Coming soon…

2013.01.06.coming-soonRegular Just Frances readers might know that the ‘real’ site has been down since mid-October, with my last post happening on October 5. When the decision was made to take the site down for much-needed upgrades, I think everyone involved (i.e.: me and my awesome Web Guru) thought it would be a short-lived disruption.

But, as happens, life got in the way and it’s taken a bit longer than expected.

However, the time has been good for me because it’s allowed me to focus in a bit on why I write; on who I’m really writing for. It’s also given me a bit of time to think about how I want to manage Just Frances moving forward. (As my Web Guru said: It will be about the content. And it will be spectacular.)

Anyhow, this is just a wee post to let you know that the design is done. And it’s lovely. And simple.

And, most importantly: It’s coming soon!

So thanks for bearing with me… I hope to have the new site up soon and hope that you like it!

Writer’s cramp

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Today is Day 3 of Social Media Week, so I thought I’d talk about correspondence. You see, for all of the wonderfulness of social media, it has a lot to answer for in regards to the breakdown of communication. Email, instant messaging, and social networking sites have almost completely replaced birthday cards, letters, and other hand-written messages. Yes, it’s great that we can stay in touch through electronic mail, and, yes, it’s great that it means messages are sent and received in moments, but I still like getting real mail through the post. Don’t you?

I mean, what would bring you the most joy? A birthday greeting on Facebook, an e-card sent to your email account, or a real, paper card sent through the post? I think that most people would agree that there is something fabulous about the paper card. Right?

Those of you who know me know that I’ve always been a fan of ‘real’ mail. My family and close friends get ‘real’ birthday and Christmas cards. And they get postcards, too. And not just some random card, no, I spend time thinking about the right card for each person. (Well, Christmas cards are generally a mass-mailing to be honest.) If you get a birthday card or postcard from me, you can bet that I chose it in the shop with you in mind, rather than buying a stack then addressing them willy-nilly.

But I digress…

The point is this: In the past five days, I’ve written five letters to various loved ones, the last of which will be posted tomorrow. My writing surge was prompted after receiving a letter from my cousin, which brought me so much enjoyment. Not just because of the words on paper (which were heart warming) but because it was evidence that someone not only thought of me, but took the time to write a letter, address it, slap some stamps on the sucker, and send it off. I mean, in this day and age, that’s a big deal.

Despite the fact that 4 of the 5 recipients for my letters are people I interact with on social media regularly, I felt the need to hand-write something. I hope that they feel the same joy when the letters arrive as I do when I get personal correspondence. And I hope that it spurs them to write a letter or card to someone else.

More importantly, however, is my hope that you Dear Reader, take this as yet another challenge to write a letter to someone you know. You can write a letter of thanks to an old teacher, send a random memory to an old friend, or just drop a quick hello in the post for someone who needs the cheering up.

Social media is great and all, but a personal letter is better!

Digital Diaries: Constructing and managing online identities through blog therapy

To celebrate Social Media Week, I have decided to share a paper I wrote a few months ago about digital diaries and online identities. It was a difficult paper to write because I needed to balance sharing my ‘personal’ life with the academic side of the equation, but it was a good exercise. And, certainly, it’s an area that could easily be expanded upon—both personally and academically.

This paper was written in May 2012 and received a first class distinction mark. (Yay, me!) It’s a bit awkward to share it here, but that’s just my own insecurities showing! So, without any further ado …

Digital Diaries: Constructing and managing online identities through blog therapy
By Frances VC Ryan, University of Stirling, Masters Candidate

Blog: A Website that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer (Merriam-Webster Online, 2012).

Journal therapy: The purposeful and intentional use of a written record of one’s own thoughts or feelings to further psychological healing and personal growth (eNotes, 2012).

José van Dijck said ‘Blogging itself becomes a real-life experience, a construction of self that is mediated by tools for reflection and communication. In the life of the bloggers, the medium is not the message but the medium is the experience.’ (2007, p. 75). For the purpose of this paper, I will consider how van Dijck’s statement can be applied the idea of blog therapy—or the practice of journal therapy using blogs rather than paper as the chosen medium. As an example, I will reflect on my personal experience in the construction of self and identity through blogging—as well as the role blogging plays in the creation of my personal digital archives and memory.

Constructing a sense of self and identity through recording personal reflections and thoughts isn’t a new idea, and the practice of keeping journals and written records has existed for centuries. In a modern context, Dr Ira Progoff is considered the originator of ‘journal therapy’ (Wright, 2002, p. 287) since his development of workshops in the late 1960s based on his ‘Intensive Journaling Method’. Through his workshops and subsequent books, the idea of journaling as a therapeutic method was popularised in the western world and counsellors began to encourage patients to write down their thoughts and emotions, some writings of which would be discussed in future therapy sessions. In fact, research has shown that journaling can be a valuable therapeutic tool to combat ‘emotional distress and promoting well-being’ (Boniel-Nissim & Barak, 2011, p. 1). As technology advancements have been made, some mental health providers have begun to offer journal therapy via email or other online channels, eliminating the distance barriers that could prevent face-to-face meetings (Wright, 2002, p. 290).

On the blogging frontier, when Justin Hall created what was considered one of the world’s first blogs in 1994, he and his fellow ‘early bloggers’ had to hand-code their blogs using HTML code or editing software such as Dreamweaver, but by late-1998 several free tools became available for users as a simple way of publishing to the Web. After that, other blog-specific tools became available for general use and by 2004, Merriam-Webster announced ‘blog’ as their word of the year, stating that it was that year’s most searched-for word on their online dictionary (Walker Rettberg, 2008, pp. 23-29).

Between the growing demand for both journal therapy and blogging, it seems to be expected that people would begin to take to the Web for self-help journal therapy. According to WordPress.com, a leading free blogging platform, there are more than 73 million WordPress sites in the world today (WordPress, 2012). Further, Technorati estimates that 60 per cent of all blogs (WordPress, Blogger, or otherwise) are maintained by hobbyist bloggers—those who are blogging for fun, to express personal musings, or as a form of journal therapy. With the anonymous nature of the blogosphere, it is unknown how many of those are blogging as their true selves (Technorati, 2012) and in fact some blogs, such as PostSecret, exist solely for the purpose of anonymous contributions. The popular blog, started by Frank Warren, began as a community art project but now continues as a way for people to share their secrets with no one and everyone all at once by submitting a secret on the back of a postcard. PostSecret only publishes 20 secrets each week, but emails received from contributors assure Warren that just the act of sharing the secret is therapeutic for some of his contributors (Banks, 2008, pp. 61-77).

For people who want to share more than a secret on the back of a postcard, sites such as Fearless Blogging allow users to post ‘thoughts, feelings, and rants anonymously and still have a job/girlfriend/friends when you wake up tomorrow morning’ (Fearless Blogging, 2012). Fearless Blogging also allows users to rate and comment on the posts of others. Whilst users of these anonymous sites may find solace in the act of writing as therapy, they are not gaining the advantage of an online persona or personal archive; instead, they are populating someone else’s blog with content and information.

However, the creation and contribution to one’s own blog has been found to aid in the creation of self-awareness and self-consciousness as the blogger finds their ‘voice’ on both personal and interpersonal levels. Further, the interaction gained through online journaling techniques could serve as a source of support whilst strengthening feelings of belonging (Boniel-Nissim & Barak, 2011, pp. 2-3). This feeling of belonging is a strong sentiment for many hobbyist bloggers, and several online groups have emerged which help self-help bloggers find each other based on topics and locations. These groups encourage bloggers to link to each other’s blogs, furthering their reach and potential support networks, and share words of encouragement and support with each other through comments. Additionally, several sites offer writing prompts to assist bloggers in finding inspiration (Creative Writing Prompts) or to prompt them to address specific emotions or thoughts (Journaling Prompts).

In my own experience, I began keeping paper diaries and journals when I turned seven. By the time I turned 18 in 1992, my regular journaling habits had shifted to a combination of hand-written musings and digital diaries kept on my personal computer—habits that continue to this day. In 1999, I shared my first blog post on LiveJournal under a pseudonym, and for the next 10 years, I anonymously authored several short-lived blogs that served as mediums for sharing opinions and musings on politics and current events, but these blogs never served as personal accounts of emotions or actions, preferring to keep my personal journaling activities private. However, when personal tragedy struck three years ago—the death of my husband—I found myself turning to the art of blogging as a form of personal therapy. In addition, I began to put my real name to my online writings for the first time. Since then, I’ve continued to maintain my private, hand-written and electronic journals whilst continuing to maintain my public blogging persona. The act of blogging as me—instead of as an anonymous individual—has changed the way in which I record my thoughts as well as the way in which I archive them.

My personal writings (hand-written or electronic) are raw emotions and thoughts written in haste or extreme distress and are intended only for my eyes during my lifetime. In the days after my husband’s death, my leather-bound journal became an outlet for my grief—but also a useful tool to reflect on the day’s events as the stress of grief prevented me from recalling even the simplest of actions. As a young widow, I was unable to reach out to my peers for understanding because my situation was unique within my social circle, meaning my journal became even more important. However, I soon found myself in need of the support from others in my situation, which led me to search out blogs written by other young widows. As my first foray into virtual support networks, I was amazed at the number of active blogs on the subject of widowhood. But I soon realised that I needed to share my own experiences and feelings, as well as read those of others. This realisation prompted me to start my first publically-authored blog, Frances 3.0: Still in Beta.

The act of sharing my personal thoughts and emotions with a world-wide audience immediately changed the way I composed my thoughts. Despite the fact that I wasn’t actively sharing the link to what I refer to as my ‘grief blog’, I feared sharing certain emotions might upset my family and friends—especially feelings of isolation and loneliness. This realisation meant that my self-identity on my blog was immediately different than that which I displayed in my private writings or in communications on social networking sites. Further, as noted by van Dijck, I was able to ‘produce tentative texts, provisional versions of thoughts, forever amenable to changes of mind’ (van Dijck, 2004, para. 17). My process was to write my thoughts in a Word document and edit the content the next day after I was able to think about my emotions a bit more. This delayed-publication gave me the ability to think of potential solutions to my emotions or situation and to discuss with my unknown audience of peers and supporters what my next steps would be in regards to that issue.

Additionally, receiving feedback through the blog’s comment system provided me with words of support and encouragement from others who have been in similar situations. It also opened up the ability for me to offer words of advice to other new widows who were only beginning their grief journeys. The idea of helping others whilst participating in my personal quest for blog therapy gave me further feelings of self-worth and identity—I was no longer just a blogger, I was a source of information and solace for others.

The levels of comfort and emotional healing I felt through blogging—and the interaction that the comments allowed me—are not specific to my own experience. When studying the therapeutic value of blogging versus hand-written, private diaries, Boniel-Nissim and Barak determined that those subjects keeping blogs found their levels of distress were lower than of those keeping private diaries—and even lower still for those who had comments enabled on their blogs (Boniel-Nissim & Barak, 2011, pp. 8-10).

As my self-realisation and identity changed through the healing process of blog therapy, I began to feel constrained by the idea of authoring a grief-related blog. However, the persona I was sharing on Frances 3.0 was one of a grieving widow—and one that I wasn’t prepared to share explicitly with my family and friends. This realisation prompted me to start a second blog, Just Frances, where I could share my daily life with family and friends whilst maintaining my persona as a grieving widow with others. But maintaining two personas became difficult and began to make me question my online identities, which eventually led to the decision to cease maintaining Frances 3.0 and concentrate on Just Frances—which also meant bringing some of my grief into my daily writings for family and friends, as that grief was part of my true identity and needed to be addressed through my online persona (Ryan, 2011). However, Frances 3.0 remains live and accessible to others and is often reflected on by me—and sometimes linked or referred to on Just Frances.

