How To Survive on Almost No Sleep


I like to sleep.

Everyone has their own personal sleep needs, separate from what is recommended by a doctor.  My husband can be quite happy and functional on as little as two hours of sleep while I am barely functional on eight hours.  It’s simply how we are.

I do not sleep well when my husband is gone.  This is not surprising after thirteen years of marriage.  I’ve become quite accustomed to his presence in my life.  It is now something that I both enjoy and count on.  On a normal basis, it is not a problem to need him home for me to sleep well.  After six weeks apart, I’m sure if I have ever been this tired before in my life.

Now I know, six weeks apart is a strange thing for some people.  Many married couples don’t spend more than a night or two apart at any given time.  As a military wife however, I am well aware of how lucky I am.  I have never dealt with the frustration and pain of a long deployment.  In the military world, six weeks is nothing.

But none of that matters, not when it doesn’t make my current sleeplessness any better.  I have gone from a regular 8-9 hour night to 3-4 hours.  There are days when I don’t feel even slightly functional.  Everyday of my life now involves a headache at some point or another.  Let’s just go ahead and be honest; I am a cranky monster right now, liable to kill anyone who gets in my way.

No matter what is happening with my sleep, I still have a life to live during the day time.  I have children, a puppy, homework, housework, and writing work.  Even if I wanted to ignore these staples of my life, some of them refuse to be ignored.  Seriously, if you have ever considered not going grocery shopping with children or animals in the house, they are quick to remind you how often they need to be fed.  For some strange reason children seem to think they need to be fed or a regular basis.  It’s strange.

Of course, there are many coping mechanisms that can help you to survive when you are barely above zombie status.

1) Get comfortable with your coffee maker.

I switched to decaf a year ago (something that may be borderline sacrilegious for a writer) after several months of severe headaches brought on by caffeine deprivation during moving and travel.  I still hit my coffee maker every morning, and occasionally in the afternoon.  Even without the caffeine, coffee provides me an almost instant pick me up.  There is just as much power in the idea that is might wake me up as there is in the reality of your body’s reaction to the caffeine.

2)Exercise.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, exercise really does wake you up.  You expend your energy, but you get back so many benefits.  Endorphins, serotonin, adrenalin; these all give you a healthy wake up call.  As an extra bonus, if you work hard enough during the day, you might be exhausted later when you want to go to sleep.

3)Natural Foods.

This may be a bit of a toss up, as everyone has their own opinions of what constitutes eating healthfully.  All I can say for sure is, I feel better if I eat as close to naturally as possible.  My body seems to process things better, and I feel less heavy and overfilled, making it easier to get comfortable and sleep later.

4) Power naps.

I love sleep, but I am horrible at napping.  Usually, if I take a nap of any sort it is less than intentional, and more of the result of my absolute inability to stay awake any longer.  It usually only lasts about ten to twenty minutes before either a child or dog wakes me to deal with something, but for those brief moments of rest, it is beautiful.

5)Shut off the world.

Laying down, trying to sleep, it is easy to be distracted.  There are books to read, movies to watch, games to play on my phone.  There is just too many things that can be done, since I am not sleeping anyway.  However, I also know that by doing these things, I am depriving myself of the opportunity to sleep.  One more chapter may only take five or ten minutes, but that is five or ten less minutes of sleep, and let’s face facts, it is always more than just one more chapter.  Eventually, you need to put it all away.

6)Just lay down.

I have been guilty of staying up later, insisting I don’t feel tired many times.  Usually it is true.  I know I will not be able to sleep, and there are other things to do, so I don’t feel tired enough to stop doing whatever I am doing.  However, once I lay down, I do feel more rested.  Sometimes I am laying there for much longer than I would like before I actually fall asleep, but every moment that I am not moving is one more moment where I can feel slightly relaxed.

 

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Victorious

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Sometimes living a creative life sucks.  It can be easy to let your self worth and your belief in your talent falter based on the views of others.  This is of, course the quick road to failure.  This is likely why so many of the most creative minds have been reported to be depressed or have substance abuse problems.

Doubt comes from many places.  Sometimes it is a rejection letter, sometimes it is a stunning silence, other times it is harsh words that seem to be directed from no where.  Most often it comes from within myself.  I am my worst critic, much like the rest of the world.

I know the technical truth; no one will believe in me if I don’t believe in myself.  I have to have enough faith in my own abilities to put them out there, or nothing will ever happen.  You cannot be a successful writer if you never let anyone read your words and if you tell someone your story isn’t very good, they just might believe you.

