A friend was in town visiting the past few days, which is always both exhilarating and exhausting. In this case, it was another person going through marital woes, reinforcing my gratitude for the love and support I get from hubs. It’s remarkable the number of people who struggle with their connection with their partners, where one or the other of the pair has a heart closed by fear, pain, or past wounds that make trust impossible. I suspect it’s another symptom of one of the deep illnesses of our society that people aren’t raised to understand the primacy of love–that it is the pivot around which health, vitality, creativity, and success revolve.
Maybe that’s just my perspective, though.
But it is painful to witness friends struggle through the challenges that sap their capacity to participate fully in their own lives. At one point in our conversations this weekend, our friend said, “I feel like I’m participating in somebody else’s movie.”
I can empathize, having come late to the idea that I could do something for myself aside from work and maintain a connected home life. I didn’t start writing long-form fiction until a little over five years ago, and it’s its own revelation: I’m able to follow in the footsteps of some of my heroes by couching truths of a life fully considered in a framework that allows others to expand their horizons as well.
Focusing on writing does make it challenging to maintain that connection, which is why one of my goals always has to do with a date-night with hubs. This week we watched the next two episodes of Agents of Shield as well as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I loved the movie and am more lukewarm on the TV show. Marigold reunited a lot of the actors from Calendar Girls and played with the topic of what you DO when you reach “a certain age.” Dame Maggie Smith killed it with her depiction of a deeply racist woman who unfolds in the Indian environment to share her vulnerability and grow beyond it. There were so many subtleties to the story I’d be happy to watch it again, and am looking forward to seeing the sequel.
On the writing front, I started the first editing passes, added structure, and am now awaiting my next batch of beta feedback for The Builders. I may actually be on schedule for a July release. We’re also working on promotional materials for hubs’ gig, which now has a flyer.
We’ve had even more rain here in the past week, which, combined with our visitor, mean our average steps are back below goal.
This week is also slated to include a lot of running around; I already know of two trips I need to take up to the home office in Maryland. So I’ll keep this short and encourage you to see how the other ROW80ers are doing with their goals.
It’s been a challenging week for a number of my friends and me–on two separate continents, there are marriages on the rocks; one of my friends is beginning the process of moving across the country; a neighbor just lost her father unexpectedly; and I had to set aside time for a minor surgical procedure. All in the midst of an already heavy work-load week for me with meetings both downtown and in Maryland. I was emotionally wrung out by Friday afternoon.
Which meant it was a great time to cuddle up with hubs and watch the final Agent Carter and the newest season’s first episode of Agents of Shield. Both of which made me wonder this weekend why ABC decided to cancel the former on such a cliffhanger, and how much of a commitment I want to make to the latter with some of the newest character developments. Having been in the writing (and improving my writing) process on a serious basis for almost six years now, I have less and less patience with cliffhangers. They strike me as a lazy way to try to trap readers and viewers into continuing with a story arc, when really the goal should be to have people so invested in the character(s) that fans return without that unnecessary prod.
We should be able to bring our curiosity to a story and have it rewarded. Our empathy should be engaged. And then I read an article in Psychology Today that reports American anti-intellectualism, while always a strong undercurrent, has become stronger in recent decades, as evidenced by fewer adults reading for pleasure, more obsession with entertainment, fashion, and other fads, and an increasing focus on mob rule. In an eerie parallel, another outlet reported on findings regarding reduced empathy in those who take NSAIDs. Given the almost automatic response to pain as reaching for palliatives of these kinds, and the number of people who suffer pain on a regular basis, there’s a scary intersection in these two bits of news for me. This is not about how schools are ridiculously overloading grade school students with academic make-work, this is about finding the patience and tenderness to sit with pain and darkness and discovering how it can transform us.
