Flying Tips

Update: Valerie Cecil of informed me that my TSA link was all 404’ed.  Thanks, Valerie–it’s fixed now!

Check out this article she sent me on how to protect yourself against identity theft while traveling.  She’s included some really good tips on keeping your information safe.


If you have a job that requires frequent travel, you’re probably used to many of the inconveniences.  If not, and your book hits the big time, you might be traveling a lot.  (Yeah, we should all be so lucky.)

I’ve written about flying and how much it sucks these days.  I’ve flown more in the last two years than in my entire life, with Egon being so far away.  It took a little getting used to.

The Internet is full of tips and tricks to make traveling by air easier.  One also finds a plethora of bitching.   Rather than do that, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned, in my favorite list-ish fashion.

Wear comfy clothes, but not sloppy ones

Long ago, when flying was kind of a luxury, it was also a special occasion.  People wore business-type clothes to fly.  They spent a lot of money and even in coach, you were catered to.  I can remember meal service and comfy seats in Coach.  Sigh.  Those were the days.

Want this in business class? Try international airlines. You won’t get it on an American carrier.

Image:  Jiang / Wikimedia Commons

Now the seats are smaller and the planes more crowded.  You might wish to clad yourself in comfortable clothing.  But please, show a little decorum.  Items to avoid include:

  • Flip flops – these are horrible for your feet.  They’re horrible for my eyes.  I don’t want to see your gnarly toes with yellowish, fungus-infested nails.  Blargh!
  • Pajamas – who thinks it’s okay to wear these out and about? Sure, maybe if you’re four!
  • Revealing clothes – anything that would get you on should be left at home or packed in your carry-on.  Some airlines will kick you off for this.  Really.

Pack sensibly

By sensibly, I mean don’t take the entire house.  I have trouble with this one.  I usually take my computer, since I don’t have a tablet or smartphone, and like to be able to write if the muse hits me.  But I’ve managed to get along with one small duffel and a backpack.

  • Make a list.  I have a standard one that I adapt to each trip.  For example, I don’t have to take hair products if I’m visiting Egon or family—either I have some there or can borrow.  But I might pack extra conditioner if I’m staying at a hotel.
  • Take clothes that can do double duty and don’t wrinkle.  Knit blends are best.  Downy® Wrinkle Releaser really works, and a travel size is available at Walmart.    Many hotel rooms have irons, and if you’re staying at a private home you can wash clothes.

Understand airline and security rules

Like it or not, the reality of air travel means dealing with security and safety.  Not only liquids and shoes, but electronic devices on the airplane, and your behavior.   Yes, there are hotheaded, power-mad asshats out there.  No, you aren’t justified in breaking rules simply because you don’t agree with them.

If I could get a tack past the TSA, it would be sooo in your seat…


  • Shut your electronic device off and put it away for takeoff and landing.  I don’t wish to have your iPad crash into my head if the captain has to slam on the brakes.  Before you mouth off about books, I put mine in the seat pocket until the plane is in the air.

The flight attendant’s safety warning says “ALL CARRY-ON ITEMS MUST BE STOWED FOR TAKEOFF AND LANDING.”  That means everything.  You can survive for a few minutes without Angry Birds.  I promise.

Yeah, it’s not that cute when you’re eight, either.

Image: Clare Bloomfield /

Story Time!

On my way back from a recent Egon visit, I was subjected to my very first bag search.  Aww.

I did warn the TSA that I had camera batteries and a small wrist/ankle weight in there, but it alarmed and I was pulled out of line.  The TSA at the Tucson airport were very professional.

No, I’m not endorsing the agency, but it could have been much, much worse.  Next time I’ll take the weight out of the bag, if I have to travel with it again.

  • Do not stare at people who are in the little holding area getting their bags searched.  They could be innocent and you could be next.


By remembering your manners and adding a little patience to your bag o’ tricks, you can make air travel less of a hassle.  And if you’re a writer, airports are great places to people watch.  Maybe the next generation of travelers will learn something from you.

