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Choosing

"Happiness is not something you chase and catch, it's something you choose." -Steven AitchisonThis past week felt like I was finally settling into the rhythm of day job and balancing it against other obligations, until the weather pulled a fast one and switched between 80s and humid to 60s and mild, and back to 80s and humid. So I had the full-on scratchy throat and sneezy sniffles Thursday and Friday, and spent most of yesterday sleeping.

It probably didn’t help that the news cycle raised memories of experiences I and my fellow female classmates in the 80s in the DC region knew of and experienced… and, same as when we experienced them and saw Anita Hill discredited in the early 90s, there was no accountability for the actions undertaken by the men. In fact, the men were lauded and then elevated to lifetime positions on the Supreme Court.

I would say that I’m looking forward the number of “Brett”s written as antagonists in coming years. But I can’t say I’ve ever run across a “Clarence” baddie, so maybe it’s just me who chooses character names based on personal experiences as a way to either commemorate or work through my feelings.

So I spent time reading. Romances. Because Rafe, Mating the Huntress, and Not Just Human gave me the kinds of female protagonists that are good antidotes to toxic masculinity. Each book, individually, had different strengths and widely divergent settings, but they all left me feeling much better about the world around me. And I know each of the authors from Twitter, where they are engaging, kind, and educational. I chose to spend time with those works because I trusted those authors to create the happy endings I needed.

One of the most interesting things I learned on Twitter this week: That mushrooms are closer to humans than plants. The author of that thread links to two articles to explain further, but the idea that mycelium could be a source of of something radically healthful came through an entirely different channel. (And the intersection of these things had my inner Trekkie fan dancing, because SPORES and STAMETS and OMG!) The Stamets to whom Star Trek: Discovery paid homage just released a new study that has remarkable implications in the fight against Colony Collapse Disorder (in bees). And it’s to do with extracts from the mycelia and the probability that it’s able to boost immune systems in an unprecedented and impactful way. I’ll let you read more about it in the various news outlets, or maybe even the paper itself. It’s an exciting advancement in fighting the loss of bees worldwide.

Human development (loosely) was the topic of two other interesting articles I read this week. In the first, a philosopher made an argument that a narrative history is a poor tool through which to gain knowledge. In the second, there was a strong argument for the fact that cooked food underpins humanity in some very interesting ways. (Including the fact that I realized every single one of my stories has a shared meal in it somewhere…)

As for my own writing, I managed just about 300 words. At this rate, it will be sometime next year before I even finish the draft, so I’m hoping to capitalize on tomorrow’s federal holiday to buckle down again.

On the other hand, we sweated through our daily walks (despite hubs’ broken toe), and my Fitbit says I averaged 5,322 steps per day and 7 hours and 50 minutes of sleep. (Though, given how much I slept yesterday… that’s probably not an entirely representative assessment.)

So I’ll keep pushing forward, keeping in mind the inspiration Ursula LeGuin shared when she accepted the 2014 National Book Foundation Medal, as quoted on this week’s ROW80 check-in:

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality.

All of which brings me full-circle to the quote that spoke to me for this week’s post: We are each responsible for choosing our own happiness. But if we can share how we got there through our art, maybe we can point the way for someone else to find how to choose theirs.

Normal?

"If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be." -Maya AngelouThe past week was anything but normal for me, and included my first trip to the Norfolk branch of my employer’s offices. Making that drive in the remnants of all the storms that have been in the area recently was an exercise in white-knuckled attention, and has required most of the rest of the week to recover from. I’m grateful hubs was able to be my eye in the sky and warn me of where the pockets of rain would be, as well as the slow-downs. It’s just a small example of the thoughtfulness and caring he brings to my life on a regular basis, and a blessing even he tends to downplay.

This weekend, then, brought the final act of our overly hectic social calendar, when we attended a Social Distortion concert. It was a sold-out event and not music I typically enjoy, but there was a time when hubs was a huge fan of that band, so I accompanied him to share his fun. Friends went with us, and we had a lovely meal together beforehand at an Ethiopian place just a few doors down from the concert venue. Then we discovered the self-involved, oblivious, rude (male) audience members who couldn’t understand, let alone respect the need for personal space in a crowded place. The other woman in our party of four and I tolerated about an hour of being shoved, nudged, and almost knocked over before we retreated to a downstairs bar to wait out the rest of the event.

