Personality: Sensor & Intuitive (Blog 2 of 5)

In this second blog of determining personality, using the MBTI standard, we discuss the next portion of personality, Sensor and Intuitive. This round will determine the next letter of your four letter personality type.

To briefly recap, the MBTI measures across four categories (two possible personality factors per category) resulting in a four letter combination, or personality type, per person. There is a total of 16 personality types.

Category Two: Sensor vs Intuitive*
(S) for Sensor and (N) for Intuitive

*This area of personality examines how a person’s mind tends to notice information and remember it. Not everyone experiences information the same way. This is how an individual or several individuals can witness the same event and recall it differently. Sometimes the variations are small, others can vary wildly. (S) and (N) personality types plays a role in how we process incoming information and later on recall it. Other factors will come into play such as an individual’s health, personal feeling, and memory ability. Yes, recall, and how well you can do it is an actual skill. S’s and N’s alike have the potential for strong memory.*

SENSOR
The information an (S) notices tends to be in the present, collecting information as the data itself is occurring. The information is concrete and usually free from an individual’s personal projection. S’s put less of their personal feeling or personal memories onto the information they are currently receiving. It does happen, but not as a matter of course.

Example:
(S) Sally works in an office. (S) Sally has an errand to run in the office and requires that she get up from her desk, walk down the length of a hall, and stop into several co-worker’s offices. (S) Sally gets up to begin her task. She takes exactly ten steps before she reaches the first office. (S) Sally knows it is exactly ten steps as she has walked the length between her office and the next office several times and noted the distance the first time. (S) Sally also knows the exact steps between this office and the next several that (S) Sally will need to stop in at. This first office belongs to (N) Neville. (S) Sally takes note of (N) Neville’s dress, gray suit, blue tie, one class ring on Neville’s opposite ring finger. (S) Sally noticed this ring the first time she met (N) Neville and associates class rings with (N) Neville as no other male in the office wears one. (S) Sally, now knowing what (N) Neville is wearing this day, will be able to visually spot him for the rest of the day no matter where he is in the office or the building in case she needs to follow up with him later. The same will be true for of all her co-workers that (S) Sally must interact with in order to complete her inter-office errand.

(S) Sally also recalls it’s Friday. (S) Sally is briefly joyed by that fact and recalled it simply b/c she walked near another co-worker who tends to wear a little too much perfume, and only on a Friday. (S) Sally has never asked this particular co-worker why she wears a little too much perfume, only on Fridays. (S) Sally only knows that this colleague does so and has come to think of Fridays as a scent.

Sally takes note of her co-workers reactions as she disseminates her errands, often resulting in more work for people to do, and on a Friday too. (S) Sally hates giving out fresh assignments at the end of a work week, but (S) Sally’s feelings have nothing to do it. It’s work, end of story.

Some colleagues show no reaction, it’s work as usual, and (S) Sally knows she will receive follow-up on the work promptly and without complaint. Others barely suppress rolling their eyes, (S) Sally makes no comment other than to note to herself to personally follow-up with him or her regarding progress. Others wave the work off with a shrug and a, ‘I’ll get to it,’ demeanor. Sally knows she will need to follow-up directly with these folks too in case their version of “getting to it,” is a little too untimely.

QUICK (S) FAQs:
– S’s notice concrete information, or ‘just the facts ma’am.’ Because S’s are grounded in the specifics, they often describe themselves as practical and literal. They are often perceived by others as being the same. Friends of an (S) usually have no hesitation using adjectives like detail-oriented, grounded, practical, sensible, factual.

– Because an (S) has an appreciation for the facts, they are much more likely to trust past experiences than to invent a new modality for dealing with something. This also means an (S) prefers practical solutions, and not wildly inventive ones. If there must be a new solution to a new problem, then a practical, trial and error solution is sought after.

– S’s will see, and often accept, what a person, an object, or a situation is at face value. If an (S) were to meet a loud stranger for the first time, the (S) is not likely to explore reasons to as to why they are loud. An (S) is going to accept the information they’ve been given unless there is obvious proof available to explain it. If the person is elderly and is inclining their head while listening, there is a good chance the stranger in question is just hard of hearing, in which case, the loudness of speech is perfectly acceptable.

– S’s like step-by-step instructions and will follow them to the letter. An (S) will not become inventive with a way of doing things until they have nailed the original way of doing things. By then, an (S) is an expert and trusting their past experiences of building on knowledge will then begin to modify things, usually considered a more personally efficient way of doing things.

– An (S) likes to work at a steady pace. S’s can portion their energy well and work consistently throughout a given time period. How an (S) is feeling about the job at hand can play a part in how long they work and how well, but an (S) is pretty good about staying the course and getting the thing done once the task has started.