I know all of this, and yet somehow it doesn’t matter.  Knowing something on an intellectual level, and feeling it on an emotional level are two different things.  I might know I have a great idea and I can make it work, but if I feel that I can never do it right, my doubts will win.

Today, I am trying to conquer a few of those doubts.  I can’t promise I will slay the dragon, but I know I can at least beat it back for a while.  Today, even for a short time, I will not have doubts, I will not have fear.  Today, I will be victorious, even if it is only over myself.

Fueling Up

Most often when I write about my pursuit of better health, I stick to my running efforts.  This is not because it is the only thing I do, or because it is even the most important thing I do for my health.  It is simply because it is the most encouraging part of my health routine.

Let’s take a moment, and be honest.  I am a 31 year old female raised in America.  I have been told I was fat since I was in grade school.  Now I am not complaining because I was in fact a tiny, waiflike creature, who was tormented into having a skewed belief of my looks.  I was in fact chubby, and that chubbiness has increased with both time and circumstances.  The part I complain about is the fact that I was treated as worthless by some simply because I was overweight.  It was as though that was the worst sin I could possibly have committed in this world.  My body, processing food differently from others, was a much worse flaw to have than cruelty to others, thievery, or even closed-minded ignorance.  Obviously it would have been better if I had been drowning puppies or robbing banks; at least then I would have had something redeemable about me.

See?  This is why I don’t talk about food much.  It is too easy to be brought back to the anger and humiliation I experienced in the past. 

Back to my point.  Since I have been experiencing this lack of happiness within my body since childhood, I have been trying many different diets for almost twenty years.  None of them have ever turned my into the six foot tall willowy supermodel others seemed to think I should be, and most of them involved eating a small variety of tasteless foods.  It becomes a boring and depressing topic.

While I have learned many tricks for supposed healthy eating over the years, none have been particularly effective in weight loss.  I’ll be honest, weight loss is not my main goal.  I’ve been there, and it is not an encouraging place to live.  I want to be healthy.  I want to wake up and have the muscles and energy to go about my day, clean my house, run errands, play with my kids, go to school, and do my work without needing fifteen energy drinks to keep me moving.  I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

Honestly, I know I can be healthy without being skinny.  At the peak of my fitness, sadly almost two years ago, I ran a marathon.  I was going to school full time, working full time, having my family, and running 30-40 miles a week.  I felt amazing, but I was also about fifty pounds overweight.  I know, some people might argue that I was probably not as healthy as I thought I was, but during that time I was given not only a clean bill of health, but managed to impress the cardiac specialist who ran me through a stress test.  (It was a slightly weird thing involving severe chest pain caused by stress and a complicated family history with heart problems.  Basically, my family and all of our doctors take any chest pain extremely seriously, and we get to do all the fun tests just to be sure.)

I was incredibly healthy, but I have one major health weakness, one that has contributed to my current health situation.  I have a sweet tooth.  It’s not even one particular food that I get a craving for; I love it all and am seldom satisfied by one piece.  I don’t want one rice krispy treat, I want the whole pan.  It is partly a question of will power (of which I don’t have much) and partly something that most likely goes back to those wonderful latent self worth issues from childhood.  They really are the gift that just keeps giving, aren’t they?

So, with all of this in mind, my sweet tooth combined with my absolute love of having flavor in my food (it doesn’t matter too much what flavor, just something), I am making attempts to change how I view my food.  I’m trying to view my food in it’s intended purpose, as fuel.  Just as with a car, I run better on the quality fuel I was meant to have.  Go ahead, try stuffing your gas tank with cookies and see if it runs.  (Just kidding, please don’t actually do that.  It is not a good idea.)  The rule I’m trying to work on is simple; eat to live, don’t live to eat.

Of course, that doesn’t mean food has to be disgusting.  It just means I am trying to keep it simple, and mostly things that are close to how they began in nature.  For example, this morning I had a simple fruit and yogurt sundae bowl.

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Okay, so it’s not very exciting.  A sliced up banana, a few strawberries, and a container of Greek yogurt.  I’m not a hundred percent sure what flavor the yogurt is.  I’ve been buying it for a while, and it tastes fantastic.

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The apricot was obvious, but I never quite got around to translating the other flavor.  (Though, I just did for this post.  Apparently it’s apricot-poppy.  Very good.)

Anyway, that is my exciting healthy eating post this morning.  I think it is now quite obvious why I don’t bother with that very often.  Maybe I’ll do another one someday, with something more exciting than fruit and yogurt.  Or maybe I’ll leave this topic to those with better recipes than I have in general.

 

Passing the Test

I recently stumbled across a concept that blew my mind a little.

