Things I Have Learned In 2017.

They say you should keep on learning until you die. Measuring by this list, I’m not dead yet.

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These are the important lessons I’ve learned in 2017:

 

  • Anyone who supports you, champions your cause, and/or loves you unconditionally is worth their weight in gold.
  • I am very blessed to have a number of people in my life who are worth more than their weight in gold.
  • Not everyone who says “I love you”, “Congratulations”, or “Thank you, that means so much”, actually means it.
  • It is entirely possible to encourage another person when you are feeling completely discouraged yourself.
  • Integrity matters far more than the words that come out of someone’s mouth. Those words, though, can be a fairly good indication of  integrity – or the lack thereof.
  • There are some things which should be left in the past: do not let them define the present.
  • There are some things which some folk will never understand. That doesn’t mean they don’t matter; it means it’s a waste of time and energy trying to talk with them about it or hoping they will change.
  • I will most likely continue to trust people and assume their “goodness” far too readily, and that will most likely continue to backfire on me. Apparently, there are some lessons I never learn.

One Way

  • Just because I often find myself on a one-way street doesn’t mean I have to unpack and live there forever.
    I am learning to see the signs and walk away.
  • There is no shame in tears. They are natural, and they are necessary.
  • People talk about “grace” far too easily. Showing grace to the undeserving is hard, painful, and usually invisible.
  • There is, in fact, an ear piercing that helps with chronic pain.

Movie Review: ‘Wonder’ (2017)

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Today I accompanied my school’s Middle Year students on a trip to the cinema to see ‘Wonder’, a new film based on the bestselling book by the same name about a boy who has facial differences.Jacob Tremblay plays August Pullman, alongside Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson who play his parents. The stage is set when the Pullmans decide that Auggie should start 5th Grade in a mainstream school, having been homeschooled by his mother until then. Mandy Patinkin plays a very wise and empathetic school Principal, Mr Tushman.

What a sad world we live in when a kid gets less attention walking through the city or a park wearing a space helmet than he does when wearing his own face. It’s human nature, I know, but that doesn’t make it okay. This film challenges that “default setting” in a very compelling way.

Auggie’s teacher, Mr Brown, challenges the kids to ask themselves: What sort of person am I?
This movie challenges every audience member to ask themselves the same question. How do I deal with difference? What does my face tell them? What kind of friend am I? What monuments do my deeds leave?

The audience feels sympathetic to Auggie long before they see his face. When he says, “I know I’ll never be an ordinary kid ordinary kids don’t make others run away from playgrounds” it’s like a punch in the stomach that leaves you winded.

As the movie rolls on, we also see that the “regular” kids like Auggie’s sister, Via, have their own challenges with acceptance and friendship, even without the extra challenges that some kids face. Over and over, this film reminds me again just how cruel kids— and people in general— can be, in so many ways.

The journey of discovering who is real and who is not is often painful and traumatic. Together, Auggie and Via realise that they are each other’s best friends, and lean to rely on each other for the support and love that they need to get through each day.

The development of genuine friendship reminds us that looking past the surface to really see someone is what makes a crucial difference to anyone, but especially those who are so aware of that surface. There is also a painful reminder that even the nice kids can make mistakes when they focus on appearances instead of who someone really is.

This movie delivers so many powerful lessons about accepting others and even more about accepting ourselves. In both cases, we need to learn to live according to the precept established by Mr Brown in Auggie’s first lesson in 5th Grade: “When you have.a choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

It sounds simple— perhaps too simple. But is it?

The hardest part may be in finding the willingness to step out of our comfort zones and open our own minds to each other and the possibilities that our differences bring.

Everyone old enough to understand the difference between kindness and judgement should see this film.

The Power of the Posse.

Being an Indie author is a huge learning curve.

There are so many things you need to get right. When I started out, I knew nothing about marketing, very little about social media strategies, and had no idea how hard it is to promote a book and achieve sales.

There is one factor, more than any other, to which I attribute my survival and gradual success.

