Getting Stuck: It’s not Pretty

Did you notice we don’t have a specific topic this month?  Give me an assignment, and I’ll find something to say about it.  Ask me a question, and I’ll find an answer, even if it’s “I dunno.”  Unless pressed, I’m usually the quiet one in the corner, switching into writer lurk mode with my notebook and nothing to say.


So this got me thinking … what happens when you really have nothing to say?  Some call it writer’s block.  Others call it slamming into a brick wall.


Whatever you call it, something happens to derail that great start you made.  You were quivering with anticipation during the idea stage.  Maybe you wrote notebooks full of character sketches and plot diagrams and bubble charts and pyramids and so on and so on.  Or maybe you started with an image in a single sentence, and then magic happened, and before you knew it your character poofed to life and took you on a madcap tour of your book, and then all of a sudden…


Everything dies.  The process comes to a screeching halt, and you are staring at the dreaded blank screen, waiting for elusive words to flow once again from your keyboard.


It’s happened to me, usually at the worst possible time, like say, when I’m under deadline.  Maybe it’s happened to you, too.


Here are seven of my favorite tricks I’ve had to use to get unstuck:


  1.  First off, I don’t think of these snags as “writers block” or “brick walls.”  Those terms are way too crushing for me.  They make getting stuck sound even worse than it already is.  Sometimes just a positive attitude will get my momentum going forward again.
  2. Try something different.  If you’re a pantser, try plotting.  If you’re a plotter, try pantsing.  If you’re a morning writer, try writing at night, or vice versa.  If you’re a weekend long-distance writer, try lunchtime sprints.
  3. Try alternating projects.  Switch off your cozy mystery with a suspense, or your novel with a short story.  Go back and forth between projects to keep each one fresh.
  4. Allow yourself to write bad.  Think:  “it doesn’t have to be good; it has to be done.”
  5. Set an egg timer for 30 minutes.  How many pages did you get done?  Knowing that timer is ticking is great motivation for putting words down!
  6. If you keep revisiting chapter one, tweaking it one more time, maybe just admiring its brilliance, then recognize that procrastination is another term for being stuck.  Take a deep breath and stop it.  Just stop it.  Time to move on.
  7. When the story is moving along and you suddenly find you’ve written yourself into a corner, with a feeling of “so what?” you might try looking at your last few scenes.  Maybe your character took a wrong turn a few scenes back.  Double check his/her actions in the because-result chain.  Because “x” happens, he/she does “y.”   The character might need a gentle nudge, and then you’re off again!


Whatever you try, however you make it work, getting unstuck is all about focus.  If it’s happened to you, what are some of your favorite tips to get unstuck?


Interview: Janie Chodosh

Please welcome Janie Chodosh, author of Death Spiral.

What is your idea of a perfect day?
I have many variations of the perfect day: The perfect family day, the perfect active outdoors day, the perfect writing day, so here is a blend of all three: I start with a great cup of coffee followed by some physical outdoor activity such as a run, a bikedeathspiral ride, or some rock climbing. Next, I sit at my desk, which overlooks the treetops and the myriad birdlife in our backyard, for some quiet writing time. Then I play with my daughter and have a nice dinner with my family. Finally, I curl up in bed with a great book and fall asleep reading.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My signature colors are greens and purples. My signature accessory is either silver hoop earrings or dog fur! With two dogs, everything I own ends up covered in fur, so I might as well embrace it and start a new fashion trend.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced you creatively:
Jennifer Owings Dewey got me started, or I should say, “restarted” with writing. She is a writer and an illustrator and for many years I attended a writing group in her small adobe house. Mr. Pappas, a high school teacher who taught a class called media studies, got me thinking “outside the box.” I’ve been inspired by many of today’s young adult writers. One of the first YA writers I read and who blew my mind was KL Going and the book Fat Kid Rules the World.

