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What If Santa Were Real?

Cynicism Vs. HopeSet aside how the traditions surrounding Santa Claus began. Set aside the commonly heard refrain that Christmas has become too commercial. Set aside whether you ever once believed in Santa Claus or not.

And ask yourself–what if Santa were real? What would be different if we lived in a world where, once every year, a jolly fat man in red slid down our chimneys to leave us either gifts or coal based on our actions of the past year?

There’d be a run on cookies and milk on Christmas Eve, since we wouldn’t want Santa to drop from hunger or low blood sugar halfway through his round-the-world trip.

We’d all build double-wide chimneys into our homes. Let’s face it, I don’t care how much magic he has, Santa isn’t fitting down a chimney pipe the size of my thigh. We’d also have to reinforce our roofs because mine isn’t going to support the weight of eight to nine reindeer (depending on whether Rudolph is flying that night), a sleigh, presents, and a fat man.

We’d stop singing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” I’d rather not spread rumors about Santa’s fidelity and risk making Mrs. Claus jealous.

The world would have a little more laughter. Something about Santa’s laugh is infectious in the same way a happy child’s laugh is infectious.

We’d evaluate all our actions in terms of naughty or nice. Last week wasn’t a good week for me, but in the midst of the craziness, I had three chances to look beyond what I wanted and at what would be best for someone else. They weren’t convenient, but I don’t just want to be nice when it suits me. I want to be nice all the time—the way I would be if Santa really existed and recorded every action in an eternal ledger. I wouldn’t want to even take the chance that, in the end, I’d come out more naughty than nice.

We’d have to abandon cynicism for hope. In Miracle on 34th Street, six-year-old Susan asks for a house. And she gets it because Santa is real. The guilt you feel because you can’t provide your kids with the Christmas you’d like to? Write to Santa, and you just might get it anyway. If Santa were real, it would mean anything was possible.

While we might not be able to make anything possible, I think we can switch cynicism for hope the way we would if Santa really existed.

The Detroit radio station I listen to accepted letters where you could nominate someone who deserved a special Christmas, calling it Christmas On Us. Among those chosen was a young woman raising her little brother after their parents died. Because their mom didn’t have life insurance, they’d used everything they had to pay for her funeral. This young woman received a fully decorated Christmas tree, a year’s worth of flowers, a spa treatment, and $600 in Meijer’s gift cards. Enough to make her and her brother’s Christmas special.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Paula Matchett, co-owner (with her husband) of Danny’s Improvements. They’ve started The ROOF Project to give a free new roof to one deserving family a year.

Blogger Amber West founded the #GoWithout Movement. The idea is that, even in tough economic times, we can give up something small. And with hundreds of people doing something small, we can suddenly do what previously seemed impossible.

The choice is ours. Will this year be the year we choose to be nice whether it’s convenient or not? To replace cynicism with hope? Will you chose 2012 to be the year you act as if Santa were real?

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What To Do When Your Loved Ones Want You To Quit

Broken HeartThe holidays are a wonderful time, but they can also be a difficult time for writers as we face questions (and criticism) from our friends and family. So I thought I’d update a post that I wrote almost a year ago in the hope that it will help you as much as writing it helped me. For those of you who aren’t writers, maybe it will help you understand the writer next to you a little better.

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If you want to be a writer, the most difficult challenge you’re going to face isn’t writer’s block. It isn’t learning how to properly use a semi colon or write a lead or find your voice. It isn’t even getting an agent or making enough money to pay the bills.

If you want to be a writer, the most difficult challenge you’ll face comes when someone you love says one of the following things about your career:

“You need to start making better decisions.”

“It’s time you grew up and acted like a responsible adult.”

“You can still write as a hobby, but you need to get a real job.”

In her post “Are We Born to Create,” bestselling author Kristen Lamb wrote, “Many of us, when we tell our family that we want to be a writer, what they hear is akin to, ‘Blah, blah, throwing away college education blah blah cult blah Kool-Aid, blah blah writer.’”

And it hurts.

You want them to recognize how hard you work and how worthwhile your job is. More than that, you want them to be proud of you.

