Archive | Selfie (Issue #9)

Portrait in Pen and Ink by Melissa A. Bartell

Paper and Ink

She didn’t collect selfies on her phone, and rarely allowed photos to be taken at all. When asked why she would joke that she was the most unphotogenic (which isn’t a word, but should be) person in the world.

But it wasn’t true.

The truth was that when she was five, her mother’s first husband (NOT her biological father – that’s a different story) said that when she smiled she looked like she’d swallowed lemons.

 

She lived a lifetime of avoiding photos because no matter what she did the image on the film or the screen was always sullen, or silly, or stupid, and she was none of those things.

 

She never kept a journal.

Why write things that no one will ever read? she asked, not really rhetorically.

But no one ever gave her a satisfying answer.

 

So she filled spiral notebooks with stories, stacks upon stacks of green-lined paper filled with glossy black or peacock blue. Wet ink. Roller balls. Micro-fine points. And when writing online became accessible to the masses, she did that, too, coding her first website in Lynx, creating her first blog in OpenDiary because LiveJournal hadn’t yet been invented.

(But you don’t keep diaries, she was reminded.)

(No, she said, I don’t write words that no one will read; people read this.)

 

The archives on her current blog, which is too infrequently updated these days, go back sixteen years. For a long time, she posted content daily, until she realized she didn’t want to write who she was.

 

She wanted to write who she wasn’t.

She wanted to take reality and give it a twist – just there – and a tweak – and in so doing, she revealed far more of herself than people realized.

 

She doesn’t keep journals. She doesn’t save photos of herself or others.

She doesn’t need external sources to help her retain the things that are printed indelibly on her memory: her mother’s singing (off-key, but enthusiastic), her husband’s eyes (twinkling blue, like the ocean she loves, and full of adoration), her grandmother’s gnarled hands and crooked fingers, her grandfather’s slightly bow-legged walk, the way her dog comes to visit her when she’s in the bath – biting at the bubbles and then shaking his head in confusion.

 

If you want to see me, she doesn’t say out loud, but expects people to understand, read my words.

 

That ink is my blood.

That paper is my body.

 

Handwritten scenes stuck to the fridge on brightly colored post-its.

Scrawled phrases in purse-sized Moleskine notebooks.

Digital files full of stories, some that are ready and some that are still perking.

 

She thinks in music, because music was her first language. (Foghorns and sea birds and boat horns and her mother’s singing. )

But she lives in lines of text.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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Conversations Over Coffee: Daryl Wood Gerber

When it comes to Cozy Mysteries, I have to admit that author Daryl Wood Gerber writes some of my favorite series: The Cheese Shop Mysteries, The French Bistro Series, and the Cookbook Nook Series. (She’s also a great suspense writer, too, with two standalone suspense books!) In her latest foray into the mystery world, Daryl is returning to her Cookbook Nook Series with heroine Jenna Hart. The series is set in a bookstore after my own heart: dedicated to cookbooks, food, and foodie type tomes.

Her sixth book in the series, Pressing the Issue, revolves around a Renaissance Faire, and all the businesses, Ren Faire vendors, and friends new and old are gathered together to make it an enjoyable experience for guests – and a positive business experience for the shops. Just as things seem to be looking great for the wedding of her Best Friend, Bailey’s wedding – a local winery has been chosen as the venue! – Jenna and Bailey discover the owner of the vineyard – and official King of the Faire – has been murdered.

Scattered with twists, red herrings, and delightful recipes, Pressing the Issue leans into relationships, shared experiences, and Jenna’s insatiable desire for the truth. Can Jenna solve the murder without becoming a victim herself?

Daryl took a few moments to catch up with us here at Modern Creative Life to talk about books, writing, and more!

We call this series Conversations Over Coffee because it’s the things I’d ask you if we were sitting across the table from each other over a casual cup of coffee….. so, let’s set the stage: where would you suggest we meet near your current home….and what is your go-to beverage and/or snack were we to meet?

There’s a really nice café called, kid you not, The Nook. Yes, it’s almost the same name as featured in my series (Nook Café). It’s not far from me. I love their omelets, and they make really good lattes. What would you have?

Your next book, Pressing the Issue, is a return to your Cookbook Nook Series after almost two years. How do you re-immerse yourself into the world of Jenna and her friends after taking a break from working with that series?

It was only 19 months, but who’s counting? I was sad that my previous publisher let the series slide, but I made peace with it. Then my fans started clamoring for another book, so I decided to shop this particular story around and landed with Beyond the Page publishing.

As to your question…it’s amazing how getting into the world of a previous cast of characters comes naturally to me.

I liken it to visiting high school friends. You have lots to talk about and you remember everything about them. I have a cheat sheet so I can remember names, family members, and such. Plus I have an outline of the previous book so I read that to refresh my mind about where with I “left off.” Since I was hoping that my initial publisher would pick up this book, the storyline had been roaming through my head for quite a while, and I’d already done a lot of research about the Renaissance Festival.

You write some suspense as well as several cozy and culinary mystery series. How do you decide “what’s next” and which idea deserves your attention?

Good question. Lately I’ve been a bit flummoxed trying to decide. I’ve got a lot of ideas in my head! Will I choose the right one to pursue?

Writing a book takes six months to a year of my life when I include the preparation, outlining, research, writing, and editing (not to mention selling, PR, etc.). I hope I don’t make the wrong decision.

