WHY ARE NUMBERS SO IMPORTANT TO US?

Numbers are everywhere connected to everything we do.

We use them to measure years, months, weeks, days, hours, and seconds. We count them in dollars and cents. We measure in feet, inches, meters and yards.

The food we eat has a caloric number attached to it.

 

We regard success and failure and distinguish ourselves according to the number of each. We age by ever mounting time. We calculate and distribute. We find comfort in the fact that 2 + 2 will always equal 4.

Numbers have definite effect on us, that’s for sure.

TIME

Time gives us a schedule, a placement, the ability to organize. It also gives us stress and can be more like a noose around our necks than a comfortable guide. But no matter if your day is great or the worst of your life, it will still be just a day, 24 hours, 1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds. You can’t slow it down, stop it or reverse it. And it affects our emotional, spiritual state of being.

I’m up at the crack of dawn. I start my day job at 7:30 AM. By the time I’m done with work, driving the kids to various practices and jobs, cook dinner, write and exercise, I get done around 9:00 PM — That’s thirteen and a half hours running and doing. Some days it’s longer than that depending on my writing schedule and homework helping. Anyone in my house can confirm it’s best to leave me alone for at least thirty minutes or suffer my wrath.

I want more hours, minutes and seconds in the day. I never seem to have enough time to get everything done. I don’t want more hours for the day job, thank you very much, but more time to write, to love, to talk, to listen, to play? Yes please!

If I could get another hour, another five minutes, with my Oma (grandmother)- who was fitted for wings and a halo twenty-one years ago- I would do just about anything for that…but it just doesn’t work like that.

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If you make six figures you’re considered very successful by most people and your life is probably comfortable. Comfortable people tend to smile more. These kinds of numbers are good.

If you’re making minimum wage you are probably barely getting by and are stressed out all the time. Stress sucks. No one is walking around saying, “man I wish I had more stress in my life.” You’re counting every penny and calculating, by numbers, how you will live this fourth month of 2014. The six figure dude is doing the same thing, but it’s NOT the same thing.

When we go to the doctor they show us a chart and ask, “on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst, how do you feel?” Here, unlike when you’re counting money, the higher number is bad. Take care of yourself and stay out of the high-number- zone!

WEIGHT

How many people look at the number on the scale and wish it would go down ten… twenty…fifty pounds? I’m right there with you! Women. We can be so dopey about weight. Now, if the loss of five or ten pounds would solve world hunger, then by all means, let’s worry about it and do it together! But it won’t. And losing five or ten pounds won’t solve anyone’s problems. Just ask the skinny people.

How about if you’re sick? The lower scale numbers will have an alarmingly different effect on you. We use the measurement of weight as a sign of health or a lack there of. When new parents go to a check up, one of the first things done is weighing the little peanut. The first thing the parents do when they leave is call the grandparents. And what’s the first thing they talk about? Yuppers, it’s the baby’s weight. Or was that just us because of the enormity of my babies? HA!

A person whose numbers on the scale go over what is considered to be a healthy weight, get a different kind of report. As far as the scale goes, how do we know what numbers are the good ones? We have charts and ratios, calculations and formulas, based on other numbers called percentages, and we categorize ourselves into groups of the majority, the minority, or some sideshow weirdness. I say that because I was always freaky-weird-tall in comparison to other girls my age.

Why do we care about the percentile chart? Or the height and weight chart? Because, we all want to be part of the majority(another number) on the chart, the group that makes us feel normal, the calculated sweet spot. This area gives people a feeling of safety.

SUCCESS

We count them, mount them, stack ém, and keep track of them. The more success we can count up, the better we feel. And sure, why not. It’s okay to be proud of our accomplishments. Our successes become a private little parade in our heads with cheerleaders waving pom-poms and holding signs that say, “well done! Keep going! Awesome sauce! Don’t fuck this up!”

My little cheerleaders are edgy. They’re allowed to curse.

FAILURE

Ugh. We count, stack and keep track of these suckers too, maybe even more so. Failure is the glue on the bottom of your shoe holding you back. The numbers of failures we have make us feel bad about ourselves, which translates into, moodiness, hostility and depression.
Kick off the glue-shoes, learn from mistakes and move on! Have you ever heard the term, “chasing yourself in circles?” You don’t go anywhere in a circle except back to the same spots you’ve already been. Stop counting all your failures.