If they keep at it long enough or if you hear it from enough people, the pain crescendos to a level where you can’t ignore it anymore. You start to doubt yourself and the decisions you’ve made. You’re forced into doing one of two things. Either you build a protective wall around that part of your life, perhaps even your whole life, and you exclude them from it, or you give up the career you love for something more acceptable.

Neither is a good solution.

So next time you face these joy-stealing, dream-killing, confidence-shaking lies, here’s how to survive.

Remind Yourself that the World Needs Writers

When I was growing up, a lot of people pushed for me to become a veterinarian or a teacher, despite the fact that I faint at the sight of blood and don’t have the patience to deal with a roomful of children or teenagers (hey, at least I’m honest about my limitations). They told me (in not so many words) that becoming a writer was a waste of my potential. Why would I throw away my future?

The world needs writers.

Without writers, we wouldn’t have classic literature or textbooks to study. We wouldn’t have the books, journal articles, and other written resources teachers use to learn their subjects and prepare their lesson plans.

Without writers, the millions of people whose favorite pastime is curling up with a book or magazine would have to fall back on watching TV or movies . . . except that without writers, we wouldn’t have TV shows or movies.

Without writers, politicians would become a lot less eloquent. (You don’t really think they write their speeches themselves, do you?)

Without writers, both print and online newspapers would have no content.

Without writers charities and non-profits wouldn’t be able to get their message out and bring in the funds they need to help people.

Without writers, we’d have to revert to preserving all the new advances in knowledge through oral traditions. Any student of history will tell you what a flawed method that is.

Ask for Clarification on What It Means to Have a Real Job

Some well-meaning relatives may go so far as to suggest you should have gotten a job at a fast food place long ago. I believe that all law-abiding work is honorable, but don’t understand why a minimum-wage job is a “real job” while writing isn’t. What does having a “real job” mean?

Does it mean helping people?

After publication of an article that Lisa Hall-Wilson and I co-wrote on pornography addiction, we received an email thanking us and telling us that we might have saved a marriage. It’s not the only thank you email I’ve received. My words make a difference.

Does it mean fighting traffic?

Seems to me that telecommuting and home offices are a growing trend because people don’t want to fight traffic, burn increasingly expensive gas, and worry about bad weather.

Does it mean someone else needs to sign your paychecks?

Someone else does sign my checks. And I’ll let you in on a secret—those paychecks bring in more than I could ever make from a minimum-wage job.

Does it mean putting on a tie, or khakis and a polo shirt/blouse, or a uniform?

I could put those on to sit at home if I really wanted, though I’m not sure why I would when I can work in sweats.

Does it mean having the respect of clients and colleagues?

If you’re professional, you can build good relationships, a good reputation, and develop regular clients regardless of your job title. I’ve earned enough respect in my field to teach at conferences and judge writing contests.

Find Some Allies

This world will always have people who feel that they know better than you what you should do with your life. It’ll always have people who find it easy to judge you for your choices even though they’ve never been in your position. It’ll always have people who draw attention to your failures and weaknesses rather than your successes and strengths.

Find yourself some people who’ll call you out on evil rather than on personal preference, who have your back, and who will fight harder for you than you do for yourself. You need the support. Even Batman had Robin and Superman had Lois Lane.

Keep In Mind Who You Really Need to Please

When it comes right down to it, other people’s opinions don’t matter. You have to make your own decisions and follow your own conscience. You are accountable only to God.

So have a good cry and some chocolate. Realize that it’s always going to sting. And then pick yourself up off the floor, sit your bottom back down in your computer chair, and meet that deadline . . . and the one after that . . . and the one after that . . .

Are you following your dream or did you give it up because your friends or family didn’t approve? Are you a writer who’s faced some of these criticisms? How did you handle it?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Point of View in Fiction is now available. (You also might want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.) All are available in both print and ebook.

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Lightsaber Duel

One of the reasons I love fan fiction is that it allows up-and-coming creative geniuses to learn and to showcase their talent in a safe environment. Will fan fiction ever earn them money? Probably not. But I think if you’re trying to earn money from fan fiction, you’ve missed the point. Fan fiction needs to be about having fun, learning, and becoming part of a world you love.