Here’s the dilemma: should I write the next French Bistro Mystery? No. Seeing as I don’t know whether my publisher for the French Bistro Mysteries will pick up the series yet, I’ll table that idea until they alert me.

I have a completed suspense that is being shopped. I’m waiting to hear answers in that regard. If that gets picked up, I’m sure I’ll have to do rewrites at the request of the publisher. In the meantime, I want to write a new suspense. I’ve written a two-page outline and I like it a lot. I wrote a chapter and like the voice.

But how can I start that when my publisher for the Cookbook Nook Mysteries asked if I could write a Christmas-themed book (#7) that will come out this December? I said yes, so—wham—just like that, I have made my decision.  Until June, that’s what I’m focusing on. Then I’ll go back to being flummoxed.

Many of your books – like your Cookbook Nook and French Bistro series – feature lots of delicious food. Why do you think folks love reading about what the characters are cooking and eating? And how do you honor that in both the writing (and the inclusion of recipes in each book)?

Readers have an appetite for good stories, but they also have an appetite to feel the mood and the setting, the angst and the joy. Describing how food looks and tastes as well as describing the preparation of some foods helps readers immerse themselves in the moment. I think the same is true for a reader who enjoys a book that involves knitting or sailing or climbing Mount Everest. If the author has done her homework, the reader will savor the story.

As for the recipes I include in each of my books, I take time to prepare them, taste-test them, and photograph them. Now, mind you, I’m not a professional chef—I worked as a caterer and behind the scenes in a couple of restaurants—so I don’t expect chef-like quality in all that I do, but I strive to do the best I can.

For Pressing the Issue, I attended a Renaissance Fair and took note of all the foods being offered. Then I researched those foods and tried my hand at making a number them, including Cornish pasties and shepherd’s pie. One of my favorites turned out to be Hawker’s Mush, a pancake-style goodie made with spinach, onions, and wild rice and served with a hollandaise sauce. Yum!

What do you know now that you wish you knew at 40 in regard to writing?

Oh, man, am I over 40? Ha! Yes! I wish I’d known how hard it would be to do all the PR required to sell a book.

I wish I’d known that outlining would help me. I only started that about seven years ago when I secured my first series.

I wish I’d known about networking and how important it was to have friends in the business. Luckily, I have a bunch of writing friends now who keep me on track, but to have encouraging writing friends way back when would have helped me over a number of “not good enough” crises.

What I did know and still know is that finding success requires hard work and perseverance. I won an award in high school for “most persevering.” I’m not sure I knew then that I would have to earn that award over and over in my lifetime.

What I also know is that having a furry companion to console me through the rough times is vital. Thank you, Sparky

About the Author: Daryl Wood Gerber

Agatha Award-winning Daryl Wood Gerber writes the brand new French Bistro Mysteries as well as the nationally bestselling Cookbook Nook Mysteries. As Avery Aames, she pens the popular Cheese Shop Mysteries.

Pressing the Issue, the sixth Cookbook Nook Mystery, comes out on February 20th.

A Soufflé of Suspicion the second French Bistro Mystery, comes out in July 2018.

Daryl also writes stand-alone suspense: Day of Secrets and Girl on the Run. Fun tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote.” She loves to cook, and she has a frisky Goldendoodle named Sparky who keeps her in line!

Connect with Daryl (and her alter ego Avery): Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Daryl on Twitter | Avery on Twitter

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Instrumental: How to Be an Ex-Drama Queen by Dona Murphy

I’m a sun-sign Pisces with a Leo moon sign: very emotional, definite flair for the dramatic and not shy about performing. It’s no mistake that in my younger years my Mom used to call me Sarah Bernhardt. Before your time? Heck, Sarah B. was before my time AND my Mom’s. Called the greatest stage actress in the world, the Divine Sarah ruled at a time when stage acting was very much larger than life.

Through the phases of childish acting out, teenage histrionics, and young adulthood I learned that drama wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. That lesson came with having to face and deal with real-life crises rather than ones I created from nothing. The real world can be a pretty tough and uncaring place. Drama Queens often learn the very hard way that frankly my dear, no one gives a damn.

There are plenty of Drama Kings – the male counterpart of the Drama Queen – and I’m not overlooking them here. For ease of discussion, I’ll use the term Drama Queens (or even DQs) as all-inclusive.

You can whine, cry, lock yourself in your room, throw yourself on your bed, weep and wail. Unless someone’s paying attention only you will feel and suffer the effects of your drama. The plain truth? Often no one is paying any attention.

Being a Drama Queen has never solved a problem and it often makes an existing problem even worse. We can start with an honest self-evaluation of our behavior. Ask, “How does this contribute to solving the problem?” If the answer is, “It doesn’t”, we’re on the way to overcoming the non-productive, destructive behavior. Logic can help us get over ourselves.

Drama Queen syndrome grows from self-centeredness and self-absorption.

For the DQ, “It’s all about me, all the time”. The growing-up process resolves a lot of this and we’re excused while we’re young and in our developmental years (toddler to teenager). It’s getting old by the time we reach young adulthood and is unappealing and ridiculous beyond that. It’s not easy being around someone addicted to drama.

So what about the people we know – or ourselves – who live from one crisis to another? There are people we know – or see when we look in the mirror – who seem to crave drama, create drama and appear to seek drama. You will find the Drama Queen who swears that she (or he) wants a drama-free life but drama seeks her (or him) out.

