Anticipation: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird

Standard

There’s been a lot of anticipation in my life the past several weeks.  I just wanted to share some thoughts on various kinds of anticipation.

The biggest anticipation in my life right now is for NaNoWriMo to start.  This is a slow burning, long building anticipation that starts in the summer when I confirm I’m going to be a Municipal Liaison (ML) again, and never really goes away.  November is by far my favorite month of the year.  It’s crazy and amazing and ridiculous and I’m almost always looking forward to it.  The anticipation has been heightened this past week because scheduling has started happening for all the write-ins that will be hosted by WriMos in my region.  The MLs have had theirs decided for weeks, but it’s super fun to watch the calendar fill up as people announce their intentions to host.  We’re already down to only three days without a confirmed write-in.  I expect we’ll fill those three days in fairly quickly.

So that’s the good kind of anticipation.  Looking forward to what’s to come.

I also had the bad kind of anticipation this week.  It was time for my six month visit with the dentist.  I’m also due at all my doctors in the next month or so.  These are not things I look forward to.  I try not to think about them, but then the reminders start coming in, or I’ll see it on the leave calendar at work.  The appointment is coming.  The dentist especially gives me a bit of anxiety lately.  After not getting my first cavity until eighteen, and going several years after that without another, I have had six cavities filled in the last year and a half.  It sucks.  So I was nervous leading up to my dentist appointment even though I’d been doing everything I was supposed to.  The good news?  No cavities.  The bad news?  My insurance still won’t cover a mouth guard even though it really is a preventative care item when you have TMJ.  Maybe I should see if my medical insurance would cover it…

And then there’re weird kinds of anticipation.

I have a coworker who got a new job and today is her last day.  I’m super excited for her and it’s a great opportunity, but I’m going to miss her.  This leads to a mix of happy feelings and mild anxiety over what we’re going to do without her.  She’s the glue that holds together all the disparate little departments that live under the same senior associate dean umbrella as mine.  I’m going to miss her so much.  But she’ll come back to visit and it’s not like she lives any further away.  I just have to not fail at keeping up with someone like I usually do.

Along similar lines, we’ve been dealing with a little financial difficulty the last few months, so I’m always anticipating the next paycheck, the next bill, the next time they don’t line up and we have problems.  It’s stressful.  I’m stuck in a constant state of anticipation and anxiety.  Thankfully, that’s working itself out this week so that I can finally relax a bit.

Then there’s the kind of anticipation that’s only weird in my head.  I’m making my own Halloween costume this year.  I’ll likely post some pics at some point.  I’m super excited about the idea, and about actually doing a sewing project after so long.  But then I’m also nervous about my new sewing machine and whether the idea will hold up when I actually make it.  This leads to some procrastination, which I’m trying to short-circuit this week by at least starting on the wings for the outfit.  We’ll see how well that works.

What are you anticipating right now?  Is it a good kind of anticipation?  Or something weirder or less comfortable?

Advertisements

Growing as a Writer

Standard

I’ve been reading through some of my older pieces lately, and it’s got me thinking about how I’ve grown as a writer and how writers grow into their craft in general.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that practice has played a huge role in my own growth process.  I’ve been writing down my stories since the sixth grade.  Some of those early ones are pretty atrocious, let me tell you.  I got a bit more serious in high school, taking creative writing as an elective and actually showing some of my outside work to my teacher.  She was very impressed.  For a high school student, I was probably doing pretty well but I still look back at drafts from those days and cringe.

I continued to take my development as a writer more seriously in college, taking writing courses alongside my literature classes and trying to get insight for both.  My work improved a lot over those years.  The piece I’m rereading now actually dates from after I was out of graduate school, and the beginning of that piece makes me cringe too.  I haven’t taken any formal classes since then, but I can see the improvement as I read through this piece, and I can see it in other drafts that where written after this one.  I’m still improving.

So where does the improvement come from?  What’s letting me get better outside a normal learning environment?

Practice.

For writers, practice is the key to improvement.  Almost any author you ask will give advice that sounds a bit like “just keep writing” and there’s a reason for that.  If you keep writing and keep writing, and maybe even try some revision every so often and still just keep on writing, you’re likely to get betted.

Reading helps too, don’t get me wrong.  Without good examples, it’s hard to write well, but practicing your craft is also very important.

It’s also helpful to remember that everyone starts out awful.  Keep practicing and you’ll get better.

Introspection in Images: Fascinated by Decay 003

Standard

I have always been fascinated by the decaying remains of human structures.

That sounds weirder when I say it out loud, but I always knew I was weird.

I love to take pictures of stone buildings being overgrown with ivy, old gravestones, wooden houses being reclaimed by nature.  Old monuments.  Mossy stones set up by ancient people.  It all fascinates me.

My first digital camera probably took more pictures of things like that, than it did people.  I have hundreds of photos from trips around town and around the world of the things humans have built that are now wasting away.

Today, I’ll share a few of them with you.  And I expect in later posts I’ll share some more.

I hope you can see the beauty in them that I do.

Prep Season: Halloween, NaNoWriMo, & Holidays

Standard

There are a lot of things in my life that I’m in prep-mode for right now.  Halloween is approaching, and if I want to make my own costume I need to get to work sooner than later.  NaNoWriMo season starts in October for me, so I definitely need to finish prepping for that since it’s only nine days away.  Thanksgiving happens in the middle of NaNoWriMo so I need to have a plan for that well before November 1, and I’m making a lot of my Christmas gifts this year, so it’s time to get cracking.

Let’s start with Halloween, though this does bleed into NaNoWriMo a bit.  I love sewing and creating my own costumes.  I find the prop creation to be a blast and I love starting with a pile of fabric, thread, and other notations and ending with a whole outfit (or at least a piece of one).  Plus, this year I have a new (and wonderful!) sewing machine to test out for all this.  It was my grandmother’s.  A Singer from the 1960s that’s built into a table that folds up to look like an end table.

Singer Sewing Machine Table 2016-12-11 02

I’m still in the idea phase for what my actual Halloween costume will be, but I also love to wear a costume for the NaNoWriMo kickoff party.  It’s fun and it makes me memorable, which is good since I’m an ML (aka the local volunteer leader).  The theme for this year’s NaNoWriMo is superheroes.  So for the kickoff party, I want to do some kind of superhero costume.  At the very least, there will be a cape involved.  I’m thinking of going very simple on this one, like a t-shirt cape (it’s an idea I found on Pinterest and now can’t locate), and then a tunic and some leggings with a belt.  Super simple but impactful.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For Halloween itself, I’ll dress up for work and then go to the NaNoWriMo kickoff write-in until after midnight, so the outfit has to be super comfortable (I’ll be in it for about 20 hours) and it has to be work-friendly.  I was thinking fairy, but that might not meet the comfort requirements.  Maybe something more like elf or púca (a special kind of fairy) so that I can make it work with more normal clothes but still be distinctive and Halloween.  As I said, this is still at the idea phase.  It may come down to what I have the fabric and patterns for already.  We’ll see what happens, and I’ll likely post about it here.

And that leads into NaNoWriMo season and all the prep I’m doing for that.

NaNo-2017-Email-Banner

As a Municipal Liaison (ML), I’m one of three in my region who are in charge of making sure there is a kickoff part, a thank goodness it’s over party (TGIO), and at least one write-in per week per ML.  Our region is also large and very active, so we do prep-workshops in October.  This year we have three of them.  One I am coordinating with a presenter on the west coast.  Another one of our former MLs is doing.  And the third will be largely presented by one of my co-MLs, but we’ll all be there to answer questions and give advice.  So I don’t have to do a ton of prep for these (except to make sure the projector is working properly).

I’m also a pretty active ML, so I tend to host more than my minimum once a week write-ins.  I have a standing write-in on Sunday afternoons that goes all year long, so I’ll continue that.  I’ll also likely do a couple Saturdays at NC State University and a few random evenings at other locations we’ve used in past years.  Right now I’m just trying to get all my dates settled.  We also do a couple big Saturday events that we have to finish planning details for.  Basically, there’s a lot that we’re still planning.  It’s fun though and I get to do said planning with two of my best friends so it’s a definite win for me.  So NaNoWriMo is an ongoing prep project until November, and there’s even some prep for the TGIO in November, so that will continue for a while.

And then, of course, there’s actually preparing to write in November.  Normally I’m not particularly good at this part.  I’ll settle on an idea in the last week of October, or even on Halloween.  This year I think I’ve settled on an idea already and it’s still September.  My writing friends are all shocked.  I’m actually a little infamous in our region for not having an idea until the last minute.  The idea I’m working on is set in the same world as Strong Fort Spathí and is centered around the Wiccan university in Fort Madison.  There will be a werewolf, a werecat, and a vampire.  The antagonist is a hate group harassing the university after it opens its first dorm specially designed to house vampires.  And just to be clear, when I say I’m “working on” this idea, it really just means that I’m thinking about it.  I have a few notes about a potential plot line or two, and I’ve been exploring the characters a little in some backstory scenes to get their voices figured out.  That’s about it.  I’ve found that too much planning makes me feel hemmed in and makes my writing feel forced, so I try to keep it pretty simple.

What may not happen in November, but I need to be working on through October and then again in December is all my holiday gift creating.  I like to make jewelry, and my mother loves most of what I’ve given her so far, as has my sister.  So this year I’m making something for each of them, my mother-in-law, possibly my sister-in-law, and maybe a few other close friends.  I’ve been gathering materials for the past few months as I can find them on sale or cheap on eBay.  So I have almost all the supplies I need, I just need to sit down and actually make things.  That is at least a nice relaxing project I can look forward to.

Jewelry I Made

So what are you prepping for right now?  Any plans to get things ready for Halloween, or other fall and winter happenings?

Image Prompt 032 Response: Fairy Wall

Standard

I chose the North Carolina photo for my prompt this week.  I know I took this picture on a trip up to Chimney Rock, but I can’t tell you for sure where it is.

Fairy Wall:

Cary poked his head around the side of the building to see what was in the back.  The little half-shed that probably sheltered the water pump made sense.  The story-and-a-half high wall with the upside down arch made him stop and stare.

“Cary, don’t go too far,” his sister called.  She was supposed to be keeping up with him this week.  They were on a road trip through North Carolina with their aunt and two older cousins.  Cary, the youngest by three years, wasn’t as thrilled about this as everyone else.  He had to sit in the very back of the minivan with no leg room and not much air conditioning.

“I’m just going to look at the backyard,” Cary called back.  If she knew he was just behind the building she shouldn’t come looking for him.

Cary walked carefully around all the spare lumber that was littering the yard.  The building was a tiny little general store type thing.  His oldest cousin had seen the sign and asked to stop.  They’d used the rest rooms and loaded up on drinks and snacks for the rest of the day.  His aunt had wanted to stretch a bit, so she told them to be back at the car in fifteen minutes.

Once he was past what looked like an abandoned barn door, Cary was able to walk normally again.  He was past all the dangerous rusty nails in the old wood and could hurry over to the tiny cinderblock shed and the wall.

The wall was made of natural stones.  Each one a different size and shape.  It didn’t even look like there was any grout.  They just fit together so well that they stayed exactly where they needed to be.

Cary ran is fingers over one of the stones.  It was rough and cool and felt exactly as he’d expected.  It wasn’t covered by moss or damp or anything.  It was just a stone, but Cary wondered how long it had been there.  Who had set it there.  Who had decided that the wall needed to be built?

He looked up and as far as he could tell, it wasn’t part of a wall.  It had always been this height.  The top was smooth and capped by flat stones.  It wasn’t a ruin exactly; it just didn’t make a lot of sense.

Cary edged closer to the well-house, trying to see through the gap made by the upside down arch.  There was a tree growing just on the other side.  Its branches reached out through the arch, but they didn’t go any further left or right than the width of the arch.

A glance at his watch let him know he still have ten minutes before he had to be back at the car.  He pressed on the roof of the well-house to make sure it was sturdy, and then hefted his foot up there so he could push himself up onto the wall where the bottom of the arch was.

Cary clambered up onto the wall, kneeling carefully on the slightly uneven stones.  They’d been worn away a bit and weren’t as smooth and flat as he guessed they were when the wall was first made.

When Cary looked up, his mouth fell open.  His eyes were so wide he could feel them stretching at the corners as he let his eyes rove over the scene before him.

It was like a tiny metropolis out of some fantasy novel.  There were little stone buildings and tiny cobbled streets.  There were tiny parks and something that looked a little like a clock tower that had no clock.  There was something sort of like a church, but there was a symbol he couldn’t quick make out instead of a cross at the top of the steeple tower.

At first, all he saw were the buildings, the streets, and the layout of the place.  It was just so much.  It would have taken ages and ages for someone to build something like this.  Just one of the little stone buildings would have been so complicated and taken so much work and attention to details.

It wasn’t until he’d already slipped off the wall, stepped past the tree, and knelt down beside the nearest building that he realized there were things moving in the tiny city.  And not just animals or bugs or something either.  There were people.  Tiny, perfectly-sized, scaled-to-the-buildings people.

Cary pinched the back of his hand.  This couldn’t be real.  He couldn’t actually be seeing this.

For a second, he thought he heard his sister calling his name, but then one of the little people looked up.

Cary held very still as she gazed up at him.

When she started yelling, he sat back on his heels, startled by the noise.  It sounded like words, but not in a language he knew.

He watched as more and more of the tiny people flooded through the streets toward him.

Image Prompt 032 – St. Andrew’s & North Carolina Mountains

Standard

It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

2017-09-08 Image Prompt032-1 - St. Andrews05-03-18 018

2017-09-08 Image Prompt-032-2 - Chimney Rock Trip 05-07-20 031

Self-Care: My Reasons and Strategies

Standard

Self-care is something I see discussed more and more places these days, so I wanted to take a few moments to share with you why I think it’s so important and some of my strategies to make sure I’m doing it properly.

Being overworked seemed to be a constant for many Americans.  With downturns in the economy in 2008 that we still haven’t fully recovered from, more companies are trying to do more with less.  This often means giving one person the work of two or three, or expecting employees to pull long hours to meet deadlines.  Work culture in American, generally speaking, is pretty rough on the employee.

This can lead to a lot of burned out employees.  I’ve worked for companies like this, where everything had to get done, regardless of how few people there were.  It can take a huge toll on you.  Especially if you’re in a position of logistical importance, like IT or a system administrator, where your absence can mean the whole system has gone down.  I’ve been there, done that, and I wasn’t very good about self-care at the time.

So why do I think self-care is important enough to warrant a whole post about it?

Because without self-care I eventually cease to function.

For me, personally, self-care is about keeping myself balanced emotionally, physically, and mentally.  If I don’t take steps to care for myself and just keep trudging through whatever project I have to work on, I will eventually collapse from hunger, fatigue, or an emotional breakdown of some sort or another.  Avoiding any of those three things is high on my list, so I try to keep myself in some semblance of normal, which means employing my self-care strategies.

My new job is much less stress-inducing than my last one, so this isn’t quite as dire a situation as it used to be for me, but I still do my best to stay on top of it.  I still have to remind myself to take time for myself, time for my husband, and time to decompress.

I have lots of strategies for this.  I’ll share a few of them here:

Incorporate Down time:

This doesn’t have to be huge.  It can be a five-minute break to reconnect with someone.  It can be watching a quick cat video between tasks.  Or it could be taking whole day or even a week off.  There’s a reason that the saying “taking a mental health day” is so well known.  It’s important to do, and sometimes just taking a day off to step away from work and relax is super important to keep you functioning well and working at your peak performance level.

Eating Properly:

It’s especially tempting not to eat well when you’re in a hurry, but keeping my meals and snacks regularly timed, varied, not pre-packaged, and lower calorie works much more effectively.  In the immediate, over-eating can make you tired or give you indigestion.  In contrast, I find that eating smaller meals and snacks more often throughout the day allows me to keep my blood sugar on an even keel as well as work towards my weight loss goal.

Balance of Social Time:

Humans are social creatures.  Being alone too much can make me a little loopy, but so can mot being alone enough.  You have to find a balance that works for you.  Do you need to see people most of the time and take an occasional break?  Or are you an introvert who still needs to be around people every so often?

I’m a bit of a mix really.  If I don’t get about half an hour to be alone in a room with my thoughts every day, I go a little but nuts.  Similarly, if I’m stuck alone for ten straight days with nothing but low level interactions with shop clerks and restaurant staff, I go more than a bit nuts.  Both of these extremes of contact levels affect me.  So I have strategies to prevent them.  I’ve let all my family know that I need a little alone time each day, so if it’s a big family gathering and I disappear, they let me stay missing for half an hour.  Ten straight days alone doesn’t come up as often (but there was a memorable week and a half during my study abroad semester…) but I also consciously remain aware of this and schedule things so that I don’t have these long gaps between seeing people.

Make Time for Friends and Family:

This ties in a bit with the above, but interacting with coworkers or students at work seems to fill my minimal interaction needs, so this is a separate consideration.  It’s important to maintain the relationships in my life, so I make a conscious effort to make extra time for friends where I can, try to go home to visit my parents, sister, and niece at least every few months, and I have reminders on my phone about spending quality time with my partner.  Yes, it’s probably a little weird that I have to have a reminder to spend time with someone I live with, but it’s important for me because neither of us is great about verbalizing or noticing when we aren’t getting enough attention from the other, so having a reminder each week that asks if I’ve spent that quality time yet that week has been working really well for us.

Make Time for Hobbies:

Writing is technically one of my hobbies.  I also make jewelry, sew, and do a little craft-level painting of things like wooden boxes, pots for plants, and the like.  I also love paint-your-own-pottery shops when I can find them.

Having the blog helps make sure I’m doing at least a minimum amount of writing each week.  I also host a weekly write-in, which is basically just a gathering of writers at a little restaurant/bakery that we like.  So that’s two ways that I make sure I’m writing frequently.

The other hobbies are a little more sporadic.  I tend to make jewelry more in December in the lead up to Christmas since it makes great gifts for people.  The others are a bit hit and miss at the moment.  Sewing is the hardest to keep up with because it requires more time, planning, and space than the others.  However, I did just get my grandmother’s Singer passed down to me (she’s still around, she just doesn’t sew anymore).  It’s built into a table that folds open so I have some of the space I need without it always taking up so much room.  She also passed down a bunch of material she hadn’t used yet, so I have a lot of projects ready to be made.

Have Someone to Talk to:

For some people, there is a friend or family member they can turn to for this.  For me, this means having a counselor or therapist.  I had a few in college, and then didn’t have one for a long time.  I was going through a lot of stressful transitions in my life recently, so I found a new therapist.  She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  Sadly, she’s left private practice, and I have to find a new therapist.  I’ve identified a couple options, but have been procrastinating on actually calling someone to start again.  I was with my last therapist for a little over a year and she was really great.  Finding a new one is intimidating because I have to establish the relationship and trust all over again.  However, putting off finding a new one is affecting me.  My partner has already noticed an increase in some of my less desirable behaviors that are usually stress induced.  So getting set up with a new therapist is a must do for me, and I’ve given myself a deadline of next Friday.

A comment on therapy in general:

I believe that everyone can benefit from therapy at some point in their life.

Therapy isn’t just about mental illness and it’s certainly not about needing medication.  Therapy is about having a neutral third party to talk through issues with.  Well, maybe not neutral, because they want you to do well and grow during therapy, but someone not immediately involved in the situation.  Sometimes, a friend or family member can be that for you, but a lot of times they are too close to the situation themselves, so you need someone further from the situation.

Take Care of Your Body:

There are the general things, like eating right and exercising, that are a huge benefit to your overall health and wellbeing.  There are also less obvious things.  Stretching throughout the day, looking away from your monitor every twenty minutes or so, or if you sit at work, getting up and moving around periodically.  I have a set up so I can stand at my desk at work, so I have to make sure to take a little time to sit down during the day.

I’ve also had back issues for a long time, so doing my physical therapy exercises every day and being very aware of my body and my posture so I don’t stress my back (which ends up leading to a pinched nerve and lots of leg pain) is something I have to really watch myself with.  I also shouldn’t lift anything heavy, by which I mean more than twenty-five pounds.  That one is really hard since I’ve always been able to help lift things or carry furniture, or haul my own stuff around before.

I’m always looking for more strategies:

What do you do for your own self-care?  I’d love to hear some of your strategies or your thoughts on any of mine.