Don’t Bet Against Gravity (or) The Graduation Speech

The speech I’d give, if anyone asked…

To The Class of 2021… And All The Ones To Follow

Dear Future Old People:

I am honored to speak to you, at the request of absolutely nobody. The sight of your shiny blue faces, illuminated by your phone screens, fills me with the feeling that I am, at last, starring in a science fiction movie. Hopefully it’s more of a “cute and cuddly aliens” than a dystopian apocalypse, but I won’t know until I try to make it to my car.

Old people droning unsolicited advice is a time-honored tradition of graduation. What makes this different is that it isn’t being given at an official graduation. Life is a continual test. You will always be graduating in some way. So here is the best advice I can offer you. It’s not much, but it’s what I’ve got.

First, don’t try to see how much the toilet can take in and still flush. Either you will have to clean up the results or someone else will. People don’t forget, or forgive, having to clean up big messes they didn’t create. Try not to leave trash and wreckage in your wake, in case you have to walk back that way.

Don’t blow in the dog’s face. Just trust me. It’s a good idea to be aware of how the recipient of your attention is enjoying, or not enjoying, it. Everyone has a snapping point and finding it will not be fun. Also, don’t pull the cat’s tail. If you cause someone pain, he tends to want to share that feeling with you, so you can appreciate what it’s like.

If you’re so bored the answer seems to be pulling on the cat’s tail, learn to knit. You might still be bored, but you’ll end up with a sweater.

Don’t bet against gravity. Learn the rules for anything you really want to do. You may be the rare exception to whom the rules don’t apply, but probably not. That’s how they became rules. Even if you don’t follow them, know them — or  you’ll look like an amateur. Why make life harder than it has to be? Some of the rules even make sense.

Try not to be a jerk. You don’t treat other people kindly because they deserve it. You do it because you deserve to be that person. It isn’t necessary to approve of people to treat them well. You need to be able to approve of you. That way, if someone calls you names, you can shrug it off, because you know you’re a good person.

Finally, know that if you try to be a good, responsible, kind person, that is all the world gets to ask of you. Anything more it gets is gravy. Don’t let other people decide who you will be. They don’t know. You don’t know. It’s a work in progress. If you don’t like you, work on it. Nobody’s got it all perfected yet. The smoothest glass has pits in it if you look at it closely enough, but it’s still beautiful. Demand a lot from yourself, but not perfection. Perfection is a goal, not a destination.

Good luck. And put your phone down occasionally.

Joey Jones,

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Conferences for Introverts: Big Events for People Who Like People In Small Doses

Huge groups of people! Yay?

Often, extroverts (and there are far more of them than introverts, which makes sense — who is more likely to get out and find people to mate with?) think introverts don’t like people, or don’t like to go out.  They don’t understand that being an introvert has nothing to do with liking (or not liking) people. It’s about energy — what charges you, and what drains you.

Extroverts are energized by being around people. They need to be around people as much as possible. This doesn’t mean they never like to be alone, but they don’t need to be alone.

Introverts? We like being around people, but it drains our batteries. To recharge, we need to be alone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been running on fumes and really needed some alone time, only to be asked what was wrong or who made me mad. Nothing. Nobody. I just need to fill that battery — and being an introvert, that means some alone time.

So how to cope with crowded events, like conferences and conventions? I’ve been going to more conferences lately, and having to think about how to get the most out of them (they’re expensive and you want to feel you got your money’s worth, which means identifying what take-away would be satisfying).  How to not drain my batteries to the point where I can’t take in any more input, or worse, Dr. Bruce Banner becomes The Incredible Hulk.

The first step sounds obvious, but when you try it, you realize it isn’t. Accepting that you are an introvert, what you need to be at your best, and that it’s okay not to be an extrovert. Extroverts make up more of the population. The world is thus geared toward them. Like being left-handed in a right-handed world, introverts bump up against expectations that they want and need what extroverts do, and operate the way extroverts do. Nope.

Where extroverts might look see, “6:30 PM: Cocktail Mixer” and think, “Hey! People! Fun! Drinks!,” your average introvert thinks, “Ooh. More people after a whole day of people. Trying to make conversation with strangers. Standing around feeling awkward. Meh.” This is because extroverts will get charged up and introverts will get more drained.  And if you say you just want to go to your room and watch tv, prepare to be asked if you’re okay. Several times.  It takes self-knowledge and self-acceptance to withstand well-meaning pressure to conform.  If you want to go and it sounds good, go and enjoy, and leave whenever you feel like it. If not? Don’t go, and enjoy, and hear the stories about what went on the next day.

If you’ve met a few interesting people, you can also see if anyone wants to have dinner together, just a few of you. Then see them off to the mixer with your blessings. Best of both worlds. You get to really talk to a few people instead of making small talk with a lot of people, and then get your alone on.  Getting coffee is also good.

