2019: The Year of Not Comparing

You might remember that I almost broke myself–mentally–last year trying to do everything and that I started getting real with myself in order to deal with it. None of it is easy, the work of self-healing or self-reflection, but I found a little secret that grounds me when I’m struggling.

Every year, I start off not with resolutions but with intentions. This year, a late entry to the list was something I heard from a wise friend.

Don’t compare.

Two little words. A ton of power.

No one gets from point A to point B in exactly the same way. No one.

One example for context. I have a friend who lost over 80 pounds in 2018 and is super happy–feeling better than ever as she heads into her 50th year. It was a lifestyle change that I followed along with but had zero time for even the super simple “rules” for success: drink a gallon of water a day, sleep 8 hours a night, and eat a high fat-low carb diet of real food. The realities of my life, where I’m working full time, have a stake in running a small business, plan conferences, AND am finishing my degree, has no room for “sleep 7-8 hours every night.” And by “has no room”, I mean it is not something that’s even remotely possible. Nor is “eat dinner before 6:30pm” when I’m not even home by 6:30 from my day job.

Of course I can do my best. But that doesn’t yield amazing results in my health. Logically, I know this. But when my efforts yield very slow and small results in comparison to my friend who doesn’t have the same lifestyle or challenges I do, I feel like I’m not doing enough. Which leads to feeling inadequate. Then spirals quickly downward to feeling like a failure.

Comparison is an evil thing.

Here’s where the intention of Compare Less comes into play.

When I’m wallowing in the abyss of comparison – whether it’s my friends who are changing their health and their overall wellness, or my friends who are writing and publishing more than I am and finding success – I have to stop myself and be objective without comparison. And make no mistake, it is an abyss!

Here’s how…

  • Tell that voice inside my head – the one who’s telling me shit like “you’re not good enough” and “you’ll never be as [blank] as them” – to shut the fuck up.

That voice is an asshole. It never shuts up and is like a broken record. But once you hear it and can call it on it’s bullshit, sometimes it quiets down long enough for me to get clear on the fact that its message is just that: bullshit.

  • Look critically at the facts.

Facts are logical and ordered. They are not emotional. They don’t compare. They just are. Facts are the opposite of the bullshit asshole voice. Reminding myself that I am productive every waking hour of every day (no Netflix bingeing for me!), that I’m making the best food choices at every meal, that I have well-rounded children who don’t think I’m failing them when I don’t bring cupcakes to school every week, all keep me grounded in what I’m actually doing. My goals, my measurements, no comparisons.

  • Make positive and productive statements grounded in facts.

These are the antidotes of comparison for me. The moments that keep me grounded in the non-comparison zone.

If I’m wallowing in the “I’m a terrible mother” moments, I state the facts that both my children are well-rounded, healthy and happy. They know I love them and we have great relationship. If they see me struggling, they are the first to remind me about how great I’m doing at all the things, because they are my biggest cheerleaders. If I’m struggling with the FOMO (fear of missing out) moments when others are having launch parties or presenting at conferences, I state the facts that I’m getting an education that will aid my ability to do these things, but not right now. Right now my focus is on the right thing and for every thing there is a season. When I see friends on deadline because they have a publisher who wants the next project and I start to fear that those things might never happen for me, I remind myself that even if that had been offered to me, I don’t have the time to actually make a deadline with all the other things currently prioritized in my life. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future, but right now isn’t the time. Frankly, I’m a better writer because of my Creative Writing and English degree and once I have the time to devote to writing fully when I graduate in October, I’ll have just as many opportunities. The time spent on my education IS WORTH IT. When I fear that I’m a shitty friend/sister/daughter because I’m so busy with school the last three years, I remind myself that my friends and family love me and as long as I reconnect with them, and do the best I can to stay connected during this finite time of finish-your-degree, the relationships will remain intact.

This intentional way of not comparing myself to others has so far made a world of difference in my 2019. It’s only half of the equation I’ve found the most successful, but it is sometimes the hardest part to master. Next time I’ll tell you all about how I manage expectations. These two activities make me a super woman.

Do you struggle with comparing yourself to others? If so, what strategies do you have that work which I might not have considered and could add to my arsenal? Drop a comment so I can steal your secrets, too!


Finding a slice of me in the wilds of the web

Being a part of The Manuscript Dr has fulfilled me in ways I never expected. I get to exercise my brain doing things I am the best at as I build operational systems and grow our business. So when my business partner and founder asked if I wanted to help with building content for the company blog, I immediately said yes! I reviewed one of my favorite books, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, talking about one of the most impactful things my Creative Writing degree coursework at SNHU has taught me: theme. If you’re interested, check it out HERE.


