Whole lotta nuthin’ goin’ on

Geez. Apparently I haven’t had anything to say in recent months and some of you are about to demand proof of life. This tends to happen when there’s either too much or not enough happening in my life. Oddly, this time, it’s both. I’m not sure how to explain that. Not sure it would matter to anyone if I could.

Yes, I’ve been writing. In a distracted-by-interruptions sort of way. Like tonight (Friday), for instance. My daughter is on her way from Boston to the Cape for a long weekend, as her husband is doing a two-week stint there to finish up his residency. My son and his wife are out of town for a wedding. So I figure this is a good time to get some writing done. Right?

Then I get a text:

DD: On the ferry on way to the Cape.
Me: Great! Have fun!
DD: Well, IT got a little wet in my backpack walking to the wharf. Sorry ☹
[I’m not sure what she’s talking about, but I reply . . . ]
Me: Uh oh
DD: It’s just around the edges of the first 100 pages
DD: Gives it character? I hate messing up books

OK, typing this out is too time-consuming. Here, have some screen shots:

And we go on like that with silly word-play for a while. As you do. And then a little bit later, she sends this:

Why yes, I DO use up my annual quota of exclamation marks in text messages. And now I’ve got that creepy song about the Edmund Fitzgerald stuck in my head. Not helpful, brain.

Obviously, some of these distractions are unavoidable. I’m never going to ignore my kids when they text or call me. (She texted a few minutes later to say they were docking, in case you were worried.)

In related news, and speaking of distractions, after seven years of living in other states, my daughter and her husband are finally moving back to THIS state. I am absolutely thrilled and can’t wait for them to get here. In two weeks! *GASP* How did time fly so quickly? It seems like just last week instead of last summer that this decision became official.

Anyway, they’re coming home and then, two days later, as an interlude before starting new jobs . . . they’re leaving Jenny the dog here with her BFF, The White Ninja (and me), and going on an epic three-week road trip. To Points Unknown. Or so they say.

Given their history, I assume they know exactly where they’re going and that it involves proximity to BEARS, and they decided not to tell me their plans so I won’t worry. Please. Like that’s going to stop me.

Provided they survive close encounters of the BEAR kind, upon their return they’ll be living with me until they find a house to either rent or buy. This wasn’t their original plan, but the housing market here is insane. To say it’s a “seller’s market” is a vast understatement, especially in the area they want to live. It might take a while to find something.

This will be interesting. In a good way! Probably. I hope.

So I’ve been preparing for long-term houseguests. Little things like cleaning out the fridge and freezer and pantry, throwing away things that are expired or unidentifiable or inexplicable, so no one dies of food poisoning. Or shame.

I’m also clearing out some closet/cupboard space so they have room to put stuff that isn’t going into storage. When my daughter was here for a quick weekend visit toward the end of April, I convinced her to help me clear off a shelf in the under-stair closet since it held a few things of hers.

Although mostly it was my detritus, like this, which I thought some of you might find amusing:

Yes, that’s a bottle of Crème de Menthe. See the little Georgia liquor tax stamp? I’m not even going to tell you how long ago it was that I lived in Georgia. Suffice it to say, it’s so old it turned blue.

And then there was this little gem that I didn’t even know was IN that closet, shoved way in the back.

Not only do I not know how old it is or where it came from (I’ve never been to Puerto Vallarta), I have no explanation for why no one ever drank it. Too late now.

This is what happens when you have too much room for storage. Things just expand to fill all the available space and then “out of sight, out of mind” takes over until you need that space for something else. Or until you’re in the mood, as I have been lately, to purge all the “crap” from your life and simplify.

What else has been going on . . . Oh, my son-in-law was here for a long weekend in early May for job-related doings, and I made two big pans of lasagna (Ed Giobbi’s recipe, which is a ton of work but so worth it). Doesn’t it look good? It was.

 

My daughter was not happy to miss out and wanted her husband to bring some back on the plane. Yeah, right. I sent her the recipe.

Oh, here’s another distraction, even as I write this: My Bossy Older Sister just texted to tell me her son, who lives in NYC, was texting her about the free ebola on the subway.

Me: WHAT?!

