February 1, 2019

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer

A Pain in the Jaw   

I get TMJ.  And it doesn't make me happy.

The technical name is temporomandibular disorder—a fancy name for a pain in the jaw.  If you've ever had this condition, I can sympathize.

For me, TMJ affects the joint by my ear.  Yawning hurts.  Chewing is challenging. 

Muscle relaxers don't touch it.  Or painkillers.

TMJ can affect my writing.  When it flares up, I find it hard to concentrate on editing for Kid's Imagination Train ezine, revising manuscripts, or composing blogs.

I have to give up eating my favorite crunchy cookies, Tate's Bake Shop Gluten Free ginger zinger cookies.  And that makes me grumpy.

Experts say the exact cause of this disorder is difficult to determine.  Pain may be due to a combination of factors such as jaw injury, genetics, or arthritis.

Luckily, my brother is a dentist.  He told me TMJ can be caused from clenching or grinding teeth.  So, he made me a night guard, an acrylic piece which slips tightly over my teeth.

I have used the guard countless times and it helps.  But during the latest TMJ flare-up, I couldn't find the guard.  This little treasure is always kept in a case under the sink in a basket, which also holds a case of my daughter's orthodontic retainers that she wore 14 years ago after having braces.

One thing is for sure—my daughter likes to hold on to things.  She's sentimental.  So that's why we still have the retainers as well as baskets of elementary-school papers and art projects.  We also have plastic tubs of her stuffed animals, dolls and doll clothes, and a kitchen playset complete with plastic food and dishes, which may come in handy if I become a grandparent.

I digress, so, back to the night guard.

Surprisingly, I got the okay from my daughter to toss out the retainers. (I am not sure why she came to this decision, but I was thankful).  But many months later, it dawned on me that I had grabbed the wrong case and accidentally discarded my night guard instead.  That was an expensive mistake.  Though my brother didn't charge me to make the guard, it would cost hundreds of dollars to get a replacement.  It's like I threw $300 in the trash.

Since I didn't have a night guard, I went to my dentist to see what he could do for the jaw pain.  He suggested doing jaw exercises,  going to a TMJ clinic, and looking into physical therapy.  He also said he could make me a new bite guard.

I thought it would be more economical to try jaw exercises.  This, along with applying warm towels did the trick, and in about two months the pain went away.

TMJ is annoying.  It crops up unexpectedly and it lasts indefinitely.  But if the pain is not too bad, I can concentrate on my writing.  I can still have French roast coffee.  I can switch to soft chewy cookies.  Granted they're not my favorite cookies, but sweets after lunch make me happy.

And as for having my daughter's retainers instead of my night guard?  Well, that little treasure makes one member of our family a very happy Mrvos.

À la prochaine! 

January 1, 2019

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


I've had to fight my whole life to be heard.   

I am an introvert.  But this doesn't mean I'm quiet.       

It might seem like I'm quiet when I'm with a group of people.  But I'm listening.  I wait before jumping into the middle of a conversation.  Like in French class.  The class is lively and everyone has an opinion, whether it's on politics, the latest movie, and of course anything French.  Because there are so many people wanting to express themselves, it's more comfortable for me to speak up after everyone has had their turn.  If I try to join in, my voice gets drowned out because I'm soft-spoken.  I've learned if I want to be heard in French class, je dois être patiente (I must be patient).   

I am an introvert.  This doesn't mean I'm aloof.

After graduating high school, I applied to the University of Kentucky Medical Technology program.  This required an interview.  The night before the interview, I rode the bus from Louisville to Lexington and slept on the floor of a friend's dormitory room.  The following morning, I met with three professors—two of them made me feel at ease and another one terrified me.  I had no clue how the interviews went.  There was no feedback.  But then several weeks later, good news arrived.  I was accepted into the MT program.  Afterward, I had access to the results of my interviews.  On one, there was a note which described me as being aloof.  Really?  ALOOF!  So far from the truth.  The professor interpreted my reserved nature as haughtiness. 

I am an introvert.  This doesn't mean I am shy. 