Given the news cycle this week about other entitled men, I found this NPR opinion piece by an Asian American woman deconstructing the history of Asian racial epithets a thoughtful and well-researched counterpoint to the feel of the week. Or this stunning article about a blind man going on safari.

The unfortunate truth is that so many people are just pushing themselves to fit some niche of “normal,” that they completely forget that that’s not actually something to aspire to. What I found beautiful this week was Madeleine L’Engle tweeting quotes from her (for-me-seminal) Time Quintet series.

“What else is there?” Mrs. Murry’s voice was low and anguished.

“There are still stars which move in ordered and beautiful rhythm. There are still people in this world who keep promises.”

Which is an interesting pivot for me: I didn’t touch my WIP this week.

Probably not surprising given all the disruptions in my week. Probably not surprising either that my average step count dropped precipitously to 4,602 per day, according to my Fitbit stats. At least my average hours slept stayed over 7 hours (7 hours and 26 minutes to be precise). But none of that accounts for the sense of TIRED that pervaded me this week.

Last week I said I would consider what reasonable goals might be for this latest Round of Words. I’m not sure I have a handle on that, still, but I know that 500 words per week with some weeks off will not help me reach my author career goal of two book releases per year. So I’m restating the majority of my goals from the last Round. (I did at least finish two of my big goals last Round: Find and start a new job, and declutter the hall closet.)

 

  1. Finish writing Team Alpha.
  2. Submit Team Alpha to my editor.
  3. Return to my weekly blog schedule with my ROW80 updates.
  4. Walk at least 2 miles a day.
  5. Sleep at least 7 hours a night.
  6. Keep the sanctity of my weekly date night with hubs.

I think that’s enough to be getting on with for now, and I’ll be keeping an eye on weekly word counts. Since I need to write approximately 40K words to finish this book, that breaks down to about 5K words per week over the next two months. Normally, that’s entirely doable. As alluded to in the title of this week’s post, I’m still finding normal, and wondering which normal makes the most sense for me to align with. For now, it’s all a work in progress, but I’ll keep you posted as I find my way.

 

Honoring Connections

"Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone's soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd." -RumiIn a strange confluence of events, our social calendar this week filled up to an unexpected degree. We’re mostly home-bodies, but when our friends reach out to us, we do everything we can to support their plans or need to connect. When someone calls out of the blue, it’s not uncommon for us to spend a few hours on the phone catching up. We recognize that our choice to focus on our home lifeour “sanctum sanctorum”gives us the base from which we can feed our connections the way they feed us.

So this week’s old quote from Rumi was an interesting restatement of one of the many conversations we had this week with friends: We’ve found it challenging over the years to find true friends who are interested in sharing the same breadth and depth of connection that we seek. When we do, we honor the connection by offering unstinting support. And when it’s a true friendship, we end up feeling that energy return to us, as if, in some round-about way, we were lifting ourselves up by lifting up our friends.

Which made this post from earlier this month outlining the difference between loneliness and solitude illuminating. We seek our retreat to fill our well, understanding that nurturing the quiet space within is what allows us to become the shepherd Rumi talks about.

In a tangential way, this article about losing the night sky reflects a different level of disconnect with self. Humans by and large are so focused on the convenience and safety created in lighting streets and homes all through the night that they’re losing sight of the mysticism and isolation that feeds the soul.

Despite the long days and connections honored, I somehow broke the word log-jam and pushed past 30K words this week. In total, that meant I added only just under 500 words, but something about that threshold had been intimidating me.

All of these things converge in an odd parallel to something Brain Pickings covered last week when they wrote about some of what motivated John Steinbeck. The most profound quote in that story for me was, “It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.” And the only way, with all the terrible things reported in the daily news, to do our part to make sure evil things don’t win, is to spread the light in the way Rumi notes. For me, a lot of that work resides in my story-telling.

At some point soon, though, I’ll need to refill my introvert’s well requiring quiet time at home. Probably reading. Probably from some of the books on this list of the 23 best fantasy books for adults.

