My family jokes that David and I spend a lot of time at Christmas offering “tech support.” We help everyone set up their new devices and work on their lists of things that haven’t been working right. They like to say that every question brings them one step closer to us booting them out the door, but we don’t mind. It’s good to be helpful.

And, at least we can filter out the easy stuff from what needs to be advanced to the experts.

Back when I was in graduate school, lo these many moons ago, one of my professors had a sign on his office door that read something like “Experts don’t really know more than anyone else. They’re just better prepared and have slides.”

I tried to Google this for a source, but had little luck. The quip has been scrambled about many times. And, of course, this version is obviously quite dates. Slides?? Do you all remember making slides for presentations – where you’d photograph pages, develop the film (special slide film), cut the square you wanted from long strips and glue them into the little slide frames? It took DAYS to prepare for a presentation. And then you had to cart those slide carousels around… Now we fiddle with our Power Point presentations up until the last minute and simply plug in the laptop. Technology is such a wonderful thing.


My point is, I’ve always remembered this sign. And the wisdom of it.

This particular professor was very good at giving advice in a very new field at the time, of environmental toxicology. There wasn’t a lot of data yet. Most environmental toxicology works through chronic exposure. It’s difficult to draw a line from a few childhood years spent paddling beneath the paper mill to the cancer death 40 years later. In another hundred years, we might have some really good data. But I digress, yet again. What this professor could do was bring a wealth of experience in science and explain concepts in a way that people understood and could get excited about.

He also had a team of grad students to make really good slides.

So, though he had the critical thinking and clarity of self to recognize that as an “expert” he wasn’t really all that special, that very perspective made him really good at knowing what he didn’t know and gave him the drive to fill those gaps.

The flip side of this is the people who consider themselves experts without this wealth of experience.

I see this a lot in social media. Writers with no publication credits, or paltry ones, offering writing advice. Writers who get hired as editors with digital publishing houses who then start offering editing tips. People starting up digital publishing houses from their living rooms and weighing in on the state of publishing.

In a way, the interwebs are the great leveler. Quality of content is all. So, arguably, good advice is good advice and will win out. However, a lot of stuff out there floats to the top and it’s not exactly cream.

It’s a disease, really. Expertitis. Born of our longing to be vindicated, to be legitimate in a business that rarely offers these rewards. How do you quantify a successful writer, editor, agent or publisher? The recognition of our peers is a fickle thing. Money follows the trends, not necessarily the quality. In many ways, I suppose we have to crown ourselves, because no one else will.

But that takes some clarity and critical thinking.

It’s really not about the slides.

Teaching Beauty

At one point during the Christmas weekend, my mom, my aunt and I were all in my bedroom. My Aunt Karen was borrowing a shirt so David could do a little work on her back and my mom tagged along.

My mom sat down on my side of the bed and commented on the amazing view. I told her to lie down so she could see the sky the way I do when I wake up in the morning. When it’s *ahem* not pitch dark out, that is. I know, I know – the light is coming back around.

Karen pulled off her shirt, took the one I gave her and said how much she hates the moles on her back. She turned around to show us, and there they were, large flat moles all over her back.

“Just like Grandmother’s!” I exclaimed.

Karen nodded. Yes, she’d gotten her mother’s moles, turning up later in life. My mom said she didn’t remember their mother having moles. Oh yes, I remembered, Grandmother would take a bath every evening before bed and, if I was spending the night, I would keep her company and wash her back for her. The moles made me think of a Dalmation’s coat, beautiful, unique and special. Only seeing Karen’s moles did I remember that sense of delight and admiration. On some level, I always thought I’d have them, too. That when I grew up to be a lady like Grandmother, I would gain Dalmation polka dots to grace my own skin.

It’s funny how time changes things. How I’ve since learned it’s not something to admire. How Karen wishes she didn’t have them.

So much of what we think of as beautiful is taught. Carefully, carefully taught.

Frosty the Snowmom

This is my mom, inside the Frosty costume, with one of my nephews. (Thanks to Hope for sending the pic!) And yes, that is a big dent in the side of the Frosty head. I asked my mom if she got in a tussle with a traffic cop and she said, no, it was from all the hugging.

See, my mom has been learning to be a docent at Tohono Chul Park in Tucson. This is no show-up-and-volunteer gig. She has to take classes for something like six months, to learn about the regional flora and fauna. This involves homework, even. It’s been so fun to hear her tell us the names of birds and how to distinguish the different types of cholla. David and I have always been the biologists/naturalists in the family, but now she’s far surpassed us, especially on the botany end.

