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Becoming a Video Star

Last weekend, I fell into the rabbit hole of curly hair care YouTube videos. It started when I got a mildly disappointing haircut that was made more disappointing by the cost of it nearly doubling. It wasn’t really a bad haircut, but it was just a simple blunt trim, no real shaping or layering, at the cost of what should have been a designer precision cut. I was in and out in less than 45 minutes, and that includes some waiting at the front with a glass of water, some chatting, the shampoo and hand massage, the cut, a bit of blow drying, and paying. But since my last haircut, the salon upped its prices, the stylist got a promotion so her rates went even higher, and they dropped the option of just getting a cut without the blow dry and style, even though I don’t really want my hair dried, and all that added up to doubling what I paid for my last haircut.

I started pondering the idea of cutting my hair myself, since it’s long enough that I can reach the back, and since it’s so curly, it’s pretty forgiving. Out of curiosity, I Googled it, and it turns out that cutting your own hair is a big thing in the curly hair world, since it’s so hard to find someone who does it well, and the specialty curly cuts run about $125, which is way outside my budget. I’m not normally big on watching videos. I’d rather read text to get information, but this is the kind of thing you need to actually see, so I started watching the videos. And that brought up suggested videos on related topics, like curly hair care and styling tips. I’d read the Curly Girl book, so I knew a lot of this stuff, but seeing it put into practice made it a lot clearer. I was already doing a lot of the things they recommend. I’ve had my hair blown straight once (the stylist more or less forced me — I’d have had to make a scene to escape), I never flat iron my hair and only blow dry on cool to remove excess water if I have to go somewhere within a few hours of washing my hair. I mostly use the right products. There were still some tips that, when I tried them, made a big difference — so big that I realized I’m going to have to let my hair grow out a bit because my hair is curling up more, so with this new cut it’s just a bit too short, coming at an awkward length.

But there was one thing I noticed in watching these videos. One of the people was reviewing some new product (which I was already using), and she mentioned that the company had flown her to Hawaii for the product launch, where their stylists had demonstrated the products. I guess she’s what they call an “influencer,” but it’s not like her videos were at all slick or professional. She was just a girl talking to the camera in her bathroom, not even with a good microphone or lighting.

And then in today’s newspaper, there was a lengthy article about the woes of the “professional vapers” or “vaping influencers” now that there’s the worry about health risks and a possible ban. There are people who make a living vaping on camera, doing tricks with the smoke or reviewing various pipes and liquids. Their videos get hundreds of thousands of views.

I really need to start playing with video, I guess. My degree’s in broadcast news, so I have the skill set. I don’t even care about hundreds of thousands of viewers or making a living doing it. But it would be nice to get several thousand views in a way that would raise my profile and maybe sell a few more books.

And if someone wants to fly me to Hawaii, that would be okay, too.

I really will have to start playing with that after I finish this book.

Back to Children’s Choir

Last night was my first real night of children’s choir. I had no idea what I was facing — how many kids, which kids, what they’d be interested in — which made it hard to plan. I had four kids pre-registered on my roster. Two of those actually showed up, and then new one kid was registered last night (I’d been expecting him, since he was in choir last year). There are a couple more I know of who might end up joining us. So far, this could be a good and relatively easy group, though one of the kids I think might end up coming is a bit of a problem, the kind of kid who somehow changes everyone else’s behavior as soon as he shows up. I can have a room full of angels, and then that one kid shows up and they all turn into crazed demons — and then this kid’s parents will claim that one of the other kids is a bad influence on their perfect angel, which means we can’t use the “do I need to talk to your parents?” threat.

But if I have the kids I had last night and the ones who are on my roster, we could have a fun year and actually do some teaching instead of barely getting through with crowd control. Which I guess means I need to come up with more activities. One positive from having the out-of-control groups is that I don’t have to do much planning, since we spend most of the time wrangling the children.

I’ve broken my streak of having a set of twins in every class. I do have a twin as one of my youth helpers (she was part of one of the sets of twins I had in the past), so maybe that counts, although her twin isn’t also with me this year.

