The Longest Night – and Moments of Light

Yes, I’m late. No, I don’t really have a good excuse aside from the wicked temptation of mindless entertainment.

But on that, the longest night of the year (work with me here), I want to take some time to remember what brings light in my life.

My parents, who I’m lucky to have supported me through a job change (I don’t handle change well) and buying a house (see former). A little bit of financial (buying paint, etc), but mostly putting in time, etc, helping me make this house a home #cheesy.

My moving party – when I put a call out to my friends, they all wanted to chip in to pay for movers (for various valid reasons), but even with their financial support, it would have been way too much. In the end, only one of them could make it, AND on the day of, my moving truck got canceled. But the four of us and two pickup trucks (and about four or five trips) did it. We were lucky to have gorgeous weather at the beginning of November (sunny and cool but not cold and DRY). I paid them in pizza and beer/hard cider (and the one friend in ice cream as well). I wasn’t too grumpy and we got it all done.

My barn. I’ve had a lot of joy at my barn over the years, but my riding instructor just had her 70th birthday and her four main horses/ponies that she uses for lessons/pony camp are aged and/or showing health problems. The horse I usually ride began showing signs of lyme, so they treated for that (it’s fairly common in PA) but his test came back negative. Then he showed fluid in the lungs and a heart murmur. I want to think he’s improving, but it’s hard to say, and a week ago my instructor said she’d decide before Christmas. Then Monday she said the New Year. Today she talked about getting him through the winter. So who knows what the new year will bring. But I’m grateful for all the joy they’ve brought me this year and for the past <redacted> years.

And I’d also like to take a moment to say I’m grateful for my friends, who have kept me sane; my job, which has kept me fed and warm; my second job, which will pay for future repairs on the house; my petsitting clients, who have put their most precious possessions in my care; and all the hours of GBBO that were available that I watched when I was exhausted. 

Six months later…

I had high hopes for blogging this year, but those hopes were not meant to be. 

First, I got a new job in May, which was a huge improvement but also a change, so I had to deal with that. And aside from work, I didn’t have any fun updates since my writing had dried up and my editing motivation was MIA. After a few months I even stopped putting “edit Familiars” on my to-do list. 

Then as I was getting settled into my new job, summer arrived, with horse demands and part time job demands and petsitting demands, and blogging (and writing and editing) went to the bottom of the pile.

Then, just when it looked like I would have time to do things, I decided now (in a seller’s market) was the time to buy a house. So I did. 

Which brings me to now. I have the job(s) I’ve had all summer, and am in fact petsitting two different dogs in two different towns this weekend, but I’m moved into my house (aside from the books, but we won’t talk about that, you all understand), and I don’t have my work computer with me, so I can’t fulfill any of those obligations. So I thought I’d take a second to update my blog.

I’ve written very little, but there’s a tiny flame that wants to be kindled inside me, so I’m optimistic about that. I also have a backlog of like four or five stories that are finished but the idea of editing them has not motivated me to do anything with them. But I’m hoping this blog post will be the start of me getting back in the habit of putting words on a page.

What’s in a name?

Aimless pondering ahead:

While at the dayjob, I came across the name (Chinese in origin, I believe) “Sin” (Google says it might be an alternative spelling to Xin, but that’s beside the point), and it got me to thinking about character names. Sometimes authors choose very specific names for specific reasons/meanings. Now imagine you come across the name “Sin” – what does it evoke in you? What does it make you think about? Aside from the Chinese meaning (which I couldn’t find), it has the english meaning (which I don’t think I need to explain) and is the Spanish word for “without”. 

Which was the author’s intention? Obviously if there are context clues (like the character is Chinese), then it’s possibly straightforward. But what if it’s in a fantasy world without our-world cultural references? The English major in me is contemplating all the different papers that could be written based on what interpretation you choose—and an English paper is really just a fancy form of reader impression/interpretation. Is the character named that because he bears the sins of the father? Or perhaps she is without sin (hah, see what I did there?). Or maybe there are even more translations from other languages that use those three little letters in that particular order!

