Tag Archives: taking a break

Random thoughts in December

This is a rambling post full of random thoughts. I know you’re used to that over here and probably I don’t even need to mention it, but whatever.

I have somehow ended up with an iPhone. I’d say I’m not sure how that happened, but I know exactly how it happened.

Several months ago, my daughter decided we were paying too much for cell phone service (she and her husband are on my plan). So I told her, fine, you find a good plan that’s less expensive and we’ll switch. Because I hate dealing with that kind of stuff.

Of course, being an intrepid adventurer who did not inherit my gene for procrastination, she did just that. Only problem was, my very old cell phone was so old that it sent the new plan into paroxysms of laughter before it said, “No. You need a new phone. One from this century.”

Here’s a picture of my old phone (on the left, if you couldn’t tell), next to the new one. With bonus coasters, because I’m too lazy to crop them out.

photo

Oh, stop laughing. The old one was functional. I was able to check the time and date and send text messages and even set an alarm. I’m pretty sure I could make phone calls with it. Probably. It’s not like I have first-hand knowledge of that.

Sigh. I guess all good things come to an end.

I looked at the options for new non-smart phones (I wasn’t impressed) and decided I might as well accept the inevitable sooner rather than . . . even later. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to get a phone that could launch missiles and connect with the ISS and negotiate world peace through predictive text.

Now, I’m not a complete Luddite, but the adaptation has been predictably hilarious. And pitiful. Here’s an example of a typical text conversation with my daughter (we had been talking about the pic she sent of her Christmas tree):

IMG_0002

And then there is this inexplicably recurring nonsense from Siri, which I have transcribed from memory:

Siri: Hey, I learned a new trick! Just say “Hey Siri” to learn more.

Me: . . . [silent, wondering whether there’s a way to opt out of being spoken to like a three-year-old]

Siri: I’m not sure what you said.

Me: That’s because I’m speechless.

Siri: I’m not sure I understand. Did you say, “How do I write a speech?”

Me: Not even close.

Or I’d hit some weird combination of buttons and get this:

Siri: How can I help you?

Me: Sorry, didn’t mean to summon you.

Siri: You do not need to apologize to me.

Me: I’m going to disconnect you now.

Siri: Okay. Bye!

I decided Siri might be less irritating as a male, so I changed the voice preference the other day and haven’t heard from her, er, him since.

But I did discover — completely by accident, due to my tendency to click on stuff despite not knowing what it does — that I can text from my laptop. This is so cool, I can hardly believe it. Totally awesome to type a text message on a full keyboard rather than a tiny phone screen. This thing is really more computer than phone.

Another plus, the camera is light years better than the one on my old phone. Here’s a pic of The White Ninja, which is what my son calls her [it has been pointed out that I can’t really call her The Intruder Cat anymore, since the cat-intruded-upon is no longer with us]. See how she’s being all cooperative and shedding on a white blanket? That’s only because I moved my black sweater.

IMG_0003

As you might suspect, I’ve been feeling sad the last several weeks, missing my ancient kitty. She might have been ornery, but she was mine. There was a significant amount of time both before and after she died during which I didn’t write. At all. But I’ve been trying to get back to it in the past few days. Not easy, with the distractions of the holidays.

Speaking of distractions, my son just sent me this text message:

IMG_0005

I laughed SO HARD. That child definitely inherited his mother’s irreverent sense of humour. [I’m sorry if you don’t get the reference, and really sorry if no one forces you to watch that South Park episode every year at Christmas time, but I am not going to be the one to explain it.]

Where was I? Oh, yeah.

I’ve heard quite a few writers say they don’t like to talk about what they’re writing while writing it. As if doing so saps the words of their energy, deflating the story and rendering it lifeless. I’ve discovered over the years that I fall squarely into this camp.

However.

I will say that an interesting thing has happened with my writing in the past several months. “Interesting” being open to interpretation, I guess. I’ve been actively writing two stories at the same time. While making notes on a third. And there’s a fourth one, a short story, that is completely developed in my mind.

