Liz Andra Shaw

Journey into the Creative Mind of a Writing Reader

Playing Around with Stress

August 28th, 2014
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Stressed College Student

Being an adult is stressful. You have probably noticed that. If it’s not bills, it’s the idiot in front of you in traffic or the jerk at work who will not stop doing that annoying thing. Or the housework, or the to do list that spans pages, or the kids, or the spouse, or [put your own favorite stressor here]. The stress just never seems to stop.

I work in behavioral health, so I hear about dealing with stress at work. I am even expected to be able to model my personal methods of dealing with stress so that the kids can learn from me. Just what I need – more pressure!

This week I learned something new in our staff training. Our clients talk about coping skills, but it all seems rather ill-defined. One girl would watch TV all day long as her coping skill, but what kind of life is that? Another would read, another would be plugged into an iPod, and yet another would de-stress by annoying everyone else. We needed a new way of talking about coping skills, so we’re rolling out a new way of talking about and understanding them. I’ll share what I learned, but then I’m going to add something of my own that is beyond the scope of our program.

The first thing we’re going to teach our clients about coping is “escape skills.” This involves learning to recognize when your emotions are about to spiral out of control and doing something to get yourself out of the situation. Taking a time out is one example of an escape skill. The goal is to have escape skills that are healthy, rather than turning to drugs, alcohol, running away, or cutting.

An aside: I like time outs. They’re peaceful. It’s the going back afterwards that I don’t really enjoy. What I really need is re-entry skills. I suspect I’m not alone. 

The second thing we are going to teach our clients is “processing skills.” This involves taking care of your emotions without the need for external assistance or escape. Soothing self-talk or deep breathing are examples of these.  In theory, if you’re good enough at processing skills, you won’t need escape (or re-entry) skills anymore.

I still like time outs though. It’s so quiet in time out.

Our clients won’t be with us long enough to learn my favorite level of coping, the preventative stress reduction techniques. You may have heard this called “living a balanced life.” You may have even laughed at the concept. After all, if you had time for that, you wouldn’t be so stressed, right?

The last year and a half has been very stressful for me. I had to do something about it. I couldn’t continue to live with the level of stress I was wallowing in on a day to day basis. My solution: incorporate play into my life.

Tonight I’m at Rio Rico Mexican Grill enjoying a blog-a-thon with friends. Eula is typing one of her fabulously funny posts about life’s ridiculous moments.   Suzanne is writing the touching story of a cat that adopted her family’s furniture business. Emi is writing about how the death of Robin Williams affected her. Siobhan is missing in action – she said she’d be late, but at this point I’m picture her in a ditch dying somewhere. (Thanks for that legacy, mom.) This monthly get-together is an important part of my play strategy.

As I’ve shared before, I’ve also gotten back into art, and I’ve dragged Emi with me. She and I trade art journals back and forth. Making the trade every week and seeing what she added to the pages is one of the high points of my week. I don’t claim to be a great artist. You won’t see my selling my stuff on Etsy any time soon (if ever). I only claim to be having fun. I taught monoprinting to Emi in June, to  a group of senior citizens in July, and to the kids at work in August. That was a blast! I like my art messy, and I can’t be bothered to worry about whether anyone else likes it. Art is a huge part of my play strategy.

Toastmasters, of course, is part of my strategy. I love the fun, positive people and the supportive environment. I love the challenge of speaking in contests, the surprise of table topics, and the great friends I’ve made.

If you’re struggling with stress, remember that escape skills and processing skills are great, but living a balanced life that includes play and fun is even better. Leave a comment and tell me how you deal with stress.

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Book Review: The Process Server by LH Thomson

July 17th, 2014
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The Process Server
The Process Server by LH Thomson shows us a glimpse into a dystopian future that is all too likely to come true. Imagine a world where you can escape into virtual reality and never come out. The trade off for this is a debt that builds up and enslaves generation after generation.

Enter our protagonist, Smith, a man who has rejected the economic system based on virtual reality. He is a self-made man who owns his own space ship so that he can travel the galaxy as a process server. His pilot, Jayde, looks like a young teen, but is really over 200 years old and has a deadly temper.

In this book, Jayde and Smith take on an assignment that is a huge gamble – it will either help them make enough credits to become independent or it will be their last hurrah.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable book. I enjoyed the fully realized setting. I can definitely see a future in which people become so enmeshed with virtual reality that they give up their lives to it, so the world that Thomson has created is both imaginative and completely plausible.

If you like science fiction or thrillers, I’d recommend The Process Server to you. It’s a fast, exciting read that will not disappoint.

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Still in that rut – still climbing out

May 30th, 2014
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I was at Michaels a few weeks ago and they had a smoking sale on canvases. Ten 8×10 canvases for $15.

