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You Don’t Need an Audience to Do The Right Thing

awesome

I like stories.

So I’m going to tell you two. These are true stories that happened at different points in my life. The first happened when I was 18. The second when I was 28.

I may have told these stories here before, so please forgive me if you’ve already heard them.

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It was Thursday morning and I was working my usual shift at the local library. In between shelving books and answering questions, my job was to check in the returns. Every morning I did this. I’d pick up a book, open to the back cover, scan the barcode, and stack the book on the trolley. This morning was no different to any other.

Until I opened a Large Print edition of a Ruth Rendell mystery and was faced with a mystery of my own.

I flipped open the cover, barcode scanner at the ready.

I flipped the cover closed. Had I just seen… Was the really…

I put down the scanner and carefully opened the book again. Then snapped it closed.

There was money in there. Lots of money.

I was 18 years old, working two jobs, trying to study, and living on ramen noodles slathered in cheap tomato sauce. Money was something that happened to other people. But there I was holding a book that appeared to be full of the stuff.

Gently, carefully, as though the cash would disappear in a puff of dream-stuff if I moved too quickly, I opened the book again. This time I kept it open. I flicked through the $50 notes inside. There were twelve of them. I had six hundred bucks right in front of me.

What I could do with six hundred dollars….

I carefully closed the book again, took a deep breath, and pressed a few keys on the keyboard.

“Excuse me,” I said to the little old lady perusing the Large Print section of the library.

“Yes?”

“Are you Mrs Newman?”

“Yes.” She fingers tightened on the strap of her handbag and she leaned away from me.

I held up the book. “Did you just return this book?”

“Yes,” she said. Her smile was gone. “Is something wrong?”

“No.” I proffered the book. “But I think you left something inside the back cover.”

She cautiously took the book from me and opened it. The colour drained from her face, and she all but collapsed into a nearby chair. “Oh, my. I…”

“Are you alright?” I was eighteen. I thought I’d killed her.

“I’m… Oh. Thank you. I’m always nervous about keeping money in my purse, so when I take my rent money out of the bank I hide it in the back of a book. For safe keeping. I must have forgotten it was in there. I’m so… thank you. So much.”

I smiled, waited for her to take her money, and then took the book back to the counter. She left shortly thereafter, and returned with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers for me. I walked on air for the rest of the day.

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It was Friday evening. My husband and I were walking through the mall on the way home, past restaurant after restaurant full of happy, smiling people intent on a good night out. We were heading home to have cheese sandwiches for dinner. We didn’t have enough money for restaurants or take-away food. (But on the plus side, we could afford sandwiches!)

“How about we get some Coke on the way home?” my husband asked.

“Sure,” I said. Because sometimes you just have to splash out.

So we dropped into a 7-11 and while my husband was grabbing the soft drink, I went to the ATM. May as well try my luck and see if I can get $20 out, I thought. (Although I was pretty sure I only had five dollars and some change in my account.) I put in my card, typed in my PIN and looked down.

Sitting in the tray where the money is dispensed was a fifty dollar note.

I picked it up. Fifty bucks. There was no-one around. No sign of who it belonged to. I ran it between my fingers. With fifty bucks, we could buy a piece of steak and some vegies on the way home. Or a bottle of wine. Hey, we could probably even go out to dinner.

Or we could do the responsible thing and use it to pay one of our massively overdue bills.

I flicked the note back and forth between my fingers while I pushed buttons on the ATM.

— TRANSACTION DECLINED. INSUFFICIENT FUNDS. —

We should still have enough in our bank account to just use EFTPOS to pay for the drink. And there was always the fifty dollars…

“Excuse me,” I said to the guy behind the register. “I just went to use the ATM and someone forgot to take their money.”

“Yeah…” the guy said, like he didn’t know why that would have anything to do with him.

“Can I leave it with you in case they come back for it?”

He looked at me like I was an idiot. Then he took the money, wrote a note about it, and put it in a drawer under the counter. My husband came back with the Coke. We paid for it (holding our breaths while we waited to see if the transaction would be approved) and then left.

And as I ate my cheese sandwich and drank my Coke, I was happy.

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I’ve told people those two stories a few times over the years. Not to blow my own trumpet, but to illustrate the importance of not hiding money in library books, and to remind people to check they’ve got their money before they leave the ATM. And without fail, I get the same reactions from people.

