Coulrophobia – A Fear of Clowns

Coulrophobia is actually a very common phobia.  Over half the people I know suffer from some anxiety when exposed to clowns (this is for you guys!).  However, like most phobias, there’s a reason… Grease paint.

Children and adults alike are adversely affected by clowns. And it’s all because of the make-up worn by clowns.  It does two very important things; it hides the features of the person behind the make-up and it hides the expressions (micro and macro) of the person behind the make-up.

As human beings, we are constantly cataloging the features of the person with whom we are interacting.  Size of nose, complexion, mouth shape, lip size, hair color, distinguishing marks, etc, even though we are unlikely to remember these features at a later date (just ask a handful of eyewitnesses), these are all visual confirmations that we are interacting with an actual person.  The visual confirmation is missing when we are interacting with a clown because their features are distorted by the grease paint and any other adornments (wigs, a fake rubber nose, a flower that squirts water, whatever).  Without these, it is no different than speaking with an automated system (which drives us nuts).

Worse, because we cannot see their features, we cannot discern their intent.  Is their smile real or are they thinking about what we would taste like with barbecue sauce? The micro expressions that help us determine whether the macro expressions are real are missing because of the grease paint.  We’ve all seen fake smiles.  We’ve all seen people literally grin and bear it.  However, we know these expressions are fake by the micro expressions that accompany them.

For the record, this is also the reason children have a tendency to freak out around Santa Clause or people in costumes.

Popular culture has fed off this natural fear.  The demonic It is an excellent example.  Not only do we understand that he is demonic and supernatural, but he preys on children by pretending to be a clown.  Stephen King knew exactly what he was doing when It first appeared as a clown.  Tim Curry just made him even more terrifying by being extremely creepy as the clown.  Also, most Americans born after 1950, equate the evil It with a real life monster; John Wayne Gacy, even if it is a subconscious connection (for the record, Gacy never wore his clown suit to kill, but because most people are naturally weary of clowns, the concept of the Serial Killing Clown is forever etched into our memories thanks to Gacy’s odd desire to entertain children in hospitals).

Of course, there is an upside to this natural weariness.  The reason the newest movie release of Dredd was such a success is because we never see more than Karl Urban’s mouth (except for when he’s patching up his bullet wound and we see his stomach).  In this case, because we are not distracted by his eyes, nose, ears, hair, and whatever, we notice the micro expressions that accompany his mouth.  His constant frown appears real to us and there are a few moments when that scowl slips just a little and we realize that despite the frown, he is approving of his rookie’s assessment.  He comes off as a badass as well as the approving mentor.  However, it is only reversed because his mouth is visible.  Despite the belief that the eyes are the most expressive part of our face, it is in fact, our mouth.  A smile may not touch the eyes, but if it creates just the right minute lines in the corners of the lips, we understand it as a real smile and not a fake one.

Now, this does not mean I will stop posting pictures of creepy clowns on my personal or public Facebook page.  The practice will continue with zealous abandonment, because I do understand the psychology behind it.  It is not meant as a malevolent form of torture, but as a way to remind us that even the mundane can be terrifying.

Sjögren’s, Beverages, & Weight

I have Sjögren’s Syndrome. My white blood cells attack my salivary and lacrimal glands, creating chronic and extreme dry mouth and dry eyes.  In my case, I also suffer from extremely dry skin, which has been attributed to the disease, since no other cause has been found to explain why my skin gets so dry it physically hurts.  It is Primary (not related to any other autoimmune disorders) and probably the result of my PCOS, since PCOS creates a low estrogen environment and high autoantigens which can cause the disease.  On top of this, I take clonazepam daily, a medication known for causing chronic dry mouth.

I’ve tried Biotene and other medications that are supposed to reduce chronic dry mouth.  I have tried Restasis for dry eyes.  None of it has helped.  So, I don’t treat the symptoms and I continue on with life, giving them very little thought.

However, I drink a ton.  When I say this, people think “oh, so you drink about 70 ounces of fluid a day, that’s a lot.”  Um, no… I drink about 100 ounces of fluid a day.  Honestly, it’s a big contributor to my being overweight.  The one time I became dehydrated, I lost fifteen pounds in less than 2 days.  Should some unthinking doctor shove an IV in my arm and start pumping me full of saline solution, it takes less than three hours for my hands to swell so much, that my fingers can’t bend and the skin begins to ache from the stretching… They refer to it as “hyper-hydration syndrome.”

