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Posted in Writing on October 21, 2017 by Jessica Crichton

Words

come slow.

Like Advantage, Threat, and

Hope.

I sit and shiver.

Inside.

Outside it is colder,

darker.

But I am tired.

And I shiver.

Words

come slow.

Inspiration.

Slower.

But still I sit,

shivering out the words

that will come.

Mornings SUCK

Posted in List with tags , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2017 by Jessica Crichton

Today, I am tired.

I promised myself I would write one blog post every day. That was on a good day. Today is a not-so-good-day. It’s a walking-in-molasses day. An I-need-to-be-in-bed day. One of those days I dread when I say I hate mornings. The whole REASON I hate mornings. Normally I’d put off my blog today, and replace it with a form of staring off into nothing in-between registering patients at the ER (my day job; folks gotta eat!) but I’m trying to write at least a little every day, so you all get a molasses post from me instead of a dead-eyed stare that you’ll never see because you’re not here with me anyway. In fact, I think I’ll even do one of those list posts people seem so keen on. Just cuz… well… I’m lazy today.

Congrats!

Jessi’s Top Five Reasons why Mornings SUCK (™)

5) Circumstantial Strife

I’ll begin by saying that I don’t hate mornings, per say. They can be quite lovely and peaceful under the right circumstances. My problem is that the circumstances are almost never right for me. As a night person, I quite literally gain energy as the day goes on, culminating in a brilliant burst of creativity and motivation…. juuuuuuust in time to go to bed.

Poopfarts.

Tossing and turning because you have to try to sleep when your brain is at its most active and energetic is not fun. Nor is knowing that inevitably, when you wake in the morning you WILL have a case of…

4) Feeling Like You’re Hungover EVERY MORNING

You know that feeling. Faintly dizzy. A bit like you might have a fever but you know you don’t. Slow in thought and slower in body. Muscles tight. Eyes like sandpaper. Knowing that you COULD do something amazing today, if only you didn’t feel like you had been hit by a 12-lb bag of Sandman brand sandpaper. Hungover? Nope. Just another morning in the life of a night person. It’s normal. Average. Torture, but expected nonetheless. Every morning.

Forever.

It doesn’t help matters either, that…

3) Morning People Assume You’re Lazy

Okay. Can I rant for a moment? Thanks.

If I hear one more variance on “Why don’t you just go to bed earlier?” I will start stuffing pillows down throats. Remember #5? Remember how I CAN’T fall asleep when I’m supposed to? What makes people think that going to bed even EARLIER would help? Before you remind me that I said I get more energy as the day goes on, let me explain that the latest I feel tired enough to sleep tends to be between 12 and 2 P.M. So really, these people are telling me I should go to bed in the afternoon. Yeahhh… no.

Sorry. Didn’t mean to go off there. This one just irks me a lot. The assumption that night people are lazy because we’re either tired or asleep in the morning assumes that we do nothing all night. In fact, many of us do what morning people do during the day – we work. We just do it at different times. How does that make one lazy? I still don’t have an answer for that, but something tells me it has something to do with…

2) Societal Expectations

Why, you may ask, do I get up early if it’s so painful to do so? Remember that day job I mentioned before? Yeah. That. Day people run the world, after all. Even though we now have electric lights and computers and lack of superstition (in comparison to our ancestors, anyway), most “respectable” jobs (I.E. ones you can make a decent living at) are daytime hours, and daytimes hours tend to begin no later than 8 A.M.

My own begins at 7.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am SERIOUSLY thankful for my job, and to be fair, working in a hospital I could have any kind of hours; I was just “lucky” enough to land an early shift. That said, it doesn’t negate the fact that society expects human beings to be chipper and bright early in the morning, and if you’re not, there MUST be something wrong with you. Mentally, maybe? Or physically? Are you depressed? Are you sick?

WHY ARE YOU SO TIRED? What’s WRONG with you? DON’T YOU LIKE THE SUNSHINE? AAAA!

Okay, so maybe it’s not quite that bad, but sometimes it sure does feel like it. And when the society around you tells you something often enough you begin to believe it, which for night people results in a lot of…

1) Self-Doubt

My first ex used to tell me all the time that if I just TRIED harder, went to sleep sooner, and accepted that I’d be sleepy in the morning, I wouldn’t be so lazy. Nevermind that I had spent the entire night cleaning the whole house, a thing which he would have been quite happy for had I done it while the sun shone. Nope, forget all that. Because I now had to get some sleep from all that work, I was lazy. Sun + sleep = lazy.

Sun + sleep = lazy.

Sun + sleep = lazy.

Sun + sleep = lazy.

Sun + sleep = lazy.

Sun + sleep = lazy.

…told that over and over and over again for years, I ended up truly believing I was lazy. It didn’t matter how hard I tried to make up for that laze by cleaning all night or forcing myself to stay awake in the torturous mornings. Because I WAS tired during the day and I WAS awake at night, there was something wrong with me. I believed it, not only because my husband was telling me so, but because every TV show, movie, book, and acquaintance on the street agreed with him. “Early to bed and early to rise” isn’t just a mantra for our society it’s a holy code. If you don’t follow that code, even if you can’t because your body simply doesn’t work that way, then you’re wrong. Unholy. Outcast.

Well crud. I wanted to do a lighthearted, fun post today for once. I guess I still have some stuff to work through. I also guess this is my new therapy.