Wait. Let’s count all of them. Tick them off on your fingers, toes, brother’s and sister’s too if you’ve really messed up. Stack them up high until they become the Leaning Tower of Piazza and it’s about to crush you. Feel the shittiness, the enormity. Now, look at them one last time…flip ‘em the bird and let them go to their eternal resting place, a place I like to call, been there/done that. Set a mental bonfire and be done with it.

 

DISTANCE

Oh boy, I’ve really been feeling these numbers lately. My parents and a very dear friend moved away recently. *wails on floor like a fool* I have never felt the weight of stretching miles as much as I do now.

But then there are other long miles that make us feel fabulous; a trip overseas for vacation, a road trip to see something on your bucket list or (if you are into it) marathons.

Fun fact: The New York City Marathon is a 42, 195 meter, 26.2 mile race. The 2013 winner, Geoffrey Mutai, did it in 2:05:06. He set the record this past year running a 2:04 mile. Wicked fast!!

AGE

This one’s worse than weight! LOL
I remember turning ten and thinking it was the absolute bestest day of my life. Whoot hoot, double digits! Maybe that’s just because I’m the youngest of three and my brother and sister had been in the double digits for five years before I got there. I gotta say I’m not nearly as exited now about my double digits!

I wished away a lot of time back then. As soon as I turned ten I wanted to be thirteen. Once I was thirteen I wanted to be sixteen. At sixteen I wanted to be twenty-one. When my kids were babies I wanted to get past the not sleeping phase. When we accomplished that, I wanted out of the diaper phase. With maturity I’ve learned to stop wishing time away. You can’t get it back.

Age also marks places in time. We do ritualistic, traditional things based on age.

Why do we keep track of our age? Who said that was important?

One year olds usually have a big family party. Parents: skip the clowns. Trust me on this.

When you’re five you begin kindergarten.

At seven you make your First Holy Communion (if you’re one of my clan).

At thirteen, you have a Bar/Bat mitzvah or Confirmation.

Sixteen you drive.

At eighteen you graduate high school and you’re legal to join the military and shoot our enemies in battle. But you’re not legal to have a beer until you’re twenty-one…unless you live in Sweden in which case you can drink in a pub at eighteen.

I’m not against the military, NOT by ANY means, and I’m not encouraging underage drinking. I’m simply rambling as it comes to me. It happens. Plus my sixteen year old keeps reminding me she will be in Sweden for her eighteenth birthday.

 

 

 

 

I could go on and on about numbers, highways, routes, longitude, latitude, days and months.

Why is it so important for us to know where we are, what time it is, how long till the next thing we do, count downs, count ups, lengths, distances, spaces…

Does it really matter? I guess in some ways. I mean, if I don’t keep track of the hour the kids will be late to school and I’ll be late to work. Or, if I submit my work to an agent and my category is YA and my word count is not in keeping with my genre, then I look like an unprofessional ass. I try not to look like an ass of any kind as much as possible. So in that respect, yeah, it matters.

We need it to find point B from point A. Otherwise we might end up in the ocean.File:A plat of all the world - Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL.jpg

Numbers are a universal language. Whoever you are and where ever you are, 2 = 1 plus another. If you’re human, you know this, and it works. I get that. I’m on board with that.

What I don’t want is to be defined by my number (age), charts(height & weight), location(longitude and latitude), my ethnicity(majority/minority), or my calculations(success & failures).

And I don’t want to define or judge anyone else by a poll taken or a survey done or a room full of some bodies that determined it to be a certain way based on what’s normal or acceptable.

Normal? What the heck is normal anymore?

I think we have to make our own normal. If you’re not hurting anyone, including yourself, and you’re leading your life by a moral compass– that should be the normal.

A moral compass does not have arrows pointing North, South, East and West, but rather, Kind, Loving, Generous, and Gentle, which equates to a multiplier of peace. I’d like for that to be my guide.

 

I’d like to find a way to make that a universal language. That sounds better than math to me!

PEACE out until next time!

SCBWI 2014 NYC Conference… Oh Yeah!

Hello my friends! Last weekend I went to SCBWI 2014 conference, a first for me. It promised to be a spectacular weekend and – hot damn – it totally lived up to my expectations! My journey…

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I started the weekend in one of my favorite t-shirts, which, if you can believe it, caused me some trouble.  My dear friend and roomy for the weekend, Kimberly Sabatini, YA author of  Touching The Surface, @KimSabatini, and I got down to the City Friday night and after three tries we finally got a room with two beds! I’m not sure why they were trying to get Kim and I to sleep together, but we weren’t havin’ it!

