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Monday
May232016

I Know Nothing

I don't know anything. Maybe if you've read a few of the posts on this blog, you would suspect I felt the exact opposite, but that's the thing about writing blogs... you have to pretend you know what the hell you're talking about. But I don't. Not at all. I know nothing. About anything. And the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know.

But when you think you know something (before you're proven so, so wrong about that), there's this glorious time when you don't know what you don't know. As long as you're ignorant of the depth of your ignorance, you can blissfully go along, thinking you have a clue. This generally immediately precedes a humbling event that sets you straight again. And the cycle continues.

Recently, an acquaintance of mine reached out to me and asked if I'd be willing to meet up with her and talk to her about one of my favorite topics: writing and publishing. After my initial excitement at a) having someone local to gab with about writing and b) catching up with an old friend, the reality of the situation sank in. Uh... this person was going to expect me to know what the heck I'm talking about.

And shouldn't I? After all, I've published thirteen books, and I have two more coming out this year (that's the plan, anyway). Only an idiot wouldn't have the hang of it by now, right? It's a process. You go step-by-step through it until you reach the end. Then you start over again. What could be hard about describing that and sharing what I know?

Well.............................

It went fine, of course. Better than fine. It's always wonderful to talk to someone who "gets" the crazy things you say, like, "When I'm stuck on a scene, I just let the characters do whatever they want to do and see how that works out." It was also nice for a night to act like I've got this whole writing career thing under control. By the end of the evening, I almost believed it! Ha!

I did make sure she realized, though, that everything I was saying was specific to me. Most days. And even then, some days, all bets are off. This prevaricating drove home the fact that like one of my favorite literary characters, I really know nothing.

And I'm beginning to be okay with that.

At first, it was crippling. How am I supposed to do the thing that I want to do if I know nothing about how to do it? I must learn all the things! Remember cramming for high school or college exams? My first couple of years of self-publishing felt like that. Every day. And it was exhausting and overwhelming. So now that I'm a grizzled veteran (ha!), I've accepted that I'll never know it all, nor do I want to. Some of it doesn't apply to me, for one thing. And even the things that I should know and be doing that I don't currently do...? I'm not there yet. And that's okay.

My friend had that wild-eyed, panicked, "How am I ever going to remember all of this?" look about her. She took notes. As fun as it was to talk about everything, I started to get the urge to say condescending things like, "Don't worry about that so much now," or "All in due time..." Ugh. Then, when it was clear she was entering the "information overload" stage, I was tempted to gloss over or omit things to spare her further distress. I didn't want to be the one to make her experience that hopelessness you feel when facing what seems like an impossible task. "Just focus on the writing. Focus on the writing."

But sometimes we go through phases when the writing isn't there. There's nothing to focus on, because the muse has abandoned us. That's when it comes in handy to focus on the other parts of the process. But I'm not good at that part. I'm certainly not qualified to tell someone else what to do in those instances other than, "Keep showing up."

On the surface, it sounds pretty lame, but the only thing I do know is that nothing can happen if you're not even there to make it happen. So you show up and hope for the best. And sometimes... sometimes... amazing things happen.

I guess I know something, after all.

Thursday
Mar312016

The Addiction List

Hello, my name is Brea, and I have an addictive personality. No, I'm not talking about drugs or alcohol. I'm talking about... more shameful things than that. Things like... well, you'll see in a minute, and I'm sure you'll be horrified by a few.

Quitting any of these things wouldn't render me non-functional. If I had to quit them today, I could. (I totally could. I mean... nobody's going to make me, right? But I could.) I just hope to bring awareness to these issues and help someone else suffering with similar problems feel like they're not alone. So... here goes. We'll start small.

