Strange days indeed

Strange in a good way, I should add. I was taking care of a couple of things when I realized that I was not as stressed out as I should be. I mean, I’m putting together two syllabi for three classes, I’m reading about EU sanctions on Iran and Russia, I’m leaving on Wednesday for Belgium with students. We’ll be there for 10 days. We get back on a Saturday and classes start on Monday. I should be completely stressed and racing around like the proverbial headless chicken. But…I’m not. I’m weirdly calm. I mean I like it, but it’s weird. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way at this time of year before. Friends always say, “Gee, must be nice to have four weeks off between semesters. Wish I got that.” What they don’t realize is that in that four weeks I have to grade and finish all the previous classes, write the syllabi and prep all the classes for the spring, deal with committee work (yes, that continues through the break), and in my case, lose a week to 10 days shepherding students around Europe. Oh, and my own research.

So, it’s not really a “vacation” in the sense that I get to sit around, read fiction, binge watch whatever, and take nice long walks. I do those things every now and then, but after I’ve done about 6+ hours of research/prep/committee stuff. I’m not complaining, just pointing out that it’s not all bonbons and soap operas. So, why am I so relaxed this year compared to other years? What’s going on? I had to think about this.

I am not doing research. At least not political or work-related research. I am doing research for a book I want to write. But, I’m not doing my usual political parties in Serbia research. I’m not worried about getting something out, past the reviewers, and hopefully in a journal by the end of 2020. And, doing all that so I can show it to my colleagues and have them nod and smile. I really am over this. I still like to know what’s going on in the Balkan corner of the world. I just don’t want my world to be required to revolve around it.

Starting next week you will see responses to prompts here. I’m participating in a group to create and respond to writing prompts in order to hone the craft and maybe get ideas. At the least, to make sure I’m stretching that creative muscle on a somewhat regular basis.

I’m enjoying my busy, but less-stressed-than-expected last few days of 2019. I hope everybody has a good end to 2019 and is looking forward to an adventurous and fun-filled 2020.

Image by 1980supra from Pixabay

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

The semester is over. I only have three more papers to read. Grades are due at noon on Tuesday. This is my list of things that *have* to happen. Writing for my own benefit will come in between for the next couple days and then I will do it in between working on the syllabi for the spring semester classes. I really am not good at winding completely different jobs together. But then, the day job is annoying the ever-loving crap out of me, so that will be the primary reason for my procrastination this week. Of course, the grade deadline is a hard deadline, so yes, I will get that done. Fortunately, the two syllabi are for classes I’ve taught before, so they just need to be updated. That won’t take that long.

We wandered around the city quite a bit today buying a couple of Christmas gifts and looking at the lights and decorations and then hitting up the Christmas Village in Love Park. Went through our neighborhood which has changed (for the better) dramatically over the 15 years we’ve lived here. It’s a lot of fun to walk around and realize that there are busy restaurants and cool stores where there used to be abandoned buildings or empty lots. Today was also the Army-Navy game so there were and are tons of visitors in town for the game. It’s also the day of the ever-popular Santa Stumble. Lots of people wearing Santa or elf costumes/outfits and wandering from bar to bar. Put them together with the Army/Navy fans and the regular Philly denizens and you get a very interesting mix.

It did give me a couple of story ideas, so I’m going to scribble up some outlines and see where they take me. I also realized that I have to go back to Book #2 and create an outline for that. I am stuck and trying to figure out where this is going. Same thing for Book #3. Also gotta work on this short story I want to submit and which is due in February. And, then, we have to address and mail Christmas cards. So much for a break between semesters!

OK, off to work and making dinner. Take care of yourselves and do your best to keep those stress levels low as we move toward the height of the holiday season.

Stay sane inside insanity!

A leap of faith

I am a total procrastinator. I can find a TON of things to do before those things I’m supposed to do. There’s a reason it took me three years to finish my dissertation (well, procrastination and an evil committee chair). But, you get my point. I like fiction writing, but now I’m finding that I’m engaging in the same procrastination behaviors. And, I think I’ve figured out why (so far, it’s not the cat keeping me pinned…that should be helping). I think it’s because moving to writing full time is a freaking huge leap. A leap of faith. And, those are extremely difficult to make. So, I make the excuse that I have to make sure none of my students have turned something in within the last five minutes, or that I need to check the department’s Facebook page just to make sure that announcement got posted…and then I spend an hour wandering around FB.

