Category Archives: Life

Quote: Pete McCarthy

“I like reading in a pub rather than a library or study, as it’s generally much easier to get a drink.”

Pete McCarthy


The Year of Wordsmithing

            Success depends on more than just acknowledging a goal with a glass of champagne in one’s hand at 11:59 p.m. on December 31st.  Resolutions—shed some pounds, kick the cigarettes, drink less caffeine, avoid speeding tickets, go 365 days without being arrested, etc.—are easily made and even easier to cast aside.  One can’t just spit out a resolution; one must also have the ambition and obsession to achieve.

            Let’s define these:

 

            Resolution:  the act determining upon an action or course of action, often made at the beginning of a new year and abandoned two weeks later.

            Ambition:  an earnest desire for achievement and the willingness to strive for its attainment, an element often missing from New Year’s resolutions.

            Obsession:  the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea or desire, the presence of which elevates resolution to ambition and gives one a chance at success.

 

            Okay, I might have tweaked those definitions but they’re still solid.  2014 is probably not the year I’m going to give up nicotine or caffeine, although I do plan on maintaining my “never been arrested” status and keeping a sharper eye out for radar-running cops than I did during 2013.  I do, however, have plans for myself.

            Not resolutions.  Plans.  Ambition + obsession > resolutions.

            All word-based.  Words require attention, sometimes hyper focus.  Words are beautiful, the love of my life, but they don’t come easily.  One must keep ambition foremost and feed the obsession that leads to success.

            So here are my writing, reading, and word-focused goals for 2014…

 

1. Read 80 Books.
            GoodReads promotes a yearly reading challenge, where members set their own “I’m going to read [#] of books in 2014” goals.  Setting the bar too high would be doomed to failure—I have the real life, adult world responsibilities like everybody else.  But setting the bar too low would be shameful because books are awesome and I have a massive stack of unread books waiting their turn.  So in 2014 I will read 80 books.

 

2a. Complete My Work-in-Progress.
            I began writing The O’Shaughnessy Reputation:  Put on Your War Paint as part of National Novel Writing Month.  I finished about half by the end of November and have kept putting fingers to keyboard since then (occasionally for frustrated keyboard-mashing).  When I wrote the first part in this series (You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid), I started in 2011 and didn’t finish until early 2013, and I won’t allow that to happen again:  I will finish this WIP at all costs.

 

2b. Complete an Edit of My Soon-to-be-Finished WIP.
            I will not only finish this novel, I will do at least a first pass, rough edit on it before November 1st.  I can’t start Kiss the Ring, part three of this series, for NaNoWriMo ‘14 until the events in part two have been smoothed into something resembling a coherent story.

 

Speaking of NaNoWriMo…

3.  Participate in National Novel Writing Months, including Original Flavor NaNoWriMo (November) and both Camp NaNoWriMo sessions (April & July).
            Providing concrete goals, a fast-approaching deadline, an active community of writers, and a nifty progress graph, NaNoWriMo has been one of the best things to ever happen to my writing life.  It’s a kick in the ass, a kick so hard I’ll put said ass in a chair to avoid the hit.  And half of writing is, after all, simply sitting your ass down to do it.

 

4.  Begin Work on Charm of the Pavement.
            The idea for this novel has been haunting me, bouncing around in my head for at least six months but doing little more than mocking my attempts to wrangle it into a coherent story.  No more avoiding the pen, you brat; the time has come. 

 

5.  Increase My Writer Circle
            The most successful writers seem to be those with a solid, expansive community of writers they consider friends.  The interaction acts like an injection of word-adrenaline, promoting creativity and keeping a writer focused.  I know several writers, a couple of whom are quite serious about it, and I’m determined to welcome more into my life.  Because writers are awesome…and other writers are the only ones who share my special brand of ‘not quite right’.

 

I have my pen.

I have my vices—coffee, booze, cigarettes.

I have my ‘Write Drunk, Edit Sober’ mug.

I’m ready.  Let’s fucking do this.

 

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“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

– Pablo Picasso


To The Women Who Choose Not To Have Kids

Re-blogged from a lovely woman who said it far more than my sputtering, frustrated self ever could.

Because if you hear the words “You’ll change your mind” enough times, your head actually explodes when someone gets that ‘oh, how cute, but I know better than you’ smirk just before they actually say the words. To women who choose to be mothers, I say thank you, because the world needs great, amazing women (and men!) raising amazing children. I wouldn’t be here without one of those great, amazing women after all. But the world also needs great, amazing people who recognize they don’t want to be parents BEFORE they become parents. Everyone finds fulfillment in different ways. For many women (and men), it’s raising children. For many of us, however, our focus is not (and never will be) in that area, and not getting the smirky, judgmental middle finger from the rest of the world for it would be nice. Ah, a girl can dream…

Thought Catalog

To the women who choose not to have kids, I have one thing to say: thank you.