Oh, turns out she meant free ebooks (thanks auto-correct) courtesy of the NYPL, celebrating the new free wi-fi on trains. Here’s a pic of the “book train” my nephew was on, which is pretty cool:

Are you starting to see why I haven’t posted for a while? There’s a lot going on but none of it is particularly interesting, let alone blog-worthy.

But I’m plugging along with the current story, in spite of having NO IDEA what I’m going to do with it once I’m done. I suspect that’s part of why it’s taking so long to finish. I’m dragging my feet — er, fingers? — and putting off that decision.

There’s so much uncertainty hovering over this particular project and it has me feeling all ambivalent and lacking momentum and at the same time completely stressed out.

One of my writer friends summed it up well a week or so ago in a group forum when she said she felt stuck because she couldn’t decide what to do with her story once she was done– whether to query agents or self-pub. In my mind I was all, “YES, EXACTLY.” But I didn’t say anything because I have no advice for her. It’s the kind of decision a writer has to make for herself. I know all the options, all the pros and cons of each, have read ALL the facts and opinions out there. And I can’t fucking make up my mind. Or rather, I make up my mind only to change it the next day, or the next hour, each time absolutely convinced I’ve finally made the best choice for this story. And then change my mind again.

I can’t adequately describe how frustrating this is. I’ve faced decisions in my life that were difficult, or that made me uncomfortable even when I knew what was for the best. I’ve honestly never encountered a decision like this where the sides are so evenly balanced that I don’t know what to do. Yeah, I’m a mess.

I know, I know. Cue the tiny first-world-problem violins. I need to just finish the story and THEN decide what to do. I’m trying. Actually, I’m very near to being done enough for delta readers.

And really, I need to hurry up and finish before my distractions manifest in physical form.

In two weeks.

I’m just glad they’re not arriving via ferry.

 

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Filed under blogging, just for fun, parenting, writing

And now for something . . .

. . . completely different? Well, slightly different.

How did it get to be the end of March, already? Yes, of course, in the usual way, days passing one after the other without pause. Perhaps the better question is why haven’t I accomplished as much as I had planned to by now. I am making progress, but it’s been slow.

Speaking of time passing (and in an effort to post something less “controversial”), on my latest birthday (in December) my Bossy Older Sister sent me flowers. Red orchids, to be exact:

I’d never seen red orchids before. Aren’t they gorgeous and exotic? The enclosed note said something about the flowers helping me celebrate all year long. Which confused me, because these were cut flowers and I didn’t see how I was going to keep them alive for an entire year. I asked her about it and she said, “No, silly. You’ll get new flowers every month, for a year.”

WOW. What a wonderful gift. I love flowers, absolutely love them, but never buy them for myself. It just seems . . . overly self-indulgent.

So the red orchids lasted almost three weeks, but then they were gone and I’d pretty much forgotten about the “every month” thing when one day in January, these showed up:

MORE ORCHIDS. I thought the red orchids were just a lucky selection for one month, but no, turns out it will be an entire year of ORCHIDS.

These were delivered in February (sorry, by the time I realized it was a horrible blurry pic, it was too late):

And just last week, these arrived:

You can’t tell from that pic, but the centers of these look like Johnny Jump-ups, so it’s like getting two flowers in one. Wait, here’s a close-up:

So this has been delightful, getting fresh flowers every month. Luckily, The White Ninja is indifferent to the additional coffee table décor and hasn’t eaten any of them. Yet.

What other innocuous things have been going on . . .

Oh, my daughter and her husband took a two-week vacation in Europe. I freaked out just a wee bit after their plane took off and I realized they were going to be 30-some-thousand feet over the vast, deep, unsearchable expanse of the Atlantic for several hours. Which was unsettling because I hadn’t anticipated being bothered by that. But I was, on both their departure and return.

They’re back now [whew] and my daughter has been sending pictures, most of them the usual touristy sort of thing: here I am next to some ancient stone structure, here we are drinking beer, here’s a lovely landscape. Great shots, but you know the kind of thing I mean.

But this one is different and it really caught my attention. And my imagination:


She titled it: Rainy Cityscape

I love that it’s not the usual tourist picture. I love the shine of wet cobblestones at night, the juxtaposition of the modern bicycles and the centuries old Bächle. But mostly I love the mysterious, almost spooky, atmosphere it invokes.

Makes me want to tell a story.