  1. Jelly beans. Around Easter, when the jelly beans have been so recently harvested, I eat handfuls for "breakfast" with my first cup of coffee. It's not as disgusting as it should be. And I'm not talking about the gourmet, tiny, delicious kind of jelly beans. I'm talking about the cheap, huge bags of Brach's classic flavors. Those honkin' jelly beans that taste like no fruit in nature and actually leave a waxy coating in your mouth. Those. I keep reminding myself that addiction knows no logic.
  2. British murder mystery shows on Netflix. I'm addicted to Netflix, in general, but who isn't? That obsession is so common nowadays that it wouldn't even make this list by itself. My twist on it may be a tad more unusual. But c'mon! Netflix is baiting me! You should see how many they have on offer! And who knows how long they're going to stay up there, so I have to watch. all. the. shows. now. I'm talking gritty stuff like Ripper Street, but I'm more embarrassingly obsessed with cozier shows like Rosemary & Thyme, Midsomer Murders, Lost in Paradise, and Foyle's War. In fact, I've watched so many of these shows that Netflix is begging me to expand my viewership to American murder mysteries, like Murder She Wrote. But the joke's on them, because I've already seen all of those episodes (and Diagnosis Murder and Father Dowling's Mysteries) when I was a kid and would watch them with my granny. That's right. With my granny. I'm well aware I'm becoming her, and I'm okay with that. Now let's move on; I need to finish this post, so I can watch my stories.
  3. Coffee. Der. Anyone who follows me on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest (please follow me!) knows this. Most days include some mention of the dark, beautiful beverage. I have an entire Pinterest board devoted to it. And people have taken to sending me pins or tagging me in posts about the hot, caffeinated drink. That's cool, though. I don't mind being that person. It doesn't make me unique--lot of people worship the java--so I'm under no illusions that I'm a special bean. I just like making people smile and laugh... at me, mostly.
  4. Football. (American football) Okay, here's another one that's not particularly original, but I'd feel bad if it didn't make the list. Because I love it so much. Specifically, I love my home-state team, the Kansas City Chiefs. Now, you may think this addiction is seasonal, but you'd be wrong. I devour any news I can find of my team in the off-season, too. I'm still not a huge fan of the Draft (boring!), but I'm so starved for football-related news by that time of the year that I do pay a little bit of attention and pretend like I care. Heck, you know you love something when you fake caring about its most boring aspects. Anyway, in addition to the obvious Pinterest board that pays homage to my love for the sport and my team, I am in the middle of writing a series of books about it. Out of My League, the first book in my Underdog Trilogy, released last fall, and I plan to release another one this year, around the same time (October-ish). And....... that's my plug.
  5. Coloring. Please stop rolling your eyes. It's fun. If you'd stop being so disdainful of anything trendy and would actually try it, you might see how relaxing it is. I particularly like to color at the end of a long day while watching British murder mysteries. Yes, my life is as thrilling as your un-wildest dreams.

    Don't look too closely. Sometimes I color outside of the lines. I'm a rebel that way.
    [Warning: if you're squeamish, skip this next one.]
  6. Gross videos of pimple-popping. Okay, I know this is disgusting, but it's not as unusual as you might think. Most people just aren't as willing as I am to admit it. And no, I don't go seeking out these videos, but because I've watched a few, they do tend to pop (hahahaha) up in my newsfeed on Facebook. Facebook understands me. Also, this is one of those sick fascinations (duh), like gawking as you drive by a car accident. I don't want to want to click that link, but... I do want to click it, so I almost always do. And I almost always regret it. There's something satisfying, though, about it. I'm not going to go into any more detail than I already have, because I get that not everyone will understand, but since there's an entire YouTube channel devoted to this, I know I'm not alone in being morbidly enthralled with this. I just thought you should know what a sick person you're dealing with here. Don't mess with me. (Also, please don't send me a bunch of links to videos like this. I won't be able to resist watching them, and I'll become that weird pimple-popping-watching lady who doesn't have time for anything else. I might lose a lot of weight, though.)
  7. Creepy, abandoned places. Another morbid fascination of mine, shared by many. I'm particularly interested in shopping malls, amusement parks, schools, ghost towns, and athletic venues. You know, places that were once so teeming with humanity now just utterly... vacant. When I look at pictures of places like this, I get this strange, hollow yearning, a wistfulness for a place and time I've never been. The Germans have a word for that (of course): Fernweh (n.)  “farsickness”; being homesick for a place you’ve never been. If you've never experienced it, you're probably thinking it doesn't sound very pleasant, and you might not understand why I would subject myself to such an emotion, but it's not altogether unpleasant. It stirs in me a curiosity, akin to when I people-watch and wonder what their lives are like. It's edifying.
  8. Hummus. It's so darn good. And it's relatively good for you, especially if you eat it with raw veggies, like I tend to do. My faves are broccoli, baby carrots, and celery. Not recommended snacking, however, while watching the videos described above in #6. Just sayin'.
  9. TED Talks. I love to learn. And I love to think. If you feel the same way, TED Talks are for you. Heck, you probably already know about them. I particularly like the ones about psychology (duh) and human motivation. Fascinating stuff!
  10. Illustrations about everyday life/adulthood. I've shared a few of these on Facebook, and I even linked to one in a previous blog. I guess these take me back to a time when one of the best parts of the weekend was reading the comics, even though I was too young to understand half of the things in Doonesbury or Cathy... or even Garfield. Now, talented folks are sharing their illustrations daily, depicting aspects of relationships, parenthood, and general life that are charmingly relatable. My favorite is Hedger Humor, by Adrienne Hedger, but I also love anything by Sarah Andersen, Allie Brosh, and Korean illustrator, Puuung. Makes me wish I could draw, not just color.