Do you listen to music when you write?
I’m too easily distracted to listen to music when I write. Lately, though, I’ve started listening to a “brain wave” app, which does seem to help my concentration and focus. Something about the rhythmic lull helps me zone in more deeply on the writing.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate with a hint of unexpected spice. Faith Flores, the protagonist of Death Spiral, and the next two books, has a dark edge to her personality, but she can also be sassy and surprising.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I wanted to write something with a contemporary scientific theme and genetic testing and gene therapy are both contemporary scientific issues. I wanted to make science exciting and relevant to teen readers. In terms of character, I wanted to write about a girl who uses her brains to navigate and solve complex scientific problems. There are many girls in current YA dystopian novels, many of whom are heroines based on physical ability. I wanted a female character who, due to gender, ethnicity, and economic circumstances, is marginalized, yet through her killer brainpower, determination, and grit, put her in a position of power.

What themes do you regularly visit in your writing?
Although not exactly a theme, I always include the natural world in my stories. I am a naturalist and I love the outdoors. Birds are part of both Death Spiral and book two, which I am currently writing. In Death Spiral, a white bird shows up throughout the story. The white bird (an albino mutation in Faith’s eyes; an angel in her mother’s eyes) has deep symbolism in terms of Faith’s arc and Faith’s evolving understanding of her mother. I also revisit themes of justice, class, and identity. Throughout the series, Faith learns more and more about her ethnic background and embraces who she is. Finally, the series is called The Faith Flores Science Mysteries, so scientific themes will show up in all the books.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her to be the person she is today?
Faith was raised by a junkie mother and no father. She spent most of her sixteen years in urban Philadelphia, moving from place to place. Faith is resourceful, grounded, and determined despite deep-rooted traumas, insecurities, and other flaws. Faith loves science, and she dreams of going to college and becoming a scientist. She is mixed racially, which becomes important in later books as she discovers her ethnic roots, which in book one she knows nothing about.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three characters
Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with Dragon Tattoo meets Ree Dolly from Winter’s Bone meets Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are six writers you’d include
Agatha Christie, Tony Hillerman, Arthur Conan Doyle, Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss (I consider these two writers of the BBC Sherlock a team, and therefore count them as one person), Suzanne Collins, and Dorothy Sayers.

What’s next for you?
I am currently writing book two in the series, and thinking of book three as I go.


As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Janie Chodosh wanted to major in “all things interesting,” a field that included courses in biology, ecology, natural resources management, creative writing, and poetry. After college Janie moved to Yosemite National Park, where she worked as a naturalist and educator and learned to rock climb, back country ski, and entertain herself with nothing more than a field guide, a trail, and a pair of binoculars.

As a graduate student in the University of Montana’s environmental studies program, the list of “all things interesting” expanded to include Spanish and environmental education. For her thesis, she traveled to a rural community on the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico to develop an environmental education program focusing on neo-tropical migratory songbirds (a fancy title for birds that breed in the north and winter south of the border). At thirty, Janie moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico to work first as the education director for the state Audubon Society and later as a teacher.

During her formative years, and even when she was studying everything else under the sun, Janie always wanted to be a writer. (If you don’t believe her, you are invited to check out the boxes and boxes of stories, diaries, poems, plays, and random thoughts she has written since she could first hold a pencil). Janie is also a scientist wannabe, but once she realized she only liked to muck around in the cool places and would never actually be a real scientist, she married one instead.

When not writing, Janie like to hang out with her family, rock climb, try to garden in the arid southwest, bird watch, travel, and attempt to play Klezmer music on her violin.


Twitter: @jmegchod

Carrots Love Tomatoes and Other Garden Literary Lessons

I’ve had a vegetable garden ever since moving into my current house. It was something I’d looked forward to for years—years spent in apartments without space or good balcony exposure or in our Florida home, where our available soil was basically sand with some dirt mixed in. Thus, when we moved to a large suburban house with a nice, light-soaked backyard, I couldn’t wait to get started.

That first year was pretty simple: one eight-by-four raised bed and a few containers for herbs and patio tomatoes. That summer included record heat (until the next summer shattered that new record), but we got quite a few tomatoes, basil and one perfect orange bell pepper in our first year.

The next year, our garden grew by two beds and two rain barrels. The year after that, we added raspberries and blueberries. And our container garden grew mostly because I couldn’t stop myself from buying nearly every single type of herb that caught my eye (three types of mint, three types of basil, two types of rosemary, etc.). Then we replaced the raspberries with blackberries, because apparently raspberries hate me (I went through six “unkillable” plants). This year, we did heavy adding yet again, putting in a bed for a Niagara grape vine and replacing our sad-looking blueberries with a raised bed of more locally appropriate elderberries.

