Life at Warp 10

Are Small Things As Valuable as Grand Gestures?

Willie Mays In the Cards Deep Space NineBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

We often underestimate the power in small things.

In “In the Cards,” an episode in the fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, everyone on the space station is feeling frightened and depressed due to the deteriorating situation with the Dominion (a powerful force from a different quadrant that wants to enslave their quadrant).

Jake, son of the station’s Captain Sisko, is worried about his father and decides to cheer him up by buying him a mint-condition Willie Mays baseball card at an auction. Unfortunately, someone with more money buys the card out from under him. When Jake and his friend Nog try to buy the card directly, the man says he won’t sell—but he might trade if they could get him the items on a list he gives them.

Jake and Nog go around the station, exchanging favors for the items. Finish Chief O’Brian’s work so he can take some much needed time off. Rescue a teddy bear. Remove the feedback from some Klingon opera. Help write a speech.

Each favor they trade is small, and the boys don’t think anything of it because they’re focused on acquiring the baseball card. They’re so focused they miss what’s going on around them. The mood of the station is changing.  

The people they helped are feeling happier and more hopeful, and they, in turn, are spreading that happiness and hope to others.

It got me thinking about how I react when I know someone is struggling. I’m a fixer by nature, so if I can’t think of a way to solve their main problem or if there’s no way for me to solve their problem (since I can’t cure cancer and I’m not independently wealthy), I often freeze.  I don’t know what to do.

I’m so focused on making the grand gesture that I miss all the little things that would have cheered them up and made life just a bit more bearable, no matter what else they were facing.

One time I came out of a fundraising dinner on a cold, Ontario winter night. Rain had turned to freezing rain had turned to ice during the dinner. I was dressed in a knee-length skirt and open-toe heels, shivering already from the short walk across the lot, and my heart sank at the thought of struggling to chip the ice off my windshield so I could safely drive home. But when I reached my vehicle, the man who’d parked next to me was just finishing clearing off my windows. I didn’t have to do anything but get in and drive away. It made all the difference to me.

A new book for them to read while sick. A $5 Starbuck’s gift card tucked anonymously into their mail box. A funny card.

Every day is filled with the “little” opportunities to make a difference.

What little thing did someone do for you lately that made all the difference? Better yet, what little thing are you going to do for someone else today?

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Do We Have the Right to Judge Other People?
Source Code: Does What You Do Matter?
The Missing Hunger Games Line

What Skill Do You Wish You Had?

I’m in awe of skilled musicians. Because I play the flute myself (and a few other instruments), I know how long it takes to become even quasi-proficient.

For this month’s fantasy music feature, I wanted to share the Harry Potter theme played by Jarrod Radnich of The Piano Guys. Watch his fingers.

What’s your favorite movie soundtrack? And what skill are you in awe of?

Do We Have the Right to Judge Other People?

Don't Be a CardassianBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Since when do we think it’s alright to condemn someone when we don’t know all the facts and don’t even bother to consider their side?

In “Tribunal,” an episode in the second season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Chief Miles O’Brian heads off on vacation with his wife, but he’s arrested by Cardassians before they can reach their destination.

The Cardassians refuse to tell O’Brian what he’s been charged with. According to the Cardassian legal system, the charges aren’t announced until the trial.

“How can we prepare for the trial if we don’t know the charges?” O’Brian’s wife asks.

“Mrs. O’Brian,” the Cardassian Archon says, “there’s nothing for you to prepare. Your husband’s verdict has already been determined. He is guilty. The trial will reveal how this guilt was proven.”

True guilt or innocence, extenuating circumstances, none of it mattered.

While this might be an extreme situation, we do it almost daily on a smaller scale.

We judge people even though we have no idea what their lives are really like or what goes on in their head and heart.

I was hurt by this recently.

I set goals for this year that I felt would allow me to achieve my dreams while still enjoying my life and being fair to my husband, family, and friends. I didn’t set these goals hastily. I looked at what my life was and what I wanted it to be. Talked with my husband. Considered the implications.

But when I shared my goals with a friend, she felt free to criticize those goals, calling into question my work ethic and suggesting I wouldn’t succeed at my dreams if I held to those goals.  