“Someday, boopy, you’ll wear pretty dresses, ride a pony and be subject to extra-constitutional privacy invasion. Make us proud.”


Lose Your Job? Do These Five Things

Well it happened.  Today I lost my day job.

I wasn’t the only one, unfortunately; the manufacturer I worked for is restructuring.  There’s no telling who else will fall under the ax.  Even though I was kind of unhappy there and thought they might have cut my hours or something, I didn’t expect them to do it so soon.

I did some things right today.  And there are some things I know I have to do in the coming weeks.


I liked the job when I first took it.  Later it morphed into a bloated, evil, decaying version of itself.  No, I won’t be sorry to sleep in tomorrow morning.   But there are definitely things I will miss.

  • All the guys in the shop.
  • Most of the people in the office.
  • The potlucks we had.  Chili Dog Day was epic.
  • A frigging paycheck once a week.

I have to have a (short) period of sorrow for the fact that in a shithole economy, I actually had a job.

Image: artemisphoto /

#4–File for unemployment
After going to the bank to deposit my last check, I came home and filed for unemployment immediately.   Government moves so slow that if you wait, you’ll find yourself with a gap that’s hard to fill.  I already had a garage sale that didn’t do very well.  Which leads me to:

#3–Start going through the house for stuff to sell

Some of the nice things I bought may have to go.  L  I tried to sell some in the garage sale but I guess no one else has any money either.  Well, try, try again.  Or scope a different venue.  Not only do I need the money, but if I have to relocate, it’s less crap to move.

You can own chickens in my city now. Maybe I can sell eggs!

Photograph by Elizabeth West

#2–Eliminate all unneeded expenses

There are some things that are necessary that years ago would have been considered luxuries.  Besides food, clothing and shelter, today’s job seekers must have these:

  • Internet, or access to it.  Not having email or regular access narrows your choices.  Many employers have nixed paper resumes and prefer to receive applications over the tubes.  That is, if they can get them through all the cat hair in there.
  • A phone.  Prepaid phones have made it possible for even us poor folk to be reachable.  If you have a smartphone, you’ve got your Internet right there.
  • Depending on where you live, a car that works.  Mine is a rustbucket but I only have one more tiny payment.  Good timing!
  • At least one really good outfit, preferably a suit so you can mix it up, for interviews.  Thrift store/irregular shop, here I come.

Things that I do not need:

  • Fayncee groceries.
  • Satellite TV.  This is a tough one.  I’ve been keeping it on the low end tier hoping things would get better so I could watch Bridezillas again.  But I just got a roku (more good timing!) so Netflix will hold me for a while.  They’ve added Kitchen Nightmares and I’m working my way through the old Dark Shadows.
  • To beat myself up.  This wasn’t my fault.

But…MAWWWMMM….I waaant it!

Image:  Suat Eman /

#1–Look to the future, not the past

I no longer have to worry about their silly crap anymore.  All the stuff that got left on my desk is no longer my problem.  Now my tennis elbow can heal.  Now my knotty stomach can calm down again.  Now I can work on my book and seek more writing opportunities, without being so tired when I come home that I fall asleep over my chat room.

Like the song says, I will survive!

7 Habits of Highly Destructive People

No matter what you do for a living, you’ll come across people who seem to think it’s their job to make yours harder.   Whether you spend your days in a warehouse, an office, a kitchen or at home freelancing, they’re out there, waiting to drive you to fits of singing the “Day-O!” song as you count the minutes until you are done for the day.

Inspired by the famous self-help book by Stephen Covey (which I’ve never read, actually), here are seven things people do that are detrimental to your work ethic.

1—Being reactive

Proactive folks will seek out ways to do things in a timely manner.  Reactive ones are oblivious until stress forces them to act.  If you’ve asked them sixty times to order supplies and end up with nothing at deadline time, it’s hard not to rip their heads off.

What You Can Do:

Document, document, document.  Email them your requisitions, and keep a copy of their replies.  Then you’ll have time-and-date-stamped proof that you didn’t drop the ball.