If everyone on the roll shows up, I’ll have close to an even number of boys and girls, maybe with more girls, but I had more boys show up last night. I’d love it if the boys kept with choir, but they tend to drop out, usually when sports kick in, but these kids are already in soccer, and two of this year’s group (a boy and a girl) are in gymnastics. We’ve had to state a “no gymnastics in class because the room is too small, the floor is hard, and we don’t have mats” rule.

You’d think that with all the time I spend around kindergarteners, I should write children’s books, but books for that age kids aren’t actually about kindergarteners, usually. They’re more about funny talking animals. I’d have to get into the mindset of what appeals to them, and I’m really not sure about that.

Sanity Attack

I had a rare burst of sanity yesterday when I looked at the calendar and was trying to plan out my work for the rest of the year. I’d had grand ambitions about getting that Christmas story written, after coming up with that series idea, but when I saw the time available and looked at everything else I have to do, I realized that it’s just not realistic, not if I want to do a good job.

Plus, every year I tell myself that I’m going to let myself enjoy autumn, my favorite season, rather than frantically working. I don’t want to set myself up to be frantically working.

My Audible book will be coming out in early January, so there will be promo around that, and I have that Rebels book to write. I may play with the Christmas idea in December for something fun and seasonal to work on. So maybe I’ll launch that series with a July 4 book. That will give me time to really develop that “world” and set up the various characters that will be in the series. We’ll see. There’s also another series idea I want to play with and develop. I suppose it depends on which one wins — which one is truly ready to write first.

I still have plenty of work to do the rest of the year, but now I have a little breathing room. I haven’t taken a real vacation this year, and I’m thinking of doing several short road trips. There’s a trip I’d like to take to Central Texas, and there are a couple of places I want to go in Oklahoma when it gets cool enough for good hiking and walking. I also need to finish reorganizing my office when it gets cool enough to work upstairs.

But first I have to finish rewriting the book I’ve been working on.

On Staycation

I finished my draft yesterday, so I’ve declared it a “staycation” until Tuesday, taking a long holiday weekend. I may do a bit of work, but otherwise I plan to do a lot of reading, a little gardening, maybe some other creative projects, a little housework and generally just relaxing and refilling the well.

As much as I love this book, it’s taken a lot out of me, and I need a break before I dive into the final round of revisions and edits. And then more projects.

So, see you next month!

Don’t Gender the Arts

Last week, a so-called journalist (she’s always mostly done the puff pieces) really put her foot in it by mocking the fact that Britain’s Prince George is taking ballet classes and loving them. It’s just one little incident in an overall problem of the arts being heavily gendered — arts are “girl” things.

You see it in ballet, where there are few boys at all levels. You see it in music, where in most non-auditioned choirs (where everyone can just show up rather than there being a certain number of slots for each voice part) women outnumber the men by about two to one. You see it in theater, where they often have to gender flip any role that doesn’t have to be male for the plot to work because there just aren’t enough boys or men to fill the cast.

I direct a kindergarten choir, and I often have classes that are almost entirely boys. They love music and singing. By the time they get to fourth or fifth grade, gender expectations have kicked in, and there might be one boy left from the group that was all boys in kindergarten. It can happen even earlier than that, though. I have a friend whose son refused to participate in choir when he was in kindergarten because he had decided that choir was “a girl thing” — even though my choir that year had only one girl in it.

There are so many things wrong with all this. For one thing, it’s historically inaccurate. For a long time, women were forbidden to participate in the arts. Choirs were all-male, with the higher parts sung by boys whose voices hadn’t changed. Men or boys played the female roles in theater. For another, the attitude tends to take a trend toward misogyny, where the “girl” things are devalued. A boy who does “girl” things gets criticized because “girl” things are lesser. Likewise, a girl who does traditionally “girly” things is considered lesser than a “cool” girl who does “boy” things and therefore “is not like other girls.” There’s also homophobia in the mix, where the arts are considered “gay,” and therefore something boys need to avoid. Look at how things tend to be funded in schools and in communities, the resources put into sports (coded male) vs. the arts (coded female or gay).

