Pursuing Happiness

The closing segment on MacNeil/Lehrer tonight was all about happiness and an older couple’s aim to write about it. Former Harvard President Derek Bok and his wife, Sissela (a sociologist and philosopher), set out to write books about the same subject–happiness–with different approaches. His book looks at the implications happiness research has for public policy, while hers is more philosophical and historical. Both sounded quite appealing but, apparently, a lot of books are being written about happiness these days and so theirs might have a hard time being noticed in the crowd.

But something they said toward the end of the interview really made me think.

Simply focusing on, and writing about, happy things can’t help but make one happier, while writing about dark, awful things will have the opposite effect.

As a fiction writer, I can’t ignore conflict to help propel a story…and, oftentimes, such conflict is not pleasant. It can be dark and awful (as was the case with my first novel) and I do remember a period during those months of research and writing about Saddam Hussein’s regime when I had a difficult time pulling myself up and out of a figurative big, black hole. Perhaps that is why I chose a much less negative plot for my next book.

Before they ended the interview, they noted that among all the things that people rely on for happiness, money never makes a difference because we quickly readjust to having more and, still, we are dissatisfied. I imagine the same would probably be said about fame (which does not go hand in hand with getting published…unless you’re Stephenie Meyer).

But there are three health situations that, if alleviated, do lead to more happiness:

1) Chronic Depression (naturally)

2) Chronic Pain

3) Sleep Disorders

I don’t know about #1 and #3, but I can vouch for #2. The cortisone shot I got in my shoulder last Friday for the “impingement of my rotator cuff” hasn’t done a whole lot to ease the ongoing pain in my left arm. While I’m not a happy invalid, perhaps I can put the experience to good use in my next novel. That would make me happy…particularly if it leads to publication.

Originally posted 2010-06-02 20:32:53.

Mom’s Sense of Adventure

My mom turns 84 this year (on July 4th) and shows no sign of slowing down, despite the recent insertion of a pacemaker. Last month she tap danced for more than three minutes at the ward talent show. (If you don’t believe me, check out my Facebook page…I uploaded the video.)

So, what’s she got going on this month? She’s jetting her way to Serbia, followed by a quick visit to old friends in Greece. You see, her older sister (who is something like 88) insisted on flying over to witness her granddaughter’s traditional wedding, but wanted company. So my mom, along with her sister’s other daughter and son-in-law, volunteered to make the trip. Knowing my mom, she’ll have a blast and take plenty of pictures of everyone, whether she knows them or not.

Here I sit beginning to feel the effects of arthritis in my shoulder, and Mom, who is about 30 years older than me, is off galavanting around the world. I know I inherited my writing genes from my father, but I sure hope I got some of Mom’s energy and sense of adventure to go with it!

Originally posted 2010-05-25 17:35:33.

I’m BACK!

Okay, so I’m about 2 weeks later than expected. That’s because I hadn’t known at the time that my father would pass away at the beginning of January (it was a blessing that he lived to 90 and the memorial service was really wonderful)…and that I would need to stay on with my mother in Southern California for two and a half weeks to help see her through cataract surgery and the change in her circumstances.

In any case, we’re all moved in here in Saint George, and I finally took a walk today on one of the trails among the pink cliffs behind our house in Paradise Canyon. The skies were clear (as you can see in the photos) and the temperature hovered around 55, though now it’s 67. Jealous all you northerners? Well, come on down!

Near the trail head

 Near the start of the trail

Looking back at our neighborhood

Looking back on our neighborhood

Coming up on a nice ravine

Coming up on a cool ravine

I spotted a rabbit!

I spied a rabbit at the opening to the cave!

End of the trail looking back

At the end of the trail, looking back

I’m gearing up now for the annual ANWA Writer’s Conference next week in Mesa, AZ. I’ll be pitching “The Heyman Legacy” (the first in a middle grade fantasy series) there, so wish me luck!

I’m also scheduled to attend the LDStorymakers Conference at the Davis Conference Center in Layton, UT in April, and then present a class on dialogue at the first annual Indie Author Hub Writing & Publishing Conference on Saturday, June 7th, at the Courtyard Marriott in Provo, UT. (More on that next week!)

Busy times! I’d better get writing.

In the meantime, I’m looking to continue my “Wednesday Writer” and “Thursday Thriller” series beginning in March, so if you’re an author I haven’t yet interviewed, or you have a new suspense novel recently out (or coming out soon), please contact me.

Originally posted 2014-02-13 15:52:12.

