Look To the Western Sky

A blog about single life as a parent & the dreams of a writer by Margo L. Dill

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Raising a Tall Daughter

I titled this post raising a TALL daughter, instead of just raising a daughter, because all of us raising a daughter know some characteristic people  bring attention to, possibly unaware they are doing this, that makes our daughters self-conscious. For my daughter, it’s being tall. Maybe your daughter is short. Maybe she is super smart. Maybe she talks fast. These are all characteristics that people consider okay to comment on.

We also know bullies like to draw attention to personal traits in a negative way, such as being overweight, wearing glasses, or not knowing the answers in class. We think this is horrible, and we fight the good fight against these kind of comments, whether in person, in writing, or online. But do we realize, as adults, that we are constantly bombarding  our kids with messages about their body or their intelligence? And this is not always raising their self-esteem. For my daughter, it’s being tall. Let me tell you what inspired this post.

Katie started cheerleading (she is 6). The wonderfully nice coach said, “I’m going to line you guys up by height, so we can figure out a good formation for our dance.” She told everyone to get in line, and I immediately saw Katie slouch down as much as possible, so she wouldn’t be the tallest one. The next words that came out of the mouth of the short, innocent girl next to her were: “Well, she (pointing at Katie) is the tallest one.”  I had to step in.

I said, “Katie, stand up straight. It’s awesome to be the tallest one. Mommy is always the tallest one.” The coach then chimed in with similar praises, and Katie smiled and stood up straight.

I probably don’t need to go on and on about this story for you to see why it bothered me. But…I am a writer, so I will say this: Before anyone even said she was the tallest one, she knew it was going to be her and she didn’t want it to be her. She is only 6! I remember feeling the same way when I was young.

Is part of that because we innately want to be the same as everyone else? Probably. But a large part of her slouching is because so many people, young and old, are constantly telling her how tall she is and how much older she looks and sounds.

Because I have this blog, I can say: Please stop.

You can only control you, as I said in my last post, but you can stop talking about how short or tall some child is and asking your family to do the same.

fall_dill_007Look, I am as guilty as the next person for drawing attention to my daughter’s height.  My way of coping with this, my wrong way, is to say: “I know. She is really tall,” before the person gets a chance to say it. And I know what several of you reading this are thinking: I wish I was tall. Being tall is great.

And you’re right, it is. But it took me 19-20 years to think this; and sometimes, on bad days, I still don’t think so. She and I can’t control this. We can’t go on a diet to get shorter. We can’t read a book to get shorter. We can’t practice to get shorter.

We are tall. We need to be proud of it. But we don’t need to be constantly reminded of it. 

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Life Is Full Of Things We Can Not Control: What Do We Do?

In our lives, we make connections with all kinds of people. Some are like us. Some are definitely not. Some stick around for a long time. Some just touch our lives for a bit. Some people positively affect us and bring us great comfort, joy, peace, and support. Unfortunately, some people bring us down to a level that maybe we didn’t know was possible. Maybe we are faced with regret over decisions we made when this person was in our lives. Life is so hard. So many things are beyond our control. But the one thing I do know, the one thing that I can control, and the one thing that I need to do more of is nurture the relationships that bring me comfort, joy, peace and support, and let the other ones go.

This is a very, very hard concept for me. It sounds so simple. I summed it up in one paragraph above, so how can it not be simple? But it’s difficult because we get into patterns. We form loyalties. We have little time each day, and when we are in the middle of a storm, it is very hard to fight through and come out the other side.

But I have to fight. I have to look at my life every single day; and if something isn’t going well, I am the only person who can change it. When I reflect on myself and my behavior at the end of the day, can I say that I was kind, supportive, positive, and nurtured the relationships with people who really care about me? I hope so.

I have a very good friend, who is very ill. And this post is inspired somewhat by her and somewhat by friends who are going through a hard time. I’ve said this several times today: every life is so precious. It is also so hard, but the best part of it, the very very best part of it, is the relationships we have. I am a very lucky girl to have so many wonderful relationships in my life. I haven’t always been the best about nurturing each one the way I should. Time gets away from us. Life becomes busy. My spirit grows tired.

In the conversations I’ve had over the past few days, one of the most poignant things someone said to me is: There is no sense worrying about something beyond one’s control.

It’s not like I don’t know this. And still I sit here in a Panera Bread, just full of grief and regret and worrying about things I can’t control.

The best thing I can do from this is be a more gracious and understanding friend to the people in my life now. This is the only thing I can control.

