a little warning at the top.

NC-17 rated

My niece would not be reading any of these posts.  Think Cannibal Holocaust, Trainspotting, The Exorcist.

X rated

The dreaded X.  Bane of non-porn filmmakers who would like to at least make their money back.

Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion on hard topics.  But before you delve into the waters of controversy, make sure you’re doing it for a good reason.  Is it just to drive traffic to your site, a la shock value, or are you actually contributing a legitimate opinion to the subject?

Take a look at your readership and see who is there.  You might want to warn them if you’re going to do something like review a questionable film or book, discuss something divisive, or run free and naked through your post.

A well-defined and prominently-posted comments code comes in handy.  On most blogging platforms, you can set your comments for approval before they show up so you can weed out people who are obviously trolling or get out of control.


Wow, what wild weather we’re watching!

Since the weather is so horrific (104 tornadoes reported since this morning, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa in Alabama extremely damaged tonight), this picture seemed fitting.

Also, it’s Administrative Professional’s Day!  I got nothing!  Well, one coworker said happy day, which was nice.  Thanks, dude.  :)

Don’t you hate when you’re reading something and you come to a hugely erroneous fact?  How about a gross misspelling?  When a paper makes a mistake, they print a correction.  When a writer makes a mistake and it gets into a published book, it’s a little more difficult to fix it.

Bloggers have the advantage of fluid editing; they can go back and fix posts whenever they want.  I had to correct my Q post.  I put costume for the dress of the Native American dancers I wrote about, and a Lakota friend kindly pointed out to me that I should have said outfit or regalia.  It’s fixed now.  Thanks, Istagi.

If a boo-boo gets into your book, there’s not a lot you can do but you’ll sure hear about it.  I’m not talking about copy editors changing a word so the sentence doesn’t scan, but factual errors or terminology mistakes like mine.  In a later edition, it might be corrected, especially if it’s a non-fiction book that is selling well.  I don’t really know.  Before you write something, it’s wise to check out your material.

I read a book not too long ago that had a great concept, but was riddled with factual errors, wrong words (affect for effect, sheesh) and outdated information.  It read as if the writer had simply lifted all his material off the Internet without checking anything.  I didn’t finish the book and gave it a firm thumbs-down in a written review.  It pained me to do it, but I had to.  I would get the same treatment if I released such a sloppy work and expected people to pay for it.

Do your research and you can avoid these mistakes.  Double-check facts and techniques.  This is especially important if you’re writing about law enforcement or something equally popular and frequently misstated.  It may take extra time but the accuracy will pay off in the end.  Your readers will not even notice that the story isn’t real, because it will feel real.  And if your work is non-fiction, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing they will have the best information you can give them.



Oh my damn, look at this ugly lamp.

What some people find beautiful, or once did, appears hellish to others.  It’s true of lamps, clothing, furniture and people.  Styles change, preferences shift.

When you see something that strikes you as ugly, your first reaction may be to recoil as though the object is coming at you.  In the case of this lamp, that’s exactly what I did, rounding the corner of the flea market booth.  I believe I even said “Gah!”

It’s fun to walk through the flea market and look for objects that once embodied the finest décor.  My personal preference is nineteenth century, which is a bit hard to find in such humble establishments for an amount of money I can afford.  Would that I could go back in time and purchase them at Victorian prices with my current salary!

Ugly things tell us a lot about ourselves. Why don’t we like a certain fabric, texture, color?  How is it that we prefer blond hair on a guy or gal and find brown or red unseemly?  What makes us decide what ugly is?

Writers like to tell us what their characters prefer.  Heroes and heroines are always pretty people, played in movies by real-life beauties.  How boring and bland that can be.

Why not try making someone a little less than perfect?  Think how much more interesting that character would be.   Case in point: Quasimodo, Victor Hugo’s tragic bellringer in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (Yes, campers, it was a book long before Disney got hold of it.)

I read a Clive Barker novel, Coldheart Canyon, where the heroine was an overweight, average fangirl who had a thing for the hero, a film star.  I loved her because she wasn’t tall, gorgeous and windswept or named Kate.  She did kick butt when the chips hit the fan.