My identity on Just Frances is as close to the ‘real me’ as I am willing to display publically, and has been shaped considerably because of the medium. The construction of self has been determined by my audience as well as by my own fears of vulnerability. My audience consists of family and friends as well as strangers from around the world. Surprisingly, the blog is accessed daily by an average of 75 unique IP addresses. Nearly half of those entries have come from search engines and more than 80 per cent remain on the site for at least three minutes, often accessing multiple pages. Search term analysis and casual surveys of readers—as well as page hits and comments—helps me to know what type of things my readers want to see my writing but, more than that, there is a growing feeling of ‘need’ to write to satisfy my readers. As my life changes, so do the topics I cover—and the frequency in which I post. I am aware that if I don’t post for several days, or if I am regularly posting about being sad, stressed, or lonely, I create an atmosphere of worry my audience—as evidenced by comments or emails sent through the site’s contact page. This knowledge prompts me to 1) post something if I’ve not posted in three or more days, even if that something is just a note letting everyone know I am alive and 2) include a positive end to my posts, even if the main post is taking about emotional challenges I am facing. In a sense, I am being less-than honest with my readers because I want my self identity to be one of strength, conveying an overall idea that life is full of hope despite any grief and sadness it also contains.

In addition to the construction of self and the improved self-worth and overall self identity blogging as provided me, it has created an electronic memory archive that I can access when needed. This ability to reflect on my past feelings and emotions allows me to see how far I’ve come in the grieving process since the death of my husband, which is beneficial on days when I feel I’ve lost my way. It also gives me the ability to recall my own social timeline when I want to remember an event I participated in. However, those archives are also accessible to others and I do, at times, fear being judged by others based on struggles with grief in the past. Further, I worry that people I meet today will form opinions on who I am based on my feelings or activities from the past. Additionally, the ability for others to access my digital archive can lead to awkward moments when casual acquaintances or people I’ve only recently met are familiar with my life history.

The availability and use of digital archives through blogging has created a platform for people to not only create new identities of self, but to create and manage multiple identities for different audiences. Whilst constructing multiple personas can be a confusing charade for some people, the overall benefits gained from experiencing the medium of blogging can be witnessed by the sheer number of bloggers who share their messages—and their lives—online. Without a doubt, the experience of the blogging medium has helped to develop my own construction of self and sense of identity.

References:

Banks, M.A. (2008). Blogging Heroes: Interviews with 30 of the World’s Top Bloggers. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, Inc.

Boniel-Nissim, M., & Barak, A. (2011). The Therapeutic Value of Adolescents’ Blogging About Social–Emotional Difficulties. Psychological Services. Doi: 10.1037/a0026664.

eNotes. (2012). eNotes Journal Therapy (Encyclopedia of Nursing & Allied Health). Retrieved 06/05, 2012, from http://www.enotes.com/journal-therapy-reference/journal-therapy-172111

Fearless Blogging. (2012). Fearless Blogging homepage. Retrieved 06/05, 2012, from http://fearlessblogging.com/

Merriam-Webster. (2012). Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 06/05, 2012, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/blog

Ryan, F. (2011). Frances 3.0: Still in Beta, Just Frances. Retrieved 06/05, 2012, from http://francesv3.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/just-frances/

Technorati. (2012). State of the Blogosphere 2011: Introduction and Methodology. Retrieved 06/05. 2012, from http://technorati.com/social-media/article/state-of-the-blogosphere-2011-introduction/

van Dijck, J. (2004). Composing the Self: Of Diaries and Lifelogs. The Fibreculture Journal, Issue 3. Retrieved 01/05, 2012, from http://three.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-012-composing-the-self-of-diaries-and-lifelogs/

van Dijck, J. (2007). Mediated Memories in the Digital Age, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Walker Rettberg, J. (2008). Blogging: Digital Media and Society Series, Cambridge: Polity Press.

WordPress. (2012). WordPress Statistics. Retrieved 08/05, 2012, from http://en.wordpress.com/stats/

Wright, J. (2002). Online counselling: Learning from writing therapy. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 30:3, 285-298. Dio: 10.1080/030698802100002326.

A case for the interrobang

2012.09.24.interrobangToday is National Punctuation Day in America—a day to celebrate the amazingness of punctuation. Today also marks the start of Social Media Week—a world-wide event looking at social media’s impact on modern-day society. To that, I’ve decided to combine both celebrations into one post by making a case for a very social media-ish bit of punctuation: the interrobang. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a post about the interrobang‽

An interrobang is a non-standard form of punctuation that combines a question mark and exclamation point all in one adorable little bundle. It was first conceived by Martin Speckter in the 1960s for use in advertisements, but it never caught on. The idea was that it could be used when asking a question in an excited manner, expressing excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or asking a rhetorical question.

As I’m sure many users of social media—and social networking sites in particular—have seen, the use of multiple question marks and exclamation points at the end of comments and posts is standard all over the Internet. And whilst exclamation points are often overused these days (guilty!), they do help to convey a bit of emotion and meaning when communicating electronically. And when you’re trying to convey disbelief or sarcasm, sometimes it becomes necessary to use two bits of punctuation at once. Right‽

At the same time, social networking sites—specifically Twitter—limit the number of characters allowed for posts, meaning that brevity must be used. But with brevity, meaning can sometimes be lost.

When you combine the need for multiple punctuation marks to convey meaning and the need for brevity, it only makes sense to double-up on punctuation. You agree, right‽

And so, I make the case for the interrobang. I think we need to celebrate this little guy and give it the revival it deserves. We need to embrace its aesthetics. We need to revel in its ability to convey meaning and intent. And why not start today‽

To use it, you can enter the codes or you can copy-and-paste from here [ ‽ ] or your computer’s character map. Just make sure you use it!

Now, go spread the word, OK‽

Bloody Scotland; bloody fabulous

There is a fabulous literary festival in Stirling this weekend, and I’ve managed to catch a bit of it today. Bloody Scotland celebrates the amazing crime writers in Scotland and (for what little I’ve seen) it’s bloody fabulous!

It’s the kind of event that I’d love to spend an entire weekend enjoying, but between moving into my new flat today and a 10K road race tomorrow, I’ve only been able to manage one event—Deadlier than the Male. I wasn’t quite certain what to expect because—to be honest—I haven’t read any books by the panel. But after hearing Karin Fossum and Val McDermid speak, I have decided what my next Kindle purchases will be!

I think that my favourite part about the talk, however, was the motivation it’s given me to get back into my own writing. Hearing the authors speak with so much energy about the process was invigorating. Further, hearing them talk about the time and dedication you have to be willing to commit to the process made me realise that I’ve been a bit lazy at doing that. (Well, in fairness, I think much of that has been because I’ve been busy with my dissertation.)

Of course, because I was too chicken to go alone, I ended up tagging along with a woman I’ve met through another friend—and she invited me to go along to a wee reception as well (it’s nice to know people who rub elbows with people I want to rub elbows with!). Anyhow, the reception meant that I got to speak with a couple of people about the creation of the event, which was kind of cool.

I have a 10K race in the morning, but I am now thinking that I need to go back up to the festival when I’m done so that I can try to see another event or two—assuming there are tickets remaining. Of course, that’s also assuming I have the energy since I’m a bit exhausted from the weekend’s events already.

And, with that, I suppose I’ll head off to bed so that I can be up in time for tomorrow’s race.

That dissertation? Done.

First, an apology for my absence the last week. I’ve had some Website glitches and had to enlist the help of some amazing friends who are fluent in Web Geek (I am merely conversational at best). Anyhow, the site is still under observation and I may be absent again—but I will tell you all about that later.

Now, to the important announcement:

My dissertation has been handed in—a full 24 hours and 20 minutes before it was due. (Yay me!) I now have to sit around and wait until sometime in October to find out how I did. So if you’re lucky, you won’t hear about it again until that time. But since you are here, I’ll chat a bit more about the process of turning in the most important piece of academic writing I’ve ever done!

I am so excited about having completed 12,108 words, plus another 2,000 or so for the appendices, abstract, acknowledgments, and other bits and bobs. When I printed everything off last night, I was beaming.

But then, as I walked through town on my way to campus, I couldn’t help but think about the ‘old plan’ where I was meant to do my master’s degree part time whilst my husband and kids supported me from home. Up until that life change, I’d always imagined celebrating this moment with Paul. I don’t know how we would have celebrated, but we would have done something.

Instead, I turned in my dissertation then went to work. And when I got home this evening, I looked around the flat—now empty of its former stacks of library books—and wondered what I would do with my life next.

There have been no celebrations, only reflections on what life ‘should have’ been and the long struggle to get to where I am now. And as I start to realise that there may not be anyone in the stands for my graduation in November, I’m struck at just how very alone I feel some days. (I know I’m not alone, and the comments and interactions from my Facebook friends tell me very much that I am loved and supported.)

So. Now what? What do I do? Where do I go? What does my future look like now? I wish I could answer some of those questions for you now, but I can’t. Maybe soon though. In the mean time, I will keep holding on to hope and faith and I will take the days one at a time.

Oh! And did I tell you that I turned in my master’s dissertation today? Well, I did!

Dissertation month update; Part 5

Wow. I guess that’s Dissertation Month pretty much over. I mean, I know it’s not been a full calendar month, but the month’s main project—completing my full draft to turn in for my supervisor’s review—has been completed. So now I just have to sit back and wait for my supervisor’s comments and suggestions so that I can make necessary edits for the final document.

So, what happens next? Well, I have a few days before I get feedback, so nothing for a wee while. But after that, I suppose it will be back to dissertation work. But the next round should be easier than this last month because I now have a full document that I will be working with.

Anyhow, the final document is due on August 21. And that means that you can probably expect a couple more posts about the progress of final edits—and maybe even the last-minute madness of getting it all printed and bound. Then after August 21 you’ll get to hear about my final course grade and then probably a bit about graduation and stuff like that.

So if you were thinking that the end of Dissertation Month meant that you wouldn’t have to hear about my dissertation again, you were wrong. (Sorry.)

But, if I’m lucky and things go according to plan, you might even get to hear news about jobs and positive future stuff! Heck, if you’re lucky (if I’m lucky!) you won’t even have to wait until the dissertation is done and dusted for those happy stories. (But let’s not crack the bubbles just yet!)

So here are the stats:

Current word count: 11,110 (Not including references, appendices, and other bits-and-bobs)

Task list for the next few days:

  • Relax.
  • Relax.
  • Relax.

Dissertation month update; Part 4

Dissertation Month is nearly over! Can you believe it? I mean, it’s just been a mad blur of writing and writing and writing!

As you may recall, I have to have a full draft of my dissertation turned into my supervisor by noon on Tuesday, July 24. That means that I have three full days left to finish it up—plus a bit more tonight and a bit on Tuesday morning. But let’s be honest—I’m not getting anything else done tonight and I won’t realistically get anything done on Tuesday. So, I have Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to finish it up.

But that’s OK because I am so very nearly there now! In fact, I’m so nearly there that I’ve decided to mix myself a wee RyanCentric Martini to celebrate!

So here are the stats:

Current word count: 9,476 (Only 2,524 to go! And if I take the ‘+/- 10%’ to heart, I can stop in another 1,324 words!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Print out Findings section for a hand-written review
  • Clean up Findings section, adding in academic references where required and moving sub-sections as needed
  • Begin a solid draft of the Conclusion section

Yay! Yay! Yay! I really feel as if this sucker is coming together now!

The cruelty of random memories

There is something ever-so-cruel about random memories. OK, not always. In fact, most of the time random memories are happy moments. But sometimes, like today, they’re just reminders of a future that was stolen from me.

For the past few days, life has been rather exciting and positive for me. There’s been a lot of progress made on my dissertation and I’ve even made a bit of progress in my job search—and I’ve been getting lots (OK, some) training in for my next marathon. And all of those things combined make me excited for my future. And excitement about my future meant that I wandered into town today to look at new gadgets and gizmos for my kitchen and at shoes and jackets and a few other things I’d like to buy.

So there I was, in this fabby little kitchen shop looking at slow cookers, when I was flooded with memories of the day before Paul died. We’d gone into town shopping and we looked at slow cookers and debated which one to get. In the end, we decided we’d hold off and get one the following weekend when we were in the Big City—but we went ahead and bought a chain saw, new additions for our Fiesta Ware collection, and new work shoes for me. (And instead of shopping in the Big City the next weekend, I was at Paul’s funeral.)

As I stood there trying to shake the memory, all I could think of was the conversations we’d had that day. Conversations about the kids we were getting ready to adopt; about the chores we had in for the garden the next day; about making plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas—with our future kids! And all of the sudden I was reminded that, even though I am excited about my future, I really miss my old life; I really miss Paul.