When I tell the first story, I get people saying things like: That’s so sweet! You’re so honest! Not everyone would have returned that money! It’s a good job it was you who found the money and not someone else!

When I tell the second story, I get people saying thinks like: Why would you do that? You know the guy just kept the money, right? You should have just kept it. Anyone else would have.

Maybe people are right. I mean, who knows what happened to that fifty dollar note? Maybe the guy at the 7-11 waited until I’d left the store and then pocketed it and spent the night telling people about the stupid woman who handed it over.

Or maybe it was a couple’s last $50 and they came racing back into the 7-11 five minutes after we left, frantic that they wouldn’t be able to buy any food for their children, and were overwhelmed with relief when the cashier handed them the money.

There’s no way to know.

And here’s the thng: It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter what happened to that fifty dollars. It wasn’t mine to keep any more than the $600 I found at the library was mine to keep. Just because I couldn’t personally hand it back to the person who lost it doesn’t mean I had a right to keep it.

It’s not my responsibility if someone else chooses to do the wrong thing.

It’s my responsibility to make sure I do the right thing.

Even if no one is watching.

When have you been called an idiot for doing the right thing?

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I’m Not the Blogger You’re Looking For

I’m supposed to be writing a blog post right now. Actually, I was supposed to write on about six hours ago. But the sore throat, snuffly nose, cotton-wool head, achey muscle fairy came by last night and left me feeling a wee bit… shall we say, uncomfortable?

So rather than inflict some terribly bad prose upon you, I thought I’d share a few posts from some of my favourite bloggers. These five posts are all brand new (written less than a couple of days ago), and are written by bloggers you could do worse than to read, follow, and love.

“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night.” Of course it was.

Vaughn Roycroft talks about his love of reading and writing in winter, and using winter as a backdrop in his novels.

There is something special about an impending storm—a potent cocktail of edgy anticipation and hunkering snugness. My characters endure swirling snow, bone-chilling wind, and stinging rain. My stormy mood is often imposed upon their world, creating a beautiful melancholia—the perfect backdrop for heightened conflict and emotional perseverance. <read more>

Names

Dan Thompson gives some practical advice on how to go about choosing names for characters.

A common question for new writers is where do you get your character names? You wouldn’t think that was much of a problem, but a lot of stories are populated by the all-too-common John’s and Mary’s. Jumping to the other extreme, we run into some tales filled with Xg’hanpl and Krnozj and other disemvoweled words. <read more>

So, You Wanna Be Gluten-Free?

Stephanie explains why choosing to eat gluten-free when you don’t have allergies is more trouble than it’s worth.

For anyone considering going gluten-free as a health-conscious, or “diet” option, I would strongly urge you to consider otherwise. Gluten-free living has roadblocks and detours that I, had I not discovered my allergies, would be less than enthusiastic about overcoming. Between the cost of my quality of social interaction (i.e., dinner and a movie with my husband or a drink with the girls) and the actual cost of living gluten-free in time and money, were I able to avoid these behemoth sacrifices, I would. <read more>

Football is our India Gang Rape

Bridget discusses the culture of football in America, where sexual assault and rape are covered up to protect the reputation of “The Game”.

I can’t help but draw a comparison between the gang-rape in India and the rape scandals that seem to plague the American institution of football. Penn State, Notre Dame, and Steubenville High School have all been accused of covering up or ignoring rape allegations in order to protect their football programs. <read more>

Mean people suck! (Or maybe they don’t?)

Janelle shares an experience where an old lady is mean to her toddler… and learns something inspiring along the way.

I wonder what kind of life must have been endured, to turn a human heart cold against the irresistible warmth of a baby. To make it impossible to utter a “hello,” to find even one millisecond of joy in the antics of a little girl, throwing her innocence and smile and trust your way, a complete stranger, even for just a moment becoming your child, your friend, your own. <read more>

Share with me! What did you think of these posts? Have you come across any must-reads recently? 