Yeah, maybe I’d better finish the ones I’m already working on first. Before another month comes and goes.

 

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Filed under miscellaneous bits

Creativity in times of despair

Lindy West summed it up rather astutely in the opening paragraph of her 14 Feb column titled, “The first 25 days of Trump have been a zoetrope of galloping despair” [The Guardian]:

“Today, during my morning routine of opening my laptop, clicking on literally anything, and just screaming and screaming, I made the astonishing discovery that Donald Trump has only been president of the United States for about three weeks. Which is weird, because I could have sworn we had fallen through a tesseract into the airless crush of a two-dimensional void at least seven eternities ago, or what would have constituted seven eternities if such a place had a linear concept of time. Turns out, though, it has only been 25 days, we are still on earth, and every cell in my body has not been excruciatingly flattened into pure math. It just feels like it.”

No, I’m not going to get all political over here. Not today, anyway. But I do want to talk about the effect all this upheaval is having on me, and on almost every writer I know. This feeling of being emotionally crushed or creatively flattened and unable to write.

It’s a problem I’ve been hearing about both publicly and privately on an increasing basis since the inauguration. Several well-known authors have addressed it in blog posts– some of their advice has resonated with me and some has fallen flat. That’s to be expected. We’re all in different places in our lives and careers. But the underlying assertion is that stories are vitally important, and there’s no denying that.

We all know, often first-hand, how stories can make an important difference for people going through overwhelmingly difficult times. We’ve all heard accounts of how the escapism or optimism of fiction has literally saved people from despair.

But what happens when writers are among those who need to be saved? How do we continue to create when we’re the ones overwhelmed and not feeling up to the task?

I realize that right now some of you are thinking, Well aren’t you all just speshul creative snowflakes. Buck up and do your job like the rest of us. And, well, maybe you’ve got a point. Maybe.

Except . . . doing a job where you create something out of nothing but imagination IS different. I know, because I’ve done those other jobs too. Answering the phone, waiting on customers, wielding a shovel or a hammer, typing a legal brief . . . hard work, yes. But a completely different kind of effort.

It’s tough enough to be creative when you’re feeling normal– well, as normal as writers ever are. But when you’re feeling outraged or hopeless? Helpless? Oh, man. It’s almost impossible to maintain the belief that what you’re doing matters. That it even should matter, in the face of more dire things. It’s so damn hard to tamp down the anger and pessimism and cynicism — and yes, the fear — to focus on writing stories that will entertain by somehow being clever or funny or romantic or scary or even just delightfully different. All those things you’re not feeling and don’t think you can fake.

I’m not saying it can’t be done. It can. I’m still doing it, or trying to, albeit more slowly. But it isn’t easy. Not for most writers I know, anyway, and certainly not for me. I’ve had to devise strategies to try to achieve some daily balance, to invent a new normal in my life. I’ve had to make several adjustments to my routine in the past few weeks, so hope and creativity aren’t being continually crushed into oblivion.

Here are some things that have helped, for me:

1. Limit time spent on social media. I’d like to ignore all SM entirely, forever. But I can’t actually do that and still call myself an informed citizen, something that’s important to me. But my curiosity and [so-called] self-restraint are such that I’m quickly down the rabbit hole, reading that in-depth article about sea urchins that I randomly decided was fascinating, and then two hours later realize I’ve also read a political history of the Ukraine (talk about upheaval) and bookmarked five new ways to prepare salmon and have watched perhaps twice that number of cat videos. And, yeah, read a half dozen political articles. *sigh*

So I decided I needed a timer. I really wanted an hourglass, because it just seems like such an interesting thing to have and I know a couple writers who use one . . . except I’d constantly be looking at it to see whether the sand had run out, or ignoring it entirely since they’re silent, and that’s not exactly productive. So I got this thing (quarter for scale, but it’s about 2 inches each side):

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I love it. It’s so simple to use, it’s genius. To activate, you turn it so the amount of time is on top and it beeps (loudly, unlike sand) when time is up. To stop it, turn it so the zero is on top. The one I got has settings for 5/15/30/60 minutes. There’s a little digital screen on the bottom doing a countdown, but I never look at it.

