Am I TikTok Famous Yet?

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I first heard about TikTok in 2020. It seemed to be a place where people made short videos (not in my skill set) where they danced (so not me!) or make-up tutorials (interesting but how many can you watch?). I had ZERO interest to start an account or even watch more than one or two cute animal videos that friends sent to me.

I had a lot of concerns about the format:

  1. Did I REALLY need to be on yet another social media platform?? Especially one that seemed to rely heavily on putting your face out there? Sure there are accounts where people managed to make entertaining content while not showing their face, but did they get the same following? Probably not.
  2. Did you see the part about “entertaining content”? I’m a writer, not an actress, producer, or sound editor. There’s a reason I live mostly behind a keyboard.
  3. The format seemed to be similar to tumblr, which I hated. A constant flow of bite sized posts with little way of tracking the ones you liked (or so I thought). 
  4. I have a LOT of reasons for not wanting my face on social media. I’ve had a stalker. I’m concerned my place of employment would take exception to the fact I’ve written a few racy romances (even though most of mine are fairly tame).
  5. I kept hearing concerns about the security of your information, given that TT is a subsidiary of a Chinese-based company.
  6. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to come up with more than 1-2 videos before running out of ideas.
  7. Almost everyone I saw on TikTok was gorgeous, and I’m not. I’m old, frumpy, and at least 40 pounds overweight. I grew up hearing how homely I was, and that the worst thing a woman could do was show her age and gain weight, so naturally, I did both. I absolutely loathe looking in the mirror. I’m not kidding. 

So I resisted the urge to join. I kept hearing what a great place BookTok was, however, and the FOMO was strong. Then too, I kept seeing these hysterically funny videos by Alisha Rai showing up on my Twitter and Instagram feeds, where she depicts little conversations between Satan and one of his minions. They are utterly brilliant. Still, I held out. TikTok wasn’t for me.

But then authors kept saying what an AMAZING place TikTok was for discoverability, especially for smaller authors or your backlist. And I was mightily tempted. Maybe I could make some vids without showing my face? Mark Dawson did a five day challenge in his Self-Publishing Formula group, and I decided to create an account and make a few videos. Shabby efforts at first. I had no idea what I was doing.

But then I got snowed in for a 3-day weekend, and I watched a LOT of TikTok. I tried out recipes, started Tai Chi, laughed over cute animal vids, considered side hustles that would let me quit the day job, began watching makeup tutorials aimed at my age group (so frustrating that makeup tends to look TERRIBLE on me now), and got really, really frustrated with the poor quality of my videos. It reminded me of when I first joined livejournal and I didn’t know how to code or embed images and I wanted to play SO BADLY that I taught myself.

So I began watching a crap-ton of TT tutorials. And then I discovered that Canva had a mobile app that allowed you to upload your creations directly to TT! I learned out to change the font, color, and size of my text, and how to make it appear at exactly the right time in the video.

And then, God help me. I discovered the filters. I began playing with filters, wigs, makeup, and transitions  I saved sound clips to use, got ideas from watching others, and became the queen of lip-syncing. I learned how to do the clever transitions, and have had a blast making short vids. Me, who rarely took videos and hadn’t the foggiest idea how to edit ANYTHING before TT. I was doing something I haven’t done in a very long time–probably not since the beginning of the pandemic–I was having fun. Okay, so not TikTok famous, and haven’t make a single sale as far as I can tell. And my friends were quick to point out that the filters and wigs weren’t disguising me–anyone who knew me would recognize me. I discovered then that I’d truly run out of f*cks to give. I didn’t care. Might my coworkers run across my videos? Yeah. Could I get fired? Maybe. But the thought of that doesn’t terrify me as much as it used to. I used to believe I was trapped, that I didn’t have the skill set to do much of anything else if I lost my job and jobs in this area are few and far between. A few weeks on TikTok, and suddenly I’m not afraid of that anymore.

BUT….

 

I haven’t written more than 100 words in the last two weeks. I’ve drafted over 30 TikTok videos, however. Sounds good, right? Only that’s about 10 days worth of content, according to the algorithms for getting notice on TT. I had the day off yesterday, and instead of writing, I made TT videos all morning long. I wasn’t sleeping well before I joined TT, but I was at least attempting to go to bed at a reasonable time. Now I’m often up past 1 am when I have work the next day. I’m hearing 15 second sound clips in my head all the time. My ability to focus, a little shaky already, has gone in the GUTTER. I also find myself picking up my phone and checking TT every couple of minutes. It feels like an addiction, peeps.

I suspect it’s like anything else when I first discover it–I dive in headfirst and become completely absorbed until I master the skills I want to use, and then my obsession will settle down. Moving forward, I’ll have to practice a little self-control. I’m doing a lot of things wrong, too. My posts don’t have any call to action, and I’m not staying in my niche/lane. I probably have more writers following me than readers. I’ve gained over 700 followers in 2 weeks, but at least half (if not more) of those are bots or men looking for a good time (seriously, you think TT is a dating app??). And sadly, I am not TikTok famous. Yet.

But that’s okay because, for now, I’m having fun.

 

What to Do When the Spirit of Christmas Ghosts You

I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time getting into the spirit of Christmas this year.

Oh, who am I kidding? It’s not just this year, though for some reason, it feels even worse than usual. Normally by this time of year, I’m happily working my way through holiday romances and mysteries on the e-reader, as well as indulging in my love of cheesy Christmas movies on Hallmark and Netflix. I’ve picked a night to do my annual re-watch of the Muppet Christmas Carol, and I’ve decided which of my other beloved favorites to add to the list. Will it be Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer or How the Grinch Stole Christmas? It’s a Wonderful Life or Christmas in Connecticut? I rotate these favorite classics to keep them fresh but also to make room for new movies, like A Cinderella Story: A Christmas Wish or Last Holiday with Queen Latifah.