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Monday’s Top 5

Are you looking for a way to get the inspiration flowing and kickstart your writing? This week, Vivacia from A Wannabe Writer’s Blog brings you 20 Tips on Mugging Your Muse. She’s got a heap of different ideas, from Succeeding with Sneakiness to using Passion to Make Perfect, so there’s bound to be at least a few that appeal to you.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m writing I have a tendency to act out the scene as I go. I speak dialogue out loud, my own facial expression changes to match the way my characters are feeling, and, on occasion, I even stand up and act out the physical movements of my characters. (What would it look/feel like to do [insert action here]?) Billie Jo Woods talks about these things in her post this week, and wonders whether her writing packs a greater emotional punch when it makes her laugh or cry or cringe as she’s writing it. Go have a read: Please Pass the Tissues, Emotional Writing Happening Here.

If you’ve ever read any of Bridget’s posts on Twinisms, you’ll already know at least two things about her life: (1) Boxed wine is awesomesauce, and (2) Alaska sucks. (There’s also something about having two sets of twins or something… So hard to keep track of the little things.) So I was both amused and disappointed this week to discover that she’s been lying to us all along. And now she’s spilled the beans (with pictures and video footage to prove it.) Here’s Bridget with her confession: Alaska — Not Sucking.

This was a big week for Tracy from Sellabit Mum: She wrote and published her 1000th post. Yes, you read that right: One thousand posts. All I can really say is: “Holy dooley! That’s amazing!” (I apparently lost the ability to exclaim anything normal or interesting once my children were born.) Tracy looks back on the last four years, considers where she is now, and considers the question: I wonder if I’m really ‘just’ a blogger and not a writer.

On a more touching and sadder note, the lovely Worrywart wrote an amazing story about Ashlee. She may not have known Ashlee, but this post is full of passion and love. I leave you with this excerpt:

Several tables were set up. A small group of serious women served food from large foil containers. It smelled delicious. There were flowers lining the perimeter.

A wedding? 

Rounding the corner, ASHLEE was written in flowers. Her yearbook photo rested against a nearby shrub.

She was 17. She took her own life.

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Monday’s Top 5

I’ve posted links to blog posts with advice on ways to get over the infamous Writer’s Block in the past. (As a note: “infamous” does not mean “more than famous”. Just in case you were wondering.) Now, I don’t believe in Writer’s Block, but if you do, then this post may help you. With such great advice as “Wallow in Self-Pity”, how could y0u go wrong? I highly suggest you check out the rest of Peri Kinder’s Top 5 Ways to Get Over Writer’s Block.

While that advice is obviously going to be useful to those people writing a first draft, what about those people currently working on revisions? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered as well. K. Marie Criddle’s drawg this week is a truly inspired piece of awesome. Check out what happens when she tries to edit her work while in a non-neutral mindset: Revising for the weak minded and easily distracte–SHINY.

Have you ever sat down and thought to yourself: You know, grammar is seriously sexy. (…yeah, me neither…) Julie of byanyothername clearly has. She published a post this week titled Today call me Laid — but it’s not about S – E – X. No, this post is about the correct usage of the verbs “to lie” and “to lay”. Because as she says: “There’s nothing hotter than the proper conjugation of verbs.”      Warning: References to Moby Dick, Jersey Shore and Ryan Gosling. 

Shawn Ledington Fink starts out her post on Ways to Just Be With your Children by saying:

It’s not easy being a parent. No matter if you work outside the home, inside the home. No matter if you have one, two, three or fifteen children. No matter if you have a small house in a big city or a big house in a small city. No matter if you have money or very little money. Raising children is hard work — at least it is if you are doing it right.

This post touches on a number of concerns that have been playing around in my head recently, and suggests 25 “unplugged” ways to spend time with your kids. While I wouldn’t necessarily use all 25 of her ideas, this post really got me thinking. If you’re a parent and you’re struggling to come up with interesting ways to connect with your kids (sans TV, computers and consoles), check it out.

Finally, I’d like to share a post on parenting that really touched me this week. Tracy of Sellabit Mum is a Stay at Home Mum of three girls who believes that we should get on with raising our children according to the needs of our own families, rather than participating in so-called “Mommy Wars”. But she wasn’t always a Stay at Home Mum. Like many of us, she was once a career-focused woman who didn’t think having a baby would change her ambitions. But then it did. Check out her beautiful story Why I Stay at Home… (And if you’re a softie like me, have a box of tissues handy.)

