Friday, May 14, 2021

Holding strong in the storm

 I hope the fact that I no longer live on a boat doesn't preclude nautical metaphors. Because here we are again. 

We all know the wind is going to blow in our lives. Most of us have learned to handle that wind and, in fact, use it to propel us. 

But those aren't the winds we're talking about this week. This week is about the storms, squalls, and cyclones. The chill and stinging rain and howling winds yanking and tugging and churning up the water of our routines and lives.

With Covid, we all know what that looks like now. Stress. Uncertainty. A little fear. In some cases, panic and desolation. 

When a storm sweeps in, the ideal place to be is moored to a solid mass. A dock. In a writer's case, that solid mass is a habit set deep in the bedrock of your days. A habit like Jeffe's. Tying up to that is safe. Reliable. Immovable. Sometimes you get a few hard bounces against the dock, but so long as your lines hold, your craft is safe.

The problem is that sometimes you're underway when storms spin up. No docks in sight. You're caught out in dangerous conditions. On a boat (and in matters of health and well-being), your single job is to keep your nose into the wind. Why? To keep from being capsized. If you can find shelter, you run for it. And then you set an anchor and give yourself a really, really long leash. That's what keeps your anchor hooked into the bottom of the seabed and your craft in a position to ride out the worst. 

Translated out of nautical metaphor: Tie up to the safety of established habit when you can, but when the horse feathers hit the fan and you can't fall back on habit, throw out an anchor. Let that anchor take the form of a craft class or anything that requires you to get your head in your writing for a few hours each week. 

Then give yourself grace. A lot of it. 

Remember. Your first job is protecting your health and well-being when storms roar in to knock you off course. When you're healthy, you have a million wishes. When you aren't healthy, you have only one wish. 

Don't let the storms steal your wishes.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

When the world's on fire, be kind to you

I've held off posting my blog today because, honestly, my co-SFFSeveners have already nailed this topic: how to keep to a writing schedule when life goes off the rails. May I take a moment to point you to K.A. Krantz's post about being flexible enough to make new routines when your beloved routines become untenable? And also Jeffe Kennedy's post about using your writing habit as a sort of bedrock upon which to build a stable structure of routines?

I point you elsewhere because I have to confess that when my world is on fire, I haven't found a good solution for plugging my brain into writing. And the world has been on fire a lot of late. These last two years have been brutal for a lot of us. Losing my writing way was the easiest loss to bear. Well, maybe not the easiest: not having to put make-up on or dress snappily has been so lovely I wouldn't even call it a loss. Similar reaction to the lack of human contact: this introvert does intermittent quarantine like a champ.

When I have managed to make words, my magic has been 

- Deadlines. Seriously, these things are like instant stories for me. I miss real ones so much, but self-created ones are still somewhat helpful.

- Turning off all news and social media. 

- I'm serious about that one. No news. No social. 

Part of me is still aware that the world is having major problems. I wouldn't be human if I could just shut off concern for my fellow humans (India! Gaza! so much suffering, too much), but when there's nothing I can do to directly change the horrors, I need to stop getting constant updates on them, donate where I can, and focus on this tiny bubble of reality around me.

You know what really helps with that? Writing spec fic. When my own world sucks beyond all hope, I can make up a new one, a better one, and the hope of that act can get emotional-sponge me to the next day.

Consider this post blanket permission to not know about every little bad thing in our world. Be kind to you. Protect your made-up happy space. If self-protection means leaning on your writing routine for stability, like Jeffe recommends, do that. Lots of that. If it means coming up with a new, more workable routine a la KAK? Do it.

If it means standing in your back yard, talking to your plants about a story idea that really makes you happy and that you may or may not ever get around to writing? Don't shame yourself for that either. It's still nurturing your creative brain, despite the world.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Life Off the Rails: Standing Firm vs Being Flexible

 This week's topic of "When Life Gets In The Way: Dealing with a schedule for writing when the world goes off the rails" boils down to the benefits of rigidity versus flexibility...and not in the toe-touching sense. 

 I am a creature of habit. I love my daily ritual. I am so set in my ways that an atypical morning freaks out the dog. Thus, you might justifiably believe I'd lose my mind if my routine was broken. Surprise! I don't. It's life. Shit happens. Routines, no matter how hectic, are a luxury. 

Change the things you can control. Get through the rest. Sometimes, "the rest" comes with pleasant surprises and benefits you didn't imagine. Other times, "the rest" is an exhausting crapstorm with no end in sight. During those endurance marathons, your mindset is yours to control. If it's not, then don't be ashamed to acquire professional help. Your wellbeing comes before everything else. Suffering is not a requirement to be an artist, no matter what pop culture wants us to think. 

Yeah, but what if there's no hope of ever returning to normal? What if your beloved routine is shot to hell and never coming back? My dear, dear readers. Make new routines. Remember the habits of once upon a time fondly, and establish to new ones. Even if new ones start with a can of Lysol in the morning and end with hosing off your Wellies in the evening. 

In whatever new normal you find yourself, take stock of where you are, what you can control, and what you actually want. Figure out your priorities. Rank them. Schedule time to attend to those priorities. Allow for flexibility. Permit yourself to say "No" when others try to make their problems your emergencies. Cut ties with emotional vampires. Remember "fun" is a good thing. So is rest. Et voila, new routine. 