It’s not a new concept, having had it’s comic debut a few short years after I was born, but it was still something that was new to me.  The Bechdel test, came from a comic strip in 1985 and introduced an set of three rules to help determine gender bias in movies.  The rule is simple.  The movie must have at least two females, who speak to each other about something other than a man.

Now, before I delve into this idea much more, I do want to preface this a little.  I have never taken a gender studies class, or done much in the way of deep thought on equality or feminism.  I generally go with the idea that people are people, and no one is better or worse based on any fluke of their birth; people become jerks when they are either taught to have a closed mind, and/or they choose to be.  Our DNA is not that different person to person.  It doesn’t seem like something that should be an issue to me because it’s just common sense. 

That being said, I’m sorry if my musings might piss people off.  I’m not an expert on the topic, but I find it interesting.  Moving on.

After I read the description, I let the thought percolate in my mind.  As both someone who reads and someone who writes, this was something to consider.  How many of my favorite books would pass this test?  How much of my own writing would?

I could instantly think of many strong female characters I had admired from my own reading.  I couldn’t remember how many had conversations with other females that didn’t involve men.  I mean honestly, how often was Hermione speaking to other girls?  Her best friends happened to be two boys.  Could it really be argued that she was not a dynamic character?  How often did she  save everyone, or demonstrate her large intellect?  Without this character, the entire series would have fallen apart.

And what about my own writing?  My most recent finished product would not pass.  The only two characters were both women, but they weren’t talking to each other, and they were focused on discussion about a man.  Of the several in progress works I have, the majority would pass, but not all.

It made me wonder, is this test necessary?  Are there acceptable exceptions to this rule?  Do I need to apply this to my own writing?  I mean, really what is the point of all this.  I knew I couldn’t answer the first question without delving into the other questions first.  First, let’s place two scenarios.

Scene one; two women, both lesbians, sit talking about the troubles they are having with their girlfriends.

Scene two; two women, discussing the impact of Stephen Hawking on theoretical physics.

Following the letter of the law, the first scene would pass the test.  The women are together, talking, and no men are involved.  The second scene of course would fail, as they are discussing a male physicist.  If instead, we look at the spirit of the law, the results would be reversed. As I see it, the spirit of the law seems to want to see women portrayed as strong individuals outside of their romantic relationships.  Within the first scene the two women are still spending their time discussing their relationships, focusing on their own validity as it  relates to their partner.  The second scene of course is a discussion about a man, but it is about scientific achievement.  This would presumably be an intellectual discussion that only happens to be about a man.  Even though the second scene fails the Bechdel test, it would be a better portrayal of dynamic female characters.  To me, a situation such as this would be an acceptable exception.

What then, is the point of this?  If the rule does not seem to apply in all situations, why does it exist?  Maybe it does not need to exist as a consistently used rule.  Sometimes it can be applied to showcase the sexist portrayal of a character, but it does not mean it can always be used to show a positive character.  The point should be for writers, either of movies of books to make certain their women are not all throwaway characters who are only used to further the means of other characters.  The point is to show real women.

So is this test necessary?  Maybe not.  Times have changed a little, in positive ways as well as negative.  There are still plenty of bimbos making the rounds in movies, plenty of female characters whose worth is judged by their cup size, not their intelligence or capability.  But there are plenty of strong female characters within movies that don’t pass the test.  I mean is anyone going to say the Black Widow is weak simply because she is in a male dominated film? She does more than hold her own.

Looking at how this works, what consideration should the Bechdel test have in my own writing?  Do I need to always apply this to my works?  When editing, writers are told to be brutal, to remove everything that is not completely necessary to the story, and then, start cutting out things that are necessary.  The story should be as streamlined as possible in order to keep up the pace, and not lose focus on the story arc.  In order to always stick to this rule, a few tricks would need to be played.

First, you could never allow the female to have a male best friend.  While doing so would help to show positive relationships between men and women, relationships that are not dependent on any sort of sexual context, it would also reduce the opportunities for two women to talk.

Second, random scenes would need to be included occasionally at the expense of other material.  Maybe most of the story has a male character involved, in one way or another, and the female characters would likely discuss him.  Sure, they have other interests, but they might not be relevant to the story at hand.  Does it really matter that Suzy always loved horses if she is no where near an animal for the entirety of the story?  Not really.  Including a scene where Suzy and Jane discuss their former hobby, just to give them something to talk about would be distracting from the story.

