Where did the time go?

I’m behind in listening to the I Should Be Writing podcast, but back in . . . episode 199, maybe? . . . Mur Lafferty suggested writing down all the things you do that take time. She wasn’t saying you have to actually write down how much time you spend on e-mail or playing computer games or reading with your kids, just that anything you spend significant time on (personal grooming excepted) should be on the list. The idea is that your top time priorities (family, work, whatever) are probably not going to change, but as you look at things lower down the list, that’s where you can find more time for writing (or drawing or quilting or crocheting or whatever your own interest happens to be).

It’s a scary exercise. Sure, obviously, I’m going to put down time on the computer — but to be completely honest with myself, I have to divide that up because some of that is work (copyediting, proofreading, indexing, marketing my freelance business), some of it is writing or writing-related (writing, research on markets, e-publishing my works, submissions, research for stories), some of it is social interaction (Facebook, Twitter, blogging, reading and commenting on blogs, on-line chats, Forward Motion), and some of it is just plain goofing off (and sometimes, research and social interaction belong here, along with any computer games, reading Webcomics, following random links, looking at the new free books available for Kindle or Nook apps, and so forth). I’m not really good at drawing the lines there, and to a certain extent, I need both the social interaction (my husband being the only adult I see on a regular basis) and the puttery aspect of not having my brain going full-blast all however many hours I’m awake.

At least I know where I need to work on things. Writing needs to take precedence to Facebook and Twitter. Puttering should only happen after I’ve worked or written for the day. The work/writing duo is something I’m not sure what to do with. I find it hard to work on my own words when I’ve been devoting my brain to somebody else’s for most of the day, but because the freelance work represents actual (rather than potential) money, it has to take precedence. Maybe, practically speaking, I can’t work and write on the same day. If true, that’s just one more reason to make sure writing happens before puttering. *sigh* Guess that means I won’t be checking out what Agatha’s up to first thing Monday morning.

This doesn’t even take into account the off-line things I do with my time, from running errands to weeding and planting to quilting to reading and so on. And a lot of days, it’s one of those or writing, not both. (There’s a reason my son complained the book I handed him earlier today was covered with dust. Housework generally isn’t high on the list.)

What about you? Where are you spending your time?

Make it blue!

I get bored with my hair sometimes. I’ve done all kinds of things with it, from super short (my younger brother informed me I looked like a bulldyke) to long enough to reach my waist, from henna to dye to natural color, from perms to straight to lots of ponytails and braids. It’s hair, it’s not permanent, and there’s no reason not to play.

So I decided to play again this weekend. I wanted blue bangs, which meant bleaching my hair first — and my daughter thought that looked cool and wanted me to do it to her hair. No. (I didn’t tell her to ask me again in 10 years. I’m sure the first time she does it, she won’t even ask.) Then I dyed them.

I went with the aqua because the blue looked too dark at the store, but given that even after half an hour, I’ve still got some strands that are more green than aqua, I’m guessing the other might have worked okay. Also, I managed to stain my scalp more than my hair. 😛

Now my daughter wants color in her hair. Ah, the example I set!

Photo with blue bangs

Blue? Green? Blue-green? Aqua?

One of those days

Maybe it’s because I pushed myself really hard the last couple of days to meet a deadline. Maybe because it’s been so ridiculously hot (almost 100 degrees, with disgusting humidity).

Whatever the cause, I’m not feeling on top of the world, and that’s okay. I can’t expect to all the time. Sometimes, though, it morphs, and I start to feel like I can’t do anything right and nobody wants to hear what I have to say. I comment on a blog post, and my comment is never approved. I comment on somebody’s Facebook link about why my experience is different and I’m told that my opinion doesn’t count. A friend told me that she doesn’t think my online friends care about some of the stuff I put up on Facebook or Twitter.

Not the best mood to try to write in. What’s the point? Nobody will want to read it anyway.

Yeah, I’m having a “Poor Pitiful Pearl” day again. Maybe next week will be better. Maybe I’ll decide those reactions don’t count. As the last line of one of my favorite movies says, “It’s not all sunglasses and autographs.” That doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.

Now, I think, I’ll go do something useful with myself, like pay bills, shred papers, and deposit a check. I’ve turned off comments for this post (mostly because I assume anyone who’s reading my blog has already shown that they do care what I have to say). Have a good weekend, everyone! Next week, I’ll talk about what’s coming up here on the blog.

It takes time

Just thought I’d drop a note in to say I’m doing better this week. Taking most of last week to recover really was a good move. I’ve been running several times, and I’m up to being able to run 30 minutes (not necessarily fast, but that’s okay) at a time. Proofreading has been my focus this week, with some progress made on the book for Moongypsy. I could tell my burnout was fading when I started getting ideas for new stories, and I have one idea for a short story that I’ll probably get written next week.