I slowly made my way around the kitchen shop, and even managed to browse through some clothing shops, but my mood was deflated and I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything. I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate my new future because I was too upset about the memories of my old dreams; the dreams I lost when I lost Paul. And as I walked home, I couldn’t keep the tears away. Which meant that by the time I got to my flat I couldn’t help but sob.

I feel so silly when these things happen because I should be happy right now. It really has been a good and positive week and there are so many things that should be making me laugh and smile. Yet still, I cried.

I’m feeling a tad less sorry for myself now though and I’m sure that I’ll be able to concentrate on the happy stuff soon enough. Today was just a momentary blip, all caused because of those cruel little random memories.

But enough of that; let’s talk about some of those positive future-y things, shall we? Specifically, the goal of earning my master’s degree!

Dissertation Month Update:

Current word count: 4,200 (only 7,800 to go!)

Again, that doesn’t seem like much, especially compared to what I had for my last update, but I’m nowhere near done writing for the day and I have about 400+ words scribbled down in a notebook that I wrote on the train the other day. So once those are added in—and I add a few bits to other sections—I may break 5,000 before I go to bed. In fact, maybe that will be my goal!

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • 4+ mile training run
  • Work party with classmate (again)
  • Finish literature review

[Image is my most recent swirl-in-progress. It’s been helping me relax in between fits of dissertation writing!]

Dissertation month update; Part 3

In less than two weeks’ time, I have to have a full draft of my dissertation ready to turn into my supervisor for his review. (After which, I will have a couple of weeks to make final edits before it’s due.) It seems that Dissertation Month is going by so quickly!

So, what does that mean? Well, that means I am going to be writing like a mad woman for the next several days. In fact, I need to write 600-700 words a day in between now and July 24. Yikes! I just saw that and freaked out a little!

But it’s not as bad as it sounds! No, really! You see, I have all of my interview findings in separate documents. Fourteen documents to be exact and that’s more than 19,000 words. Of course, once I narrow those down to the important—or, rather, relevant—words, I shouldn’t be more than 8,000 words. Which means I’d best get busy whittling words and rearranging them into meaningful information.

Anyhow, today was a work party day with a friend from my course. I know we didn’t get much accomplished with our word counts, but I think we both found it useful to bounce ideas off each other for our projects as a whole. We’ll be getting together again over the weekend and hopefully we’ll both be further along by then!

Below is my progress-to-date, but I’m nowhere near done for the night. I plan to finish up a few more sections that I was editing today and will add in a few bits of detail that deserve to be included. It’s my hope that I can add another 200 words tonight, but I need an early night so may have to stop before I get to that point so that I’m not up until the sun rises!

Current word count: 3,425 (only 8,755 to go!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Head up to campus for a meeting and a bit of library time
  • Edit down all interviews to the ‘relevant’ bits in preparation for adding to dissertation
  • Review current book lists, reference lists, and literature review section to ensure nothing has been missed out

Dissertation month update; Part 2

Dissertation month continues! As does my progress. The biggest part of this week’s work has been transcribing and re-reading interview materials, but I’ve also managed to complete my methodology section and to expand upon my literature review. Importantly, I’ve also managed to create my chapter outline this week.

Now, you would think that an outline is something that should have happened early on—and you’d be correct. And, in fact, I did create a basic outline several months ago which I’ve been working from all along. However, some of the sub-sections within chapters couldn’t be determined until I got to the analysing portion of the project. And I’m there now!

But for all of the work I’ve done, I am not much further along the path to 12,000 words! It seems that I’ve managed to clean up quite a bit of text, making it more precise, but that also means making it less wordy. (Obviously not something I can do here on my blog!)

I am excited to say, however, that I’ve managed to get some more work done on my introduction and—thankfully!—I now have a better understanding of the main body of the project, my findings.

So, where am I now?

Current word count: 2,971 (only 9,029 to go!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Go for a 4+ mile run
  • Back to the library, again!
  • Complete literature review section
  • Expand on findings section

Oh! And a very, very happy 13th birthday to my lovely former foster daughter!

Dissertation month update; Part 1

Just a quick dissertation update for you today, since I did promise that this would be Dissertation Month.

First, a look at the tasks I had set for yesterday:

I am pleased to say that the first task was a complete success and that I got all of my email responses sorted. (Now I just need to make sense of them all!)

The second task, expanding the methodology section, was also a success. I had a goal to finish that section today and I think I did. But I feel it’s inadequate after looking at a couple of sample dissertations. You see, mine is only 844 words and the samples I’ve seen are 1,000-1,300 words. But, sometimes less is more. And I can always review and expand later if needed. So, I guess for now, I can say that section is done. (Yay! That’s a mini-goal reached!)

And the last task, well, I made it half-way. It just happened to be raining yesterday—all day long!—and that meant that about two miles was all I could manage. But I managed, so that’s cool. And I’ve added a new routine to my training. It’s the push-sit plan and I am just trying to make it a habit right now so it means 10 sit-ups and 10 push-ups before I go to bed at night and again when I wake up in the morning. Once it becomes a habit, I will start increasing the number of each. (Must get fit for this marathon!)

Anyhow, I also spent much of today transcribing the last of my interviews (my longest one by far!) and have even had a couple of great moments of inspiration that led me to add to the skeleton of my dissertation. OK, nothing more than sub-headers, but it’s all part of the process.

So, where am I now?

Current word count: 2,843 (only 9,157 to go!)

Yes, I know that’s not much of an increase for two days’ work, but I completely re-worked a couple of sections so the words that are there are better words. And that’s important.

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Complete the last interview transcription
  • Expand literature review section
  • Create a library list for a Thursday trip to the university library
  • Run 4+ miles (let’s hope the weather cooperates!)

Welcome to dissertation month!

OK folks, it’s time to get serious about this dissertation. Like really, really serious! (Actually, I should have been really, really serious about it for the past few months but, well…) So I am claiming July to be Dissertation Month. Which means that you may be faced with several dissertation-themed posts and rants—or at least updates on my progress within most of my posts.

But, even with such a major deadline looming, I am totally lacking motivation. So, I am asking you, Dear Reader, to help me out there. Encouragement, prayers, and good writing vibes are needed!

And, for my part, I will share with you an honest update on my progress. Starting today!

For those in need of a refresher, my dissertation is looking at the role of social networking (specifically Facebook) in news reading/sharing. (It’s less Facebook-y than it sounds.) The final, final printed dissertation is due August 21 and needs to be 12,000 words (+/- 10%). But I have a major deadline looming at the end of July, when I need to have a full draft ready for my dissertation supervisor. Which means I have about three and a half weeks to write this thing!

As it stands now, I have my introduction and literature review sections nearly done and I am now done with interviews. In fact, much of today has been spent transcribing the last of my spoken interviews. Which means that I didn’t get the 1,000 words written for the dissertation itself like I’d hoped, but it was/is a big-and-important part of the process so that’s OK. And the day’s not over, so I might manage to get some more work done. I wonder if a glass of wine would help or hinder that process…

Current word count: 2,732 (only 9,268 to go!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Review emailed responses and enter into a nice, clean Word document
  • Expand research methodology section (goal to complete section by Wednesday)
  • Run 4+ miles (exercise is vital to keeping the mind sharp!)

No more teachers; lots more books

Today was my last day of classes. And that means no more teachers. No more admissions-determined schedules. No more sitting through lectures and seminars. No more compulsory interaction with other students. Wow. It seems like only yesterday I was telling you about my first few days. Time, it seems, has flown by.

Though just because classes are over doesn’t mean the work is! No, I have four essays due in between now and next Monday, and I still have that dissertation to work on over the summer. And that means that the library will be my stomping grounds for the next couple of months!

But do you know something? I’m really sad about classes being done. I’m really sad that another chapter of this new life is coming to an end. But worse than that—and what’s really making me sad—is that I don’t know what happens next.

I haven’t had luck in finding a way to pay for Ph.D. studies, so have resigned myself to the knowledge that this degree is as far as my academic world will go. And I haven’t had any luck in finding a job—or even getting to the interview stage!—so I am starting to worry that this degree is also as far as my life in Scotland will go.

And that means that I am once again facing a future that is unknown and frightening. I’m facing the ever-increasing realisation that I can’t have the life I want; that I might have to start all over yet again. Only I don’t know if I have the strength to make another start.

I’ve not completely given up and will continue to look at both Ph.D. and work possibilities here in the UK, but I have to start making contingency plans now, too. Whether I want to or not.

But, I still have a bit of work to do before I can put any new plans in action because just because those essays and that dissertation won’t write themselves!

I’m sorry if this post seems a bit sad, but to be honest, I am a bit sad. I never thought that this would be a flawless journey filled with nothing but joy and happiness, but I suppose I had hoped that I would have a bit more clarity about my future by now. And it’s that uncertainty that I am struggling with right now.

And since I like to leave my posts on a high note whenever possible, I’ll say that I am looking forward to meeting up with one of my many cousins in a few days’ time. She’s in the UK on holidays and will be in Edinburgh as part of her travels so we’ll be meeting up. How exciting is that?!

Blocked: How you can help!

I have loads of things I want to write about. But I can’t. Some of them need to wait until ‘the right moment’ and others need more refinement in my head. Others are just these random things that I kind of want to share but I don’t really know if they warrant sharing.

But I want to write something for you. Partly because writing makes me happy and sharing my thoughts with the ethers really is a great ego boost. (I’ve always been up front about the fact that this blog serves to boost my ego!) Of course, I also want to write something for you because I think that some of you really do want to read what I have to say. I don’t quite know why, because most of what I have to say is a bit silly. However, our relationship is that I write; you read. That’s how this thing works.

And so, I need your help! I want to know what you want me to write about in the coming days. To that, I’m soliciting your opinions and questions. This is your opportunity to ask me anything you want. (Overly personal or insulting questions may not be answered.) You can ask me to give my opinion on a specific subject or to write a list of my top [however many whatevers]. You can ask me to write a poem about your favourite [blank] or to follow up on a post from the past. You can even set a challenge for me to do and blog about.

Basically, any reasonable topic request will be granted.

So, let’s hear from you: What do you want to hear from me?

The world is filled with beautiful things

It’s a poetry day again. I don’t know if this is any good, and I may play with it a bit before calling it final, but at least this is a good start. Well, maybe it’s a good start. [Enter humble and embarrassed apology about how sorry I am for torturing you with my poetry here.]

The world is filled with beautiful things
by Just Frances

The world is filled with beautiful things;
If only we’d pause to notice them.
A broken branch, where a butterfly sits;
A muddy puddle, where a robin splashes.

The world is filled with joyful things;
If only we’d open our hearts.
A gentle breeze that lifts our spirits;
The sun’s rays that warm our souls.

The world is filled with happy things;
If only we’d stop and listen.
Chimes from an ice cream van,
…..as children scream with joy;
Bells from a church steeple,
…..as a new marriage begins.

The world is filled with possibilities;
If only we’d let ourselves believe.

Believe in the beauty the springs from ashes.
…..Believe in the love hidden behind the tears.
……….Believe in the joy that has yet to be realised.

Because the world is filled with beauty.
…..With love.
……….With joy.
……………With peace.

• • •

[Photo is a small heart-shaped scrap of paper that has sat nestled in the lawn in front of my flat for a couple of months now. Through wind and rain and snow—and thankfully a bit of sunshine. I leave it there because it makes me smile to see it there every day; it reminds me that love is everywhere and can weather anything!]

Work in progress; Part 1

Yippee! I’ve just completed another chunk of my dissertation—and I managed to finish it more than 12 hours before it was due!

I admit it was a little harder than it should have been, but not because I can’t do the work—rather, I’ve made a bit of a change to the overall scope of the project. It seems, in doing my research, that there are other questions that I feel need to be asked before I try to ask about gauging legitimacy. But I’m very excited about the new direction I’m taking and, to be honest, it’s not that far from the original plan. And, as I’ve learned, sometimes plans change.

So, I’m a step closer to that master’s degree now.

The next steps are to meet with my supervisor to discus my changes and to talk about a timeline for completion. I need to finish up my question for interview subjects, too. Oh, and I need to find my interview subjects!

Busy, busy, busy! But oh-so-happy, too!

Break-less spring break

It’s been nearly a week since spring break started, but it’s been anything but a break! Still, this is what I signed up for so I’m not complaining.