I normally hide presents all over the house (sometimes to the point of forgetting to recover and wrap them in time for Christmas), though we’ve begun to scale back on that too. Most years I become possessed by a seasonally driven urge to bake. Completely ignoring my lack of skill in the kitchen (oh boy, do I have a post to share with you about THAT at some future date), I try my hand at dozens of different kinds of cookies, filling the house with the scent of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Co-workers and neighbors are the recipients of anything edible that my family can’t finish, though I eat far too many of them myself.

We haven’t done the elaborate holiday dinner for some time now. The family is smaller, its members scattered. Most of us have so little time off from work that travel isn’t feasible, even if the pandemic hadn’t made it impossible or unwise. We’ve never been big on outdoor decorations, either, and when you have pets, Christmas trees with ornaments can be problematic.

So we’ve been scaling back on Christmas a little each year for a while now.

Last year, while the pandemic still raged and vaccination wasn’t on the horizon yet, there was a desperation to my attempts to get into the holiday mood. This year, there is just apathy. I haven’t been able to muster the enthusiasm to watch more than one or two of the new holidays movies out there, and haven’t watched any of my old favorites. I have dozens of holiday books on the reader, and keep scrolling past to read something else. The weather isn’t helping, either. It’s been a balmy 70 degrees here recently with nary a snowflake in sight.

But in a conversation with one of my friends this morning, she said that though she and her husband feel the same, they put up a few decorations, and were glad they did. She planned to watch a cheesy movie and drink some hot cocoa, and suggested I should do likewise.

You know what? I’m going to take her advice.

Scaling back doesn’t mean going all out Grinch. Maybe finding the Christmas spirit is a little like writing when the Muse has left you. 

Sometimes you just need to sit down and do it. Don’t wait for the feeling to come. Go out and grab it.

Or put another way, if you open your heart to the spirit of Christmas, it will come.

Tonight we took a chance on a new holiday movie, Single All the Way. Lately the newer holiday movies have been a little hit-or-miss with me, but this movie was one of the best, most satisfying holiday movies I’ve seen in some time. It perfectly nailed the goofy, strange dynamics of a loving family. The writing and acting was top-notch. It took the fake boyfriend trope and turned it on its head. Best of all, there were no bad guys, unless you count demanding bosses who expect you to work over the holidays. Highly recommend.

Holiday Gift Guide for the Writer in Your Life

Photo by Monstera from Pexels

It’s that time of year again–when we start thinking about holiday shopping and what the writer in our lives might want as a gift. Okay, that writer is me. Just kidding! Okay, maybe I’m only kidding a little.

See, most non-writers don’t have a clue what kind of gift to give to the authors in their lives. They want to show their support! They want to give something useful. But if you’re not a writer yourself, it’s hard to know what to get. That’s why I’m going to recommend a few things myself but I’m also opening the door for YOUR suggestions. Tell me what you’ve been longing for, what you have on your wish list, what you’d dearly love the most. I want to know about it! Who knows, someone you love might stumble across this list and get you the one thing YOU’VE been hoping for!

Let’s start with the easiest kinds of gifts to shop for: books on craft! There are SO many out there, and many are targeted to genre as well. I know a lot of people who recommend Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing. For romance writers, many consider Romancing the Beat an invaluable tool. I’m also a big fan of The Emotion Thesaurus (and the other books in that line).

But as a mystery writer, I also love books on forensics and police procedure, as well toxicology, poisons and the other means by which you can kill someone. Keep in mind, books on craft aren’t necessarily about writing per se; they can also include books and courses on marketing, advertising, and so on. 

What about planners? I would be lost without my Author’s Planner by Audrey Hughey!

It’s more than just another notebook or calendar. SO MUCH MORE. You can track your daily and weekly goals, your expenditures (to make doing your taxes so much easier!), plan your marketing and social media campaigns, newsletters, you name it! What I love about it is it’s large enough for me to work in without cramming tiny notes everywhere, and the coil-bound cover allows it to lay flat while you’re working on it. It’s a bit like having an organizer, an accountability partner, a cheerleader, and a coach all rolled up into one.
 
The 2021 Author’s Planner is designed to be your all-in-one day planner and writing-career coach, helping you organize your writing life and get on a clear path to reach your goals.
 
Have you thought about editing software? I bet you haven’t! But there are some great programs out there. I like ProWritingAid the best, but there are lots of services out there. Right now, PWA is having a Black Friday sale until 11/30/21 so you can get a year’s subscription up to 50% off!
 
Online courses are also wonderful! There are all kinds of courses on mastering Amazon ads, writing blurbs, or just writing in general. I got a lot out of Inkers Con last year, and the best part is you have access to the materials for three years after the conference! I’m toying with attending live versus digital in 2022, but to be honest, it’s FAR more economic for me to attend digitally–no airfare, no hotel, no boarding the dogs… and I can attend in my PJs if I want! You can still get access to the 2021 Conference if you want to start there. I believe it’s discounted right now!
 
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been toying with looking into such software as Scrivener, Vellum, and Atticus for formatting to take my self-published books to the next level. Unfortunately, Vellum is for Macs, but sometimes I’m tempted. I’m very tempted…. 
 
Likewise, the author in your life might be jonesing for some graphics programs, such as the premium services offered by Canva or Bookbrush. Sure, we can use the free versions, but the paid services allow us to take our publications and social media graphics to that coveted next level of professional design.
 
If all else fails, offer to gift your writer the funds to cover the purchase of cover art or professional editing! Those two items right there represent a huge chunk of investment, and something most indie authors would love a little help with.
 
So what about you? What’s on your wish list? What have you been eyeing for yourself or someone else?

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: I Need Your Holiday Movie and Book Recommendations!

Okay, so those who know me know I am a SUCKER for holiday-themed romance stories and movies. I got hooked on them as a teenager when I discovered an anthology of Regency Holiday Romances. I devoured it, and have looked for more every holiday season.

For me, that “holiday season” starts in November, and some years lasts until March. I crave romances that take place in snowy venues, mysteries in snow-bound country homes, average girls who find their prince in a fictional kingdom in the snow-covered Alps.

