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:
1) START RE-READ OF FAMILIAR *cough*
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: https://www.instagram.com/p/CKrGTcXgoY5/

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!

Light in the Dark

This year has been an especially difficult time, and I don’t think I need to tell you that. My full-time job became part-time when Covid hit and I had to begin job searching in earnest at the hardest possible time. Living alone, I’ve been mostly isolated, with small pockets of in-person times when it seemed safe, but on this the darkest day of the year, I want to take the time to remember what brought light over the course of the year.

  • Discord and my friends – without them I’d feel truly isolated, and even if I sometimes feel cut off because they’ve focused on interests that don’t align with mine during the pandemic, they still offer glimmers of joy that keep the day-to-day from being miserable.
  • A steady paycheck – I was lucky enough to get a new job in September. It’s not in my field, I don’t particularly like the work, or the increased stress that came with taking a full-time job on top of everything else happening, but it gives me a regular paycheck, and with the state of things, I know how lucky I am.
  • My family – while my family isn’t as close (or big) as some, we’re used to seeing each other regularly at birthdays and holidays, so this year has been tough. Over the summer we were lucky enough to be able to meet outside for gatherings, but now that we’re indoors, that can’t happen. I feel lucky that my family hasn’t made a big stink about not getting together for Christmas, even though they would really love to be together. I’m also lucky that as the only child without spouse and kids, I have my parents to keep me from being absolutely alone on Christmas.
  • I’m also thankful for Great British Bake Off, which I watched a lot of to deal with my anxiety. So much so that I actually kind of burned myself out on it 😀 Not to mention my friends and I didn’t group watches of the newest season and it was nice to watch something with people again, even if we couldn’t all do it from the same couch. It was easier to share related gifs this way anyhow….

If you’re like me, the long nights are hard, so I hope on this longest night, you too remember the things that bring light to your days and that they carry you through and guide you forward.

What Candy Crush taught me…

I was late to the phone app game, and scoffed at people who played. After all, it was just mindless entertainment. Couldn’t you find something better to do with your time?

The fact is, it being mindless entertainment is the point (that I missed at the time). Because sometimes you need something more interactive/stimulating than a TV show. It’s also colorful and gives you tiny rewards that release all sorts of positive chemicals, but that’s not the lesson I learned:

Even when you fail, you can try again tomorrow.

You only have so many Hearts. Sometimes you hit a level that you fail at again and again (and again, after watching a video to earn an extra Heart). So what do you do? You put the device down, step away, do something else. And tomorrow (or several hours later when you’ve regained Hearts), you try again. (Or you use gold bars and/or real money to buy more lives, but let’s put that aside for now.)

The same thing applies to life. This story isn’t working? Put it aside for now and pick it up later. Didn’t get everything done on your to-do list? Well, maybe you spent all your Hearts on washing the dishes, so you’ll have to do the next level tomorrow (or next weekend). For the most part, the levels will wait, and we have time to do them, or try again later if we didn’t succeed the first time.

Oh, and every once in a while, treat yourself to a candy explosion.

Unreal Fiction

For the past few weeks I’ve been watching Psych (only a little behind the times) because I wanted something light that I wasn’t going to get super invested in (I’m in season 5 now). What I find interesting about the show is the levels of suspension of disbelieve it requires to watch it.

This is not a critique and analysis of Psych and what it portrayed accurately, but rather the attitude about accuracy and the suspension of disbelief in fiction, and here I’ll mostly be thinking of contemporary romance fiction as the genre with which I’m most familiar. We’ve all seen arguments about how accurate and factual a book should be, how much research an author should do, and how stories need to be grounded in reality (if they are contemporary fiction). I’ve even seen it argued that people will use these as tool in their own life, so we’re required to present the facts correctly.

To which a big part of me says…REALLY?

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely understand inaccuracies throwing a reader out of a story, and that is an important consideration. (Ask me about 99% of stories involving horses and people writing them that do not know what they’re talking about.) However, I question how real reality needs to be in fiction. Because the stories are made up (and the points don’t matter), does it matter if something is an accurate portrayal?

To some degree, I think stories have to be grounded in reality because of common knowledge (ie, if you ignore that World War Two happened, the reader isn’t likely to suspend disbelief that far). But for less common knowledge, or facts that toe the line of accuracy for sake of a good story–does it matter that the author diverged from reality?

Can you have a gay romance in a small town where the two mains are both out and proud and receive no backlash? Can you have a story take place in the “now” but ignore that the government is a horror movie and the world’s on fire if you wrote the book in 2020?

Yes, because it’s fiction. (And you can feel free to disagree, but you’re wrong ;P)

Going a step further (and circling back around), can you create a premise that is maybe not grounded in reality but still has its feet on the ground (like, say, a fake psychic solving a ton of cases for a local police station)? Can you fudge the laws of inheritance to create dramatic tension? Can you ignore the reality that half your cast shouldn’t have green eyes? Can you ignore that your uterus-having characters never have to deal with a period? Can you fudge that if someone actually missed work as much as the MC did because of story drama, they’d likely be fired?

