My summer is about to begin

The only thing standing between me and summer is one final due today at noon. All I have to do is grade it, turn the grades in, and I am done with this school year.

The trouble with free time

What do I have planned? Not enough. I have sixteen interns to supervise over the summer, and I have a lot of time to do things. But the problem with a lot of time to do things is that it’s too easy to do nothing. The old saying is that work expands to fill the time. My experience is the opposite: Nothing expands to fill the time. I watch reruns on my computer, surf for hours, and engage in ‘horizontal snoring meditation’ (i.e. naps).

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The best use of my time

This is a question I’m going to keep asking myself over the summer — “Is this the best use of my time”? This question, if I’m being honest with myself, is the best motivator. Sometimes horizontal snoring meditation is the best use of my time; other times, it’s a waste. Many times, writing or the like will be the best use of my time. But this should keep me from too much dawdling.

Setting goals

I need to set some goals for the summer. Goals should be SMART. Which means:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action Oriented
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Goals help motivation by giving focus and standards and deadlines. I have not made my goals SMART yet, but here’s the beginning:

  • I will work on writing/plotting at least 2 hours a day
  • I will finish a short story or poem once a week

These may be overly ambitious, but I need to push myself or else I will get sucked into the void.

My work cut out for me

If I can stick with the goals (and if they’re realistic) I should have a fruitful summer. We shall see.

Pushing Myself to Write

The goal

I’ve been pushing myself to do one writing-related thing per day (this blog doesn’t count). I’m pushing myself because I am not currently enamored with an idea; no project obsessions here.

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I thrive on project obsessions, so when they’re not there, I tend to panic. Which is why I’m doing the daily writing gig — to jog me into that state of flow where there’s nothing except the writing and me.

“How’s that working for you?”

I wrote and edited a poem, so that counts for something. I’ve revised two cover letters and sent in queries of two books (one small press, one large). I haven’t come up with any big ideas yet, but there’s a whole summer to work on things. I have an idea for this fall’s Kringle story, but I won’t work on that till NaNoWriMo in November.

I really need to write some short stories, flash, and poetry. Those will give me submittables for Submittable. As I’ve said before, I’ve been advised to stop writing novels for a while and start with smaller story submissions.

What I want to work on this summer

  • More stories in the Kel and Brother Coyote arc
  • Some short stories and flash based on prompts Richard gave me
  • Work on my own list of prompts — I’m actually playing with this this morning and need to write these down:
    • A middle aged housewife fights a fae infestation
    • The denizens of Hell unionize
    • A little girl inherits her grandfather’s dragon

That should keep me busy.

Hope and the Writer

Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus

Getting (traditionally) published seems like an endless bout of submit, rejection, revise, repeat. Like Sisyphus with that rock he kept pushing up that hill. I admit that, when I get a rejection, I feel like that boulder has rumbled over me. But then, after a few minutes mourning, I appreciate the opportunity to try again.

Then hope sets in

I can’t stay sad for too long when there are revisions that can be made (to my document or to my query materials), submissions to make, and new possibilities that I have to check out. What pushes me forward is hope — hope that I have a better product, that someone sees promise in it, and that I will finally get the chance to show my stories to other people.

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Hope carries me

Hope carries me past the rejections, past the self-flagellation, past the desire to give up. With hope, each round of submissions is new as I try something else. Perhaps I will give up and self-publish, but self-publishing doesn’t push me toward excellence as much as trying to get traditionally published does. Hope is a heady sensation, like the sunlight on a June day, whispering “Maybe this time … “

Lazy Sunday

I can’t reach escape velocity

My mind is simultaneously antsy and lazy — I should be DOING something! I have an exam to grade! I could be creating advertising materials for my book! I should be — my brain can’t focus. I feel like laying in my bed all day watching House episodes on my phone.

The tired part — end of the school year

I understand the tired part — I just got off a full semester without any Spring Break, after a year of severely restricted activity due to COVID. I made it without more than one or two sick or mental health days all year (due to the ability to teach over Zoom). With finals all that are left, I find myself slumping my shoulders and relaxing.

The antsy part — in need of flow

It occurs to me that the antsy part is the craving for flow. Flow is a psychological concept that refers to the state of being completely captivated in an activity that uses your abilities at an optimal level. Writing is a flow activity for me, as is editing. Designing (with my limited abilities) is another. Most of my flow activities happen at a computer and fit in with my writing, which is probably why I write.

No challenge is optimal when I’m just coming off a brain-numbing school year. I’ve been challenged out. I’m still dealing with three exams to grade this week and unhappy students.

Antsy part 2 — in search of accomplishment

Another part of my always needing to do something is the feeling of satisfaction I get from accomplishment. I delight in making things happen. I love finishing a chapter, a novel, a cover letter. I get motivated by the finished product as well as the process (the flow). Again, my mind is having none of that.

