New Year=New Resolutions=New To-Do List.

Resolutions: We all have them, we all make them. Some of us resolve not to make new New Year's Resolutions. (I did this once. . . ) And then, because setting an action plan is imperative if we seriously expect to accomplish whatever it is we resolve, we make a "To-Do List." And for a few days or weeks, we may even manage to tick off some of those items on that list of To-Dos. Then our resolve fades, or our list is buried under more pressing issues, and we fail....again.

2015 was no exception. We rang out the old year. Toasted the new. And I made one resolution.

Now, three weeks into 2015, I'm happy to say it's a resolution I have, easily, happily, guilt-free-ly kept so far. That alone is worth cheering: WHOOOOOOOO! 

So, it's with joy, pride and the expectation that I will remain resolute, I am sharing my 2015 New Year's Resolution. I Kelly Bennett resolved to:

Say “Phooey!” to Must-Do
”Why?” to Have-To
”How will I?” to Want-To!

Yes, this means I am still creating To-Do lists. However, after I do, I prioritize each item on the list:

Must-Do: Often these are imposed by others and/or come with a heavy dose of guilt which often elevates them to the top of the pile resulting in them being dealt with, done, crossed off first, when our energy is highest. 

Instead, say "Phooey!" Who says I Must-Do this? Then ask yourself, "Why?" Why is now? Why should first, be the time to do IT? If you can't come up with a good reason, then either don't do IT, or, as in the case of "Write thank you notes" "Order new sheets" "Call your mother," move IT down on the To-Do List to a low energy, low creativity time, nothing better I can be doing then, anyway, time. Ie, Write Thank you notes while watching TV and Call mom when you are waiting in line at the movie, or walking the treadmill.

Have-To: The difference between Have-To and Must-Do, is that not doing Have-To items will result in consequences you want to avoid. For example: "File insurance," "Fill out expense report,"do laundry". 

Instead, ask "Why?" What will happen if I don't do IT? If the consequences of doing IT will not hit your where it counts: in the wallet or the heart, then IT is not a Have-To. IT either belongs in one of the other categories, or, IT doesn't belong on your list! 

If IT is a Have-To List, then decide exactly when you will do IT. Allot IT a specific amount of time. Have-To items have to be done. We want what doing IT brings us so we should give IT due respect. Slot IT into your schedule. Follow your schedule. But do not think about IT until the allotted time.

Want-to: Ask, do I really want IT?  If the answer is yes, then it needs to be high on your To-Do list. Put it at the top of your list--in BOLD AND ALL CAPS! 

For every Want-To, ask: How Can I? Once you know what you want. What you really, really want. What will make your IT happen. The next step is to create an action plan for how to do what you want. Position these items--the steps it will take for you to be able to do-get-achieve WHAT YOU WANT!--in high energy times on your calendar. Above the HAVE-TOs, squeezing out the MUST-DOs. Then get to IT! 


Now it's your turn--But only if you WANT-TO, too!??

Pull out your To-Do list. Examine each item and put it in the proper category. Is it a:

  • Have-To?
  • Must-Do?
  • Want-To?

Three weeks into this new year, and I'm happy to say I've been doing what I really WANT-TO.

What I WANT-TO do is have time with my family. Babying my daughter and brand-new grandboy, Dylan, And loving up my bigger grandboy, Bennett. Dang, is this fun!

TO-DO: WHAT'S IT TO YOU? Playlist:


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The Buddy System

Dylan Thomas Cummings, 17 hours old

Dylan Thomas Cummings, 17 hours old

It's been a busy holiday season. And, as of one week ago today, we have a new little buddy in our family! Dylan Thomas Cummings, arrived Jan 6, 2015. 

Dylan (who wasn't named Dylan then as his parents, Lexi and Ryan, had to meet their new babe to name him) had been scheduled to arrive more than a week earlier, Dec. 22nd, by cesarean. So, instead of celebrating the holidays in Westhampton Beach, as originally planned, we all--when I say all, I mean our immediate family: me, Curtis, Lexi, Ryan, Max, Michelle, Bennett along with Curtis's brother Paul, sis-in-law Valarie and Nephew Will, along with Ryan's family--changed plans. We all met up in the city to celebrate together as we waited for the new baby. Even after Dylan fooled us all by flipping around and pointing down, we all stayed in the city so we could be close by. Sure it was cramped and crowded, but no one wanted to leave. We all wanted to be together. To support Lexi and Ryan, to be on hand, to lend a hand. Sure, Lexi and Ryan would have been fine on their own, they would have managed. But "fine" and "managed" isn't our way. We are all about The Buddy System

While we waited for Mr. Dylan to make his appearance, we had another little buddy to entertain us... Bennett, Dylan's cousin.