I’m not buying. Anyone who wants a drama-free (notice I didn’t say “problem-free?”) life can have one. It’s a choice. But being a Drama Queen can be like other emotionally-addictive behaviors. It can be a challenge to stop even when we’ve identified that the behavior doesn’t serve us or our best interests.

So what does it mean when we say someone is – or we describe ourselves as – or someone else says we are – a Drama Queen?

It usually means a person who over-reacts in a highly emotional way to any minor event, problem or setback. These are negatives – DQs don’t go over the top about the happy, lucky, even miraculous moments in life. The DQ has an emotional outburst that’s completely out of proportion to the event, problem or setback that has caused the upset (the “trigger”). Quite often, there is no trigger. The Drama Queen produces not only a tempest in a teacup, but also creates the teacup, saucer and tea from thin air.

The DQ is often the center of a constant whirlwind of frenzied but mostly unproductive activity. There is a sense that things are already out of control or are on the verge of going out of control. They navigate everyday life with overly-dramatic, negative thoughts, words and actions. They go off the emotional deep end whenever there’s the smallest disturbance in their world.

Movies, soap operas and other works of fiction – including reality TV programs – are full of examples. If you’ve seen “Gone with the Wind,” you’ll recognize Scarlett O’Hara as a classic drama queen. She was a beautiful, strong-willed survivor capable of withstanding and overcoming tremendous hardship. She was also her own worst enemy – a spoiled brat, vain and self-indulgent.

Some of the most enduring and charismatic fictional characters are DQs. The reader or viewer understands that this isn’t a real person. Drama is conflict and tension, and we’ve come to expect and accept over the top, bigger than life characters.

Popular, pervasive so-called reality TV has brought the dysfunctional lives of neurotic and outright psychotic men and women right into our living rooms. These are Drama Queens in their full, uh – glory.

All I can say is – if you enjoy these shows, check your own level of DQ. Why? Because the more over the top and extreme behaviors we see, the easier to excuse or rationalize own behavior. Enjoy these shows for their outrageousness. Do not use them as a model for your own behavior or for what’s acceptable behavior from others. Have fun and take them with the proverbial grain of salt. They’re supposed to entertain, not instruct.

What are some of the reasons for being a Drama Queen? What do they (or we) get out of it? What’s the payoff? Can we make it stop? How?

There are times when a person is in real trouble – emotional pain and turmoil, grief, loss, illness, extreme financial, personal or professional crisis. Needing and asking for help, support, encouragement and genuine sympathy is appropriate at those times. Not all extremes of emotion are the result of an addiction to drama.

Aside from these situations, here are some reasons Drama Queens create drama and some healthy alternatives:

Boredom

Simple as it sounds, this is one of the main reasons why drama queens behave the way they do. They’re just plain bored, and they haven’t found better, more creative and adaptive ways to deal with it.

Creating drama and a scene makes them feel that something interesting is happening. When boredom combines with underlying insecurities, the creation of drama serves as a distraction. No one sees that the DQ feels vulnerable, sad or frightened.

How much more effective it would be to turn to a trusted friend and say, “I’m sad. I’m scared,” and receive comfort and reassurance. Acknowledging and accepting the insecure feelings can bring real comfort from caring others and give the individual an opportunity to self-soothe.

A first step is to get – and be willing to stay – bored. Dealing with the comparative boredom of a life without created drama is a useful tool. Then consider finding an enjoyable, engrossing hobby such as drawing or painting, beading or other craft. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it, you don’t need to be a fine artist. Redirecting the same imagination used for whipping up drama creates activity that gets you outside of your own head and into something positive, relaxing and fun.

Family background

Parents or other important adults who use high-level drama to deal with life’s challenges, frustrations and problems become role models for growing DQs.

You or someone you know believes their problems growing up were monumental (and sometimes, they were). You or they may also believe that no one else ever had it worse than they; that everyone else lived a happy, carefree, perfect childhood. Both of these things are untrue. This is the basis for justifying behaving like a Drama Queen. We’re not kids anymore. We can choose different, better ways to deal with our problems. First, by realizing that no matter how bad things were or are, they could actually be worse. Next by understanding that if they couldn’t be worse, drama will not resolve them.

We can achieve a balance. Self-care that includes changing our internal dialog combined with time spent focusing on and helping others creates a balanced world view. It can help us gain a more realistic perspective on our problems. We can find a new appreciation of all the things in our lives for which we can be grateful.

Seeking sympathy

This is a classic trait of a drama queen – poor little me! DQs often cultivate a sad, down, or worried demeanor. If asked, “How are you?” The answer is never “Good” or even, “OK.” They – and things in their lives – are always terrible, awful, dire and in an unstoppable downward spiral. Life always sucks. The DQ’s story is: “I’ve had such a bad life and I never get a break. Please, please feel sorry for me”.

A DQ who learns to engage in gentle, positive self-talk, practices daily rituals, prayers and meditations is able to support and comfort themselves. In this way, others need not be the only source of love and sympathy for the DQ.

Manipulating others

Manipulating others combined with sympathy-seeking takes advantage of other people. It makes them responsible for our well-being. The DQ’s story: “Now that I have you feeling sorry for me, of course you must help and rescue me! I’m in so much trouble and pain, you must take care of me!”