The judgment on me was delivered without any real knowledge of how hard I planned to work, how dedicated I am, or what other responsibilities I might be juggling. She doesn’t live in my house, let alone in my skin.

I know this person meant well, and I’ve worked through the anger, hurt, and self-doubt the words caused. But I’ve wondered since if this person stopped to think about how those words might affect me, or did she value speaking her mind and being “honest” over everything else? Did this person stop to think that her way might not be the only way, might not be the best way? Did this person consider that the type of life I want isn’t wrong simply because it’s different from hers?

And I think those are questions we all need to ask ourselves when we feel the need to give our unsolicited opinion.

We seem to have this tendency to judge people when we haven’t walked in their shoes and never can because everyone’s life is different. I’ve done it. And it was arrogant of me.

When we criticize the woman who says “no” to volunteering at the food bank, or at the cancer walk, or at the fundraiser for juvenile diabetes, we can’t see that she spends her days caring for her elderly parents and that her body aches so badly in the morning she can barely get out of bed.

When we criticize the family with the unkempt yard, we can’t see that both parents are working double shifts to save enough for their kids to go to college and spend what little free time they have helping with homework.

When we tisk-tisk the woman in front of us at the grocery store because her cart is full of paper towels and she should use washable cloths because it’s better for the environment, we can’t see that she’s got three children at the age where potty training accidents, vomit, and spilled juice are the norm.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

It’s so easy to talk about what someone else should do. It’s so easy to think our lives are more difficult than anyone else’s. But in truth, we don’t know what happens behind closed doors and everyone has their own private struggles.

I know there are times when we need to speak the truth in love because a person is doing something that could hurt themselves or others. There are times when someone wants our opinion.

But unless that’s the situation, perhaps the best policy is to shut up and give people the benefit of the doubt unless there’s something we can do to make things better for them.

What do you think? Have we become too quick to judge others? What do you think is the best way to handle it when someone judges you unfairly?

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How Much Responsibility Should We Take for Others’ Actions?
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What Does Your Behavior Say About Who You Are?

Captain America The First AvengerBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Does our behavior at the worst of times say as much about us as our behavior at the best of times?

At the start of Captain America, Steve Rogers is a ninety-pound asthmatic who’s been turned away from serving in the US military five times, despite their need for soldiers to fight the Nazis.

No one can understand what Dr. Erskine is thinking when he invites Steve to be part of the group of men in the running to become the first in a new generation of “super soldiers” enhanced by the serum Dr. Erskine created. Steve can’t even keep up in any of the exercises or drills they’re put through.

With all the great soldiers in the group, Steve doesn’t understand why he’s the one chosen.

“The serum amplifies everything that is inside,” Dr. Erskine explains. “So, good becomes great. Bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen.”

Erskine chose Steve because he stood up to bullies, he thought outside the box, and he was willing to sacrifice himself for others. The serum would magnify the good qualities inside Steve, as well as making him physically stronger. If Erskine had chosen the soldier who seemed the obvious choice, the bullying tendencies the man usually controlled would have been intensified.

The rough patches, long days, aches, and disappointments in our lives act like that serum. It can bring out the best in us, but it can also bring out the worst.

When I’m impatient after a long day, or when I’m grumpy because my back hurts, or I’m selfish because I’ve been working for 10 hours straight and I just want to be left alone, I like to think that’s not who I really am. I can easily blame the circumstances. They caused my bad behavior, almost as if they were injected into me from the outside. It wasn’t my fault.

But the truth is, those tendencies must have been there, in me, all along. My circumstances, no matter how sad or frustrating, didn’t create anything.

And what scares me is the thought that perhaps it’s only in those times when we’re tired, hungry, frightened, or stressed when our true selves show up. Our defenses are down, and the unpleasant circumstances serve to magnify what’s at our core and has been there all along.

Both good and bad.

If those qualities are always there, though, it means if we’re aware of our bad qualities, we can work against them when the times are happy. We can cultivate their opposites so that maybe, just maybe, the next time we face the serums of life, what comes out will be better than the time before.