Along these lines, keeping to standard (American) names, name choice can evoke very different reactions in people. I’ve seen people say they cannot read a book with their name as the main characters (which let me tell you, happens to me A LOT). Or with their sibling/parent/child’s name. Because we associate that name so tightly to the people in our lives.

And of course, even without knowing someone, a name’s meaning is open to interpretation. Is he named Blue because he’s sad? Calm? The author liked the name? Is she Grace because she’s blessed or because she’s coordinated?

No real point here, just some random thoughts about character names, author intention, and the wide possibility of interpretation. I guess the English Major in me woke up.

April Showers and finding balance

As I sit here writing this before work, I can hear the rain outside trickling against the window and making me want to do nothing more than to crawl back into bed. Yet here I am, thinking about goals for the month!

Lately it’s been harder than I like to admit to make goals and go anywhere near hitting them—there’s always some excuse readily at hand: I’m too busy, I’m too tired, I’m too overwhelmed by all the stressors in life. And those are all valid points. We hear about self-care and avoiding burnout and we hear about keeping motivated and staying on task and we rarely hear about how to balance the two.

Am I not writing because I’ve burnt out (with everything going on) or because I gave myself a rest and I’ve fallen out of practice? Am I listening to my body to give itself rest rather than exercise, or am I being lazy and avoiding working out? The list goes on. To an extent, I don’t think there is a clear answer and it depends person to person (and day to day), but I’d like to have a clue!

Unfortunately, I don’t. So I’ll continue muddling through with the rest of you.

For April’s goals, I want to:

  1. Finish the Familiar re-read
  2. ”Exercise” 50% of the days
  3. Tidy out my apartment (see my last post)

Here’s to sunnier days ahead.

Tidying up your life…

On Sunday, I went to the barn for some spring cleaning–to help my friend and riding instructor get ready for summer lessons and pony camp, and because it was getting out of control (you could barely fit a horse in the front aisle). I spent five hours working on ONE section of the barn and we made a dent, but it seems like a cup of snow in a blizzard.

On Monday, I finished the audiobook I was listening to at Day Job (Second Hand by Cullinan and Sexton), so in a fit of tidying, I picked up Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. We’ve all heard about it, but it was interesting to learn about it from the source.

I have mixed feelings on her technique and the book in general.

The Book: It’s a bit repetitive as it tries to drive the point home. This could have been more noticeable because I was listening to it pretty much in two sittings, but I found it frustrating and it led me to tune her out at times. Sometimes this repetition felt like fluff to make this a full-length (if short) book. It also sells a pipe dream, which I’m always very suspicious about. She seems to be aware that she’s selling this pipe dream, but her saying it works and is not a pipe dream doesn’t really comfort me.

The Technique:

  1. The basic concept of keeping what brings you joy and getting rid of anything else is solid. To a point. People do tend to keep things long after the item has brought them any type of joy, and I think her process of going through EVERYTHING and handling it and making a yes/no call on it is good way to see how much we own and if it’s necessary to our lives or brings us happiness.

    However, I take some issue with her push to throw things out/donate etc. Because one of her points is “if you really want X thing, then you’ll buy it again and appreciate it more this time” – but this concept seems very grounded on a certain level of financial security (which I assume, to an extent, is the type of client she deals with, since people who worry about money don’t tend to pay people to sort their junk). Yes, I could throw away X and re-buy it if I really want it, but can I? I throw away X movie because I never watch it…but then I want to watch it, so I either buy it again or rent it….which feels like a waste of money when I owned the movie previously. And if I feel this way, I can imagine people on tighter budgets (like my riding instructor) would struggle even more with this. Especially with something as expensive as horse tack 😀
  2. I know the book world had a brief flurry of “GET RID OF BOOKS” upset that was quickly tempered by “KEEP THE ONES THAT BRING YOU JOY, FOOLS” and that about sums it up. She does say to get rid of books that don’t bring you joy, and I get the feeling she hasn’t really run into readers who will re-read a book six or seven times. But she also points out that everyone has things that they’ll have more of than other people, and that’s fine. So for readers, they’ll have more than average books that don’t get thrown out, because those books bring them joy. And that seems like a very healthy way to look at things.

