Monday, April 21, 2014

The dog ebook lives

I did it: I spent five hours on Sunday working on my dog ebook! It felt great. I once again plugged into memories, revelation and syntax, smoothing out the paragraphs and fleshing out details. I felt grateful that I didn't have children, pets or even a husband to distract me from this work. I've created the life I want with exactly what I want in it, and these days that's generating income, reading fiction and writing my dog ebook (it's a memoir about my experience as a first-time dog owner and it's not your typical how-a-dog-changed-my-life happy ending).

My goal is still to self-publish in 2014, but I'll finish this third draft and send out some query letters before I get down to the business of turning into an epub document. The story of my first time as a dog owner becomes more nuanced as I get farther away from it. I was a wife and dog owner and now I'm not. Now that I'm completely out of that household and am done with that experience I can see things more clearly and have more courage to write about them. I never again want to go through anything like the year and a half I spent with Ozzie the mutt (and Bob the husband), so I'm determined to wring all the lessons out of it I can. The best way for me to do that is by writing about it. I love writing.

People have been bewildered by my willingness to spill my guts and let everyone know just what I'm thinking. I put things on this blog that others would never dream of letting their family members or co-workers or spouses read, and my ebook will be the same. My dog ebook will include themes of mental illness, family, being a Mexican American, pets, marriage and terrible self-esteem. Yes, I'm willing to let everyone I know read this. Aren't you glad there are people like me? If there weren't, no juicy memoirs would ever get written.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Long weekend

My employer just announced that we're getting July 3rd and 4th off this year. I felt excited about this four-day weekend at first. But now it sinks in: what will I do with four days off? There was a time when I'd spend such a weekend with my husband, getting away from Chicago to a place where we could explore kitschy little shops, take walks along a lakeshore and spend a couple of nights in a nice hotel. We'd enjoy hearty breakfasts and long naps. I'd get a lot of novel reading done.

It makes me sad that such a lovely weekend won't happen this time, but I'll have other activities to fill the time. I'll schedule a couple of Arbonne parties and get together with friends. I can still spend long hours with good books and -- hey -- one of them can be mine. Well, my memoir manuscript anyway. My life keeps getting in the way of that dream: to publish my dog memoir book (self-publishing it as an e-book) in 2014. Maybe I'll plan this for my Fourth of July four-day weekend: take myself to a library or café for long hours of focusing on my manuscript. The next step after that will be to run it by a few agents, just in case someone actually wants to publish it, but if not, it's on to self-publishing!

In fact, what's to keep me from doing the cafe-manuscript activity this weekend? Nothing! Okay, here I, I feel so much better just from blogging this short post...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

So, next Sunday is Easter

Holy Easter cake in the shape of The Lamb.
I never know what to do with Easter, so I think this year I will finally do absolutely nothing and feel fine about it. I was raised Catholic, but always found this holiday disappointing and sad compared to my favorite, Christmas. December 25th had sparkling lights, rich colors and a story of the Christ child being discovered by night. Easter felt pale and washed out with its pastels, Holy Week solemnity and quick sugar rush in bright sunlight. Half-hearted Easter Sunday festivities would be followed by Sunday night movies about the life of Christ. Americans can really make the story of Jesus depressing and boring, at least in the eyes of a child.

Even after I chose atheism, for years Easter still had a powerful emotional charge. I'd get lonely and sad on that day for no reason. I'd console myself with a lamb cake or a cross cake, those bakery confections with the most frosting per square inch. For a frosting lover like me, they made the day tolerable, but just.

Somehow this Easter problem resolved itself over the past few years. Part of what helped was having a dog to take care of. The rest of the solution must have been general healing of my emotional baggage because I've never done anything to try to get over how depressing I find Easter. But somehow, this year, I feel no dread about it at all. It's going to be okay.

Easter 2014 will just be another day for me. Like many Sundays, I'll fill it with some of my favorite things: brunch with friends, reading and naptime. There might be some cake in there, but there doesn't need to be. If anyone wishes me a happy Easter, I'll say, "Yes. It is."
Even holier Easter cake with even more frosting.

Fine. Then DON'T like me.

Can you tell that I'm trying to make up -- in one night -- for not blogging for two weeks? These posts are all coming off the top of my head without nearly the level of editing I usually do.