Strangely, an old post about George Lucas‘ (and many other, more luminous thinkers’) thoughts on the meaning of life popped up in my Twitter feed this week, too. As did this year’s commencement speech at Sweet Briar College. Those both reflected some of the discussion we had in my LEAD class earlier in the week. My conclusion then and now: To the extent that anything drives me, it’s the hope that I’m leaving the world a better place because of my existence in it. There’s bits of Lucas’ sense of interconnection (the “force”, if you will, that ties us all together) as well as Busque’s urging to embrace the Big Hairy Audacious Goals in that assessment, but what really resonates with me is the picture that floated across my Facebook stream that I’ve included in this week’s post: It does take time alone, surrounded by darkness, to find how we can best take flight. Hold the Light for others who are struggling.
For myself, that means I’m done drafting The Builders. Finally. I’ll be incorporating beta feedback this week before shipping it off for editing. Then I’ll be moving on to the final installment of my Red Slaves trilogy. The record-breaking streak of days with rain has meant my daily average number of steps has fallen off again, and the dogs are spending two days a week at Affectionate to make sure they don’t get too nutty in the house. That means KouKi is getting pretty good at agility, too. Hubs has been rehearsing heavily to prepare for opening for the Slambovians June 5th, so we’re all wrapped up in projects for the moment.
I still have goals to reach, and suggest you check out how my ROW80 buddies are doing with theirs, so I’ll be back again next week.
I’m not sure where the time flies these days, though I am sure the fact that this week kicked off with a migraine made any productivity a bonus. I still haven’t finished the final chapter of The Builders, though I added almost 500 words to the WIP. I also read a post about story endings that finally gave me clarity about how I want to wrap things up. If I could just sit down without a to-do list a mile long, I could probably finish post-haste.
Another week, another try.
In the meantime, we’ve started building out hubs’s new musician site, and we’re slowly emerging to attack the new forest of grass that sprung up in the week and a half of rain we’ve “enjoyed”. My phone indicates I’ve upped my average walking distance back over 2,000 steps per day, so there’s more progress on the fitness front.
Aside from all that, I’ve been pondering the great divide between our living experience in the DC area versus the midwest and the southwest. Someday I’d love to return to where there are more cacti, mountains, and a regular view of the Milky Way, but until then, I’m going to have to pay attention that I don’t become complacent about how wildly out-of-sync this area is from an income and cost-of-living perspective versus the rest of the country. I discovered a data aggregation site that includes tracking (based on publicly available numbers) about U.S. median income. From that starting point, I read an article about the persistent level of poverty, another about the things the middle class can no longer afford, and what wage stagnation looks like. This was all capped by a new chart put together by economist Pavlina Tcherneva that shows the dramatic inversion in financial gains for the middle class over the past 20 years. All of these things together make it obvious why zombie stories have become the popular new metaphor for our country: We’ve all been sprinting so hard to just keep pace, we have no energy to consider how we might actually get ahead.
It’s crystallized my view that we need stories that have hope and some kind of happiness in them to start changing the mental narrative that traps us in the negative thought spiral that nothing can or will change. We are all invited daily to choose our perspective. One of the things I most appreciate about my path with hubs is his growth to a daily practice of gratitude–it’s become one of the most powerful tools for both of us to be able to step outside the race and appreciate the peace we can enjoy together. So I’m sharing a useful post on tools that remind you to be thankful. I particularly like the quote that kicks off that post:
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder
So for this week, I will continue to do the small things I can with great love in my heart. I would encourage you to do so as well–and to check out how the other ROW80ers are doing.
Coulda, shoulda, woulda week, here… mainly because both hubs and I were hit with a flu/cold combo that left us with precious little energy to do anything other than sleep and moan to each other about how horrible we felt. Once again I count my lucky stars that hubs has the tools (needles and herbs) at home so we’re on the upswing again in less than a week.
On the other hand, we still made a quick appearance at our nephew’s 15th birthday yesterday (OMG – I still remember him in diapers!), and did our part to support a niece who’s doing everything she can to spread smiles and caring. In fact, I recommend everyone go visit the video she and her business partner posted for #letsredefinenormal. It’s a good cause all around. Because Kipling had it right: our pack (our family) is our strength, and we strengthen our pack with our support.