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, believes Western culture misunderstands introverted people.  Introverts are conceived as shy, but that's because they may not be comfortable expressing themselves verbally.  Cain says introverts, "often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation."  

That quote rings true.  I found it excruciatingly difficult to ask questions or to speak up in high school. Luckily, I had the opportunity to take a creative writing class as an elective.  As a teenager, writing gave me the chance to express myself more freely.  

And it still does.  Though I worked as a medical technologist for over twenty years and made a nice living, it was never as fulfilling as writing.  

Writing allows me to be creative.  It gives me the opportunity to entertain and educate others. It empowers me.  It gives me voice.  Writing helps me fight to be heard. 

Contrary to what people may think, I am not shy. 

I am not aloof...or quiet.  

I am and will always be an introvert.

À la prochaine! 

December 1, 2018

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


I'm a venter.  I am vocal about things that bother me.  Just mention submitting and you'll get me going.  Submitting to agents and publishers is frustrating.

It wasn't always like this.

Twenty years ago, a writer would simply send a submission in a 13 x 9" envelope with a cover letter and SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to an agent or an editor.  Within about three months they'd receive a response in the mail.  Writers would get a definite yes or a no about their manuscripts.

Now days writers submit electronically, and most publishers respond only IF they are interested.

Professional writers put thought, care, and time into every submission.  And, we want to hear back.  Instead, we wait three months wondering if our submission has even been received.  We wait three months wondering if our submission has been read.  We wait three months wondering if someone likes our work.  We wait three months and hear nothing at all.

Whenever I used to discuss submitting with my mother-in-law, she would answer with an expression that rhythmically and rhetorically rolled off her tongue, "What are you doing to do?"  Which meant: there's nothing you can do.

But that was not me.  There was something I could do.  I could vent about it.

Given the submission situation, I have found that I'm not alone.  Other writers feel the same way.  They're not happy about the way submitting has changed.  They vent, too.  And with all of this venting, you may wonder if it is healthy.  So, I did a little investigating, but I found that the subject of venting is complicated and thorny.

Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University and the lead author of the 2002 venting study says, “When people vent their anger, they want to hit, scream or shout, and it feels good to do that, and so they think, Oh, it feels good it must work,” says Bushman.  “But it also feels good to take street drugs and eat donuts. But just because something feels good doesn’t mean it’s healthy.”  

David M Reiss, M.D., a San Diego-based psychiatrist weighs in.  He states, “There’s certainly an advantage to acknowledging your emotions and being able to express them.”  Reiss believes there's a right way to vent.  The key is finding the right person.  “It has to be someone who is not just going to join you in the anger but is also going to help you to come to terms with it and help you calm down,” he says.

According to Psychology Today, there are positive and negative features to venting.  While venting can increase level of distress and antagonize others, it can discharge negative emotion and can help you feel better.  Dr. Leon F Sheltzer, Ph.D., an anger management specialist says, "Generally, it’s better to let things out than hold them in. And doing so feels almost akin to problem-solving—in the moment, at least. Venting your frustrations alleviates tension and stress."

For me, venting allows me to express my frustration and to let of negative energy.  Regardless of what some experts say, I think it's healthy to let off steam.  I'm all for venting.

Especially when I don't hear back from an agent about a manuscript that I love.














I'm glad to get that off my chest.

À la prochaine! 

November 1, 2018

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


I love learning how to speak French.  But little did I know that through the love of French, I would meet a French-speaking dog.  To understand how that happened, let's journey back in time.

My love of French began in the 10th grade.  In class, our instructor taught us present tense verbs and vocabulary, nothing terribly difficult.  At sixteen, I was hooked on French.  But unfortunately, the next year in French II, I learned very little for two reasons.  One, our French teacher took a leave of absence, so ill-equipped substitutes tried to fill in.  And two, I sat next to a drop-dead gorgeous guy with blue eyes and an impish grin (you could say I was a bit distracted).  When college rolled around, I tried to fit French in, but my schedule was too tight and Chemistry classes were way too demanding.