Finally, extra characters would need to be introduced who may not have any role in the general action.  I personally like streamlined stories, without excess characters.  When there are too many people involved, it is too easy for some to become ‘token’ characters.  There isn’t much time to fully develop them as people, but they show up to give advice and then disappear when they are no longer convenient.  While there are times they work, it is hard to call them necessary.

Instead, it would seem to be a better practice to simply make the female characters more well rounded in general.  The idea is to represent real women, and sometimes real women talk about their relationships.  Do their other interests have to be shown in dialogue?  Throw in mentions of the books she is reading, or the awards she achieved.  Have the romance heroine bring her date to the animal shelter where she works.  Build the character in an organic way, because that is what will make her real.  Don’t be afraid to make her weak at times, or to let her cry.  It is alright to make her traditionally feminine, as long she is not hiding from her own strength throughout the story.  Let her find herself, however that happens.  To me as a writer, it is more important to make the characters real than to pass a test of perceived gender bias.

So tell me, how do you measure the genuine qualities of your characters?  What do you do to make them more real?

There were a lot of thoughts going through my head as I wrote this posting.  I’m not certain this is something I am done with, as it is an interesting topic to me.  I’m hoping I was able to show some of my thoughts clearly, but sometimes when the topic interests me enough, it is hard to explore it fully within the confines of a regular blog post.  I may need to come back one day, and talk a little more about the use of gender bias tests in writing. 

For anyone who wants to see some more Bechdel passing and failing discussions, checkout popular films that failed, the top grossing films that pass, and an examination of the Bechdel test in comic books.

Five Things About Writing New Stories

I love creating fiction, at least as much as I love reading fiction.

Sometimes I feel as though I have a thousand ideas, many of them feeling fully formed and perfect, while others are little more than a vague notion I still need to think about.  I love almost everything about the creation of a story, from idea to finished manuscript, but it is definitely a process.  Creating a story is much like having a child.

1)Birth

When the idea first comes to you, you are so excited and proud.  You instantly know this will be the best thing you ever did.  It is brilliant, and you are clearly the most creative person on the planet.  There are so many things to do to get ready, and bring this idea into a fully functioning story.  In spite of the morning sickness, the nerves, and the fears, you know this will be fantastic.

2)Growth

You are making your plans, and adding a little to your story every day.  Sometimes it is a chapter or two of writing, other days it is a few notes on the outline.  It is, at times, hard to know how your baby is doing, and you need to give it a check up to make sure it is growing healthy and strong.  Of course there are days when you know you could keep this as your baby forever, and other days you wish it had grown up already.  In spite of it all, you are amazed at how much your one little idea has changed.

3)Potty Training

Just as with a child or a small animal, sometimes the poo ends up in the wrong place.  There will be days of messes all over the pages of your precious manuscript.  Other days will be filled with long hours of focused energy, trying to keep your pages clean as you flush the waste away.  It can be a difficult process for some stories, making you jealous of the stories that seemed to be clean over night.  In the end, it doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as you end up clean.

4)The Teenage Years

Considering your story is only made of your own words, it should be difficult for it to talk back to you.  But somehow, it does.  The characters can be unlikeable, the plot full of holes, and have the whole idea suddenly stinks.  You’re not sure how this happened, as the story you were raising used to be such a polite, clever, and delightful child.  Now suddenly you are certain it has been doing drugs in the basement because that is the only explanation for how it is turning out.   Before long, you don’t know what to do with it anymore.  You still love it, but you’re not sure you like it much and you know you cannot continue to live with it this way.  You cry, you fight, you threaten to send it to a severe editing session and cut it down to size.  No matter what you do, nothing feels like it will ever get better.

5)Moving Out

Eventually your story outgrows its awkward, rebellious stage.  The wonderful idea you once had has returned, a fully complete manuscript, ready to enter your personal publishing process.  Maybe it has a contract to a major publishing house, maybe it is still looking for an agent.  Maybe your story has decided to strike out on its own for the world of self-publishing, or even enter a contest.  This story is now ready for the world, and ready to make you proud.

Of course, not all stories move out.  Some simply move into your basement.  Sure they call it their own apartment, and talk about how they need to find themselves, but you both know they have no ambitions anymore.  They may have started out with so much potential, but now they can’t even get a job pulling in readers on a blog.  Best case scenario has this novel in a writing workshop, demonstrating all of the things a writer shouldn’t do, and working to scare other stories into a good life of being published.  As much as you know you should throw it out, you can’t quite get rid of it.  It is still your baby, and you are still hoping for the day it grows up and becomes a novel.

Against the Crowd

I’ve never been someone to like the popular thing.

