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

Godot

Invalid reasons that I put things I want to do on hold:

What are you waiting for?

  • For my meds to stabilize
  • To hear back about the We Need Diverse Books mentorship application
  • To hear back about the Futurescapes application *
  • To hear back from job applications
  • To feel like it
  • To get enough distance from the story to look at it objectively
  • For better weather
  • For inspiration
  • To get to the end of this series I’m watching
  • To not be sad
  • For my husband to finish his sewing projects
  • To have completed one project completely
  • To have “leveled up” in my writing ability
  • For the 2020 “Unravelling your year” workbook to be available
  • To take just one more writing class
Person standing next to suitcase, looking out over field and trees at dusk

Waiting

*I’ve heard back, and was accepted to this workshop. Airline tickets, hotel and registration for it and LTUE are all settled.

Next Chapters: Mental Health

This post has been surprisingly difficult to write. I have been candid about my mental health from my first diagnosis with major depressive disorder (as evidenced by the depression category here on my site). It is only because I talked with others / read about others experiences that I sought the help I hadn’t recognized I needed. I want to provide that to others, but more importantly I want to help normalize conversations, regarding mental health and neurodiversity, to help combat the social stigma around them.

Despite that, looking ahead to where I want to be/ set goals for my mental health, I get stymied as what to write.

I think that is in part, due to the fact that I have some coping mechanisms that let me function with my wonky brain chemistry. Most of the next steps rely on tweaking my (numerous) medications to hit that sweet spot.

Diagnosis: Depression

My depression has never manifested as thoughts of the world being better without me, or that not being in the world would be better. It took me a while after receiving my diagnosis to see what the effects were.

I became markedly less social, succumbing to “home gravity” more frequently. I also felt comfortable in a job where I got to hide back in my cubicle all day, with record maintenance and project management instead of patron / customer interactions.

Also, my interest in creative endeavors declined. I still considered myself a writer, despite lack of words making it to page. There was just the guilt of not doing the work, and the weight of that and my depression keeping me from picking up the pen.

On bad days there is the urge to cry, even though nothing is wrong, and this weight behind my sternum that wants me to just curl into myself. A stuffed animal or too-tight huge also work to alive that feeling some.

Diagnosis: Anxiety

My anxiety is less subtle, but also seems less prevalent. I’ve had one out-and-out panic attack that I can identify. Otherwise it rears its head by feeling jittery, or like I’m forgetting something, or not starting things, or not sticking with them.

Diagnosis: ADHD

A lot of the symptoms for anxiety overlap with my newest diagnosis, ADHD, combined presentation (clinically significant symptoms of inattention & clinically significant symptoms of hyperactivity). Unfortunately the addition of treatment for this has tilted the balance on my other meds, and we are looking at other possible solutions. But my doctor says both the ADHD and anxiety could explain my wanting to do things, enjoy doing the things, even, yet getting up and walking away from them (often literally), or, even worse, not getting started.

I guess next steps include trying to get that right balance of meds, but I don’t want to only rely on drugs for my mental health.

I’ve dallied with meditation before, and I know that days are easier when I’ve had enough sleep and steer clear of soda. I like the idea of goals and lists, and employ them frequently to get myself organized, but that doesn’t necessarily get me started on any of the items on said list.

I also journal (and sometimes blog). Putting words on paper helps me navigate through the toughest patches. I am grateful to have access to my psychiatrist, and for friends and family that understand if they ask “Are you ok?” That sometimes my reply is “Well, nothing is wrong.”

Because, honestly, sometimes that the best it can get.

Next Chapters: Physical Health

Eat

I’ve never been great at eating. For several years in elementary school I did not stray from my favorite, peanut butter sandwich. It took a trip to Europe (1998) to break me out of the plain, familiar food routine.

My sibling suspects me to a super-taster, so I don’t really do spicy/ spiceful foods, finding even some items folks tell me aren’t spicy at all as too much to manage. Add to that medications that make eating a time-based rather than hunger-based decision, where if I go too long I can no longer even make decisions about food, and you get a complicated relationship with food.

In an effort to improve this relationship, I signed up this autumn for a CSA http://frogsongorganics.com/ and have fresh veg delivered every Thursday.

Though I’ve signed up for the customer choice plan, so far I’ve gone with the farmer’s pick default so that I actually try vegetables with which I am unfamiliar, rather than just choosing what I knew. It has been an adventure, to say the least.

This service has also helped me move beyond a bowl of cereal for dinner, which had been my fall back for many months. 

Move

As a kid I took gymnastics and dance classes. In college I started martial arts, at first for self-defense, then for its own sake. Through various changes in our dojang, I earned the rank of il dan orange stripe (1st degree, orange stripe). I was at a point in my training where I was considered a lethal weapon when the school closed.