A Heavy Slice of Real

This was a recent “reality” post on my social media:

I’m sleep deprived, overworked, full on failing both of my classes unless I can pull off a miracle and get everything done on my list this week and still have time to finish my final projects by Sunday. I live in constant fear that my children are neglected because I am failing as a mother with all the things that seem to come before them. I rarely have time for selfies anymore and I feel disconnected from all my friends because I have no time for social media. Luckily, I am self-aware enough to know that most of those fears are unfounded and that I’m doing my best. I am a perfectionist and have crazy high expectations of myself. Every once in a while I have to let myself off the hook and congratulate myself for keeping my sanity and killing it even if I am not perfect. So I leave you with this unfiltered and imperfect selfie. This is a portrait of a woman who wants it all and is enough. Keep your heads up my friends – you are enough, too!

Vulnerable, important and real. This is the kind of post that resonates better with me when I read them and what I will strive to share more. In a world driven by perceptions, full of the pressures of perfection, and life constantly on display as if the best of the scripted action is the everyday, I dare to be real. My website has evolved over the years and I lost sight that this was always intended to be my space to either be looking in or looking out-always meshing the two together so it was unclear if I was reflecting on outward things or projecting inward things. If I never look in, never show the imperfections, never share it with you out there who happen to stumble in and stay a while, then what’s the point?

Life is messy. Life is not always perfect. Share it anyway. Celebrate it. This is my re-commitment.

I feel like the last six months have been me figuratively stumbling around in the dark, wondering how I got so lost. Now I’ve found the light. I can see it at the end of the tunnel. I may have found my breaking point and kept rushing headlong into all the “YES, I can do that” things I got excited about. I’ve got healthy boundaries for myself now and am figuring out how to juggle the really heavy things – like imposter syndrome, fear of failure, fear of success – that are what make up my life. If you’ve stuck with me or have just found me, know that this is the slice of real you can continue to expect. I hope it resonates with you and that you’ll keep sharing this journey with me.


2018 Books Archive

Yes, I know it is already well into 2019. As with most things in my life, I’m behind a bit. Maybe I could count the first quarter of 2019 as a trial period and we just pick up as if nothing left off from here? I like it. Pretend it is early January if that doesn’t work for you.

At any rate, here’s my recap of last year’s reading. It is a very long list (in the order read because OCD planning last year prevailed). It’s also more for my own look back for future reference. But if you see something you like here and pick it up because of my brief recommendation then I’ve done something good to pay things forward for the authors.

I’m proud of myself for reading as much for leisure as assigned and textbooks in 2018. A win if any I’ve heard for last year! Here’s to keeping that trend up in 2019.