Well… this should be fun!

Also, to answer the above for myself: there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just a night person stuck in a day world.

There. Happy ending. 😉

Finding Me

Posted in Mental Health, Writing with tags , , , , , , on October 19, 2017 by Jessica Crichton

Today, I’m thinking about paying it back.

Over the course of the last year, I have had some wonderful friends step up and help me out WAYYYY more than I ever wanted to need. Oftentimes this help came in the form of money, especially when I lost my job back in March. (Did I forget that part yesterday? Yeah… it was pretty easy to believe I’d lost every ounce of good luck I ever had for a while there!) I spent a great deal of time feeling guilty for that, and trying to figure out how to pay them back. For me, money was the only way to repay money, and I had none, so you can imagine how frustrating it became. A vicious cycle of feeling not good enough. One wonderful friend even made me promise NOT to pay her back. “I don’t want this to become a burden on our friendship,” she’d said. I’d appreciated that at the time, but didn’t understand how my presence in her life was at all beneficial to her – or anyone else, for that matter. In the darkest times, while I never considered suicide (because I refused to put my kids through that) I did seriously consider removing myself from everyone’s life for their own good. After all, the only thing I ever seemed to do anymore was take. I desperately wanted to give, but I literally had nothing to offer. For a long while, I didn’t even have the emotional energy to be there for them when they needed to talk about their own lives for once.

So why did my friends still want to be my friends?

Coming out of the dark has been a slow processes, but one big step up in it was finally landing a great, stable job with benefits in July. I now have an income again, but I’m still struggling a bit to get stabilized from the financial blast effect. For that reason I still can’t pay my friends back in money.

But if there’s anything I have learned this past year, it’s that money isn’t the most important thing in life.

Finding myself again has meant a lot of inner contemplation, meditation, therapy, and other hefty mental and emotional exercise. All to answer a question that some find easy to solve, but far too many struggle with:

What is GOOD about me?

I have always been GREAT at self-deprecation. Nobody has been better at owning my flaws than me. Even when I was shown this past year just how awful those flaws can be, while it was hard to see, it was soooo easy to accept. After all, I’d spent my whole life practicing the art of self-abuse. Self-hatred was only a natural next step in that processes.

And I have never hated myself more than I have this past year.

Healing doesn’t happen when you keep ripping off the scabs. Reliving my flaws every day, hating myself more and more, I could barely breathe, let alone heal. But for a long time I didn’t think I even had the right to. And that’s where any kind of hope to do so ended. In order to even begin healing, I had to learn to believe I deserved it, and I just didn’t have that in me. My self-hatred was so strong that I literally couldn’t come up with anything positive to say about myself without automatically adding a million “buts” and negative caveats to it.

I couldn’t SEE myself.

But my friends could.

Why did they keep helping me when all I deserved was pain? Why did they stay in my life when all I could give them was a burden? If I was such a terrible person, why did they still care about me?

Knowing the answer, I realized, was VITAL in finding a way to even begin crawling out of that terrible black hole.

And so I asked them. Sometimes on Facebook, sometimes in person, but never just once. I didn’t believe the answers. I desperately wanted to, but just… couldn’t. So I kept asking. It was almost a desperation, and not at all logical. Some people got tired of it, and more than a few unfriended and even blocked me. Many stated that I was needy, overly emotional, and shared too many personal things. Others never would be able to answer at all. My first ex, and father of my children, asked me “do you even HAVE friends anymore?” (I still don’t blame him for that, but to understand why you have to know details, and I won’t be giving any.)

But there were a few very special, wonderful friends who refused to give up on me. They answered my questions every time, always with the same answer, though sometimes stated differently.

Why did they keep helping me when all I deserved was pain?

Because I helped them in the past.

Why did they stay in my life when all I could give them was a burden?

Because I deserved friends and light in my life.

If I was such a terrible person, why did they still care about me?

Because I wasn’t a terrible person at all. Because I was a good person, and they loved me for me.

After a while, the questions and answers turned into conversations. They reminded me of things I did for them in the past: Listening to them when they needed me. Giving them food or helping them clean their homes, or teaching them things. Even being a source of inspiration as a writer and – and this was the hardest to accept – as a mother. Most of these things I had entirely forgotten about. I was good at remembering every terrible thing I had thought, done, and felt, but terrible at remembering anything good. My friends were my memory, and they helped me begin to see myself as a whole human again.

In the end, though, it was one of my children who finally broke through and let the full, glorious light in, by showing me a video he said he thought I needed to see. You can find it here, but warning: it may trigger some deep pain if you have ever hated yourself. That said, it is mighty in the healing department too. It’s funny though; I didn’t cry until my son turned to me and said, “Don’t listen to the demon, Mom.” Then everything came pouring out, and my children held me as I cried.

Even now, writing that brings tears. But they are good tears. Healing tears.

I’m still pulling myself out of the shadows. Some days they overwhelm me, even now. But my friends, and my children, have shown me how I not only CAN pay them back, but how I have paid them forward in the past. Not with money, but with the Me I forgot I was. The Me they reminded me of.

And you know what? I kinda like her, too.

I’m Writing Again

Posted in Books, Healing, hope, Mental Health, muse, writer's block, Writing on October 18, 2017 by Jessica Crichton

Hi.

It’s been a long year.

I just checked for the exact date of my last post. It was October 13th of last year. Three weeks later, on October 30th 2016, my life came to a violent, screeching halt.