I have a group of “Indie sisters” who are the most incredible support, help, encouragement and backup anyone could ask for.Buddy The Gang Love Friendship Joy Funny

They’re all still learning, like I am. Individually, we’ve encountered pitfalls we never imagined, but we got through them with our integrity and sanity intact because of the support we’ve given each other. Together, we’ve done things that would have seemed near impossible on our own.

We’re selling books. We run Facebook groups for support, encouragement, and co-promotion for Indie authors. We’ve run events for Indie Authors Day, Valentine’s Day, book launches, author takeovers, cover reveals, and done a radio/podcast show. We’ve got websites, blogs, twitter and Instagram accounts, and multiple Facebook pages.

It all sounds too good to be true. To be honest, if you’d told me a year ago that five friends whom I had not yet met and I would be achieving these things, I’d have laughed. They probably would have, too.

The secret to what we’re achieving is not simply the sum total of our efforts. We have tapped into what I like to think of as ‘The Power of the Posse’. 

It’s incredibly encouraging to know, with absolute confidence, that on the days one of us feels like a failure or can’t see the way forward, the others have their back. We all know that if there’s a challenge, we are in it together. We sincerely and joyfully celebrate each other’s victories and achievements. We talk every day, about all sorts of things, simply because we enjoy each other’s company. We defend each other, and we’d willingly go down fighting to protect each other.

Power of the Posse 2

I know, it sounds unreal. But the magic of the “Indie Fabs” goes way beyond our own group. We believe in paying it forward. We read and review other people’s books. We are free with advice and words of experience for those who ask for them. We answer the call when another Indie author – quite often, one who isn’t part of our team – needs help. And we will not ask for payment, except that those we help also pay it forward by helping others out when they get the chance.

I can’t imagine doing all this without Jeannie, Renee, Aliya, Eva and Lyra. I don’t even want to contemplate how I might.

One organisation I know of tried to allocate author teams for their members. Mine, and many others, never got off the ground because it’s simply not possible to manufacture the kind of relationship and teamwork that is required for a posse to work the way it should.

I am absolutely convinced that life/fate/destiny/the literary gods chose my posse for me, and me for them. What we have is magic.

Power of the Posse

So how, you ask, can you get a posse of your own?

  • Join and participate in author’s groups on Facebook. There are hundreds of them – you can choose by genre, location, particular events or affiliation with a certain group.  Engage with the people there. Sooner or later, you’ll find the ones with whom you have an affinity.
  • Encourage and help others. Share posts, read and review books, offer help when it’s needed. Those who reciprocate and help you – they’re the ones you want to consider as potential members of your posse.
  • Introduce your author friends to each other. Groups will naturally form. Don’t be exclusive, but nurture the closer working/team relationships and see what grows.
  • Demonstrate integrity. Do what you say you will. Be honest in your encouragement and support for others. That really gets noticed, especially in online communities where so many people are out for themselves.
  • Take responsibility. Be honest about things you haven’t done well, or things you feel others haven’t done well, but take care to be constructive in the way you communicate that.
  • Give it time. It probably isn’t going to happen immediately. When the time is right though, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a group of authors who work well together, include each other in things, and have complementary strengths.
When you find them, treasure them. Encourage, praise and nurture them.
If they do the same for you, you’ve found your posse.
Bravo!

Ten Ways We Can Start To Change the World For Our Kids. 

When I was 20, I pledged to never buy another women’s magazine.

Even then I was frustrated by the unrealistic body image they consistently communicated to women.  It wasn’t long before that extended to the “cool” publications like Cleo and Cosmo, which I had convinced myself were different because they provided helpful articles on makeup, health and other issues relevant to younger women.
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Okay, so I was deluded about that, but it didn’t last long once I observed that these magazines also projected false and unrealistic body images that neither I, nor most of the young women I knew, could ever hope to meet.
 For longer than anyone can remember, our western society has had  an unhealthy fixation on looks. We’ve been getting it wrong since long before Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves based entirely on her portrait and promptly divorced her the minute he met her in person, citing as his reason the fact that she looked like a horse.
And it’s only getting worse. Chlidren as young as five or six are no strangers to the words “cute”, “handsome” and even “sexy”. Pre-teen kids have body image issues and the eating disorders that go with them. Peer pressure and bullying are daily realities in every school and friendship group that our kids belong to. Marketing is aimed at wearing the right clothes, having the right look, and doing what everyone else does. Social media can take those problems right into kids’ own homes. And it happens to boys every bit as much as it happens to girls.
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When does a kid ever get a chance to be themselves?
 