It’s not through some hipster desire to like something before it was cool.  I don’t consider myself a hipster, partly because I am not cool enough to be a part of that in-crowd.

There are many reasons why I avoid the popular thing.

I suppose one reason would have its roots in middle school and high school.  There were the stereotypical crowd of nasty popular kids, the slightly less popular and even more cruel kids trying to get into the inner circle, the mostly overlooked middle ground, and the targets.

Can you guess where I fit in?  The chubby, introverted, bookworm?  I might as well have been born with a target on my forehead.

In my tiny act of rebellion and hatred for those who could be so unkind for no reason, I avoided anything enjoyed by the mainstream.  I was determined to not be like them, and find my own place.
Preferably far, far away.

Later in life, I got over my childhood trauma, mostly unscathed with just a little sympathy for the underdog.  I still avoided association with all things popular, treating any enjoyment from those things like a dirty little secret.  I’m not sure what I thought would happen if people found out, but I knew I couldn’t take the risk.

The worst part was, I honestly did enjoy some of it.  I still couldn’t get into boy bands or pop singers who were more boob than talent, but I found my niche in the fringes of pop culture.  I hated feeling like I was jumping on a bandwagon, but it always took me a little while to hear about something new, and then even longer to accept that it might be alright, even if everyone else likes it.

I admit it, I’m the person who stumbles upon well established, bordering on explosions into the mainstream, and helps to put it over the edge.  I like being able to find wonderful new addictions, but I’m never a part of the initial movement.  God help me, I am a part of the main grouping of sheep bleating something into popularity.

I try to resist.  I refused to read Harry Potter until the first three books were out,  and I had a boring afternoon with nothing to do.  I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it was in it’s sixth season (out of seven).  By the time I had found the new episodes of Doctor Who, Matt Smith had already finished his first year (though I did start from nine, not ten or eleven).  I didn’t touch The Hunger Games or Divergent until long after both series had released their final books and finished filming their first movies.

I’m not sure why I resist.  Yes, I have been burned a few times by recommendations that didn’t pan out.  (I can no longer trust my sister’s opinion after a recommendation of the Twilight series.  She has been banned from giving me recommendations until I get some better references for her taste in books.)  For the most part, I really enjoy them.  It’s almost as if they become popular based on their high quality.

But I am beginning to wonder if I am in fact a murderer of popular culture.  Everything I find, slowly dies.  It is only the most resilient of phenomenon that have survived.  Nothing could kill Harry Potter, not even Voldemort.  Though I am very sorry I was not able to kill Twilight for you.  I suppose if I had read the first book when it came out I could have done some good in the world.  Alas, I was too late.

The most recent victim of my murderous tendencies, is the wonderfully talented John Green.  I had heard of his work is a vague capacity for a while.  Little mentions of his books, and screenshots and quotes from the youtube channel he shares with this brother were the extent of my knowledge.  However, the current buzz/obsession with The Fault in Our Stars did catch my attention.  The book sounded good, and John seemed to be both hilarious and intelligent.

I know, there are probably a few of you gasping, worried that I think The Fault in Our Stars is some sort of comedy.  Don’t worry, the internet does an excellent job of spreading both pornography and spoilers.  (Not necessarily spoilers about the pornography.  If you didn’t know the pizza man was going to have sex with the three oiled and half naked women who needed an alternative way to pay for their meal, you probably shouldn’t have clicked on the link.)

The fact that that the book was reported to make the larger portion of the population cry was one of the reason I avoided it.  I cry often enough on my own as an uncontrollable emotional reaction to random stimulus.  I stopped reading the tragic romance genre after my first Nicholas Sparks novel.  I mean seriously, when I know the love story is going to end in someone’s death, why should I let myself get emotionally invested?  In the end it wasn’t peer pressure that convinced me to read John Green’s work; it was a sale on Amazon.  I’m a sucker for a deal, and they roped me in with a book I had been debating for a while anyway.

The first night I began reading I promised myself I would only read one chapter, and virtuously put the book down after five.  The next morning I awoke to this.  Maybe I am giving myself delusions of grandeur assuming I can kill a franchise or career on my own, but this is quite a coincidence.  The eulogy for John Green’s underground hipster street cred was literally being written as I began reading.  I don’t think I’m over estimating my power here.

There is a lot I can say on that particular article, as some of the concepts were patently offensive, and others were a bit pretentious.  (Just because you find something first does not mean it belongs to you.  Finders keepers doesn’t even really work in grade school people.)  Maybe I will address some of these ideas about the relationships between writers, their genres, and readers at some point here.  But for now, I’ll leave that topic alone.