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Monday’s Top 5

Stephen Watkins has a great post this week where he addresses the various types of ambitions a writer may possess. In many cases, when asked why they write, writers tend to wax poetic about the way they “have to write or they’ll die” and other such over-dramatic statements. While I understand the sentiment, the reality is that we probably have more concrete ambitions with our writing than mere survival. Stephen looks at three types of Writer’s Ambitions, what they mean, and which are most important to him.

Regardless of where our ambitions lie, however, there our times when we have to choose between spending our time writing and spending our time with our families. Tess Hardwick captures that conflict, and the fact that it really isn’t, beautifully in her post It Is Only Now…

Stephanie of Momma Be Thy Name freely admits that she has often been accused of being “overly altruistic, naive, and trusting”. She blames this over-optimistic attitude on Growing Up Sesame and struggles with the questions all parents face:

So what do I teach my children? To be skeptical? To be paranoid? To be distant? To skip down Lollipop Lane oblivious to society’s shortcomings? To steal off to a cabin in the woods and never return?

We’d all like to protect children from the negativity of the world, but how do we do that when we live in a world where language that was once taboo is common place. Heather from Prawn and Quartered touches on this issue in her post Strong Women Are Not (Necessarily) B*tches.

My main objection to the increasingly coarse standards of culture is the desensitization process. If kids see this kind of thing plastered across magazines and TV shows their parents watch, they will think it is acceptable too.

And finally this week, I bring you a great story of fear and redemption. If you have ever visited Bridget at Twinisms, you’d know that she has an aversion to crafts that borders on the phobic. Her take on craft is best summed up by her comment when discussing New Year’s Resolutions: “Take up crafting — Yuck. Don’t be gross.” But despite her distaste, this week finds her not only participating in, but apparently even enjoying, a craft project. How did that happen? Well, let’s just say she was Craftnapped!

I’m not here. My morning and my blog have been hijacked by my so-called-friends. At our Thursday morning coffee they made me do…a craft. It was the worst morning of my life. I can’t talk about it. My “friend” Brooke now has a hot glue gun to my head and her crafty fingers on my MacBook typing out a play-by-play of the awful events.

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Monday’s Top 5 (Better Late than Never)

Yes, I’m a day late. But in all fairness, it’s still Monday somewhere. Probably.

To start us off today, I’d like to once again mention Dan of Making it Up As I Go… He has a very well written and considered article this week about why he is Choosing to Self-Publish. As I’ve mentioned before, I intend to pursue traditional publishing for myself. However, I’m all for self-publishing when it’s done for valid reasons (as opposed to the old “traditional publishers are just trying to rip us off, man!” or “gatekeepers are evil!”). Dan’s post is full of great reasons that he’s taking the self-publishing route, but more importantly (in my opinion) he addresses a question that too many writers completely ignore: Why do you want to be published?

The Surfing Pizza this week brings us a great story about listening to music on vinyl, Living in the Analog World, and finding a rare gem in an unlikely place.

Before even walking in, you can tell this is the perfect kind of bookstore, the kind roughly the size of a closet. At least a master bedroom closet. Old light bulbs with metal filaments give off an apricot glow. Musty wooden shelves press to the ceiling and loom over—or perhaps more accurately, hunch over, like old giants. And if you are quiet, and if you listen carefully, you’ll swear you hear those shelves breathing, the sounds of giants harrumphing over us mere mortals below.

Are you sick of reading New Year’s Resolutions posts yet? I have to admit that I’m not. I love reading about the goals people have for their life and their year. And amongst the resolution-overload, there are always some shiny gems waiting to be discovered. This post from Mommy Rotten (“I’m the mom who makes you feel better about your own mothering. By comparison.”) isn’t really about resolutions, but her Guilty Pleasures make for great January reading. In her own words:

Everybody has them.  Every January I kind of take stock of my guilty pleasures to see if I should or would give any of them up in the interests of making myself a better person.  I usually don’t.  But I thought it might be fun to take you all on this futile journey of self un-improvement with me.

As I’ve mentioned before, I spent my entire school life being bullied. I promised myself back then that I wouldn’t let the same thing happen to my own children. As my eldest son gets ready to start school (two weeks to go!), the subject of bullying and how to empower my children to deal with it, is often on my mind. There are many strategies to ensuring your child doesn’t have a “victim” mentality, including fostering a healthy self-esteem, but what to do when that isn’t enough? Enter the wisdom of Wendy Thomas.  Her post this week details the conversation she had with her daughters about what to do if they are bullied.

