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Lisa Prince
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Writing. In a nutshell. (Or how I feel after I've finished something)

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Mother Oak. Pictures don't do her justice.
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A walk down the road of nostalgia leads to a dead end. Or more aptly, a dead game. The Realms are no more. From the looks of it they had been playing with other iterations of the game. A brief look at the FB page tosses 'beta' around (which amuses me more than slightly; there were vast realms of rooms that weren't live and merely sitting there... waiting. I know. I spent weeks mapping them.)  So passes an era. And any actual hope of getting copies of my code. See? I failed coding lesson 101: always back up your material... or was that never code in live? Or... something about not coding drunk? Dear lord we were bad, bad people. But yeah, I wish I'd thought to make personal copies of my code.  ...I wonder how hard MUSH code would be...??
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So, mystery solved..
This is a portion of the email I recieved:
"Dear Author/Translator/Illustrator:
I’m pleased to be able to inform you that we seriously considered one or more of your small fictions for The Best Small Fictions 2016 (published annually by Queen’s Ferry Press in the fall). You placed as a finalist. While this does not include publication, know that you are part of a select few who made it to our top 100 (we received thousands of nominations from all over the world). I was amazed at the depth and quality of stories we received, and it was no easy task to get the list down to this number. In fact, we included a semifinalist list this year, to acknowledge the stories that came very close to finalist status.
Stuart Dybek, our guest judge, read blindly and chose 45 winners who will be published this fall."

My piece "things found in rain puddles" (Shale, Texture Press) was nominated by Shale, and made it into the top 100 for this Best of Collection. I'm surprised and really happy to say the least. To have been in the top 45 would have been awesome, but to place in the top 100 and be recognized in this way (this finalist list will be included in the anthology) is still an honour and a great acknowledgement. I apparently will receive a free ebook of the collection. So, vaguebooking now unvagued.

http://queensferrypress.com/blog/
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So.. obviously I am not making it even close to one per day. Ah, life. She's a funny thing. But I haven't forgotten you. Without further ado...

9. Do a “spend cleanse” where you only use what you have for a period of time. At once, teach yourself the art of denying immediate gratification for the sake of something more important, and show yourself that you already have everything you need, or at least, more than you think you do (even when it doesn’t feel like it).

Let's face it, we live in a disposable world. Just about everything a person could want or use is made to be used up, replaced, and otherwise not made to last. Very few things come with the knowledge that "this will last", and when they do, they come with an attendant price tag.

I find it frustrating that so many products I need don't come with a reusable option, or aren't repairable, and knowing that when I purchase the item, it's going to break within a short period of time. A notable example is the most recent toaster I purchased. Prior to that one, we used a two slice toaster that my ex husband and I got as a wedding gift. I'm sure it probably cost the gifters all of twenty bucks at the time. Which is neither here nor there, but to say that it wasn't a hugely expensive purchase. That toaster lasted up until early last year - a good 16 years of use out of it. That toaster owed me nothing.

But the replacement toaster I purchased, for about the same price? Didn't even make it to 2016.   Of all things, the handle broke off on it, though to be honest the handle broke because the mechanism that held the toast down wouldn't engage unless you pressed down firmly on that handle. The only real difference between the toaster I purchased and the higher priced ones is the fancy doo-dads. None of which I needed. I just wanted something to put bagels in when the urge hit. It's possible a 40 or 50$ toaster might have lasted longer, but I'm not convinced.

The fact of the matter is, that toaster is just symptomatic of the bigger problem: we're a consumer world.  And part and parcel with that is the push to convince us as consumers that not only do we need more, we need bigger, better, more gadgets, do-dads, whatsits and thingamabobs to do things that we could do quite easily ourselves. All in products that are not only planned to be obsolete, but newer models are quite often already in production at the time we purchase them.

It does odd things to us, this constant pressure to have more. We stop being content with what we do have. We judge one another more harshly. We become unkind to ourselves. Our worth isn't measured on intrinsic factors, it becomes how we fare against another when we stack item for item against the wall. We stop appreciating the beautiful in life that is simple. And we stop seeing the value in what is already present in our lives.  

For many of us, it leaves us feeling constantly unhappy. Constantly driven. Never at peace.

So what if we decided to take a step back and take a look at what we really do have.  What if we decided that what we have is enough. That that phone we have is perfectly serviceable - even if it doesn't have the fancy cursive to text feature. What if we decided that we'd use things that we purchased or obtained in the past - the art supplies we wanted, but never seem to have time for. The books we meant to sit down and read. The candles that never get used. The clothing and food stuffs that linger in our closets and cupboards until they truly are unusable.

