End of Year Recap- 2017 “OMG WHY IS EVERYTHING ON FIRE?” Edition

31 12 2017

Weather: Winter has come, full-throated and persistent, and it’s been snowing on and off for a bloody week now. Sun’s out today, but there will be more  soon. Temps in the low teens, windchills in the “OMG WHY DO I LIVE WHERE MY FACE HURTS”degrees.

So, it’s that time of year again, to poke my head back into the blogosphere and see if I can manage to sum up the experiences of the past 12 months.

This year is gonna be a difficult one to sum up. I have only blogged a handful of times, and because I tanked NaNoWriMo this year- the brain on the 2017 News Cycle is a burnt-out, noncreative brain- there hasn’t been much to relate.

After my last blog post about my stupid 50 year old body starting to sabotage me, I had an entirely new health related setback. In late July I experienced an anxiety attack so severe, I honestly thought I was having cardiac issues and ended up with 2 weeks of medical tests and doctor visits and ultimately a run to the emergency room for EKGs and monitoring. I lost something like 8 lbs in as many days from not being able to eat. Here’s the rub- I’ve always had mild panic attacks now and then, but this was like a category 5 storm instead of the mild tempests I’d experienced before. The upside, if you can call it that, was that I got so many tests run, that I know that many of my organs are in good shape. The downside was getting the medical bills.

All in all the experience was a wake up call to start managing my stress better and start doing a lot more self-care.

The only other thing that happened of significance this year was we moved our studio home from the Box Factory. Although it was primarily a financial decision, there was a time management component too. We were spending less time at the studio, partially due to increased day job commitments, but also there was an admittedly big bit of laziness on our part. We have not abandoned our art making, but we have let petty inconveniences get in the way. And that just points to our wavering commitments to creative work.

Financially we are ending the year in a much better place. I’ll talk more about that in my New Year post. (And I have a lot more positive things to talk about there, naturally)

Why was this year so…un-notable? Well, mostly because the world, and our country in specific, made some fairly awful choices and some very ugly and stupid things crept out of the woodwork in the process. Things that we should have taken a stronger moral stance on a while ago were emboldened by thinly veiled encouragement from leadership. (I only use that term  loosely, since we don’t have leaders, we only seem to have opportunists and thin skinned narcissists at the helm these days. There are good people trying to keep the ship of state off the rocks, but there have been a lot of near misses and the vessel is damaged.)

My hope for our nation is that the people, good people who are in the majority, regardless of political leaning, will shake off the apathy that we’ve all been wearing for far too long and push back against this gang of sycophantic morons & get things back on track.  As a people, we have always shown that we will stand up for our communities and for those who are in need when crises arise, and will fight against those who would seek to denigrate, harm or otherwise diminish the basic decency that is the core of this country. I would love to see more people stand up with zero tolerance of bigotry, sexism, abuse and selfish greed,  to re-establish our support for our neighbors and for equality for all our citizens, to help those who are hungry and give a hand up for those who have stumbled. I’d love to see compassion and empathy return, and for blame and excuses to make a swift and fiery exit.  Instead of complaining about who’s fault this mess is, how about we just try and fix it? Get people in power who are willing to try? Stop worrying about who’s the perfect candidate and start supporting people who want to work for the greater good.  If you’re disillusioned by the national groups, maybe send your support to the local groups or directly to candidates you support.

I guess I’m weary of all the petty fighting and finger pointing. We can easily find out what people have voted for, and we can easily see what kind of legislation is getting passed. Make your decisions based on actions, not rumors or aspersions.

I guess the big question to answer at the end of this garbage fire of a year is what are you going to do about it? If you’re answer  is just to sit on the sidelines and bitch about the state of things, or write long think pieces on re-litigating past grievances? I’m probably just going to ignore you. Too many dead horses have taken a beating this year. Let’s figure out a solution or at least try to encourage people to fix things.  Easiest way to punish people who do wrong? Vote them out.  Oh and and stop wasting time and energy trying to convince people who have zero interest in wanting to see things as they are. Some people are so invested in their view of the world, they would rather go down with the ship rather than grab at a life preserver. You can’t save everyone.

On a bit more positive note, I have discovered new teachers this year. Some have re-lit my artistic fire, some have renewed my spiritual path, some have made me look at things with a new perspective and others have humbled me by showing me that I am making excuses instead of working. The list is too long to relate here, but suffice it to say, I have a lot of things that will be pared away next year and my focus is becoming much more acute. It’s less about making goals and more about creating space and carving time out to make room for things to happen.

Two words have come to the forefront for 2018: Minimalism and  Evolution. I will flesh that out in my next post. But you can probably tell there is an equal amount of cutting back and building out that will be happening.

