Category Archives: Thoughts

This is a new category as of fall 2018, and I’m not yet sure what direction it will go. It’s a place to post ideas and topics that may interest readers of my (upcoming) science fiction thriller or romance books. I’ll update this description when I’m clearer on what this category is about.

Why It’s Hard to Learn New Things

I’ve always thought I hate learning new things. I know it’s important to do it, and it feels really good when I DO learn something new. But I avoid it until it’s necessary. Why does it feel so hard?

Learning Can Be Hard

person wearing glasses at laptop, looking frustrated and biting pencilWhen I learned calculus in school, I also learned a lesson about learning. I would listen to the teacher’s lecture and feel completely lost. The words made no sense. Then I’d go home and read the matching text, and it wouldn’t be so hopeless. By the time I did the homework, the material would make sense. Learning calculus made me feel like my brain was a very tough balloon that I was forcing to stretch with my weak little lungs.

So I learned that discomfort is part of the process, as it is in so many other situations. Later, I often remembered learning calculus when I was struggling to understand something. You don’t always get it on the first try. When I have to read an academic paper, for example, it’s often incomprehensible on the first read, and then it starts to make sense on subsequent readings.

Another secret I’ve found is that I can use my love of sharing material I’ve learned. That’s why I started blogging for writers, editors, and self-publishers: once I learned something new, I wanted to share it, possibly in an easier to understand format. I use the “carrot” of getting to write a blog post as motivation to learn the material. Sometimes I even draft a post as I learn.

Don’t Make It Worse

Recently, I’ve been trying to learn more about e-books. I want to improve my own e-books, for example by adding alt text to the images, and formatting the bold words so they carry over into the e-book. Also I suspect that cleaning up my files (so there are less fonts and styles) will make my e-book files smaller.

laptop on desk in library; the screen looks like a chalkboard and says "never stop learning"Learning tech stuff is one of the hardest things for me. After one e-book webinar, I felt completely discouraged. I went outside to mow the lawn, and continued thinking about how frustrated I felt. I’ve been trying to actively “turn over” unhappy situations, so I dragged myself up from the frustration and tried to think something positive. I told myself, “I will learn how e-books work eventually. This is just the frustration of having made a first attempt.”

The attempt to be positive worked far better than I had expected—I felt not just less frustrated but actually hopeful. And I think I figured out why: I didn’t just add positive thoughts; maybe I displaced negative ones.

I had not recognized that I was perpetuating my own frustration. But knowing my propensity to become bogged down in a negative thought, I wondered: Had I been telling myself something negative? Like maybe, “I’m too stupid to learn about e-books” or “I’ll never get the hang of this”? Maybe the negative feeling I get when trying to learn something new isn’t just about the inherent frustration of learning, but about the story I tell myself, making it worse.

Dane, Emily, and Brittany sitting in a row, each holding a frame over his or her face; Emily is wearing an old-fashioned hat, and Dane as a Picasso-like third eye pasted on his face

Halloween for Adults

This is my first attempt at a post in the “Thoughts” category. I’m a little nervous about posting it but I have to start sometime!

I wanted to write about Halloween, in the hopes of figuring out where it went wrong. Last year I gave up on Halloween for the first time ever. I did go to my usual party, but only because it was less distressing than sitting at home in the dark, dreading the ring of the doorbell should any trick-or-treaters suspect I was home. I didn’t even try to come up with a costume. Maybe I’m just too busy, or maybe it was the failure of my 2016 costume, which I spent hours on and no one seemed to appreciate: Abraspam Lincoln.

I wore duct tape on my face, and no one cared! Maybe Abraspam Lincoln was just too bizarre.

Friends with kids seem to have a focus, but I’m adrift. Halloween was always the one day of the year I could wear whatever I wanted, I could make myself conspicuous and force myself to leave the house, knowing the self-consciousness would quickly fade. But now it seems like just another party to avoid.

Looking Back

Emily with bright red hair, dressed like Lola and making fists and yelling

Lola enacting the scene in the casino

Sure Halloween was great when I was a kid, even if we weren’t allowed to eat all the candy,* but it peaked when I reached graduate school in Chapel Hill. The town closes off Franklin Street and it becomes a giant Halloween party. In the old days, it was a parade of costumes. My best year, I dyed my hair red and dressed as the title character from the movie Run Lola Run, and I ran up and down the street all night. (I actually trained for a month, since I’d never been good at running.) I didn’t think anyone would know who I was, but people were calling, “Run Lola, run!” after me all night.

Emily inside a box painted like an oven, with a small pot glued on top and a pot lid on her head; she is holding a tray of cookies out the door with potholders on her hands

But Franklin Street Halloween degenerated into a drunken crowd (or maybe I outgrew it). The last year I attended, I dressed as an oven (there was a plan to go as appliances, and everyone backed out but me); I had a tray of cookies inside that I’d use to push open my door, offering them to people.

For some reason, everyone on the street wanted to take the lid off the little pot and ask, “You got Oodles of Noodles in there?” By the end of the night I was over it.

So I started attending a neighborhood party. It was fun, and over the years we had some good group costumes. There was the year we went as a s’more:

(We’d stand apart, and when people would ask what we were, our marshmallow would say, “I’m starting to feel warm,” and we’d squish ourselves together into a s’more.)

There was the Monopoly game: I was the Chance cards.

(The cards were Velcro-ed onto me in a stack, and you could peel one off.)

And there was the creepy historical portrait gallery:

Dane, Emily, and Brittany sitting in a row, each holding a frame over his or her face; Emily is wearing an old-fashioned hat, and Dane as a Picasso-like third eye pasted on his face

(This blog post might just be an excuse to share Halloween pictures.)

So now, I keep going to the party, but then I wish I were home, and wonder how late I should stay out. And should I be out if I want to get up and write at 5 AM?

What Next?

One of the main themes of my bicycling memoir (and of life since writing it) is staying present, and the idea that one can become “stuck” in life by trying to hang on to a moment. I wondered if this were happening: should I stop going to the Halloween party? Had its time passed? I considered alternatives:

  • I could visit my parents and pass out candy to the 800+ kids who trick-or-treat in their high density neighborhood.
  • I could find a friend with kids and tag along trick-or-treating as a chaperone.
  • I could find a new event, like Bynum’s annual jack o’lantern celebration on the old bridge.

Emily wearing a flowered 1900 hat and fancy shirt, holding a picture frameThen I wrote this blog post, and looking at all the old photos made me remember how fun it is to dress up. And I still have an adult party to go to! How lucky is that? Another theme of life lately is turning things around instead of accepting it when I get down. Maybe that’s what I need to do here. Maybe I don’t want to give up on Halloween or to be so busy that I can’t participate.

I’ve got three weeks left to come up with a costume.


* We were allowed to collect candy, but then were required to play a trading game with Mom, who would swap our candy for non-sugary treats and other gifts, like crayons and trinkets. This was actually a lot of fun, and all of the chocolate candy became chocolate pudding, which we did get to eat. Where the plan fell apart was that the confiscated candy would go into a grocery bag for Dad to take to work, and the bag would sit on the counter until Dad remembered, so we’d have to see our former candy, just sitting there, day after day.