Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Feature: The Empty Bedroom

If you read any of my blogs, you know that my daughter was home for a week for Thanksgiving break. It was great having her here again, and more awful sending her back to school than I'd expected it to be. I quickly found myself back in countdown mode as I'd been in August, only this time, the countdown would hit single digits much sooner.

The week before she came home, my husband and I had a difference of opinion over her room. He wanted to prepare it for her -- clean it, mostly -- while I argued that it had been her job to clean her own room for years.

Still, on one point we agreed: neither one of us ever considered that bedroom anything but her room.

I do have to admit, though, that I'd considered doing exactly what the dad in this piece did -- using her room as a workspace. I wouldn't move anything out of place -- I'd simply take my laptop upstairs and make myself comfortable at her now empty desk. I thought that might not only give me a change of scenery, but also make me feel closer to her.

In three months, I've sat at her desk exactly once -- and I lasted less than five minutes. It didn't make me sad or wistful or anything like that; it just wasn't quiet enough for me to work there.

I haven't ruled out the change of scenery idea, but on one point, I'm clear.

It's her room.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Talking with my Characters

Photo: Ashley Schweitzer via Minimography
Over Thanksgiving break, I got to do some writing. I'm a writer, so that probably doesn't sound like a big deal, but the fact is, I've been struggling to find writing time. I even publicly announced that I was going to jump (late) into NaNoWriMo, counting all of my words (including blogs) in an effort to at least give myself credit for writing something.

As it turns out, having class-free days helps a lot -- no big surprise there -- freeing up time usually spent in preparation, grading and in the classroom. I got back to my stalled work-in-progress and something wonderful happened.

I got excited about it again.

The best characters are a lot like real-life people. When writers fail to spend sufficient time with them, the relationships become strained.  Too many missed conversations lead to awkwardness between a writer and her characters, which, in turn, leads to a lot of time staring at a blank screen.

But, much like old friends, characters open up when a writer gives them her full attention. They speak and share their thoughts and opinions on everything from the situation in which they currently find themselves to their future hopes, dreams and fears.

Or maybe I just have bossy characters.

Carving out writing time over break re-opened old discussions, and, as it turns out, my characters had been harboring secrets, pondering decisions and making resolutions. Many of these were a surprise to me (one of the joys of being a "pantser" rather than a "plotter") and now I can't wait to have these new events play out on the page.

It's the last day of November, and though I got nowhere near the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal, I still feel a sense of accomplishment. Who knew that getting unstuck was as simple as re-opening the discussion?

I'm juggling multiple projects, so I know my writing challenges will continue until at least the end of the semester. But, now that I know that I can pull up a chair and restart a conversation with my characters, I'm much less anxious about time away from them.

And if there's one thing I can count on Marita and Bets for, it's a lively conversation.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Mail Call

Dashu83 via freepik.com
When I was a little kid, I loved getting mail. Oh, who am I kidding? I was well into my adult years before the disappointment of bills overtook the joy of personal mail. More than two decades ago, when I first started writing articles on spec, I eagerly awaited the mail each day, hoping for an acceptance letter, a contributor copy or -- jackpot! -- a check.

I think my delight with deliveries is one of the reasons I love the Christmas season. Sure, a lot of people have switched over to e-cards -- and every year, I swear that next year, I'll join them -- but Christmas cards are not yet obsolete, and finding red and green and silver envelopes among the bills and junk mail is one of the highlights of December.

And you know what else December brings?

Packages!

I'm not a Black Friday shopper and, in addition, I am one of those people who thinks stores should be closed on Thanksgiving so people can be with their families. And yet, I had both hands into some serious online shopping before it hit me that even though I'm shopping from the comfort of my own home, someone else out there on the other end of my Internet connection must be working in order to make my at-home convenience possible.

Oops.

By that time, I'd racked up enough potential presents to make sure that my mail would yield a bounty of boxes for much of the month, assuring that my daily trip to the mailbox (or, in the case of UPS, my front porch) would be worth my while.
Condesign via Pixabay

Some people outgrow Christmas. Most adults have long since stopped marveling over the mail. But these kinds of everyday pleasures still excite me. In January, the mail will return to its usual mix of bills and junk -- perhaps temporarily a tad heavier on the bills -- and so I plan to savor the deliveries of December, along with a few that I suspect will turn up before then.

Happy Cyber Monday. May all your packages be perfect.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Win Something to Read, Something to Listen to and Something to Wear


It's Small Business Saturday! Enter today to win one of the Thirty-One bags below (your choice) filled with something to read (copies of the 50 Over 50 anthology and Chasing a Second Chance), something to listen to (an audio book of Casting the First Stone, narrated by Beth McIntosh), something to wear (a pair of LuLaRoe leggings, courtesy of the inventory of Alicia Paige Boggs) and something chocolate, along with a few other little goodies I'll toss into the bag.
Double Duty Caddy
in black chevron
To enter, do one (or more) of the following:

1. Like this page.
2. Comment on the post on my author page about this contest.
3. Sign up for my author newsletter by sending me an email at jerseywriter@yahoo.com. Put "Small Business Saturday" in the subject line.
4. Comment on one of this blog post, or go over to Organizing by STYLE and leave me a comment there.
5. Follow this blog or 
Organizing by STYLE, and tell me you did so.
6. Write a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Goodreads if you've already read one of the books.

