Category Archives: Personal

Sitting At the Cool Kids’ Table

For authors, finding community is vital to success.

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It’s a strange business. Most of the time, writers sit alone in a room and make things up. We need to be perfectly fine with doing this for hours every day, for days on end. Then, when it comes time to sell what we’ve written, or talk to readers, or…you know…go to the grocery store, we’re expected to suddenly be at home in the world. And for most of us, being at home in the world is hard.

We have to go to dinner with our in-laws and talk about spaghetti recipes and why they like French wine and why neighborhood garbage pick-up was delayed this week. We have to talk about the weather with the dry cleaner. We have to go to parent’s night at school and make small talk and fit in and don’t make it weird.

Writers need friends. And we really, really need friends who share our quirks.

So I’ve spent most of my adult life hanging out with other writers. I met them in college or at conferences or online. I’ve had coffee and lunches, attended write-ins and retreats. It wasn’t easy to form these connections. An introvert befriending other introverts can be a slow, awkward process. But it’s so, so worth it.

Twice a week, I meet a friend for a quiet writing date. I also attend a weekly critique group, and have breakfast with my co-author every Sunday. I have monthly lunches with friends who feel like family.

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That’s a lot of social interaction for a writer, but I don’t just like these groups. I need them. My writing buddy understands the daily grind. My critique group helps me pursue excellence. I bounce ideas off my co-author at Sunday breakfast and get marketing advice from my lunch group.

Without these friendships, I don’t know if I’d even call myself a writer. By sharing our troubles and triumphs, we’re reinforcing that identity. I look at my critique group or my friends or my writing partner and I see myself reflected clearly. We’re all doing this thing, and this is a good thing to do.

A writer alone is an oddity. A group of writers? That’s called the cool kids’ table.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She has the best friends anyone could ask for.

 

Do You Shovelglove?

Could this be the perfect workout for writers?

Some people love going to the gym. I am not one of those people. The gym seems like hell to me, mainly because I’m not doing anything. Picking up a heavy object and putting it down again or running in place on a treadmill just feels pointless. And if something doesn’t have a purpose, I won’t do it.

So I don’t exercise. Ever. Instead, I move my body. I do activities. I go places. I play.

I have one of these instead of a desk.

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I walk to the library or the bank or the post office. Anything within two miles of my house is considered walking distance and most things I need are in that zone. Shoveling snow or weeding the garden gives me the satisfaction of a job well done.

And then I discovered shovelgloving. It changed everything. I’m actually doing weight training and I like it.

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Shovelgloving is when you take an old sledgehammer, (the shovel) and wrap an old sweater around it (the glove) and use that tool to perform the kinds of moves you’d use in everyday life. You bend and twist as if you’re shoveling snow or lifting boxes or chopping wood.

It’s functional fitness, meaning that you’re building the muscles you’ll need for life, not to achieve some kind of idealized gym body. Maybe I won’t be the cutest zombie killer in the coming age, but I’ll be the most badass.

I kid, I kid. But only a little. Because while shovelgloving is extremely practical, it’s also fun. To me, it’s the ultimate roleplay. The originator of shovelgloving encourages this, although he thinks you should pretend to do very boring things like pitching hay or stoking a fire.

But if you’re going to swing a ridiculous sweater-covered sledgehammer around, why not have fun with it? When I move this way, I’m smiting orcs. When I move that way, I’m canoeing down a mighty river. When I’m shovelgloving, I’m pulling the rope that will ring the cathedral bells or digging my way to freedom or lighting the top of the bonfire.

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I’m a practical gal, but I’m also a writer with a vibrant imagination. I never want to exercise. I just want to move around and tell myself stories. Shovelgloving is the perfect activity.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think there might be some monsters in my basement. Or maybe some buried treasure I need to dig up. Who knows what might be down there? But I’ve got a sweater-wrapped, eight-pound sledgehammer to take on another epic adventure.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She has never belonged to a gym.

The Ten Best Things About a Michigan Winter

Who needs to go out?

