Escaping Reality

"Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it." -Lloyd AlexanderIt’s been a fiction-filled week for me–though I haven’t gotten to write anything of my own in that time. I’m very much enjoying the stories I’m getting to read via my workshop, and Gayla is churning hard on a brand new story, loosely related to her Deadlands Hunt book–and I have the honor of getting each new handwritten page as a text as she ratchets her word count higher.

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I’ve also been sucked into the Ghosts of Tsavo, which the author sent to me via my blog for review. I’ll give you a preview of my review by saying that if you enjoy Gail Carriger’s work the way I do, you should ABSOLUTELY run to buy this book, too–and it’s currently only $.99.

All of these things have made me consider one more time why I dedicate so much time and energy to fictional words. When I ran across Lloyd Alexander’s quote, then, it struck me as pertinent. Even more so when hubs forwarded an article detailing 10 choices we’d regret in 10 years from the Buddhist perspective. In particular, endlessly waiting for another day to do the things you want to do is deadly. And gives me a handy excuse to recuse myself from the social whirl to further enjoy the variations in understanding all the fiction I enjoy brings to my life.

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That list also validates the ROW80 project for its ongoing focus on helping authors develop a backbone (accountability) and document results (not giving up after repeated failures). So I walked five days this week for a total of 5.7 miles. I caught up with my crit group requirements. Hubs and I enjoyed another installment of Agent Carter for a stay-home date night.

I’m still a laggard on the house-settling and PMP studying. But that latter is shoving to June now anyway, since I’ve been approved for a more formal study group through work. I still have work to do to prepare marketing materials for hubs’ Virginia-based practice, and any other freelance work that comes my way, so I’m not ready to say I have a handle on my own expectations of myself yet, but the longer days and some of the lifestyle changes we’ve made in the past week have energized me. The workshop-generated critiques have, too. I think I might have the drive to push through to the end of the novel that’s been eluding me for over a year.

:)

I’m marking up my regained focus as another win for fiction.

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Meantime, I suggest you check out how the other ROW80ers are wrapping up this round. I’ll be back next week, documenting my own progress and considering, again, how my furbabies really are my kids

Failing Enthusiastically

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." -Winston ChurchillI got the sick that’s been circling the office this weekend, but also got to see an Aunt I hadn’t seen in 5 years… It’s hard to live up to your commitments when life keeps getting in the way. It’s useful to remind myself that even the greats had to contend with this, so I’m sharing Winston Churchill’s wisdom today.

To enumerate: I’m WAY behind on the critiques that are all due… TUESDAY. As anticipated, I haven’t written any new words for my own work, either.

On the other hand, the weather has warmed up enough to tease us with thoughts of spring. Naturally, there were icy patches too, so on both Monday and Tuesday when we took the three punkaninies on their morning walkies, I managed to find them. And slip. And fall. I have some interesting scrapes and bruises now. Which also make for a disinclination to sit for long at the keyboard. Still, we walked 6 of the 7 days of the week, for a total of 7.1 miles. Not bad for a slow ramp-up.

Part of my exhaustion for the week was also related to the day job, where we’re starting a new project that has me driving an unaccustomed amount. In DC-area traffic. I racked up 140 miles over the course of four very long days. In the process, though, a colleague told me about Categories, (also available on iTunes) which promptly led to two nights of giggles and fun with hubs as we passed the game baton back and forth. So yay on twice the date night.

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It’s possible some of my exhaustion and lateness-with-assignments is self-induced. whistles innocently

Hubs also shared a useful list of questions to help sharpen my inner focus/priorities. In particular, I think some phases of experience really are about giving yourself a mental break and reconnecting with people/beings who are important in your life. Or helping them through surgical recovery. It’s funny how those times creep up on you unexpectedly though–difficult to make plans when they’re so regularly upended. And it’s one of the most regular frustrations in my life: Plan one thing and a series of events puts the kibosh on achieving the plan. There aren’t many times I would consider Woody Allen a source of wisdom, but his quote “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,” has played out with dismaying frequency in my life.

Nonetheless, I keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep embracing the detours, and am still enjoying the ride–stuffy head and sore throat notwithstanding. Here’s crossing my fingers that I catch up this week, to set myself up for a small writing success at the end of the month. Meantime, check out the other ROW80ers and their progress.