All of this leads to one challenging question: How do we swim against the stream when the current is so strong?
My answer is that we need to invest differently in people.  We need to model much more healthy and constructive behaviour, and encourage others to do the same.
Let me say straight up that I don’t have kids of my own. I have, however, been very active in helping a lot of friends and family raise theirs. Our house has, quite literally, been a second home for more than a handful of teenagers over the years. I’ve also been a teacher, youth leader and mentor for almost thirty years. It’s this accumulated experience upon which I base these comments.

 

I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does.
But I do have a few ideas about how we can start.

 

This is my starter list:

10 Ways We Can Change The World For Our Kids

  1. Don’t put kids or other people down. Ever. I can’t stress this enough. Never tell kids, or anyone else, they are stupid, useless or worthless. Criticise a behaviour if you need to, but do not make it about the whole person.
  2. Stop buying into what the media tell us is ideal. Choosing not to surround yourself and your kids with unattainable ideals helps to take your focus off how far short we fall. This decision had a significant effect in my own life, so I am speaking from experience here.
  3. Stop commenting on how people look. Whether someone looks beautiful, tired, or exhausted, don’t say so. Don’t comment on whether someone has lost or gained weight – in this case especially, you can safely assume that they already know. Just don’t comment on anything external. Chances are, the less you comment on it, the less you will think about it. And the more you think and talk about those things, so will your kids.
  4. Instead, comment on things that have intrinsic value. Statements such as “I love it when you smile like that!” or “You did such a good job of that! Well done” can make such a difference to someone because they emphasise one’s value rather than looks. Saying “I really appreciate your kindness” (or any other value) reinforces that behaviour as well as encouraging the person who hears it.
  5. Discuss celebrities differently. Instead of saying “I wish I looked like that!”, discuss the positive qualities of a person or the character they portray. There will doubtless also be opportunities to discuss negative behaviours and messages. Be honest about the consequences those behaviours carry for real people, even if they’re made to look funny’ popular or “cool”.
  6. Don’t comment on your kids’ or your own health, weight or fitness. Make an effort to do something about it instead of commenting on it. Model behaviours for your kids that help to establish habits that will help you as well as them – provide better food, go for a walk, go to the gym together or take up a hobby together. It doesn’t have to cost more to be better for you.
  7. Discuss feelings and values in a positive and purposeful way. Not every feeling or experience shared will be positive, but honest discussion lets kids and young adults know it’s okay to not always feel great about things and teaches them ways to handle different emotions and experiences. This encourages self-awareness, but more importantly, it builds honest communication and relationship that both they and you will value enormously.
  8. Make an investment of time, more than money, in people, especially in your kids. It won’t matter to kids what they have if they feel unloved or undervalued. Take an active interest in each one and find out what matters to them.  Building a strong, loving relationship with your child is the best gift you can ever give them. It will bear fruit in every other relationship they have.
  9. Celebrate worthwhile achievements. “You did it!” should be more valuable than “You’re so pretty!”
  10. Be realistic and constructive about disappointments and failure. Make sure they know you care about their disappointment and hurt. Don’t tell them it doesn’t matter, because it does matter to them – at least for now. In time, they will be ready for you to help them see the bigger picture and refocus their efforts and priorities.
We can’t expect to change the whole world. However, we can influence the way they see themselves, and we can influence the way our own kids see, experience and respond to the world they live in.  

And there’s no better time to start than today.

PSA: How to proceed if we disagree.

Please, be very, very careful about what you defend.
More importantly, please be careful about how you defend it.

I don’t take sides in politics.
I take sides in life.
 
I side against prejudice, hatred, family violence, oppression and injustice.
 
Therefore, I will state quite openly that I do not endorse Trump as POTUS. At the same time, I do not endorse Madonna’s comments either. There are Australian politicians and various other public identities that I do not endorse, for exactly the same reasons.
 
