Friday, January 22, 2021

Friday Feature: Some Days are Like That

I've had a very productive January, something that pleases me on many levels but, yesterday, it all inexplicably caught up to me. Last night, despite a good day, I felt grumpy and, even though I all-but fell asleep on the sofa in the family room, I could not manage to string together more than 30 consecutive minutes of sleep until after dawn. 

The other night, I was talking to my dad, who's a generally good-natured guy. I noticed that things that don't usually get to him were bugging him and I asked him if he was okay. He said he was fine, but he remarked that he's tired -- we're all tired -- and worn down from nearly a year of a life that's far from normal. It was simultaneously so obvious and so insightful and it struck a chord.

While I can typically pinpoint what's bugging me, last night, I couldn't. And my dad's explanation pretty much summed it up. On Fridays, in this space, I typically try to post something interesting or helpful but, last night, as I searched for an article, everything annoyed me. Everything somehow came back to COVID and I was sick of COVID. And politics. And a life that's far from normal.

So, I looked up funny stories and good old reliable Reader's Digest came through. If you're looking for blessedly mindless entertainment (as I was last night), check them out.

But this morning, as I was procrastinating by checking out every app on my iPad, I came across a photo someone had posted on Twitter of a little boy curled up in a chair with a blanket. His mom had posted that he was over virtual learning and she was giving him a mental health day.

Bingo.

I'd already decided that I needed an unstructured day today, so I was on the right track, yet the obvious answer still eluded me. Thanks to that mom on Twitter, I knew exactly what I needed for today's post.

My dad was right. This is a lot. And it's been a lot for almost a year. Obvious, I know, but it hits each of us on different days in different ways and the solution to it is not one-size-fits-all. We've all heard that self-care is important, especially now, but what does that mean?

Stephen Covey writes about sharpening the saw -- physically, mentally, socially, emotionally and spiritually. And, in a really accessible way, so, too, does Verywell Mind. Their post on "5 Self-Care Practices for Every Area of Your Life" is skimmable and practical -- just what the pandemic-tired mind and body needs.
kropekk_pl via Pixabay

Last night's grouchiness notwithstanding, I'm typically an incurable optimist, and I do believe there's a light at the end of this tunnel. But, on those days when we need to take a bridge to get to the tunnel, it's nice to know we're not traveling alone, and it's really nice to know there are resources to make the trip easier.

Take care of yourself. Brighter days are coming.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Got Guilt?

Pixabay

One of my 2021 goals was to let go of guilt. Guilt over something I did. Guilt over something I didn't do. Guilt over saying "no" when someone was hoping for, or maybe even expecting, a yes.

Although I’ve been working on saying no for several years now, that's one of the places where I'm most likely to still feel guilt. While it makes sense that an impulsive no would be guilt-inducing, I know that I’m doing the right thing when I give a thoughtful no.

But sometimes the guilt arrives anyway.

It's a pretty useless emotion. It doesn't make anyone feel good. And, even if I am in the wrong, the single act of me feeling bad does little to right any wrong that might have occurred.

Still, it seems as though this goal, like many others, might be harder than it sounds. I've discovered that there are a few decision making tweaks I can make that help mediate the guilt.

I can overcome the urge to respond immediately, and simply pause. Sometimes, a yes or a no is practically automatic. Ditto an emotional response (usually frustration or annoyance) to something someone else does. Simply stopping to think can keep me from making a snap decision or knee-jerk reaction, stopping guilt in its tracks. 

Or, I can lengthen that pause by remembering that "maybe" is also a choice, and not committing either way until I've had some time to think. The bigger the task, the more reasonable "let me think about it" becomes. And, the more time I give myself to make a decision, the more I can be sure it was the right one. That means I'm less likely to feel guilt, requiring much less work in the letting it go department.

Another of my goals, which meshes nicely here, is to give others space to do things for themselves. Toward that end, I need to remind myself that if someone else is capable of doing the task in question, handing it off can be a reasonable alternative, especially if the other person is willing to take it on. If someone else is interested in learning how to do the job, taking a few minutes to teach them what to do or assist them in getting started can save me hours of time later on. And, if the other person actually enjoys the job, it can be a win-win.

Slowly, I'm learning to accept that, whether the answer is yes, no or maybe, if I've made my decision for the right reason, I can more easily let go of guilt. But making it a goal -- something I have all year (or perhaps longer) to perfect -- makes me more aware. Now, instead of my first response being to cope with the guilt, my first response is to remind myself to let it go. 

Sometimes, it's that simple.

Monday, January 18, 2021

It's Here!