I’ve never attempted this before. I’m sure it’s a Very Bad Idea. There is no “right” way to write, but if there’s an inadvisable way or a convoluted way or a way that is more difficult, you can bet that’s what I’ll manage to do.

Is this procrastination? I don’t know. Maybe. I’d be worried if I completely stopped writing one story in favour of another. That’s a big red flag. But this is different, this switching back and forth and writing two at once. Yes, it means the entire process is taking a bit longer, but I’m not sure I could write these two stories any other way. They’re both proving to be . . . difficult. In different ways. It helps to alternate, for one to lay fallow while the other percolates words, and then back again.

The interesting thing, to me, is the discovery that writing straight romance has helped me see that thriller manuscript I set aside more clearly. I don’t mean “straight” as a sexual definition. Is “pure” romance a better term? No, that has other connotations as well. I mean straight-up romance without a thriller plot or a conspiracy woven though it.

One thing that bothered me about that story was that the tone was uneven. Most of it sounded like a thriller, but large sections of it sounded more like a romance. This is not a good thing. But, somehow, writing romance has made it easier for me to really “feel” the genre differences between romance and thrillers. Mind you, I’m an avid reader of both genres. I understand the differences. I just couldn’t always manage to separate them in my writing. And even though I want to write both, I had come to believe I’d never have what it takes to do justice to a thriller. So it’s encouraging that I’ve been thinking about that thriller again in stray moments. Getting excited about it again. That story will require intense and exclusive focus, when it’s time, but that time might come sooner than I anticipated. We’ll see what transpires.

Anyway, due to this weird new process, it might happen that I finish several stories at the roughly same time. But who knows. I’ve learned to stop making predictions. Life has a way of thwarting even the simplest plans and there was plenty of that this year.

I’ve decided to announce new releases first via my newsletter, well ahead of mentioning them here on my blog or elsewhere. So if you want to be among the first to hear about the publication of new stories, at a discounted price, go sign up for my newsletter (here’s a link, or see the sidebar). I won’t share your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time. No pressure. You do whatever you feel comfortable doing.

Good grief, I’ve rambled on longer than even I thought I would. I do want to mention that I’m going to take an extended break from the internet after Christmas, in spite of this new iThing that insists on connecting me every time I move. I have at least two stories at the point where they need my complete focus. And another one, perhaps two, that are impatient to burst forth onto the page. Seems like a good idea to mute the distractions for a while.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, if that’s something you celebrate. Regardless of holiday preferences, I wish everyone peace and calm and clarity as one calendar year draws to a close and a new one begins.

I hope you are able to take a few days off from the ordinary and make them extraordinary. I hope you manage to share space with people you love, or at least find tolerable the ones you’re stuck with. And I hope you make time to read.

As for me, I’ll be wishing for an encore of this:

1226001016

 

6 Comments

Filed under blogging, holidays, miscellaneous bits

So, about this hiatus

I guess I should just go ahead and make it official, since my blog appears to be on hiatus. Not sure how that happened. It wasn’t intentional.

Which one of you hit the pause button?

Who hit the pause button?

Partly, this random break is a result of me being busy with other things. I know, weak excuse. It’s also due to me being lazy. And getting out of the habit. And now it just feels awkward, trying to find a way to start blogging again after [gulp] four months — has it been that long? really? — because it seems like I should kick it back into gear by saying something important. Or, I don’t know, something that matters. But the thing is, posts over here have never been all that significant. No set topic, no driving purpose. Just me rambling along about . . . whatever. That’s not likely to change.

Honestly, I’ve been wondering whether I should just call it quits on this whole blogging thing. As a practical matter, I wonder whether anyone would care. Or even notice. I pretend the answer is yes. I pretend I don’t care if it’s not.