2—Not seeing the big picture

Sometimes  people will focus so hard on the details that they lose sight of the overall goal.  Let’s say you’re part of a sales team that has to send out a literature packet to 100 people.  You know what supplies you need, and you’re ready to go.   Then your boss tells you, “I revamped the whole thing, and I told them you’d ship in three days!”


Before you strangle him, remember I can’t afford to bail you out.

When this happened to me, there was nothing I could do.  My then-boss ended up grabbing other people off their jobs to help.  I don’t think he understood what he did.  I almost wished I had missed the deadline, just so I could point out how unrealistic that was.

What You Can Do:

If your boss is like this, the best strategy is prevention.  Plan for additions to your project, because anything that ends up in committee will bloat faster than a walrus with the bends.  Give him status reports with lots of detail, including projections of completion time.  Bosses love that.


Writers do this to themselves.  It’s easier not to do the boring article or edits.  “My TV show is on, I have to run to the bank, my back hurts from sitting all day.”  Coworkers who delay sending you documents and answers can make you want to rip your hair out and set it on fire.

What You Can Do:

Bug them until they give you what you want.  Do it politely, even sweetly and they’ll eventually cave.  There’s a Spongebob episode where Squidward tries to take the day off under the guise of running errands and drives himself crazy imagining Spongebob’s continuous “Did you finish those errands?”  Set up your coworkers’ minds the same way and they will conform to your every whim.


4—Being selfish

It’s not all about you, buddy.  Taking credit for other people’s work, never helping them with projects, and always stealing the best red pens out of the supply closet don’t make you cool.  That only makes you an asshole.

What You Can Do:

You need to thwart this person before he can undermine you.  Slip the office wretch a buck or two to save some red pens back for you.  Speak up when Selfish McSelferson steals your proposal:  “Excuse me, but I believe you forgot to mention we both worked on that ‘Bring Back Firefly’ presentation.”

5—Not listening to a damn thing anyone says

Anyone with a boss who says they have an open door policy knows what this means.  They saaaay you can bring them any concerns, but when decision time rolls around, workers’ input is nowhere to be found.

To be fair, a lot of employees just use this to bitch.  And surely you’ve dealt with a teammate either at work or recreation that won’t listen to anything anyone tells them, to the detriment of all.

What You Can Do:

Well, it would be nice if you could tie the person to a chair and beat them unmercifully with a keyboard, but you can’t.  Treat them like the children they are.  When you must tell them something, make sure you have them repeat it back to you.  And like #1, document everything.  When they whine “But I didn’t heeeeeaaarr youuuuu!” point to your email / memo / skywriting.

La la la la!

6—Trying to do it all alone

Whether they’re trying to impress the boss or afraid to ask for help, people who try to do it all will invariably fail.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed at crunch time.

What You Can Do:

If you’re snowed under, delegate.  The next time someone asks if you need something, say “Yes, please, would you kindly take this pile of finished clown permits over to Bobo? Thank you.”  Ask others if you can help them.  They’ll remember, I promise.

7—Coming to work sick

The seventh habit Mr. Covey mentions is balancing and renewing your health and rejuvenating yourself.   People who come to work when they’re sick are useless Typhoid Marys.

What You Can Do:

If you possibly can, stay home.  There’s no balance there; if you don’t give yourself time to heal, you’ll just get worse.  Not to mention your flu is the gift that keeps on giving.  See this Mythbusters results page, third item down, if you need any more proof.

Stuck being around a sick coworker?  Wash your hands frequently, use alcohol-based sanitizers (NOT antibacterial Triclosan–that junk makes superbugs) and don’t touch your face!

No, Your Majesty, the gloves don't help.

Don’t know anyone like this at work? Then it might be you.  We spend so many hours on the job and most of us don’t want to be there.  Use that time to be constructive, not destructive.

Money is a Dirty Word

I just sold a consignment item and made a little money, enough to FINALLY open a savings account and pay off a couple of bills.  Whoopee!  Then I retrieved my mail and found a bill for the latest greatest medical test.  Now I’m worse off than I was before.  Gee, thanks for nothing, Universe!