The key is to remember to use it. I set it before I venture over to twitter or facebook or my blog feed and I STOP WHEN TIME IS UP. Knowing I have limited time makes me read faster (or skim) and stops me from wandering off. Mostly.

Also, because sometimes just getting started is the tough part, I’ve used the timer a couple times to convince myself to write for “just 15 minutes.” After which I turn it off and keep writing, obviously.

2. Re-arrange the workday. This is related to limiting time spent online. I used to check email and news and blog feeds and social media first thing, then write in the evening and into the wee hours. This was no longer working for me, even with using a timer. The outrage was accumulating to new levels every day and messing with my head and my creativity. And probably my blood pressure. So I flipped my schedule.

There are still a couple things I check at the start of the day, in case someone needs me urgently or there’s a more than twenty percent chance of mushroom clouds, but the vast majority of that is now relegated to the end of the day, after I’m done writing.

I haven’t completely adjusted to this new schedule — it is NOT easy — but on the days I manage it, it’s really sort of amazing how peaceful life can be. Sure, crap still happens and I miss hearing about it right away. But that’s okay. *twitch* Really. Not like I’m the one in charge of stopping it or fixing it or anything. Unfortunately.

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3. News curation. Probably most of you have already seen this site, “What the fuck just happened today?” There are days I just want a quick summary of the mayhem, and this is a good resource for that. I appreciate that there are links to news sources if I’m feeling all masochistic and want more detail. Again, setting the timer is invaluable.

4. Pacemaker Planner. No, not the medical device for your heart. This is a tool for planning and tracking your writing. It also has settings for exercise and finances, for you non-writers. I’m finding it helpful in setting a goal and focusing on it. Accountability at a glance. It’s easy to see whether I’m falling behind and need to step up the pace, or if perhaps my projections were unrealistic and need adjustment. Plus, the graphs are just cool.

I created a sample to see how it works, and below are a couple screenshots. I set a goal of 25K words between 21 Jan and 10 Feb, with a provision that I wasn’t going to write at all when my daughter was here the weekend of 4-6 Feb (there are a lot of options; adjustments are easy to make). The blue line shows consistent distribution of words-per-day to meet the goal. The green line represents words written each day (these are made-up numbers).

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Here’s the same info, but using the option of the blue line changing so you know how many words you need to write daily to meet the deadline, given what you’ve written.

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Here are a couple more screenshots showing a different sort of timeline, one that will look familiar to NaNo participants. Again, the first one uses the option of keeping the original target blue line and the other one changes it with input.

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The basic plan is free to use, but I signed up for a paid subscription. There are a few additional features with the paid version, but that’s not why I got it. I just think it’s important to pay creative people, even if — no, especially if — they’re generous enough to put their work out there for free.

They’re currently running a special promo for an annual subscription (link to blog post with discount code), good through March 31. If for some reason that link doesn’t work, I got a code when I signed up, which they encourage people to share, so let me know in the comments or via email and I’ll give it to you.

NOTE: I am not in any way affiliated with any people or products mentioned in this post. I don’t get a commission or even a pat on the back for sending potential customers to these sites.

5. Maintain focus on physical health. Yeah, all those boring but necessary things like balanced nutrition and staying hydrated and moving body parts other than my fingers on a somewhat regular basis. Going outside to breathe some fresh air, feel the sunshine on my face. Getting enough sleep, taking naps if needed.

It seems too obvious to even mention this stuff, but I often need the reminder. Just because I want to curl up into a little ball and hide under the covers doesn’t mean it’s a sensible long-term plan. And a long-term perspective is important.

6. Have faith in history. Or humanity. Or something. As catastrophic as current events seem, these are not historically the worst times we’ve ever known. Nor will they be the last of the worst times we’ll ever know, sadly.

Oppression relies on widespread deception and social isolation and fear of the unknown, all of which have become almost impossible to achieve, let alone maintain, in the internet age. Never mind the eventual futility of employing those tactics in a country that cut its teeth on rebellion and principles of freedom and equality. Our collective memory is not impaired.

We haven’t been told we are not allowed to write or create. Yet. But imagine we have been, if that helps, and imagine how that would spur motivation. History is rife with examples of people who found a way to create in spite of chaos and tyranny. There’s strength in the knowledge that bringing beauty or laughter or diversion into the world is as much an antidote as an act of defiance. And there’s hope in realizing that sometimes we just need to outlast the bastards. To take care of ourselves so we’re able to do the hard work of fixing things once they’re gone. To hold tightly to the certainty that they will indeed, one day, be gone.

