On Kindness, Empathy and the State of the World

On Kindness, Empathy and the State of the World

It’s a hard world out there, isn’t it? I’m feeing a little beaten down by it this week. Insults and fury seem to have traded places with kindness and empathy. Sometimes I feel so discouraged by it all that I don’t want to emerge from my safe shell.

But then I remember that the world needs sensitive people like me. And you, too.

One of the reasons I write books (I don’t often advertise this one) is because stories cultivate empathy in their readers. Empathy is becoming ever more important for this state in which we find our world today and, sadly, ever more diminished. Stories help heal that gulf between Me and Them. And readers like you are the ones who step into the gap.

What many in our world often forget is that no one hears us when we are mean. We become a clanging cymbal, a sounding gong, a drone in the ears of our fellow, honorable, beloved people. What we need is to torch our assumptions and stomp (or perhaps dance?) on their ashes, because they don’t belong in respectful conversation. They don’t belong in a loving humanity.

Here are three things I tell my sons in heated situations:
1. Take some deep breaths until you feel calmer. (If it takes days, give it days.)
2. Remember who you are—strong, kind, courageous, but mostly son (or daughter).
3. Love is the whole and more than all.

My 7-year-old created that picture above this message. He wrote the words on a piece of heart-shaped notebook paper. I know it’s naive (I’ve never claimed to be anything else), but I would like to see his words become a possibility, a dream with strong, beautiful, tireless legs—but in order for that to happen, we must first let down our walls and invite others in. We must unlock our guarded hearts. We must become unafraid of being hurt, ridiculed, beaten down because of our improbable, unquenchable love.

We must learn to forgive and accept ourselves so we can learn to forgive and accept others.

“Finish each day and be done with it,” says Ralph Waldo Emerson. “You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Remember who you are. Strong, kind, courageous, but mostly? You are simply son or daughter. There is nothing you have to do today or any other day to prove that you are worthy of love. You were born worthy.

May you end each day knowing that you have loved well. You have loved bigly. You have loved truly.

A Fascinating Book on Creativity, Management, and Pixar

A Fascinating Book on Creativity, Management, and Pixar

I recently finished the audiobook of Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand In the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull, who is the president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. It was inspiring look at the creative processes behind both studios and also a window into Catmull’s own philosophies surrounding creativity. I found it entertaining, inspiring and empowering.

Here are three things I enjoyed most about it:

  • In one section, Catmull talked about the randomness of the universe and how you can’t always predict which businesses will do well and which ones won’t. This, for some reason, provided a rush of relief. My husband was listening to it at that moment, and he laughed with the kind of laugh that said, “Oh, thank God.” All people, Catmull said, are subject to the randomness of the universe, and though you can do all you can to try to climb out of whatever the universe gives you, sometimes it’s the right time to take a new path.
  • In another part of the book, Catmull talked about the importance of honesty and candor in creative organizations. At Pixar, the creative people hold a Braintrust meeting where everyone comes into the meeting room already on the same side and aligned under the same goal—to make better movies. So when someone says, “I don’t think this plot line is going to work,” it’s not because they’re being critical but because they’re being honest. I loved this philosophy and hope to employ it when I have a creative team of my own someday.
  • Catmull shared about the ups and downs of Pixar in a very transparent way. It was comforting to know that the company had been on the edge of bankruptcy several times in its life. He talked extensively about failures and how much we can learn from them.

I can’t say enough about this book. Even though it was geared toward creative companies rather than people, I found the whole thing a helpful study in mindset, business and, of course, creativity. When I one day have a company of my own, this is the first book I’ll require that employees read.

The book mentioned above has an affiliate link attached to it, which means I’ll get a small kick-back if you click on it and purchase. But I only recommend books I enjoy reading myself. Actually, I don’t even talk about books I didn’t enjoy. I’d rather forget I ever wasted time reading them (but if you’re curious whether I’ve read something or what I thought about it and it’s not mentioned here, feel free to ask).

Fairendale Blackout Poetry 001

Fairendale Blackout Poetry 001

In my spare time lately (that’s a hilarious statement if I’ve ever heard one), I’ve been working on some blackout poetry. Sometimes my boys help me, sometimes they just watch.

Here’s the first poem I created, using old Fairendale books that were published under my real name, rather than my pen name (they no longer exist).

Know which book this page is from?

Soon I’ll be selling these prints to help raise some money for literacy programs in my city and across the country—because a child’s best chance at climbing out of poverty is having a good foundation of literacy.

A YA Book that Will Consume Your Imagination

A YA Book that Will Consume Your Imagination

My world was recently wrecked by Marcus Sedgwick’s Ghosts of Heaven.

It’s hard to describe this book using a few words, because it was so complex, so beautifully and interestingly done. It’s one of those books that will remain with you long after you turn the last page.