You probably don’t hear it enough. In fact, you probably don’t hear it at all. What you do hear is an array of pro-childbearing responses, such as, “You’ll change your mind someday,” or, “Doesn’t your mother want grandkids?” or, “You’ll never find a husband if you never want to have kids.”

All things considered, “thank you” is probably on the opposite end of what you hear.

But seriously: thank you. Thank you for recognizing that childrearing isn’t for you and being true to who you are. It doesn’t mean you hate kids. It just means that raising one is not part of your path in life.

Thank you for not succumbing to the societal pressures. I’ve known far too many parents who had kids because that’s what was expected of them. Working in…

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Surviving the Holidays: A Writer’s Guide

Ah, the holidays:  a time for family, friends, cliché pilgrim hats and bright strings of lights, pine needles stabbing your feet, leftover Turkey that sits in your fridge until you remember to throw it out sometime after New Year’s, carolers and midnight mass, and eating way more than your stomach can actually hold.  Some people love the holidays, some people hate them, and some people drink it all away no matter whether they love them (celebratory drinking) or hate them (relieve the pain drinking), but there’s one thing nobody can deny:

The holidays are a social time.  Very social.

And for many writers, this massive amount of social interaction poses a problem, mainly because we’re not really the ‘very social’ type.  We’re more the ‘hide under the blankets’ type.

Point is that the holidays can be a very draining time, especially for writers and other artsy types who value spending time alone with words.  There just never seems to be enough downtime to replenish the energy you’ve expended.

Note I said ‘expended,’ not wasted.  The family meals, the parties with friends, taking a few (or many) moments to be thankful, cursing when you step on those pine needles from the Christmas in the middle of the night again:  none of those things waste energy, only use it.  Those things are important.

But for writers, artists, and other introverts, the only way to survive the emotional energy suck that is this time of year is to go into it with a game plan, specific ways on how to muddle your way through without tossing yourself off a cliff by New Year’s Eve.  (Of note:  the holiday season is not, despite popular opinion, the time of year when suicide rates are the highest.  That would be springtime.)  And so my friends step away from the mistletoe, put on your gloves and ear warmers, and let me present to you a few tips that I’ve learned for handling this season of joy and resulting exhaustion:

  1. Do not simply skip any and/or all family functions.  Like I said, family is important, so put in some effort to show you care about and value those related to you.  And always keep in mind that the resulting lectures from mom and the guilt trips from grandma will suck up more energy than simply going to that family gathering in the first place.  (Trust me, I know these things.)
  2. Find that one friend you can occasionally go out to dinner with for the express purpose of commiserating.  They’re suffering just like you, and there’s nothing better than a small support group.  This is social so you can count it towards your socializing quota for the year, but if you select the right friend then you won’t be drained afterwards.  You might even find yourself with a bit more energy.
  3. Wine.  Lots of wine.  (If you don’t drink, I support and admire you.  However, I do not have a substitute option to offer.)  My family tends to divide itself into two groups:  the wine drinkers and the beer drinkers.  Both are acceptable.  Key here is moderation, because too much alcohol results in disputes or knockdown, drag out fight that will carry over into the New Year.  While amusing to watch, they’re embarrassing to be involved in and tiresome for everyone present.
  4. Do not start a family dispute.  Again:  tiresome.
  5. If an argument does erupt through no fault of your own, then remained uninvolved.  I highly suggest sitting back and enjoying the fireworks, because hell, why not?  A form of entertainment and if anyone questions it, just point out that you’re using it as a character study.
  6. Observe the people and activities around you.  You’re a writer; observation is always good for your art.  Watch, take notes, and learn more about human interactions and personality traits, the little quirks that people have.  This is particularly easy for me, for while I’ve never been able to decide if I have a large family or just a medium-sized family consisting solely of large personalities, there’s plenty of material to be gleaned either way.
  7. Watch the weather reports.  Dealing with snow and ice during a drive to your host’s place will only add additional stress.  (Also enough snow and ice are a perfectly good excuse to stay home, especially if you live thirty miles or so away like I do.  But with respect to Tip #1, a few snowflakes are not a snowstorm and should not be used as a justification for avoidance.)
  8. Plan ‘You Time’.  The holiday season can get crazy with family celebrations, parties, office functions, visiting friends, preparations, etc.  Making time for yourself—write it in your day planner or set an alarm on your phone—is key.  Use this time to recuperate and regain some of that limited energy so you can make it through the next one.  Do whatever it is you like to do that makes you relaxed and happy:  read, write, sleep, whatever it is.  Delve into your art.  No matter what, make sure you take time for you.  (I highly recommend sleep.)
  9. Write.  Keep writing, no matter what.  Write the words during your ‘you time,’ take a notebook with you to family dinners so you can scribble when you need a break (perfectly acceptable to hide out in the bathroom for this one), write on your lunch break during work, write whenever you have even a minute’s chance.  You write because you love it, so don’t stop.  Let the words help you.
  10. Post-Holiday Boozing.  I say boozing because that’s what I do, but you can replace that with anything your heart desires, like a quiet dinner or a particularly energetic session at the gym (weirdo).  I’ve actually made this a tradition over the last several years.  Depending on how the final holiday falls, I go out either the night after or the weekend after Christmas and have a few drinks with the calmer of my friends, usually no more than one or two.  Yes, this seems counterintuitive:  after all, you’ve just used up your finite energy supply on all those other holiday functions.  Hear me out, though.  This planned night of drinking is something to look forward to, something to get you through those holiday celebrations, a way of celebrating the fact that those celebrations are all over for another year.  I’ve done this every year since I was 22, and my God has it helped me keep my sanity.

