The Mirror Shows Me Stress

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.My post title sums it up, but to add some clarity: I worked 40 hours this week, and spent 27 hours on homework. I got NO packing done. I snuck in 100 words on Jasper’s Tale night before last because I realized that deadline is sprinting my direction, too. Last night I had to talk myself down from a panic attack, because movers will show up on the 30th, and nine years’ worth of accumulated stuff on top of the stuff we’ve already schlepped across country a few times will need to be ready to be loaded into trucks. Or unceremoniously dumped.

I love being home with hubs and my girls–most particularly because we support each other in this kind of difficulty, but also because we have the good habit of walking almost nightly. This week, we took five walks for 10.9 miles. I suspect that’s a big reason I’m still holding myself together. It also helps that my prof responded to my frantic email about due date timing quickly and with some understanding.

Strangely, hubs found an article this week listing six traits of peaceful people. While I would say our current existence is fraught with the turmoil any move will add to a person’s life, I still recognize our choices in the characteristics outlined there. So I will take another deep breath and remind myself that while this is a difficult road, the home I’ve found us in Virginia should allow us to find calm and beauty again.

In the meantime, I’m massively grateful hubs has the Chinese herbal pharmacopeia and nutritional knowledge to manage our collective cortisol levels and allow for some decent sleep–which helps me remain steady within the stress and manage some productivity. Rinse and repeat. Check back next week to see whether I manage this for the next two weeks. And check my ROW80 cohorts to see whether they’re making progress on their goals.

In Celebration

No matter where you are, find your Happy and walk toward it.It’s my birthday (or was, until an hour or two ago), and that whole goal of not going crazy from last week… in sad danger of not surviving the week. An intense adventure involving metro trains that were not only behind schedule but also stopping every 50 yards, a mad dash through three terminals toting my work backpack (with laptop) and a suitcase that weighed in at 49.5 pounds according to a late check-in that couldn’t guarantee my suitcase would make my flight, as well as being paged before they shut the airplane doors, all combined to ratchet my stress levels sky-high. The turbulence we flew through ensured my nerves were taut for another day thereafter.

The schedule of work, packing, and cleaning doesn’t give much breathing room for recovery, either. As it happened, hubs had continuing ed classes all weekend, so I’m still in the surreal head space of not feeling entirely home. Top that with the asinine story from Esquire–”In Praise of 42″–and there’s something in the back of my head bleating about being past my own expiration date. Happily for me, I got the last laugh with Jezebel’s fisking of said article, but it does remind me that while my goals seem stupid in the midst of the rush toward their completion, there is ultimately a ticking clock somewhere that means what I don’t finish today… may never get done.

So when I saw this week’s image from the always helpful Zen to Zany folks… It reminded me of last week’s injunction against focusing too long on the bigger picture. I know there are a pile of stories floating around my head waiting their turns to be written. I know there are decisions to be made and actions to be taken. Contrary to the way I’ve written those sentences, I won’t be passive about accomplishing what’s necessary. And despite the desperate airport race on Thursday, I’m still only walking toward my Happy. One dogged step at a time.

At the same time, I’m pondering a completely unrelated article about a particular woman in technology. Shanley Kane seems to provide a useful example of how best to burn bridges–even though, as with the author of the piece, I’m not unsympathetic to her basic argument: That technology is covered in a much “softer” style (i.e. closer relationships between the writers and the tech, and no real muckrakers) that largely represents only the white male POV. As a woman in tech in my day job, I’ve been in quite a few rooms as the only source of estrogen, and, looping back to that birthday issue… haven’t made as much of a career as I might have hoped. Hence the crazy-making MBA thing as a goal.

About those goals… I will celebrate the fact that I managed two walks totaling more than four miles this week once I got home (I didn’t have time to turn on the meter for that airport adventure), and turned in my first week’s schoolwork on time. No words, as suspected, but at least some time with my girleez and hubs to try to relax into the fast-paced current of the next few weeks. Now that I don’t actually have to travel, I may accomplish more this week, but I’m not holding my breath. Until next week, check out my cohorts’ progress on their goals–and wish me luck with my sanity.

Changing Goals and Grace

"Grace is the voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off." -Max LucadoIt’s the start of both round 3 of ROW80 (in which we state our goals) and the latest (penultimate) class for my MBA today. I had had great dreams of finishing a lot of writing during the three-week break after the previous MBA classes came to an end… and am still only halfway to that goal. While I’m not a fan of anything this week’s quotable source stands for, the quote itself is a useful perspective as I face another month of crazy, in preparation for a few more months of insanity. It’s akin to the old Creighton Abrams quote about eating an elephant one bite at a time, but with the understanding that there is an underlying spirit that gives us the vitality to achieve those things we’ve set our minds to doing.