As for the wellness challenge, hubs and I finished the required 150K steps sometime last week. But the good habit of walking regularlydespite the heavy rains in the area in recent weekshave persisted. My Fitbit says I averaged 4,589 steps per day last week. This, despite the fact that my tech failed me yesterday: The battery died sometime the night previous, recording just barely 2 hours of sleep, and I didn’t realize it until after we got home from our long walk in the evening and I hadn’t yet gotten the flashing light celebration of meeting my daily goal. So my average was probably more in line with the previous week, when I averaged 6,281 steps per Fitbit tracking. I’m guesstimating that I averaged a little over 7 hours of sleep per night this week, too… but don’t really want to do the math to verify that.

😀

Our Milwaukee house is still on the market, though our realtor reports that at his weekly open houses there continues to be some interest. Not enough yet to generate an offer, but enough to confirm our place would be a great deal for anyone looking for a sturdy starter home.

Since the ROW80 round ended last week and the official goals statement post isn’t due until next week, I won’t be sending you to see how everyone else did this round. For myself, I’m glad that I achieved the key goal of finding and starting a new job. Making that a reality, though, meant a significant reduction in my creative output. Now that I’m finding my feet there again, I hope I’m able to set better goals for the next round. Including one related to how hubs and I tend our inner selves. Until next week, I’ll ponder which specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals I’ll be including in my list, and wishing you the fortitude to walk out of your house like a shepherd.

Captive Land Specimen

Good morning, captive land specimen, is the oxygen level in your air tank adequate today?This week’s image and caption is mostly nonsense, except that it isn’t because of the very high humidity we’ve suffered through this summer. According to hubs’ acupuncture training, there is actually a fifth season–hot and humid late summer/early autumn–that according to ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners causes stagnation and illness in humans, and requires a particular set of treatment protocols. Luckily we haven’t faced real illness, but the background sense of depletion and an ongoing minor headache makes getting through the weeks feel like a slog.

Hubs reports having read an article recently that characterizes this summer in the DC area as one of the worst in the past fifty years. I wasn’t able to find a link, but I did find a climate scientist describing what “oppressive heat” could be characterized as. I can confirm that in the past month, it’s been vanishingly rare to see humidity below 90 percent by the weather station we have set up at our house, thus meeting one portion of the oppressive measures outlined.

Which means that when we go on our daily walks, we’re all huffing and puffing for what feels like a lack of oxygen. Humidity is NOT our friend.

Still, with the knowledge that we have a hard deadline to earn our steps for the wellness bonus at work, we’ve been religious about taking long walks. The Fitbit app says I averaged 5,722 steps a day last week and 8 hours and 14 minutes of sleep.

I also made it through my entire WIP, and even added a few hundred words. I’m moving a lot slower on this than I’d hoped, but at least I’ve dipped my toes back in the creative stream.

Interestingly, an HBR article recently talked about the importance of curiosity, which is, to me, a key aspect of being creative. My creative work is almost entirely driven by asking “why?” (For a very different, NSFW view on creativity and body positivity, the @whoresofyore Twitter stream recently has been posting messages about and by sex workers.) The counter-point to that is an article in Vox that discusses why it’s scientifically inexplicable that a desk job can be so exhausting. One of the most memorable conversations I had during my orientation training for my current job was when new colleagues said, “I wish I were that creative.” I got to sit up high on my hobby-horse and remind them they ARE creative–every time they solve a new problem. How do you deal with a traffic jam in the morning? Creative new route to work? How do you solve any new problem? It all takes creative thinking.

Similarly, I’ve run across articles about small habits that promote productivity, behavioral economics and the likelihood that research from that field can help us manage our finances, and a football player who’s doing his best to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged kids. Each one reflects components of choices I’ve made and reminders to stay focused on my priorities. And writing remains a priority–especially when I get random feedback from unexpected sources, in which someone tells me they particularly enjoyed one of my stories. I’m still working on not feeling utterly flummoxed by someone saying they savored my words. And I’m very proud of my brother, whose words on an entirely different topic will be featured during the Atlanta Code Camp.

Hubs and I are also trying to be patient about having our Milwaukee house on the market. Our realtor held an open house yesterday and reported some interest. No offer yet, so if any readers are interested in the place where I wrote my first six books… it’s available.

In the meantime, I’ll be back to balancing day job and noveling. Next week is the end of this Round, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be churning out 10K words a day to meet one of my goals (finish drafting Team Alpha), so I need to discover my latest writing pace and figure out what a realistic, new deadline is. Until next week, then, consider checking how the other ROW80ers are doing on their goals.