How to take care of myself

This is a time where perhaps doing nothing (or next to nothing) would be the best thing to do. It’s hard for me to do, because I’m always trying to wrap myself in flow activities and completing projects when I’m not working. Although I’m addicted to flow and accomplishment, maybe I could use something more relaxing but inspiring like daydreaming or meditating. Or maybe I should just read reruns of House and see if I can diagnose those disorders.

Imagination Living Beside Reality

When I was a child …

When I was a child, I was an imaginative sort, and my imagination lived beside reality. I knew the tree wasn’t sentient when I spoke to it, but at the same time I had an attachment to it as if we had a relationship. The tree wasn’t and was sentient. I was and wasn’t a human.

I didn’t put away childish things

As I grew older, I discovered creative writing and received lots of encouragement from my English teachers. I mostly wrote poetry back then, prosy poems that tried to communicate emotions, and to this day I’m not enamored of my poetry.

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But I wrote stories. My stories tended to involve imagination living beside reality — Santa Claus as a young toymaker in a small town (see my romance novel for how that worked out),an anthropologist who discovers a collective of otherworldly beings (which has been written and now needs a home), an unstable woman who meets the ghost of the boy she killed in a car wreck — or did she?

What I developed in college and later was the concept of world-building. I had to show people that there was a reason why the trees were talking telepathically, why the titans struggled with their too-human longings and why the humans struggled with their sudden preternatural gifts. The basis of my writing is the tension between the hidden and ordinary worlds, the stories hidden in plain sight.

My world today

My world is one where I keep my foot planted in both worlds. No matter what genre I start in, two things will show up: 1) that other world hidden in plain sight; 2) relationships between people who are coping with that “other” world, whether they be from the hidden or ordinary worlds.

I would love to share this world with you

Please let me know in the comments if you would like to know more about my writing!

When Being Good is Better than Being Great

My annual evaluation

I had my annual evaluation meeting yesterday, and I did good. I met expectations in all categories, and I was very happy. I was happy because I managed this two years in a row. I was happy because it seemed like I was settling into a new normal that was, in fact, satisfactory.

My former messy life

For anyone who has not been following me, I have bipolar II disorder. I wasn’t diagnosed until 9 years ago at age 48. The problem that brought me to the psychiatrist was a frightening lack of sleep — at least a month at 2 hours of sleep a night. I dragged myself through days yet had racing thoughts, half-finished projects, and broken promises. And a feel like I was about to accomplish something great.

This is what hypomania looks like, at least in me. Overcommitment, sleep disturbances, slight grandiosity — but a brilliant ability to shine in those things I finished. I accomplished three things for each thing I abandoned.

Until I was depressed, and then I barely managed things. I would slump into deep depressions, barely making it to classes to teach.. My course evaluations would go down just as they went up during mania. During the last depression before the big crash, which I experienced near-simultaneously with the high, I would write these long, self-flagellating notes on Facebook, worrying everyone I knew.

After the crash

The inevitable crash sobered me. I spent a week in the behavioral health unit getting stabilized on my meds and walking off the most hideous side effect I’ve ever encountered (see akathisia). This is when I realized that I couldn’t go on as I had, and that I had to stick with the meds and find a new normal.

Learning to live with the new normal, however, was difficult for a person who had lived with effortless energy for a good part of her life. On meds, I didn’t feel the exhilaration of new projects that would buoy me up, so my productivity compared to my manic moments. My self-esteem went down, and I had trouble adjusting to this “new me” who didn’t get kudos for accomplishment.

Good enough

For a while, I didn’t do enough. Because I would get seasonal depression with a certain mix of meds, my fall evaluations would be down, and I didn’t do research because I had fallen out of the habit while my free-wheeling moods had taken over me before my diagnosis. Then, finally, my new department chair marked me as “not meeting expectations” in my annual report.

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This shocked me. Other than gym class, I had never been marked unsatisfactory at any point in my career. I had had the fall/spring semester discrepancies, I had quit doing research, but I had never had an unsatisfactory mark in course evals. I panicked.

And then I set some things in place, knowing that I could no longer coast nor could I accomplish the wild amount of work effortlessly as I had in the past. I explained my bipolar disorder to my boss (I am protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act as long as I do the expected amount of work. I explained to him that the course evals might continue to be cyclical but that I would work on concerns. And I informed him that I would do enough work to get satisfactory scores, but would not be going for full professorship.

I have been working toward improving course evaluations and research. Some years have been better than others because I still seem to get seasonal depression. But for the past two years I have done good enough, and that’s the best outcome.

How about you?

What does a job well done look like to you? Feel free to answer in the comments.

Word Press Tricks?

Oh I have questions …

I haven’t been on WordPress very long, and WordPress is a very, very complex site. I like to play with the bells and whistles — but I don’t know them. Maybe it’s a matter of learning HTML, but I’m too old a dog to learn that trick, unless you have a quick way of teaching me. Maybe I haven’t found the right button.

