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.

Finding Optimism

Optimism is the real magic. It turns dreams into reality.Once again it’s been two weeks since I last posted. I’m thinking … from here on out, you can expect that when I return from Wisconsin unaccompanied … there will be neither the energy nor the will for blogging on that day. Since that day is going to be a Sunday… there will be no check-in update.

It’s not that it’s so bad, dire, terrible, or unsettling after this handful of times having accomplished it. But it’s also never going to be a happy place for me to have left behind my loves, no matter what greater good it serves.

The interesting thing about being home, where my desk, chair, and computer are in a familiar configuration, and I have a kind of rhythm to my life–even if it does involve getting up far too many times in a day to let one or the other of the dogs in or out–is that I do manage more productivity. I almost met my goal of 5K words. I took three walks of over two miles. I took care of sorting and decluttering such that my collection of clothes is almost pared down to just what I have in Virginia. I even wrote the white paper I was hoping to produce for work.

Arriving in Virginia again … well … I managed to turn in all the assignments for¬† both classes. And took a walk yesterday. But the contrast of living within your own space as opposed to temporarily occupying space in someone else’s life–no matter how beloved they might be–makes a distinct difference in my ability to squeeze those extra moments of productivity out of the days that have allowed me to publish seven books in the past two years.

Yet I’m optimistic. This was a beautiful spring week, and my hubs was able to take some time off to join me. We started looking for appropriate neighborhoods where we could be happy living. We also discovered an unbelievable number of scammers online related to housing. For instance: Do not trust American Standard, and for the love of ALL the gods, be VERY careful about responding to Craigslist ads (I discovered a new twist on a classic Nigerian scam this morning that would make you shiver to imagine those who fell for the phishing hook they tried to set). So we’ve been talking to friends and family looking for more trusted sources of information–and also found it’s probably a little early to look for an appropriate rental unit for an anticipated August 1st move-in date.

Then there were two tweaks to my collection of plotbunnies. My hubs sent me a link to one of our favorite sites, which posted a story about potential implications of the many worlds theory. It tells me, again, that anything is possible. And I’m just as likely to fail imagining what my possible future looks like, when I compare the current state of technology with the types of prognostication mid-century scientists provided (though this particular example was debunked by Snopes).

So I’m going to see whether I can manage 1K words of fiction while I’m taking two classes, and still manage to turn in all my classwork on time. I’ll see whether I can manage walks on my own once my hubs heads home again early in the week. And I’ll keep looking for the silver lining in the clouds of the next few months because I know this process will turn our dreams into reality. May it be a reminder to everyone to keep dreaming. In the meantime, check out how the other ROWers are managing their goals.

Holding On

The minute you think you should give up, think of the reason why you held on for so long.I turned in my final. I’m now officially two semesters away from graduating. On December 19. Not that I’m counting down, or anything.

;)

The funny thing is, when I started the accounting class I just completed, I worried that the topic was so alien to me I wouldn’t even be able to pass it. There was, once again, much gnashing of teeth and crushing of papers. In the end, it appears I’ve somehow managed to maintain my straight-A string.

There may be a lesson in this.

:D

My next challenge begins next week, when my university has decided to schedule me for TWO classes in one session (three in one semester)–not something they’ve asked me to do before. But if it means I don’t have to hang on to the crazy schedule school adds to my life beyond December, I will stay the course, and remind myself not to give up, to hold on for just a few more months.

Similarly, it looks like we’ve figured out how to make an August 1 move a reality… barring any crazy financial or health derailments. In the process, I read two articles in the past week that relate to the difference between easy and authentic. Charles Bukowski may be a polarizing figure, but his collection of quotes about living a kick-ass life spoke to me. Then there was the piece by Elle Luna about living the difference between should and must. Between these two sets of words, I’ve reinforced the sense that my life is best when I’m with my husband and my girls–it is the must that drives my happiness. And yet, without pain (i.e. the separations we’ll continue to endure for a few more months), we won’t appreciate the happiness of having pursued this challenging path.

There is that in me that is happy to have nourished a career of interesting positions–even though it’s never been easy or obvious. I get to write and edit in different contexts, learning a diverse set of perspectives and knowledge from different organizations, both elements of which feed my long-term goal of earning my living writing and editing full-time. The interesting thing this week is that despite being caught in a gut-funk’s claws for a few days, despite my class requirements, and despite the urge to catch up with All The Friends, I still beat my “wish goal” of 1,000 fiction words this week. I even shared several 2+-mile walks with Kyra and the rest of my family.

For the first time this year, I managed to meet ALL my goals. I’m still amazed. I suppose it underlines how important my family is to me–and reflects the rebirth inherent in the season on a deeply personal level. It vindicates the argument for continuing to hold on.