So, why do I do this? Again, this gigantic, scary, life-altering leap of faith. If I actually complete my current short story, that means I have to submit it. And, strangers will read it. And some of them won’t like it. And, and, and…. It’s not that I haven’t published stuff before. I have. But that was research stuff. Stuff that could be backed up, supported etc. Not stuff that was just straight out of my imagination. Not things that other people might find weird, or uninteresting (OK, so research is only interesting to a small pool of people, but that’s the pool I was writing to). I know the pool I’m writing to now, and it’s much, much bigger.

So, here I am with a cat trying to pin me to the sofa, writing this blog, and avoiding working on the short story and on Book #2 in the series. I even went for a walk this morning which always makes me feel better. Luckily for my procrastination proclivities, somebody just went down to the basement and put in a load of laundry. That means, I can’t use laundry as an excuse to not write. At least not now. Guess I’ll just have to write. I will admit that writing this does help get me in the right mindset for writing.

The semester is effectively over. The papers for my largest class are not due until Wednesday night at midnight. I’m already planning on going in to the office on Thursday to take care of grading those and hopefully getting the senior research projects taken care of as well. Grades are due next Tuesday, so I’ll turn those in Monday evening (cuts down on the constant whinging and grubbing for better grades). Thus, I have no excuse for not writing (didn’t I say that already?) Plus, it’s raining. Stay in and write.

OK, I’m off to write. I really am going to do this. I keep telling myself I’m taking this life-changing direction. That I’m leaving academia. That I’m going to write for a living. So, I’d better actually take that leap of faith.

Here I go!

Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!

Lions, tigers, and bears all seem to appear at this time of year. The metaphors, at least. Work and its associated stresses, time sinks, and general all-around malaise (nothing screams malaise quite like students and faculty at the end of the semester. Everybody just wants it to END NOW!) make for a large pride of lions; each on stalking you and creating at best worry, at worst fear. The general stresses of the holiday season, combined with less than mild world news (looking at Hong Kong) become that tiger stalking in the jungle; you never know when something is going to jump out from its hiding place and attack. Finally, not writing enough for my own satisfaction, never mind keeping up with NaNoWriMo, is the hibernating bear (my muse and brain cells are apparently on extended holiday); can’t quite seem to wake up and not sure you want to.

I am REALLY looking forward to the end of the semester, even though there are a whole host of other things waiting for me at the end. But, those things/plans/events are things that I want to deal with and work on. Even the trip to Europe with my students. We have plane tickets and a place to stay for the first 2/3 of the trip. The rest is easily taken care of, so I can simply look forward to watching my students explore and experience the simulation, catch up with well-respected and liked colleagues, and enjoy good beer and food.

Writing? Well, yesterday I read a whole new book. Which is OK, because it’s in the urban fantasy genre and it’s a renewal of a series I really like. Got some interesting ideas and learned more about pacing, scene writing, and character arcs. So, that does count as work. Today, we tackle yard work (leaves from the neighbor’s tree are finally all down), and some other pre-Thanksgiving chores and then it’s supposed to rain. That’s when I will go back to the writing. I owe a short-story by mid-February and I have to keep going on book #2 in my series. I also have to gently poke my beta readers for book #1 so that I can get that out.

Also in the line of work, I’m figuring out how to license images and covers, the ins and outs of converting to a Kindle Unlimited format and all those details. I’ve created covers for all three books already since that makes me feel like the books exist and I just have to fill in the space in between the front and back covers. I’ve found that this is similar to my process of writing academic articles. There, I just blast in and write out the whole thing, dumping in notes for citations, place holders for data tables etc. For me, even if I end up dumping 10 of 25 pages and writing an additional 15 pages, that’s OK because it’s editing, not original writing. Psychologically, there’s a world of difference between writing and editing. Writing is facing a blank page and trying to organize your thoughts and ideas into something comprehensible and (in the case of fiction) entertaining. Editing is looking at a finished product and tweaking things so it smooths out. Yes, it’s more complex than that, but that imagery is what I use and it works to keep me moving forward.