When do you think our true selves show themselves best? When things are good or when things are bad?

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Related Posts:
Do You Love Yourself Too Much? The Story of Narcissus
Do We Need to Be a Little More Old-Fashioned?
Could You Be An Evil Person?

Do You Like A Little Contradiction In Your Characters?

Jen Kirchner Urban Fantasy AuthorToday I’m pleased to welcome Jen Kirchner to my blog. I first “met” Jen through her Vote Your Own Adventure series on her blog. When I heard she had a book coming out, I knew I had to try to bring her here to meet all of you. And she agreed!

Jen is a writer, gamer, and coffee junkie who lives in Seattle. You can find her at her website, JenKirchner.com, on Twitter, and on Facebook. She recently released her first novel, an urban fantasy called The Fourth Channel.

Take it away, Jen…

********************************************************************************************************************

As a kid, I didn’t enjoy the story of Cinderella. That’s weird, right? What little girl doesn’t dream of being rescued from her chores and siblings and turned into a perfect princess in a gigantic fluffy dress, then swept off her feet by a rich prince?

Apparently this little girl.

Don’t get me wrong—I, like every other little girl, had fantasies of being a regal princess dressed in white. But I also liked lightsabers. Okay, the two concepts don’t really go together, but it gave me a little character. And, unfortunately, since Cinderella and Prince Charming had going for them other than dancing around and losing a shoe (not even close to being as cool as lightsabers) I declared them to be completely boring.

Seriously, now. Do you really mean to tell me that the prince, while waltzing around the dance floor in his tight pants, never once got a wedgie? Or that our lovely Cinderella, who had been overworked and in dire need of a vacation, wasn’t found hiding under the buffet table, guzzling champagne and stuffing her face with salmon asparagus canapés? Then, later, after she’s sufficiently drunk, chatting up an empty suit of armor on display down the hall?

What’s cookin’, good lookin’?

No? Too bad, because that would have been interesting.

Hey, what about that cute and pudgy fairy godmother who can fly and has the magic wand? Yeah. Sign me up for that instead. Those other two send me to Snoozeville.

If only the prince and Cinderella had been interesting. If only they each had a personality trait or two that was unexpected—something that contradicted their perfect natures.

The main character in my novel, The Fourth Channel, struggles with her own personal dichotomy. She’s as near to being a pacifist as she can be. She doesn’t like violence and will avoid a physical confrontation at all costs. As nice as that sounds, it’s incredibly boring. The only way to make her interesting was to give her a trait that was in direct opposition to her pacifist nature.

So I made her a necromancer, a magic user who sacrifices people in exchange for power.

Hey, don’t judge me–it works for a story. Interesting people are ones who have contradictory traits or desires. Unless you’re dull, you have them, too. So do your friends. There’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, it’s often what makes us like people a lot more.

Take Bilbo Baggins, for example. He’s a reputable hobbit of Bag End and wants nothing more than to stay that way through sensible living and three breakfasts a day. But deep in his heart is a yearning for adventure. He can’t have both at the same time, so what will he do? Thanks to a little trickery from Gandalf, adventure wins out.

Thank goodness, because unless you’re into food porn, The Hobbit would have been the most boring story of all time. Not to mention fattening.

 

“I don’t know, whaddya think? You think a princess and a guy like me…”

And what about Princess Leia? She’s a diplomat and a princess who wears white—as all princesses should. But she’s not your typical princess with flowery speech and a gentle nature. Princess Leia is sarcastic, shoots guns, and is solely responsible for getting her rescue party trapped in a garbage compactor. She’s a princess in title, and that’s about it. She can’t even fall in love properly! Instead of going with a reputable man of stature and poise, she falls for a criminal and a scoundrel and, regardless of what anyone tells you, he shoots first.

But let’s be honest. If you had to choose one friend, and your only options were Princess Leia and Cinderella, you’d go with Princess Leia every time. I know I would. At least Leia’s spontaneous and an interesting conversationalist. Plus, you never know what might happen when you meet up for coffee.

All Cinderella has going for her is freakishly small feet.

