Inspiration Comes at the Kitchen Sink

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I’ve traveled by train through the Alps of Switzerland. I’ve sipped coffee under the first snowfall of the Canadian Rockies. I’ve ziplined through the cloud forest of the Guanacaste mountains in Costa Rica. When I think of inspiration, my mind takes me back to these mountains. They were places of absolute beauty, where I felt my heart soar, and my mind immediately wanted to create something beautiful in response. So, on that train through Switzerland, I grabbed pen and paper, and I wrote absolutely nothing.

I could hardly think of a single word. The beauty around me was so stunning and overwhelming, all I could do was sit in wonder. Nothing I could create could even compare.

Photo taken by my husband in Costa Rica, circa 2016

As it turns out, my fantasy of a writing retreat in the mountains is a terrible idea. Because my very best ideas have come to me when my mind wants to wander away. When I’m stuck in traffic listening to “Old MacDonald” on repeat with two toddlers or folding the third load of laundry that day. My mind begins to wander and suddenly I find myself in another world, as another person, living another life. You could call it plain old escapism, but as a writer, I get to call it inspiration.

And I’m not alone. Plenty of authors online tout the magic of washing dishes, Agatha Christie most famously.

“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”

Agatha Christie

Another version of this quote, often credited to her, is: “The best crimes for my novels have occurred to me washing dishes.”

The repetitiveness of these simple chores is mind-numbing and dulling—not words usually used to describe artistic inspiration. Yet, that’s exactly when it happens. When the mind can drift, when it isn’t being spurred on by newness and it must create its own. Whether for the meditative benefits or creative spark, apparently Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are two guys who love doing dishes for similar reasons, according to Insider.

“[Washing dishes] can also be a chance to relax and daydream. And creativity experts say it’s just this sort of loose mind-wandering that allows the brain to make some of its most innovate and unexpected leaps (which is why so many good ideas come to us in the shower).”

Insider

Don’t even get me started on shower thoughts. Do they make waterproof journals? I could really use a waterproof journal.

The Magic Spark

The Hope Writers prompt that inspired this post asked about a specific time I felt a creative spark, though. And that’s harder for me to pinpoint.

Ideas seem to form in a fog, slowly revealing themselves until they’re standing there introducing themselves with a crooked grin and a freckle under their left eye. I can’t say exactly when I realized the idea was there, because there were moments early on when I squinted into the fog, wondering if I had seen something, doubting myself, letting it go, looking again, catching sight of a form, still unsure if it was a person or a telephone pole.

Outside of Grace began as a single scene in my mind while I was writing my first novel (the one that lives under the bed, never to see the light of day). It was an ending, a happily-ever-after type of scene that never even remotely fit into the finished product, and I’m not sure when it came to me.

Most inspiration seems to happen while driving, for me. I live on I-35, so I have the luck of spending large amounts of time in traffic. I keep a note on my phone with the latest bits of conversation or description. When a scene floods my mind so desperately it cannot be tapped out at a red light, it becomes a voice memo, like I’m some 1980s detective.

So, as dreamy as the mountainous retreat I plan to retire in sounds, I realize there’s actually great value to living the daily life of a stay-at-home mom. There’s great value in cooking macaroni and cheese yet again, washing the three outfits that were worn that day alone, and scrubbing the floors after potty training. Because in the moments that feel like drudgery, I create.

“One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.”

Annie Dillard, The Writing life


When I First Knew I was a Writer

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When someone tells me they don’t know what they want to do for a living or what their passion is, one of the first things I want to know is: what did you want to be when you grew up? And second, what did you spend your free time doing as a child? Because, while it might not apply to everyone, those two questions reveal that I was a writer from the time I was eight years old.