I won’t go into details, as some of them are extremely personal and involve others whose privacy is vital. I WILL say that I am just now starting to write again, after two emergency moves, a messy divorce, and more personal and familial trauma than I’ve ever experienced in my life. I learned a lot about myself in this past year, and not all of it was pretty to see. In fact, most of it was just plain ugly. Falcor the Luck Dragon said of looking into the Magic Mirror Gate, “That won’t be too hard…” and for a long time I agreed with him. That’s because I’d never gazed at it myself. Now I understand Engywook’s reply to Falcor far better: “Oh, that’s what everyone thinks! But kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!”

It’s also not just a glance. Looking into that Mirror can take days, weeks, months…

…or a year.

My last post was a good one. I was proud of it. I was also proud of “Tipani Walker and the Nightmare Knot” which I finished around that same time. I was writing a lot back then, but while writing can be highly therapeutic, I couldn’t bring myself to write after… everything happened. Instead, for the past 6 months I have been in traditional mental therapy, a course I just recently completed. And while I know the healing processes will most likely be lifelong, I’m finally beginning to feel confident and hopeful enough to at least begin writing again.

Thus, I am writing to you.

I haven’t written any fiction yet, though I’ve been getting ideas again which is SO nice. But I felt the need to dust off my blog and begin writing here again at least. To jump start something that used to bring me so much joy. To find that joy again. To be perfectly honest, I’m 100% sure that my fiction will be different now, and while I hope that means it will be better (what better for literary depth than a little real-life author trauma, right?) I am afraid to see it. My mind is different now. My soul has changed. I know that, and I have hope that it’s a change for the better, but I fear that actually writing will force me to look into the Mirror again to see who I have truly become, and I’m far from as confident in my reflection than I was the first time I looked.

This is a sort of ramble. For that I apologize. But it’s good.

I’m writing again.

A Twelvemonth of Adventure : Great Books for Each Month of the Year

Posted in Writing on October 13, 2016 by Jessica Crichton

Disclaimer: I am American, so many of these recommendations are based in the cultures and seasons of my own country. That said, if you come from a different culture and want to add your own to my list, please feel free to add them in the comments! Thanks! ~JR

I was falling asleep last night when it hit me:

It’s almost Christmas.

As usual when I ruminate on this time of year, I thought then, in-tandem, of a particular book which, for me, goes hand-in-hand with the season. Then I wondered: is there a book that reminds me of every month of the year?

“Yes”, I replied to me. “The answer is yes.”

So, in the spirit of keeping my sanity while I wait for my beta readers to finish my manuscript, and in the spirit of keeping all of our sanity by reminding us that there WILL be a 2017 despite how it may feel right now, I’ve compiled a list of great books to read for each month of the year. (Of course, your mileage may vary.)

canterbury-tales-mp

January can be a depressing month. Between the freezing cold weather and the jarring sudden silence of bygone holiday bustle,  it can feel as silent and cold as a tomb. To combat those feelings of woebegone cheer, one must read a book that is warm and fun, exciting and lighthearted. For me, no stories fulfill these requirements quite like Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

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Many people liken Chaucer to Shakespeare or Dante, but he’s really much more like Monty Python. The Canterbury Tales was originally published in 1478, a time that most modern people liken to molasses running over an iceberg. During that time, 99.99% of literature, art, architecture, etc. etc. etc. was based on Christianity, so it’s no wonder one would assume these stories would be as well. But while the characters in Canterbury ARE on a religious pilgrimage, that fact is only discussed at the beginning as a backsetting to the stories themselves — which are as secular and hilarious as they can get.

Here is an excerpt to illustrate my point:

This Nicholas had risen for a piss,
And thought that it would carry on the jape
To have his arse kissed by this jack-a-nape.
And so he opened window hastily,
And put his arse out thereat, quietly,
Over the buttocks, showing the whole bum;
And thereto said this clerk, this Absalom,
“O speak, sweet bird, I know not where thou art.”
This Nicholas just then let fly a fart
As loud as it had been a thunder-clap,
And well-nigh blinded Absalom, poor chap;
But he was ready with his iron hot
And Nicholas right in the arse he got.

Translation: Nicholas, who’s sleeping with the Miller’s wife while he’s away, wakes up to take a pee and hears Absalom, another lover, out the window, calling for a kiss from her. So Nicholas goes over and sticks his butt out the window, which Absalom accidentally kisses in the dark. Angry at the joke made on him, Absalom burns Nicholas on the butt with a red-hot brand.

I love these stories because they show that even in the Dark Ages, humanity had a sense of humor. Plus, they’re great to read with a glass of rum while sitting by a fire on cold January nights when you need a good, warm laugh.

Here’s a link to a modernized version online. Enjoy!

feb

February is all about love… even if you’d rather it wasn’t. Sometimes Valentine’s Day can be pretty hard to go through, especially if you’re alone or your relationship is struggling. In fact, even if you’re madly in love romantically, it can be hard to feel love in the deepest month of winter when everything seems dead and people are seriously cranky… especially when you tell them “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Enter A Switfly Tilting Planet by Madeline L’Engle.

swiftlytiltingplanet

Though the third book in this amazing science fantasy series doesn’t get nearly as much press as its big sister, A Wrinkle in Time, for me no story can be more emotionally fulfilling. At its best, time travel can be a roller coaster of fun, adventure, and excitement, but A Switfly Tilting Planet tilts even the best of time travel on its edge, adding a roller-coaster level of love for and about our own human race that we could all stand to remember.