Ryan and Dorkman’s lightsaber duel is a form of fan fiction at its finest.

(My inspiration for this video post was a post called “To Those Who Write Fan Fiction: Beware” by Patrick Thunstrom.)

Were you impressed by what Ryan and Dorkman created? How do you feel about fan fiction? Have you ever tried it yourself?

And come find me on Twitter, on Facebook, or on Google+. I’d love to chat.

Did I Eat All The Bertie Bott’s Beans Flavors?

Earlier this week, in my Behind the Scenes post on Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, I let you vote on whether you wanted to know how my box of Every Flavor Beans tasted and whether I ate them all—even the vomit-, booger-, and rotten egg-flavored ones. Since I received a resounding “yes” . . .

After arranging our beans in the order we each planned to eat them (we ended up being opposite), my husband and I used a round of rock-paper-scissors to decide who’d eat the first bean. I lost.

Until I chewed, I honestly believed those little Jelly Bellies were going to taste good and be awful in name only. I was wrong. Oh so wrong.

“How was it?” my husband asked.

I swallowed and turned pleading eyes to him. “It tastes just like sweet grass.”

The black pepper tasted just like black pepper, the soap like when you get shampoo in your mouth in the shower. The earwax, despite its name, tasted like the wax lips I used to have as a kid at Halloween.

Overall, none of them were that terrible, but I knew from my husband’s reaction that the worst was yet to come.

The dirt bean came next and tasted like wet bark and mud (please don’t ask how I know what that tastes like). The sausage? Well, let’s just say meat and jelly beans should never go together.

And then all I had left was the earthworm, the vomit, the booger, and the rotten egg.

Earthworm apparently tastes like raw, moldy beets.

I’d be lying if I said that by the time I finished the earthworm bean I didn’t consider simply swallowing the vomit, booger, and rotten egg beans whole like pills. Then I could honestly say I’d eaten them, but I wouldn’t have had to taste them. Except that would have been cheating. So I chewed that vomit bean.

And I’m sad to report it reminded me exactly of the taste you get in your mouth when you almost throw up.

I looked at my husband, who only had black pepper, soap, and grass left (and who was smirking at me).

“Someone had to taste test these,” I said. “Can you imagine?”

“I hope they got hazard pay.” He popped soap into his mouth. “You’re up again.”

His plan of eating the terrible ones first suddenly looked brilliant.

I stared down my booger bean, and it stared back at me in all its mocking greenness, looking innocently like what I’d come to expect a juicy pear Jelly Belly to look like.

And I chewed and I swallowed. And then, in between chugging down a Diet Pepsi to try to purge my taste buds, I asked my OCD husband (who insists on even numbers of everything), “Are you really going to eat two of these?”

He shook his head. “My OCD can go to h*ll.”

And I forgave him the mild profanity because that’s exactly where the booger bean belonged.

Only one bean now stood between me and being able to claim the distinction of having eaten every awful Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans flavor that came in our boxes—rotten egg.

For the love of all things good, if you do buy a box of Bertie Bott’s Beans, do not eat this flavor. I tried. I really did. But this is like the Death Star of jelly beans. I couldn’t manage to get it down.

Not only could I not get it down, I spent a couple minutes gagging over our kitchen sink while my husband laughed.

To think I once thought cinnamon jelly beans were as bad as it got. I can safely say that we won’t be buying Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans again. At the same time, it was the most we’d laughed in weeks, and for that alone, it was worth it. Next time, though, I think I’ll stick to chocolate frogs.

If you still want to try these or if you’re throwing a Harry Potter-themed party, you can buy them from Jelly Belly or from Amazon.com. (My apologies to my Canadian readers. As far as I know, you can’t get them in Canada.)

If you want to go even farther behind the scenes, Jelly Belly also sells Bean Boozled, where flavors like chocolate pudding and canned dog food look identical. You won’t know what you’re eating until you chew.

Is there a flavor of jelly bean that you would absolutely refuse to try?

