Category: Inspiration (page 1 of 4)

Birthdays and Growth

happy birthdayI make a big deal of birthdays. Well, let me be clear. I make a big deal of other people’s birthdays. Today, one of my dearest friends (whom I’ve known since 7th grade) is celebrating her birthday.

Happiest Birthday, Amy!

I remember birthday parties and sleepovers at her house. Going to the movies, school dances, football games. We’re still friends today because we have a lot of history. (And because she’s nice. Can’t discount that!)

I’m at a point in my life where my birthday seems like just another day. My kids are older, my husband and I work, I don’t live in my hometown. Nothing special happens on my birthday. It’s just a day.

Amy, on the other hand, has one grown child but two new ones. She’s experiencing the wonder of life all over again. She sees first hand why not only birthdays, but all days, are adventures.

See, when we get older, we take the little things for granted. We work so hard for the big things, we barely appreciate them when we get them.

Life seems tedious to adults who rise, work, sleep, and do it all again the next day. But it doesn’t have to be that way. (tweet that)

It shouldn’t be that way.

When was the last time you stopped and smelled the roses? I don’t mean metaphorically. I mean literally. When did you last enjoy a blooming flower, the smell of a rain shower, the wonder of a single flake of snow?

The world is precious, and it’s marvelous, and it’s here for us to appreciate, enjoy, savor. (tweet that)

Maybe we should all celebrate birthdays—all days—with the same unabashed joy children do.

For Writers:
I’m working on book 2 of my romance series. The female protagonist celebrates her birthday near the end of the novel. She has spent years avoiding such attention, but her hero convinces her otherwise. It’s a touching scene, because her character has grown and changed so much to get to that point. (It’s also a steamy scene, romance lovers, but that’s fodder for another post 😉 …) Do you have a character who needs momentum? Consider writing about his or her birthday. How old is the character? How has his background shaped him to view his birthday, his life? How would he respond to a surprise bash with 100 people? An intimate celebration with his significant other? A birthday could be an excellent vehicle for character development.

For Everyone:
A birthday is a holiday that everyone will celebrate over the course of the year. Do you like your birthday? Love it? Dread it? What are some birthday traditions you have? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

And happiest birthday, Amy! I hope it’s the best yet. (I had a great picture of us to post, but I can’t find it. Sorry!)

Peace

Intl Day of PeaceThis Sunday is International Day of Peace. The United Nations created this holiday in 1981, and in 2002, they declared it a permanent holiday. Every year, on September 21, the UN urges peace for all people and the cessation of hostilities across the globe.

Some people love the UN, some people hate it, but regardless of your opinions and your politics, this seems like a holiday we can all get behind.

I don’t have control over national military groups; I can’t halt attacks or call a cease-fire. What I can do, however, is try to promote peace where I am.

  • I can be more tolerant of people on the road.
  • I can communicate calmly and rationally instead of with sarcasm and hostility.
  • I can pray that all people around the globe find peace and that the violence permanently ends.

Recommendations from the UN:

  • Visit the United Nations in New York City.
  • Plant a peace tree.
  • Attend a peace rally.
  • Light a candle at dusk in support of world peace.
  • Practice peaceful resolution and problem-solving skills in your daily interpersonal interactions.

“It is not enough to teach children how to read, write and count. Education has to cultivate mutual respect for others and the world in which we live, and help people forge more just, inclusive and peaceful societies.” – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the 100-day countdown message to the International Day of Peace.

For Writers:
Fiction surges forward when we introduce conflict, stagnates when everything is harmonious. However, the quest for peace can be filled with strife, making the peaceful resolution (or climax) that much more satisfying.

Don’t let your fiction flounder because everyone is calm, rational, and diplomatic. Instead, introduce several problems, so that when they are all conquered the resolution and subsequent peace has the impact you’re hoping for.

For Everyone:
No one lives perpetually in a state of serenity and calm. But it’s something we can all strive toward. I hope you all have a peaceful International Day of Peace.