Interestingly, I followed a link a while back to an old post from Neil Gaiman where, as a footnote to other things, he relayed the news that blogging had been declared dead by The Scotsman. That was in May 2004, way back before I even knew what a blog was, and at which time Gaiman said, “That’s an enormous relief, of course.”

Right.

So I could perhaps be excused for finally realizing that blogging is indeed dead, in Scotland at the very least, and congratulated for ceasing all efforts to maintain the practice. Seems reasonable. But then I remember what McB told me when I considered quitting a few years ago: the minute I make that decision, I’ll suddenly have a dozen things I want to say.

Sigh. Right now, I’d settle for even ONE thing.

After seven years, it feels as if I’ve said everything there is to say on every conceivable topic. I suppose there’s always the cat as blog fodder . . . actually there were two cats for a while this summer, since my daughter’s cat stayed with me for a couple months. But I suspect there’s a limit to how many cat stories you can tell before people question your sanity. Probably I’m already well over that limit.

I could write about my daughter’s bridal shower. It was lovely. She got some very special and thoughtful gifts. Defying all expectations, everyone survived what seemed (to me) to be an excessive amount of conversation. But I’ve been asked not to post pictures of it, so . . .

I’ve been writing, but I don’t like to talk about it while I’m in the process, so that’s out. I did get a FitBit and have been walking A LOT — well, these things being relative, a lot more than I had been — and have lost a good deal of weight as a result. Not sure what else can be said about that topic. I’ve been on a bit of a reading binge lately, but haven’t run across anything in particular that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

See? None of this is remotely entertaining.

The problem is, I know you guys. I know what you really want to hear. You want to know when I’ll have some fiction ready for you to read. And I don’t have a firm answer on that. Yet. But I’m working on it.

What have you all been up to? Anything interesting to report? Any topics you want me to expound upon in the near future? Given a prompt, I’m reasonably adept at rambling about pretty much anything. Or I could just continue on with nothing. It’s worked so far.

5 Comments

Filed under blogging

Sometimes, you are the problem

I’ve been having a tough time trying to re-focus and get back into writing since the holiday break. It has been incredibly frustrating.

I knew I wouldn’t be writing during the two weeks my daughter and her fiancé (and their dog and cat) were here, and I was fine with that. Time with them is rare and precious. I planned for that. I worked damned hard during the weeks leading up to their visit in an effort to make up for that.

And I really wasn’t surprised when I was too sad in the days after they left to get much done. That’s familiar territory, missing them and the commotion and noise and energy they bring with them. Although it did seem to last longer this time, and to feel more like depression than just sadness, than it has in the past. But still. An entire third week of not writing. At all.

During this past week, the fourth full week of not writing, I still couldn’t seem to focus and get on with it. Every day I woke up with a vague feeling of something hanging over me. Almost a feeling of dread. Like there was some unnamed threatening thing out there, only I had no idea what it might be. I was lethargic and unmotivated. Exhausted, even though I’d pretty much done nothing at all, certainly nothing tiring.

And I felt guilty as hell, because I NEEDED to be writing. I just couldn’t.

577733_10150779343351332_1038784226_n

And then I had a dream in which my former employer called, saying what an awful mistake they’d made and begging me to come back to work. In January. The most stressful and demanding time of year, dealing with year-end financial reporting. And in my dream I couldn’t speak, couldn’t answer. The damned thing just kept repeating, over and over, him begging me to come back, until I woke up in an absolute panic. I wanted to go back to sleep so I could tell him, “HELL NO.”

Mind you, in real life, this is just not going to happen. Not even a slim chance. It’s not something I’m even remotely worried about. Besides, I’d just say no. Nicely.

But I finally realized what has been wrong with me. I’ve been conditioned to dread this time of year. It has never been a time for writing. This is the time of year to be overworked and underappreciated and exhausted and stressed to the max. A time when life narrows down to the overtime demands of the job at the expense of everything else. And I’ve been feeling that way even though there’s no longer anything causing those feelings.

