Category Archives: Everyday Life

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.


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!

 


Putting The Work First – My 2017 Report

I’ve been a little radio silent this year. Maybe you noticed? Here’s the truth: being a working mom with a full time job and going to school full time took me to my limit. Not to mention all the things I didn’t say no to that I had to cram into the extra spaces.

My day job moved to new offices about this time last year and my commute is an hour each way. Each. Way. Some days it takes a toll, some days I rejoice in the extra time to multi-task homework. The work itself at my day job constantly evolves and now I’m on call again every other week. Facing a division-wide reorganization at the end of the year, I’m hopeful that things will settle down and I can go back to fitting all my work into a forty hour week instead of the fifty or more it takes now. We shall see.

In looking back on the course of this year, it was a lot of saying ‘No’ to others and saying ‘Yes’ to me. I only attended two author events this year – StokerCon in Long Beach as an attendee, and LTUE as a guest panelist. I’ve got a well-oiled machine in my Infinite Monkeys chapter and this year’s motto was if anyone suggested adding something new to what we do, they had to head it up. So far it has worked really well. We are kicking off an attempt to publish an anthology open only to our members and I have zero involvement in the day-to-day project. Fully delegated. It feels super refreshing. I assembled an amazing Conference Committee who successfully pulled off TWO conferences this year and I still have not qualified for another Presidential Service Award, which was my goal headed into this year. Okay, that isn’t completely truthful – I did qualify for the Bronze level and likely will have enough for the Silver level by the end of the year, but I definitely will not qualify for the Gold level like last year. Goal achieved!

School has been amazing – I’m a junior now and working through my degree program instead of all the general ed requirements I had to do the first year. The last few months of coursework forced me to write a query letter and synopsis of my latest novel. It was a fantastic experience to be forced to take these steps whether I was ready to do so or not. Coincidentally, it also meant I was ready when there were out of town agents at the League of Utah Writer’s Fall Conference last month to pitch to.

Here’s the biggest news of the year so far: I pitched my novel to those out there who could get it published. My first choice of literary agencies wants to see it. We even talked about book two, which I hadn’t even considered.

Now, I’m working on the finishing touches of my continuity edits so I can get it to my editor, polish it all up, and submit it to *hopefully* my future agent. Oh, and just in case that doesn’t pan out, there is another acquisitions editor (who’s also a fellow Utahn) whose publisher wants to see it as well.

Surreal. This is what being a working writer feels like.

This is what stepping away from everything and protecting my writing time to focus on achieving my own goals first feels like.

I can do better – at delegating and trusting others to do things as competently as I do. At relegating social media (all of it) until after I’m done writing every day. At drinking more coffee so I can sleep less and be more productive. But I still did better than I had ever dreamed when I started out this year, struggling through January.

I’m taking six days off from the day job for Thanksgiving. To finish mid-terms, to work through this round of edits for my novel, and to spend time with family. I’ll also be thinking about how to say yes to even less things next year so I can write faster.

Writing first – the motto for 2017 – has paid off handsomely so far. I can’t wait to see how I can improve on this approach and take whatever the next step in this journey will be.


Coming Up For Air, or Finding Balance in 2017 Update

You’ll remember that I headed into 2017 hoping for a better experience than what I had going on at the end of 2016 (read the original post HERE if you missed it…) and armed with a plan to make it happen. Either I did a really good job of implementing the plan or I’m getting really good at juggling all the things in my life now. (Jury is still out on that one…) Things do feel better and I’m seeing positive results in my stress levels. I’m here to share some insights if you want all my secrets. Why are you reading my blog if it isn’t to get my secrets, right? *wink*

My powers of saying NO and delegating everything I can are becoming well-honed skills. This is still not always easy for me. I always wish I was doing the things that I am missing out on when I know others are enjoying them without me, thanks to my raging case of “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out). But practice makes everything easier. When I didn’t die after not participating in every author event that was available to me the last six months, I realized I could survive. I also realized that when a person is found with the right skills to hand off something successfully, they are an invaluable find. I have so many people around me who are rocking things that I’ve given them, and making my life easier in the process. If you’re one of these – you know who you are – thank you!