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Most top ten lists about winter are full of stuff like skiing and ice skating and enjoying the snow.

Wrong.

Winter in Michigan is cold and gray and way too long. It’s front-loaded with all the good holidays, leaving a long slog from January to March. I love Michigan and I’ll always live here but everything I like about winter involves staying inside and staying warm. Which is actually pretty great, especially for an introvert. I mean, nobody can expect you to actually go out when the weather is like this, can they?

So here is my list of ten things to love about a Michigan winter.

10. Slippers. Cute, fuzzy, warm. The funny thing about slippers is that they don’t always match your outfit, but they always match your personality. Is it any wonder we northerners love our slippers? And they often go on sale in January, in case you didn’t get a new pair for Christmas.

9. The movies you missed last summer are all on DVD now. In the summer, we’re often too busy enjoying the actual sun to sit in a dark theater. But now, we can ignore all those serious Oscar-bait dramas, stock up on popcorn, and enjoy the blockbuster action flicks without leaving the house.

8. Electric Blankets. Is there anything more inviting than a pre-warmed bed waiting for you to crawl into it?

7. Darkness. Michigan has short winter days and loooong winter nights. For light sleepers who need darkness and quiet, winter is the time to get some rest. A late sunrise means no birds waking you up at five in the morning.

6. Soup. The ultimate comfort food. Chicken noodle, hot and sour, even that weird vegetable soup that’s supposed to help you shed the excess holiday pounds. I don’t know about you, but soup is what gets me through the month of February.

5. Fancy lattes. Nobody wants a hot, milky, sugar-laden coffee in August. Just sayin’.

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4. Baking. Is your house too cold? Bake bread. Have you eaten all the Christmas cookies? Make more. Exhausted from having to put on six layers every time you leave the house? Bake a huge lasagna and you won’t have to cook for days.

3. Sweaters. Sweaters will both hide winter pounds and embrace you in cozy warmth. Never has there been a garment so wonderful. It’s like a blanket you can wear.

2. Feeling like a badass just for driving somewhere. “Yes, I know the drugstore is only half a mile away, but I could have died.”

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1. Cuddling. Whether it’s cuddling people or pets, summertime cuddling just sucks. Ten seconds in and you start sweating all over each other and nobody can breathe. But wintertime? Let me grab my loved ones and not let go.

Hope everyone finds someone they love to cuddle today. Happy winter.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is secretly writing romance novels. She is currently cuddling a puppy.

[center photo: David Wong. Licensed under a Creative Commons attribution generic license]

Every Reader Has a Hard Limit: This is Mine

I refuse to read about realtors.

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Romance heroines tend to have the same cluster of jobs—wedding planners, B&B owners, and bakers. So. Many. Bakers.

I have read dozens of books about bakers and would happily read dozens more. I love to read about sugar and carbs as much as I love to read about kissing, and I’m always rooting for the heroine to find the chocolate-covered happiness she deserves.

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I’ll also read about heroines who are interior designers, housekeepers, dog walkers, and photographers. I’ve never read a novel that starred a mortician or a sewer inspector, but I bet my favorite authors could make it work.

However, there are limits. I will not read about a heroine who is a realtor, nor will I read a novel where a realtor is the heroine’s best friend. This is my hard limit when it comes to books.

Yes, yes. I know. Your realtor was lovely. Your realtor was the best, the smartest, and totally honest. Not like all those other realtors. But those horror stories come from somewhere. You know where they come from? From reality. A 2018 study by Businesswire found that only 11% of people trusted realtors. I’m not at all surprised.

Four years ago, I sold one house and bought another. I’m still scarred by the experience. My realtor found me in a vulnerable spot and she didn’t see a client. She saw a mark. She lied to me. She tried to steer me toward shady bankers. She made up a fake offer on the house I was selling that “fell through” twenty-four hours later. But the ultimate betrayal was when she blocked me from trying to buy a desirable house so that one of her friends could swoop in and buy it first.

