Here we are in the middle of February, a time of freezing temperatures (Pittsburgh alternates these with blustery spring-like days to keep things interesting), hearts, chocolates, red roses, and glitter. It’s a time of extremes as people in relationships flaunt the depth of their commitment and single folks wear black and host ex-boyfriend bonfires.

It’s a time of cartoon card kits and junky plastic tchotchkes that have replaced the snacks our kids aren’t allowed to bring to school.

It’s a time of sappy, goopy love.

Free Valentine clip art from

I’m on a mission to put love into the world, so today, I should feel like I’m doing a good job. Love is everywhere. Not my love necessarily, but lots of it just the same. Hearts are on sleeves, offices overflow with red roses, lockers burst with whatever has replaced the candy-gram.

The world is in love and everything is better for it.

Well, maybe not. Valentine’s Day expressions of romantic love and friendship are generally restricted to our close circle of friends. Unless your situation dictates that cards must be given to the whole class, February 14th is a day for sharing the love with people you’re always affectionate toward. There’s very little outreach and hardly any grace given to the world at large.

There’s harried last minute shopping. Restaurants are crowded. People are as divided today as they were yesterday.

So today, while you’re making plans, buying chocolates, and celebrating special relationships, broaden your focus to include those people around you that are hard to love. Smile. Say thank you. Value opposing opinions. Refuse to engage in personal attacks. Love.


And that will make Valentine’s Day so happy.

#IWSG - My Favorite Genre

The purpose of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is to
share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns
without fear of appearing foolish or weak. It’s
a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Every month, #IWSG announces a question that members can answer in their post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

February 7, 2018

What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

My favorite genre to read and write is realistic fiction. Or narrative nonfiction. Or historical fiction. 

Let's call it a three-way tie linked by a few key characteristics: realism, storytelling, and character development. I want to read (and write) characters I care about doing things I can believe they would do. That's the kind of literature I love.

I love a story and I happen to believe real people have the best ones. Though I've enjoyed the big fantasy tales and even an occasional sci-fi, speculating about human-orc relations doesn't capture my interest as much as journeying with a real person (or a realistic fictional person) through life's challenges. I'm fascinated by what motivates people and how their experiences shape behavior. 

This preference was shaped during childhood. More so with movies than literature, my family fancied films that were "based on a true story" and enjoyed those paragraphs before the ending credits that explained what happened to the characters later in life.

By high school, I was reading a good deal of Dickens. I found A Tale of Two Cities (still my favorite novel ever) and was struck by the idea that people are people irrespective of time, culture or circumstance. From the jerk that ate all of the chocolate as Louis Zamperini floated on a life raft in the ocean (Unbroken) to the odd way Brooke Shields worried that her daughter would have a hard life because her mother was "so beautiful" (Down Came the Rain), those events and thoughts are more salient because of their truth. 

And so, I write about reality. Now it's your turn. What's your favorite genre?

Pursuing Positivity

Life is irritating. Every morning, before I'm even out of bed, the litany of annoyances begins. It's too early. It's so dark outside. It's going to be cold. 

By school drop off time, the people around us are the enemy. The high school kids drive like maniacs. No one knows how to use a stop sign. The buses will never get out if someone doesn't yield. The speed limit is 15 mph in the school zone, buddy!

My internal monologue and often my conversations are skewed far to the negative side. For the sake of comedy or just ease of coming up with talking points, snark and annoyance are quick to take hold. So much that one evening I began to count how many times some form of the word "annoying" was used in our home.

Do you know what's annoying? It was so annoying. It's really annoying. I was so annoyed!

"Tell me something that's not annoying," I said.

The reply to that was pretty curt. And later that night I was told that it was annoying that I'd called out overuse of the word annoying.

It occurs to me that we're collectively turning into Batman as a family. Everything is dark and the world is hopeless. We resort to groaning and listening to death metal. Well, at least groaning.

With increasing regularity, we're trying to claw our way out of this negativity abyss. It occurs to me that being annoyed is just easier. Maybe there's some evolutionary reason for it or maybe I was just born with sarcasm that infects the rest of my family. Either way, our default is hypersensitivity to what's wrong with this picture. We're only briefly noticing what's right.

"In our brains, there are two different systems for negative and positive stimuli. The amygdala uses approximately two-thirds of its neurons to detect negative experiences, and once the brain starts looking for bad news, it is stored into long-term memory quickly. Positive experiences have to be held in our awareness for more than 12 seconds in order for the transfer from short-term to long-term memory. Rick Hanson describes it in this way: 'The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.'" 

It is necessary to pursue positivity. To shift conversations toward the good things that happen every day. To notice the other people that are doing the right thing and even give them positive reinforcement.

So take a compliment (the ones above a free) and share it. Together we can evolve into more positive people. Or at least be less irritated while trying.

Brain Breaks for the Meditation Challenged

My mind is never quiet.

I’ll never really be sure if this is “normal.” I’ve talked to other women that concur. Perhaps it’s the female brain that’s always going. Always reliving past conversations. Always thinking about the future. Worrying. Planning.

A Lego version of myself. I think she's doing Warrior III.
But I’ve also been a part of numerous yoga classes, the instructor insistent it’s possible to “empty your mind.”

That instruction is sure to bring me stupid thoughts. Are people looking at me through this big window? Why couldn’t that woman put her mat a little further away from mine? This music is awful. I can still hear the road.

It goes on and on.

“Envision your thoughts floating away like little puffy clouds,” the instructor continues.

I try to put the road noise and the music on a cloud, but they won’t float away. I decide everyone is lying about their mindful meditation. They’re clearly just compiling a grocery list with their eyes closed. They must be.

Since meditation is a bust, it’s become necessary to look elsewhere for mental rest during my waking hours. As technology advances, I find myself more and more having my mindless time on social media. There’s something intoxicating about the scrolling newsfeed. Always more little snippets of different topics. My mind can wander and jump without judgment.

Of course, the things I read during idle moments filled with screen time entertainment aren’t good. All the trouble in the world is just a hashtag tap away. More fuel for overactive ramblings of a constantly active brain. Add to that a compulsion to check in and see if anything is happening and the enterprise becomes not rest but fixation.

So I’m cutting way back but it’s left a bit of a hole in my life. Sometimes I need to sit down during the day. And sitting quietly, unoccupied doesn’t work for me. Since there must be some replacement for the social media, I’ve come up with some idle time fillers that occupy my mind without overstimulating it.


From sudoku.com: The popular Japanese puzzle game Sudoku is based on the logical placement of numbers. An online game of logic, Sudoku doesn’t require any calculation nor special math skills; all that is needed are brains and concentration.

An iPad app version takes the edge off my mental wandering. I’ve found it even relaxes me to work on one last puzzle before bedtime.


Repetitive motions and a desire not to mess up and waste yarn make crocheting a good mental relaxation activity. Basic crocheting is easily learned from a few steps on an eHow article. So far I’ve created almost two shoddy looking scarves. When I finish the second scarf, I plan to make a bunch of coasters.

After just a short time of heavily restricted Facebook and Twitter use, I do feel better. I don’t reach for my phone at all anymore and I don’t feel addicted to the iPad for entertainment. Sometimes, I even let unanswered questions go without googling them. Though I’ve long given up on my mind ever being “empty,” it seems to be filling with better stuff. That has to be just as good as meditation.