My efforts to break the constant draw of being connected to social media is still a daily struggle. However, limiting the times and ways I get notified of things on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter has been amazing. We all know I’m addicted so it isn’t like I’m not going to check in on social media whenever I have down time (like the end of the day, whenever I’m on public transit, at lunch, etc.) so I’m not missing things. The difference now is that I’m not distracted by notifications that pop up and interrupt whatever else I’m focused on. Seriously, if you are getting these kinds of notifications outside of the social media site itself you may not even realize how disruptive they are until you turn them off.

The best part of all of these efforts is the amount of writing I’m doing again – even while maintaining a 3.9 GPA and consistently hitting the President’s List at SNHU. I’ve written two short stories that I’m extremely proud of, POETRY that I’ve never been inspired to write but now do, and I’m working on my novel consistently. It’s funny how everything I do looks the same to observers – me, sitting in front of a laptop in various places around the house. Is she doing homework? Working on League business? Messing around on social media? I didn’t realize this until I was sharing with my hubby how great it was to be almost to the 70K mark on the novel and getting toward the ending. He was surprised to hear that I was even writing. His assumption that I was always swamped with coursework (or distracted by Facebook) was eye-opening. Nope, I’m doing ALL the things now that I have arranged my life for better effectiveness.

None of these things are new insights, I was already seeing some success by the time I originally blogged about them. What is fabulous to know is that now they are habits rather than merely new and promising. Sustainable behaviors are always more effective for long-term results. What steps are you taking to increase your success?


The End of an Era

As I settle into my new normal and take a minute to look around, many things are shifting. May was a monumental milestone.

Life as a dance mom with competition dancers is officially behind me. Big Sister is headed for high school and is leaving the competition dance studio behind her for dance company endeavors instead. While it’s been a solid decade of crazy schedules and running kids to and fro between home and the dance studio all year, extra practices in February and March, and weekends spent sitting in high school auditoriums or on bleachers in the gymnasium all day on Saturdays from March to May every year, it’s officially over. Baby Sister likes dance but loves the friends and socializing AT dance far more than the dancing itself. Every week it was a struggle to make her go to dance classes and it isn’t worth the time, energy or money to force it. She will take a dance class with her bestie for a very manageable hour a week and we will still have our evenings and weekends in the spring free. The one thing I won’t have to ever say again: “I can’t, we have dance”. I have mixed feelings about this. While it will certainly free up a lot of family time, I will miss the connections to the dance community and the family at our dance studio. We will replace this will family camping and other things we haven’t been able to do much of easily.

The passion Big Sister had for dance, Baby sister has for skiing. She begged her daddy to take her every weekend and even now, she was begging for skiing last weekend. Spring in Utah is a wondrous thing with the weather sunny and warm but snow still at the higher elevations and at least one ski resort still open. The girls are both fabulous skiers. Where it used to be mommy-daughter weekends around dance, now it will be daddy-daughter weekends on the ski slopes. It does my heart good to know they will have things they only do with their dad that will create memories to look back on well into adulthood.

Speaking of adulthood… Big Sister is headed to High school… and driving… and dating! How the hell am I old enough for that to be true? (yeah, yeah, I know I have friends who have kids that are already married and pumping out grand-babies… it doesn’t help me accept the new reality of my life!) My oldest has just over two years and then she herself will be an adult. Time is fleeting.

I’m officially in management at the corporate day job now. A step I said I wanted a year or so ago and one of the main motivators for finishing my degree. Now that I’m here, it’s a lot of work, which I knew about. What I hadn’t anticipated was how hard it would be to give up all the things I do really well to let others do them instead while I lead their efforts and create the overall strategy. It’s a pretty insane shift required in my psyche and I’m hoping I don’t royally fuck it up. I’ve got a couple of great employees so far and I’m sure I’ll figure it all out at some point. Because that’s how I roll.