What if we decided to reconsider our lives and look at things not as a measurement of our value, but as an enhancement of our joy. Our beauty. Our peace. What if we let ourselves relax and be happy with what we have and what we are?

You could challenge yourself to put something away against a special treat. Instead of buying a coffee out each day, buy a nicer brand of beans at home and prepare your own brew; take the money you save and put it aside. Celebrate with it at the end of the year. Or use the time to actually discover what things you have actually are part of the who and what you want to be. Cull those books you won't read. Donate those clothes that don't fit you or your lifestyle.

It doesn't have to be a big measure, just an acknowledgment.

In the end it's all about our happiness and inner peace. We don't need to be driven by society. We're in charge of ourselves. We should be. And that's a good thing.
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8. Start your own holiday traditions. Make the most special days of the year reflect who you are and what you love and how you want to celebrate your life.

I love this one.

Like many of you, I grew up with a myriad of holiday traditions. They were wonderful things. There was always a tangerine in the bottom of your stocking at Christmas. We always put hats out at Easter and there were always toys as well as candy.  Halloween we always wore handmade costumes and went to the neighbour's houses first, then back home before heading out for the evening proper.

I think I believed when I grew up that these things would magically instill themselves into my new life. And for the most part, they didn't.  There were a lot of reasons for this, but most centred around the fact that my partner had his own traditions, and later, when we were no longer together, we had a child who travelled between two households. Creating traditions that were meaningful to us wasn't the same as adopting the traditions I'd had as a child. And it took some time to get used to that fact, and to realize and believe that I could create my own traditions.

The thing about holidays and traditions is that their meaning is intimate and individual. When my daughter was young, she loved to see the Christmas lights. When I was a child, the tree went up sometime in December - there was no set date, just some magical day when it was decided today would be the day. With my daughter, the tree went up after we got home from the Christmas parade. Over the years, this one has become less of a tradition as she outgrew the parade, but one thing remains: the tree never goes up before the parade.

It wasn't meant to be a tradition, and yet it happened. One year led to two... led to six... led to this past year's showing which was the eleventh year in a row of the annual Christmas Eve watching of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We share a glass of wine. We watch the movies. We wrap presents after they're over in the wee hours, and then we go to bed.  Over the years her favourite characters have morphed from Shelob and the Balrog, to Pippin. Okay, she still has a soft spot for Shelob..

What really matters about this is that out of a broken marriage and a changing world, we created spaces for ourselves where we shared things that mattered. We adapted our world to our needs. I think that we forget that we can do this. I think that too often we get hung up on what should be perfect, or what always was. And in the getting hung up on, we miss the beautiful that can become.

It doesn't really matter what your holiday is. Or your tradition. It could be a mid summer picnic that becomes something you do every year. (I remember one year my mother held Christmas in July. My friends still speak about that!) It could be something as simple as writing thank-you notes for gifts. Or eating ice cream as your first meal in a new home.

We don't need to define the special moments in our lives by calendars or what always has been. We can create what will be, and celebrate the things that bring us joy. So go out and make a holiday that's just for you and your loved ones. Create a tradition that your friends will secretly hope to be invited to next year.  Remember to celebrate and enjoy all the moments of your life - good and bad - because they're not only what will define you, but will be the memories you hold near and dear. They will be the stories that you tell.

Go make a glorious story.
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7. Find meaning and joy in the work you do, not the work you wish you did. Finding fulfillment in work is never about pursuing your idea of what your “purpose” is. It is always about infusing purpose into whatever it is you already do.

Years ago, watching an episode of Oprah, there was a guest who I'll never forget. Or, more rightly, I'll never forget what she talked about. She was talking about her discontentment in her life - all the things she had to do on a daily basis that sucked the life out of her. The things that she felt kept her from doing the things she wanted to do, or from seeing her life the way she wanted to see it.

She said that one day she had a revelation: it wasn't going to change.  And by that she meant that things like putting out the garbage and doing the dishes were never going to go away. They were going to remain a part of her life whether she liked it or not, and that she had a choice. She could chose to remain discontent and hate her life, or she could turn those moments into something more spiritual, more fulfilling.

Now, don't get me wrong. She wasn't advocating we all joyously embrace housework and the daily grind and turn into some revivalist sect. No, what she was talking about was using the time she had in a more productive manner and not using that time to create more unhappiness in her life. She still didn't like doing her dishes, but she said she started doing them in a reflective way. She'd light candles and do them by candlelight. She'd think about her day. She used that time as a meditative act rather than a complaining one.

That has stuck with me throughout the years.

I'll be the first to admit I fall down on this one, but it has merit. When we try to be happier with who and what we are, and what we have, rather than always looking to what others have and do, we can become happier people. We learn to appreciate ourselves for what we are and what we can do. Our lives become more meaningful, because we are more meaningful.

