First Cup of Coffee – November 15, 2022

Talking to my future biographer about my freakitude on guarding my writing time, writing retreats, and more harping on how the writing process cannot be conflated with the reading experience.

Certain Social Standards and Choosing the Happy

My two boys, enjoying the new recliners and the lovely sunlight of a winter afternoon. I feel sure if Jackson could make his recline, too, he would. 


The recliners were a Christmas gift for David. The family all pitched in and we replaced the couch with them. There’s the Before and After. We actually ended up keeping the couch and moving it to another room, which entailed moving stuff from THAT room to an entirely different room, which meant moving the dresser into the closet, and the Big Closet Reorganization, that you may have seen me posting about the last few days. (Mostly on Facebook and Instagram, but there’s a pic here, too.) 

It’s funny because, when I saw Megan Mulry Monday night (we saw The Favourite and had dinner after – if you want to hear my thoughts on the movie, you can listen here), I showed her the pics of the rearrangement. She’s house-sat for us before, so she was familiar with the previous set up. She agreed the recliners were a great idea – so much easier to swivel to watch movies, so comfy! – and then asked what I’d do about the fact that I have two other armchairs on the other side of the room. I started laughing and said, “Nothing! I’m leaving it as is, but my mother said the SAME THING.” So Megan starts laughing, too, saying “Omigod, me and your mom.” (Who she’s met and they enjoy each other.) And I said, “Yeah, my mom said, ‘but you can’t have chair, chair, chair, chair.'” Megan is still snorting into her beer, and says, “I know – like a meeting!”

I suppose I could put a conference table in the middle… 

The thing is – and this is part of why Megan was laughing, because our mothers are very much alike, with Certain Social Standards – the reason I “can’t have chair, chair, chair, chair” because “it looks like a meeting,” is a consideration for entertaining. That’s what Certain Social Standards are all about. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’m very glad that my mother taught me the social skills she did. I know a lot about entertaining and putting events together, skills that have come in very useful in my corporate work, my career as an author, and in my volunteer work for organizations like SFWA and RWA. Social skills are critical for careers of all kinds, even largely isolated ones like being a writer. My podcast on Friday has engendered a lot of conversation on the etiquette of thanking authors who provide blurbs. 

But in this case, I draw a line, because David and I very rarely entertain. I do not host the Junior League meetings in my house, nor the Bridge Club. We occasionally have parties, though less often than we used to, mostly because it’s so much effort, but even then we have them outside whenever possible. When we do have a dinner party, we move everything around anyway. So why would we arrange our home with an eye toward having OTHER people like it?

I work from home. David is home a great deal, as he has irregular hours. We have a very pretty house with incredible views that we worked hard and dreamed long to acquire. It’s a place of peace and delight to us – so we set up the furniture in a way that adds to our relaxation and pleasure. 

I think this speaks to a larger point of why we make the choices we do. How many of our choices are made to please other people, or to meet their expectations? How often do we make a conscious choice to go against Certain Social Standards and instead do the thing that people might laugh at, but that makes us happy?

Something to ponder. 



Making Marketing Decisions

An oft-lamented part of being a writer is the promotions end.

Some writers are good at it, but for the most part, the majority of us are writers because we don’t like to sell stuff. Otherwise we’d have fabulous careers doing that. But we know that’s part of the gig. Even the big, traditionally published authors have to self-promote. And there’s this huge array of options for doing it.

Too huge, really.

Part of the problem is, there are a lot of scavengers out there wanting a bite of the writer’s kill. They see us as having this lovely, juicy carcass and they want some. This is part of being a primary producer – we have something to sell, so lots of secondary processors are willing to step up and get their percentage by helping us sell it. That sounds kind of bad and I don’t mean it that way – though it is the syndrome that’s driving more authors to self-publishing, to eliminate at least some of those middlemen and women.

Knowing that writers must invest in self-promotion, there are many venues out there offering to help. Now, not all are making money off of it. Chapters that host conferences are happy to take promotional materials for the goody bags or baskets of goodies for auctions. Blogs love to have guest posters, book bloggers like to do interviews and book giveaways. Then there’s the ads in magazines or on websites. The conferences and appearances.

I get these offers in my email, often sent by wonderful friends – here’s an opportunity for you! I look at it and try to decide if it’s worth the investment of my time and money.

Making decisions is an interesting thing. The “cide” in decide means to cut. As in incisive and excise and incisor. So when we make a decision, we cut away the other possibilities. And each decision alters our life path. Maybe in a minute way, but because I decided to do this, I am not doing that. So, each decision takes a commitment of energy. A bit of oomph behind the direction to create a vector.

Sometimes, I feel like I just don’t have the energy to decide just then.

So, I save these opportunity emails. And they pile up in my In-Box, a logjam of indecision. Like all log-jams, it’s much worse then, to deal with that huge, roiling mass of decisions than if I’d just handled them one by one.


I’m happy to report my In-Box is empty now. All decisions made.

My criteria? I went back to Choosing the Happy. If it sounded fun and happy-making, I said yes. If for any reason it didn’t, I said no.

Hey – at least the river is running clear now!

Choosing the Happy

This hawk was in the tree across the road. Love my new telephoto lens!

David and I were talking yesterday about the value of happiness and making choices to be happy. Now, not everyone really values happiness as a top priority. Sure – people say they want to be happy, but often they value other things above that. Being admired or respected, making our families happy, fitting in with the crowd. If we look critically at our daily choices, we can see that we often choose to do something that doesn’t make us happy because we think the other thing is more important.

For example, a lot of us woke up this morning earlier than we wanted to. It might have made us happy to sleep longer, but maybe there are children who need to be cared for and that’s more important. Or we have to get to that job on time, so we can be paid, which can be a factor in long-term happiness. So, sometimes we make a considered choice to put someone else’s needs above our own happiness or we sacrifice the short term in favor of the long term.

But we can also get in the habit of capitulating to the “shoulds.” All those things that we think we should do, whether they make us happy or not. It’s easy to fall into that pattern of all the little responsibilities and debts that drive our daily decisions.

David mentioned it because he’s been reading Anthony de Mello, who made a deliberate decision to be happy. That’s what he wanted out of life. For every choice he encountered, he weighed whether it would lead to happiness.

This is harder than it sounds. For instance, he ultimately told his best friend they could no longer spend time together, because the friend didn’t make him happy. It’s a hard, strong line to draw and many of us would flinch at such a decision because of all the voices whispering that it’s selfish. Choosing one’s own happiness over someone else’s will always be labeled selfish. It’s up to us to decide which we value more: being happy or being thought an unselfish person.

It got me thinking though, that it doesn’t always have to be huge, life-changing decisions. In everything I do all day, I can choose those things that lead to happiness for me. Throughout my day, there are many opportunities to read rants and encounter unpleasant news and thoughts. I don’t have to look at them. I can focus instead on those things that I believe do make me happy. I can create a tesseract of happiness.

By little, incremental choices, I think I can find ways to have a happy life. Which I do think is the most important thing for me.

Now I’m picturing what a tesseract of happiness would look like.