Back to the point.  I do drink a ton of fluid, most of it in the form of soda.  There’s a reason for this: I’m allergic to milk (although, I do love it), fruit juices make me feel sick (my stomach has issues), and water tastes like sucking on dirty pennies.  Tea is just sucking on dirtier pennies.  My other big allergy is to metal.  And having spoken to several people who are allergic to metal, I have discovered that we seem to be hypersensitive to the taste of minerals in water, tea, and coffee.  None of my metal allergy compadres drink these beverages.  It is very hard to drink distilled water, I’ve tried.  Even cold it is a strange taste.  I don’t enjoy milk substitutes (Silk, Goat’s Milk, etc).  So, there isn’t a whole lot left for me to drink.

But if I don’t drink, I pull the skin off my lips when I go to talk, because my mouth is so dry, my lips stick to my teeth like they’ve been super glued.  If I don’t drink, my tongue actually feels like it is swelling and it becomes hard to move it.  If I don’t drink, it feels like my mouth is full of sand and it does have a gritty dryness that is unpleasant at best.

Doing the math is depressing.  Since I drink around 100 ounces of fluid a day (sometimes a lot more), I get about 1500 calories from my drinks alone (even switching to something like V8 Splash, I still get 1000 calories a day from drinks).  That means it doesn’t matter how healthy my diet is, I am getting way too many calories.

And everyone knows the solution: Drink more water, there’s no calories.  So, do this: Reach into your pocket, grab some change, stick it in your mouth, and start drinking water.  Then come back and report how many ounces of water you managed to drink with the change in your mouth.  To me, water even smells like pocket change.  How does one drink something that smells like pocket change, let alone tastes like it?

So, my exercise routine is going to have to include a way to burn that extra 1500 calories a day… Ouch!

Battered Dreams

Featured image

San Marcos, Texas, population 50,000, surrounded by forest preserves and parks seems an unlikely place for a serial killer. Crime rates are low, high school sports dominate the town’s entertainment, and it maintains a small town feel and rules of hospitality.  However, when a local family decides to fill in an abandoned well, they find the grisly remains of five bodies.

Five victims that all died fast and were dumped into the well by an unknown person.  A well that sits on a farm outside of town.  When the victims are identified as local teenagers, it becomes apparent that someone in the town is a predator.  Neighbors grow weary of neighbors.  People search the faces of others in the crowd, trying to get a glimpse and keep the children safe.

The arrival of Aislinn Cain and the SCTU heightens the tension.  Especially since they believe that these five are not the killer’s first victims.  As they begin a search of the area, they make another gruesome discovery; another body dump.  Only these kills bear almost no resemblance to the bodies in the morgue.  They have all been beaten; left bloody, bruised, and broken by their killer.  The teens of San Marcos are being stalked by two hunters.

To complicate the matter, fathers with guns begin patrolling the streets at night. These would be do-gooders are jumpy, desperate, and trigger happy.  The SCTU must stop the killers before an entire generation is wiped out from San Marcos and the body count rises as diligent townspeople try to protect their children.

Politics – A Matter of Division

Politics… Ugh.  It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you stand on, you are going to have very strong opinions and you are going to voice them on social media.

Tonight, a friend of mine posted about bringing charges against Hilary for the email scandal.  I wanted to ask “would you feel the same way if the person had been a Republican?”  The answer would have been “yes,” but they would have been lying.  I know it.  They know it.

Being a historian has taught me a great deal about politics and the political machine that runs countries.  Not just in the US, but everywhere.  Let’s do some comparison…

Did we charge Reagan with treason for Iran Contra?  No, we did not.  Why?  Because the Reagan administration destroyed hundreds of thousands of files during the investigation that might have either cleared Reagan or hurt him.  Hell, we didn’t even impeach him.  We charged Oliver North and gave him a slap on the wrist for selling guns to a government that was hostile to our nation and then diverting the money to Nicaraguan rebels because we were afraid of Communism.

Most historians agree that it was an act of treason, by the US government, that went unpunished.  And it all started when the Iranians took hostages.  So, essentially, we rewarded their bad behavior, shushed up as much of it as possible, and found a scapegoat in North.

If Reagan can do it, why can’t Hilary?  Is it because she’s a woman?  (or is it because we impeached her husband for lewd conduct… another oddity, since his act was far less heinous than the actions of those involved in Iran Contra… and yet, were more severely punished)  Is it because her email is considered more public domain than the White House’s paper files?

Did we hold Schultz responsible for the Islamic jihad car bomb that killed 17 Americans and destroyed the embassy in Beirut in 1983?  No.  It was considered a tragedy.  Then why is Hilary responsible for the Benghazi attack that killed 4 people in Libya?