I got off to a very productive start, but I admit that I’ve not managed to update you on my progress as promised. Further, I admit that I’ve not managed to get as much running in as I’d hoped for so I won’t be hitting my goal of 30 total miles over the break. Oh, and my taxes might get delayed, since my folks decided to take a last-minute road trip to see some of the glorious waterfalls around Washington State (like this one!) which means that they’re not home to search for a couple of documents I need.

But the rest of my to-do list is going pretty well. No, really. It is!

In fact, today was spent reading (a lot) and writing for my dissertation and working on a job application for a job that I really want, but that I’m not too convinced I’ll even get an interview for. [Enter prayers and an extra dose of hopeful thoughts here.]

Tomorrow is another reading, writing, and applying day. And hopefully by Saturday I’ll be caught up enough to manage a run, too.

Busy, busy, busy…

Your challenge: Write a letter!

One of the best joys in my life is personal mail. Letters, cards, postcards, parcels. I just love getting something in the post that doesn’t say I owe money. Not only do I enjoy receiving letters, I enjoy sending them. However, letter writing seems to be a dying art.

Oh, there are people who still write letters—and in fact, I regularly correspond with a friend from the homeland. (He refuses to use computers, so it’s the only way to keep up. But that’s OK!) Less often, I write random letters or send unexpected cards to other friends. And I always send birthday cards to the nieces and nephews.

When I write cards and letters, I like to make them special. I like to make sure that the recipient feels loved and thought of. I even try to make the envelope special by using wax seals or stickers.

I know that it sounds a bit shallow to say this next part, but I like sending cards and letters to people I care about because it makes me feel happy. (Is that selfish?)

And since I want you to feel happy, too, I am challenging everyone to write a letter or send a card to someone. You can write a letter to an old teacher, letting them know how they impacted your life. You can write to your best friend’s mum to say thank you for all of those meals they cooked when you were over visiting. Or maybe you can write to a sibling or cousin to share a memory of the two of you growing up. You can even write a letter to the local fire department to thank them for their service. Yes, you can write to anyone about anything! (Just make it a positive one!)

Need some inspiration? Check out the blog Letters from Lauren. She’s not updated the site since last August, but her letters are fab and might be a great help to get you started! Or Googleletter writing blog’ to find more great ideas for how to get started.

So, the challenge has been made. Go out and brighten someone’s day with a letter. Even a postcard will do! (And feel free to tell me about it in the comments below!)

Happy writing!

A productive start

Spring break started on Friday, and by Saturday morning I had created a bit of a to-do list of all of the things I want to accomplish during my week+ break from classes.

And, I’m pleased to say, I am actually making pretty decent progress!

To keep myself accountable, I’m going to share my list here—and I will try to give little updates in any posts in between now and my return to school. So, here goes!

And, in addition to my to-do list, I am going to work on fixing some bad habits I’ve gotten into. To that, I will aim to:

  • Drink more water—much, much more water!
  • Go to bed before 11 p.m. every night (unless I am socialising in a face-to-face setting)
  • Get out of bed before 9 a.m. every morning
  • Eat at least 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day
  • Get out of the flat for at least an hour every day (in addition to time spent running)

I am pleased to say that I am making progress with both lists. My swirl drawing (shown above) is coming along nicely. I ran nearly 5 miles yesterday and will run the same route again tomorrow. I have organised my tax documents and will call my bank to sort out the last documents tomorrow evening (delayed because of time zones). I have completed one job application and have an internship application in progress; I have also sent emails in regards to a couple other applications. And I have books ready for me to pick up at the library for my dissertation.

Also, I’ve managed to be in and out of bed by my new deadlines—and have been drinking lots of water and enjoying lots of fresh produce. And, I’ve been outside enjoying the lovely spring weather.

Yes, I’ve been a busy little bee, and I hope that it helps to lift my mood and my self confidence. After all, spring break is no time to sit around and sulk!

Spring break

Well, as of 4:00 p.m. I am officially on spring break. Only, that really just means that I’m not going to classes for a week. And, actually, since there aren’t classes on Easter Monday, and I don’t have classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I’m really out of class for nearly two weeks. Yay!

But that doesn’t mean I won’t be busy. Really, really busy.

During my time off, I will be working on my dissertation (I have a big chunk due April 10). I will also be doing my taxes and working on several job applications in the hopes to find a position that will allow me to stay on in Scotland after graduation.

I know that most students look forward to spring break because of the parties and travelling opportunities, but I’m looking forward to it so that I can concentrate on my much-neglected to-do list, and so that I can really ramp up my training. (I must start running more so that my legs and tummy look great for summer shorts weather!)

But, since all work and no play is a silly way to live life, I am going to begin my spring break in style—at The Junk Rooms. Which means I should stop blogging and get myself to town to meet Rebecca.

Happy spring break, everyone!

Journalist? Blogger? Writer.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working on a paper that asked if there should be regulations or laws to distinguish between what professional journalists and ordinary citizens can write. And that led me down all sorts of paths, thinking about issues of blogging, journalism, and the media’s general place in society.

I’m not going to bore you with all of the arguments and conclusions from my paper or with my thoughts on the state of modern-day information sharing. Instead, I’ll just give a little bit of insight to the topic for those who want to know some of the things I think about when I’m doing academic snobbery stuff.

If you really want to hear my views, we can discuss them over a pint of ale—your treat, of course, because I’m a starving student.

So, here goes!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or maybe if you’re living in America) you’ve probably heard about the Leveson Inquiry here in the UK. The inquiry was prompted by the phone-hacking scandal by the News of the World and will have (already has had?) a drastic impact on the future of news reporting throughout the UK—and maybe even a knock-on effect for other nations around the globe.

As a blogger who is also a trained communications professional with experience as a freelance journalist, I find the question of ‘who is and isn’t a journalist’ pretty interesting. I mean, am I a journalist? Or am a just a blogger who once was a journalist? What about other bloggers? Are they journalists? Can they be? Should they be?

Right now, there are debates happening around the world—and around the World Wide Web—about the differences between bloggers and journalists, and whether or not someone would need special training and a license to be a journalist. There are further debates around the idea of creating regulations or laws distinguishing between what journalists and ordinary citizens can write (i.e.: bloggers, users of social networking sites, those commenting on blogs and news sites).

I’m sure it seems like a bit of a boring topic to some people, but any regulations or laws that are created around these issues can be far-reaching. They can change the way news and information is presented to you, but they can also change the way in which you are able to share information. And each time we make a law that restricts an ordinary citizen’s ability to receive or share information, we move further away from the ideals of a free press—and of free speech.

But, back to me. Am I a journalist? No, not really. Even if I end up doing more freelance writing for news outlets, I don’t know that I’d feel like a journalist. But I like to think that I hold myself to the ideals of journalistic ethics. And I like to think that my readers find me to be trustworthy. Of course, that’s easy to do when I just write silly rubbish about my own life—my integrity and trustworthiness might be questioned if I attempted to become an investigative blogger.

Me? I’m a just a writer. Not a famous one, and probably not a very good one, but a writer none-the-less. (OK, I’m a blogger, too, but first-and-foremost, a writer.)

Moleskine inspirations

I write. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that I’m a writer. And as any good writer does, I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go so that when inspiration hits, I am prepared!

In recent years, I’ve found myself carrying small Moleskines with me—whilst leaving my larger notebooks (and journals) at home. I’ve found them useful tools for jotting down thoughts and ideas (many of which get transferred to my larger notebooks) but also for the purpose of shopping and to-do lists.

And to serve as a constant inspirational tool, I’ve taken to adding an inspirational quote on the cover.

Today I found myself calling a new book into service, which means a new quote.

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
~ Sylvia Plath

Yes, I’m feeling inspired. In fact, I almost feel a poem coming on…

Random thoughts: The wisdom of age

Random thoughts—Week 4: Write a story about letting go, where the main character is a factory worker and a locket is a key object in the story. Set your story in an apartment.

The wisdom of age

Sylvia sat on the floor of the empty flat, tears streaming down her face as she stared at the silver locket in her hands. She looked around at the bare walls and thought of the photos that hung there just a short while ago. There had been so many of them, each filled with more memories than their simple frames could possibly have held. She thought about all of those picture hooks in the walls and allowed herself a crooked smile as she realised that the deposit would be lost because of them. But, she rationalised, that was a small price to pay for the smiles those photos encouraged over the years.

She would miss coming here to visit her neighbour, an octogenarian widow with no children; no family. Over the years they’d bonded. The old woman told her stories about her travels and adventures; she offered an ear and advice for the younger woman who was far from home and hoping to find her own way in the world. The old woman felt Sylvia was wasting her time working in a factory—a job she hated and that didn’t allow her to take time to travel. The old woman was so full of kindness and wisdom and Sylvia would miss her. Yes, she would miss her friend for the rest of her life.

The will was simple: Sell or donate everything—except for one item of Sylvia’s choice. And then, stop wishing and planning for adventures and go find them! Sylvia was the sole beneficiary. When she was first told of the will, she imagined there would be just enough money to pay for expenses, and maybe a spa weekend. The old woman had lived very meagrely. It looked as if all of her furniture—and probably her clothes—were found at charity shops and flea markets.

She allowed herself another smile as she looked down at the silver locket again. The old woman wore it every day and often touched it, telling her that it contained photos of the people she cared for most in the world. It was only after the old woman died that she knew who those people were: They were the woman’s husband and Sylvia. It was all Sylvia needed to convince herself to make a change.

Sylvia stood and walked across the room with determination. She picked up the phone and called her boss at the factory. She beamed from ear-to-ear as she informed the person on the other end that she was tendering her resignation. She was tired of working for peanuts; tired of working in a dead end job. The old woman was right: If you aren’t following your hopes and dreams, you’re not really living.

A few hours later, Sylvia was in the attorney’s office. He informed her that the estate auction had done better than expected. But, more than that, he informed her of the life insurance that was left—and the stocks and bonds. It would seem that the old woman left more than Sylvia ever could have dreamed.

Sylvia rose slowly, touching the locket that now hung from her neck. The old woman told her that life always had a funny way of working out. Yes, Sylvia thought, life was funny. She would miss her friend; the friend who taught her about what was important in life.

And now, she was letting go of her fears and worries; she was letting go of the uncertainties that had kept her from following her dreams for too long. She was letting go and moving on. She was, after all, the sole beneficiary of a secret millionaire and she had a promise to keep; a promise to find adventures of her own.

Still classy

OK, since I bored you with descriptions of my modules last semester, I think it’s only fair I do the same for my spring semester modules. After all, I’m sure that you care about these things. And if you don’t well, you should!

First, a reminder: I am working toward a Master of Letters in Media and Culture at the University of Stirling, Scotland. My dissertation will look at how users of social media determine the legitimacy of news and information shared on Facebook. (So if you see me playing on Facebook when you know I’m meant to be writing a paper, just think of it as important academic research!)

Now, on to the classes! I am taking four modules this semester: Two on Mondays and one each on Thursdays and Fridays. In addition to my courses, I will be working steadily on my dissertation which is due in August (Yikes!).

Digital Cultures: I think I’m going to love this class! It’s all about the convergence of media cultures, specifically how digital media has become so prominent in our world today. The module will be graded on contribution to a class blog and an essay. If it happens that some of the blog posts I write for the class are interesting enough, I may even share them here! (Blogging? Well, if I must …)

Media Rights: This class will centre on issues of intellectual property and copyright in the UK as well as the rest of the world. I imagine we’ll touch on issues of piracy and cultural norms as they pertain to such actions. I know it sounds boring, but it really is an interesting topic. Assessment for the module will be based on a 3,000 word essay.

Media Regulation and Policy: Leveson Inquiry, anyone? My guess is that the inquiry will play heavily in this class as we look at the issues of regulating the media. We will look at questions of who the media are and who should be charged with regulating them. It’s a sticky topic, but should make for great discussions. The class will be graded on two assignments: An essay due toward the middle of the semester and a proposal for a new piece of regulation policy (or for the abolition of an existing policy) due at the end of the semester.

Memory and Archives in the Digital Age: I don’t know about this class. It is very heavily skewed toward the archiving of film and moving images, not toward the overall archiving of digital communications. But, I am confident that there will be connections I can make to my own interests. (Watch this space for details.) Assessment is based on a short presentation and a 2,500 word essay.