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Peace Begins With Me

The craziness of people fighting on social media the past week has started to die down somewhat, although I will admit more and more news from Washington concerns me. But this is not a political blog, and I don’t want it to turn into one. What I wanted to share today was a poem I wrote several years ago for kids after the horrific 9/11 attacks. One of my friends mentioned it on my Facebook page, and I had actually forgotten all about it. But I found it, and here it is:

START SMALL

Peace begins with me?

Violence is everywhere,
I see it on TV:

Countries fight
Soldiers die
Bombs explode
Gas stings
Airplanes crash
Buildings crumble
Bones break

“What can I do?”
Too small, just one

I remember you,
My best friend until:

Girls fight
Friendship dies
Tears explode
Words sting
Heads crash
Feelings crumble
Hearts break

“I’m sorry, forgive me.”
A nod, a smile

Peace begins with me.

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Setting Boundaries: Dating

So I’ve started dating again, and my friends have been on me about setting boundaries. You should know this about me: I am terrible about enforcing the boundaries I set, and I constantly question the boundaries I do manage to set. So if you landed on this post to see how to set and enforce boundaries, check back in a year. This post is going to introduce you to the problem, and maybe we can learn together.

Before I go on about boundaries, I have to share the funniest thing that has happened to me while dating so far. I do mostly online dating. I don’t meet a lot of single, available, tall men from working out of my basement and being the mother of a 6-year-old. SO…I’ve been on the apps you hear about. They are not as bad as you hear. But one day, I had a “zero” date–what you call the “meet and greet” when you’ve exchanged messages and maybe a phone call with someone, but you haven’t met yet.

Anyway, I had a zero date at Starbucks, and I thought it went pretty well. We had talked on the phone and exchanged a few text messages before this, so we had each other’s phone number. We talked for the hour I had at Starbucks, and he went on and on about how he hated online dating, how people needed to be upfront, and how no one could focus on one person anymore,  and then at the end, he said: “Well, we could do a dinner. I’d like to see you again.” So, I thought okay, why not? Then he didn’t text. So, a couple days later, before I decided to move on, I sent my typical text: “Hey NAME, how is your weekend going?”

And the response I got back this time. . .

“Pretty good so far.”

“Is this Gwen?”

That made me laugh out loud. So I decided, well this is over, but it didn’t stop. He kept texting as if I was Gwen. And he said:

“Sorry if I didn’t recognize the number.”

30 minutes passed

“Should I delete this number?”

Finally, I decided to let him know his mistake and told him it was Margo, and yes, he should probably delete the number, and I wished him well.

SO boundaries. . .my friends say that I try too hard to fit into other people’s lives instead of letting them know how to fit into mine. I agree. They also say that once I set a boundary that is reasonable and I am comfortable with, I have to STOP apologizing for it. Set it, have a good reason for it, and then move on with my life. If someone doesn’t respect a reasonable boundary, then they are the problem–not me.

What do you think? Are you good at setting boundaries?

 

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Help Me Choose My Short Story Subject & Enter to Win a Gift Card

So those Cubs won the World Series. Can you believe it? 

I wrote a young adult book titled, Caught Between Two Curses, which is actually a novel about a teenage girl who is caught between two boys and between two curses. One of those curses happens to be the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs, and the other, well, I made up. Recently, my book went out of print and I retain the rights, so I’m thinking about re-branding it/marketing it and getting back in love with writing and marketing.

So I’ve decided to add some material to CBTC and self-publish it as a 2nd edition with a new cover. I am most likely including an alternate ending, book club questions, how I got the idea, history about curses–you know really pack it full of content, so teens and adults get their money’s worth, and my best friends will buy another copy. 😉 Oh, and I want to write a short story to include that is somehow based on the characters in the novel. This short story will ONLY be available in the 2nd edition of Caught Between Two Curses. I know, I know, the pre-Amazon sales will be amazing. 😉

But here’s where you come in. I am having trouble deciding on what the short story should concern, and so I would like you to help me. All you have to do is comment below after reading the three choices. And I am giving a $10.00 Amazon gift card to one person I pick randomly from the comments. Plus you can get an extra bonus entry if you sign up for my newsletter or to get posts emailed to you by looking in the sidebar and filling out the appropriate form. The gift card contest ends on Friday, November 11 (Veteran’s Day).