After seeing all of this in writing, it's no longer a mystery why my six-year-old can't stop watching videos of Frozen's Elsa singing "Let It Go" or how he can eat the same thing for dinner every single night (if we'd let him) or talk about tsunamis and other natrual disasters (acid rain is a new, delightful favorite). He may not have the same obsessions as me (thank goodness), but he definitely has that obsessive personality. Great. I wish him a lot of luck with that.

Now it's your turn to confess. What are some of your favorite interests/obsessions/addictions? Comment below (and have fun)!

 

Wednesday
Mar302016

To Err is Human

Typos. Gosh, how I hate them! Don't you? They plague us in emails, on social media, in text messages, in blog posts... and in novels. Inevitably, something you write that someone else can see and judge will fall victim to the rogue punctuation mark, homophone, transposed pair of letters, etc. What's the old adage? "I do my best proofreading after I hit 'send'"? Yep. That's about right.

Some people can shrug off their mistakes as a product of human nature and life. Others of us internalize every error as if each boo-boo serves to prove we're mud-sucking, incompetent hacks. (Or is that just me?) Maybe because I'm so self-critical, I've also been known to be critical of typos in others' writing. Heck, catch me on a bad day, and I'll go off on a poorly-edited social medial post. Let's face it: pointing out typos makes us feel superior. "Ah-ha! I saw something the professionals didn't! Ergo, that means I'm a better writer than this person." But does it really work that way? Of course not. And it definitely doesn't mean that person was too cheap, lazy, smug, and/or apathetic (or all of the above) to have someone else look at her book before she published it. You know, like some kind of no-talent INDIE.

What does it mean to be an Indie? To me, it's simply someone who publishes her books independently of an agent or publishing company. The book still goes through all of the quality assurance steps (which I'm not going to go into here, because BORING!) before launching to the public, but I am in control of that process (i.e., I have to make sure it gets done). To the elitist establishment, it means an unvetted writer pens a book (or article or whatever), sort of edits it, sort of proofreads it, sloppily formats it, slaps a homemade cover on it, and publishes it. Nobody else reads the work before it goes public (except, maybe, the author's mom). Nobody examines it to make sure it's "good enough." The Indie author doesn't consult anyone else about what she's written, because FREE SPEECH! Or whatever.

[Excuse me for a second while I go into the other room and scream into a pillow.]

Okay, I'm back. 

Time for a list of home truths, y'all!

  1. I've found errors in every one of my books after they've been published (embarrassing, but true).
  2. I've found errors in every single published book I've ever read. Ever. Regardless of author or publishing method.
  3. Just because something was independently published doesn't mean it wasn't painstakingly edited and proofread.
  4. People edit and proofread books, and people are fallible.

I read an award-winning book recently that I absolutely adored and will be gushing about until my dying day, probably (I'm sorry if you know me personally). It was published by a mid-sized publisher. It contained typos and grammatical errors. Not a lot, but a few. A couple of weeks before that, I read a book by no less than one of the godmothers of chick lit, published by a HUGE house. It had typos and grammatical errors in it. Again, not a lot, but a few. In neither case did I look at the copyright page of the books, tut and say, "That's a [insert name of publishing company here] author for ya!" Nor did I count the boo-boos, because I have a life, and I was too busy enjoying the stories to be a pedantic poophead about it. But they were there. They jumped right out at me, too, because it was my first time reading the books. I hadn't pored over them seventy bazillion times, like the authors surely had. I wasn't on a deadline to get it to publication, like the editors surely were. And if I were to write a formal review of either of those books, I wouldn't even mention the mistakes in the review. Why? Because they didn't matter (although the use of "I" in what should have been the phrase "...between you and me..." did kill a little part of the ridiculous grammar troll inside of me). It was still an excellent book by a talented writer with a voice and a story that deserve to be heard. Period. End of. I only mention them here to prove a point: that no one is perfect, regardless of how he or she publishes her books.