Available as an e-book from Amazon.com

After a long delay, the final book in the Marita/Angel/Charli series is finally here! I'm very excited, though I must admit I'm not sure where I want to go next. This book has been my writing goal for so long that, aside from continuing work on the paperback edition, I don't know where to turn my attention. In addition, release days for indie authors during a pandemic are a little like a birthday during these times: exciting and meaningful to the person to whom they belong, but unable to be celebrated in the usual fashion. While I'm shouting about the book from the social media rooftops, I can't get together with friends to toast the book, or celebrate its existence. All in good time, I suppose.

The fact remains that the book is out there and the series is finished, something I find both exciting and bittersweet. I've been hanging out with these characters for over a decade and, although I know other characters await, I feel a little sad saying goodbye to this group. Yes, I'm aware they're not real people -- but the job of an author is to make them feel real to readers and, to accomplish that, they have to first feel real to her.

Mission accomplished.

Fortunately (or not, depending on your perspective), this isn't a group that will go away quietly. They might be a welcoming committee on the porch swing as new characters visit from other neighborhoods or, like grown children, they may drop in to visit over the holidays. But one thing is for sure.

You can always find them in the pages of these books. Happy reading.








Friday, January 15, 2021

Friday Feature: Luminous Voices in...a Parking Lot?

Overall, I'm much more comfortable with this whole staying at home thing than I expected to be, but there are things I miss. Hugs are at the top of the list, and so, too, is singing. Although I can sing in my house and in my car, it's not the same as singing with other people.

But, thanks to determination, ingenuity and some tech savvy, one group of people figured out how to put something most of us do regularly (sing in our cars) together with something we don't associate with cars (choir practice) and create a new, safe way of making music. In fact, they even had two car concerts -- concerts where the choir gathered together and sang in their cars (and the audience honked in appreciation). 

I don't pretend to understand the technical aspects, but the end result was gorgeous! (If you follow the link to the article, you must listen to the song!) I immediately sent the link to the head of our choir at church, who's been trying to find ways to keep making music under trying circumstances.

So, while I can't go out in my car and replicate this experience on my own, I can listen to the rich combination of voices of the Luminous Voices group, which fills me with hope that singing with a group of friends isn't just something I can reminisce about, but something I'll get to do again.

Perhaps sooner than I think.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Best Friends!

I've been spending a lot of time with my characters lately as I get Courting Peace ready for its e-book launch. And, although it's usually Marita, Angel, Charli (and sometimes Bets) who visit the porch swing, today I put three different characters on the spot. Although one is significantly younger than the others, none of them is exactly a shrinking violet, and I think everyone was happy to share her two cents.

Anna, Gina, and Bets are the best friends of Charli, Angel, and Marita respectively. All of them are loyal and give good advice, and each of them lends to the story in her own way, but they don't usually get the spotlight so, today, I thought I'd invite them here for a chat.

Q: How long have you known your best friend?

Anna: Since we moved from Chicago, about a year and a half ago.

Bets: Since first grade, so...a long time!

Gina: A coupl'a years. I used ta see her every day till she quit work to get married.

Q: What do you like best about her?

Gina: Angel's got a heart of gold and she sees the good in everybody. Even that crumbum she married.

Bets: Ri-Ri goes along with all my crazy schemes, and I can trust her completely.

Anna: Charli was the first person to reach out to me when I moved in. We've been best friends ever since!

Q: What's one thing you wish you could convince her to do?

Bets: Find a boyfriend who's not connected to Holy Redeemer.

Gina: Get her loser husband to take more responsibility when it comes to that adorable baby.

Anna: Get back together with my stupid brother. That way, they'd both stop moping. 

Q: Enough about them. Here are some for you. Sweet, savory, or sour?

Anna: Sour! I love lemons!!

Bets: Sweet, always.

Gina: Savory. Gimme a pizza or some pasta with seafood any day.

Q: Vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry?

Anna: Vanilla. With chocolate syrup and a cherry.

ponce photography via Pixabay
Gina: Strawberry.

Bets: Chocolate!

Q: Beach, mountains, or cruise?

Gina: Cruise. To an island.

Bets: Ooh! I like that.

Anna (quietly): Mountains.

Bets: It's okay, honey. You do you!

Q: Bagel, croissant, or sourdough?

Anna: Sourdough. As long as I don't have to make it.

Gina: An everything bagel slathered in cream cheese.

Bets: A croissant. And a mimosa.

Q: Last one. Stripes or polka dots?

Anna & Bets: Polka dots.

Anna: Or flowers.

Gina: None of the above. Gimme a chevron print. I love the zigzags. 

Q: Okay, last one. Favorite color.

Anna: Pink.

Bets: Red.

Gina: Black. (shrugs) Goes with everything. 

Thanks, ladies!

Bets: Hey, we'll come back any time, right ladies?