From a writing perspective, my brain being mostly trapped in the haze of illness meant I somehow surprised myself with an additional 1,775 words for The Builders. That’s the best I’ve done in a while, well over plan, and leaves me with just the final chapter to write. Because my head felt like it would explode yesterday anyway, I went back to the beginning and started editing. (I fell into word overuse with “just” this time…) I’m about halfway through that process and feeling good about getting the work to my editor on time at the end of the month.
On the exercise front… feeling winded going upstairs and downstairs is not the recipe for mile-long walks, though there was a three-quarter miler before we got sick, and a couple half-milers before the exhaustion truly felled us. Still some work to do to get back on track with that.
I’m grateful my productivity wasn’t a complete loss last week, and am looking forward to “the end” (FINALLY!) this week. In the meantime, consider checking out how my ROW80 colleagues are doing with their goals, and I’ll check in again next week.
We lost another great one this week; Prince figured regularly in the soundtrack of my teen and young adult years. My hubs, when he was a professional journalist and music critic, even got to interview him and review his concert in Milwaukee–which one of his hometown papers cited this week as part of its memorial. While, yes, many of his lyrics were frankly sexual, what sticks with me are the many times he was profound. He was the kind of prolific artist and generous talent others can only aspire to. And the BBC ran an article this week that confirms 2016 has truly sucked from the perspective of losing great artists.
It’s sucked in other ways, too. On the home front, we’ve been having to do the adulting thing of installing new docs now that my brain has finally caught up with the fact that we’re coming up on two years out from relocating almost 800 miles. This week that meant an MRI for me on Tuesday and eyes being dilated on Wednesday–both of which contributed, among other things, to that background sense of headache until I finally got to sleep it out yesterday. They also meant our tenuous walking habit back-slid. My phone estimates the low average for the week at 1,100 steps per day.
Then there was the series of adulting articles: Changes to how trad pubs are handling copyrights (read: rights grabs galore), an assessment of who’s most likely to get divorced (hint: the American rate is actually less than 50%), and finally, the financial insecurity most Americans face. That last hit close to home for me; I would imagine it does for most of the people I know–and especially for all those who’ve chosen some form of the writer’s path. Some of the realizations that author had contributed to my reasoning about not remaining a journalist a year after my newly minted bachelor’s degree was completed. Even so, starting from a liberal arts background has made ending up where I am now (still by no means financially secure) a challenging journey that has included stints of a rice-and-beans existence.
Yet I’m happy with the choices I’ve made. I’m really happy I still get to write–even if it’s not my full-time career or income at this point. This week I sold my 250th copy of my books and celebrated the fourth anniversary of publishing my first book. I’m making progress. I was able to add 1,371 words to The Builders, crossing the 47K word threshold. Not quite to goal, but given everything else going on, a decent enough effort. I’m considering a different path to release on this one. The Kindle Scout program was hotly debated over at The Passive Voice this week, and it sounds like, for those accepted into the program, there are quite a few upsides. The agreement (as opposed to the one outlined by Kristine Kathryn Rusch above) even allows for easy rights reversions. I’m not sure how much I want to push friends and followers to vote/nominate/generate the noise to make me attractive to the folks who run that show, but it would offer another possibility of raising awareness for my fiction should I choose that path. If any of my author friends have any experience that direction… chime in and let me know how it went.
Ultimately, I recognize happiness as a choice. One I’m invited to make daily, when I look at my hubs and our three furbabies. Everybody faces challenges and sadness at some point, and I’ve made the conscious decision to focus on the moments I’m able to share with those I love as opposed to anything else.
So I’ll be back to pursuing my more regular pace of life this week, hoping that means I will get back on track with walking goals as well as pushing past done on this latest book. In the meantime, I’ll be checking in on my ROW80 compadres, and recommend you do as well.