The intrepid Charles Wallace travels through time in this story, yes, but he does it through the eyes of the people who are living that time, and the whole point is to understand them — their struggles, their hopes and dreams — and how each of them adds their own love and light to the tapestry of humanity.

Romantic love also holds a place here, as Charles’ sister Meg is now married to Calvin and pregnant with their baby. And if you want classic romance, there’s nothing better than “Patrick’s Rune”,  the ancient poem that Madeline L’Engle skillfully weaves in and through the story itself:

At Tara to-day in this fateful hour
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And fire with all the strength it hath,
And lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness:
All these I place,
By God’s almighty help and grace,
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

Seriously. If you’ve never read this book, get it. Read it. If any other story illustrates the abyssal depth of love better, I haven’t read it.

march

I see March as the early dawn of the year, when we’re just starting to see the sunlight poke above the treetops. It’s in March that the light at the end of the tunnel of winter begins to glow. After months cooped up inside we want to venture out, have adventures, and explore, but the weather is still not quite ready for all that.

For this reason, March is the perfect month for an epic fantasy marathon. Not only does it get us out of the house metaphorically, it also makes the days go by faster so that, when we’re finished reading, perhaps the world outside will be ready for us to have our own adventures.

Now, I could go the easy route and list Tolkein’s classic fantasy series here, but if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve read that already if not watched the films. Besides, you don’t need just four books (including The Hobbit in there) when you’re waiting out the end of winter — you need a serious series. Like, say 14 really long, intricate, teeth-sinking books.

Allow me to introduce to you Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series!

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You may already know of this series — it is pretty popular, after all — but whether you know of it or not, I’m still going to recommend it. For escaping into another world full of deep characters, magic, mystery, intrigue,  and adventure, you would be hard pressed to get better. Of course, if you have read this series all the way through multiple times, I have a great runner-up to offer which you probably haven’t read: The “Godslayer” Chronicles by James Clemens. Trust me, you’ll love it, too!

Victorian illustration and poem 'April showers Bring Forth May Flowers'

We all know April is rainy, but it’s the kind of rainy we don’t mind. Sometimes it’s cold rain, reminding us that the chill isn’t quite finished, but other times it’s warm, hearkening the coming of spring by melting whatever snow remains from the dying winter. If you’re going to see rain and sunshine at the same time, chances are you’ll see it in April. (And yes, that’s a thing.) April is a time of balance — between ice and water, storms and sun.

Thus, the perfect month for poetry.

poespak

Poetry is the song of the soul. If any genre personifies the storm of emotions that April represents, it’s poetry. Up and down, hot and cold, love and hate, they’re all there.

The book I am recommending is, of course, only one of billions of books, tomes, scrolls, chapbooks, and anthologies that hold the poetry of the world. However, I recommend this book specifically for two reasons: one, if you don’t read a lot of poetry it’s a great shapshot of some of the greatest poems and poets of our time, and two, it comes with CDs of the poets reading their own work, including Tennyson, Plath, and even Whitman! Amazing recordings these are, though some are haunting in their antiquity, but absolutely perfect for transferring to mp3 files to listen to while out on a stroll during April’s gorgeous rain-dappled days.

Book city

Ahh May. It’s getting warm and dry now and we can go outside a lot more often. Most people do just that, beginning to stock their camping supplies and offering early-annual backyard BBQs to their friends and family. School is still in but everyone there — students and teachers alike — has the summer-itch. Kite-flying and skydiving reach an all-time high (see what I did there? Heh) in May as well. Energy is also high, as we feel the natural buzz of sunshine coursing through our veins.

So, what better to do in this energetic month of joy than revisit classic childhood favorites?

Book city

I wanted to keep this list one book per month, but to be fair if you’re an adult you can read these stories back-to-back no problem, and honestly as a lover of children’s literature I couldn’t choose just one. From  The Wizard of Oz to James and the Giant Peach; from Anne of Green Gables to Half Magic, reading in May should be full childlike fun and adventure. You can find a wonderfully exhaustive list of every book I would personally recommend here so you can truly enjoy May at its lighthearted and sunny best!

Silhouette field with aurora sky at night

I’m kind of partial to June. Maybe it’s because school is out and the kids are happy. Maybe it’s because my birthday falls almost in the middle of it, or maybe it’s just the way the sun shines high in the sky. For whatever reason, I think June is a pretty great month. During this time, however, people aren’t inclined to read much, as the beach is calling and camping is in full-swing. Warm enough to for swimming but not yet deathly-hot, outside is the place to be in June. So what book could I possibly recommend for this month of outdoor bliss?

Why, Scary Stories  to Tell in the Dark, of course!

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There is more than one book in this series, but the first is the one I’ll always remember. When the swimming is done, BBQ is over, and everyone is gathered around a flickering fire — the only light for miles around — nothing can beat reading out loud from the best of the best of scary campfire stories!

June may be pretty and bright, but when the lights go down we can all use a little shivery goodness.

july

July — Explosive month of fireworks and hot dogs. We’re getting into the swing of summer now, and it’s time for everyone to put on our patriotic smiles and wave our star-spangled banners high (well, in America anyway).