    Especially since readers are well-known for hoarding books that they’ll never read. We all joke about it because it’s true. And I wonder if we did apply her technique to our TBR pile, what the result would be?

    I also wonder how this applies to digital hoards, but she doesn’t really talk about that, and since it’s so much less messy digitally, I’m not sure sure particularly cares 🙂
  3. I could see some Western people struggling with a few of the more Japanese-oriented elements of her teachings, because in some ways they are very different from what we know/how we think…sorta. The idea of things wanting to bring us joy like a living thing seems alien until you think about Stabby the Roomba and maybe not. But I do think there will be an element of feeling silly to some extent (and she recognizes this and addresses it). There will undoubtedly be some people who cannot get over this hump, however.

So the question comes up: Will I be applying Kondo’s method to my madness?

A soft yes, I think.

  • I will go through all my clothes and sort out what I don’t actually want. This is her recommended first step because it’s generally the easiest, and probably something we all want to do 😀 I don’t think I’ll get rid of twelve bags of clothes or anything like that, but I’d like to get rid of enough to give myself some breathing room in my closet/dresser. How well this goes will probably determine if I continue…
  • But the next plan will be to go through my DVDs and books. I have a bunch I will likely never read/watch again, and I think it would make me happy to be able to fill my shelves with books I want to see and that bring me joy just to think about. Right now I have all my DVDs visible, but I’m running out of room. I can also see myself selling a few of them to people, so giving them a good home. 🙂 Meanwhile, I have at least two large plastic tubs FILLED with books (and possibly a box at my parents’ house) of books I never look at. I definitely need to cull the herd. It’s not going to be easy.
  • Finally, if I survive this far, I will cut back on knickknacks. They are a pain to dust around, and while many of them brought me joy when I bought them, so many just sit around gathering dust and cutting them out of my life will clear out a fair amount of small clutter. Possibly even more than I realize, once I get started.

I do not envision this to be an easy task I have planned for myself, even if I’m not going to do a huge overhaul like she generally seems to do with her clients (her thing is “make it perfect or don’t bother, since you’ll backslide” but I’m not entirely sold on that).

I guess we’ll see. Anyone want to de-clutter their lives with me?

Not quite sprung…

First things first: how did I do on my March goals so far?


I did start, even if it was only two pages, and I have Plans to get more done this week (hah). My excuse for the rest of the month was that I was reading other people’s published books, and since my reading lately has been hit or miss, I’m taking it. And again, I hope to get more done this weekend

2) Do more focused relaxation exercises/meditations

I tried to do a lot more breathing exercises during work, when my Whatever issues were occurring, but I’m not sure I was fantastic at them. Or maybe I was, because the problem seemed to fade just long enough for me to be hooked up to a machine to try to record the problem. Which of course ramped me up and meant Friday I felt the worst I’d felt in a long time (and I’m cutting way back on caffeine again *weeps*)

3) Freestyle brainstorm for whatever creative avenue my brain wants to take.

I did a bunch of freestyle brainstorming at the beginning of the month, but then I picked up Save the Cat Writes a Novel and it seemed prudent to focus on one task, so I started applying it to the Fairy story that I had begun. Of course, this morning I’m question if it’s the right one for the deep dive (or if that’s a sign that it’s exactly right for the deep dive. Will have to ponder that.

Thankfully, with an editing project on my plate, plus re-reads of Familiar, I’m going to be busy enough this week that Save the Cat will go to the back burner.

As spring begins to set in, I’ll start going to the barn more. Really, it’s my haven. It’s not always a stress relief, but it usually is. In fact, after my massage, and reading all of yesterday morning, I decided it was too gorgeous not to go out! So I headed to the barn where I did a fair amount of physical labor, which might have countered that massage, but I felt superb after. Useful and human. Let’s hope it’s enough to get me through the week.

