Friday, December 21, 2012

My Wish for a Brand New World

Pardon my departure from my usual "Healthy Writers Club" Friday post, but the decidedly creative Jaye Robin Brown came up with a great idea for an end of the year blogfest. We have all been hearing so much hype about Mayan calendars the end of the world that JRo decided to give the apocalypse a positive spin. Here's what she has to say:

Last night I was thinking about the Mayan calendar and the whole thing about the world ending on Friday. This got me thinking.

If the world ends on Friday......

Then on Saturday.....

We wake up to a brand new world!

I know I'm not the only one out there with IDEAS on what they'd like this brand new world to look like. So here's your opportunity to go deep, be profound, maybe silly, whatever your style. So go ahead and sign up now, but between Thursday and Saturday, come back and hop around and envision a brand new world. Writer style.

JRo's words got me thinking, and I realized I have LOTS of ideas for a brand new world. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary highlights just how screwed up this place we call home can be, and although I know bad things will happen no matter what, I still would love to see a culture shift in response to this.

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
In particular, I wish we would begin to value public education the way we value celebrities and sensationalism. I wish Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Dawn Hochsprung's yearly salary wasn't roughly $100,000, and I wish Victoria Soto--the heroic teacher who died shielding her students from gunfire--didn't make between $38,000 and $59,000 a year. (Salaries based on CT averages).

Compare this to reality starlet Kim Kardashian's salary of $800,000 per episode--plus countless product endorsements and appearance fees. (According to the Examiner, Kardashian is rumored to spend $80,000 a year on her beauty regime alone.)

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
I also wish we would get our values in the right place. And I wish we wouldn't allow monsters like NFL quarterback and "reformed" dog fighter Michael Vick back into the public limelight, while many animal rescue organizations struggle with the constant threat of insufficient funding and bankruptcy. (Vick, by the way, makes $12.5 million a year. Yes, you read that right.)

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
But let me be clear here. I am not being critical of Kim Kardashian. She is an opportunistic, business-minded mogul who has capitalized on the fact that she apparently possesses something the American public values. The same could be said for people like Snooki PolizziKate Gosselin and Honey Boo Boo. (Sorry, I just can't say this for Michael Vick. He actually has a talent, but... Sorry. I will never forgive that man for what he did to those animals.)

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
What I am trying to say is that I believe it's time for us to stop criticizing and judging the majority of these so-called stars. It's time for us to start pointing the finger of blame directly at the people responsible for their success and fortune: ourselves.

Come on, tell me you haven't EVER cast a stray eye at Kim or Snooki or Kate or Honey Boo Boo in the tabloids. Maybe you have even seen their shows. And whether you've noticed them for entertainment, out of curiosity, or simply because their dysfunctions and poor decisions made you feel better about yourself, you have still supported the business empire that is their success.

This may seem harsh, but I am no innocent here. I devour tabloids every time I board an airplane, and you know what? I enjoy them. I enjoy reading the crazy stories and looking at the articles about plastic surgery gone wrong, and I come away feeling superior--like I'm above all this.

But, you know what? I'm NOT, and my $3.99 (or whatever) just got funneled back into the wheels of whatever sensationalist culture we've created that actually prints this stuff.

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, a quote popped up on Facebook. It was attributed to Morgan Freeman, and it rationalized the shooter's motive by saying:

"You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here's why. It's because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single victim of Columbine?

"Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basement see the news and want to top it by doing something worse and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he'll be remembered as a horrible monster instead of a sad nobody. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you’ve just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or maternity ward next."

It's a beautiful quote, isn't it? But here's the most interesting part: it wasn't actually written by Morgan Freeman. According to the Star Phoenix, it was written by a man named Mark Price from Vancouver, and he originally penned it with the expectation of only sharing it with his friends and family.

But then the quote began to spread, and some of his friends began attributing it to Freeman. A few hours after it was posted, Price reported, “If I know the internet, someone will attribute the quote to Morgan Freeman or Betty White and it’ll go viral. [edit] OH GOD IT’S ALREADY HAPPENING."

As you can imagine, Price has received criticism for allowing his post to spread this way, but he stands by it. Here's what he told reporters: “I honestly wish my brush with internet fame wasn’t associated with murdered children. If what I said resonated with thousands of people, despite who they believe said it, GOOD. I stand by what I said about why it happened, and how it was reported!

“I saw a father taking his terrified child away from the school literally being chased by a Fox News reporter looking for a scoop, and that pissed me off. So no, I’m not gleefully cackling about this. But I have to admit this has been a crazy specimen of how things get out of hand online, and that it’s been astounding to watch. If it weren’t given to a celebrity, nobody would be talking about it. What got people to spread my words: The content of the message, or who supposedly said it?”

You know the scary thing? Price is absolutely right. If he hadn't "been" Morgan Freeman--the beloved actor who gave us The Shawshank Redemption, Driving Miss Daisy, and March of the Penguins--we probably would have never heard what he had to say. 

And to that, I say: Shame on us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Download ROUGE for FREE Today!!