See, the key ingredient for me is snow. It’s a rarity here, and cause for celebration because Snow Day! Am I right? When you live in the hot, humid, sweltering South, you pine for ice skating parties, sledding down monster hills, and drinking hot cocoa by a crackling fire in the hearth. I love stories where the girl returns or arrives in a small town and falls in love–probably because I am not a city girl myself. I love wreaths on the doors, and baking snickerdoodles, and at this time of year, I want holiday stories and movies.

Mostly because the message of these stories is guaranteed to be uplifting. There is joy, hope, love and a little bit of magic to be had in these stories, and we could all use a little bit more of that these days.

This is the first of a series of Holiday-Themed Posts asking for your recommendations.

This post is for story and movie recommendations. This time, Monday Nov 8, I’d like very much if you’d sell me on YOUR favorite holiday movie or novel. This post is for you to recommend something you love, but not your own work, please. Next week, Monday Nov 15th, I’ll ask for links to YOUR holiday stories–and I want to hear about them ALL. There are 12 holidays of all nationalities and religions celebrated in December alone–if you’ve written a story set during one of these times, I want to hear about it! It does not have to be a new release, either! The post after that, Monday Nov 22, I’m going to be asking for your gift-giving recommendations, with special focus on those for writers.

I have some current favorite movies to share with you here. Yes, I love It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas in Connecticut, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, and not a single Christmas goes by without a re-watch of The Muppet Christmas Carol. But I also love The Holiday, with Jack Black, Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, and Jude Law. A fun, heartwarming movie about finding your place with the right people. I also adore Last Holiday with Queen Latifah–I adore how she finds her inner lioness when she thinks she is about to die. I’m also a sucker for The Princess Switch movies–how many characters can Vanessa Hudgens play in one movie? Can they possibly add a 4th character? We’ll have to see! Because I also love musicals, I make a point of re-watching A Cinderella Story: A Christmas Wish. Just love this one! I’m also fond of A Princess for Christmas, in part because I really like Katie McGrath as an actress and she brings her skill to this movie.

As for stories, there are almost too many to share! I have on tap to read On Christmas Tree Cove by Sarah Vance-Tompkins, Holiday Ever After by Jill Shalvis, The Holiday Switch by Tif Marcelo, and Jenny Holiday’s A Princess for Christmas. In the past, I’ve enjoyed A Timeless Christmas by Alexis Stanton, It Happened One Christmas (Anthology), Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory, A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas, and SO MANY MORE. It’s embarrassing how many of these stories I have on my Kindle, and I’m looking for more!

So share with me YOUR favorite holiday movies and stories! I want them all! Tell me where I can find them, but more importantly, why do you love it so? Why should I love it too?? I can’t wait to indulge!

Teaching Yourself New Tricks: Advice from an Old Dog Trainer

The other day I was complaining to a group of friends how frustrated I was with my journey to better health. That I was so frazzled and stressed that even the smallest things seemed impossible. That I was so angry at how much I’d had sacrificed and given up in the last few years that I resisted like hell when asked to give up anything else. How exhausted I was all the time, and how this impacted my ability to make good personal decisions when all my energy for good decision-making was reserved for work.

I begged for their support. I was hoping for some other bit of miraculous advice, the perfect diet plan that would allow me to shed twenty pounds in two days, feel AMAZING with just some small tweaks in my routine, and take at least twenty years off my appearance. Okay, not really. But certainly that’s the expectation we have when starting any new ‘clean up your act’ plan. Miracles in 21 days or your money back.

The response I got startled me.

One of my friends said, “You wouldn’t expect a reactive dog to make huge improvements overnight. Why do you expect the same for yourself?”

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a reactive dog is one who over-reacts to things in its environment. This kind of behavior can be hard-wired into the dog through genetics (certain breeds, especially the working and herding dogs, have been bred to respond to certain situations and stimuli, and can be more reactive as a result), through poor socialization (not having seen enough different things as a young pup, which makes the whole world an intense place), or from a terrifying incident–like getting attacked.

Reactive dogs are tough to live with because almost everything sets them off: movement, sound, certain situations. They lunge and bark in public spaces, making them difficult to walk. The tendency is to keep them home, which makes the problem worse, especially if you stop having people come over. The risk of a reactive dog biting someone is high because their displays are often fear-based, and if you can’t calm them down, their response is disproportionate to the stimuli.

I’ve had two reactive dogs, so I’ve had to learn a lot about managing them.

The first was Abbey, a female German Shepherd that came from bloodlines that featured a lot of Schutzhund champions. Schutzhund is a dog sport that tests a dog’s performance during tracking, obedience, and protection work. That is not to say that a Schutzhund dog can’t make a great family pet, but the sport does prize drive as a characteristic, and reactivity can be a consequence of high drive.

Abbey would have probably been a tough-but-manageable dog had she not had a horrific experience. When she was about three years old, we were out walking after a heavy snowstorm. My neighbors had a litter of adult mixed-breed shepherds that lived in a pen with little human interaction. On this day for the first time ever, they decided to let their unsocialized, untrained dogs loose to play in the snow. Four dogs all about Abbey’s size jumped us as a pack with the intent of killing her.

Had it not been for the excessive snow, they probably would have. Abbey dove under the snow pack while I waded into the mass of dogs, screeching like a banshee, grabbing dogs by the scruff and slinging them across the yard. Their owners came charging out of the house to collect their dogs–with never a word of apology or to see if me or my dog had been injured, mind you.

And after that, if Abbey saw a dog even 100 yards away, she went into an impressive display of barking and growling, pawing the air while I held her back by the collar. Going for a walk was no longer fun. We were like victims of assault, constantly looking over our shoulders for another attack. Abbey thought a good offense was the best defense. She even reacted on garbage days when people set their trash cans on the curb. Whatever was new and different in her environment was grounds for being defensive.

Over the next three or four years I worked on her behavior, taking “aggressive” dog classes, working with trainers and behaviorists. It wasn’t until one such trainer helped me to see that she was over-reacting out of fear that I was able to start managing her better. In the end, we were able to safely introduce her to strange dogs, and pass another dog-walker on a six-foot-wide trail without her blinking an eye.