Luckily, later in life, I found foreign languages were offered at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, my hometown.  After registering for class, I flipped through the grammar book.  The lessons and exercises were overwhelming.  I wanted to quit even before taking the first class.  My husband encouraged me to give it a try and I'm glad I did.  My first teacher Monique was from Normandy, France, and though she could be intimidating, she was an amazing French teacher. 

Monique moved away from Lexington after I had taken three years of French with her.  A young woman from Kentucky stepped in.  Erica majored in French and lived in Deauville, France for a while.  I take classes with Erica at the Carnegie Center as well as a reading class held at her house.

At Erica's, only four or five people attend.  With fewer people than the Carnegie class, we have more time to read and to speak French.

Erica offers us coffee or tea and snacks like chocolate candy bark or raspberry cookies while we read Le Petit Nicholas, the hilarious series that centers on the friends and family of a young boy named Nicholas.  Sophie, Erica's dog joins us.

One time, I brought dog treats for Sophie.  Elle les a adoré—she loved them.  However since then, whenever she sees me climbing the steps to the house (or if she hears my car pull up) she goes bonkers, barking and dancing with tush and tail shaking.

Once, I forgot to bring a treat.  Oh là là!  So, Erica slipped me some dog vitamins to give to Sophie.  That was not what Sophie had in mind, but she ate them up anyway.

As you can see from the photos, Sophie is a beautiful, mixed breed.  What you may not know is she's très intelligent.  She understands French and English.  She may even speak in French.

This is what I imagine she might be saying when she sees me at the door (with the English translation in blue.)

Bonjour.     Hello.

Qu'est-ce que je sens?     What's that I smell?  

Avez-vous des biscuits?       Do you have treats? 

Tu ne peux pas me tromper.     You can't fool me. 

Je sens des biscuits!  Je sens des biscuits!  Je sens des biscuits!     I smell treats!  I smell treats!  I smell treats!

Je sais qu'ils sont dans ta poche.     I know they're in your pocket.

Je ne bouge pas avant d'en avoir un.     I'm not moving until I get one.

Je vais aboyer, mendier et m'asseoir à tes pieds.     I'm going to bark, beg, and sit at your feet.

Je vais mettre ma patte sur tes genoux.     I'm going to put my paw on your lap.

Je vais te regarder.     I'm going to stare you down. 

Vous n'aurez pas de café jusqu'à ce que je reçoive un biscuit.     You will not have coffee until I get a treat.

Vous n'aurez pas de chocolat jusqu'à ce que je reçoive un biscuit.    You will not have chocolate until I get a treat.

Vous ne pourrez pas lire votre livre en français jusqu'à  je reçoive un biscuit.      You will not be able to read your French book until I get a treat.

Puis-je avoir un biscuit?      May I have a treat?


Avec du sucre sur le dessus?      With sugar on top?

Un biscuit, un biscuit, un biscuit!  Merci.     A treat, a treat, a treat!  Thank you.

C'est délicieux.   It's delicious.  

Je suis une heureuse chienne.     I'm a happy dog.   

Très heureuse.      Very happy.

After having treats, Sophie snuggles on the couch next to Erica.  She naps while we read.  And then an hour and a half later, Sophie leaps off the couch to say au revoir...

but she has one last question.

Apportez-vous des biscuits la semaine prochaine?      Are you bringing treats next week?

J'adore des biscuits!

À la prochaine 

October 11, 2018

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


I'm a graduate of the University of Kentucky, but I'm not much of a football fan.

Basketball fan, oh yes.  That's a different story.  I'm glued to the television whenever the Cats play basketball.  Football is harder to watch.  The team hasn't had a winning record in years...and then along came Benny Snell.  

Snell is like a bulldozer smashing through defenders when he carries the ball—every time he carries the ball.

A commentator explained why Snell is so driven.  Benny Snell envisioned playing for Ohio State.  Being an Ohioan, he wanted to become a hometown hero.  But his dream did not pan out.  During recruiting, Snell was told that other players were faster and more talented.  