Money.  We need it, we want it, we can’t live without it and if we don’t have enough, we suffer.  When it arrives in excess, it causes more problems than it solves.  Taxes, investments, people with their hands out asking or even demanding a payout “since you have so much.”

I’m sorry to say I don’t have the last problem, but in a way I’m glad, too.  No one who knows me ever hits me up because they all know how broke I am.  With a little extra income trickling in, the thought of getting caught up looks more possible than improbable lately.

Writing income is mostly freelance.  Freelancers and independent contractors have to think about taxes—taking them out, figuring them—and other things like health insurance employees can usually leave up to their employers.  Although I do work full-time, my finances are about to get a bit more complicated.

So why do I even care?  I’m not doing this for money, am I?  It’s art, right?

Piffle.  Artists get paid the same as other people.  Graphic designers do artwork, whether they are freelance or not, and they get paid. If I commission my fantastically talented friend Tiffany Turrill to paint my portrait, I know she’ll expect to be paid.

Some people are under the mistaken impression that artists, musicians and writers shouldn’t be paid because we enjoy our work.   Now hold on a minute there.  Certainly we enjoy it, or we wouldn’t be trying to make a career out of it.  This kind of activity isn’t likely to pay the bills the same way a job as an engineer or even a receptionist would.  (Pardon a moment…bwaa ha ha ha! Okay, I’m done)   Others think to even talk about fair pay for our creative work is—ahem!—indelicate.

Again piffle, and let me add, pooh.  Work is work.  I work just as hard when I’m writing as I do at my job, just doing different things.  I may not share with you what I’m earning for answering the phone or for the last ten articles I turned in.  That doesn’t mean I don’t care about it.  I worked every night, at lunch and on weekends for six months writing my book and then another five or six learning to edit the damn thing.  If I publish it, I expect to be paid, and I will be.

Yesterday I read a post by Susanne Lucas, aka Evil HR Lady, about doing work for free as part of an interview testing process.  Freelancers come across this all the time.  There’s a huge difference between submitting a sample or taking a brief software test and being asked to produce a useable document, program tweak or graphic that then becomes the property of the interviewer.  Bottom line:  rude and exploitive.  Everyone, not just freelancers, should be paid for the work they do.

I would probably write even if I didn’t get paid.  Did it for years, on my own, by cracky.  I like blogging and no one pays me for that.  I’m doing a lot of unpaid work learning my craft, with which I do hope to earn a living someday.  That’s neither indelicate nor greedy.

If we all could choose our life’s work and immediately begin doing it for a comfortable paycheck, how many of us would pick what we’re doing now?  Who would have thought when I was sitting in a treehouse as a kid making up stories that I would be here?  Where will here lead?  I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda excited to find out.  (Hurry up, Universe.  I ain’t gettin’ any younger.  Now get off my lawn.)

Whatever that secret aspiration is, if you get paid for it, you’re among the lucky.  Chances are you’ve worked like hell to be there.  Be proud of yourself, for cripes sake.  You deserve it.  And you might want to step aside, because I’m right behind you.


Recently I was looking over a document that chronicled my job search a few years ago.  I had made notes for all the ads I answered and added to them as I received responses—or didn’t.

Some of the ads made me wonder why I even bothered to write to them.   When writing advertisements, you must include informative details if you want a targeted response.  Many of the ads didn’t.

Example:  Administrative assistant.  Send resume to PO Box XX, City, State, Zip.

Nothing about the company, no name, no way to find out anything.  I sent off a couple of resumes to ads like this, and of course, I heard nothing back.

My perception of whoever had placed that ad was that they didn’t want a response.  Maybe they were trying to avoid phone calls.  Perhaps it was bogus.   Either way, they gave jobseekers no information with which to tailor a resume to the company’s needs.   I had no way to see if it was even a company in my area, even thought the PO box was local.