Speaking of which, my timer just went off. Good thing, as I’m bordering on the political when I said I wouldn’t. Time to get up and move.

Quickly, to wrap up, those are a few strategies I’ve found helpful in trying to maintain sanity and creativity in uncertain times. If you’re struggling similarly, whether you’re a writer or not, maybe some of them will work for you as well. If you have other tried-and-true suggestions, I’d be more than happy to hear about them in the comments.

 

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Filed under creativity, deep thoughts

Winter Storm Advice for Southerners

Ah, here we go again. Wintry precipitation is imminent here in the South and people are reacting with their usual calm indifference.

Not.

The typical attitude down here is actually really interesting, a weird hyper-anticipation that I haven’t seen for any other type of weather. The energy is almost tangible. It involves a combination of both panic and elation, depending on your age and the likelihood of skipping a few days of work or school. And whether you own a device suitable for sledding.

The forecast this time (ever-evolving and subject to last minute change) calls for either 4-6 inches of snow or a bunch of sleet followed by a layer of snow. So not nearly as bad as freezing rain, but just the right combination to cause all sorts of problems for those venturing forth to traverse our many hills. Also, power outages. Because that always happens.

In addition, it will be unusually cold afterward, with low temps forecast to be 9 on Saturday and 0 on Sunday (Fahrenheit). Apparently, our all-time record low is -9. Downright balmy, for this Minnesotan, but almost unheard of here in NC.

To give you some perspective, this is from our local weather people: “In 130 years, we’ve only been below zero four times in Raleigh, and we’ve only hit zero four other times.” –WRAL

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So in honour of all this shivery news, today I’m re-posting something I wrote a few years ago, when we were expecting an icier storm. Given that my blog followers have somehow multiplied 10x in the past year, one or two of you might not have seen this. The advice is mostly for writers, but I’m sure all you non-writers can adapt it for your own use.

*   *   *

From February 2014:

We here in the South are supposed to get some nasty weather later today. Several inches of snow followed by the dreaded coating of ICE. Or so they say. But even 1/4-inch of ice is cause for concern, as that’s enough to bring down power lines. And when the forecast predicts there will be a significant coating of ice over a large geographic area, well, it means people here are sort of freaking out.

I grew up in Minnesota where winter was just something that happened every year. Cold, snow, wind, even ice. It wasn’t really a big deal.

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But I’ve lived in the South long enough to know how traumatic and disorienting it is to suddenly have to cope with the arrival of something other than daffodils in early February. So I decided this was a good time to give you all some advice about how to prepare for and handle icy winter weather.

This advice is specifically directed to all the writers out there. Because I know how vulnerable we writers are when faced with the harsh implacability of the real world. We need all the help we can get.

At this late date, mere hours before the onslaught of precipitation, if you haven’t yet made a trip to the grocery or liquor store, you’re flat out of luck. Believe me, those shelves are bare. And honestly, if you’re a writer and you don’t have at least a week’s worth of liquor stocked up at all times . . . what kind of writer are you, anyway?

You’re going to have to make do with what you have at hand. So let’s start with some basics.

Run the dishwasher. Yes, really. Do I even need to explain this? Do this now while you still have power.

Do a load of laundry. If you lose power, in the winter, even in the South, it’s going to get cold in your house. You might need to actually put on a pair of pants. I know, desperate measures. But if someone needs to come rescue you, for whatever reason, clean pants are a lot easier to explain than . . . well, that’s sort of the point. Clean pants won’t need explanation. Unlike your current laundry pile.

Make soup. Yes, soup. Surely you have some quantity of chicken or beef in your freezer, festering, waiting for you to do something with it. So make soup. Right now, while the stove still works. Add some thyme and sliced carrots and barley. Dumplings, even. Yes, the prospect of eating cold leftover soup is rather unappetizing. But it’s infinitely more palatable, and less life-threatening, than eating thawed raw meat.