I Am Woman

"I am a woman. I can be as contrary as I choose." -Lady Violet Crowley, Downton AbbeyIt’s International Women’s Day and the beginning of Daylight Savings here in the U.S. And we’re finally starting to see the end of winter. Maybe that’s why I feel a little more energized, and like I’m accomplishing things. Though I’m really not. Other than maybe catching up on sleep and keeping up with the pace of critiquing for the writer’s workshop I’m now involved in. I’m working as hard on that as I did for any MBA class… but feel like I’m getting so much more out of it.

So I can be contrary about not having wanted to go for any more schooling. Except this kind. Or professional development for work. Or any other kind of exception that may come up down the road.

I’m just coming to understand that being explicit about What’s In It For Me isn’t just a marketing or sales principle, it’s a key connector in story-telling. Unless your reader understands why they should invest their time and attention in the things you’re saying, it’s unlikely you will keep them as a reader–regardless of whether they’re reading a business proposal, a description of some technical option, or a low fantasy novel.

All of this to say… My words are all going into what I hope are worthwhile, insightful critiques at the moment, so I’m taking a break on new words for my fiction until 3/26, when I have a 1-week break and have plans to churn out responses to the feedback I’ve been getting on what I’ve written so far. It’s actually quite exciting. And energizing.

:)

The nicer weather also means we got out for three walks this week. They only totaled 2.2 miles, but at least we’re moving again. All the time I’m dedicating to the workshop means no date night this week, either. Nor any further home-settling. But the doggies are getting old enough to finally allow us good sleep at night and a great reduction in the number of indoor accidents to clean up, so we’re piecing together our new family rhythm as we drag ourselves out of the winter doldrums.

Once again, I’ll be back again next week, reporting on such progress as I’ve made. In the meantime, check out the other ROW80ers.

Normalcy Paved with Good Intentions

"Normality is a paved road: It's comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it." -Vincent Van GoghI’m beginning to suspect that my quest for some kind of normalcy or balance is my form of tilting at windmills. Then I run across today’s quote from Vincent Van Gogh and am reminded that when we’re comfortable and follow the expected path, it’s entirely too easy to take the subtle and the creative for granted.

So this weekend I affirmed my participation in the Virtual Writers’ Workshop and started collecting the words I will have my fellow participants critique. It’s a little nerve-wracking to try to explain where I am in the Red Slaves series, and how I got there … and that I really should be adding another 2K words to what I have currently written to take full advantage of a captive beta reading audience.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA

I did actually add a few words to my MS this week (137, to be exact) on the one night I wasn’t so wiped out or otherwise occupied as to be unable to put coherent words on a page. That pace does not bode well for a speedy completion of the next 25,000 or so words needed to finish the trilogy. But then hubs forwarded a link that reminds me of why I’m fascinated by cryptohistory, and makes me wonder whether dragons and other mystical beasties might one day be proven true–supporting what seems to be my leitmotif across stories: That magic is real, if we but have the eyes to see it.

The goal for this round that I’ve now officially beaten: Posting book reviews. Three are already live, and the fourth one is written and waiting for the official release date of Leaving Berlin later this week. I have a few more books I’d like to review, too, so the Wednesday review schedule might become an actual thing.

Mostly, though, we’ve both been under the weather. Again. Which led to the decision to take the furbabies to playtime for the day yesterday in order to be able to catch up on sleep. (I’m actually going to count toward that date night goal, because… CUDDLES!) It seems to have helped at least some, but tonight’s ice storm, following the sub-zero temps and snow of the past week have meant none of us has had the exercise that keeps us healthiest. And means walking happened once, last Sunday, for less than a mile.

I’m feeling like this round may just be my catching-up-with-myself time–keeping some of those big goals in sight, but mostly nibbling around the edges of them while I acclimate to and fully settle into what our new life in this new place looks and feels like.

So I encourage you to visit the other ROW80ers to see how they’re doing, and think about how you measure your own progress–whether it comes in regular chunks, or more intermittently.

Feeling the Waves

"There's no secret to balance, you just have to feel the waves." -Frank HerbertI’m starting to feel like a broken record: Too much, too much, it’s all too much. And yet, this week, I feel like I’ve come closest to surfing the waves of emotions, work, and escapism so that I’m feeling slightly more balanced and healthy than I had been.

Even with the short notice about our cousin, the notification that he had, indeed, passed on Thursday was more of a blessing than a horror. Hubs had gotten to say his goodbye last week. With one lung already gel-ified then, we hoped the cancer would take him quickly as there was no quality of life even then. Rest in peace, brother of hubs’ youth.

