I finished reading Karnow’s Vietnam: A History yesterday. I have the old hardback edition, picked up at a library sale somewhere or another, or maybe at the museum sale earlier this year. (I think it was this year.) Anyway, I did not find it “free of ideological bias,” since any work of history rests on bedrock assumptions that are culturally, well, biased. Like a worm in an apple–the worm eats, breathes, and shits apple, and thinks it’s air–so are historians, writers, singers, and all others in their culture. Ideology is an exhalation of culture, sometimes fragrant, more likely foul.
The next in line for serious reading–which includes reading in bed and taking notes in my zibaldone-slash-diary–is Brett-James’s The Hundred Days. I realized I have a shocking number of books on Napoleon, as an outgrowth of my quasi-obsession with the French Revolution, and it’s perhaps time I go through them. Especially the newer ones. There’s a fair amount of biographies of the man, but I’m more interested in him during the Revolution (when his “whiff of grapeshot” saves the day) and his invasion of (and subsequent retreat from) Russia. Of course, books that just scratch my little niche interests are few, and the urge to read more bracketing said interests in order to understand more deeply is overpowering.
I’m not complaining.
I have other thoughts on Karnow’s opus, but they have to sit and settle inside me before I can put them into anything resembling coherency. I’m just glad the flu is retreating so I can think in whole sentences again without each clause interrupted by a sneeze or a trip down the hall to blow my nose YET AGAIN. I got more exercise trekking for tissues than from a marathon. (That’s only slight hyperbole.)
Other than that, I finished a poncho knitted from this pattern. It’s green and stripy and lovely. The leftover yarn is going into a very long scarf instead of a hood. Stuck on a sentence? Knit a row. Watching a movie? Knit a few rows. Listening to a podcast? Knit many rows! Since the weather has turned, it’s all knitting all the time. I just don’t want to spend summer with a lapful of scratchy wool. I gorged on Fellini movies while knitting, feverish, and full of decongestant.
My dreams got awful interesting, when I could sleep.
And of course, today is for getting back on the serious wordcount horse. I’ve got that surrealist novel to prep for NaNo, and decisions to make about the next big project. I’m trying to only juggle two at a time. Trying. I think of juggling my usual four books at once and I get awful tired, which could just be the flu. I love my brain, it is a flexible and marvelous instrument, but sometimes I wish it wouldn’t eat itself quite so fiercely. I further wish my body would stop hosing off its internal surfaces with mucus and get back to the task at hand, but such is corporeal life. It’s ungrateful of me to be short-tempered with the physical frame that usually carries me so uncomplainingly.
I don’t get ill very often anymore, so when I do, it’s somewhat aggravating. My body is valiantly fighting off what is turning out to be a mild flu, given the low-grade fever and joint aches. I had thought that with enough hydration and rest for the past few days, I’d be running again today.
BOY WAS I EVER WRONG.
So I’m twitchy, well enough to itch under my skin, but not well enough to go out for a few kilometers. Especially since the cough has moved into my chest. Of course, I’d feel great, flush with endorphins, just after the run, but by tomorrow morning the stress on the organism would have me wishing I’d stayed in bed. Not that I don’t normally wish that anyway, but…yeah. I think the expressive writing experiment dredged up some toxins, and my body is pushing them out with alacrity. Overall, it’s good for the health of my corpus, but in the short term, it’s near misery.
So it’s tea, knitting, and doing cover copy surgery. Cover copy is the stuff on the back of a book, or on the inside flap, that makes you want to buy it. I flat-out love writing cover copy, which, I gather, makes me somewhat of an oddity among writers. I suspect I’d also like writing catalog copy, especially if it was for Harriet Carter. Of all the catalogs I love paging through and snaking, the old HC has to be #1. I fancy I’m a bit of a dab hand at it, and I like it when friend-writers throw a cit of copy at me and say, “WORK YOUR MAGIC.”
I damn near chortle with glee.
It’s perfect for days when I’m physically not tiptop, too, because each project has a definite starting and ending point. Working in twenty-minute increments makes for appreciable progress on cover copy, where it might not for novel-writing. I might also get super crazy and do some yoga today. If I can breathe deeply without coughing this afternoon, that is.
So that’s the state of the Lili today. I’m sexing up descriptions of books from people I love to read and hang out with, which is pretty spiffy. Even though it’s not a perfect day, there is tea, rain on the roof, tea, dogs to snuggle on every work break, and I get to do something I love.
Day 1: Write for twenty minutes about a traumatic incident.
Day 2: Write for another twenty minutes about it, since you’ve had time to process.
Day 3: Write about it from another viewpoint–not your attacker’s or abuser’s, natch, they don’t deserve it. But perhaps in third person, or as your younger self, or as an older self.
Day 4: Write the story you want to take forward about the incident.
Of course, that’s the idea I gained of the process listening (while knitting) an episode of the Like Mind, Like Body podcast. I am no doubt be missing some refinements, nuances, and/or key points. However, it being something about writing, I dove right in.
That may have been a mistake, since the #MeToo thing hit as well. Reminders are everywhere lately. I know it’s because harassment and abuse is endemic, and I do not choose to speak openly about many of my own experiences for a variety of reasons. This leaves me feeling somewhat voiceless–a strange and vanishing experience for a writer.
This evening I get to write the story I want to take forward. So far, though, my overwhelming feeling has been gladness that I went to therapy. The EMDR in a safe therapeutic environment, in particular, had a marked effect. I’m sure I would have had nightmares the past few nights if not for the (blessed) desensitization I gained from that.
So, body and mind have been under somewhat of a strain, between finishing the zero of Season 3, a couple professional setbacks, revisions on a stressful project, the murderous dumpster fire of the current administration, reminders of past trauma, and the pressure of not being able to share details of that trauma with certain people I could normally expect support from. Add the weather change and my running mileage increasing, and the auld corpus that carries me about (largely uncomplaining, it must be said) needs some care and cosseting. Hydration, rest, and some soothing things are all called for.
Be gentle with yourselves today, my friends. Especially if you, like me, are unable to speak openly about some things. It does not make your experience any less valid. If it helps, I am with you.
Rain! We only had misting and a damp-down yesterday, but I woke up this morning to tapping fingers on the roof, tree branches weighed down with welcome water…and dogs unwilling to go down the deck stairs because they’re forgotten what that water falling from the sky is. Odd Trundles, simpleton that he is, finally bowed to the inevitable pressure in his bladder, but Miss B had thoughts of finding a drier and more congenial spot to unload.
I put a quick stop to that and almost had to chase her down the damn steps. She finally bowed to the inevitable, but not before giving me a filthy look. She still hasn’t completely forgiven me, but there’s a 5km run in her immediate future, so that will go a considerable way toward ameliorating her fury. (Read: She’ll smell so many interesting things she won’t even remember I made her pee outside in the RAIN.)
You guys are aching to hear about the tiny plastic crossbow, I’M SURE, but that story’s going to have to wait until Friday. (I know, I’m evil.) The squirrels were in a frenzy to bury all sorts of things last week; they could probably sense the rain coming. So, being distracted, they didn’t care so much about the dogs being in the yard. I think they’ve figured out Trundles won’t ever catch one, and if they come out in pairs Miss B wants to herd them instead of catching them. *eyeroll* Suffice to say there have been Hijinks, but I don’t know how many times I can retell “Miss B almost, ALMOST caught the squirrel” before you lot get bored. So I’m going to ration the stories, and only bring you the best ones.
Not that the wielder of the plastic crossbow is a squirrel. Oh no. That would be too easy, wouldn’t it. Besides, if those arboreal fuckers figured out projectile weapons (other than pinecones) I’m afraid humanity’s place on the food chain would slip a bit.
ANYWAY. I have practiced my French and my Korean this morning–Duolingo finally has a Korean program, and the Drops app is pretty spiffy for learning Hangul and basics–and absorbed some caffeine, so it’s time to get out and run in the rain. At least I’ll be able to breathe, without both snot and sputum being full of smoke particles. (I’ll spare you the description of just what color one’s snot is after breathing forest fire ash for a while. You’re welcome.)
They’re even saying there might be thunderstorms later. Which delights me, but will not delight Miss B at all. Fortunately she can hide under my desk, and probably will. The only drawback to that is her possible state of dampness after we get out for a quick 5km.
But oh well, if it makes her feel better, wet shins are a small price to pay.
I’m a sucker for a good bodyguard story. I pop those narratives like candy, they hit all my kinks. There’s something seductive about the idea of being protected, of someone caring enough to want to keep you safe. I can, black-hearted and stone-faced bitch that I am, be brought to soppy tears by a good peril-bodyguard-romance.
Unfortunately, I live in the real world, and I learned long ago that there’s no such thing as a bodyguard, really. There is nobody waiting around to save me. In the end–all the way down the line, really–I’ve got to take care of myself.
Don’t ever wait for someone else to protect you and your writing. You have to be your own goddamn bodyguard, babe, and look out for your work as well. How? Here’s a few ways.
* Admit that the world does not want you to write. There’s always going to be something you can procrastinate with. There’s always going to be life getting in the way. The world is not built for our comfort, my friends. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and you can spend a lot of time bemoaning it. Don’t. That time is better spent giving the world the finger by actually getting some writing done. Go ahead and be mad about the unfairness of it all, as long as that anger energy is spent on actually writing.
