I’d Like to Thank My Parents Again

    

I had a lovely birthday last week, which was celebrated through phone and Facebook greetings, dinners, breakfast, and a tea party. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for having me! #Blessed

Yes, you really are seeing glowing flamingos decorating that present above. Fun, aren’t they? I’m not sure where they were acquired from by the friend who gave the present to me. If you are really curious, I will make inquiries.

As is my tradition, I’m giving away a present to a commenter. Here are a few of the ones I received.

  

While I won’t mail you my actual present, natch (the presents were given to me after all), you can choose an equivalent gift: the book, Stash Glazed Lemon Loaf tea (tastes just like the lemon loaf you might get at Starbucks), or a $15 Amazon gift card or its equivalent at Amazon UK. Just say which one you would like in the comments and you will be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced next week (probably May 7)!

Eye see you!
Yes, this creepy tree is a haven for squirrels nearby. #Random

Babette is a little huffy, because she did not receive any gifts. So, she refused to pose for the camera, and instead gave me her stiff profile. If I didn’t already know she was an owl, I would swear she was a cat.

Photos by L. Marie.

Living Beyond the Label

When I was a kid, I took an IQ test like every other kid at the school. But my parents chose to do something interesting: they chose never to reveal to me my IQ. Instead they always told me, “Study hard, and do the best you can.” So I grew up without the labels that come with a specific IQ.

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Later other labels/categories were introduced to me. For example, the Myers-Briggs test based on personality types developed by Carl Jung. I’m sure you’ve seen the personality types. I found the following right here:

The 16 personality types
ESTJ   ISTJ   ENTJ    INTJ
ESTP   ISTP   ENTP   INTP
ESFJ   ISFJ   ENFJ    INFJ
ESFP   ISFP   ENFP   INFP

Have you taken this test? I won’t say which of these types supposedly encapsulates my personality. But I will say that some of my former employers required this test or other personality defining tests. I never understood why, since I can’t pinpoint any discernible way that the knowledge of my personality type helped me in the jobs I’ve had.

Now, before you balk, remember, I’m talking about myself. Perhaps knowing your personality type helped you. I’ve been employed as a proofreader, copy editor, production editor, and a book/curriculum editor. If you think one personality type would be ideal for any of these occupations, you might believe you could make an accurate guess about my personality type. But you would probably be wrong about me.

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In some communities to which I’ve belonged, certain combinations of those four letters were highly prized, depending on the personality types of those within the “in” crowd. But I have always been a bit rebellious. That’s why, having learned my results from the Myers-Briggs test, I determined to forget what I learned.

“Don’t you want to understand yourself better?” some have asked me. Do I really need four letters to tell me what I’m like?

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When I was a kid, I failed to understand why my parents withheld information about my IQ. Now I do. They wanted me to live beyond the label of it—to work hard to be the best person I can be, whether my IQ is below or above average.

Regardless of whether I’m introverted or extroverted, some tasks will take me out of my comfort zone. But I still have to do them. If I allow the limits of a label to define me, I might shun these activities.

You know what I find interesting? The fact that so many well-known celebrities admit to being shy. If you look at this article, you’ll see that these individuals didn’t want their lives defined by this label. Instead they worked hard to live beyond it. Just like my parents wanted me to do.

Want to know which four-letter label I wouldn’t mind living by? You can find two of them on my T-shirt. A specific personality type is not required.

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What about you? How have labels helped or hindered your life?

IQ image from caltech.edu. Other photos by L. Marie.

Soft and Strong

007A glance at the label of the generic brand of bathroom tissue I use (yes, I dare to go there) got me to thinking. I can see the value of softness and strength in bathroom tissue. But as human characteristics, softness and strength seem like polar opposites, because softness is often equated by some with weakness. I take umbrage to such a notion.

My mom’s got the softness and strength combination down. You probably think the same thing about your mom. My mom’s a hand patter. If you’re miserable, she likes to sit beside you and pat your hand, telling you that everything is going to be okay. But Mom morphs into steel when she goes into battle mode. She’s quick with a handbag upside your head if you decide to break the law. Yes, there is a story attached to that statement, but I won’t go into it now.

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Kate Spade handbag—a classy way to hit someone on the head

I love the juxtaposition of softness and strength in the males and females who populate various fictional worlds. Yet I have very little interest in heroes or heroines who are only seen in one light—that of strength, whether they are viewed as purely cool, physically powerful, or hilariously snarky. I can’t sympathize with a character who completely lacks a soft side. I can understand if he or she desperately wants to hide the fact that he/she is vulnerable. But the absence of any discernible softness causes me to put a story down.

Even Captain America (played by Chris Evans) has a bit of softness beneath his rock-hard abs. Don’t believe that? If you saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) [SLIGHT SPOILER], remember the hospital scene when he visits Peggy (who has her own show now on ABC—Agent Carter)? [END SLIGHT SPOILER.] That scene caused even my jaded heart to melt. And I loved the scenes between Cap and Sam Wilson (the Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie), where they talked about their difficult adjustment to civilian life.

jakl4wj-how-hayley-atwell-became-old-peggy-carter-for-captain-america-the-winter-soldier

Cap and Peggy

34529Here’s a great example of softness and strength from Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies. (For the plot, click on the book title.) The narration below shows what a character named Shawn thinks about a witch named Magrat who needs to rescue Shawn from some murderous elves. [SLIGHT SPOILER] Shawn doubts her ability to help until he realizes a fundamental truth:

Mum was right—Magrat always was the nice soft one . . .
. . . who’d just fired a crossbow through a keyhole. (268)

Shawn later learns that Magrat (who works with Greebo, a vicious cat described as “just a big softy” [269]) was extremely lethal, even as she “daintily” raises the hem of her dress to kick an iron-allergic elf with shoes bearing iron attachments. [END SLIGHT SPOILER.] Good stuff!

Because of the desire to portray heroines in a strong light and not as damsels in distress, sometimes authors (and I’m thinking mostly of myself) fight against bringing out a heroine’s soft side, hoping readers won’t judge their characters as weak.

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You might get the impression of softness when you see this cupcake. My plans to take over the world, however, might cause you to think something entirely different.

In the first incarnation of my novel, my heroine didn’t seem to have any flaws. She only mildly annoyed some of the secondary characters. Her inability to laugh at herself—to see herself as flawed—was a flaw on my part as the author. I had to start over with her and her story.

The first thing I needed to do was take myself out of the equation. While I hate to be ridiculed or abused, that doesn’t mean I should avoid writing a character’s journey that involves horrible bumps in the road. And while I like to be liked, a character who is liked by everyone isn’t a very compelling character.

One of my VCFA advisors once told me to pay attention to the way secondary characters act toward the main character. While that might seem elementary to you if you’re an experienced storyteller, that advice instigated an epiphany for me. The friction of interactions, often caustic, helped shape the pearl of a better character. Even more interesting, it provided the mixture of softness and strength I find compelling.

In what ways are your characters soft and strong?

Pratchett, Terry. Lords and Ladies. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. Print.

Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter from somewhere on the Internet. Kate Spade handbag from thebusinesshaven.com. Book cover from Goodreads.