There will be lots and lots of writing happening this semester, that’s for sure! But I’m excited about it, really!

An anniversary contest

Two years ago, JustFrances.com entered the blogosphere. Can you believe it!? In that time there have been 572 posts, the writing of which have provided me with great deal of enjoyment and comfort—and have hopefully provided you with some entertainment, too.

As my life continues to change and my readership continues to grow, so has this site. It can be difficult knowing what to write at times because it’s no longer ‘just about me’—there’s an actual audience to consider, too. And more and more, that group is consisting of people I’ve never met. So, I created a short survey to see what people liked and what they wanted more of. The results so far have been positive and encouraging which is awesome! The survey is still active (through February 17), so please feel free to add your input if you haven’t already.

And to show that I’m listening (and to celebrate my second anniversary!) I’m holding a fun contest. The winner of this amazing contest will receive an original swirl drawing, custom made by me for you. Yay!

Here are some samples of the swirls. Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions.

  

  

Entering the contest is as easy as plopping some words into the comment section below as a ‘mini blog post’ for my entertainment. You can share a joke or some inspirational quotes; a short story or memory about your childhood or some silly thing we got up to together; a rant (or rave) about work or life; or just about anything else you think will make a good blog post. As you can see from this blog, the style and tempo of your post can be anything you want!

[If you’re a blogger, you can write a post on your site (but it must be obvious that it’s been written for my entertainment!) then share the link with me in the comments below.]

Now for the fine print. (Sorry, can’t miss that part!)

  1. Entries can be up to 500 words.
  2. The deadline is midnight GMT on February 19, 2012.
  3. One entry per person; you don’t need to use your real name, but you do need to use a valid email address.
  4. If you are using someone else’s work (quotes, jokes, etc.), please be sure to give credit where credit is due!
  5. The winner will be announced on Just Frances the morning of my birthday (February 21) and will be contacted through the email address used to enter. (I promise not to spam you!)
  6. The winner will have the option of choosing one (1) 5.5” x 8.5” drawing or two (2) 3.5” x 5” note cards. (Further details of your options will be explained to the winner in the email.)
  7. If your comment is caught by my spam filters or is deemed by me to be spam or inappropriate (profanity and/or anti-social comments will not be accepted) your entry will be automatically disqualified.
  8. If you are my Mom or Dad, your name will not be entered into the drawing because you can have a swirl drawing anytime you want (just ask) so it’s not fair for you to win. But you can still entertain me with a post!

So that’s it I think. You are welcome to tell your friends about the contest or to link to this on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or whatever. I mean, it would be great to have more than three people participating!

Just Frances continues to be a place of enjoyment for me. I know that posts may be a bit sad and reflective at times, but it’s helpful for me to get those thoughts out there. And the act of getting those sad thoughts out there releases my soul  a bit so that I can enjoy life—and therefore have happy posts.

And, of course, knowing that there are people out there reading—and supporting me—helps. Thanks for all of your support over the past two years! And happy blogging to you!

Random thoughts: A challenge

Two weeks ago I shared a post that was determined by random. It was a great way to find some inspiration for writing and the randomness of it all entertained me. When I was talking to Rebecca today, we decided that we’d have a bit of fun with the format and see if we could help inspire each other with a bit of randomness. And so, we’ve created a new game.

Here’s how it will work: There are 346 writing prompts over at CreativeWritingPrompts.com. We will use Random.org to randomly select a number then we will send the corresponding prompts to the other person. We’re picking numbers for each other so that we keep ourselves honest—and to make it that little bit more fun.

I imagine that we each have different reasons for wanting to try this challenge. My reasons are simple: I want to be challenged to write about things I might not write about. I hope that it will help me improve my writing skills as well as my creativity—and I hope that it will force me to write about things I might otherwise shy away from.

Oh! And I’ve already been given my topic for this week: List 50 things you’ll never do. On the surface it sounds easy, but I’ve learned with lists that anything past 10 is difficult! So, I guess I should start thinking about the things I’ll never do.

And with that: Let the challenge begin!

[In the spirit of the topic, the photo with this story was the photo that came up in my random photo block (look to the left) when I went to create the post. It’s from Thanksgiving 2011.]

A random letter

Today, I decided to let the Internet decide what my post would be. So, I went to Creative Writing Prompts to pick a topic. But I wanted it to be a bit more random than that, so I visited Random.org to pick my topic number. And that number was 109. The prompt is to write a letter to someone I feel I need to spend more time with.

I went back and forth over who to write to, because I spend as much time as I can (or want) with most of the people in my life. (Well, geography gets in the way sometimes, unfortunately.) I finally decided to write to someone I really do miss; someone I really do wish I could spend more time with; someone I really need to spend more time with.

So, here goes!

Dear Happy Frances,

You have been on my mind a lot lately, and with each passing day I realise just how much I miss you. I remember when we were inseparable; when we spent nearly every hour of every day together. But now, it just seems that we’ve been too busy to hang out.

I know that the last couple of years have been hectic, and that for a while we weren’t even on speaking terms, but I guess I thought we were growing closer again. Only now it seems that we’re letting the busyness and craziness of life get in the way of our friendship again.

But the thing is, I don’t want our friendship to fizzle. I want us to grow close again. I want us to be inseparable again. I want you to spend more time with my other friends, too, because I know that they love you just as much as I do.

So, if you’re up for it—and I think you are!—I’d love to talk about how to find more time for each other. What do you say?

Lots of love,
Frances

One down

Well, today marks the end of my first semester as a postgraduate student. It’s been a crazy and hectic journey to get to this point, but I got here and I’m alive to tell the story!

I admit that there was a time I worried that I would never even start on my master’s degree. Paul’s death shook me to the core and even though I know that this is what he would want for me, I just couldn’t find the motivation to apply to schools. And even then, I didn’t know how I would pay for it. But, I applied and I got accepted and I figured out a way to pay for it all. And even though it means I am living on a very tight budget, this is a very positive step.

The school year got off to a good start, but then a few weeks ago the stress of the holidays and a low platelet count, Paul’s would-be birthday, and a couple other personal conflicts distracted me. Yes, I got myself into such an emotional state that I actually began to doubt my abilities and wondered if this whole adventure was a mistake.

In fact, at the height of my turmoil, I had two major essays to write for two different modules. One was 50 percent of my overall mark—the other was 100 percent of my grade for that module. With each paper, I turned them in with regret. I honestly feared that I may have failed—or came near to failure.

I got the grade for the first paper late last week with a very good mark. In fact, I double checked because I didn’t think I read it correctly. And since I also had an exam for that module (which would be the remaining 50 percent of my grade) that mark made me less apprehensive about the exam.

The other paper was marked and ready for collection yesterday, but I opted to pick it up today after my exam (the one mentioned above). In fact, I decided to pick it up after the exam because I was so worried that the mark would completely deflate me and that it would affect my ability to sit the exam.

But at the last moment I decided to pick up the paper before the exam. And I was so, so, so, so pleased to see that I got a mark of distinction. Yes! On a paper that I was certain would be below average or even—dare I say?—a failure mark. A distinction. Really. And let me just say that I beamed. It was such a moment of joy for me that all of my worries and fears about the pending exam went away. All of the sudden, nothing else mattered. I was smart—and I had a marked essay to prove it!

In the end, I think I did pretty well on my exam. I didn’t ace it, but I didn’t fail it. And that’s OK. Because I got great marks on all my papers (a distinction on one, if you didn’t catch that earlier) and I am feeling confident about my abilities once again.

So, my first semester is done. Teaching resumes for spring semester in mid-February then my dissertation is due in August. I’m excited about the winter break, but I’m more excited about next semester and my dissertation. In fact, you can guarantee that I will be doing some reading for next semester over the break. And I’ve already started to give some real thought to that dissertation.

And all of this means that, in about a year’s time, you might get to read about my excitement of completing my first semester as a PhD student.

(Oh, and did I mention that I got a distinction on one of my essays today?)

A modest proposal

Hey! Wanna know what I did today? (Of course you do!) Well, today I turned in my dissertation proposal for my Master of Letters in Media and Culture. And I’m pretty gosh-darned excited about it!

Of course, gale-force winds across Scotland (now being referred to as Hurricane Bowbag) means that I’ve only submitted my paper electronically, and will need to turn in the hard copy version tomorrow but, still, it’s done!

What’s that? You really want to know what my dissertation’s research question is? Well, since you asked with such excitement, I guess I can tell you! So, in big, headline font, here it is:

How do users of social media determine the legitimacy of news and information shared on Facebook?


Yeah, it’s going to be exciting doing the research on that one. (No, really it is!)

Anyhow, up next is an exam for my Media Economics class. I am decidedly less excited about that because, well, I don’t get this whole economics thing. (Help?)

But that can wait until tomorrow. For now, it’s back to my reward for finishing my proposal.

What’s that? Well, since you asked, that would be watching The Godfather Trilogy. Again. Because it’s awesome.

(Oh, and in case you found this post through a web search looking for a different modest proposal, you can find that one here: A Modest Proposal, by Jonathan Swift.)

Booked up

I returned a stack of six books to the library today. And I left with another seven. All to be read and reviewed over the next week. And I’m sure there will be dozens and dozens more in between now and the completion of my master’s dissertation.

The current stack of books, in fact, is to aid me in the completion of my dissertation proposal—a 2,000 word piece of academic writing that will serve as the foundation for my 12,000 word dissertation that is due in August.

So, since this blog is all about me and how fantastic I think I am, I’m going to share with you my dissertation topic. You know, since I’m sure you care.

My dissertation will look at social media—specifically, how Facebook users determine the legitimacy of news and information shared on the social networking site.

I’ll bore you more on the details of that exciting topic later. (Actually, I do find it exciting!) But for today, I’m just going to bore you with my books. You know, as an attempt at academic snobbery and all that…

Yeah, so I’ve got a bit of reading to do. And hopefully I can keep my spirits up and can manage to get the term behind me with a decent grade!

Oh, and in the interest of research: What do you think? Do you want to hear more about my studies and details of my dissertation and social media research, or would you like me to keep it to a minimum? (There is no wrong answer!)

There is a path we follow

I don’t know what compelled me to play poet again today, but compelled I was, so you get to read my latest attempt at literary expression. I think it needs some work, but I don’t know what kind, so this is really just a draft-ish piece. Anyhow, enjoy!

There is a path we follow
By Just Frances 

There is a path we follow
We follow with faith
We follow with hope
We follow with trepidation

There is a path we follow
A path not mapped
A path found and made by dreams
A path we blaze with faith
……With hope
…………With trepidation

There is a path we follow
A path to love
A path to joy
A path to faith
A path to love
A path to peace
A path to the unknown

There is a path we follow
We chose the route
We follow the twists and turns
We fear the dead ends and shadows
……And monsters and demons
…………But we’re protected by friends and God

There is a path we follow
We follow with faith
We follow with hope
We follow with trepidation
We follow for brighter tomorrows

My life is made up of seconds

My life is made up of seconds. And I’m spending the next 600 hundred on a free-writing exercise. And you get to read all about it because I’ve taken a free-write challenge to write for 10 minutes using the title of this post as my prompt. (Actually, it was a 20-minute challenge, but I’m only doing 10.) So, here goes.

Seconds; they pass by faster than we know. They pass by faster than we realise and faster than we’d like on a good day; slower than we plead for on a bad day. Time is funny that way—you know, the way we wish for more of it whilst wishing it would hurry up.

I don’t know how many seconds a day I waste wishing my life was different. Too many, I imagine. And what a waste that is. I’d like to say that I value every moment of my life on this planet and that I treasure all of those seconds, but I’d be lying. I’d like to say that life’s lessons have taught me to live for every moment of time we’re given, but sometimes I can’t bring myself to be thankful for every moment.

Sometimes, I find myself wishing the moments would fast forward to some great unknown. Sometimes, I find myself wishing the moments would reverse to a better time. But, thankfully, sometimes I find myself enjoying the seconds as they pass by. I like those seconds. I like those moments. And I wish I had more of them.

Time goes by in years and months and weeks and days. It goes by in hours and minutes and seconds. And we lose track. We forget what we’ve done with times past, and we forget what we dreamt of for times future.