My bank robber in Rose’s Hostage is extra good-looking, to disarm the captive.  The ugliness comes from the violence of his world.  In the somewhat literary novel that’s bumping around in my head, the protagonist isn’t at all handsome.  In fact, he might be considered ugly, but that isn’t why he is special.  (Can’t tell you; I’d have to kill you.)

Or a character could have a taste for ugly things.  Maybe they remind him of a more innocent time, maybe he’s a complete nerd with a yen for macramé owls.  You decide.  Make the choices reveal something about him.  If he’s repelled by a deformity, the reader will wonder why.

Throw a little ugly in your WIP.  Contrast is a good thing.

Travel Writing

Here’s a destination most people will never see in person.  No, it’s not my picture, darn it.  This is Everest, the world’s tallest mountain.  At 29,035 feet, it’s the highest point on earth above sea level.

Aspiring freelance writers who love to jaunt about the earth may consider travel writing.  Most newspapers have travel columns or will consider features in that vein.  There is one in my local paper every Sunday.  A blog is another place to post articles, with pictures too.  Although there won’t be any pay in the latter, it’s a good place to start.  Magazines, both local and national, publish travel articles all the time.

Effective articles have several elements.  First, they should establish a sense of the place visited, enough to give the reader a glimpse.  Most people want to hear about sights, food and accommodation.  Vivid descriptions and a personal touch help make the writing entertaining.

A good way to make articles unique is focus on less famous elements of a well-known place.  Telling people about restaurants that are off the beaten path, little-known attractions that aren’t in most guidebooks or encounters with locals will give them the feeling they are in the know after reading your article.

Second, the article needs to inform.  Puzzling local traditions or places to avoid aren’t usually known to those checking out a new destination, so they will appreciate your efforts to warn them if needed.  Some places may be tricky to navigate.  Any helpful hints you can include will make planning a trip easier.  Consider a section on what to bring and what to leave behind.

Third, the reader should finish the article wanting to go there.  A completely negative account of a visit might be good for a laugh, or if it’s really awful, can keep someone from getting fleeced or worse.  But most travel articles are meant to encourage tourism, not scare people away.

Keep notes, using a voice recorder if you need to.  Most travelers who write have a journal or take a small computer with them, so they can upload pictures or record impressions at the end of their day.   It’s important to get those down as quickly as possible to retain their magic.

There are numerous wi-fi connections around Everest, so if you’re climbing (I hate you) you can even report from the summit.  I can’t afford it and don’t know mountaineering (yet), so I have to settle for this:

Click this to be amazed.  Do it full screen for even more fabulousness. 

Yes, those are clouds below the photographers.  An awesome sight.  Travel writing can be rewarding on its own, and you may find unexpected inspiration in the nooks and crannies of the earth.

If you could go anywhere in the world and cost or training and equipment were no object, where would YOU go?  Would you write about it?  Share in the comments.


Rain rain, go away...I need to mow!

In meteorology, saturation is a state of 100% humidity, when the air cannot hold any more vapor.  Chemistry is the same, a solution so completely imbued that nothing else will dissolve into it.

We experience saturation on a daily basis when the Internet brings us more information than we can possibly digest. With so many writers putting so much out there, how do you grab the attention of a reader who might have already seen the same kind of material several times before he gets to you?

Interesting Headline

  • Your headline has to be an attention-getter.  One way to do this is to put in words that engender controversy or a difference of opinion:

Should Indoor Cats be Declawed?

Maybe only cat owners would be interested in this, but there are thousands of cat owners all over the country.  People with a strong opinion on the subject will be drawn to the title.  Make it even more “WTH” by twisting it a bit:

Should All Pet Cats be Declawed?

*Disclaimer: I am against declawing and this is just an example, so let’s not get into an argument over it.

  • Another way to do this is to offer a solution to a problem, or useful information. People love lists, so a number is a good attention getter.

4 Ways to Keep Your Cat from Killing your Computer

Potential reader?  Anyone with a cat who has stomped on a keyboard or knocked over a drink!


Good lead paragraph


  • It needs to let your reader know he has come to the right place, and promise more.

Look at these posts on wiseGEEK and Suite101.  The first starts with an answer to the question, followed by more in-depth information.  The second identifies the problem and then promises a solution.  Both paragraphs summarize the post, but they have a sentence that is designed to make you read more:

“ICE agents have a wide variety of duties under the law…”  Hm, what duties? You could stop here, but if you want to know what those duties are, you have to keep reading.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make your cat’s trip in an airline approved pet carrier more comfortable.”  Ditto.

  • Like the twist in the headline, you can make your lead paragraph a little WTH to get people in.

So starting with the headline:

4 Ways to Keep Your Cat from Killing your Computer

Your cat just plopped down on your keyboard, erasing the last twelve pages of your novel!  Why does he do that? To get your attention, of course.  You love him but now is not the time.  Below are four ways to train your cat not to touch your laptop.  Some of them require YOU to change your habits.

Now, put in four ways you can get your cat to stay the hell away from your computer.  They better be good, because your reader may be just inches away from calling Animal Control.

Use keywords

  • Scatter them throughout the article, making sure to get one in the headline and the lead paragraph so the reader will know he has come to the right place.

I’m not fond of blog posts that use tons of keywords, because they often end up looking like this:

Fatal Cat Diseases

There are many types of cat diseases that can be fatal.  Some of the most dangerous cat diseases are rabies, feline leukemia and feline infections peritonitis. Your vet can advise on the best way to prevent these cat diseases.  Owners of cats with cat diseases need to take special care of them. 

Keywords are useful for search engines, so when the reader Googles “cat diseases” your post will come up.  But you don’t want so many that it makes the copy hard to read, or sounds like you’re trying too hard.

Examples, comments, stories bring the post to life

  • If you want people to come back, make it personal.

Obviously, if you’re writing content for pay you’ll have guidelines that may not allow for this.  In your own posts, you can do whatever you want.

4 Ways to Keep Your Cat from Killing your Computer

Your cat just plopped down on your keyboard, erasing the last twelve pages of your novel!  Why does he do that? To get your attention, of course.  You love him but now is not the time.  Below are four ways to train your cat not to touch your laptop.  Some of them require YOU to change your habits.

1. Unplug the computer!  I discovered my cat loves to nap on a warm, plugged-in laptop.  He’s not as likely to do it when it’s cold and dark.  When I’m not using it, it goes off.  Saves energy too.

2.  Use aversion training when the cat approaches the computer.  Don’t let him come up on your desk; make that a no-fly zone.  I used a little spray bottle of water or an airhorn.  These work  well to discourage a cat if “No!” isn’t doing the trick.   No hitting or screaming, please. 

3. Give them plenty of distractions.  Gently remove them from the area and give them a box of tissue, toys or a paper bag to play in.  It’s much like distracting an infant from something you don’t want him to have. 

3.  Establish an alternative area for loves and pets.  The couch is a good place.  When you sit down to watch television, the cat will associate the couch with attention and will seek it out there.  Pay more attention to the cat when you’re not working. 

With time and patience, you can teach Kitty to stay off your computer. 

Got any tips to catch a saturated reader’s eye?  What makes you skip a post?  Share in the comments.


4-22-11, 9:31 pm CST:  Tornadoes have hit the northern metro area of St. Louis, MO.  Lambert Field (airport) has sustained damage and is now closed, so if you’re flying through there you WILL be diverted. 

S and T posts to follow tomorrow.

Looks a bit like sunbleached hair, doesn’t it?

This plant (I don’t even know what it is) began turning brown on me, so I set it outside.  I deliberately abandoned my responsibility to it in order to free myself from watering it.  It sat on the table and slowly croaked.  Now I have more room on my kitchen table.  I’m sorry, plant, but I didn’t know how to help you.  I can’t do everything.

Everyone yammers on about responsibility.  You have one to your family and your pets.  You’re responsible for their care and feeding.  Job responsibilities mean you try your best to do what is expected of you.  But what about your responsibilities to yourself?