But it didn’t happen overnight.

When I got my next reactive dog, Sampson, I had a better handle on what to do. I’d made sure Sampson had been well-socialized as a puppy, but his problem was he had a strong prey drive. If it moved, it lit him up. I could always tell when he wasn’t getting enough exercise because he’d flinch if a car or a jogger passed us while we were out walking. I’d have to take him to the side of the trail if we met someone on a hike and ask him to sit while I fed him treats. This required me to be hyper-vigilant, always scanning our environment for something he might react to and heading off that reaction before it occurred. Fortunately, he was very food-motivated, and eventually it got to the point when he saw the jogger, the cyclist, the car, etc, he’d flip around, plant himself in front of me, and stare at me while drool streamed out of his mouth.

A wonderful dog, but not easy to live with.

I bring this up because much like all worthwhile things in life, retraining a reactive dog is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires patience, dedication, and consistency to see results. You can’t decide that this time, you won’t reinforce the behavior you want while discouraging the behavior you don’t want. The results matter because not following through will lead to a lifetime of trying to prevent your hysterical dog from hurting himself or someone else. Not to mention it is horrible to live in a state of such anxiety all the time.

And at no point did I tell either of my dogs they were fat, lazy, or stupid for behaving the way they did. I didn’t scream at them. I didn’t tell them they were ugly. I didn’t set them up to fail. I didn’t ask them to do something not very much fun without providing some kind of reward to make it worth their while. I didn’t expect them to get it right 100% of the time, either. I accepted anything that moved in the right direction until it became a consistent habit and I could ask for a little bit more. I acknowledged that if they got it wrong, I was usually to blame because I wasn’t paying attention.

Why would I treat myself–and the changes I want to make in my life–with any less patience and compassion?

I shouldn’t. And neither should you.

So remember the tenants of dog training when it comes to yourself and the changes you want to make in your life:

  1. Set yourself up to succeed. Look ahead for the triggers and plan redirects around them.
  2. Calmly and firmly tell yourself no when faced with a decision that isn’t good for you (like walking into the break room and discovering boxes of doughnuts from the best bakery in town). Be sure to reward yourself for making the right decision. This is critical! You’ll have to figure out what your “high-value treats” are. Try not to trade one bad habit for another (i.e. you’re trying to quit smoking so you’re eating lots of cookies, or you’re spending too much money shopping online).
  3. Be patient. You’re in this for the long-haul. Getting ten little things right can be set back by getting one major thing wrong, but getting something wrong isn’t the end of the world. Just do better next time.
  4. Remember that you’re making changes for a reason. Failure to stick with it has consequences. Failing to train your reactive dog may result in your dog biting someone or getting into a serious dogfight with injuries. Failure to make needed changes in your life may result in further damage to your mental and physical health.
  5. Remember that some of the behaviors you’re dealing with may have their roots in past trauma. I never blamed Abbey for over-reacting to the sight of strange dogs–we both could have died on that snowy day! Be kind to your wounded self too.
  6. Learn from your mistakes. Failure to plan is planning to fail. I wouldn’t leave the house without a treat bag full of high-value tidbits to distract my dog in certain situations. I also learned to recognize which situations were too overwhelming for her to start, and adjusted our interactions as a result. Identify your triggers and challenging situations and plan accordingly.
  7. Accept that it is up to you to affect the changes you want to see, and that you can’t necessarily expect help from others. When you’re out walking a reactive dog, you have zero control over what other people are doing with their dogs, or on skateboards, or with kids in strollers, etc. It is up to YOU to take yourself and your dog out of a situation that you suspect will be triggering. Same if you’re trying to alter your habits (be it food, alcohol, drugs, swearing, or a pervasive need to sing Disney songs, whatever). You cannot expect others around you to create a safe zone for you. Accept responsibility for your own life.
  8. Ask for help and support. Wait, what? Doesn’t that contradict the last rule? No, not really. Training a reactive dog will fail if some members of the house refuse to support the training efforts. It isn’t reasonable or fair to expect the world at large to cooperate with your efforts to make change, but it is reasonable to ask for help from those in your immediate circle. It’s okay to admit that a house full of cookies (or alcohol or Chez Doodles, whatever your poison) proves to be too hard to resist. You can sit your family down and explain that you have to make changes in order to improve the quality of your life, and while you’re not asking that everyone follow the same strictures you might be making for your personal health (for example, going dairy-free), you are going to need to set limits on how much of the high-temptation food is in the house, and that when choosing to eat out, preference be given to a restaurant that has more options than pizza or burgers. It isn’t wrong to ask for this kind of support, particularly in the early stages of change when you are trying to get a handle on it. You wouldn’t take a reactive dog to a dog park until you’d learned how to manage their reactivity in public. A dog park is too much for many dogs, not just reactive ones! You start out with smaller, quieter walks until you know how to manage your dog in more stimulating situations. So if you’re trying to affect change in eating habits, perhaps eating out with the family isn’t the best choice at first.
  9. Consider professional help. Sure, you’ve been training dogs (or feeding yourself, or dealing with your own issues) all your life. But sometimes you need the help of a trained professional to manage a specific issue. Sometimes that reactive dog needs medication to calm down to the point it can listen appropriately to your training. You might need therapy to deal with old wounds. Perhaps your current methods of coping, which come with consequences, have their roots in previous trauma, and you won’t really effect change until you figure out how to heal from that.
  10. Give yourself credit for the changes and improvements you make. They may not seem like much at first, but don’t discount them! A baby step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction. Eventually, you will no longer be satisfied with baby steps, and you’ll be able to continue pushing forward. Six months or a year from now, you’ll look back in astonishment at how far you’ve come.

So there you have it: why training yourself is no different from training your dog. If your dog slips its collar and runs off, you wouldn’t beat your dog for finally coming to you when you called it, would you? No, you wouldn’t–or you shouldn’t, at any rate.

Then stop beating yourself up for returning to the path you want after briefly straying from it. You can teach an old dog new tricks.