And there are many other examples of quirky, contradictory people we’d love to befriend—or even people we’d love to be. So why do we spend so much time hiding or apologizing for the traits that might be unexpected? It’s who we are, and like Bilbo Baggins and Princess Leia, it’s those opposing traits that draw people to us.

Real people are full of contradictions. I am. Your friends are. And you are, too. Embrace it.

Now who’s ready for a little adventure?

The Fourth Channel by Jen KirchnerAbout The Fourth Channel…

For years, Kari Hunter’s fooled the world into thinking she’s just an everyday girl. Sure, she’s the lead singer of world-renowned band Vis Viva, but outside of that, she recycles religiously, is an avid supporter of the environment, and she’s a certifiable coffee addict. But Kari has a secret she keeps from her family, friends, and fans.

Kari Hunter is a necromancer.

The rarest and most powerful of all magic-born, necromancers are notorious for leaving a trail of sacrifices in their wake. But Kari isn’t interested in hurting anyone. She works hard at being as un-necromancer-like as possible: everyone she stabs gets a bandage and a lollipop, and whenever her sacrificial knives get too excited by the prospect of violence, she puts them in time-out… in her lingerie drawer.

But when an agent of voodoo master Ruairí O’Bryne catches Kari using her powers, her secret’s out. And if Ruairí finds out who Kari is, he’ll stop at nothing to make her his next sacrifice.

Suit of Armor photo courtesy of Quinet (http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinet/)

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*Disclaimer from Marcy* The Amazon link to The Fourth Channel is my affiliate link.

Is There A Cost to Hiding Our Mistakes?

Cost of Mistakes Battlestar GalacticaBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Should we always admit our mistakes, sins, and bad decisions and accept responsibility for them, or are there times when we should simply move on and try to forget they happened?

The decision is probably easy when the stakes are small, but what about when we run into one of those situations where accepting responsibility would change our lives…and not necessarily for the better.

In the first season of Battlestar Galactica, two storylines look at both sides of this dilemma.

Captain Sharon Valerii (call sign “Boomer”) wakes up one day soaked with water. She doesn’t remember what happened, and she discovers explosives in her duffle bag. When she investigates the small arms locker, she finds six more detonators are missing. When Galactica’s water tanks blow up, leaving the entire fleet with a critical water shortage, Sharon and her lover cover up her role, sure she’s been framed.

Except Sharon wasn’t framed. She’s a sleeper agent who doesn’t yet understand (let alone accept) what she is. Because she and her lover lied and hid what they knew, Sharon is able to try and nearly succeed at assassinating the commander of the fleet. I’ve always wondered—if they’d confessed right away, would Sharon have fallen that far? Her character shows great ability for change and loyalty. Could her path have been different if they’d been honest instead of trying to hide? Or would they have immediately executed her as a cylon infiltrator without giving her a chance to redeem herself?

Unlike Sharon, Dr. Gaius Baltar is never caught for the part he played in the cylon destruction of the twelve human colonies. (Though, in his defense, he didn’t realize he was helping the cylons. He thought he was breaking the rules to help the beautiful woman he was sleeping with win a defense contract.) He even eventually becomes president of the remnant of humanity. In a lot of ways, he seems to benefit from hiding his past mistakes.

But watching what he has to do to keep his secret, you have to ask if it was worth it. He leaves a potentially innocent man to die to cover up for the fact that he doesn’t know how to build a cylon detector. He advises that the passenger ship, the Olympic Carrier, be destroyed, saying it might be carrying cylon infiltrators, when in truth he’s afraid one passenger (Dr. Amarak) might have evidence of the role Gaius played in the cylon invasion. Almost every action he takes is to cover up something else he’s done.

He never faces the consequences of his actions and never becomes a better person.

Where’s the line between what we should admit to and what it’s alright to make private?

If a husband or wife cheated on their spouse 10 years ago and wasn’t caught, should they confess now to ease their conscience or stay quiet and spare their spouse’s feelings?

What if you bump into another car in the parking lot and no one is around to see it? Do you leave a note? Does it change things if you are barely paying your bills and don’t know how you’ll manage to repair their car or pay a higher insurance rate?

And what might be the emotional costs of hiding our past mistakes?