At 16 months, Bennett did an excellent job of keeping  us entertained. In turn,we buddied up to entertain him. 

Bennett taught Bapak Curtis to read!

Bennett taught Bapak Curtis to read!

Bennett is mighty handy with the Iphone

When, finally--9 days past his due date--Dylan's doctors and parents it was a time to give him a little boost and induce labor, we all went to the hospital to wait for his arrival. 

No one wanted to wait alone, or to think of anyone else waiting alone, or to be left out. We like having a buddy.

Even though there wasn't a thing we could do, we sat outside, waiting, watching our clocks... 

Even though there wasn't a thing we could do, we sat outside, waiting, watching our clocks... 

Now, a week after Dylan's birth, I'm staying close to Ryan and Lexi to help them get used to being parents, to lend a hand, support, to share the load. Not that they need it. They'll all do just fine without me.  But isn't it easier not having to go it alone???

Misery—and JOY—love company!

Along with celebrating this brand new life, we celebrate a brand new year. The holiday decorations are packed away. Dylan's home. The Party's over, it's time to get back to it. And, for many of us, along with the new years comes resolve to do new things, find new resolves, or renew commitment to established routines. Which isn't always so easy....

A note from motivational writer & speaker Kate Northrup in her Jan. 12th post, "Why it's Sometimes Great to Follow" reminded me why The Buddy System is so effective: 

When it comes to the things in life we may have a little resistance around (like exercise and money, for example), we can tend to fall off track if we don’t have a guide...

...Ask anyone what they struggle with the most regarding anything, and chances are pretty good they’ll tell you that they tend to fall of the wagon.

Sometimes It Feels Good to Follow

When I think about the times I did NOT fall of the wagon in my life, it was when I was following some sort of a program. As much as I’m a leader and have learned a lot of things, it feels great when someone else who has some degree of mastery tells me what to do in an area where I struggle.

While I would never recommend blind adherence, following a program allows us to:

1. Relax, knowing that someone else is giving us support in this one area.
2. Stay accountable.
3. Reduce the number of decisions we make on a daily basis and therefore save our limited decision-making energy for things that either only we can decide or things that are really high leverage decisions in our life.

— Kate Northrup
Dylan's Got his Game Hat on!

Dylan's Got his Game Hat on!

So come on,  2015 is 2 weeks gone; let's get into the game!

Grab a buddy and commit to doing it together. 

If you don't have a buddy handy to partner with, sign up for a class. 

Sign up! Show up! Commit to a NO EXCUSES policy.

Let's get on with the Next Together!

The Buddy System Playlist:

Steve Got the Jobs Done

Steve Jobs’ Apple/Mac/IPod/Pad/Phone legacy has Paul Bunyaned to such epic proportions it feels as though his name should be All Caps: STEVE JOBS, but he was just the black turtleneck Apple guy, to me. That changed the other day when I picked up an old copy of Newsweek and he was the cover story: “American Genius . . . How He Changed Our World.”

We subscribe to Newsweek. Curtis reads every issue, in order, no matter how long it takes, or how old the issue may be. Which wouldn’t be such a big deal if it were a monthly, but 4 or 5 issues a month stacks up, literally…

No long ago, I noticed him reading an issue featuring Mitt's bid for president and asked him why he reads old news. He noted that knowing the after makes reading the before interesting. He said it’s was especially fascinating to note how perceptions shift & develop. I said, “pass me that issue” and used it as a coaster.

Curtis loves the magazine; I decorate with it. Make that loves the “e-zine” and “decorated” past tense.

The stacks are dwindling. After 79 years in print Newsweek went digital Jan 1, 2013. The last magazine was printed that December, the issue I picked up was Sept 5th, 2011. Translation: we only have about a side-table sized stack left to read. (FYI: Newsweek's back in print, but Curtis prefers the e-zine now.)

Call me fickle, but now that I’m losing them, I’ve started reading and enjoying our back issues (I always did enjoy history more than current events). Likewise with Steve Jobs. Now that he’s dead, I wanted to know why he's such a big deal.