Hard boil some eggs. You do have eggs, right? The unequivocal accompaniment for bacon? Same concept as the soup. No one wants to eat raw eggs. Hardboiled eggs are a good source of protein and . . . other stuff. You can even use the egg decorating dyes and stickers leftover from last Easter to add some festive colour to your power outage.

Take a shower. I know, it hasn’t even been a week since the last one. But weather extremes sometimes cause people to have to interact with strangers — calm down, this is just a possibility and not some dire portent set in stone — and it’s best not to frighten the neighbours unnecessarily.

Update your spreadsheet of food sources. Speaking of neighbours, I assume you’ve been keeping stats about which ones might be the best targets in terms of easy takedown and tender flesh. Avoid drug addicts and alcoholics and extreme athletes who tend toward gristle. Families with small succulent children are likely sources. Um, wait. Sorry, that’s advice for the zombie apocalypse. Heh. Never mind.

Locate sources of combustibles. Identify which neighbours have random unattended cords of firewood. Or a less than sturdy weathered deck. Or a rotting fence that’s on the verge of falling down. I know you’ve been too distracted writing the latest story to stock your own woodpile, so you’re going to need access to a supply of seasoned firewood that doesn’t necessitate taking an axe to granny’s rocking chair or the dining room table.

Keep your curtains closed. People will tell you this is a buffer to keep the warm air inside, or to keep the cold air outside. Nonsense. This is to keep your neighbours from spying on you to determine whether you have any small children or meaty pets. What? You think they don’t have their own spreadsheets?

Have a backup heat source. Speaking of pets, it has been scientifically proven by people who wake up in the night, sweating, with a cat plastered to their side, that cats generate enough BTUs in one night to power a small country. Of course, if you show any sign of wanting them to keep you warm, they will ignore you. Indefinitely. So be clever. Tell them how pretty they are. Dole out treats judiciously. Lull them into a state of complacency before you burrow your icy cold hands into their soft warm stomach fur. Caution: Be sure you’ve stocked up on antiseptic and bandages before using cats as a heat source. As with any heat source, use proper ventilation at all times.

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Wear a hat. If you lose power, you will be cold. Wearing a hat, especially if it’s a particularly stylish hat, will make you feel better and keep your brain warm while the rest of your body slowly freezes to death. Also, socks are something to consider if you are overly concerned about retaining use of your lower extremities.

Download more ebooks. You’ve charged up your ereader of choice, right? So you might want to stock up on new stories to read during the impending power outage. Might I suggest my latest novella? Coincidentally, it’s a short sweet story of two people who get stuck in a remote mountain cabin during a snowstorm. Perfect reading for this weather! Ahem.

Play games! After hours (or mere minutes) without electricity, your laptop and cell phone batteries will die and you’ll no longer be able to play Words With Friends. Okay, settle down. I know this seems like extreme hardship. But this is a great time to dig out the actual Scrabble board game that you forgot you even had. You live alone? No problem. You can play with yourself! Er, that is, play against yourself. And since those pesky tiles will slide all over the place if you move the board, you’ll burn calories and generate heat by running back and forth from one side of the table to the other as you take turns. This is the perfect opportunity to use all those creative words the #%$^@ computer says aren’t really words, or to play words that go off the grid by just one space. Or three.

Write!! Of course, this should be the first thing on any writer’s list of things to do during inclement apocalypse weather. Of course it is. Who needs a computer, anyway? Did Plato have a computer? Did Shakespeare? Austen or Hemmingway? Did Franzen— okay, never mind. Harsh weather is punishment enough. But seriously, severe temperatures and lack of electricity are not sufficient reasons to stop writing. Dig out that pad of paper and a pen. Or pencil, if the ink and quill have frozen. Who cares if your handwriting is indecipherable? You’re going to re-write the damn thing anyway, right? This is your chance, maybe your only chance, to experience first hand that whole romanticized starving artist living in a freezing garret with a broken heart and shattered innocence and surviving on a heel of moldy bread and cheap bottle of wine lifestyle we’ve all heard so much about and foolishly envied.

Um, you did stock up on the broken heart and cheap wine along with the bread, right? I figure there are some basic survival techniques I just shouldn’t have to enumerate.

So, good luck surviving the impending weather. At the very least, wrap up your sense of humour in a soft wool scarf and offer it a dram of the finest whisky. After all, the chances are slim to none that you’ll make it through this storm intact without it.