On the same day, I got some fantastic (to me!) news: I was accepted into the Spring 2015 session (March & April) of the virtual writer workshop. I’m still waiting to hear what, specifically, will be required, but I know I will be submitting pieces weekly for critique, and critiquing seven from my cohort in turn, also weekly. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m hopeful this takes my writing to the next level, and gives me a longer-term connection with other authors serious about their writing careers.

Friday, then, we saw the first payment to begin work on a big new contract at work. This means the next few weeks are going to be crazy at the office, so I knew I needed to focus on NOT-work for a few days.

Friday night we shared a lovely cuddle and catch-up on Agents of Shield. Yesterday the weather was snow, sleet, and freezing nastiness, so we didn’t leave the house, and I got to read the ARC for Leaving Berlin. (You’ll see the review 3/3, the day it’s released to the public. As a preview: Pre-order the book now!) I was even inspired to write… all of 312 words. But hubs had a link for that too: 25 things creative people do differently. If I’ve started finding a rhythm at home, maybe that will give me the energy I need to fuel that creative engine.

So: Goals – some writing (partial check); stay-at-home date night (check); book review posting (check); more home settling (partial check). Walking? That would be a week of NOPE. Between sub-zero and ice, honey don’t play that… As I said at the top, finding some balance, but it seems always at the cost of something falling off the plate. Of course, shoveling and walking today means I’m exhausted now and morning comes quickly these days.

Once again, then, I’ll encourage you to check out how my fellow ROW80ers are doing on their goals, and promise to report back next week with my progress–hoping the waves don’t catch me in the undertow in the meantime.

Enough Already

I know when I have had enough, I just don't always act on it...I’m sure my friends in Boston have said this already (and earned it!) but all the overload of the past few months finally tipped me over into … doing nothing.

The quote from Zen to Zany seems appropriate, because this week my brain shut down. It forced me to act on having had enough already.

We celebrated our anniversary as well as Santino’s second birthday this past week, and we did both quietly at home. The frigid temps have kept us inside for the past four days, so I only walked three days last week, for 5.6 miles. I’ve taken care of mindless, administrivial, and frustrating things. My brain just hasn’t been there for anything more taxing or interesting, and at this point I’m having a hard time reconstructing anything actually productive I accomplished this week.

Except that I cleared our junk room and have now set it up as hubs’ treatment space. Which is great, but premature, considering he’s not quite licensed in Virginia yet. Even though he is, in Wisconsin. Like I said… administrivial hoops to jump through. The nice thing about having done that work is that the whole house feels more energized for not having things stuffed in that room willy-nilly for us to face “later”. It’s been on my long-term to-do list for about six months, so I’m completing at least part of my goal of finalizing our “move-in”.

I suspect part of the nudge to Just Doing It was getting the notification of the impending end of our USPS forwarding order. (We’ve really been here that long?!) And/or having received my MBA diploma in yesterday’s mail. (FINALLY!)

Whatever the case may be, it was good to check the task off my list. It was anotherย  reflection of how internally focused the week was. Since KouKi seems to have grown up just enough to hold it through the night and let us know when she needs to go out–and the cold snap has frozen the yard sufficient that the dogs don’t come in looking like they’ve been mud wrestling–we’re starting to get more rest. It will be a while before that means I’m not a zombie–especially since it looks like we really are on a deathwatch for hubs’ cousin. There will be more emotional wounds to recover from in the near future.

At least settling more fully into our house gives me the roots and calm space that I have some hope of getting into a real routine. Soon. We’ll see whether that is this week or this month, but in the meantime, some of my ROW80 cohorts are still managing to accomplish what they’ve set out to do. Check back next week to see whether I’m back in the saddle again.

Lovely Blog Award

One Lovely Blog AwardMy author friend Jane Isaac nominated me for a Lovely Blog Award earlier this week. Since I need a writing exercise that keeps my keyboard fingers limber, I figure seven facts you (may or may not) know about me should constitute a simple challenge in my brain-dead state. (The rules indicate listing 7 facts and then tagging some fellow bloggers to ask them to do the same, so watch for the baton passing at the end.)