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

My earliest goals were to be either an artist or an astronaut (hey, I was six). Once I was well into elementary school, I realized I would never have the scientific skills to pursue my interstellar dreams. But the dream of becoming an artist began to shape and mold itself into wordplay. At ten, I fell in love with a show about children creating a newspaper during the American Revolution (Liberty’s Kids, if you want to know exactly how old I am). They had a website that let you create your own single-page newspaper and I used it to begin a family newsletter that I proudly printed and mailed to my aunts. I would draft up the latest family happenings, from my sister’s basketball game, to my brother’s black eye. A decade later, I held a degree in journalism.

There were other signs too—like the creative writing class I took as a 12-year-old. I stole inspiration from the novels I loved, crafting stories that bordered on plagiarism, though no one seemed to recognize it. The teacher praised me highly and I began to catch a glimpse of myself as a writer.

If there’s one moment though, I would point to something that happened three years later. At 15, I was busy with high school, distracted by peers, and trying to babysit all I could to afford my own phone. I wasn’t doing much writing outside of my journal and a pen pal, but I still loved it and dabbled in it when I could. I was attending a charismatic church at the time and the wife of the lead pastor said God had told her something about me. We didn’t know each other well and hadn’t spent any time together, so she admitted she might be off. She said, “I’m not sure if you enjoy writing or not, but I feel like God showed me that you’re going to write words that will make history. You’re going to be an earth-shaking writing.” Talk about a confidence boost!

From that moment on, I knew I was going to be a writer.

JUST KIDDING! Nope. I mean, at that moment , sure, I thought I’d be a writer. But I had plenty of people speaking negativity into my life as well. There’s no shortage of people willing to tell aspiring journalists that newspapers are dying, media are evil, writers are starving artists, and so on and so forth. Just walking into the library made me want to give up—how could I ever stand a chance when there’s already millions of books out there?

So, I spent a year and a half at a community college with a general studies major. When I transferred to the University of Texas, I entered as a linguistics major. I thought I might go into speech therapy. My love for language was unshakeable, but I didn’t think writing was a viable option. One month into linguistics, I was applying to transfer to the journalism school. (Let’s just say linguistics was not my gifting.) A kid in my linguistics class told me, “good luck, I’ve been rejected twice.” He went on to tell me that it was a highly exclusive club and few got in, many had to re-apply semester after semester. I didn’t have time to spare, I was already ending my sophomore year.

So God made a way. In fact, I think he let me momentarily lose sight of writing for a reason. If I had applied to UT’s journalism school as an outsider, I might not have made it in. But being a student already and then applying to transfer programs helped pave the way (yes, the student above had been rejected as an inside transfer, it still wasn’t easy). Now, after several years of journalism, God’s been reawakening a love for writing fiction, inspiring novel after novel—faster than my hands can type them (and I’m not slow).

You know what they say about hindsight? Well, it’s true. It’s amazing how confusing things like majors and careers can feel as a young adult. The options seem endless, the pros and cons stretch on forever. But when I look back, it’s easy to say—of course! It was right there all along! And I think it often is. Our passions can be found when we think back to a time before we worried about job availability, average salaries, etc. Our passions were clear when they were childhood dreams. (And if you think yours were all over the place, there are jobs for that too. Mine were too as a child, and that’s what I love about journalism and writing—it lets me explore a variety of fields and interests.)

I would love to hear others’ stories! When did you know you would be a… Whatever it is you are today! Please share!

/This was written as a response to Hope Writers‘ January prompts./



Fighting the Instinct to Hide: An Enneagram Five Confession

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I tend to hide. It seems right—wise, even—to keep things close to the chest until I know, without a doubt, that it will be a roaring success. My husband, a textbook Type 3, is the opposite. He will spout off his latest and greatest ideas to anyone who will listen.

Our extreme differences in this area has been a frequent hot spot when it comes to joint efforts in our marriage. My husband wants to tell everyone that we’re considering a new business venture, a move, or a trip somewhere. I would rather wait until after it’s all said and done (and successful) to say, “Oh yeah, we did that last month.”

Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash

Finding a balance has been a continual effort. For my own work, I’ve had to admit that becoming a roaring success is difficult when nobody knows what you do. In the effort to come out of my shell, I’ve stretched myself to do “risky” things, like create a webpage for Outside of Grace. Publicly acknowledging I’ve written a book (before it’s even published?!) was terrifying. I’d rank it right up there with swimming with sharks.

But recently, I went even further. At the prompting and encouraging of Mr. Three, I offered one of my Rundle Press activity books as a door prize for my local moms group. I had rejected the idea plenty of times under the claim that I wasn’t a legitimate small business. Finally, after watching plenty of MLM products and home crafts appear in the door prize rotation, I decided I was about as legit as anyone else. Mr. Three readily agreed.

So there I stood, on a stage, talking about my preschool curriculum and busy books in front of 60 moms, and trying my best not to use phrases like “just a little thing I do.”

A friend in the group was shocked and asked me how she never knew about this. She teased me for being secretive. When I admitted that I tend to hide things away until I feel like they’re perfected, I realized it might not be such a reasonable trait after all. And in fact, it sounded very much like something a Type Five would say.

When I got home, a quick Google search provide me right ( < things Type Fives say). In fact, it came up in an article comparing Types Three and Five.

“Average Threes tend to promote themselves and to talk about their brilliant achievements, whereas average Fives tend to be secretive and reticent about their work and discoveries.”

The Enneagram Institute

Yes! Exactly! (Feeling understood is always such a lovely thing, especially when I tend to keep my thoughts trapped in my head. #writerlife) While I’m quite familiar with the Enneagram types, I read through some of the information on fives again, this time with a focus on this particular issue. I didn’t find much specific to hiding, but I could see the idea hidden in other phrases. Take this for example:

“When they get verification of their observations and hypotheses, or see that others understand their work, it is a confirmation of their competency, and this fulfills their Basic Desire. (‘You know what you are talking about.’)”

The Enneagram Institute

I identify strongly with this statement in the reverse sense. When others reject my work, it feels like a death sentence: “You are not good enough.” Rejection is hard for anyone, but I wonder if the Type Five is particularly slow to overcome it.

The basic desire of the five is to be competent and capable, and to that end, they tend to gather information endlessly, hiding and protecting their own resources to ensure they know enough and are enough. Because of this, and the fact that they must push themselves so hard to reveal their knowledge and share their resources with the world, rejection can be very painful. Once experienced, they may hold onto their knowledge and resources tighter than ever.

As a type five, one of the most important things I’m learning about rejection is to not let it become a label or identity. Just because a literary agent rejected my book doesn’t mean the book is bad, or that I’m a bad writer. I have to face the rejection head on: what is the truth, plain and simple? For all I know, it could have been that the agent was already overbooked, they weren’t the right fit, or anything else. Or maybe they do think my book is bad. I thought Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was awful. One person’s opinion does not equal an absolute truth.

It takes an arsenal of resources to overcome rejection. Reframing, small successes, and the encouragement of friends are helping me make slow, steady progress. Adding an awareness of how my personality functions helps me realize what might not be an entirely rational or “right” response, so that I can work towards a healthier balance.

While I don’t think I need to become as outgoing and sharing as a Type Three, I know that Type Fives are gifts to the world in their own way. They just have to learn to share those gifts. So to myself and other Fives: Yes, be observant, be quiet, keep it close, but when you’re ready, with the right people, share those gifts. The world needs them.



How I Use Music in My Writing

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Music is essential to writing a first draft. It sets a mood, fuels creativity, and offers words when I hit a blank. But music can also be distracting and enabling. I try to be intentional about how I bring it into my writing and what types of music I use. Below, I’ve got some tips on how I balance music with my writing. Plus, my “official” Outside of Grace playlist (with some teaser info at the end)!