What an idiot. I’d like to believe I have more self-control than one of the subjects of Pavlov’s experiments. Geez.

My initial reaction was to have harsh words with myself and tell myself to suck it up and get over it, dammit, and just do what needed to be done. Regardless of how I felt. Except, you know, I’m really sort of fed up with sacrificing my sanity for the “greater good” at this time of year.

So rather than beat myself up about it and add more stress to my life, I decided that this might just be the time of year when I need to be kinder to myself. To give myself a break and lower my expectations. A time to relax and slow down and breathe deeply and let go of all stress. To be accepting of decreased productivity.

So that’s what I resolved to do, this year and every year from now on. Well, at least until I stop foaming at the mouth every time I hear that damned bell tolling its less than dulcet tones of “year-end tax reports” in my head.

That was Friday. I decided to take the rest of the month off. An extended vacation, no pressure. I’m telling you, I woke up Saturday feeling so relaxed and calm. Refreshed. Energized. Optimistic. Like it wasn’t even January any more.

And then . . . somehow . . . I, um, spent the next two days writing. Thousands of words.

I am so contrary. Maybe I don’t need that extended break after all. We’ll see.

Do any of you have a time of year like this that just destroys you? I hope you don’t. But if you do, maybe consider finding a way to be kinder to yourself until you get past it.

Oh, I almost forgot. I did try again before Christmas to write that sweet short story. Sigh. The characters were insipid and boring and so incredibly sweet — really, you would have hated them too — and I decided to consign them to the unremarked obscurity of the happily-ever-after they so richly deserved and never write about them, ever. Be patient, there are far more interesting people on the way. Now that I’m writing again.

11 Comments

Filed under health and well-being, writing

Independence: FAIL

In the spirit of the holiday, I decided I would declare my independence from STUFF this weekend and indulge in a mini-writer’s retreat sort of thing. Enjoy three whole days away from the office, detach from the monotony of the familiar, cut all ties to distractions. Make some real progress with re-write number– whatever, I’ve stopped counting.

In theory: Yay, go me! In practice? Yeah, not so much.

Of course, due to budget constraints, the “retreat” part of the weekend mostly meant sitting on the other end of the couch. Which, oddly, wasn’t nearly as comfortable. Apparently I list to the left.

So I made the bold move of relocating to the couch in the other room. This caused my elderly cat to think I had died or something, given that she perched on the back of my regular spot in the family room and yowled like her little heart was breaking. What the hell does she do when I go to work? Poor thing. So, back to the same old spot, where she promptly curled up at my hip, purred and went to sleep.

Then I tried sitting at the kitchen table. This offered a nice woodland view through the bay window, but odd arm/hand angles for typing. Horribly uncomfortable, but at least I wouldn’t doze off. Not that that’s ever a problem, my writing is absolutely riveting. Ahem. Then my cat came in to sit on the floor like a dark blot of indignation just at the edge of my field of vision, glaring at me like a feline Basilisk of Doom. Sigh.

So much for trying to physically retreat from the same old rut. Well, I could still detach from all the other distractions, right? Like the internet. I’ve heard about a program called “Freedom” that irrevocably disables your internet connection for a set period of time. But that sounds so . . . restrictive. Imposed freedom. Sort of the antithesis of independence.

Besides, this seemed like such a good time to catch up on all those oh-so-informative blog posts I’d been meaning to read. I had three whole days, how long could it take? And of course I had to comment on a couple. But no twitter. Well, okay, maybe a little twitter. But no email. Everyone could just wait. Only there were a few that really couldn’t. ARRRGH!!

But the phone, I could ignore that! Except for those three people whose calls I will never ignore. And sure enough, they all called me. Or texted me. Some more than once. But it was a long weekend, certainly I could devote a few minutes, or an hour or two, to family?