See the problem?  Democrats like to demonize Republicans.  Republicans like to demonize Democrats.  Each side holds the other’s elected officials to a different standard than their own.

The real question is to what end?  Laura Bush, our former First Lady, had a car accident at 17 that killed a classmate (she was responsible, as it was her that ran a stop sign).  Perhaps we should have banned George Jr. from holding the presidency as a result…  Everyone has skeletons in their closet… EVERYONE.  And if we dig, we find them… And if they hold or want a political office, we smear the hell out of them and then we wonder why nothing gets done… Nothing changes.  It’s because we, the people, are really caught up in all the scandals to the point that our elected officials do not have time to do anything except defend themselves.

Our political machine is broken because the party lines are so entrenched and ingrained that we can’t get past the horrible deeds done by the rivals.  Most Americans cannot even explain exactly why they support a particular party.

And before I get a hundred posts about how I must be a Hilary supporter, let it be known that I am not.  And I don’t care about the reasons why Hilary’s actions are more heinous than Reagan’s or Shultz’s.  I’m sure someone has put five minutes of thought into it and decided that treason is far less heinous a crime than deleting emails and can probably make a somewhat logical argument about it.  I don’t even care that former First Lady Laura Bush had a traffic accident at 17 that resulted in tragedy, I’m sure she felt terrible about it.

What I care about is the finger pointing.  What I care about is the bitching and whining about corruption.  What I care about is how the machine can be repaired.

We, the people, let it happen.  We, the people, buy into it.  We, the people, know more about the personal lives of the Kardashians than about the jobs held by our elected officials.  We, the people, can’t be bothered to take notice when things go right in the political arena, only when it goes wrong and the scent of scandal pulls us away from season 15 of Survivor. We, the people, are the primary source of the problem.  Because We, the people, are essentially spoon-feed idiots unwilling to do even an iota of research before declaring something we heard as fact.

Since I’m hard-pressed to believe that Hilary was selling guns to ISIS or channelling black budget money into funding the training of our next radical enemy, I don’t believe any of her emails were really that important.  Just like I don’t care that Reagan was probably ears deep in the Iran Contra Affair… He did what he thought was best at the time he was president and it was a disaster.  We all have bad days at work and we all have days when those bad days lead to massive fuck-ups.  Shit happens.  If you are a Republican screaming for Hilary’s head, you should be screaming for Reagan’s as well.  If you’re a Democrat defending her, you should be defending Reagan’s legacy as well.  They both had bad days, move on.

A Schedule Change

I’m sorry, I’m going to have to change my publishing schedule for this year.  My year so far has included a computer biting the dust, oral surgery, house shopping (wow, talk about stressful!!!!), and my father having heart problems.  I have become so stressed, I’m sleep walking.  Even my “down time” feels stressful because I feel like I should be writing, but I’m just too tired.

So, Battered Dreams will go on pre-order 1 May and release 1 June.  My next expected books will publish 1 September and 1 December.

Beta-readers will get Battered Dreams on 6 May.

I have a plan in place to get writing done during the summer, should I need to take drastic measures.

Parents

I love both my parents.  I don’t always like both of them very much, but I do love them.  Some 15 years ago, my father had a massive heart attack followed by a quadruple bypass.  At that time, we were informed that he had a congenital heart defect: A) it was backwards B) the aortic valve had too many lobes.  The first wasn’t an issue, the second was.  Too many lobes creates as many problems as underdeveloped lobes and too few lobes, particularly on the aortic valve.  However, until the valve began to fail, there was no reason to fix it.

Five years ago, the valve began to fail and a transplant was done.  They cracked him open, inserted a porcine (pig) valve, turned his heart around and sewed him back up.

In the past few months, a marked change has occurred with my father.  He suddenly aged very rapidly, looking more like a corpse with grey wisps of hair and sagging skin than the robust ne’er-do-well that I knew.  Now, he’s admitted that he is having more heart problems.

But what?  Is the valve failing?  Did turning his heart around do something?  Is there a problem with a different valve?  Is it an infection?  He doesn’t know.  And he isn’t interested in getting the tests done to find out.

So I talked to him today and he agreed to the tests.  Then he warned me, if it required more than a round of antibiotics, he wasn’t interested in fixing it.

As humans, we are never ready for the passing of our parents.  It doesn’t matter if they are yanked from us in the dead of night or slowly wither away, there is no way to prepare.  I’ve seen both sides with my grandparents and both were hard.  Everyone thinks that since you have time to prepare, you get to say good-byes and what-not, but you also get the trial of wondering: will today be the day?  How do I plan my life around that?  Will I be out of town?  Should I even go out of town?