I'm sick of the Indie[endently Published Author] vs. Trad[itionally Published Author] Debate. Almost as sick as I am of American politics at the moment. Yes, I'm that sick of it. But here we are again, talking about it. Not because readers care how a book gets to them (they don't; when was the last time a reader said, "I only read books from Random House"?), but because some consumers of books (readers and writers and publishers alike) immediately assume the worst of an author or book when they find a mistake in an Indie offering. This never-ending, inane argument of Indie vs. Trad fosters the idea that not only are certain types of authors (Indies) the only ones guilty of publishing books that contain errors, but those errors are the hallmark of independently-published books, because big (and small and medium-sized) publishers release only error-free books. Not only is that misconception ludicrous, but it's easily disproved.

You want to call an author a hack because the story's cliché or the characters are flat or the plot is predictable? Fine. But don't presume that any and all failings in a piece can be chalked up to that person being an Indie. Don't insult an entire group of talented writers because their books contain what every single book out there contains... a few rogue errors. Don't judge one book based on another book you read by someone who independently published something and didn't perform his or her due diligence. How a book arrived in front of its audience shouldn't matter at all! Why cut Author McBigshot, with her team of editors, more slack than little old Indie? Conversely, why cut the Indie more slack, with her shoestring budget, than Author McBigshot? How about we all remember #4 in the list above and cut everyone the same amount of slack?

Do the errors distract from the story? If so, bitch away. You're a paying customer; you have a right to quality. But are you just pointing out things as a way of saying, "You don't belong here, and your voice doesn't deserve to be heard, because someone in a suit behind a desk didn't put their stamp of approval on you as a person"? Then you're a jerk.

I make no bones about being an Indie. I don't try to hide it. And I don't want to lead anyone to believe otherwise. Regardless of certain snobbish beliefs held by a few threatened, small people, I don't believe there's any shame in being Indie when you're good at what you do and work hard to serve your readers and produce quality work on a consistent basis. It's simply a choice I've made for myself. Does it work for everyone? Of course not. Some would argue it doesn't even work for me, but I'm not here to defend my choices or debate the pros and cons of every possible publishing method. That's exhausting, not to mention dull as arse. Plus, I would never presume to tell someone else what's right for them. Only self-important a-holes do that. Their blog posts go viral, but... at what cost?

Mistakes in manuscripts have nothing to do with Indie- versus Traditionally-published. I own the few mistakes in my books (go ahead... count them... they're there) because I'm imperfect. And the people on my team are imperfect. We screw up. We miss things.

Don't pin that on being "Indie," though. Pin that on being human.

And please... for the love of Jane Austen... stop using the word "Indie" like some kind of NSFW literary slur.

 

Thanks for reading! This post is part of the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website. To return there, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-mar-2016

Wednesday
Mar162016

Hypocrite

People say I’m a good listener. People say I give good advice (even when they choose not to follow it). I’ve had more than one person remark that I seem wise beyond my years, that I’m an old soul. That’s what happens when you have to grow up too soon, so it’s not like I can take any credit for it. Well, I guess I can take credit for those really stupid decisions I made when I was young…er that had life-long consequences, but still. You know what I mean. You either wise up and make the best of those decisions or you continue to make bad choices and suffer through a frustrating life. But anyway. That’s another post, I guess.

What I wanted to talk about today, what I want to confess, is that I don’t practice what I preach. I mean, I try to. And it’s not like I’m dispensing advice left and right, expecting reality to be one way for everyone else and something completely different for myself. For the most part, when I say something, it’s because I truly believe it to be right. At the time. Objectively. And I strive to live those attitudes.

But… sometimes in the heat of the moment… striving falls woefully short.