The need to have others come to our rescue reinforces the belief that we are victims. With practice we can learn to see ourselves as responsible and competent. Finding our own solutions to life’s problems and setbacks (especially the real ones!) is empowering. Then, it’s ok to ask for help. We don’t need to do it alone, but no one else can do it for us without our active participation.

Avoidance

Many DQs don’t want to deal with real issues and would rather cause a scene and seek attention – even if it’s negative attention. Heaven help you if you offer constructive solutions. They will shoot every one of them down or dismiss them. Their story is: “I can’t deal with that right now, there’s too much going on in my life”. There will always be too much going on in their lives so they don’t have to seek ways to create productive change.

DQ behavior is not about problem-solving, whether the problems are real or imagined. Go back to step one – and allow yourself (or the DQ in your life) to get and stay bored for a while. Along with several of the alternatives already mentioned a DQ can stop avoiding and start living.

Seeking attention

Drama Queens often have low self-esteem and believe that they aren’t noticed for anything positive; or aren’t noticed at all. They believe complaining, whining and blowing things out of proportion are the best ways of getting the attention they want and need.

Many people can only take Drama Queens in small doses and many others can’t take them at all. The result is that this type of attention-seeking works in reverse. DQs end up making a negative impression on other people who then distance themselves from the DQ rather than form a close relationship.

Go to a trusted friend (not everyone in your contacts list). Ask that person to share honestly with you a good quality they appreciate about you, or one memory they have of you that is positive and affirming. Do one small, anonymous act of kindness and don’t tell anyone about it. Enjoy it for the good feelings you get from it and notice yourself doing something good. You don’t have to change the whole world to make a difference.

The Rush

DQs enjoy creating drama for the adrenaline rush it provides. Living the Drama Queen life can be an emotional addiction. Emotions and behaviors create chemicals in the body. The body gets used to having those chemicals around, then becomes dependent on the chemicals. This sparks the craving for more of them, the way a physically-addicted person’s body demands their drug of choice.

Unlike physical dependencies where we know what it is we’re hooked on, with drama addiction we’re not aware of the fact that we’ve got a monkey on our backs. We know that we have a habitual way of acting or reacting and think that is who we are, it’s our identity. It’s not our “self” – it’s our brains and bodies trying to keep a stable chemical balance.

They (or we) feel pleasure, enjoyment or a rush – the reward for creating an uproar. A DQ may need professional help in kicking the habit.

Living in the present, self-talk that provides reassurance and comfort, and mind-body integration through deep breathing and regular, moderate physical exercise are useful coping strategies in stressful situations and times of crisis. With practice, these learned behaviors offer a happier, healthier outcome than drama-creation and drama-seeking.

Using pleasurable but calming sensory techniques and tools – aromatherapy, a walk in a beautiful park or other natural setting, even purchasing or gathering a bouquet of beautiful flowers to arrange and enjoy can all produce feel-good chemicals in our brains too – without the “side-effects” of drama.

Being able to tolerate the discomfort of not going into Drama-Queen mode helps one realize how unproductive and unsatisfying it is. Drama addiction doesn’t serve our highest good and only brings us temporary satisfaction. It doesn’t bring us any closer to the things we really want: happy, healthy relationships, peace of mind, to have and enjoy the good things in life. When we know what we’re doing isn’t working, it’s time to let it go and do something different.

A DQ deciding to abdicate the throne will probably find life dull, empty and boring at first. But that means finding and developing real ways to make life pleasant and fulfilling. Nature abhors a vacuum – and there are other, more meaningful and genuine experiences available to fill the void.

Understanding what makes a Drama Queen behave the way they do is unlikely to change their behavior. You might encourage them let go of some of the underlying causes for their habit. Remember that the choice to change is theirs alone.

You need to manage your own boundaries and maintain your own methods of healthy self-care, including knowing when to walk away. Of course if you’re the DQ, you now have some tools to help you hang up your tiara for good. Not ready yet? No worries – remember, “Tomorrow is another day.”

About the Author: Dona Murphy

Dona Murphy is the owner of Destiny Tarot. She lives and works in Lake Bluff Illinois as a Tarot reader, Intuitive Counselor and Life Coach. Dona combines her metaphysical and spiritual studies, natural gifts and real-world experience to help her clients solve problems and live their best lives. As she says, “The cards don’t predict your future, they help you create it”.

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Sunday Sanctuary: Scent-Sational Journey

I popped into Walgreen’s the other day to pick up a prescription and stopped dead center in the beauty department due to a perfume display that took me straight back to 1977, bell bottoms, and my burgeoning ideas of what being a glamorous and independent woman might be.

Forty years after the enticing commercials captivated me, there was Charlie. “The gorgeous sexy-young fragrance for women.”

I was nine in 1977, but my sister was sixteen. She was grown up to me, and oh so charismatic. Of course, I wanted to be like her, yet more sophisticated. That Charlie commercial invited me into that possibility. I wasn’t allowed to actually wear perfume quite yet, but it wasn’t long before Mother let me wear a little eye shadow, and after that,  I couldn’t wait to choose a signature scent. Would it be Charlie? Or Windsong, which stayed on his mind? Would I bring home the bacon and never let him forget he’s a man with Enjoli?

Try as I could, I just didn’t love the tarragon and musky scent of Charlie. I expected something sophisticated and alluring, but it just smelled of alcohol.

Two years later, while staying with my grandmother for a few weeks in the summer, we went shopping at Marchman’s, a local department store. She bought me something I hadn’t considered: White Shoulders. It smelled of roses and jasmine and sandalwood.