Within reason, I say yes, as long as it’s not a glaring issue that will throw the average reader completely from the story and make them unable to suspend their disbelief. IE, the story could happen in a very similar parallel universe.

I’m not judging stories that purposefully keep their stories grounded in reality–props to them–but that shouldn’t make them inherently better in some way. Because these are fictional stories.

That said, the less you can diverge from reality in a book that is meant to take place in the real world’s present, the more real your story may feel. But I don’t think we should tell writers they can’t (shouldn’t) write that story about the professional Mennonite football player (who sends all his big bucks back to his community) and the love he finds along the way, as long as the author can sell the story to the reader.

(Please do not think this post means that I’m excusing stories for being all straight, cis, and white [which doesn’t properly express reality’s diversity]. There’s a difference between changing something for dramatic story telling and ignoring that gravity exists. But I’d also argue most of those stories aren’t actively deciding to ignore a fact and more are just showing their own bias/ignorance. Many of us need to do better. I’m also not trying to excuse stories that actively do harm to people, although that is a fuzzy line and a different debate.)

Anime review: ID – Invaded

(Note: This show has a complete first season [13 episodes] with a second season that’s been announced. They are available through Funimation both subbed and dubbed.)

I started this with a vague curiosity and a huge helping of apprehension that the main character was going to be a stereotypical Main Character Boy Who Saves Us All (and is likely a disappointment to me). However, I was delightfully surprised by the characters, which are the real focus of this show after the delightful concept that the creators obviously had fun playing around with. In general, I’d recommend this show (especially if you enjoy anime such as Psycho-Pass).

The main plot is that there is a “Brilliant Detective” who is able to jump into the psyche of serial killers using traces of psycho-mumbo-jumbo and use that to find who the killer is and ultimately how to find them. There’s a support team outside the psyche that tracks the Brilliant Detective in the psyche and does detecting and leg work to solve the cases (so it’s not just BD being amazing, which I appreciated).

There are a variety of strong characters (men and women), and it’s a curious look at psychology and the urge to kill in both negative and positive lights. There is a fair bit of violence, obviously, but I didn’t find anything too gory (although take that with a grain of salt!).

This is one of those shows that you just go along for the ride, enjoy the visuals and the characters (and the opening and closing theme songs!), and let the story unfold.

SPOILERS AHEAD

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Anime Review: The Case Files of Richard the Jeweler

(12 episodes, available from CrunchyRoll, subtitled)

This show is based on Japanese mystery light novel series, although I’m not familiar with the original content. I’ll be honest, I started watching it because the title was so ridiculous that it caught my curiosity. Plus the attractively drawn characters (and two male leads….hmm).

In some ways this show feels very ’90s in that the premise is a bit ridiculous to get these two guys involved in one another’s lives, and it feels queer-baity as hell. Or is it? I don’t know.

(I also thought I wrote up this review immediately after finishing the series and then found it languishing in my drafts, so my memory is not as clear as it once was!)

The basis of the story is Richard is hassled by some drunks on the street and Seigi (a college student) stops them. He learns Richard is a jeweler who just opened a shop, and ends up getting a part-time job there. Each episode involves a customer with jewelry to be appraised or else looking to buy and the story that revolves around that piece or the meaning behind it.

If you like slice-of-life shows that are very chill, I’d recommend it, as long as you have a strong ability to suspend disbelief. Sometimes events are eye-rolling worthy, but I enjoyed a wild ride. I will warn that the pacing feels a little off, as the Big Dramatic Arc seems to happen 2-3 episodes before the end, so there are a few episodes that happen after. They are relevant, but feel a little tagged on (IMO).

POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD

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The Ugly Blanket

This blanket was a recent knitting project….that took about a year to complete because it wasn’t my only project, just the one I worked on when I wanted to. It’s a 10-stitch blanket that uses this pattern.

In some ways it’s really easy, because you start from the center, and the rectangle grows with each row. This allows you to stop at any time, when you run out of yarn, time, or patience. Or if you just want a table cover or a cup holder, I guess! So it’s adaptable, and you can use it to fit your needs.

The pattern itself is super simple, which might turn some people off, but it’s great for working on while watching TV, and because the rows are all ten stitches long, it’s easy to always end on a finished row, if that’s the sort of person you are.

As you can likely tell by the assault of color (and this shot is darker than it appears in real life!), I didn’t use all one color yarn – I scrounged through my partial skeins from old projects (that were roughly the same yarn weight) and knitted them all together into…this. It’s ugly as sin, and I love it. Because seeing it also reminds me of all the other knitting projects I’ve worked on. The colors also feel whimsical and old, calling back to a different time and place and person as I lie under it’s warmth.

And it is warm! Most of the yarns are worsted weight (one is heavier, a few are lighter), which isn’t the thickest yarn, but this makes a cozy blanket. It’s also smallish – I can fold it in half and drape it over my lap easily while writing a blog post about a blanket. I could have made it larger, of course, but I’m happy with the size, which covers my legs still (I was also running out of extra yarn that would work and the patience to work on it).

My point? Just because your project isn’t as pretty as other projects, doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful, useful, and special in its own way.