How many of my seconds have been lost by taking my world for granted? By taking my family and friends and my own life for granted? I wish there was a way to get those moments back, but they’re gone forever. And I wish I could say I will never waste another one of my precious seconds by taking those I love for granted again, but I’m human and imperfect.

My seconds are valuable. My moments are valuable. My hours and days and weeks and years are valuable. I need to remind myself of that more often. I need to spend some of my seconds being thankful and grateful for the love I’ve given and received over the span of my life—and I need to use some of those seconds to love others more.

[Note: As with other free-writing exercises I’ve done, I am sharing this to you with only spelling edits, so please forgive the clunky-ness of the text. Thoughts don’t always flow with grammar and sentence structure intact!]

Gorillas and cheese

A post about gorillas and cheese? Did I mean grilled cheese? Have I gone mad? Well, yes, no, and probably would be the answers there.

So, why am I talking about gorillas and cheese then? Well, because as a blogger I like to use headlines that make people smile. Funny and punny; interesting and intriguing; relevant and informational. Rarely will I use some random, un-connected post title, because the title should be part of the story. And, if it doesn’t lead back to the story, it’s just a waste of words.

I bet you’re really dying to know how gorillas and cheese fits in with this post now, aren’t you?! So let me tell you more about this gorillas and cheese nonsense. (Here’s a hint: It’s not about gorillas or cheese, it’s about email.)

Generally when I write emails, I want the subject line to be informational. If I want a recipe from my mom, the subject might be ‘Navy Bean Soup Recipe?’ or if I need to send travel details to dad, the subject line might be ‘Travel itinerary; Dec 2011’ or if I’m sending an email to my entire family to let them know I’ve arrived in Scotland, the subject line might be ‘Greetings from Sunny Scotland’.

But what about those back-and-forth emails with friends? You know, the ones where the emails are like modern-day letter-writing. I mean, ‘Hi’ and ‘Hello’ are kind of boring subject lines.

And this is where I get to have a bit of fun. I figure subject lines are kind of like starting off with a joke.

Sometimes, I like to find a funny way to tie in the main message (Sean Connery is [not] gay) but other times, I like to use something completely and totally random (The coconut milk made me do it). And other times, I like to open with a compliment (You have a beautiful smile).

My favourite subject lines are ones that make me smile. I got one from a friend a while back titled ‘My big toe is my second toe’. The main email had nothing to do with toes, but there was a post script that explained that he was trying to out-do me in weird subject lines. I laughed. And I also realised that I don’t send as many emails as I used to and that I should fix that.

And if I were to start a list of fun subject lines for future emails, it would include the following:

  • Do you pack your lunch or take the bus to school?
  • Is this the party to whom I am speaking?
  • Elephants eat bananas
  • Polka dots cure curiosity: Read the story here!
  • One million, four hundred thousand, nine hundred, thirty & 12/100

How about you? Any random email subject lines that you’ve used or received or now want to create? After all, email should be fun!

(Funny, I’m now thinking that I want a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner.)

[The post image is of Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory and is displayed here under the Fair Use Doctrine.]

Dear Self Confidence

It’s been nearly eight months since I last wrote a poem (horrible or otherwise) for you. Well, for me, actually. So, tonight I decided to whip one up.

As always, it’s a bit rubbish but I enjoy writing them so here it is!

Dear Self Confidence
By Just Frances

Dear Self Confidence:
I would like to tell you
how much I’ve missed you.

You tell me
you’re standing next to me
but I can’t always see you.

You tell me
you’re in my heart and soul
but I can’t always feel you.

You tell me
you’re in my thoughts
but I can’t always notice you.

I would like to tell you
that I need you to be stronger.

I would like to tell you
that I need you to work harder.

I would like to tell you
that I need you to barge in and take over.

So during our next encounter don’t be shy.
Come out and shout and scream.
Come out and jump up and down.

I will embrace you.
You will embrace me.
It will be a special moment.

I need you.
I’m ready for you.
Let’s do lunch.

Much love to you,
Just Frances

At the end of the garden

I’ve been thinking about a poem for several days now and started on a draft this evening. I’m not completely happy with what I have so far, but I’ll get there. In the mean time, here’s the first draft for you to enjoy!

At the end of the garden
by Just Frances

At the end of the garden stands a humble tree
There are no leaves or fruits or berries
The bark is scratched and scabbed
Sap seep from its wounds

At the end of the garden a child sits under a tree
This is a place of escape and solitude
This is where thoughts are shared with God
This is where games are played and laughter echoes

At the end of the garden lovers lay under a tree
This is where kisses are stolen and hands are held
This is where promises are made and hearts flutter
This is where dreams are pondered and futures are made

At the end of the garden stands a magical tree
Its limbs are heavy with strength and courage
The bark is scarred with love and imagination
Joyful memories sprout from its roots

Where flowers grow

Somewhere in the Central Cascades is a small, rural village nestled in the trees. Through the centre of the community is the main street, home to a grocery store, a handful of small shops, a couple of gas stations, and an unfeasibly large number of taverns and bars.

To the north of the main street are churches and single family homes. The sounds of children laughing as they play in the middle of the seldom-travelled side streets echo through the otherwise quiet town.

Here, boys grow strong and take on the trades of their fathers. Girls grow beautiful and wise and take on the responsibilities of their world.

In this fertile land where crops are grown and trees are felled, the next generation flourishes and the nutrient-rich ground allows for children to grow as flowers do—with pride and honour.

Here, where the flowers grow, people are happy. Their lives are fulfilled by love and community. Their roots grow deep into the soil of their homeland.

And here, from time to time, a thistle sprouts among the flowers. But here, thistles are weeds no matter how beautiful they appear to some.

And sometimes the winds rise and the seeds of the thistle are blown to faraway lands where they find new soil—soil fit for the survival of a thistle.

And in that faraway land, the thistles grow strong. For there, thistles aren’t weeds but are flowers. Yes there, thistles are the flowers that cause a nation sing.

[Note: This was a five-minute free-writing exercise. The prompt was to describe the town where I grew up but I had no desire to describe my homeland. I mean, I love it and all, but it’s where I’m from, not where I belong. So I decided to get a bit poetic. I did not alter this much from its draft form at all. You can view the original hand-written piece here if you’d like to see the rough draft.]

National Grammar Day

It’s National Grammar Day here in the fantastic United States of America. Are you as excited about that as I am? No? Well, I suppose I didn’t expect you to be. But I am super-duper excited!

I thought long and hard about what to write about for this celebratory day but I couldn’t find the right angle. So instead, I’ll just share some random thoughts.

To start with, you’ve maybe noticed that Just Frances is not written in my best ‘grammar-ific’ style. I try to keep it all very conversational here—and that means run-on sentences as well as incomplete ones. It also means that I start sentences with conjunctions and end them with prepositions. And I don’t care!

My decision to write in such an informal manner came as I thought about my audience. Not that I think my audience can’t handle full-on formal writing, but because my audience is family and friends so ‘casual conversation’ just seemed more fitting. Plus that, I’ve been accused of being a language and grammar snob for quite some time, so I thought I’d leave that to my professional life and my linguist forums and blogs where people love my wordsnobbery.

Of course, the awesome thing about being oh-so-casual-and-conversational here is that I can say things like ‘wordsnobbery’. Which is cool. (See, I did more of that casual stuff by starting a sentence with which. This is fun!)

[A note about my professional life for those who care: I am a communications professional and get paid to write and edit. Yes, believe it or not, I really do! I love my job and I love linguistics in general. But this, as I said, is my personal blog so I’m keepin’ it casual. Yay!]

Blah, blah, blah… Let’s move on now.

For a while, I thought about writing about the differences between American and British English. But then I realized that no one who reads my blog probably cares about the differences. So then I thought that, at the very least, I should point out that I’ve decided to work toward[s] incorporating more and more British English into Just Frances—in the form of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well as idioms and word usage. Of course, this just means that I probably seem quite illiterate to some folks. And that’s OK. (My decision to do that is so that I can brush up on the language before I move back over this summer.)

Oh! And I guess that I should devote a paragraph to my mantra about English being a living language. The basic idea is that the rules for grammar, spelling, and punctuation that we use now are not what we used 100 years ago and aren’t what we’ll use in another 100 years. Our language has evolved—and will continue to evolve—forever.

At best, our language is a theory. However, there are certainly rules and best practices in place that should be adhered to. But you can fudge that, too. I mean, I don’t follow all of the rules here and that’s OK. But I wouldn’t dare write like this at work or for any official business. There’s a time and a place to break the rules, after all. So, txt spk on the net all u wnt. However, please refrain from the use of non-standard English when preparing your monthly reports for your manager.

And now, I’m sure you have a stack of sentences you want to diagram and infinitives you want to split, so I’ll leave you with a couple of quick thoughts:

The old rule ‘I before E except after C’ is a lie. There are too many exceptions for it to be a rule. So please stop teaching it to your children.

It is acceptable to use an Oxford comma (also called a serial comma). You just need to use it consistently and in accordance to the style guide approved by your industry or organisation.

And finally, check out some fun language books such as:

Happy National Grammar Day to you!

The clutter shuffle

Today is a snow day on the Palouse and I am well and truly snowed in. School has been cancelled; the roads are unsafe; and the car has yet to be found—though I suspect it’s under that big pile of white fluff.

So I’m going through more clutter. Yay! Actually, I suppose that I’m just re-formatting clutter.

Yep, today’s project is to take all of my old 3.5” floppy disks and transfer them to my external hard drive. I suppose the mature thing to do would be to then throw out the disks. I admit that might be hard, but it must be done.

The real challenge, of course, will be to just transfer the files and not read through all of them. Which will be hard because they represent my entire undergraduate career. Yes, from Eng101 to ASL304 and Com207 to Com475 it’s all there. There are even disks from a few of my early freelance projects and my baby sister’s wedding invitations that I designed more than a decade ago—long before I even had a proper grown-up relationship!

Oh, and for some added fun, there are also a couple of disks with drafts of a book I wrote. One day, I’m going to have to see about getting it published!!

I suppose that when I’m done with this I should move on to transferring the work I have stored on CDs and DVDs. Then I should remember to make a backup of my backup drive! And don’t worry—I always keep that backup drive in a fireproof safe! (No, that’s a lie. I tell myself to do that but I’ve yet to actually go and buy a safe. Though doing so is on my to-do list before my move!)

[Note: I am also attempting to do so real work for my real job, which would be easier if my Internet connection wouldn’t keep going out on me causing me to have to log back in to everything. But I guess that just means tomorrow will be busier than expected. But that can be a good thing!]

A year of Just Frances

It’s been a year since I started Just Frances. Whilst it’s certainly not my first blog, it is unique in that I’ve actually put my name and face to it!*

In the past year, there have been: 5,897 unique visitors (based on IP addresses; not including bots and the like); 527 search terms used to find these pages; 806 approved comments; 1,092 comments caught by my awesome spam blocker; and a whopping 315 stories posted.

In the past year, I’ve shared some of my poetry and drawings with you; I’ve shared my happiness; and I’ve shared my sorrows. I’ve uploaded several YouTube videos to speak directly to my awesome readers and I’ve shared photos of my adventures.

This blog has been a tremendous help to me as I grieve for Paul and the future we once dreamt of, and as I contemplate a new future that is now in the works. If you don’t write for public consumption, you may not understand the therapeutic value that blogging brings, but I promise you it is a true therapy for me.

But whilst this blog serves as a form of therapy for me, I also want it to be something of value for my readers. To that, please feel free to participate! You are always welcome to comment on my posts, but you can also ask questions or suggest things you’d like me to write about. Want more video uploads? More photos? More drawings? Please feel free to let me know! I even have a handy-dandy comment form (look for the tab at the top of the page) if you want to contact me privately!

And there you have it. A year of Just Frances.

So thank you, Dear Reader, for your support and encouragement over the past year! Just knowing you’re out there reading the nonsense I’m posting makes me smile and gives me the strength to continue. You’re awesome!

* RyanCentric was the first website I put my name and face to, but it was more website than blog so I’m not counting it for the purpose of the aforesaid statement.

Two-poem Thursday

When I’m feeling stressed I turn to my writing prompts. Today, that meant working on a new form poem, which led me to writing a prompt-less poem as well. 

