Learn to Play

English: An Atari 2600 four-switch "wood ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The kids are at school, the dishes done, and the laundry started.  She has no more excuses.  She must sit down on the floor, now, in front of the TV, now, turn on the XBox, now, and learn to play.

She hates video games.  She’s hated them all her life.  From the moment her parents gifted her brothers their first Atari console, she’s thought of video games as the worst waste of time.  There were so many more interesting things to do.  As a kid she was always outside, running and playing and riding bikes.  On rainy days, she liked to play house and school or games like trivia pursuit or do crossword puzzles.

It never mattered, before now, that she never got into gaming  the way her brothers did.  No one minded, before now, that she didn’t know the difference between a side-scroller, a first-person shooter or a role-playing game.

It mattered now.

Now she had kids, and her kids were gamers.

In her mind, in her world, a good parent was an involved parent.  A good parent went to every soccer game, attended every recital. A good parent knew what was in the books her children read, because she’d read them.  She knew the TV shows they liked because she watched with them.  She knew how to play the games they liked, because she’d played them.

This month, the favorite game is on the Xbox, and it is a side-scroller. The kids finished level three last night before bed, and when they get home from school they will start level four.  When they get stuck, they must turn to her for help, not the internet, not a friend, her.

She sits in front of the TV, turns on the XBox and logs into the game.  With her laptop beside her, open to a cheat website, she takes the controller in her hands and learns how to complete level four.


Gratuitous Gratitude, a Rant

Gratitude from the overly thankful drips on me like cold sludge from a clogged gutter.

Words from a recent email:

Oh thank you sooo much for doing this!!! My world is a better place because you are in it!!!  I am so grateful for everything you do for me!!!  I just can’t thank you enough!!!!!!!!!!!

Doesn’t that just make you want to puke? No?  Is it just me?  Am I just being ungrateful?

This is one of those times where real life interaction doesn’t translate to email interaction.  If they said these words to me face to face, in a rush of emotion and perhaps accompanied by a hug, it wouldn’t sound so gross.  I wouldn’t be able to recall the exact words later, and my impression of the moment would only be a burst of gratitude.  I wouldn’t find my lip curling up in a sneer the way I do when I read the same words in an email.

The email preserves the words of the sentiment forever.  And each rereading churns the flowery phrases into a putrid swill of insincerity.

if one word

Please do not think that I have a hard time accepting compliments. Yes, there are times when someone is thanking me profusely for something, and I cringe because what I did wasn’t worth the thanks.  But when I put a lot of effort into something, I love getting thanked for it, and I appreciate every word of praise.  Believe me – I am the type to have my award speech planed out ahead of time when I believe I’ve done something award worthy.

If you think I am being too harsh, look at it this way:  If you gush thanks every time a person does anything for you, with the same level of gushiness regardless of the actual quality of the work, how will they learn to improve themselves?

Sometimes a simple thank you is all that is warranted. Or wanted.

I know there are people out there who are naturally gushy.  But when those people cover me with gratuitous gratitude, it doesn’t make my spine shrink.  It fact, it feels just the opposite.  When the gratitude within the plethora of exclamation points is honestly meant, it feels good.

Those people are rare though.  Most of the time, the cringe-worthy thanks comes from people who just don’t feel comfortable with a ‘short’ email.  They want to fill the screen with line after line of vacuous crap to show their gratitude in a meaningful way.  Perhaps they should stick to twitter.

Next time, if the two necessary words feel inadequate, just up the font size. That way, I’ll get the message without losing respect for you.

Thank You!

The Roses of Success – My 100th Post

Roses (Photo credit: TrevorLowe)

Well, here it is. My 100th post.  Isn’t it so shiny and polished?  Now that I’m such an experienced blogger, this will be a post full of wit and wisdom, of laughter and tears, of such beautiful brilliance that it will overload the blogosphere, explode beyond the confines of the interwebs, burst into the thoughts of the non-webified, and I will, finally, achieve my goal of becoming a household name.

Oh, wait, I forgot.  That wasn’t my goal at all.  My goal was to get someone (aka ‘Not Mom’) to read my stories.

But I achieved that goal. Why didn’t I celebrate that achievement?