I did mean to write yesterday. I had all intentions of doing so. But, I think the meeting I had on campus at 8:00 a.m. kind of ripped it all out of me. Not really an excuse, but an explanation (OK, so I feel better telling myself that). But, I did read and did make note of interesting structural bits in the book. Like I said, that does count and I’m not just saying that for an excuse. If you don’t read, you can’t know what makes one story work and another one bomb.

So, I’m off to rake leaves, run errands, and then write. The cat will really enjoy the writing bits as I tend to sit on the couch and he sleeps beside me, keeping an eye on my work and whereabouts.

Enjoy the weekend!

Image by Michael Siebert from Pixabay

NaNoWriMo and dry spells

Another long spell of no blogging. I really need to avoid these dry spells and do this more often as it lets me get thoughts out. When I’m staring at words on a page, they seem to make a lot more sense than when jumbled up inside my head. I have been writing (kinda, sorta), trying to keep pace with NaNoWriMo. But, not very successfully. I didn’t officially sign up, but I did start keeping track of my word count each day. The last few days have been, shall we say, less than stellar.

I did start writing a short story prompted by a call for stories from someone in a group I’m in. If accepted, this will be my first paid writing. I’ve got published pieces in the academic world, but you don’t get paid for those (even if it’s a book, you really don’t get that much from it…there’s some idea that academics do it for the pure intellectual challenge and don’t give a damn about money…HA!)

Life is moseying along pretty well so I’m not sure why writing is not occurring. I really do try not to stress myself out when I don’t get something down every day, but that’s easier said than done. I’m trying very hard not to let the annoyances and stresses of work get involved in my life outside of work. That’s also tricky since as an academic, much of work spills waaaay over into life. For example, I’m taking students to Europe over winter break and due to the clusterfuck that is our non-existent “global engagement” office, I am doing ALL of the logistics as well as the academic prep for this trip. Thus, I’m back to having a ton of homework to take care of for that class and trip, on top of all the other grading and prepping for other classes. Then add in committees that are churning out unnecessary work for members and you have academia in a nutshell.

Hmmmm…guess work life is not humming along as smoothly as I might have wished. Home life and non-work life is truly fantastic. Like I said, writing a short story for hopeful inclusion in an anthology, working my way through book two of my series, pondering two more series, and generally enjoying the writing gig. Now to make money with that.

OK, thank you for listening. I am off to do some more writing and cook some brunch on this chilly Sunday morning. Here’s to a productive week ahead, and it’s almost Thanksgiving!

Image by Marion Wunder from Pixabay

Mammoths and living

The following is a comment I left on a post called “Fraying” at According To Hoyt. The post is about how our differences, exacerbated by social media and the apparent need for many people to engage in virtue signalling (showing the world that this is a REALLY GOOD THING or NOTHING TRUMP DOES IS OK IN MY EYES EITHER! or whatever it is that they feel the need to be publicly supportive of or angry about). Because of this need to virtue signal many people believe lies and slander about others that they know personally and have known for years. Years worth of personal knowledge, friendship and shared experiences go out the window with the need to show those whose judgments they simultaneously crave and fear that yes indeed, I’m still totally supportive of this group!
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Just found this today.

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/taming-the-mammoth-why-you-should-stop-caring-what-other-people-think

It dovetails right with what you are saying about worrying about how others judge us, *that* they judge us and how we can get out from under that mammoth. Those that believed the slander about you, Sarah, will believe slander about anyone they know because they value staying in the group more than their authentic voice. They don’t realize there is another group “out there” which will welcome them in. Or they are afraid to even go look because of what others might say.

I started writing fiction because of a word prompt you had way back in the summer of 2018. I’m still in academia, but I have a plan and a system for leaving and yes, I’m going to make writing my full time job. I also know I’m going to get laughed at by colleagues. But then, due to events over the last year or so, I’ve already discovered I can’t trust most of them anyway.