INTUITIVE
The information an (N) notices tends to be big, impressionable, evocative of thought or feeling. Any information that makes an impression, an (N) is more likely to notice it. N’s are more likely to use their past memories and feelings in order to form new memories. Which is why when an (N) recalls something, it tends to be a little more personal b/c of the impression it made in the first place. An (N) will likely self-perceive, and be described as, a good story-teller, a big picture thinker, a creative solution person. B/c N’s take in more of the new, the different, the impressionable, they are more likely to offer input and solutions that are based on the same.

Example:
(N) Neville does not know how many steps it took for (S) Sally to reach his office door, although he himself has frequented her office. (N) Neville does not recall what (S) Sally was wearing when she handed out new assignments on this Friday. What (N) Neville does recall was the rapidity of her steps as the way in which (S) Sally walks has always left an impression on (N) Neville. (N) Neville perceives (S) Sally to be punctual to a fault and usually rushing to and fro. (S) Sally’s walk reflects her day-to-day impression, busy, professional, rushing, and a little impersonal. Not that (S) Sally is difficult to work with or indifferent to her colleagues. (N) Neville thinks and feels, it’s only that (S) Sally’s busy and professional demeanor makes it hard to get to know her as a person and so doesn’t leave much of an impression on (N) Neville. He recalls less of what (S) Sally says compared to other colleagues who are more open and amiable. These colleagues leave impressions on (N) Neville and so he is able to recall personal details about them, unlike (S) Sally whom he sees nearly every day.

(N) Neville grimly takes a new assignment, briefly dampening his feelings on the fact that it’s Friday and acknowledges that while he is not motivated o begin his new assignment today, he will make up for studiously on Monday. He also knows this not in favor of (S) Sally’s preference of beginning work right away, but (N) Neville just isn’t feeling it. The company meeting is on Tuesday, (N) Neville is confident he can develop and deliver an adequate assignment report on Monday. (N) Neville likes working under the gun, in fact, (N) Neville believes his best ideas are developed under pressure, as spontaneous feeling takes over. As much as (N) Neville has tried (and failed) to tackle assignments in advance, he feels no inspiration. (N) Neville insists his work lacks creativity when he tries to plan and portion out his work.

(N) Neville also passes that same colleague who wears a little too much perfume on Fridays and is cheered once more. While (N) Neville dislikes the cloying smell, (N) Neville perceives the perfume as a personal cheer for a Friday. (N) Neville feels this co-worker is quietly celebrating the end of the week and that is something he can relate to.

Not to (N) Neville’s surprise, (S) Sally checks in with him towards the close of the day. He has made note of this habit that (S) Sally has to check in on those days when less popular assignments come through. (N) Neville knows this part of (S) Sally’s efficiency and does not take it personally. He notices the slight frown she nearly concealed when (N) Neville said he had not begun the assignment, but gave his sincere reassurances that all would be well by Tuesday’s meeting.

QUICK (N) FAQs:
– N’s notice the different, the outstanding, the impressionable. They notice what evokes thoughts and feelings, not only in themselves but in others. N’s also notice what isn’t present such as what is deliberately left out in a piece of music, an artwork, or in a speech. N’s make memories more easily when feelings and past memories are evoked by a person or situation or object. Thereby through no one’s deliberate doing, a person might be remembered and/or associated with nothing to do with themselves, it is completely at an N’s discretion. An (N) may not remember what you were wearing (unless it made an impression), they may not remember your name the first several times they hear it, but they can have full recall of you by what you said, or did, by a simple gesture you made with your hands, or by the look on your face or the sound of your voice.

– N’s are imaginative and theoretical. In this regard, an (N) could be confused with an (E) or Extravert. N’s tend to think aloud and usually at length. The difference is no one need be present.

– Unlike S’s who trust tried and true methods for problem-solving or “established methods,” N’s trust their own instinct, and would rather build a solution for themselves than do what everyone else has done. N’s trust themselves to come up with something, and value creative solutions. S’s tend to see what could be, not what already is. This is where we get the big-picture image of certain people. They are likely an (N).

– N’s like to figure things out alone, this does not automatically make an (N) an (I). Because N’s value creative solutions, the implication is the skill or solution is self-taught. For this, N’s don’t need outside influence; to think aloud, perhaps, but for default work, an (N) usually likes to work alone.

– N’s, unlike S’s, like to work in bursts of energy as opposed to steady-paced, planned work. N’s are creative, and they may be big picture thinkers, but the delivery of their work is often dependent upon how they feel. An (N) may have hours and hours of uninterrupted energy in which to work on something or all of ten minutes, but the point is, that work will be of quality and to their liking.

CONCLUSION
Some of you will know absolutely if you are an (S) or an (N). Others will struggle. There is a scale and you would need the full version of the MBTI to understand where you fall, particularly if you are unsure.