Also, in the past few months especially, I’ve realized that this year has put me in the passenger seat and I’m going to be reclaiming the steering wheel with a certain amount of determination and force, if necessary. Letting myself get overwhelmed led to health issues and a certain amount of apathy.  I despise myself a bit for allowing that to happen. The husbeast and I have had several long talks at the dinner table about what things need to change for both of us. I’m lucky I have a life partner who is both honest and who listens, because sometimes you need to hear some harsh truths and speak some tough love to fix your path. We are both committed to each other’s contentment, but we also know that sometimes, we can take some things for granted and bad behavior can follow. The good news is that we always end these discussions on a positive note and 2018 is looking better for that.

So to wrap up this rambling bit of looking back, I just want to state that I am thankful for the people in my life, for their courage, their anger and their compassion. My circles of family and friends always seem to intersect and overlap, but their input is always insightful and their humor is always well timed.

So I think it’s time to pack 2017 in a box and shoot it into the sun, giving it the fiery demise it deserves.

Here’s hoping we can make a change in 2018, for the better. Let’s be better citizens, better neighbors, better HUMANS. I’m going to do my best on all three counts, and so should you.

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NaNoWriMo Day #20 – Deep thoughts are creeping out again…

20 11 2016

Weather: Still cold- low 30s- but much less windy and the snow seems to have gone. Still, finally feels like November.

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Thanksgiving is on the near horizon, and Christmas is not long after. This year has been mostly a garbage fire. Not that my personal life has been awful, far from it. But it seems the world at large has been fracturing, with long simmering resentments bubbling up and taking form in surprising and chaotic ways. We’ve lost a lot of touchstone people that especially people my age (late 40s) were hit hard by- Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman, the list goes on and on. I know that a lot of this is to be expected- as we age, those we look up to or are inspired by, age accordingly. Some will leave us sooner than we are ready to let them go. Doesn’t make the hurt any less.

NaNo has been harder this year for me than last. Didn’t help that there was a contentious (she said, in vast understatement) election in the first week of writing, and between the weather, and potential jury duty, and imminent family gatherings, and the usual financial roller coaster, the word making was a little derailed.

But I’ve realized in the  past week that as the particular overwhelming signal to noise disruption happening on social media required me to step away a bit, I’m starting to get back in touch with life again. I hadn’t realized how much the politics and associated strong emotions had sucked me in. The slow drowning effect, I suppose. Didn’t realize I wasn’t breathing or underwater until my health, both mental and physical started taking a hit. So I extricated myself as best I could. The concerns I had before the election are still there, but the associated din of outrage and blame and finger-pointing and gloating are not washing over me like before. I’m trying to take the “Make Good Art” mantra to heart.

Do not take this as me giving up fighting for things I believe need fighting for, but understand that existing in a constant state of rage and fear does not make for clear thinking or good judgment. I’m no anarchist. I don’t believe that burning things to the ground is necessarily the way to fix what’s broken. Yes, it requires an unvarnished look at how we got here, but I also believe that things can be fixed by a complicated combination of compassion, realistic assessment and taking a long view. By finding allies with common goals. By not demonizing those who would help us, though they might not 100% agree with us. By not letting things slide because they are difficult. And most of all, by not enabling bad behavior or derailing conversations because it’s “not going to change” or “it’s been going on for a long time”.

I’ve said many times before, I am not a fan of nostalgia. I find it annoying and unrealistic and cherry-picking, because the past is the past for reason. Yes, there were good things, but there were also awful things and you don’t get to gloss over the bad because the good things make you wistful. Too easy and lazy by a long stretch. I’m more for grappling with the issues we have today, so we can entrench the advances we made and work on the new challenges so we can move forward. I mentioned to a friend today that part of our problem now is that we are just far enough away in time from things like the Depression,  WWII or even Cold War eras that the current generation has no real connection to that time. It’s stuff in history books or things our grandparents talk about. (In my case, parents). We look around and say things are horrific, and by some measure, they are. But we are still nowhere near the bottom of the barrel of the Dust Bowl, or rationing, or the Draft, or being wiped out by the flu. (1918. Look it up.) We need to deal with our current problems, but we also need to get a grip. Worse things have been lived through and worse things have been conquered. Which should be a MOTIVATION not a way to diminish our worries or challenges, mind you.

(I see too many people minimizing others pain by saying others have it worse. That’s cruel, reductive and not at all helpful. Be compassionate or be silent.)

All the same, I think our historical challenges can help us face our current challenges a little more clearly if we put them in perspective.