Personally, I’d rather really enjoy and make a connection with a few people than try to paper a crowd with my business cards. The people I do chat with remember me, and I remember them.  Introverts tend to be good listeners.  I can’t give 50 people my full attention at the same time — but I can give 50 people my full attention one, two or three at a time.

The next step is to plan a bit. Have those ear buds available. Have a book on you. Look at the schedule for a few minutes you can retreat from the crowd. The classes are usually too close together to give you a break. Get the feel of the event. Is it okay to be a few minutes late for something? Is there one you really can skip? It’s often not necessary to do every single thing available to you — and better to be really present for what you do attend.

Really, the secret seems to be doing it  your own way, in whatever way works for you and most promises that you’ll be able to get the most from the event. My mom and I had a saying, “Better to be a really good donkey than a sub-par fake horse.” We’re all weird. Be weird in your own way and rather than trying to be a fake extrovert, be a really good introvert.

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Chick Lit v. Women’s Fiction

I get it — human beings like labels (applied to others). It’s a natural function of the brain to categorize. It’s how we navigate the world. “That is similar enough to this so that I sort of know what to expect.”  Without it, we’d constantly be stuck, trying to evaluate every person, experience or thing that is even slightly unfamiliar.

But nobody likes to feel “labeled,” especially when those labels are dismissive or derogatory.

When we completed the first draft of Based On A True Story: Really (Almost) True Story, a writer acquaintance said it was great, he enjoyed it a lot, but he’d only read it if his wife bought it and left it lying around. He wouldn’t buy it for himself, he said, because it’s “Chick Lit.”

I wasn’t sure how to take that. Here, in order, are the usual reasons people are dismissive of “Chick Lit:

  • It’s about relationships.  Well, so is almost every other book, with the possible exception of Chilton automotive repair guides, and the dictionary. The Bible talks a lot about relationships. So does War & Peace.  Humans are social animals, and relationships are central to how we live our lives, and most of the things we do. Try building a freeway by yourself. If you build it with others, that involves relationships. So as a criticism, “it’s about relationships” falls flat.
  • It’s escapism. Well, duh. So is Treasure Island, Moby Dick, and a lot of other novels. It may talk about “important” themes, but the first job of any novel is to entertain. I grew up around entertainment — the working, blue collar end of it, like boardwalks and nightclub shows. The ride has to be worth the price of the ticket. Nobody cares what you have to say if you’re not entertaining when you say it. And life includes a lot of seriousness and pain. The mini-vacation brought to you by a good book can save your sanity. If a book manages to take someone away from a stressful day and make her (or him) forget and have fun for a little while, that is a beautiful thing.
  • It’s “too light” or “frothy.” By which you mean…? Go ahead and try to come up with a valid explanation that doesn’t include sexism in it. I’ll wait…

Ultimately, that’s what is at the bottom of “Chick Lit as insult.”  It’s usually by women. Has female protagonists. Generally includes humor.  But because it’s “female,” it gets relegated to a pink, frilly literary ghetto. You don’t see the “dick lit” section in a book store.

As near as I can tell, most often, “Women’s Fiction” is “Chick Lit” without a sense of humor. This is not a criticism of books labeled “Women’s Fiction,” by the way. What I’m saying is that because they usually have female protagonists, “Women’s Fiction” or “Women’s Literature” books aren’t simply considered Fiction, or Literature. No, they’re off in their own category, as though they couldn’t lift the barbells and were relegated to the sidelines. And yet, being more serious in general, Women’s Fiction books are considered more important and valuable than Chick Lit books.

I’ve heard it described as the difference between steak and popcorn, steak being considered more worthy than popcorn. Yet both steak and popcorn follow the same path, from a digestive standpoint. Popcorn is a whole grain, with its own nutritive value. It isn’t that steak is better somehow. Steak and popcorn are both good and give you different things. I wouldn’t want to watch a movie with a bucket of hot, buttered steak.

A good laugh when you need it, whether it’s a bark of surprise or a hoot of recognition, helps relieve stress, so it’s good for your health, and lowering your stress makes you better able to deal with the often confusing, confounding humans around you, so it’s also good for their health when you laugh.

So I’ll go on peddling popcorn and busking on the boardwalk, proudly, and let others categorize my work in whatever way works for them. My big hope is that I can do for someone else through my writing what books have done for me in my darkest times. And if someone else calls my work “Chick Lit,” I’ll wear the badge with pride.

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Gingeroo Jones and Rescue Drama

It’s been, as the Grateful Dead famously said, “a long, strange trip,” but in the end, a judge declared Ginger (aka Gingeroo The Wonder Pup) a permanent part of our pack.