* Prioritize. Confession: I’d rather be watching a K-drama and eating chocolate than writing this blog post. I’d rather do zero drafts than revise, I’d rather pitch a fit about how nobody understands my geeeeenyus than admit an edit letter’s right. It doesn’t matter. Writing this blog post, revising, and swallowing the harsh bits of an edit letter are priorities today. Set aside five minutes or so every week–I suggest on a Monday–to just think about your priorities. You’ve got five minutes, set a timer and just…think about it.
My children? Priority. My mortgage? Priority. Working rather than faffing about on YouTube? Priority. I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever decompress, but take a week or so and log your time. If you’re spending hours doing things that don’t advance your (small OR large) goals, it’s time to rethink.
* Put the inner asshole to work FOR you. There’s a long passage in IT where Stephen King, via Ritchie Tozier, talks about grabbing the wild internal asshole who’s fucking up your life and putting him to plow. “He works like a demon once you get him in the traces,” is, I think, how King put it. Example: I spent most of my young life as an adrenaline junkie. That’s hard on your body and your life, so I pour that addiction into my work (combat scenes, anyone?) and running. I get the same kick, but I’m not using unsafe behavior to get it.
Figure out who your inner bitch is, and get to know her. Not only will she pull the plow fast and far once you figure out who she is and where to point her, but you can also use her for perhaps the most important thing of all, which is…
* Practice saying no. Saying “yes” isn’t a bad thing. What’s damaging, though, is the “uhhh, I really don’t want to, but emotional blackmail…so I guess I will.” Saying no to protect yourself is hard, hard, hard. Do yourself a favor and start with little things. Sugar in my coffee? No, thanks. Do I like *band of the moment*? No, I really don’t. Work up to the big “no”–no, I can’t kill myself turning around those copyedits in three days, no, I won’t respond to this fan who thinks he’s my soulmate, no, I won’t answer the door while I’m working. Practice letting your “no” be enough. If you need help or guidance on how to do this, I suggest reading some Captain Awkward, who is sixty different flavors of amazing, gives great life advice, and is hella clear and easy to follow on creating boundaries.
Your “no” can be a weapon, and it can be a gift you give yourself. Don’t be afraid to use this marvelous gift to protect your writing time.
* Build your habit. I get a lot of flak for saying “write every day.” I understand that doesn’t work for some pro writers and some pros have other views. That’s okay. You’re here on my site reading my advice, and my advice is: write every goddamn day. Set a kitchen timer for five minutes and write. Set it for ten and write. Do it every damn day.
Why? Because getting into that habit will help you prioritize writing. Carving out a little bit of time, no matter how small, to do something every. damn. day. sends the signal that you’re serious about it. It’s also a way to game yourself into producing words. Often–like, 95% of the time–the timer will ring but you won’t stop, because the pump has been primed and you can write for a little longer, a little longer. And before you know it, you’ve horked up a chunk of text.
You can fix ugly writing. It’s much harder to fix a blank page.
* Recognize toxicity. We all know how I feel about writing groups. There are going to be people who don’t like you writing, either because it takes your attention away from them or because they fear what you’re going to say, or–you know, who the hell cares why they don’t want you to write? Fuck them. Look out for toxic people–those who undercut your confidence, make you feel like you’re unlovable or hard to like, who always seem to have a crisis while you’re in the middle of a project. Now, there are genuine Life Crises that arise while you’re writing, and those deserve to be priorities. But be watchful for emotional blackmail and the people who do not want you to write, or worse, want to vampirize your writing energy for their own purposes.
I don’t speak about it often, but I lost a few people I thought were my friends when I finally got published. My achievement felt threatening to them, and the emotional blackmail rose to epic proportions. It was so bad I didn’t trust my own perceptions until my husband at the time (there was a reason I married him) validated them, and supported me in cutting those people out of my life. Had he not, it would have taken me a lot longer to activate my inner bitch and let those people go, and I’m grateful for it. I’m even grateful for the lesson in how to spot people who only like you when your dreams are out of reach. Life is too short for that crap.
* List, list, list. I love making lists. A master to-do list for overarching projects, daily lists to help me with the bite-size stepping stones to those projects, grocery lists. If you get overwhelmed by lists, you can always redo them. A list isn’t set in stone, YOU are the smart monkey with thumbs who made it.
Every time you update a list, put one thing on it you’ve already done, so you can get the dopamine hit of crossing it off. Set aside one day a month (or week, if that’s your jam) to update your master list, and feel good about every damn thing you’ve crossed off EVER, not just on the current lists. Lists are powerful. There’s a reason we’ve been making them ever since cuneiform.