This attitude does harm all around. There are the boys who never get to develop talents and interests. For the few who do stick it out, the situation can end up giving them false confidence. Because boys in the arts are so rare, they pretty much just have to show up to excel. The one guy in the student ballet company will get to be a star if he’s at all competent. A guy who auditions for a play (especially a musical) is probably going to get a part. A male singer (especially a tenor) is in high demand. Meanwhile, there are probably at least five or six extremely capable girls competing for each position. A girl has to be outstanding to go anywhere in the arts. A boy generally just has to participate and be moderately competent, and he’ll be treated like a star. Both the girls and the boys end up with an unrealistic view of their own abilities.

And there are so many benefits to the arts that boys miss out on. Studying music improves math skills. Theater helps develop empathy. Dance improves physical fitness. In fact, there’s a high school in this area that has started a dance for athletes class. It started when the football team’s kicker signed up for a dance class because he wanted to improve his flexibility and balance. The rest of the team mocked him for doing something so girly — until they saw how drastically his performance improved. So, more of them signed up. The coach noticed that those who took the dance class had fewer injuries because they had better balance, were more flexible, and were more agile, so he encouraged more players to take the dance class. It got to the point that the athletes were filling the dance classes, so they started one just for them. Really, they’ve found that arts education improves overall student performance. The arts offer a lifetime of benefits. You can play music and sing throughout your life. Getting comfortable on stage can translate to better performance in job interviews, meetings, and presentations. The balance and flexibility of dance can help prevent injuries. And yet all the funding tends to go to sports that most people can’t participate in for long.

So, stop mocking boys who want to dance, sing, act, paint, or do other things like that. Quit calling the arts “girly” or “gay,” and society would be a lot better off if we started valuing them as much as other things like sports. And Prince George, keep on enjoying ballet. That may even make you a better king someday. (And now I want to write a fantasy novel with a dancing prince — except in the medieval world, being able to dance was expected of nobility and royalty, so it wouldn’t be at all odd.)

Rebooting the Year

I have survived the week of Music and Art camp, and I’m trying to get back into a work frame of mind, though I’m utterly exhausted and it’s difficult to focus. Being responsible for a big group of kindergarteners is draining. They’re really sweet, though, and I got a lot of hugs.

I am enjoying the quiet today. I haven’t even turned on a radio. I’ve thought occasionally about registering to be a substitute teacher to earn a little extra money every so often, but I’m not sure I could cope with a whole classroom of kids for a whole day. Three hours is about my limit.

The new book seems to be doing pretty well. I’m close to having made back my production expenses, and I’ve topped the threshold I set for myself to “earn” a vacation. I’d thought about taking a trip near Labor Day, when the hotel cost at a place I want to go is surprisingly lower than at any other time, but I’m not sure I want to go during hot weather. Maybe I’ll wait until closer to that date to see what it will be like and to decide if I want to go then or do something else in the fall when I can be outdoors more comfortably.

In the meantime, I’m trying to do a more regular workday and allocate time to do promotional activities. I need to be more organized about that, since the easiest way to earn more money is to get more people to buy the books I’ve already written. I keep saying I’m going to do that, but then I don’t work it into my plans, so it never seems to happen. We’re getting to back-to-school time, which feels like a second new year, even if I’m not in school, so it’s a good time to make a fresh start and reboot the year.

Happy Book Day/Birthday

I’ve made it halfway through music and art camp. The kids this year haven’t been too difficult. I’m just not used to being on my feet and constantly moving all morning, and I’m on high alert the whole time, as the “responsible adult,” so I’m exhausted when I get home.

The new book launched yesterday, and I hope everyone’s enjoying it. I guess it’s good in a way that I’m out so much this week because I can’t be obsessively checking my sales numbers. It seems to be doing pretty well so far. At least, it looks like I’ll break even on the production costs unless sales drop off drastically after the first week.

It’s my birthday today, and a group of the adults from music and art camp are going out for lunch afterward for a party (to thank me for giving up my birthday to volunteer). I wonder if I can get the kids to sing Happy Birthday to me.