An Anniversary of Sorts

As March approaches, many of us are astounded/horrified/chagrined that we’ve been dealing with this pandemic for a year. I can still recall where I was when I heard first word about the schools closing (I was visiting my grandmother at my parents’ house) and the last place I went Out (to play tabletop with friends in Philly and then out for dinner to celebrate a birthday). I haven’t seen most of my friends since then and not at all since September. I live alone, with no pets. My refuge has been the barn (outside and usually masked) in the warmer months and my parents (who are in my bubble because we need each other).

I didn’t come here to talk about the pandemic, though. I started writing about my monthly goals and how they’re going…but then it seemed weird to just let the anniversary pass by without comment. It also seems weird to focus on goals when the world is in such a state around us, but it gives a sense of progress and hope, I suppose. (Or defeat when you push that item to next month again.)

So here we are. February’s goals:
1) Start Familiar revisions (huh, that sounds familiar).
2) Be more physically active.
3) Do what makes me happy.

1) I did not start Familiar’s revision yet, because I was helping a friend with her draft and I took longer than it should have taken, and then I found other excuses. I think Familiar is good, but revising is always overwhelming and I’ve been pretty whelmed to begin with. If anyone wants to read it and tell me it’s brilliant, let me know!

2) I was more active! I did some workouts and increased my walking as much as the weather permitted. It’s been good for my mental health too–because exercise is good for that, even if it can’t fix everything. If only.

3) Do what makes me happy. Heh. This is a freebie, isn’t it? So what did I do to make me happy?
– I started watching Tokyo Ghoul: Re with a friend (we watch the same episodes the same day and then talk about it). The series itself kind of annoys me because they didn’t live up to potential in a lot of ways, but I’m always interested in seeing more of the world (and I now want to create a TTRPG using the setting)
– I bought a twelve pack of Peppermint/Candy Cane flavored Chapstick. I love this shit. It makes my lips tingle sometimes and it’s only in stores in December and I missed it (something something pandemic) and this felt like a stupid purchase but I’m so excited.
– I also bought Save the Cat Writes a Novel because I heard good things (about this and the original) and I figured if I’m not writing, maybe I could hone my craft.
– I re-read Second Hand randomly rather than stressing about having to Read Something New. (I also probably shouldn’t have picked a ghost story as the Something New but that is Future Alex’s problem)

And now for March. A time for thinking about spring (and maybe the barn). A time for four birthdays in the first six days of the month (I kid you not). A time for #PitMad. A time for…well, more of the same from the past year, really. Masks. Isolation. Playing tabletop roleplaying games online (so grateful for technology).

March’s goals:
2) Do more focused relaxation exercises/meditations
3) Freestyle brainstorm for whatever creative avenue my brain wants to take.

Where Do You See This Going?

I started this year with goals, not trying anything too lofty because *gestures all around* and one of them is monthly posts. SO HERE I AM.

My Monthly Goals for January were to 1) Replace rear turn light (done) 2) start revisions on Familiar (…) and 3) Starting Watching TG: RE (>…<)

Ever set the bar so low and then trip over it?

In my defense, I did watch Blown Away (competitive glass blowing) and start WandaVision, which my friends were watching, and my watching buddy for TG: RE didn’t watch either, so….Not my fault.

I didn’t start Familiar revisions because I started the month trying to write new stuff and finished it doing revisions for a friend.

Speaking of trying to write…I didn’t hit my 10K goal this month. I wrote 4,500 words, including revisions that I did for the above project (is that cheating? I don’t care). I’m not upset about this because I was trying to write and it was grueling (fighting for the time, through the anxiety and depression, and spending the energy on making) and I decided I need to step back and let myself really rest on the creative front. So no new words are mandatory (but I’ll still track them).

Instead, I’m going to focus on revisions. My goals for February are: 1) Start Familiar revisions (huh, that sounds familiar). 2) Be more physically active. 3) Do what makes me happy.

The last one is because I wanted to give myself permission to do what I really enjoy. Because life is short, and if you don’t enjoy it, what’s the point?