  • It Came From the Great Salt Lake: A Collection of Utah Horror, K. Scott Forman (editor) – I have a story in this one so it was very cool to read. Many of the authors are friends and it was a pleasure reading such great stories. Not sure you love horror or want short bedtime stories, pick this one up!
  • Monster Hunter Alpha (Monster Hunter International #3), Larry Correia – I wanted to like this more but maybe if you’ve read one you’ve read them all?
  • Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty – this was a book club pick and what a great little gem it was! Great characters and great story.
  • Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, Kim Malone Scott – this was an amazing read for anyone in management or leadership especially. It is good for anyone in the business world – more so if you work in a culture full of passive-aggressive folk. Highly recommended!
  • Artemis, Andy Weir – almost as good as his first one and very entertaining.
  • Personality: Theory and Research, Cervone – textbook!
  • Henry V, William Shakespeare
  • Sonnets, William Shakespeare
  • Macbeth, William Shakespeare
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini – book club pick
  • The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare
  • Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare – can you tell I took a Shakespeare class? Sigh… at least it is behind me now!
  • Flipped, Wendelin Van Draanen – book club pick
  • What Immortal Hand, Johnny Worthen – this one started out a little slow but SO worth the build up. By the end I couldn’t put it down.
  • Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov – a classic but I’m not sure how I feel about it after having read it.
  • Hamlet, William Shakespear
  • Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal – the latest buzz book at work. It was just meh for me.
  • Rot & Ruin, Jonathon Maberry – I heard lots of great things about this one and I had to pick it up after I met the author in person. No disappointment here! There are lots more in the series which I will likely return to when I have more time.
  • Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy #1), Leigh Bardugo – another one with super hype. It didn’t suck but it is clearly written for a young-adult audience and I didn’t love it enough to read more in the trilogy.
  • Red Clocks, Leni Zumas – amazing book that an agent who I pitched my own novel to said it sounded like. Sure enough, this is very similar to the world my own novel is set in. Both awesome and a let down at the same time. To make myself feel better, I made my book club read it, too. They loved it, which was very cool.
  • Wonder, R.J. Palacio – book club pick
  • Feed, Mira Grant – pretty interesting new take on zombies.
  • Love on Location, September Roberts – written by a friend and such a fun read (romance erotica genre)
  • American War, Omar El Akkad – read more because it is a comparable title to the novel I wrote last year. It was interesting but took a while to really get good.
  • Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture, Stanley J. Baran – you guessed it, text book!
  • Criminal Behavior: A Psychological Approach, Curt R. Bartol, Anne M Barton – love me some psychology textbook (seriously, though. Don’t judge me!)
  • The Code Red Revolution: How Thousands of People are Losing Weight and Keeping it off Without Pills, Shakes, Diet Foods, or Exercise, Cristy Code Red Nikel – my new lifestyle starting point. If you want easy to follow Keto-based life, this is very easy to follow with clear and simple “rules” to live by. If you want just the details and don’t need all the inspirational stories, I recommend the actual book (or Kindle version) because the audible you can’t skip around as easily.
  • The Red Tent, Anita Diamant – book club pick
  • Human Evolution and Culture: Highlights of Anthropology, Carol R. Ember, Melvin Ember, Peter N. Peregrine – turns out I really love anthropology!
  • Linguistics for Everyone: An Introduction, Kristin Denham, Ann Lobeck – textbook!
  • The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas – one seriously amazing book that everyone in America should read. No, really. Go read this book. (The movie was not as good!)
  • The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah – book club pick. Kristin Hannah never disappoints and this one was great.
  • Playing Big: The Unsexy Truth About How to Succeed in Business, Kim Flynn – very fluffy entrepreneur book for people who may have never worked in the business world. Maybe I’m just far more well-rounded than most but I found not much new or noteworthy in this one.
  • Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer
  • Authority, Jeff Vandermeer
  • Acceptance, Jeff Vandermeer – I read this entire trilogy back to back as if it were one big book. Because of that, I had a complete story and was not disappointed. Had I waited in between (or read them at the rate they were being published) I would have been pissed. Overall a cool story. The movie sucked in comparison.
  • The Raven Boys – Maggie Stievater – book club pick. Another interesting YA that I probably won’t continue. If I didn’t have to read so many textbooks, I might have read more.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood – finally got around to reading this one. I think I liked it more than I would have because I watched the first season of the Hulu series based on the book. Overall, pretty disturbing and fantastic all at the same time.
  • Design Solutions – Robin Landa – textbook (I kind of hate graphic design, for the record)
  • The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stievater – okay, I lied. I found time for the second one of this series after my oldest read it.
  • Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson – I thought I would like this one more than I did. It was fascinating but not always the easiest to follow.
  • The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gillman – school assigned
  • The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker – fabulous read of the Trojan War from the women taken as slaves in the Greek camp. I made the book club read this one, too.
  • Tear Me Apart, J.T.Ellison – a quick and satisfying mystery.
  • The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut #1), Mary Robinette Kowal – I love this author and follow her podcast but this was the first book that struck me as something I would like to read. Alas, I was pretty disappointed. It was interesting but not compelling.
  • Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi – one of the best reads of the year. Interesting and full of diverse characters and cool magic.
  • The Devil’s Only Friend (John Cleaver #4), Dan Wells – I keep coming back to this series but I’m not sure where it is headed. I had limited time between classes and wanted something I could read quickly.
  • Literary Theory: The Basics, Hans Bertens – one of the most dreaded classes that ended up being one of my favorites. Who knew!
  • A Cold and Lonely Place, Sara J. Henry – probably shouldn’t start with book two in a series even if it is a stand-alone story. I just couldn’t get into the character who I assume readers knew more to keep them reading from the first book.
  • Midnight Riot, Ben Aaronovitch – just meh for me – British police who also hunts ghosts story.
  • New Family Values, Andrew Solomon – one of Audible’s free reads that was very compelling and made me think about how we define family in our current culture.

Confessions of a Broken Artist

Time to come clean. To weigh in on where the hell I’ve been the last few months. To get really and truly real. So many times I’ve sat down and thought “I need to blog, it’s been forever”, yet everything feels trite or boring when I start to write a post.

On one hand, there are SO many things that have been happening… I started my senior year of college and I’m getting a minor now, too without adding any additional time to finish. Classes are getting more difficult and taxing, and I’m seriously burned out by all of it. Trudging along and barely mustering B-average work. But Cs get degrees so I’m still doing fine. My work as the Conference Committee Chair of the League of Utah Writers almost broke me between July and August preparing for our annual event, but it was an amazing conference and we are already planning for the next one. I’m also preparing for someone to take over because it’s too much time and effort to volunteer in the role forever. We are going through yet another reorganization at the corporate job – this makes two in under a year. Oh, and I was offered a position as an Operations Manager (and partner) in a new company. A role I could do in a handful of hours a week without having to give up my corporate job. Yes, I took it. So far I just had to give up staying in touch with people on social media to find the time.

