Secrets of Success Revealed

They say actions speak louder than words. Well, I don’t know who “they” is, but that statement in and of itself is impossible. But I suppose even with my appreciation for words and their own undeniable but often underestimated power, I would have to admit that words without action are meaningless, and their anti-power can become venomous, sucking the life and meaning out of any other words the inactive might speak.

One of the more obvious examples of the importance of words being put into action are How-To Guides. I’ve seen several lists of tasks to lead to success over the years. I read some of them, and none of them have any sort of magic – just your average, everyday routines. There is a specific tip that I read twice in the last year that I cannot bring myself to implement. And it is possible that my inaction on this tip is limiting the potential of my success.

I will not start off every day with a cold shower. Why would I begin my days with self-inflicted torture? The rest of the day will take care of the torture – I don’t need to worry about that. It seems more productive to bask in the warmth and comfort of a warm/hot shower – sort of a little present to myself, saying no matter what the rest of the day holds, this is your moment to relax. That seems more realistic to me. But I suppose the fact that I do not take cold showers, precludes me from judging its usefulness.

In The Secret of My Success, we are shown that Michael J. Fox’s character’s success comes from his job in the mail room, but of course that’s only the opportunity. He took the initiative to lie to his uncle and everyone else in various ways in order to use the information he gathered in the mail room to advance his own career and eventually take the company from his uncle. It is a great movie, and the theme song still runs through my head quite often (the secret of my success is I’m living 25 hours a day). But if you’re not ready to manipulate your families and opportunities for your own betterment, here are some things that I do on a regular basis that I can personally verify may or may not impact your life’s success, depending on how you define success.

Reading and Riding and Killing Birds

I read once that if you want to be a good writer, you must read. Well, OK – if I must. I do like to read . . . interesting writing. The only problem I can find with that excellent advice is all of my spare time (that I would use for reading) happens to coincide with the times of night typically associated with sleeping, so I have to work reading into my schedule at other times, for example, during exercise.

Reading and exercising simultaneously is like killing two birds with a single stone, with the stone being time. So, every time I bike it, a book is in my hands. I know what you’re thinking . . . that I’m amazing. Who rides a bike and reads a book at the same time without wrecking and with complete understanding of what’s been read? And you’re right – I am absolutely amazing at reading and riding.

Sometimes you have to find a way to mix and match the things you want to get done if they’re going to get done consistently. And as it turns out, each activity builds on the other – reading keeps me biking and biking gives me the time to read. Did I mention that the bike is stationary?

Breaking Good

I don’t take scheduled breaks – I don’t like my day to be that predictable. I do take breaks though. In fact, I have a little meme I printed out and taped on my desk at work that says, “I’m worthless until I have my morning coffee, lunch, and afternoon snack breaks.” I laugh every time I read it.

When my work is flowing and everything is churning like a well-oiled machine, I don’t jinx it by breaking it up. I just chug right along. Sometimes though, the words aren’t coming to me and my thought process seems to stall and shutter. Instead of trying to force thought and creativity, I just take a laugh break. Whether that’s reading a movie quote or joking with a friend, once I get a good laugh in, it’s like my mind is renewed and I can go back to working.

Accepting Compliments and Storing DataSomeone started a compliment the other day by saying, “Denise can come up with a movie quote to fit any situation.” And just as I was thinking “what an awesome thing to say,” another person added a conjunction to the sentence and flipped the coin, continuing, “ … but she can’t remember the names of people she talks to ever day.”

I nodded my head because it’s a true-enough statement. It’s nothing personal; it;s just a matter of what I deemed priority years ago. In Milk, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll, I talked about how I had to make room in my brain for all the movie, music, and everyday quotes I like to keep on tap. And in Peter Pan Understands, I explain the importance of intentionally remembering.

While I wasn’t offended by the comment, it has stayed with me. It’s true that I forget names, and sometimes I just forget words. And while I have no intention of ridding my memory of any quotes I stored, I have begun focusing on retaining more daily-life-relevant facts, words, and names.

If it’s true that other saved information is being discarded in order for my mind to retain more names, then I am unaware at this point what is being dumped, but when the day arrives that I need to recall whatever level of information I am losing in order to remember names, I’m sure I’ll laugh at the realization of what has happened.

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A Few of my Favorite Things

“Shut the front door!” My best friend’s step-dad said that all the time when we were growing up. Goober said “Sha-zam.” George Bush Jr. said, “Make no mistake . . .,” but I really preferred Doc Holliday’s version when he said, “No, make no mistake . . . it’s not revenge he’s after; it’s the reckoning.”