The funny thing about goals is that once you’ve achieved them, they cease to be a goal. They become, briefly, a milestone, or one of many steps, and eventually just a blurry memory.

Remember back when I had less than ten, twenty, fifty followers? Wow, I was a nobody then.

When will I say, Well, this is it.  I’m exactly where I wanted to be?  

You could applaud this thought process.  You could say it means I am ambitious and driven.  You could say I am destined for greatness because I never stop trying to climb to that next level.  Sure.  But what if this is as high as I will ever go?  Shouldn’t I learn to be happy with where I am?  Because I might be miserable forever if I feel like my current level is too low.  But if I stop to smell the roses of success does that mean I’ve given up?

When I turned twenty-one, I went to a casino for the first time.  I spent an hour or two dropping quarters into the slot machines and enjoying the privilege of doing something that had been previously denied.  As I neared the end of my roll of quarters, I won eighty dollars.  The machine made a lot of noise and a waitress came over and told me, if you put three quarters in at a time, you could win so much more.  She kept pushing me to put the quarters back into the machine because of course, she’s paid to do that, and because she saw my measly eighty dollars as, well, measly. But I was really proud of those eighty dollars.  I enjoyed that success.  I still enjoy it.  The amount didn’t matter.  It was just that I achieved the gamblers goal: I walked out with more than I had when I walked in.

Maybe I need to redefine my goals.  The place to find my happiness is in the work itself.  That way I never stop working, no matter how large that follower number gets, and I’ll never be disappointed by how slowly the number grows.

But I am not a person who creates purely for my own enjoyment.  I have always felt there is no point in writing if no one reads my words. I get a little bubble of adrenalin-rush-happiness every time I get a new like or comment or follower.  Every time.  It never gets old. 

The little milestones are what keep me writing every day.

So I will keep writing and all those milestones will remind me that I am moving onwards and upwards.  But I will try to focus on the joy of the creation and my intense appreciation of the attention I receive from my fellow bloggers.  I will try to celebrate the little successes as they happen.  I will try to remember that my goal is to walk out with more than I had walking in.

That way, I win every day.


Every bursted bubble has a glory!
Each abysmal failure makes a point!
Every glowing path that goes astray,
Shows you how to find a better way.
So every time you stumble never grumble.
Next time you’ll bumble even less!
For up from the ashes, up from the ashes, grow the roses of success!
-Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Soundtrack – The Roses Of Success

What’s in a name?

Would my blog, by any other name, stink?

I have been thinking about my renaming my blog.

I’ve been thinking about it since November.

When I started this ‘thing’ I had no idea what I was doing…

User Name = Blog Name = Site Title = URL???

But now I know…  Now I am an expert at this blogging thing. (Please don’t snicker like that, it is unnerving to hear a computer snicker.)

I am happy with my URL, that can stay.  If I wasn’t afraid of confusing my followers and friends, I would change my user name from ‘jaschmehl’ to ‘Jill Ann.’  Change is hard, though… one thing at a time.  But it is time to change the Site Title.

I spent an hour scrolling through the Freshly Pressed page, reading site title’s. (It took an hour because I kept reading the posts I missed before) and I learned a few things about successful titling.  (Titling? Doesn’t that look so wrong? – but Google says I spelled it right and we all know Google is the God of Knowledge.)

First – Don’t pick something that is only meaningful you now.  This is like getting a tattoo of your first boyfriends name on your chest.  Stupid for obvious reasons, but let me spell it out in case you are sixteen:  You will change.  A lot. More quickly than you can ever believe.   The things that are important to you today will be irrelevant if not down right silly tomorrow.  (i.e. “Clean up – Aisle Seven” – a blog you start during your job at a grocery store, which lasts a month.  Or, “Achoo!”- a blog about the cold you have, right now.)

Second – Don’t commit yourself to a herculean task in your title. Life will interfere, and you will miss a deadline.  It will happen.  And every tenth post or so will start with:  “Well, so sorry readers… I know I missed a few days of my ‘10,000’ word a day goal, but you see, my neighbor’s aunt’s cat died, and well, it’s a long story, but I’m back now…” Besides, One Goal blogs get boring – quickly.