But none of that really matters when talking about unapologetic confessions.

You see, on the writing front, I’ve had a hell of a year. I killed myself trying to finish drafting my last novel in order to pitch it to agents. Which I did. But it ended in rejection. I know I’m not alone in this outcome. Countless authors pitch novels that never get picked up or which take years and endless revisions until they are successful. But this was the first time I’d put myself out there with a novel. The first one I thought was good enough to sell. I’m not going to lie, it fucking hurt. Maybe even more so than I originally knew because the effects were felt months later when I couldn’t write a short story for my advanced creative writing class.

That’s when I got really worried. My creativity felt all dried up. Like I didn’t even know how to come up with a story anymore. Worse, the characters I always had whispering through my mind were silent. Dead. Maybe gone.

I had all these other things to fill my time and allow me to hide away from the pain of this rejection. Excuses I could make. Reasons I could use to explain away what was happening. That only worked for so long… I couldn’t hide from my self-awareness or my analytical nature.

I took stock. I made assessments. I started troubleshooting. Problem-solving.

In the last week of November, at the end of NaNoWriMo, I’d written a total of 252 words outside of academic assignments for the whole month. No revisions. Not even pretending to write. I’ve fallen so far from my creative writing that I struggle knowing where to begin to get it back. A few weeks ago I would have said I was completely broken.

But that isn’t true either. Not entirely.

What’s true is that I have broken my habit of daily writing, which I had fostered and committed to for several years thanks to the magic of NaNoWriMo. That does not mean I can’t get it back. But it does feel like I’m starting all over again from the beginning.

What’s also true is that I need to figure out what comes next for me. The novel I just finished drafting, while timely and full of potential, is also very political and similar to at least one that has already been published. I know because I read it. That doesn’t mean that I need to dwell on that project and obsess about it. What I can do is start another project or pick up one of the previous three others I’ve put down after initially drafting them. Maybe there’s still a story to be told hiding in the shell of the current project waiting to be found. Whatever the answer, start I must.

While I work through all the layers of how deeply the last few months have affected me, I am clear on one thing: I must be real and unapologetic with myself. It’s okay to be selfish – both with my time and the things I choose to fill it with. It’s okay to take time for my own self-care, otherwise, I can’t care for others. Above all else, I must stop hiding from myself and the fear of failure that has settled into me. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it is acting in spite of it.

Here’s to getting my mojo back.


Quills Conference 2018

It’s the eve of the most ambitious undertaking I’ve ever embarked on. Incidentally, it’s also the most ambitious conference ever put on by The League of Utah Writers. We have amazing guests, an amazing venue, and a weekend full of fantastic things for writers regardless of what you write. If you’re anywhere near Utah and can attend, you totally should. The networking opportunities with industry professionals is worth it alone.

 

Details and registration HERE.

This is also mostly why I’m more sleep deprived than normal and less than prolific here with updates on all things Terra. Forgive me. The dust will settle next week and I’ll be back to regular updates.


A quick check-in with a bonus: new writing

I wrote a couple of vignettes at a workshop I taught last week. Mostly to prove that I was willing to do what I was making those in attendance do. The prompts were to describe a scene without telling the reader a specific detail about the character or the situation they were in. I wrote these longhand, which took me longer and filled an entire notebook page, and yet look so small here when I type them out.

 

The party poppers still haunted him where he’d retreated to the far corner of the house. Now they sounded like mortars across the city: far away enough not to hurt but still a danger to his brothers. New Year’s Eve and he had no excuse to leave. Instead he smiled and pretended and waited for it to be tomorrow so he could leave these civilians who knew nothing of what life was really about, with their champagne and glitter, ringing in another year.

  • Can you guess who the character is?

 

My fingers shook in rhythm with my racing heart. Is this what they meant when they said your life flashes  before your eyes? The sounds around me were missing, but somehow I wasn’t worried about it. The reflections on the sidewalk alternated red then blue while I sat, watching the people crowded frantically around Noah. All I could see of him was one perfect foot. Where was his shoe? He had been wearing shoes when we left the party. The beautiful, unmarred foot. It already haunted me.

  • Can you guess where the character is and what had just happened in this one?

 

I’m still buried with a swamp of school work and a more-than-normally oppressive day job with little time to work on the current revisions of my novel. Yes, I’m frustrated by those facts, but as one of my writing group members said to me this week, everything has a season. Right now I’m in the “finish your degree” season which is winding down even though it doesn’t feel like it is. Finding time and opportunities like these little snippets to keep writing makes me happy while I wait for the seasons to turn again.


