Prime directive – turning 43

For me, the change to the new year as noted by the Gregorian calendar is a time when I start to contemplate the year ahead. But I usually don’t get around to more fully analyzing the past year and consider the upcoming year until later in the month,on my birthday.

House number, 43

A prime new year for me

This year, my forty-third birthday, my day was full and I felt a little bit behind on all of the things I had scheduled and wanted to do.

 

 

 

Anatomy of Birthday

  • 6:00 am – woken by cats, got up, fed them began morning routine
  • 6:15 am – did a birthday spread tarot reading*
  • 7:20 am – started to fiddle with finishing touches on presentation
  • 7:47 am – noted time, panicked; 8 am psychiatry appointment, ran out of the house, utilized valet parking, when getting blood pressure taken, realized I’d only gotten half dressed (still wearing my sleep shirt)
  • 8:00 am – appointment with psychiatrist, relatively good meeting
  • 8:50 am – home, fiddle with presentation
  • ~9:55 am – noticed time, 10 minutes later than I wanted to leave for the next appointment. Rushed to get cat food and get to Cloud 9 spa
  • 10:30 am – Spa day, massage and petite facial – it was their 20th anniversary celebration, and I got 2 scratch-off tickets, one for having services that day, and one for the cat food I contributed to the community drive – got a gift bag and 25% off one service; I had 15% off a service because it was my birthday. Woot!
  • 1:35 pm – home, ordered food for lunch because I couldn’t make up my mind on where to stop on the drive home. Wrapped up presentation.
  • 2:58 pm – left, again later than I’d planned, went downtown for interview
  • 3:35 pm – interviewed for position, gave the presentation
  • 4:25 or 4:35 pm – (I can never remember which) – turned another year older
  • 4:45 pm – drove across town to mall for eye exam – got there early, got Starbucks hot chocolate
  • 5:30 pm – appointment time for eye exam, in waiting area, paperwork completed. Finally called back at 5:50 pm
  • 6:40 pm – finally home, ate 2nd half of lunch for dinner, chilled in my office with my cat, and fiddled around on my computer
  • 9:00 pm – got ready for bed another year older, another year wiser (?)

I did not really have the combination of time and brain power to do my usual journaling,  my contemplation of the past and upcoming year.

*Basic notes, still want to analyze the meanings of the cards

Expectations

I know that there is not a single day in any given year, be it the 1st of January or the 29th (my birthday) in which clarity and insight settle down upon me like a finely crafted silk cloak draped over my shoulders by the universe.

Image of two signs, "Write" and "She wasn't where she had been; She wasn't where she was going; but ... She was on her way."

This art is above my desk at home.

And yet…

I feel slightly disappointed when I don’t have ground breaking insights into my own soul, when the ‘right’ path doesn’t suddenly become clear. That feeling, that disappointment, is one constant, through each new revolution of this mortal coil around our sun.

I know that change, that refocusing, takes time and effort, yet am constantly disappointed when the universe doesn’t hand it to me, neatly wrapped and with a humorous but endearing birthday card.

It’s a weird thing, hoping – expecting, really – that something you know is not how things work, knowing a better course of action towards getting what you want, but waiting to put in the effort until after some arbitrary ‘special date’ in case, maybe, just maybe, this year the universe delivers.

Next Chapters: Writing – part 2

Part 2 1

2019

One good thing that came out of my unexpected change in my career trajectory, I got back into writing, and I’m talking actual words on page, not writing-adjacent activities. In November of 2018 I had started a novel for NaNo WriMo. With an understanding that I work better with external expectations these days, I solicited the help of a “Cheer-reader.” The reader was from a closed Facebook group for alumni of a specific annual workshop, a group I felt comfortable asking someone to read along as I wrote, tell me what they liked, and basically encourage me to keep writing.