As I mentioned in a post in January, I have signed up to be one of the authors participating in the Hotel Paranormal series. This week, I got the final version of the cover for my book. I’m so stoked I can hardly contain myself, so I wanted to share it with you:
The story is slated for release in early January, so it’s along way off–and I need to finish the Red Slaves trilogy that inspires the events in the story, too. It will be a stand-alone spin-off about one of the next-generation dragon shifters that I’ve already half plotted. I’m looking forward to writing the story, and with such a glorious cover to help me keep my eyes on the prize, it should be an easy one to write.
The week was as exhausting as I’d feared, since all the extra hours in traffic meant late nights to make sure my day job deadlines didn’t zip past with no work completed. On the plus side, hubs got confirmation that he will be the opening act on June 5 for his good friends, The Grand Slambovians. That’s meant that when I am at home, I get to hear full-on rehearsals. I’m so proud I could burst; I got a sneak peek listen to the first song of his set tonight and love the direction he’s grown to be able to tell a non-maudlin love story via the metaphor of the Japanese word kintsukuroi. His music is very different from anything you hear on the radio–melodic, complex, yet beautiful with even just him singing with his guitar. You’re in for a treat if you show up to the concert (which you will if you consider yourself a friend).
At my day job, one of the things taking up my time is a class on leadership after regular work hours. It’s been developed in-house in conjunction with The Thayer Institute to review the work of Dr. Lee Thayer, whose theories about high-performing individuals and organizations form the basis of my company’s core principles. Some of his words read as coming from a privileged white male of a particular generation; on the other hand, his comments about DOING leading to BEING resonate strongly. What cracked me up, then, this week, was a blog post I found about management training. The spread between when people are trained versus when they assume leadership roles within their companies as highlighted in that post rang true for me in this case; the more-to-the-point advice about ensuring the people who are turning to you for leadership have context in which to ground their actions seems like the best management advice I’ve ever seen written. (Even though I’m still considering attending a different leadership class for PMP continuing education credit…) I may end up posting a review of The Competent Organization once class is over to encapsulate what I learn.
In other news, we’re coaxing our good habits back into the house: We walked 5 of 7 days this week for what my phone claims is a daily average of 1.26 miles–even though one of our 1.2-milers was not in the mix, so that’s a lower average than what we did. Still above goal though. For once. I also wrote four nights this week, adding another 550 words to The Builders. Not to plan, but getting back into the swing of things despite a lot of long days. Twice this week, too, my work obligations were opened up to include hubs–who therefore got to join me for game night (we got sucked into what we are told was an unusually long session of Fluxx–our game lasted over an hour, but was hugely fun) and for a talk by Chief Pitch about the experiences he outlines in the book I’ve linked to from his name. Not exactly our typical date nights, but I’m grateful my company encourages us to involve our families in what we do at the office, otherwise my schedule would have left me with only the bare minimum of time with hubs.
I’ve spent my weekend being almost completely non-productive. I read the Mercy Thompson book I had missed. And I will cop to having found an unusual puzzle game that has me entirely entranced: Secret Society. It’s been years since I lost a year to Myst, and I’ve been pretty careful to keep it that way… I seem to be making up for lost time now.
Interestingly, both of those games rely heavily on back story conveyed through text bubbles to give context to exploring immersive images. I guess I’m a sucker for a good story whatever format it’s in.
Otherwise, I still have some obligations to catch up on (I know I owe Kait a blog post, for instance). But this week should be more personally productive. In the meantime, consider checking out how the other ROW80ers are doing with their goals until I return to report again next week.
I anticipated that with friends staying for a visit I wouldn’t be very productive. I didn’t anticipate that the whole week would be lost in a black hole of time suck for all kinds of reasons–including driving all over creation in the midst of seriously insane fellow road warriors. It seems odd to me that in one trip I had both a 16-wheeler and a Mack truck try to run me over, and in another, two SUVs, one of which was tailgating the other, conspired to force me onto the shoulder rather than make room for me to merge after my lane abruptly ended.