Personally, I am a high-level S. Case in point, I’m writing this on a Sunday. Despite the fact that I am a moderate (I), I wanted to be around people today so I decided to pack up my laptop and head to Starbucks. regret that. It’s busy in here today and my sensitive (S) is taking in EVERYTHING, even with my earbuds in place. My (S) exacerbates my (I) and all the sensory data I’m picking up is draining my (I) energy faster. I am painfully aware of how long this blog was and would continue to be about two hours ago. I was tempted to pack up perhaps an hour after arriving, but because I was determined to start what I finished, I shove my feelings aside to get the work done. I think what about what I promised myself I would do – write a minimum of two blogs a week. I tell myself I need to meet that. I think about how I can portion out the rest of my mental energy so I can finish writing this thing and publish it.

Being a high-level (S) is exhausting. I notice all things, that doesn’t mean the information is useful or in any way intelligent. I am aware of bodily movements, conversations, smells, light, temperature, background noises. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the frother (frother is not a legit word and yet I do not care) at the Starbucks counter since I’ve been here – no wait, yes I can – 22 times! You may not believe any one person could be aware of all those things, but you would be wrong. (S) people are legit when we say we notice a lot. I’m telling you, if I witness an accident you were the cause of, you and I will not be friends. I will have seen and noticed all that went down including what you were wearing and the stunned look on your face, and the license plate? That’s child play memory stuff for me, my friend.

My husband is a moderate (N). You might imagine the hilarity of our marriage as we notice, and determine importance to, wildly different things. My husband is full of creative ideas, all the time, day in and day out. He will often interject ideas into a conversation that had no bearing whatsoever to what was being discussed, but it was an idea that impressed upon so much he had say it out loud. Ideas, ideas, ideas galore, many of them wonderful and I am amazed by. His creativity is already well exercised as a software architect and I know he has the creative power to come up with something independently of his job. It takes discipline to start and maintain something of value. That’s where S’s like me come into play, we can override our feelings of exhaustion and boredom if it means getting the job done. Idea people and the get-it-done people work well together in this regard.

I’m a fiction writer, as an (I) I am comfortable living in my head and I can take my time flexing my creative muscles. I put all my sensory data full of odd human behaviors over the years to work in fiction and at my own comfortable pace. In my own way, I get to appreciate both worlds as the creative in me meets the practical.

Still two more MBTI letters to suss out. Until then, are you an (S) or an (N)? And make note, I know the S’s will. Haha.

ArmedWithCoffee.com
Austin, Texas
@gnrmuggle

Personality: Introvert & Extravert (Blog I of 5)

I thought it might be nice to take a break and blog on the lighter side. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am a trained counselor (formerly licensed) and part of working with my student-clients involved the occasional personality test. There are many tests, so many, but the tried and true has always been the MBTI or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The MBTI is not an in-depth personality test, but it does measure those personality factors that we know to be true for nearly every living person on the planet, which is to say, the MBTI is applicable to many people regardless of country, culture, economic status, age, and sex. The MBTI measures the broadest of predictable personality factors. While it is not in-depth, the MBTI is helpful in narrowing down an individual who could do with some assistance in personal insight.

The MBTI measures across four categories (two possible personality factors per category) resulting in a four letter combination, or personality type, per person. There is a total of 16 personality types.

By the way, I use the original and scientific spelling, ExtrAvert, and not the currently popular spelling, ExtrOvert.

Category One: Introvert vs Extravert*
(I) for Introvert and (E) for Extravert

*First – and this is very important – Introvert does not = shy. Extravert does not = attention seeker. These are surface impressions that, to this day, are perpetuated about each type. Whether you are an (I) or an (E) is strictly defined by ENERGY. Energy that is measurable in your day-to-day existence. I am not talking about the sort of vague references to a spiritually-styled energy that your yoga instructor is really into. I am talking about energy that is measurable in the triad: mental, emotional, and physical. Also, I’s and E’s fall on a scale. Some I’s are very Introverted, others less so. The same for E’s. Where everyone falls on the scale of (I) and (E) can also be measured by the MBTI.*

INTROVERTS
Energy comes from within. I’s are a lot like a cell phone, their energy (mental, emotional, physical) is charged inwardly, or alone. As soon as an introvert is in company with another person, they are essentially taken off their charger and begin to slowly but surely lose their charge until they are alone once more. People are draining. You will have met I’s in your life that you had no idea are I’s simply because your understanding of them is wrong. It’s not that I’s can’t socialize or be part of a group, it is only that they have so much energy to spare to any one person, or situation, before they require alone time. I’s are perfectly capable of conversation, of partying, going out to dinner, you name it. Activities with others usually require a foreseeable ending, or a planned exit. The more taxing or stressful a person or situation, the faster an I’s mental, emotional, and physical energies are drained.

