Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Book Intervention

When I sat down to write this blog post, my characters were waiting for me on the porch swing. Angel looked tentative and a little embarrassed, and Charli looked bored, but Bets wasted no time.

Bets: "What's taking you so long?"

Me: "Excuse me?"

Bets: "Book 3. Courting Peace. It's been finished for ages. Why can I only get an e-book?"

Me: "Umm..."

Bets: "I mean, I have exciting things to share! My fans--"

Marita: "Bets! Give her a chance to talk."

Angel: "I'm sure she's been busy."

Bets: (waves a hand) "We're all busy."

Me: "It's almost ready."

Bets: "You said that last week."

Me: "It's complicated."

Bets: (arches an eyebrow) "It's complicatedI?"

Marita: "Hey, Bets -- we know how that goes!"

Me: "Look, your stories were great -- that's not the problem. It's just that actually turning them into a book was a whole new skill set. There were things I had to learn the hard way."

Marita: "Been there."

Bets: "Done that."

Angel: "Got the tee shirt."

Marita: (looks at Angel) "Did not expect that from you."

Angel: "I do leave the house from time to time."

Charli: (nibbling on her thumbnail) "I'm not in any hurry."

Marita: "And why is that?"

Charli: "I'm not sure I want the whole world to know -- "

Angel: "Me either."

Marita: "Huh. You kind of raise a good point."

Bets: "Are you people kidding me? I have news. I want everyone to know!"

Marita: "Because you're so shy."

Bets: "That I am. Not. Look, we will be back -- and clearly we don't need an invitation -- whether it's to toast the book or to roast you for not getting it off your computer and out into the world."

Me: "I'm working on it, I promise. It will be ready soon." (sotto voce) "I hope."

Charli: "You can cut me out if that makes it easier."

Marita: "She'll do no such thing." (stands) "Okay, we're going to get out of here so you can get to work."

Bets: "But we'll be back."

Angel: (pats me on the shoulder) "Sorry."

Bets: "Hey, cut that out! She has work to do."

Me: "I know. I will. But I'm not making any more promises about dates."

Charli: (scrunches up her nose and nods) "Probably a good idea."

Courting Peace will release in paperback. Soon. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, check Amazon for the e-book.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Showing Perfectionism the Door

As I write this, I'm battling a heavy dose of overachievement and a heaping helping of perfectionism. It's been a Monday -- one where nothing major went wrong, but lots of little things got under my skin. I won't detail them all here (you're welcome), but suffice it to say that a sense of progress is eluding me on many fronts. Couple that with some dropped balls that are in equal parts embarrassing and regret-inducing and you have the sum total of my gray, windy, why-can't-I-get-things-right Monday.

I know that the flip side to what went wrong is what went right and, in fact, I'm very good at helping other people reframe these things ("Look at what you did accomplish!"). In addition, I have to admit that a bit of "now I know what not to do next time" is much better than an even smaller dose of "well, that was really stupid" but, like so many others, the latter is more likely to be my first stop.

Peering into the machine to see how it works is not terribly helpful. Yes, I know we humans have a negativity bias, and it's much easier to pull up a beanbag and wallow than pull ourselves up to the table and have another go at it. Yes, I know I have much to be grateful for and, while pausing to reflect on that helps, it doesn't fix the mistakes. 

Which brings me to the uninvited guest of honor. Perfectionism. Those who know me well know perfectionism is never far from my front door. Those who know me only casually, on the other hand, would be surprised at how often it camps out on my front porch and how very, very easy it is to just cave in and let it come inside and point its gnarly finger at every perceived misstep, missed spot and missed opportunity.

Yeah. That kind of day.

And I know the answer is easy. Shove it back out the door through which it came. Shut the door and let the wind whirl perfectionism down the street. Its stink will linger, like good intentions gone bad, but if I light a candle and turn my thoughts to other things, the odor will dissipate. Sweeter, more fragrant thoughts will prevail, fueled by the flame that melts the waxy criticism and promises a light in the darkness, leading me to rest and realistic expectations.

On days like this when perfectionism is a ten ton toad perched on my shoulder and croaking in my ear, it's a lot harder to show it the door. But I have to, because the only other choice is to feed it and, if I do that, it's sure to stay.

So, fair warning, folks. I've managed to wrangle it out the door and push it down the street. Keep your eyes open and, if you see it coming, stay inside until it passes. It's a terrible houseguest and has a tendency to overstay its welcome.

You've been warned.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Friday Feature: Why am I the Last to Know About Nap Dresses?

A nap dress? I love a good nap as much as (perhaps more than) the next person. Why am I the last to know about this?

And no, I'm not making it up. In my never-ending quest to slim down my overstuffed inbox, I came across an article in Fast Company about nap dresses. Created by a company called Hill House Home, the dress promises to be as suitable and comfortable for a Zoom meeting as it is for a nap. At around $100 a pop, the dress sold out in minutes.

Curious, I checked out the site to see what a nap dress looked like. Though I give enormous credit to the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity of its makers, it's really not my style, nor is it in my budget since I have a full wardrobe of leggings and pajama bottoms that, when paired with the right sweater or top, serve the same purpose.

Still, I'm impressed by so many aspects of this. Finding a need and filling it. Great use of pandemic down-time. Marrying style and function. Definitely more productive than (re-) binge-watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Or so I suspect.

My budget and I will be sticking to our current supply of Zoom-to-nap attire but, if your shopping list includes that hard-to-buy-for woman who has everything, maybe the nap dress is your answer.

Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Bright Spots

ulleo via Pixabay
Yesterday was a day of unexpected bright spots. After class, a conversation with a student about course material led into a discussion about theatre. Still smiling after he left, I walked out into the hallway and came face-to-face with a series of photographs taken by students. I stopped and took each one in, grateful for the room change that had led to my being in this place at this time. Across the hall from the photographs was another display of artwork and poetry. I stood there, hand sanitizer barely dry and still wearing my mask, drinking in the beauty of words and pictures that I hadn't even known I'd missed.

Then, yesterday afternoon, I raced into the doctor's office for a routine visit, running a little late because of unexpected road construction. There was a woman checking in at the window, which gave me a moment to catch my breath.

But it got better. 

When she turned around, I discovered that the woman was none other than a former colleague I hadn't seen in ages. In just a few minutes we managed to catch up on kids, empty nesting (or the lack thereof amid COVID) and close the gap of time as though it had never happened. When we got called back to our respective treatment rooms, we decided that a post-COVID lunch was long overdue.

I can't wait.

It's been a long year and, on many days, bright spots have been tough to come by. Stumbling across two of them on the same day felt like striking gold, and I'm incredibly grateful that I was present enough not to miss either of them. Each of them provided a spark -- a preview of the light at the end of the tunnel where theatre and art and lunches with friends are once again a regular part of life.

Coming soon, but not soon enough. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Angel's View from the Driver's Seat

On Saturday, I finished putting the final touches on the paperback edition of Courting Peace. This week, I'll get the proof and, by this time next week, the book should be available! In celebration (and anticipation), I thought I'd share a little bit of deleted Angel material.

Happy reading!  

Angel circled the block for the third time, wondering if she should keep driving and let Spencer sleep, or take her home and try to put her down for a nap. Either way, she was trapped. Trapped in a car, driving in circles and accomplishing nothing or trapped at home with a baby whose needs she couldn't discern.

Was this how her mother had felt? Was this why she'd left?

But her mother had made it through the baby stages. Could what came next really be harder than this?

* * * * *

Angel Alessio pulled into a parking space at Holy Redeemer Church and peeked in her rear view mirror. Spencer was sound asleep, her peaceful expression belying the endless crying that had cost all of them countless hours of sleep. Angel had expected her baby to cry -- to believe otherwise would have been ridiculous -- but in no way had she been prepared for the endless cycles of inconsolable wails that had marked Spencer's first few months of life. 