I wasn’t going to give her a second chance to screw me over so I started looking for houses on my own. When I told her I’d chosen my new house and was going to make an offer, she was surprised, saying she was “just about to tell me” about this “brand new” listing (which had been on the market for nearly a week). I found out later that one of the other realtors in her firm had his eye on the house, which is why my realtor never told me about it.

So when I’m reading for fun, the last thing I want to read about is a realtor—unless she’s the villain and suffers a terrible fate. The pleasure of reading novels is identifying with the heroine and I will never, ever be able to identify with someone who lies for a living.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go into the perfect kitchen of my perfect house to bake a chocolate tart from a recipe I found in a romance novel. Because bakers—fictional and real—have never done me wrong.

About the author: Alex Kourvo has recently switched from writing science fiction short stories and novels to writing romance. She does not trust realtors.

 

Why I Don’t Date

I love being in charge of my own happiness.

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For most of my adult life, I was married—happily at first, and then not. Now that I’ve settled into being single, I want to stay that way forever.

Not because I’ve given up on love, not because I don’t think I’m worthy of it, but because I need time. I need time to read and think and walk. I need time to be completely myself.

Society doesn’t want to grant me that time. Words hover around me. Words like isolated and lonely. Words like worry. My sister asked if I hated eating alone. (Answer: no.) Some friends are shocked when I tell them I’m planning a solo vacation. People ask me point blank when I’m going to start dating again. It’s always a “when,” not an “if.”

Perhaps it’s assumed, since I was married for over twenty years, that marriage is my natural state. What people don’t know is that I was never more lonely than when I was married. Ironically enough, I feel more connected to other people now—my children, my parents, my siblings. I’ve made lots of new friends. I go to more movies, more book readings, more community events. I go to the library and the coffee shop. I eat lunch with my writer buddies. My life is so full of good things I just don’t see a way to fit a man into it.

I choose how much to save and how much to spend. I decide when to do laundry and how late to sleep in on Saturdays. I don’t share a bed or the TV remote. I make my own decisions about big things like what car to drive and small things like how often to have tacos for dinner. (Correct answer: twice a week.)

This is threatening to some people. I’m the source of amusement on good days and naked hostility on bad ones. Our society doesn’t like to see a woman in charge of herself. Who am I to drink an entire key lime milkshake and call it dinner? To buy jewelry I chose myself? How dare I spoil myself in any way?

20180127_180014Sometimes other words hover around me. Words like bitter and frigid. What can I say, except I don’t hate men, I find a lot of them quite sexy, and I’m still not going to date anyone. Ever.

The world keeps telling me, over and over, in big ways and small, that I should be paired up, or at least striving to be. But I refuse. I’m never again going to live on the edge of someone else’s life.

I’d rather live at the center of my own.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes science fiction short stories and novels. She is happy in her own company.

 

The Right Color

The color pink makes me happy.

I have a pink toothbrush. I also have a pink kindle cover and a pink backpack and pink earbuds and scissors. My water bottle is pink. My stapler is pink. My calendar and all my notebooks are pink.

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I don’t wear pink clothes or sit on a pink couch or live in a pink house or anything like that. I don’t live in a cartoon Hello Kitty paradise. But all the small, personal items I touch on a daily basis are some shade of pink, from rose gold right through bubblegum to screaming neon. Why? Because it makes me happy.

The color pink has a joyful vibe full of optimism. It’s a feminine color that always looks fresh. And studies have shown that a soft shade of pink can have a calming effect. To me, pink just looks right. Like, if it’s not pink, it’s the wrong color. I’m always shocked when I see someone walk up to a display of flowers and pick an orange and yellow bouquet to take home. Why would someone do that when there are pink bouquets right there? What is wrong with those people?

Which brings me to this lady.

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I hate Dolores Umbridge for all the same reasons you do: her petty power plays, her casual cruelty, her bigotry. But it goes deeper with me. How could someone who loves pink as much as I do be so evil? Betrayal! After seeing Umbridge on the big screen, I stopped wearing pink so much. Now, most of my clothes are black or navy.