DYI Salon Nails at Home

First, I need to start this post off by saying I am NOT affiliated with any of the companies whose products are mentioned here today. I’m just a gal who loves nail polish and thought I’d share my experiences with different brands.

But you could sum up my love of nail polish–and horses–in this OPI commercial.

 

I’m not one of these people who is supremely talented with nail art. I’m also hard on my hands, and the day job prevents me from wearing my nails too long. To be honest, it’s hard for me to grow my nails out very long these days, which is probably just as well for a writer as well as a horsewoman.

But that means I need nail polish that lasts.

If you’re interested in what I do for nail health, I’ve posted about it here. In that post, I mention that when the pandemic struck, I stopped going for my monthly manicure at the nail salon. (I stopped everything: haircuts, doctor’s appointments, going to the grocery store… I got everything I needed online and if I couldn’t get it that way, I did without.)

After a year of going nail-polish free, I realized I’d broken my nail salon addiction. I no longer felt I could afford either the time or the cost of getting my nails professionally done. And to be honest, of all the things I gave up in 2020, going to get my nails done was the least traumatic to lose. Besides, you can’t check your O2 levels with a finger pulse oximeter while wearing most nail polishes.

But gradually, the urge to paint my nails returned. Painting my nails is a form of self-care. In times when we’ve had to sacrifice so much for so long, I’m not going to apologize for a little self-indulgence.

I went back to my old standby, Live Love Polish first. Sadly, after over a year of abandoning my shades for salon manis, most of my LLP colors were too old and tacky to be revived. I discovered that the site has moved away from selling any polish but their own brand, which is understandable, but I missed the variety they used to offer, particularly when it came to thermal nail polishes. I adore Rothko Red, and was sad to see LLP no longer carried it, but fortunately, I was able to find it elsewhere online. Thermal nail polishes are so much fun! They are color sensitive, like mood rings, so the tips of your nails are often darker than the beds. The color changes dependent on temperature, so I’ve seen my nails go from one shade on a cold morning walk to another after washing your hands in hot water. So much fun!

LLP still has some other fun polishes–most notably, their magnetic series. You paint your nails in black for a base color, then paint the magnetic shade of your choice over it. (My personal favorite is Siamese, but I don’t see it on their site anymore). Before the polish dries, you hold a magnet over the nail, which aligns the metal flecks in the polish to cause a linear area of refraction. The effect is similar to a tiger’s eye stone, very cool!

But neither polish is great in the longevity department. I don’t know about you, but I resent spending a significant period of time painting nails, waiting for them to dry, doing a second or third coat, more drying time, and then a top coat as well… only to have the edges wear or chip within 24 hours. That’s no fun! Gel polishes seemed to last a little longer, but no where near the promised two weeks touted by the companies.

So I began exploring other options. You’ll see a lot of those on Facebook and Instagram! The two that appealed to me the most were ColorStreet and Nailboo

ColorStreet is a system that has you apply strips of real nail polish to your nails. (No, I don’t understand how they do that!)

What I like about ColorStreet is that I can create some of the fun nail art designs I’ve seen online by using their clear overlays on top of a base coat polish. I found the application a wee bit challenging at first, and I would strongly advise watching the videos for tips. Do NOT apply strips to your thumbnails until you’ve done the others because you need your thumbs to shape the color strip around your nails. And be absolutely sure to apply a top coat of clear polish!! I didn’t do that the first time and was disappointed at how quickly the color began to peel as a result. There are other useful tips to know as well–such as using a flat iron or other such device to reseal your packages once you open them to save for future use–I’m afraid I wasted quite a bit of my first package as a result of not knowing these things in advance.

The end result? I really like some of their patterned designs (and am saving them for special occasions, such as Halloween, or the next time I go to a book convention) and the color lasts longer than your standard nail polish (even premium brands such as OPI) but I didn’t find ColorStreet to be cost effective for me, and the application can be a little finickity. Don’t be in a hurry!

But this sheet color Dallas Darling (since discontinued) came out nicely, don’t you think?

But then I discovered Nailboo. I have to say, I am in LOVE. It’s basically the SNS powder system I enjoyed when I was getting my nails done at a salon and it’s SO EASY. I’m going to attempt a little video later today. If I am successful, I’ll link it here. But the short version is not only is the Nailboo system easy to use, but the nail polish is incredibly durable too. Cost-wise you are paying more for the system than the others, but the ease of use and the durability makes up for it, in my opinion. So far, I’ve maintained a shade for two weeks without major issues, aside from twice I’ve had the entire polish pop off the nail in one piece (much like a fake nail) when I hit my hand wrong about a week post polishing. No big deal. I just reapplied the powder and it matched the others like I’d just done them all.

A couple of tips:

  1. Apply the base coat carefully. This is the coat that you use for the building powder, as well as the color powders. If you’re messy when you apply it, you’ll wind up with powder adhering where you don’t want it. Once I’m applying the actual color, I don’t take the base coat to the side edges of my nails, as this can result in a ridge of buildup that needs to be filed down, or you can get too thick a coating.
  2. Use the little brush provided to dust off the powder between applications, but just lightly brush over the nail or you can smudge up the powder. Be sure to use the cleaner to clean the brush afterward or you’ll end up with clumps of polish gumming the whole thing together.
  3. When the instructions suggest waiting two minutes between applying the activator coat and any next steps, wait five instead. You’ll thank me for it later.
  4. After I apply the first coat of color powder, I don’t take any subsequent coats all the way to my nail bed. This tend to build up a thick edge that will catch on your hair and clothing a week or so later, and make it easier to pull the paint off. I try to taper the color application here as a result.
  5. When the instructions tell you to buff and file the nails before applying the top coat, DO IT. Don’t be shy about buffing that surface. If you don’t, you won’t get that highly desirable glossy shine with the top coat because the color coat will be too rough.

The whole thing takes about twenty minutes to do both hands, even with the wait times. Seriously, the more you do it, the faster you’ll get as well. Here’s Ocean Blue before the final buffing and top coat. There were some thick areas of powder buildup where more stuck to the nail than was supposed too–I suspect I put too much base coat on. But it filed down without issue.