Here’s to jumping and knowing the net will appear!
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The linked piece is what I want to talk about now.

The mammoth in the piece is a metaphor for our need for and fear of others’ acceptance of us. The author points out that we all have mammoths in us, but the trick to leading your authentic life and leading with your authentic voice is to control your mammoth.

Leading with your authentic voice, being public with it, is a very scary proposition. You open yourself up to ridicule, harassment, and ex-communication from co-workers, friends, and even family. When I decided to embark on this author journey I hesitated to even tell my husband that this is what I wanted to do. I was afraid he was going to laugh at me and also (very legitimately) bring up the issue of the two of us trying to live on one salary.

In the end, of course, I did tell him. And he was and is extremely supportive (I never should have doubted him. I know he would walk through fire drenched in gasoline for me). Others I’ve told have also been very supportive. A couple have asked me if I plan on continuing in academia while writing, thinking that of course, I will have to do the sensible thing and maintain a guaranteed income. (Did I mention that tenure is a life-time job guarantee and that I’d have to be insane to walk away from that? I did? Well, OK. To continue then.) When I say no, I’m jumping from academia to full time writing, most times friends tilt their heads, think about it for a few seconds, and then nod and smile and say something along the lines of “Cool! That sounds exciting!” I’m discovering that I’m very lucky in my circle of friends and I am beyond grateful for all of them.

So, my mammoth is seriously objecting to my leaving a tenured job for something that is simply riddled with uncertainty. Taming and controlling that mammoth has been difficult and scary. One of the things my mammoth does is indulge in internal conversations between me and what I imagine others will say. Needless to say this exercise does not result in any resolutions to anything, rather it simply ramps up my stress levels. I’m slowly getting that bit under control.

I read the linked piece today and I think it was the last little thing that I needed to convince me that yes, I am doing the right thing for me. I wrote some more on book #2 yesterday and today. Yesterday was a bit of a struggle, but today, things came easily. I’m not really sure yet where this book is headed (I have a vague idea, but no specifics), but I’m sure it will wind up someplace really fun and interesting. And, it should be a good story getting there.

I will no longer run my life and my ambitions according to those who are too buried by their own mammoths. I am listening to my authentic voice and giving it room to breathe and grow. It is not going to be easy, but it will be rewarding in a multitude of ways and I can’t wait! There’s a system or method to my madness and I’m heading out.

Living by the saying “Jump and the net will appear” is scary and exhilarating all at the same time. But I think this is the best way to truly live and I’m going for it.

Do it! Don’t let your mammoth smother you and don’t let the mammoths of others sit on you.

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Happy Halloween!

I always enjoy Halloween in my neighborhood. There are a lot of kids out; a lot of them come in from other neighborhoods across the city. It’s great. The kids are having a blast and the adults are happy knowing their kids can walk around the streets without fear. On top of that, I get to hang out with my neighbors who are very cool people. We sit on their stoop and hand out candy while catching up. The trick-or-treaters love the fact that there are three…THREE..candy bowls that they get to raid. It’s a lot of fun.

It’s been almost a month since I updated this blog. It’s been a busy and somewhat stressful month as well. I should keep writing here on a regular basis since writing helps me work through a number of stressors, problems, provides a means to vent, etc. At work, it seems to be clown cars all the way down. But, I think I’ve worked everything out. I’m taking students to Antwerp, Belgium in January and there is absolutely no process nor structure for dealing with the logistics of a trip abroad with students. It’s ridiculous.

But, I figured out a work around and I’m pretty pleased with it. There are still details to be ironed out, but I think the big hurdles have been jumped. Tomorrow is a “research day” which means I’ll be doing my own writing. Yay! I have started book #2 and I’m feeling very good about it. I’m getting good information from reliable sources about how to deal with Amazaon and it’s Kindle Unlimited structure so I’m very confident that uploading Book #1 will be a piece of cake. it’s out to beta readers right now. In addition to Book #2, I’m outlining Books #1-3 for my next series. It’s exciting to know that I actually do have all these stories lined up inside my head just waiting for an outlet.

