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Being A Light

Build someone up. Put their insecurities to sleep. Remind them they're worthy. Tell them they're magical. Be a light in a too often dim world.We had house guests this week. It doesn’t happen that often, so when it does, we spend a week in a flurry of deep cleaning the house and shopping for groceries. The irony of this is that this means we’re tired when our guests arrive. And are flattened when they leave.

This time wasn’t really any different. But our visitors were family, and it had been years since we’d seen them, so it was nice to spend time together. And to revive my mother-in-law’s recipe for spedini–celebrated by cooking them together with friends and reminiscing over the many, legendary meals she cooked for all and sundry.

Underlying that was worry for a friend who recently lost their father. And another friend who is struggling with burn-out. And the fact that our Milwaukee house is still on the market.

News reports about Vancouver struggling with the influx of money from China, or that the same behaviors pathologized in poor people are lionized in the rich, or that inequality in pay in Silicon Valley means 90% of residents make LESS than what they made in 1997 when adjusting for inflation, don’t soothe those concerns. The humanity of western doctors being intimidated by the invention of thermometers only reminds me in a different way of how easily human egos are bruised and retreat into defensive anger.

So reporting about the winners of the latest annual Nikon microphotography contest, and new footage of a rare deep-sea cucumber were the anodyne I needed.

As well as enjoying the latest installment of Dionne Lister’s Witchnapped series. And Seanan McGuire’s first in her InCryptid series, Discount Armageddon. Both were exactly the kind of escapism I was craving–light romantic tension in worlds where the protagonist is trying to find her footing among all kinds of crazy. I think adding those two to my Goodreads challenge means I’ve read more books this year than I have in quite a while. And another author friend of mine reached out to ask if I could review a charity anthology prior to its release in early November, so that number is in no danger of stalling out. At the moment, I have Gail Carriger’s Prudence checked out from the library as an eBook, so it is likely to be a curious tension for me for the rest of the year–whether I read, or whether I write.

As for my WIP, I added 1,688 words this week, surprising myself with two quite productive writing nights when I was wiped out from the combination of work and home-prep duties. I seem to recall this having happened in the past: When I’m at just the right level of exhaustion, my brain lets go and my fingers fly, and all of a sudden I have more words than I expected. I’m just at the half-way point, and am actually excited that I don’t seem to have the “floppy middle” syndrome I’ve faced in the past… There might be something to my attempt at hybridizing pantsing with plotting.

Because of all the to-ing and fro-ing in the house, my average step count last week also jumped–to 6,650 steps per day. Naturally, something had to give, so my average hours slept per night dropped to 6 hours 54 minutes, with an abysmal low of 4 hours 48 minutes Sunday night. And hubs and I had more than enough socializing this week than to have time for keeping up with our shows.

So while there is great uncertainty about a huge number of things, this week’s quote is my reminder: Do what you can to be a light for the world. There’s more than plenty darkness out there; don’t let it swallow you. Even if it means you are just cleaning your house. Or cooking extra food. Or escaping into fiction. Or whatever it is that nourishes your soul.

I’ll be retreating into our home nest this week to do what I can in the way of being the light over the longer term by generating more of my story. I encourage you to do whatever it is that makes you shine brightest. And to go check out how my fellow authors are doing in their pursuits of their goals.

My Dogs

My dog does this amazing thing where he just exists and makes my whole life better because of it.I know I talk a lot about my puppers, so when I saw this image on Twitter today, I had to grab it and share it. Because the caption on it perfectly encapsulates how I feel about all three of mine. And felt about all three of our first generation of huskies. They are all, somehow, Masters of the Now, and therefore keep me present. Especially when the youngest comes in to my office, predictably at about 10:30pm, to remind me to take a short break to make their night-time treat–honey water. Or when the boy hops up on our bed at night in a gentle request for cuddles before we all go to sleep. Or any one of the million actions they undertake over the course of the day that brings a smile to my face or a general melty feeling to my heart.

So yesterday, when Tashie started limping again after she was out in the back yard playing with the other two, my heart broke a little once more. She is eight as of last month, and while breed average longevity is 12-15, I worry on her behalf. She’s struggled with knee and back complaints of one kind or another for the past 3 years already. It was in some ways thrilling in the past year when she got back to her PULLING while on leash, because it indicated power, stamina, and conditioning had returned to some level based on all the various therapies with which we’ve plied her. I’m glad to see today that she’s not as gimpy, that she’s happy with her life.

It’s yet another reminder to count the smallest of my blessings on a regular basis.

Especially now that I’m picking back up with the nightly writing habit. Even if it’s a lot slower going than it had been. I added 1,308 words this week. It’s hard not to berate myself, since that’s less than what I used to manage in one night. And at this rate… it’ll be another 34 weeks before I finish the first draft of this book.

This week is unlikely to be much better, as we have family coming in for a visit from Wednesday through Saturday.

On the other hand, I’ve been doing great with walking. My Fitbit says I averaged 5,709 steps per day and 7 hours and 48 minutes of sleep per night.

And hubs and I watched the first episode of the latest season of Dr. Who for our stay-at-home date night. Jodie Whittacker brought back the emotional and comedic range I loved from Tennant’s run at the titular character, and hit her performance out of the park. We both loved it. Though it was much more emotional than I’d expected.

In other reading news, I saw reporting on the largest-ever sleep study, which claims that too much sleep has as much of a cognitive hit as too little sleep. Sleep studies are a thing for me, as my parents participated in one to be able to pay for the cost of my birth. Also, because when I sleep, I dream, and that is one of my most reliable sources of writing inspiration. So this result hit me sideways. Until I considered how logey I feel when I wake up from a long nap. On the other hand, if I’m sleeping longer to catch up on sleep lost from short nights… I don’t see that effect. So maybe it’s a general average of overage or underage that leads to the fuzzy brain symptoms these scientists discovered. The scientists in question certainly didn’t offer any great insights on that account.

Other science news included the somewhat disturbing revelation that enough people in the US have posted their DNA sequence to genealogy sites that computer scientists were able to back-trace to a specific individual who was not publicly posted–and speculate that they would be able to do the same for about 50% of all Americans. The privacy implications here are enormous and could easily be pushed down very disturbing paths.

The final bit of science news was an accounting of the history of turbulence from a math and physics perspective. Those fields still haven’t come up with anything much better than observations and statistical derivations to predict movement beyond simple laminar flow. What I found most enticing about the article, though, was the conclusion:

But from another point of view, the fact that such a commonplace phenomenon as the flow of water through a pipe is still in many ways an unsolved problem means that we are unlikely to ever reach a point that all physicists will agree is the end of their discipline. There remains enough mystery in the everyday world around us to keep physicists busy far into the future.

That final sentence aligns so closely with my dearest beliefs about the world at large, that it tickles me every time I see someone else reach the same conclusion.

In less uplifting reports, I saw how the (female) Onna-Bugeisha were erased as key fighting forces in Japan’s history. And how working dads and teenage girls struggle to maintain close or working relationships.

So I’ll keep soldiering on with my WIP and report back next week. Until then, the other ROW80ers are checking in online, so I encourage you to see how they’re doing with their goals.

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.

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