The Song of Stars and Shadow

Mock up cover of my WIP

This arrangement worked for a while, but then kinda sputtered at the turn of the year. I wrote a little in January, and then February happened. Not only was I turning my attention to LetterMo, a month long challenge to send a piece of mail each day the post runs in February, but mid-month challenged me further with my sudden shift in career.

My new position did not require much creative energy, so I threw myself back into writing with gusto. The real tipping point for me was when I decided upon, and registered for, the writing conference I would attend. June 2019 I registered for the Surrey International Writing Convention. Because I got my tickets relatively early after registration opened, my registration included a blue pencil session with an author, and a pitch session with an agent or editor.

I’ve never done a pitch session before, had barely considered what it entailed, but by gum, I had signed up for a session with an agent, and I was going to have a completed novel I could pitch.2 I was enjoying my work in progress, and I had a cheer-reader patiently waiting for the next segment, so I decided to have a completed first draft by the time of the conference, the last week in October.

I also wanted to get feedback from my online critique group, so my aim was to finish the draft by start of September, and have 3 or 4 sessions with my critique group getting feedback of portions of the work.

The reality was that I was writing until October 7th, and sent the last three chapters to my critique group to receive feedback at the next meeting, the Monday before SiWC (mind, I was flying up to BC that Thursday). And yes, that does mean I had submitted portions of my novel to my critique group for feedback while I was still writing the story. Clearly a stress-free experience.

But that external motivation worked, and I had a completed, critique-group read, first draft novel. My pitch session was on Saturday. Saturday morning I woke early (why yes, 5 AM in Surrey was essentially 8 AM at home, and my cats don’t let me sleep past 6 AM EST anyway). I realized I didn’t have a plan for the pitch session, and maybe I should have one, so I jotted down some notes in a slapdash kind of way.

I  am very comfortable talking with people, and as I’d painted this as a learning opportunity for myself, I talked with the agent at ease. Once I’d finished my pitch, she kindly told me that it may be hard to place the story, as the YA fantasy market was saturated at the moment, unless the story had more than just the genre to offer. I explained about the LGBTQ themes within the book, and she said “Next time, start with that.”  Then she started asking more in depth questions about the story, and as the 10 minutes was up, she handed me her card and asked for me to send a synopsis and the first 100 pages.

I am still a bit amazed at that response.

For me the difficult thing is that I no longer have a hard deadline to meet. I told the agent it was very much a first draft, and she said to get it to its best version, then send it. I have never considered editing my forte, and though I have awesome notes from my critique group, it’s been a slog to get started. But the positive pitch session made me realize I was at a point where I was leveling up as a writer, so I considered the year ahead, and what I could do to keep that progress going.

The Year Ahead

Immediately after SiWC, I submitted a synopsis and pages for consideration for the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) mentorship program. I also began considering what new venues in terms of conferences and workshops I could look at. Most of the events I’m interested in are later in the year, but there was one in February – Life the Universe and Everything (LTUE) in Utah that I have had a growing interest in, though usually not in time to get tickets for a flight and reservations at a reasonable rate.

But one of the things I wanted was to see some of my writer friends again, and since my going on the Writing Excuses cruise again is growing less and less likely, this seemed like a good venue, as most of them attend LTUE as well. The cost of the 3 day symposium was $65, which is amazing, but I wasn’t sure I could justify the cost of the airline tickets and hotel for it. 

I then got wind of the FutureScapes workshop, which happens the day after LTUE, in the same venue. This workshop is competitive, and you have to apply for entry before you register by sending a writing sample. I got in, and as soon as I had registered for this workshop, I registered for LTUE, bought airline tickets, and secured a hotel room.

I held off on doing any edits on my novel, in case I got the WNDB mentorship I would be starting with a fresh mind on it. In late December I was notified that I had not been selected for a mentorship in 2020. 

I will be honest, it has been difficult to get back to work on my novel, in part, I think, because I keep telling myself and others that I don’t know how to edit. Add that to the lack of deadlines….

