Resolve to be kind

If you’re looking to spread more kindness in the coming year, here are some ideas for easy resolutions to incorporate into your everyday life.

1. When you buy something from a vending machine, put in more money than you need.

2. Park further away so someone else can park closer.

3. Use thank-you notes for more than gifts: write a note of appreciation to teachers, coaches, doctors, librarians, etc.

4. Use AmazonSmile to donate to a charity of your choice.

5. Embrace bouquets: give them to the office staff at work or school, send flowers to someone on their birthday, or bring them to the nurses’ station of a hospital for whichever patient they think could use cheering up.

6. Leave copies of your favorite books in public places for other people to take and enjoy.

7. Dedicate a day, week, or month of compliments—see how many you can hand out.

8. When you bake cookies or other treats, double the recipe and take the extras to neighbors, the police or fire station, or your pediatrician’s office.

9. Donate food, toys, or clothing to a food bank, an animal shelter, or a children’s hospital.

10. Treat a friend to dinner.

11. When you take a walk around your neighborhood, take a notepad with you. Write complimentary notes about people’s homes and gardens.

12. Don’t be afraid to have fun while doing something kind: join a wine club or a culinary “of the month” club and share the bounty with friends or colleagues.

No act of kindness is too small. Making kindness a part of your daily routine helps keep it top of mind. Soon you’ll see all kinds of opportunities to do a good deed.

The making of a novel, part 2—titles

When Rae’s story was intended for adults, the key elements of the narrative were as follows: Patrice’s husband, Derek, had died almost a year before the beginning of the book; Derek loved Christmas, and the book opened with Patrice struggling to deal with her first holiday season without him; Rae was struggling as well, and Patrice didn’t know how to help her—musical theatre was Rae’s one salvation but not something she shared with Patrice. Eventually, Patrice came up with an idea of doing kind things for others as a way to distract themselves from their pain, thus leading them down the path to kindness and, ultimately, healing.

As I’ve started thinking about how to rework the story for a young adult book, I’ve decided to keep Rae’s interest in theatre, but not a whole lot else. Rather than her mom organizing the kindness crusade, it’s a random act from a stranger on Rae’s darkest day—the one-year anniversary of her father’s death—that prompts Rae to explore the power of doing good for others. And instead of her dad loving Christmas, now it’s 80s rock music.

It’s been interesting writing after having attended two writing conferences this summer/fall. I find myself brainstorming with half a mind for what may be more likely to sell. And because I know I’ll ultimately have to write a query letter and synopsis and so forth, I tend to focus my thinking in terms of how I’ll one day describe this book—which led me to the title.

I know publishers often change the title of a manuscript before it gets published, but I’d still like my work-in-progress title to have the potential to go the distance. So while I drove to work one morning, thinking about the main themes of this book—theatre, kindness, and rock—I had the idea of using those three elements in the title. After a moment, I felt I had it: Ghost Lights, Kindness, and GNR.

Excitedly, I told Shawn that night—but I knew even before I revealed the title that he wasn’t going to like it. Sure enough, I got a blank stare, and when prompted, he explained that my title doesn’t tell him what to expect from the book, what it’s about. He likes literal titles—The Hobbit, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. When I asked him if he would know what to expect from a book titled The Fault in Our Stars or All the Ways the World Can End, he admitted he is not a competent authority on book titles, especially young adult book titles.

So for the time being, Rae’s story is called Ghost Lights, Kindness, and Jon Bon Jovi. Shawn (probably rightly) suggested that my target audience likely doesn’t know that GNR refers to Guns N’ Roses. Switching to Bon Jovi also filled in some other missing plot points in the story, like a puzzle piece fitting into place, but that’s a tale for another post.

Selfless good deeds

As those who know me can attest, Friends is my favorite show of all time. So many life situations harken back to an episode. Recently, I was thinking about “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS.” Joey tries to convince Phoebe there’s no unselfish good deed because doing kind things for others makes you feel good.

Here I turn to Merriam-Webster. Selfless means “having or showing great concern for other people and little or no concern for yourself.” Because I find joy in performing acts of kindness, I have to disagree with selfless good deeds. But M-W defines selfish as “having or showing concern only for yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people,” so I also disagree with calling them selfish.

Fortunately, because our language has a colorful variety of words with subtle nuances, we have another option. Unselfish means “having or showing more concern for other people than for yourself,” which I think is a fair description of our kind gestures.

But realistically, I believe things fall along a continuum. Some of our acts of kindness sit further from selfless because of how fun they are for us. When we buy a nice bottle of wine to share with friends or family, we’re getting as much out of that experience as they are. But some of our acts require a sacrifice and thus come closer to that elusive selfless good deed.

I am not enjoying growing out my hair in order to donate it. It’s a pain in the ass. When I sit on the couch, I have to move it out of the way. At night when I turn over, I have to flip my head around to get all the hair out from under me. Sometimes I have to use two hands when I comb it, and as winter approaches, I know it will get stuck in my coat.

Plus, beyond the inconveniences of growing it out, I’m not looking forward to getting it cut. I have had short hair twice in my life and hated it both times. So if any of our kind acts approach selflessness, this is it.

But…

I still feel good about choosing to do it. Especially because I work in a cancer-related field, I think often about the people going through such a journey. I can only imagine the challenges—physical, emotional, financial, logistical, spiritual­—these people face. When struggling through hardship, I believe we should find as many small moments of joy as possible. And if I can help someone look in the mirror and feel a little bit better about herself, that makes me feel good.