  1. I was born at the Ohio State University hospital, making me a Buckeye… but in name only, since we moved away before I was one year old.
  2. I first learned German when I was learning to speak–after we moved from Columbus to Kiel. I had this idea as a young girl, then, that I could speak German–which made for a rude awakening when we moved to Berlin when I was in 4th grade, and I was placed in a remedial German class.
  3. I made up for having forgotten so much by moving up to an intermediate German class halfway through 4th grade.
  4. I was in the double mother-tongue track by the time I was in 7th grade, meaning half my classes were taught in German–including French.
  5. I’m still fluent in French and German. And I have some rudimentary Russian, Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish skills.
  6. Because of my language abilities and international background I never expected to marry an American.
  7. Hubs (who was born and raised in the American heartland) and I celebrated our 17th anniversary Monday with a silly faces contest he documented in a series of selfies and made into a sweet (or goofy, depending on your point of view) movie.

Now for the taggees (if you’ll forgive the coinage): Rebecca Clare Smith (as if she hadn’t already answered enough questions), AK Anderson (because I may have wimped out on the Quest, but think her thoughts are worth soliciting), and Dionne Lister (since I haven’t asked her enough intrusive questions this week).

Brain Mush

"It's always much easier to be Grateful when things are going smashingly well, than when they are testing your sanity."I’m beginning to wonder exactly when the pile-on of obligations will subside… Somehow I had imagined I’d have all this extra time left over now that I’ve completed my MBA. Instead, I feel like I’m in a dead sprint that has no end.

We’re just about to start work on a new account this week at the office, and I’ve spent the majority of my weekend filling out The Form From Hell That Shall Not Be Named. And the work we’re doing is something the vendors warned the customer couldn’t be begun without a 90-day lead time… but somehow we’re going to pull this off by the end of February. I’m actually confident we can deliver… but it’s likely to mean logging some extra hours, too.

On the other hand, we also just had an anomalous weather weekend, in which we enjoyed temperatures in the 60s this afternoon, and rewarded the troika (of two girleez and a boyka!) with an almost-3-mile walk. Hubs got to wear shorts. It was a nice reward/trade-off from earlier in the week when we were shivering in the teens. And no doubt contributed to my stuffy head sneeziness. We walked on 5 of 7 days for 8.5+ total miles last week, and we’re finally starting to see a more consistent pay-off with the littlest puppy giving signals to do her business OUTSIDE.

The brain mush, though… And that form… The upside of that combination is that it’s given me an excuse to touch base with old friends, and learn about exciting new options coming soon to Booktastik (because Dionne always merits a shout-out!). Hubs has also been prodding the mush, sending first a link to a Native American code of ethics, and then 25 lessons from Buddha. That first post had an entry about “everyone makes mistakes, and all mistakes can be forgiven” that got me where I live. I’m still pondering how the reality of forgiveness plays out in day-to-day living, though… and realize I’m talking in abstractions for most readers, but wonder if anyone has had a personal experience with forgiving “the unforgivable” and re-making a relationship with a family member…? Particularly if trust is broken and unlikely to be regained…? How does one go about living this reality? Especially when there are so many competing priorities?

So this week I have more questions than answers. And I’m still pondering plot feedback that may have saved me from predictability but still begs the question of how to proceed. Or even when I’ll find time again to sit at the keyboard to pound out fiction words. I am, after all, still at the same word count where I was two weeks ago. On the other hand, I did get to read a few books this week. So maybe I just need to go with having some brain decompression time in the other direction, and try again next week.

Either way, I encourage you to see what the other ROW80ers are managing this week, and I’ll be back next week with whatever interim answers I might find.

Loving Animals

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." -Anatole FranceThe problem with seeing tragedy down the road is that you must nonetheless experience the full fruition of that pain. Mom lost her 7-year-old girl just three weeks after she’d been the picture of health to the extent that she’d taken her to be bred. We were expecting puppies, not death. And yet, Lara passed yesterday afternoon while we were rushing her to the emergency vet. I watched her go through the same phases of shedding her physical form as I had Kyra this past September. The labored breathing, the twitching, the gawping for air. It’s just as hard when it’s an animal you’ve helped care for as when it’s one of your own. Anatole France’s quote is appropriate both for the joys loving furbabies brings, as well as for the unparalleled pain, as they steal softly from our lives even as we grasp at the final straws of hope that they might recover to enjoy a few more magical moments with us.

I’m as emotionally and physically exhausted as I’ve ever been. We’re just at the point at work when we’re gearing up for a new contract to begin, so there will be no time for time off for the next few months.