I never buy canvas. I never buy canvas because no matter how much art I create, I don’t think of myself as an artist. I don’t believe what I create is worthy of canvas. I’m not even sure it’s worthy of paper.

But there I was buying 10 canvases. Scared to death, by the way. What would I do with them? Where would I hang them? As the cashier was ringing them up, I was about ready to bolt, leaving them behind.

A woman standing in line behind me asked, “What are you going to do with the canvases?”

Really? I’m going to run away from them, I thought. But I squared myself up and said, “Stencil, spray ink, gelli plate, glue things to them, I don’t know. Stuff. I really just do this for the fun. It’s therapeutic for me, I guess.”

“What a great idea,” she replied. “And you can’t go wrong. $1.50 a canvas. You’d drop more than that at Starbucks.”

I laughed, because I don’t drink coffee or frequent Starbucks. Still, she had a point. $1.50 a canvas. It’s a pittance, right?

I’m choosing to believe that I’m worth $1.50 a canvas, and I am having fun! I have the calico cat canvas (above) hanging in my office at work. I purposely hung it off center, because I’m going to paint a bunch more. So much of my stress is work-related. I can’t make art there, but I can hang my art there to remind myself of the feeling I had when I made it. Even more, to remind myself that I can always make more art and experience that wonderful feeling again.

Excuse me. There’s a canvas calling to me in the other room. And some paint. And spray ink, a gelli plate, collage papers, and stuff. I think I should go investigate.

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What to do when you’re stuck in a rut

April 19th, 2014
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I’ve been in a rut. My dragons are flying without pilots, my rebels are probably running amok pillaging the countryside on Alykan, and, on this planet, my flash fiction is being rejected by publishers and I’m losing speech contests. I’ve been demoralized and down resulting in a catastrophic loss of mojo.

It’s been this way for a year now. It’s not really about the writing, but reality leaks, doesn’t it? Chaos at work always translates into chaos in my brain that leaves work and goes home with me. And wow, last year there was a record amount of chaos. Just when I thought I was adjusting, things would change, and then, without warning, change again. It’s hard to get your sea legs when the wind keeps changing direction.

That’s my story anyway. You can believe it or not. I don’t care. I am too busy climbing out of this rut. The way I’m doing it is with art. I love playing with paint. I mean “playing” quite literally. “The messier the better” should be stenciled over my work table.

Last year, I discovered the joy of gelatin, as in gelatin print making. I bought myself a Gelli plate. Have you seen these? O  M   G. These are so fun they should be illegal! Here’s a speech I gave about them.

The background for this quote is made from one of my Gelli prints:


I’m also art journaling, which is challenging for me since I don’t feel like an artist in comparison to the many wonderful folks I see on YouTube. I’m stretching myself here and posting one of my spreads. Please don’t laugh!


Not all my spreads are that pretty. I won’t torture you with the messier ones. You can look me up on Flickr if you have a brave soul.

Recently I discovered a gal on YouTube who talks about mistakes as “oops – outstanding opportunities presenting suddenly.” She encourages play, while being honest about her mistakes, her lack of patience, and her disdain for rulers. I absolutely fell in love with her videos and immediately followed her blog. You should, too. Her name is Carolyn Dube and her blog is “A Colorful Journey.” (And by the way, her last name is pronounced do-bee, which took me back to my childhood with memories of Romper Room. How could I resist a Do Bee?)

I love Carolyn Dube so much that I almost fainted when she announced she was coming to Mesa, AZ, to teach. I got some money together and the next thing I knew, we were madly stenciling and flinging paint around. Carolyn even let me use sharp instruments to bind my own journal. Check out her summary of the day – lots of pictures of the action, including a couple of yours truly.

Carolyn has caused a big uproar in my world. I am now officially addicted to stencils and binding my own journals. I joined the StencilGirl Club and already have my first shipment. Thank goodness I have tomorrow off work already so that I don’t have to fake a sick day to play with them! Here’s a stenciled page done on vintage ledger paper that I made in the workshop:


So… rut? What rut? I’m busy painting. And gelli printing. And stenciling. And look! I wrote an actual blog post! Watch out world, I think my mojo is coming back!

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Book Review: The Blue Hallelujah by Andy Straka

February 16th, 2014
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Andy Straka presents us with layers of plot in The Blue Hallelujah. The protagonist, Jerry Strickland, is a retired detective who is dying. When his granddaughter is kidnapped, he cancels the medical appointments and becomes involved in the case.

His love for his granddaughter is only one of the reasons he’s so driven to use the last of his fading energies to solve this case. Jerry’s wife, Rebecca, had been his right hand during his years as a detective. She had an intuitive sense about criminals, and it led her into trouble. After a killer escaped justice, she gunned him down in cold blood and spent the rest of her life in prison atoning for it. Jerry believes that by solving this case, he can not only save his granddaughter but also redeem his wife’s reputation.