I saw another in a freelance writing job listing.  A link led to the ad on Craigslist, where the poster, in describing what he/she was looking for, said something like “I want someone quirky and cool, blah blah, etc.  If you’re all businesslike and serious, you’re probably not good enough.” The ad was so snarky it turned me off.  Who would want to work for someone like that?  I’m sure the person who wrote it thought the ad was clever and snappy, but that’s not how it came off at all.

Be careful how you present yourself in writing.  In emails and online communication, nuances of speech like tone and expression don’t come across.  If you want people to take you and your work seriously, you can’t write as if you’re texting your BFF.  Your emails, blog posts and advertisements, even if they are only a postcard on a bulletin board, are representative of your work.

  • Watch your spelling and grammar.  Someone looking for a writer or other professional isn’t going to perceive you as one if you can’t spell or your email answering an ad is full of slang.
  • If you’re posting a job advertisement, give prospective candidates a bit of information.  It’s wasted time for them if they can’t target their job search to appropriate venues.  It’s a waste of your time as well to go through a stack of inappropriate responses.
  • Tone is important.  The snarky ad I mentioned was amusing, until it got to that line about businesslike not being good enough. Although I’m hardly an uptight business type, it gave the impression that the person might be overly critical of someone trying to present as a professional.

If you have any good examples of miscommunication or misperception in email, ads or online communications, please share them in the comments.

Freak Out, Baby!

Gah!  I was going to write about freshness today, but Anne Mini beat me to it!  Check out her excellent post here and read her blog, Author! Author! She has lots to say and what isn’t directly useful is highly entertaining.

So, on a suggestion from a commenter about a word I used in my last post, I’ll tackle freaking.  No, there isn’t some naughty connotation there; I mean as in freaking out, losing your cool, blowing your top, going ballistic, etc.  Who among us hasn’t had a moment where everything narrows to a point and the slightest tip is enough to push us over the edge?  The freakout moment could be a scary one, such as “Where did my kid go?” or one that makes you angry, like terrible service in a restaurant.

It seems more and more people are choosing to flip out rather than calmly state their grievance to relevant parties.  A rejection garners a vicious blog post, someone keys a car parked too close to the line, and recently there have been a rash of incidents where someone called 911 because they didn’t get pickles on their burger, or some such nonsense.

Why do people do this?  Is it the lousy economy, pushing everyone to that tipping point?  Have we turned into great big spoiled entitlement babies to match our ever-increasing body size?  Is the instant gratification of the Internet to blame?

Whatever the reason, freaking out isn’t the best way to handle conflict in your life.  I know, because I’m quite prone to it and everyone around me knows it.  Frustration is a big trigger for me.  If I can’t finish my work, for example, because the Internet has gone down in the middle of researching the mating habits of South American sea monkeys for my diver character’s mortal peril scene, I’m apt to take a great big bite out of the nearest person/place/thing.   But honestly, what good is it?

Doctors and mental health professionals have always advised people to stay calm and not freak out, claiming it’s not good for the heart, it shortens lifespans and keeps you angrier overall.  New research has come to light, however, suggesting that cursing when you hit your thumb with the hammer can actually reduce the pain you feel.  I know yelling makes me feel better (even though the people around me don’t like it), but it doesn’t solve the initial problem.

Constant, unrelenting stress does have adverse effects on the body:

  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Decreased immunity to colds, etc.
  • Depression and/or suicide (WARNING!!! If you are contemplating suicide, please get help immediately.  Depression is treatable and suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem!)
  • Substance abuse
  • Ulcers
  • Eating disorders leading to obesity/malnutrition

How can you temper the effects of stress and keep from freaking out, especially when a solution to the situation is not forthcoming?

