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Control and Changes

I am never in control of what happens around me, but I am always in control of what happens within me.

The landscape of the various health issues that have plagued me in recent years has changed in the past few months. I’ve had more trouble with asthma as I wean myself off my steroid-based inhaler, but also a little more energy as we bring the h-pylori and candida under control, along with changing some of my hormonal profile. As is generally the case, that bit of extra energy got hijacked by some thoroughly unexpected news last week: Our landlord decided that for personal reasons, seven and a half years was enough. We are being forced to move by the end of April.

Initially the distress and shock of the announcement gave us a sleepless night. Then we started haunting Zillow. Monday (Valentine’s day) we found a new listing that we were able to see Tuesday afternoon. By Tuesday night we’d made an offer that was accepted Wednesday night.

We’re actually buying a house. A few years earlier than the timeline we’d imagined as necessary.

Now our move is on the fast track. Now we’re dealing with entirely different stresses. And the old Psyche article about “being on the fence” is our lived experience. Our pups are keeping a close eye on us, and it’s interesting calling back to a Guardian article summarizing some of the cognitive research about canine emotional resonance with humans in this new context. It’s also useful to implement some of the coping mechanisms outlined in “Sunday-night scaries” – even though the level of existential dread described there doesn’t quite line up with the just… very-busy-brain experience hubs and I are dealing with. And then there’s the extra bit of adjustment required for my evolving cadence of hybrid work.

The news that soothes my spirit is that our new house is in an HOA-free community, so I can proceed with plans to rewild our 4+ acres, and do what I can to counteract the sixth extinction event in my little corner of the world. I may or may not experiment with an electricity-free way of keeping food cool, too.

Interesting research about black holes stretches my brain to think about some of the stories that have been simmering in the back of my mind over the past year. And then there’s the recent discovery that being in space causes humans to become anemic. Closer to current reality is the fact that after decades of hubs and me seeking out the streaking, bright light of the ISS in the night sky… it’s close to its fiery end.

On top of all that, I recently read research about the universe being a neural network, and the nature of consciousness.

It’s always fascinating to me to see the current shape of just how much we don’t know – and the corollary arrogance of those who are sure they can explain away these mysteries.

So I’ll be going radio silent for another few months as we transplant ourselves an hour south under the pressure of an at-once fixed deadline, but also one that affords us the flexibility of making many small trips to shift breakable bits and clothes without having to pay for that privilege. The distance between our closing date (March 9) and our final move-out date (April 30), and the relative nearness of our two abodes means we at least won’t be facing the time/space pressure of limited truck space and a one-way trip.

I am grateful. For so many of the things, big and small, that lined up to allow us to inject a little stability into the uncertainty of our world. And I am confident that being closer to nature will improve my energetic health, and therefore also my ability to return to fiction writing. So keep your fingers crossed for us as we embark on this new adventure. I will return once we’re settled.

…Or Bust? Busted.

For me, alone time isn't lonely or empty, it's sacred.

It’s been almost half a year since I last posted. I’ve been thinking I could churn out an update for several months now. But this year, my allergies took me entirely out of the game. I had planned on releasing audiobook versions of at least several of my books this year–and owe two of them to very patient contest winners from this spring. But the raspy, phlegmy version of my voice is not something I want to inflict on anyone.

Then I had the thought that maybe I could get back in the writing groove with NaNo. Something about the communal energy of producing words has always previously worked as a spur to my creative energy.

Instead, after a multitude of doctor visits and an array of tests (which are actually still in progress), I’ve discovered my adrenal function is basically at zero, and I’m allergic to everything in the world except cacao, penicillin, and white mulberries. Complicating my health picture are leaky gut and a crazy overgrowth of candida. I’m managing to drag myself through my existence by dint of willpower, which doesn’t leave energy after work hours for sitting even longer at the keyboard and producing my next story or blog post… or keeping up with Discord chats.

Following my inclination to hibernate has meant I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying my own company. Meditating. Aligning myself with the sacred. Embracing the fact that I am an introvert who could happily avoid 99% of human contact for months at a time.

Then I compounded the fun with a dislocated rib and shoulder on Thanksgiving. I’m not even sure how I managed those injuries, but the radiating pain and the numbness in my outer left fingers made me wonder for a short while whether I was having a heart attack.

As evidenced by this sign of life, some of our initial efforts to turn the ship seem to be paying off.

I still feel mostly broken. Mostly like the limit of what I can accomplish is a minimal baseline of feeding myself and my family and making sure my pups get their daily walks, while keeping up with my day job responsibilities. I have a backlog of reviews I was supposed to have posted over the summer, and work-related courses I’m still supposed to take.

Because certainly, The Great Resignation hit my team with a vengeance. A third of my staff elected to take control of their lives by changing the main thing they could: Their jobs. Think pieces like the one from the New Yorker may have some basis in fact for some segments, but did not reflect the things I was hearing from my colleagues. And what I’m hearing now about a reluctance to return to a full-time office gig are complicating conversations about how we manage our work and our time. Learning to balance work time with self time adds a different layer to the conversation, and I’m hearing more people talk about the different stressors they live with. Which makes this HBR article about the phases of making a major life change useful.

Choosing to spend time walking the doggies daily has turned out to be one of our most grounding, soul-feeding activities. Backed by research that indicates 20 minutes for three days per week is the minimum to see that benefit. (But only if done when not accompanied by your active cell phone screen…)

I’m hopeful my annual holiday break at the end of the year helps me complete the system reset we’re currently kicking off. I still have stories I’d like to write–in my mind, chapter 1 of book 3 is mostly written, and I have some ideas about the trajectory of Dr. Marina’s character arc that I think will satisfy readers… and reflect some of the inner journey I’ve been on this year.

Here’s wishing my readers a satisfying holiday season that allows you to find the sacred space it is intended to remind us all of. And learn to rest well.

Summer Shuffle

I hate when people accuse me of lolly gagging when I'm quite clearly dilly dallying.

Somehow two months have once again slipped through my fingers. My half-century mark celebration has come and gone. And the world is taking cautious steps back toward normalcy. For me, that means more days in the office again. And dealing with the repercussions of some flavor of the Great Resignation. Though in my experience those decisions have more to do with embracing change for the sake of change than any commentary about our specific work environment.

I’ve been seeing an interesting set of reporting that by now, burn-out is a given. And that the ideal work day is something more like five hours, or maybe six hours long.

And my personal bugaboo…There have been far too many nights when my brain won’t shut down and let me sleep. Sleep, and the increasing recognition of its vital contribution to health, has been a recurring topic in stories I’ve read. A round-up of studies summarized earlier this month emphasized ongoing cognitive impacts of less-than-optimal sleep. Another article says the old myth of eight hours being sufficient… really isn’t true. All of this has deeper, societal implications as families cobble together enough working hours to get them viable pay to cover essential bills. Or, if you’re like me, and an incorrigible night-owl.

So then there’s advice on how to stop “should”-ing yourself.

All of this together maybe starts to point the way toward an explanation of why I (and most of my colleagues, friends, and family) have all commented on that creeping sense of exhaustion. It’s hard not to put it in the context of sensing we’re all on the path of working until we drop. Retirement and aging might look different now from what it did 100, 200, 300 years ago, but I have strong reasons to doubt that my generation will have the kind of retirement experience those who retired in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s did. There is something to having a big, round number birthday that makes these considerations carry additional weight.

It all makes me want to slow down. Enjoy the magical moments of peak firefly display while our Huskies schnouffle their way down a dark path through the park. Take an extra few minutes to cuddle my hubs. Discover another new-to-me author and spend a few hours reading their stories.

Life is a fleeting enough without buying into the capitalist valuation of every hour of our days. So I’m dreaming about what a life unplugged and off the grid might look like. And imagining that into the world I’ve built in the Planet Seekers series. I have a cover for book 3 that I’m saving for a cover reveal post once I get properly underway with writing… but I also have my editor’s voice in my head regarding one of her take-aways from book 2: That pervasive sense of exhaustion that has nagged at me bled through to my protagonist and made her–and by extension my editor–tired. What would it feel like to be fully rested on a consistent basis? To live for curiosity and exploration and connection rather than a never-ending series of obligations?

That should make for some interesting science fiction, and I’m starting to feel renewed enough by my break, that writing itself should kick off soon. Stay tuned.

Book Review: Reset by Sarina Dahlan

Reset by Sarina Dahlan

Can you love someone you don't remember?

This book came to me courtesy NetGalley and is one of the most thought-provoking stories I’ve read in years. For the first time in forever, I was forced to slow down my usual break-neck pace through the pages. There were sentences that were so impactful, so profound, I had to savor them. Think about their implications. Consider the ramifications. It took me three days of profound enjoyment to reach the end.

The book was amazing.

And its ending left me in a glow that hasn’t left me in the past week.

In general, I love authors who play with human perception of time and connection with others. This book combined that with lyricism and philosophical passages that had old Beatles tunes haunting my brain and made me ponder how different individuals might conceive of and implement a utopia. And what they would force the populations of these idyllic locations to give up.

As someone who treasures my dreaming capacity, a passage like this one gave me shivers of horror:

By some reason that Metis doubts was Bodie’s will, he underwent the Dreamcatcher treatment. All Dreamers know the consequence of dream erasure. Once erased, the memories attached to those dreams are gone. They will no longer resurface.

from “Reset” by Sarina Dahlan

And the creeping gap of missing memories–even when driven by so noble a goal as peace in a post-apocalyptic world–makes the humans operating within them not much more than empty puppets:

“I don’t deny that Tabula Rasa was created out of a desire for peace. But anything that takes away choice eats away at our soul. Without our memories, we are but empty vessels waiting to be filled and drained at each cycle. Love, the most vital of human needs, cannot exist fully outside the garden of memories.”

from “Reset” by Sarina Dahlan

The story was an elegant and unique love story on many levels, crossed with a philosophical treatise on what it takes to live harmoniously, combined with a classic sci-fi exploration of the ethics of using advanced technology. The world-building allowed for a full exploration of each of these components within a richly imagined environment–down to the vaguely salty after-taste of water reclaimed through desalination for use in a manufactured desert oasis.

I’ve already started passing out the title and Amazon links to my friends and colleagues, because this book deserves discussion and sharing, whether or not your normal tastes run to sci-fi or even romance. I’d never heard of this author prior to reading this book, and from her Goodreads profile, it appears this might be her first novel, but based on the excellence of its execution, her next book will be an automatic purchase for me.

That’s It?

Never regret a day in your life: Good days give happiness, bad days give experience, worst days give lessons, and best days give memories.

The release of Team TaoRuti marked the completion of my 12th book, as well as my 13th release. It’s the second book in an SFR series, my first new (story) release in nearly two years, and reflected a decent amount of the collective trauma we’ve lived through in Our Year of COVID. It was hard to finish. And, as with most of my other releases, landed with minimal fanfare and a small number of sales.

Completing a story always comes as a bit of a let-down; it’s a big enough milestone to invite a pause and an evaluation of what I’m getting out of putting myself through all this stress and effort.

For me, it always comes back to: I love stories and the creative process. Being open to the world around me. And I’m enough of a Gen Xer to want to do my own thing for my own reasons, so this mode of self-expression suits my spiritual/emotional needs. But there’s an echo to the burnout reported in The Passion Paradox. Obviously writing as an independent author gives me extreme autonomy. And I can see the improvement in my writing skills book over book. But for as many positive reviews as my books have gotten, I’ve never gotten fanmail from a stranger or any sense that there is a community of readers out there who would be upset if I just stopped publishing. It feels, at the end of the publishing process, profoundly exhausting to have invested huge amounts of time and effort for so little return.

According to the IRS, my writing remains a very expensive hobby.

Interestingly, research points to specific activities that help people recover from burn-out – primarily centered on self-care. And spending time with hubs, my very best friend, who understands implicitly the cycle of ups and down that come with creative production. (Interestingly, there were points made in that first article that are repeated in a second about signs of a happy marriage. Considering that earlier this year we celebrated our 23rd anniversary, I can’t argue the correlation. 🙂 )

So I’ve gone back to my primary self-care mode and read. I’m ahead of my Goodreads goal for the year for now again, and the two most recent books have reignited my story in me. The first I got as an eARC from Netgalley, so you’ll be seeing a review about it in the next week – a profound mix of philosophy and scifi that deserves every accolade it will undoubtedly accrue. The second was randomly listed as a freebie on one of the many book-promoting email listservs I subscribe to. It’s a mash-up of historical fiction, urban fantasy, cozy mystery tinged slightly darker than that genre generally expects, and just enough of a slow-burn romance to seriously pique my interest. And it’s the first of a 10-book series. Totally my jam.

The funny thing about reading really good books – for me, anyway – is that last night I figured out how to start book 3 of my Planet Seekers trilogy. The subtext of the series is a reflection on things I’ve experienced in my career… held at the arm’s length of a post-apocalyptic scifi story. There’s definitely more water in that well, so we’ll kick off book three with the fun of a jargon-filled, pointless meeting.

So. That’s not it, after all. I’ll keep writing and publishing. And if you have any interest in reading my books for the purpose of reviewing them, contact me for a free eARC.

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