Now on to the choices:

  1. Julie (the main character) has a grandma who is very eccentric. As a matter of fact, it is this grandma who brought the curse on the family by falling in love with a man who was already spoken for. I could write a short story about the day they meet at the Cubs game, and the curse is put on the family. So this would be set in the past–grandma and grandpa as teenagers/new adults.
  2. (spolier alert if you haven’t read the book) A sequel of sorts–what happens once Matt and Julie get together. This would be a short story about some event in senior year and some problem the two of them have in their relationship, and how they solve it.
  3. A spinoff–Gus (the boyfriend who is pressuring Julie to have sex) has his own story about how he handles his life after Julie says no. So “the villain” becomes the hero in his own story–or does he? Will he always remain the bad guy or will something happen to change his life?

Okay, so those are the three short story ideas–which would you want to read?  

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Creative Visualization for Writers by Nina Amir (Review)

Nina Amir, the author of How to Blog a Book, has a new release out titled, Creative Visualization for Writers: An Interactive Guide for Bringing Your Book Ideas and Your Writing Career to Life . In this interactive book, writers will find over 100 exercises designed to get your creative juices flowing, move beyond writer’s block (if you have it), and stretch your mind. In other words, this is a book that gives you permission to be a little eccentric, weird, over the top and encourages you to be more creative than maybe you have ever been in your life. It’s a book we writers have been looking for because we have already read many of the fantastic books about the writing craft–how to construct sentences, when to begin a novel, and what to use instead of adverbs. 🙂

So how is this book set up? There’s a short foreward from Dinty W. Moore, and then an introduction from Nina, where she exclaims, “Become a visionary,” and explains how the brain works, including a diagram of the left and right brain–most of us know that creative people spend a lot of time in the right side of their brain. Nina says that in this book the exercises help you to use both sides of your brain. Basically she’s encouraging you to get out of the limits we all seem to set for ourselves when we say: I can’t or I’m too busy or I’m stuck. What writer doesn’t need something like this book in their lives?

After the intro, she gets into the exercises. You will want to buy a print copy of this workbook, in my opinion, because the pages are full of questions and activities; space is provided for you to write down your answers and ideas. There are even writing-themed coloring pages (I know some of you are going to get this book just because of that!) and affirmation pages, where you can write down how you are a successful author or how you promote your work well. She quotes Muhammad  Ali, who said, ““It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

The exercises are grouped into themes: Self-Exploration, Vision, Goals, Creativity, and Focus. Here are a couple snapshots of them:

nina-page-1 nina-page-2 nina-page-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although I read through this book quickly for this review and only did a few of the exercises, I can not wait to start at the very beginning and take my time with every single exercise–it’s one of my New Year’s goals, although I’m beginning it now. My writing life has not been in the forefront for a while, due to all the stuff I’ve written about on this blog, and so I can’t wait to stretch my mind and find my creative self again.

If you want to join me, you can buy the book here.

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The Grueling Process of Submission: Advice to Improve Your Chances of Getting a Publishing Contract

I recently wrote a 3-part series of blog posts for WOW! Women On Writing, about the grueling process of submitting a manuscript to agents, editors, or contest judges. Here it is summarized, with links to each article, in case you find yourself currently submitting to these gatekeepers!

Part one: The Grueling Process of Submission: Hook, Proper Grammar, and To Be Verbs: Recently, I had a friend, David Kirkland, who is an editor of a small press, write and suggest a series of blog posts on mistakes he sees repeated in western, sci fi and fantasy submissions. As I read the list, I thought about the WOW! novel class I teach and the Summer 2016 Flash Fiction contest I will finish judging today and agreed with his points. These mistakes can make readers–who at the submission point are agents and editors–cringe.

I decided in October, before we get to NaNoWriMO and the craziness of writing 50,000 words in a month, I would cover the most important of these in a three-part series about submitting your manuscript. The following post is not just for genre writers, but for any fiction writers, and I would include memoir writers, too. To read more, go here.

qtq80-Q9YqEaPart two:  The Grueling Process of Submission: Backstory and Prologues: Backstory can be that annoying fly on the wall that’s saying you have to deal with me somehow, so how are you going to do it? The thing about backstory is the reader only needs to know enough to understand the story at that point. If it is important that the reader knows the main character went on a hunger strike for 30 days in 1972 in order to understand the story, then you must reveal that fact, even though it happened before the story starts.

But if this same character has had five dogs in his life, all bulldogs–this backstory fact may not be important to understand the story. As the author, you  might think that is interesting and quirky about your character, but you can not bog down the action of the story with the backstory. To read more, visit this page.