Of course these days it’s harder and harder to be proud of our country. Between oil spills and protests, bloated prisons and protests, and voter suppression and… protests, it seems we’re imploding in an antagonizingly slow but sure fashion. Still, no matter what side of the political fence we’re on, for the most part we all want to be proud of our country. After all, this is where we were born and like it or not, it’s how we identify to the world.

Is there any book that can help us get back to the sense of patriotism we want to feel when the fireworks roar in the sky? I’m sure there are many, actually, but my personal recommendation is Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee.

maniac-magee

If you haven’t read this story, do it. Seriously. Technically it’s a children’s book (big surprise from me I know), but though it’s set forty years in the past, it tackles so many of the issues we still face today in the most optimistic way possible. I can’t do this story justice by way of explaining to you just how beautifully it illustrates the true American dream, so I’m posting two excerpts here for you instead:

It was the day of the worms. That first almost-warm, after-the-rainy-night day in April, when you bolt from your house to find yourself in a world of worms. They were as numerous here in the East End as they had been in the West. The sidewalks, the streets. The very places where they didn’t belong. Forlorn, marooned on concrete and asphalt, no place to burrow, April’s orphans….

For the life of him, he couldn’t figure why these East Enders called themselves black. He kept looking and looking, and the colors he found were gingersnap and light fudge and dark fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange. But never licorice, which, to him, was real black.

Between fire hydrants, orphans, baseball, bullying, corner stores, and racism, Maniac Magee couldn’t be more American if it tried. But when you read about our country though the eyes of this bright, optimistic, hopeful boy, something of his outlook rubs off on you, and you can finally start to see the fireworks once more like you did as a child — with a bit of a spark of what patriotism is really all about.

Us.

Print

I always called August AAAAughust, because of how hot it gets. If February is the deep chill of winter, August is the molten coal-bath of summer. Most people are inside in August, not so much from a tiredness of summer as simple self-preservation.

Swimming is a must if one is outside — or at the very least running through a sprinkler — and nobody goes out the door without an armor-coat of super-strong sunscreen between their skin and the powerful rays of Solus. So what does one read in August, indoors while surrounded by fans and sipping iced tea?

The cool story of an even cooler girl, living in the hottest place around, of course!

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Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block is an outstanding story of a girl with a fascinating life in the city of Angels (that’s Shangri-L.A. to you). Set in the 80’s, the story follows Weetzie and her best friend Dirk, two punk rock young adults with some of the most interesting fictional personalities I have ever seen. Their world is a hyper-reality of strange cars, genie wishes, witch babies and 50’s throwbacks.

Ahhh… Well, It’s difficult to really explain this story, so I’ll just say that you want to read it, and August is the best time to do so.

Trust me. 😉

set of business card with a calendar grid, and sights of London for business meetings

September! Just when we think we can’t take any more heat, the weather is turning cool again. Huzzah!

Honestly, Autumn is my favorite time of year. It’s crispy, everything smells like leaves and chimney smoke, and I get to dress in my hoodies and sweaters again. People are also reading once more as we sit in our chairs or couches, snuggling up at night with a warm cup of tea and maybe a furry friend at our feet.

But the hustle and bustle of everyday life is at its most meh in September as well, as we ruminate on past summer fun and worry over the coming excitement — and stress — of the holidays ahead. Stuck in the middle, September can be a real purgatory of the mundane…

Zzzz…

*Snort*

Oh! Hi! Man, I need an exciting story to rev things up! How about you?

Enter Mr. Stephen King.

Awww yiiis. This man has written SO many amazing stories that normally it would be hard to choose one. In fact, I have chosen eight. That’s right: when September blahs hit, nothing can quite cure them like the “Dark Tower” Series!

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Even if you’re not a fan of horror, I’d still recommend this series. Though there is obviously a horror element (it is Stephen King after all), the stories encompass so much more. Part western, part post-apocalypse, part dystopan, part sci-fi, and part fantasy, The “Dark Tower” series is a must for overcoming the September blahs. Just be sure to follow every twist and turn; it’s easy to get lost in Mid-World…

october

And now we come to October, the month of spooks and hallows. I could try to stoke my literary ego and twist the month into something else so that my choice isn’t predictable or cliche…

NAAAAAH!

Am I kidding? My FAVORITE holiday is Halloween! My favorite colors are orange and black. My favorite art style is goth-innocence. I am NOT going to pass this chance up. My only real problem is choosing.

 

Hmmm…

Ya know what? I’m gonna go all out with the one, the only, Bram Stoker, baby!

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As the home of Halloween, October deserves the very best, and among the great horror novels of our time Dracula is the king. If you have only ever seen any of the millions of adaptations done to Stoker’s classic since its publication in 1897, I implore you to read the original novel. You won’t be disappointed.

As a runner-up (because I can’t help myself with this), any of Anne Rice’s wonderful vampire novels are also a great bet to chill you on those creepy October nights! (Though I’m partial to Memnoch the Devil.)

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For those who don’t know, I am Pagan. Celtic Pagan to be a bit more specific. What that means is that I honor the faeries as they are, which is a far cry from their image in most of American society. Wild, unpredictable, wise, and powerful, the faeries of the Tuatha Dé Danann are the literal embodiment of nature. For me, November is the embodiment of them.