But my love of Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday in Tombstone will have to wait for another day.

We all have our little phrases that we’re known for. Some of them are funny or annoying or both. Some don’t make sense to anyone else. Most of the seemingly odd remarks I make are quotes from movies or television shows. If you know what I’m quoting, it’s funny; if you don’t, it’s probably annoying.

Three of my favorite things to say to my girls are:

It will make you stronger.

Everything in moderation

If you have to say it, it might not be true.

I use these phrases with them a lot. If they weren’t annoyed in the beginning, they are now, simply because they are tired of hearing them, but to that I would have to say, “it will make you stronger.”

One day they will look back at all my quirks and realize that I was just possibly doing more than trying to annoy them (although that definitely plays a part in my reasoning). Maybe, just maybe, I was also trying to teach them something in the only way I know how.

It will make you stronger is typically said with, let’s call it, playfully smug sarcasm. When they have to do something they don’t want to do, or aren’t allowed to do something they want to do, or for whatever reason, I typically throw in that it will make them stronger. I say that because 1.) It irritates them and 2.) It’s true . . . if they allow it.

We have choices every day: either learn from your experiences or be a victim. Look for the good in a situation or what can be used for good, or pout because you didn’t get your way. Or I suppose there is always indifference. I try to look for the good, and it’s usually simple enough to pull out some good from the less desirable. And sometimes I just want to lie in bed and feel sorry for myself. But I have responsibilities, so I get out of bed and feel sorry for myself.

Regardless of my immediate reaction, I know that things will be better for me and everyone around me if I just go ahead and suck it up. And if I make the decision to learn something from it (which might just be that things could be worse), it will literally make me stronger for the next go-round.

I don’t know why the old “everything in moderation” slogan is such a negative for them. Maybe it’s because they hear it so much, but it’s not just about food. It’s about daily choices – food, money, cleaning, talking, TV watching, exercising, and on and on and on. See? There are definitely some things on that list that are preferable in smaller portions.

But even the best of things should not be overdone. It’s like when the radio station has a new song and they play it over and over and over. You go from loving it to loathing it. But when you hear a song that hasn’t played in a while, you crank that up and sing at the top of your lungs. It’s supply and demand. You appreciate more what you access less.

I paraphrased If you have to say it, it might not be true from an episode of The Office, when Darryl says, “You don’t have to say it if you’re doing it.” I hear a lot of “I’m so awesome” at the house. And I agree. I think they are all amazingly awesome human beings and I am proud to be their mom, but I also love to point out that if they have to say it about their selves, there might be something missing.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to hear them speak well about their selves. It’s great. I’m more like just make sure you don’t start telling everyone else how great you are. Let them see it and maybe they will tell you about it and maybe they won’t. But it doesn’t matter because you already know. And that non-arrogant confidence will take you where you need to go.

And finally, for the BONUS: It’s like looking in the mirror. This doesn’t really teach them anything, I just like to annoy. Plus, I usually say this when I am doing their hair, so we are literally looking in the mirror. My oldest hates hearing this more than the younger two. She will argue that she doesn’t look like me at all. Well, in some ways we look very different: I in my auburn hair (with chestnut highlights) and dark eyes and she in her blond hair and light green eyes. But her expressions resemble mine, no matter how much she fights it.


So with exception of the BONUS, the overall theme that I that these lessons carry is individual responsibility. Every move they make; every word they say is a decision they make.

Choose, but choose wisely.





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The King & the Road

I won’t say my age because I don’t want to, but I’ve been around for a little while. I’ve lived through a few things. I like to think I know a thing or two – not because I’m some sort of scholar but just because I pay attention, well kinda – sometimes. I pay enough attention.

So, in my Milk, Drugs, and Time Travel post, I talked about talking to my younger self. I was reading through it the other day and thought maybe instead of a giving advice to younger me, how about giving advice to my minis. All three of my girls are very different but could probably stand to have some of the same life advice. And the best delivery strategy is probably a letter so one day I can point back at it and say, “HA! I told you so! Mother knows best – boo-yah!”

Here are just a few loose tips I will leave right here for them.

Art imitates life.

Stephen King said that the best stories always end up being about the people rather than the event. Well, whether he said it or not, it was on a list of 14 Tips from Stephen King’s Own Writing that I found on Pinterest. It seems odd to nearly-quote someone that I haven’t actually read, but he’s obviously a successful writer, and I do love the movie Misery, which is based off of his book, so . . .