QUICK (I) FAQs:
– I’s are more likely to LISTEN than to talk. This is where the shyness assumption comes from, and why I’s tend to have a few but really close friends. I’s prefer quality over quantity and quality friendship means zeroing in on your friend; listening requires paying attention to the speaker’s facial movements, tone of voice, registering bodily posture and more. So when an Introvert is listening, they are all in. I’s have a harder time in groups for this reason. The ability to provide everyone the same quality of their attention becomes saturated and harder to keep up with. E’s have very few issues with this, as you will see. If you have a friend and you’ve thought, ‘So-and-so only seems to hang out with me and a few other people. What’s up with that?’ You have yourself an Introverted friend. Do well by his or her because they are all about the quality, and will take the time to be present with you when they are with you. Remember, they are taking themselves off their charger just to hang out when they could just as easily be comfortable at home, ready for a night of Netflix and snuggling the cat.

– Introverts think before they act. I’s live inside their heads, which means they are a great deal more likely to ponder over a thought of potential action well before they do it. It might take days or hours, minutes or seconds, but a thought process must take place before engaging in an action. This is in line with that quality of attention you can expect from an Introverted friend. Thought must proceed speaking aloud or moving toward an action.

– B/c I’s live inside their minds, comfortably so, you might well expect them to have excellent concentration skills, and they do.

– Introverts prefer to work behind the scenes. They prefer to work alone, once given a set of instructions, I’s pretty much prefer to be left alone with minimal supervision. Group meetings are nice because you can check in with what everyone else is doing but for the most part, it seems those E’s are really just thinking aloud. Whereas I’s don’t need to think aloud. This is where in corporate culture, those rock solid I’s take up zero time because they don’t need to contribute ideas about their work – they already know what they’re doing. Or, I’s don’t contribute their thoughts in a meeting until the have a quality-driven, fleshed-out idea to offer. There also those rock solid E’s whom, when they speak up, their ideas seem to be all over the place – the content may or may not be valid. They are the same individuals at every meeting and are as predictable as their quieter counterparts.

– Until I’s get to know you, they themselves are very reserved. They don’t dish the dish, gab, or chat unnecessarily. You will need to be a proper friend before any real sharing takes place, and even then the information shared is always parceled out and never a package bomb of info. I’s will not verbally vomit all over you in an effort to get to know you.

– B/c I’s are comfortable in their minds, they are quite good at written communication. They can say what they mean to say, thoughtfully, in the written word more so than in speech which is a lot more immediate and spontaneous. Spontaneous speech with I’s is more likely to happen with people they are close to. Anyone else is subject to a less jam-packed conversation as an Introvert tries to formulate an articulated response.

EXTRAVERTS
Energy comes from without. An E’s energy is charged from being around others. Nor is the (E) charge limited to just people, an (E) can experience mental, emotional, and physical energy just by being present in public. Not all E’s are talkative attention seekers, however, some E’s are exactly that. Just like some I’s are terrified at the idea of speaking up or being noticed. There are high-level versions of I’s and E’s, but there are also very mellow versions of I’s and E’s too. E’s are perfectly capable of being alone or engaging in meaningful conversation with just one person, like an (I). It’s a matter of energy. An (E) that is having a quiet day is likely to feel a little more drained than having a day filled with people and activities, which is more energizing to them. Spontaneity is a key strength to an (E). If you’ve ever thought, ‘So-and-so always seems to have something going on, they’re so busy. I wonder if they ever go home and just chill?’ You’ve got yourself an Extraverted friend. Treat them well. The encounter with your (E) friend might be brief, and may not be chalk full of quality, but they are there for you even so. No matter how busy they are, an (E) is more likely to make time for their friends than an (I) who struggles with out-of-the-blue invitations. This is not a diss, it simply is a common factor (not a given) to the existence of I’s. Every personality type has its pros and cons.

QUICK (E) FAQs:
– E’s are naturally active and as a result, tend to TALK more than, listen. Talking rapidly, and seemingly without a particular direction, is an outward trade mark to an (E). What’s actually happening here is an E’s thought process. Where an (I) has an INTERNAL thought process, and (E) has an EXTERNAL thought process. E’s often work out their thoughts and feelings by using other people as sounding boards. They throw thoughts out, and in so doing, will hopefully get viable feedback. This why those E’s are always the first to speak up in meetings, they are likely tossing around ideas so their own finished thoughts and courses of actions can take shape. Don’t get me wrong, E’s are perfectly capable of making up their own minds, and ultimately all E’s make up their own minds, but preferably with input from others first.