I did manage a pass through the first chapter, just in time for an 11th-hour submit to FutureScapes for critique. I will still need a synopsis and a query letter by the time the workshop starts, and these are things I’ve never tried before, so it should be a great learning opportunity.

I registered for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge – first round started yesterday, actually. Beyond that, I haven’t really mapped out the year beyond mid February, though I have made some strides in the writing adjacent field.

I decided that one resource that I’d had a year-long subscription to was not something I was actually likely to use, so I did not renew it. I did renew my subscription to MasterClass. I’ve taken a hard look at the newsletters I’ve been receiving from authors and publishers, and pared down to the ones I actually read. 

I was good and did not offer my services for a project that had been mentioned in the past, but never initiated, because I recognized that was just another stalling tactic, no matter what good it may produce. Likewise, I have decided to not start transcribing the audio recordings of previous workshops and classes – another useful thing, another excuse to not work.

When I sat down to write this, I think I had more of an expectation of what my plan for this year was. I’m slightly disappointed that I do not, but also appreciate that by having a mostly open idea, with a few solid goals, I can adapt as I need. I just need a way to trick myself into some deadlines, and I’ll be good to go.

Next Level

A meme that is in rotation for my desktop image proclaims “If life got harder, that means you leveled up.” All of my efforts above are an attempt to gain skills and build in practices to help me reach the next level, even though I’m still getting my feet under me in this one.

Image of Christy in tiara and purple shirt

Headshot by Wendy McAlpine

One of the other positive things from the SiWC was that I met Wendy McAlpine, an amazing photographer who was doing author headshots. Still on the high from my successful pitch session, I took the opportunity to get my portrait done. I was delighted with the outcome, and even more so when Wendy asked if she could use one of the shots in examples of her work on her website. I of course agreed. In the asking she mentioned she’d be happy to link to my website, should I have one. And it occurred to me that while CrushedMuffin is my site, and contains my thoughts, often about writing, if I am truly pursuing the next level, perhaps I should create a webpage for that.

So I am proud to say ChristyShorey.com is live, and some of my writing posts are, and will continue to be cross-posted there. The focus of that site will be narrower than this broad platform I’ve created. And, I’ve got a really awesome headshot for the page. 🙂

Screen cap of top of my author page

My author page at christyshorey.com

 


Footnotes

  1. This was originally going to be one post, but the yarn of my past demanded more attention than I’d thought. The result, the first paragraph of this post is from the original first draft, moved here when it became clear I needed to address the past and future separately when discussing my writing.
  2. I have written novels to completion before, though it had been many years.

Links

a Dear George letter

Dear John,

A dreaded phrase representing the end of a relationship. The realization from one party that what had been built to bind two together was now untenable.

There is so much wrapped up in that phrase, a sense of loss, of disappointment, and in some cases, betrayal.

Dear George,

I process my thoughts and emotions on the page. As I have come to appreciate my work situation with less gut-emotion and more critical thinking, I was disappointed that there was not an equivalent type of precedent for the ending of a employee / employer relationship.

I sat down this weekend to craft such a letter, a “Dear George” I am calling it, detailing why I feel my staying with my current employer is untenable.

I have truly valued my time in the George A. Smathers Library, and part of me is genuinely loathe to leave, but the more rational side, the part of me that can predict possible paths forward and the likelihood of certain situations to resolve in a way that I can continue to grow, tells me that this kind of resolution is highly unlikely at this point.

So, I drafted my letter, and worked through the complex thoughts and feelings behind why I cannot foresee a reasonable way to stay an employee of this library system. And though it hurts, I know that my decision is the right one for me.

And maybe the concept of “Dear George” letters will become a thing, and other people will gain value from a breakup letter to their employer even if, like my letter, it is never sent.

Image of Smathers library, with sunrise through windows of grand reading room

George A. Smathers library

 

https://tinyurl.com/Dear-George-2020-01

 

2020 – Word of the Year

Release

Illustration of hands releasing butterfliesThe word I have chosen as my focus this year is Release.