I wore it religiously until I was fourteen. And thought of her every time I put it on.

*  *  *

My first date was with a boy who smelled of Polo. Or should I say, he drenched himself in Polo like most of the cool boys did in 1981. We only dated for a couple of months, but I loved borrowing his jacket at school and getting that whiff pine, patchouli, and musk.

The White Shoulders I had once loved felt so old and artless now that I was in high school and dating an older man (he was a senior)! I begged my mother to take me to Sanger Harris to buy something a little more mature, and since everything Polo and Ralph Lauren was so chic, I assumed one of the Lauren perfumes for women would make me, well, cooler. I fell madly in love with Tuxedo, it’s square black bottle with a thin red highlight. It smelled of bergamot, rose, gardenia and vetiver.

It was also a bit androgynous with those hints of clove and musk. An invitation for years to come, to tinker with the occasional sample of a men’s cologne when I make an order at Sephora and choose my free samples.

*  *  *

It was the winter of 1996 and I bundled the girls into the car and we head to the mall. It was a routine designed around the entertainment of window shopping combined with an attempt to get back into my pre-pregnancy jeans with all the walking. Mall walking was becoming popular in the late 90’s.

With my infant in a stroller and my impatient toddler, anxious to get to The Disney Store, I paused at the perfume counter in Dillard’s.

I felt frumpy and unattractive, and wondered if I’d ever feel pretty again. You know, like a woman, not just ‘pretty for a mom.’ Oh, how I longed to feel a little sexy. I had been coaxing a few drops out of my last bottle of Tuxedo and was devastated to discover it had been discontinued the previous year.

How could I ever feel sexy again without my favorite perfume? Destiny was with me that day, thanks to the kind sales lady and a patient little girl.

I left with a bottle of Romance by Ralph Lauren, a perfume I still consider my signature scent. A hint of patchouli, violet, and an element that tied my favorites together over the years: rose. My oldest was rewarded with a Pocahontas Barbie.

*  *  *

It was 2006 before I would understand that saving my perfume was as silly as waiting for a perfect day. I began to understand the real truth of life: that each and every day deserved to be embraced with your whole being. Scent included.

It was late 2010, and I discovered that the sexy and comforting scent I associated with my growing love for John didn’t come in any kind of glass bottle. He doesn’t wear cologne, but he does use distinctively scented toiletries: Coast soap and Old Spice Deodorant. Classic, not the froufrou scents for the new millennium with the “your man could smell like me” commercials starring Isaiah Mustafa.

To this day, I give him a lingering hug most mornings as he leaves for work, just so I can get that comforting scent of him to start my day.  The mix of his soap, deodorant, and a freshly starched shirt? All kinds of captivating.

And I have to confess, I like the after-work scent of John, too. That enticing scent of citrus and clove mixed with living life.

*  *  *

My mother’s signature scent was Youth Dew. I remember making special trips to Neiman Marcus to buy it. (Back in the 70s, the only places in Dallas that sold Estée Lauder were Neiman Marcus and Lord and Taylor.) I can still see that hourglass-shaped bottle on her bathroom counter alongside the occasional blue box of matching scented powder and the powder puff.  I can also see the dust gathered on both from not being touched often.

I stopped by the Estée Lauder counter last October. Attracted by some sale for a youth serum, I lingered over the perfumes and had to get a whiff of Youth Dew. I sprayed it on one of those white cards and struck up a conversation with the man behind the counter. I had assumed only women over eighty were still buying Youth Dew, but was told that it’s still a top seller. Did you know they now make Youth Dew deodorant?

The scent was nostalgic, yet its spicy scent brought with it a feeling of melancholy.  I had to wonder: if my mother had followed Mrs. Lauder’s advice to use your favorite scent daily, not just for special occasions, would the olfactory spark of joy could have pulled her from her bouts of depression?

I wear perfume every day now. A spritz or two when I get dressed. Sometimes, a spritz before bed. I’ve learned, over the years, that saving anything for a special occasion is a waste of a good day.

I have a confession, though: as much as I love Romance, I’ve been itching for a new fragrance. I’m not looking for a replacement,  I simply want to give myself some variety.  I want the scent I choose on a given day to support the way I desire to feel and be.

In my search, I’ve spritzed the white cards at every department store. I ‘ve added every available sample to my Sephora orders. I’ve even purchased a few small bottles here and there, but nothing stuck.

Until…

On a recent visit to the Jo Malone counter at Nordstrom, a patient saleswoman helped me explore some options. Citrus. Florals. Fruity. Spicy. She tells me that new scents can be made by layering.

I left with Peony and Blush Suede, elegantly adorned with a black grosgrain ribbon. The peony with hints of jasmine, musk, rose, and red apple. A fascinating combination as I edge towards fifty. I wonder if it will help me become who I desire to be? Who? I am destined to be

“What we talk about less often, because it is harder to explain, is the way a perfume can give breath and body to the phantom selves that waft about us as we go through our days — not just the showgirl, the femme fatale, and the ingenue, but all the memories and dreams of the taller, meaner, sharper, sweeter, softer people we have been or long to be.”
— Alyssa Harad

When we talk about being a maker of things – a creator and curator – of art, we often dismiss how our life, our ordinary daily life, is a part of that creation. That throughout our days, the tiniest of details we’ve chosen will guide us from one phase of life to the next. That each project we set out to create – a meal, a home, a book, a painting – will be forged from the core of who we are, our experiences, and what we wore. Our olfactory memories will forever tie us to the scents around us as a part of the experience of any creation.

