Let Me Out of the Echo Chamber

Have you ever just reached the point in your life where you’re tired of reading mis-information, deliberate slant (from BOTH sides of the equation, I will add), and the brain literally hurts because of the lack of logic and reasoning so rampant in social media? No? It’s just me…sigh…

This whole realization started about five years ago when I realized most of the people I was friends with on social media shared very similar world views to me. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, until it becomes a bad thing. Until it becomes an echo chamber of epic proportions. Lately, it’s what I’m seeing on social media and in the news media. Pick a side—the echo chamber is in fully operational mode on social media. Okay, let me change that. The echo chamber has been in fully operational mode for years, but it just seems to be all the worse in the last year or so. We don’t want facts. We want narratives that fit our world view, that reinforce our biases, that bolster our perceptions. (Case in point—the fiasco the news media created in the last month or so starting with the Buzzfeed story about Michael Cohen and President Trump culminating with viral feeding frenzy over the high school students from a Catholic boys’ school. Before that, it was the frenzy over President Obama’s birth certificate and gold curtains at the White House.)

Whether we want to admit it or not, we (as a first world society) have a strong tendency to focus on the negative. If there isn’t a negative, we have a very bad habit of creating a negative. Let’s be honest here—most of us have a roof over our heads, food on the table, and our biggest worry is who will be voted off Survivor. When things are generally good, our minds are hard-wired to search for problems to solve. (That’s why, most socio-economists and historians agree our greatest revolutions in industry and thought have always come from periods of “generally good,” because people had the time to seek out “problems” to solve.) If we can’t find problems, we create them. We create drama because it gives us an emotional jolt and a reason to complain. We forget what hard times really look like—look to Venezuela for what hard times can be. We forget what war looks like. I mean all-out war, not remote-controlled drone strikes. And, before anyone has a meltdown that I’m making light of those men and women of our armed services killed or injured in the last 18 years, think again. I have mad respect for our military. (Some of the brass…)

What this echo chamber has done is create a culture of weakness and victimhood. Yes, I can hear the arguments now—I don’t have any idea what it’s like to be a person of color, or gay, or lesbian, or transgendered, or any other of a myriad of “tribes”. You’re right, I don’t have any idea. But I’m willing to listen, to have empathy, to attempt to understand. When you’ve stood in the echo chamber long enough, you begin to believe the echoes and you begin to believe you are a victim and to find offense with everything. Yes, EVERYTHING. It takes strength to not be offended by everything. It takes maturity to realize that others don’t, can’t, and some probably will never think like you do. It takes even more strength to say, “I accept you. I accept you as you are, where you are, and how you are.” It takes the greatest of fortitude to refrain from name-calling and labeling others not in your “tribe” with the vilest of epitaphs, whether racial or sexual or religious.

You can hold firmly to your values while listening to other viewpoints. (Note I said “LISTENING” not simply hearing–because as my dad once said to me, “You might hear me, but you sure aren’t listening to me.”) If you’re just hearing those other voices, you’re just going through the motions until you can raise your voice louder to silence those you disagree with. That’s not strength. That’s coercion. That’s intimidation. A mentally strong person can admit to being in the wrong and will take responsibility, without having their ego crushed. A mentally strong person can hear and listen to other points of view without surrendering values and without belittling, degrading, dehumanizing those others. A mentally strong person can also find common ground.

How strong are you?

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Money Talks. Bullsh!t Hunts a “Trophy”

Well, y’all have managed to do it again. Make me so furious I’m spitting nails and planning a boycott, a one-person boycott if necessary. Way to go, Montana Fish and Wildlife. Wolf 926F, of the Lamar Canyon Pack, and known affectionately as “Spitfire” has been taken as a “trophy.” Trophy to what? An enlarged sense of entitlement? Trying to prove your masculinity? What? 5bfffd1518cd6.image

I’m not going to go into how beneficial the wolves are for the ecosystem in and around Yellowstone, again. Those of us who know it have talked until we’re blue in the face. Facts have been presented. Statistics have been presented. And, yet, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho continue to have “trophy wolf” hunting areas. How very interesting, those areas all border Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Even more interesting, those “trophy” areas are predominantly leased BLM land. Leased for cattle grazing.

