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Celebrating

20 years down. Forever to go.Today is Santino’s fifth birthday; somebody must have known, since a neighbor we haven’t yet met delivered a huge, candy-cane shaped chew to our doorstep with a sweet note and the bow of a gift. Yesterday was the celebration for my employer’s sixteenth anniversary since founding. And Friday was our twentieth anniversary. According to people who claim to know, the traditional gift for this many years of being married is china. Given how much of that is in my family already, I’m glad nobody thought to get us more. These milestones have had us in a contemplative space. And busier than usual.

Together, we’ve shared peaks and valleys, but when I stumbled across Susan David’s TED talk, I realized part of our emotional resilience together has been based on looking pain in the eye and sitting with it. Not hurrying past life-long wounds means we’re able to grapple with the new ones as they arise, apparently. The talk rings true enough I thought I’d share it for anyone else who is looking for a way to be more centered and present, despite whatever shitstorm is pending on the horizon. A completely different angle on the strength of our relationship came from reporting on findings out of studies done at Google regarding high-performing teams: Trust makes great things happen.

On the other end of my reading spectrum, I discovered reporting on a study that found men to be intimidated by smart women. The author of Radical Candor, which I read a number of months ago, wrote an opinion piece based on results of a linguistic analysis of women’s performance reviews. It gave both research-based and anecdotal evidence of how women thus face systematic resistance to success–we can’t be assertive without being called abrasive, and that hurts in bottom line results. Then there was the male reporter who described the efforts he undertook over the course of two years to ensure he had gender parity in his reporting. All of these things represent big and ongoing hurdles as I pursue any career. I’m at least glad there are people who have invested the effort to prove it’s not just an individual experience–and that I finally have landed in a place where there is awareness of and pushback against these norms.

I also found a new author. Unfortunately for me (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), Courtney Milan is a prolific writer, and the series that introduced her to me has seven books in it. The prequel novella is free, and sucked me in so thoroughly that I have now read all of the Brothers Sinister books. It was lovely to find an author writing historical romances that overturned a huge number of tropes: Some of her female protagonists were trying to avoid getting married, none of them were the Most Beautiful Of Them All, and they were all deeply intelligent in a variety of ways. If you want your romance with a dash of feminism and an image for how love can heal some profound wounds, Milan is your gal.

The biggest slap in the face, though, came from an article purportedly about time management. The key quote: “Energy and attention are more scarce than time.” The conclusion was: We need to focus on limiting what we prioritize because we will never have more than twenty-four hours in a day, and there will always be periods in those 24-hour segments in which we do not have the energy or attention to actually be productive.

I don’t know why that slight rephrasing caught me so off-guard; I’ve always hammered on time scarcity and the importance of prioritizing. But understanding that the corollary to these limitations is that there are concomitant limits to energy and attention… it’s a visceral realization.

And explains why my editing has fallen off the bandwagon again.

Even our average step-count over the past two weeks has drifted down toward 3,000 again.

At least my first audiobook is starting to show up at some retailers: Nook Audiobooks, ScribdeStoriesPlayster, Libro.FM and Downpour. I’ll be curious to see how much longer it takes to get into Audible and iTunes, though I’m anticipating availability there by the end of this week.

We’ll see whether, now that I’m past the social whirl, I’m able to find the energy and attention needed to dive back into edits. In the meantime, here’s the link to my fellow ROW80ers, and I’ll be reporting back again next week with results.

Another Passing

"Only in silence the word, only in Dark the Light, only in Dying Life: Bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky." -Ursula K. Le GuinTwo more voices from my youth left the earth plane this week. Ursula K. Le Guin and her Wizard of Earthsea trilogy have faded into the mists, but not before having made a profound impression on my growing up self. Her writing style, in my mind, is almost high journalism: It tells layered stories in details and makes the reader consider for themselves what the ambivalence in the world means. And she was a forthright individual who wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself, her sex, or her genre.

On the opposite end of my youthful entertainment spectrum, Mort Walker, who I remember most for Beetle Bailey, but also for coining the term grawlix, passed soon after.

The eulogies for both spoke about how prolific they were. Somehow that jostled something loose in me: For the first time since September, I made progress on my edits. I still have more work to do for my day job than can be comfortably handled in the standard forty-hour work week, but this week I started leaving my laptop at the office and was able to switch gears when I got home. It’s a good start. As you might have noticed from the progress bar in the right side-bar, I’m creeping up on the 20% percent mark. If I can keep up with my ten pages per day rate, I might even make a deadline that’s floating in my brain: Release book three of the Red Slaves trilogy on the sixth anniversary of the release of book one.

That puts me outside of meeting my Round One goals (Round One ends March 21), but doesn’t feel as frenetic or stressful as sticking to my first impulse.

While I consider the implications of that, a few other thoughts stuck with me from this week’s reading. Memories of stories and related entertainment apparently fade faster than I’d ever thought. The idea of a tapestry of influences reinforces what I was pondering last week–that our acculturation is subtle and difficult to pin to individual words and phrases and stories. And may be why I’ve embarrassed myself a few times by buying the same book as I’d read years before without intending to stock duplicates in my personal library. On the topic of conversation and collaboration, then, Psychology Today posted about the death knell of the Yabut.

Further evolution in the #metoo story telling this week led to the publication of a profound article titled “The female price of male pleasure.”  One of the bits of information in that story that I knew, but hadn’t really processed: the definition of bad sex is vastly different for men and women. Women experience pain with intercourse on a regular basis, putting their definition of bad down at that level. (Medically, dyspareunia, vaginismus, and vulvodynia, painful dysfunctions of female reproductive systems, have only merited a collective 446 clinical trials, while erectile dysfunction, which is merely embarrassing as opposed to painful, has had 1,954 clinical trials.) Men, on the other hand, define bad sex as being “a passive partner or a boring experience.” The world that lives between those two perspectives goes a long way to explaining the current state of the conversation about inequality.

Similarly, one of the people I follow on Twitter posted a query about women who enjoy scifi. At latest count, her post has been liked 14,000 times, retweeted 2,500 times, and responded to 3,600 times. There are a lot of us out there, and it’s always useful to remember that Mary Shelley can be considered the progenitor of the genre with her story, Frankenstein. The oddly ubiquitous perception that geeking out on science and imagining some of the logical extensions it might bring into a future daily life, is limited to the male purview, really needs some reality injected into it.

As for my other goals, hubs and I stayed current with Star Trek: Discovery for our date night, and my phone says I averaged 4,565 steps per day–up significantly from last week now that we’ve had some nicer temperatures. We still haven’t figured out the yoga thing, and that might be a stretch goal at this point, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Otherwise, we’ll see whether I can build on the editing habit this week. There will be family visiting who I haven’t seen in probably twenty-five years, so the perennial distractions will be pulling me the other direction, but if I’m to ever reach the descriptor “prolific” I need to refocus my priorities. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping an eye on my ROW80 buddies and will report back next week on my progress.

New Year – Blank Slate

Interesting to be breaking a month-long radio silence for the second year in a row. This time, it was less intentional: My personal laptop took a crap the day after we returned from our second-ever just-us-alone holiday in the almost 20 years we’ve been married. In fact, our trip to paradise allowed me to cross off an item from my bucket list. We went whale watching. It was as thrilling as I’d ever imagined. We experienced at least seven different sightings of groups of either two or three whales as they made their annual return to the Sea of Cortez to have and make babies. We were also in what amounted to glorified dinghies with speed boat motors attached, so our experience was up close and personal, and something like a roller-coaster as we hurtled across the waves. Crossing off bucket-list items is highly to be recommended.

🙂

While we were traveling, and later, while I was cussing out intransigent hard drives, I didn’t end up doing any editing. Still. And even though I’ve set up this year’s Goodreads challenge (spoiler alert: same number as last year), I haven’t been reading novels lately. I’ve been reading news about how high the US infant mortality rate is, another take on the misery of capitalism based on the experiences in Appalachia, and female anger. I’ve been reading about how Facebook can’t be fixed, regardless of Zuckerberg’s best intentions. And how Japan would love to fix its college admissions testing process.

Everybody is starting the year trying to see what can be changed, and how. Today, I ran across an article that highlights both the pitfalls of an MBA education, and how to actually be a better leader. And I read a tribute to a man who did his level best to lift up everyone around him. And, oh, by the way, he was transgendered, so had objective measures of his success before and after becoming a man, which underline some of what the opinion writer regarding female anger said.

Hubs and I have also been enjoying more screen time lately. It started with the long flights to Mexico (I can highly recommend pre-loading an iPad with movies to watch while in the air–it makes the time enclosed fly by, if you’ll forgive the pun). Two we particularly enjoyed for having more depth than we anticipated: “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” and “The Founder.” This week we binged on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which absolutely earned its Golden Globes, the writing was tight and the acting superb. We keep revisiting scenes from all three of these shows and pondering the characters. In some ways, given the arc Mrs. Maisel had in season 1, it is almost a shame to continue the story, but I’m glad they’re doing it anyway. The relevance of a woman fighting for what she’s passionate about in the late 50s is surprisingly on point in today’s climate.

My phone says that so far this month I’ve averaged 3,099 steps per day (it was 5,160 for the month of December… we walked a LOT while we were on vacation). It was harsh to return to the coldest temperatures of the season immediately upon our return from a place where the daily average was in the upper 70s. On the other hand, Tashie is walking better and stronger than she has in a long time, so weather really is our excuse for cloistering ourselves at home.

As for goals for myself… I really like what that HBR article had to say about mindfulness. It’s something I’ve practiced unconsciously for decades, but hubs and I have been talking about doing yoga together, so I’m going to add to my standard list. I’m not happy this list hasn’t changed in two Rounds, really, but I really want to get back into regular writing, and that means first I must clear the decks on the projects that are in editorial limbo. So:

  1. Finish edits on Dust to Blood and re-release it with its new cover.
  2. Edit Blood to Fire and re-release it with its new cover.
  3. Edit Fire to Dragon and release it.
  4. Blog weekly with my ROW80 updates.
  5. Walk at least a mile a day.
  6. Do at least half an hour of yoga a week.
  7. Keep the sanctity of my weekly date night with hubs.

I am in the final phase of getting my first audiobook ready for release, so I know there will be some delays in getting started as I deal with those logistics. I also know my day job schedule is going to continue to demand long hours for the foreseeable future, so I need to get used to just having an hour or so at night in which I can be productive on the writing goals I’ve outlined. That can no longer be an excuse.

I’m glad the ROW80 group continues its mission of providing writers a supportive forum in which to hold each other accountable so I will continue to point everyone to the other participants’ recountings of their efforts. Good luck to us all.

Keep People

"Keep people in your life that truly love you, motivate you, encourage you, inspire you, enhance you, and make you happy."I missed a week of blogging, I know, but fun with Gayla also meant exhaustion once I returned home. Plus, I’d missed hubs and our puppers, so dinner together, our walk, and sleeping were more important than blogging last week.

What made last week so fun wasn’t just that I got to catch up with Gayla, but I also got to ride along on an Animal Control patrol (think: license to call out to and cuddle random puppers), construct a 3-D puzzle (I love putting together flat packs), and help install a home theater system so we could enjoy an at-home movie night for Gayla’s birthday. And then there were all the floofs. I love Gayla’s bunch, but since we appear to be floof magnets, after she was done with work for the week and we were headed up to Lubbock for the final ingredients for birthday fun, we saw a pup run across a four-lane highway after we were several miles out of town.

And this is one of the reasons Gayla’s a keeper for me: She has a Dodge Charger (muscle car for the uninitiated), so when I yelled about the dog, she said “I see it!” and pulled a move straight out of the Dukes of Hazzard. (I didn’t realize, until I looked it up, that they drove a Dodge Charger, too… though there is a more than 40-year model year gap between theirs and Gayla’s – LOL.) We were traveling in the right lane, she didn’t wait for an authorized U-Turn spot, but quickly just drove down into the gulch separating the north- and south-bound lanes, waited for a small gap in traffic, merged, and pulled off onto the right-hand shoulder without any concern for the possibility of harm to her vehicle. When I rolled down my window and called out to the sweet puppy, his whole body wriggled with his tail wag and his face opened up into a beautiful smile. I carefully opened the door, crouched down, and the little boy snuggled right into my arms. It wasn’t so great when he submission-peed on us and my seat, but Gayla had rags in her trunk so we could mop that up fairly easily too. We were able to get him to the shelter, and he’s now in the adoption program. Guessing his age by the needle-teeth in his mouth, and high percentage of just gums… the little boy was only 10 weeks old. He was super-lucky he didn’t get splatted by being dropped in such an unsafe place, and he gave me the sweetest kisses and cuddles while we brought him to safety. He’s the one at the top of this collage:

I’m really glad he’ll get the chance to grow into the big boy of his puppy promise. The two other puppies in the collage are also in the rescue program. The one on the left is Sonora, who’s now been spayed and is available for adoption, while the one on the right is being fostered so she can heal up from gastritis… and grow up enough to be the nix nutz her squirming in my lap and onto my shoulders as we took her to her vet appointment indicates she will become.

In other words, I got my fill of canine cuddles on my whirlwind trip. And read a few more books while I was in transit between Virginia, Texas, and Virginia.

And came home to a whirlwind week at the day job. So my one link for the week: The historical underpinning of shaving. Which leads to my sidebar question of the week: Why can’t we be more like ancient Egypt in our egalitarianism?

Maybe we should take a tip from UX practitioners and “map” our experiences. Or take a tip during our hiring interviews to screen for empathy.