What about you? What perfumes have accompanied you through the journey? What specific auras remind you of people, creations, and your experiences in this glorious life? Do you have a signature scent?

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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The Rules by Fran Hutchinson

Airplane taking off at sunset

smiling, smiling
when at last we meet again, hello

smiling,smiling
juggle time again
goodbye, too fast
and then you go

but well enough i knew the rules
and still i was fool enough to start

so it’s smiling, smiling when we meet
and smiling
slightly faded
when we part

Photo: satit_srihin / 123RF Stock Photo

About the author: Fran Hutchinson

Fran HutchinsonCurrently a resident of New Bedford, MA, Fran Hutchinson experienced a “poetic incarnation” while embedded in the 80’s folk scene in Boston.  Occupied variously as live calendar producer for WGBH’s Folk Heritage, contributing editor at the Folk Song Society of Greater Boston’s monthly Folk Letter, artist manager and booking agent, and occasional concert producer, she was surrounded by exceptional music and musicians, including those she had long listened to and admired.  The result was a rich source of inspiration for verse, of which she took full advantage. No longer writing poetry, Fran has recently been the recipient of a surgically altered back and two new knees, and spends her time reading and listening to music (natch), texting and emailing long-distance friends,  and hanging with her posse at the Community center.

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Are Selfies Selfish? by Molly Totoro

The idea for this post came in the middle of a back-to-school meeting. As part of our professional development, we seek to understand students in order to teach effectively. We read relevant articles and then share as a group.

One such article identified today’s Generation Z as “intimate exhibitionists” – an interesting label that fostered discussion. One fellow colleague used this as an opportunity to voice her frustration with selfies. She interprets them as narcissistic. Why must they post every meal they eat?

While many agreed with her observation, I wasn’t so sure.

First of all, I’m not convinced this obsession with sharing selfies is limited to the younger generation. My newsfeed is filled with images of Baby Boomers sharing their latest adventure, or Millennials taking part in local political protests. While some of these pictures are frivolous and perhaps place too much emphasis on self, I enjoy this sneak-peak into the lives of others. And often, they inspire me.

For example, my high school friend posts pictures of her before-and-after weight loss of 80 pounds! She has maintained a healthy weight for three years and wants to encourage others they can do the same. Her self-discipline and honesty (she still occasionally gives in to her sweet-tooth) motivate me to take the necessary steps to ensure a healthy retirement.

Another example is my co-worker who recently learned her cancer returned after a three-year remission. Her gaunt face and scarfed head demonstrate a different kind of beauty. She faces this deadly disease with courage and bravery. I do not view her selfies as narcissistic. I applaud her vulnerability and willingness to show us true authenticity.

Unlike my teaching colleague, I enjoy mealtime selfies. From a practical standpoint, I find new restaurants to visit or recipes to try. These posts help me get out of my rut and experiment. But more than that, these everyday photos show me how to celebrate ordinary moments.

I spend too much of my life on autopilot. I can’t tell you what I had for dinner last night. I just know I didn’t go to bed hungry. I can’t tell you what I did all day, but I know I was exhausted when I got home.

Taking the selfie forces me to slow down. Setting up the food shot before taking the picture increases the anticipation of that first bite. I am more likely to savor the flavor and appreciate the texture. I learn to eat with my eyes as well as my mouth. I taste rather than gobble. I sip rather than guzzle. A simple meal becomes a memorable experience.

Selfies are also important because they draw us out of the shadows and into the light. As someone who suffers from low self-esteem and Impostor Syndrome, my comfort zone is behind the camera. But as I sort through boxes of family photos, I realize how few images I have of my mother and grandmother. And what I would give to have more tangible memories of them.

This “intimate exhibitionist” generation is teaching me to ignore what others think. Instead, I need to embrace who I am and share what I have to offer with the world around me. If I’m not willing to do that, I become invisible and ineffective.

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown discusses the difference between fitting in and belonging. She defines fitting in as assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, does not require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.

Selfies help us learn to accept ourselves. They force us to slow down and live in the moment. And they reconnect us with our past and inspire us toward a brighter future.

About the Author: Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a Connecticut Yankee currently residing in the Midwest with her husband and trusty basset. While Molly retired from full-time teaching in 2014 to pursue her writing dreams, she continues to work with students to achieve their writing potential. Molly recently published her first book, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice with the hope of inspiring others to experience the health benefits of writing their inner thoughts.

Connect with Molly at her blog, My Cozy Book Nook and on social media: FaceBookTwitterInstagramPinterest

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Eyes on the Enter-Prize by Theresa Reed

Although I hire people for various tasks, my business is a one-woman show. I manage all the main details myself. Partly because I like being in control, but also, because of the nature of my work, strict client confidentiality is a must. Which means: I cannot have someone poking around in my inbox.

I do a pretty good job at managing all the different aspects of my work but over time, I began to feel overwhelmed. It’s a lot to handle and made even harder by my tendency to be an idea machine – cranking out posts, podcasts, and new offerings in record time. When you add that aspect on top of the daily grind, you can guess how tough it is to maintain at that output level for long.

This winter, I did myself a little favor. I took a short weekend break in the middle of January to attend the CEO Retreat, hosted by Rachael Cook, a business coach that I admire. This was a big leap for me – I never travel in winter due to weather fears but also: it’s the heart of my busy season. That being said, the stars were aligned (yes, I always check what’s happening in the cosmos before making a business decision) so off I went.

It turned out to be just what my business needed.

For one, I was able to spend time with successful female entrepreneurs, something I crave. Also, that time-out from work was a much needed break in a jam-packed schedule. But the most important thing for me was getting someone else’s eyes on what I was doing in my business.

The exercises that Racheal lead us through revealed something that I needed to see: I was doing too many things and my calendar for 2018 was beyond ambitious. It was outrageously full with too many ideas that I wanted to pursue. The risk of shiny object syndrome, or in my case, shiny idea syndrome, threatened to take me down a path that would have left little time for breathing room – or work that paid. This was no good.

I ended up scrapping 90% of my ideas.

I’m not kidding. They went back into the vault, where I could check back on them perhaps at a much later date.

This simple act freed me up more than I could imagine. No more wasting my time or energy on situations, products, or services that didn’t make sense or pay well. I’m crystal clear on my right audience and perfect offerings.

Better yet? I have time to do things that I haven’t been able to do in a while. Like finish a stack of books on my shelf. Take more cooking classes with my buddy, Jackie. Talk on the phone with friends that I haven’t spoken to in a decade. This is essential stuff that I often neglect due to work.

Sometimes you need to get other eyes on your business because you can’t always see what is plain as the nose on your own face. I’m happy that I took the weekend to look under the hood of my business with the support of someone who knows how to see the forest though the entrepreneurial trees. If you’re running a business and  perhaps running yourself into the ground, you may also benefit from getting an expert opinion on your business.

Another pair of eyes sees clear.

About the Author: Theresa Reed

theresareedTheresa Reed (aka “The Tarot Lady”) is a full time professional tarot reader. She’s also the author of The Tarot Coloring Book an illustrated romp through the tarot cards, and The Astro-Biz Digest, a weekly astrology forecast subscription service for entrepreneurs.

In addition to doing private Tarot readings, teaching Tarot classes, and speaking at Tarot conferences, Theresa also runs a popular website—TheTarotLady.com—where she dishes out advice, inspiration and tips for Tarot lovers of all experience levels.

Follow Theresa on Twitter and Instagram for her daily “Six Second Tarot Reading”—plus photos of her extremely handsome cats, TaoZen and Monkey.

Top and bottom photos by Danielle Cohen. Middle photo by Theresa Reed
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Sunday Brunch: The Play’s the Thing

I wrote a play yesterday.

Actually, I wrote plays on Thursday and Friday as well, and, with the exception of a couple of audio drama scripts for which an outline was provided, these are the first three plays I’ve ever written.

Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_icetray'>icetray / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

I don’t have any plans to become a professional playwright or screenwriter. In fact, these last three days have taught me that I vastly prefer writing straight narratives to scripts, but I’ve committed to a challenge to write twenty-eight plays in twenty-eight days, and even though I want to quit about once an hour, my husband and the friends who are following this process with me won’t allow it.

Truthfully, I won’t allow it, either.

Even more truthfully, I don’t think I’ve felt as unprepared or afraid of a creative project since the night I walked into the West End Market in downtown Dallas to audition for ComedySportz.

While I’m not an organization queen, or even a basic list-maker, I do like to be somewhat ready for these undertakings. When I’m auditioning for (or have been cast in) an acting role, even if it’s just bit part in an unpaid audio drama, I make sure I’ve read the whole script (not just my part), listened to a few episodes to get a feel for the piece, and/or done research on the setting, theme, and creators.  I won’t interview authors unless I’ve had time to read their books, and when I used to interview celebrities for All Things Girl, I made sure I knew their work, but also what sorts of questions they’d responded to favorably in other interviews.

But this project, “28 Plays Later,” which is sponsored by Theatre Delicatessen in London, isn’t something I could really prepare for. I mean, I didn’t even know about it until sometime in January, and the first prompt was issued at 4:00 PM (U.S. Central Time) last Wednesday. I’ve been in plays and musicals, and I’ve read a lot of scripts, but I’ve never really tried to write one.

When I told some of my friends what I was doing, I was asked if I could pre-write anything.

 

Technically, I suppose, I could. After all, there’s no requirement that you accept the daily challenge prompts, only that you submit a play every day by the deadline. (Challenges are issued every 24 hours, but you have 36 hours to complete each one, so there’s a twelve-hour overlap. So far, I have finished each challenge before the next was assigned, but today, I went down to the wire.)

The prompts, however, are useful. They give you a jumping-off point. They also foster community, because we all discuss how we’re interpreting the instructions.

Yesterday’s assignment was to use our dreams and nightmares as fodder for a surreal piece of theatre. We had an unlimited imaginary budget and were encouraged to create ‘hallucinatory images’ and disrupt order.

Despite the fact that I’ve been dabbling in writing horror for almost the last six months and consider the original A Nightmare on Elm Street to be one of the best horror movies of all time, at least conceptually, I was in tears as I tried to figure out how to approach this challenge. I’m not proud of it, but I complained about having no ideas to everyone who would even pretend to listen. I asked my husband for ideas. I whined about the fact that I don’t know how to translate things into a visual medium.

I even asked a friend who is also participating if Day Three was too early to quit.

“Yes,” he said simply.

“If I asked the same question on Day Fifteen would your answer be the same?” I demanded.