So, because the legislatures of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho are completely deaf to everyone except people who have a vested interest in seeing the wolf eradicated from their states (and preferably the lower 48), here’s my proposal. Financially strangle the communities around Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone National Park saw 4.25 million people visit in 2016. $524.3 million was spent in gateway communities within a 60-mile radius of YNP. That supported 8,156 jobs in the area and added $680.3 million to the local economy. (https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/news/17020.htm)

It’s time to start letting the powers that be know how disgusted and angry we are, and how determined we are that this stop. Yes, go visit Yellowstone. Don’t spend a single penny in those gateway communities. You can fill up 100 miles outside of Yellowstone. You can buy gas in YNP. (It is a little pricier, but, hey…) Buy the supplies for your picnic or camping trip outside that 100-mile radius, too. Stock up on ice. Again, financially strangle those gateway communities, which incidentally are also where the majority of those “trophy wolf” hunting areas are.

Save all your receipts and after your trip to Yellowstone, photocopy them and send them to the chambers of commerce in these gateway communities: Jackson, Teton Village, Wilson, Cody, Cooke City, Gardiner, Wapiti. Tell them this was money you chose not to spend in their communities and will not be spending in their communities unless and until ALL trophy wolf hunting areas are closed. Your couple of hundred dollars spent may not seem like much, but if we all do it, multiply that loss by several hundred or several thousand people and suddenly the financial loss will hurt. (Maybe not Jackson, but you get my point.) By not spending in those communities, there is a cascade effect–jobs dependent on the tourism trade will dry up. Without those jobs, less money is infused into the very local economy. More jobs vanish. And, all of a sudden, people aren’t buying steaks any more. They can barely afford hamburger. Two birds. One stone.

Yes, I’m angry. I’ve gone past angry. I’ve reached the stage my kids called the “oh, sh!t” anger. It’s cold. It’s very cold. It’s ruthless. It’s heartless. The only thing most people seem to understand is the bottom line. It’s time to pull the bottom line out and let ’em fall. Maybe then they’ll realize it just wasn’t the ecosystem the wolf made stronger and kept healthy.

 

Oh, No, (S)He Didn’t!

Authors behaving badly. There have been several examples of how not to conduct oneself lately in the author world, especially in Romancelandia. I have another example which involves betrayal and outright theft of ideas. Don’t get me wrong—I know there are only so many ways to write the standard tropes within romance. How each author brings her unique perspective and voice to the writing and the window dressing of that trope is what brings difference and variety to the standard tropes and plot lines. However, what has happened here is not THAT.

I’m a member of a group of romance authors who have come together to write a series of romances based on the standard trope of the “mail order bride.” Our spin on that trope is instead of a MOB, we decided on mail order grooms. Several group discussions occurred between all of the authors. Documents were posted on Google Drive, accessible to all the authors in this group, including what was later relegated to just being background to the story. Character sketches were put into a document and uploaded to the Drive.

Right from the start, there were warning signs with one author. When gently nudged to verify historical facts or to change something because it wasn’t historically accurate, the author’s response was that readers wouldn’t care or notice. (Yes, my eyebrows reached my hairline with that comment. And, the history geek in me started whimpering in pain.) This author took a character who was written as a person of color and created a stereotypical, clichéd caricature. When concerns were raised about how that person of color was presented, our concerns were waved away. (I have other words I could use, but I’m doing my best to be polite here.)

After the concerns reached critical mass, this author was gently asked to leave the group. It was not just this author’s reputation on the line, but the reputation of every other author in this series.

Imagine our consternation when this author has now released a brand-new book—the first in a series—and EVERYTHING that was discussed in those group chats, posted in the Drive, put into character sketches, and even brainstormed privately between this author and another for the other author’s character and storyline has now appeared in this author’s new book. Characters were literally stolen whole-cloth from what the other authors posted on their sketches. Events that would be pivotal to the series we were writing, in the order we determined they should happen, have now appeared in this author’s book. The only thing this author appears to have changed is the name of the town and that one certain event will last a whole week and not just one day. It’s still in the same state, even! (Okay, the state we picked is pretty darn large, but I don’t think that state is big enough for the both of us.)

I’m dismayed, disgusted, and livid—that someone could be so blatant in this theft of ideas. While it isn’t legally wrong, the morality is at best, questionable.

It’s a J-O-B!

UGH! Just…UGH!

Can I let y’all in on a little secret? Writing is a job. It’s a job I love, but never the less, it is a J-O-B. The “UGH” is because as much as I appreciate my friends, some of them don’t realize that my writing career is my JOB.