I have no plan of reviewing the novel here either.  There is plenty out there if you want to know if you should buy the book or not.  All I have to say is,  my Amsterdam experience had fewer pretty bike paths, and more windows full of dildos and prostitutes surrounded by the smells of pot, piss and penis.  The canals and houses were just as beautiful as described though.  And there are some great museums.

I’m not even going to get into my own fears of what releasing a pop culture serial killer into the world of writing might do to the future of publishing.  I’ll just assume that if it has lasted for hundreds of years, it can survive my supernatural ability to kill things.

Instead I will leave you with this.  I’m very sorry to all of you formerly underground John Green fans.  I didn’t mean to force you into the light of day.  Sometimes I don’t know my own strength.  I will work hard to only use my powers for good in the future.

Thoughts From My Run

I should have run yesterday.  Then I would have been done a while ago

Leap over the dead frog.  Haha.  Leap frog.

Am I holding my feet right?  They don’t hurt yet, so maybe.

Why is this song playing?  What playlist is this?  Did Lily mess with my phone?

Eh, screw it. Come and get it, na, na, na, na.

Okay, walk.

Avoid the dead bird, walk around the dead bird.

My armband is itchy.

Holy crap, is that a body?

No, just weirdly shaped hay.  Who would leave hay in the shape of a body on the side of the road?

I probably would.  Then I’d watch people jog by and laugh.

Running time.  Alright, let’s go.

Holy crap is my arm itchy.

Is this arm band held on by Velcro or tiny fire ants biting it onto my skin?

How is so much of my daughter’s music on my running playlist?  I need to fix that later.

Look at that army Humvee.  It totally looks like it could be a tank.

I would love to drive a tank around.  Just try to cut me off now punk.

I’d never have trouble finding a parking spot.

I wonder if a cop would give a tank a ticket.

Aww.  Squished hedgehog.  I like hedgehogs.

Is a tank manual or automatic?  If you have to shoot, automatic would probably be easier.  But then, I doubt the driver is shooting the big gun.  It might be manual to better go over weird terrain.

Eh, the gas mileage probably sucks.

Man, I have been running a long time.  Did I miss where it told me to walk?

Keep breathing.  Stop breathing and you’re dead.

Ugh, rabbit road kill.

Man, I am out of shape.

Don’t say that.  Negative comments like that are detrimental to your progress.  Round is a shape.

What was that cartoon with the round people?  Rolie Polie Olie.  I wonder what happened to that.

FINALLY, walking.

Ah, I can rest.  Cool off.

Running again already?

Alright, count it out.

One, two, one, two, one, two.  Just a little farther and I’ll be walking.

Yeah.  For like two fracking seconds.

Another Selena Gomez song?  How did three get onto my running playlist?

That dog is looking at me funny.  Does he know I’ve listened to three of her songs now?

Yeah, he knows.

I’m pretty sure he is judging me for it too.

Alright, last time running.

You can do this.

OW!  SHARP ROCK!  DAMN YOU MINIMILIST SHOES!!!

It is getting hot.  I should have run an hour ago.

I need to start waking up earlier to run.

Maybe I can survive another month until the girls are out of school.  Then I can get up at the same time and run instead of getting them ready for school.

It is really hot.

Alright, walk again.

Walk around the unidentifiable road kill.  Wait, that’s five, BINGO!

I need to use the bathroom.

If I was a guy, it would be socially acceptable for me to take care of this problem behind that tree over there.

Stupid gender discrimination.

Whoa!  I totally know how the next scene goes.

Run, got to get this down before it disappears forever.

Move, move, move, move.

Cooldown?  But I have to get home!  Please can I run a little longer?

Alright, power walk it in.  The house is in sight.

I love running!

Short and Sweet

There is a problem I have run into recently.

I am a writer, working to be acknowledged as such outside of my own living room, but I do not have any qualifications.

There are of course many different feelings on writing qualifications.  Some seem to believe you have to a degree in your chosen field.  Teachers should have degrees in education, doctors in medicine, politicians in law or government, and writers should have degrees in English, literature, or writing.  The other side of course is that good writing speaks for itself.  It doesn’t matter what you have studied in the past, as long as you can tell a story.  I believe both points have validity, and unfortunately literary agents seems to agree. 

One the one hand, you can’t teach talent.  There are mechanics and editing tricks that can be learned, but there is a spirit within a well told story that cannot be faked.  It’s hard to say what makes the story good.  Well written stories can be horrible, and books that should have spent a little longer in editing can change your life.  There is simply something, an ineffable quality, that makes the story speak to your soul.  The ability to write like that cannot be taught.