Since I have a week off before my next class assignments start kicking in… I’m going to push myself this week: I would love to manage at least 5,000 words of fiction. As well as squeezing in a white paper draft for the office that should be at least that many words of non-fiction. I may be word-drunk at the end of the week, but since I’ll be at home until this time next week, I need to grab my inspiration from its source.

:)

In the meantime, check out how the other ROW80ers are doing with their goals.

Magical People

There are people we meet in life that make everything seem magical. Cherish them.I got to come home this week again. And today I saw this image float by on my Facebook stream. I’ve always been a big fan of the “Neverending Story”–both in its movie and its original book form (Side note: Michael Ende wrote an amazingly deep, complex, and accessible story I actually got to study in a German seminar on the Fantastic in college. If you ever needed a reason to study German, I would suggest this book would be another argument in favor of that pursuit.). The quote the folks at Spirit Science & Metaphysics posted on the screen capture of Bastian riding Fuchur the Glueksdrache is a great way of describing how I feel about being back with my husband: “There are people we meet in life that make everything seem magical. Cherish them.” Even the projection of more cold weather during my visit can’t dampen my spirits. Especially since we’ve been working on a plan to move up our timeline to when we’re together again full time.

:)

I also got the bonus of having one of my class assignments canceled this week, so I didn’t have to worry about the travel time required to get home, or the annual Palm Sunday family gathering, sabotaging my academic success. In fact, my professor granted me a few bonus points this week for having attended an optional live session that didn’t meet his standards. I even worked on my short story, got some house cleaning/organizing done for my mom, met my walking goals, AND got to go see “Captain America: Winter Soldier”. It’s amazing how proper motivation and shared time with the right people can amp your productivity. (I even snuck in some reading time while we were stuck on the tarmac in DC while crews removed “foreign objects” from the runway–two books that probably deserve reviews, if I ever get back to that side of this blog…)

:D

I’m still not expecting thousands of words of fiction in a writing session at a time anytime soon. This week is finals week, and the week after that I start my first session with TWO classes at a time. But I discovered I have a break from all classes from 6/18 – 7/7, so if I can find similar motivation and scheduling then as I did this past week… maybe I’ll finally be able to finish writing some of the stories that have been on a very slow boil for the past few months.

Sticking with the goals I set last week thus seems reasonable–especially in light of a great commencement speech by Neil Gaiman I was treated to tonight, which concludes with the exhortation to “go, make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. But make good art.” I may be making a mistake by not driving myself toward something more ambitious with my writing schedule, but the same could also be said about not pushing harder to reunite my family, or not finishing the MBA that still has the power to make me curse and feel like my brain is breaking. So I’m choosing to focus on the magical people around me, and trust that that focus will drive my own “good art” in the end.

In the meantime, don’t forget to check out all the other ROW80ers and how they’re doing meeting their goals.

Seeking Peace

Sending love, peace, and healing to all those who may be suffering tonight. May tomorrow bring a renewed sense of peace. -Zen to ZanyI know I should push myself to set some kind of measurable goals again… But it’s another one of those days where the road ahead of us invites that insidious depression that says there’s too much to do and finding our way to the end of this road is an intolerably long prospect.

In the past week, then, I found the Zen to Zany page on Facebook, and the quote to the right. I also found the tragedy of another author who has been bullied into silence. I don’t know Sarah even peripherally, and I’ve been lucky enough so far to have avoided having bullying or stalking or any of the other trollish activities I see online directed my way (knock on wood that I continue without that burden). I do know, though, that each of us has a story. And we all suffer in our stories. I’m just an optimist enough to feel deep in my bones that there’s a silver lining in every cloud.

So I’m scaling back again. For this round, I know I have more classwork–I’ve been scheduled for two classes one session. We also have a major project deliverable coming up in May at work. If I manage fiction writing this round, it will be a big bonus. I’d like to take at least two 2-mile walks per week to mitigate for all the sitting I’ve been doing for work and school. And we have tasks to accomplish related to moving even though I’m still mostly in Virginia while the rest of my family is in Wisconsin.

There’s more than enough to do… I’m just trying to cut back on the sense of being overwhelmed by it all. And reading the wrap-up post by one of the ROW80 moderators from last round about burn-out shows me there’s good sense in backing off and taking a wait and see approach. May the next 80 tomorrows help me find peace in that approach.

Doing Best

If you're doing the best you can under your current circumstances... then kick up your heels and dance.The end of the first round of ROW80 came this week, and brought the somewhat depressing realization that I’ve almost wholly missed the goals most important to me. Life decided to play a round of 52-card pick-up with me in January by forcing me out of my comfort zone. I’ve been hugely lucky about the kind of safety net that has come into play in the meantime, but it’s not what I had expected of this year, nor what I had planned for, so I’m still working on finding my balance.

And correlates somehow to the very cute picture that drifted by on my Facebook feed earlier today. I’m sharing it here because it reminds me of the Zimbabwean saying “If you can walk you can dance. If you can talk you can sing.” It’s a good expression for pushing people into lifting the energy they put into their creativity. Combined with the saying in today’s picture, it’s also a good prod toward letting go of shame or embarrassment, and just doing what you can.