First, the form poem:

Hold on
by Just Frances

Hold on to your love
Even if your heart is broken

Hold on to the peaceful thoughts
Even if your world seems at war

Hold on to your faith
Even if you can’t believe

Hold on to your courage
Even if you’re too afraid

Hold on to your dreams
Even when they seem impossible

•••••

And now, a bit of rubbish that I typed without prompt (other than emotion):

The path I walk
by Just Frances

I once walked with confidence;
My every step full of faith
I once planned with ambition;
My future certain

But then my path was blocked
And my steps faltered;
My plans were shattered
And my future was lost

I now walk with cautious fear;
My every step full of worry
I now plan with hesitation;
My future unclear

The new path is treacherous;
Winding, narrow, and dark
But the way is lit with candles;
Left by those who’ve travelled before

•••••

Obviously, there is a reason that I’m not the nation’s poet laureate, but I don’t mind because my rubbish poems are for me—not the betterment of America.

Dear Stress and Worry

Dear Stress and Worry:

I would like to tell you how very unhappy and miserable you make me.

You tell me the world is full of doom and gloom.
You tell me there is no laughter.
You tell me there is no joy.

I would like to tell you that your negative ways hurt my spirit and damage my self-esteem.

So during our next encounter, when I find myself listening to your lies and I am becoming more and more sad, I am going to stand up to you.

I am going to be strong.
I am going to tell you you’re wrong.

And I am going to banish you.

Signed,
Finding Courage

Copy bird

In the evenings, you will quite often find me and the kid in the living room not talking*: Her on the love seat reading or drawing; me on the couch crocheting, blogging, or—most recently—sketching and drawing. And you can bet that at some point she will come over and start snooping at what I’m doing with great curiosity.

After she goes to bed, I will sit and continue my evening’s project for a couple of hours and by the time I wake up the next morning, I’ve almost forgotten what I was working on the night before. But not the kid. No, the kid will ask several times as we’re getting ready to leave the house if she can see what I’ve been working on. And when she finally gets to (after, of course, she gets ready for school) she is full of enthusiasm for what is, at best, mediocrity at its most average.

I’m always so pleased that she enjoys my creative outputs, but it never truly dawned on me how much impact I have on her until this weekend. As I sat working on my silliness coursework she came and looked over my shoulder and commented with awe at my water painting before asking if she could break out her watercolours and do some painting of her own.

To the left is my painting. To the right is the kid’s.

  

I am flattered and humbled. And a little afraid to think that there is another child who’s life is being impacted by me. (I think I do OK. I’ve yet to completely screw up any of my nieces and nephews at least…)

* It sounds like we just ignore each other, but we don’t. By this time, we’ve endured a 30-mile drive from town home where we chat, chat, chat. Then we enjoy a nice, home-cooked dinner at the table where we chat, chat, chat some more. Then, we chat when she goes to bed, right before our prayers. So we talk. Just not at this point in the evening.

Today I will…

Photo credits to Windy Tevlin; Tevlin PhotographyToday’s writing prompt was to write for ten minutes starting with the words “Today I will…”. So when lunch came around I grabbed my laptop and a cup of tea, set a timer, and wrote.

What you see below is just what came out—I’ve not done any editing of any sort. So please forgive me for any errors or confusing thoughts.

[Side note: Whilst I say that I will do these things today, I have to also acknowledge that many of them are just too difficult right now. Some will be achieved today and others will be achieved over time and some will remain attitudes to strive for throughout my life. Blah, blah, blah…]

Today I will…

Today I will be happy. I will think about good things and try not to dwell on the sad.

Today I will help someone who needs help and I will try to remember that it’s OK to ask for help when I need it, too.

Today I will be creative. I will take time to draw and color.

Today I will think about my future in positive tones and I won’t think about the possibility of failure.

Today I will smile more and cry less.

Today I will think about a friend who means the world to me but I’m mad at. But I probably won’t speak to them because I’m too stubborn.

Today I will forgive myself for not being perfect. But I will still expect perfection and will cause myself much grief over it.

Today I will take a few minutes to just relax and do nothing.

Today I will enjoy my own company and I will remind myself that being alone is OK.

Today I take time to think about happy memories and less about sad ones.

Today I will be gentle with myself and not demand more than I can reasonably do.

Today I will not get mad at myself for being afraid.

Today I will pay more attention to my surroundings and be thankful for the gift of sight when I see the sun setting over the Palouse hills.

Today I will be more patient when others upset me, because they probably don’t even know that their actions are causing me grief.

Today I will remember that it’s OK to be mad and that it’s OK to be grumpy. But that I can’t take those emotions out on innocent people who only mean well.

Today I will remember that I have friends around the world who care for me even if I never hear from them.

Today I will remember that my life is not as bad as I think it is and that I have a bright future ahead of me even if I can’t see it.

Today I will remember that I am in control of my life and my destiny.

Today I will remember to love myself.

Today I will remember to pray.

A-Z poetry (Hey! That rhymes!)

Today’s writing lesson was an A-Z poem where the first letter of each line forms the alphabet in alphabetical order. It was a bit challenging because I often use these writing assignments to reflect on my emotions rather than just silliness, but I do love a good challenge! So, without further ado…

A-Z Poetry
by Just Frances

A long time ago
Back in my past
Cares were light-hearted
Dreams were big

Everything was simple then
Fears were hidden then
Great expectations were in front of me then
Hopes were greater then

I laughed
Just to laugh
Kisses were tender
Love was enough to see me through

My life has changed since then
Now it seems less idyllic

Obstacles seem more challenging
Perseverance seems too hard
Quitting isn’t an option though
Realizing a new future is the only way

Standing still won’t get me there
Through this hell is the only way out
Upon this journey I will one day reflect
Very difficult as it may be

Widowhood has changed my disposition
Xanthippe-type traits appear when least expected
Yet still I believe
Zen feelings will return to my being

Paper flowers

As part of my self-actualization process rubbish I regularly search for creative inspiration. One form of inspiration I turn to often is writing prompts, which help motivate me to write (and think) about things I might not have otherwise.

Today I stumbled upon the following prompt:

List 10 things you can do with tissue paper. Pick one from the list and write about it.

But I don’t really fancy writing about what I can do with tissue paper. So instead, I’ve just done one of the 10 things and am sharing a photo of my creation for you now.

Yes folks, I’ve spent an exciting Tuesday evening making paper flowers.

A bonus to this is that I promised myself a while back that I would cut back on my spending in an effort to save money for my postgraduate tuition. And now that I have a pretty vase of paper flowers, I don’t need to buy any for quite some time! (Yay!)

Oh! And here’s my list of 10 things you can do with tissue paper:

  1. Make pretty flowers to make you smile
  2. Make a piñata to fill with candy
  3. Wrap awesome presents for awesome friends
  4. Decoupage a cool tin to store yummy cookies in
  5. Line the bottom of your socks and knickers drawer
  6. Make paper hats for inside Christmas crackers
  7. Make stained glass pictures for your mommy
  8. Wrap fancy sweaters before storing them for the summer
  9. Wrap a nice bottle of wine to give to an awesome friend
  10. And, finally, blow a snotty nose into it

A shape haiku

As I work toward my goal of publishing a book I’ve found myself spending a lot of time re-learning different forms of poetry. Added to that, I’ve found that forcing myself to put thoughts in to a predetermined form is helpful as I try to identify my emotions. And blah, blah, blah…

So today I was researching shape poems and all of the sudden my brain jumped to the idea of a sort of shape-haiku mix thing. (Please don’t ask how I jumped from one to another. It’s confusing enough as it is!) But here’s the result: A (sort of) shaped poem with each line increasing then decreasing in syllables from 1 to 10 to 1 again. (Did you follow that?) 

From fear to hope
by Just Frances 

Fear
Sadness
I live them
But still, I smile

I try to forget
I try to remember

I try to re-live the joy
I try to re-live the laughter

There will be times when I want to cry
Times I want to hide away from the world
There will also be times when I laugh

I strive to find peace in my world
Sometimes it’s all a show

But I strive be happy
So this is my life

And I’ll live it
Full of joy
Laughter
Hope

Working weekend

Wow! What a great weekend! And you want to know why? Well, it’s because I spent most of it in the homeland working toward three of my goals.

And because I know you want to know, here’s what I accomplished!

Goal #1: To be blissfully happy

Toward this goal I:

  • Socialized with real people in the real world (What? Facebook isn’t the real world?!)
  • Did some drawing and writing and relaxing and stuff
  • Went on a 5-mile training run with my nephew

Goal #2: To earn my master’s degree

Toward this goal I:

  • Worked on my personal statements for my applications
  • Sent a current draft of my statement to new reviewers in the hopes of a fresh reference point
  • Visited with one of my undergraduate professors who will act as a reference for my applications (which is a double score because she’s also a friend and I got to have a lovely visit with her!)

Goal #3: To publish a book

Toward this goal I:

  • Gave some thought to a collaborative writing project I’m (meant to be) working on
  • Scribbled notes about characters for a potential book I want to take off the back burner
  • Had lunch with with my old (as in former, not elderly) high school English teacher who helped to further spark my desire to get back into writing (but she may not know she did that!)

So, Yay! for me! I feel as if I’ve accomplished so much which is great because I had a fun time doing it. But now I’m tired. Very, very tired.

My favourite things

As part of my effort to take back my lunch time, I’ve spent today’s lunch break composing a little ditty on my laptop just for my awesome readers; who are also some of my favourite things. (Yay! for awesome readers! And yay! for reclaimed lunch breaks. And yay! for whatever else you want to celebrate today!)

My favourite things
as interpreted by Just Frances*

Shiny new gadgets and hooker-red nails
Cool vintage handbags that come in the mail
Pretty red sports cars and fun silver rings
These are a few of my favourite things

Movies with mobsters and friends who are so dear
Martinis and pizza and pretzels and good beer
Acting quite silly and playing on swings
These are a few of my favourite things

Books about grammar and good punctuation
Laughing and smiling and Scotland vacations
Songs that are happy, that I like to sing
These are a few of my favourite things

When the clouds come
When the tears sting
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

• • • • •

[NOTE: Apparently, my laptop is still set to UK English (not proper American English) from working on school application stuff and has therefore insisted that I have favourite things, not favorite things. And I’m totally OK with that!]

* I’m sure you’ve figured it out, but this is to be sung in the tune of “My Favourite Things”. If you need a reminder, here’s a link to a rendition by Pomplamoose. Yay!

I asked

I asked
by Just Frances

I asked the grass why it was green;
And it smiled and said just because.

I asked the sky why it was blue;
And it winked secretively.

I asked the wind why it was so fierce;
And it tapped its nose knowingly.

I asked the sun to warm me;
And it did; with passion.

I asked the moon to light my way;
And it did; and the stars joined in.

I asked the oceans why they lapped at the shore;
And they laughed with joy at my curiosity.

I asked myself why I was here;
And the earth sang a song of peace.

The eyes of the heavens glistened.
The joyful tears of the angels above poured onto the land.

And I kept quiet.
And everything was perfect.

Punctuate this!

Yay! Today is National Punctuation Day. And if you know me at all you know that this is a day I love to celebrate.

So here’s to the proper use of those amazing little marks and their ever-important jobs of clarifying meaning by indicating the separation of words into sentences, clauses, and phrases.

WooHoo!

Apostrophe: Predominately used to indicate the omission of one or more letters (contraction) or for the marking of possessives.

Brackets and parenthesis: Used as matched sets to set apart or interject other or supplementary text.

Colon: As a general rule, a colon informs the reader that the following proves, explains, or simply provides elements of what is referred to before.

Comma: Used to indicate a separation of ideas or of elements within the structure of a sentence.
(And let us not forget the awesomeness of the Oxford comma!)

Dash: (of which there are two primary types: en dash and em dash; not to be confused with a hyphen)
En dash: Used to show a range of values, relationships and connections, compound adjectives, and to relate parenthetical expressions.
Em dash: Often used for the demarcation of parenthetical thoughts or similar interpolation but also used to indicate an unfinished sentence when a quoted speaker is interrupted.

Ellipsis: Usually indicates an intentional omission of a word in original text but can also be used to indicate a pause in speech or an unfinished thought.