But my point in the previous paragraph is in the first sentence. A story is more about the people than the event. The event is just the means to bring the people, thus the story, together.

I find the same to be true in life.

Rules can be broken.

I was raised on the Golden Rule. That thing was pounded into my head – Do unto others as you would have done to you. Just the word unto actually being a part of the rule intimidated me enough to believe that this rule must really be golden.

For the most part, I like to think, I treated others the way I wanted to be treated. I think I still do. I’m kind enough, but I don’t get overly involved in the situations of others because, unless they tell me otherwise, I tend to think that it’s none of my business.

But here is the paradox of the Golden Rule. Am I so busy treating others the way I want to be treated that I totally leave them hanging when they are treating me the way they want to be treated? At what point have I demonstrated enough how I want to be treated and instead treat them the way they are showing they want to be treated? Should I inquire with each person I meet whether or not they follow the Golden Rule, so I know if they want treated as they so do? So many questions.

I saw an article on LinkedIn the other week that was titled 10 Ways to Get Along with Anyone. I didn’t waste my time reading it because I can answer it in two words – Be decent. No need to overdo or under-appreciate. Just be a decent person. No rules, tips, or tricks to remember; no questions. Just a simple way of life.

Road Trip

It’s an old phrase, but I remember Steven Tyler belting out “Life’s a journey, not a destination” in the song Amazing. That was the first I had heard the phrase, and I liked it. I am totally more journey than destination (but probably more Aerosmith than Journey).

I say, enjoy the ride. Look out the window. Look up at the sky. If something catches your eye, pull over and get out. Take the road less traveled and find out what you might have missed. Schedules suck; experience the trip.

Either way, whether you prefer being there to getting there or vice versa, you will have real opportunities in both cases to meet and possibly help others. Or maybe you are the one who will be helped, even if you don’t know you need it.

Of course, usually the purpose for the journey is to reach a destination. So for the destinationers, I say relish in the accomplishment – you should, you made it! But try to remember along the way to enjoy the journey – you couldn’t reach your destination without it.

Purpose in the Scars

Call me Debbie Downer, but I gotta say it – bad things will happen on the journey; that’s life. But even the really bad things that happen can serve a purpose – they can be used, given purpose.

I have a scar on my right leg that is about 10-12 inches long. I don’t know exactly because it’s pretty curvy, and I used a wooden ruler to measure it. Someone once mentioned (several years ago) that someday I could probably have the scar removed, and they were surprised, confused even, when I said I didn’t want it removed.

But the scar reminds me that the doctor didn’t amputate my leg. He talked about it. He considered it. He verbally mentioned it to my family as a very real possibility, but thank God, I have a scar instead.

I can’t do high-impact exercises (well, can’t is a strong word – I’ll live a happier life if I don’t), my right leg is a little bigger than my left, sometimes it just freaking hurts; but I have it and I can use it, and I am happy with both of those facts.

Anything that happens to us, good or bad, shapes who we become. Whether we succumb or overcome, it’s up to the individual. Getting my ankles crushed and my legs broken taught me a respect for time, life, and the human body that I might not otherwise have gained.


So, all of that to say: Life is short. Be kind. This is the journey. Purpose is more than a task. Or #LifeIsShort #BeKind #ThisIsTheJourney #PurposeIsMoreThanATask











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Lead from Beside

White gets kind of a bad rep:
Don’t wear white shoes after Labor Day.
Don’t wear white for pictures.
Don’t dress a kid in white (unless stains don’t matter).
A white lie is said to be trivial/harmless.

White always seemed like the most useless crayon in the box to me. Of all the colors, if I had to pick one to not use, it would have been white.
Most of the paper I used was white, so the white wax didn’t necessarily make a bold statement. But what if the usefulness of the white crayon had less to do with the color itself and more to do with how it was being used?
White can illustrate dimension, alter mood, add value to other colors. White can be happy, creepy, a memory, a dream. White holds possibility, but you have to let it out of the box.

It’s in the code
Did you know one of the descriptors of the White personality (Color Code) is BORING? I know . . . it’s hard to believe. In fact, initially, I was like, “Well I obviously didn’t get the BORING gene in my white personality.” I mean I love to laugh – I laugh all the time. How is laughter boring? Something fantastic happens to create laughter. But I think their definition of fun is being physically involved in some sort of game or playing.