I’ve been keeping up with schoolwork. And I haven’t missed a day of work at my new job yet, either. Walking… well. I park on the far end of the parking garage to get at least a little exercise, but I haven’t even figured out where the stairs are in the buildings where I work, let alone whether I could manage that many flights carrying the mobile office backpack that has become my constant companion. Even blogging has fallen down my priority list, since it seems all my time is dedicated to other things: helping family, taking care of logistics, maintaining at least some kind of long-distance relationship with my husband. Fiction words? <snort, cough> I’m actually pleased with the paltry sum of the fewer than 1K I’ve managed in the past three months. But it also means I need to radically change my expectations for this year generally.

It’s wearing and wearying. And there’s no real end in sight–unless some random miracle means I’m suddenly earning $2K/month in royalties on top of everything else we already have coming in, and we can afford to push up my hubs’ moving day from sometime in the vague fall season (preferably before the first snows return next winter) to sometime closer to my birthday.

No, this post is not going to turn into a harangue to buy my books. (But if you do, THANKS, SO MUCH!) It’s a sigh about how often you start down a path with a certain expectation, and then something else happens along the way. (And, here again, on its third anniversary, I will plug for Kathryn Schulz’s TED talk On Being Wrong.) In general, I’ve cultivated a Zen-like attitude about NOT having expectations in or of my life, since it’s predictable that those will be shattered one way or another. It’s served me well over the decades, and I’ve adapted both to living in other countries and to pursuing a strange hopscotch of jobs that have incongruously built into something of a recognizable career. I’ve kept an even keel in the process. This change, though… being separated–voluntarily, supporting each other, still loving each other–it’s destabilized me in ways I’m still coming to terms with.

I’m still working on turning that into my own personal dance.

I don’t know whether I’ll be able to write in other than 1-200-word snippets while I get through this, but this process has always been the long game for me, so I’m keeping my eyes glued to the goal of togetherness, and assuming that at that point I’ll be able to return to the writing process that has gotten me this far. It should help that I’m done with my MBA in December as well.

In the meantime, I’m going to share a BBC documentary about the Secret Life of Dogs… because I miss my girls, and everyone gets some level of help with even vicarious puppy therapy. I’m also going to share the link to the other ROW80ers and their wrap-up posts for this round–because surely at least some of them have been able to achieve what I have not. See you next round!

Have Wheels, Will Travel

"Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God." -Kurt VonnegutYeah, yeah… I skipped a week. I was returning from Wisconsin to Virginia last Sunday, and had neither the inclination nor the enthusiasm to blog about being separated again. Then, Monday night, I got my consumer buzz on: I spent *hours* at the local Toyota dealership making arrangements to add to our collection of Priuses. Prii? I spent the rest of the week driving myself to and from work, and getting semi-intentionally lost to reacquaint myself with the roads of my High School years. A lot has changed in this neck of the woods since then. As Vonnegut says, “bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.”

I love the Prius. Especially with the upgrades they made in the six model years since we bought the previous one. So I had to give family and colleagues test rides, too, right?

I also had to figure out how to think like an accountant. This class is almost as bad as the business law class for twisting my brain into knots. And I can’t just write my way out of a box into a good grade with this upside-down use of words. I keep fighting with my textbook in an Inigo Montoya-voice: “I don’t think that word means what you think it means…”

This class may be the one that finally breaks my straight-A streak. On the other hand… my sister-in-law IS an accountant, and she was helping me sort some of my confusion tonight, so… I’m fighting for something that really doesn’t mean that much in the end anyway.

:D

The other good thing about regular flights across half the country: I found an enforced time away from everyone that allows me to write. Not that I wrote much, but at least those 250 words got me to 15K, and broke the wordless streak.

I also discovered the Electro-Plasmic Hydrocephalic Genre Fiction Generator 2000. The plot-bunnies… they MULTIPLY! This one actually sounds enticing to me… and not unrelated to what I’m already doing with the Red Slaves series… (Spin-off, anyone?):

In a coal-powered Soviet Russia, a young collector of oddities stumbles across a dream-inducing drug which spurs him into conflict with a charismatic politician on the rise with the help of a bookish female scholar with mousy brown hair and her closet full of assault rifles, culminating in a fistfight atop a tower.

Your title is: “The Neurotrons.”

So it’s been a busy, productive week for me–even if it wasn’t as productive as I was hoping. And I capped it with a sore throat and fever starting yesterday morning. I’m feeling better now, but have the cough of a strange cold to contend with as we whipsaw through another drastic set of temperature swings. If things continue this way… next month I may have to threaten Virginia with my full-length, down-filled blueberry to make the temperatures stay consistently above freezing.

;)

In the meantime, check out how the other ROW80ers are doing with their goals.