Jerry is one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve met recently. He isn’t just wrestling with worldly issues, like life and death, but also with spiritual issues of evil, redemption, and justice in ways that normal cops and detectives see only superficially.

Although the ending has been foreshadowed, it will still grip you. If you don’t shed a tear or three for Jerry and his choice, you may not have a heart. Straka doesn’t achieve this with cheap, sentimental manipulation. His writing is honest and compelling.

Jerry is very different from Frank Pavlicek, the protagonist of Cold Quarry by Andy Straka. Frank is more hard-boiled. I suspect that Jerry was in his prime as well, but now he has more eternal priorities. I highly recommend both books to any reader who enjoys mysteries.

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A Personal Update

February 1st, 2014
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It’s been forever since I made a personal post. 2013 was a difficult year for me. I chose the word “Peace” as my theme, but I didn’t have much of that. Things still feel very unsettled to me, but I chose the theme “Rebirth” for this year as a way of putting 2013 into perspective.

I got stuck last year, not just in my personal life, but also in my creative work. I didn’t write much of anything. Some months I didn’t write anything but Writing Reader prompts.

As a way of jump starting my creative process, I started doing mixed media art again. I may share an occasional photo here, but I do the art for myself as a form of play. If you feel so inspired, you can check in on my Flickr photostream. I’m just warning you, it’s quite a mishmash.

She's got the Power


This Gelli print is one of my favorites. I made it as a response to a prompt in the Journal52 project. The prompt was “Up, up, and away!”

Journal52 is a free class for art journaling. People are doing everything from sketching and photography to mixed media and scrapbooking.  You don’t need a special journal to do this in. They recommend using a simple 3-ring binder.

If you’re looking for something fun to do this year, check it out at

I’m also doing a daily journaling exercise called No Excuses journaling. It’s really challenged me to pick up my watercolor pencils and sketch something. You’re supposed to use a moleskin or other planner, but I set it up in a wire-bound card stock book I picked up on sale at Michaels. I’m having a lot of fun with it so far. It gives me permission to do some things for myself that I normally wouldn’t do. And no guilt, because I’m doing a class!

Because that is all clearly not enough, I am also doing the Documented Life Project in the No Excuses journal. They seem to tie together very nicely. The Documented Life Project is also a free class. Find out more here.

It hasn’t been at all difficult to integrate these projects into my life, even with a scorpion sting, the flu, and a visit from the parental units also tucked into this month.

The best part: I’m writing again. Flash fiction mostly. It’s dark, but I think it’s good. We’ll see what editors think.

Oh, and that scorpion sting? There’s a whole blog post coming with that story, and if it doesn’t give you nightmares, then I don’t know what will.


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Book Review: Nailed by Joseph Flynn

January 19th, 2014
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This is the first book by Joseph Flynn that I have read, and it won’t be the last. From the gruesome discovery of the murdered minister at the beginning of the book to the surprising revelation of the murderer at the end, it is a beautifully executed mystery. There are no shortage of suspects, and they are all guilty of something, just not the murder that Ron Ketchum is out to solve. Add a killer cougar into the mix, and you’ve got a story that grabs you from the first page and never lets go.

The protagonist, Ron Ketchum, is a retired LAPD officer who is now police chief is a small town where the worst thing that normally happens is jaywalking. He’s put into the eye of the perfect storm in this book such that his own complicated past becomes part of the national media circus surrounding a very high profile, very unusual murder. I really enjoyed Ron as a character and will be reading the next book in the series to see what happens to him next.

Read Nailed by Joseph Flynn if you love mysteries!

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Book Review: The Weight of Glass by Stuart Heatherington

November 3rd, 2013
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My review at

Child abuse is epidemic in our country. This book tells the story of three siblings left orphaned by their mother with an abusive step-father. The author calls this a novel of suspense, but I would classify it more as horror. I deal with children who are fighting to recover from the evils of child abuse, and I still couldn’t read this book in the evening for fear of having nightmares. Even so, it’s a book that I couldn’t put down. The story is compelling. It’s told with chapters that alternate from a present day reunion between brother and sister to flashbacks of their childhood. Each chapter pulls you inexorably into the next. If you’re interested in a dark, psychological read, this will not disappoint you. Just be warned: it’s not for the faint at heart.

I agree with the reviewers who suggest that the book needed a professional copy editor. There are problems, particularly with homonyms, In the copy I received, there were issues with the Kindle formatting as well, sometimes making it very difficult to tell who was speaking. If the premise of the book interests you, though, don’t let these problems stop you.