The lead article, “Exit the King” by Alan Deutschman (Sept 5, 2011 Newsweek) gave the blah-blah on this “misfit, raised by adoptive parents,” likening Jobs upbringing to “Harry Potter” and “a wizard among muggles.” By the time I reached the end, I believed it! Jobs was a wiz. A “think outside the box” master. Whose greatest innovation, according to Deutschman, wasn’t Apple, Mac or the IPhone crowds camped out to buy, it was ITunes—not the music, the payments—technically “micropayments”! The technology that enabled “more than 200 million consumers to entrust him with their credit-card information” so they could make tiny purchases at the click of a button was Jobs’ Houdini, his grandest trick. Now you see it, now you don’t —99 cents, 49 cents, $1.99… What a Wiz!

If ever oh ever a wiz Jobs was, an accompanying article, The 10 Commandments of Steve by Leander Kahney, pulled back the curtain to reveal the mechanics behind Jobs’ mastery.

Turns out it wasn’t wizardry or witchcraft, magic or luck. Jobs had a gimmick.

It's a focused 10 item list of what Kahney called his “Commandments.” (I don't know if the list is Jobs, or whether Kahney, or someone else created it.) Regardless, while studying those 10 Commandments, it struck me that Jobs wasn’t so different from any of us. He had a dream, a vision, a goal, as do I, and as do you. The difference is, Jobs achieved his. . .

So what if . . . what if, instead of doing whatever we have or haven’t been doing that has or hasn’t helped us achieve our goals, what if we appropriate the So-successful-he-deserves-All Caps STEVE JOBS 10 Commandments? Steve got the Jobs done!

If we use the same voodoo and do do what he did, we can, too!

Below are The 10 Commandments of Steve with a reminder snippet from the article. With these as guides, I have created a complimentary 10 Commandment List for myself. As you'll read, mine are geared toward improving my writing. These Commandments could similarly be adapted and applied to whatever is your passion: family, work, art. . . You name it, then get after it!

10 Commandments to Getting IT Done:

1.       JobsGo for Perfect: “Jobs sweats the details...”

Mine: Do my best work. Revise, Proofread, Revise again. Details do matter: spelling, punctuation, names, dates, etc.

2.       JobsTap the Experts: “Jobs hired architect I.M. Pei to design the NeXt logo…”

Mine: Don’t try to DYI what you're not good at or don't enjoy; call on others to help, ask advice, hire experts

3.       JobsBe Ruthless: “Jobs is as proud of the products he has killed as of the ones he will release.”

Mine: Apply that critical eye to all efforts. Compared mine to what’s out there. If I can't be objective have others critique it.

4.       Jobs: Shun Focus Groups: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”—acts as a “one-man focus group.”

Mine: Own my own opinion! Trust myself! Don’t wait for others to validate an idea, follow my vision.

5.       Jobs: Never Stop Studying: “When designing early brochures for Apple, Jobs poured over Sony’s.” Inspiration for the 1st Mac case came from studying German & Italian car bodies.

Mine: Study! Read new publications, Schedule "Bookstore Day", take classes, attend workshops and conferences.

6.       Jobs: Simplify: Jobs philosophy is “constant simplification.” He ordered IPod designers to lose all the buttons, including on/off.

Mine: Keep it simple, stupid: Cut word, revise, and don’t get too clever!

7.       Jobs: Keep Your Secrets: At Apple, nobody talks. “The secrecy allowed Jobs to generate frenzied interest for his surprise product demonstrations.”

Mine: Do not show/share/discuss a project until I have a solid draft.

8.       Jobs: Keep Teams Small: The original Mac team was 100 people. If one was hired, someone else left. “Jobs was convinced he could remember the first names of only 100 people.”

Mine: Build a small team of trusted supporters. Don’t spread myself too thin. Say no.

9.       Jobs: Use More Carrot than Stick: Jobs “charisma [was] his most powerful motivator. “Enthusiasm was the primary reason the Mac team worked 90-hour weeks for 3 years.”

Mine: Be positive, show enthusiasm!  If I’m not excited by something, no one else will be either.

10.   Jobs: Prototype to the Extreme: Apple “architects and designers spent a year building a prototype store in a secret warehouse” . . .  Jobs scraped it and started over.

Mine: Create picture book dummies. Print work out & Read Aloud.

What better way to begin a new year than with a new plan. Now Let's follow Steve's lead and get those jobs done! Happy Creating!