Moment of honesty first: sharing the music I listen to is terrifying! I discovered in college that whatever I listened to, regardless of what it was, was definitely uncool. I once had a TA do a music session in lab at the end of the semester and let everyone pick songs. My song was the only one immediately booed and voted off. (If that happens in a future book, now you know.) So I’m pretty self-conscious about my music. But whatever. My police-officer dad raised me on a steady stream of Enya. I’ll never be cool. I’m learning to be okay with that.

Set the Mood

Whether it’s a sad, reflective moment, or an upbeat, hopeful scene, music helps me get into the right headspace. As a mom of toddlers, if I’m going to quickly go from changing diapers to writing about college kids in a bar, I need the help of music. I have a playlist for each novel I’m working on, and each one features a unique style of music. The Outside of Grace playlist (above) walks through the moods of the book—ranging from Scottish ballads to house beats and more. I wonder how much of the book can be given away in that playlist alone? It should probably come with spoiler alerts!

Find the Songs

Another novel I’m drafting is more character-focused and doesn’t feature as many drastic scene changes. Rather, it develops two characters who are total opposites. Thus, the playlist for that book features songs that help me get into the character’s heads more, focusing on who I’m writing about and the way they view the world. One of them is very bohemian—and I’ve got her listening to indie songs with a nature-focus. Finding Bohemian and Christian Boho playlists on Spotify was very helpful in building my own playlist. Spotify’s suggestions were helpful for building onto a playlist once I got started.

Words or No Words?

I used to hate songs with words when writing. If I’m trying to get an academic paper just right the first time, I’m likely to stick with classical music. But for the creative process, I find that the slight distraction of songs with lyrics helps take off the pressure of a blank page. I can let loose, fill the page with words, and then come back to it for edits later.

Zone Out

I’m a shameless repeater. If I find an addictive new song, I’m likely to play it on repeat endlessly until I can hum it in my sleep. (With headphones of course, so I don’t drive my husband insane.) It becomes a background noise that helps me zone out and focus on writing; I think it keeps me from getting distracted by other thoughts.

Religious or Secular?

A quick look through the Outside of Grace playlist will reveal a majority of secular songs, which may seem odd—possibly even offensive—for a Christian novel. As a teenager, a small church I visited wanted members to only listen to Christian music. To an extent, I can see their point. Honestly, I find my mental health tends to be better when I primarily listen to Christian music. However, I think being aware of current music trends and culture can be helpful (Acts 17:22-31 is a good example of being aware of the culture). Outside of Grace deals with a lot of secular settings—bars, college campuses, etc. Pretending like Christians don’t encounter that sort of thing on a regular basis doesn’t help anyone.

In theme with setting the mood, when my main character is wrestling with her faith, my listening will reflect that. Artists like Matt Maeson, who is vocal about his experience of turning away from religion and later rediscovering it, capture the feel so well. Several of his songs filled the playlist when I was considering how to accurately represent a crisis of faith. (Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco also wrestles with topics of religion in songs like Say Amen, while offering the vibe I needed for certain scenes.)

*Let’s just take a break here to say that you’re probably thinking I’m an insane over-thinker. You would be right.

“I don’t even like the idea that there is a separation between Christian music and non-Christian music. [That designation] makes it seem less approachable… I wouldn’t label my music Christian music anyways, but it does have a lot to do with faith.” 

Matt Maeson

Reverse the Mood

When it’s time for edits, I try to challenge myself to reverse the mood. Listening to something peppy and upbeat before editing a big tear-jerker scene is a great way to test its strength. The scene must be written powerfully enough to bring me back down. And while I’ll do copy editing with music, I need silence for line editing. Once I’m ready for final edits, I do crazy person things like stand in my room, alone, and read the entire thing out loud. It’s amazing how much more you can catch when you have to speak the words and your brain can’t just auto-pilot through them.

Have Fun

Now go forth, Writer, and picture your perfect playlist as the soundtrack to your wildly successful book-turned-movie. Or, Reader and epilogue-loving Fan, find your author’s playlist and reread the scenes you loved with all the feels. Having a playlist is just plain fun.