A New Phase of Education for Jason

Present word count of WIP:  57, 414

Strangely enough, Jason’s elementary and secondary education were both marked by newspaper coverage.

The first was The Press-Enterprise newspaper back in Riverside (a decade before they had an online version), when he attended Sunshine Early Childhood Center:

The latest was his inclusion by the online edition of The Tri-City Herald in their slide show of Richland High School’s graduation ceremonies. It’s one of my favorite pictures of him because he is simply beaming!

Jason gets his high school diploma, graduating Magna Cum Laude!

Now, he begins the next phase of his education as he transitions into adulthood.

First, this past Sunday he was sustained by the general membership of our stake (equivalent to a Catholic diocese in our church) to receive the higher priesthood and be set apart as an Elder. The actual ordination will probably take place in early July before his sister leaves on her mission. This will help him prepare to serve a mission in our church soon after he turns 19 in December.

In the meantime, however, he plans on beginning college studies in the fall. BYU-Idaho offers a new online program, by which those with learning/social disabilities like Jason can learn the social and study skills they will need to succeed in college courses. Called the Pathway Program, it offers weekly skill-building meetings at the local LDS Church Institute and some college prep courses. Once he is accepted into the program and has completed three semesters satisfactorily, he can be enrolled online with BYU-Idaho to pursue the degree of his choice.

He meets for his entry interview tonight, forty-five minutes from now. I promise to add an update, detailing how the meeting went (or as much as I can get out of him about it, anyway). Wish him luck!

If all goes well, he’ll begin attending Institute next week and then the Pathway courses will begin in September. The terrific thing is that I believe he’ll be able to continue his studies while he’s serving a local service mission for the Church beginning in January!

Now, if we can only figure out how to occupy his time this summer, besides helping him try to find a job. I have a few plans, but I’ll write more about them in a couple of weeks when I next post about Jason.

In any case, I’m looking forward to my son’s educational achievements in the future. Perhaps he’ll even make the newspaper again!

Originally posted 2012-06-15 06:00:10.

One Chapter Ends, Another Begins

Present word count of WIP:  56,872

Jason before the Graduation Ceremony

He’s done. He graduated. He walked with the Class of 2012 on Friday evening, and received his fancy diploma holder (minus the actual diploma, which will arrive in the mail soon). After moving his honors tassel (he graduated magna cum laude) from the right to the left along with all the other graduates, he tossed his cap in the air.

Of course, he was careful to toss it only so far so that he could quickly and easily retrieve it. After all, Jason didn’t cease being Jason upon graduating.

It was interesting to me that I didn’t get emotional during the ceremony, though my feelings seemed to cut through to my heart like a sharp knife slicing through a doughy loaf of bread. I watched as he walked in through the honor guard of academically robed faculty toward his assigned seat to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

My eyebrow rose as he then walked straight past his row toward the front. Was he making a major faux pas? No, I realized, seeing his destination: the three small risers set up in front of the dais for the “Senior Choir.” As soon as all the seniors had entered and taken their places, everyone in the sports arena was asked to stand and face the flag as Jason and his fellow graduating seniors from Richland High’s Chamber Choir sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Afterward, they took their assigned seats and the welcome and speeches got underway. Two things that were memorable:

First, a young man from Egypt, one of the nine graduating foreign exchange students, surprised and touched everyone when he seized the podium for a moment to give a sincere thanks for his experience here, saying “I will never forget you.” Considering the political turmoil to which he’s returning, I am sure he won’t.

Second, in talking about success, one of the valedictorians quoted the poet, Maya Angelou: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

That spoke to me because I found that to be a measure that would work for someone like my son. So many of these graduates are headed away from home either immediately or once the summer’s over–to college, jobs, or the armed forces. Perhaps they will measure their success by the world’s standard: a degree, an increase in salary, or a promotion in rank.

In the end, however, it’s the inner measure that truly counts. How happy are you? Do you like yourself? Do you like what you’re doing and how you’re doing it?

And that brings me to the true moments of joy I felt and witnessed as I watched Jason end his high school days this past week and a half.

At his final choir concert, Jason was named “Most Inspirational” among the Chamber Choir members and you should have heard the roar of approval and cheers from all his friends. That’s when I got emotional. I think it even surprised Mr. Fryhling, his director.

Again, as I watched him with his friends after the graduation ceremony on Friday (and at yesterday’s Open House honoring the graduates at our church), I was struck by how far he had come since his pre-school days.