It’s been a year, almost to the day, since I decided to return to school and finish my degree. Before I even realized it, I’ve got almost a year of classes under my belt. While it feels like I just started and am still adjusting, it’s also flying by. When I look at all the classes that I have completed and the ever-shortening list of ones I have left before I’m done, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming.

I’ve been focusing so much on school that I’ve had very little time for writing my own creative works. Don’t get me wrong, I’m doing plenty of writing each week, it just isn’t in the form of my own stories. I’m still hovering at about two-thirds done with my latest novel and have written several short stories so far this year, but I would have had more to show for a year of writing if I hadn’t also been working on my degree. The good news is, this term I have writing courses instead of literature and science courses and general ed is behind me, which is fantastic. I know I’m becoming a better writer because of the courses I’m taking. Catch-22 right there. Because I don’t have a ton of time on top of the priorities I am currently chasing, I have taken somewhat of a hiatus from doing author events this year. It is proving to be both a good thing and a sad thing. My fear of missing out on adventures and experiences that others in my local writing community are doing rears its ugly head at every turn. But when I stop and think about how much my focus can remain on my writing because of it, I admit it is a good choice. I’m getting really good about saying no to things. Practice makes perfect, apparently.

As I close the chapter of dance mom insanity and look ahead to all the things I’ve still got going on that fill every day to the brim, my heart is happy. I’m living a full life, a life I love, and squeezing every ounce of fulfillment from each day. I lost a co-worker this past week to a sudden illness and it was a sobering reminder that every day could be our last, much like it could have been mine once not so long ago. I’m grateful I’m still here to enjoy this thing I call life.


Advice and perspective from my younger self

One of the best things about Facebook is the “On This Day” feature. This week, my memories included a bit of irony from a previous post two years ago. I was deep in the throws of a serious pity party about how much time I hadn’t gotten that week to write while I was deep in the first draft stage of my latest novel. I gave myself the permission to be too busy that week of life getting in the way, sharing the epiphany that every week is not the same and sometimes you aren’t productive. And it’s okay.

Today I look back and laugh at how silly I was and what I thought the picture of “busy” was back then. That was before I was in leadership in the League of Utah Writers. Before I planned large conferences for hundreds of people in my spare time. Before I had returned to school full time. Before I had two kids on a dance team. Before I was a manager at the day job. Before I had an hour commute each way to work every day…

The lesson is the same now as it was then, just the perspective has shifted. If I could go back in time to those blissful days full of all the time in the world to write if I didn’t have anything else scheduled I would be hard pressed to turn it down. But when I’m being honest with myself, I have a much fuller life now thanks to all the things I have added in the past couple of years and I likely wouldn’t change a thing.

Doing all the things is also much easier with a solid support system. I’ve added a level of insanity while I finish my degree but I have traded away the cooking, grocery shopping, laundry and house cleaning to others in order to do it. Most of that now falls on my children and my ever-indulgent and uber-supportive husband who is my biggest fan cheering me on while he takes up the slack. Today, I remind everyone who’s watching that you never know what you’re capable of until you stretch yourself to the furthest limits in pursuit of your dreams. Just protect yourself from burnout and maintain balance in all things. Once that’s achieved, you’re unstoppable.


Finding Better Balance in 2017

The Universe has a way of sending me exactly what I need, when I need it. As I wrapped up 2016, I reflected on the year. While I had stayed on top of all the things I’d said yes to (and then some that I inherited out of familial duty) with most of my sanity intact, I hadn’t accomplished as much as I wanted to or had set out to do. Keeping up isn’t always the same thing as being effective, I found.

Confession time: I had a really rough January.

I spent the last half of 2016 teetering at the edge of losing all the things I was juggling just trying to stay on top of everything. I volunteered enough hours in my several roles within the League of Utah Writers that I won a really prestigious award (when I’ve officially been awarded it, I’ll share details!) but I hadn’t completed the novel I’d been on track to finish when the year started.