Part three:  The Grueling Process of Submission: Main Characters, Adverbs, and Adjectives: Before I give my final tips, I want to reiterate that agents, editors, and contest judges are looking for reasons to reject your manuscript. This is completely different from readers, who are usually willing to give your first several chapters a chance, if you hook them in with an interesting character, great writing, or a plot they can’t resist. Readers want to love every book they pick up. Agents and editors can’t afford to do so, and they don’t have the time. So the tips I’ve been giving you in this series are meant to help you AVOID giving these gatekeepers reasons, besides your plot or characters, to reject your manuscript.

So let’s look at your characters. We all know we don’t want stereotypical characters–no cute, snotty cheerleaders and jock football players who only want one thing; we all write unique and interesting beings. (I won’t say human beings because they could be animals or aliens, right?) David Kirkland, author and editor with High Hill Press, whom I’ve told you gave me the idea for these blog posts, said this about the characters in the beginning pages of your novel, “Ask yourself: Does it [your manuscript] open with important characters? Sometimes the opening pages [I’ve read in submissions] have mostly been about minor characters. That misleads the reader.” To finish this article, go here.

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Five Weeks Later: After the Hysterectomy

As I’ve shared before, I had a hysterectomy at the end of September because I suffered from endometriosis. I thought I would give an update on how things are going and some thoughts about the hysterectomy for those of you who happen upon this page because you had one or are planning to have one.

What was the worst?

Hands down, the worst part of the hysterectomy was the first 12 hours after it was over because of the gas pains. When having a robotic-assisted laparoscopic hysterectomy, gas may be pumped into your belly to inflate it and give your surgeon a better view and more room to work. This happened to me. Turns out, although there was some pain with the actual removal of my female parts, most of the unbearable pain, which pain medicine did not help, was from  this gas being in my body. Since I also had a catheter, I couldn’t get up and walk around. Finally, a nurse explained to me what was going on (the next morning!) and gave me some GasX, and I walked around the hospital once the catheter was removed–then, it was so much better. So, if you are having this same procedure, talk to your doctor about the gas and the nursing staff about GasX.

Did I need a week to recover before going back to work?

Yes. I also feel like if I didn’t work from home, I might have needed 10 days off or to go back to work half days. You will be tired. You will still have some pain. You had major surgery. And in today’s world, we seem to not give ourselves enough time to heal from anything.

qtq80-fnKjgOHow do I feel now?

So, it’s been 5 weeks. I go back to the doctor on Tuesday for my final checkup before I am supposed to resume normal activity. In the last couple days, I have felt more like myself. But in general, I can’t imagine I am going to resume “normal activity” by Friday. I am still so tired. If I overdo it, I still have a bit of pain or discomfort. I think this is perfectly normal and will discuss it with my doctor at my visit, of course. Someone just said to me today, “It may take you 6 weeks on the outside, but just remember it can take up to 6 months on the inside.” I have some smart, smart friends. I have had  a lot of trouble with my appetite, which I’m told is also normal because well, I HAD MAJOR SURGERY!

What about my hormones?

Since I had a full hysterectomy, I am doing hormone replacement therapy. Currently, I have an estrogen patch I wear and change every 3-4 days. I think I’m still adjusting. I think I need some clarification on if there are better places to place it than others. I have a lot of stress in my life; one week during this recovery, I felt a bit like I did when I was suffering from endometriosis and my hormones were all out of whack. But this past week, I’ve felt much more in control and stable–so I’ll talk to the doctor about this, too.

To sum up, I’m glad, so glad, I had this surgery. Once everything gets back to “normal”, I have high hopes that I will feel better. I will be more like myself. I will have survived this patch in my life and come out stronger.

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How Journal Writing Can Change Your Life and Find Your Inner Child

I am very excited to host Mari L. McCarthy on her blog tour for her new book, Journaling Power: How To Create the Happy, Healthy, Life You Want to Live . I am lucky enough to have edited this book and read it twice, and I’m telling you the story that Mari tells of how journaling changed her health–physically and emotionally–is amazing. I have used some of Mari’s books before and taken part in her journaling challenges. They are always well-written and useful, but I actually think Journaling Power is her best yet. Please check it out on Amazon after you read this guest post she wrote . Best news of all, I am hosting a giveaway for Journaling Power. All you have to do is leave a comment below to be entered to win. You can say something as easy as: Please enter me, or you can tell us about your journal experiences.  I will randomly pick a winner on Halloween night (Oct. 31) at 11:59 pm. 

Discovering and Recovering Your Inner Child

by Mari L. McCarthy

Expressive writing, particularly when it involves a daily, pen-to-paper discipline, has powerful healing effects–and it’s official! A growing body of research confirms its holistic healing power.