Third – Don’t just use your name – as I did, it is boring and says nothing about your blog.  Unless you are already famous – but then, if you are – you are probably not reading this.  Your fun famous life is probably jam packed with all sorts of famous-y fun things to do, all the time, right?  No time for reading silly blogs by silly people.

Fourth – I like titles that tell me about the Blogger – not the Blog.   I know that is probably against someone else rules.   The Blog title needs the flexibility to adapt to the changes in the Bloggers life.   I like a title that tells me a tiny bit about your personality.

I’m thinking about the One Word Test I blogged about recently. Is there one word to describe me?   A word to describe ALL of me and ALL of my posts?  Ok, probably not.  How about two words?  This is really hard to do.

Who am I?

A reader, a gamer, a storyteller, a PowerPoint pusher.
I am occasionally wheezing, often panicking, and easily startled.
An honest liar. A Foot-in-Mouth-er.  A wannabe writer.


My boyfriend just told me I’m over thinking it.  “You should call it ‘Mind of a Mouse’,” he says, looking over my shoulder at the screen. “You scurry all over the place – looking for something to nibble on, convinced a cat is about to attack at any moment.”

Alright – that will work for now – but I might change it again….

very cute mouse
I’m cute, like a mouse (Photo credit: pshab)

Ten Minutes

Ten Minutes.  Impossible.  I make too many mistakes.  I already did.  I meant to start with the word, ‘word.’  The words fill my mind, swirl around my soul until I am drowned.  I can’t take another breath until I’ve breached the dam and they pour out like a flood onto the screen.  The squiggly red lines, like poisonous worms under every word, telling me I made yet another mistake. Fix me, fix me they cry.  I must remember to spend the last minute fixing the mistakes.

If only life would provide me with such perfect clues.  I don’t know when I’ve made a mistake, until later, “Jill I can’t believe you said that to her!”  But, wait, I didn’t mean, oh no.  Not again.  Open mouth, insert foot.  It is the story of my life.  All these constant mistakes.  And no little red worms to cry ‘fix me’ before I publish myself into reality.

Words and stories, they are everything to me.  Dull reality holds no value.  Flat, boring always now, never then.  Never that shiny bright future of my imagination.  Always the now of reality.  Boring.  The in and out of wake, sleep, wake, sleep.  It is always now.

I’m not as fast a typist as I think.  The time is… up.


Daily Prompt: Ready, Set Go – Set a timer for ten minutes. Open a new post. Start the timer, and start writing. When the timer goes off, publish.

Never Been Kissed

My Sixteenth Birthday
My Sixteenth Birthday

I was the most immature 16 year old on the planet. I blush now to read my diary then. It sounds like a twelve year old’s thoughts.  I had no plans for the future when I was 16.  I was interested in Right Now, or maybe, Five Minutes From Now.

After reading all of the entries from my sixteenth year, I can extrapolate two parts of ‘future me’ from the text.  One, I loved to write stories then as much as I do now.  The diary pages, when not talking about boys, are full of references to stories I am working on.  Two, the reason I never seriously entertained thoughts of being a writer: I never finished a single one of those stories.

My boyfriend often wonders why my parents and teachers never encouraged me to become a writer.  The diary entries make it obvious, I never wanted to be one.  I don’t remember ever showing any of my stories to anyone either, so how would anyone know I was writing them? And besides all that,  I couldn’t spell, and I was a terrible student.  My 16th year was full of ‘D’s.

I can’t answer the question: Does my life now look like what I imagined it to be when I was 16? Apparently, at 16 I wasn’t concerned with anything beyond ‘tommarro.’


P.S. I won the bet.


Daily Prompt: Sweet Sixteen 
When you were 16, what did you think your life would look like? Does it look like that? Is that a good thing?

Ernest Hemingway: Brief

Cover of "The Old Man and The Sea"To be honest, I’m not sure I much care for Hemingway.  No, not sure at all.  I mean, he’s a writer.  A good writer. One of the best.  You know all that already.  But his stories, well, they’re sad.  Nothing good happens in them, nothing happy.  But you gotta read them, right?  Because he’s a great writer, everyone knows that.

The best thing, about his stories, is that they’re short. To the point. Brief. I like brief.  I like stories that say a lot with a little.