Hopefully someday peace won’t just be a day we commemorate, but it will be a way of life. (click to tweet that)

How do you think you’ll celebrate Peace Day? Do you have any suggestions? Let’s talk about it here.

Compassion, Team Spirit, and Laziness Do Not Mix

put the grove in the graveI attended my son’s season opener last week. Both schools had been looking forward to this game since they met last year—even though the two schools aren’t in the same division anymore (our school just moved up one), it’s our biggest rivalry. It also happens to be the district just a few miles up the road, so these kids know each other well.

I was saddened to hear that one of our opponent’s coaches had died earlier that week from a battle with cancer. Coach Green. I knew it was going to put a damper on an otherwise high-energy game, but I was powerless to change that.

Before the game, my daughter informed me that we were having a white out. That means everyone on our side of the field was supposed to wear white to support our school. The other team, whose colors are black and gold, was having a green out in memory of their departed coach. Despite our white out, however, everyone was asked to wear green somewhere as a sign of our respect. Most of the crowd complied. Along with our white shirts were green hats, green ribbons, green bandanas, green face paint… Anything to show our sympathies for their loss.

I was touched at the show of solidarity. These schools aren’t friendly rivals, they’re bitter rivals. And it warmed my heart to know those differences could be put aside in the face of a tragedy.

And then I saw the banner for our kids to run through upon entering the field.

Put Grove in the Grave.

With an RIP tombstone on it.

I was shocked. Horrified. Embarrassed.

I’m sure that banner was made before our school learned about Coach Green. At least, I hope so. What I didn’t understand was why it wasn’t changed.

Were we too short of funds to make another one?

Were we too short on time?

Too proud of the creativity of the slogan to change it?

Just too lazy to bother?

Or were we completely oblivious to how painful that sign would be to anyone who knew the coach?

I’m not sure why that sign was used in the game. I don’t even know if I care. But I do know it was wildly inappropriate and totally undid any bridge-building we had done by wearing green. And it didn’t have to be that way.

School spirit is a good thing. Compassion is a wonderful thing. But when mixed with laziness or complacency or hubris, it’s a terrible combination. It would be better to show none of these things than all of them. (click to tweet this sentiment)

For Writers:
It’s so easy to write characters who are flat, uninspired, one-dimensional. Characters who are stereotypes and clichés because we forget to add in other emotions and reactions. We’re cautioned against that all the time. We typically are told to consider motivation and give our characters unexpected character traits to make them seem more realistic.

The solution IS NOT to add two such diametrically opposed traits that they completely conflict with each other. Which is the real emotion? The real motivation?

How are we supposed to get to know a character when his actions are 180 degrees from what is logical?

Be careful when you develop your characters. A situation like the one above could be used to show a passive-aggressive personality, or to show someone’s thoughtlessness. But most often, it will just confuse your readers.

Remember, reality doesn’t always make good fiction. (click to tweet that)

For Everyone:
I like to believe that people are inherently kind and good (like the wearing of the green was supposed to show). I know people can be mean, but in this case I’d like to think it was just oversight that caused the faux pas. Maybe we could all be a little more considerate, though, and a little more careful.

I know after seeing that banner, I made a resolution to think things through better.

So what do you think? Why was that the banner at the game? Why do your characters do the things they do? Let’s talk about it.

Informative and Emotional PTSD Talk by Pamela Foster

Most of the time, the content of my blog posts reflect subjects found in my fiction: family issues, romantic themes, mysterious elements, etc. Every now and then, however, I share a post regarding a conference I attended, a book I read recently, or something more writing specific. Wounded Warrior Wife

Today’s post is kind of a combination. Part “here’s info about a speech I heard” and part “I’ve read books by this author and I highly recommend her.”

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a local speaking engagement given by Pamela Foster at the Farmington Public Library. If you ever have the opportunity to listen to Pamela speak on any topic, I encourage you to do so. She is a wonderful presenter. This particular talk was on PTSD in our combat veterans. Continue reading

Wisdom in the Darndest Places

graduation

Photo via wiki commons || Chris Moncus || http://flickr.com/photos/chrismoncus/867789886/

My nephew graduated this week. We were, unfortunately, too far away and had too many local obligations to make the ten hour trip to see him receive his diploma and celebrate with him. We miss a lot of family milestones living so far away. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t take the opportunity to send him our love (and a little something else) and talk to him that day to congratulate him.