Overcoming Obstacles

Attitude to Inspiration: "From this day on, when I look back on the past, I will smile and say to myself... 'I never thought I could do it, but I did. I overcame all the struggles, all the obstacles, and all those who tried to bring me down!'"Today marks one month since I last touched my WIP. It’s a strange realization, how quickly and easily life gets in the way of creativity. In fact, last weekend, I started battling a migraine that didn’t let up until I passed a key certification that had been hanging over my head for my current day job. I had attributed the extra stress I was carrying much more to the ongoing issues with getting our Milwaukee house sale-ready, but after I passed on Wednesday, the amount of extra energy available to catch up on organizing my office and taking care of details centering on celebrating hubs’ most recent birthday was actually startling.

And because hubs got new monitors as part of his birthday haul, I inherited his old one. I now have a triple-monitor set-up that lets me have one whole monitor dedicated to my WIP.

Being able to focus that way on what I’m trying to accomplish in my writing world is an unexpected gift back from him.

🙂

And now that I’ve been at the new job for a month, things are settling in that way, too. In fact, through their wellness program, hubs and I are now wearing Fitbit trackers for much more accurate step counts–and the challenge to beat 5,000-step goals every day. Since there’s a financial reward tied to it, all of a sudden we’re all walking a lot more. My phone says last week I averaged 5,741 steps per day. Sleeping is still less regular than I’d like, with only a 6 hour 35 minute average for the week. But apparently the Fitbit has an alarm to buzz my wrist at night to push me toward bed at a reasonable hour.

Outside of work, I’ve been reading a lot of depressing news and opinions. There was the one in Bloomberg at the end of July that pointed out how many of the current trends from a bigger perspective–worker productivity stagnation, aging population, entitlements, world affairs–add up to a likely dystopia in the next ten years. Or the Wired article earlier this week that spoke about the details of how Puerto Rico has dealt with the critical infrastructure failure brought on its electrical grid by last year’s hurricanes. Or the retrospective on the Prague Spring from the New York Times–it’s strange to me that it was merely fifty years ago that the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, and now neither of those nations exist in that form anymore. History moves quickly.

And yet it doesn’t–at least for women. The perennial recommendation for “bedrest” for pregnant women (at least a hundred years of practitioners pushing this bunk) was thoroughly documented in an article in The Atlantic. And Quartz reported on the fact that Tokyo Medical University has doctored the scores of female applicants for decades to ensure far fewer than were qualified were actually granted admission. Because … they were obviously going to drop out of the working world once they got pregnant. Two opinion writers, one in Medium (from a widely published author) and one in The Atlantic (from the former director of policy planning at the US State Department) outlined from different perspectives the various pulls on women’s time and energy. And the many hurdles we face in being taken seriously along with those inner voices that “helpfully” point out how often we fail to live up to our own expectations.

I see it in most of my writer connections online, too: How do we balance our day jobs with our family obligations, with our need to rest and recharge? It’s a discussion hubs and I have been having, too. It seems, particularly for creative types, that the more we can disentangle ourselves from those energetic parasites that distract us from pursuing the goals closest to our hearts, the more inspiration strikes–and the more vitality we are able to invest in our pursuits. For hubs and me, this correlates directly to our divestment from the Milwaukee property, which, FINALLY, this week is ready to go for sale. We don’t need yet another, extraneous distraction. Or, in the case of that house, an anchor to a past that ties us to other struggles.

In response, I’ve started posting reminders to myself on Twitter of the smiles and love I have at home with my dogs. You might notice them as “moments of floof” on my timeline, and I’m trying to post them daily. Because that’s how regularly Natasha, Santino, and KouKi bring us joy–and because it’s worth spreading that to the world at large given the ubiquity of the stressors we all face.

Then, too, there was a fascinating article about a move toward true modernization of democracy in Taiwan. The take-away that disallowing commenters from replying to other commenters, and instead on relying on upvoting and downvoting comments to generate consensus was eye-opening to me. And a Digg article about the NYC Ethics Board Twitter team also made me smile.

So my goal this week: Get back to fiction writing in my now-organized office, and continue to beat the challenge set by my employer’s wellness challenge. Until next week, check out how the other ROW80ers are doing.

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