Category Archives: Everyday Life

Observations from Six Weeks of Quarantine

It has literally been six weeks of quarantine due to COVID-19 – a novel coronavirus spreading mayhem and death across the globe. The first weeks everything happened so fast and we all scrambled to adjust as quickly as possible. So much so that March and much of April was essentially lost in a roller coaster of emotions and reactions. Highs and lows and everything in between.

Image source: CDC

How will history remember this time where the entire world shut down and economies shed all the non-essential and superfluous trappings of society in an attempt to slow the infection rate, so hospitals could treat and save as many lives as possible? It depends – like it always seems to – on where you lie on the political and religious spectrums. And in the US, it also depends on which state you live in, since there has yet to be a coordinated national response.

The US is divided along party lines. One side focused on responding to a pandemic threat to public health – one they saw coming as far back as January and to which Federal government did nothing to respond to until over a month later. The other side focused on responding with cries of civil liberty violations and lamenting the collapse of an economy built on the need for people to spend every last dollar they earn while unemployment numbers skyrocket. It is a vicious circle where no side is completely right or wrong as most moral and ethical dilemmas so often are.

Here in Utah, schools were closed on March 13, 2020 for initially a three to four-week timeframe, later extended to last until May 1st, and finally through the end of the current school year by the Governor – the only thing consistent across the state. The same day, March 13th, my work embarked on a capacity test of how many people we could support working remotely. The next day it was declared that if you could do your work from home you should – until further notice. It has now been six full weeks of 100% remote working. The county I live in has designated essential businesses that are allowed to remain open, everything else ordered to shut down to enforce social distancing and slow the spread of this contagion. Only one other county has similar orders to stay at home. Where so many people live and work in different counties, this feels like chaos or a non-response for many.

  • I work in heathcare. I see and am privy to the emergency and crisis planning happening for the communities we serve, and it inspires me
  • I personally have a kidney disease (of the autoimmune kind) which puts me at extreme risk, with loved ones in all of the highest risk categories for which contracting this disease would also likely be fatal
  • I’m watching friends and neighbors lose loved ones, unable to bury their dead with the type of ritual and gatherings that one would expect. I can say I’ve attending a virtual graveside service via video conference
  • I have two kids adjusting to schools that were cancelled for the remainder of the school year, with zero notice, who three days later started learning online with teachers who are not nearly appreciated for what they do in normal times but who are now not only caring for and focused on my kids and what they are learning but are themselves having to adjust to a new normal

The first month was hard. But now is much harder as the economy crashes around us and the divides that have existed in our society are exposed for the crisis they should always have been. While leaders debate about the right time to ease the quarantine restrictions to stay home, I wonder why we aren’t focused on the larger problem: why our economy is so broken that this many people can’t afford to miss even one paycheck without facing financial ruin. I’ve seen articles written that call this proof that we are living in a failed state. I both hope that isn’t true long-term and fear that it will be.

I find myself in the middle ground on the current stay-home vs. reopen-everything debate. Because, as usual, it is in the gray area (aka the hardest area) where most fall. There are no easy answers right now. There is nothing black and white about choosing life over money because we are all so entwined with the various aspects of the pandemic response. My wish is that people who protest, or gather together in a way that goes against social distancing, had a way to fully own that right by also waiving their privilege to healthcare when they blatantly disregard the recommendations from experts trying their best to give us all the best way to achieve those middle-ground options. How difficult is it to stay home as much as you can and socially distance when you don’t? To do otherwise is literally a slap in the face to those who will suffer as a direct result of large scale gatherings. Don’t believe me? There’s already reporting of spikes in confirmed infection cases in the states where large-scale protesting occurred in the last few weeks. You can’t argue with epidemiology, no matter how hard you try.

I will continue to observe and report. These are historic times, friends. I hope everyone I know is staying safe – and has enough toilet paper to meet first-world standards. (Will this be the joke of 2020 when it is all over? I wonder.) I have personally left my house a total of 5 times in six weeks and foresee that trend continuing for the majority of summer – or until we understand this disease more. I wonder how history will see this in hindsight and hope I’m still around to witness that as well.


Managing Expectations

-Copied from a friend on Facebook so I don’t know if the image is licensed or not!

I have struggled for a long while with the clashing of two very strong ideals I have for myself, long instilled in me and dating back to childhood, which actually contradict themselves once life becomes super complex and full of competing priorities. (If you are not an overachiever, this may never get to be a problem for you.)

I am an overachiever, motivated by achievement and driven to high performance. Meaning I take pride in the mere accomplishment of something. I am also a perfectionist – not in the sense that I can only do a thing if I do it perfectly, but rather in the sense that I have to strive for perfection in all I do. Short version: Half-ass is not acceptable, and neither is saying no to things.

What I’ve come to know about myself in the last three years of being stretched to the max in all arenas of life is: I can do anything I want, but I can’t do everything.

These are pretty words… truly meant for a needlepoint to hang on a wall or an inspirational poster. But if you’re like me, how the HELL do you reconcile this idea with the reality of being driven to do it all and kill yourself trying to to it all well all while not disappointing those around you?

Here’s what works for me:

  1. Give yourself permission to pick the things that are most important
  2. Manage expectations of others to eliminate guilt and resentment

These are two sides of the same coin. First the mind shift inside yourself, and then the external manifestation that others will see. For me, the internal shift took the longest – all wrapped up in the struggle of saying No when faced with new things or making commitments.

Here’s my secret weapon…

I only say yes IF:

  • No one else can do it
  • The consequences of not doing it means derailing my goals
  • It means saying no to things I’m okay not doing

The first one is a serious game changer. I never thought I would be so efficient at delegating but there are so many things that I now can say no to automatically if someone else could do what is being asked. I also realized that I was saying yes to things that were inherently someone else’s responsibility if I feared that they wouldn’t do something the way I would, or I feared their dependability was lacking. Guess what, turns out that neither of those things reflects on me ever except in the arena of me being stressed and overworked doing things other people should be doing.

The second two are where it gets down to nitty gritty, when it is serious-level prioritization. They also help to clearly articulate for myself what my priorities are. Which is super important for the other side of the coin… other people’s expectations.

I learned the last couple of years that as long as you are up front and honest about your intentions, and what you are and aren’t committing to do with the people in your life, even saying no can work. It much easier to let someone down by saying straight out that you can’t do something. When the commitments you make are so closely aligned with your intentions or what your own success looks like, it is much easier to lay it out straight.

I am living proof. No rolls off the tongue as effortlessly as Yes once did. It is often easier if you can articulate the why behind your no if it is particularly sensitive, but in the end you don’t owe that to anyone either.

If you are steering your ship toward what you want for your life, no one else’s disappointments need to weigh on you enough to change course. Your goals… your dreams… your intentions for what a successful and fulfilled life looks like… are all up to you and no one else. Don’t feel guilt for having dreams and goals and doing (or not doing) whatever it takes to get them. You are worth it and you deserve to make those dreams and goals come true.


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!


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.


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.


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.