Is it okay to enter if you already have the books? Absolutely! Books make great Christmas gifts!

Contest runs from midnight tonight (NOW!) until midnight tomorrow night. Good luck!
Around the Clock Thermal
in black playful parade.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday Feature: Still Thankful

Freepik
I love teaching my first year seminar. Not only do I enjoy my freshmen, but I find our subject matter uplifting. Not surprising, of course, since I chose the topics and proposed the course, but really, who could be unhappy teaching about happiness?

And, as it turns out, gratitude is a big part of happiness. Lots of research-based pieces have been written on the relationship between gratitude and happiness, but this weekend, I'm particularly partial to this Thanksgiving-themed piece.

So, as you're polishing off those leftovers, why not take a few minutes to express some leftover gratitude, even if only to yourself?

I hear it's good for you.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Waiting and Writing

Pixabay
I'm not a white coat syndrome kind of girl, but certain doctors' offices inspire anxiety in me nonetheless. Simply pulling into the parking lot at the ENT makes my stomach do flip flops. Flip flops are one of my favorite things, but not when they' re in my stomach.

I associate this office with only bad things. The polyp that I feared would mean I'd never sing again, or, worse yet, rob me of the ability to watch my daughter grow up. The unpleasant treatment for vertigo that helped tremendously, but took away my sense of control. The record high blood pressure taken in the hallway outside a treatment room by a nurse who didn't seem to care what the numbers said.

And so here I sit today, familiar symptoms having prompted a visit I didn't want to make. I try to both prepare for bad news and not borrow trouble. I'm here for information, I tell myself, and there's no sense thinking the worst when no evidence -- nothing quantifiable, anyway -- has presented itself.

Waiting and writing, I watch people come and go, gratitude rising. I'm able-bodied and middle-aged, not a small, scared child, or an older adult straining to hear whether or not the name the nurse just called was mine. I calculate the number of people in the waiting room divided by the number of doctors in the practice, trying to determine how long beyond my scheduled appointment I'll have to wait and whether or not a delay is a good thing. I ask God if another medical diagnosis is really what he has in mind for my family at this time, wanting desperately to believe that the answer to that question is no.

When it's my turn, I go in. The nurse asks me to step on the scale and I kick off my shoes, seeing the sign that requests patients not do so only after I've stepped on the scale. I apologize and she takes my blood pressure while I run the song I heard in the waiting room through my head, concentrating on anything but the computer-operated cuff that never seems to take a reading the first time. She sprays the numbing solution into my nostrils, and I feel a strange sense of relief, grateful for anything that will make this easier.

The doctor looks exactly as I remember him from our last encounter -- a post-surgical follow-up when he told me the polyp on my vocal cord was not cancer, but "just one of those things," and something he didn't expect would happen again. In my trepidation, I'd forgotten his kindness, his willingness to listen to everything I want to share, his reassuring manner. Uncomfortable procedures and callous staff members swept those good things away, and I'm happy to experience their return.

The procedure is less terrible than I remembered, and the news is good, the symptoms easily explained. No polyp, no cancer, no surgery. I need to cut back on chocolate and caffeine, but I get to keep my voice, my job, my hope for the future.

As I leave the office, a burden has risen from my shoulders. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I have something to be thankful for -- a rather substantial something, as a matter of fact. This year has been difficult in many ways, but there are also many things to celebrate, not the least of which is that I don't have to return to this office again in the near future.

It's the things we take for granted that are most easily threatened. Tomorrow, those things will be
among the things that I'm happiest to celebrate.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Adjustment Issues

Pixabay
A little more than a month ago, "my" Starbucks moved into a new store. It's pretty and spacious and bright -- a standalone store, rather than one tucked into a strip mall. It has more seating, albeit in a different configuration, and a drive-thru.

But less parking.

Consequently, my home away from home has been a bit tougher to access. In addition, the novelty of the new store, not to mention a drive-thru, has increased traffic inside and outside of the store. I'm happy the store is doing well, but I'm feeling a little displaced.

So, when people ask me how I like the new store, I have to say that I don't know. I'd kind of figured out the rhythms of the old place -- when I could go in and find a table, grab a drink quickly or get serious work done. Now, so much has changed that I sometimes end up working at another store, or returning home.

First world problems, I know.

And I'm not complaining, really -- just...adjusting. I don't want to believe that I'm set in my ways, but I guess in some ways, I am. When I find a place (or thing) I like, a part of me wants to check it off my list. The right drink? Check. The right place to do work away from home? Check.

A bit of my perfectionism rearing its ugly head? Maybe. But I prefer to think of it as efficiency. The point of finding a solution that works is to avoid starting over every time you ask the same question or face the same problem. Predictability may be boring, but it keeps things low maintenance.

So I'll wait -- although patience isn't my strong suit -- and see how things play out. In time, the rhythm of the new store will reveal itself, or perhaps my rhythms will change. With only a few weeks left in the semester, I know my schedule will change, so perhaps that will do the trick.

Meanwhile, I'll grab a table when I can.