It was.

And so, even though I’m typically nocturnal, and my husband had an online game event that was going to keep him awake until well after three in the morning, I went to bed at midnight, with a frustrated brain and a discouraged heart.

Three hours later, I was awake again, dragging my laptop into bed with me, doing research on the amygdalae – the two almond-shaped clusters in the human brain where emotions and memories live. Two hours after that, I had an outline of a three-act play that included nightmares, tangos, Dracula, Winnie-the-Pooh, and a finale that took place on roller skates.

By nine yesterday morning, I was awake again, and writing like a demon, until, finally, I had twenty pages of script that involved a Dreamer giving lessons in ‘dreamology’ and a Child going through her safe sleep ritual.

Is it next year’s Tony winner?

Not even close.

But writing it forced me to stretch beyond my creative comfort zone, to try new things, and think of new ways of expressing old concepts.

Eleanor Roosevelt never actually said that you should do one thing every day that scares you, but she did say, “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”

I wrote a play yesterday that scared me, just thinking about it. I was sure I would miss the deadline and fail the challenge.

Instead, exhausted and jumpy, I wrote – and shared – something I never thought I could start, let alone finish.

And now?

Now, I’m going to brew a pot of tea and maybe open one of the boxes of Girl Scout cookies that my husband bought for me, and then I’m going to do what I did yesterday.

I’m going to write a play.

Photo Copyright: icetray / 123RF Stock Photo

 

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Distance by Lisa Zaran

My mother makes diacritical marks
over the language of my heart:
acute, grave, double grave.

Twelve years old, I do not think
about blooming into a woman.
I only wonder where she is,

what her mood is like, whether
she’ll come home that night,
if there’s light at the party.

hook, horn, rough breathing.

Like any requirement I love her,
in vertigo, in run-down weekly’s,
riding shotgun in her hatchback

as she drives us out of town at 3 a.m.
hiding yellow hair beneath
a tie-dye kerchief.

macron, dot, circumflex.

At a rest stop once in coconino
county, just shy of sheep gulch spring
she betrayed intimacy.

I was waiting for her, like always,
seated on the hood, my back
against the windshield,

her, scooting up beside me,
a cigarette between her lips.
On the inhale, short and quick

she pointed out Gemini, the twins.
On the exhale, she said: that’s us.
Which was and still is the closest

exclamation of love I’d ever received.
My heart festooned there,
white tiger, vermillion bird.

A laurel of hope, promise with the sound
of wild horses, want as white
as the moon, every bone glowing.

ring, comma, inverted breve, smooth breathing.

About the Author: Lisa Zaran

LisaZaranBioLisa Zaran is the author of eight collections of poetry including Dear Bob Dylan, If It We, The Blondes Lay Content and the sometimes girl. She is the founder and editor of Contemporary American Voices. When not writing, Zaran spends her days in Maricopa county jails assisting women with remembering their lost selves.

I Want to Remember by Michelle GD

I am keen on the little bits that make up life, and I explore them with camera in hand.  Certainly, there are the photographs of my growing children and the holidays and the vacations.  But what intrigues me most are the pieces of all that…the pile of shoes left by the back door, the crushed candy cane spilled on the table, the afternoon light streaming through the window on our second-last day of vacation.  That is what I want to capture.

And I find the search for the bits and pieces appear in my self-portrait work as well, quite literally at times.  I might take a traditional shot of my face.  But the shots I really love are the ones that capture pieces of me.  Glimpses.  Those are the shots that remind me what I was doing on a given day; those are the images that trigger memories of what I was feeling that day.

Like many of us, I am generally the person taking the photographs of everyone else.  And that suits me just fine.  Truthfully, the reason I turn the camera on myself is not so much so that I appear in an occasional family shot – although that’s nice.  The reason I turn the camera on myself is because I want to remember.  I want to remember me.  I delight in making photographs of everything that shapes my life.  But, even in the delight, there is the potential for getting lost.  I do not want to be lost.

And so I turn the lens.  It’s not every day, but I make an effort to position myself on the other side of the camera on a regular basis.  It’s a practice I’m developing and, though I’ve been doing it a couple years, I am astounded each and every time by just how healing the experience is.

My shots reflect wherever I am on a given day.  Sometimes they’re playful in nature; sometimes they’re restrained; rarely are they staged.  But when I look back at each of them, I say to myself, Ah, yes.  That.  Me.  Then.  It’s powerful.

It’s not about a good hair day or showcasing a perfect life.  Not at all.  It’s about looking, with intention, at where I am in my life.  Where am I standing in the midst of all my little bits?  What am I feeling?  What am I holding, literally or figuratively? How am I doing…for real?

Because I want to know what I’m doing and how I’m feeling, for real.  I want to understand how I fit with the other pieces of my life.  Self-portraiture allows me a process for exploring that, for celebrating that.  It allows me a means to express what otherwise might get trapped inside.  I want nothing trapped inside.  I want to see and understand, as best I can, all the pieces of my life.  I want to remember the shoes and the candy canes.  I want to remember how the afternoon light fell through the window.  And I want to remember how that light fell onto me.

Editor’s Note: *text previously published in Bella Grace, Issue 4, 2015

About the Author: Michelle GD

Michelle GD is an artist living in Virginia. Using writing and photography as forms of meditation, she explores the connections between the beautiful and messy bits of life. You can find her at MichelleGD.com.

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