Steve Got the Jobs Done Playlist:

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Forest Gump's Momma was only sort of correct when she said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

With a box of chocolates you know, whichever you bite into, it’s bound to be sweet. And if it happens to be a box of Whitman’s or See’s Chocolate (my favorite…hint hint) you know exactly what you’ll get because a full description of each piece is included.

Being older than Forest’s Momma could ever have been, had she actually been, and have clocked more miles, I’d like to amend that. I say:

Life is like a jar of chutney, sour vinegar, bitter zest, sugar, salt and seeds and spices blended together. With age the flavors meld & mellow, ripen, like memories.

Usually, I stuff my holiday turkey with a sort of Waldorf salad—apples, oranges, onions, celery, paprika, salt, butter, sage—and slow cook the bird breast down. The turkey comes out juicy and slightly citrus, and the drippings make an especially tasty dark golden gravy. The cooked fruit, however, goes to waste. This year, I decided to try something different. Instead of stuffing the turkey with Waldorf, I stuffed it with the makings of cranberry-apple chutney. In my mind, it was sooooo tasty!

FYI: Cranberries don’t grow in Trinidad, they are imported. And this year, it seems, only a few bags made it. A flurry of text messages went around as frantic cooks in the American Woman’s Association searched Port of Spain for them. One AWA neighbor, Becky, posted that she had a bag of cranberries, thus initiating a bidding war. She ended up selling her bag for TT100 (US$ 16.00). Her teenage son said he’s bringing back a suitcase full of cranberries to sell next fall. The winning bid was not mine (I didn’t even try.)

Canned whole cranberries were available, so I made due by cutting the sugar from my chutney recipe and using the canned. The Turkey Cranberry Chutney looked and tasted great, but… The drippings were too sweet for gravy, so we added more salt, pepper, brandy, but it still wasn’t right. As much as it’s about the chutney, it’s about the gravy.  So maybe life’s like gravy, too. A balancing act.

Going into the holiday season,  we’ve had so much bitter and salty already. On this second night of Hanukkah, with less than a week until Christmas we welcome—and are so ready to add—Spicy & Sweet! A new baby, family & friend time, and maybe some chocolates!

Here’s wishing us all Spicy & Sweet!

Cranberry-Apple Chutney

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 green apple peeled, cored & chopped
  • 1 sweet apple peeled, cored & chopped
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Orange cut off the remaining peel, seed & chop flesh
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup white or apple vinegar
  • Salt
  • Ginger
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon
  • Whole mustard seed: yellow, black, white or a mix
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Nuts: chopped pecans, walnuts, pinenuts

Put all the ingredients into a heavy brassier or wide-bottomed pot, stir, heat to boiling, then reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 2 or 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Serve warm or cold. Mellows with time.


Jar of Chutney Playlist:

Happy Holidays!

Mashed Potatoes

I've been thinking "Thanksgiving" all wrong. I’d been thinking “Stuffed Turkey, Stuffed People, Macy’s Day Parade, Football, Pumpkin and Pecan Pie” Thanksgiving. Which makes for—especially as we are in Trinidad, where “American Thanksgiving” is just another Thursday—lonely, lots-of-work-for-only-2-people-so-why-bother thoughts. Sigh . . .

Want to learn the Truth about Thanksgiving? 

Want to learn the Truth about Thanksgiving? 

The original “American” Thanksgiving Day may have been a Pilgrims and Indians Thank you for teaching us and helping us survive feast but it’s since morphed into a Feast and Football holiday.

We change and grow; holidays do—can—too.  It’s natural. That wasn't the problem, I was.

I was preparing for a Thanksgiving feast just as I had for the last 45 years or so—actually walking down the grocery store aisles, tossing items into my cart and crossing them off my list—without any of the enthusiasm of Thanksgiving past, when it dawned on me that things that traditions that change, can change back. It may well have been the potatoes . . .  

I decided to go back to the root of Thanksgiving: Thanks. Giving. Starting now, going forward—whether cooking or not—I am setting aside this day to give thanks. (And wow, do I have soooo much to be grateful for.) To christen my new-old Thanks giving tradition, I’m sharing a schmaltzy-poignant perfect song from my must watch every year holiday move. You’ll have to wait for it. Because first, I need to share a story about a family and how a family—our Tulsa Village—was made.

Back in the before time, due to circumstances and choices, I found myself far from family, friends, the ocean and all things familiar, in the smack dab middle of the United States—Tulsa, Oklahoma—with 2 small children, few friends and too many jobs.