The tests are tomorrow… Here’s to hoping it’s an infection.

Self Publishing – Not For the Faint of Heart

I was recently asked how hard it is to self publish.  It’s really rather easy.  Writing the book is much harder.  But, there are challenges to self-publishing that few people know about… It really isn’t for the faint of heart.  Here’s a list of 10 things you should know:

1.  No matter how good you think you are, people are going to hate your books.  And they are going to make sure you know it.  Most of the time, in the form of bad reviews and sometimes, in posts to Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

2.  Just because you have a good month or two, doesn’t mean you’ve made it.  Two years ago, someone I know released her third romance novel.  They aren’t a series, just stand alone romance novels and she made a little over $2000 that month.  The following month, she made $500.  She hasn’t made more than that $500 any month since, despite releasing three more books.

3.  There’s an editor (or two) to pay.  There’s a cover artist to pay.  There are paperbacks to buy and send out.  There’s formators to pay (or learn to do it yourself).  There’s advertising to be done.  It’s a huge investment for every book.

4.  Chances of getting that investment back in a year (or two or even three) are slim.  You might have a good month (see #2) here and there, but making it to the big money is work and a lot of it.  You’re going to be shelling out a lot more money than you’re making for a long time.

5.  Most people will publish 3 or 4 books and then disappear.  Either the lack of sales or the bad reviews will demotivate them to continue to write.  It wasn’t until I released The Dreams & Reality novel #7, that I really saw an increase in sales.  By then, I had 11 full length novels, 4 novellas, and 1 book of short stories published.  Now that I have released book #8, I am maintaining healthy sales numbers every month, with the help of advertising.  And discovering that I am a fluke.  I recently talked to someone with more published books than me and makes a quarter of what I make in a month, despite comparable prices.

6.  While you need print books, don’t expect to sell a ton of them.  I keep a supply around for book signings, giveaways, handing out to bloggers, and selling to friends/family.  However, 99.9% of sales are ebooks.  Some months, I will sell zero paperbacks, some months, I’ll sell 10.

7.  Being offered a contract, even by a small publishing house is exciting and terrifying.  It also requires a lawyer to read through all the fine print, discussions with yourself and other authors, and some serious pro/con weighing before making a decision.  I get contacted roughly 4 times a year and so far, only one has even made it past the initial email conversation.

8.  You are allowed to hate some aspects of “the job.”  I hate writing jacket copy (blurbs).  I still have to do it and no matter how much you detest whatever it is that you are going to detest, you will still have to do it as well.  Sorry, there isn’t a magic wand to get it done.

9.  Writing is work.  I hate the saying “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day of your life.” It’s complete and utter bullshit.  There are days when writing is the very last thing I want to do.  There are a ton of excuses to help me avoid it.  I live by this rule; If I had a job with a boss, and had to call in to not go to work, would I be calling in today?  Some days, the answer is yes.  I have the flu.  My migraine really is that bad.  Most days, the answer is no, I wouldn’t call in, so I put my fingers to the keys.

10.  Writing is a skill and like all skills, you must be willing to work at it.  I take three or four courses a year on how to make me a better writer.  I talk to other writers. I read books on writing.  I experiment with different things.  If I fail to evolve, my skills will eventually flounder.

Living with Anxiety

At darts last week, I was talking to someone about stat sheets.  I volunteered to be statistician for the season and some sheets were left at the bar to be picked up later and I didn’t pick them up.  So, I was explaining it was better to email or text them because I don’t like to drive.  Like most people, they thought it was weird, which meant explaining I had an anxiety disorder.  They “never would have guessed.”  That’s because I know everyone in league and I’m comfortable in my surroundings, but let me give some examples of what does freak me out.

I don’t like going to new stores by myself.  I don’t know the layout.  I might not be able to find what I need.  They might not have what I need, then I’ll have to go to another store.  I might have to ask a store assistant and I’ll feel stupid when they tell me they are three feet to my left or don’t carry said item.  Yep, that’s enough to give me a panic attack.

I don’t like to pump gas.  Realistically, I know the chances of my starting a fire at the gas pump is slim… But I’m terrified I will.  I follow all the rules at the pump and never take my hand off the gas pump handle, because if I do, I might build up enough static charge to cause an explosion (I do actually have issues with static electricity).

When I drive, I have to check the temperature gauge, often.  I was once in a car that overheated, because the radiator cap exploded off while it was going down the interstate.  I was driving.  Now, I worry about it happening every time I drive.