Expressive writing is an effective self-therapy. It helps our brains process emotional issues, boosts the immune system, and helps to neutralize the potentially lethal effects of stress.

Pioneering research by Pennebaker and Beall in 1986 revealed that writing about traumatic events has a positive knock-on effect for many months, reducing the need to visit the doctor by more than 40%.

Later studies indicate that writing therapy helps a variety of long-term health problems, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, liver disease, lupus, chronic pelvic pain, and irritable bowel syndrome. It helps some cancer patients to improve their quality of life significantly.

So it’s time that this completely free-of-charge, non-invasive therapy had a higher public profile.

journaling-power-cover-w-badgePeople need to know that it changes their lives, just as it changed mine.

I was badly disabled until I started journaling. Multiple Sclerosis had stolen my life, and I’d been forced to close my successful management consulting business. But my daily writing practice had a regenerative effect on my body, mind, and spirit.

I regained much of the function I’d lost on my right side and was able to launch a new (creative journal writing) business.

So if I’m evangelical about journaling therapy, it’s because I know from personal experience that it really works.

And I’m in good company when I promote expressive writing. Top science journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa also recommends it as a tool for healing. Nakazawa has spent years researching the lifelong consequences – both emotional and physical-of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

She has examined the long-term effects of early stressors, such as being emotionally and/or physically abused or neglected, losing a parent, living in a dysfunctional or very poor family, witnessing parents going through a divorce, or living with a severely depressed parent. She argues that ACEs shape our biology and seriously affect our physical and emotional resilience as adults.

Nakazawa’s solution is to “re-boot” the brain and create new, healthy neural pathways, using a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. This involves disciplines like meditation and yoga, along with dietary and other lifestyle improvements––and very importantly, therapeutic writing.

If you feel that you had a hard time as a child or young person (I don’t think there is anyone who hasn’t), grab your Journal and your Inner Child and start exploring. You both will love this new adventure and the happy ending you come up with. #WriteON!

Journaling Power Prompt:

What does your Inner Child really, really, really want to do on your next play-date?

 

About the Book:

Journaling Power teaches you how to put the ultimate self-healing tool right at your fingertips–journaling. Through Mari L. McCarthy’s moving personal story, you’ll discover how pen-to-paper journaling leads to self-growth and life-changing transformation. You’ll also learn that numerous medical studies prove journaling literally unleashes a healing agent that empowers your life in ways you’ve never imagined.

About the Author:

Mari L. McCarthy is The Journaling Power Guide and founder of CreateWriteNow.com. Her blog (http://www.createwritenow.com/journal-writing-blog) provides journaling for personal transformation and healthy living ideas, information and inspiration for keeping a daily pen-to-page Journaling for the Health of It™ Practice. You can also download the FREE e-book, How to use Your Journal to Cure Writer’s Block Now (http://www.createwritenow.com/download-free-writers-block-tips). More life-changing e-books (http://www.createwritenow.com/journaling-ebooks) can be found in Mari’s Personal Transformation Journaling Library and in CreateWriteNow’s store (http://store.createwritenow.com/).

Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ndtMtUfs5s

 

 

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Winners of the Blog Contest and Writing Conferences and Classes

Thank you to everyone who participated in my new blog contest and shared some words of wisdom! Here are the 5 winners:

Woman jumping with excitementPatricia M. —  Journal

Diane E. — $10 Amazon gift card

Janice F. — one copy of Maggie Mae, Detective Extraordinaire and the Case of the Missing Cookies

Shelby S. — R-E-A-D magnets

Jeanne F. — 10 page edit

I really appreciate the new likes on my Facebook page and the subscriptions to my blog and newsletter!

In this short post, I also wanted to mention that I am serving as a children’s writing mentor in Columbia, MO the weekend of November 5 and 6 at the ShowMe Writers Masterclass Conference. This is a fantastic and relatively inexpensive writing conference that covers all genres and ability levels. It is held at the University of Missouri-Columbia (M-I-Z-Z-O-U), and you can still register here: http://www.showmewriters.com/

Finally, I teach an online class for WOW! titled, “WRITING A NOVEL WITH A WRITING COACH: One-on-One Instruction”, and it begins the first Friday of every month. Students send in a section of up to 4500 words each week, and I critique it for both content and grammar/spelling/punctuation, and give a critique back. To find out more information or to see references, visit this link.

Photo above by Paige Portraits on Flickr.com.

 

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