 

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Filed under just for fun

Reflections and resolutions and the requisite splatter of blood

You all know I don’t make resolutions at the New Year. I’ve said it more than once over here, and explained why. Mostly because it seems like an artificial point in time but also because this time of year has historically been so stressful (for me) that resolutions would tend to be along the lines of “burn it all down.”

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But this year . . . this year feels different. I feel different, more resolute. Actually, in going back to re-read a few older posts, I see that last year at this time felt different as well. I resolved then that 2016 was going to be the year of me being selfish and saying “no” and focusing on what I wanted to do, which was write fiction.

To a great extent, that’s what I did. I made significantly more progress in 2016 than the year before — just shy of 100,000 words, a vast improvement — but not as much as I had hoped.

This past year has been really tough for a lot of us, myself included. It has gotten to the point where things that I’d normally take in stride have felt devastating. Things that would normally not feel personal have piled on top of troubles that are very personal and their combined weight has been overwhelming. It’s been an accumulation of tragedy. Following waves of communal grief. Shared anger and frustration and a feeling of helplessness. It has all added up this year and become a relentless self-perpetuating cycle of trauma.

That’s not healthy.

There are so many awful things I can’t do anything about, I’ve lost sight of what I can influence and achieve. But I do think recognizing a problem is a necessary first step in doing something about it. So, there’s that.

*   *   *

I’ve been re-reading portions of my novella, A PLACE TO START — looking at some details for the sake of continuity in the second book — and came across this scene toward the end where Mac (our hero, for those who haven’t read it) (why haven’t you read it?) and Charlie (a wise old mountain man) are having a little heart-to-heart. I skimmed it, as it wasn’t the scene I was looking for, and then stopped and read it again. And again.

Why? Well, see for yourself:

“Life is chock full of pain and death. You can spend all your days anticipatin’ it and, by God, you won’t be disappointed.”

“I don’t spend time anticipating it.”

“Sure you do. That’s all you been doin’ these past three years. Waitin’ for someone else to die. Ain’t no way for a young man to live.”

Mac couldn’t even remember the last time he’d felt young. “We all grieve in different ways.”

“That’s the truth. But after a time, it’s just purely selfish. It ain’t helpin’ those done gone and it sure ain’t good for the people still here. Wallowing, is what it is.”

Mac couldn’t argue with that, but still. “Harsh words.”

“Truth often is.” He spat again. “Fact is, you got a choice, the way you look at things. And you been focused for so long on those moments of pain, waitin’ on the next one, you done lost sight of the happiness and peace in between ’em.”

“Aye. Haven’t seen much of either, lately.” Except with Jo.

“That’s ’cause you ain’t been looking, son. There are whole long stretches of it, between the pain, days and weeks and even years of it. There’s love mixed up in there too, if you ain’t too dense to see it.”

You know, sometimes I read a thing I wrote and can’t quite believe I wrote it. It’s as if past me was giving advice to future me, like I knew I’d need to hear those words someday.

So, that’s one of my resolutions for 2017. Change the way I look at things, try to focus on the positive and happy and peaceful in between the inevitable moments of pain and grief.

While I can’t change certain things, I can limit my exposure. I’ve been doing that already, to a degree, since November. I can certainly set a timer before I look at twitter or facebook or news sites. I can unsubscribe from RSS feeds that I tend not to read anyway and get rid of some clutter. I can mute a good deal of the negativity and anger, and try not to engage in it myself. Maybe. Probably.

In the week since Christmas, I’ve resumed my focus on good eating habits and cut back on consumption of adult beverages and chocolate which, to be honest, had increased a wee bit since November. *sigh* I can’t avoid the fact that my work involves sitting in one place for hours each day, but I can set reminders to get up and move more often. Release some endorphins. Or, failing that, a kraken or two.

I can’t control when people send me text messages and emails, but I can control when I read and reply. In fact, yesterday I spent hours getting rid of hundreds of old unread emails from various group feeds, admitting I’m never going to read them. Given the rapid changes in publishing, most of them were obsolete anyway.

I definitely can’t control whether some idiot mouse decides to enter my house, as one did the night before last, nor can I stop The White Ninja from playing with it to the point of bloodshed. Again.

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Cats are barbarians.