Monday, January 11, 2021

The ABCs of January

geralt via Pixabay

Semester breaks are a chance for me to reset, placing writing first and school second, and I've been having a great time doing just that. But, with the COVID-inspired adjustment to our semester schedules, my winter break is longer with more time spent at home and in close quarters with family. This gives me the opportunity to give a little more consideration to things beyond school and writing, and to kick-start some of the goals I've set for 2021. Here's a glimpse into my January by the letters.


A: Awareness -- a chance to zoom in on things that busyness can keep me from paying attention to.

B: Balance -- I'm keeping track of a number of how much time I spend on various pursuits, trying to tip the scales away from immersing myself in one thing to the exclusion of everything else. 

C: Characters -- Old and new. And that's all I'll say right now :-)

D: Decluttering -- Although it's happening more slowly than I'd like, piles are disappearing.

E: Education  -- I love to learn. I spend time daily on Duolingo to improve my French (and, to a lesser extent, my German, and to learn Spanish) and I'm taking a course on social media marketing to better understand the platforms.

F: Flexibility -- Switching gears can be hard for me when I know my open schedule will close up all too soon, but learning to be better at this is better for my relationships.

G: Gratitudes -- My daughter and I have developed the daily "3 things" habit. Like so many other things, this practice works better with an accountability partner.

H: Home -- Don't get around much anymore, as the song says. Under the current circumstances, I'm okay with that. It was kind of surprising to discover just how content I can be within the confines of my home.

I: Interiors -- Mine and my house's. Spending so much time here leads me to want to improve the overall status of everything, beyond simply decluttering.

J:  Jammies!! -- or a reasonable facsimile thereof. In an interview on Colbert's (A) Late Show last week, Rachel Brosnahan (Mrs. Maisel) talked about not wearing "hard pants." What a great description!

K: Kindle -- for both my reading and publishing pleasure.

L: Loved ones -- grateful to have my husband and daughter around (though the non-flex part of me wishes we could land on a regular schedule). It's a lot more challenging seeing those who don't live here, though, and that's sad.

M: Mindful -- one of my 20 for 2021. I'm not a patient person by nature, and am trying to use situations that require patience to nurture my mindfulness goal and to perhaps even slow down a bit.

N: No hard pants -- (Couldn't resist). :-)

O: Outreach -- After all these months indoors, it's all too easy to stay in my little bubble. I'm trying to be mindful (there's that word again) of making connections, even if they're virtual.

P: Positive Psychology -- Teaching this course beginning next month means preparing for it now. There's never been a better time to focus on optimism!

Q: Quiet -- my favorite work dynamic. Due to some family schedule changes, I'm getting more of it than I was, which helps my productivity.

R: Revising -- my #1 writing goal for January was finishing Courting Peace. I also have another novel ready for revision, and am hoping to transfer my grudgingly developed revising habit to this book.

S: Semester planning -- can't forget this one since classes start again February 1.

T: Timing -- With no deadlines and no real schedule, I've allowed my body clock (stay up late/sleep late) to run the show. I'm trying to get it back to something that's a better match for real-world rhythms. 

U: Undoing of knots -- both personal and object-related. 

V: Virtual writers' groups -- My critique group went virtual last fall, and I joined another group at the college where I work in November (I think) and I enjoy both the camaraderie and the professional development. And, my accountability partner and I re-started via Zoom just before Thanksgiving, too. All of this nudges me forward.

W: Writing! -- but you expected this one.

X: (E)xcavating inboxes -- still trying to get those numbers down.

Y: Yes to chilling out -- physically, mentally, and schedule-wise.

Z: Zzzz -- getting enough sleep for once. Now I need to work on starting this process at a "reasonable hour."


Friday, January 8, 2021

Friday Feature: A Few Miscellaneous Lessons

One necessary task that I shortchange on a regular basis is the weeding of my inbox. While I will never be an inbox zero girl, I do make some attempt to whip the virtual piles into shape, especially when I have time off. While I was doing this last night, I came across a fun article from The New York Times on things we learned in 2020. 

Wait!! 

Before you groan and/or roll your eyes and/or stop reading, it's not one of those growing-through-adversity pieces. Instead, it's called "7 Wonderful Non-Covid Things we Learned in 2020," and it pulls together things like complaining, procrastinating, saving money and whether or not you should leave your phone plugged in all day. 

Y'know. Useful stuff. (Which is probably why it's in the "Smarter Living" section).

To be honest, I haven't read the whole thing. I've decided to read it in sections, based on the topic. Even though it's short, each section has links and I find each one interesting enough to follow the links instead of zipping through the article and checking it off my list. I started with the section on charging cell phones and I'm not sure which section I'll read next (you might have noted that I put off reading the section on procrastination). I like it when articles are arranged so I can read them in snippets of time because sometimes that's all I have.

And I will read the section on procrastination. Eventually.