Every time I get a scalp itch, I am convinced I have a strange skin disease or lice.  This is a problem, because I do have eczema of the scalp and I get hives there when I’m really stressed out, so my head itches a lot.  When I was helping raise my nephews, I kept lice shampoo all the time and used it once a month as a preventative measure.

I check my shoes before I put them on.  There might be things in them… Spiders might have crawled in during the night or worse, a mouse might have had babies in them during the night.  Nothing has ever fallen out of my shoes, but I still check.

As a kid, I once stepped on a slug while barefoot outside.  Now, I won’t go barefoot.  I won’t even wear sandals.  I can still feel the squishy yuck as the slug burst open.  Traumatic.  And things like that stick with me, forever.  Once something bad has happened, I will go out of my way to avoid it happening again.

If I am going to be late, I will just cancel. For example, if I was going to be late to work, I would just call in. It was less embarrassing than being late.  If I am meeting someone and running late, I become so stressed, my scalp breaks out in hives and it’s just easier to call and tell them I can’t make it at all.  (after all, what are they going to think as I scratch the heck out of my itchy scalp and show up late?)

Shoes

What has happened to shoes?  I had to buy new shoes earlier in the week.  Not only do I have to wade through name brands, colors, and leather/canvas, but now I have to think about other materials and designs?  I spend less time figuring out the reason my serial killers kill than I do buying shoes.  Here’s the problems:

Do I buy memory foam insoles?  Regular insoles?  Goga (yoga mat material) insoles?

Do I want a walking shoe?  Running shoe?  Fitness shoe?

Do the different tread patterns really do anything?  If so, do I want the little balls or do I want the ones with the breaks that make it flex?

I bought some Sketchers.  With Goga insoles.  And little balls for tread.  They feel weird.  Like the heels are lower than the toes.  And for some reason, the muscles in the back of my thighs hurt after two days, like I’m wearing reverse high heels.  Are my shoes toning the muscles in the back of my thighs without my knowledge?  (They could use it, don’t get me wrong, but it seems like there should be a warning label – May Remind You That You Have Muscles In The Back Of Your Thighs, Wear Responsibly)

Also, I had to buy them a size too big.  I’m 34, my feet stopped growing a long time ago.  In the past, I’ve bought 6 1/2 or 7 in women’s shoes.  The 7’s are usually boots or dress shoes.  Nope, I had to buy a 7 1/2 in this strange, goga-soled, heel’s are lower, with stretchy shoelaces shoes.  After two days of wearing them, I’m thinking a 7 1/2 wide would probably have been better.  I’ve never needed “wide” shoes.  I have tiny feet (it’s why I’m clumsy), so did the shoemakers of the world decide to resize all their shoes just to screw with people?

Why do we have to make everything so complicated?

Cursed Treasure

King Tut, Montezuma, The Knights Templar, Blackbeard, Oak Island, they all have one thing in common… their treasures are cursed.  Why?  Seriously, who went around cursing all these treasures?  Is there a coven that people with treasure can call upon to lay down the curse?  Also, if they are all cursed, why haven’t we figured out how to uncurse them?

I have yet to read a single article or journal entry that says:  Found cursed treasure, found old crone (or guy with weird, pointy hat) who knew about these things, got it reversed, grabbed treasure, no one died, am now incredibly wealthy.

Nor have I found one like this:  Found treasure, was unsure about grabbing it, but couldn’t find anything that said it was cursed, decided to risk it, brought it home okay, no one died, am now incredibly wealthy.

We mere mortals love to play up the idea of a curse.  The mothers’ curse might be real, which is part of the reason I don’t have children (good grief, I can’t imagine mini-mes running around, arguing amongst themselves about aliens, the reason for the decline of civilization during the middle ages, and the merits behind democratic-socialism).  Everything else is pretty much a matter of belief… If you believe in a curse, you’ll find evidence to support it.

For example, yes people died after opening Tut’s tomb… but it was Egypt in the 1920’s, it would be more surprising if people hadn’t died.  The place is dusty, dirty, people are living in tents, and it’s hot.  There are mosquitoes carrying diseases.  Sand and dirt is blowing around (shaving cuts get infected really easy).  And the Gods only know what sorts of molds, fungi, and spores were trapped inside the tomb.  Plus, the deaths associated with the curse are spread out over dozens of years, during which time lots of people died that had nothing to do with Tut’s tomb.

Also, I’m really curious about how many people know how to accurate attach a curse. Mothers can do it, but only a specific kind and it doesn’t kill you.  So, who else is doing it?  How are they managing to do it?  Is there some kind of psychic curse hotline that people can call when they need a curse?  Where do I get the number?

Ok, done ranting…

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