In a Herald-Leader interview, Snell revealed that he got discouraged at camps. “I found myself at camps being the best one and still guys were getting the running back MVPs and all that, but I was the best one,” said Snell.  "I knew I was. So, from then all the way until now, getting a low ranking as a running back, me not being productive, me being at Kentucky, I’ll forever keep this chip on my shoulder and keep running hard.”

The doubters are the ones Snell remembers before every practice and then during every game.  That's what fuels him, gives him an edge.  He thinks of it every time he plays a game.  He is determined to be great and to give everything he's got with every single play.

“It’s something I think about all the time, but when I’m about to go out before a game, I think about, ‘OK, deep breath, now it’s time to go,’” he said.

Many players never make it to their dream schools.  The difference is, few use rejection the way Snell does.  Snell takes rejection and uses it for the best. 

This might be easier said than done.  But others think it's possible, too.

For instance, Brett Berhoff, contributor for the Huffington Post believes that good things can come from rejection.  He says don't take the rejection too seriously or too personally.  He makes several suggestions:  

  • Treat rejection as a learning experience.  Think about how you can improve.  What will you do differently? 
  • Use rejection to carve another path to your goal.  Take an optimistic approach.  Develop a positive attitude.  
  • Transform rejection into opportunity.  While rejection is associated with negativity, it can be used to generate positive action.  Utilize that energy and emotion with the next opportunity. 

Best-selling author and acclaimed speaker  Margie Warrell  is a firm believer that rejection can open other doors.  Warrell says, "It is vital to your long-term success not to let fear of future rejection keep you from putting yourself ‘out there’ and risking more of it," she says.  "As a little-known first-time author, I must have submitted my first book to over 30 publishers before I finally landed an international publishing deal." 

Warrell believes the more you put yourself out there, the better the odds you will achieve what you want.  She says that if things don't go as planned, stay open-minded and act on the feedback.  Use the feedback to move forward.  

Warrell's comments remind me of the struggles many writers face.  More often than not, writers hear "I'm afraid I must pass" or "It's not a good fit for me."  It can be defeating.  But even the best-selling authors like Theodore Geisel, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, and J.K. Rowling were rejected.  That did not stop them from getting their books published.

It takes courage for writers to continue to put their work in front of publishers after rejection.  They must channel the energy of the rejection to learn, to revise, and to submit again. And again.  

No matter what you are trying to achieve, you can use rejection to motivate yourself.  That's what Benny Snell does.  And it's working.  As of the first five games (and I might add, all wins) Benny Snell has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons and has broken UK's all-time rushing record.  Snell never gives up.  Ever.  

Remember this running back when you get a rejection.  Don't quit.  
Fire yourself up.  Be like Benny Snell.  Give your next attempt everything you've got.  Rejection is like stepping stones to your success.  Don't let rejection go to waste.  Use it.   

À la prochaine 

September 27, 2018

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


I was bullied at school.    
She sat behind me  
 on the school bus 
reached forward, 
and yanked,  
waiting for a reaction, 
a response,
a flinch
which never came;
so, she upped the game,
made it a challenge,
(but she and I both knew there was really no challenge)
and reached forward again, this time
more maliciously
more malevolently
 and pulled out strands of walnut-colored hair
that were never hers to touch

When I think back on the situation, I get angry at my thirteen-year-old self.  Why didn't it occur to me to change seats?  Why did I think that avoiding confrontation was a show of strength?  Why did I think that if I ignored her, she would quit?  (she didn't)

If the topic of bullying comes up, I realize that I am not alone.  Many of my friends and acquaintances had been bullied.  They tell me they were teased about their physical appearances and were called names.  One of my friends showed me her yearbook.  In it, bullies wrote cruel nicknames and drew crude pictures. 

Nowadays, we feel freer to talk about bullies and what we endured.  Author, blogger, and speaker Geraldine Deruiter is open about being bullied.  She writes that she could never feel empathy for a person who made her life hell.  She thought he deserved an awful life.  Then, Geraldine learned from a friend that the bully had been dealing with pot and was killed in a robbery gone wrong.  He suspected he'd be attacked and slept with a hammer under his pillow.  Dead at the age of 25.  "I think of his anger, his struggles in school, his unhinged rage, all at the tender age of 11."  But Geraldine admits, "I see the error in thinking that a troubled child somehow deserves a terrible fate.  Adults told me to ignore him, and he’ll go away.  In the end, they were right." 