We kept the conversation lighthearted, but we tried to impart some wisdom to him in the card.

This is the start of summer, but it’s the end of his high school career. It’s the end of an era, but the beginning of a new life for him. Continue reading

Finding the Good in the Sad

by Staci Troilo

First, an announcement. Soon you will have to type the address: http://stacitroilo.wordpress.com to access my site. This will only be temporary while I am in the process of switching over to a new host. Please make note of this change. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, and I hope it won’t be a lengthy one. Now, on to this week’s post.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. For Catholics, it’s the day the Passion is read at Mass. As a kid, I always had such trouble just listening to that gospel reading, let alone participating in it. Then when I was an adult, I watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Now I really have trouble getting through that gospel. It really makes me feel completely…well, unworthy is the only word that comes to mind, but it really doesn’t come close.

But I have other, happier associations with Palm Sunday, too. For one thing, I was born on Palm Sunday. Not on the thirteenth, but on a Palm Sunday, waaaay back in 1971. I don’t remember that day, but I’m pretty happy about it, nonetheless.

Palm Sunday crossesBut my favorite memories of Palm Sundays gone by are the tying of the palm crosses. When I was little, my grandfather would come to our house and take all of our palm fronds and tie them into crosses for us. We would then have one for our bedrooms for a whole year, until the following year, when we would get a new one to replace it. (Most churches collect old palm before Lent starts and burn it for the ashes that they use for Ash Wednesday.) I remember him teaching me that the palm was special—it was blessed by the priest—so if I dropped it, I had to kiss it. As he tied the crosses, I scrambled to pick up any little pieces that fell and put them in a pile to be buried or burned. He taught me that was the only way to properly dispose of the blessed palm. He taught me so many things.

I loved being his little helper.

When I got a little older, he taught me how to make the crosses myself. It took me a few years to finally memorize the process, because there weren’t that many to tie. It’s not that complicated once you get it, but you don’t have many to learn with. It starts with a series of folds to anchor the knot in the center, then there are a series of loops to make the post and the cross pieces. Finally, a set of two tiny loops hold the middle together. I finally mastered it in 1985. No one else in my family ever took the time to learn it.

My grandfather died in February of 1986. He never tied another cross. I still have the last one we made together. It’s pretty delicate, but I don’t want to let it go.

I don’t have grandchildren yet, but I do have children, and I’m trying to teach them how to tie the crosses. I think it’s important to pass the traditions along while I’m still here to enjoy sharing my time with them. I’ve already taught my niece, I even taught my husband, and my kids are learning. My son actually did really well this year. My daughter isn’t doing too badly, but she actually is more interested in tying crowns of thorns. She saw one on television once, and has been doing her own version ever since. Maybe she’ll start her own tradition of tying crowns of thorns with her kids. It doesn’t matter to me. Right now, at least we’re all together, at Mass and afterward, as a family.

The gospel is such a tragic—albeit necessary—part of Palm Sunday. It’s nice to have some good memories to add to the day as well.

For Writers:
Fiction is nothing without conflict. Is there something in your WIP that has a negative connotation? Can you think of a way to add an activity and put a positive spin on it?

For Everybody:
Are you having this issue in your WIP? Did you do anything for Palm Sunday? Let’s talk about it.

Do You Celebrate National Tartan Day?

National Tartan DayYesterday the US officially celebrated National Tartan Day. It’s observed on April 6 every year in commemoration of the signing of the Scottish Declaration of Independence on April 6, 1320. In the US, we acknowledge it because the Scottish Declaration of Independence was the document upon which we based our own Declaration of Independence, and almost half of the signers of our declaration were of Scottish descent. We also want to recognize people of Scottish descent because, let’s face it, they’re great people and they’ve done some wonderful things.