I’m fine with sitting out most of the activities that require my physical involvement. I go to the pool to get a tan, not to swim. I mean sometimes I like to play volleyball or basketball, but I’m not looking for an organized physical competition. (Just the word organized gives me chills.) So, I guess if that’s what you’re basing FUN on, then I am BORING.

A whiter shade of pale
Whites are also not typically recognized as leaders. Because we use few words, we are thought to be timid or shy. Being reserved isn’t pegged as a positive trait for a leader, it seems. But what if the White personality is reminiscent of the white crayon? What if the abilities of the White actually meld with every other color so well that a new color, a new dimension, a new value is created? What if the other colors are enhanced? But Whites won’t force themselves on anyone. You have to want out of the box.

The best descriptor to the White personality that I ever heard was they don’t need people to like them. That creates freedom. It doesn’t say that if you disagree with them, they’ll get in your face and tell you how it is because they don’t like you either. It’s simple – they don’t need you to like them. If you do, great, they probably like you too! But even if not, they still need to treat everyone with a certain kindness – that peace that they seek for their selves.

Deep thoughts
White personalities don’t do a lot of talking, but they enjoy brainstorming sessions. They might not dominate the flow since it goes against their core to interrupt or cut someone off, but they are listening, probably taking notes, and building off of each other’s ideas. A White won’t ask for anyone’s opinion if they already know what they’re going to do. They ask because they genuinely respect those who they ask and will value and consider the feedback they receive.

The time spent not speaking is time spent thinking. And that is how their decisions are typically made – with thought, considering the desired outcome, the possibilities, and the side effects. This is a downfall to some – there are times when people want a gut reaction enforced immediately. Whites typically don’t want to react until they feel educated. But isn’t it conceivable that Whites could feel more instinctive gut reactions because of all the thinking they have already done? You gain insight when you actively listen to those around you. Whites gain perspective on the situation from multiple points of view over time. When you want a gut reaction you can count on, you want it to come from someone who has spent their time listening, watching, and paying attention.

Hangin’ tough
As for White personalities being timid, eh, sometimes. We have our moments. But when we know what we want, timidity plays no part. I’ve been asked, “Are you sure you’re not an extrovert?” Yes, I’m not an extrovert.

I need to be around other people, and I need to be alone. If I am seen hanging out with my friends, I’m loud(er) and laughing and talking the whole time. If I’m in a larger group and/or with less-familiar people, my more-reserved side is showing at least for a while. But if you put me at a New Kids on the Block concert, and Donnie Wahlberg is standing ten feet away from me, it doesn’t matter who is around me, you better believe I’m rushing the stage. So close . . . but so far away.




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Serious Laughter

I was once told that I can never be serious. I was like, “says you.” True story.

I suppose it’s true enough that I can’t help lightening the load of a topic when things have been serious for a while. I always go back to the serious part of the discussion though – it’s just like coming up for air and then going back under water. You know, so you don’t die . . . just a little safety measure I like to take.

As the Bible and the Byrds say, there is a season for everything, including a time to be serious and a time to laugh – turn, turn, turn. Laughter, though, is like the Sun of my seasons – it’s always there, lurking behind the clouds, waiting to shine even on the coldest, most bitter of days. And if you don’t catch a few of its rays, you will get frost bite and your arm will fall off. So, yeah, let the sunshine in.

I know, I know – it’s not always easy to laugh when things suck. So, here are a few ways to find laughter and therefore happiness and hope in the most serious of times.

Keep it Real

When things are rough and the kids just can’t see the silver lining for the wall of fog, you don’t have to use a knock-knock joke to get a smile. Use the situation or a seemingly unimportant detail in the moment. Like when my girls are unhappy that a rule or standard set by their parents conflicts with what they want to do, I might say something like, “I really like your hair.” Or I might throw out, “I know everyone else in the world gets to do this, but they don’t have the worst parents in the world . . . you do.”

Tone is important here too. So, when I compliment the hair, I’ll use a different tone than the worst-parents comment. Delivery is key.

Sometimes I get a smile and we start laughing. Other times I get an eyeroll. But I am keeping myself entertained in situations that aren’t life-altering.

Look to the Future

In the moment of torment, you can’t imagine anything ever being normal again. Well, normal life doesn’t really exist. It’s not a thing – it’s just a relative term culminating all your experiences into one blob. Life is not normal or abnormal – we have no idea what twists and turns and purposes await. And this is why I say look to the future for laughter.

In some of the worse situations I find myself in, I imagine how I will laugh at this in the future. I actually envision my future self talking to someone about it and laughing at how worried I was then. And for what? If I can laugh about it in the future, why not laugh about it now?