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But I guess I can be glad all I have to do is clean up the mess and not chase the stupid doomed thing myself. Small mercies.

So, those all are positive and constructive things I can do to improve my mental and emotional state. It’s helpful as well to keep in mind that there were a lot of really good things that happened worldwide in 2016. If you need a refresher, take a look at this powerful listing in the twitter timeline of Commander Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut and all-around good guy (keep clicking “show more” at the end to see the entire list of 46 items):

Really, go read it. I’d missed hearing about several of them.

*   *   *

I’m also resolving to do something I hope will improve the consistency and volume of my writing output. No promises about what it’ll do to the quality.

The other day I was scrolling through twitter and saw a spreadsheet graphic someone had made where she’d not only tracked her writing, she’d blocked out time during the year for vacation and sick days and flex time and holidays– just like she would if she were working a “real” job. It was complex and colourful and highly organized. It was also a real eye-opener.

Yeah, I know, everyone says you need to treat writing like a “real” job. No surprise there. And I thought I had been doing that, until I saw that schedule and realized . . . I don’t have one. What an idiot.

Thing is, I know how to work hard. I know how to get stuff done. I know what it takes to meet deadlines. And I know I haven’t been doing it. Not the way I would if it were a “real” job with a real schedule.

How do I know? Because for the past two years I’ve been keeping track in my own complex, colourful, highly organized spreadsheet of all the words I’ve written. I can see exactly how and when I’ve been slacking off. Not holding myself accountable. Indulging myself when I should be demanding the results I know darn well I’m capable of achieving. Getting lost in the escape of reading when instead I should be writing.

If I were my boss (and I am) I’d have fired my ass by now.

Yes, I’ve had reasons for some of that behaviour. As I said, tough year. But that certainly doesn’t account for all of it. Some of it, I’m now convinced, is due to a lack of structure.

So I’m going to make a writing schedule for the coming calendar year, with concrete goals. Not just to keep track of what I’ve written, which is good and necessary (for me), but to plan out what I intend to do and when. Create a familiar framework within which to get shit done.

I’m going to schedule four weeks of vacation, something I’ve never had at any job, ever. I’m giving myself a week of sick time and all the weekends and holidays I didn’t get to take off while working in retail finance, even though I wasn’t part of the sales team. In some ways, it feels like I’m still stubbornly making up for that lack of time off, even now.

That sounds like a lot of non-writing days, doesn’t it? I imagine you’re wondering just how, exactly, I expect all that time off to improve output. But here’s the important part, the part I’ve been missing: The rest of the days will be for work.

No more vague feeling of every day being the same, of not having a sense of whether it’s a work day or a weekend or vacation, which makes it way too easy to procrastinate and simply take the day off since there is always tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

I’m going to hold myself accountable for sticking to it, even if it gets all irregular and pear-shaped at times. Which it will. But I can already tell that having a schedule mapped out will make it easier to get back on track when life tries to derail me. Which it will.

I wonder whether this sudden enthusiasm for a schedule is just a sign of getting older and sensing time slipping away more quickly each year, feeling the need to control it somehow or at least force it into neat categories. I’m sure that’s part of it. I never worried about this when I was younger. Of course, when I was younger I had schedules and expectations imposed on me by others. In this strange new stage of self-employment, the first couple years without a schedule was the most liberating feeling of sheer relief– I have no words for it.

But it feels like it’s time for some order and routine again. Maybe I’m just fooling myself and doing this will be setting myself up for failure and future feelings of inadequacy and guilt and shame. Or maybe it will work.

Won’t know if I don’t try. So that’s my new plan of attack, even though I’m wondering why it took me so long to figure this out. Nope. Not going there. Regrets are useless.

*   *   *

For a change, I’m feeling all resolute at the same time of year everyone else usually does. Time to move forward and make the coming year what I want it to be. And every year after, for however many more there might be.

One thing 2016 demonstrated quite clearly is that none of us are guaranteed more time than this moment right now. And as old Charlie might say, “Not makin’ the most of the time you got just ain’t no way to live.”

We all have varying interpretations of what it means to “make the most” of our time, our talent, our energy. However you define it, my wish for all of you is that you manage to accomplish that in the coming year.

May it truly be a Happy New Year, for all of us.

 

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