It's been over 50 years since I was bullied on the bus ride to school. Bullying leaves lasting mental scars. I have sad and bitter memories.  It could have been worse.  According to Medicinenet.com, frequent victimization at a young age can lead to adult psychiatric disorders needing treatment.  Victims of bullying are prone to psychosis, panic attacks, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse.  Researchers report that more than 20 percent of children who have suffered bullying are prone to depression serious enough to require medical help by their late 20s.

I was bullied in the workplace.  

At first, he would lash out unpredictably
until the assaults became a given,
unavoidable and inescapable.
Rumors of an unhappy marriage can make
anyone mean and nasty I suppose, 
still it never felt good
being on the receiving end of wrath,
and made to feel stupid
and inferior
at work in front of a group of peers.  
Cruel and unkind punishment 
dished out
for the crime of asking a question.

Workplace bullying can be defined as repeated and abusive conduct that humiliates, threatens, or intimidates one or more persons by one or more perpetrators.  The difference between schoolyard bullying and workplace bullying is the abuse is less physical and more verbal and psychological.  In the workplace, the bully tends to be manipulative and controlling while attempting to become more powerful by putting others down.  

According to Forbes.com, bullying is frighteningly common and takes an enormous toll on our businesses.  Research from Dr. Judy Blando (University of Phoenix) has proven that almost 75% of employees surveyed had been affected by workplace bullying, whether as a target or a witness.

"Bullying is tricky to define," says Mental Health Campaigner Dr. Praga Agarwal.  "What it definitely is not is a one-off event. That would be classified as harassment.  Bullying on the other hand is deliberately intended to dominate, cause distress and fear in the intended victim. Bullying often happens in private settings and by a person in authority and is difficult to find material evidence for.  Bullying doesn’t happen 'by accident;' it has to be a deliberate action, and even though perpetrators might say they 'meant no harm' when reprimanded, bullying often involves a planned campaign by the bully with the likelihood of negative intent."

Dr. Agarwal continues, "When I was bullied, initially it never even occurred to me that it was bullying. Gradually, it made me more and more miserable, increasingly worried and anxious about going into work, and just unsure of my own abilities. And, this is what workplace bullying does. It knocks the self-esteem of even the most resourceful and confident people, wearing them down so that they are less trusting of their own instincts and judgement and consequently unfit to work."

More bullies.   

Emotional bullying is seen in adult relationships and workplaces, too.  Healthyplace.com defines it is as any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity and self-worth.  Emotional abuse includes criticism and the refusal to be pleased.  People say it's not abuse because there's no physical harm being done, but words do in fact hurt.

A former actress and award-winning author Katherine Mayfield says, "Emotional abusers may also invalidate the perceptions of the victim by denying reality when the victim confronts the abuser, saying “I never did that” or “I never said that,” or by telling the victim she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  People who abuse and bully will not accept responsibility for their actions.  Abusers may also refuse to listen, refuse to communicate, or withhold attention from the victim, in essence giving him 'the silent treatment.' Withholding any kind of praise, encouragement, or support is also common."

God help the emotional bully.  He is what he is.
He blames you, insults, argues,  
refuses to listen,
gets defensive 
and the beauty of it all is 
he judges without the expectations of being judged in return. 

The emotional bully is what he is.
Power and arrogance are part of the package.
It comes with the territory.
He will not change.
In his wake there is no apology,   
respect, empathy, or compassion.

An emotional bully rarely changes.  He is what he is.
He challenges you,
erodes self-esteem,
squashes confidence,
puts down and discounts reason.
After a conversation (or is it a confrontation?)
he brushes you away.
Yet, you are resilient.
Stronger than he will ever know.
The emotional bully is what he is.
But he will never leave another scar.