Being the awesome friend she is, that meant today Gayla texted about starting to plan this year’s writers’ vacation. She has an epic idea that involves a cabin in the wilderness, and offers a glimpse of some serious fun and relaxation if I can just make it until then. (Of course, we’re both urban fantasy authors, so while it’s possible we will discuss Kitty’s House of Horrors, I will cross my fingers that plot line doesn’t play out for us… BWAHAHAHAHAHA). I suppose that glimmer is what will have to keep me putting one foot in front of another for a while.

On that note, we managed to walk every day but Thursday, sometimes multiple times in the day, and racked up 11 miles. We’re mostly fitting these jaunts in 15-25-minute segments since Kou is still only 4 months old–and it’s been cold and icy enough here that taking a fall on slick sidewalks is a good possibility if we don’t stick to well-trodden paths. I didn’t write at all this week–aside from some interesting assignments at work.

I was notified that my qualifications were reviewed and found appropriate, so it’s time to start studying systematically for the PMP exam. I cracked the books a few times, but would be hard-pressed to go beyond the superficialities of the five process groups (initiating, planning, executing, monitoring & controlling, and closing) versus the ten project knowledge areas (integration management, scope management, time management, cost management, quality management, communications management, risk management, procurement management, and stakeholder management). We’ll see where the intersection of exhaustion recovery and brain power intersects, but at this point I somehow doubt I’ll make my self-imposed March deadline to pass the certification.

We’re finally organized enough that I posted some things on eBay, too, which also takes time and attention… If anyone wants to help put me out of that misery, go ahead and make a buy-it-now offer so I can take this task off my plate…

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Otherwise, I’m crossing my fingers for a somewhat quiet week as hubs and I come up on our 17th wedding anniversary. Maybe we’ll get back to that stay-at-home date night idea. Or I’ll take a day off before work gets really crazy. I’m definitely thinking a break would be a good thing at this point. In the meantime, check out how the other ROW80ers are doing, and I’ll be back next week to report on my mental and emotional health. ๐Ÿ˜›

Yearning for Simplicity

Life was simpler when we did things "Just Because".I’m sick of emergencies and bad news. This week we learned a cousin has stage 4, inoperable, metastasized cancer, and one of mom’s dogs had to be hospitalized with extremely enlarged lymph nodes that were resulting in explosions from both ends–initially also diagnosed as cancer. So there have been more, long family phone conversations, and even less time for writing. Not to sound too self-centered amidst the tragedy… but, honestly, a weekly emergency/big-deal-event of one dire kind or another for the past four months will wear a gal out. And make the latest seem comparably less important since a body only has the capacity to respond with urgency to only so many “sky is falling” messages.

I may have reached that calloused/jaded space where I’m going to start telling people to get in line, because I need me/quiet time.

Yes. I’m a horrible person. Or an introvert. And once again have the sore, scratchy throat and green snot that tell me I’m getting sick. Again. Probably from lack of down time.

:(

It’s a vicious cycle. I’m considering contributing to the iTest Indiegogo funding round to get access to a neat tech tool to keep track of these personal health challenges. Or jump in mud puddles “just because” it’s fun to splash. (Thanks, Zen to Zany, for the smile!)

On the other hand we walked every day last week, for a total of more than 8 miles (including some inadvertent splashing that meant doggie clean-ups were necessary…). I submitted my qualifications for the PMP certification as that necessary first step. Even if we haven’t gotten a chance to watch a movie or a show, with all the necessary discussions about family disasters, I do feel like I’ve at least gotten quality time with hubs. And while I didn’t get 5 days of writing, or make the days’ goals when I did, I still added 1,184 words to Red Slaves 3. And discovered my mentor has personal recollections of North and South Korea that are pertinent to my fiction, so gleaned some of those details from him. (And added The Aquariums of Pyongyang to my TBR book case…)

So I’ll celebrate baby steps, take a deep breath, and hope for better this week. Hubs gave me hope for the new year starting with the Chinese New Year (Feb. 19) that the energetics will shift to something more closely aligned with my needs (home is, indeed, where the heart is!). He’s also so attuned to me, that he forwarded me a reminder of things to do for me to … de-whelm myself (if you’ll forgive a coinage). Even if you find “empath” or “sensitive person” too woo-woo as a description of the people for whom these practices are a good idea, I submit anyone benefits from the grounding recommended. And for introverts, “me time” is critical, regardless. So my biggest gratitude of the day is for hubs and my furbabies, and the fact that they help me connect to the most important parts of my life.

So I’ll once again urge you to check in with the other writers of the ROW80 crew to see how they’re doing on their goals… and return next week, I hope, with less to be overwhelmed by.