Far far away in the center of the continent...

Max was 3; Lexi was 1; I was 26. Back then, I wasn’t the “fancy free, successful picture book author” I was a sometimes cook-waitron-bartender-bookkeeper of a restaurant my husband and I owned called “The New Harvest.”  

And, as it happened (I won’t going into how it happened, now, as that’s a story for other times and a Lifetime movie), a man-boy named John (about 23), at his mother’s urging, answered a “Chef Wanted” ad we’d placed. In short—for it was a quick decision—John sign on as the chef and, along with his younger sister, Rhonda, moved from their hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma.

The red line heading southeast from the pin falls off the page just before Muskogee . . . 

Although Muskogee, about an hour southeast of Tulsa, isn’t as far away as California, it may well have been. For the first time, John and Rhonda were away from their family and friends, just as I was away from mine. For whatever reason—maybe because making friend with a chatty toddler and a chubby 1-year-old elbow deep in a jar of baby food plums was easy, and said tots were adorable—John took a shine to Max and Lexi at an all-employee spruce-up the restaurant day. What’s more, Rhonda, not yet 21, so she couldn’t work in or frequent the restaurant bar, could babysit—and did those nights I had to work. Thus, as strangers in this strange new land do, we banded together.  Before long, John & Rhonda were more like Unk and Auntie, Brother and Sister—family.

Fast forward to when—I don’t know how or why, exactly—John took Max and Lexi home to Muskogee—for the weekend! Imagine yourself as John and Rhonda’s parents, Don & Bonnie: your 23 year-old son drives up with 2 strange tots in tow??? What must the Briscoes, a traditional two parent, small town family have thought of us? Of me as a mother? Sending her babies off to Muskogee for the weekend?  This is pre-cell phones, pre-email, pre-instant info anything. . . (Calling DHS!)...

Whatever Bonnie & Don thought, it’s what they did that matters. On that weekend, and many that came after, they loved those babies up. Bonnie and Granny fed them; “Those babies love to eat! And that Lexi sure loves her mashed potatoes,” Bonnie said—still says—whenever we talk about those visits. Don, and brother Ron, when he was home, played and watched sports with Max, “That Max sure could talk!” Don says of those weekends. It wasn’t babysitting. It was more. The Briscoe family drew a circle and pulled Max and Lexi (Me and Steven by extension), Chelsie and her mom, Barbara—who came with the restaurant and stayed—in like, well, kin: Family.

Bonnie & Don Briscoe

Bonnie & Don Briscoe

And now, 30 years later, spouses, children, grands . . .  It’s easy to understand how we “kids” in Tulsa became friends. The part others don’t understand is the Muskogee glue. How Bonnie & Don, who knew us only by extension, who had all the family and friends right there in Muskogee they could ever need or want, made room for more. Why bother?

Just looking at Bonnie, anyone could get how she'd pull us all in. She's 100% mama, soft and sweet as marshmallow. Don, however is the "EF Hutton" type: when he speaks, you listen. As patriarch of the family, he could have told John and Rhonda not to bring Max and Lexi to Muskogee anymore. "He could have said "too much of a liability" "What if something happens" "Why the heck should we be fussing over those kids? They aren't ours, aren't blood.  Why didn't he?

Maybe because Don knew lonely and homeless and what it feels like not to have family. An orphan and only son, sent to live with a grandmother, who died, then shipped to California to relatives, teen Don, in search of a home, returned to Oklahoma. He met Bonnie, wooed and won her. Together they made their own family. Anywhere they were became “Home." A home filled with love, room for a more, and plenty of mashed potatoes. 

Now, today, this Thanksgiving, Don and Bonnie, John, Rhonda, Ron and Sherry, and their 4 grand babies are together in their retirement home on Fort Gibson. 

Don isn't well. He has cancer. Hospice volunteers are helping. Our Tulsa Village, while scattered, is with them, too, via text, via email, in spirit. Even as a teen, Don knew what we—with him and Bonnie as our models—learned: There is always room and food and love enough for a few more. 