There have been many times when I wish that I had figured this author thing out earlier. However. I know that I wouldn’t have figured it out without going through all the experiences I’ve had so far. Those experiences gave me the ideas for Book #1 and I’m very grateful for that. But, yeah. It’s been 20 years in the academic career. Time for a change.

Hubby heads out to meet up with his college friends for a week or so of golf and cards. I will miss him terribly, but I’m also looking forward to the opportunity to get a lot of writing done. Tomorrow is Day 1 of NaNoWriMo and I intend to get in at least a few hundred words each day. Getting a good way into Book #2 will be great. I am very happy with my progress so far and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.

Enjoy your Halloween and eat all the candy and goodies you want!

Image by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay

What counts as work?

What counts as work? I’ve been struggling with this for a while now. I tend to avoid doing the school work/class prep in favor of writing. But, when I sit down to write I find myself doing a host of other things. However, it may not be all wasted time and procrastination. I read something the other day (yes, this will count as work, you’ll see) that mentioned that even reading something counted as work because if you discover, while reading, a good or bad way to write dialog or a scene, then you’ve accomplished something. Or, reading history allows you to better craft your world(s). In my case, I sat down and read a book sent to me by a guy needing beta readers. I learned a lot in my afternoon of reading. I learned more about how to describe a location, how to write a fight scene. I also learned how NOT to write some things. I saw descriptions that became boring. I read conversations that went on just thatmuch too long. I learned more about writing by reading.

OK, so reading counts. What else? Well, the obvious. Outlining a new or the next book or series. I spent some time yesterday looking at notes and was pleasantly surprised at what I’ve put down and reminded that I do have a number of good ideas. Working on covers is another one. Oooh! Covers! Yes, there is the tangible output everybody looks for. If I can show a rough cover to my husband at the end of the day, then I’ve accomplished work. I like messing with covers because it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like playing around. Scrolling through photos, reading about how to change/adapt/use those photos. How to make the text just so. How to figure out which font. Finding just the right font. All of that counts as work.

Switching back to class prep/grading. Yes, this counts as well. It obviously counts for the day job. But, it also counts for the writing/author job. It counts because while I try to do all of it while on campus, that doesn’t always happen. It counts for the writing/author job because I have to get it done. If it’s not done, I cannot work on the writing. Yes, I use the fiction writing and other author work as a reward for finishing the tasks related to committee work, class prep and other things day-jobby. Which reminds me…gotta finish counting general education courses next week (the fun just never stops).

The last thing I count as work is meditation and time spent letting ideas marinate. Meditation helps me lower stress levels (day job brings A LOT of that), and lets ideas float through and around my brain. Even (OK, this is last), writing on this blog counts as work. As I write down my processes, questions, brain waves, frustrations, etc. I find that oftentimes I am able to figure out answers or solutions. This is akin to meditation, but a bit more active. It counts because it moves me forward on the path of my choosing.

If it is in furtherance of the direction I want to head then it counts as work.

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Where you are vs. where you want to be

A question I’ve been asking myself is where am I and am I where I want to be? Surprisingly for me, I’ve been reading some “self-help” books lately. I’ve never been one to gravitate towards those in the past. However, in light of some severe frustrations and set-backs in my chosen career path, I have come to the realization that I need to take a step back and reevaluate things. As I’ve mentioned, I started writing fiction last summer and I’m really enjoying it. I don’t seem to have the surge of ideas that many authors whose blogs I read (and are linked on my blog roll), but I am finding that more are coming to me as I read for fun and interest and if I simply let my mind wander.

One thing the self-help books mention frequently is gratitude and faith that you can and will figure things out to move your life and life trajectory onto the path that you want and truly enjoy. I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal for about a year now, writing down, at the end of the day, 10 things I’m grateful for that day. I am also consciously reminding myself to be grateful for little things (everything from a good parking spot to a cute dog on my walk to a friendly cashier) as well as the big things (friends, my husband, family). It really does make a difference in my mood and my attitude during the day. I used this technique with relative success last academic year and I will be more mindful about putting it into practice for this coming year (I think it’s going to be necessary!)