That doesn’t always make me laugh out loud, but it does make me smile, and smiling is my favorite.

Remember the Time

I’ve experienced few things worse than losing loved ones. There are worse things, but losing a person who you have built a relationship and made memories with can leave a void in your life that changes you. So how in the world do you laugh when you are empty?

Well, maybe you don’t – not right away anyway. But losing that person hurts so bad because you created memories, so focus on the memories. At funerals, it is typically said that the deceased wouldn’t want everyone to be crying, so they celebrate the life and not the death.

And that is how you laugh in loss. The life is gone from Earth, but the memories are yours. And sometimes even the memories of bad times become funny and sweet. You see the humor in the fights and the love in the arguments. And you smile. And you laugh. And you keep that laughter and happiness, knowing it is a gift.

See? It’s not so hard to laugh when things suck. It might be easier when you’ve had more practice, but I’m not wishing bad times on anyone. I have nothing against Serious, but I keep it at bay. Just the sound of laughter always makes me happy and, if it is especially genuine, sometimes makes me laugh.

I have told you these things so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart. I have overcome the world. John 16:33



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Character Worth Writing About

Character. Not everybody has it. That’s why we read – to discover people with real character, with real grit, with a purpose for the things they do and say. There’s an Ernest Hemingway quote I pick up and read frequently. It goes:

Honestly, the first time I read it, I was getting bored by the end of the first sentence. Luckily, I forged ahead and read the second sentence anyway.

Character is formed out of living. It’s different than personality. Personality is important, especially in garnering the types of people who will become our friends, but character goes deeper. Character is earned through experience and decision-making. Personality varies depending on mood or atmosphere.

In storytelling, it takes more time and thought to develop a character’s character than it takes to give personality. A writer should know more about a character than what is told through the story. And that is necessary in order for the writer to know what a character will do, how they will think, and whose interests they will ultimately serve in any given situation.

Even when I write articles, I gather more information about the topic than I will tell the reader. The better I understand the subject, the simpler I can explain it to the reader.

As I mentioned in Everything I Know About Writing, I Learned by Watching Seinfeld, every being is important – from the extras to the main characters. Whether the reader hates or loves each character doesn’t matter. What matters is that they have a strong emotion tied to the character. Even the writer hates a character, and that is good, as long as the hatred comes from action and character as opposed to boredom and disinterest.

In the books that I have been working on, I realized I know some characters extremely well (almost as if they are based off of people I know). Even if I don’t agree with the things they do, I know why they make their decisions. I follow their reasoning because I understand their motivations. Other characters seem rushed. Some of their actions and words are more difficult for me to show to the reader or maybe even decipher for myself – and it’s simply because I don’t know enough about the character. I didn’t create the character – I added the character. They say write what you know – if I haven’t invested time in all of my characters, how can I expect the reader to invest in them?

So, I decided that if I am serious about not only finishing these books but making them their best possible selves, I need to know all of my characters to the same extent – thoroughly. Even my lesser characters should feel understood. I need to, at the very least, understand the background of their relationships with my main characters. That will lead to learning about their individual selves and lives as well because the smaller characters are just as important to the story as the main characters.

This is what I like best about my real-life relationships. I’m not a big talker (if I don’t know you), but I want to listen. I want to know what goes on behind the scenes. I like the backstory because it helps me understand the person. Tell me what makes you act and react the way you do, what thoughts affect each decision you make, what keeps you moving forward. I don’t need to like your personality; I want to understand you. My characters deserve no less.

Investing time in the history and life of my characters to make the best product can be used in any number of other situations. It can be used with cooking in learning which combinations of spices will intensify the flavors of various dishes, which drinks complement which meals and desserts.

When car shopping, a little research of the cars you are most interested in can go a long and save a lot of time. Strengths and weaknesses, worth versus allowance, necessary options.

Working relationships can benefit from some investment as well. Know your coworkers, boss, employees. Everyone is at their best when they feel valued!

When we know the characters in our books, we release the characters to be themselves. Even when we don’t necessarily like what they do, we can understand why they do it, and therefore, reflect both action and purpose to the reader.








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Mean What You Say

Misunderstandings are an unfortunate reality of life. A simple misunderstanding can end relationships, shut down business deals, deliver a wrong order – the possibilities are endless.

Take for instance, double negatives. Last night, my youngest daughter said she wanted a snack. My oldest daughter said, “You don’t need no snack.” While the younger was upset by this, I explained to her that while her sister’s grammar was terrible, this was, in fact, in her favor because the double-negatives cancel each other out and create a positive. So her “don’t need no” translates to “does need.”