Photo Courtesy of Leigh T. Moore
I don't know about you guys, but I have always been intrigued by New Orleans. The salt air, the music, the swamps, the culture, the voodoo... It's the type of setting that just BEGS a story, so I am delighted to hear a wonderful new one has just been written. 

ROUGE, a new YA novel by the fabulously talented (and kind, and thoughtful, and determined) Leigh Talbert Moore, just oozes with Louisiana flavor. And even more importantly, Leigh is a delightful person I'm happy to support and proud to call a friend.

Check out her amazing pitch:

Trapped in the underground theater world of 1890s New Orleans, Hale Ferrer has only one goal: escape. But not without Teeny, the orphan-girl she rescued from the streets and promised to protect.

Freddie Lovel, Hale's wealthy Parisian suitor, seems to be the easy solution. If only his touch could arouse her interest like Beau's, the penniless stagehand who captures her heart.

Denying her fears, Hale is poised to choose love until an evil lurking in their cabaret-home launches a chain of events that could cost her everything.

Are you drooling in anticipation yet? If so, you should head over to Amazon RIGHT NOW and download ROUGE for free. That's right, I said free. If you are a Kindle owner, Leigh is offering free Kindle Select downloads today (12/19) and tomorrow (12/20). Here's the link: ROUGE

While you are there, you can also check out Leigh's first book, THE TRUTH ABOUT FAKING. Her novels also make great Christmas gifts. (Wink, wink.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ask a Zookeeper: Wolves vs. Dogs

As many of you know, I am the Zookeeper-in-Residence on website where "you can ask people anything about their jobs and answer questions about yours." I reprint one of my favorite "Ask a Zookeeper" questions on my blog every Tuesday, and you can ask your very own question HERE!

Here is this week's question:

Q. Why are wolves so vicious while dogs are so docile? Aren't they pretty closely related? -circle gets the square

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
A. Hi circle! The answer lies in the domestication process that transformed gray wolves into dogs. This process began between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago, when early man began interacting with and taming wild wolves. Not all wolves were suited for this, so only the most "sociable" and "approachable" animals were tamed. These wolves bred with other "man-friendly" wolves, and their offspring grew up even more comfortable around man.

As each generation passed, the fear of man gradually left these wolves. And as each generation passed, the wolves' anatomy and physiology began changing. Humans who wanted strong animals to pull their sleds selectively bred their strongest animals together. Humans who wanted fast animals to help them hunt selectively bred their fastest animals together. Eventually, the wolves had changed so much that they weren't even really wolves anymore. That's when they first became dogs. (And that's why there's so much variation between breeds today!)

To answer your question, I would argue that wolves aren't actually "vicious" creatures; they are just wild animals that are guided by instinct and strength and prowess. Their natural fear of man is what makes them appear vicious to us.

Dogs, on the other hand, have been bred and raised among humans for so long that they view our relationship with them as natural. Their instinct to fear us has been absent for many thousands of years, so they are born with a clean slate against us. It is up to us to ensure we live up to their trust.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Once There Was a Heartbreak

Once upon a time, two people fell in love. And it was beautiful.

He was of the mountains, and she was of the sea. But they built their love with fire, and they dreamt it was meant to be.

They lived boldly, and they lived fully. They made footprints in each other’s hearts, and they laughed and loved and took on the world together.

She taught him how to follow his dreams, and he taught her how to listen to her heart. But fate has the cruelest sense of irony, because his dreams and her heart led in opposite directions.

So what to do? Sacrifice his dreams, or sacrifice her heart? Or respect the beautiful thing that was their love enough to leave it be?

Fairy tales aren’t supposed to end with goodbyes, but theirs was never a classic love story. And once they realized their fire would destroy everything they’d ever built, they made an impossible choice.

They set each other free.

Healthy Writers Club: Doing and Not-Doing

Photo Courtesy of Shallee McArthur
It has been another week, and I have been steadily plugging away at my healthy living goals. I hope you have been successful, too; it is so much harder to keep yourself centered during the holidays.

I've been thinking about Lao Tzu lately, and I have been paying lots of attention to the Taoism concepts of doing and not-doing. In the Western world, we place so much emphasis on DOING, and I see this reflected in my life all the time: exercising, writing, networking, job-searching, etc.

But this week, I have been trying to remind myself that it's okay to be NOT-DOING sometimes, too. It's critical, actually, because rest is one of the most vital--yet overlooked--aspects of living a healthy life. (My body learned this lesson the hard way this week. I attempted two back-to-back sixteen-mile bike rides with very high resistance, and my knees fought back and kept me grounded for the next two days.)

Here is my favorite part of the Tao Te Ching. I have found it very inspirational lately, and I hope you do, too:

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and he lets them come;
things disappear and he lets them go.
He has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.
When his work is done, he forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

How does this relate to your life--writing or otherwise? I have recently discovered exactly how violently my stories will fight back if I try to force them to behave. I have also discovered that my mind and body both need time to heal. If I try to force either to fall in line, they will protest with a vengeance. 

That's why I am trying to embrace the fact that it's okay for me to NOT be okay sometimes. And with all the transition going on in my life right now, I need to accept the bad times just as fully as the good times. As the quote goes, "Sometimes, we must be hurt in order to grow. Sometimes, we must fail in order to know. Sometimes, we must lose in order to gain. Because some lessons in life are best learned through pain."