There you have it, folks:  my suggestions for writers or any other introverts trying to survive the season.  Feel free to add your own, I’m sure I’ve missed some, and when you get close to the point of ‘fuck this,’ take a nap.  Naps always help.  And maybe eat some pie.  Pie is delicious.

 


Now for a Little Something Depressing

Allow me to bring the room down for a second:

My grandmother passed away on October 19th.  83 years old, she would’ve been 84 on the 22nd, and she was one of the sweetest, most amazing woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing—the nicest person I’ve ever met.

No, seriously, the nicest.  The worst thing I ever heard her say about anyone was, and I quote, “Hitler was not a nice man.”

Understatement, Grandma.  Serious understatement.

One of the most important people in my life, she influenced me in the best possible way.  Cardinal sin of the family:  upsetting Grandma.  One simply didn’t do so, and if one did upset her, the guilt springing for her disappointment was a far worse punishment than anything handed down by my mother.  She unwittingly acted as a sort of behavioral barometer:  if we didn’t want Grandma to know about it, then we probably shouldn’t do it in the first place.  As we became adults, this general rule was later paired with another:  if said activity was generally acceptable but not actually Grandma-approved, as a family we simply made sure she didn’t know about it.  (Hello, getting shitfaced/having a sex life/taking the Lord’s name in vain/getting in a fight/wearing revealing clothing/indulging one’s road rage/any number of other enjoyable past times!)  My grandmother was a focal point, a sort of lynchpin, the (sometimes uninformed and rose-colored glasses wearing) matriarch.

Hers was not a sudden passing; hospice care started in early September.  I started mourning then as I watched this vibrant woman slowly fade away, and every visit she was a little bit worse, until eventually every visit I found her to be a lot worse.  No surprise when the call came that she was unresponsive and didn’t have long left.

A couple years ago my family faced the sudden death of my father.  I’ve yet to find any experience more jarring than the county sheriff knocking on the door in the wee hours of the morning, and one of the most painful aspects was not being able to say goodbye.   This time, at least, I was blessed with that chance.

And I’m grateful.  The call came around 5 p.m. on Friday, and I was at the nursing home by 7:30.  I stayed roughly three hours, keeping my grandfather company, discussing matters with my uncle, and in general keeping vigil.  We didn’t leave until my mother (who had driven back from a camping trip) and my sister (who had been working) arrived.  When I left, I had the opportunity to do what I hadn’t been able to do before:

I held her hand.  I told her that it was okay for her to go.  I told her I loved her.

I then cried the entire 35 minute drive home, and she passed away early the next morning.

Whether or not she knew I was there, whether or not she heard me, is debatable.  We have no way of knowing, of course, since it’s not like we can tap her on the shoulder and ask.  (Although how interesting would that be?  Tap, tap—hand her a glass of wine.  So Grandma, did you know I was there?  How’s the other side?  Is God as snarky as I’ve always imagined?)  But let’s be honest here:  when someone is that far gone, keeping watch over her is more for us than for her, more to make us feel better than to truly ease her way.  Who it’s for doesn’t really matter, though, because she’s now at peace and, because I had those final few moments, I’m more at peace, too.

Of course I’m sad.  I’m upset and I’m hurting and I miss my Grandma, but I know she lived long, she lived well, and she knew before this that I love her.  She didn’t need me to tell her at the end.


And lo, the Books Did Take Over the World

I own a library.

No, seriously, I own a library.

678 books.

I just counted and the official tally is 678.  Pretty impressive for a personal collection.

Okay, when compared to ‘real’ libraries mine may not be considered large, but I’m willing to bet I have more good books in my one bedroom apartment than my small town’s public library keeps in the entire building.  I will also admit to owning quite a bit of crap, but there’s no shame in that:  sometimes there’s nothing more enjoyable than reading an awful book and being able to say, “Oh my God, that’s such shit!  I could’ve done better in my sleep!

Note #1: I’m pro-silly brain candy after spells of reading heavy or dark works, and sometimes what you think will be shit turns out to be good, while what you expect to be fantastic turns out to be absolute shit.

And so it goes.

I’m a voracious reader but haven’t entered the Kindle/Nook era, due to my love of the physical aspects of books (and new—or old—book smell!) and the fact that I simply haven’t fancied an eReader.  Will I one day venture into that technological landscape?  Most likely, because while one doesn’t stop buying books just because one runs out of bookshelf space, one does cease buying books when one runs out of living space.  I have not, however, reached that point.  I dislike feeling crowded, and watching one episode of Hoarders is enough to make me pull out some crates, box up as many as I can part with, and sell to Half-Price Books.  I’m not entirely insane, after all.

Note #2:  the last time I took a load down to Half-Price Books, the girl at the counter got downright excited, her eyes lit up and her face glowed.  She practically shouted, “This is amazing!  You have some really awesome stuff and it’s all in great condition!”  My eyes lit up and my face glowed, because that was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.  She then handed me a rather impressive receipt to redeem for cash at the register.  Almost as good was the peeved look the guy to my left gave me, as he’d just been told the books he’d brought in weren’t worth anything and they didn’t want them.  Not my fault, dude.  Five-year-old medical textbooks are obsolete.  Idiot.

Now, before anyone gets judgmental about my book-love—yes, some might say addiction, but I’m not on Intervention so it’s not a problem, okay!?—keep in mind that my collection is the result of over a decade of buying, reading, and finding shelf space.  I have a number of books from my teen years, but once I turned 18 and landed a halfway decent paycheck, things took off from there.  That was ten years ago.  I rarely ever pay list price for books—used bookstores and used options from Amazon are the way to go when one wants books but also has a pressing need to eat and pay the bills on time.

Note #3:  “But you don’t understand, I needed to buy this new book!” is not an acceptable excuse for why one’s rent is late.  I’ve never tried it, but I’m assuming it wouldn’t fly.

One exception to the above ‘used books are awesome’ rule:  I will pay full price for books from self-published authors.  It’s like buying music from unsigned artists instead of downloading it through, ahem, other means on the internet.  A way to support new writers who otherwise might not have the chance to get their stuff out there by bypassing a business model that’s damn near impossible to access, and a way to encourage a change in the market.  Yes, there’s a high probability that the book will be shit.  And yes, the covers are often awful and, if you buy the physical book instead of the eBook, they’re almost always those cheap-looking Create Space editions.  But none of that matters when you get lucky, when you hit the literary jackpot and turn into a squealing, flailing fangirl over a book that very few people in the world have heard of, let alone read.

Note #4:  I recently found a new book to add my list of favorites this way, one that made me happy sigh at the end.  Sir Thomas the Hesitant and the Table of Less Valued Knights by Liam Perrin.  My review is here.

I love books.  I’m a geek.  But I do have a life:  I have friends I see on a consistent basis, I have a bar or two where I’m a regular and am known by name, I’m halfway decent with a pool stick, I’ll occasionally attend a ballet or theater production, I see my family every so often, and I’m a pretty outgoing person.  I have what one could call a large personality (and some have called obnoxious—to-may-to, to-mah-to).  I enjoy going out.

But I’m also one of those people perfectly content to stay home on a Saturday night, puttering around in my PJs and rearranging my bookshelves simply because I can, because it’s fun.

As booklover and writer, I stand proud.

I am a lit geek.

Note #5:  If you are of the opinion that I’m too much of a lit geek, I say nonsense, there’s no such thing.  If you are of the opinion that I have an addiction, I point out that at least my addiction is books and not, say, heroin or sex.  Or heroin and sex.  Books don’t ruin lives…unless one ends up qualifying to be on Hoarders.  I’m doing my best to avoid that.)

And one day, oh yes, one fine day, my books will join the hundreds of others already on my shelves.  In a sense they’re already there:  once I complete a work, I print it up, put it nicely in a binder, and add it to the special shelf reserved just for them.  But one day there will be nifty covers and my name on the front, titles printed on the cover instead of scrawled on the side in permanent marker, official releases from a publishing house that I can point to and yell, “Look!  I’m an author!”

And when that day finally comes, when I can spend a Saturday rearranging my bookshelves in order to add my very own to the mix, well…

On that day I’ll have 679 books.

And now, the grand reveal.  Welcome to my library (aka my living and dining rooms):

 –

My Living Room
these stand side by side against one wall, separated by a desk
cropped out of the photo in the interest of not being able to get them
all in one picture

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My Dining Room
these too stand side by side, separated by only a few inches
but due to a camwhoring hanging lamp, I had to separate them

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And somehow I still have plenty of room in my apartment, no feeling of being overcrowded, no tripping over them or running into them in the middle of the night.  This is where I thank God that in a small town such as this, one can get a good deal of space for a relatively small amount of money.


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