If something I post offends you because you don’t agree politically, stop and think before you jump down my throat and give me grief about it.
Am I saying “I hate this person”? No.
I’ll be saying “I don’t like this action or these words”.
They’re very different things.
Chances are, if someone on the other “side” did or said that, you’d criticise them for it, too.
 
Consider that I will call *anyone* out on bullying, lying to the nation/world, or inciting mistrust, hatred and violence. I will not accept misogyny, sexism, sizeism, ageism or racism as “humour” or “lighthearted”. 
Today, it might be someone you like. Tomorrow, it might be the person you don’t like.
 
Please, be very, very careful about what you defend. More importantly, please be careful about how you defend it.
 
I am not your enemy unless you make that choice.
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Book Review: ‘In Passing’ by Tobie Hewitt

“This delightful book opens with one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a long time …”

‘In Passing’ by Tobie Hewitt is a thought-provoking story that explores questions we often have about life, death, and how we find those soul mates  we know we’re meant to be with. The characters are just gorgeous, and the struggles they face are ones that the reader can easily identify with.
This delightful book opens with one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a long time : “The air shimmered with a knowing beyond doubt.”
That line really made me stop and think, and visualise scenes where this could have been the case. From that moment, I was fully engaged with the story and completely hooked by Tobie Hewitt’s writing.
Five stars, Tobie. Beautifully done.
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Perfect!

Yesterday, a very lovely friend of mine announced a new relationship status. She’s met a fantastic guy, and he thinks she’s fantastic, and they’re both deliriously happy.

The announcement that she is in a relationship appeared on FaceSpace, accompanied by some photographs that just resonated with joy, and with her saying that “He is my perfection”.  Some of her friends were quite sceptical about this expression, and got a bit “older brotherly” about it, but I understood what she meant.

She doesn’t believe he’s perfect. She doesn’t think they will never have problems or disagreements. Based on what I’ve seen, they’re both actually quite sensible and thoughtful about how they’ve approached their new relationship.

What she does believe is that he’s a perfect guy for her.
In terms of faith, world view, priorities, interests and personalities, they’re an excellent match.  And it really does seem that they’ve both just been waiting and praying  for someone exactly like the other to arrive in their lives.
We should never forget that it’s entirely possible to be perfect for someone without actually being perfect.

 

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It’s lovely to see a friend you care about really enjoying their relationship and feeling like they’ve been blessed beyond belief. It’s fantastic to see his friends and family expressing the same happiness that we’re all expressing for her.

I feel really privileged  to be included in her happiness, as a friend and confidante.  I look forward to getting to know him and seeing them grow together.

And if she wants to call him her perfect guy, I say she should be able to. She should know.

Karma and 90s music. 

Tonight I did a terrible thing. 

A friend and I were discussing a relationship breakup and, in response to a question, the first thing that came to mind was a lyric from a Mariah Carey song.  The fact that I initially thought it might have been Whitney Houston doesn’t absolve me from quoting it to her. 

My brainPod is generally rather genius at pulling up lyrics from songs in response to random words and actions, but even I was shocked at the cruelty of my memory in dredging that up. I felt kind of bad for inflicting the video clip on her, too. 

Some kind of friend I am. Thankfully, we were both able to laugh about it. 

Karma had the last laugh, though. 

Knowing I have to get up early for work, Karma waited until I was about to drift off and then she made Tony Delroy, host of the radio program I always listen to, play the theme song from Titanic. 

Freakin‘ Celine Dion.  

I cannot stand her. As much as I love Canada, and as much as I don’t want to offend anyone who loves her, I think she’s bloody dreadful. 

I heard the first few notes of the flute and groaned, “Kill me now!” I turned the volume right down but it was too late. The damage was done. 

And here I am, wide awKe and blogging about it instead of sleeping.

Karma is, indeed, a bitch, but at least she has a sense of humour. 


 

My Canadian brother from another mother.

I have a friend that I love a lot. We live thousands of kilometres apart, but we spend part of every day talking with each other. It’s a beautiful friendship that has grown out of a chance meeting, a random response to a random tweet.