I do find myself doubting whether I can pull off this fiction author thing. I tend to procrastinate and that’s been happening lately. However, I can see that the procrastination is being fed by the fear of sticking my neck out, putting the book out to beta readers and then putting it up on Amazon. I am reminded of Marty McFly’s dad in Back to the Future. George McFly has written a sci-fi novel but has not sent it to a publisher because “what if no-one likes it?” he asks Marty. Fear of no-one liking his book means George never sends it out, and therefore never enjoys the success from writing that is in him. I don’t want to be George McFly at the beginning of the movie, I want to be George McFly at the end. When Marty has changed the past so that George sends out his book and it’s a wild success.

To counteract my fears of becoming George McFly the early, I am building a faith that my life as a successful, full-time fiction author is out there waiting for me to arrive. I will send the book out to beta readers in the next week. I will work up the best cover possible and I will figure out all the ins and outs of Amazon Kindle publishing and just get it all done. It will all happen. I know it. It’s all out there just waiting for me!

Let’s go!

Image by Greg Montani from Pixabay

Life. Damn.

Saturday night my upstairs neighbor died from an overdose of heroin with fentanyl. His mom and girlfriend had spent the afternoon and evening trying to locate him and then, that night, found him dead in the apartment. Absolutely tragic. Our landlord is a neighbor and friend and we ended up spending about two hours outside on the sidewalk drifting between stoops with one of the other upstairs neighbors, and the next-door neighbors. The conversation ranged from the trivial, as we tried to take our minds off of things, to the immediate. Turns out my landlord’s sister died from an overdose and my other neighbor’s brother had serious abuse issues (thankfully still alive). We all thought about family and friends as we watched the mom deal with the sudden (although clearly not unexpected) loss of her son. I thought about how grateful I am that I have not had to deal with this level of addiction in my own family.

Drugs are obviously life-altering in ways both good and bad. Good drugs can cure cancers, overcome diseases, wipe out diseases and allow millions of people to go about their daily lives unencumbered. Bad drugs send people into imagined utopias of no pain and no problems, provide unimaginable highs that require ever higher doses to achieve and maintain all while destroying the brain and body. Drugs and their life-altering affects are often the subject of science fiction stories with outcomes alternating between relieving a dystopian existence or bringing down a utopian one. In the end, all the stories return to the theme that yes, indeed, too much of a good thing can become bad. As with all mind- and body-altering substances there is a required balance. Medical people will often say, the line between cure and poison lies in the dose. But heroin? I’m not sure there is anything but poison there.

Other drugs remind me of snake-oils sold throughout history. Right now, a friend is becoming involved in an MLM selling extremely diluted human growth hormone gel on the argument that it helps you lose weight and repairs a number of other issues associated with aging, etc. She gave me a bottle (which I discovered retails for about $170!!) for me to try. I am extremely leery of anything like that and did a quick bit of research on the active ingredients. My conclusion? Uh, no thanks. Not even going to try it. The attraction of no-work weight loss and getting in shape is huge for many people. The quick fix with no sweat. I want to keep living my life exactly as I do now, just without the belly fat. Well, I would too. However, I know that there is work involved in getting rid of the unwanted belly fat. But, I am unwilling to risk my near- and long-term health for the quick fix. The bottle and a warning about what I found is going back to my friend. I’m hoping she gives this up.

I have a couple stories floating around in my head that involve the sort of “cure-all” drugs that are found in science-fiction and in our current world. What happens when too many people get hooked on the idea that a simple drug can provide the answer to all their problems? What happens when potentially debilitating or even fatal side-effects are ignored or not discovered until much later? Quick weight loss fixes that don’t stop even when you stop taking the drug? Mental and energy enhancements that propel a person beyond human endurance and capabilities? The warnings came as early as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. We need to heed those warnings still.

My apologies for rambling, but this weekend’s activities have put me a bit on edge. The roommate of the late upstairs neighbor has not yet returned from the beach (she does know what happened), and it’s not clear what will happen in the near future for her. I don’t know about you guys, but no way could I continue to live there. It’s been a weird few days. I sincerely hope my late neighbor has found peace.

Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay