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New Year Thoughts

I get most of my exercise these days from shaking my head in disbelief.

Something about the changing of the years invites an atavistic response to make grand adjustments. As I get older, though, it becomes clearer to me that really, the change from one year to the next is about as stirring as the change from one day to the next. There’s gratitude that we’ve been granted another sunrise, naturally. But January is a dreary month. Quite similar to December, in point of fact. (As I write this, it’s been snowing for 24+ hours, we have more than a foot of snow on the ground at our house, and the county and the Federal governments have shut down for work tomorrow.)

So while big changes aren’t necessarily in the works, I’ve been considering my blog in the past two weeks. It’s not a particularly high-traffic website, and serves primarily to let readers, friends, and family know what’s been going through my head recently. Since it represents very few conversions to sales, and takes several hours to craft each time I post, I will be cutting back the number of posts–likely to once every 2-3 weeks, unless I have a book review I feel compelled to share.

Part of the reason for this has also been an ongoing conversation with hubs about focusing on those elements of our lives that bring us the most satisfaction. As introverts, we face the holiday season with a lot of cringing. Being in loud, boisterous environments is draining–even if there end up being a couple people present who we genuinely enjoy. We started experimenting with just saying no to attending large gatherings. Given how much better we felt, that is likely to continue.

There are other reasons to retreat from a busy social calendar, too. Articles I read recently point to other pitfalls of modern living. One written about the millennial generation, which is younger than both of us, still addressed the stress and burnout we’ve been dealing with… for similar reasons. The reality most authors (and artists) face is that we’re working day jobs and squeezing out productivity from the hours others might dedicate to their extended families and friends, or hobbies done just for the fun of it, not for overcoming the ubiquity of living paycheck to paycheck and looking for additional income streams. Or working in an industry known for its ability to drive women out of its ranks. Unsurprisingly, these stresses in my generation are trickling down to the next generation in even more pernicious ways.

On the flip side, there were a number of articles proclaiming their joy at works with an authorized publication date of 1923 being released into the public domain. (I will be curious to see whether anyone does something creative with Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, which featured on this list.) Similarly, Isaac Asimov made some astute predictions on the eve of 1984 about the nature of our world now. His points about the changing requirements of our workforce in the face of “computerization”, and how those would require changes in education have compelling echoes in the last article I linked to in the previous paragraph.

In news that provokes my scifi author brain, two other articles rounded out my online reading. The first reviewed recent studies in genetics that point to the need for a radical revision of the gene concept: “The utility of the concept of a basic ‘unit of inheritance’ and the long implicit belief that genes are autonomous agents” means researchers are finding much broader context for genes’ activities. In fact, some studies seem to point to the idea that genes are responding to the community of cells around them much more than simply driving creation of their replicas. In my mind, this has a provocative link to the article I read about quantum computers. Recent research in that field indicates the existence of an intrinsic error-correction mechanism that could also explain the robustness of space-time. In 2014, physicists looking to fix the daunting error rates of qubits discovered “a deep connection between quantum error correction and the nature of space, time, and gravity.”

Could it be that genetics and physics are converging on something akin to a holographic view? It’s a question that has my story brain hopping, though I’ve been too busy with day-job related efforts and the remnants of the final few holiday obligations we accepted to do anything much about it. Still, I managed three days of writing so far this month, producing 547 words after a complete stand-still in December. Hubs and I have formed a creative pact to finish what we’re working on by the end of May, so maybe having a partner in art at home will push us both to reach our goals.

The nature of the world being what it is, there is more than a little truth to the graphic I included with today’s post (courtesy of hubs’ Reddit scrolling). I enjoy blogging as a way of tracking where some of my ideas originate or are fleshed out. And as a way of holding myself publicly accountable for progress on my writing. But given the increasing time constraints in our lives, it seems best to focus my efforts further by cutting back on a few things that don’t offer much return. So I’ll be back (here) when the spirit moves me, but I’ll always be around in my books.

Thoughts and Plans

Triathlete: Eating, Reading, Sleeping

It’s officially the last day of 2018 as I start writing this, so my final check-in of the year isn’t even on my regular blogging day. Sometime in the course of this year, my blogging goals shifted on me in a way I’m not entirely clear about just yet. The quarterly ROW80 “sprints” drift in time the same way I do. It’s difficult to feel committed to any of those deadlines when life happens with such regularity.

And yet, I like having a spot to check in–if not weekly, at least semi-monthly. Where I can consider some of the things I’ve read and keep track of old articles that keep bumping through my brain.

In the past week, for instance, medical researchers published a finding about parachutes being useless that highlighted quite a few of the pitfalls of experimental design. And I learned about a charity that makes a practice of buying medical debts in the US to be able to wipe them out. As well as the impact of the ridiculous cost of housing in California, that is pushing more and more people to live out of converted vans. Finally, there was a woman who learned at 50 that her father was not the man she’d been raised to believe he was.

Each of these stories is a unique reflection of the time and place in which I live–as well as being a leading indicator for why I’ve been spending an outsized portion of my time immersed in fiction. According to my Goodreads Reading Challenge page, I’ve read 85 books this year. From what I recall, only one of those was a paperback, and a disproportionate number were romances of various stripes. The original moniker for my blog (A Book A Day) has never been more true than in the past week, as I’ve spent each of my evenings churning through yet another novel. So when I stumbled across the cute image I’m including in this week’s edition on Twitter, it felt entirely appropriate.

This year, despite focusing on a genre that I know will deliver a happy ending, I’ve broadened my stable of favorite authors. I’ve discovered Alyssa Cole, Ekaterine Xia, Holley Trent, CE Murphy, Seanan McGuire, Olivia Dade, and Vivian Arend. Many of these authors are on Twitter, too, so I get treated to their thoughts on other topics (including their various 4-footed friends) as well as the outstanding fiction they produce. I’m thrilled that my old favorites keep coming up with new stories, too. I’m as much of a voracious reader as I ever was, though it’s odd to have numbers that quantify what that means–that it’s not unusual for me to read 2-3 books per week. But getting back to the triathlete image… retreating as thoroughly as I have this year into fiction suggests a level of escapism that means I should probably work for a bit more balance in my choice of pursuits.

Which brings me to a blog post by one of the people in my Triberr groups: How to choose a word for the upcoming year. I’m tempted by several: tranquil, work, balance, and focus. (Though, honestly, that last word now only plays in my head in the evil “I’m hypnotizing you” way that the character in the Marvel “Agents of SHIELD” said it… so it might not mean *exactly* what its dictionary definition is to me anymore.) Hubs and I will be discussing this later today to see whether we can refine a vision for the new year that lets us reach some of our goals.

So I’ll return in the new year with my thoughts and plans and see whether I can find balance in my various interests and pursuits.


"Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you." -Ali ibn Abi Talib
“Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you.”
– Ali ibn Abi Talib

Our Milwaukee house finally sold last week. Objectively, three months on the market is not bad. However, given all the stress that came with ridding ourselves of terrible tenants, preparing the property for sale, and then crossing our fingers after each of the open houses our realtor held… it’s felt like an eternity of hoping. And then an intense week of scrambling to make sure all the paperwork is signed properly in front of a notary public, and that all the funds are available to cover the shortfall between what the sale price was and what the remainder of our mortgage was. Our buyer got an excellent deal; the house became very expensive for us.

However, as Ali ibn Abi Talib notes so profoundly, there is a significant release in disallowing some thing or circumstance to own you. Your thoughts. Your energy.

So hubs and I have spent the weekend decompressing from the stress of it all–some of which, I’m sure, contributed to the fact that hubs is on his second week of fighting a nasty bronchitis, and I’m a week into a debilitating cold/flu. We cuddled up to watch “The Spy Who Dumped Me” (which had its humorous moments, but wasn’t particularly special–aside from having two female leads in an action/adventure comedy). And the next night, to watch the first handful of episodes in season 2 of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” The photography in this show is lush, and whoever came up with the visual idea of flipping the world on the pivot of the points of the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower was a genius. The show continues to have strong dialog and characterization. I love the Susie character. On the other hand, the flippant disregard of the kids as anything other than background props keeps nagging at both hubs and me. The other oddity: The baby in the piece… is maybe a year older than hubs. It’s strange to imagine that such stifling times were actually recent history.

As a related point, I recently read an article about how women were written out of the history of science. Contrast that with reporting in The Atlantic last month about this century’s robber barons: The owners of the Gilded Age of Silicon Valley.

Why is it that even still, as a woman, it’s so difficult to gain some kind of traction within the cultural zeitgeist? Possibly, it’s related (at least in the publishing world I pay most attention to) to what Kameron Hurley wrote about for Locus Magazine: The “everybody already knows” phenomenon… that somehow never reaches the newbies to the conversation. It seems most of this could be explained by a generally human disinclination to share our foibles, false starts, and failures.

But, and this relates back to the pain of coming up with a huge pile of cash to be able to sell our house: fundamentally, as a society, we like to measure success by a bullshit metric: How much money did that thing earn? I say bullshit metric in earnest, because a metric should be applicable in all circumstances. A ruler is never going to measure an inch as anything other than an inch. However, a pile of money? The ways to accumulate (or lose) that are so diverse and range from laudable to execrable, so why (and how?!) would it count as a singular signifier of worth?

So we’ve been philosophizing and reminding ourselves of the happy times we enjoyed in Milwaukee. We’re no longer homeowners, and given how we drained our savings to achieve that, we won’t be for some time again–if ever. But we’re finding value in maintaining the serenity of our home and the health of its inhabitants, so maybe I’m going to be able to return to my WIP again someday soon. And be OK with the fact that there are times in my life when life overwhelms me so I don’t have the energy to sit and write. At least this week, for the day job, I was able to churn out a 10-page research report, so that appears to have loosened the writing cogs to a certain degree. It’s been two weeks since I wrote the 218 words that crossed me into the second half of the story, but thought and words are percolating there again.

As for my other goals, my FitBit says I averaged 8 hours and 9 minutes of sleep last week and 5,578 steps per day.

There are only 10 days left in this iteration of ROW80, so I’m well aware that I won’t be finishing Team Alpha this time around. But I have gotten other things done that needed doing, so I’ll continue putting one foot in front of the other. And I’ll likely report back again next week. Until then, I recommend checking out how the other ROW80ers are doing.

Being Thankful, Finding Gratitude

In a society that profits from your self doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.It’s been a strange, wordless month. It only occurred to me in the past few days that maybe the reason I’ve buried myself in other people’s books all month (my Goodreads challenge page indicates I’m well on my way to doubling my “normal year” of reading) was related to the unheralded second anniversary of my miscarriage. That experience killed my dream of parenthood and my sense of who I was meant to be. It’s been difficult not to live in nihilism since then, since, really, who would actually be interested in any legacy I might leave behind?

The feelings rumbling around in me since election day came to a head while I was reading Sunshine, by E. Xia. It’s an excellent novella whose central conceit is that the female protagonist’s mother literally dreamed her into existence. When her parents are killed in a car crash, then, she fades from reality.

He couldn’t imagine it. What it felt like to see yourself fading, disappearing by inches, knowing it was because no one cared enough. What it must have been like to drift through the world, not quite part of it, but bound to it just the same.

At the meta level, it’s a fascinating commentary on women’s status–from the mother’s perspective, she validates herself by producing a child. From the daughter’s perspective, she becomes nothing more than light and shadows without anyone remembering her. There are other layers, too, of the moon maiden and mirror maiden legends, and how much it ends up taking out of the people who do the emotional labor of managing relationships and perceptions. While it could be classified as a sweet paranormal romance, the feelings are purely human, and the book is permeated with a strong sense of becoming.

What punched me in the gut, though, was the story-inspired thought that maybe I had imagined my child so vividly, that I trapped them in that in-between state of not-becoming.

So I’ve been sitting with my feelings. Hubs and I have watched two movies this week. “Juliet, Naked” was the gentle exploration of choosing relationships and who you want to be/become. “Downsizing” was actually thematically similar, despite its marketing. While the first was sold as a rom/com, it wasn’t the stuff of laugh-out-loud funny. The second was sold as a comedy, but its focus was much more slice-of-life and how the banal can become surreal. Neither was what we expected, but both were excellent and led us to some interesting discussions.

We’ve been keeping up with our walking (FitBit says I averaged 5,662 steps/day last week), and, with the holiday this week, our sleeping as well (FitBit says I averaged 8 hours 9 minutes per night last week).

Yesterday, finally, I looked at my WIP again. And even added 218 words. So I’m past the mid-point. It’s all downhill from here, right?


Some other recent thought-fodder for me included an author who wrote a meta review of disaster films, and concluded that survival entailed … being white and speaking English. Given that my WIP could on some levels be considered a disaster story… I paused for a minute. But {{mini-spoiler}} the story also includes the death of a white, English-speaking person, so maybe I’ll give myself a pass for this round. A very different opinion piece had that author concluding he only wants to live until age 75. His thesis about the “American Immortal” hit home and has me considering interventions and health care from yet another perspective. Finally, fun science reporting gave me a sonic interpretation of the sunrise as seen from Mars.

Hopping back to the theme of this post, (and really, the theme of the week, given the US celebration of Thanksgiving) I find it interesting that there are so many voices in the world around us that pile on to individuals, plowing them under with self-doubt. Finding ways to be grateful for small things helps me ride that wave, so I’m happy to share this week’s image to remind others to rebel… by liking yourself. Discovering and cherishing those beings and experiences that light you up.

Interestingly, the theme for this week’s ROW80 check-in is the excuses we make for not having dedicated the time we hoped to the tasks on our lists. There are still 25 days to go in this round, so I suppose there’s a chance I’ll still finish Team Alpha this round. Especially now that I’ve identified the underlying emotional paralysis. But I’m also going to continue practicing self-care. If the last bits of my emotional energy are only sufficient to cuddling with hubs and the furbabies, I’ll live with that and work on my WIP when my energy comes back. Meantime, reading and watching shows has been feeding me emotionally in different ways, so I know those escapes will continue to entice me. I recommend the same for everyone else struggling with the exigencies of the season.

Survive with Fantasy

Sometimes we need fantasy to survive the reality.Another week with profoundly troubling national news against the backdrop of a lot of being busy meant my library card got tagged for action again. This time, I checked out Gail Carriger’s Prudence. I’m having a hard time deciding whether it was because I was truly exhausted or because this iteration of the series of series that started with Soulless just didn’t suck me in the way so many of her other books have. I very much enjoyed the ending and the philosophizing on the nature of what a progressive government should look like among the characters in Carriger’s steampunk world. I’ve also already checked out Imprudence, since I’m curious to see how the additions to the cast stir things up. And I would absolutely recommend this third series in the world Carriger has built for steampunk and new adult fiction fans.

I just may be over stories that feature such young protagonists.

The one article I’m going to share this week that deals in worrisome study results, should actually be taken as an exhortation to reduce the amount of stress in our lives. A different study highlights the real source of the difference the Head Start program has made for some of America’s kids. And a profile of Ina Garten that closes with the quote “This isn’t the final thing I’m going to do, but it’s the next step I’m going to take.” is worth reading. For an entirely different perspective on the direction the world is headed, Vox aggregated 23 charts and maps that show that even while we live through darkness, there are a number of things about our world that are actually improving.

Finally, to really give your smile muscles a work-out, enjoy this aggregation of videos of a dog who enjoys the hell out of jumping into leaf piles. I’m actually considering what it would take to build a pile like that for KouKi, since she would be the one to have that kind of reaction out of our current three.

Hubs and I watched episodes 2 and 3 of the newest Dr. Who series this week. It continues to shine with strong writing and characterization, as well as unexpectedly rich emotional arcs. There are potentially other candidates for our stay-at-home date nights, including the rebooted Charmed, and a movie hubs stumbled across with Michael Peña in a non-comedic role, called Extinction. Honestly, we have such a backlog of movies to watch, it will be interesting to see what comes out on top of the pile. But the theme of the week is strong for both of us: We really need the fantasy in order to survive the reality.

As for my other trip into a made-up world… my WIP only advanced 883 words over three days of writing this week. I’m coming up on the halfway point of the book, and am having to consider carefully how and when that action really ramps up to fall appropriately in the pacing. Based on my calculations, if I can somehow get to the point of averaging 1,000 words per day, I can finish this book by the end of November. I may actually make that my NaNoWriMo-adjacent goal, since I don’t want to make the mistake of starting something else new while I’m in the middle of my current WIP.

My Fitbit says I averaged 4,866 steps per day last week as well as 7 hours and 49 minutes of sleep.

So for as “behind” as I’ve been feeling, at least some habits are sticking. And I’m grateful that I have a safe haven at home where I can enjoy others’ creativity. Until next week, check out the other ROW80ers’ progress, and I’ll return with my next check-in.

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