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We met a bunch of Kim’s friends, all awesome people, that I now get to call my friends too, Score! I ate a twenty dollar burger and had a fourteen dollar glass of wine. I know, right! But hey, it’s NYC, and I saved up for this event.  After a few hours of getting to know everyone it was time to call it a night. This is where the t-shirt comes in. We’re on our way to the elevators, chattin’ like girls do, when this guy shoulders checks me off my feet into a column! Totally not kidding. So I yell, “Woe, buddy!” Not gonna lie, I would normally have yelled some other things, but I didn’t want to give the wrong impression to my new friends. Well, this guy was drunk off his arse.  The dialog from here went like this:

“Fuckin’ woe yourself honey!” Girlfriend drags drunk by the hand. I stand with mouth hanging open and respond, “What is  wrong with you?”

Now, trying to question a drunk is like trying to wrestle a pig. It just gets ugly.

“Fuck you!” Hand gestures went with this riveting bit. “What’s wrong with you? I’ll fuck you up!” Yeah, he was proficient in his use of the “F”word. Right there in the Hyatt. I mean it’s not like we were in a HoJo. Anyway, I had to respond, I just couldn’t help it.   “Really dude? You’re gonna throw down with a girl? Really?”

“That’s right! I’ll throw down with a girl. Come on. Right now. Bring it!” Girlfriend is still dragging fool…it’s a big lobby. I shook my head in disbelief to which another round of “F”words came. And here’s the part where the shirt comes in…”Fuck you. Go back to fuckin’ England!”

Now, although I love England, I’m from Connecticut. You may have heard of it. It’s a state here in the USA…ASSHOLE.

Then the conference begins!  This is Tomie dePaola and Lin Oliver signing their book, Little Poems for Tiny Ears for me. Lin was kinda runnin’ things up on stage along with Stephen Mooser, who I don’t have a picture of 😦 IMG_0434

The first keynote speaker was author Jack Gantos…LOVE him!  IMG_0423 This is him signing his book for me, Dead End In Norvelt. He was hilariously entertaining. One of the things he said was, “To be a great writer, you have to be a great reader.” He also said, “Whatever you write, not everyone will share the same experiences but we all share the same emotions. You have to reach people on an emotional level with the characters you write about. People have to care about what happens to them. At the end of the story you have to solve the problem and bring in empathy.” Did I mention I love him? Onward to:

A panel on the future of authorship.

Abbi Glines, author, got turned down fifty-five times. She self-published five books before she got an agent. She attributes social media to her success, and she is super successful! (and very sweet)

Jean Feiwel, SVP Publishing Director Macmillan Children’s Books, said, “Distopian and Paranormal genres are NOT waning.”  I was super excited to hear that, since one of my manuscripts is a Contemporary Paranormal!

Paul Aiken, Executive Director, The Author’s Guild, said “Be really careful when you’re paying for editing. Look for proof that the editor has succeeded at it.” He also said, “We’ve lost 60-70% of shelf space for books. The opportunity is still there, but we have to adapt.” He was speaking of ebooks and other electronic avenues.

After that I was off to my breakout workshop; “Getting and Working With an Agent” led by Dan Lazar, Agent Writers House.

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That’s me and Dan. Okay, so I look a little stiff, but I didn’t want to go grabbin’ Dan, all creepy-stranger-like! I just met the guy five seconds before the photo. Dan had the whole room laughing, it was a ball! He spoke about the query letter, one page, written in the writer’s voice, not the voice of the main character. He also named a few pet peeves:

Do not address: To whom it may concern. Agents are real people.

Be specific, not vague.

There is no “fiction novel”, just novel.

Then he read a really funny query letter which made him ask the author to send the manuscript. Now, the funny part is that the letter used a few F-bombs. I thought an older woman sitting in front of me was going to have a heart attack and I can only imagine how many queries Dan has gotten this week peppered with the “F” word! I will not stoop to such fucking levels when I submit to him.

My afternoon breakout workshop; Writing Paranormal, Sci Fi and Thrillers, was with Kate Sullivan, Editor, Little, Brown Books.

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Kate said that Genre Fiction is all about strong pacing and tension. She also echoed what Jack Gantos said, “The reader has to identify with your characters.” She went over world building, languages of your characters, and NOT dumping large sections of information in dialog. Kate was very cool and knew her stuff. I also just read she’s going to be at the New England SCBWI coming up in May for anyone who didn’t get a chance to hear her.

The afternoon keynote speakers were Elizabeth Wein, author, on Authorial Responsibility. She spoke about taking responsibility for your own actions and conducting yourself with grace.