– This first trade mark of E’s leads to the second, an ability to come together and connect with people and with very little effort. Groups that seem to form quickly and work together towards a common goal are more easily created by E’s; they just seem to naturally sort out their puzzle-like pieces. This is hard for I’s to comprehend as I’s tend to focus their energies on the individual. I’s are more likely to feel “lost” in a group setting b/c there seems to be no apparent anchor, whereas, for E’s, the group itself is the anchor.

– B/c E’s need others to sort out their thoughts and feelings, it is safe to say, distraction comes quite naturally. Exploring one’s thoughts, behaviors and feelings can be an undertaking, never mind all the incoming data from other people and situations. The cost to this hive of outward processing is attention span. E’s can and will get distracted easily.

– All that incoming data, however, also grants E’s the uncanny ability to tackle several things at one time. E’s can pick up one action while pursuing another or switch gears all-together, several times throughout the day. Hour by hour, an (E) has the potential for fluidity. I’s prefer to work out one thing (start and finish) at a time, regardless of feelings about the task at hand; a ‘I started this thing and now I’m going to finish it,’ mentality. E’s, however, don’t miss a beat when they start something and decide to finish it much later.

– B/c open dialogue is fast and has the potential to change rapidly, E’s prefer oral communication over written. Written communication requires thoughtful structure, and thus, slows the whole concept of communication down for an (E).

CONCLUSION
Some of you will know absolutely if you are an (I) or an (E). Others will struggle. There is a scale and you would need the full version of the MBTI to understand where you fall, particularly if you are unsure. Personally, I am a moderate (I), my husband is a mild (E). There are many ways in which he feels like an (I) but his DEFAULT method, as a living, breathing, human being, requires EXTERNAL energy to get through the day. (E) energy is his default. He needs to be around people a little more often than not. Not a whole lot, like a high-level (E) would, but just a little more often than not, he needs to be around people.

As a moderate (I), I need more alone time than a little, but not so much as a high-level (I) would. There are times my (E) kicks in and I need to be out and about in the world, and once I get my fix, I’m good. But for the most part, I hate crowds, I hate socializing, and I’ve always believed I’ve never needed more than two or three good friends. Because I’m an internal thinker, when I am with friends, I never need to run my thoughts or feelings by anyone because I’m already a decided person. I can spend quality time with my friends as myself and not someone who needs to sort things out. My husband, on the other hand, part of his friendship experience is running things by others in order to figure something out that’s been on his mind, because, hey, what are friends for? As a moderate (I) I have to be hard pressed on a difficult topic before I run my thoughts by anyone, be it my husband or a friend. Many people have accused me of not knowing when to ask for help – as an (I), that is a valid observation, and I find it to be true more often than not. Like I said, everyone’s personality package has its pros and cons.

Are you an (I) or an (E)?

Make note, you still have three more letters to work out. By the fifth part of this Personality blog, I’ll tell you what your four-letter MBTI personality type means.

ArmedWithCoffee.com
Austin, Texas
@gnrmuggle

Writing Process aka “Discipline”

For the most part, I think I’m met with a lot of raised eyebrows when I tell people I’ve written a book.

Them: ‘What do you do?’

Me: ‘I’m a writer, currently unpublished.’

Them: With feigned interest, ‘Oh me too, totally, I mean I have, like, really great ideas and stuff for a book but have never actually, like, written seriously, ya know? It’s, like, so time-consuming. But I write, like, a lot on Twitter ya know? And I’ve been meaning to start a blog cause people all the time tell me they would totally read my stuff if I wrote it down or whatever.’

Me: ‘Uh huh.’

Them: With less interest, ‘So what do you write about?’

Me: ‘I’ve written a book. It’s in the genre of Southen Gothic, roughly 440 pages. I also blog because for some reason that’s important to agents so I try to keep up with what they expect to see. My manuscript is currently being edited and I’ll likely pursue e-publishing, pending the edited results.’

Them: Quietly, ‘Oh.’

Me: ‘Yeah.’

I’m floored how often this conversation, or something like it, comes up. It is true what agents and publishers say, everyone wants to write a book, very few actually do. What they really mean to say is everyone has an IDEA for a book but not the discipline to convert an idea into a story.

Writing, in this respect, is absolutely in line with any other major goals in life, like exercising or healthy eating. The discipline, the habit, does not form by itself. It has to be nurtured into existence and then its maintenance becomes easier over time.

Like all new life changes that are important time has to be carved out for them. I made the decision to write down the idea I’ve had floating in my head for years and that meant sacrificing time and money – my family’s time and money. I’ve had the benefit of being a full-time parent who could work from home. This is a luxury I am well aware of, however, that meant spending money to place my then 3-year old into daycare so I could work, or rather I could work MORE and with no guarantee of a payoff. To say writing requires motivation as well as discipline is something of an understatement.