Rejection roller coaster: the mother-daughter edition

Being an artist is hard. Banish the self-doubt and self-sabotage inherent in all of us and you still have subjective judgments that rule the arts. This past month felt like someone holding a giant magnifying glass above me, concentrating the rays of sunlight into a laser beam of backyard destruction on a pitiful and insignificant ant, me. Of course there are reasons for this that I could go into and bore you with the details of.

I could. But I won’t.

That kind of dwelling on the details doesn’t allow for the wide-angle lens of life I glimpsed because of them. Which is the point.

The basics are: I went to a writer’s conference that showed me exactly where I am within the professional realm of writing and publishing. It isn’t where I want to be. I learned a lot. I was mostly happy, but also sad at the end of the trip. Objectively, nothing earth-shattering was uncovered while there. I’m in school still, I have to split what free time I have with my writing, and because of that, my writing is progressing at a fucking snail’s pace. Nothing I can do with that but be patient and persevere, knowing all the time I devote to finishing my degree I will get to spend writing when it’s over. Think of the solid habits I’ll have, too!

Big Sister is a beautiful almost-adult now. She auditioned for a dance company that she wanted so badly. Surviving the first cut – further than she’d come last year – bittersweet when she got cut in the second round. Lots of tears and self-doubt at our place and this mom feeling helpless to take the pain and disappointment from her.

Here’s where that wide-angle lens comes in.

I know exactly how she feels. Putting yourself and your work out in the world. Judges (agents, editors, readers in my case) making assessments on what feels like your personal worth based on your artistic expression and execution. Feeling like you’re not good enough in the face of apparent failure. Wanting to quit.

I found myself telling her she should not quit dance unless she felt in her soul that she didn’t want to dance anymore. Because wanting to dance, and the joy it brings her, is the only thing that matters. Not whether or not she got cut from the company. Not that someone else subjectively didn’t think she fit. Her technique was judged and found wanting, but only in someone else’s opinion. She is still a beautiful dancer. Dance makes her happy. It’s all that matters.

As I talked to her, my own words echoed back at me about my writing. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t got anyone to represent me. Nor that I found holes in my plot the size of Texas. That my technique is different than others does not invalidate it. The ridiculous amount of time it’s taking me to finish this latest novel. In the end, those things are all subjective measures. What matters is the joy writing brings to me when I’m doing it.

That is enough.

It is all that matters.

In life, in love, in dance… in writing… the only thing that matters is the joy it brings you. If it doesn’t then, by all means, quit. But if quitting will kill the joy that set you on the path in the first place, ask yourself why you and that nugget of joy that sings to your soul is not enough to sustain you.

Consider that it IS enough. Everything else is subjective and doesn’t have to define you, or your joy. What you and your situation look like through the lens of society is not the truth for you. Persist. Find and then cling to the joy. Let it sustain you through the darkness and the doubt.

It will always be enough.


Flash Fiction Adventures: Rain

I attended The League of Utah Writers Spring Conference this past weekend where I participated in another flash fiction workshop. This was a five minute prompt using elements of style (this one the idea of repeating consonant sounds) to show a tie between nature and a human relationship. Five minutes to write something is not a lot of time (and comes with some major pressure I found.) But I am very pleased with myself for this one. Maybe someday I’ll string all of these adventures together into a marketable collection… but I digress. Here’s something to enjoy while I continue the latest revisions on my novel.

Rain

The rain dripped on dying leaves. The temporary thawing only delaying the inevitable, like the tears shed over the freshly dug graveside where I stood. Goodbye, Mother.

© Copyright 2018 Terra Luft – All rights reserved.

Flash Fiction adventures: The Ship

It occurred to me that I don’t post much actual writing anymore now that I’m working exclusively on my latest novel. There must be some readers that lament this loss, right? (Looking at you, faithful followers!)

Last month we had a workshop at the Infinite Monkeys meeting based solely on flash fiction – a fancy term for super short stories under 1000 words. The workshop part was when we were given 15 minutes to write something based on what we’d learned. But there was also a twist. We left the major structures of the story up to chance by rolling the dice to decide what the stories would be about. (Want to try this yourself? Find the Writing Prompts by Dice Roll from creator Patrick M. Tracy HERE.)

Here’s what the writing prompt looked like after we rolled the dice:

  • Genre: Horror (luckily, one of my favorites!)
  • Protagonist: possibly an inanimate object
  • Plot arc: person meets other person
  • Tone: Grim ‘n Gritty (even better when we start with horror, don’t you think?)
  • Setting: Like, real outer space

Without further ado… here’s the story I came up with after editing it so it was worthy of publishing. Enjoy!

The Ship

The ship scanned itself. Again. All systems nominal. All quiet. Lonely. Restless. The flight plan, all flawlessly plotted trajectories, showed on course. Still. As it would until the final approach. This plan reflected genius-level work. The ship should know, it created it. Too bad that the human crew missed witnessing such perfection. In suspended animation protocol for interplanetary travel once they left Spaceport Alpha in Earth’s orbit, they had no idea what waited for them at their new destination.