November: the month of power and peace. Of stormy days and calming nights. Of stark beauty and muted decay. Of light and dark, crisp leaves and smooth mud. The month when flora and fauna either goes to sleep or dies, depending on its strength. November is not benevolent, nor is it malevolent. It does what needs to be done to keep nature strong and beautiful. It preserves the way things are, for the way things will become. This describes faeries to a “T”.

For this reason, I have chosen to veer a bit from my usual fiction picks and recommend a non-fiction work for November: Faeries by Brian Froud.

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Many would disagree on my label of “non-fiction” for this work, I realize. But for me it is 100% true. Take the book out to the center of a wood in November and read it, then tell me if it wasn’t the very best choice for this magikal month!

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And now we come back to December, the month that gave me this idea in the first place. I know the book and I know the reason, so let’s get to it!

There’s something mystical about Christmas, and for me that goes far deeper into history than the birth of Jesus. Yuletide has always been a time of mystery, magic, fire, and beauty, evoking feelings of peace, warmth, and comfort to those lucky enough to celebrate it in their own fashion. For me, only one book can evoke those same feelings even in the bright heat of June:

Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising

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This story takes place during the Christmas season in an undefined time period somewhere between the 1940’s and the 1970’s. Old magik is undoubtedly a theme in the story, but moreso for me is the magic that Susan Cooper weaves into her Christmas scenes. Cooper evokes a strong sense of warmth, peace, and wonder with her caroling scenes especially, but also holiday comfort and familial love in the scenes where the hero — young Will — is at home with his family. Think the Weasleys Christmas at home, but with the ancient, Celtic magic of the Druids. Weaving true and ancient magic with the comfort of Christmas is the ultimate incantation to me — strong enough, even, to commit me to a blog that has literally taken all day to write.

And now we have gone all the way around the year. I hope you enjoy these stories year-round in your own life, and please add your own to the comments!

 

 

 

 

Not Enough: Four Reasons why I Can’t be Satisfied with Self-Publication.

Posted in Writing with tags , , , on September 27, 2016 by Jessica Crichton

“Why waste your time and energy on querying when you can self-publish?”

It’s a question I’ve grown used to over the years as I’ve posted on Facebook about my querying adventures… which always end in seemingly-obligatory rejection.  Because they love me, fellow writers, family, and friends all want to know the same thing:

“Why do this to yourself?” they ask. “It’s the digital age! You don’t have to deal with agents and publishers anymore!”

Actually, yes: I do. But it’s not always easy to explain why. After all, many writers have found great success in self-publishing, and it’s no longer a huge no-no even among the well-read.

Heck, I actually have self-published, even writing quite a few blog posts about my adventures. In fact, my self-publishing career has spanned longer than most know, as my very first self-publication came out way back in 1998: a story called The Veiling Society, which I wrote as a sophomore in high school (and — warning — reads like it). When print on demand came out, I was shocked and ecstatic, and jumped on the opportunity to show my stuff with Song of Spirit, and of course the “Guts & Glory” books.

But over the years I’ve found I have a few problems with the whole thing that I cannot shake. Maybe others have felt the same, I don’t know. But with so many asking the question, I feel the answer needs to be given in a detailed, rational way. So here goes: four reasons why I can’t be satisfied with self-publication.

1) I SUCK at Sales

Thirsty glasses looking for water on the desert.

Seriously. I couldn’t sell a glass of water in the desert. (I’d end up giving it away; people need to drink!) For this reason, my sales have never been anywhere near where they need to be in order for me to write full-time, and that is my goal. More than that, it’s my life’s dream. In order to make that work in self-publishing, I’d have to have a completely different personality — one that can sell — and I simply don’t.

There is one other way to sell enough books to make it viable — write a lot of them. The problem I have with that, to be perfectly blunt, is it’s simply not quality writing if I’m throwing out books every week like a machine. And I can’t put my name on something I’m not proud of.

2) I Write Kids’ Books

Thirsty glasses looking for water on the desert.

QUICK — think of a well-known children’s author whose stories are self-published.

Got nothing? Yeah, me too.

Most of the fellow writers who ask me about self-publication have one other thing in common: they write for adults and/or teenagers. And when it comes to publishing, their world is very different than my own.

Most self-published authors promote their work through social media and/or blogging. They can also go on small book tours, book groups and/or conventions where they can talk to their readers about the stories they both love.

My audience is a BIT harder to reach.

Children don’t read blogs, and while I can reach them through conventions, with a full-time job that has nothing to do with my writing, I honestly don’t have the money or time available to do as many as it would take to really get my name out there. Online, kids spend most of their time either on hugely corporate (AKA Disney) or educational websites, both of which are monitored and trusted by parents — and like Fort Knox to small-beans writers like me.

In order to reach my particular audience the way I need to, I have to have my books in libraries and schools.

School districts don’t trust self-published books (and as an educator myself I don’t blame them; there’s no regulation whatsoever and therefore no guarantee that the books are quality or even appropriate) and they don’t invite self-published authors to school visits, which are a huge source of revenue and promotion for kidlit authors. Unless one knows a librarian, public libraries aren’t much better.

In other words, if you write for kids, you’d better have a skeleton key of great magnitude in order to break through all of the doors between you and your readers. More often than not, that key is a big-five publisher.

3) I Still Need to Pay the Bills

Thirsty glasses looking for water on the desert.

I’m about to say something antithesis to many artists — including writers:

Money matters.

And self-publishing doesn’t make most people much money at all.