They really are rather cute. There’s a group of boys that I found hanging around the storage shed in the playground during the recess/snack time. It turned out that they saw a lizard that seems to be living under the shed, so they left part of their snacks for it the day before and they came to see that the snacks were all gone, so they left more snacks for it. I’m not sure whether or not lizards eat animal crackers, but they were convinced that they were feeding the lizard. Then there’s the little boy who’s the neatest colorer I’ve seen, of almost any age. He looks so young you can barely believe he’s old enough for kindergarten, but when they finished their craft projects there were coloring sheets they could do, and they were basically the “adult coloring book” kind of thing, very intricate, but this little boy managed to color it in perfectly. You’d have thought an adult had done it.

Kids that age make friends so easily that it’s a joy to watch. They come in so shy on the first day, and an hour later, they’re all best friends and playing happily together. There are kids from a variety of backgrounds and races, even nationalities, and that doesn’t seem to matter to them. Adults could learn a lot from little kids.

And now I have to go face the kindergarteners again.

On with the Week

I should be able to finish up this round of revisions today. I rewrote the final scene over the weekend, and now I need to re-read it and proofread it. Then it’s back to the book that I was working on before, now that I’ve written a draft and know more or less what it’s about.

The time off from that book has been good for it because I came up with a possible title and I’ve got a stronger sense of the themes I want to explore. I found myself thinking about it last night as I was falling asleep, which is a good sign.

Then again, the other thing I came up with in my sleep was an article or speech called “Hurting People for Fun and Profit.” It was about ways to put characters in jeopardy and ways to have murders happen in murder mysteries. That might actually be fun to do if I could find a doctor interested in collaborating, though I suspect most doctors would take issue with that title.

Other than weird and vivid dreams, my weekend was mostly quiet. I got my living room more or less cleaned and organized and the kitchen tidied, I rewrote that last scene, I finally got the bit of knitting I’ve been working on to work (I had to rip out one section three times until it came out with the right count, and I still don’t know how it went wrong), and I did a lot of reading and thinking. I think I have my fall planned. Now, on with the week!


The nice thing about not taking a holiday as a holiday is that today doesn’t feel like a Monday in spite of it being Friday. It’s just Friday. I didn’t necessarily keep to my regular work schedule, but I did hit my word count for the day.

I didn’t manage to see any fireworks. I like watching fireworks, but I really don’t like crowds or traffic, and the thought of dealing with the swarm of humanity leaving just about any fireworks display is a total turnoff. I was actually in bed, reading, last night when the display near me was happening. It was close enough to hear it, but in the wrong position for me to see anything. I was asleep soon after the explosions stopped, so the exhaustion would have hit me when I was on the way home if I’d gone. Writing may not be hard physical labor, but intense writing is really tiring. I seem to need a lot more sleep when I’m in heavy writing mode.

I’m so close to the end of this book that it’s tantalizing. I have fewer than 4,000 words to hit my target word count, but I suspect I have a bit more story than that. I’m about to get into the climactic action, and then I’ll also need to write the resolution. Last night, I started seeing the movie of it in my mind, so now I have a sense of how it will play out, and it’s oddly different from what I initially pictured. It’s funny how I may have one mental image when I start writing a book, but it shifts along the way as I write.

And now, back to the story.

Boot Camp July

I can’t believe it’s July already. That means I have about two more months of the worst of summer, and it hasn’t been that bad yet.

I’ve declared July to be my Life Boot Camp month. It’ll generally be too hot to do much of anything, most of my extracurricular activities aren’t happening this month, and there’s little on TV. So I’ll be devoting the month to intense writing and doing some reading and study relating to writing, life, and other things. Meanwhile, all the fruits and veggies are in season, so I’ll be eating well.

In August, I’ll let myself take a little break. Kids will be back in school in the middle of the month, so I can go do things during the school day with fewer crowds.

At least, that’s the plan at the moment. These things tend to be subject to change. That’s the beauty of working for myself. My boss is occasionally flexible.

Though I didn’t get off to a great start this morning. I knew I was going to the library, so I delayed my morning walk until then, but I didn’t do much else in that time. It was cool enough for breakfast on the patio, which was nice, and I did some planning, but wasn’t all that productive. Then again, I did end up getting exercise with the walk to the library, I took some books with me to donate, which helps clear out some of my book clutter, I picked up some books relating to my Boot Camp, and planning is essential for ultimately getting things done. Now that all this has been taken care of, I can settle down and do some writing. I hope to finish this draft this week before I get revision notes on the other project.