Exclamation mark: Generally used after an interjection or exclamation to indicate strong feelings or high volume, and often marks the end of a sentence.

Hyphen: Used to join words or to separate the syllables in a single word.

Kissend*: A common way to sign off on a message (hand-written or electronic) in the UK – though without the same lovey-dovey connotation it would carry in the USA. x

Period (full stop): Used as the concluding punctuation to most sentences but can also be used to mark initialisms or abbreviations.

Question mark: A mark most often found at the end of a sentence or phrase to indicate a direct question.

Quotation marks: Used primarily to mark the beginning and end of a passage attributed to another and repeated word for word.

Semicolon: Used to connect independent clauses and indicating a closer relationship between the clauses than a period.

* OK, I made up the name for that bit of punctuation, but it’s a punctuation mark that I like and I decided that it needed a name so there you have it: A kissend. x

Hump day haikus

The Squeen, in her most noble and wise ways, has declared that: “Wednesdays, today and forthwith and here-on-after, are haiku Wednesdays.” I’ve thought about posting random things related to haikus (including actually writing my own) in the past but haven’t actually done it. And so now, by royal proclamation, I feel it’s time I address the issue.

I have a love-hate relationship with haikus. I love that it forces the writer to think in a pre-defined pattern, but I hate that school teachers throughout the western world (unintentionally?) don’t explain what that pattern is. As a child I was simply told that a haiku is a three-line poem consisting of a first line with five syllables, a second line with seven syllables, then a third line with five syllables again.

But the reality is that a haiku is meant to contain 17 moras (in the 5/7/5 format) which are not really the same as syllables. Now, I will admit that in the English language we rarely discuss sentence structure in terms of moras, but I feel that this is something that should still be brought to the attention of young minds.

Another thing I love about haikus is the seemingly obscure connections between lines. They are vague and sometimes challenging—especially to young school children. I remember being told to write a haiku (with three lines of 5/7/5) that told a short story or gave a description of some random object of my choice. Which was fun because it was a bit challenging to pick just the right words to get the 17 syllable cap right.

But the reality is that a haiku is meant to consist of a seasonal reference (a kigo) and a cutting word (a kireji). It is true that the English language doesn’t have a direct equivalent to the latter, but that doesn’t seem like a fair reason to not at least explain this difference.

I guess that my love is that haikus are fun and challenging (yes, I find challenging to be fun).

And I guess that my hate is that while western school teachers seem keen to explain that haikus are a form of Japanese poetry, often combining the writing lesson with a lesson in traditional Japanese art form such as gyotaku (fish painting, basically), they neglect to fully give the lesson in how true Japanese haikus are formed.

I suppose that I wish I’d been given the full lesson as a child, which could have included how haikus in English evolved and are their own writing form—distinct from what’s found in Japan but certainly rooted in the culture and history of the original haikus.

But maybe when you were taught about haikus, your teacher went into all of this with you and so you’re at a loss to why I’m whining. And that’s OK.

Anyhow, as a reward for reading this far, here are the two haikus that I wrote today by orders of The Squeen as part of my silliness course, which are meant to address items in my medicine cabinet, which is more of a drawer than a cabinet, but let’s not split hairs…

Fall is in the air
Wood smoke making my eyes dry
Ah,
Visine, my friend

Summer is fading
Factor thirty nearly gone
Cat Crap is ready

And here’s a bonus one just for Just Frances readers:

Autumn is awesome
And Just Frances is awesome
And her readers, too

Being silly

Right, I promised a more cheerful post the other day and I’m pleased to say that I don’t even have to be fake cheerful! You see, a few weeks ago my friend in Scotland sent me a link for an online art course called The Art of Silliness2 and yesterday was the first day of instruction. Yay!

I sat on the couch last night to start working on my warm-up exercise (a short story) and the day’s first proper assignment. My foster daughter is often interested in what I’m writing and drawing in the evenings and I’m (almost) always happy to show her. When she asked about last night’s projects I told her about the silliness class and she very plainly let me know that I am already the silliest person she knows and that she didn’t think I needed a class to learn how to be silly.

Ah, bless…

Anyhow, I am looking forward to spending the next month being that little bit more silly than normal. I promise not to bore you with all of my course work* via daily posts, but I will scan them as I go and include them on my “Silly Page” linked at the top of Just Frances.

* To be clear: This isn’t to say I won’t share some of my assignments, it just means I won’t blog about all of them.

Goals update

Nearly three weeks ago, I posted my goals and promised that I would soon update each goal with a list of tasks required to accomplish them. Well, I’ve finally gotten the initial task lists posted – along with hand-drawn images because I was a bit bored last night. (Cutting off the cable will do that to you!)

Support and encouragement is always welcome! Please feel free to check in to watch my progress, but also feel free to offer support or assistance where you can. If you think you can help with any of my tasks, please give a shout!

Goal #1: To be blissfully happy

Goal #2: To earn my master’s degree

Goal #3: To publish a book

Goal #4: To rule the world

Sharing is nice

Image from: http://www.instantshift.com/2008/12/10/20-free-social-media-icon-sets-for-bloggers/When I started Just Frances I did so thinking that I’d just throw things out there randomly and that no one would read it. It wasn’t meant to be anything more than an outlet for thoughts – an outlet I felt I really needed because there wasn’t anyone sitting next to me on the couch every evening to share things with.

Soon, family and friends began reading and within a month my readership doubled. The following month, it grew a bit more. And eventually, ‘perfect strangers’ were reading. So I added a contact form and a way for readers to subscribe to new stories. And the blog kept growing.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, my readership isn’t that big – yet. But I’m now hearing from folks on a regular basis telling me how much they enjoy Just Frances. And I’m often asked if I’ve thought about doing this, that, or the next thing to make the blog more interactive for viewers.

I was asked to implement a rating system. So I did. It was suggested that little video clips of me talking to my readers would be fun. So the YouTube channel I created for Schrodie’s fans is now sharing space with my silly videos.

And I was asked to include ways to share posts via Facebook, Twitter, Digg, email, and more! But I was unable to do so until this week when WordPress finally rolled out sharing functions on their blog platform. (Thanks, WordPress!)

Well, dear readers, your sharing tools are now here, so share, share, share!

Now, selfishly, I should add that whilst I began this little blog as a way of sharing random thoughts with no expectation other than personal release, I’ve found that I enjoy knowing that others are reading. I’ve found that it really is great to know that there are people out there who have found enjoyment in my writings. Which, of course, just inflates my ego that little bit more.

OK! What does this mean to you? Well, it means that it’s now easier to share Just Frances with your friends. And it means that I listen to you – I really, really do listen to you! So feel free to get in touch and let me know what you would like to see or read more about. Let me know what other changes you’d like to see to the site. And feel free to let me know what you don’t like. I may not take all of your suggestions, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want them!

Oh, and feel free to subscribe for email updates, too. Then you know you’ll never miss another amazingly-awesome installment from Just Frances!

Thanks for reading! ::kiss kiss::

I wish I had

I wish I had
by Just Frances

I wish I had the courage
to say what I want to say;
I wish I had the self-confidence
to know that it’s OK to say it.

I wish I had a window to the future;
I wish I had a magic wand
to make all my wishes come true.

I wish I had the courage
to do what I want to do;
I wish I had the self-confidence
to know that it’s OK to do it.

I wish I had a window to the future;
I wish I had a magic wand
to make all my wishes come true.

A cup of inspiration

in·spi·ra·tion ˌin(t)-spə-ˈrā-shən, -(ˌ)spi- (noun; 14th century)
1a: a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation b: the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions c: the act of influencing or suggesting opinions
2: the act of drawing in; specifically: the drawing of air into the lungs
3a: the quality or state of being inspired b: something that is inspired – a scheme that was pure inspiration
4: an inspiring agent or influence

The smallest things inspire me. I find it surprising at times because one little, seemingly-inconsequential thing can draw the most amazing ideas from my mind. A simple smell can inspire me to write a short story; the sounds of children laughing may inspire me to go outside and play after a long day at the office; a single word might cause my mind to begin composing the next chapter of whatever book I tell myself I’m working on.

I’m inspired to cook after a Facebook friend posts photos of their food. I make appointments for manicures and pedicures after someone I know talks about going to the spa for a day. I schedule golf lessons after hearing my boss talk about playing 18 holes over the weekend. And I go to the gym after my 11-year-old nephew phones to tell me that he’s just been on a training run for the 10K we’re running together in October.

But whilst I find these little inspirations everywhere – every day – I still find myself constantly searching for inspiration.

I search for the inspiration to motivate me to do the dishes. I scour the Internet for inspirational quotes to help bolster a failing smile. I read book after book searching for the inspiration for writing books of my own. And a seek inspiration to just get me from one day to the next.

It’s the searching for inspiration that I find strange. I never needed to search before. But then, Paul was my muse and I suppose I drew much of my inspiration from him – probably without either of us realizing it. 

The inspiration for this post? The side of a disposal coffee cup.

When I’m inspired, I get excited because I can’t wait to see what I’ll come up with next.
~ Dolly Parton

Fear is a silly thing

I posted a while back about “I AM” poems, and how I like to re-write mine from time-to-time because it helps me to reflect on my world. There are a dozen or so other poem templates that I like to use for personal reflections, too. For some reason, I felt the need to re-address fear today. And since I’m certain my public is eager to know my thoughts on the matter, I’m sharing it with you here! (Stay tuned for more template poems, or take the time to fill in your own!)

Fear is a silly thing
by Just Frances

Scale the wall.

Fear is not enough to keep you from your dreams.
Fear is a silly thing.

Scale the wall.

Fear is only an obstacle if you allow it to be.
Fear is a force to be conquered.

Scale the wall.

Fear is not as strong as your determination.
Fear is a silly thing. 

Scale the wall.

Fear is a manifestation of uncertainly.

Managed by courage.
Conquered by determination.

Hope lies on the other side
Ready to embrace and support
Life’s eternal goodness.

Cutting the cord

I am cutting the cord. Or rather, I am cutting the cable. I’m not replacing cable with satellite and in my rural neck of the woods there is no such thing as aerial reception. So, basically, no more television for this gal!*

I’m more than a year late in doing this. Paul and I got cable a few months after moving into our new home for two reasons: 1) It was during the 2008 presidential campaign and I wanted to watch the debates and 2) my family was coming out for Thanksgiving and it would have caused problems if we couldn’t have the football game on during the day.

By the time spring rolled around, we decided it was time to get rid of the cable because we were spending too much time on the couch zoning out instead of talking to each other. So the decision was made that I would cancel it when I paid May’s bill. But Paul died before that happened and I didn’t have the energy to brush my teeth let alone call the cable company.

It was great having cable this past year. A real saving grace in some ways because it meant voices in an otherwise silent house. I could sit on the couch and zone out to whatever was on TV and not have to think about anything else. But now I find myself zoning out on shows that I’m not really interested in whilst neglecting my once-enjoyed hobbies and activities. I sit on the couch from the time I get home until I go to bed. That’s about four hours of mindless television and commercials “entertaining” me every night. And I’ve had enough!

So what will I do without TV?
I will start reading my ever-growing stack of great books and I will listen to my favorite CDs on the Bose. I will go out for walks and hikes and bike rides – after all, I live in an amazingly-beautiful area with loads of outdoor recreation opportunities. I will write. I will crochet and knit. I will sit outside in the evening sun and take in the sounds of nature. I will take time to cook nice meals and I will take the time to enjoy them at the table instead of wolfing my food down on the couch in front of the telly.

Certainly, it will be difficult getting used to not having an endless supply of rubbish programming spread out over nearly 50 channels, but once I remember how much I used to enjoy the simplicity of my own company, I’m sure I will be celebrating the severed cords!

As of the 1st of August, I will be cable-less. Stay tuned for a post about the insanity it causes me when I realize how boring life is without the time-sucking television vortex!

Of course, it hasn’t escaped my mind that I will be saving $49.67 each month. That’s $596.04 a year! Yep, that will be a nice little addition to my very meager savings account.

* I will continue to get my favorite shows on the Internet because I just can’t live without EastEnders. I’ve also subscribed to NetFlix so that I can watch old TV shows or movies from time-to-time. (I know that seems silly as I’m talking about cutting the cable, but I still want a little bit of entertainment.)