Outside of Grace Teaser

The playlist above used to be perfectly organized with one song corresponding to each chapter. However, it’s changed a bit and recent edits have dropped an entire chapter from the book. When writing the first draft, I had a massive playlist for inspiration that wasn’t nearly as carefully curated. But the “official” one features the songs that I felt best summed up scenes. Since doing edits, I’ve messed around with it a bit and added a handful of extra songs to it. It’s still pretty representative of the book, so if you want a sneak peak, give it a listen!

Bonus: If I had to pick one song to represent the entire book, it would be Leave a Light On by the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and Tom Walker. (Fun facts: they’re both native Scottish artists, because I. Must. Be. Genuine. Part of that over-thinker thing.) This song is probably not the coolest. There are bagpipes involved. But I love it and will stand by that. (Obviously 8.6 million people agree with me, so I’m not that far off.)

TL;DR – listen to that song ^



Rundle Press Update: New Busy Book!

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There’s a new busy book in the Rundle Press site! This winter activity book has 12 activity pages with a variety of activities from decorating a snowman to working with vowels. It can be used as a simple fine motor activity book for young toddlers, or a preschool workbook for 4-5 year olds.

My kids have loved these quiet books for car rides, waiting in restaurants, and doing “school” in the morning (while mommy works). Bonus: three-ring binders with clear covers can be used as dry erase pockets. So we keep a stash of coloring pages and dry erase crayons on hand with these. They’re so easy to pull out and have a quick half hour of quiet.

The only thing not quick and easy is all the cutting and laminating! (File that under Homeschool Mom Problems.) I prepped one today for a local mothers group giveaway, and once the hand cramp goes away, I’ll be making more for my own kiddos! They’re still using their autumn ones, but I’m obsessed with the little woodland animals filling the winter one. I’m also thinking they might make good gifts for nieces and nephews. Once that hand cramp goes away…

If you’re interested (or need a digital gift for a far-away-friend), head over to the Etsy shop to check it out. These are sent as a digital download to be printed and laminated on your own. Trust me, a little time cutting and prepping will go a long ways towards a quiet house. And that, my friend, is always worth it.

#NaNoWriMo and a Novel Update

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National Novel Writing Month—it’s a crazy challenge that starts November 1 and ends on the 30th, with the goal of getting at least 50,000 words under your belt. Similar to one of my favorite tools for busting writer’s block—The Most Dangerous Writing App—the idea is that if you can just get the words out, you’ll find the story you were meant to tell (and you can always go back and edit it later).

That said… I did not participate. (Bum bum bum.) At least, not in the traditional challenge. I have two novels under my belt (the first is garbage, said every author ever) so as fun as it is to write, I feel responsible to actually finish what I’ve already set out to do. So, inspired by the NaNoWriMo community and movement, November was editing month for me.

The Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland, photo by yours truly. Representative of the giants I see ahead.

I spent the month editing my beloved second novel to prepare it for a second round of publishing submissions. This was the month to kill my darlings (read that post for some seriously good writing advice). Two entire chapters got the cut. Do you know how hard it is to trash things your own creation? Things that you were once convinced were brilliant and absolutely necessary?! Ahem. I did it, nonetheless. And honestly, it was overdue.

I finished this novel in March of this year and started submitting it to literary agents in May. Sadly, I was unable to find one. Honestly, it was crushing. I realized I still struggle with rejection. Not a good characteristic for a freelancer and author. It was frustrating too. One agent told me my genre wasn’t selling well (which I disagree with). And they all wanted platforms (I swear, that word has turned into a curse around here). I’m not an influencer and have no intention of becoming one—I happen to like being a real human who focuses on my real family, rather than forcing screaming children into coordinating outfits for the ‘gram.

So I did what every sore loser does. I got frustrated and gave up. I stuck that thing under the bed and turned my back on it for several months. I’m not very proud of this part of the story, so let’s ignore how long it lasted and continue.