My big revelation this week has been that everything takes time. It’s something I know and am okay with when gardening — I planted a rhododendron six years ago that finally bloomed this year, and of my two clematis, this is the first year the maroon one has bloomed. (The purple one has been blooming for three years now.) Peonies also take a few years between first planting and blooming, but then they produce profusely every year.

Yet, even though I know I’m getting into better shape, sometimes I get depressed when I look in the mirror and see how far I still have to go. Then there’s writing — from idea to completed project can take seemingly forever.

So it’s good that I can look out at my garden and see that even things that take years to yield results are worth it.

maroon clematis

First bloom, after five years.


Clematis flower, partially opened

A regular showpiece in the garden.


white rhododendron blossoms

Six years' wait


Pale pink peony

Steady performer, every year.

Take 5 minutes

. . . and make someone’s day.

It can be really easy. Send an e-mail to a friend telling them how much something they said recently resonated with you. Buy a treat for your kids. (I stopped at the corner store and got blueberries and black grapes for mine — and the boy just got home and gave me an enormous hug when he saw them.) If you see something that needs doing — do it. Wave to your neighbors. Little things matter.

We all love it when others think of us. I can’t begin to tell you all how much your encouragement earlier this week has meant to me. (I’m still not up to writing, but I’m getting there.) Thank you.

Burning up the candle

I’ve been really tired of late. Some of it’s good — I’ve had a lot of freelance work on my plate, which keeps me busy. Unfortunately, then I have less time and energy to do my writing, and when I start figuring the time for other things — exercise, family time, cooking, life — well, there’s even less time and energy. So I cut corners. Skipped the exercise because heading out for over half an hour to run, then coming back and stretching out, showering, cooling down, well, all that takes time. Chunks of it.

Today, I read a post Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote back in 2009 as part of her Freelancer’s Survival Guide, Burnout. In it, she lists several symptoms of burnout — exhaustion, irritability, inefficiency, and more. Hmm. Yes, that’s ringing bells.

Okay, to be fair, I figured I was on the edge of burnout. That’s why I took the weekend essentially off, just doing things I enjoy and don’t stress over (mostly — getting kids to bed has to get done, and there often seems to be stress involved). It’s also why I read her post today; I hoped she had some good advice.

Her advice? Sleep, eat right, exercise. And then worry about whether you’re taking on too much. I’m trying to get more sleep; it’s not always easy with a family, but I’m trying. I do need to get back to the exercise that I’ve been slacking on, though. I mostly eat right — except for the chocolate chip cookies I baked this weekend and ate copious amounts of.

One of the stressors I’ve had is feeling like I have to live up to others’ expectations for my writing career. Whether it’s things I disagree with (like writing taking precedence over everything else in my life, including attending my son’s first band concert) or more insidious things like being a writer meaning I should be writing every day, for more hours than I put in, so I get things done faster. And even if I do want to get things done (and some I need to get done, like the book I’m writing for Moongypsy Press), adding that expectation on top of everything else has made it worse.

I’m still trying to write, but I’m trying to not be down on myself about expectations. I want to write because I want to write, because I have these characters in my head whose stories I want to tell, not because it’s one more thing on my to-do list.

I’ll probably be much more upbeat after even a week of better sleep and a couple times of exercise, but this is a good wake-up call that I need to take care of myself, and that includes managing my expectations.

What about you? Have you been pushing yourself too much recently? Or some time in the past? What helps you get back on track?

random Friday thoughts

There are all kinds of people in the world. If I get to divide it in two, though, it gets divided by people who can fall asleep instantly and people who take half an hour or more to drift off. I’m in the latter group. I also tend to be a light sleeper, which means if a kid gets up, I wake up — and then have trouble going back to sleep. I anticipate getting a full week of sleep probably a couple of decades in the future.

*

NPR recently did a review of the book Annoying. There’s a quiz that goes with it that’s supposed to tell how readily you get annoyed. The average score is just under the midpoint; I was just over. (Scale of 1 to 5, where 3 is the middle, and 1 is nothing irritates you.) On the other hand, you’d think they’d program it so that if all your responses are falling in the middle but you mark “strongly agree” to caring about what other people think of you, your scores would be adjusted — because you may be marking (okay, I was marking) based on who might see the results, rather than how picky you actually are.

*

Justine Musk had a really interesting post on embracing naked ambition the other day. I keep mulling it over. There are things I’d like (such as having membership in all the various professional writers’ organizations) and standard middle-class ambitions (pay off the mortgage and consumer debt, have enough money for the kids to go to college where they want, have money set aside to do what we want during retirement — whatever retirement may mean for someone who plans to write for the rest of her life), but I don’t have any major make-my-mark naked ambitions, like curating an anthology series, having a TV show (something mentioned in her blog), or anything like that. The closest I come is writing in every genre that appeals to me and having people who like reading what I write. Pretty simplistic.

*

What about you? What’s on your mind this fine Friday afternoon?