Fine, you're never likely to enjoy taking out the trash, or doing the laundry. And getting up to go to work each morning is still going to suck a lot of the time. But we can chose to focus our energies on things that we can change rather than those we can't.

ps. just rinse those dishes extra well if you do them by candlelight...
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6. On January 1, start a “journal of days” where you write down a sentence or two to sum up each day of your year.  The reason keeping up with a journal is only sustainable for a week or so is that nobody has the time (or energy) to thoughtfully or extensively detail their everyday lives. Yet, we miss out on the incredible opportunity to see how far we’ve come, and what our lives are ultimately comprised of when we fail to – so make it easy for yourself. Just write down one sentence that sums up the day before bed. In a year, you’ll be grateful you did.

I don't know about the rest of you, but when it comes to this sort of task I find myself starting with good intentions... and rapidly falling flat on my face in failure. Of course we're offered the perfect solution here: instead of journaling, just comment a line or two. Something special that sums up your day.

A year ago, I saw a wonderful idea: a gratitude jar. Every day you wrote on a piece of paper (or several, I suppose if you found yourself in the position of having more than one thing to be grateful for that day) a thing about your day that you were grateful for. Or that was good. Or had made you happy, or stop and think. Just a line or two. Nothing more. And then, at the end of the year, you could pull the pieces of paper out and see all the things that you had in your life that were worth something.

I think these two ideas sort of dovetail. The gratitude jar didn't require a date - and a journal of days doesn't require gratitude.  I think that it's important to make that distinction, because sometimes we need to remember the bad things as well, though part of me balks at calling them bad.

My daughter asks me about my father. How old he was when he died. What he was like. When did he die. And the truth of the matter is, I know very little about him. Even the bits and pieces my mother can share are piecemeal, and often prefaced with how she'd been told by someone else and didn't have any real confirmation. Witness my last name. To hear my mother tell it, my father's grandmother said their name had been shortened or changed by immigration. There isn't anyone to confirm this, though. We've not had contact with my father's family since I was a young child. Sometimes I feel adrift in this. But it brings me back to my point - that we need to let all our stories speak, because they all become us. I wish that I had better stories to tell my daughter of this lost part of my life.

Just don't let yourself become bogged down in the small stuff. If you miss a day, shrug it off and jump back in the next. Life is going to happen in the interim. Beating yourself up for some perceived failure does nobody any good. And in the end, this is for you, unless you have some burning desire to share your observations with others, and even then what's a day here or there? The practice is the practice. Getting hung up on the perfection of the thing.. well, no small number of great things fail because we let our stumbles label us failures.

So don't let the rules define you in this. Just do it.
Be a rebel. Get a book without lines if you want. Use a crayon if the mood strikes you. Open up to the middle of the book and rip a page out. Scribble outside the margins. Write in spirals. Have fun. ..or be serious when the mood strikes. And when the year is over celebrate you in all your wild wonderfulness.. You can decide whether to burn the evidence or pass it along.

I won't tell.
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5. Learn to love things that don’t cost much. Learn to love simple food and cooking it, being outside, the company of a friend, going for walks, watching the sunrise, a full night’s sleep, a good day’s work.

I love this one. Every day we're bombarded with messages that tell us that we need more stuff to be happy, and not just stuff, but more expensive stuff. More stuff than our family, friends, and neighbours. As though he who dies with the most wins. And yet it seems that in this never-ending quest for more people seem unhappier.

When all our energy is focused outward, instead of appreciating the things that we already have, it's easy to forget the value of simple things. Every season offers something beautiful to see (even if the winters here in Canada seem never-ending and can be bitterly cold!). When's the last time you took a simple walk outside, not for any purpose, just to take a walk and look around. Or picked up a leaf or stone and considered how simple yet beautiful they can be? 

I'm reminded of this more often these days as my parents and aunts and uncles get older. Many of my friends are losing their parents, and some friends who are of my age, or younger, to disease and accident, and it reminds me that those people can't be replaced. All we have are our memories of them. Time, not things. I'm particularly touched by this as I lost my father at a young age and have many questions that will never be answered about him, and even fewer memories.

If you get a chance, watch very young children at play. They need very little to have pure enjoyment. Some of my favourite memories come from remembering my daughter jumping in mud puddles, and enjoying the lights at Christmastime.

So take some time to enjoy the little things, as trite as it may sound. Grab a colouring book and some crayons. Jump in a puddle. Pick a dandelion and blow the fluff while making a wish. Make a date with your favourite sibling or friend. You'll thank yourself for it.
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