Jason and Cody

David and Jason

Jason greeting another friend

James and Jason

Christian, Harrison, and Jason

It was a surprise for me because, unlike elementary school where parents are allowed to hover a bit, helping out the teacher as their cover, middle school and high school are practically “No Trespass” zones (unless they happen to be teachers there, as well).

Sure, he made friends in elementary school, but they were perhaps a handful at most. And he spent time with them as much for the toys they offered as for camaraderie.

But these high school years have brought Jason true joy. Check out his smile in this picture with his friend, Harrison, for example. That is no pasted on smile. That is true happiness.

Jason and Harrison

And, in the end, that’s all that counts in my book.

I can’t be sure about what lies ahead for my son, but I know he’s already gained two things that last forever–knowledge and friendships.

Originally posted 2012-06-03 09:41:13.

Another Road Trip

Present word count of WIP:  56,674

Unlike most mothers, I never really had to do a lot of chauffeuring when my kids were younger (except for the three years they were involved with Riverside Children’s Theatre). After one year of girls softball, Allison gave it up, and Jason was NEVER interested in sports.

Then my daughter entered high school and gave one more sport a try: Cross Country. She did quite well (even competing at State), and more importantly, found a life long pursuit. In the process, I put a lot of mileage on the van and then the SUV.

In California, I drove to schools in the Inland Empire, the famous Mt. SAC competition, and even up to the well-known Clovis Invitational, all to watch her run and cheer their team on. Once we moved up here to Washington after her sophomore year, the driving continued to points east and west of the Cascades and even into Oregon. Fortunately, the state championship was held in our own backyard–Pasco.

I thought most of my driving days were pretty much over when Allison went off to college. And sure enough, I only averaged 1-2 trips down to Utah during most of her years at BYU (and one of those annual trips each year was for my benefit–a writing conference).

Allison's Graduation Picture

Then this past April hit. With our daughter preparing to graduate and go off to serve a mission, we decided we should attend General Conference as a family. One trip. A niece in South Jordan got married. Another trip. Allison graduated and went through the SLC temple in preparation for her mission. A third trip. The LDStorymaker’s Writer’s Conference. A fourth trip.

Tomorrow morning I’m heading down again, this time to help her pack up and bring everything home so she can attend her brother’s graduation. But do you think she’s staying put once she’s home? Nope. You see, there’s this half marathon she wants to run back in . . . you guessed it. Provo.

I think that’s one race I can miss, particularly because we’ll be taking yet another trip down that way in mid-July to drop her off at the MTC.

Have all these trips been worth it? Of course! Spending time with her, seeing her graduate after working so hard, seeing her so beautiful in white in the temple. Socializing with, and learning from, all my writing friends. Every single trip was worth it. And this one will be no different.

Besides, it’s helped me train for long-distance travel. Something I hope will come in handy when The Boy in the Pool comes out at the end of summer and I have to drive around for signings in bookstores and Costcos here in the Northwest and in Utah (and wherever else my publisher recommends).

But this time around I’ll be chauffeuring myself.

Originally posted 2012-05-28 17:31:54.

WOMEN OF STRENGTH by Tristi Pinkston

Present word count of WIP:  55,431 (Yay, I’m finally moving ahead again!)

One of my favorite and most revealing stories from my tomboyish childhood (I was only three at the time this occurred) was recounted by my father in his personal history as follows:

“Christmas was fun…Tanya wanted and got cowboy boots and hat, plus a gun belt and six-shooters. She slept that  night wearing everything but the hat…Later we were to learn that she had developed a belief that boys get all the toys. In their shared bedroom, Jeff’s bed, especially made for us in Athens, had large deep drawers for the toys. When they finished playing they had to put their toys away in their assigned drawers. But Tanya apparently thought this meant all the toys were Jeff’s. We didn’t know this until almost a year later. At a friend’s party in Athens, Greece, she told a guest that ‘only boys can have toys.’ This taught us that words are only one of the languages that reach our youngest children.”

I couldn’t help but be reminded of that story as I read Tristi Pinkston’s short, but marvelous book, WOMEN OF STRENGTH. As she points out so well, and in so many ways, a woman’s true strength comes from within, not from any outward “toy” like a career, job, educational degree, high-placed connection, or luxury possession. Within the LDS Church, even a woman’s calling in the ward is no indication of her real power, except in the way she fulfills or magnifies it.

She discusses the source of our strength and how it meshes perfectly with the nature of a woman. Separate chapters are devoted to our strength as wives, singles, or parents. She talks about how we are less without men and how they are less without us. In the eyes of God, men and women are equal and always have been.