* Admit your worth. One of the most effective ways to guard your tender inner self and your work is to admit you’re worth it. If you’re reading this and have any suspicion that you may not be, in fact, worth it, let me put that to rest right now in the strongest possible way. YOU ARE FUCKING WORTH IT, TAKE IT FROM ME, I AM TELLING YOU RIGHT NOW. Read it as many times as you need to, my friend.
The world may not care, but it really does need your writing. It needs you healthy and producing, even though it may not seem like it. Other human beings who need stories need you to fight to take care of yourself, even though the whole universe is seemingly set up otherwise. You are the only person in the world who can tell the stories lining up at your skull-door, that’s why they chose you. You are also the only person who can take care of those story-babies, who can make your writing time a priority, who can liberate your inner bodyguard bitch and make her work for you.
So. We’ve gone over burnout, and how to bodyguard yourself. Let’s do a small experiment: I’d like you, my dear Reader, to hop on down to the comments and give one concrete way you can protect yourself this week.
It’s Thursday, but it feels like a Monday. In a good way, mind you. Because all the damn ice has melted off or washed away, which means I get to go running. Not only that, but Miss B gets to come with me, which means we’ll both work off a mountain of fidgets and irritability.
All I have to do is wait for my breakfast to settle. Then it’ll be time to tie my shoes and get the fuck outta the house. The big thing will be reminding myself to be careful and take it easy, since there may be some slippery patches–the mud is going to be incredible, if I have to veer off pavement. Sticking to a dry-ish route is going to take some ingenuity.
I couldn’t be happier. I am twitching while I type, all but desperate to get out the door and work off these nerves. It was so bad yesterday I had to consciously remind myself not to snap at anyone or anything interrupting my train of thought. Working when one is snappish can be good–the irritation can push you to better characterization and to fiercer work, not to mention attention to small details. Most of the time, though, it’s a handicap because EVERYTHING MAKES ONE WANT TO KILL. “Perpetually murderous” might be a good story, but it’s an inefficient method of goal achievement. It creates bodies and paperwork, both things that take up a great deal of working time.
I jest, but only halfway.
So, today I run all my fidgets out, and Miss B’s, too. Then it’s Afterwar, and some more Roadtrip Z, and maybe a bit on a super-sekrit project. And yes, today is the day another chapter of Roadtrip Z goes live! I am tremendously excited.
Now that my breakfast has settled a bit, it’s time to brush my teeth and tie the aforementioned shoes.
The weather report was full of breathless almost-promises of snow, but alas, there’s nary a flake to be found. Which is good, really–everyone goes goddamn crazy around here whenever the weather changes at all. Sunny day after a string of rain? Crazed driving. The first real rain after summer parching? Crazy driving. A single snowflake reported by Aunt Betty’s cousin’s friend? SUPER CRAZED DRIVING. So I don’t exactly wish for snow, but it would have been nice to have school canceled and everyone home for the day. There could have been baked goods and hot cocoa.
I mean, there still could be, really. Especially since I just looked out the window and there’s some kind of wintry mix thing happening.
I spent the weekend in a fog of cold meds and physical misery. I’m still not feeling tiptop. I haven’t been on a run for almost a week now, but I don’t feel jumpy or twitchy, which means…yeah, still sick. A box and a half of tissues and a whole lot of Mucinex later, I ended up losing my voice. Upon reflection, I probably should have just stayed in bed for a day or so, but that’s not an option.
So today I’m going to bundle up, make a metric tonne of hot tea–probably use up a lot of lemon verbena, since the Selkie gave me a full tin of it–and try not to cough my lungs out. Fortunately I’m not feeling half-dead, just quarter-dead and congested, and if I have to I can summon up a raspy croak of a voice that could star in a horror movie. (“They call me…THE LARYNX.”) Another bright spot: my hair is long enough, finally, that my nape is kept warm on cold days. Except right after my shower. I don’t care what happens, I am NEVER shaving my head again.
Even Miss B seems to have caught the spirit of the day. She’s curled up next to the heater in my office instead of nosing me to get me out the door to run off some of her energy. She’s been worried, since I’ve been hacking and coughing and croaking. There’s nothing quite like an Australian shepherd insisting on shoving her nose in your face to sniff your breath and your runny nose before informing you with a head tilt and raised fuzzy eyebrows that you’re sick and she plans on herding you to the couch and keeping you there. Odd Trundles, of course, is nesting amid the pillows on my bed, cuddling with a teddy bear.
What? No, it’s not his teddy bear. It’s mine, and no, there’s no picture, he’s paparazzi-shy. I’m just hoping Odd doesn’t take it into his head to eat said comfortable, comforting, plushie toy.
Just glanced out the office window again. Still no snow. Just a pile of work ahead of me on Afterwar, and not enough tissues to last the day.