I developed an 8-10 hour a week writing schedule in-between my other obligations, and those hours could never slack. On the days I didn’t feel well, or just “didn’t feel like writing,” I made myself write anyway. It may have been garbage but at least garbage can be fixed, you can’t fix a blank page. Outside of those scheduled hours, I wrote at night when everyone went to bed. I wrote on the weekends and first thing in the morning. My sticking to a plan meant having something to show at the end of my efforts. I mean, dude! I wrote a book! It’s beginning, ending and everything in-between is all down to me.

Like everything in life, the more you practice a thing, the better you get at said thing. Writing is no different. Your story may be brilliant but it will come out as crap at first. So keep fucking writing. The stuff you write becomes less crappy, you find your voice, you find your characters’ voices, the pace picks up and your work becomes less crappy.

That was my experience in a nutshell. Eight months later, I had my first draft hovering at about 520 pages. After my first round of editing, I cut a lot of the crap and ended up at 480 pages. My third draft (yes, I said “third”) got me down to my current 441 pages. I handed the thing over to a professional editor because, at this point, I need another pair of eyes, professional eyes that know what to do next. The point is, I did the heavy lifting. I’ve written a book, only time will tell if I’m published or not but in total honesty, I can say I’m one of those who went beyond, ‘I have an idea for a book.’

ArmedWithCoffee.com
Austin, Texas
@gnrmuggle

Education: About Me, Part II

Education is the remedy to poverty. I learned this early on. I watched my father, a brilliant man, work endless blue collar days to support a family he created much too early. My mother had quit our family shortly after I came into the world. My childhood consisted of myself, a much beloved older sister, and my father. My father determined that we would not do as he and my mother had done, allowing hormones and emotions to overthrow common sense, jeopardizing futures for lack of contraception.

By the time I was college ready, I struggled with the idea of a major. I adored writing, I adored reading. You would think my major selection would be straight forward. But as I addressed in my blog, Ruth, I had burning questions that required answering. I felt if I could understand human thinking and human behaviors I might be better prepared for the world, and be more capable of helping others.

I gave myself a few years to think about it as I signed up for basic, transferable courses at Austin Community College before I declared a major. This is one of the best decisions I ever made and I highly recommend community college as a starting point for college-bound, young adults. I was a first-generation college student, no one I knew in my immediate family had gone and I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I built a high GPA and all my courses were paid via scholarships and grants as a result. In the meantime, I figured out what I wanted to study while relishing all creative writing courses, and wrote short stories just for fun. I loved my intro psychology and sociology courses too. It was a dilemma.

When it came time to declare my major and enroll into a 4-year college, I applied and was accepted to UT Austin, but eventually accepted an offer from St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas. UT Austin is a wonderful school, truly. In many respects, I wish I had gone there if only to spare something of my present day tuition repayments, but my lifelong anxiety largely dictated my decision. The size of UT overwhelmed me when I visited the campus and I felt I could not breathe. When I visited St. Ed’s, not only could I breathe, I felt excitement about continuing my education. I felt a part of the campus just by visiting it, never mind the potential connectivity as a student.

Eight years later, I finished a BA in psychology and earned an MA in counseling. Magna cum laude first, summa cum laude second. I worked hard for that 4.0 while earning my master’s degree, completing an unpaid part-time internship, and working 30 hours a week. I had no social life, and there were goings-on in general I missed out on, but I don’t regret it.

I’ve enjoyed a wonderful career as a university counselor. I loved campus life so much I decided to put my education to work in the education system.

I’m thankful I chose psychology and counseling. There are times when I am frustrated as a new writer, learning things the hard way, making juvenile mistakes when addressing literary agents and representing my manuscript. But I still don’t regret it. I’ve been touched by the countless stories of the students I’ve had the privilege to work with. Many of their stories I have incorporated into my work. The story of Ruth would not have the depth it does, the multiple layers of perspectives it has had so many paths not come across mine.

ArmedWithCoffee.com
Austin, Texas

Life on Mars? – A Song of Influence

I would be remiss if I did not discuss those musical influences of my life and of my work. Of course, fictional novels and music are two entirely different mediums. However, I doubt much you can claim to have an appreciation of one without an appreciation of the other. While I was writing my novel, Ruth, I was surprised how often lyrics would come to mind. Situations, background, dialogue – all of it at some point – would have a soundtrack lightly treading its way around my thoughts.

Anyone who says they know me immediately screams, ‘Guns N’ Roses! It’s GN’R, I now her and it’s GN’fucking-R! Well, you wouldn’t be wrong. GN’R has definitely made its presence known here and there while I was writing, usually when I was hammering out the angry bits. That particular band got me through my teen years, rather, helped me survive my teen years so I shall always be grateful.