If writing is a priority, then treat it as such. Be prepared to let other things go to make room for your creative pursuit. Delegate, if that's an option, or do without. It's okay if there is something or someone more important than writing, just be honest with yourself about how those higher priorities will impact your writing. When it comes to accommodating others, recall their expectations are relevant only if you want them to be (though criminal neglect will land your butt in jail, and that's a new normal you probably want to avoid). 

Sometimes you have to be a hardass when establishing or adjusting your boundaries. A moment of discomfort reinforcing those boundaries is a price worth the peace of existing within them. Remember, you are in charge of taking care of yourself. There are times to be rigid and times to be flexible. Teach yourself to know when to bend and when to stand firm. You gain nothing by beating up yourself whenever life goes off the rails.

Be good to yourself.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

A Writing Habit That Works for YOU

Amazingly enough, it's already May - which means THE PROMISED QUEEN, the third and final book in the Forgotten Empires trilogy, is out in just two weeks. That comes as a shock to me, I can tell you! 

It also makes this particular graphic quite apt and goes well with our topic this week: "When Life Gets In The Way: dealing with a schedule for writing when the world wants to go off the rails."

Nothing like a global pandemic and the attendant chaos to shake up the world a bit, huh?

I've been fortunate compared to many of the creatives I know - so many people have struggled to create art during this extraordinary time of upheaval - in that I've maintained a consistent output of words. In fact, I wrote nearly 120K more words in 2020 than in 2019 (recall that I am dubbed The Spreadsheet Queen for a reason), which I largely attribute to the fact that I didn't travel in 2020.

So, why was I able to stay on schedule when others couldn't?

There are a lot of reasons for that - including that I am blessed with happy brain chemistry and I'm not prone to anxiety - but I think the number one reason is that I've built a consistent writing habit. That's the foundation that keeps me stable and productive.

Martial artists like to poke at practitioners of yoga and meditation by saying, "But what happens when someone knocks you off your pillow?" The jibe is meant to shame those not into the fighting arts by implying that meditation is fine and all, but if you're attacked, it's fundamentally useless.

Believe me - I know this is exactly what they mean, as I used to train with martial artists fond of saying that very thing.

Whenever someone asks me about this topic, about work/life balance or maintaining creativity through upheaval, I think of that quip. 

What happens when someone knocks you off your pillow?

The answer is pretty obvious: You get back on.

See, the whole point of meditation (or prayer or self-care or whatever works for you) is to discover a solid, peaceful foundation within yourself. That's why it's called a "practice." It's something that you develop over time by doing it repeatedly. Nobody ever said it was in order to spend your entire life on a pillow in a meditative state. Once you discover that foundation, that silent core of peacefulness, then you know how to find it again. 

No one ever promised us lives where everything is perfect all the time. Things are going to happen to derail us - and the best we can do is find our way back to that foundation again, rather than being tossed about endlessly from one crisis to another.

A writing habit provides that foundation. The great thing about habits is we default to them. Bad and good, habits drive our unconscious decisions. Why not build a writing habit that works for you instead of against you?

Then, when the world knocks you off schedule, it's easy to get right back on again.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

For the Love of Dogs

I’m going to be short and sweet today 😊 Many moons ago, when I was so busy raising young human children, the idea of taking on more work with pets just wasn’t in my Things That Are Possible sphere. Once my kids were older, we did welcome a beautiful blonde German Shepherd named Harley into the home, and she’s still a queen to this day. However, I didn’t expect any more babies, y’all. My youngest child was 16 when my partner brought home two English Bulldog baby boy puppies. 1) I almost killed him. 2) I now love these little monsters with all of my heart. They do lots of ridiculous things. They also drool. They shed. They cause us to have to clean a lot, every single day. But they all love us so unconditionally and make our days brighter. Right now I’m yelling at them for destroying the cushions on the couch that I said they would never be on (the Bullies) and hoping they don’t start bounding from one couch to the other. It’s not going so well 🤦🏻‍♀️. But, here’s some pics of when they’re calm and cute. Harley, Roscoe, and Nash.


Friday, May 7, 2021

Cat Photo Tax


More pet photo spam! Let's begin with our beloved elder enjoying her life. I present: Cuillean blep.
Then there's Arya, she of the endless whiskers. She's having a momentary, but meaningful relationship with her fleece toy.

Then there's the youngest. Peseshet. This is the one who, about a year ago, darted across the street in front of me. She was tiny. She's still tiny, only about six pounds, but she's growing up fast. Two weeks ago at o'dark thirty in the morning, we had an animal come to the lanai screen. All of my big, strong cats scrambled ass over tea kettle to get in the house. This itty-bitty stripey kitten stayed out there, all floofed up, reading the feline riot act at the trespasser. At volume. Very unlady-like language. Whatever critter had come to the screen beat a hasty retreat. (Spoiler: When I set the live trap, I caught a possum. We parted with no damage done on either part.) 