Then one of my favorite talks; Banning Books: Where Do We Stand?IMG_0408

An amazing panel, Joan Bertin, Exec. Director, National Coalation against Censorship; Ellen Hopkins, Author, Susanna Reich, Chair, Children’s and Young Adult Book Committee, Pen American Center. These ladies were fab-u-lous! This is my opinion, and I guess I stand in good company with these women, banning books is WRONG! Books, like the ones Ellen Hopkins writes, deal with tough contemporary issues. Not every kid has a fairytale life. She writes about addiction and abuse. I wish we didn’t need books like these, but we do. There are kids suffering in situations and it’s good for them to see they are not alone and there is a way out. As a writer, a parent, and a teacher, I feel that books with strong topics gives us a chance to open up a dialog about tough issues with young people. Ignorance does not equal innocence. We can only learn by what we know. We can only teach by what we can show. And words, even unpleasant ones, paint that picture in which to teach from.

Me and Ellen Hopkins. I admire her so much!

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After that it was off to dinner…mashed potato bar! Sorry I don’t have a photo, but take my word, it was too cool!

On the last day of the conference I had the immense pleasure of hearing the lovely Kate Massner. Her soul came sparkling through her words that dripped with encouragement and brought me to tears. She was funny and humble, smooth and eloquent and…OH MY GOD! KATE MESSNER!!

Me and Kate with her new book, Wake Up Missing. I Stood on line for a half hour to shake this woman’s hand and I would have stood for two hours!IMG_0431

Alright, a little star struck by this literary giant, but who wouldn’t be? In her speech she talked about failure. Just what every aspiring author wants to hear, right? HA! But it was exactly what I needed to hear. I have patience for everyone else but me. I strive to hit perfection coming out of the gate. I guess that’s not a terrible thing, but it’s not realistic, especially as a writer. Kate said, “We learn by failing. You have to fail before you succeed. Be okay with imperfection. Good ideas come when we show up to do our work.” Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who didn’t know how close they were to success before giving up.”  She ended with, “Make mistakes, learn from them. Be courageous. Be brave. Don’t be afraid to fail. Fail fast, fail often…in your first drafts and revisions, everyone doesn’t have to watch you fail, but in failing you will succeed!”

After Kate we had a panel of artists moderated by Arthur Levine, Vice President and Publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books, an Imprint of Scholastic Inc….also the dude who edited the Harry Potter books. Literary Royalty.  IMG_0429 This is Marla Frazee, Illustrator of God got a dog, that’s my copy she’s signing 🙂

The last keynote speaker was to be Sharon Draper, Author. But she could not make it so Nikki Grimes took her place. WOW. Nikki Grimes is a word ninja. A verse lyricist. An amazing story teller. I was not familiar with her work but I am now! I ran out of money at the conference book store so as soon as I got home, I purchased Planet Middle School, her newest book. IMG_0422 She spoke about her work not being a black thing, or a white or Asian thing, but a human thing. I love that. I believe that. I want my work to reach all people, race, gender, religion. I want my work to be a human thing. She said, “Just keep writing, you’ll figure it out. You won’t always know where your story is going. It’s okay. Just keep writing.”  The other advice I took to heart was, “When you have a great idea, don’t write it until you’re able, equipped, good enough to do it justice. Take the time to write your classic well.”  She was speaking of her book, Bronx Mascaraed. She had the idea long before she actually wrote it, until she was good enough. It’s hard to hold yourself back, believe me, I know. But, all through the conference I heard, send only your best work. Do a hundred drafts before you submit, more if needed. Polish that manuscript until it shines. Until it’s a work you can be proud of.

This was an amazing experience. I came home and wrote eight pages of a new chapter book! Talk about inspiration. If you are a children’s writer, picture books, chapter books, MG, YA, NA, join SCBWI. I have never met a more encouraging group of people in my life. I was an interior designer for almost twenty years, yes I started when I was five but that’s not the point! The point is, I’ve never met another community of professionals so willing to help each other succeed. I’m so grateful to be a part of it. I aspire to be one of these greats I saw at this conference.

Till next time my brothers and sistas, PEACE…

Except for the F-bombing pusher in the lobby. Note:  Real men don’t push, hit, or abuse women. You made yourself look stupid and I used your drunken behavior as writing material, a punch line. Thank you. We writer’s love fools like you.

 

Toxins Kill Everything

Toxic: Poisonous

Toxic chemicals ( Draino, Rat Poisin) when ingested will kill you.

Toxic Gas (Carbon Monoxide) when breathed will kill you.

Toxic Material (Acid) will kill you when handled improperly.

We know these things and most of us will take precautions not to end up dead. You bastards slipping it to people because they cheated on you or whatever… my advice is simple. Success and happiness are the best revenge, your soul stays intact and you don’t have to go to jail. Jail is bad. Living is good. Go get some “revenge”.

But what about the toxins that mascaraed as medicine; prescription pills, street drugs, and booze? I include street drugs and booze because that’s self medicating. It’s so easy to get lured into “feeling better or good”. Who doesn’t want to feel good, right? But at what cost?

Philip Seymour Hoffman, God rest his soul, died too soon at age 46. I look at this brilliant actor and think how could he let this happen to himself? From the outside he seemed to have everything, a loving family, three beautiful children, a successful career gaining him oodles of money and yet he’s gone now like so many before him. I guess he was far from having a charmed life with demons only he knew. I pray for his family and the long hard road ahead of them.

Addiction shows no prejudice. The lure of “feeling good” does not take age, race, gender, religion, financial status or geographic location into consideration and once it’s got you, it is a fierce lover, driving itself into and in between everything in your life. It may start off slowly or full blown but the end result is the same. Death to everything.

Death to the life absorbed with it and death to all the lives connected to the addict in some shape or form. The addict thinks of only one thing: the next fix. The people around the addict have many thoughts mostly in the form of worry, sadness, anger, and helplessness.

“Cut all toxic people out of your life.”

I’ve heard this, hell I’ve said this, but it’s not so easy if the toxic person is a family member. “You should cut him or her off, tough love style.” It sounds so easy but to actually slam the door, figuratively or literally, in the face of a loved one is far from easy. Some people would argue cutting off their own arm would be easier. So what do you do?

Talk to the person? You’ve done that like a million times giving ultimatums and pleading speeches.

Intervention? You’ve done that too and maybe it even resulted in a period of sobriety…until sobriety slips away and the ugly clawed monster of addiction is back.

For the people who are stuck watching the addict go down, because there is no up in addiction, it is horrendous, and that description doesn’t even begin to do it justice. It is days and nights filled with frustration, anger and an impending funeral.

For the addict? It’s a lonely, secretive, horrible life intertwined with a vicious beast that has its teeth clenched around their neck waiting to deliver the final blow. Sounds like fun, right?

Of course, these are not the people who get help. These are not the people who claw their way back to life. Because, thank God, or whoever you believe in, that those people do exist. But the ADDICT has to WANT to do this. The people on the sidelines, no matter how much they want to FIX it, and I totally get it, I’m a fixer, a doer, but the ADDICT has to want it.

The other kind of people are the lost ones, the ones who were gone years before you actually attended the funeral. The addicts, that for what ever reason, chose to stay sick. And then there are the people connected to them like a root to a tree, who were forced into a life of addiction even though they were not the addict and it was never their choice. It sucks on both sides of that fence. No one wins in that life.

Don’t ever give up on your loved ones but you don’t have to end up in the ground next to them. Realize that you only have control over yourself, you can ONLY change you. Set up boundaries and protect yourself. Learn how to handle the toxic addict properly. Seek advice from professionals; counselors and doctors. Be very careful in your own life. Pain that equals pain pills, booze or street drugs can very easily turn into addiction.  Peace my friends.

This poem is for a lost one.

I’ll Miss You

I miss the person you used to be, the one who loved life so much.
I miss the person who kissed all the boo-boos away.
I miss the person who made scrambled eggs and toast for anyone who was sick.
I miss the person who was strong and protective.
I miss the person who helped make me what I am today.

I’ll miss you when you’re gone.

I’ll miss the conversations that we have.
I’ll miss my children never really knowing the real you.
I’ll miss your laugh.
I’ll miss the support shown brightly in your eyes.
I’ll miss your fingers gently playing with my hair.
I’ll miss the fights that only you and I have.
I’ll miss the cups of coffee that we share.

I’ll miss you when you’re gone.

I’ll miss your voice on the phone, but never in the morning.
I’ll miss your pretend stories to the kids.
I’ll miss your outrageous outfits, gold shoes and all.

I’ll miss you when you’re gone.

I’m angry that you’ll leave me too soon.
I’m disappointed in myself that I can’t make you stay.
I’m sad that there won’t ever be an intervention that will work.
I’m sorry that you won’t change.
I’m sorry for the pain that brought you to this place and then stole your will to come back.
I wish I could help you but this is not up to me.
I will never give up on you but I will protect myself and mine.
I love you so much, and I’ll miss you, with all my heart, when you’re gone.