It’s David Bowie’s, “Life on Mars?” that I can hear perfectly, without taking it for granted, every time and without fail. While I have always valued the health and wealth of society over the health and wealth of the few, I am not without my fair share of disdain for society either. As I addressed in my previous blog, I saw too much in too few years and I know all too well what society is capable of. As an adult, not much has changed this opinion, in fact, every day only serves to confirm it. Regardless of socio-economic status, sex, age, religion, or political views – all humans are capable of garbage. Of contributing to the garbage, of being like garbage. Myself included, I learned that early as well. I often wondered what life on other planets might be like, are we all like this?

And Bowie asked:
Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man, look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man, wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

When you first hear a song that sympathizes with your harder known point-of-view, you’re not likely to forget it.

I wonder just how many of us know we are all part of the freakiest show and make no mistake, the way we tune in, we are part of a bestselling show. Eventually, there will be another story of the lawman beating up the wrong guy. Oh boy, look at us caveman go.

What I found also unique to “Life on Mars?” was Bowie’s perspective of a young woman and her troubles. To say this is not common, for a male musician, in any way, to acknowledge women in a song that does not have to do with love, sex, and relationships (and vice versa) is something of an understatement. And Bowie did ponder other people, well into his career, the troubles of many demographics.

The day Bowie died, I felt a part of myself shrink for having lost someone who knew how to express what most of would take a lifetime to work out.

I’m always interested to know what influences people when they’re working their craft. Share yours.

ArmedWithCoffee.com
Austin, Texas

Trailer Trash: About Me, Part I

I grew up in a trailer or mobile home, the terms are used interchangeably. But such technicalities make no difference when you’re a kid, and every other kid who didn’t grow up in a trailer or mobile home had the benefit of dubbing you “white trash,” and “trailer trash.” Humans are no never so human as when we take comfort in hierarchies, even as children.

Everyone in school knew me and my family were poor. We didn’t live in poverty, but we were poor. My sister and I had to look after ourselves since our father worked 12 hours a day.

When you live close to the edge of poverty, you learn things early. You cram too much in too few years. You are surrounded by people who are economically similar to yourself and for wildly varying reasons, all of those reasons you are likely to learn at some point, for better or worse.

As I related in a previous blog, I suffered from childhood anxiety disorder, I found relief in the library. That meant traversing my mixed bunch, trailer park community, crossing roads and unsavory neighborhood elements in order to get to my local library. Liquor stores, check cashiers, pawn shops, strip clubs, questionable dwellings with questionable persons hanging around. Every trip was frightening. In my young mind, the payoff was worth it. I knew the books I would soon delve into would erase the worst of anything I may have just seen, heard, and even smelled. The same would be true when I made the trip back to my mobile home, mind lost in books once more.

I grew up in Irving, a city adjacent to Dallas. Irving was much smaller then and called a suburb of Dallas. The poor who had to find work in Dallas lived in Irving. Today, I sit from the comfort of my two story home in a high demand neighborhood of the ever booming Austin, Texas. Today, it is not unusual that I am treated as someone who grew up from an affluent home. I am often approached by others who assume to know my background. The implication of a comfortable childhood is apparent in the language used and the attitude assumed when I am spoken to. Having worked in the higher education system for nearly a decade, and the fact that I have two degrees, often put me in the position of being passively-aggressively challenged about a wealth and upbringing I didn’t have. I don’t bother to correct the projection others put on me, but I don’t engage with people who assume to know me either. It seems a waste of my time. I let my work speak for me.

As it turns out, my childhood background would lend itself to my style of writing. Had I earned degrees in writing, I might have learned of my actual genre much sooner. I had always labeled my work as a women’s fiction-slash-drama. I recently discovered that my style of writing is a sub-genre of Gothic, called Southern Gothic. I write with “dark elements” (better known to me as “the truth”), while set in the geographic location of Texas, a big ol’ chunk of the south. That makes Southern Gothic, apparently. The gritty and glaring real life depictions, plus fiction, coupled with location. Southern Gothic, like all of Gothic, can incorporate fantastical elements too. One day I may write a piece that includes magic and other worldliness, but for now, real life serves up more than enough to work with.

I once wrote a short story for my high school’s creative writing course inspired by a resident of my trailer park. A severely obese woman who spent her days divided between residing in her trailer to hobbling her way out to her attached deck, surrounded by her 10 dogs. In life, I never learned her name, in my story, I called her Edna. Edna, from her place on the deck, folds of her body spilling out from all directions on her distressed bench, stared boldly at any and all residents who passed by. Edna never spoke, but still managed to quietly challenge by site alone. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Edna was angry, but no one knew why. In my work, I gave Edna a backstory that explained her current disparity, taking comfort in the company of her dogs. Claiming her untrained, no-collared, badly groomed furry companions were all that she needed. They were loyal, Edna’s character claimed. Edna’s backstory didn’t matter, the ending did. Edna died alone in her trailer from a massive heart attack. The residents suspected something was wrong as several days had gone by without Edna presiding over her usual place on the deck, glaring down all passersby. But hey, who cares? If anything Edna’s absence was an improvement so why rock the boat, was the general consensus of the trailer park residents.