When I visited Canada last year, I spent some time at Sean’s house.
I remember we were both nervous about finally meeting each other after talking online for so long, but that first hug was just incredible. The next few days were proof that our friendship was real. Even our partners commented on how it seemed like Sean and I had known each other forever.

On the morning that we left, the mood was sombre. Goodbyes were tearful. As I was about to go, he said, “Please don’t leave.”

My response was immediate and honest. “I’ll never completely be gone. You’re my brother now. I’ll be back.”

When I do go back in September this year, Sean and I are going to have our own little adoption ceremony. What we have is a friendship more valuable than we ever realised it would be when we started joking with one another on Twitter way back when.

Today, when I signed into the instant messenger that we both use, I found these words from him.

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He may have known how timely his words were, but I don’t think he realises just how healing and restoring it was to read these words after a tough week in which I had confronted some tough challenges, both professionally and personally.

It’s so incredibly good to know you have someone who has your back, no matter what critics and problems life might throw at you. Sean is by no means the only one of my friends who does that, but I wouldn’t want to be without him. He has his own very special place in my heart, and nobody could replace him.

Thank you, Sean, from the bottom of my heart, for your words and for being an amazing friend and brother.

Acc-cen-tu-ate the positive, e-lim-in-ate the negative…

I was reading a newsletter in my school staff email this morning when one paragraph really caught my attention.

“Can you remove yourself from people who are negative or holding you back?
The quality of our lives will depend on the quality of people with whom we surround ourselves… It is a sign of our maturity to identify any negative effects of others and then have the courage to remove ourselves from that influence.” (Vital Staff, 2015, 14)

This is a truth that many people don’t realise.

I’m not just talking about people who don’t like your haircut or the way you dress. I’m not even talking about people who don’t share your views on politics or religion. I’m talking about those people who bitch, backstab, undermine, conspire and manipulate so that people they perceive as “powerful” will see and treat others in a negative and often quite destructive way.

I know the effects certain negative people have had on my life in the past, both personally and professionally. I’ve seen friendships and relationships eroded gradually until they no longer exist. I’ve seen different people nearly bring down a church, a school, a family. It’s ugly. It’s an incredibly awful thing to experience.

I’ve also experienced the benefits of removing those people from my life. It hasn’t been easy, nor has it been painless, but it has been totally worth it.

Negativity is a cancer that attacks and weakens from within. We often can’t detect it working away under the surface, threatening to overtake and kill the very thing it’s feeding on.

When we do realise it’s there, the best way to treat it is to cut it out and leave it behind. We can’t afford to allow it to continue to grow, because it will gradually choke the joy, and then the life, out of us.

I can hear some of you thinking, “But wait. You’re a Christian. Aren’t you supposed to love and forgive and all that?”

Sure. Love and forgiveness are at the top of the list of ways in which we’re meant to treat other people.

However, that doesn’t mean we have to allow people to continue behaving in ways that are hateful and harmful to themselves and others. How is it showing love to someone if others just let them destroy every relationship they have? How is it forgiving or restoring them if there’s no stand against the behaviours that will eventually destroy both them and other people?

So, when it comes to my friendships, relationships, and interactions with other people, I will continue to choose to surround myself with the positive and constructive, and excise the negative. I can, and will, continue to remove the negative people from my life.

There’s no compulsion for you to follow suit. There’s no obligation for you to keep me in your friends list if you think I have a negative effect on you.

I know not everyone will like me. I realise that even the people who like me don’t like everything I do or say. It would be naive of me to think otherwise.
You know what? I’m entirely okay with that. I don’t need to be liked by everyone. I don’t need a fan club. And I am more than happy to accept that there are some who will be much happier without me. That’s life.

I do not desire to be everything to everyone. At some point earlier in my life I did, but I have long stopped trying to achieve that, because I found out the hard way that it simply isn’t possible. That’s a sure-fire recipe for heartbreak.

What I do desire is for the people close to me to continue to be positive and constructive in my life.

I relish the freedom to choose who and what will speak into my life and influence my thoughts and actions, and the freedom to be who I am without always looking over my shoulder, afraid of the judgement and negativity of others.