I still haven’t.

A lot of this is because I decided (almost on a whim) to return to college to finish my degree. However, that wasn’t the only reason if I was being completely honest with myself. In the darkest moments of January I actually resented my shiny prestigious award. It represented concrete evidence of over 500 hours that I’d given to people besides me and my writing.

I spent 2016 doing things that were amazing. Don’t get me wrong. But much of it was at the expense of my own dreams and goals. I had done it all, except what made me happy and what meant the most.

Here’s where the Universe comes in. I follow a blogger and fellow writer who is a productivity expert. She supplies me with my yearly statistics and writing progress tracker and I’m in an online writing group she started. I don’t know her personally but she changed my life by writing about her own similar struggles last year. When I read her blog post reflecting about it, I realized just how ineffective I’d been last year at the things that really mattered to me.

I got to take a turn with my friends receiving, rather than giving, support and talked through a ton of these things with Hubby. Hard as it is to hear “I told you so”, he HAD been telling me this was where I was headed all year long. I just hadn’t believed him, thinking I had it in the bag and could handle whatever life threw at me. I was wrong.

Yes, me. Wrong.

Mark your calendars. This might not happen again for eighty years, folks!

What I realized from all of this is that my personal productivity was suffering because I was not focusing on the right things. I was doing everything believing I was being successful and effective and in reality I was neither. I started taking stock of things I did and evaluating if they were the right things to be spending my time and energy on based upon whether doing them would bring me happiness or achieve my own goals. When I approached things from this place, it was much easier to say no to things without my FOMO (fear of missing out) rearing up.

I spent February implementing changes and am in a much better place because of it. Here’s a rundown of the subtle changes I made that had the most impact.

FACEBOOK LAST

I moved Facebook (and all the other social media I do) last in order of things I do each day. I thought I was already doing this since I usually set aside specific time every day for that. The small change I made was to stop getting notifications that popped up when I would get a new message or someone would interact with me online. I was getting them so I would know if something pressing came up that I could handle easily. These things I thought kept me on top of things were actually Unscheduled Interruptions. Once I eliminated them, it was easy to see how much. I still can see the total number of notifications as a passive thing if I happen to glance at my phone over the course of the day. But not knowing the details of what I’m missing gives me the freedom to “do” my social media on my own time after the things that matter most are done. I do this even for email – which surprised me. But, the idea of keeping up on email and being reactive to requests doesn’t support the reality of getting the right things done. Let’s face it, email was created as a way to communicate without the need for instant response.

SHORT STORY A MONTH

I knew when I enrolled in school that my writing time would be cut in half at best and I was right. I lost steam on the novel and found it harder to pick up seamlessly when I only had stolen moments to write. But I still have stories in me and I’m much happier when I’m writing. So I committed to what’s left of my writing group to write a story a month with specific deadlines. We’ve only been at it for a month but January was successful. By the end of the year, I’ll have at least twelve drafted stories that I can have at my disposal when that perfect opportunity presents itself without stressing about how I’ll find the time. Making my writing the first thing I do when I have free time has kept the focus on my own creativity.

DELEGATION

This one is a tough one for me. But it’s been a year with my fellow leaders within the League and I’ve discovered others who are just as anal and committed to getting things done as I am. Knowing what each of their strengths (and weaknesses) are and who has what specific skills has allowed me to trust more and more things to others. I also get to be in charge of building a team to split up the work of putting on conferences and it’s going extremely well. Much more so than where I was a month ago when I was ready to quit completely so I could spend all my free time on my own writing. Bottom line, I love the work I get to do to help others achieve their dreams and find opportunities within the writing community to grow. I wouldn’t trade it but I’ve also found a way to make it work better within the boundaries of my life.

Spending time on what is really important to me and focusing my efforts on activities that drive my goals, not just crossing off things on a list, has made a huge difference for me. The key for me is mindfulness about what each thing I’m doing and how it is contributing to those things that matter most to me.

Shout out to Jamie Raintree, without whom this journey out of my dark place would have taken forever! Here’s to a fantastic and productive 2017.


Lessons Learned: The Adult College Life, Overachiever Version

If you’ve been with me on this journey of mine for any amount of time, you know I pride myself in being an overachiever. I’ve always been driven and when I find something I want, I make it happen. I don’t know how, it’s just the way I’m wired.

A current glimpse of the large things I’m juggling include full time job where I daily get handed new processes to develop from nothing, motherhood/parenting/spouse duties otherwise known as adulting, full time college, League of Utah Writers chapter president and state board duties including developing a new position for conference committee chairman, finishing my current novel. This is my baseline as I like to think of it.

I’m halfway through my second term of college – the one big thing that I’ve added and arguably the biggest thing I’ve taken on in a while. Terms are 9 weeks long, with one class at a time considered part time, two classes full time. The first term I eased in with a single class – English Composition I. It took a few weeks to figure out how to adjust my schedule and allow enough study time to complete the assignments on time but the material was easy-peasy. Because it was writing. By midterms I was feeling like a pro and I sailed through the rest of the term.

Arguably this probably gave me a false sense of how “easy” it was going to be to transition to full time the next term.

Second term (the one I’m currently in the middle of) I took the planned leap and committed to full time. Honestly I don’t know if I can maintain this load, but I also don’t want to have to deal with school for longer than I have to so I’m sucking it up and dealing with the insanity in order to get it done as quickly as possible. What did my counselor and I determine would be the best options for me? The only things left in my first year requirements, of course. What were these two classes? English Composition II – how hard could it be given how easy the first one was – and Applied Finite Mathmatics – the one and only required math class I have.

You can see how I was lulled into a false sense of how easy this term was going to be, can’t you? What I have found is that it is NOTHING like I thought it would be. My second English Comp class is a research paper – which doubled how long it takes to do every assignment compared to last term. And math? Math that was touted as the easiest option for me is like having to learn a foreign language. And has lectures that doubled the amount of time I had anticipated I would need for each week.

All this gave me a level of stress the first week that I’m sure you can imagine. I thought I knew but I didn’t know and it took a couple of weeks to adjust – again – to what my expectations were compared to the reality that I had.

Which is when my inability to say no came back to bite me in the ass. Hard.

Ten months ago – long before I ever dreamed I’d be back in college – I said yes to something and then promptly forgot about it since it was a future project. Plenty of time to think about it later. In other words, perfect storm perfectly set up.

Week three of this, my first full-time term, corresponded to the deadline of this project I’d committed to last year. In a week of school insanity, I had to also read 500 pages of writing to judge the submissions most worthy, in my opinion, to be included in an anthology. In fairness, I had two weeks to complete this reading but I burned the first week suffering from my annual fall-allergies-feels-like-a-cold sickness that had me completely unproductive.

I got through it but not without missing many of my deadlines. Two of my assignments were late and I blew the deadline for my selections to the editor by almost a week. But I got it all done. I had many a meltdown and felt completely overwhelmed on too many occasions that week, but I got it done. My children and husband survived, barely, despite the raging stress-ball of crazy that the uber-sleep deprived version of me turned into.

Lesson learned: don’t put off thinking of the future projects that are looming when you’re operating this close to the upper limit of capacity every day. I’m now pouring over my memory banks for other time bombs of “yes, I can do that and I’ll think about the ‘how’ later” that might be waiting for me up ahead.

For now, I’m afloat, and optimistic that I really can do all of this, even though – for the first time ever – I wake up in the morning and wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I am capable of this time. Stay tuned for updates!

 


Messing with my brainwaves… literally

Some may call me melodramatic. I’ve been known to earn the title on occasion, it’s true. But this is not one of those times. I recently lost my way because of a silly app with enough real science behind it to be at least slightly dangerous.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning…

Hubby is the world’s lightest sleeper and has a white noise machine. When he was working night shift, it was an essential part of his sleep routine including piping it in through headphones while he slept in order to drown out the daytime noises. Now that he and I sleep at the same time again, at NIGHT, when the rest of the world is also quiet, he hasn’t been using it.

Months ago a friend gushed about this app she uses to train her brain for all sorts of things, raving about how effective she found it. At the time, I filed it away thinking I don’t need such things since my brain is a healthy one.

A few weeks ago, Hubby was complaining that he wasn’t getting great sleep, constantly waking up at the slightest sound, then having a hard time getting back to sleep. A synapse fired, remembering my friend and her miracle app. I went searching for it in true troubleshooting/problem solver style.

A day later, app successfully identified and downloaded, I shared it with Hubby and we came up with a compromise in white noises we could both sleep with. What I didn’t tell him about was the feature of adding a “brainwave” frequency underlying the white noise. I was kind of skeptical about it but thought what the hell. I picked the deep sleep brainwave thinking it couldn’t hurt and would certainly help Hubby if it worked.

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I slept like shit that night. My sleep tracker confirmed it.

Which I thought was weird since I usually sleep like the dead.  It couldn’t be the white noise since that had never bothered me before when Hubby had used it. Which meant it was the brainwave frequency nonsense which was supposed to make me sleep better.

Hubby, of course, reported a much better night sleep-also pointing to the same conclusion that there was something to the brainwaves. So, I picked a different frequency – this one for lucid dreaming – and tried again the next night, hoping that frequency would benefit us both.

I slept better but it wasn’t my intense void of recharging where I lay my head down, close my eyes, go to sleep and never wake up until the alarm goes off. No, that night was full of crazy dreams that left me feeling like I’d run around all night either avoiding people trying to kill me or searching out those avoiding me. More evidence that there was some truth to the frequency effects.

Luckily, Hubby didn’t like that one either.

Then I found the magical frequency labeled stress relief. No crazy dreams, no restless sleep, just a nice night waking refreshed. For both of us. Bonus.

That was about a month ago.

Fast forward to last weekend when I became fully self aware of a disturbing development. I didn’t feel like myself and hadn’t for at least a week, probably longer if I was being truthful. Nights of mindless television – ME, watching television! – instead of writing. No drive for anything beyond the bare minimum every day and none of my signature zeal, joy or living out loud. I could barely muster enough “give a shit” to shower on the weekends. I had stopped looking forward to exciting events.

I was not myself.

I’d been quietly chewing on these developments for about a week, deep down worrying I’d developed some kind of depression. (It would serve me right if I had since I quietly gloat that I’m immune to such things whenever my close friends who suffer with such challenges are going through their rough patches.)

I was shopping with my daughters and randomly stated to my oldest that I hadn’t been feeling like myself. She instantly had a theory on why. (Immediate troubleshooting! I’m so proud.) It was her who zeroed in rather quickly that it could be the brainwave app messing with me. Why did she suspect this and why was she so adamant? Because she’d had similar issues where she didn’t feel the same after listening to the brainwave frequencies-something she did while awake rather than asleep.

The answer I came up with was astounding: I had eliminated all of my stress and there was nothing left to drive me toward achieving anything or pushing myself. We were sitting in a restaurant. I immediately pulled out my app and tried to solve the problem.

What other frequency could I use to get back some of my drive (aka stress of all things!)? I found one labeled Intense Focus and dialed it up. I kid you not, five minutes later I was already feeling better and was not in the funk I’d been wallowing in for weeks.

That night we listened to the Intense Focus wavelength all night.

Miracle of miracles, I woke up the next day and all of the funk and weirdness was gone. I woke right up, no lethargy. I was jumping from one thing to the next, juggling all the things I usually do with my signature gusto. My brain was sharp, no longer under a dark cloud.