In the midst of a to-do list that includes everything from establishing new insurance, to making sure we have the furniture we need, to turning on all the proper utilities, to finding another holistic vet for Kyra, to boxing up all those worldly goods that are coming with us to Virginia, on top of a full-time job, and another class, it’s a lot easier to focus on the elephant than that quiet voice that keeps telling me things will improve for all of us once we’ve completed the transition. It’s much easier to feel harried and tense about the likelihood that something will fall between the cracks than to feel contentment at the unfolding of the path.

Freya and her babies.Yet this weekend brought a parallel profundity: One of my mom’s dogs successfully birthed her third litter. That would only be a minor miracle until you take into account that she is seven and considered at the outside edge of her fertility. We watched for an anxious day as pre-labor drew on and on and the booming fireworks stressed out all the dogs in the household. We drove with the girl to a local emergency vet and then to another one half an hour away where a surgeon was standing by in case puppies or mother were shown to be in distress. In the end, the surgeon reviewed the evidence and said… don’t use my surgical skills. The secondary message was that based on previous performance and current evidence, this girl could manage this task without the extra intervention. In fact, Freya’s birthing began four hours later as we all slept, quietly, peacefully, and with no need for our agitation. It ended six hours later with five thriving, healthy pups. Having a window into the joy Freya has in her puppies and the meditation on adorability that are the pups themselves pulled me out of most of my worries for at least a little while–and reinforced my appreciation for Puppy Therapy.
;)

It has been another lesson in patience and each thing having its proper time and place. And hubs found another article that underlines the same message–this time in the context of maturing as opposed to aging. The article is a different kind of reminder to let go of expectations, listen to the world around you for those subtle messages, and surrender to the changes that come regardless of our attempts to hold back the tide.

For now my proper time and place includes a lot of responsibilities and stresses. I know I won’t be writing as much as I’d hoped, but I also know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. So my goal for this round: To not let the stress lead to crazy. Secondarily, to finish the move and the class, figure out a regular walking route, and keep up with my other responsibilities. While I know this puts fiction word production at the bottom of my priority list again for the moment, I suspect that at the halfway point of this round I’ll be able to make some upward revisions on my word count goals, and I will treat that as my reward for getting through this eye of the needle. Meantime, check out my cohorts’ goals, and come back next week to see whether being back in Wisconsin helps me feel more productive.

Winds of Change

"When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills." -Chinese proverbI’m checking in again, even though Round 2 is complete, and Round 3 doesn’t start until next week. I like the structure of a once-a-week post ruminating on progress, since it forces me to review the small things I manage over time that add up to something tangible.

This week I did the final walk-through on our new home, and was given the key… already! I went back today and hung the winter coats I’d had to use earlier this year (when I’d first arrived in Virginia) in the coat closet there. Thus has the move already started. I also took along a measuring tape to find out exactly how big our big new house is. Apparently… there will be lots of wide-open space in the new place. I even met one of our new neighbors and his son–both of whom are looking forward to the Husky kisses that are likely in their future when our girls arrive.

I’m happy for the walls that will shelter us as we face our winds of change, and yet am reminded of the creative flights of fancy that allow windmills to evoke both monsters and dreams, and choose to imagine these changes will spark our creativity in directions unique to us. For me, that’s meant I’ve managed a mere 2,010 words for the week, completely missing the point of the daily goals I had set last week. In spite of my lack of energy, it only took us a day to find a suitable renter for our Wisconsin house, so there’s one less worry to stress us in this evolution.

Kyra is responding well to her treatments, too, encouraging me to think she might enjoy the big, new yard we’ve found for her. She is my living proof that focusing on the moment allows progress despite injury. In fact, my hubs sent an interesting article about habits of people who follow their dreams, and saw our experience in the list–apparently it’s very good I’ve learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
:D

At the same time, I found an interview with Robert David Steele over at the Guardian that confirmed how important the things I’m doing at my day job are–as well as giving further meaning to an ongoing, open diary in the form of blog entries. The sub-title of his book (Transparency, Truth, and Trust) has moved it onto my to-read pile even though I’m not a non-fiction fan. I like the ideals outlined in the article, and am hugely entertained by the notion that the entrenched Powers That Be respect him despite his radical call to open-source everything.

Next week, I’ll be back with goals for Round 3. In the meantime, I’m crossing my fingers that the past few days have been sufficiently diverting that I’ll be back to regular new words with the new week. Check back next week to see how I’ve managed.