And here’s the final result. Pretty snazzy, eh? Honestly, it’s like getting salon nails done for a fraction of the time and price. What I paid for a Nailboo starter kit was the equivalent to a single trip to the salon. I have no idea how long a jar of powder will last, but I suspect I’ll get at least four or five treatments from one jar. Maybe more. My only con for Nailboo is that so far, their color palette is somewhat limited. But I think that will expand as the product catches on!

 

I’m curious: what do you do as a form of self care? 

 

 

Compassion Fatigue: or Why I Didn’t Share Your Post

 

TW/CW for sad things tugging on your heartstrings.

 

 

 

The other day during work I got an email from an acquaintance. A shelter in the neighboring county had posted an urgent notice: they’d been inundated with puppies during the past week and if they didn’t find homes for them by the end of business hours that day, they would have to euthanize them.

Did I know of anyone who wanted a puppy? Like right now? Immediately.

I wracked my brains but couldn’t come up with anyone on the fly.

“Send me the link and I’ll share it when I can,” I offered as a stopgap before delving back into work.

But ultimately, I didn’t share the link. Let me tell you why.

You see, something about that urgent request to spend compassion currency that I have in dwindling supply broke me just a little.

I have to reiterate: it was puppies. Puppies that needed homes right away or they would die. But for the first time ever, getting hit with such a request rang the resentment buzzer instead of the compassion bell.

Whoa. Hold up there. Resenting an impassioned plea to help save at least one or two puppies? Doesn’t that make me some kind of Cruella de Vil?

Sure, I couldn’t do anything directly to save the puppies. But I could share the link, right? How much energy could that possibly take? How could I refuse to put out the word?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. For starters, there was the link itself, which felt very “click-baity” when I read it. “Help us! Puppies will die if you don’t come TODAY!”

Believe me, I know there is probably someone on the other end of that post, hoping against hope that they don’t have to perform the soul-destroying task of euthanizing healthy puppies because some irresponsible person let their dog have them without any intention of raising them and finding homes for them. And my heart breaks for that shelter worker. I know their pain is real, even if they couched their request like so many other posts begging for help.

But practically speaking, by the time I’d put out the half-a dozen or so fires at my job, which also requires a great deal of compassion, it was so late in the day that my sharing the post would have been too late for that litter of puppies. Perhaps it could have raised awareness for someone else out there looking for a puppy that they should check out the shelter, but the puppies in question? Too late.

And that’s when I realized that my compassion bank account was dangerously low.

Because every day we’re hit up with thousands of similar requests. GoFundMe accounts for medical or funeral expenses shared by our friends. Political organizations playing off our justifiable outrage over some restrictive measure that’s just been enacted, and if we don’t donate NOW, warning of the Bad Things coming our way. Just causes demanding we take action. Global catastrophes begging for our financial support. Legal funds for kids in cages, ripped from their families. Egregious acts of racism that deserve investigation and some kind of response. Missing children on milk cartons needing to be identified. And so on.

And yes, I realize that I’m speaking from a place of great privilege because I’m not the one begging for help paying my bills or needing someone to rescue me from having to perform a heartbreaking task.

I think of myself as a compassionate person. Professions that demand compassion tend to attract empathetic people, and I chose my career path years ago because I had compassion to spare. I donate generously to things I believe in because I usually don’t have the time to volunteer in person. I spent years serving as a caretaker to my father because it was my mother’s wish that he be able to stay at home rather than enter an advanced care facility. I trap, neuter, and vaccinate the stray cats that show up around my house on my own dime, finding homes for those that can be tamed and going to ridiculous lengths to take care of the remaining ones (see the expensive catio that I built for these furry freeloaders). I cried when the annoying trash panda, whom I caught three times before trapping the mean tom (who hisses and spits at me every day, despite being nursed back to health), got hit by a car.

I share things. The post about the homeless trans teen who needs help. The post from an internet acquaintance who needs help paying for her cat’s surgery. The posts about fundraisers, many of which I contribute to myself. The posts about organizations raising money to deal with the aftermaths of flooding, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. The posts where some mother is asking for likes to show her son or daughter how beautiful they are. I comment with sympathy on the posts of total strangers who have experienced a great loss.

My lack of willingness to share the post about the puppies, and the resentment the request generated, tells me I must draw the line somewhere. None of us are designed with endless wells of compassion. To mix metaphors, we can’t keep overdrawing our compassion accounts to spend on things out of our control. The constant withdrawal of coins to spend on people we don’t know will bankrupt us.

I’m not Cruella de Vil.

I have compassion fatigue.

Put another way, if I’d found a box of puppies myself, I would have taken them into my home. I would have had them vaccinated and dewormed, and tried my best to find homes for them all, while at the same time, trying to socialize them and instill some manners in order to make them the best possible candidates for adoption.

If the local shelter had a fundraiser, I’d volunteer my time, donate some money, and if I couldn’t do either of the above, I’d share the post about it. I’d probably share the post regardless, but in terms of doing something, sharing is the last on the list. I’ve said it before, but sharing posts without taking action is little more than virtue-signaling. It might make you feel good, but for the most part it accomplishes very little.

I wrote a bit about my struggles with social media in general a few weeks ago, and how I think SM breaks are necessary for our mental health. In that post, I mentioned this metafilter thread that my husband had shared with me: What’s Mine to care about and what’s NOT MINE to care about. The original post cited, as well as the discussion thread it generated, is well-worth reading. In the OP, If You Can’t Take In Anymore, There’s a Reason, the poster refers to the need for an emotional circuit breaker because our minds and hearts aren’t wired to care about everything that’s on fire all over the world at the same time, and if we don’t flip that breaker, our whole house will burn down.

I couldn’t agree more. So like the OP, I recommend you pick one fire to put out at a time, and you concentrate on the fire that threatens the things you care about the most. Battle that fire with all your heart and resources. Fight the fire you think you have the best chance of helping to contain, or the one that is the most pressing to you because it’s in your backyard. You can help fight a fire halfway across the world, if that’s the fire that’s important to you, but you can’t squander your limited resources on trying to fight them all.