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Behind the Scenes: Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans

[Harry] finally tore his eyes away from the druidess Cliodna, who was scratching her nose, to open a bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

“You want to be careful with those,” Ron warned Harry. “When they say every flavor, they mean every flavor—you know, you get all the ordinary ones like chocolate and peppermint and marmalade, but then you get spinach and liver and tripe. George reckons he had a booger-flavored one once.”

—J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, pg. 103-104

My husband and I found them while on a quest for jelly belly jelly beans—Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

As huge fans of the Harry Potter books and movies, we couldn’t resist. Since any jelly beans we bought were going to be part of my mother-in-law’s early Christmas gift to us, we each got ourselves two of the palm-sized boxes.  

On the drive back to our hotel, I pulled a box from my bag and started reading the flavors. All the ordinary ones were listed—banana, blueberry, candy floss, cherry, green apple, marshmallow, lemon, tutti-frutti, and watermelon.

But the box also held some of the strange flavors like earwax, black pepper, and yes, even booger, that the Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans in the books are so famous for. I read them out to my husband.

“You don’t think they actually taste . . . bad, do you?” I asked. “Who would ever buy them a second time if they really do taste like dirt or rotten eggs?”

My husband, Harry Potter expert that he is, argued that maybe they would taste just as terrible as in the books. After all, not knowing what flavor you’re going to get, whether it will be delicious or disgusting, is part of the appeal of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

Maybe if I was a 10-year-old boy, I’d agree with him. I can still remember being ten years old and being tricked into eating a sour gumball a boy in my class promised was coated in sugar. He laughed hysterically at my puckered face.

But I’m not a 10-year-old boy, and the mere thought of eating jelly beans that might really taste like earthworm or soap made my stomach turn.

I decided I’d start with the dirt-flavored Bertie Bott’s bean, and if it wasn’t too terrible, I’d move on to the sausage, working my way through the flavors.  

As we divvied up our boxes to make sure we each got to taste every flavor, the question became, if the dirt bean tasted like dirt, would I throw myself on the altar of providing the full story and try every one? Would I even try the vomit-flavored one?

But I thought I’d take a vote to find out if you’d like to know whether they taste good or bad 🙂 Send out a tweet, @ me in a Google+ post, or comment to let me know your vote.

Yes = Please tell us if the dirt bean really tasted like dirt, and if you ate the vomit, booger, and rotten egg beans anyway.

No = I’d rather not know.

If Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans really did taste like every flavor, would you still try them? And would you like to know if they taste good or bad?

The answer to the question Did I Eat All the Bertie Bott’s Flavors? is now posted!

 

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December 10 Grab Bag

I used to love candy grab bags growing up. You never knew what goodies were going to be inside, but you knew they were going to be good. Like the posts you can find at these links . . .

For Writers

5 Types of Platform and Which Is Right for You? – Jeff Goins explains five different “voices” or “tones” your platform can take and what personality types are best suited for each.

When Grammar Elements Go Out Drinking – The ladies at Edittorent made me laugh out loud. If you don’t get the joke, make sure you hire an editor before trying to publish your book.

Is Your Novel a Spineless Weakling? – A story can succeed or fail based on the antagonist. Yet another great post from Kristen Lamb on how to make sure your novel has the backbone it needs to survive. 

For Speculative Fiction and Fantasy Lovers

Rules to Survive a Horror Movie – You’ll be chuckling and nodding your head over these tips by Liz Schulte on how to survive if you ever find yourself in a horror movie. Many thanks to Jessica O’Neal for hosting this guest post. And because no horror movie is complete without a sequel, go by Liz Schulte’s Bat Country for How to Survive a Horror Movie Part 2.

The Characters of Harry Potter: Neville – The latest instalment in Jessica O’Neal’s series on the characters of Harry Potter doesn’t disappoint as she tackles one of my favorites. Neville’s innate humility and surprising bravery immediately drew me to him. Find out why else Jess thinks he’s one of the most well-developed characters in the books.

The Hunger Games: Team Peeta vs. Team Gale – Jess Witkins’ Happiness Project pits the two men in Katniss Everdeen’s life against each other. While I didn’t care about Twilight and picking sides, I’m Team Peeta all the way in this one.