So, what’s the point of me walking you through my vegetable garden virtually? Well, it has to do with writing, I promise.

About a year ago, I heard a very apropos quote, which I’m going to paraphrase here: Once you finish writing a book, you haven’t “learned” to write any old book, you’ve learned to write the one you just wrote.

Some manuscripts seem to write themselves. Others just seem to constantly be a struggle—in concept, writing, revision, etc. Every book is different, even if they have the same general starting point.

Just like a vegetable garden.

Some years, we get too much rain, other years, not enough. Some years, the bugs are out in force. Other years, they find someone else’s garden to much on. Some years, there are so many tomatoes, you’re giving them away. Other years, drought causes blossom end rot to zombify perfectly good, nearly done tomatoes. But every year we have the same basic elements—water, sun, soil, seeds and transplants.

Just like manuscripts, though, each go at the garden seems to turn out just a little bit different—nothing duplicated, no experience perfectly matching up with the knowledge you need the next go around.

Currently, I’m revising a manuscript that has given me fits and starts the whole way through. I love the concept and the characters, but for some reason, it’s been a struggle. Which is to say, it’s nothing like the last manuscript, which basically shot out of my fingertips fully formed.

And though this one is taking a little more time and effort to get just perfect, I’m fairly certain eventually it’ll be just as ripe and wonderful, and maybe taste even better that last year’s fruit. Not that this experience will help me with the next one.

Guest Post: Lev Raphael

My Mother and My Mysteries

I started a mystery series in the 1990s thanks to my absurdly well-read, multi-lingual mother.  When I was publishing literary fiction in the 1980s, she had surprisingly urged me more than once to write for a wider audience.  She was right, though it took me a while to see that.  Once I did publish mysteries, my audience grew and so did my name recognition.

She had filled me with a love of all kinds of books as a child by reading to me, helping me learn to read myself, getting me a library card early, and takinassault-cover-250g me to our Beaux Arts library every week.  She never forbade me borrowing any book no matter the subject or reading level, and she mocked the juvenile reading assignments we had at school.  Sometimes she even mocked my teachers themselves.  Born in St. Petersburg and raised in Poland, she spoke English better than a few of my native-born teachers and she was a scathing critic of their pretensions when she returned from parent-teacher conferences in elementary school, especially the one who tried speaking French to her because my parents had lived in Belgium for five years. When that teacher had asked her something in (awful) French, my nonplussed mother reported saying, “Excuse me?  What language is that?” It was delicious to feel part of a conspiracy with my mother, and I think I was already learning something about appearance, reality, pomposity, and satire that would help me years later in my mysteries.

This erudite and witty Holocaust survivor who loved Thomas Mann, Tolstoy, Aldous Huxley, Balzac, and Stefan Zweig also adored mysteries.  Devoured them.  She read mysteries with the devotion she gave to the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, which she said had helped her perfect her English once she got to the United States. I suspect it might also have helped her face the puzzle of her own life, her miraculous survival when so many dozens of her family members had perished or been murdered during the war.

On a typical day, the shelves in my parents’ bedroom where she kept her library books would have a wide range of mysteries, and thanks to her, I discovered Agatha Christie, John Creasey, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Daphne du Maurier, and Phoebe Atwood Taylor–a very eclectic bunch, no?

My mother was also a splendid, unpretentious cook.  She had grown up somewhat privileged in northeastern Poland in a bourgeois-intellectual family with a maid, and had never prepared any food for herself, not even a cup of tea until after W.W. II—or so my father claimed.  Whatever the truth of that, her cooking was deft and never called attention to itself.  She casually cracked eggs with one hand, stirred bowls like a magician casting a spell with his wand.  Her omelets were miraculously fluffy, her cakes and cookies the envy of my friends. Though she couldn’t sing or dance, she was at her most elegant when she cooked or baked, despite our small Washington Heights kitchen.

When I started my mystery series, I quietly dedicated it to her, though she would never be able to read any of it, because by that point she had drifted far out onto the sea of dementia.  I made my narrator, the besieged professor Nick Hoffman, a foodie and a book lover.  I also made him something of an outsider since he’s a New Yorker in Michigan.  In another private nod to my mother, I gave Nick in-laws who were refugees from Belgium.  Lines that my mother had said or might have said weave their way through the series in silent tribute.