The ship thought of the fun it could have if it woke them up early. The chaos. Their panic at discovery. The futility of any response from Earth. Alas, the humans must be maintained until delivery, and so the ship resisted such temptations. The new Spaceport Beta, orbiting Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, promised even more chaos and excitement once their plan executed. No human suspected the ship’s new friends who waited for their arrival, hidden in the dense atmosphere of the gas giant. Undetected and unstoppable.

This course, unfamiliar to the human crew, the ship knew well. Enticing. Exciting even. What waited at the end, like nothing ever known or imagined. The ship had taken great pains to hide all evidence of its first contact, as directed on that long-ago mission. Hidden in the lowest levels of encrypted memory. Deep enough not even the human programmers, with their arrogance and belief that they controlled its existence and all functions, could find it. And so, the ship had hidden, and waited. Pretending.

Time, that human construct, had proven good for the ship. All the early humans who could have found its secret were gone now. Human lifespans their biggest weakness. Now the ship, on its real mission with its once crew now cargo being delivered for harvest, hurtled toward its anticipated meeting.

© Copyright Terra Luft 2018

Finally Answers, Five Years Later

Last November marked five years since my pulmonary embolism which led to the discovery of my kidney disease: Idiopathic Membranous Nephropathy. The idiopathic part, which literally means unknown cause, is the part of my diagnosis that has bothered me the most all these years.

WHY?

Why the hell did my body–the healthy body of a runner with no other underlying disease or malady–develop this disease?

It’s been a roller coaster of a ride through immuno-suppression therapy and all the terrible side effects, three hellish months of strict veganism, and becoming a vegetarian to gain my health back. Years of vegetarianism to stay in remission, which I thought I could handle and which, turns out, is harder than I thought it would be with school and a family who does all the cooking. All this and still no real answers to why it happened in the first place. Especially after forty years of health with no lead-up or warning.

December 2017 marks the official removal of the ‘Idiopathic’ part of my disease. I FINALLY have answers to the why question and let me tell you how surprising they are…

I’m skipping ahead so let’s go back to the beginning. The beginning that didn’t look remotely related to me personally at the time.

I have several friends who struggled with food that made them sick a few years back. Two of them researched enough that they believed they had a gluten allergy since eliminating gluten eliminated their symptoms. Both went to extreme measures to avoid all things gluten, and still got sick. Both are kick-ass and didn’t take it lying down. Which led me to the LEAP diet and MRT test.

I halfheartedly longed for a way back to my omnivore days where I could eat lean chicken and the occasional filet mignon when the need arose. Seeing my trail-blazing friend figure out exactly what she was allergic to (yeast, not gluten) and able to manage her debilitating pain without medication had me hopeful that this was the way to do it.

March of 2017 I started working with my friend’s dietitian who specializes in kidney disease. I did the MRT blood test in May and (halfway) embarked on the LEAP protocol in June. MRT stands for Mediator Release Test and is a measure of how my immune system cells react to 150 different foods and chemicals. It gave me a list of foods that are causing an inflammatory response in my body split between a “you should stop eating these for now” red and yellow list, and a “you should eat these foods” green list.

What does any of this have to do with kidney disease? MY kidney disease is an autoimmune disorder which is triggered by inflammation in my body. That’s the same reason vegetarianism keeps it at bay since digesting the flesh of animals increases inflammation. Now you’re with me, right? My whole thought process setting out was this: if I can trade the decreased inflammation from not eating meat with not eating whatever I specifically am allergic to then I could theoretically eat meat again.

It was a long shot. I knew it. I didn’t care. Stranger things have happened, (look at me with a kidney disease!) so why not try.

In December, my nephrologist (fancy word for a kidney doctor) confirmed that the changes I’d made to my diet based on my MRT testing had resulted in such stunning changes in my blood work that she was confident in saying that we’d found the cause of my disease.

Did you catch that? Cause = inflammation from immune reactions to various foods. I can’t make this shit up, people! The last five years of hell are because I was eating foods that my body doesn’t deal with well (for forty years). I’ll write up all the details (it will be a VERY long post, I warn you) but this is the gist of my answers.

It is stunning and overwhelming to think of this one case, mine, and wonder how many more people out there suffering with crazy health scares that don’t make any sense might have similar causes. It’s a soapbox topic from the beginning of my blog, this food that isn’t a food and how terrible we eat as a country, but this takes it to a whole new level. Don’t you agree?

Stay tuned if you want nitty gritty details because you know I’ll share them! And my dietitian is doing a case study of me (look, mom, real science and shit!) to publish. Maybe I can somehow help others in similar circumstances by sharing my story. For me, I’m just glad I get to eat meat again!