Writer print

Some of my friends get it. I had one friend call me. The conversation went kind of like this:
Friend: Haven’t seen you on FB in a while. Everything okay?
Me: It’s good. Just writing my fingers to bloody stumps. I’ve got to have three books ready for publication—one in October, one in November, and one in December. I’m also deep into edits on the fifth book with my publisher.
Friend: Oh, my gosh…well, I won’t keep you. I know how busy that makes you and how stressed it makes you. Just wanted to let you know how we did at the dog show today. I’ll text pictures. Oh, and mom says write faster. She’s already read all your other books twice.Depositphotos_189140110_original

 
End of conversation. Friend texted me pictures of the dogs we co-own with their ribbons. I was genuinely happy for her and incredibly appreciative of her understanding that this writing thing is my J-O-B.

 
As one of my beta readers said in my street team when I posted how many books I have to have written by the end of the year—“That’s a lot of beta reading, too.” Yes, yes it is.

 
I have another “friend”…when I’m this tight under a deadline, I delete Messenger from my phone. I delete FB from my phone. I hide the hot-spot so I have to actively get my butt up and look for it to turn it on. (Yeah, I once lost it for several days because I couldn’t remember where I hid it—and wouldn’t you know, I needed to get on the internet to double check a historical fact.) This friend sends me multiple messages, each one getting snarkier and snarkier about why I’m not answering (ummmm, maybe because I didn’t see the messages?), and then messages a mutual friend with an even snarkier missive. This person doesn’t get it. I’m at the little homestead in Tennessee because there are fewer distractions to my J-O-B.Young desperate girl writing with an old typewriter. Conceptual

 
Just as when I show dogs, when I’m writing, I can seem to be very distant, very aloof, and VERY unapproachable. When I’m showing dogs, I tune everything and almost everyone out, so I can focus on the J-O-B at hand and give 150% to the dog(s) I’m showing. Just as with writing, if I don’t put the effort into showing, the end result is NOT pretty.

 
So, if there is a writer in your life, please understand—whether that writer is published multiple times or just getting started—writing is a J-O-B. Writing isn’t for the faint of heart, nor is it for someone who isn’t self-motivated. Even the most self-motivated people sometimes struggle to get motivated. It takes a lot to keep people at arm’s length so a writer can focus and concentrate on getting the words on the page. As writers, we jealously guard the time we have to write. For some of us, it’s only ten or fifteen minutes a day. For people like me, it’s a full-time occupation. It’s my JOB. So, unless the house is burning down, someone has severed a limb, or there is a skyscraper sized asteroid hurtling toward earth—please think twice before interrupting the writer in your life when he or she is in a serious relationship with their keyboard.

 

Now, as I’m not smelling smoke, no one is screaming for an EMT, and there doesn’t appear to be a planet killing asteroid headed toward us, I have three books to write. You can check out where one of those books will be set by going to this FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/brokkenroad/

 

 

THIS Is How You Do Rescue

My last post on what rescue isn’t apparently hit a nerve with people. Good. It was supposed to evoke a response from the people who read it. Just as this post is being written to evoke a response.
Here’s another rescue story…
Yesterday, a young woman posted on one of those Facebook online yard sales that she had a neutered, champion, smooth male collie needing a new and forever home. The manner she worded her “for sale” ad said she deeply cared about this boy and wanted to make sure he would go to a home that would love him, where he would be safe, and would be taken care of. Within two hours of posting, this post was shared throughout the majority of the online collie community and the wheels were set in motion to purchase this boy. Offers of help poured in, offers to drive to wherever to get him came in, relays of transport were being discussed—all from people who knew nothing of this beautiful boy except for one thing and that was he needed help. Within four hours, the sale was finalized and arrangements made to pick him up today (May 28).
I just saw the post where Findley—now forever known as Finn—is on his way to his new forever home with a former member of the national rescue foundation.

finn on his way to his forever home
Finn on his way to his forever home. 

Rescue isn’t a dumping ground. On the other hand, THIS is how you do rescue.

RESCUE IS NOT YOUR DUMPING GROUND

I’ve sat here staring at a blank screen, trying to find a polite manner to write what I want to write. I finally realized there isn’t a polite manner to write those words, so I’m just going to jump right in.

 

First of all—breed specific rescue is something every person involved with the sport of purebred dogs absolutely must support, because there are times and situations where rescue is not only necessary, it’s a God-send. However, those rescues across the country for your breed MUST NEVER be used as a dumping ground when you find yourself with too many puppies and young adults. My breed—collies—states in our Code of Ethics that if an owner has to surrender a collie to rescue, the owner needs to monetarily support that collie until such a time as a home is found for the surrendered collie.

 

It was recently brought to my attention that two separate collie rescues had thirteen collies brought in to them: five to one rescue and eight to another, all from the same breeding situation in Tennessee. One of those collies is heartworm positive. Another has PDA (Patent ductus arteriosus is a birth defect that occurs when the blood vessel known as the ductus arteriosus does not close properly, and instead, remains open—“patent” being a medical term for “open”. When this happens, oxygen-rich blood continues to flow from the aorta to mix with oxygen-poor blood from the pulmonary artery). The dogs surrendered (or in this case dumped into rescue) range in age from a claimed “four months” to a few years of age. These dogs all appear to be fairly-well bred. These aren’t the typical “puppy mill” smooth or rough collies. There is some quality there.

 

Now, I can count on one hand the number of collie breeders in Tennessee who breed smooth collies and still have a finger or two left over. Heck, there are only thirty active Collie Club of America members living in Tennessee and more than half of them no longer breed. I can account for EVERY single puppy and young adult I’ve had in the last four years. As a matter of fact, I’m actually issuing a challenge here—to both those rescues and to the active breeders in Tennessee. Collect DNA from the puppies and young adults brought into rescue. Match it against puppies and young adults in the show kennels in Tennessee.  I already have a DNA profile on the stud dog I used for my last four litters. His DNA will rule out any of those puppies coming from my breeding program.

 

Yes, I have a fairly good idea where those collies came from. Here’s the second part of my challenge—if you have a fairly good idea, too, it’s time to step up and stop it. If you are not willing or unable to keep the puppies you’ve produced until a suitable home is found for each and every puppy, STOP BREEDING! Rescue isn’t your dumping ground.

 

 

We’ve Come a Long, Long Way

image by ReutersUnless you were living under a rock for the first week of February, you couldn’t have missed the news that Elon Musk and SpaceX have made history. Made it with a bit of flair, too. Seriously, who launches a $100,000 Tesla Roadster into space with a mannequin behind the wheel in a spacesuit as the test payload while playing David Bowie’s “Starman”? The mannequin is even named “Starman.”
I watched the launch in tears. Mars is suddenly attainable. Perhaps not in my lifetime, but most definitely in the lifetime of my children. Maybe by the time my grandchildren are adults, they’ll be able to purchase tickets to go to Mars for spring break. (Maybe not spring break, but perhaps for a whole new definition of a semester abroad.)
In case you couldn’t tell, the science geek in me was almost orgasmic.
Yes, there were a few failures on this launch. Starman isn’t going to Mars. Oops. Overshot that one. (Or, as I say when I get lost going to a dog show—I’m not lost. I’m taking the scenic route. He’s taking the scenic route through our galaxy.) The center core didn’t survive landing. However, watching the landing of the two side boosters (and I’ve watched it over and over) simultaneously and in perfect synchronicity… DUDE! That was just plain and simple showing off. I’m pretty sure I shouted “Show-off!” when I watched the landing live.

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Sorry, I still don’t think it’s flat. 

I spent several hours of the next ten hours or so (before the battery on the Tesla Roadster died) watching the live feed of Starman orbiting the earth. We live on such a beautiful blue planet. Such a pale blue dot, a shimmering sapphire set in black velvet. I wonder, if a future generation of Martian born humans will view Mars with the same awe that we do when we see our home planet from space. Will Mars be that fiery red dot they call home?
All of this got me to thinking. (No, I’m not planning a science fiction romance.) As a western historical romance writer, when I’m writing, I put myself into the mindset of my characters. Rapid transport in the late 1800s was by railroad and when the Transcontinental Railroad was completed with the driving of the final spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, travelling at 30 MPH was considered mind-boggling. The Falcon Heavy was doing 30 MPH before it was a foot off the launch pad. It was supersonic in two minutes.

6_PromontorySummit
Meeting of east and west at Promontory Summit, Utah.

One hundred years after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, plus two and a half months—we literally put a man on the moon, on July 20th, 1969.
I wonder how my fictional characters would react to this world if they were suddenly thrust into it. I’m sure it would seem like such a strange, and foreign, and even hostile place. Would they even recognize this world as theirs? After learning to travel at the terrifyingly fast speed of 30 MPH, we invented the automobile, dared to challenge the birds for the sky, split the atom, cracked the code for DNA, and dipped our collective toes into the vast ocean we call space.
Almost fifty years after that first moon landing, the tiny machines on our desks have more computing power than the rooms full of computers required to launch, safely land, and return the crew of Apollo 11. Heck, my current cell phone has more computing capability than my first laptop computer and I got my first laptop only twelve years ago.
And, by the same token, what advances will we make in the next fifty years? That is, if we can manage not to destroy ourselves in the process…