However, truly good writing will find a way into the world.  Writer’s qualifications are not necessarily related to their education; they could just as easily be a byline somewhere or an award of some sort.  These qualifications tell agents and publishers that you are serious about your career.  Naturally, being able to say you are an award winning author would be appealing, just so long as the award was not granted by your mother when she pinned your story to the refrigerator.  A list of publishing credits can work just as well, again, assuming you are published anywhere other than your own blog.  Agents and publishers want to know someone else has found merit in your writing.  This is the work experience that helps to get you the job.  No one wants to take a large risk on a newbie who could turn out to be a one hit wonder.  When they sign you on, they want to know you will churn out a regular influx of good stories and therefore money.

Let’s just be honest.  Writing is art, but publishing is a business.

Having recently switched my career, and struggling to gain my footing, I can’t help but feel I would be better served to have a few qualifications on my query letter.  Eventually my stories will have to speak for themselves, but it wouldn’t hurt to find other ways to encourage people to listen.  To that end, I’ve begun looking into the possibilities behind short story writing.  The possibilities are broad, from short story competitions to publishing in magazines.  And of course, writing a new short story takes much less time than writing a full length novel.  It seems like a brilliant idea.  I just seem to be facing two big problems.

First, I talk too much.  Seriously, I don’t know how to keep things short.  Go ahead and scroll through my past posts.  Tell me how many are under 500 words.  I’m sure there are a few, but not many.  To write a short story I need to be able to convey an full tale in only a few pages.  It’s not impossible, but most of my ideas seem to be a little to long for that.  I don’t think of short stories very often.

The second problem becomes one of etiquette.  Writing short stories is difficult for me, so I have fewer to choose from.  Can I enter one story in multiple competitions?  Sometimes the rules say unpublished works, but the first competition isn’t over yet.  I have no idea if I could possibly have won, and so technically my story is unpublished.  Let’s be honest, I might not win.  Most stories entered into a competition do not win, so is it really hurting anything if I enter the second competition with the same story?  At what point can I send the story off to try to get it published somewhere else and still enter it into competitions?  Should I always write one story per competition?  What am I allowed to do with my story at the end of the competition?  Does publishing the story on my blog violate the rules?  I’ve been searching for answers to these questions, and the water seems murky.  There just doesn’t seem to be one definitive answer.

Part of my questioning comes from my current dilemma.  I am participating in the Sixfold Fiction competition.  We’re in round two, and I have no idea if my story is still in or not.  I have to say, I am loving it either way.  I like being able to judge the other stories.  I imagine giving details would violate the terms of entry.  I doubt if any of you are also participating that you have run across my story, or I ran across yours as it is a large competition.  However, I would not want to be thrown out on a technicality; if they allow no names on stories, I will not reveal which one was mine here.  Without any specifics, there are some great stories in there.  A few were horrible, but a couple were amazing.  I’m hoping mine is counted among the amazing ones, but it is hard to tell.  Good writing is subjective.  There were a few stories that I couldn’t say exactly why I didn’t like them.  It wasn’t the writing, or the concept; I just didn’t connect with the story.  If my story finds judges who feel that way, it might be cast out of the competition.  I’d like to think I could win, but at this point it is just as much luck as anything else.

I wrote the best story I could, and now it is all dependent on the audience.

So here is my question, the reason I wrote this long rambling post.  If my story would be a good fit for another competition, and it does not specifically say it cannot be a part of another contest, can I enter it?  If I win the first, my story will be published, but it isn’t published yet, and won’t be at the time of entry.  Am I ethically alright, or is the water too murky to tell?

Prehistoric

Yesterday I accompanied my daughter’s school on a field trip to the Natural Science Museum in Brussels.  As much as I wanted to be there for my daughter, there was a part of me that was hoping I wouldn’t be needed as a chaperone.  It was nothing personal, I was just busy and didn’t feel like I had time to shepherd kindergarteners around a museum full of exhibits they couldn’t touch with information they couldn’t read.  I guess I don’t sound much like a former preschool teacher right now, do I?

It seems a small amount of time away from the classroom, and I have forgotten how much I used to love the job.  I remember the kids, some more than others.  I remember the parents, some with fondness, some with the fear that they may somehow come back into my life.  I remember my coworkers, again with a mixture of sadness that I no longer see them, and happiness that I may never have to see them again.  I remember the frustrations that came with the job, but much of the joy has faded.

It bothers me to have the good memories leave.  I always thought you were supposed to forget the bad things and move on the with happiness you once had.  It’s why people call exes they hated after the break up, or go to high school reunions.  Everything that used to make you cringe, now makes you smile.   And the farther away you get, the more you should wish you could go back.