Then. I was getting groceries at the beginning of the month when I heard a familiar song playing in the store. It was one of the songs I listened to repeatedly while writing the novel. Now, I certainly hadn’t forgotten the book (impossible), but I had avoided it. And it all came rushing back. When I got back to my car, I pulled up the playlist I had made for that story and listened to a few more songs. And I wasn’t frustrated, I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t disappointed. I was convicted.

The Three Sisters of Glencoe. More giants in the land. I spy my sweet little toddler in a yellow coat ❤

I don’t like to throw around phrases like “I heard from God”—no, no booming voice came from the sky, no blinding light from the heavens. But I felt it. I felt the passion I once had for that project come back and the conviction that it isn’t just my story. It isn’t just something I made that I can decide to quit on. It’s a story that was planted in my mind, totally outside of my comfort zone, for a purpose. It’s a story that someone needs. Whether a traditional publisher will take it on or not, I felt the determination to continue and to explore the possibility of self-publishing. Because this is the story of church hurts, of the pain caused by purity culture, and of the long road back to faith after walking away in college. This is a story that I am absolutely convinced someone out there needs to hear.

When I hear people say God called them to something and they struggled to follow, I’ve always thought that seemed a little silly. I mean, if you know God is calling you, why not just do it? I figured I had just never been so sure. But I was lying to myself. I know for a fact God is calling me to write—and he has been since I was about 8 years old. And yet, there I was, hiding my talents in the dirt. I was looking into the promised land and saying, “No way, God, don’t you see the giants in there?” And I finally saw how silly it was.

So that’s how I ended up spending my November editing ruthlessly. My novel is coming back out from under the bed for a second round of submissions. And I’m hoping and praying that I’ll be a little more resilient this time around and be open to self-publishing, if necessary. Because Outside of Grace deserves to be read, regardless of what the giants have to say about it.



The Anthology has been Unleashed!

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Ahem, released.

This beautiful collection features 40 authors from around the world and a wide variety of short stories covering the complex relationships we hold with the idea of home. I was surprised by the arrangement according to the author’s first name. So who’s up first? Yours truly!

Photo from Fragmented Voices

It’s the first time my name has been published with a fiction title and I am thrilled to break into the industry. Even if it’s in an entirely different genre and format than my primary writing. Creative license, right?

It’s the perfect topic and collection to spend a little time with over the holidays. If you need some airplane or road trip reading material, check out the digital download from Fragmented Voices here and be sure to read about the authors at the end. Before you go, I’ve got a sneak peek at the psychological thriller that kicks off the collection.

His house is 63 steps to the east and 14 across the street. I still don’t have that ability to close my eyes and say “click” to remember everything, like the detective books I loved as a kid. But I know his house. I’ve seen it in my nightmares often enough.

63 Steps, Anna Daugherty


The Struggles of an Irish Last Name

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Photo by Megan Johnston on Unsplash

It was during the potato famine of the mid-1800s, when an Irish immigrant and his cousin showed up in the United States speaking mostly Gaelic. When the immigration officers tried to issue their official documents, they asked the ruddy Irishmen for their last name. The Irishmen replied, “Ó’Dochartaigh.”*

The poor officials stared at the men and asked them to repeat it. “Ó’Dochartaigh.” And one more time? Perhaps out of laziness, or misunderstanding, the “Ó” was dropped entirely. One official wrote down “Dockerty,” hardening the middle “ch” sound a bit too much for the sake of clarity. Meanwhile, the other one wrote down “Daugherty,” attempting to recognize the sound, the voiced pause in a name, without following any laws of the English language.

It only took a single generation, maybe two, before Mr. Daugherty’s children and grandchildren had lost touch with their Gaelic side entirely. Speaking only English, they had no ability to form the gutteral middle stop that belonged between “Dah” and “her,” before ending with “tee.” It was only a matter of years before they stopped bothering to pronounce all three syllables at all. By the time the original Ó’Dochartaigh passed away, his misbegotten grandchildren were simply known by “Darty.”

However, dropping sounds is a simple, natural matter. Language evolves over time quite by itself. Changing official documents is another matter entirely. No one was willing to lose touch with their Daugherty heritage, or bother with the lines at DPS to change their driver’s license (I suppose I’ve jumped a few decades here). So they continue to live with the cumbersome middle letters “ughe.”

Photo by Jessica Johnston on Unsplash

This isn’t even my own story, of course. I married into the problem of those four extra letters, leaving behind a life of ease and fluency as a Dobbins—plain, English, straightforward Dobbins. And despite his own struggle to live with the name, my husband is a traditional American male whose very identity is bound to his last name. So we continue, forever missing emails that were addressed to a Daughtery. Because, after all, most English speakers are used to writing the word “daughter,” misplacing the T in Daugherty, and tacking a Y on at the end for good measure. Daughtery, Daughtery, Daughtery.

I’ve learned to live with it. When I check-in anywhere or give anyone my name, I spell it slowly and deliberately, particularly around those middle letters. “DAU- G – H – E – R -TY.” And every time, I can’t help but think how lovely, how simple it would be if they had anglicized it to its true destiny: “Darty.”

If you don’t think it’s really that bad, just tell that to Social Security. It took them three tries to print my new card after I got married. And you should see the looks I get in public spaces. At a doctor’s office, for example; when the nurse comes to the door, clipboard in hand, and calls out, “Anna…” [cue look of panic] “Dau– Daughtry?” There’s a reason we carefully chose first names for our children that were easy to say and spell.

Luckily my mother-in-law passed on a handy rhyme that helps: “‘Darty,’ like party.” I use it often. And that’s how most people remember it. The few who do, at least. Though if they ever need to send me an email or look me up, God help them.

Oh, to be a Daugherty without the ughe!

*Obviously a largely fictionalized bit of fun.



I’m a Fact Checker, But Not For Facebook

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Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

I live in an area with a 50/50 voter split. You never know if you’re talking to a gun-toting Texan or a free-college Californian. (Oh, don’t look at me like that, I’m leaning on some cliches here.) People here tend to tread lightly when it comes to politics, depending on the social circle you’re currently in. There are certain topics people steer clear of in conversation. But now, my very own job title has joined the ranks of Undiscussable. (Not a word.)

I didn’t realize it until several months ago when I had a well-meaning, old-school Texan sit me down and run through a list of “alternative websites” for me to use when fact-checking. As an anti-politics Millennial (sorry?), I was more confused than anything. I reassured him I was thorough in using various sources, though I explained his had nothing to do with the type of work I did.

That was when he mentioned Facebook and it clicked. All of a sudden, I realized those strange looks I was getting had nothing to do with spinach in my teeth. It was because saying I was a fact-checker had become a political statement.

Somehow, the job that nobody knew existed two years ago has become a political weapon. Now, I can’t just say I fact check. I have to say, “I fact-check for magazines regarding small details like if so-and-so’s grandmother made bonnets or if the shop’s tiles are really green. I don’t do Facebook-type fact-checking.” It’s a distinction I never had to make before. And one that makes my job description significantly longer.

But honestly, as much as I try to downplay the work I do for the sake of politics, I’m proud of it.

I call dozens of people for each article that goes into a magazine like Texas Highways. I speak to former Olympians to fix things like the wrong date listed for when they played their first game. I speak with passionate conservationists, excited to share their story, and particular that we don’t call a lizard “pregnant” because apparently the right term for reptiles is “gravid.” And I speak with everybody’s grandmother named Betty Mae up in the Panhandle to confirm that she has owned the little cafe since 1962, when she bought it from her father—no, scratch that, it was her uncle.

That’s what I do.