Which leads me to feel like a major fraud, naturally. Because that’s part of who I am, too: a raging imposter.

But this isn’t about how I’m often a hypocrite, in general. This is about something specific. Something I wrote fairly recently and received a lot of praise—and some flak—for writing. Something I wrote and truly believed recently enough that I immediately knew I was being the proverbial pot pointing and laughing at the color of the kettle. That doesn’t mean I had any control over how I was feeling, though. It just meant that I had the added shame of knowing what a spoiled brat I was being heaped on top of the emotion causing me to think like that spoiled brat.

Remember when I said to newly published authors that nobody owes us anything, and we need to accept that? Yeah, I had to tell it to myself pretty hard the other day. And I wanted to punch the wiser half of myself in the ovaries for being right. I won’t go further into the details (I have some pride and plenty of shame regarding this), but I will say that I realized how amazingly entitled I sounded when I vented my complaint to a fellow writer friend. And I wanted to take back all the words. And I wanted to hide.

And for what? For being human? For expressing what so many people have expressed to me in the past, in similar situations? Yep. For that. And also for thinking I was beyond that, perhaps even above it. And mostly for judging other people when I’ve seen them struggling with the “Oh, poor me”s, something I have so little patience for.

Why am I telling you this? Well… Because… it seems only fair. It’s not right, somehow, to act like I have it all figured out. I don’t necessarily think I’m claiming I do when I share insight on here, but I guess it could be implied, so I want to provide this proof right now that I don’t feel that way. I have nothing figured out for me. I may have slightly more figured out for others. Isn’t that how it always goes?

I also wanted to let you know that I reread my post to newly published writers, and I still stand by everything I said in that post, even when—especially when—applying it to myself. Only I have a fresher appreciation for how hard it is to keep those things in mind while feeling a bit miffed or wronged or frustrated, or whatever one happens to feel when one pours that glass of water into the lake, and it barely causes a ripple, even in the waters closest to us.

I had some newer, harsher advice for myself recently: grow up and buck up… and speak up, if it’s really that important to you. If it’s not worth saying something, then it’s not worth sulking about. Because really…? Honestly…? Nobody has time to even notice that you’re sulking about anything. And it’s not affecting their lives a single bit. It’s just turning you into a sour, resentful poo-face that nobody wants to be around. And if they’re not around, they can’t tell you’re upset about something. And if they are around, do you want to waste your time together whining or arguing or dwelling on unpleasantness? Not really.

So again…

Grow up. Buck up. Lighten up.

I’m sure I’ll be rereading this post to myself sometime in the future, too. Growing up is a never-ending process, apparently.

Wednesday
Mar092016

Dumb Braggin'

We are a ridiculous society. All you have to do is spend five minutes on social media to know I’m right. And I say “we,” because I am guilty of being ridiculous, too. The best thing about the dumb things we say for the world to see is that we can scoff at one person saying something stupid, then turn around and pretty much do the same thing while giving ourselves immunity.

Usually, it takes the form of bragging. We have perfected the art of the humble-brag, because it’s a form of passive-aggression, which is also something we’re so good at nowadays (uh… see this blog post). Here’s a list of the ludicrous things we brag about to our “friends.” (All in good fun, folks! Don't ruin it by being overly sensitive.)