Someone who idolized that paper, she would have been proud to see my series reviewed in the New York Times Book Review more than once.  I hope she would have recognized herself in this line from one of those reviews:  “Nick Hoffman mows down intellectual pretenders with his scathing wit….the idiocies of academe always bring out the caustic humor that is the best part of him.”

My mother was the child of revolution, born to a Menshevik father who had to flee St. Petersburg when the Bolsheviks seized power.  Through my childhood and adolescence, I watched her endlessly discuss history, politics, and state power with neighbors and friends.  Her perspective on international affairs was informed by her deep reading in current events and her encounters with Soviet and Nazi brutality, but that didn’t mean she had lost her sense of humor.  She once quipped that Spiro Agnew’s droning speeches reminded her of “Stalin on a bad day.”  And she noted that a week before Stalin died, she had toasted to his demise at a party of Holocaust survivors.  “It worked!  Maybe I should have tried that sooner?”

She loathed Nixon and the Vietnam War and had made plans to get me to Canada should I be drafted.  I know she would be appalled by the growth of our national security apparatus and the way it’s trickled down to local police departments who have become obscenely militarized.  I wrote Assault with a Deadly Lie, due in October, with that massive cultural shift and my mother very much in mind.  It’s the darkest book in the series.  Nick Hoffman’s academic world is invaded by stalking, harassment, police brutality, and much more.  In a way, this book is not just a continuation of the series, it’s a continuation of the conversation I’ve been having with my mother ever since she stopped talking to anyone back in the early 1990s, ever since that voluble, highly intellectual woman disappeared into silence.  She may have been dead now since 1999, but in my mysteries, this one especially, she’s profoundly, beautifully alive.

Lev Raphael is the author of the Nick Hoffman Mysteries [] and 16 other books in many genres.

Mystery pet peeves

I’ve had some interesting conversations over the last couple weeks with various writer/reader friends. Essentially, what is it that really puts your (my) back up with regards to mysteries?

To a certain extent, mysteries are the same. There will be a crime. There will be a sleuth. Sometimes, this sleuth will be a professional (a police officer or PI), and sometimes it will be an amateur. In the end, there will be resolution and order will be restored (unless you’re reading noir, but that’s a topic for another day).

For me, it’s the characters that really make these stories come alive. How to they relate, how do they grow, how do they change. This is important, because when you invest 8-10 hours (or more, depending on how fast you read) in spending time with people, fictional or otherwise, they better make it worth your while, right?

That said, every reader has her pet peeves – things that no matter how great the characters or the plot just make it impossible to get into a story. I’m not talking about flat dialog, or a predictable plot, or even one-dimensional characters. Those are mechanics problems and any good writer, or decent writer with a good editor, can fix things. No, these are the things that make me roll my eyes and say, “really?”.

The list, in no particular order:

  1. Police non-procedural. Writing about cops is tricky. But I’ve had feedback on projects that have boiled down to basically, “It’s a police investigation and things are happening exactly as I’d expect them to happen.” Except, what if they didn’t? Everybody loves a rebel, right? Not really. Procedure matters when it comes to public officials. If your police officer protagonist allows random people to trample his scene, or bullies his way into an apartment under false pretences, some readers might like it. But for a lot, it’s going to backfire. A topic of lively conversation recently was the infamous “don’t leave town” instruction, made popular by TV. The police can’t make you stay put. They can ask, but really, if you want to leave to visit Aunt Martha for the weekend, they can’t stop you. It’s sloppy writing.
  2. Brilliant amateurs, bumbling cops. How often do you really think an amateur detective can show up the police? And how often are law enforcement officials really that clueless? I’ve talked to a lot of police officers. They’re pretty smart guys and gals. Sure, they probably miss things occasionally. Who doesn’t? But when I pick up a novel where the police are the Keystone Kops, and the amateur has to come in to “save the day,” I stop reading. Again, lazy. There are better ways to do civilian-cop conflict.
  3. “What was that noise? I guess I’ll go look.” I call this the “bad horror flick” trope. You know, power goes out in a creepy, isolated house with a serial killer on the loose and what’s the first thing everybody does? They split up. A young woman lives alone in a house, and hears a noise in the basement. So she goes to investigate, in her nightgown, without calling anyone or taking so much as a flashlight along. Unless she’s got mad ninja skills, no. Again, people are not this stupid. Such writing, unless you’ve crafted a character to deliberately have these traits (and done it for a very good reason) is lazy. There are better ways of crafting suspense.
  4. “Hi, my name is James, and..aagghhh!” It is certainly possible to write a mystery that doesn’t have anything to do with murder. But fiction is all about high stakes, and what higher stakes are there than death? However, as a reader, I need to understand why the death of this character is so important to the rest of the cast. In essence, why should I give a damn? So while some people insist that you have to have a dead body in the first three chapters, I’m not so sure. Make me care first, let me get to know this guy and hate him – or love him, so I feel badly that he’s dead.
  5. The unlikable protagonist. Now this one is tricky. I don’t necessarily believe your protagonist has to be someone I want to have over for dinner. However, I do have to be interested. I have to care. I have to be invested in her journey. Again, why spend time with her? Sure, maybe you’re writing noir. Maybe this isn’t supposed to be a noble person. The Jackal, in Frederick Forsyth’s classic The Day of the Jackal, was not a good person. But by golly I was invested in his journey. So if an author writes an “unlikable” protagonist, there better be something there to keep me reading.

I could go on. But I’ll stop at there. The five hot-button issues that will make me put down a book – or at least make me wish I had those 8-10 hours back.

So readers, what about you? What are your mystery pet peeves?

Malice Domestic Memories: 2014

ImageFrom the minute you walk into the Hyatt Regency for Malice Domestic, you know something’s up. It might be the deerstalker hats on the hotel staff. It might be the question marks projected on the wall above the bar. Or it might be the electricity in the air that charges you like a solar panel, giving you the energy to laugh, mingle, chat, hug, listen, learn, and occasionally jump up and down with enthusiasm.

In a nutshell, that’s Malice Domestic.

Photos of the conference are popping up all over the internet, and I can’t compete because I have a not-so-fancy phone that I kept forgetting to charge (and people say it’s unbelievable when an amateur sleuth is caught with a dead cell phone).

What I have are a new batch of memories that include: time spent with the chicks in the Hen House (pun intended), staying up until 2 a.m. with BFF and roomie Kendel Lynn every night, catching Tracy Kieley with her wine glass in one hand and her bottle of Mad for Mod pills in the other,  drinks with Agatha Award winner Art Taylor, Friday night dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House (where I was so embarrassed about being late that I inadvertently ordered the chicken), chatting about Mel Brooks movies with Jeff Cohen/E.J. Cooperman (I walked away with a list of things to add to my Netflix queue), Saturday cupcake party where Terrie Farley Moran blackmailed me into signing promo material for her upcoming launch, Saturday night banquet where we all showed off how well we clean up, Sunday morning for my panel with Christine DeSmet, Catherine Dilts, Penny Clover Peterson, and Leone Ciporin, and then to Author’s Alley to hear Tim Hall read from his funny cozy, DEAD STOCK. (I got one of his jokes a half a second after everyone else, providing evidence of my quick wit. Did I mention the up-until-2 a.m.-every-night situation?)

In ways, Malice is a blur of outfits and swag, of books I want to read and authors I want to get to know better. And in true mystery fashion, it triggers the excitement of discovery, whether it’s conceiving a new plot line during the banquet dinner (notes now scribbled on the back of my room key sleeve thanks to borrowed pen from Christina Freeburn . . . Dru Ann, you were a witness!) or making new friends who feel like you’ve known for years.

I’m still basking in that post-Malice Domestic glow. I don’t know how long it will last, but for sure I’ll be back again to try to capture the same feeling next year. Who’s with me?

The Story That Did Me In

By Kristi Belcamino

I’ll never forget the story that did me in.

The one that slayed me and changed my career path entirely. The one that ultimately led me to quit my job as a newspaper reporter.

It was about the perfect family destroyed — shattered — by tragedy.

As a crime reporter, I had been blithely cruising through other people’s tragedies for years. I was moved and haunted by many of the stories I covered — some which caused me to drink and smoke too much — but I was still able to do my job and more importantly, I still loved doing my job.