Which means that now I’m paranoid of every one of these brainwave frequencies and what it means for us as a society. What if every single person was being altered with a mere frequency pulse of sound? If it could derail me-the overachiever extraordinaire-no one is immune! Okay, melodrama aside, it is a tad worrisome that the science behind this technology is observable and that the effects are not always beneficial.

We’ve stopped using the brainwaves part of the app at night.

I’ll leave the worrying to others and look at this on a positive note. I have discovered the real secret ingredient that makes my life work and I’ll never try to eliminate it again! I love you, my stress, for without you I am nothing!


Testing the Overachiever to the Max

For years I’ve prided myself in being an overachiever. Made it part of my life’s motto. Labeled myself as “Writer, Runner, Overachiever” when I first started writing as a professional. Many things have changed in the past years. Running has been replaced with yoga for a time while I healed. My corporate day job takes fifty hours a week instead of forty now. But I’m still an overachiever. It’s always been hard for me to say no to things if I think I can commit the time required. I could always give up something frivolous, like television and eight hours of sleep every night, to add something I wanted to do. Now, with my responsibilities to the League of Utah Writers I’ve been pushed to the maximum. There is nothing else to give up.

Which is why returning to college this fall to finish my degree is probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I’m doing it anyway. I’m now a sophomore at Southern New Hampshire University thanks to my transfer credits from my first two years of college back in the nineties.

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Why the hell would I do something this insane?

Because after twenty five years as a working professional I’ve finally hit the ceiling of promotion potential without a college degree. Some may say, ‘who cares, you’ve got a great job now, why worry?’ Except I have a development plan that includes promotion into management. Something I can’t do without a degree. So, here I go – back to college at age forty four.

The best part, and what makes any of this feasible in my mind, I’m getting an English degree in Creative Writing.  I’m old enough to know exactly what I want to do when I grow up this time around. While my degree will benefit me in my corporate job (a piece of paper is a piece of paper), it benefits me just as much as a writer. I get to work on writing projects as part of my coursework, which means the next two to three years will be enjoyable on top of all the added stress. Tackling school without having to completely give up my writing is a righteous bonus in my book.

Classes start mid-August. Which is now my deadline to finish drafting my novel so I can get it out to editors and querying it before I have to figure out how to be a college student. Luckily for me, I found a program I can do online while everyone else is sleeping so it won’t take too much adjustment. Wish me luck. Here’s hoping my years of overachieving has prepared me for this ultimate test of my skills.

If any of you reading this are still in school, let this be a lesson to finish your college education when you’re young. Trying to go back later is a mighty pain in the ass and it never gets any cheaper!


Staying Focused Through Temptation

Sticking with the long vision – and hard work – of completing my current novel (the one I hope to be my debut novel) has become more challenging than I anticipated. Especially with the lure of a writing contest.

I knew the minute I heard about this contest that I would be extremely tempted to pause and crank out a short story. After all, I’m really good at them now! That little voice in my head started whispering, beckoning, tempting me with the potential of another publishing credential. That voice is good at getting into my psyche, but I resisted. I vowed not to stop work on this novel until the first draft was finished.

Yes, vowed, I did. (Insert Yoda voice of course!)

This oh-so-tempting writing contest is put on annually by The League of Utah Writers. As a chapter president in the League, it’s my job to promote it among my chapter members. Turns out, I’m so good at motivation, I sucked myself right into distraction.

I told myself that I had two pieces I’d already written which I could enter without having to change anything about my current work plan. I committed to the chapter coordinator that I had a short story (the horror story that I had under contract with a publisher last year who flaked out without ever publishing it, and a personal essay I’d been trying to find a home for but know nothing about that particular market). That’s easy, right? Two things, already done, ready to go.

Back to the very efficiently run chapter that I lead… the one focused on supporting our members in getting critique and feedback to help polish and perfect the entries before the deadline. Yes, because we are that magnanimous and truly care about the success of each other. But also because we threw down the proverbial gauntlet with the chapter who consistently wins most of the prizes and we wanted to make sure we had the best possible outcomes.