  • Take a deep breath in through your nose, and blow it out slowly through your mouth.  Do this several times.  It is physically impossible to remain agitated while doing this, because it slows your breathing and pulse.   A therapist I know said, “As you exhale, imagine you are blowing out a candle in the corner.”  I used to use this for pain control, and it works.  Once you’ve calmed down a bit, then you can focus.
  • If the problem doesn’t require immediate attention, put it out of your mind for a while.  Refuse to think about it until you can sit down and go over the pros and cons of that decision you have to make or the revisions your agent or editor sent you.  I used to get really mad when my writing professor would mark up my papers, but I realized he was just trying to help me improve my work, not decimate my opinion of myself.
    • Making a list divided into two columns—one side good, the other bad—is a great tool to help you think through a problem, worry or decision.
  • If you must deal with the problem right away, try to go with your initial instinct.  It’s usually the best one.  Don’t second-guess yourself.   Now I don’t advise smacking your smarmy boss right in the mouth when he rails at you.  That’s not what I mean by first instinctual action!
  • Take time out to pamper yourself.   You don’t have to spend money to do it.  A little alone time in the tub, the garden or out of the office/your house works wonders.  Take a walk if the weather is nice; it’s good for your health, too.   Spend some time on a silly website you enjoy.  Play a game, have a (small!) bowl of ice cream, it doesn’t matter.  Pick something that relaxes you.

If you have any remedies for relieving the freakouts, please share them in the comments.

Be Good or Be Gone

Today’s topic is business behavior.  Creative writers might mutter, “Why do I have to know about business etiquette? I’m a fiction writer.  I don’t write for corporations or marketers.”  Well, yes you do.  A publisher is a business.  So is the agency that represents you.  Just because you’re an artist or craftsperson doesn’t give you permission to be unprofessional in your demeanor when dealing with these people.  And if you’re a freelancer, your behavior will win or lose you clients.

The general rules of good business behavior incorporate communication and presentation.  Writing is a business like any other, and writers would do well to remember them.

  • Dress appropriately.  If you work from home, a dress code probably isn’t necessary, but for appointments and meetings you should wear something polished and classy.  Once when I was a kid, I asked my mother why we dressed up for church.  God doesn’t care what I wear, I argued, so why can’t I wear shorts?  She replied that sloppy clothes were disrespectful.  Now God isn’t signing my paycheck, but the same rule applies.  If I showed up to a meeting in raggy shorts or jeans and a t-shirt, sneakers and no makeup, the implication is that I can’t be bothered.  That won’t make anyone eager to deal with me.
  • Be on time.  Don’t be late for appointments and don’t miss deadlines.  If you must, call.  A phone call shows more personal care than an email or text.
  • Don’t make it hard to find you.  Make sure your contact information is at the bottom of your email, and speak it clearly when you leave a voice mail.  If someone calls you and leaves a message, return their call in a timely manner.  Their time is as valuable as yours and it’s rude to keep people waiting.  If they need an update on something and you don’t have one, don’t ignore them.  At least let them know there is no change.
  • Manners.  Be polite like your mommy said.  Say “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me.”  Don’t be rude back to thoughtless people; answering poor behavior with your own only makes you sink to that level.  Dealing with clients and customers can be infuriating, but they are your bread and butter.  Try to see their side of things before making any snap judgments.

A common saying is “The customer is always right.”  I don’t think that is true.  There are some customers who, no matter what you do, will never be satisfied or always demand something extra out of a sense of entitlement.  If it’s too stressful or expensive to deal with them, remember you can fire your customers.  You have no obligation to do business with them, especially if they don’t pay their bills or are underhanded in some way.   If you must let them go, do so respectfully.  Don’t burn bridges.

  • Give your all.  Polish, polish, polish and edit, edit, edit.  You should be spending nearly the same amount of time editing as you did writing a piece.  Check and recheck your work for typos, etc.  No one is perfect and sometimes they will slip through, but if you make a list of things to look for and habitually follow it, checking your work will become second nature to you.  Then you’ll hardly ever hand in something less than your best.  If you don’t know how to format your queries and submissions, get on the Internet and find out.  There’s no excuse these days for not learning the rules of the game.

In the writing world, your competition is fierce.  People who are serious about their careers will take the time to learn how to properly present their work and themselves.  Your messy, misspelled and smudgy letter or submission might stand out, but not the way you wanted.  The inappropriate clothing you wore to lunch with your agent or client (and you were late, too) tells him or her you don’t have it together.  Who wants to work with someone like that?

Please share any other rules I might have left out in the comments.