Maybe it shouldn’t matter to me that my memories have changed this way. I know consciously that I loved many things about the job, does it matter if I forgot the rest?

I guess it doesn’t.  Not much.

I know where I want to go, and that path is not heading back to the finger painting section.

So why does it bother me to have this job that I have placed in my personal history not give me warm fuzzy feelings anymore? 

Because this is my back up.

Everyone has one, whether they admit it or not.  If you lose your well paying office job, you could always take a job with a rival company.   If you lose your house, you will live with family.   If you can’t make it as an actor, you’ll wait tables for a while.  If you can’t have what you want, you will settle for something else.

I know that writing is not something people should ever do for the money. Yes, a living can be made, but for most people, it is not going to make you rich.  I’m well aware that even if I sell a book, and become a published author through an agent and a publishing house, I might still need a day job to make ends meet.  Even worse is the possibility that one day I will be back in the classroom, crawling on the ground picking up legos, and wishing I had sold a manuscript before time ran out.

And maybe that is why the memories are not as pleasant as I wish they were.  It’s not the memory of the past, it is the fear of the future.  I know I will most likely be back there one day, and I’m not sure if I will have anything to show for this time spent focusing on my writing.  Will I go back, happy because I know where I am and I just need a little longer to finish getting there, or will I go back broken, defeated, and dreamless?

For now, I try to find the enjoyment of my life, both with writing and with the occasional foray back into working with children.  Because the truth is, I did enjoy the museum.  We saw some dinosaur bones, something I had never seen in a museum before.  Most of the kiddos liked the T-Rex.

photo 1

Of course who doesn’t love him, with his big head, tiny arms, and potential to actually have been covered in chicken-like feathers.  My daughter however has a bit of a love for the triceratops.

photo 2

She is apparently the only one in her class who has an interest in a herbivore, which is strange as she often asks for meat for dinner.  (I don’t mean she asks for chicken nuggets, or hamburgers, I mean she will request her food by animal that had to be killed.  Ham is piggy meat, steaks are cow meat, and chili should always be cooked with bison meat.)

In the end it was a good trip.  It reminded me that if I need to, I can go back and still find enjoyment in an old career.  It also reminded me that there are other things I want more.

How to Fake It

Writing can be a thankless job when you are starting out.
Sure, it’s nice to see your name on a byline somewhere, and even nicer to know someone is actually reading what you wrote. A large part of the time you’re not certain if anyone is really out there or if you are talking to yourself.

You keep plugging along, writing what makes sense to you, or what makes you feel good.  You hope someone else feels the same.  You publish anywhere you can, and keep trying for places you can’t.  You let a few tears fall when you are turned down again before returning to your keyboard ready to write again.

Pushing through the hard times is essential for a writer.  Each story told is a small piece of our soul, cut off and placed out for the world to judge.  Ripped bare, the writer just waits for the response as the critics circle, pointing out every flaw.  They take the insults with them, and somehow find the strength to rip off another piece to take off before they do it all again.

How do they do it?  How do they always find the confidence to try again?  Simply put, they fake it.  Even when they are dying on the inside, they fake it through, hoping that this time will be different.  Here’s how.

1)Smile

A smile can cover a multitude of sins.  No matter how bad things get, a smile tells people you are still fighting.  You might not feel it when you start, but a smile is infectious, even to yourself.

2)Put on a Costume

There is a reason why actors often have a costume piece they wear through every performance.  It’s more than a prop, it is a connection to another person, to help them feel how they feel.  If you want to be someone else, find something that makes you connect with them.  Wear bright lipstick, throw on a piece of jewelry you never wear unless you are writing, or always wear a jaunty hat at writing events.  Find something that turns you into the person you want to be, and put it on before every performance. 

3)Make it a Good Day

Perfect days rarely happen.  Even when things are going well, there is always something that could have been better.  Don’t wait for the day to be perfect, make it happen.  Can’t focus on the writing?  Take a run and try again.  Receive a new rejection letter?  File it away and try again.  Don’t let the bad outweigh the good, take control and make things better on your own.

4) Believe

The most talented people are often the least confident.  They doubt themselves, and because of that doubt they work that much harder to make every word count.  Make your fear work for you, and then make it go away.  You can’t take it on your trip to success, it will just weigh you down.  You have to believe in yourself, even when the evidence points the other way.  There is something to be said for blind faith; it allows you to see the sun even when you are buried deep below the surface.

 

How do you fake it when you aren’t feeling it?