Then, today, this little girl decided to exercise her hunting prowess and catch her own animated cat toy. Naturally, she brought it inside and let it go. I had to get involved at that point and rescue the critter.

 The animated cat toy was ungrateful.

Pets have price tags, y'all. Price tags.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Mental Health and Furry Friends

Alexia and Ullr, a black and white Siberian husky, stand before a mural of the word LOVE painted in with flowers as Alexia listens to The Mars Strain through her red Beats headphones.

I love stats, numbers, scientific proof. And I can happily report that in a study done through the University of York and the University of Lincoln showed that pets helped us emotionally deal with the past year’s lockdown by 90%. Their findings also showed a link between how attached people were to their pets and mental health. Also, the UK Mental Health Foundation reported 87% of people believed their pet improved their wellbeing. 

Those are some good stats on pets and mental health. And speaking of…it’s mental health awareness month in America! 

I face my own struggles with mental health and even though I know scientifically what’s going on in my body it doesn’t change the fact that I feel it. And I’ve found that for myself, I can only talk about it when I’m coming out of the deep. I only want to see others and talk to people when I’m past the worst. Which is why I'm able to talk about it a bit today.

If you’re struggling and can’t bring yourself to talk to anyone—it’s okay. As long as you are able to tell yourself you are not alone. Because you’re not. There are so many of us at different stages of dealing with mental health struggles. Please remember that and that when you’re ready there are so many of us you can reach out to for help. Having dealt with my own and some struggles that my children have I am able to look back at my time as a manager and see flags and opportunities I missed. I wish I could go back in time with the knowledge and experience I have now. Which is why I like the premise behind the Mental Health America Peer Program. They have people who have gone through challenges reaching a hand back to help those coming along behind, not just a doctor or motivational speaker who has no first hand experience. 

baby Ullr, black and white Siberian husky, laying on his back twisted to the side into a backwards C, beside his water bowl.
Back to my stats! And back to my favorite way of coping with depression and anxiety: my furry sidekick, Ullr. 

Ullr the husky pup, black and white, on his back twisted into a backwards C, paws in the air, as his piercing blue eyes stare at the camera.

He’s a goofus. He’s uncoordinated at times (like when he’s sprinting and faceplates because he’s going too fast). He loves to steal my garden veggies (I didn’t get the chance to pickle any cucumbers last season and he ate all the peas). He’s definitely not my Loki boy who always knew when I needed him to sit quietly beside me—I still miss him dearly and will always have his paw print on my heart. 

But Ullr is mine—and he loves me. That’s why we have pets, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter how terrible of a day we’ve had. It doesn’t matter how stressed out we are or how many tears we shed. It doesn’t even matter if we have enough time for them. They’re there, like Ullr is there at my side day after day. 

Ullr may not be quiet and stoic, but he makes me laugh—which is probably what I need more of in my life right now. I guess someone upstairs knew I needed a knucklehead like Ullr right now, and I’m thankful. He’s also incredibly soft, which, if you’re the owner of a dog or cat you know, is incredibly soothing, and he’s a husky so snow is a magnet for him and he makes me have adventures outside every day. He even came with me to celebrate the release of The Mars Strain! He loved it—he got to walk and sniff new territory. Win win!

How about you? Would you count yourself in the roughly 90% that say they’re better off with a pet?

Ullr, the black and white Siberian husky, trotting down the trail surrounded by pine trees.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Viv pet pic spam

In my household live two overindulged but super sweet Chihuahuas, a PorchBird (wren) with two tiny, starving baby birds in her nest and not a lot of patience with everybody else in the universe because you need to get out of her way so she can feed them kids, and a YardBunny who likes the broad-leaf Italian parsley but won't eat the curly parsley and is on-again, off-again okay with both carrots and the aforementioned little dogs. 

Behold picspam:

We named him Tahiti because he's a magical dog. (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans will get it.)

This is how Lily greets the teenagers when they get home from school. When they aren't home, she mostly sits on her heated blanket or beanbag chair (pictured) and judges me.


If I tried to get a picture of PorchBird or her nest, she'd beak me in the eyeball. Not that she hasn't tried that already. She is a fierce mama, as one should be.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Author Pets: Pi the One-Eyed Husky

Northern Lights Sled Dog Rescue
This rescue org introduced me to Pi.

This is Pi requesting a walk.

This is Pi deciding I'm done writing for the day.

This is Pi saving me from the dreaded treadmill.
I'm totally blaming the "Covid-19lbs" gained
on the mill guardian
not on my renewed devotion to cupcakes.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Jackson Cosplaying a Vulture

This week at the SFF Seven, we're throwing some joy into your timeline by sharing a pic of our pets and a silly thing they do, or our favorite pet meme.

Those of you who follow me regularly are familiar with Jackson, my 17lb Maine coon cat. He has his own fan following, which he considers his just due and he also doesn't care. Unless you have a snack for him. Because Jackson is diligent about maintaining his manly strength, which means acquiring regular snacks. Here he is pulling the Snoopy vulture routine, sitting on the back of my husband's chair while David attempts to eat his dinner. 

Here's a closeup for you.

Sometimes he adds a light claw prick to the head or cheek, just in case we've managed to ignore his looming presence...