To celebrate National Tartan Day, major cities host parades with bagpipers playing Scottish music. Many of the marchers wear kilts in traditional Tartan plaids to represent the clans from which they descended. And many special events are held during which awards are given to people of Scottish heritage for outstanding achievements or accomplishments, the most noted of which is hosted by the American Scottish Foundation.

A lot of nationalities get months devoted to them for observation, or have well known holidays that everyone celebrates. Very few people are aware of National Tartan Day. I am part Scottish on my father’s side, and I have to admit, I didn’t even know about it. In fact, my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University, was founded by one of the country’s most famous Scots (Andrew Carnegie), and we never celebrated the event on campus.

It’s a shame the day isn’t more well known.

If you read my blog frequently, you know I think it’s imperative that we embrace our heritage. It’s impossible to own who we are if we refuse to acknowledge where we came from. (Agree? Tweet it.)

I may not wear Tartan kilts, play bagpipes, eat haggis, or drink whisky (well, I’ll let you guess which one of those I do), but you can bet my ancestors did. And every buckle that was fastened, every note that was played, every morsel that was eaten, and every drop that was drunk eventually led my father’s family to Pennsylvania and to me being born.

I believe in the butterfly effect. One less shot of whisky in my family tree, and I might not be here. That’s a sobering thought. (Sorry. I had to write that.)

So, to my actual family, to my Carnegie Mellon family, and to my Scottish family around the world… Happy National Tartan Day!

Lang may yer lum reek!

Or

May you live long and stay well.

For Writers: Are you considering the butterfly effect in your WIP? I’m not talking about writing a time-travel story where you change one event and everything ends up different (although you could, but that’s been done). I’m talking about plotting out your WIP and asking the “What if” question. Not just at the beginning of your work, when you’re working on a concept, but the whole way through.

  • You plan on Dick and Jane meeting in chapter one and going for coffee? What if they have a fight?
  • You plan on Dick and Jane escaping the shoot-out with Dick’s arm grazed? What if Jane has an abdominal wound instead?
  • You plan on Dick and Jane falling in love by chapter fifteen? What if Jane’s first love comes back from being MIA in Iraq in chapter fourteen?

The butterfly effect isn’t just a concept for a book or movie, and the “what if” technique isn’t just a question to ask when you’re looking for a premise for a story. Consider employing this method throughout your WIP to ramp up the tension and the action, or to throw in an unexpected twist to the plot.

So, did anyone celebrate National Tartan Day? Is anyone asking “what if”? Let’s talk.

photo via iStockphoto.com/Jay Lazarin/timeanddate.com

The Ultimate Rejection

erase your fearIf you are a regular follower of my blog, you know I’m a writer. Maybe you are too. And if you are, you know a thing or two about rejection. It’s a safe bet that most adults have experienced it in some form or another. Heck, my kids are no stranger to it in their own ways.

As citizens of this world, we’ve got to learn how to deal with rejection in a healthy manner if we want to cope with life effectively. (Agree? Tweet it.)

My birthday is this week. I’m usually a little melancholy around this time of year, and my whole family assumes it’s because I’m turning another year older. They tease me relentlessly. In fact, the jokes are so bad that they’ve taken to asking me how old I am the day before my birthday just so they can say, “Starting tomorrow, you won’t be able to say that ever again!” I go along with the joking and I don’t correct anyone; it’s easier to let them think my age bothers me. It doesn’t, but it’s simpler that way.

The real reason I’m a little maudlin this time of year is because it’s the anniversary of my miscarriage.

It’s hard to celebrate another year of my life when I have a child who never got to celebrate any life at all.

And that, to me, is the ultimate rejection.

I bring this up now because my sister-in-law is expecting, and she was having some problems this week. She thought she might be losing her baby. Of all anniversaries, that wasn’t one I’d want to share. Thankfully, she and the baby are currently fine. If you’re the praying sort, I’m sure they’d appreciate a prayer or two offered up for them.