But even she couldn’t ruin pink completely. I still love pink for literally everything else. Once, I was talking to my friend Bronwyn about how delighted I was to find a snap-on shell that made my computer pink.

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Bronwyn said she’d like to get one of those for her computer, but she didn’t know what color to get. I blinked at her in silence. Blinked again, waiting for my brain to catch up. I heard the words she was saying, but I couldn’t get them to make sense in my head. Because for me, there was never a choice of what color computer shell to get. I never make a choice about the color of anything I buy. If it comes in pink, that’s the one I want.

And if it doesn’t come in pink, it’s the wrong color.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She writes them on a pink computer.

My Neighbor Mister Rogers

 

He was the best at being human.

As I watched today’s Google doodle, I cried happy tears remembering good things from childhood, sad tears that one of my heroes is no longer with us, and even sadder tears thinking how much the world of 2018 needs his voice.

I remember once—I must have been about four—when we were running late for preschool and my mom was super busy. I don’t remember why we were late, maybe one of my siblings was sick or something. But my mom, frazzled, handed me my clothes in the morning and told me I could get dressed while watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

I dressed behind the couch so Mister Rogers wouldn’t see my underwear.

That’s how real he was to me. His calm, measured voice, and the way he looked at the camera, made me certain he was talking just to me. So of course, I assumed he could see me too.

Have you seen the documentary about Mister Rogers?

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I sobbed my way through that one too, along with the rest of the audience. It turns out that the Mister Rogers we saw every day on television really was the same in real life. He was the best of us. He was the human we all aspire to be—kind, understanding, smart, playful, and seemingly without ego. And he could play piano too.

Along with that intense hit of nostalgia right to my heart, Won’t You Be my Neighbor made me think. What would Mister Rogers say if he was alive today? What would he say about the Nazi rally in Charlottesville? About the shootings in Orlando, in Las Vegas, in Parkland? About refugee children taken from their parents and locked in cages?

Even in the hardest of times, Mister Rogers seemed to know the right words to comfort children—and adults, too. His “look for the helpers” quote got a lot of us through 9/11 and it seems to pop up on social media whenever there’s a tragedy.

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I don’t know what Mister Rogers would say about our current world. But I know he would say it with kindness and empathy. He would teach us lessons about living in harmony with other people. He would acknowledge how important our emotions are. And he would never, ever let us forget that he liked us, just the way we are.

If you need me today, I’ll be watching some old episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on Netflix. You’ll probably find me behind the couch.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She’s trying to be a better human.

Taking a Productivity Break

This is my week to write.

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I need a break. Lately, I’ve had too much internet, too much political news, too many interruptions, too much time in the kitchen and the laundry room and the car. Too much of trying to fit writing into the edges of my life. I’m craving long, uninterrupted hours to be creative. Forget chocolates and flowers and diamonds—a writer girl’s best friend is a quiet room with the day stretching out in front of her.

So I’m taking a week away. Not away from my house—I’m staying right here. But I’m taking a week away from the world. For the next seven days, I won’t socialize or do housework. I won’t read books or the news or the internet. I’ve put an autoresponder on my email and I won’t answer the phone unless it’s my mom calling.

My kids will be gone this week, so I’ll be home alone. I can wake up when I want, eat when I want, and go to bed when I want. I’ll let the crazy news cycle roll on without me for a few days.

I’m just going to write. I have a half-finished manuscript I set aside a few months ago and I’m aching to get back to it. I miss it the way you’d miss an absent lover. I want to lavish it with attention, get to know all its secrets, and write every page until I’m completely satisfied. I want to have my way with this book, and I don’t want to do it on the margins of my life. I want to give this book my full attention.

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I’ve been trying to find a name for this week. It’s not a staycation, because that implies leisure. The words retreat and sabbatical make me think of relaxed study. A friend suggested unworkshop, which I like a lot but it still doesn’t quite fit.

Then I thought of the words “Productivity Break.” It’s an oxymoron. It’s also perfect. I’m taking a break from the world to be more productive.

See you on the other side.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. Sometimes she needs a week on her own to get that done.