The book is divided into four stories that transpire in a spiral, one leading to another, leading to another, leading to another, leading back to the first. This concept was brilliant.

Each story had its own protagonist, its own point of view, it’s own style and tone. Sedgwick took his readers through ancient times, through witch hunts, through insane asylums and through space travel.

Here are three things I enjoyed most about it:

1. The historical elements.
(a) Witch hunts. I’ve always been fascinated by this time period in history, and Sedgwick portrayed it well.
(b) Insane asylums. How riveting is it to tell a tale of people who are locked in an insane asylum and maybe shouldn’t be there? I loved these historical elements. They brought depth and power to the book.

2. The changing tones. Like I said, each individual section of the book had its own tone. The first section was primal and sparse. The second had a Puritan feel. The third was told from the perspective of a hopeful doctor, who used larger words and less flowery language. The third was told in the future, where the language reverted back to a more simplistic feel. This technique gave each section its own individual personality, which moved a reader rapidly through it.

3. The cerebral nature of it. This was a mind-bending book. I’ve been trying to get my husband to read it, because he enjoys movies like The Matrix and Deception. This book has that kind of feel, which is why I say it will stay with you for a long time.

The book mentioned above has an affiliate link attached to it, which means I’ll get a small kick-back if you click on it and purchase. But I only recommend books I enjoy reading myself. Actually, I don’t even talk about books I didn’t enjoy. I’d rather forget I ever wasted time reading them. (But if you’re curious whether I’ve read something and what I thought about it, don’t hesitate to ask.)

The Truth About a Boy and an Insect

The Truth About a Boy and an Insect

I had just picked up my boys from school, and we were trying to get everybody loaded in the car. I was getting the baby strapped in his seat, and my second son, who was standing behind me, made an innocent observation: “Mama, there’s a spider on you.”

For this innocent observation to have its full effect on you, I must tell you that I am the daughter of a woman who used to beat spiders to death with a broom when she found them crawling anywhere—all while shrieking hysterically. I am a woman whose son once dropped a spider on my lap because he picked it up and thought it was cool, and I ran away screaming in the middle of a worship set at church. I am also a woman who has had a spider drop into my lap while I’m driving, and I nearly drove off the side of a cliff.

So when my son said this, I immediately felt the fear make my legs grow warm and soft. Heat rushed over my chest.

“Get it off,” I said rather calmly. I was quite proud of my calm.

My boy just stood there looking at my back, so I thought maybe he was kidding. Boys are pranksters, after all. I shook my head, tried to still my heart, and said, “You shouldn’t kid like that.”

My third son, who was already in the back seat of our van, leaned over at that moment to look. “Oh, my goodness,” he said. “It’s white. It’s almost in your hair.”

Something about the way he said it told me he wasn’t actually kidding.

It was not my finest moment. Imagine, if you will, a woman flailing in the middle of a sidewalk near an elementary school, trying desperately to swat the spider off her back—and then add about 20 percent more hilarity and ridiculousness. That was me. I finally slammed my back up against my van and finished off the spider—or so I hoped. My boys couldn’t tell me one way or another, and I felt it crawling up the back of my neck all the way home.

Husband checked to see if it was gone when I got home. He didn’t see anything, and I’m hoping that’s enough.

Some people, when they see me out and about with all my boys, will occasionally say something to the effect of “You’re a lucky mom to have all these boys protecting you.” This is usually when I’m walking into Target with Batman, Spider-Man, and Yoda beside me because they didn’t want to take off their costumes and I didn’t have the energy for a fight. But you get used to hearing things like that when you’re the mom of boys.

The problem, however, is that my boys are just as afraid of creepy crawly things as I am. They see a bug they can’t identify, and they high-tail it out of there. A scorpion moves toward them on the floor, and, rather than smash it with the shoe that’s on their foot, they skedaddle. A bee once chased one of them, and he nearly ran through a wall trying to get away.

When you become the mom of a boy, you imagine your boys standing by your side, swatting away things like spiders and scorpions and bees without even batting an eye. These are the boys who forget to drain the tub and leave the toilet seat up and don’t want to hang up their clothes. This protection is supposed to make all that worth it. I’m not supposed to even think about insects or arachnids or whatever might come crawling my way.

When we got home, there was another spider on the floor, large and black and heading straight for the 10-year-old’s stinky feet (though I can’t fathom why). He refused to kill it, saying it needed to be relocated—and yet, when I wondered aloud who might do the relocating, he pointed right at me.

We argued about it until we turned around and the spider was gone.

The worst kind of spider, in my opinion, is the one you know is there but can’t see.

Well, I hope you at least have a wonderful, spider-free day. I’ll be standing up for the rest of the day.

To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.