So here it is late on the third day and I’ve actually made good progress in spite of the universe and my cat trying to thwart me, but not as much as I’d hoped. And I’m sitting here thinking those rebels had it easy 235 years ago — they didn’t have to worry about gaining independence from the internet or their cell phones. Probably not from their cats either. No, all they had to do was write a little declaration thing. Not like it was an entire novel. Oh, and also fend off an attacking army and kill a few thousand of their oppressors. Piece of cake. Or pie.

Oh, PIE! Something shiny! Let’s have pie! Sour Cream Blueberry Pie to be exact. It’s a July 4th tradition in my house. But wait, I’ve declared my independence from that sort of thing. Plus I figure I still have several hours left of this long weekend. Plenty of time to defeat my oppressors and be all productive.

I have an idea: YOU MAKE PIE! My daughter made this one last weekend and texted me a picture of it. She’s so thoughtful sometimes. Doesn’t it look delicious?

Here’s the recipe. My sister-in-law gave it to me years ago, but I’m pretty sure she got it from Southern Living. No idea where they got it.

SOUR CREAM BLUEBERRY PIE

Ingredients

1 egg, beaten
1 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (I use a bit more)
1/4 tsp salt

2-1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
(you’re going to want to use a deep pie dish for this one)

Topping:

3 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp butter, softened (room temp)
3 Tbsp chopped pecans or walnuts

Combine first six ingredients, beat 5 min at medium speed of electric mixer or until smooth.

Fold in blueberries (with spatula). Don’t over-stir, you’ll damage berries.

Pour filling into pie crust (I’m assuming you know to put the crust IN the pie dish before this step).

BAKE at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

Combine remaining ingredients (use pastry cutter to mix flour & butter, it will be a sort of crumbly texture, not smooth, then add nuts). Remove pie from oven, sprinkle this mixture over top, return to oven.

BAKE for 10 additional minutes (or so) until topping sort of melts.

CHILL before serving. (also, store leftovers in the fridge, not that there will be any)

ENJOY.

You’re welcome!

So tell me, what traditions did you embrace over this long holiday weekend? Also, any advice you have for getting away from it all without actually, you know, going anywhere would be appreciated . . . now that my weekend “retreat” is almost over. Sigh.

19 Comments

Filed under goals, holidays

Pass the syrup, I’m waffling

After a month with minimal exposure to the internet, it seems as if I should be able to make some profound observations. And yet, I don’t have any. Maybe this would be different had I denied myself ALL access to the internet. But that’s not what I did.

I still checked email and read news stories. I browsed a couple blogs intermittently, but mostly ignored the comments. I (finally!) started using an RSS feed, which was extremely helpful in terms of deciding which blog posts I wanted to read and when, as well as removing the temptation of wandering into the comments.

Mostly what I denied myself was the time-consuming interactive aspect of the internet. I didn’t comment on blogs and I didn’t “tweet,” nor did I read the comments and tweets of others. For the first few days, I really did feel like something was missing — well, obviously, something was. But once I got used to the different routine, I didn’t miss those things. Maybe because I was too darn busy with other things. In fact, it’s hard to believe it has been a month already. It was a busy eventful month.

Now I’m feeling ambivalent about resuming that interaction. I commented on a blog yesterday and wrote a few tweets, but was surprised that it felt as awkward to do those things now as it did when I was doing them for the very first time. I’m not sure what to make of that. Or whether I want to continue with the effort.*

Certainly, it all would feel comfortable and routine again fairly quickly. I’m adaptable. But I wonder whether I want to engage in the same ways. Or at all. Some people would say, “If it’s fun, do it. If not, stop.” Yeah, well, sometimes it is and other times, not so much. It doesn’t seem clear-cut to me.

What I’m pondering is whether those things are truly important to me and what benefit I derive from them. Are these activities enriching my life or merely distracting me from it? Am I investing time or procrastinating? I don’t know. I have no answers.

Maybe I just need some more quiet time to sort it all out.

*Please note, for the purposes of this discussion, I am not referring to the CB blog. That’s different.

4 Comments

Filed under deep thoughts, social media, twitter