The Meaning of Life

Confessions of a Hoarder – On her blog Of Martians and Marshmallows, Lynette M. Burrows comes clean on her personal hoarding obsession. It’ll make you take a fresh look at your own house.

Learning to #EpicFail . . . with Style – Kristen Lamb shares how failure can actually be a good thing if we learn how to use it to our advantage.

The Grinch Is Pregnant -The never-disappointing Myndi Shafer makes an extraordinarily good case that The Grinch is actually pregnant. Yes, even though he’s a boy.

From My Co-Writer Lisa Hall-Wilson at Through the Fire

Why I Hate Christmas – Not everyone loves Christmas and sometimes that’s okay. What matters is what you do with it.

Mermaids Off the Port Bow – Could the myths about mermaids have originated from a real society?

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Come find me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. I’d love to hang out.

What Are You Willing to Do For Love?

Love RingThe customs agent accepted the two passports I handed him, but didn’t look at them. Instead, he looked at me.

“I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?”

He had. Three times. On at least two of those times, he’d been the one to search my truck and then come in to chat with me while the other customs agents photocopied my itinerary and I filled in the declaration form. The last time he’d seen me had been four months earlier, before ice clogged the river and prevented the ferry from running.

I gave my best nod and smile. “Yes, sir.”

“Where’re you headed this time?”

“Just to the airport,” I poked a thumb toward my fiancé, who sat in the driver’s seat, “and then back to Canada.”

“She’s dropping me off,” my fiancé said.

We’d hit the point in the conversation where an angry avalanche always took place in my stomach. Would he let us through without trouble? Or would he tell us to pull the truck aside and come in? Living in Canada, less than 40 minutes from the US border, I’d crossed hundreds of times in my life without a problem—until I broke a taboo that I hadn’t known existed and somehow became a flight risk.

My crime? I’d agreed to marry an American.

The first time I tried to cross the border to visit my fiancé after getting engaged, my mom and I spent over 30 minutes inside the customs building. We answered questions about the wedding date, and where Chris and I planned to live.

Then the woman in charge asked, “Do you own any property in Canada?”

“She has a house,” my mom answered.

“Do you live there?” she asked me.

“No, ma’am. I live with my parents.”

“Why don’t you live there?”

“We rent it out.”

“So you don’t own a home.”

Deep breaths.

“She owns a house,” my mom said.

“Then why doesn’t she live in it?”

“Why would she live in it when she can stay with us and rent it out?”

“So she doesn’t own any property?”

My mom and I exchanged a glance.

“I’m sorry,” my mom said. “I don’t think I understand the question.”

On this trip with my fiancé, however, the customs agent returned my smile rather than asking us to pull the truck to the side. “Are you going to cry when you drop him off?”

Naw. I was going to jump for joy because my fiancé was going back to his home, 600 miles away, and I wasn’t going to see him again for a month. I reminded myself that he’s just doing his job. “Probably.”

He let us through without the usual delay. Finally—someone who realized that, if I haven’t made a run for it yet, it’s probably a safe bet I’m not about to. Besides the fact that I’m compulsively law-abiding, we’d lose all the wedding deposits.

I dropped my fiancé off and took the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor, Ontario, anxious to go home.

“How long were you out of Canada?” the border guard asked.

“About three hours.”

“What for?”

“I dropped my fiancé at the airport.”

“Where’s he going?”

“Virginia, sir.”

“What’s he doing there?”

“He lives there.”

“Isn’t that hard?”

I bit the inside of my cheek, and swallowed a giant chunk of sarcasm. A couple months earlier, when a US customs agent noticed an apple beside me, she asked, “What are you going to do with that apple?”

“Umm…eat it?”

Even I’m not paranoid enough to think up malicious ways to use an apple. The best part was that it was a U.S. apple with the sticker still on it. It was simply coming home. It’s a good thing they can’t read minds, though, because if sarcasm was a crime…

After one particularly harrowing border crossing experience, where the customs agent told me long-distance relationships never work and treated me like I was destined for a bad break-up, my maid of honor said, “I don’t know if any guy is worth that hassle. You must really love him.”

She was right. I did, and I still do. And now that my husband and I made it through all the paperwork and almost a year of immigration hoops and are in the same country at last, we can look back and laugh at the crazy things we did for love.