I’m not telling anyone how to live their lives. I’m helping authors share their stories accurately. I’m catching those little details that fall through the cracks of a thousand words. And apparently, I’m now spreading information on fact-checkers. Honestly, I’m not sure how companies like Facebook do it. I’m not sure if they’re hiring trained journalists or if it’s all computer programming. But as a professional in the field, I’m just here to say: it’s not all the same thing. On the rare chance that you meet a fact-checker soon, have a little more curiosity and a little less presumption. Because I can guarantee you, they’ve got some stories to tell.

Recovering From a Case of The Gimmes

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My daughter recently recovered from a bad case of the Gimmes. Of course, it’s like the cold, there will be different variants of it that pop up over time—particularly over the holidays—but thankfully we seem to have found a quick solution.

After a rough week of the Gimmes, my daughter came home from ballet class immediately demanding MORE. She wanted to eat out for dinner, she wanted to be entertained, she wanted someone to play with her. All this from the child who had just had a grandparent visit and gone to her weekly ballet class. That should be treat enough, right? Of course, the Give Me bug can be a nuisance to anyone, but I seem have a personal pet peeve that goes beyond normal reactions. So I was upset, more upset than I should have been, and I set out to fix it.

We talked. As any [honest] parent of a preschooler will admit, that does nothing. So we moved on to the next step and read a nice story about generosity. Also nothing.

Step three. This is where the real magic happened. In a particularly lucid moment, I grabbed a brown paper bag, a paper plate, and two green markers. I handed my daughter the paper plate and markers and told her to color a big, scary, green monster. She did her absolute best. I told her to keep adding details until we both felt it was complete. Then we glued the monstrous head onto the paper bag to make a puppet and we played two games.

The Green Monster Games:

  1. The first was a tickling game. The Green Monster would attack unsuspecting passersby, growling, “I want more!” And the only way to stop him was to name something you were thankful for. So that mean old Green Monster attacked my daughter, nibbling at her ticklish neck and growing for “More! More!” until my daughter shouted out, “I’m thankful for my dress!” And with a whine, he melted away like the wicked witch of the west.
  2. The second was reading game. We have a book of Aesop’s Fables, so we pulled it out and found the story about the goose that laid golden eggs. In short: a poor couple discovers their goose lays golden eggs and they soon become quite wealthy. But they always want more. Eventually, they cut into that goose to get all the gold at once, only to find it’s a plain goose on the inside. Throughout the story, I had my daughter hold the puppet, and any time she heard a phrase like “I want…” or “I wish…”, she was to attack the book (or me) with her puppet.

Honestly, with fun and giggles, it worked magic. She even started to think wanting or wishing was bad, so we had to backtrack a bit and tell her it was alright to want something, but we needed to stay grateful for what we have. The Green Monster got such a workout that the paper bag died before long. But since then, when she starts to catch a case of Gimmes again, we are usually able to offer a quiet reminder that “it sounds like you have the Green Monster,” and she tends to calm down.

Going into the holiday season, when they are given so much, many children begin to get the idea that they can have anything and everything they ever wanted. As Joshua Becker beautifully explains on Becoming Minimalist, “You allow them to keep looking for happiness in the next toy, the next game, the next purchase… Maybe if they were required to find happiness in the toys they already have, they just might find it.” (Quote changed slightly from “he” to “they” because hello, girl mom here.) It’s also part of the Diderot Effect. The more we have, the more we want.

So as we wrestle against the tyrants of consumerism and marketing to keep our Christmas sane and sweet, we’re probably going to need a new Green Monster to have on hand. And in the meantime, we’re focusing our November on two immune-building activities: Thanks and Giving (not just giving thanks). We’ve cleared out toys to give to others and we’re filling in our Thankful Tree every evening at dinnertime. It’s been a sweet month and I see my children growing, but I know they (and I) will continue to wrestle against the Gimmes throughout life. It’s only natural. I’ve realized my original anger at the problem was unjustified—she had simply caught a bug that we all catch from time to time. But I want to do everything I can to help my children grow a healthy immune system. Because hey, I need it too.