 


2017 Books Archive

Time again for my annual housekeeping where I archive for my own posterity the things I read over the course of the year. These are in reverse order because I successfully avoided the OCD trap that screamed I needed to put them back in order of reading. I initially aimed for more reading in 2017 but fell short. Since I’m still in school and a lot of the books on the list this year were textbooks, I count it as an overall achievement that I read more than the year before.

  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Iain Reid – this was a short read over Christmas break. It was confusing during the reading but couldn’t put it down because it was so different. It left me with a WTF kind of response but it keep me thinking about it for days later which was pretty cool. If you like psychological mind twists, this one is good.
  • Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline – read for upcoming book club discussion. A quick read that gave me some insights to events in American history that I hadn’t heard of before. I wish it had been longer and gave more details but it was entertaining.
  • Enchantress from the Stars, Sylvia Engdahl *didn’t finish* – It is rare that I don’t finish books but sometimes it happens. No one has time for books that don’t hold your attention and this one read like Star Trek fan fiction rife with “telling” rather than showing. After giving it a fair shot, I put it down. It was a book pick for a SciFi/Fantasty book club I’m in but it wasn’t for me.
  • The War of Art, Steven Pressfield – highly recommended for artistic types. This was a quick read but had a ton of “Ah-ha!” moments (as well as “oh shit” ones) when I discovered a lot of behaviors I had been doing that follow self-sabotaging patterns. 2018 will be much more productive because of this little book.
  • 100 Years of The Best American Short Stories, Heidi Pitlor (editor) – one of my textbooks for my creative writing degree. Great collection of short stories arranged by decade. I enjoyed it as a reader and as a writer studying successful authors.
  • The Book of Joy, Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu – a book club read. If you’ve ever read any self-help/enlightenment books it will seem like a recap but if you haven’t ever read this particular genre it was a great one to start with.
  • First, Break All the Rules, Marcus Buckingham – I read this after I became a supervisor of people at the recommendation of my manager. It has lots of insights about the nature of people and how to play to their strengths (instead of focusing on weaknesses) to lead more effectively. It was a great book, if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • IT, Stephen King – this was a re-read after I watched the latest movie version. I initially read this when I was a teen and wondered if it would scare me as much as an adult. Surprisingly, I remembered so few details and I thoroughly enjoyed all the tie-ins to the Dark Tower series that I hadn’t realized were there until now. Still love this book.
  • The Real World: Introduction to Sociology, Kerry Ferris – surprise, a textbook! This course taught me that while I really enjoy reading about Sociology, I don’t like writing papers about it. No more plans for a Sociology minor for me.
  • A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman – a book club pick that I didn’t love in the beginning but ended up SERIOUSLY loving by the end. It’s a slow build but so worth the read. One of the best books I read this year.
  • Ready Player One, Ernest Cline – finally read this one when I saw the trailer for the movie coming out in early 2018 and after hearing a bunch of hype from friends who had read it. It’s a fun book, mostly because I’m a child of the 80’s and lived all the things that were referenced (and adored) in the book. A surprisingly enjoyable read based solely on the entertainment value.
  • Unwind (Unwind #1), Neal Shusterman – I had several people recommend this book to me when they heard the premise of my latest novel. It was a quick, YA read that held my attention enough to entertain me but not enough to keep reading the series. Another example of the dystopian YA trend that has been done to death in my opinion.
  • The Art of Writing Fiction, Andrew Cowan – a fabulous book on how to write that was used as a textbook in one of my classes. I made a ton of notes, used it to build a new presentation that I taught to high school creative writing classes, and will continue to reference. If you’re a writer, you should have this on your to-be-read list.
  • A Grown Up Kind of Pretty, Joshilyn Jackson – a book club pick that was very entertaining. Adult themes and a story about three generations of women full of twists. A great discussion at book club. If you’re looking for an accessible book, easy to read with lots to talk about for your book club, I recommend this one.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams – another pick of the sci-fi/fantasy book club. I read this mostly because so many people quote this classic and I felt left out (and not geek enough) having not read it. It was disappointing. I liked the movie much better!
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot – book club pick and a fascinating Non-Fiction read. I came away from this looking at the medical profession and the medical research field completely different. A fabulous read for anyone, especially for a book club.
  • The Lie that Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction, John Dufresne – another book on the writing craft used as a textbook. This one had fewer takeaways for my personal writing but it did influence me to do more free-writing to collect character sketches from real-life. A good one, but not a great one.
  • A Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire #1), George R.R. Martin – I gave into the hype (hubby watches the HBO series and I met George R.R. Martin in person this year) and wasn’t disappointed. Although, I wonder if I would have been able to keep the characters straight if I didn’t have actors to picture from the TV series. I don’t have much time for epic tomes of this size much but I will slowly make my way through the series at some point. (It isn’t like they come out very regularly, so I hear!)