My husband and I share everything equally in our marriage. But my miscarriage was the one thing I never felt I could share equally with him. I’m not saying he didn’t grieve with me. We both grieved. But the baby didn’t reject him. Just me.

I offered it all I had to give: nourishment, safety, comfort, love. But I wasn’t enough for it.

It was the ultimate rejection.

I had a lot to overcome when I learned I lost the baby. The physical issues were the least of it. There was the heart-shattering grief. The gut-wrenching fear that I’d never be able to have a child. The stomach-churning guilt that I’d done something wrong. And the soul-sucking humiliation that I was an abject failure.

I moved through life on a functional plane of existence just above ‘zombie’ for months. It truly took an act of Divine Intervention before I snapped out of my funk and rejoined the land of human beings again.

After living through a loss like that, a rejection like that, the other kinds of rejections in my life didn’t quite have the same impact. Sure, I still have feelings, and my feelings can still be hurt, but I now have a different perspective.

  • Have I had friends leave me out of things or tell me lies? You bet.
  • Have I had family members break promises or betray trusts? Sure.
  • Have I had colleagues drop the ball or cause damage to my brand? Yes.
  • Have I, as a writer, received rejection letters? Of course!

Do I let those things get me down? No.

I wish I could say I laugh and move right past them. I don’t. Like I said, I have feelings. But in the grand scheme of things, those things aren’t nearly as important as what I’ve already faced.

So the next time you’re facing rejection, ask yourself this one question:

Is this NO a life-altering NO, or can I move on from this unscathed?

If you can move on, allow yourself five minutes to wallow and wail at the world (venting your frustrations for a little while is healthy, after all), then pick yourself up and move on. Your next effort may be the one that results in your dreams coming true. You don’t want to cheat yourself out of your dreams because you were busy living a nightmare. (Believe that? Tweet it.)

son and daughterI hope none of you have ever suffered the ultimate rejection. Or ever will. I, thank God, have only suffered it once, and since then my husband and I have been blessed with two wonderful children—a son and a daughter. And although I remember that rejection every year, I have come to terms with it. While I’ll never say I’m glad it happened, I can say I learned a lot from the experience. If nothing else, I hope you can learn from my loss, too.

  • Keep your rejections in perspective.
  • Lament them to get them out of your system.
  • Reassess to see if you need to change anything before continuing with your plan.
  • Move forward with your next step so you are still pursuing your dream.

Do you have any suggestions for someone suffering a rejection? Share them with us here.

Even Heroes Sometimes Fall

by Staci Troilo

OlympicsI didn’t think I was going to watch the Olympics. Not because the athletes and the games don’t interest me. They do. I’m a sucker for a good competition. I’m just not crazy about the coverage, and I haven’t been for the last several games. The announcers try to make drama where there isn’t any (and we all have too much of that in our lives as it is, especially those of us with teenagers in the house), and this whole tape delay business is annoying. I already know the results; why bother watching?

Because I love the competition.

And because these athletes deserve our support. They worked so hard for such a fleeting chance at glory, why not give them their fifteen minutes? After all, these are the heroes of our generation, the ones we tell our children to emulate.

When I was a child, I saw Nadia Comaneci score the first perfect ten in gymnastics, and I was hooked. (Yes, I know she wasn’t then an American citizen, but I was young at the time, what did I know, or care for that matter? Her performance was amazing!) That same winter, when Dorothy Hamill took gold in figure skating, I was begging for her haircut, along with the rest of the girls in America. *Clears throat* years later, my kids share that fascination with the Games and the athletes, waiting to see which of their heroes are going to climb the podium and claim the gold.

The thing is, heroes don’t always win. (tweet this)

Shaun White trained for the last four years for the Sochi Olympics. And for many years before that. Everyone expected the “three-peat” in the halfpipe. Shaun was the reigning champion, having won the gold at the last two Winter Games. He had stiff competition, sure, but come on, he’s Shaun White. He’s untouchable.

