The Risk of Enjoying Something New

Humans are attracted to familiarity and recognizable patterns. We like music with tunes: melodies have patterns. Routines and habits are patterns we don’t have to think about, and having them spares us from making millions of minute choices in a day. Rituals are patterns to which we pay deep, contemplative attention. Habit: tea at my desk while I grade papers. Ritual: a Japanese tea ceremony.

Novelty is nether habit nor ritual, and it can feel incredibly uncomfortable even when it’s trivial. I read an interview in a medical journal with a physician who included nutrition in his treatments. He said—using hyperbole, I hope—that people would rather change their religion than what they eat for breakfast.

I like to ask my college health classes, “How many of you think tofu tastes bad?”

Ten or twelve hands out of twenty-five usually go up.

“How many of you have tasted tofu?”

About half the hands go down. A few others go up. In other words, some have tried it and know they don’t like it. Some people have tried it and found it enjoyable. Others have decided in advance that it’s going to taste bad without ever trying it. On a zero-to-ten scale of risky behaviors, trying a new food is a one or a two. Nothing terrible happens if you don’t like it, and you might find that it’s delicious.

In my freshman seminar, I encounter a few students who resist unfamiliar books. “It’s too long—I don’t like long books.” “I never heard of the author.” “I don’t read non-fiction.” “I’ve never read any kind of philosophy.” Behind this resistance is often the dread of being bored. Some take the risk and read deeply and engage with the book whether or not they entirely like it. Others guarantee boredom by skimming, getting the result they dreaded in the first place.

My book club makes me venture beyond books I would choose for myself, and through them I’ve expanded my reading horizons. How big a risk is it, after all, to read a book I might not like, or to read outside my habitual patterns? If I truly dislike a book, I give myself permission to stop reading after forty or fifty pages, but that’s a decision I’ve only made once with a book club selection.

Over the years the club has chosen books some books we all loved, many we disagreed on, and a few we unanimously didn’t like. The nonfiction book Winged Obsession, about a collector and seller of illegal and endangered butterflies, sounded great in reviews and in blurbs from established authors, but every single one of us thought it was poorly written in spite of the solid research. (It was still worth reading. I learned a great deal about butterflies and about law enforcement in Fish and Wildlife.) The humorous indie novel The Scottish Movie delighted us all with its quirky insider’s look at the movie industry. The book isn’t famous nor is it blurbed by the famous, but it was fun.  It’s the only indie book we’ve read as a club and I remember how amazed the other members were when they saw the price. An e-book for $2.99? I read a lot of indie books, but they’re used to paying $7.99 or more. At that price, an unfamiliar author wasn’t much of a risk for them.

Expensive risks are the hardest. The decision to move. The decision to open a business. To travel to a new place. Some of my yoga teacher friends have been to India. One of them had a blissful experience, staying in an ashram where tiny tame deer came to the patio. The other got some kind of fungal infection and spent the whole trip sick—and yet, she didn’t regret the journey. Its lessons were profound.

Some of the risks people take on a daily basis are so comfortable they feel safe. The phone is familiar, and so is the car. I remember riding with a friend who took both hands off the wheel while driving on a curving road—one hand to shift gears and one hand on his phone. When I pointed out what he’d done, he acknowledged that he hadn’t even noticed. That’s what’s risky: not noticing. While we need some routines and habits, going through life without paying attention is dangerous. We risk our lives with distracted driving, risk boredom by skimming the surface of books or experiences, or risk missing a new experience altogether by not even realizing we could have it.

My last book club gathering included an off-topic discussion of the various unexpected new things members’ aging parents were doing. Making maple syrup. Taking water aerobics. Learning to paint. I have a seventy-nine-year-old man in my Gentle Yoga class who is learning this skill for the first time. Everyday novelties can open doors and break old patterns.

A few years ago I read a study done by a professor at Northern Arizona University on inducing happiness. His experiment involved having people do random acts of kindness, take on small achievable new goals and reach them, and make minor variations in their routines. Compared to a control group, the people who made these little changes became measurably happier.

Taking minor risks like trying new books, activities or foods can add up. When I try something new and different, not only do I feel the satisfaction of achievement but the quality of my attention changes. With awareness, even the familiar can become new and different.

 *****

The Scottish Movie

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15841493-the-scottish-movie

 

 

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“Yikes! That’s a creepy story!”

bearing copy

As you can probably tell already, I enjoy Halloween, and I never lost my childhood love of creepy, scary stories. What I find most terrifying in horror stories is not the big reveal of the monster or the alien or the big gory mess but the signal that something isn’t quite right in a chilling and unnatural way. Subtle abnormality creeping up, a sneaking shift in reality. (Some favorite examples of this are the beginnings of Gregor Xane’s horror novellas Six Dead Spots and The Hanover Block.) That’s the kind of scariness I aimed for in Bearing, so the above comment from an early reader made me happy.

I read horror, but never thought I’d be writing it. Then I shared some data on authors’ earnings in various genres with one of my Goodreads groups, and a horror writer commented that he would have to switch to romance because that was where the money was. I replied, “Horror-romance?” We were joking, but a few other writers began to play with the idea and one suggested we should create an anthology of horror-romance short stories, each based on one of the seven deadly sins. My choice: sloth. I enjoyed the challenge of making laziness frightening.

Because my story was more than three times as long as the other contributions to the anthology, far exceeding the word count limit, I withdrew from the project and set my horror-romance aside for a while. Now, it’s almost Halloween, and I’ve released it as a ninety-nine cent stand-alone.