When is the last time you experienced this feeling?

Here are my weekly Healthy Writers Club milestones:

  • Three bike rides (39.5 miles)
  • Five ab work-outs
  • Three arm work-outs
  • 10,481 new words on my polar bear project, and I am actually having FUN
  • Lots of family time, a few adventures, and lots of moments of NOT-DOING in addition to my usual DOING ;)
How about you? Any setbacks or milestones this week??

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ask a Zookeeper: Exotic Animals as Pets

As many of you know, I am the Zookeeper-in-Residence on website where "you can ask people anything about their jobs and answer questions about yours." I reprint one of my favorite "Ask a Zookeeper" questions on my blog every Tuesday, and you can ask your very own question HERE!

Here is this week's question:

Q. Are there any animals not commonly kept as pets that you think should be? -slowgrind

Photo Courtesy of bagsgroove
A. Goats! My friends laugh at my love for them, but what's not to like? They're cute, they're relatively docile and they mow your lawn for you! Pigs also make great pets, but they grow bigger than you'd think, so it's important to make sure you have lots of space for them.

In general, I actually recommend NOT owning exotic pets, because there are lots of behind-the-scenes issues with the pet trade. While some exotic animals are raised for this purpose, many more are stolen from their native habitat and smuggled overseas for sale. Infants are often separated from their mothers, and many die during transit.

Wild animals are also much more unpredictable (and sometimes dangerous) than their domestic counterparts, so owners often struggle to take care of them. They usually don't get the nutrition they need, and their "newness" wears off quickly.

Many times, owners eventually decide to "set them free," and this almost always has fatal consequences for the animal. When it doesn't, it disrupts the natural balance of the native ecosystem. (A great example of this is the massive reticulated pythons that are currently running amok in the Everglades--even though they are native to Southeast Asia.)

That being said, I definitely think farm animals should get more props for being awesome. If you happen to own a nice piece of land and can afford to support them, I would highly recommend them!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My Manatee Adventure

(Probably not one of my most photogenic moments)
I missed another Healthy Writers Club post this Friday--which means I haven't posted since I participated in the U.S. Geological Survey's Crystal River manatee research study two weeks ago. This means I still have to nerd-squee all over the place. (Here's the link to my original post: Manatees and Squeeing!)

Manatee Research Study Team: November 2012
In short, I had an absolute BLAST. It was absolutely mind-boggling to be included with such a capable and professional group of people. I was on the Manatee Catch Team, so my job was to help pull in nets and to help restrain the manatees on the beach. Once they were restrained, we pulled them into a stretcher, loaded them onto a boat, and escorted them over to the medical beach, where veterinarians performed all their tests before giving the animals back to us to release in the deep water.

Catch Team: November 2012
The manatees were out of their element, of course, but everyone there did everything possible to make the encounter as stress-free as possible. Everything ran like clockwork, and the animals were even given oxygen while their heart rates were monitored for stress.

Weigh Station: November 2012
(That's me with the sunglasses in the middle on the right side!)
My friend Sonya and I both jumped right into the action, and we crashed into this crazy dog pile every time we restrained an animal. We were all covered in mud, and everyone’s hands were on top of each other, and we were bumping faces and falling in on top of each other. Someone always had a hand on your back, or he or she was helping steady you as you walked. The teamwork was amazing, and I felt so honored to be part of something like this.

(That's Sonya on the left and me in the middle!)
After spending so many years living away from water (or in Alaska'a case, water you can actually swim in), I can definitively say I feel like I've returned home now. Once you have saltwater in your veins, you struggle to live without it. :)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ask a Zookeer: Amazing Animal Reunions

As many of you know, I am the Zookeeper-in-Residence on website where "you can ask people anything about their jobs and answer questions about yours. It’s as though [they] took the classic 'What do you do?' cocktail party question and turned it into a website…minus the awkward small-talk."

I have been having a great time hosting my Zookeeper Q&A so far, and I have decided to reprint one of my favorite Jobstr questions on my blog every Tuesday. (Do you have your very own "Ask a Zookeeper" question for me? Ask it HERE!)

Here is this week's question:

Q: Have you ever had a reunion moment like this one where an animal you hadn't seen in a long time remembered you? -becky

A: Oh my gosh, isn't that story the sweetest thing you have ever seen?? While I have never experienced anything nearly that dramatic, I did have a great moment a few years back when I returned to a marine park in Florida.

While I worked as the Education Director there, I really bonded with four rough-toothed dolphins. Two were very young and didn't remember me at all two years later, but the third seemed to show a flicker of recognition when she saw me. The fourth (my VERY favorite) immediately rushed over and put his chin in my lap. I was so overwhelmed and moved and thankful that I literally cried on the spot.

(By the way, leaving facilities has been the HARDEST thing I ever have to do in this line of work. Although the direction of your life changes and you know moving is what you need to do, you still feel like your guts get ripped out every time you have to say goodbye. I tear up just thinking about it.)