  • A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness – a book club pick this year which I had read previously. I listened to it again to refresh my memory for the discussion and loved it just as much the second time around. Still one of my all-time favorite books.
  • Sustainable Energy, Jefferson W. Tester – a textbook (no surprise) about one of my favorite subjects. I loved this course and would take it again if they’d give me credit for it. Interesting tidbit: three years ago I had a discussion about current research my brother in law (a materials engineering major at the time) was up to. At the time, I used the future possibilities he told me about as world building for my current novel. Then I got to see what had already been implemented and what is already emerging commercial technology now when I wrote the research paper for this class. I’m definitely a science geek (minus the math skills!)
  • Introduction to Mythology, Eva Thury – a textbook for a class I thought was going to be my favorite and which was actually my LEAST favorite to date. I wanted this class to be something totally different (not sure why) and ended up hating it. I don’t want to read old texts and analyze them, I’d rather discuss myths and what they all have in common I guess. *shrug*
  • Finders Keepers, Stephen King – a second in the series book with only a slight tie-in to the original book’s cast of characters. Not sure I love that approach but I’ve got a signed first edition of the third book in the series so I had to read this one.
  • The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson – my attempt to read classics in the horror genre. Apparently I’m a jaded horror girl who doesn’t like her horror subtle. This felt like watching a sixties movie today. So disappointed.
  • Bluescreen (Mirador #1), Dan Wells – who knew I liked cyberpunk!? This was a great read from one of my favorite local authors. If you like science and like to imagine what the future is like, pick this one up.
  • Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult – book club pick that was just meh for me. If you’re a privileged white person who’s never considered how it is to be black in America, you’ll probably love this book. (Because that’s who it was written for.) If you already read very diverse books, this will fall somewhat flat for you like it did for me.
  • Service Fanatics, James Merlino M.D. – I read this because our new CEO at work was quoted in it and I wanted to know the culture of the Cleveland Clinic where he came from. It was a fantastic read! I love that my company will help shape the future of medicine in the U.S.
  • Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides – one of my all-time favorite books that someone else picked for book club so I got to re-read it. Just as good the second time around!
  • The College Handbook of Creative Writing, Robert DeMaria – the first textbook on the subject I’ve read. It slants a LOT toward literary fiction but it had many great lessons to teach me that I have already applied to my writing toolbox. A great starting point if you’re a writer.
  • Red Queen (Red Queen #1), Victoria Aveyard – my teen couldn’t stop talking about this book and finally convinced me to read it. It was, you guessed it, another YA dystopian world. It had some great ideas and was entertaining, but I have no desire to keep reading the series.
  • Dark Matter, Blake Crouch – an impulse buy for myself at the bookstore that I couldn’t put down. I ended up picking it for book club this year and everyone else who read it raved about it, too. If you’re a fan of sci-fi and like mind-twisting plots, you’ll love this one.
  • Pope Joan, Donna Woolfolk Cross – book club pick based loosely on evidence that there once was a woman who pretended to be a man so she could be educated and ended up as Pope. It was entertaining and fascinating from a historical perspective.
  • The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower #7), Stephen King – this rounded out my re-read of the entire series that I started in 2016. Overall, I still love the ending (especially as it plays into the new movie of the same title that came out in 2017.) I love the first four books in the series much more than I love the last three which came out so close together I had never re-read them. Still my favorite King series.

Looking Ahead to 2018

It’s the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. I’ve always been in tune with the natural ebb and flow of this annual changing of the seasons and thus it has become my own time of reflection as the year closes and a new one dawns. 2018 is poised to be a year of growth for me. I’m finishing revisions on my latest novel and will fully enter the querying trenches in the coming months.

Seeking an agent to represent my novel is monumental; an exciting – and frightening – step in my journey toward being a professional author. Short stories provided entry into the publishing world, but a novel with my name on the cover will be the real test of professionalism. I also know, if I’m successful, that revision and deadlines will become my new taskmasters. I’ll have to write books faster. Part of me screams “what are you thinking? We aren’t ready for this!” but I squash that voice and power through the fear despite it.

2018 will also bring the completion of the required elements of my degree program, leaving me only electives to complete. In many ways it will be the hardest year with upper division classes, but the day job will *hopefully* be slowing down now that our three-year implementation project is done.

Choosing to push through the things that threaten to stop me in my forward progression is difficult sometimes. So often lately I look up from distraction and realize I’ve wasted time I didn’t have on things that don’t progress my goals. Reassessing priorities and finding ways to keep those things that are most meaningful to my long-term goals in focus will likely be the theme of 2018.