We demonstrate our strength, she says, in the ways we keep God’s commandments, develop our talents, and display virtue in our lives. Most importantly, she calls on women everywhere to step forward in this age of slipping morality and take a stand for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world.

If you ever doubted your own worth as a woman, or know a wife, sister, mother, daughter, niece, granddaughter, or friend who has, this book has strength, in and of itself, to lift the insecure soul of any woman.

Originally posted 2012-05-25 12:42:31.

Jason’s Future

Present word count of WIP:  54,620

Today is the last day of Autism Awareness Month…this year. Of course, it comes around every April and who knows what Jason will be up to at this time next year?

Jason in his Senior Picture at one of his favorite haunts–Barnes & Noble

As I said yesterday, he’s planning on serving a local service mission for the Church beginning in January after he’s turned 19. That means he’ll still be living here with us and going to his assigned work area every day except Sunday, I imagine. You see? I haven’t even researched all the options thoroughly yet. I know that Alane’s son worked at the Bishop’s Storehouse, for example, but I’m not sure if that was five or six days a week.

Until then, Jason is planning on beginning the Pathways Program offered through BYU-Idaho. It’s perfect for young men and women who have difficulties fitting in socially or being independent, because it allows them to do most of their learning online while still gaining opportunities for socializing at their local Church Institute. An ACT score wasn’t required (thankfully!), and once he succeeds in completing three quarters, he can then take any courses he likes  that are offered by BYU-Idaho online.

He’ll start attending Institute twice a week this summer and then begin his first quarter in September. The mission will interrupt his studies come January, but he can pick up where he left off afterward, and finish the two remaining quarters.

We’re hoping he’ll be able to find some kind of employment this summer, as well. Not only that, but he needs to learn to drive. He’s been fighting it, but it’s a skill he absolutely needs for his own independence. I’ll also be working with him on a few other life skills this summer, including finally learning to cook for himself.

From this point on, I plan to blog about Jason’s progress only twice a month (probably every second and fourth Friday) in order to document his entry into adulthood and independent living. I appreciate all of you who have read and followed his journey thus far, and particularly those of you who have left comments either here or on Facebook.

One last point: Jason wouldn’t have done nearly as well, had we not had the support of friends like Lisa Gonzalez (a good friend and daycare provider back in Riverside, CA who treated Jason like one of her own), the terrific staff and faculty of Sunshine Early Childhood Center and Ben Franklin Elementary School in Riverside, the wonderful Riverside Children’s Theatre, so many friends in Orangecrest Ward, the very helpful staff and faculty at Enterprise Middle School and Richland High School here in Richland, WA (particularly Mr. Kopf), the Richland High School Choir, and the many wonderful members of Hill View Ward.

Three young men, in particular, made a defining difference for Jason once he started high school: Braden Nelson, Casey Hare, and Jackson Ostler.

These three were some of the most popular LDS seniors at the school and they took Jason under their wing and loved him and accepted him. Because they did, others did, too. And Lily Harris invited him to one of the formal dances, where they both had a wonderful time. I hope any teenagers who might be reading this will take a lesson from this. You CAN make a huge difference in someone else’s life.

Lily is now studying at BYU-Idaho and all three young men are valiantly serving missions right now in Mexico and South America. They are due to return this summer and I know Jason can’t wait to welcome them home.

 

Originally posted 2012-04-30 17:34:54.

A More Social Second Grade

Present word count of WIP:  54,620

By the beginning of his Second Grade year, Jason had made some definite advances.

First, it helped that we had put in a pool in our backyard. We wanted to get him more used to water and getting wet. He was due to be baptized by the end of the year and we just couldn’t see how that would come about unless he had a good deal more exposure to being underwater. (As it turned out, the baptism was more than memorable. I promise to write about it later, but for now, be assured that he was baptized.) Besides, he had begun to be afraid of the outdoors (by now, we had figured out that it was all the gnats and flies and anything else that flew–other than birds and butterflies–that bothered him to the point of panic) and he needed fresh air and sunshine.

Jason pushing the raft with Allison and his cousin, Cole

As you can see from the picture above, the pool worked wonders–as long as he had his goggles. Sure, he’d still run from the sliding back door of the house and into the pool, trying his best to avoid any bees or flies, and as soon as he was done swimming, he’d run back inside again…but at least he got some fresh air and sunshine while immersed in the water. Believe it or not, he developed a tan for one of the few periods in his life.

That summer we also tried to push him regarding his food issues. We weren’t very successful, but Michael did get him to help make cupcakes one day. I’m not sure that he took a bite of one when they were done, but at least he’d cracked open an egg and dealt with getting his fingers slightly slimed with the egg white.

Jason cracks an egg to help his father make cupcakes

Another big hurdle was his fear of dogs. A visit from an old friend who had the most gentle Labrador (I think–I’m not a dog expert) proved to my son that not all dogs get excited and jump all over you. After about half an hour of watching the dog from inside the house, Jason ventured out. When the dog stayed where he was, Jason approached and softly petted his hind quarters. Still, the dog didn’t get up. So Jason began petting his head. The dog sat up at that point, but that was all. Soon, they were fast friends. (Unfortunately, the visit didn’t last long. Jason’s still uncomfortable around dogs unless they’re quiet and calm.)

Jason with my friend's dog

As Second Grade began, his social challenges had diminished in terms of being bullied or harassed on the playground. This was mainly due to his making friends with one boy–Adam–who was strong and athletic and kind of looked out for him. He continued to be mainstreamed academically, except for Math. He received special math tutoring with the Resource Specialist four times a week, and went to speech therapy twice a week.

He still had a lot to learn about getting along with his peers in terms of his words as well as his actions. In some areas, he had improved, and in others he had regressed. These were the notes I made and shared with his teacher in September of 2001:

Senses

  • He seems a bit less ticklish now…at least “soft” tickling no longer feels like scratching to him.
  • He’s quite bothered again by the feel of certain inner seams and tags in clothing…the seams in socks bother him a great deal (there are only four pair he will consent to wear at present).
  • He’s gradually getting a bit better now about dealing with a drop of water on his clothing. He put up with a small drop last week for the first time, though he tried to blow it dry first.

Communication

  • Because of current speech therapy, he’s beginning to learn what certain idioms and sayings mean, but he still takes things quite literally. Now and then, however, he appears to catch on to the meaning of an expression without it being explained to him…particularly if he’s seen it used in context in a video.
  • He’s now reading at a 4th grade level, though his comprehension is not at that level.
  • He’s beginning to formulate written sentences on his own better if you give him some parameters within which to work.
  • He’s back to watching more videos again and playing less on the computer (except on Sundays)…so we’re getting a lot of quotes from “The Swan Princess” and “Sailor Moon” lately.

Motor Skills and Movement

  • He’s doing a bit better with Legos.
  • I haven’t noticed him stemming much anymore…except to bounce around on his big ball every few days or so.
  • He was assessed for Adaptive PE and the School District Specialist found him to be on the borderline, so she recommended keeping him in regular PE for the time being (which he gets twice a week with his class…I don’t know how he’s doing there).

Social Interaction

  • He’s got a few friends now…particularly a girl in his class and Adam, a boy in another second grade class (they were in the same class last year). According to his teacher, however, he’s quite jealous and possessive of Erica, for example…to the point of being rude to any other boy who appears to be a rival. As his teacher put it, he can’t quite accept that Erica can have other friends as well as him.
  • His social interaction is still mainly geared towards other toy or pet opportunities (that is, he wants to go play at Adam’s house so he can play with his cat…or he wants to go to Becca’s house to play with her toy swan).
  • Does not do well in large, rambunctious groups, as I’ve found out during the school’s annual Skills Day and their most recent attempt at a regular grade-wide PE class…he just shuts down and refuses to participate.

Obsessions/Preoccupations

  • His current obsessions are Sailor Moon and Princess Odette (from “The Swan Princess”)…also Powerpuff Girls to some extent.

Routines

  • He no longer insists on putting the right sock on before the left one…but does stick with it for the shoes.
  • A happy addition to his morning and nighttime routines: I succeeded in getting him accustomed to using an electric toothbrush.

By the end of his Second Grade year, he was the happy little boy who had disappeared for a while at the beginning of First Grade. School was fun again and he had made some friends.

Jason with Erica. He still goes for taller women.

Jason with a friend from school

I think one of the highlights of 2002, for him (and us), was his successful “Harry Potter” Birthday Party. Six friends from school came and they all loved it…everything from the castle entry to the sorting hat to Potions Class and the Snitch game. Allison even deemed it “cool” enough for a twelve-year-old to attend.

Jason holding Hedwig in front of Hogwarts Castle

Allison and Jason at entrance to Hogwarts

Jason with his guests at the entrance to Hogwarts. (Adam is the blond boy lower left)

Jason with his Harry Potter Birthday Cake

Tomorrow, I’ll post about his baptism and his general response to church in comparison with school.

Originally posted 2012-04-28 08:00:09.