All of this musing leads to story compilation. Taking a long view of history and asking a lot of what if questions when turning that view toward the future is how ideas come to mind. Will those ideas fix real world problems? Who knows. Creativity is not limited to fictional or artistic outlets.  It’s something I think we’ve lost a bit over the past few years. We do a lot of re-sharing of others ideas, images and creative output, but I think we’ve diminished a little by not putting our own creative output out there as well. Happy accidents and half-baked ideas can lead to solutions. Maybe not in themselves, but by providing component pieces to foster discussion or to build upon by others with their own pieces to the puzzle. Collaboration has taken a big hit of late, whether due to fear of ridicule or fear of having one’s own ideas co-opted by someone else or losing one’s sole claim to glory, who knows?

Sorry for the woolgathering here, but these things have been weighing heavily on me lately and I’ve been too scattered to compile them into something coherent. I suppose I need to take my own advice and start suggesting ideas and putting my creative output into the stream and see what floats and what sinks. Failure isn’t fatal. It’s just an idea that didn’t work. Trying something new that builds on what didn’t work, or just making another attempt from a different launch pad is not a waste of time. That’s how most things result in a success. We talk way too much. We need to do more. Discussion is fine, but ONLY discussion results in little. Awareness is good, but awareness alone changes little. No one is asking you to fix EVERYTHING or even to solve anything on your own. Don’t let people make you think that all the challenges we face are a zero sum game, that by focusing on one problem, you are ignoring others.  You can’t spread yourself that thin. But you can contribute. You can lend a hand. Make your voice heard. Create memorable images. Help motivate others.  Just my 2 cents on all this craziness.

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NaNoWriMo Day#19: Catching up on a Stormy Day.

19 11 2016

Weather: Went from the upper 60s to low 30s overnight. Gale force winds today, with rain/snow/ice mix. The lakeshore is howling at us. Seems apropos. 

Here’s a great shot of the lake today, to give you scope. (Credit Joshua Nowicki)
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Have been writing, but haven’t been updating. Things in RL have been interfering with that. Also, mentally I’m kind of drained. Actual stress and online stress (mostly political related) have reached fever pitch, so I stepped away for a bit. Work and family and everyday stuff seemed like more workable stress sources. 

So, back on the writing horse, and getting a story epiphany this morning, which is always helpful. It relates to how the villain of the piece is portrayed. His motivations and arc finally fell into place. I knew what his actions would result in already, but getting to those results was a little murky. Captain Exposition was in control of the car again and things were starting to head into the weeds. Needed to get my authorial machete out and clear the path again. 

Here’s some apropos writing advice from the House of Wendig:
(considering I’ve had the soundtrack on a loop today. Because REASONS.)

FIVE STORYTELLING LESSONS FROM HAMILTON’S AMERICA

In case you don’t know what the article is referencing:
Hamilton’ s America (Trailer)

Things in this country seem scarily unstable at the moment. Make art. Write. Create. When everything is out of control or seems untenable… Make something. It helps.

 





NaNoWriMo Day#7, 8 & 9-Distractions abound

9 11 2016

Weather- Chilly, although the sun warmed us up to about 60º today. Not for long, as the 30s are popping up in the 10 day forecast. November is finally here. A bit of rain for Election day.  Temps definitely angling south.

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So I’m going to refrain from discussing my reaction to the election in any great detail. I’m saddened and worried, but I have no illusions how we got here. Best write up that I’ve seen was this: Don’t Panic . There is work to do. Which I will do once I sober up and uncurl from this ball. 😦

Back on topic. It’s been a week of distractions, though not all of them unpleasant. I’m smack in the middle of call ins for jury duty. (I have to check the website daily until Thursday. So far, I’ve been in the clear. Whew!) My sick kittie is doing much better now that she’s on meds for her condition. Work has been crazy, but that’s to be expected considering it’s 4th Quarter. (I work in insurance, in Employee Benefits.) The election was a big blow to the heart and stomach, which did derail my creative brain a bit. But I sat today and ground out the wordcount, albeit not my best work.

Wil Wheaton posted an excellent blog for NaNo, (Thanks to my FB friend Andrew for the link!) and I think it helps with the constant insecurity of seeking perfection on a first draft. It also has some good advice about not flagellating yourself over daily wordcount. (There’s a reason my posts have been a bit far apart. Feast or Famine, to be honest.)

Here’s the blog for those curious. Pages Upon Pages.

Back into the word mines tomorrow. I hope to get ahead again this weekend, to bolster the WC against Thanksgiving coming up. Hope everyone is doing okay out there! Here: Have some otters cuddling!
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NaNoWriMo Day #4, 5 & 6: Catching up

6 11 2016

Weather: Been a bit cooler; 40s to 50s through the day. Still feels like early fall and Not November. 