What caused the first of many double-takes to come from my teachers over the years was Edna’s ending. She was found a week later, eaten by her beloved dogs. In life, the woman who inspired Edna did die alone from a massive heart attack. And she was discovered several days later, but not eaten by her dogs. Her dogs had disbanded and sought food elsewhere from other residents. That’s when people thought to look for the heavy set resident who rudely liked to stare from her deck. I didn’t realize it then, but such writing would become the basis of my work – the truth, with more steps. The world, as it is, is infinitely strange, my mind decided to make use of what was already there.

Examples of Gothic fiction includes:
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, by Victor Hugo
Almost everything by Edgar Allan Poe
And so many more. Here’s a full-bodied list from Goodreads

Examples of Southern Gothic fiction includes:
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt
A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Here’s an excellent Southern Gothic list from Goodreads. I hope to make it here one day.

ArmedWithCoffee.com
Austin, Texas

The Book I Left Off

I intentionally withheld a book from my last blog, “Books of Influence.”

If you were to ask a reader what their favorite book was, they might well find it a difficult question to answer.  There are scores of things to take into consideration in order to pair favorites down to a top 10 list, never mind a singular favorite. I, on the other hand, have no such issue.

I was an insatiable reader since early childhood, always categorized as advanced by my teachers. I suffered anxiety disorder as a child, a solitary life was my norm, books became my friends. I do not know if this was a cause and effect relationship, or if I was truly gifted in reading. But I do know it was this overwhelming need to shove my nose in a book that led me to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) when I was perhaps ten years old.

I recall it was summertime. Two weeks into my school vacation and I had already tackled my summer reading list. I went to my local library to stock up. A summer earlier, I had long since drifted from the children’s and young adult areas to full on fiction. Floating amongst the alphabetized authors, I spotted a familiar title, A Christmas Carol, ‘Oh, like the Mickey movie.’ No, as I would soon discover. A Christmas Carol was not written for children, not in the least. It had an important message, clearly, how else do you explain the many film versions, most child-friendly? But no. The original written version was intended for a very adult audience.

This was the passage my eyes first fell as I flicked through the book:

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit, are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The bell struck twelve.
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

This passage terrified me and for several reasons. First of which, I had never read of children depicted in this way. Starved, sickly, twisted, humiliated creatures. And if the context were to be believed, these children were made so by the neglect of man, or rather man’s indifference to the sufferings of others, even children. Second, the Ghost of Christmas Present named the children, “Ignorance,” and “Want,” the formula for suffering. I was scared at the thought of being either.

After giving A Christmas Carol the full read through, I understand how Christmas Present was mocking Scrooge with Scrooge’s own words, “Are there no prisons?” and “Are there no workhouses?” as a solution for dealing with the destitute.

Sometimes you come across something so powerful it influences you from the first moment of exposure and not casually. Some find inspiration in works of art, others in music, television, film, or in the actions and beliefs of others. I have those moments as well, but fiction will always take lead. The passage I read that day in my local library, and later the full story in my bedroom, impressed upon me a way of being. That passage taught me what I wanted to see in myself and in society. That passage has influenced me from that day to this, everything from my views on religion, to politics, to my own personal behavior when I meet someone of want…and when I meet someone of ignorance.

What works of fiction have influenced you? Was it powerful?

ArmedWithCoffee
Austin, Texas

Books of Influence

I’m only through my third day of a massive head cold. Of course, this happens as soon as I decide to blog regularly on Tues/Thurs and sometimes the weekend. So I thought, ‘filler piece.’

I want to share those novels that stay with me on a day-to-day basis. Novels that inspire me regularly. Books that I can reread and still find content that makes me think and reflect.

These are not ranked, merely listed.

The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
The Bonesetter’s Daughter, by Amy Tan
Shatter, by Michael Robotham
Carrie, by Stephen King
The Shining, by Stephen King
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
The Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier
A Game of Thrones (the book series as a whole), by George R.R. Martin
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris

Off topic, the rejection emails from literary agents have been pouring in lately, as I think about my previous blog, “Literary Agents and Queries and F*** You’s”. I also noticed just how many agents are gearing up for writer’s conferences. Coincidence? I hate to think my query got rushed through for the sake of clearing out the old inbox before he or she left the office for a few days, but as someone who used to attend conferences regularly, I know better. Sigh. Time to compose the RESUBMISSION list.

I get knocked down, but I get up again / You are never gonna keep me down…
you know you hear the tune in your head.

ArmedWithCoffee
Austin, Texas

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