What we leave

I saw a post recently by an author that bugged me. I have no problem with him arguing that if you want to be a writer, you write. I mean, that just stands to reason. You don’t get hired as a chef for a four-star restaurant without learning to cook first. You don’t become chief of surgery at the local trauma center without doing a lot of surgeries. And you don’t become a writer — let alone a renowned writer — without putting in the time.

No, what bugged me was his dismissal of any other occupation you might have for your time. As I think I’ve made clear, I don’t believe in burying myself in one occupation to the exclusion of everything else, so obviously I don’t agree with him. I also really don’t like personal opinion being presented as the One True Way. Breadth works for me, but that doesn’t mean I think everyone should be like me (with the exception to follow, of course 😉 ).

Even more specifically, one of the things he singled out as not being as important for his time was parenthood. Basically, he said he provides for his family, they know he loves them, and that should be enough without him making an effort to go to games, etc.

Wow, how utterly 1950s.

I’m not suggesting the other extreme — give up your own life for two decades until the kids are grown and gone, then try to remember who you are when you’re not being a helicopter parent.

Instead, I’m arguing for the middle ground. (Yep, I’m a centrist. Live with it.)

I think one of the most common things middle class parents tell their children is that they can do anything they want to do, that they can grow up to be anything, that they should follow their dreams. Well, look, if you really believe that, there are two things you have to do to make sure they believe it, too:

  1. You need to support their dreams — go to their games, their concerts, their recitals; read their stories; care about what they care about.
  2. You need to live your dreams so they know they’re not expected to put their lives on hold when they have kids of their own.

My mom always supported my dreams; she still does. And she had dreams of her own — I remember studying Italian flash cards with her when she went back to school to finish up her bachelor’s degree. I also shared the college commute with her when she went back to work on a second degree. She taught me by example, and I hope to do the same for my kids.

Yes, there are millions of mothers out there, and not as many writers. On the other hand, my kids only have one mother and can read any book they want. It’s a balance.

. . . and now I need to get back to this book I’m writing.

Never too many

If you’ve been reading for a while, you might remember last fall when I said, “You can never have too many daffodils.” Well, right around then I planted a couple hundred bulbs in a single bed. Below is a picture of what they looked like last week.

daffodils again

A couple hundred still isn't too many.

Z is for zephyr

The zephyr, as many know, is a west wind. Where I grew up, though, it had special meaning. The “gentle” Washoe zephyrs were a by-word. Here, in Mark Twain’s words, a description:

This was all we saw that day, for it was two o’clock, now, and according to custom the daily “Washoe Zephyr” set in; a soaring dust-drift about the size of the United States set up edgewise came with it, and the capital of Nevada Territory disappeared from view.

Still, there were sights to be seen which were not wholly uninteresting to new comers; for the vast dust cloud was thickly freckled with things strange to the upper air—things living and dead, that flitted hither and thither, going and coming, appearing and disappearing among the rolling billows of dust—hats, chickens and parasols sailing in the remote heavens; blankets, tin signs, sage-brush and shingles a shade lower; door-mats and buffalo robes lower still; shovels and coal scuttles on the next grade; glass doors, cats and little children on the next; disrupted lumber yards, light buggies and wheelbarrows on the next; and down only thirty or forty feet above ground was a scurrying storm of emigrating roofs and vacant lots.

t was something to see that much. I could have seen more, if I could have kept the dust out of my eyes.

But seriously a Washoe wind is by no means a trifling matter. It blows flimsy houses down, lifts shingle roofs occasionally, rolls up tin ones like sheet music, now and then blows a stage coach over and spills the passengers; and tradition says the reason there are so many bald people there, is, that the wind blows the hair off their heads while they are looking skyward after their hats. Carson streets seldom look inactive on Summer afternoons, because there are so many citizens skipping around their escaping hats, like chambermaids trying to head off a spider.

The “Washoe Zephyr” (Washoe is a pet nickname for Nevada) is a peculiar Scriptural wind, in that no man knoweth “whence it cometh.” That is to say, where it originates. It comes right over the mountains from the West, but when one crosses the ridge he does not find any of it on the other side! It probably is manufactured on the mountain-top for the occasion, and starts from there. It is a pretty regular wind, in the summer time. Its office hours are from two in the afternoon till two the next morning; and anybody venturing abroad during those twelve hours needs to allow for the wind or he will bring up a mile or two to leeward of the point he is aiming at. And yet the first complaint a Washoe visitor to San Francisco makes, is that the sea winds blow so, there! There is a good deal of human nature in that.

(Roughing It, part 3, published 1872)

Because of the Washoe zephyrs, I’ve always been fascinated by named winds, from siroccos to Santa Anas. In fact, once I discovered that Wikipedia has a list of winds, I started creating a story that named individuals after winds. Hmm. I’m going to have to take that off the back burner sometime.

What about you? Do you have a favorite meteorological phenomenon? How about a favorite Mark Twain quote?