Bearing

 A tale of paranormal horror based on Native American myths.

Mikayla, young Apache woman attending a powwow with her family, becomes entranced by an outsider, a Cree man who shows up without his Apache girlfriend. As her fascination consumes her, Mikayla changes in ways both pleasurable and frightening, powerless to overcome his dark magic until it may be too late.

https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/buy-books-retail-links

Uncanny Quarry Scavenger Hunt Clues

lantern

As part of this week-long book-lovers’ scavenger hunt, it’s my turn to post some clues.

Author 3 in the Uncanny Quarry Round Robin today is Roxy De Winter. The answers to her questions can be found at http://roxydewinter.wix.com/author#!coming-soon-/eohv5

  1. How many years has Aenix lived for?
  2. Why was Paietra sentenced to hell?
  3. In Aenix’s time, what is the truest expression of love?
  4. In Aenix’s time, what has replaced natural death?
  5. What did Aenix decide she would do before her next semi-centennial rejuvenation?

Have fun hunting!

Snake Face earns B.R.A.G. Medallion

snakeebooknewregistered- 800Snake Face, book three in the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery series, has been awarded a B.R.A.G. medallion. When I receive an award, I like to thank the people who helped me produce a book that earned one: my editor, Nancy Adams, my critique partners Jordaina Robinson and Janet Simpson, and this book’s third beta reader, Bette Kaminski, who helped me to make sure I had done justice to the touring musician’s life on the road.

http://www.bragmedallion.com/tag/mystery/Page-3

http://www.bragmedallion.com/about

 

 

Scavenger Hunt #uncannyquarry

lantern

I’m a late October Scorpio, so throughout my childhood I had Halloween-themed birthday parties. This suited me; I’ve always been a fan of scary stories and been intrigued by mysterious, inexplicable events. When I was around ten or eleven, my father set up a scavenger hunt in a friend’s orchard for the party. It was spooky and cold at twilight, and the old trees against the sky had that horror-movie look. Ever since then I’ve had a fondness for scavenger hunts.

The scavenger hunt Uncanny Quarry is for people who like to read paranormal fiction. Over thirty authors are participating, and their books cover the full range of paranormal genres from mystery to romance to fantasy. The grand prize is pretty grand, and second and third place are nice, too. One of my favorite authors, Virginia King*, is participating, as well as many who are new to me.

Curious? Ready to discover new authors?

Go to https://www.facebook.com/events/1616239271959563 to learn more and to join the event. Clues will be posted on the Facebook page and also on some of the authors’ web sites. Put on your puzzle-solving hat starting Sunday the 18th and keep it on through the 25th—by sheer coincidence that’s my Halloween-ish birthday—and follow the clues to win books.

Another note in keeping with the season: My new short fiction release, Bearing, comes out later this month. It’s a stand-alone story that I like to describe as subtle horror.

Happy scavenger hunting.

*Posts related to Virginia King:

https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/the-thorn-in-my-soul

https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/2015/04/16/virginia-king-mything-in-action

The Thorn in my Soul

In July in Truth or Consequences I got a mesquite thorn in my flip-flip. It burrowed in deep and I couldn’t get it out, so I set those shoes aside and wore others. This week, in Virginia, I decided that the thorn wouldn’t come though, that it was simply buried in the sole somewhere, and I wore the shoes walking back and forth across campus. Little by little the thorn began to poke me. Not painfully, but it was there.

New Mexico is there. In my soul. The need to change my life so I don’t thave to keep coming back to Virginia to work is always there. The thorn is the craving to be my true self, the writer and yoga teacher, not the professor. I tell myself this job is not a bad way to earn a living, and compared to most jobs it isn’t, and yet the thorn is always prodding me. Go back. Go home. For good.

I’ve been reading Virginia King’s The Second Path, a novel that defies categories—though I’d say visionary fiction is the best fit. It’s a mystery, but like mine, it’s not about a murder. King’s books are about inner mysteries, psycho-spiritual discoveries. In this one, the protagonist Selkie Moon dreams clues to solving her own life’s mysteries and follows them into an extraordinary adventure. I read it before bed and it provokes me to have message dreams.

Preface: A student recently dropped my health class because the emphasis on positive psychology and a “no upper limits” personal vision of wellness upset him. He confided that he felt he didn’t have control and choice in his life, and though he was in counseling, this approach to the class was too distressing for his present state of mind—one in which he felt confined and powerless.

A few nights ago I dreamed that this young man had stolen a valuable rose-gold antique watch from me. I was chasing him across the campus of the college where I got my undergraduate degree and saw him heading for a bike rack. I knocked his bike over and he headed for a van instead, pausing to read a text message before he opened the door. He gave me smug smile. “I just got a higher bid on it.” End of dream.

Belief in “I can’t” is stealing my precious time. I’m still puzzling over the bike, the van, and that higher bid. Higher self? Higher income in a new life? Higher values? Selling my time to the highest bidder instead of taking it back? I guess I’ll have to be like Selkie in the book, following my clues to see where they lead.

It’s possible to ignore spiritual discomforts for a while, but they don’t let go. I can try to change who I am and what I value, but that doesn’t work. My first book, The Calling, is about this theme in my protagonist’s life, and now I need to take that lesson into my life. Change is calling me. How long will it take? Maybe a few years. How hard will it be? Not easy. Staying in a familiar but unsuitable place or situation can feel easier than the effort it takes to get out of the rut, but I know from the effort I’ve put into other life changes, the view from outside the rut is worth the climb.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25754726-the-second-path