Random Acts of Kindness – the joy of mate-ship, and who has your back?

cat and butterfly

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Random acts of kindness are an inspiration. They mean that someone has our back. I read this in an article written a couple of years ago entitled Who is on your Team by Alison Winn Scotch and then the other day Thrive Global were asking for pieces to do with just this subject. I was a little slow replying to them so missed my opportunity but this is a topic I often think about.

Acts, random acts of kindness have a profound effect on the recipient and this in turn reaches out and affects others. It is a paying it forward domino effect. When we take on a new enterprise, we need support from those familiar and dear to us. It is the boost to the courage needed to seek support from outside. Outside support determines the success level of a business, any business including writing. People are busy. We all know and accept this, but support is such an easy thing to give. Whenever I feel myself thinking less generously with my time, I remember a humbling experience I had years ago while travelling in Italy which I would love to share with you. The particular act of kindness was most random, and most unexpected as it came from a complete stranger.

One of the most stunning places I’ve had the privilege of visiting is the Isle of Capri, and its famous Blue Grotto, or Grotta Azzurra, a sea cave hosting a spectacular phenomenon that only happens if fortunate allows, eighty days of the year. You need to know I am afraid of deep water. However, I took the coach to the marina along with others on my tour, and duly hopped on the ferry only to discover that to fully appreciate the grotto I needed to get into a tiny rowboat in the middle of the ocean. No. Absolutely not.

blue grotto

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In case you are not familiar with the cavern I should explain that it has a narrow entrance that is also limited in height (dependence on tide). The procedure is simple. As one rowboat goes in another comes out. Upon reaching the entry the boatman grabs hold of a rope attached at the top of the opening, tugs downwards, and uses the rope as leverage to lower himself on top of the rowboat passengers who have been told to lie flat as the boat enters the rock.  The procedure is reversed upon leaving the cave. Once inside the boats follow one another slowly, giving visitors the time to fully appreciate the splendor unfolding.

Limited Space!!! Limited Height!!! Dark hole!!! No way!!!

My observations were made from the ferry deck. I’m Italian and we have very expressive faces. Oblivious to anything except my fear (leading to incredible panic) I failed to realise I was being closely observed by a male fellow passenger, and he was frowning, frowning heavily. We had a queue going on the ferry to board the steady stream of rowboats. I kept moving to the back of the line, hoping to eventually avoid the experience without anyone noticing.

The gentlemen disagreed, strode up to me, got in my face and told me to get in the boat. You can imagine my initial reaction to this total and obnoxious stranger.  I ignored him; he refused to ignore my ignoring.  Very nicely he told me again to get in the boat. I again, ignored him. He repeated his directions. Taken by surprise I turned into a gaping goldfish, then recovered enough to shake my head with passion (a lot of it). He repeated the instructions. I shook my head again, noting an Australian accent and a hand on his arm belonging to a female telling him to mind his own business, and four children chortling. Braver, I added a louder no. Who the hell was this man?

By now everyone on board had become aware of the situation and were laughing, and I might add, they were also on his side nodding in agreement. Apparently, there was no need to translate. His message was clear, and he had no intention of easing up on me. I was stubborn and he was determined.  Finally, totally exasperated, he said:

“Get in the f..king boat. I refuse to stand here and watch you miss an experience of a lifetime.  I can’t, and will not let that happen. So, get in that God damn f..king boat now.”

His poor wife tried hard to get him to control his language; his children laughed in delight. Though embarrassed something inside me recognised the moment as much more than the obvious, a person bent on interfering in someone else’s life. The word bully had not entered my mind despite his manner. Underneath my fears I recognised the sincerity in this man who hailed from Perth, Western Australian. I recognised the offer of mate-ship, the one nudging at the corners of my mind. That nudge overrode the yelling and swear words. His wife, his children and the passengers, including those that had already been inside the cave knew it, and so did I. This was a good man.

Small openings 1I did get in the boat, and once inside the cave I called him every name under the sun. I didn’t know I knew some of the words I used.  I was in a black hole because I had let a total stranger dictate to me. The weight of the boatman lifted; I sat up and nervously looked around. A ray of sunlight blinded, bedazzled. My eyes adjusted, the tempo of my heart slowed to enjoy the iridescent shaft hit the water, continue down to reveal the wonders of a deep dark sea, a sea whispering that magic exists, if we take the time to find it.

To this day I remember every moment of that experience, I remember every shade and hue that the sky, the cavern and water gifted me and I remember a man who was on my team, a man I would never meet again but would hold dear for the rest of my life.  A random act, and yet that moment drifts to the surface constantly and reminds me to think outside myself. Recent research shows happiness and success rises when we perform these acts. Sometimes I forget the lesson on generosity but mostly I remember and it impacts on my actions.

What about you? What do you think and do you have a story to tell? You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine.