My two close friends at the paper were just like me. We thought nothing of talking about “floaters” and “decomps” and those words were sprinkled into our ever day conversation.

Not much rattled us. Dead body? No problem.

In fact, I’ll never forget how excited I was one day to get a new copy of a homicide investigator’s manual in the mail. It was chock full of graphic photos of various modes and manners of death, including close-range gunshot wounds to the face and explosions and people crushed to death. Not pretty.

But that didn’t stop my friend C and I from taking the book to a Chinese restaurant and flipping through it over lunch.

C also had seen more autopsies at our county morgue than probably any reporter in the history of our newspaper. She was soft-spoken, drop-dead gorgeous, and fearless.

I only saw one autopsy. A guy about my age who overdosed. I can recognize the smell of a dead body to this day.

C and I were regular visitors at the morgue and I soon got a reputation at the newspaper. Every time an intern started, the editors would tell me to take them to the morgue that first week.

I wonder how many interns were traumatized by the experience? I took one young woman on a day when a young man who died in a motorcycle crash was on the slab as we walked into the room. The first thing we saw was the giant chunk of his skull that was missing at the top of his head.

But none of that bothered me. Not really.

Then I gave birth.

The flood of hormones transformed me into another person. Suddenly, everything I reported on was much too close to home.

All the evil that I had kept at arm’s length seemed to follow me home at night.

I would immerse myself in the seediest, darkest part of life and then come home to the very definition of innocence in my baby. I was having a hard time reconciling these two worlds, but then it got worse.

Right before Christmas, a mother in a wealthy suburb and her two children, who I think were less than a year apart, were walking on a beautiful fall day to get ice cream. They were on a parkway, where a wide sidewalk was separated from the road by a patch of grass.

The kids were either in front of or behind the mother when a suspected drunk driver went careening off the road and plowed into the kids, killing them both.

Not long after, the parents invited the press to talk to them in their luxurious home in a rich subdivision. I sat with other reporters in their living room and looked around at the beautiful couple in their beautiful home.

The mother, who I had imagined would be curled up in the fetal position with dirty hair and slobber on her wrinkled clothes, looked more put together than I ever had in my entire life.

She was gorgeous. Her husband was gorgeous. Without knowing their story and looking at them in their fancy home, you would think they had everything.

And yet, they had nothing. Not anymore. Some drunken fool had taken away their life.

The million dollar house was empty and hollow, haunted by memories of children playing and laughing.

Later, my editors asked me to do a story about what this couple’s Christmas was like. I refused. Or rather, I simply kept forgetting to do it.

I couldn’t force myself to call them. I knew what their Christmas was going to be like. Or at least I suspected. It was going to be a hellish nightmare, just like the rest of their days were right now.

So, I suppose it could have been any story that fall — any tragedy that struck me to the core — but that was the story that did me in. Suddenly as a mother, I couldn’t dip in to and out of other people’s tragedies anymore. I just couldn’t do it.

I had always cared about my job and cared about the victims of tragedies and tried to do them justice in the best way I could, but I couldn’t do it anymore. When I became a mother, the emotions struck too sharp and too deep for me to continue doing my job properly.

I quit my job a few months later.

But I am forever changed by my former life as a reporter. I have seen things that help me put everything into perspective.

Luckily most of the people I know live very sheltered lives. When they complain — and cry — about trivial things, I try to understand. II tell myself they don’t know. They don’t understand.

They don’t know how lucky they are. They have a little bubble around their lives. They feel invincible. And maybe it is necessary to feel that way to go on day to day.

But I know something different. I know that bubble doesn’t protect them from tragedy. Tragedy is not picky. It is not discerning. It has a laissez-faire attitude in who it strikes. There is no rhyme or reason.

That’s one thing I know.

I’ve sat in too many living rooms of people who know the same thing.

This knowledge may seem like a burden to some. And in fact, up-close knowledge of that as a crime reporter was more than I could handle as a new mother.

But with hindsight, I realize this knowledge is not a burden, but a gift.

It is a gift because it reminds me to pick my battles, put minor setbacks in perspective and to never, ever take one moment of this precious life for granted.