This, in part, is an extension of my word from past year(s), Simplify.

To me, the concept of release captures letting go of clutter, yes, but also unhealthy emotional attachments, and release of pre-conceived notions of who I should be, and what my life should look like.

There are all these messages, these stories, of what an ideal life looks like. Many of them picked up as children, from the grown-ups around us. That young, you feel like the adults know it all. It isn’t until decades later you realize everyone was making it up as they went along.

The standards – marriage, steady growing career, home, pets or children – are comfortable. They are reinforced through our media and our social interactions. They feel like the safe choice, the best option. But all they are is a story.

So this year I plan to challenge the tropes life has fed me. Let go of who I’m supposed to be to let in who I am. I am both excited and anxious about this process, what if I don’t like who I am? What if the deep-down real me is more of a disappointment than me trying to live to those societal norms.

photograph of about a dozen upside down parasols on the groundBut then, every story has its challenges. And one of the things I love about writing is flipping expectations on their heads. Time to explore that off the page, as well.

Next Chapters: Writing – part 1

This, surprisingly, is another post I am finding difficult to write. Is this what irony feels like?

I came to the realization that I don’t have a good sense of what “success” looks like. But in a profession like writing, I think that looks different for each person. So, then, the question should be “What does success look like for me.”

Continuous Learning:
I Should Be Writing logo

In 2011 I began to seek out and sign up for writing classes and workshops, starting with The Loose Cannon workshops with ISBW sometimes co-host, Matt Wallace.

I began backing authors on Pateron (and its precursors) to the level where I got their newsletters and more, including classes with Mary Robinette, and one-on-one conversations with Mur.

Writing Excuses 2019 logoIn 2013 I got into the inaugural Writing Excuses: Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat (WXR13), hosted at Robin’s Roost in TN. It is from this workshop which my online critique group formed (and still meets). I also attended the WXR in 2015 for its first cruise, in the Caribbean, and again in 2017 on the Baltic Sea cruise.

Another favorite of mine is the Writer’s Symposium affiliated with GenCon. Not only do I find the classes valuable, and the gaming convention with which it is associated amazing, but it has provided me the opportunity to reconnect with some of my online crit group, WXR 2013 alumni, in person.

I have also tried to give back to the writing community. I served as minion at the 2014 Writing the Other workshop at Robin’s Roost, helping to prepare meals, and getting attendees where they were supposed to be. The other minion and I took turns attending the classes. I’ve volunteered at the GenCon Writer’s Symposium, manning the swag table, helping attendees find rooms and serving door duties for some of the sessions. Here, too, I was able to attend several of the workshops when I was off-shift.

This past year I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference at which I had an amazing time catching up with people, meeting new people, taking classes and participating in my first pitch session.

Take Aways:

Drawn image of a stack of books with a quill and ink pot in front of it.

What does success look like?

As I sat down to write this, I acknowledge there are some resources that I pursued, but did not take full advantage of, including an Afrofuturism web course, a year-long access to Dave Farland’s trove of classes, and a year-long subscription to MasterClass, which I got specifically to watch Neil Gaiman’s course, and have renewed this year (thanks mom & dad for the Christmas money) to finish watching it and seeing what other courses look worthwhile.

I also realize how important it is to me to feel engaged and to give back where I can. The volunteering opportunities themselves were worthwhile, regardless of my getting access to classes/panels as compensation. Seeing authors I know from previous endeavors again also puts a smile on my face, and energizes me.

It is only recently (read this month) that I realized I may have been using workshops, courses, and other writing-adjacent activities as a subtle procrastination tool to my actual writing. But it is so easy to justify these efforts because, after all, they are pursued with the intention of improving my writing.

On the other hand, you can only edit what is on the page, so even if you’ve got the shiniest tools in your writer’s toolbox, if you have nothing to work with, are the tools of any use at all?

To Be Continued
Cross-posted at my author website