Finally, as a wrap up, I finally finished my second 10-Stitch Blanket:

My mother had voiced interest in the blanket, so I gifted it to her. Hopefully it will brighten her winter. /sappy

New Year, New Plans

“Here’s to the New Year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one,
and may we all be home before she’s over.” – Colonel Potter

Last year (feels like yesterday) was a lot to take in, and I think we all hope this coming year will be easier on us. But all we can do it carry on and continue doing our best. Which means new resolutions! Except I like to think of them as goals, because when you fail a resolution, you haven’t been resolved, but if you fail a goal, you’re still making progress. (Don’t ask, it makes sense to me.)

  1. Be More Positive. I’m a downer, some days more than others, and my one goal is to find something positive about every day. I’m hoping that this small change in my thinking will have a greater effect on my overall thinking. I’ll be journaling in this One Line a Day book, which will be a good place to put positive thoughts if I’ve nothing better to note.
  2. Write 10k a month. I’ve done well with this number, and while I’d like to increase it, at this point in my life (working 1.5 jobs, being constantly stressed), I think I’ll keep on it for another year. I have several stories I want to write, so I just need to pick one and stick to it. The Clueless Boy wanders into Fantasy Land is currently in the lead.
  3. Blog about monthly goals. This is a two-fer, because I want to do monthly goals to give myself smaller steps and keep on track, but also use it as the topic for blog posts so I remember to open this dusty thing and share with the class.
  4. Revise Familiar and look at where to submit it. This one is a bit scary because while I started re-reading it at the beginning of the month and really loved it still, I hate revisions and it’s not a (traditional) romance, so I’ll be looking outside my normal wheelhouse for this book. I don’t expect to sell it by the end of the year, but I hope to have made progress on it, at least.

I have a few other goals (lose weight! read! keep learning Spanish!) but these are my focus this year. (Because of this, I’ll probably end up mastering Spanish or something.)

What are your goals for the year? How often do you succeed at resolutions? What are you doing differently this year in order to kick your goals’ butts?

Looking back on 2020

Last week, everyone on social media was talking about what achievements they had during 2020, and I get they were being positive about a pretty terrible year, but when you feel like your life has gone backwards, it’s difficult to see all those achievements listed. But sometimes surviving is the biggest achievement of all. Also, I know I wasn’t such a downer the entire year.

Honestly, 2020 has flown by, despite March seeming like a year on its own. So let’s look back at January’s goals for this very interesting year…

  • Get Fit: I’ve actually made a little progress on this. Nothing to brag about, but I didn’t continue the backslide that I’d been doing, so there’s that! Admittedly, working full-time at a job that is very strict about when you take breaks has helped with the mindless eating, although I don’t feel like it balances out all the negatives.
  • Watch Less TV: There were good and bad weeks of this and it really depended on my mood, but it was a pandemic, so we’ll give this one a slide.
  • Monthly goals: I didn’t really follow through with setting these, possibly because months were such an odd concept for the spring and summer.
  • Write 120,000 words this year (that’s 10K a month): Success! I’m actually about 9K over that goal, and most of it was during the beginning of the pandemic, when I was half-unemployed and had the free time and emotional health to write. (Once I started the draining day job, with a part-time job, my writing plummeted. I’m glad I finished the project I was working on before starting this job.) That said, it’s been very depressing the last three months how little writing has gotten done.
  • Submit The Miracle Man: Success! I’m still waiting to hear back (at this point I’m expecting a reject, but with feedback) but I did my part of it.
  • I also submitted a short story to an anthology call, which I’m also waiting to hear back from (though that’s only been a month). The fact I haven’t already gotten a rejection gives me hope that they liked the story but don’t know if it’s a good fit (or they haven’t read it yet, the lil devil says), and I get that my angle was maybe not what they were going for, but it was very therapeutic to write, so I’ll understand if it doesn’t get selected and still be happy to have written it.

Keep an eye out for later this week, when I’ll write about my goals for 2021!