What do you think? Should we always confess our wrongs? Are there times we should stay silent?

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Image Credit: Matteo Canessa (from sxc.hu)

Related Posts:
Could You Be An Evil Person?
Four Reasons Battlestar Galactica Isn’t Just for SciFi Fans

Top 5 Science Fiction and Fantasy Posts

I’m officially on a blogging vacation over the holidays, but I’ve put together my top-ranked science fiction, fantasy, and mythology posts for those of you who might have missed them or are back at your computers and looking for some reading fun.

What Star Trek Race Are You?

The Missing Hunger Games Line

Do We Need to Be a Little More Old-Fashioned?

Who’s Your Unicorn?

Yoda Was Wrong

I appreciate all of you who’ve read my blog throughout 2012, and I hope you’ll continue through 2013. I have exciting things planned, and I look forward to sharing them with you!

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Want to Try Beorn’s Honey Cake from The Hobbit?

Beorn's Honey CakeBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

The Hobbit came out last week, so I thought it was only fitting to do a little digging and see if I could find a treat to celebrate the release. What I found was a recipe for Beorn’s honey cake.

Beorn is a shape-shifter (what J.R.R. Tolkien called a “skin-changer” in the book). He’s a vegetarian, but can take the shape of a bear. In the novel, he helps Gandalf, Bilbo, and the thirteen dwarves in their quest to regain the dwarves’ kingdom.

Here’s how Tolkien describes Beorn’s send off.

He lade them with food to last them for weeks with care, and packed so as to be as easy as possible to carry — nuts, flour, sealed jars of dried fruit, and red earthenware pots of honey, and twice backed cakes that would keep a good long time, and on a little of which they could march far. The making of these was one of his secrets; but honey was in them, as in most of his foods, and they were good to eat, though they made one thirsty.
The Hobbit, Chapter 7

What I love most is the line “but honey was in them, as in most of his foods” because he could take the form of a bear. (It makes me think of Winnie the Pooh.)

For those of you who want to try it, you can find the recipe for Beorn’s honey cake here.

And inquiring minds want to know, what’s your favorite kind of cake?

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Image Credit: MMNoergaar from SXC.hu

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Do You Finish What You Start?

Cornerstone by Misty ProvencherBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Do you finish what you start?

In Cornerstone, an urban fantasy by Misty Provencher, Nalena Maxwell’s mother is the worst kind of non-finisher (or so Nalena thinks). Every week, Nalena stops at the stationery store to buy paper for her mom, an unpublished writer. Nalena hates “paper day” because their house is already filled with paper. (Imagine Extreme Hoarders: Paper Edition.)

Even though Nalena’s mom spends her whole day writing, she never finishes a story. She’s always writing snippets. Bits of characters. Random sentences. Ideas that she sets aside to write the next idea.

Nalena begs her to finish just one because they’re on welfare, barely able to pay their rent. Nalena resents her mother’s inability to follow through.

We later find out Nalena’s mother isn’t a normal writer, but when I first read about their situation, all I could do was pray, “Please don’t let that be me.”

I want to be a finisher, not someone who leaves a trail of half-finished projects scattered behind her.

I know there’s value in trying different things and experimenting to see what we like and what we don’t. We learn a lot from trial and error. But doesn’t a time come when we need to focus on one project and see it through to the end?

When we hop from project to project or continually tinker with the same project for years, we’re cheating ourselves.

We miss out on the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing. By completing, we also prove to ourselves we can finish. And we overcome the fear that might be the real reason we haven’t finished anything. If we did it once, we can do it again.

Beyond that, what value is there in unfinished projects? I’m not getting any benefit from the half-finished projects around my house. (On the contrary, they’re actually in my way.) I’m not getting any benefit from the half-finished projects collecting virtual dust on the hard drive of my computer. Until I finish them, the time spent on them was, at least in part, wasted.

One of the changes I’m trying to make as the New Year approaches is to work on one project at a time, to force myself to complete one before I allow myself to start on something new. I don’t expect it to be easy. I’m hoping, though, that by sticking to one thing until it’s finished, I’ll develop the determination and perseverance to make it a habit that will mean I complete more in the long run.