[Photos: Bitstrips/Snap Inc.]

Where Would We Be Without RBG?

So much of where we are today is because of where she was in the 1970s.

On Mother’s Day, we went to see the movie “RBG.” It seems that everyone else in Ann Arbor had the same idea, because the theater was sold out and every seat was full. RBG is a hit. It broke into the top 10 for the weekend, which is almost impossible for a documentary to do, especially when it’s showing on limited screens. But, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself, this film is small and unassuming and also amazingly powerful.

Me standing in front of the RBG movie poster

I knew Ginsburg was awesome. I’d seen the memes about the “Notorious RBG” and watched the way the internet blew up whenever she wrote one of her dissenting opinions. But until I saw the movie, I never knew quite how awesome she was.

As the movie showed her early life, I saw many older women in the theater nod knowingly at the details of the sexism Ginsburg endured. She navigated college and law school by keeping her head down and being better than her classmates. She made Law Review in her second year at Harvard while caring for a toddler and a husband with cancer. Just one of those three things would have overwhelmed most of us, but RBG did it all.

Ginsburg spent the 70s and 80s working with the ACLU to fight discrimination. She successfully argued six landmark cases before the Supreme Court, changing the law for everyone. She chose those cases the way she does everything—carefully, systematically, always with one eye on the long-term benefits.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a young lawyer

In the theater, there were several gasps from the younger crowd as a list of laws rolled by on the screen—laws that explicitly discriminated against women. It felt like the best history lesson ever as we watched Ginsburg’s work help overturn them one by one. But this is history that is still alive, still with us, still working for our benefit today. Thanks to one remarkable woman, women everywhere can almost take our rights for granted…. Almost.

We still need Ruth Bader Ginsburg and people like her. We’re grateful she’s still alive, still working for us, still notorious as ever. Which is probably why that packed theater burst into applause when the movie ended.

“RGB” has been rolled out into even more theaters this weekend, but who knows how long it will be showing? You should go see it while you can.

And you should bring your mom.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels and has recently started wearing “Notorious RBG” t-shirts.

Can I Have a Hug?

I wish I could have one every day.

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I’m the single mom of teenagers. I don’t get a lot of hugs. My oldest is away at college and my youngest is a busy high school student. They’ll both hug me, but only if I ask. And they kind of think I need a reason, otherwise it’s weird.

I guess we all think we need a reason to hug someone. Usually the reason is that you’re romantically involved. Hugs are reserved for those special few people in our lives, and to hug someone too much—especially someone of the opposite sex—sends the wrong message.

But here’s the only message I want to send: I like you. You’re my friend. You’re worthy of love. I’m here for you. Life is a good and your fellow humans care about you.

That’s the message I want to get, too.

Hugs are important. A warm embrace signals the body to release oxytocin and other chemicals, elevating our moods and contributing to a sense of safety and connection. Hugs calm us down, lower our stress, and might even prevent us from getting sick.

But I don’t want to wait until I’m sad or stressed out. I don’t want to wait until I need a hug. I want preventive maintenance hugs. I don’t need a tight squeeze or a clutch that goes on for days. Just a real, genuine hug. (Not that “London Bridge” thing where your upper arms are in it but your body is not.)

Science has shown that a three-second embrace is optimal for humans. A hug is a tiny, tiny shared moment. It has no agenda. It doesn’t ask anything of you except that you be present for three seconds.

Among my friends, I’m most often the person who initiates the hug. I usually get away with shouting, “Give me a hug!” as we say hello and goodbye. So far, no one has said no, but it’s not like I’ve given them a choice. And I’m also aware that our culture lets women do that, but not men. So I’m trying to be less greedy about the whole thing, to ask for hugs rather than demand them.

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One time, in a park, I saw someone with one of those “free hugs” signs so I threw my bag on the ground to catapult myself into his arms. It was kind of weird to hug a complete stranger.

It was also the best three seconds of my day.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She’s currently hugging a puppy.

[photos: Brad Fults, cs.belgium. Licensed under a Creative Commons attribution  generic license]