What are some of the crazy things you’ve done for love? Do you regret doing them or did it all work out in the end?

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Who’s Your Unicorn?

Unicorn“I have forgotten that men cannot see unicorns. If men no longer know what they’re looking at, there may be other unicorns in the world yet, unknown, and glad of it.”—The Last Unicorn (1982 movie) based on the novel by Peter S. Beagle.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you unicorns don’t exist. I’ve met one. And no, I’m not talking about those pictures that occasionally circle the internet of goats who’ve had their horns trained to twist together to look like a single horn.

I’ve met a real, live unicorn. She just didn’t look like what most people might expect.

Accounts differ about where the unicorn legend originated, but the most consistent picture of them is of a white horse with a single spiral horn growing from their forehead. As every little girl will tell you, they’re exceptionally beautiful.

Their horn soon became known as the bane of evil. A unicorn horn could drive away evil, neutralize poison, and kill any monster it came into contact with. Both their horn and their blood were said to have healing properties.

In China, unicorns came to symbolize wisdom. They were the kings among the animals. In the United Kingdom, they symbolized purity and many kings made them part of their heraldry.

They were and are beloved for a very simple reason.

Unicorns are the embodiment of good.

My unicorn had dark hair, hands that were cold even in summer, and an infectious laugh. She was exceptionally beautiful both inside and out.

Her name was Amanda, and she was one of my best friends. In 2001, a repeat-offender drunk driver with a blood alcohol level of twice the legal limit and a suspended license slammed into her driver’s side door at 100/mph (160 km/h). After 21 hours in a coma, she died. In a way, it was a blessing. The doctors said even if she’d woken up, she’d never have been the Amanda we knew again.

For a year, I brought flowers to her grave every Friday. I went because I missed her, but to be honest, I think I went more because of the fear that if I skipped even one week it would mean I’d forgotten her. And she deserved to be remembered.

Then, a year after her death, sitting on the soggy ground beside her grave, I finally realized the best way to honor and remember her wasn’t to sit in the cold and cry. It wasn’t to bring her flowers. It was to let her life and who she was motivate me to be a better person.

When you cut away all the myths and speculations and stories, unicorns are the things that make us want to be better simply by knowing of them, by being around them. They are what we aspire to be.

Amanda was far from perfect, but I can’t remember the imperfections anymore. What I do remember is her creativity, her cheerfulness, her refusal to let anyone change who she was, her determination and strong work ethic, her soft heart for hurting people.

The qualities I still remember best about her are the ones I want people to one day remember about me too.

I’m far from perfect. I’m still far from being the person I want to be. But I hope that one day, if I keep working at it, I’ll be someone’s unicorn too.

Who’s your unicorn? What is it about them that you so admire? How have they helped you become a better person?

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Are You Living Life at Warp 10?

When social media maven Kristen Lamb suggested I use the logline Life At Warp 10 for my blog, she found a way to sum up not only my love for science fiction and fantasy, my fascination (my husband would call it obsession) with uniqueness, and my desire to try new things, but also the speed at which I live my life—something she couldn’t possibly have known.

Or could she. You see, living life at warp 10, for all its benefits, can bring with it consequences obvious to anyone with eyes.

I first heard about warp 10 through the Season 2 episode of Star Trek: Voyager called “Threshold.”

The starship Voyager is stranded in the Delta quadrant (Earth is in the Alpha quadrant). Even if they could travel at their fastest speed the whole time, they’re still 75 years from home. And more than anything they want to get home to the loved ones who think they’re dead.

Lieutenant Tom Paris, Voyager’s pilot, along with his two closest friends, comes up with a plan to get them home sooner—warp 10. Theoretically, warp 10 is impossible. You wouldn’t really be moving at all. You’d be everywhere at once. By traveling at warp 10, they could simply be home again instantly.   

Paris, however, has solved the puzzle, and they’ve equipped a shuttle with warp 10 capabilities. Before he leaves, the doctor warns Paris there’s a two percent chance he could die due to a rare medical condition. He decides to take the risk. He argues this is his one chance to do something truly great, something that will go into history books.