À la prochaine 

September 13, 2018

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do 

I had to fire my hairdresser.

It was not only uncomfortable, it involved change.  I don't do well with change.

Antonio had been my hairdresser for 10 years.  Though the salon was about a 25-minute drive from home and located on a very busy road, Antonio was fun to be around, he didn't charge much, and he did a good job.

My appointments were once a month, but those appointments came to an end due to two reasons.

My husband and I had just arrived in New Orleans for a vacation when I noticed (dare I say?) gray roots.  I was upset.  It had only been a few days after a salon visit.  The color did not cover well this time (reason #1).

I shouldn't have been surprised.  Many of my friends had given up coloring gray because nothing worked.  According to Liveabout.com, covering up gray hair is a special science.  Gray hair is difficult to color because it tends to be wiry and the dye doesn't soak in easily.   It can be resistant to total coverage, making it difficult to drive color into the hair shaft.

What's the big deal with a little gray?

Hair is everything.  It is a huge part of our appearance.  It frames our face.  It defines us.

Hair has been featured in the Bible, in Greek myths, and in a Broadway musical.  It is associated with youthfulness and beauty in women and virility and masculinity in men.  Hair can cement a signature style.  Think: Cleopatra, Angela Davis, Marie Antoinette, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Bo Derek.  

While I don't have a signature style, I could have had one some twenty some years ago.  Back then, I wanted to have pink hair, except my daughter Abby and my husband were four-square against it.  
Some people can pull off pink 

This surprised me because as a young kid Abby liked exotic hairstyles.  Not on herself, but on me.  When we played beauty parlor, she slathered hand lotion in my hair and then pulled strands of it into spikes she called pickets.  Imagine every bit of my hair held in place by twenty colorful elastic bands.

During the time of pickets, I had begun to color my hair.  At first, it was semi-permanent color to add contrast and color.  Not long after, I made the decision to use permanent color to cover the gray that was beginning to show.

Keeping gray hair or covering it is a personal choice and cost plays a big role on that decision.  As reported by The Cut ,"Every year, American women spend billions ($30 billion on color, $22 billion on cut, $7 billion on product) trying to get it just so."

Since I spent a great deal of money on my hair, I wanted it to look good.  When my husband and I returned home a week later from New Orleans, I gave Antonio a call to see if there was another product that would cover the gray.  He suggested that we try multiple products over the following weeks, but he said that there was no guarantee they would work.

Faced with the uncertainty that my roots still might show no matter what we tried, I considered finding another salon.  It was difficult because I wanted to remain loyal to Antonio.  

I wasn't sure what to do until tragedy hit.  My sister-in-law had been diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor.  Four months later she was gone.  Only 60-years-old.  Life is too short.  Time is precious (reason #2).  I thought about the three hours it took to get my hair done—time that could be spent writing as well as doing other things I loved.  So, I began to search more seriously for a salon closer to home. 

The Washington Post reports "finding the right hairstylist is nearly as difficult as finding the right mate. The stylist-client relationship involves trust, communication and loyalty and, just like dating, finding a stylist can be awkward and expensive—repairing a botched cut or a dye mishap can cost you hundreds of dollars, not to mention your dignity   The easiest way is to ask people with a style you like where they go."   

After asking some friends and goggling salons, I tried a place closer to home.  I wasn't sure how it would work out.  With change comes uncertainty.  But things worked out well.  Going to the new salon makes me happy.  The appointment time is much shorter and the color covers gray.  What was difficult was telling Antonio.  When I finally made the call, it sounded like a bad break-up:  

(Me talking:)
"This is difficult."
"I hate that I have to leave."
"We've known each other for such a long time."
"It's not something you said."
"It's me, not you."

I left our relationship hanging in the air because I'm not good at breakups.  Several days later, I asked the receptionist to cancel all of my appointments with Antonio (yeah, it was cowardly).

Breaking from the past and embracing change is not easy.  
Making a new start takes courage.  It takes risks.  Having doubts are part of the process.  But you never know what will happen until you try.  That's the mystery and the beauty of change.

À la prochaine!