Focus

Focus on how far you've come, not how far you have to go. -Institute for Heart MathMy final check-in for this round (even though it doesn’t end until Thursday)… When I started this round, I was in a funk: It seemed only barely possible that we could manage to move our family by August, and dealing with two classes was daunting all by itself. I had a major work project in the offing, and I knew I would be traveling between Virginia and Wisconsin every few weeks. I couldn’t imagine there would be any time left over for fiction words.

I was mostly right. But this week, I’ve been able to build on the bit of a start I’d made, and book three of Red Slaves has now broken 22,000 words. I’ve plugged in the numbers at WriteTrack (which I highly recommend!) and discovered that if I keep pace until my next class starts July 7… I’ll not only have finished this book, but will also have likely finished the short story due at the end of the month!

It’s enough to make a gal giddy.

I have worrying news from the home front to counterbalance that: Kyra has been injured almost to the point of being unable to walk. We’re hoping a vet chiro will be able to see her on an emergency basis tomorrow, and I’m crossing my fingers that will allow her to regain her mobility enough to enjoy the new yard I’ve signed us up for… I found a house and signed the lease, so our official move-in date is 8/1.

Here, again, is tangible proof of the power of stated intentions and deadlines. It seems that if you put a statement into the world and take daily baby steps in that direction, even when everything has gone pear-shaped, you do make progress. Somehow… I hit the goal of completing my classes (with As, again, no less). I hit the goal of doing the necessary things to move my family by August. I even hit the goal of writing at least a little bit of fiction this round. The exercise was spottier; I don’t do as well unless I have the excuse of my girls to get me out of the house. The major work project went off with only fixable hitches, but also general good will, so I count it as a win as well.

Mostly, I’m grateful there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. In 18 days, I’ll be back in Wisconsin, this time to box up everything and load trucks. I won’t have to tolerate weeks-long separations from my family any more for the next round. So while there will be time lost to packing, unpacking, and settling, there won’t be the perpetual cloud of absence or incipient absence. For that, I will share the silliness my hubs forwarded me earlier this week.

So I’m grateful, once again, for the ROW80 group and its encouragement with goal-setting. I’ll be back next round again. In the meantime, check out how my compatriots are doing at the tail end of this round.

Possible Impossibilities

Everything was impossible until someone did it.It’s been an interesting couple of weeks, capped off by just having turned in my two final papers. On time. I’ve even managed to find a place for us to live that won’t kill me with commute time–though the rates demanded for rent in the DC area are nothing short of astounding. I’m still no happier at being separated for a final, long stretch from my hubs and furbabies–and I won’t see them again in person for almost another month.

But I’m down to three classes before I’m done with my MBA.

It’s enough to make me feel light-headed. I’ve been taking these classes for long enough it’s hard to imagine I might have time to get back to an actual, consistent writing schedule sometime in the near future. It would be satisfying to be able to say that the 4K+ words I produced this weekend alone were propelling me toward my author goals–instead of just marking another professional check in a box.

I may be a little burned out.
;)

At least I do have three weeks off from school; it’s the final break before I’m done. Not that the time off will contribute to all the things that need to get taken care of in Wisconsin before I can import the rest of my family…

Yet, my MBA experience tells me that just marking off each week’s small list of to-do items does eventually get you to an end-point. And I know there are others who have worked full-time while finishing a degree and accomplishing other goals. So I will continue to slog forward, even though I fought a terrible case of “I don’t WANNA!” this weekend.

That I haven’t found the time to add any fiction words in the past two weeks may also be contributing to my crankiness. Plus the fact that hubs came down with a terrible flu this week, and I had to watch him suffer from a distance. When I didn’t hear from him for over 14 hours at one point in the middle of his illness, I contemplated the need to call his family to see if anyone could stop by to check in for signs of life. Thankfully, he is now on the mend, but the experience underscores the helplessness this kind of separation can raise. Still, he shared another moving post listing the 9 qualities of people who are good at relationships. It was gratifying to see we have all the bases covered. This was further elaborated on in an interview snippet posted at PurposeFairy between Oprah and Thich Nhat Hanh. I love the idea that being fully present–even if it is only over the phone lines–can bring such power and healing to a relationship.

So I will close out the final week of this round of ROW80 not even having come close to my fiction-writing goals, but at least having come up with the focus and energy to complete another round of classes and having implemented the remaining pieces necessary to get my family to Virginia by August. In the final week of this round, I need to complete the paperwork run-around madness to be able to sign the lease, but I’d also like to see whether I can ramp up my word production. I may take a day or two off just to read a book or two, though–in the nature of a palate cleanser after the series of vague annoyances brought to me by my classes. In the meantime, I suggest you visit with some of the other ROW80ers to see how they’re managing the final crunch.

What Is Normal?

You still believe there is such a thing as Normal?? You poor, poor dear.I suspect there is a trick to long holiday weekends that make you think you’re going to accomplish boatloads of things included on your to-do list, but instead suck you into a vortex of “we still have time.”

For us, we’ve managed daily walks since my arrival, each one over 2 miles. Kyra is getting old enough that sometimes she’s a little slower than her typically spry self, and really worried me last Sunday night when I actually had to carry her a couple blocks to give her weakening hips a rest. But she has a friend in Dr. Julie, and we were able to get an appointment for her this week, so last night we went for over 3 miles for the first time in a long time. Over the course of the past week, that means we’ve clocked 17.2 miles together. For once, I more than managed my exercise goals.

I also managed my school goals. I’m all up-to-date with my assignments.

But that pesky sense of “so much time”… I decided to go back to the beginning of my manuscript to get a good sense of how I’d started… see if I could add some tension… some foreshadowing… clean up early issues. I got about halfway through the process of adding and deleting (otherwise known as editing </hah>), and ended up with a grand total of four more words than I’d started with.

.<

I think I’m still looking for normal. On the other hand, I did manage to pull together a one-page description of our house to see if any friends or friends-of-friends would want to rent from us for a while starting in August. (If you know of anyone in the Milwaukee area interested in a cozy Cape Cod with a fenced yard perfect for furbabies, feel free to message me!) We’re also starting to see houses listed in the northern Virginia area that would work for our purposes, so making arrangements for an August move is starting to feel like real progress.

Tonight, then, my hubs sent me the link to an article about specific things consistently happy people do that make them different from everyone else. I wonder why it’s so much easier for me to express gratitude, cultivate optimism, and practice kindness when I’m with him as opposed to when we’re apart. Is it one of those mysteries of love? I may have to figure out how to incorporate that into its own story. On the other hand, committing to goals (another one of those happy-inducers from that article’s list) is a big part of the ROW80 experience, so I’ll encourage you once again to go see how my cohorts are handling their goals.

This week I’m pretty sure I’ll be writing fiction since I’ll be traveling half of Sunday (with a long layover in Atlanta, so no guarantee of arriving as expected) to once more return to Virginia–and I better have all my classwork done before I hit the road otherwise I’ll miss my deadlines. So I won’t make any guarantees about a blog post next week… just keep an eye on my handy word counters in the right rail. Until I next post, I’ll be working on making those happy habits more consistent, too.

Love is Existence

Love is not an emotion, it is your very existence. -RumiOnce again, I’m in Wisconsin. I even got here in time to witness the very late blooming of our lilac bush–and have a goofy picture of hubs in a close-up sniff-action to prove it.
:D

The act of taking that picture reminds me of all the laughs I’m missing while we’re apart, which is why today’s post is brought to you by Rumi, the Sufi poet who understood love at a visceral level.

I’m glad I have a long weekend of no “work” work in which to revel in the existence of love–even though I had to waste most of the weekend on finishing midterm work. At least that means I’m past the halfway point on deliverables for two classes, and can start to see the light at the end of this tunnel. I’m uber-grateful that I will only have had to tolerate this two-class load once in the course of my MBA. Today, it was such a literal and figurative headache I really struggled to accomplish my tasks.

For all that, I know some of my friends are struggling with worse. My heart goes out to them (Gayla, Pam, remember there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel!), and some of the losses I’ve faced over the years are brought freshly to mind through their suffering. So it was an odd coincidence for me to run across a TED talk this week that asked the question “Can there be meaning in pointless torment?” I look for meaning and pattern in everything, so I would answer yes reflexively, but the idea that bad experiences and the grace with which we handle them profoundly reflect who we are has another kind of truth.

The speaker in that TED talk reiterated multiple times the importance of forging meaning and building identity as the reflective inner and outer process by which we understand who we are, and culminated with a particularly moving story about how that played out in his life as a gay American who has found, late in life, the joy of family. Combined with the opposing horror of the California man-on-women hate crime that resulted in yet more fatalities, as well as the #yesallwomen Twitter conversation that trended on a global scale in response to it, this week has had quite a bit of emotional turmoil to it–even as I’ve gotten to revel in my own love.

The push and pull of handling profound loss and appreciating life-affirming relationships is one of the challenges of human existence. I’m writer enough to feel like there’s a lesson in the relationship between protagonists and antagonists in there somewhere–even if I only managed 22 words in the past week.

So I’ll keep pushing forward, being grateful that we’re halfway through our own trial, while holding our friends who face tougher trials in my heart. Be gentle with yourselves this week, and go give some encouragement to the other authors who are sharing their progress via the ROW80 virtual group.

Flaws and Good Intentions

I, myself, am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.Between work, school, and the remnants of a cold that had colleagues thinking I might give them the gift of a lung on a platter (truly, the gift that keeps on giving!), I didn’t have the energy to manage a productive week.

I told myself, repeatedly, to suck it up so I’d have a day off to chill out.

As this week’s image spells it out: I am entirely made of flaws stitched together with good intentions. I didn’t finish the last of this week’s discussion board posts until today. And it was 11pm again before I could finally turn in the second of my papers. This, after a glorious weekend’s worth of weather that I missed almost entirely, pretending that I was staring at the laptop screen for productive reasons. At least, in the end, I turned in all the assignments on time. And that big work project I’ve been anticipating for months? I got good feedback about it on Friday, made the final updates to it before I left the office, and feel pretty well prepared for the actual event this week.

Then I will have a long weekend to enjoy… if I can manage the productivity thing in a week that has me seeing the sunrise as it happens… TWICE. Don’t expect great coherence from me Wednesday or Thursday. And all you morning people who came up with this idea that the rest of us could be corralled and ready to DO something at oh-dark-hundred… You can stuff your smugness where the sun don’t shine.

;)

The great part of the week will be the beginning of another visit with my heart–my hubs and two huskies are evidently greatly anticipating my return to the great, white north, where spring is so far delayed I may still actually get to see the lilac bush bloom one final time before we permanently relocate out of Wisconsin.

Interestingly, this week I got to read a cautionary post for new graduates, which threw me back to the difficulty of finding ANY job after I completed my undergraduate degree, and reminded me to tick off one more week of my ongoing countdown to being done with my MBA. I’ve always said this is the end of school for me. I’m sick of having assignments due that reek of verbal masturbation. But then somebody else posted a link to a course in the Open University that highly intrigues me: Start writing fiction. I’m a little past the “start” bit myself, but the idea of having a regular source of critiques…? That very much appeals to me. We’ll see whether the course is still around once I’m past all the requirements for my degree. In the meantime, I also discovered the Daily Writing Tips site this week… and wasted spent a significant amount of time yesterday enjoying the offerings there. I would encourage everyone else to do so as well, both to bone up your grammar skills, and to learn all those Yiddish words we’ve appropriated into English.

Once again, I will nudge my kind visitors to go see how the rest of the ROW80 crew are doing on their goals. For myself, we’ll see whether this week’s flight nets me any new fiction words, given its early-morning take-off, but I promise I will at least keep up with my schoolwork. I may even get my walking in. Tune in next week to see how I do.

Finding Attitude

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.It’s been an interesting week. And it’s late, so this will be short. I was right to worry about the double class load, since I only just managed to turn in the second of the two papers due this week, which were piled on top of a quiz and four sets of discussion boards. But that also means I completed all the requirements for both classes this week. And added 133 words to the third Red Slaves book.

I took care of a few errands over the course of the week, meaning I did at least some mall walking (not usually what I’d count toward exercise, but it’ll do in a pinch these days). I also earned a new certification at work: I’m a certified scrum master, now. I had already been pretty Agile directed, but the whole philosophy of “fail fast” and short timeframes to develop potentially shippable product align in very interesting ways with NaNoWriMo and ROW80. I wonder whether any of the other participants in these two writing sprints have ever considered the parallel of risk mitigation (in the writer’s world, against poor writing!) by aiming for short turn-around on very specific goals…?

In fact, there’s an interesting life hack article about working smarter, not harder, that advocates making top-3 priorities lists to help ensure decent productivity. I’m not sure why, but for some reason, a list of three tasks that must be done is a lot easier for me to face than an endless to-do list–and makes you feel like you’ve given yourself bonus productivity when you start reaching further down the backlog. Unfortunately… my current top three tasks–work, school, and prepping for the move–seem endless at this point. I’m having to continually remind myself that this is a transition year, and adjust my attitude accordingly.

Thus, I will leave you with a YouTube video that gave me 10 minutes of a much-needed laugh this week–language-based silliness gets me every time. Particularly when someone riffs on the German accent and can say with a straight face “none of the floors in this hotel are tense at this time.” (You’ll have to watch it to get it.)

:D

Don’t forget to visit the other ROW80ers to check on their progress, too.