Because if 101 Dalmatians show up at your doorstep looking for a ride home, you want to have enough compassion in the bank to get them there.

And perhaps if I wasn’t staring down at a compassion overdraft notice, I would have shared the post about the puppies after all. Because that is the sort of thing I care about.

Is it Time to kiss Social Media Goodbye?

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

More and more people I know are discussing leaving social media altogether. Divorcing themselves from Facebook, Twitter, and even the relatively happy place, Instagram.

I’m not surprised, to be honest. Social media has become a toxic swamp, weaponized by those forces wishing to polarize populations and bring countries to their knees. Think I’m exaggerating? Remember the huge hate the latest trilogy of Star Wars movies received from supposed fanboys who hated the fact none of the leads were young, white men?

Welp, a post by Wired in 2018 revealed that as much as half the negative tweets about the film were politically motivated or generated by bots (a storyline worthy of the franchise itself, if you ask me).

It’s not just polarizing people over issues such as diversity and inclusiveness. Social media has become the place most people get their information these days, and the amount of disinformation out there, aimed at creating divisiveness at best and destroying nations at worst, is scary. I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist, but when I see well-educated people in the medical profession or education supporting unverified, crazy theories over statistically-backed scientific reports, I’m concerned, let me tell you.

On a personal level, I find the damage it causes something else altogether. We’ve become addicted to doomscrolling, and because clicks are king, media outlets are creating provocative headlines designed to keep us in a perpetual state of outrage. My husband and I had a conversation about this the other day, and I think for many of us, we share these anger-inducing posts because it’s the bare minimum we can do. Most of us don’t have the time, energy, or resources to do anything other than share the outrage because we think people should be angry and upset over these important issues.

(Don’t get me started on the data mining these platforms do… how creepy is it that my husband and I talk about buying a new mattress and shortly thereafter, our feeds get flooded with mattress adverts??)

But the truth of the matter is not only is sharing bad news (and OMG, there’s SO much of it these days) completely worthless in terms of doing something about it, there may be great harm in doing so as well. It fosters a sense of hopelessness about our ability to change anything: from the impending climate disasters, to voter suppression and the march to invalidate any election results the opposition doesn’t like, from politicians who get vaccinated themselves, but tell their constituents Covid-19 is nothing to worry about, so don’t bother with vaccines and oh, by the way, get back to work, please. And when we get sucked into a state of despair and cynicism, then we stop trying to make a difference where we can.

My husband shared this great metafilter discussion thread with me, and I’m sharing it here with you: What’s MINE to care about and what’s NOT MINE to care about. It has some great things to say about limiting your anxiety over the things for which you have no control and what to do about the things you can affect. That you can’t fight all the battles in the world, but you can’t opt out of fighting any. And if all you’re doing is sharing outrage posts, how is that different from virtue signaling? The metafilter discussion was in reference to this post here, which points out we are not designed to handle all the suffering in the world, and that circuit breakers exist for a reason: to prevent electrical systems from overloading.

My friends, the majority of whom I met online, are moving off social media and onto other, smaller platforms, such as WhatsApp and Discord. The main reason? To keep up with each other during the day but avoid getting sucked into the mire of disinformation and ugly rhetoric out there. I can’t say as I blame them. I’ve taken Facebook off my phone. I’m considering eliminating Twitter next. Some of my friends have taken things one step further: they’ve deleted their accounts.

I confess, the idea of doing that fills me with a sense of dread. I’m a writer. I’ve been told over and over again that I must have a presence on social media. And without the backing of a Big Name Publisher, I suspect this is true. I need to keep hustling to remind people my stories exist, to build a newsletter following, to manage groups, to post regularly to all my platforms, to stand on the deck of the Ark amidst limitless seas, releasing doves again and again in the hopes of one of them eventually bringing back signs of dry land out there.

To consider eliminating my social media presence feels a bit like giving up. Like accepting that I’ll never be more than a small potatoes writer releasing a handful of French fries once a year. So maybe I won’t delete my accounts.

But I can be a better steward of them.

You want fries with that?

Photo by Dzenina Lukac from Pexels

What do Romances and Mysteries Have in Common?

The other evening I popped into an online book discussion group being held by the Carnegie Library, hosted by Jennie Ellis. I only found out about the book club at the last moment, and joined because while I hadn’t read the featured book, I had read other books by the author, Julia Buckley, and she was going to be present.

What ensued was a delightful hour in which Ms. Buckley described her writing process, and how she came to create her various series, including the Hungarian Tea House Mysteries. She also fielded questions about the publishing industry, her past projects, and what to expect from her in the future.

Toward the end of the discussion, the subject of cozy mysteries in general came up. I lamented that many publishing houses had dropped their cozy lines, and the consensus was this was an inexplicable decision on their part because like romance readers, cozy readers are voracious.

That got me to thinking about the other ways in which romance and mysteries have commonalities, and it occurred to me during the discussion that one of the biggest things the two genres have in common is their contract with the reader.

There’s only one hard-and-fast rule in Romance: there must be a happily ever after (HEA) or at the least, a happily for now (HFN). That means that no matter what happened during the course of the story, we should have either a declaration of commitment between the couple or some indication they are going to be together in the future. It does not mean there must be a baby in the epilogue, though this is an addendum many authors and readers enjoy. It also doesn’t mean that the entire story must be fluffy and light without any angst or difficult storylines. Sometimes the reward of the HEA is all the sweeter for the suffering that took place before reaching that point.

I was having this discussion with my husband this morning, and he brought up (on cue) Romeo and Juliet. Everyone brings up R&J! Shakespeare’s play is not a romance but a tragedy. I went on to say that one of the reasons people take exception to Nicholas Sparks’ books being labeled as romances is the frequent lack of a HEA. Romances have ONE rule.

“Okay,” my husband said, “but what if the purpose of breaking the contract is to get you to look at something from another point of view?”