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Book Review: Bleedover by Curtis Hox

October 26th, 2013
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Bleedover by Curtis Hox is based on a whopper of an idea. An idea so big that it may have gotten away from the author. Here’s my review from

I really love the idea behind this book. Realities from fiction can bleedover into our reality, and by use of a portal, we can enter those realities. The protagonist, Dr. Harriet Sterling, harnesses this phenomenon using what she calls science, however it’s really spellcasting. Even her students are put off by this aspect of it. The villain of the story, Corbin Lyell, harnesses the phenomenon by immersing naive people in pulp horror films and enhancing the experience with a drug cocktail. In the denouement, his monster is released during a symposium with tragic consequences. This book definitely kept me turning the pages, despite some of my issues with the book. The bleedover phenomenon and how it works was poorly developed, making it difficult to suspend belief and buy into it. A college professor calling what is essentially medieval spellcasting a scientific study is a bit much. (To the author’s credit, her students felt the same way.)

My biggest problem, however, is with the constant use of the acronym NPB for New Phenomenon of Bleedover. If this was the New Phenomenon of Bleedover, then what was the old phenomenon of bleedover? And how long is something new? Imagine Volta or Faraday dubbing their discovery the New Phenomenon of Electricity. Do you think we’d still be calling that NPE? Of course not. I know this is a really nitpicky point, but it irritated me every time the acronym was used.

If you’re not a picky reader, there’s an exciting story in this book that you will enjoy. If, however, you tend toward pickiness, you may want to keep looking.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this review.

So now you know my secret (in case you hadn’t already guessed): I am a picky reader. Not so picky that an occasional typo will perturb me, but I will argue with strange acronyms every time. Besides, everyone knows that NPB really stands for “no problem, bud.”

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Flash Fiction: Faerie Dance

September 28th, 2013
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This is a response to Prompt #794 Faerie Dance at The Writing Reader.

Come, faeries, take me out of this dull house!
Let me have all the freedom I have lost;
Work when I will and idle when I will!
Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the disheveled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.
-William Butler Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire


Marina sighed as she shifted from her left to her right cheek. The tweet stream was at top speed for the day now, over 1200 tweets per minute. EnvironTek paid her per interaction with their tweet stream. Her fingers danced as she retweeted, replied, and sent direct messages to the twits in the stream. Most days she found it invigorating, a worthy challenge. Definitely better than her best friend’s job as a receptionist or her sister’s job as a full-time parent. Today, however, she was tired of it.

That didn’t matter. The rent was due. She squared her shoulders and allowed the flow of the stream to carry her away.

She hit a small eddy a few minutes later. A tweet from a user calling herself @Titania declared, “Come dance with me.” Marina stopped for a moment, then laughed. If the Queen of the Faeries was real, she certainly wouldn’t be wasting her time on Twitter. Sometimes twits were just that – twits. She dove back into the stream and redoubled her efforts.

It came again, this time as an RT from a user calling himself @Oberon. “TY for the invite @Titania! RT Come dance with me.” Without thinking, she replied, “TY @Oberon, I wish I could.”

As soon as she sent it, she knew she was in trouble. She wasn’t tweeting as Marina, but as her employing corporation. It only took one mistake like this to create a newsworthy scandal for a company like EnvironTek. The multinational conglomerate had its talons into everything that environmentalists considered evil – from fracking in New Jersey to tar sands in Canada and rain forest logging in Brazil. It was her job to create good PR for them on Twitter, not to get caught up in a silly scheme promoted by a couple of twits pretending to be King and Queen of the Faeries. She could only pray that no one would notice her reply.

Marina dug in and sent out a couple of tweets about EnvironTek’s donations to educational foundations benefiting children with special needs. Then she opened and began to read the stream for #specialed, following users, direct messaging new contacts about the EnvironTek programs, and retweeting their tweets like a mad woman. She hadn’t received a DM from HR yet, so maybe no one had noticed.

Suddenly, “Come dance with us @Environtek #specialed” came from Oberon and Titania at the same time. How had they found her here in this smaller, protected stream? She closed the tab instinctively and pressed her hands over her eyes. Who were these people?

An alert sounded. She’d received a DM. She opened her eyes, praying that it wasn’t from HR.

“Come dance with us @EnvironTek” began to fill her stream. Tweet after tweet after tweet scrolled across her screen, crowding out the other tweets until that was all that she could see. The alerts were coming so quickly that they sounded like a fireworks display.

Marina shoved her chair away from the desk and stalked into her kitchen. She pulled an ice pack out of the freezer and held it to her forehead in the hopes of staving off the headache that was gathering behind her eyes.

She jumped when the phone rang. She hit the button on her Bluetooth ear bud, sure that it would be Connie in HR telling her that she was fired. Well, Connie, she thought. You can have this job. It sucks.


“Come dance with me,” a sultry female voice demanded.

Before she could answer, the music flowed through her, a more powerful stream than Twitter had ever been. She stumbled into the living room, sagged into the couch, and allowed Titania to pull her mind into the dance.


Thanks to JayVeeAre for the lovely faerie picture.

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Liz Andra Shaw

Journey into the Creative Mind of a Writing Reader