This is a pre-post because I'm hoping to blog more extensively on this later. I'm in Toastmasters International, an organization that helps people become better public speakers. I'll be doing a speech called "The Art of Being Disliked." My point is that we burn up way too much energy worrying about if people like us. It's reasonable to want to be liked by most others. Being liked makes it easier to get things done, it makes for more harmonious families, communities and work places, and it's nice. But when you take it too far, it leads to letting people rule your life. That's bad.

I've lived in Chicago for almost 21 years and I'm still baffled by how important Midwesterners think it is to be nice. I've seen people stuff their feelings for years, afraid to express themselves because they didn't want to rock the boat. Sometimes this is completely valid and reasonable, but sometimes people take it too far. I've seen someone finally air opinions they've been holding in and you know what? The world didn't end, they weren't ostracized from society and they didn't drop dead. They didn't lose the respect and admiration of the person they were telling. Why is it so hard for people to take the risk of being honest?

A five-minute rant isn't a strong rhetorical statement to make, so my speech will try to focus on encouraging people to let go of their need to be liked. Practically speaking, I keep in mind that someone thinking negative things about me doesn't have any effect on me at all unless I care what they think. So I make a point of not caring. The next thing that happens after someone stops liking me is usually...nothing.

At this point in my speech I might point out to my Toastmasters club (of which I'm the current president) that there are undoubtedly people in the room right now who don't like me or who at least have a good reason to dislike me. I might invite them all to take a moment to focus on whatever they dislike about me. I'll give them a few seconds to do that, then I'll mock-clutch at my neck and say, "I can't breathe!" Then I'll immediately drop that act and give them all a dooky look (the look that says, "Are you serious? Come on!"). In this way I'll show them that there's nothing that their thinking badly of me can do to me.

Again, there ARE times when it's very important to worry about what someone's thinking. You don't want your boss thinking badly of you, or a potential client. You don't want to rock the boat if someone's already stressed and what you have to say isn't urgent, etc. But way too much of the time people worry about the opinion of those who don't have any power over them at all, people whose opinions don't matter much. We wince at what the checkout person might think of us buying fresh greens, rice milk, brown rice and one shameful chocolate eclair.

WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES THAT PERSON'S OPINION MAKE? NONE. Zero. The checkout person probably sees all kinds of food combinations and really doesn't care. And yet people fret about this stuff. That's why I think it's time for a speech on "The Art of Being Disliked." Break your focus on the opinions of others by embracing the idea of being disliked. Being disliked isn't nearly as horrible-nightmarish as we fear.

"Meditation time."

In my little run of flash posts, here's a photo of me meditating. Can you tell what colors are my favorite?

How's unmarried life treating me?

I'm continuing to go through the process of unplugging emotionally from my ex-husband and his dog and focusing on me. Like many women, I really centered myself on my marriage and how I could improve myself and our relationship. Unsurprisingly, I wanted to talk about things more than my husband did. Unable to communicate with him, I focused on me, but felt stymied when my meditation, talk therapy, support groups and self-help books didn't result in the marriage getting better. People now tell me that what it comes down to is that just one person can't improve a marriage; it takes both people. If only heavy drinking and smoking improved a marriage. Then we both would have been doing our share.

Besides getting in touch with my anger over how hard I worked on my marriage and how little time and attention I got from someone working 60+ hours a week, I've been pulling my focus back to me. Even after our divorce was finalized on February 7th, I continued to worry about Bob's living situation, financial situation, work environment, health and dog. He would call me regularly, just to chat, and it was very friendly and nice, but after the phone calls I'd find myself trying to think of how I could help Bob out or what might be done about whatever he had complained about. Talking to him regularly, as amicable as it was, was keeping me from putting myself first. Putting yourself first is pretty important when you're the only one who's going to do it.

Since the phone calls have stopped I've felt lighter. It's as if I had been carrying Bob and his dog around at the back of mind and they were taking up too much space. It feels good to take that attention and concern and spend it on me. How was my day today? Am I getting enough sleep? How's my health? Is my job going well? What would I like for dinner? These are much more appropriate questions for me than anything that has to do with my ex-husband or his dog, Ozzie (especially since it was Bob who chose to end the marriage).

So here I am. The center of my life once again. That might sound funny to those who have been reading this blog over the years. How much more self-centered does it get than to be blogging about myself regularly? Well, there's self-centered and there's self-caring. I need to do more of the latter.