For a while I moved my exercise efforts to a gym. The local gym has a women’s center, which is actually closer to my house and less intimidating than the main facility. One of the things that kept me accountable was a gym buddy. When she moved away, I kept up for a while, but depression got the better of me, and I ended up cancelling my membership.

I’ve tried to keep up with walking on work breaks with moderate success, and practiced tai chi for almost a year, but that, too, fell off.

I’ve had tight muscles for decades – I was first really aware of it in middle school. A while ago I got the diagnosis of fibromyalgia. A year ago I saw a specialist, and was diagnosed with hyper-mobility syndrome, as well, which goes a long way to explaining the rock-tight muscles in my shoulders and lower back.

And then I got the diagnosis of hypertension, which was a real wake-up call that I needed to take a new look at my physical activity (or my lack thereof).

My husband and I started taking walks to local restaurants for dinner once or twice a week, then walking home, which lasted about three weeks. Then, this month, one of the branches of a school where he does martial arts closed. So now, instead of going to two different arts at two different schools on Monday and Wednesday, he goes to one art on Monday and Wednesday, and then an open session at the main location of the other art on Tuesday and Thursday. I am trying to join him for these Tuesday/Thursday sessions as a) it is the same art I’ve trained in before and b) I really need to get moving. Climbing two flights of stairs leaves me winded.

So far we’re easing me in, Tuesdays only. The first time I went (so far the only time), I learned some updates to the basic punch and block I knew. I also twisted my knee, somehow, so switched to my physical therapy stretches for the rest of the hour.

I also have a weekly appointment for massage therapy (never as fun as people think). In my visit after that class, I discovered how tight the muscles are in my thighs, and that until they loosen I’ll probably have to be extra careful with my knees, lest I hurt myself further.

But I’m trying, instead of feeling guilty for only thinking of physical activity, and that is a step in the right direction

Sleep

And to round out the physical health trifecta, I am also evaluating my sleep. This one is trickier, I believe I’d benefit from better / more sleep, but it is a harder thing to prove.

I’ve tried different things, and am on a medication to help me fall asleep, and stay asleep, but I am still tired a lot of days. Part of it is that I feed the cats breakfast (hubby feeds them dinner), and if my Flynn hasn’t come to understand the clock. The earliest I’ll get out of bed is 6am, but that doesn’t stop him from coming by earlier to get pets, and to make sure I’m awake for 6, lest he starve.

Add to that my hubby is more of a night owl, and the living room is right next to the bedroom, which makes it harder for me to fall asleep depending on what show he’s watching. Some things I know I can change include getting new pillows, and look into getting a new mattress, though I’m not sure if we’ll go with another sleep-number bed or something else.

I also need to reduce screen time before bed – I’ve been binge watching a lot of series lately, and heading to bed late after realizing the time.

My parents have both been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and I wonder how much of that is genetic, and if it is worth it to request a sleep study. Anyway, I know this is another area where I need to reevaluate my behaviors, but honestly, right now, it feels secondary to my efforts with nutrition and exercise.

Next Chapters: Work

Upside down world viewed through a globe to seem right side up.

Snow Globe

It has been nearly nine months since the universe decided to shake-up the snow globe of my life.

The first couple of months at my new job, it was a rare day that I didn’t cry at the unexpected change. My bosses understood, and I am grateful for their patience with me.

These days tears only show up when I explain my change in job, and the circumstances around it.

Six months after the job change I tossed my proverbial hat in the ring for a Student Success Librarian position. Near the end of September I learned my application was not going on to the next level/ tier/ step.

I’ve also been keeping an eye out for staff positions in the library that are on campus and tap more into are on campus and tap more into my communication / outreach skills than my current job, and inquired with library HR if they are aware of any positions that may be forthcoming.

Last month I finally decided that if I wanted to find a position on-campus that better utilizes my strengths, I needed to explore non-library options. There are a myriad of facets to that decision, so sometimes one of them will make me doubt I should leave the library, rather continue to be patient to see what else may come – after all, I spent the time to get my MLIS, and have worked in this library, in various positions, for a bit over 13 years. And on the whole, I generally like my colleagues in the library, and it would sadden me to leave what has for ~12 years a positive work experience.

Clear crystal in gem cut fashion with multiple facets showing.

Multi-faceted

Then my focus shifts slightly to another facet, and I feel, suddenly unseen for what I have done for the libraries, for working at what many librarians have told me is at faculty level – that if/when I got a librarian position, I’d be half-way to tenure. And yet, I’ve been at my current rank of Library Associate II for six years.

So I secured references and have started searching the UF Jobs site for opportunities that call to me.

I am so scared because, as a former boss used to say “change is hard, Barbie.” This is true, even if the end results are positive, and even if it is a change I am actively seeking out. But it is time to pick up that snow globe, give it a shake, and wait to see where things settle.