So, when the Tohono Chul people decided the old Frosty costume was getting ratty (see aforementioned dentable head), they purchased a new one, which the director would wear for their Holiday Nights festival. Then they thought, hey, why not get more mileage out of the old one, too? This is how my mother ended up dressed as Frosty.

Because, of course she volunteered to do it. Just like she’s memorizing how to tell a cardinal from a  pyrrohuloxia. (I just asked her on IM what the false cardinal’s name is again. And she reminded me the main way to tell them apart is the beak.)

She’s always embracing life, learning and growing. I admire that so much.

Now she’s telling me about the phainopepla that eat mistletoe in the park and how mistletoe gets a bad rap.

Let me count the ways that I love her.

Playing with the New Toys


One of the best parts of Christmas as a kid was playing with the new toys.

It didn’t really matter what you got or how much. It was the thrill of a new thing and the free time to play with it. I remember riding my bike around the cul-de-sac one particularly sunny Denver Christmas. Or spending the day setting up my dollhouse. Yesterday, I got to play with my telephoto lens.

It’s super cool. Isabel from quite a ways off, wondering why this thing is pointed at her.

And here’s this mountain range,

with the telephoto.

Isn’t the detail amazing?

I also have this stack of brand new books staring at me here…

Speaking to the Shadows

So, several people read my post yesterday and pinged me in various ways, asking if this meant I wouldn’t be posting to the blog.

Which is such a gratifying thing to hear.

Part of being a writer is this odd phenomenon of feeling like you’re speaking to an empty room. Maybe it’s like standing on the stage with the spotlight blazing into your eyes. You have this good notion that there’s a bunch of people out in the audience – sometimes you can hear them shuffling or murmuring to one another – but you have to keep going and trust that they’re listening.

A lot of writers like blogging because it can provide immediate feedback. People comment in the blog itself, tweet about it, say things on Facebook, email about it. But not always. Sometimes they read and wander off, taking your words with them, which is always the reader’s prerogative. I do this a lot. I read blogs and don’t comment. Sometimes I don’t know what I think until days later and then I have to try to remember which blog it was and how long ago.

But people do let you know, in various ways, that they’re out there, valuing your words. This was one.

Thank you.

On Not Writing

I love the Mexican stars people have down here. A different kind of Christmas decoration.

As of today, I’m on vacation from the day job. I think it’s also vacation from the writing job. I’m feeling the need to wind down and do non-brainy work. I’m planning to do some baking. Today I should finish all my gift shopping. I’m feeling pleasantly lazy and mindless.

And it’s good.

For all my “write every day” mantra, I do find that there are times to let it go. To let all the swirling bits settle, like a blizzard lifting from the valley, leaving a blazingly clear day behind, sunlight glittering on pure snow.

I’m mainly thinking about concocting a recipe for brownies with peppermint frosting.

(See, Veronica? It’s not ALL about the cookies!)

Investing in the Writing Business

The house is officially all decorated now. Lovely to see it all fixed up.

I remember one of my very first jobs, I was required to wear a uniform. Just white blouses and blue navy skirts or slacks. Not a huge deal, but these were clothes I didn’t have, so I had to go out and buy them. I needed money, which is why I got the job, which meant I didn’t have money to spend. Then I found out, because of where I was in the hiring/pay cycle, that I wouldn’t get paid for about six weeks.

I was young. I was naive. But I was frankly shocked.

Before that, I’d mainly done babysitting, and that sort of thing, where you do the work and bam! people hand you money. I’d had that idea firmly lodged in my noggin that money followed work.

Which it does. Eventually.

I’ve been thinking about work lately, because I’m suffering the effects of overwork. I’ve come to realize part of it is that I’ve been working a second job for a really long time now. And it’s really only recently that this second job has started to pay. It’s like I’ve been working this part-time job for 15 years and they’re just now working me into the payroll system.

Writing is the part time job you have for years before anyone pays you.

People who start new businesses hit this, too. “They” say not to plan on making money for the first several years. That’s why so many businesses fail in the first year, because many people don’t adequately plan for this.

Being a writer means investing in growing your craft over time and also starting up a small business: you.

What this means to me is that, moving forward, I want to remember that I’m running a business. I’ll be working various “jobs” with income that fluctuates wildly. It will take a lot of balancing and managing to wean myself from my lovely salaried job and move into the self-employed world. Good thing I love spreadsheets.

And hey – at least there’s no uniform to buy!