Living in such a populous place makes for road crazy. It’s an exhaustion factor all by itself.
This week I’ll be driving all over creation again: Twice to my company’s headquarters in Maryland in one week. I’m hoping last week’s experiences have given me at least something like a temporary immunity to the vehicular madness.
On the other hand, since my visitors were also bookworms, I’ve been on a reading kick. Last night I stayed up until the wee hours to finish the latest Mercy Thompson installment, even after I realized several chapters in that (oh! The horror!) I had missed buying (and reading) book 8 in the series. It’s now in my shopping cart at Amazon waiting for me to remember enough other things we need to qualify the order for free shipping. I suppose that spoils some of the action for me from book 8, but, honestly, I’m just happy to spend more time with an unusual character who recognizes her fears but acts (with increasing discretion and forethought) in support of her friends and family anyway. She’s strong, not super-human, and gifted with a sense of loyalty and priorities that make me wish she were real so I could meet her and become her friend, too.
Interestingly, with all those virtues, and as much as I’ve enjoyed watching her gain faith in her core self, a quick Google search reveals that she’s been critiqued as being a Mary Sue. For a character who consistently takes action on her own, without backup or a plan, and chafes against people (especially men who try to mansplain her incapacity to do things) forcing her to abide by their rules and restrictions, this is a silly claim. And yet this week, too, Gayla reported one of her Discord Jones books had been tarred with the same judgment. In a separate conversation, then, I found the 2011 two-post set from Zoe Marriott about her run-in with the term and its inherent sexism. The bottom line in all this: Apparently female characters are expected never to act without a man’s guidance–and when they do, they get tagged as “unrealistic,” “wish-fulfilling,” and similar adjectives that indicate our society’s fictional expectations haven’t caught up to what we profess in terms of gender equality.
I fully expect my characters will eventually find the same critique. Several have wounds that limit their ability to trust, and they’ve found that the only way to find inner peace is by accepting responsibility for actions they choose of their own volition.
While I anticipate this reaction, it makes me sad. And more determined than ever to write the stories that need to be told from the perspective of a woman who’s fought challenges that break some people. Women characters can and should have the same learning curve as women themselves. The hero’s journey is not restricted to men.
But not this past week, when I needed time to retreat into other people’s fiction from the busy-ness that comes with guests and plans and work deadlines.
The good news is that we’ve slowly started up the walking train again. I averaged 1,430 steps per day, and today we took our first 1.3-mile walk in quite a while. I’m embarrassingly out of shape. Though… KouKi was also ridiculously excited to be on a family walk again and did resistance training with me the whole distance.
So I’ll be coaxing my good habits back to the fore with Hubs’ help this week, including returning to my recently neglected WIPs. We’ll see how much progress I make, but in the meantime, check out my ROW80 cohorts to see how they’re progressing.
This week is brought to you by the Germans… or at least “my” Germans. The woman who’s always felt like my big sister, who’s known me since I was about a year old, is spending her family’s spring break visiting us. (Hubs really wanted me to non-post last week that we’re living the German invasion, but even the time to do that slipped through my fingers.) She’s my alter ego; it’s so easy to fall into quiet togetherness sometimes I’ve felt the need to remind myself that it’s been almost 15 years since I last saw her in the flesh and we really should be talking more. But we’re both quiet people who enjoy reading and watching doggie shenanigans and observing the world around us. It doesn’t take much talking to just revel in her presence.
So I’ve been following Hepburn’s advice and enjoying life. We’ve been catching up on some of the movies that have been building in our backlog while I’ve been rushing toward the end of The Builders: Tomorrowland, Inside Out, Batman v Superman, and The Martian. It’s been great to immerse myself in other people’s imaginations, to see how they handle optimism without a descent into treacly, to explore how antagonists and protagonists successfully live as the main characters in their own lives, to revisit pacing and structure and the satisfaction of stories well-told.