Do you finish one project before you start another? Or do you tend to get bored and move on to something new, leaving a trail of unfinished projects behind you?

You can get Cornerstone free right now on Kindle. It’s also available as a paper copy. (The link to the paper copy is an affiliate link. If that bothers you, click on the Kindle link and you can select the paperback version from there.)

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How Do You Deal With Grief?

Sad Doggie by Amber WestBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

She dried her tears and they did smile
To see her cheeks’ returning glow
How little dreaming all the while
That full heart throbbed to overflow.

With that sweet look and lively tone
And bright eye shining all the day
They could not guess at midnight lone
How she would weep the time away.

–Emily Bronte

Very few of us know how to deal with grief in a healthy way.

In “Extreme Risk,” an episode in the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager, Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres is running dangerous holodeck programs with the safety protocols turned off. To hide what she’s doing, she treats her injuries—some of them very serious—herself.

When she goes to the holodeck to test out an experimental new shuttlecraft they’re building, she turns off the safety protocols and is knocked unconscious. The ship is moments away from exploding and killing her. Voyager’s commander finds her just in time.

As the commander and doctor investigate, they find out what B’Elanna’s been doing. The commander confronts her, and B’Elanna admits she’s been trying to feel something.

A few months earlier, she’d received a message from home that all her friends were dead—killed in an attack. B’Elanna doesn’t know how to deal with her grief so she buries it under adrenaline rushes.

Grief can’t be tricked, and it can’t be ignored. Ignoring it puts our health—both emotional and physical—in danger. Ignoring it can also cause us, like B’Elanna, to act in inappropriate or dangerous ways because, even though we don’t want to admit it, grief is rampaging around inside of us, smashing things, until we let it out.

I’m not a counselor, but in my own experiences with grief, I’ve finally figured out three important things.

Allow yourself to grieve around someone you trust. Because B’Elanna tried to hide her grief, her friends couldn’t help her. In a way, I understand why she did it. She felt like she needed to maintain her appearance as someone who was strong and independent.

I’m a shower crier (a person who cries in the shower so no one else knows they’re doing it). It started when my best friend died in university. I was rooming with another friend who fell into a deep depression because of our loss. She talked about wanting to die, and I was afraid that if I showed her my own grief, she wouldn’t be able to handle the added burden. I chose to be the strong one, and somewhere along the way, I forgot how to let other people help me with my grief. It’s not healthy. It means sometimes I’ll break down over something stupid and little because I try to hold too much inside. And it’s a difficult pattern to break.

Don’t force yourself to recover before you’re ready, but don’t wallow in it either. In “Extreme Risk,” B’Elanna tries to artificially cheer herself up by eating banana pancakes, a favorite from her childhood. They don’t taste the way she remembers, and she leaves them after a couple of bites.

A lot of times, we feel like we have to “get over it” because some cultural norm says the appropriate period for mourning has passed. That’s not true. Everyone mourns on their own timeline, and when we try to rush our grief, we never properly deal with it. It’ll come back on us later when we’re least prepared to deal with it.

On the opposite side though, we shouldn’t feel like we need to wallow in our grief. After my best friend died, I felt like I couldn’t smile or laugh, even if I wanted to. I was worried that if I did, people would think I didn’t miss her or that I never really cared about her. Those moments where happiness tried to return made me feel disloyal to her memory. It took me a while to figure out that those flashes were normal and healthy. They didn’t say anything about my relationship with Amanda.

Don’t expect your grief to look like anyone else’s. Grieve in your own way. Part of B’Elanna’s problem was she felt like she was abnormal because she felt numb after learning about the loss of her friends. She kept taking crazy risks because she wanted to feel something, anything.

My husband and I have discovered we deal with grief very differently. I need to work. The only thing I know to do is to keep my mind occupied. My husband, on the other hand, can’t work. He can’t focus. He needs time to himself.

Neither way is wrong, and the faster we figure out how we need to grieve, the faster we’ll be able to deal with our grief.

Do you have any other tips for dealing with grief?

Image Credit: Amber West from WANA Commons on Flickr

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