Alla prossima (till next time)

Barb

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Cartoons to Romance, let’s look at art

Been giving a lot of thought to keeping the blog fresh and the one thing I keep coming back to is the people I meet in this career I have embarked on. I am a great believer in paying it forward and the people I meet every day encourage me to do just that and thankfully the blog allows me the space. Last month my focus was Australian author Jill Staunton and her wonderful book Reiver’s Moon and this month I want to introduce you to my cover artist, Christopher Brunton.

Pic 6Chris is a graphic artist and illustrator with nearly 30 years print media and advertising experience. He was formerly the Art Director for North Queensland Newspapers, but decided he was ready to branch out into freelancing, and here it is seven years later. Chris enjoys the fact that working for himself has offered an opportunity for a wider creative challenge. Although he is my cover artist Chris also does many other different things including some wonderful work with cartoons.

Chris original finish 1

I know through my own experience with him that he goes with the client need but doesn’t hesitate to offer input. I asked for something pretty for my poetry books and he provided exactly what I asked for. I wanted something soft on the eye because my poetry deals with life issues, and the things around us and I felt I needed to reflect this.

Chris original finish green 1 AmazonI loved the fact that he understood and gave my covers that softness I wanted.  At the end of the day you want someone that listens to you. Cover art is a partnership, any form of art is a partnership between the artist and the client.  I was so nervous, and it turned out I had no need to be.

When I made the decision to self-publish I felt I was taking a leap off a cliff; and trust me I am no bungee jumper. My son did give it a try, but I don’t want to think about that. Anyway, I had to make some decisions involving what I could do myself and what I couldn’t. The cover was the hardest thing to decide on, and I made a few mistakes trying to get my head around things. Finding Chris has made the process so easy. I tell him my ideas, he throws things back at me, and then it comes together.  All my eBook covers have been a very smooth experience.

unnamed (2)Later, working on a print copy of the cover for my romance novel we managed to encounter a few problems and he was amazing. So much had to go backwards, and forwards because of a glitch in the system (the actual self-publishing) and I just wanted to give up. He didn’t, and we got it done. I felt supported and writers need this as we are an emotional mess at times about our work. Putting pen to paper is such a personal thing and having someone listen about our work makes such a difference.

Chris has two passions, the gym and working with people to create artwork that makes them happy. The interesting thing is I have never met Chris and all our work together has been online, and the fact the process worked so well says a lot about his attitude to life and his profession. I am so happy to be able to feature both his online illustration portfolio, and his graphic art portfolio. They demonstrate his versatility (see the cover below).

Pic 1

I have provided links below for other samples of work. I hope you take the time to peruse them.

Online illustration portfolio:  www.cjbrunton.wix.com/brunton-illustration

Online graphic art portfolio:  www.cjbrunton.wix.com/brunton-graphics

Till next time,

Barb

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Paying it forward is not always easy

butterfly-shoulder-tattoo-croppedDo you ever get fixated on something? For me there are two things, butterflies and the whole idea of paying it forward. These two items are a song in my head, a tune that haunts me, delights me and often astounds me. The music can also disappoint the hell out of me but then that’s life.

Let’s take butterflies.  They are beautiful, fragile creatures with a short life span. Yet within that short period of time they change from something ordinary to something quite extraordinary.  My love affair with butterflies began with a television series I can’t remember the name of about a city with eight million stories to tell. There is only one place in the world where that might apply – New York. And, as we were living there at the time I think the show may have been The Naked City. I googled and it is the only one that fits. What would we do without Google?

New York was the first time I saw snow. It was a place where in winter children wore hoods where only the eyes and mouth were visible, wore gloves and beanies to cover the other two extremities, and thus the colour of skin was rendered irrelevant. New York was Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn where the smells of foods from all over the world blended, and co-existed before the word multi-cultural existed.

I remember that in the series the main detective’s wife could neither speak nor hear; an unusual casting for the era where inclusion was a word yet to be invented. He was investigating a murder that involved a tattoo parlour, something which the detective explained to his wife via sign language. At the end of the show the wife surprises him with a butterfly tattoo on her shoulder. A few years later Goldie Hawn starred in a movie where butterflies represented freedom. I recalled this too when at age 40 I walked into a tattoo parlour and asked for a butterfly.

My mother threw her hands in the air (she was Italian) and be-moaned the fact before the event – that people would talk and I would be considered a fallen woman.  I am still waiting as it may have lent a certain excitement to my life it lacks. I have time I guess.

I have never been sorry, the butterflies roam around my books and give Lia reason to remember her mother, and a butterfly sits on and will continue to sit on the front cover of my first and last book in The Unexpected Series. This is by virtue of Chris Brunton, my very talented artist (he has two links which I have provided) who understood I needed this and was very creative with it.

Why do we fixate on particular points or things? I don’t know but the same thing occurred when I watched the film Paying it Forward. The whole premise fascinated me and still does.  It too has a kind of fragile beauty that makes people afraid to reach out and be a part of the world it represents. Can something good be frightening? Yet if we all paid forward imagine what would return to us in bucket loads. With authors, paying it forward comes in the form of support for other writers, and for their readers.

