Natural Example

Nature is always giving us examples on why we should never give up.I’ve seen pictures of this tenacious tree a number of times over the years, so this week I figured it was time to share it. I notice I’ve blogged regularly on the topic of not giving up; indeed, it seems an element of stubbornness is required of anyone who endeavors to string together more than fifty thousand words of a story. For me, when I track my word counts these days, that doggedness has to have an element unrelenting optimism. Last week, across three days, I managed 665 words. Less than a third of my stated goal.

There are always good reasons for this, too. Last week, one of my employer’s longest-serving employees finally gave notice and moved on. It turns out, a lot of what he had been doing is now going to land on my plate, so there were a lot of very long days as we coordinated that hand-off. And no small amount of sadness at losing a valued colleague, even though the opportunity he’s pursuing sounds exciting.

This week, I will be enduring the “joy” of another tooth extraction. Because of how long my days were last week, I may not even have to take any leave time for my scheduled day off.

Oddly, I also read about research released recently indicating Americans are skeptical about the likely return for investing hard work in their careers. It’s a different take on the issues inequality raises, so I was heartened to read, “if the increase in inequality results mostly from factors largely beyond the ability of individuals to control or counteract, then a strong case can be made for a public policy response.” From the reporting in that story, it sounds like there will be some interesting results over the next several years from the new investments headed to six large US cities.

At the intersection of silly and science, then, I saw a Buzzfeed article about training a neural network to generate recipes. I’m totally down with Chuck Wendig’s request to try some Beasy Mist:


As for the rest of my goals? Tashie is definitely improving, so my phone says I averaged 2,760 steps per day this week. It feels good to be walking more again, though it’s funny to recognize just how out of shape we’ve become while we babied our furbaby through her rehab. Hubs and I also snuggled up to keep up with our two favorite shows, maintaining our weekly in-home date night plan.

I even indulged myself with a book that won a contract with Amazon by participating in the Kindle Scout program. It was so gripping (despite a need for a final copy edit/line edit) it kept me up most of Friday night, and I’ll be writing a review at some point.

This week, in addition to everything else, I have all my monthly reports due at work, so I’ll be pushing hard to meet all my requirements before I drop off at the dental end of the week. I’m not holding my breath on catching up on my word counts, but I will keep digging among the roots of my story to grow my word count. We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, check out how my ROW80 buddies are doing, and I’ll be back again next week.

Start Where You Are

"Start where you are--not where you wish you were. The work you're doing becomes your path." -Ram DassOne of my biggest challenges recently has been to recognize that I have a new, different “normal”. I’m moving more slowly, with more aches; I’m writing more slowly, with more pauses; and I’m weighing more, in heart and body. I’d like to believe I can get back to where I was, so there’s something gently motivating about Ram Dass’ words in this week’s quote.  I’ve been wanting to be done with my latest novel for at least a year now. I’ve wanted many other things in that time, too.

From what I’m hearing from friends and family, the gap between wishes and reality is not uncommon. Last week, after I posted about how stressed so many of us are, I ran across an article that clearly outlined the differences between stress and burn-out. It’s worth considering as a different take on Ram Dass’ words. Stress as over-engagement, and burn-out as pushing past that into disengagement. Wishing I were on a different path is a sure-fire way of pushing toward disengagement. Interestingly, there is a technology that may help train the brain away from stress response. I’m still considering whether that would be worth the investment.

Because there are also technologies for remote pet care. I’m scratching my head on that one, given how much we benefit from direct interaction with our furbabies.

And a technology focused on the opposite end of the personal connection spectrum accomplished its test run last week, allowing SpaceX to re-use one of its rockets to push a satellite into orbit. I also learned more about the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory last week, where tech like Microelectromechanical Systems, wearable and implantable medical devices, and inertial/stellar solutions for GPS redundancy are under development–both of which experiences fired up my brain’s scifi plotbunny generator. Regardless of the fact that I’m supposed to be finishing a low fantasy story.

As this is the post in which we outline our goals for Round 2, though, I’m casting back to what my goals were in January, and discovering they haven’t changed much:

  1. Write a minimum of 2,000 words per week on Fire to Dragon. If I manage this, I will finish that novel in time to make my editor’s renegotiated deadline (May 15) so she can finish her edits before she moves this summer. If not, this book will languish into the fall.
  2. Blog weekly, reporting on my progress to date.
  3. Walk daily, again at least half a mile, though we are, thankfully seeing enough improvement in Tashie’s gait that she managed over a mile for the first time in months.
  4. Enjoy one stay-at-home date night with hubs each week.

Even having been taking the baby steps with words that I have, I’ve managed to get to 75% done. Whether, at some point, I have the time, energy, and inclination to resume sharing book reviews or literary terms posts here remains to be seen. Whether I find a few additional hours to be more proactive with marketing for my books also remains to be seen. For now, I have to keep my focus trained on the one thing I can control: Finishing and releasing my next book. And the next one. And the one after that.

So I will refer you again to the others of my ROW80 group to see how we all do as we keep working our way down this path, and I’ll be back again next week to report on progress.

What I Believe

Your mind will always believe everything you tell it. Feed it hope. Feed it truth. Feed it with love.I keep imagining I’ll get back on the pace of writing several thousand words in a week, and keep watching my weeks slip through my fingers with an excess of worries and work. While one friend is struggling with chemo, another two are prepping for surgery, mom’s recovering from surgery, and the friend whose surgery kicked off the season of hospital visits has finally bounced back to her normal self. I’m not sure why, but something of the Ides of March seems to infect most of the people I know on an annual basis, and it feels like we’re all just gritting our teeth to get through something of our own personal shit storms. Including Gayla, who’s been delayed in finishing her latest novel, too.

So this week’s image seemed like a worthy message. A reminder that there are things to celebrate, too. One of my writer buddies, who happens to be my birthday twin, announced big book news this week. The writer friend who’s been battling with her psoriatic arthritis diagnosis got a new job. A third author friend is stepping firmly into the role of letting her creative work be her full-time income.

And The Expanse got re-upped for a third season. And the Iditarod came to a successful close again.

Plus, my book Dementional was featured on Cara Bristol’s Backlist to the Future blog series this week.

In entirely unrelated happy news, I saw today that researchers in Japan were studying the human-canine bond, and, in particular, the nature of puppy-eyes gazes we give each other. What they describe as a short-cut to bonding with humans certainly feels intentional in my three, and whether it’s the oxytocin release the researchers proved, or something more profound, I can say that the best moments of my days are frequently given to me by the love they serve up unstintingly. I’m so grateful for their reminders to be in the moment, feeding myself on that most positive of emotions.

Despite all the busy-ness, hubs and I still got to cuddle up and catch up with last week’s episode of The Expanse. The nature of the high-stakes decisions and the evolution of the characters makes this a gripping adventure to track–and, as the article I linked to above indicates, quite politically relevant. I’m thrilled we have quite a few more episodes ahead of us, because not one has failed to spark an interesting discussion afterward.

Nonetheless, across three days, I managed 761 words on the third Red Slaves novel, putting me at nearly 75% done. So long as I keep taking baby steps, I will eventually finish this book as well.

Next week is the official kick-off for the next round of words, wherein we state our goals for the next 80 days, but I’m beginning as I mean to go on, and will push myself for more consistent and higher word counts to be able to finally cross the finish line on a novel that is now several years in the making.

March Madness

"Now that we have learned to fly in the air like birds and dive in the sea like fish, only one thing remains--to learn to live on earth like humans." -George Bernard ShawThe irony of the years I’ve lived in the DC suburbs is that for as anti-team-sports as I am in general, I’ve participated in office pools for the NCAA men’s basketball tourney… and done well. In fact, I won both of the past two years. And my bracket this year still has seven of the eight final teams playing alive and well and in the running. It’s an odd, statistically improbable path to office camaraderie for me, and in some part of my mind reflects on the George Bernard Shaw quote I’m sharing this week. What is it to live like humans?

In my case, and in the case of everyone I know, it’s mostly down to how to live with failures large and small. I’m back to that old Buddhist saying of “life is suffering,” but also, how do we move past that? Live in the moment? One author buddy of mine was noodling on that theme in her blog this week and reminded me of the power of the phrase “at this time.” Another author friend of mine is dealing with the repercussion of a new diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, and how that means she must learn to budget her energy. My mom is re-learning how to walk properly after hip replacement surgery this week–and what it means to have one key component of her body fail her sufficiently to require that kind of intervention.

My failure of this round was my inability to finish my latest novel. Looking back at my original goal of February 10 for a completed first draft just made me shake my head. I’m not sure where I was imagining I’d find the time or energy or focus to get back to my fast-drafting mode. I’ve been lucky to get a thousand words a week; this week I managed zero. Between the migraine that morphed to a 24-hour flu that had mostly passed by the time mom went through her surgery, and the follow-up duties that went with that, as well as the freakish return of winter, I’m having a hard time remembering much about the week, let alone that I was to have written at some point during its course.

On the other hand, I read an interesting article on “transrealism” and discovered I may be part of the first major literary movement of the 21st century.


Seriously. From the article:

Through this realist tapestry, the author threads a singular, impossibly fantastic idea, often one drawn from the playbook of science fiction, fantasy and horror. So the transrealist author who creates a detailed and realistic depiction of American high-school life will then shatter it open with the discovery of an alien flying saucer that confers super-powers on an otherwise ordinary young man.

The connection of the fantastic with the realistic has played a major role in every one of my stories, and offers such richness for my imagination, I’m guessing this will remain largely the playground I explore. Certainly, the theme of challenging what constitutes “normal” figures greatly in most of my conversations, as well as bleeds into my writing. I may have to become more intentional in pushing my writing that direction. Normal, to again refer back to Bernard Shaw, is a human illusion. Each of us faces the difficulties that land regularly at our feet with varying degrees of grace or unconscious ineptitude.

I read two more books this week. One great, one not. Comparing what makes one author’s work a hot mess where another leaves her readers with the warm, fuzzy feeling of completion is another way of becoming intentional. The first included allusions to so many threads to other works in her series none of her secondary characters managed to differentiate themselves in my mind. Given the brevity of the story, too, the leap from “getting to know you” to “we’re mates” was also jarring. In contrast, Gail Carriger’s Romancing the Inventor was an enthralling journey. The characters jump off the page and nestle themselves into your brain long after you’ve finished reading. Neither story could in any way be stretched to help define “normal,” but the exploration of ethics and relationships certainly helps add color to what “being human” ought to mean.

Hubs and I also stayed on top of Designated Survivor. I suspect our jaws are still clattering around on the floor as we consider the radical plot twist the writers on that show threw our way last week. I’m crossing my fingers that the mole in the White House isn’t the jingoistically indicated character, and am having a hard time figuring out how the darkness of betrayal could be reflected in any of the primary characters we’ve come to know so far.

Aside from the entertainment breaks and care-taking duties, we did manage to keep up with our walks. Tashie is definitely stronger, and the small up-tick in my average step count reflects that fact. My phone says I managed a 2,828 daily average this week.

I have renegotiated my new deadline with my editor in the meantime. My new goal is 2,000 words per week. Given how I’ve done so far this year, that could be an invitation for yet another renegotiation this summer, but a different part of being human is to push ourselves–stretch for things that seem beyond our reach. I’m glad I have the ROW80 group to keep me honest in my goal-setting and -pursuit, so I’ll be back again next week, even if the rest of the group isn’t.

Peace: Something to Do

"Peace is not something you wish for; it's something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away." -John LennonWhether it’s because I’ve been fogged in by allergies or because hubs and I have had another series of good conversations, I feel like I’ve reached a place where I can give away some of my peace again. My day job has continued to be more hectic than usual, but I’ve reached a mental state that allows for intentional conversations in a way I hadn’t previously mastered. I’m not sure what flipped that switch–other than the fact that time seems increasingly precious these days. And if I can’t be direct about what I need, that doesn’t open any doors for honest conversation for anyone else, either.

None too soon, either. This week I’ll be driving a family member to the hospital to get a hip replacement. We’re all crossing our fingers that this resolves their mobility issues. In the meantime, another friend is several sessions in to chemo treatment for cancer, as is another friend’s mother. And a colleague buried his mother this week. It’s a good reminder that everyone is going through something, and to the extent we can, sharing peace can be the most worthwhile use of our time.

Given that this week also contained International Women’s Day, my post wouldn’t be complete without links to an article written by Caitlin Moran, who exposes twelve things about being a woman; and an interview with historian Bettany Hughes, who speculates on why women were written out of history. On the converse, an old Harvard Business Review article seeking answers for why so many incompetent men become leaders resurfaced this week, and reminded me of the significant gap that can exist between confidence and competence. In a world where most women struggle with some level of impostor syndrome, it’s easy to see how we might be shooting ourselves in our collective feet by defining our self-worth by our achievements.

My step counter seems stuck in the 2,320s these days, while Tashie has her ups and downs. In fact, she worried us this week on the day her brother and sister went to doggie daycare. Hubs had intended to take Tashie on a series of walks throughout the day. The first one went okay. The second, she only went a few driveways. And the third, she went out the front door and sat on our lawn, refusing to move any further. As it turns out, she was fine. Just jealous that her siblings had gotten to play, while she was home alone. When she did her aqua-paws water treadmill therapy a few days later, she went faster and longer than ever.

It’s going to be a challenge to manage her inclination to play and enjoy herself while she’s still recuperating, and avoid re-injuring herself while she’s not yet entirely stable on her feet.

This week’s stay-at-home date night kept us caught up on The Expanse, as well as Designated Survivor. I’m fascinated by how the writers on both these shows manage to make them so gripping. The characters are all flawed enough to make them able to vacillate into the position of antagonist as circumstances drive them; my suspicion is that these well-rounded samples of humanity are the reason we’re anxious for each week’s installments. It probably also helps that the shadowy drivers behind the big conspiracies and disasters in each of these shows have yet to be fully revealed, so there’s an urgency to the action-reaction cycle as well.

Writing once again went slowly. I managed three days for 1,077 words. If I somehow manage 2,000 words per day this week, I can still finish on time. Since I have monthly reports and a trip up to Maryland on my plate, I’m guessing that might be a challenge. On the other hand, forecasters are predicting this season’s snowmageddon in the next forty-eight hours, so a bonus day at home could tip the scales the other way. Regardless, I need to finish writing this book, so I will continue to chip away as time and energy allow.

In the meantime, I’ll be cheering the rest of my ROW80 buddies to the end of this Round of Words, and I’ll be back again next week.

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