“Then categorize it as something else,” I countered. “Put it like this: suppose you bought a sci-fi story based on the cover and the blurb. You had every expectation of reading a military space opera based on these things, but instead, you get a romance. You’d be disappointed, especially if you were in the mood for something different.”

“But the Murderbot books aren’t just science fiction,” he offered. “They explore relationships, what it means to have friends, to be human.”

“Themes science fiction explores all the time. Romance has one rule. HEA. How you get there can vary in a million different ways but you have to get there.”

Which brings me to the rule I believe mysteries–or at least cozy mysteries–have: justice will be served.

Like romances, the route at which you arrive at justice can take many forms. I can recall reading an old Ellery Queen novel once in which Ellery figured out who the killer was, but for various reasons, couldn’t go forward with the conviction. At the time, the ending enraged me so much, I threw the book across the room. As a much older and wiser person, I can see the ending made sense, and that the authors had not broken their contract with me, the way I thought they did when I read the story.

It was the frustration of my expectations that angered me so much when I read that story.

The contract should be sacred in my book.

In a mystery, you’re presented with a crime of some sort (not necessarily a murder, but that is often the case). There may be a romance as well–certainly I was more invested in Lord Peter Wimsey’s investigations when they included Harriet Vane–but the romance isn’t central to the story. The central story is the puzzle, the “whodunnit”, behind the shady activity. A mystery writer should make all the clues available to the reader as well, not holding back vital information that the sleuth has access to but the reader does not. It’s part of the deal: providing enough information for the reader to connect the dots while hopefully obscuring the solution until the very end. 

The one rule of mystery? The good guys win.

I think this is why the mystery genre has its devoted following. It’s the same concept as it is with romance: you have certain expectations when you enter into the story. You picked up the story because you were in the mood for something specific. Perhaps you chose a romance because needed to hear that love conquers all. Or perhaps you went with a mystery because you needed to believe that crooked bad guys would someday get their comeuppance.

When I choose to read genre fiction, I do so because I want a certain kind of story with expectations of it ending in a certain way. Let me tell you, with the stresses I’ve been under the past few years, I select my entertainment carefully these days. I don’t read as much sci-fi as I used to because the storylines are often darker and less likely to end well. Am I coddling myself a bit right now? You bet. At some point, when life doesn’t hurt so much, when my mental health is more stable, I’m sure I will go back to stories and movies with darker themes.

While I fully believe there’s a place for having your beliefs challenged, or your insight expanded, I think that can still be done within the confines of a contract if you’re writing genre fiction. Not writing genre fiction? The sky’s the limit! Torture your protagonists! Throw them off a cliff. Let the bad guys win.

But call it something other than romance if your story ends in sorrow, and something other than mystery if the murder is never solved. Your readers will thank you.

Not Next Year. Not Some Day… This Year. Today.

I have a huge mulberry tree in my yard. It is utterly enormous, its trunk gnarled and twisted with age, and every year it produces tons of berries. Every year since we moved onto the farm, I’ve told myself I would do something with them. Make mulberry scones. Mulberry cobbler. Mulberry vodka. Something. Anything.

And every year, the short mulberry season slips past me without my making use of my own crop of mulberries. You’d have thought 2020 would have been THE year I would use the mulberries. After all, I was making my own masks (until I found the ones I liked best online). I bought a sewing machine, certain world shortages would mean I would have to learn how to sew. I made my own bread–once I found yeast, that is–and collected dozens of yeast-free recipes when my attempts to grow my own yeast failed. I discovered that homemade banana bread was ten times better than any quick bread mix from the grocery, and I even attempted to grow my own vegetables. I know, I live on a farm, right? Growing vegetables should be something I do. It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since my grandfather had the most amazing garden every year in his back yard. As a child, I kept telling myself one day I would get him to teach me all his tricks: when to plant what, and how to get the best from his little plot of land. But somehow I let the years pass without learning his life lessons. Long after he died, I wished I’d asked him to teach me how to grow vegetables when I had the chance. I managed to produce 3 baby cucumbers in my 2020 pandemic garden, which both pleased and disappointed me.

Somehow, the mulberries got away from me in 2020. Perhaps it was because by the time they were ripening, I was deep in the throes of pandemic panic and I could barely focus on tying my shoes, let alone trying my hand at baking something I’d never tried before. A great cook, I am not. I learned from friends the best way to harvest mulberries (place a sheet under the tree and shake the branches: anything that falls off is ripe enough to eat, otherwise the berries are too sour) and I even went so far as to collect recipes (doesn’t mulberry lemon pound cake sound scrumptious?), but May 2020 came and went without me trying my hand at any of the recipes I bookmarked. Okay, I had other things on my mind.

This year, I was in a better frame of mind. While the pandemic is still far from over, I can’t tell you how much peace of mind came seeing my family get vaccinated. One of my friends and I talked about making mulberry vodka (and she did!) and traded recipes for mulberry scones, but once again, I let the mulberry season slip by without making anything myself. I’m not a brave person when it comes to eating things I’ve never tried before, and in all the years we’ve lived on this farm, I’ve never once eaten a mulberry.

But this year, it looks like we’re expecting a bumper crop of blackberries. Somehow in the last few years, we’ve gone from having scattered bushes in the thickets surrounding the house to an almost impenetrable barrier of blackberry bushes higher than my head. And every thorny branch is heavy with ripening berries now.

When I checked them last week, I told myself they’d be ready to pick this week, and certainly there are plenty that are ready right now. But there are still tons of berries yet to ripen, and when I plucked one juicy berry to pop into my mouth this morning, it occurred to me that this is it: this is the year I’m going to make blackberry cobbler from the berries I’ve picked myself from my own property.

This year. Not next. This month. Not next. Not some day. Not if I have time, or if it’s not too hot, or if I can find the Church Ladies Cookbook and pull out the perfect recipe.

This year.

Because I don’t want to look back on this time in my life and think, “Darn it. I never made blackberry cobbler with my own fresh berries.”

As I said, I’m not a great cook. And even with the perfect recipe, the odds are high my results will be disappointing. But not, perhaps, as disappointing as having never tried.