“No one has the right to say or do anything that makes you or anyone else feel bad. In the future, if someone says something to you in order to bully you, or if you hear someone say something to someone else specifically to make them feel bad, I want you to let that bully know that his behavior makes you angry. Very angry. I want you to look that person right in the eye and at the top of your lungs I want you to shout – continue reading

And to finish on a lighter note this week, I’d like to draw your attention to Peas and Cougars, where Rae shares her “love” for Captcha verification. Check out her cartoon: Captcha Bitch.

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Monday’s Top 5

Welcome to the first Top 5 of a brand new year. This week has obviously been a time for introspection and reflection for many people. I had so many great blog posts to read, that choosing my top 5 was quite difficult. I hope you enjoy the ones I finally decided upon.

In the writing blogosphere this week, most people were either (a) silent, or (b) looking at their goals for the upcoming year. (I’ll be doing that myself tomorrow!) But a post from one writer stood out from the crowd when he talked about the importance of having unique holidays in Sci Fi and Fantasy books. Dan Thompson blogs at Making It Up As I Go, and regularly has insightful and interesting posts related to spec fic genres. Martian Holidays really made me stop and think about my own writing, and how I could improve the authenticity of the worlds I create. In his words:

In SF and fantasy, we often talk about that sense of not here and not now. It both takes us to another realm as well as provides fuel for our willing suspension of disbelief. After all, anything is possible on St. Carter’s Day, right? But these holidays have to be more than Christmas in disguise, where sarcastic St. Mick brings broken toys to all the bratty kids on his gazelle-powered flying stagecoach. Otherwise, they’re, well… lame. Like a silver aluminum tree with too much tinsel and not enough candy canes.

Meanwhile, Julie of Freckles and Fickle Take Over the World was thinking about a completely different type of book. Starting with the sentence:

Around my junior year in college, I officially got my own “place” (read: crappy apartment), and my grandmother gave me my very first Betty Crocker Cookbook. 

Julie takes us on a beautiful journey of Wilma & Betty. Her grandmother, Wilma, may have been no Betty (” It wasn’t at all uncommon to look in her cupboards and see a can of pears right next to the teacups, or to check for toothpaste in a bathroom drawer and find an arbitrary supply of batteries.”), but she sounds like exactly the type of grandmother anyone would be lucky to have.

Speaking of beautiful journeys, the Worrywart takes us on a journey of another type. When she and her husband went for a walk through a ritzy neighbourhood to get some dinner, she didn’t expect to end up looking like a homeless, delusional lady sitting on a bench outside a fancy restaurant. So while her post may have been titled Is This Any Way to House A Soul, it’s really a series of ruminations of the importance of not wanting for the sake of wanting. After all,

The only home that matters is the one we are walking around in, the one that houses our soul, this shell we call our body. In that sense, I am wanting. Not for beauty or perfection (or even anything remotely close to perfection – not even unjiggliness – I can live with jiggly – I’d be perfectly happy with the ideal weight of a six foot tall big-boned woman . . . or man), but just a decent place for my soul to live. Something healthy, strong, that can get up when it falls down – preferably something that doesn’t fall down (and I’d also like this body housing my soul to live in Paris for awhile).

This post from Critters and Crayons isn’t new. It was written and posted in September. However, I wasn’t following this amazing blog back then, and so when it was chosen by the author as her best post of 2011, I went back and read it. And wow. Just wow. The Best Ballet Recital Ever is not just a story of a child’s love for ballet transformed from excitement to disdain and back to joy — it is all of that, but it’s also so much more. This is the story of every man, woman and child who has ever taken a wrong turn in life, and been brave enough to admit defeat and change course; of every person who has rediscovered a simple joy they thought was gone forever.

And finally, a post that’s aimed squarely at the ladies in the audience. Stephanie from Momma Be Thy Name Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man. If you feel the same about the man in your life, you may possibly recognise some of this behaviour:

Predictive Discussion:  Conversations based solely on the one word I said that he heard. Me: Are you going to rearrange the baby seats in the van today? Him: Yes, I know she’s up. I’ll go get her!

Selective Narcolepsy: Only takes effect while watching anything I like, when I’m driving, or at other people’s houses.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint: Because every domestic activity requires an hour of rest in between, right?

 

 

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