This weekend, when we weren’t eating too much or chit-chatting about plans, thoughts, and dreams, we were reading. I finished two books that had been on my TBR pile for at least six months, and now have my head in that post-story haze of… what about this ending??
Last round of ROW80, my sponsor post was about inspiration and perspiration, and followed on the heels of my struggle to balance the pursuit of my creative goals with my need for some down time. As much as I love my visitors, having people in my house who have a vastly different schedule (between the time difference and their natural inclinations, I’m saying goodnight to my guests by no later than 11pm!) has also caused some disruption. I’m glad I’m getting to bed earlier too, to avoid missing too much time together, but this is the first time I’ve even looked at my computer in a week. So… no time for creative writing or blogging.
Since my guests don’t leave until Thursday and this week has another pile of stuff on the agenda, I don’t know that my work for this round will actually begin until next week, but until then, I’m going to outline my goals to see where they take me:
- Write at least 1,500 words of fiction per week.
- Blog at least weekly, and keep up with my ROW80 sponsor duties.
- Post two book reviews.
- Finish the writing and editing processes, and release The Builders.
- Finish writing the third book of the Red Slaves trilogy.
- Walk at least a mile at least six days a week.
- Spend at least one evening a week with hubs watching one of our backlog of shows or movies.
That’s more than plenty to keep my busy. I’ll keep you posted on my progress, but until then, check in with my ROW80 cohorts to see how they’re doing.
I’m not sure why, exactly, but this week everything slowed down. I’ll blame it on a DST conversion hangover and the rise of spring allergies, but the seesawing temperatures and wet weather also meant we confined ourselves to staying close to home. So all my bad habits came storming back in the house: Staying up too late, not walking enough, and allowing silly distractions to eat up too much time. I wrote 1,317 words this week, which, granted, is more than my goal, but marks the second week of a downward trend in productivity.
I need to step it up.
But we’re feeling the pressure, too: Our company arrives this weekend, and the house is… Well. It’s been a swamp in the back yard and the dogs are beginning their spring shed… We ought to do some kind of deep spring cleaning, but there are so many more fun ways to spend our time.
Like figuring out when I’m going to schedule my next writer’s retreat trip to visit Gayla (likely the end of September), or helping a friend qualify for a rescue Corgi, or watch in astonishment as my 5-minute pick job for the NCAA tournament pool at work has me in 1st place. I’m honestly not a basketball fan, but I suspect some secret osmosis from hubs (who is) and a large dose of help from the statisticians at the 538 site. If my lead holds up… this would be the second year in a row I would’ve won the pot. I’ve hit refresh on the team standings page far more often than is healthy, and still have to pinch myself that, yes, that’s me right up there at the top.
Another feel-good, easy distraction…? Don’t mind if I do: The #dceaglecam has highlighted some amazing footage this week captured by the American Eagle Foundation from their cameras at the National Arboretum. I RTed the link to the best picture I’ve seen so far this week earlier tonight: Both eaglets framed by both their parents. A truly awwwww-inspiring moment. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that both eaglets survive to adulthood, though I suppose hatching right before this weekend’s cold snap may not be great for their health. They do appear to have attentive parents keeping them warm, though.
Apparently spring fever is a thing, and I’ve been distracted by a few too many things, despite knowing I should be knuckling down to finish The Builders. And I’ve been neglecting my at-home date nights with hubs, though he did take me out for a nice meal to celebrate a work milestone. We’ve also done more cleaning and reorganizing and cooking at home this weekend than usual, so I suppose being productive together still counts for something. I’m starting to get bouncy about our visitors, too–it’s been about 15 years since I last saw them in person, though we’re in regular Skype contact, and I will always regard her as my sister from another mister. More than likely, all this together means I’ll end this round on a whimper rather than with a bang, but I will continue to coax my habits along and work for the best. In the meantime, check out how my fellow ROW80ers are doing, and I’ll be back again next week.