 

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Managed to escape Jury Duty on Monday, but the rest of the week will be a wait and see on a day by day basis. Didn’t post word count Friday because there wasn’t any. I had a fundraiser to attend at our studio so there was precious little time to write. 

Saturday found me up and running early to get my cat to the vet for some bloodwork (she has hyperthyroidism)  and then running other errands with the husbeast, followed by a grueling session of leaf raking. I swear the silver maples out front of our house dumped ALL THEIR LEAVES AT ONCE! We have thigh high piles of leaves in the street. (We have those awesome trucks that drive by and literally vacuum up the leaves.) 

So today I crammed a lot of writing in the afternoon, hoping to make up some lost ground. 

Didn’t do too bad.

Today’s Writing link is from Brain Pickings. (Check out their writing tag. Lots of fantastic articles there.)

Jennifer Egan on Writing, the Trap of Approval, and the Most Important Discipline for Aspiring Writers

Pull quote of note:
” You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly. You can’t write regularly and well. One should accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.”

Added bonus link- Another Chuck Wendig blog, because Chuck is wise and funny and very good at the advice game.
Control what you CAN control: GOOD WRITING (AND LIFE) ADVICE

See you again later…Hoping for better writing days ahead.





NaNoWriMo day #3-Doing the work

3 11 2016

Weather: Low 60s but cloudy,. Finally heading into the Fall Temps proper!

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Got a good second wind today, so I’m finally getting some structure under the flimsy paper skeleton I started with initially.

Today’s Motivational Quote image thingie:bbe6a2226f638fc68a91881054072ee9

That’s a good point. You can’t claim to be a writer if you don’t sit down and …you know…WRITE.

I’ve met a number of people who love to spin dissertations on the books they’re going to write, about the stories they want to tell. Not a one of them sits down and puts pen to paper or fingers to keyboards. It’s fine to have a story or even have a fantastic world created for yourself. But until you put commit that idea, however lofty or thrilling, to a tangible form, don’t call yourself a writer. Do the work. Even if you only write the beginnings. Or the middles. Write some dialogue. Describe the movie playing in your head when you think about these scenarios. It all starts with a few words and suddenly the dam breaks and you can’t seem to stop. Oh, you’ll have pauses. And dark days where the story seems to have stalled out, but if you stop thinking linearly and can let the current scene sit and move on to the next, you’ll be amazed how that missing part suddenly back fills when you sidestep the pothole.

Short post tonight. Very tired after the Cubs Win last night. See you on the flip  side.

And a reminder:

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NaNoWriMo Day #2-That Genre Quagmire

2 11 2016

Weather: Still too bloody warm for November. Upper 60s & rainy.But the leaves are GORGEOUS!

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Wordcount jumped a bit today. Was able to sketch out some notes at the day job and at least have a target to shoot at.

Wendig posted a great blog a few days ago about how the “Horror” tag was not hardly used anymore, at least not in fiction. I know I run into this problem frequently when people ask me what I write. It would probably fall under horror in a different time, but people have a specific thing in mind when you say that. They expect to be scared, and let’s face it, not much scares people in fiction these days. People get “disturbed” or “creeped out” but rarely good and proper scared.

Most of what I write is comparable to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series (At least in the type of World Building I’m doing, not in comparison of quality. Love me some Harry Dresden!)  So technically my stories would be classified as Urban Fantasy. But there are some who would point to the fact that they have sex in them, so maybe they’d be better served under the Paranormal Romance heading. (Not so much.I have way too much bloody gore and body horror in there.) There’s enough mythological substrate, that it could fall under elements of Fantasy. Or I could just play coy as some people have advised and say I write Fiction, but that is not helpful in describing the tone of the books. So Urban Fantasy it is, at least for now.

Genre is always a tough one to sort, because so many sub-genre’s have sprung up with really specific parameters and themes. It can get pigeon-holey and box you in pretty quickly and get your book dismissed by people who might otherwise enjoy your story, but are turned off for whatever reason by the genre it’s stuck in.

I guarantee there are a large swath of people who would never have known about Game of Thrones because the books are categorized as Fantasy, but who are diehard fans of the show. Not because the show is better or worse than the books, but because the show is marketed as something other than a fantasy show. It’s very much a drama with fantasy elements. That’s easier for some non-fantasy fans to engage with than the opposite.

Here’s the link to Chuck’s post because he makes some very good points about how we view genres. Why Is Horror so Anathema in Publishing?

Off to watch the last few innings of the World Series, because I lived just outside Chicago most of my life and I need to see History happen. 😀 (GO CUBS!)

 

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