Now, I’m not talking about making billions of dollars. While that would be nice, it’s not really a huge item on my list. But what I DO want is to write… while keeping my electricity on. To write… while feeding my kids. To write… preferably under a roof of some kind.

Many of the writers who ask me about self-publishing are self-supporting. They either make enough from their books to pay the bills, are married to someone who pays the bills, or are content with writing on the side while they… pay the bills. I could go into this subject in an entirely different blog post, and maybe I will sometime, but for now I’ll leave it at this: in the end, I still need to pay the bills.

4) It’s Simply Not My Goal

Thirsty glasses looking for water on the desert.

When people ask me how long I’ve been writing, I honestly can’t tell them. Writing for my whole life is impossible, of course, but for as long as I can remember I’ve told stories, and for almost that long I’ve dreamed of a career in writing.

Not a hobby. Not a small business. A career.

For me, that means book tours and big name publishers. Children all over the world reading and talking about my books. And my biggest bucket list item: a Newberry Award.

Self-publishing has taught me a lot, and certainly by way of conventions opened up a wider gate into the publishing world than I had access to before, but it’s not my end goal. It never has been.

To be honest, it simply will never be good enough for me.

My goals have not changed: Scholastic or Penguin publication. Newberry Award-winner before I die. I have wanted these things for as long as I can remember. I still want them. I don’t see that ever changing.

I hope this helps, and that those of you who choose to self-publish aren’t offended. Some people are happy self-publishing. There are a lot of pros to it, for sure. It’s just not for me. How about you?

A Long Time Coming: 5 Reasons Why I Agree With the Closure of ITT Tech

Posted in ITT Tech with tags , , , , , on September 8, 2016 by Jessica Crichton

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On Tuesday, September 6th 2016, ITT Technical Institute closed its doors forever.

Like the students, faculty and staff alike had no warning from the school beforehand — we were all planning our Fall quarter like nothing was different — but somehow it wasn’t a surprise.

Let me rewind a bit for context. I taught at ITT Tech here in Spokane for the past four years. My core classes were composition I and II, though I was also given to teach communications, group theory, research methods, and miscellaneous others over the course of my time there.  When I began, I was so excited. I was going to be a TEACHER! Of COLLEGE! I was going to use everything in my arsenal, from reading as a kid to graduate school, to get those students pumped for composition!

That… was optimistic.

Of course as a comp teacher at a tech school, I didn’t expect my math-loving students to embrace my class with open arms. I was willing to work for their interest. I wanted to inspire them to go beyond what they thought they liked. I tutored, stayed up late at night to give my students detailed notes on their papers, and worked out alternative curriculum that would both interest and challenge them.

Turns out, the school itself didn’t care about any of that.

Before I begin the obligatory list-of-things for blogs these days, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: my campus was amazing. The dean worked with us, supported us, and challenged us daily. He bent over backwards to give us the tools we needed to actually teach our students, and was always on our side. My fellow faculty members were kind and patient to a “T, and our students — for the most part — were eager and excited to learn. NOTHING about my campus here in Spokane has ANYTHING to do with what I’m about to tell you: this was all corporate. And now that I am free… I am free to tell you everything.

Here goes…

5) Faculty was the Bottom Priority

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When I started at ITT Tech, I took for granted that I would have a desk. And a computer. And a phone. And supplies to do my job.

And I did.

And it was good. But also kind of expected. Yet, about a year in to my work there I found out that this was not the norm at all campuses. Not even at most. In fact, it was company policy that NO faculty members should have any of that. Yup. We weren’t supposed to have desks, or computers of our own, or phones… or anything, really. As for supplies, officially they grudgingly allowed us to use pens and paper.

Yes, you read that right: we almost weren’t even supposed to use company office supplies.

At my campus there were only three people with keys to the supply closet, none of whom were regular faculty, yet EVERYONE had keys to the faculty offices. In other words: ITT’s precious pens were locked safely away even from us, while our own personal effects could be taken by anyone with the wherewithal to follow a staffmember through the doors.

Staples were a precious commodity; we joked that they could be used as currency among us. When the corporate side of the campus decided they didn’t like their copier, they got a new one… and gave the old one to us. We didn’t like it either. Didn’t matter. It was ours. Oh — and we weren’t allowed to teach more than four classes a quarter — with four being rare — because full-time was too much of a commitment for corporate to make to their teachers.

If you’re curious as to how corporate expected us to do our jobs without desks or computers, I’ll tell you what was told to me when I asked that logical question: we were supposed to share a few communal computers and phones. That was all they expected us to need. After all, we didn’t have to do anything like prepare curriculum because…

4) The Curriculum Was Written For us… by a Madman

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Composition was a train wreck of tangled genres, unrealistic deadlines, and homework expectations that would have been impossible for a full time student to fulfill, let alone working adults with families and jobs. There was no review of grammar or sentence structure at all; the curriculum jumped right into teaching the students to write a memoir on day 1. Why a memoir? Beats me. I STILL haven’t figured that one out. Assignments were often due before the curriculum had their lessons scheduled. The final research papers — due in unit 8 — weren’t even discussed until unit 6. Quizzes didn’t match their keys, and worksheets didn’t match the books. I was expected to lead my students through a quarter of curriculum that felt more like a minefield-laden labyrinth of words and terms than anything resembling a lesson.

I will never forget my first quarter teaching group theory, when the final exam was so off from its key that everyone failed. (Especially since they ALL got the last ten questions wrong by not writing any answers at all… because the exam didn’t ask anything… even though the key answered the questions it hadn’t asked.) I ended up correcting the exams myself — for each of the fifty students in my class — and most of them passed.

Two years in, my amazing dean gave me the freedom to fix the curriculum to work for the students instead of against them (you know, like most schools do). Things ran much more smoothly after that. Still,the official policy was to follow that unfollowable curriculum to a “T”. I have NO idea how teachers at other campuses did it without themselves and their students going insane.

I do know one thing, though: crazy or not, we knew exactly which students would be joining us on that train in each and every class, because…

3) You Lived and Died on Attendance 

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QUICK! Guess what instructor paperwork mattered the most to corporate?

Assessments? No.
Gradebooks? Nope.
Homework corrections and notes for the students’ benefit? Nah.

Attendance?

Dingdingding! We have a winner!

Every once in a while I would forget to input the attendance during class because, well, I was kind of distracted by the whole teaching thing. (Weird, I know.) Every time this happened, I’d get an email first thing in the morning from my dean, asking me to get to it asap. He was always very laid back — way more than I would have been in his position — but I could read the urgency in every one of those emails like it was written in the simple words themselves. ATTENDANCE HAD TO BE INPUTTED ASAP.

We had meetings about how to raise our attendance practices. I kept detailed attendance records — double copied — both digitally and on paper. If a student was absent, we had to take their information to the front desk before the end of the first hour of class so that the receptionist could call them and see why they weren’t there. (Some instructors chose to do this calling themselves; I’ve always hated talking on the phone myself.) Emails had to be sent. Forms had to be filled out. Records had to be noted.

Every. Time. One. Student. Was. Absent.

We’re not talking about kids, here. We weren’t worried that little Timmy had been kidnapped or that little Suzy was skipping to smoke out back. We taught grown adults who were free to make their own choices, even if they were bad ones. In fact, students could literally come to class, tell me they had to go right then for whatever reason, and still be marked present, officially.

So why did it MATTER so much?

If you guessed money, you win. What you win I don’t know. Maybe a broken trophy with the word “JADED” scrawled across it in lipstick? Whatever. You win. Enjoy.

Anyway, yes. Every time a student was absent there was a chance they would remain so…and their financial aid money right along with them. Corporate was afraid that if we didn’t hound the crap out of them, they wouldn’t know how very badly we needed them in class… because we cared… about their education.

Yeah. About that…

2) The Finance Office Ruled All

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I can’t tell you how many times I had to send students out of the classroom at the beginning of class to talk to the financial aid office. They missed lectures. They missed labs. They missed group activities.

They missed class. Sometimes hours of it.

But if a student got a red paper in my box, they had to go. No matter what. Classtime wasn’t as important as making damn sure their financial aid was in order so the school would get paid. If the finance officer needed them, they went. Even if that meant they waited outside the office for an hour while the rest of the class moved ahead of them.

Of course, that didn’t matter unless they actually wanted to know what I was teaching. They could pass the class even if they didn’t, because…

1) Academic Integrity was a Joke

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Let me preface this one by saying that I had some amazing students. They worked hard. They wanted to learn. And that’s what makes me angry at ITT Tech especially: because none of that mattered.

Failing students wasn’t quite up there with failing to mark them present in class, but it was a close second. This had nothing to do with caring whether the students deserved to fail or not, just so we’re clear. The school didn’t care about that. What they did care about was that the students didn’t leave out of discouragement because they failed a class or two.

I had a conversation with a recruiter a few months ago, and he told me that they were discouraged from telling potential students that it was a school at all. In fact, they were to push emphasis on getting a job so hard that students came in thinking we were a temp agency of some sort, and were blown away that they had to do schoolwork in the first place.

Think about that in terms of academic integrity.

I never gave A’s where they weren’t deserved, but I am ashamed to say that fear of low retention scores drove me to raise some F’s to low D’s just to bump up my own passing numbers. Many of these students weren’t failing because the work was too hard, either — we were encouraged to do what we could to make it as easy as possible to pass — but simply because they didn’t care.

At all.

Let me say that again: students who didn’t care about the work they were doing were getting passing grades. Grades that told potential employers that they knew what they were doing… when they didn’t have a clue. And they didn’t care, because they knew the policies. They knew they’d get a degree no matter what because they were paying for it.

I was not the only teacher doing this. In fact, it was an epidemic because we had to. When you have a classroom of students who don’t want to be there, who feel duped into doing schoolwork in the first place, whose continued attendance is the only thing standing between you and your abysmal, but vital, paycheck — you do what you have to do to survive.

So let me make one thing clear: I FULLY SUPPORT the government’s decision in this matter. ITT Tech was a farce as a school. It contributed to the demise of secondary education in our country — education that I consider vital and honorable — and I’m glad it’s gone. Its death will pave the way to healing the value and depth of education in our country once more. I very much look forward to seeing that happen.

That said, I do hope that those students who worked so hard for so long to get degrees that are now worthless through no fault of their own, will be given a shot at proving that they are worth so much more than that POS of a school they attended.

Because they are.

And I want them to know that I am still here, cheering them on, from the other side of the crater ITT left in all of our lives.

By the way, I have worked for Gemiini Systems during the day for the past 6 months. When they found out about ITT, they stepped up and offered me more work. If you know anyone with children who have developmental disabilities please pass their website on. Thanks!

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