When you lift your heroes to lofty heights, they have a long way to fall. (tweet this)

Sochi Olympics

Shaun White mislanding during finals in halfpipe via Reuters/Mike Blake

White came in with high expectations on his shoulders, placed on him by the world and by himself. That’s a lot of pressure. He was prepared, and he continued to train while he was in Sochi. Maybe he trained too much. He doesn’t usually show up as early as he did. Maybe breaking his routine messed him up. Maybe the conditions of the pipe (less than stellar) conspired against him. Maybe he psyched himself out. Maybe his competitors were just better than him on that given day.

It really doesn’t matter. The event is over. Our lives go on.

It matters to Shaun White, who placed fourth.

It matters to Iouri Podladtchikov, who won gold.

The rest of us realize that sometimes, heroes fall. Sometimes at the worst possible time. (tweet this)

In the Olympics, there are no second chances. Just a lifetime of if only and what if.

In real life, there are second chances. If our heroes fall, we can watch their reactions and see if they get back up and rally (true heroes) or give up and go home (fair weather facsimiles). Everyone falls at some point. Let’s make sure we’re only emulating people with the courage to get back up.

For Writers

You’re going to face adversity in your journey. You’ll hit writer’s block, you’ll get rejection letters, you’ll receive bad reviews, you’ll be ignored. What are you going to do about it?

You can give up. Obviously you weren’t supposed to be a writer.

Not.

You are a writer because you have a passion for the craft, a burning desire to share your stories with the world through the written word. If you stumble, if you fall, you don’t stay down. You get back up and keep going, clawing your way if you have to. I know, because I’m a writer, too. I’m with you. And if you can’t get up on your own, let me know. I’ll help you.

And this desire to succeed? Don’t forget to instill it in your fictional heroes, too. To be interesting, characters have to face adversity. To be realistic, they have to fall. But to be heroic? They have to get back up again.

Today Americans “celebrate” Presidents’ Day. What used to be a celebration of two presidential birthdays has been consolidated into a day to honor all US Presidents. Love them or hate them, agree with their policies or not, this “holiday” began because of our first president who fought to establish this country and our sixteenth president who fought to keep it together as a single nation while liberating all its citizens. These are true heroes, and we shouldn’t forget or belittle their contributions.

Athletes, leaders… maybe family members, military personnel, or public servants. We all have heroes. Would you like to share a hero’s story here? Or maybe you’d like to discuss your favorite heroic moment of the Olympics? Let’s chat.

Let There Be Peace

Martin Luther King, Jr.We celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day today. You’re going to see “I Have a Dream” speeches all over the web. And I guess that’s okay. I mean, that’s a really powerful speech. There’s a reason people will be talking about it. It’s stood the test of time and inspired countless people. And will continue to do so for years to come.

But King said many other things, too. Things people either don’t know about, or have forgotten, or gloss over because “I Have a Dream” is more popular and memorable. One of the things he said that really resonates with me is this:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. (Like that? Tweet it.)

He delivered that line on November 7, 1957 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in a sermon titled “Loving Your Enemies.” King was all about nonviolent resistance.

I have a niece in the US Navy. My father also served, as did members of my husband’s family. I’m proud of my family’s service to our country. I’m humbled at the sacrifice our military men and women make every single day to guarantee our freedom and safety. (Like that? Tweet it.)

How in the world can I possibly justify those two views?

I look to my grandmother for inspiration.

Mary NaccaratoTo know her is to love her. She has more friends than all of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren put together. If you need cheering up, she’s quick with a joke. If you need advice, she has a relevant life story for perspective. She has no enemies, and in the end (God willing, a long, long time from now), her friends will not be silent. There will be nothing but an outpouring of love and support from them.

King recognized that sometimes you needed to fight for what you believed in. Yet still, he was a peace-loving, God-fearing man. My grandmother had her own battles throughout her life, too. And now, at ninety-five, she lives each day believing it’s not the words of her enemies (she has none) or the silence of her friends that matters. It’s her own conscience that counts. And because she appreciates any sacrifice made on her behalf, she leads a peaceful life.

And isn’t peace all King really wanted for us, anyway?

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