Mashed Potato Playlist:

 Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) from “White Christmas,” written by Irving Berlin, sung by Bing Crosby

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Unfold Fate

"There is something in me maybe someday
to be written; now it is folded, and folded,
and folded, like a note in school." -Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds, the first woman to win the T.S.Eliot Prize for Poetry wrote that. It made me think of so many grubby folded notes I confiscated after having rescued them from the dirty clothes pile. Max, especially, was an avid note collector. Out of self preservation, I never read any of those confiscated notes. Not because I was respectful of my children's privacy, but because I was protecting my innocence. What I didn't know couldn't hurt/worry me. . . 

Looks like she like she wore an Ali   Magraw's Love Story-ish crocheted caps, no?

Looks like she like she wore an Ali   Magraw's Love Story-ish crocheted caps, no?

The award was for a poetry collection entitled "Stag's Leap." (Yesterday, Nov. 19th, is Sharon's birthday, which is how the "folded notes" came to my attention--a Goodreads gift) She's a California girl, too, born in San Francisco, maybe that's why she feels familiar.

Folded notes, strips of words, pluck one and see  . . . 

Folded notes, strips of words, pluck one and see  . . . 

Guardian article noted the title refers to "her husband's leap for freedom." (If you Google "Stag's Leap," even with the possessive, a link to the winery of that name--sans possessive--pops up.  I have a sign about that too, it reads, "No good story ever started over a bowl of salad".... I'll leave you to take that leap.

Stag's Leap was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Penned while/after going through her own divorce. Fab interview about it in the Huffington Post.

 Did Sharon dash off notes before? Scribble them during? Crunch them in anger? Frustration? Maybe even hurl them in anger? Were they--those reminder notes--tear stained? How many other ran through the wash? Dryer Confetti?

While searching for the origin of that Sharon Olds quote, I googled "folded note" and up popped a post by John Findura called "Simple Twists of Fate."  The "note" in it turned out to be a folded doctor's note in his father's pocket when he went for his induction physical. His father didn't want to go to Vietnam and fight, he wanted to be a teacher. Though the contents of the note wasn't revealed in the post, I imagine whatever was in that note determined his fate. 

Notes of mine that spring to mind are not all on paper. Some are: to-do lists, story ideas, groceries to buy. Others are piles of stuff mounded and waiting on my desk, the work bench, heaped in the basement closet. More are "want tos" "bucket list" items, waiting...

The mounds of stuff, the lists, the bag of notes can be promises...but are also, often weights. Grounding? Or pinning us down? To keep us from flying? Or keep us from flying away?

What if we pick one from the pile. Uncrinkle it. Spread it out flat. Consider it, and then . . . 

Unfold Fate Playlist:


Guts, Not Buts

She was bashing her forehead against the wall. 

It was the January VCFA Writing for Children & Young Adults MFA residency in Montpellier, Vermont. Ice, cold, snow, fraught with plagues: illness, broken bones, death, disease . . .  

In her post, Uma writes:

Uma's newest title...slightly heroic is something she knows about . . . 

Uma's newest title...slightly heroic is something she knows about . . . 

Give yourself a boost and read at least as far down as that quote in Uma's post. You'll be glad you did.  Here's the link:

Encouragement is something everyone needs all through life. Encouragement is just a damn nice thing to do for another person.
— Uma Kirishwami in her post

Writing, Encouragement, and “Poetry” on Write at Your own Risk blog post. 

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My Necessary Evil . . . IS IT YOURS?

I wish company was coming! (But not for the reason you may think . . .) Papers are stacking—spilling—off the dining room table, again. . . The potted plants are dying—dead . . . I still haven’t sewn the tassel back on that throw pillow.

Come visit! 

Not because I like or miss you--which I may or may not--but because:  I NEED A DEADLINE!

My friend Shona Skyped me last week. I could hardly understand her because she had pins in her mouth and one foot on the sewing machine pedal. I told her I couldn’t hear her for all the noise, but she didn’t stop sewing. She couldn’t; she was on a deadline. She just had to get those new shades made "Today!" (No matter that they’d needed making for months already, or that the windows were curtained) I didn’t fuss, "Shut that thing off and talk to me!” I turned up my volume and carried on while she sewed. 


Were you one of those who did your homework right after school? In the bus on the way home? Typed and proofread your term papers weeks before they were due? Studied a-little-every-day instead of cramming? If you are, click off NOW! This post is not for you.

Admittedly, not all deadlines carry the same heft. A deadline is, after all, just a date on the calendar. A “suggestion.” Less significant perhaps, than the suggested sell-by date on milk cartons.  

Gulping sour milk is one consequence I won't risk again.

Gulping sour milk is one consequence I won't risk again.

For a deadline to count it must carry CONSEQUENCES!!!!!!!

For the past while or so, for the first time in forever, I haven't had a writing deadline. I was free! Free! Free! to write what I wanted, when I wanted.

No one to answer to.

No one waiting, wanting, needing—expecting a word from me. No guilt over not writing what I was “supposed to be” writing.         


What joy!

What a joke!

All that writing freedom, what did it get me? NOTHING!

I’m A Deadline Junkie.

I LOVE DEADLINES! I NEED DEADLINES! (Didn’t know how much until they were gone Whoa-ohh-o-ohhhh...)

Sure, Deadlines are stressful. Deadlines make us crazy. But, having a deadline is better than NOTHING . . . 


 I comfort myself with the thought that I'm not alone in my need.

Paula Danziger, beloved author of such perennial favorites as The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, The Amber Brown series (ongoing, thanks to her close friends, Elizabeth Levy and Bruce Coville, who channel Paula as they write new books), and The United Tates of America—my personal favorite because it reminds me of the punster-scrap booker, Paula. 

Paula—was a self-professed DEADLINE PUSHER-AVOIDER!

Maybe it was the rebel in Paula. Maybe it was the kid in Paula. But, she would do almost anything to avoid writing. Yet, in spite of herself, Paula wrote and published more than 30 books, with more in the works when she died. 

How did Paula make herself sit down and write???

By setting “mini” deadlines with consequences & rewards!

However it came to pass, pre-Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Paula and Bruce Coville, devised the Phone-A-Friend Method to hold each other accountable. (Maybe, like Paula, prolific award-winning author Bruce Coville is a Deadline Avoider. Hopefully I’ll get to ask him one day.)

We’d always call each other and read what we were working on.
— Bruce on their "Phone-A-Friend" Method

What Bruce didn’t say in that article, but Paula shared, is that the consequence she and Bruce set each other was a fine. Not just any piddly fine either. They set a fine that hit both die-hard Democrats where it hurt. The fine for not meeting their daily writing goal was a donation payable to the Republican Party. (Read more in the Bruce said in the Publisher’s Weekly article announcing the revival of Amber Brown. )

They set a fine that hit both die-hard Democrats where it hurt. 

They set a fine that hit both die-hard Democrats where it hurt. 

Beyond these daily deadlines, Paula dangled proverbial carrots to give her something, beyond the satisfaction of words on the page, to strive toward. Paula’s favorite brand of carrot was amber, as in amber jewelry. She’d spot a bracelet or ring she liked, buy it for herself and then give it to her editor, the late Margaret Frith, to “hold” under strict orders NOT TO RETURN IT until Paula met her deadline. Judging by the number of gorgeous amber pieces Paula wore, it worked—most of the time . . . prior to writing this, I asked Susan Kochan, Senior Editor at Putnam, who worked with both Margaret and Paula about this. Margaret Firth confirmed adding, “It didn't always work - they were often late - but who knows how late they would have been without that carrot dangling”

It didn’t always work - they were often late - but who knows how late they would have been without that carrot dangling
— Margaret Firth on Paula's "Reward" Method

Don’t ask me why it’s taken me this long to realize it, but, now I know: Deadlines were my necessary evil. 

So, in keeping with Paula & Bruce's Phone-A-Friend, I've I partnered up with my writing pal, Marty to devise our own "Dangling Carrot" Method: . Each Thursday we set ourselves an assignment and a deadline by which it must be completed—Or Else . . .  (Fill in your own blank, Dear Reader. Our consequence is of no consequence to you.)

Oh sure, we tried to cheat. What self-respecting Deadline Pusher wouldn’t? We had to test the boundaries:

 Marty sent me a whinny note about how busy she was, blah, blah, blah….

I sent her one back, sort of letting her off the hook, but not, buy saying, the assignment didn't have to be good, it just had to be sent… (Okay, so maybe in it I did try to lay groundwork for Deadline Delay by mentioning Internet connectivity issues and blackouts we’d been having.)

Marty and I both called “bull” and held ourselves and each other accountable. And it worked.  So far, we’ve met our Deadlines. And, we’re tickled pink* with the results. 

Deadlines: Love um! Hate um! Need um!

Set One! You might be glad you did . . . 

“The Necessary Evil” Playlist:

 “Amber Brown is Tickled Pink  is one of the new Amber Browns by Liz & Bruce channeling Paula.

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