Next thing I know, four people had read my non-fiction piece and given me feedback. I’ve never written creative non-fiction before and it turns out that piece was nowhere near ready. So I rewrote it using the valuable critique I had gotten from my chapter group.

It was that easy… to get sucked into distraction.

So easy, in fact, that an entire week went by without having written a single word on my novel. Something I can’t afford during the first draft. If I lose momentum, take myself out of the story, the world I’m capturing on the page starts to fade at the edges. Starts to come apart at the seams so it’s no longer coherent in my mind.

I found myself staring at my project not quite knowing where it was heading or where my mind had been going the last time I’d written. Luckily I’ve trained myself to think like a business person and not a creative person who, left to my own devices, would continue to flit through projects with no solid plan.

I took action…

When asked where I was with my second re-write of my contest entry, I said it was on hold. I know it might only take me a couple of weeks to get it done. I know it would be worth every minute and that I would grow as a writer. (Because everything I write grows me as a writer.) But the truth is, I need to be focused on the plans that I’ve made – like a business plan. I said as much and the response was swiftly accepted with no judgement. It was anticlimactic and I felt great after.

Difficult as it sometimes is, I am the boss when it comes to my writing and I’ve said that priority number one is getting this novel drafted. Stick with it I must – no matter how difficult that is.


All Is Quiet, Or Is It?

I realized that if you’re following me solely on my website that it’s been fairly quiet the last few weeks. You might assume that means not much is happening, picture me lounging on the couch, sipping an adult beverage. Eating bon bons. If only that were true!

The lull in updates and commentary here indicates a far different situation. Once again, I might or might not have embarked on more than I can keep up with. How is this possible? I was just as involved with a writing organization last year as I am now with my new President gig. My day job isn’t any more demanding than last year. My husband doesn’t work nights anymore so with him here at night to take some of the load I should be ahead of the game. I learned how to say No! So what the hell is going on?

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I forgot one giant detail. I didn’t have to do the Dance Mom thing with Big Sister last year. It was bliss which I did not appreciate and now is gone. Welcome back twelve to eighteen HOUR days, every weekend, sitting on bleachers in high school gymnasiums. I could write during that time. Except I’ll have a six year old in tow, who wants to follow in her sister’s footsteps next year, and will have to be entertained. I still hold out hope I can get some extra writing in over the next two months of dance season, even if it means shoving an electronic device in her line of vision to accomplish it.

I have a deadline – self imposed but still a deadline – to get my novel drafted by May. Not only because I want to pitch it to a publisher – a hand-picked publisher via an inside track with one of their editors – who will be a World Horror Con. Which is a big enough reason alone. But, I also need to go back to school and finish my degree so it doesn’t hinder me with the day job anymore. I know I can’t write and be a college student at the same time. I assume it will only take me six months to finish my degree. In that time I could be shopping the novel around for a home. Querying doesn’t take as many hours, right? Wishful thinking? Perhaps. Call me a dreamer.

I haven’t fully committed to the school thing and logistics are far from being worked out on both the scheduling and the financial fronts but it keeps coming up. I think it’s the Universe pushing me into action. To test my theory, or so I tell myself when I wonder why I didn’t say no to this one, I enrolled in a month-long workshop with three classes a week AND homework this month. No, I did not know it was that intense when I enrolled (on a whim of course).  It’s a fabulous workshop taught by a very successful author about the art of revision. The knowledge will not be wasted and I’ll know if I am capable of adding the school insanity if I survive the month and keep up with everything else in life. I’ll let you know how that goes.

If I’m quiet here, know it isn’t because I don’t have anything going on. It’s because I have too much going on and I’m working hard to get a novel out for those of you who keep clamoring for more, more, more. (Something I only ever dreamed of.) In the meantime, if you’ve picked up a copy of “It Came From the Great Salt Lake” and liked my story, I’d love it if you left a review so other people could stumble across it, too.

Thanks as always for sharing this journey with me!