There are a lot of people who have trouble saying no.  I’m not one of them.  I’ve learned over the last couple of years that I have to look out for myself.  I can’t expect anyone else to know when I’m overwhelmed.  That is my responsibility.

It’s important to know when to say enough.   There will be times in your life when there is too much going on and you have to take care of yourself.  You may have to turn down a freelance job, or say no to a social engagement in order to handle what is already on your plate.

Do not feel guilty for this.  If you are to be a writer, you must make time for it and take no flak.  If your family or significant other understands this, you are the luckiest person in the world.  Make sure you thank them.

You’ll be happy to know the rest of my plants are doing fine.

A Quality Show: The Lakota Sioux Dance Theatre

A quality show is a great way to spend an evening.  Tonight I saw an amazing one, the Lakota Sioux Dance Theatre,  a troupe of Native American dancers who perform traditional and fancy tribal dancing.

The company, founded in 1978 on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, is directed by Henry Smith.   It shows their culture through music, dance, ritual and presentation.  To hear and see this gorgeous representation in real time with colorful regalia and native language was not only engaging, but emotionally stirring.

I didn’t get a chance to double-check their names, unfortunately, as there were so many people pushing to talk to them and get pictures, but here are two of the dancers.

I can't believe I didn't get their names! If you know them, please tell me in the comments.

The gentleman on the right was our narrator for the evening.  He introduced everyone at the end (that’s where I lost track).   I swear he said his name was Edward, but I’m not sure.  That’s what I will call him for convenience’s sake.  Please, someone correct me if you know their proper names!

I'm pretty sure I got this one right. Left to right, singer Adrian Cross and dancer Jocy Bird

Some, like the Eagle and the Buffalo dances, were pretty obvious due to the outfits; others, not so much.  I was fortunate to be sitting next to a Lakota storyteller and singer named John Two Bears, who was able to tell me some of what I was seeing.

If you’ve never seen Native American dancing, at first it looks a bit disjointed and random.  Watch closely and you see rhythms and movements that have purpose.  Every step, every shuffle and change of direction has something to say.  The sneak, a crouching motion like tracking, shows the scouting of enemies.  In one dance, two warriors sneaked and then erupted into a fierce battle with prop spears.  Watching, I could feel the aggression of battle.

The women performed a light, hopping synchronous thing John told me was a butterfly dance.   They wore jingling metal cones on their medicine dresses, 365 in all, one for each day of the year.  He said there was one hidden for leap year, but I don’t know about that!

The Navajo dancer did a hoop dance.  He picked up hoops and put his body through and around them, making shapes like a bird, a bear, etc.   I counted eleven hoops, but John said the most he’s seen was thirty-two!   You can see a lady doing it here at an elementary school, although it’s usually done by men.

My favorite was a storm dance. I didn’t need any help interpreting this one, since the staging included the flash of simulated lightning and a bit of video as well.  As the dancer ducked and waved at the lightning, I found myself feeling a bit of the raw power of nature as it clattered and boomed around the thinly sheltered people, out on the prairie so long ago.  How disconnected we are from it now, and how sad that is.

Throughout, the rhythm of the drums, interspersed with Edward’s narration, Adrian’s flute playing and prayers to the Creator wove a mysterious, otherworldly spell.  The smell of burning sage and silhouettes of feathered bustles against a changing colored backdrop of projected images.  The jingle of bells on the ankles of some of the dancers.  Voices uplifted in song, touching the hearts of the audience.  John knew a lot of the songs and could sing along.  I envied him.

The audience clapped enthusiastically at first, but as the show went on, they began to add shouts and cheers to their applause.  When Edward brought the eagle feather standard out, John stood up long before he exhorted the audience to do the same, as he sang a song for veterans.  It was a respectful moment.  The prayer for the people, who had fallen away from their Creator, put a lump in my throat.
At the end of the show, the company received a well-deserved standing ovation.  Henry Smith said there would be a DVD out in about five weeks, available through the website, of the show we had just seen.  He apologized that it wasn’t ready that night.  It’s on my list of purchases.  I exhort you to go see this company if they come to your area.