By re-tweeting their tweets, liking them on Facebook, reading their books and reviewing them, writers help other writers stay buoyant in a competitive world. Writers support their readers by trying incredibly hard to improve on what they do. Readers support by reading and reviewing and recommending, and if we are lucky, by following us. It’s a cycle and a beautiful one when it flows. I love being a reader as much as being a writer especially when I come across books that I enjoy.  Shifter's Magic

I have another two this post, both rural and both full of warmth, family feeling, romance and naughty behaviours that people indulge in when they find the one they truly love. I have no hesitation recommending them and have provided links. The first, Shifter’s Magic, had such a lovely flow of feeling. I wanted to live in that community.  The second Finding Home was tender and sweet and full of nice people.  I wanted to live there as well. These two books were very different but both had people paying it forward in their own distinct fashion.

Finding HomeIn life strangely enough paying it forward is pretty much the same. We support our families and friends, the people around us, and we teach our young to be generous, helpful and loving, and they spread the word and teach their young the same.  My one-year-old grandson can already blow me kisses. It isn’t hard to be a community yet somehow we make it so by being too busy with our own thing, our own lives. We fixate on that rather than finding butterflies. I think I would rather the butterflies, lots and lots of them.

What do you find fascinating and how does it impact on you and your world? I’d love to know.

Alla prossima

Barb

butterfly-earringsI was going through some of my earlier blogs from a previous website, and came across one I had written about paying it forward.  It seemed apt considering the last few months.  Having published my novel, I knew it would be a slow process to get readers and reviews.  Let’s face facts. The competition out there is fierce.  To stand a chance you need the support of family, friends and peers and you need hope the rest will come.  However, people are busy with their own lives and don’t always understand what their writer friend needs in order to get out of the starting gate. And peers are busy with their own work. I had factored that into my planning. It turns out I had factored it in at an intellectual level but not an emotional one.

Writers invest so much of themselves in what they do.  Unfortunately when results are slow, doubt about their work and their ability to do it well, rears its very ugly head. It’s normal to react this way but it is also hard to move past feeling this way, particularly since it could be that our work isn’t all it is supposed to be.  As an author you live with that fear on a daily basis, and the emotional repercussions undermine everything you do.  And, it’s not just writers. Whatever decision or choices we make in life can cause us to doubt.  The trick to it is the way we handle things so we can continue and not give up.

My inspiration for handling what comes my way is to remember the film Paying it Forward.  I fell in love with its concept, and I find in these moments when my hold on confidence becomes shaky that the idea of paying it forward takes me away from the self and back into the real world.  It works like this. An individual does something nice for three people.  These three people individually do something nice for three other people, and so it continues until thousands are reached.  What you choose to do for these people is up to you but it has to be something good.

What a wonderful thing life would be if it were that easy.  It’s not though.  Humans have a habit of complicating their own lives, our lives.  We seem to do things for a purpose that suits us rather than doing it for the sake of doing it and giving pleasure or hope. I think when I started writing my novel I subconsciously created ‘broken people’ because I wanted to show what a difference it makes when we pay it forward.  It is Lia’s gentle nature that wins Nico over and not the chemistry between them.  Lia knows how to stand up for herself.  She is strong and determined but she is a giver, and I have surrounded her with difficult people because I think it displays the power that giving holds.

nicoWhen Nico goes to Sydney to bring Lia back he is threatened by the people who love her.  He sees himself as an outsider. It is Lia’s friend Robert who helps Nico understand that what she has paid forward to her friends is extended to him.  They trust her judgement and are willing to take a chance on Nico despite what he did.

“You hurt her.  The only reason I haven’t punched you in that arrogant face, is because you hurt yourself more.” Robert finished washing the coffee cups and wiped his hands on the paper towelling.  He moved closer to the other man and risked a hand on Nico’s shoulder.  “She has us whether she lives here or Italy. You can too, if you let us.”  Nico let the hand sit a little while, before moving away and heading towards the door.

There are so many ways to pay it forward.  You do it by being a willing listener, or by a friendly smile, or simple acts of kindness.  Just recently, a friend sent me some earrings with tiny butterflies all over them. She knows I have been stressed for these last few months and she knows I have an obsessive attachment to butterflies. My cousin sent the most beautiful flowers, and another friend is a willing ear, even though distance makes it hard. Small actions like this strengthen relationships and have moreover, a universal effect.  The receiver of the payment forward is filled with the desire to help others, to pass on the good feeling.

flowers-from-emWith writers, reviews mean so much.  It is the only way we have to take note of the reader’s thoughts.  With bloggers, a like and a comment can make all the difference to their work. It is acknowledging they are reaching you with their words. Reviews and comments are a forward payment that inspires the writer to improve. I personally love reading other people’s work whether it be their books or their blogs or the tidbits of their lives that their social media delivers.  I always review and always comment because I know how much work it entails to put pen to paper. It has been one of the ways I choose to pay it forward in a world that is competitive, and too often heart-breaking. Do I hope to get it back? Of course I do.  I am human but it’s not why I do it.  It’s about paying it forward.

Until next time,

Barb