  1. Staying away from social media and/or electronic devices for a whole day, sometimes an entire weekend. How do we do it? “Did you miss me? No? Cool. I was just sooo busy sitting on my twitching phone hand and wishing I was posting pictures of all the cool stuff I was not doing.”
  2. Eating well. “Check out this salad! I’m totally eating an entire pizza after this. Photos to follow!”
  3. Eating unwell. The nastier the plate, the better. “Looks like vomit. Tastes like a heart attack. I have life insurance.”
  4. Eating. (Take that picture, or it doesn’t count!)
  5. Having friends. “Real” ones. “Hey, all! I do leave my house sometimes and interact with people sans screens. Look how fun and zany I am with ‘the girls.’”
  6. Being angry. It’s best to be as vague as possible in this case, though, especially when we’re angry at a specific person. We wouldn’t want to risk being direct and mature.
  7. Getting rid of Facebook friends. “Culled that list. Whew! My clicky finger is tired!”
  8. Working out. And working out the next day. And working out the next day. Because… you know… we work out.
  9. Risking our lives. “I don’t consider it a proper weekend unless I wind up in the ER with a sprain or break. But fat people sure are driving up insurance costs. AmIright?”
  10. Enabling our lazy, entitled kids… then complaining about how lazy and entitled they are. Because that’s a sign of good parenting. It’s a luxury to be lazy and entitled, and we provide that luxury to our children. Aren’t we great? “Sigh… Unloading and reloading the dishwasher… again… I guess I’m the only one who knows how.”
  11. Denying our children things because we didn’t have them when we were kids. After all, our childhoods were so much better, when our parents locked us out of the house for nine hours during the sweltering summer (it was hot in the house, anyway).* So no, our kids are not going to play video games in the a/c all summer, thank you very much. “I don’t care that times have changed. My kids are going to live like it’s 1985, complete with third degree sunburn and heat stroke. I’ll be inside on the couch posting selfies while binge-watching Netflix. I earned this with my fabulous childhood. Just email me that parenting trophy. I’m not moving until I have to unlock the door to let the kids back in.”
  12. Binge-watching shows. Yep. There’s now some weird pride in how deep we can make that dent in the couch with our ever-widening buttocks. “Got through the entire new season of House of Cards this weekend. Thirteen hours and seven blood clots. Can’t wait for the next season… in eighteen months. Actually, I’ll just wait here on the couch. I can’t move now, anyway. But if they have to amputate, it’s all good. I don’t need my legs to click ‘next episode.’”
  13. Pissing people off. But being really honest about it (and proud). “I know this is going to make some people mad. Feel free to unfriend me.” Face it, we’re just too lazy to unfriend all those people… again… ourselves, but we want them out of our timelines voluntarily and permanently.
  14. Being apolitically political. This one is super-popular right now, for obvious reasons. “I normally don’t post political stuff, but…” Except for the political thing we posted just the other day, because, “I don’t care who you are; this is funny. But I’m not political.” Let’s just face it that most of us are political, and we think what we think, and nobody is going to change our minds. One side thinks the other is full of ignorant, gun-toting, homophobic racists; the other side thinks its counterparts are immoral, baby-killing, freeloading demons. We’re both going to ruin the country somehow, some way, so post your Donald Trump memes, even though we all know you’re a closet Trump supporter, because, “We need a change, and when I eat a piece of food I don’t like, my favorite thing is to chase it with a turd sandwich,” and oh my gosh, I’m unfriending you. Click.
  15. Being too lazy to Google things. “Anyone out there know how to change a spark plug? If I just Google it, nobody knows I’m changing my spark plugs all by myself. On my Corvettte. Here’s a picture.” *sunglasses emoji* *sportscar emoji* *douchebag emoji* (Don’t you wish there was one? Would come in handy so often!)
  16. The ability to post entire status updates or replies in emoji form. Great new communication style that nobody understands. Because what this world needs is less effective communication.

See? Ridiculous. The buffoonery knows no bounds. And yet, we do it all day, every day (except those days we so bravely unplug… because our devices are all charging). Do you think when future generations look back on us, they’ll shake their heads and laugh, or will they be too busy doing the next stupid things? Or will these behaviors be so ingrained they won’t even seem dumb? Already, they’re frighteningly mainstream unless exaggerated for the sake of comedy. (Although, unfortunately, I didn’t have to exaggerate much.)

I don’t know.

Honestly, once you stop laughing, doesn’t it make you a little sick to your stomach? Kind of like when you remember something moronic or embarrassing you said or did as a teenager, and it makes you blush just thinking about it? Only… there’s permanent (debatable) evidence of this online stupidity, and a lot more people—sometimes strangers—are seeing it, not just a few of your classmates in your mid-sized American high school.

I’m not saying we go back to a time before this—we’ve already gone too far, I’m afraid, to turn back—but is being aware of idiocy the first step to curtailing it, or is that awareness just another avenue for shaming ourselves or feeling superior to others when we catch them doing the same things we do?

Again, I don’t know.

“Man, I’m dumb. Anyway, pass me that bowl of Doritos. I need to take a picture of it for Instagram. No filter!”

 

*Important note: my parents never made us play out in the sweltering heat for nine hours. We were allowed to come inside for lunch. Love ya, Mom!