My oldest likes to use bad grammar as a form of rebellion against me, so I use her rebellion as a teaching tool for her younger sisters.

It’s not just word usage that creates misunderstandings though. Word meanings can be misunderstood, creating further misunderstanding. Two of my favorite adjectives, I believe, have received a bad rep – lazy and sarcastic. Typically, these words are used with a negative connotation, but that is incorrect, and I can no longer sit idly by and allow these words to be so mistreated; misinterpreted; and, let’s face it, misunderstood.

An Elegant Laze

I made mention of the inner beauty of laziness in Photography 101. Now, I will elaborate. People tend to think of laziness as a desire to not work or put forth physical exertion. As I have said before, on the Color Code, I am a White – Peace is my motivation. We are sometimes thought as lazy, but there is a good reason for it – we’re thinking. The inner beauty of laziness is thought.

The negativity pored upon lazy comes from only seeing the value of physical exertion as opposed to mental exertion. But if you could see the mental work put into thought like you can see physical work, that might create a new appreciation for the hard work that actually goes into being lazy. It’s not all snacks on the couch – we have to think . . . a lot . . . It. Is. Exhausting!


“Sarcasm is anger’s ugly cousin.” (Anger Management)

First, no. And second, name calling is so elementary. Sarcastic instead is more synonymous with words like witty and clever. It’s about finding a little humor in the truth. You know what’s not always funny? Truth. Sometimes it is downright depressing, and people just don’t want to hear it. So when you find a way to add a little edge to the truth that makes someone smile and maybe even feel a little dumb for not realizing the truth of the statement on their own, that’s magical – that’s sarcasm.

The purpose of writing the title of this section as sarCASTic is that the CAST is representative of the healing powers of sarcasm. Laughter is the best medicine, and when one can laugh at the truth, isn’t that really the ultimate natural medicine? No money, no insurance necessary, which is what earned it the descriptor of ultimate.


We’ve all been duped into believing that these adjectives are actually negative qualities – but isn’t that really an oxymoron? I think we can see now how these are actually positive attributes. And in the future, when you feel the impulse to call someone lazy, how about replacing lazy with intelligent? So instead of saying, “Quit being so lazy! Get up and do some work,” you could say, “I wish you weren’t so intelligent. There’s work to be done!”

And if someone’s sarcasm is rubbing you the wrong way, remember that maybe instead of despising them for being clever, you should thank them for the healing power of their words.

Are these new understandings going to change the world? We won’t know until we try. But yeah, no, they’re probably not going to change the world.



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Photography 101

I’ve taken a photography class, pinned some things on Pinterest, and even read a good amount of what I pinned. So, I guess you could pretty much call me a professional photographer. OK, maybe not, but I’ve learned some stuff – things that may serve more purposes than photography alone. So Photography 101 isn’t so much about the study of photography as the art of photography.

I like to find connections in unrelated topics – everything is just a big puzzle waiting to be put together. So the art in photography has taught me what I already knew but that these things are true in more than one way. The artistic value of any entity is individual perspective.

So here is my perspective of photography.


Say cheese! No, seriously, don’t. While cheese makes a lot of things better like grilled cheeses, mouse traps, humor, and life, there are times that it has a negative effect too. For photographs, just saying cheese creates an obviously fake smile – not something you want hanging from the mantel for all guests (invited and not) to be greeted by upon entering your home.

Instead, a good photographer makes the client feel comfortable – by talking with them, asking questions, being silly – so the expressions come naturally. This makes the pictures more interesting because they are a reflection of reality.

So what does this have to do with anything else? Whatever you want it to. You could say Don’t make yourself into something you’re not – just do you and that will enable everything else to fall into place. Or you could say it means Make yourself more comfortable in uncomfortable situations to keep from showing your discomfort. Think of things that make you happy, reciting movie lines in your head, day dreaming, planning the rest of your day, picking out the positives of your current situation and focusing on them – whatever works to keep you feeling good without having to fake it.

Give yourself something to smile about.


When I take pictures, I take a lot. I need options because even if most of them suck, there’s a better chance that I got something worth keeping in a mess of pictures than only in a few.

That pretty much sums it up. Find opportunities and use them. Learn all you can about anything and everything. Read. Do. Grow. You won’t like or necessarily find an immediate purpose for everything you learn. Some of it will be things that you can use in your life now, while other information might become more useful in a future situation that, at this moment, you have no inkling about. The more you do, the more options become available.


So I was taught to get close to my subject so I can see and better understand what I am looking at. Too much of the outside shot takes away from the purpose. Even if it means getting out of your comfort zone, move in close to get the best shot.

Focus, focus, focus. Take lots of shots and from different angles, but don’t lose sight of your subject. The best way to become a professional anything is to devote your focus to the subject. C.S. Lewis talked about his schooling growing up and explained that because there were fewer subjects, he had the opportunity to become proficient in each. In his words, “When we force a boy to be a mediocrity in a dozen subjects we destroy his standards, perhaps for life.”


Anyone can be a photographer with the camera set on Auto. The camera does all the work to affect the lighting. And all the pictures come out looking relatively similar – not necessarily bad, just not distinct. But if you are going to change it to the Manual setting, you must first do some research. There is a lot to learn to operate a camera in Manual. It takes time, patience, and practice, but the results can be worth it.

While I have many positive things to say regarding laziness and its inner beauty, there are limits and boundaries to the life of it. Being lazy is one thing. Allowing the laziness to guide your pursuits is a mistake that you might not fully realize until it is too late. Make your own informed, purposeful decisions that line up with your beliefs and goals. Putting effort and thought into your own decisions and actions creates limitless possibilities.

So that’s the Art of Photography, according to me.






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Like Sands Through the Hourglass


This is the time you gave to me. I’ve heard the lyrics before and sung along with the song, but I never noticed these words before today. I was scanning through the stations, trying to find a song to “turn up the radio” on the way to work, and I caught the middle of a song right as these words were being said. I almost changed the station but changed my mind as I thought about the words This is the time you gave to me. Those words probably mean a little more to me this time because of the book I recently read called The Witch of Lone Wolf Creek.

Chances are that you have never heard of the book. I hadn’t, and it had been nearer to me than to most of the world. The book was written by my mother, Christi Dunlap, in 1978 (before my time). It’s a children’s book because that is what my mom cared about. It is a great story with an intelligent message. I read it for the first time last week.

time4My brother Brandon illustrated it, printed it, and had it bound. He made copies for the rest of my brothers and me. I read it and kept it to myself for about an hour. Then I shared it with my family. Not only is it a good story, it is a way that my girls can know a piece of their grandmother.

What does all this have to do with the song lyrics? Well, it actually comes from the About the Author page at the back of the book. All the information that is given on that page was originally written by my mother, though not intentionally for this purpose. She wrote it in first person, and Brandon reworded it in third-person, except for the quote at the end.

“I try to spend a lot of time playing with my children. I feel it is very important because they grow up so fast. If I do not spend time with them now, I may lose the opportunity forever. My greatest interest lies in creating a happy home for my children and my husband.”

I always hear “they grow up so fast.” It’s true. My girls aren’t babies anymore. And losing my mom when I was a kid is a constant reminder that time is limited.

I think I’m doing an alright job. I could always do better, and when I die, I don’t want my kids to say, “Eh, she did an alright job.”

So, with the time I’ve been given, these are the things I try to remember:

  1. It’s all about the Benjamins.
  2. May the force be with you.
  3. It’s all about soul.

It’s All About the Benjamins

Benjamin is a common noun here. I could just as easily say “It’s all about the Bryans” or “It’s all about the Ediths.” Any way you want to say it, it’s about the people and the relationships you build with the people who just happen into your life – if you believe that anyone “just happens” into your life. I’m a pretty big believer in purpose, so if our paths have crossed, there’s probably a reason for it – good or bad. But that’s a whole other topic, so I won’t jump down that rabbit hole just yet.

May the Force Be With You


In the words of George Lucas, “Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” For a ponderer, this can be problematic, but an example I have of this is patience. I have it . . . for a while . . . then I don’t. And when it’s gone, I’m just standing there like “we all knew this was going to happen.” BUT sometimes I lose it quicker than other times, and for those quick losses, I am teaching myself to notice my frustration and figure out what’s really triggering it, like Have I eaten in the last hour?, Do I need a Snickers?, Is it Monday? the obviouses. Then I can place it and not take it out on other people, even though I kind of want to.

Point being – you have the power to be who you want to be. Forget nature and nurture. After you become cognoscente of action and consequence – it’s all about your decisions.

It’s All About Soul


I know I already said it’s all about the Benjamins and then that it’s all about your decisions, but it’s also all about soul. Just forget about math for a minute – math doesn’t really fit into any of my equations. But Billy Joel does.

This life isn’t fair. It’s gonna get dark; it’s gonna get cold. You’ve got to be tough. But that ain’t enough. It’s all about soul.

Honest. Succinct.

Ti-i-i-ime Is On My Side

So these are the things I try to follow so that when the end of my life comes, whether it is in 60 years or 60 minutes, hopefully I will have made a positive impact on the world.





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What Not to Wear – Unedited


I love(d) What Not to Wear (WNTW). Clinton Kelly’s and Stacey London’s abilities to make anyone look good was undeniable. I always hoped that one day I would just be walking down the street and suddenly be asked questions about my “style” by someone with a microphone and a cameraman, only to find out later that it was part of the secret footage that the WNTW crew had gathered about me.

Well, it didn’t happen, but you might expect, with as many episodes as I’ve seen of the show, I would have picked up some style wisdom and applied it to my own life. But nah, probably not as much as I like to think or as much as one might expect. I’m still the person saying, “Jeans just don’t fit me right,” so that’s why I prefer elastic pants.

Editor is to Writer as Fashion Consultant is to Person.


Clinton and Stacy typically consulted extreme cases of anti-fashion, but just because someone isn’t over-the-top passe doesn’t mean a few pointers are unwelcome or even unnecessary.

The job of an editor is to find and point out the mistakes of others. Sounds like fun, huh? Well, it is. But, the life of an editor is a lonely one – friendless, of course – because no one wants to be told that their work isn’t perfect.

As an editor and a writer, I feel my pain. When I edit the work of another, it’s easy to pick out grammatical, structural, and flow issues. And if I don’t understand something, I can simply ask – it will either show that something is missing or show my ignorance in the subject matter.

When I am the writer, I do edit my writing, but it’s always a good idea to send it through another set of eyes. I already know what I want to say and mean to say, so chances are, I won’t notice my own errors regardless of how many times I look at it. Actually, the more I look at it, the less likely I am to see my mistakes, as I only become more convinced of its perfection.

Dress it up


Most people don’t want to be told what to do, much less how to do it. Sometimes grammar rules conflict with a writer’s voice. Sometimes, errors are actually a style choice. The writer says it that way for a reason. And if you change it, you take away the writer’s voice. That is not the job of an editor.

The idea here is to follow the What Not to Wear methodology – keep the core of their style intact, but make it more presentable.

Just as with writing, editing requires questions. You have to understand what they are saying and why they are using a particular voice. Is this the way they normally speak? Are they writing to a specific audience who speaks this way? Does the topic itself require the writing to sound this way? Are grammar rules just not that interesting to them?

Use this information to make changes and to make suggestions. Some writers appreciate explanations, so they understand why this change should be made. Then they know how to take care of it the next time. BUT other writers couldn’t care less about the rules of grammar and just want it fixed. Know your author.

Wash and Cut


Buying new clothes was not the only step in the What Not to Wear makeover. Hair is just as important in creating a look as the clothes you choose. The hair stylist (Nick Arrojo and then Ted Gibson) would wash, cut, and style the “fashion victims’” hair to nearly complete the look.

Sometimes, often times, it is difficult for the writer to cut unnecessary parts of their writing because they see all of it as necessary. It may be more important to the writer than to the reader. One job of the editor then is to point out extraneous writing. When something is repeated, I say ax it. If there is information given that is not important to the story, delete.

I’ve cut parts of my own writing that I found clever or funny because no matter how great it was, it wasn’t pertinent to the plot, therefore, it would not have garnered the same affection from others as it did from me.

When that happens, when I really like something but know that I can’t use it there, I save it. There will be a time, a story, for which it will not only be usable but beneficial.

I’ve left parts that should have been cut in my writing. I could see that later but not while I had my nose in it. Now, after I write something,  I let it sit for a while before coming back to it as the reader.

See Results


After you offer some new clothes and give it a good wash and cut, it’s time for “The Big Reveal!” Now they see what was incorrect and what changes are possible. It’s up to the writer to decide if they want to accept this improved work or whether they want to stick with what they had.

The editor must remain detached. This is the work of the writer, for the purpose of the writer. The job of the editor is merely to point out inconsistencies and errors and offer suggestions for improvement.

Clinton and Stacy couldn’t make anyone maintain their style after they left the show,  and many didn’t.



Style is unique. While there are always similarities and even copies, the original is not completely duplicated. This is also true with editing, so an editor does not edit two writers in the same way nor different works by the same writer in the same way.




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