Being Busy

"What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?" -Greg McKeownThe observant among you may have noticed my radio silence over the past two weeks. It’s the time of year when work requirements compound; this is the third September in a row I’ve had to travel to attend a six-month review and planning meeting. Even knowing what’s coming doesn’t make them any easier, but my teams were engaged, productive, and prepared. So the time invested is paying off for us.

Doesn’t mean I’m not now fighting a cold or feeling any less exhausted, despite a weekend at home reading, resting, and relaxing. So when I caught today’s quote floating by what minimal number of Facebook posts I’ve seen in recent weeks it spoke to me.

I’ve been struggling this whole Round to find time to listen, ponder, and meditate. The closest I’ve gotten to a regular practice that way has been my stay-at-home date nights with hubs, or the walks we take with our Huskies. I keep asking myself how I got so busy I’m having difficulty finding the time to wrap up all the edits I’d planned to complete.

I’m still not sure. On the other hand, I’ve been listening to webinars to stay on top of my PMP certification’s PDU requirements, and today heard “Projects are Easy – Change is Hard!” by Naomi Caietti (may be restricted by a paywall, but if you’re in project management, or even just management generally, it’s worth a listen). I had to laugh at all the ways my time is constrained, and the easy excuses I have for keeping things status quo.

Running across stories like this one about a woman documenting her rare disease through illustrations introduces me to fascinating artists. Reading more about Kam Redlawsk and her approach to the restrictions in her life reminds me to be grateful for what I have. I don’t know how I found the only-related-because-she’s-also-an-illustrator Instagram account “Christine drawing Krysteen” but there were quite a few illustrations between the two of them that hit close to home and made me realize there’s a whole spectrum of women who want to do so much more than their mental or physical health allows.

Representing something I’ve never had to face, then, I read an article reporting on the CDC’s findings that overwhelmingly, women are killed by their boyfriends and husbands. I suspect it ties in nicely with the point this (male) illustrator makes in his post about “toxic masculinity“. At least I was never acculturated to dismiss my feelings, even if I still don’t know what it will take to reintroduce work-life balance into my life.

On the other hand, running across a story about a bridge researchers have investigated to determine it’s 1.7 million years old… and constructed by humans… will always be grist for my mill. I have more stories bubbling in my head than time to write them in, and that’s really what this post boils down to.

My walking dropped to 4,807 steps per day this week, mostly because most of my time was spent being PowerPointed to death, but also because Tashie is back to limping. She’ll be going back to the vet specialist this week again, and we’ll see what the diagnosis and recommendation is this time. Hubs and I also watched The Orville‘s premier. It was every bit as mediocre as the various reviews and headlines had indicated, but useful in its own way as an exercise in understanding why a story doesn’t work, why viewers don’t get invested in the characters. I think there was too much that was on the nose and too much that felt like it was trying to spoof Star Trek, without the payoff in laughs something like Galaxy Quest offered. We’ll try one more episode to see whether the creators get past the stiffness inherent in a pilot, but considering I had a hard time even sitting through one episode, this is one scifi show I doubt I’ll be supporting.

Which brings me back to what my ambitious goals had been. Finishing all the edits for all three Red Slaves novels, re-releasing the first two, and publishing the third. I’m nowhere close to that. I keep hearing one of my colleague’s admonishment “hope is not a strategy” playing in my head, but I have to hope that for the next Round I find the time and energy that has slipped my grasp this time. Either way, I’ll be back, and will encourage you to see where my ROW80 cohorts are ending their Rounds.

Book Review: Tethered Mage

Tethered Mage by Melissa CarusoI’m finally catching up with my NetGalley duties. This week, in the few hours when dogs and work didn’t demand my attention, I read Tethered Mage, by Melissa Caruso. It doesn’t come out until October 24th, but for those who are interested in a meditation on all the ways we can be enslaved, set in a world where magic is recognized as dangerous, this is a compelling, literary take on high fantasy.

Here’s the blurb:

In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled — taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.

Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.

Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.

But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.

I had hesitated to sign up for this one, since I’m more than a little leery of the next YA/NA Big Thing, but the concept piqued my curiosity, and I’m glad I picked up this story.

The parallels among the various traps for people who strive to fit in, meet expectations, or use their abilities are most clearly illustrated by the tethering process that captures Zaira and controls her out-of-control balefire. But reviewers who get stuck on that most obvious constriction miss the constriction of class that doesn’t allow Lady Amalia to follow her heart. Or the trap of birth that means otherwise ambitious characters alternately do everything possible to avoid their fate, as with Domenic Bergandon, or subvert their fate as Amalia’s uncle Ignazio and Ardence’s Steward, Lady Colanthe Savony do.

Aside from the thematic struggle against the visible and invisble boundaries that class, magical abilities, location of birth, and other pertinent demarcations most known societies struggle to come to terms with, the story is framed as a political thriller. It’s as gripping as anything Dan Brown or Tom Clancy might come up with, with more subtlety and complexity because of the diversity of the cast of characters as well as the fillip of magic that will always pique my curiosity.

Also, the language Caruso uses… each character has his/her own voice, the idioms are unique to that world (I have to say I loved the way the Hells and Graces were woven throughout), and the structure and tone support the weight of the theme being discussed.

There really wasn’t anything I didn’t like about the story. So when I started working on this review, and began researching what others had to say about the book, I was perplexed by the number of low ratings and DNF notations both on Amazon and Goodreads. There’s a part of me that really wants to shake these folks and point out to them that fiction is an entirely appropriate place to ruminate about social ills; if you’re that sensitive about slavery, it suggests to me you haven’t considered the sneaky ways society has trapped you. I say this as a working woman, well aware of the freight that comes with both of those categories. Slavery may be just the most obvious and repugnant experience of entrapment–but that’s exactly what makes it worth unpacking. Exploring the theoretical boundaries and parallels it might have with other experiences.

So I will strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a political thriller that confronts some dark topics in unconventional ways. It’s a story full of surprises and worth digesting for the surprises it reveals about the ways an unconventional/unrecognized slavery can warp a person.

Flat

Feeling Flat?Hubs is away visiting family this week, so naturally my car would protest by coming up gimpy–at least in the form of a pancake-flat tire. This particular tire is the newest of the four on that car, so it seems there’s some prejudice in the DC-area roads agains the front driver’s side wheel, given this is the second time in the three years we’ve lived here that I’ve had to go through the repair/replace dance. We’ll see how much time it wastes this go-round.

Aside from missing hubs, and having three discombobulated Huskies who are sure if they stare at the front door long enough they will make him magically re-appear, it was another week of heavy day-job requirements. We’re starting to look at hiring staff, so I’m hopeful that in the coming months there is a light at the end of this tunnel. In the meantime, it’s a challenge to have any energy left over to do much beyond basic requirements.

Like walking the dogs. Even without hubs (and with full gratitude to the friends who are stepping up to help make sure everyone gets at least one good walk a day) my phone says I’ve averaged 6,573 steps a day this week. I’m actually amazed this is only very slightly down from last week.

Or reading. I’m catching up on the final NetGalley book in my queue, The Tethered Mage, by Melissa Caruso. It’s due out at the end of October, and I’m very much enjoying the world-building and poetic language. The layers of metaphors as a young woman comes to terms with the repercussions of all she is heir to and the responsibilities she’s chosen. It will be a challenge not to stay up all night reading without hubs to remind me of the hour.

Or catching a talk by Dame Stephanie Shirley, who titled her presentation “Why do ambitious women have flat heads?” My kind of gal–and she’s even in the tech field with me. Her sense of humor as she talks about the number of times she’s been condescended to gives a good orientation to women now considering joining this male-dominated field.

So I’ll keep it short this week, but will be taking a peek at my fellow ROW80ers to cheer their progress, and return next week with what I hope is more actual forward motion.

Nothing Hurts?

"Nothing hurst a good soul and the kind heart more than to live amongst people who can't understand it." -Ali Ibn Abi TaibI had the good luck this weekend of catching up with a number of old friends. The kinds of friends who are happy to chit-chat about interesting, meaningful things–even if it’s been months (or years?!) since last you spoke. And it struck me today that one of the reasons I tend to feel like I’m just a visitor in the various places we’ve lived might be because the majority of people around me are pursuing goals wildly divergent from mine, or have beliefs and values only tangentially related to mine. More often than not, I feel like a stranger, an alien even, living in a cage in the midst of the zoo of humanity.

That sense was heightened by our movie night selection this week: “Birdman“. We’d had the BluRay in our to-watch pile for more than two years. I hadn’t realized until tonight just how long the list of awards was that it had won–including 2015’s Oscar for best picture. The movie earned every single one of them. It was in some sense as shockingly out of place in the Hollywood system as what I described of myself earlier. The movie was also nothing like anything I’d expected when we pushed play. It pokes at the lines between madness and sanity, artistry and banality, age and youth, and so many other so-called dichotomies and leaves you feeling like whatever your particular brand of suffering is, there are so many others sharing their unique pain with the world that none of us is truly as alone as we might feel.

It was, in short, the kind of movie that opens up conversation and closeness and introspection. Where I’d seen “Michael Keaton” and “dark comedy” and thought this might be in the “Beetlejuice” direction, I got a think piece that reminded me to reach out to my friends.

Tonight, then, I saw that Pentatonix had released a version of John Lennon’s Imagine. Their rendition strangely summarized my mindset:

As you might imagine, working (the day job) and talking once again derailed any effort at creativity. At some point I’m going to have to force myself into action, whether I feel ready or rested or not. In the meantime, we are at least walking quite a bit. My phone says I averaged 6,640 steps daily this week, and today I managed over 5 miles between the two long walks with the dogs and walking in circles through the house while I was talking on the phone.

I’m down to the final month of this round of ROW80, and so far I’ve been almost the epitome of anti-productive. My day job has gotten more intense, and somehow this year the summer cycle of social activities has been more distracting than normal. While I hope this week is more productive, I’m reminded of the adage that “hope is not a strategy,” and will be pushing myself harder to find and maintain the focus that has allowed me to finish drafting my stories. In the meantime, I encourage you to see how the others in my group are faring. I’ll be back next week to report on my progress.

What I Want

Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a stroke of wonderful luck.Last week, the now ex-Googler was on my mind. This week kicked off with discussions about what actually qualifies people to become software engineers (hint: ability to code is the lowest barrier to entry); that men have since at least the time of Hippocrates used “science” to justify male superiority; that “race science” is based on equally spurious claims; and that women in Silicon Valley are just starting to find mutual support.

And then there was yesterday in Charlottesville. Which followed on the heels of a kerfluffle in Great Britain regarding a cartoon on the BBC, which was portraying historical accuracy when it included a racially diverse cast for a story set in Roman times. It’s worth raising the spectre of American Exceptionalism, and shooting it down one more time for posterity. There is no nation that hasn’t committed atrocities–now or in the long-distant past–and anyone claiming they’re advocating for a “return to a better time” is misremembering the freight that comes with that past.

I’m frustrated by the world I find myself living in. That I keep getting slapped in the face by news that is offensive to my nature and my aspirations. So this evening I revisited some of my favorite scenes from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Remember the “Measure of a Man” episode? It’s worth going back to YouTube to hear Picard argue about Data’s sentience–and Commander Maddox’s persistent insistence on the science of sentience. In fact, his three criteria–intelligence, self-awareness, consciousness–have a booby trap in them. Intelligence? What kind of intelligence? Does this mean that people of low IQ are not sentient? This is, I suspect, why science deems “mere animals” below the threshold of sentience. I keep seeing articles that compare dogs’ cognitive ability to those of toddlers. Why would scientists do that unless to prove their bias toward keeping a certain barrier to entry to the elite club of sentient beings?

And that loops me back to all the variations in the news of who belongs to which club. Am I linked to the one with the most power? Least power? Most self-righteousness? How about being linked to the one with the ability to keep an open mind and actually debate ideas and solutions? In all the chest-thumping we’re seeing right now, we’re being distracted from dealing with the real problems that are driving the pain and anger and fear pushing people to act in horrifying ways.

Which loops me back to this week’s image. And why I was thinking about Star Trek. I write speculative fiction to put myself into worlds that might be familiar in some respects, but that allow me to explore new ways of seeing underlying tensions. Play with the idea that there could be solutions to the problems we face. So as terrible as the world is, I have the privilege of being able to reflect on it. To try to pull lessons from what I see. I have the imagination to stretch sentience into other beings and explore the philosophical consequences Captain Louvois (from that ST:TNG episode I referenced above) was hesitent to give credence to. What I want? To have the time and emotional energy to spend more time doing that. Our current news cycle is giving me more fodder than I really wanted and is exacting an emotional tax that makes it difficult.

I finally opened my WIP to return to my editing task yesterday. And retreated to read Mercedes Lackey’s Beauty and the Werewolf. I’m doing wonderfully well on my Goodreads reading challenge. Horribly on my writing goals. Walking goals are coming back down to earth; my phone says this week I averaged 4,949 steps per day. And hubs and I were distracted by visitors, errands, and obligations so skipped what I would consider a date night–even though we made dinner together most nights, and were walking together for many of those steps.

I hope that delaying my editing process is a stroke of wonderful luck, though the thread of frustration that connects that delay to everything I’ve written about should indicate how I really feel about it. This week will require a trip to Maryland and next week hubs has a trip out of state, so I don’t anticipate any kind of normalcy returning any time soon. Nonetheless, I will persist. As will my ROW80 cohorts.

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