Angel glanced at the entrance to the church. Just a few parking spaces separated her from the company of actual adults whose responses had evolved far from wails of dissatisfaction at every turn -- women who'd be delighted to pass her baby from one set of arms to the next, giving Angel a break and perhaps being able to do what she could not. But here, in the car with her sleeping, content baby, fears of parental incompetence evaporated with one look at Spencer's beautiful, angelic face. 

Angel checked her watch. Bible study would begin in less than five minutes. By the time she unbuckled Spencer from her car seat, doubtless setting off a whole new chorus of wails, she'd have about two minutes to make it across the parking lot and into the church, loaded down with all of Spencer's paraphernalia, consoling her child all the way.

Spencer stirred and Angel held her breath. Gently shifting the car into reverse, she backed out of the parking space and drove home.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Friday Feature: 10,000 Steps

Sitting here on my rump after my third Zoom day this week (thank you, winter weather!), I check my Fitbit which informs me that I have about half as many steps in as I usually do by this time of day. While my new Fitbit seems to credit me for more steps and less sleep than my old one did, I'm pretty sure it's right this time around. 

When I was working full time, it was pretty easy to log 10,000 steps a day. Now, when much of my work involves sitting in front of a computer, I find it more challenging. Though I aspire to 10,000 steps each day, I wonder about that number. Why 10,000? Why not 9,000? or 10,550?

A recent article in The Conversation shares evidence that 10,000 steps is, indeed, more random than carved in stone. While an active lifestyle has many benefits, studies have shown that 10,000 steps is far from a magical number and, in fact, about half that has benefits. And, for you overachievers, benefits don't seem to continue accruing at the same level once we hit 7500 steps.

This doesn't mean I'm planning to cut my goal in half, but it does mean that I can, perhaps, cut myself some slack on the days when writing and prep have kept me more sedentary than I'd like. It also means that perhaps my very mushy, non-quantitative goal for 2021 was more on track than I thought.

Move more. And ditch the guilt. It doesn't have any health benefits.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Take the Break, Ditch the Guilt

I chose sweats & gray fuzzy socks :-)
Photo: tookapic via Pixabay

Today, I took the afternoon off -- well, most of it, anyway. No writing, no grading, no e-mails, no planning. Just some games on my iPad with a little nap in between. Oh, and some conversation with my daughter.

Saying I was taking the afternoon off felt almost as good as doing it.

As a recovering perfectionist, I've gotten better at replacing maximizing with satisficing -- sometimes, good enough is good enough -- but I'm still not very good at honoring weekends, let alone taking down time in the middle of a weekday. But, with teaching, trying to get the paperback edition of Courting Peace out and life in general, I've been burning the candle at both ends. 

It was time to stop and take a breath. 

I'm lucky. As a self-employed writer with a part-time teaching gig, I can declare the occasional Wednesday afternoon a no-business zone. I don't have to clear it with my boss or submit paperwork to payroll, which makes it easy to let go of the guilt (item #21 on my 21 Things for 2021, added after this post). 

But, to make that happen, I had to reframe things. To the casual observer, I seemed to be lazing about, wasting time and, it could be argued that that would be an accurate portrayal. If I were supposed to be doing something in particular, that assessment would be guilt-inducing. But, if I framed it as taking the afternoon off, I gave myself tacit permission to do whatever I wanted. And, once I did that, there was no reason to feel guilty.

In fact, instead of feeling guilty, I wondered why I don't do this more often. 

This afternoon, I made a choice. I didn't fritter away my time or waste the day. I made a choice to relax and catch my breath in preparation for my next foray into my never-ending to-do list. It's a choice that doesn't get much support in a society where a Google search for productivity yields 489,000,000 results in under one second (I'm not making that up), but some days, it's the right choice. 

And today was one of them.