He breaks the warp 10 barrier, and for a moment, it’s amazing. He’s everywhere. He can see Voyager and knows they’re looking for him, but he can also see home, their enemies, everything. The data he collects is invaluable.

And he’s achieved his goal. He’s made history.

Although Paris doesn’t die due to his medical condition, his time at warp 10 mutates his genes. He can’t drink water or breathe oxygen anymore. Before the doctor can treat him, his mind goes, he kidnaps Captain Kathryn Janeway, goes back to warp 10 to find a planet, and they both end up mutated lizards on a non-oxygen atmosphere planet with three lizard babies.

Living life at warp 10 is like that (minus the kidnapping and lizard babies of course).

You move as fast as you possibly can, and for a moment, it’s amazing. You’re able to be everything for everyone and do everything you need to. You’re doing it because you have a dream of doing something important, and that dream is worth the risks and sacrifices.

Except if you only stay at warp 10, you find yourself mutating into something you don’t like. I don’t like how tired I am and how I can’t enjoy the simple things that were once essential (you know, like Paris and his water and oxygen). I don’t like how I sometimes snap at my loved ones. I’ve been moving too fast for too long.

So while I want the experience of life at warp 10, the discoveries it brings and the chance it provides to reach my dream, I’m learning to also come back and get a treatment of slowing down and enjoying the simple things in life. Being able to successfully live life at warp 10 requires finding balance.

After all, I don’t think my husband would really appreciate me having lizard babies with someone else.

What keeps you moving at warp 10? What do you love about it? How do you make sure you don’t miss the simple pleasures along the way?

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Why I Fall For Promotional Contests Every Time

I have a stack of yellow Atlantic Avenue pieces for the McDonalds’ Monopoly game even though I consider fast food a heart attack in a bag. I buy more Tim Horton’s coffees in a week of their Roll Up the Rim promo every March than any human should drink in a month. And when the local hardware store ran an online Spin to Win campaign last Christmas, I logged in every day even though it meant playing an obnoxious elf game.

I know it’s pathetic. I know that I’m playing right into their hands like a mind-controlled lemming. But they draw me in every time with their promises of free food, free cars, money.

After all, I tell myself, someone has to win those prizes. I have as good a chance as anyone. That my chances of winning are so slim I have a better chance of growing another inch doesn’t matter. I might win. I might. And no one can convince me otherwise no matter how much they smirk and laugh behind their hands.

I revel in the anticipation of peeling the stickers off that sheaf of fries I shouldn’t be eating (but can justify because the calories will all be worth it if I win.) Will it be Boardwalk at last? Or only another stupid Reading Railroad? The collection of the different pieces is part of the fun. Peeling them off and sticking them on the game board provides a certain sense of satisfaction. (Even if I do have to let my husband peel the ones off his own food.)

These little games, stupid as they are, give me something to hope for. Maybe when we roll up the rim on this coffee, we’ll win the car so we can retire our rust bucket that’s held together with duct tape and dirt. Maybe when we peel this sticker, we’ll get the money we need to pay off our student loans or quit the job we hate to follow our dream.   

As Snow White tells bail bondswoman Emma Swann in the premier episode of Once Upon A Time, “Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing.” That’s what really draws me in. It isn’t the prizes. It isn’t even the money (nice as that would be).

It’s the possibility of a happy ending.

In the last year and a half, I had dental surgery because my front tooth randomly fell out, my husband tore both his hamstrings at once leading to a slow rehab, my dog died of cancer, my husband lost his job, my truck was totaled, I had to take a job that makes me want to curl up in the fetal position, and I had to give up my horses—to name only a few.

Playing the silly promotional contests helps remind me on the bad days that things will get better. No, I probably won’t win the car or the money. But the rocky times we’ve faced lately won’t last either.

Tomorrow might be the day my husband gets a job. It might be the day I land an agent. It might just be a perfect day for no particular reason at all.

Or I might roll up the rim on my coffee cup and win $100,000. You never know.

What things do you do even though you know they’re silly and irrational? What little habits or routines do you have that for some unexplainable reason make you feel good? What helps you believe in the possibility of a happy ending?

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