The Old Man and the Sea, that’s the only long one that I read all the way through. I had to, for school.  I didn’t like it.  Not much anyway.  It just went on and on about those damn sharks until I was hoping they’d just bite the old man and get it over with.

The best one, the best short one, was The Killers.  It’s sad, but it tells a whole story with almost no words at all. No extra words.

Can’t help but admire a guy who can say so much with so little.

Maybe if he can do it, I can too.


One Word Test

Dave Duncan: Love

I learned about Love from Dave Duncan. 

There are a hundred different kinds of love in this world and he covers them all.  The unconditional, instinctual love for a child.  The often conditional, but forgiving love for a spouse.  The patient love for a beloved parent. The comfortable love for a true friend.  And even the respectful love for a close enemy.

His books are not romantic, although they are full of romance.  Magic and dashing heroes, human-like gods and god-like humans, wars and death and redemption.  It’s all in there.  But throughout all of his worlds and characters  there is a common theme.  That love motivates us all.  Even the bad guys love something – money, power, ambition, sometimes themselves.  (When you understand the motivation of the enemy, it makes what they do tangible.  And terribly frightening.)

I found Dave Duncan while I was in college, and his books sustained me through trying times.  I could not find love around me then, not even for myself, but I could lose myself in a story of a stable boy who loved a queen and all would be well.  As I grew older, and as I found more of his books to read, I discovered that, unlike so many fantasy writers, the love he wrote about did not end at the altar and a “they lived happily ever after.” He wrote about grown-up love between long wedded couples, something I’d not witnessed in real life.  He showed me the casual, physical affection that could exist between two people who’d known, and loved, and fought with each other for decades.

I don’t understand why more people don’t know about Dave Duncan.  There is no other author in my collection of books that I re-read as often. There is no other author, (except perhaps Larry McMurty, and then only in Lonesome Dove) that pours as much love into their characters.

I re-read Dave Duncan’s books to meet up with old friends.  And although I know how their stories end, I never tire of hearing them.

(see also: One Word Test)

Robert Heinlein: Sex

A friend read my post, One Word Test, and after reading the list of ten of my favorite authors, she asked, “Do you actually like Heinlein?”

And the truth is, no, not any more.  As an adult trying to re-read his books I loved as a teen, I now find them creepy and pedantic, and strangely, a little naïve.

BUT, I will never regret or be embarrassed by my teen-aged love for his writing.   I firmly believe that if I hadn’t been reading Heinlein at the very moment I was going through puberty, I would have come out the other side as a prude.

Sex should be friendly. Otherwise stick to mechanical toys; it’s more sanitary.

When I think of Heinlein, I think of Sex. And yes, I say Sex, not ‘making love’ or any of those silly euphemisms we tack on to the act to make it sound ‘pretty.’  Sex is messy and fun and silly and ridiculous and oh so wonderful and that is what I got from Heinlein.

Sex without love is merely healthy exercise.

Heinlein taught me that although sex is better when combined with love, love isn’t a necessary ingredient.  But on the flip side, a partnership without sex is just a business arrangement.  Sex, above all, is fun.  It is the most fun two people can have together without spending money.

Sex, whatever else it is, is an athletic skill. The more you practice, the more you can, the more you want to, the more you enjoy it, the less it tires you.

He taught me to not be ashamed by my enjoyment of sex.  He also taught me that your partner’s enjoyment of the act is essential to your own enjoyment.

From Heinlein I learned not to judge other people’s ideas about sex.  I learned that men can find other men sexually attractive exactly the way I find them attractive.  I learned that it is ok if I find another woman sexually attractive, because women are beautiful.  I also learned from him that it is ok to say No, but that it is not ok to tease.

I learned that sex is not something to fear.  A couple must take sex seriously and recognize it as an essential part of a relationship. A couple must discuss sex openly with each other,  not ignore or hide it under the sheets in the dark. (I’m using the word couple – but of course Heinlein also taught me that two is not the only potential combination.)

And like everything in life, sex requires moderation to be appreciated at its fullest.

Heinlein was the best sex-ed a naïve, catholic-school girl could ask for.  My life has been the better for it. So for all that, and more, he will always be on my top ten list of favorite authors.

Cover of To Sail Beyond the Sunset
Cover of To Sail Beyond the Sunset (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All quotes by Robert Heinlein.