November is quickly coming to a close, and I’ll be hosting an old friend this week, so I’m coming to terms with the thought that I needed significantly more time off from writing and editing than I’d ever imagined. Getting back to the image included above, which I found this week courtesy Marc and Angel, I’m grateful I have family and friends who encourage and support me even when I’m kicking myself for not finding a way to be more productive. I hope for the rest of you as we enter the season of thankfulness, that you do too. It seems an unfortunate truism that we’re all harder on ourselves than we need to be, so those who remind us that we’re good enough despite our weaknesses are gems of the first order.

On the other hand, my phone says I averaged 5,557 steps per day last week. I’m happy to report Tashie seems to be back to her healthy self with her pulling and endurance, and it shows in our step counts. And hubs and I are still keeping up with our shows. (OMG: Star Trek Discovery left us with a completely unexpected cliff-hanger for its mid-season finale!)

Until next time, here are where my ROW80 buddies are sharing their progress, and I’ll return once more next week to share my own.

Anonymous Woman

"For most of history, ANONYMOUS was a woman." -Virginia WoolfIn general, I’m not a fan of commercialized holidays like Halloween, the day after Thanksgiving, or Christmas. This year, though, Halloween was heralded by Netflix releasing the second season of Stranger Things. I’m actually not a big fan of horror, either, but this story is compelling to me for a lot of reasons–not the least of which is how steeped it is in 80s culture. So I joined the approximately 16 million viewers who binge-watched all nine episodes, and am anxiously awaiting season three based on the promises made and kept in the season two finale. And especially for more of the brat kid sister, Erica.

The one thing that strikes me increasingly regularly is how much female characters are relegated to the sidelines. While the first season of Stranger Things did some interesting things subverting gender tropes, season two fell flat with Max. She’s literally pushed to the fringes of the action.

Then I read about romance writers who are inserting their political beliefs into their stories. It was a good reminder that, as creators, we reflect our experiences. It should be natural for a pair of brothers to create a band of brothers story; and that in the small world of those juvenile friendships, there would be extremely limited female perspectives.

And yet, this week, too, I read about a cat owner who built a box maze specifically for his pets, and another man who has raised an owned both of the most recent Guinness Book of World Records oldest cats. If it’s easier for men to empathize with and create compelling stories about cats than women (though this is an admittedly tiny sample) it’s a sad affirmation of the Virginia Woolf quote I’ve included with this week’s post.

Funnily enough, I also completed my Goodreads challenge for the year this week by reading a genre I’m not generally a fan of: contemporary romance. I can say I’m a Kait Nolan fan, though. She hooked me long ago with her YA story Red, a compelling, modernized version of the Red Riding Hood story… with a werewolf. She’s never revisited that world, but I’ve been caught in the snares of a number of her contemporary romances while I wait for more of her paranormal stories. Looking back at the list of books I’ve read this year, I’m struck by the fact that I have a demonstrable bias toward reading female authors. From what I can see, only 1 of the 40 books I’ve read were written by men. I’ve recognized this inclination since I read Heinlein in High School. It’s fascinating to me that in 30 years of reading since then, I still get the same sense of being misrepresented or disregarded by enough male authors that I remain cautious about opening the doors to a new story by an unknown man.

As for my ROW80 goals? My step count dropped precipitously as I dealt with a wrenched neck. My phone says I averaged 4,038 steps a day, which is apparently enough to go 1.6 miles, so better than my goal. Hubs sent a link with five exercises to undo the harm of all the sitting I do, and I found another, writer-centric site that talks about back pain as one of our common ailments. Luckily, I already squat a lot to deal with our dogs, but I’ll be considering how to add the remaining exercises to my daily routine to avoid this kind of incapacitation in the future.

Hubs and I obviously managed our date night(s) with no problem with Stranger Things, but that other important goal, editing? Nope. Nada.

I’m beginning to feel a bit like a fraud with the writing. I haven’t opened my WIP in weeks, even though I’ve finally figured out why book 1 of the Red Slaves series has to be Anne’s story more than her relationship with Ivan. Book 1 is more classically Urban Fantasy, not Paranormal Romance, so trying to shoehorn it into the latter genre constraints has been part of what’s been giving me heartburn with the most recent editorial direction I’ve gotten. I still need to figure out how to fix the pacing, though.

This week, I might actually get to work. I’ve said it before, but this week, I’ll be flying cross-country to visit Gayla in something that might possibly resemble a writer’s retreat. We’ll see how far that time gets me. Since it’s been a few years since I last saw her, there may be more yapping than writing, but flying might also work for getting creative. Regardless, I’ll be reporting back again next week. Meanwhile, check out how the other ROW80 folks are progressing.

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