During the last few months, we’ve been tested, friendships have been tested (and passed with flying colors), and little Gingeroo has grown (she’s now more than doubled from her original 10 pounds).

People have asked if we have lost faith in pet rescues as a result of our experience. The short answer is… no. The long answer is a long one indeed, so I’ll give the medium-length one: There are many responsible rescue organizations trying to do their best for both animals and the people who want to adopt them. They work long hours, usually as volunteers, endure heartbreak, all to save lives. We’ve gotten to know some of these people and they truly care.

Yes, sometimes they ask a lot of very personal questions, because they’ve seen dogs, cats, horses, etc. come back. They see up close what can happen when the pet and the adopter aren’t good fits. Yes, sometimes they take too long to get back to you. Yes, there are some who shouldn’t be involved in rescue at all… we’ve met those, too.

But generally, most of the people in rescue we’ve gotten to know are responsible, reasonable people trying to do something very difficult for the best reasons.

I can’t even regret our experience with not one, but two, irresponsible rescues. In the end, we got Gingeroo. It’s been expensive, frustrating, scary, stressful, exhausting… pull out your thesaurus and find a word for “awful” and you’re on the right track. But now she’s ours, our affectionate little spitfire.

So if you work with a rescue, or you’ve dealt with one… how do you recognize a reputable rescue group? What should someone be looking for? I’m hoping to spare someone else the experience we had. Thanks for your input!

#TeamGinger #Gingeroo #AdoptDontShop #rescue

Gingeroo isn’t sure if she’s a fairy or an angel, but she knows she can fly!

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A Dog’s Guide To Humans: Piddle & Doody

A word about wiz.

You might want to go relieve yourself before you start reading this dispatch.

Of all the things I’ve observed about humans, the most perplexing is their attitude toward their own bodies and natural processes. Honest to Dog, it’s confounding. I’ll see if I can make even minimal sense of it, but some of this you will just have to accept on faith. I swear on my favorite squeaky toy, what I’m about to tell you is true.

  • They are embarrassed by the fact that they poop.

I’m not talking about someone seeing them poop. When someone watches you go, it’s awkward and weird, no doubt about it. I’m talking about simply acknowledging that you do poop, or pee, at some point in your day.

I think it’s some sort of sacred ritual for them. They even have special rooms in which to relieve themselves. They also wash themselves in that same room, which is odd unless you consider it as part of a ritual. You have the shameful elimination, then the ritual cleansing. This might explain why it’s considered such a private event.

Outside of the Altar of Elimination, though, they try hard to pretend they don’t have to go. Some humans use special code words for elimination. Piddle, which sounds like an endearment for a puppy, is actually a code word for peeing. There are many others. One is “tinkle.” I met a dog named Tinkerbelle and she said her name was very confusing as nobody ever rang a bell when she tinkled. I theorized that maybe they were saying it sounded like a bell when she tinkled. Human hearing is quite limited, after all. This seemed to satisfy her and make her far more happy with the situation.

There are also many words for defecation, including “doody.” My humans like to watch historic recordings of the stories that appear on the glowing boxes. One featured a man in a cowboy suit who talked to a wooden toy he called “Howdy Doody.” I do not believe he would have greeted even a toy by saying, “Hello, Turd,” but “Howdy, Doody” seemed to be not only acceptable but much admired, to judge by the humans slapping their front paws together (known as “applause,” the equivalent of a happy tail wag).

They have a great many words for peeing and for pooping, from those supposed to be rebellious (“shit”) to those meant to be euphemisms (“do your business,” for example. This one confused me quite a bit at first as it seems an odd business to be in).  A species only exhibits this behavior in regards to things seen as taboo.

  • Some of them are driven insane by elimination.

Not their own, I hasten to add. They might be uncomfortable with their own elimination, but they are downright neurotic about ours. My own humans will not let me eliminate in their Altar of Elimination, although they do allow human visitors to do so, so I must go in the back yard. Strange as this is, it is nothing to the behavior of some humans.

I have been told of dogs who are swatted with objects when they eliminate inside the dwelling. It has even entered their language. To be “hit with a rolled-up newspaper” is a general term for being corrected. It is uncertain what the thinking is, but I’m inclined to accept the explanation given to me by Runs With Nose Lifted (aka “Wowzer”), a Great Dane I met. He theorizes that as uncomfortable as humans are with elimination in general, some are driven mad in the presence of it. Wowzer said he solved the problem by going behind the sofa to eliminate.

Another dog, Steps High And Walks Fast (aka “Charlie”), said she tried designating her own altar — the tiny room in which the humans store their clothing — but this proved displeasing to her human companions, so as of that morning, she had started going under their bed, which seems reasonable.

There is more to write on this subject, but I am still compiling my notes, and will send another dispatch as soon as I can.


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