I know about the context-sensitive menu on the right, and I know about the floating menu when I type, and I know about adding blocks, but a lot of the options I have trouble understanding. Here are my questions:

  1. How do I make a numerical list? Never mind; I found it. And I found strikethrough too.
  2. Can I do footnotes with numbers? Or do I have to fake it by superscripting in text and then at the end of the document in the descriptive part?
  3. How do I get a bigger caption size so I can describe a photo?
  4. How do I indent a block without using block quote?
  5. How do I get a photo to left-justify with wraparound? I don’t want all my photos to right-justify?
  6. What is the coolest or most useful “bells and whistles” you’ve found here?
  7. Why is the inline image below not letting me wrap text around it?

It’s your turn.

Readers — if you can answer the questions above, please let me know!

Kel and Brother Coyote Save the Universe

Kel and Brother Coyote have another episode!

I am writing a serialized novel called Kel and Brother Coyote Save the Universe and I now have the general shape of the two arcs — one being Kel and Brother Coyote’s chemistry, another being growth arcs for the main characters, and the plot arc that deals with the link between the restricted class-planet Ridgeway III and the exploitative colonial corporation InterGal. I think I will have at least 9 more stories, which should put me at 35-40K words, or a novella length.

Here’s an excerpt from the latest episode:

In a strange room, on a strange planet, Kel lay on a strange bed on the floor, wrapped in tight bandages across her ribs. She glanced up at the glittering suncatcher that her shipping partner, Brother Coyote, called a Sun Mandala. Kel, hopped up on painkillers after a spectacular rescue of the leader of Ridgeway III, dared not look at the wall where the reflection of the mandala shimmered. If she did, she might see something again, and she didn’t want to deal with that just then. The prisms sparkled and made her sleepy. She closed her eyes …

She heard the doorknob open and opened her eyes to Brother Coyote and a floating carry unit. He shut the door and sat down next to Kel, folding his lanky legs up beneath him. The gravitation unit sank gracefully to the ground. “Mom sent me up with dinner from the buffet line. She’ll be up in a few minutes.”

“The party’s still on? After an attempt on her life? That’s a pretty gutsy broad — Oops,” Kel giggled. “I suppose I shouldn’t call the Convener of the — the Moot — a gutsy broad.”

“Mom would have no trouble with that,” Coyote chuckled, pushing back his blond hair. “As for the party continuing, that’s a Ridgewayan cultural tenet. The celebration must go on. We remember too many times we’d quarantined ourselves from various fevers on the planet, so we celebrate any time we can.” Coyote lifted the lid of the carry unit; savory smells enveloped her.

“How do you get carry units on this planet if you’re a restricted trading planet?” Kel wondered aloud. “I can’t make that make sense.” Kel found herself wishing her tongue weren’t quite so loose.
“It doesn’t have an internal grav source, of course. I’m levitating it. Luckily it doesn’t take too much energy.” Kel sat up and Coyote transfered the tray to her lap.

“Ok,” she said. “What’s this?” Whatever it was, it smelled much better than meal bars.
“The stew there is made with native mushrooms and a legume that developed into a landrace here.” The stew, she noted, was an intense golden color, and from the smell, she suspected that Ridgeway III had a local equivalent of curry powder. “Then, with that, is a mess of greens that combines diaspora culture DNA tailored for this planet and some local weeds we’ve cultivated into crops. The two grow together symbiotically, which is a bonus.”

Kel took a small spoonful of the stew. “Take a bit of both individually. Then take a bite of them together. Then try a little of that paste on the edge of your plate with them. It’s important to be creative with your food,” Coyote instructed.

“Tell me, how does one get creative with meal bars?” Kel smirked, but she tried the food anyhow. “Wow,” she said after a few minutes absorbed in her food, which smelled warm and mellow, contrasting tartness and a deep mellowness. “This is amazing. What do you use for spices?”

“A lot of things, largely local. We have a tropical belt which accepted diaspora spices, and we have many native herbs. This planet has immense agricultural potential, but only if it’s cultivated carefully. And by carefully, I mean as close to wild as possible.”

“So you’re hunter-gatherers instead of farmers.” Kel finished her meal and considered the pastry on the tray.

“Well, not hunters, unless you count mushrooms. We’re wildcrafters, we’re permaculturalists, we’re companion planters. We’re tree climbers, plant researchers — did you know there’s a plant here only pollinated by one particular miniature fruit bat? The guy’s not much bigger than a bumblebee and climbs into the fruit’s flowers and gets drunk, then visits other flowers on a bender. He finally passes out in a flower and sleeps until the petals drop out from under him.”

“You must have a lot of farmers if you can’t factory farm.”

“Yeah, but we don’t have a lot of factories. We have them for the technologies we’ve chosen, but we also have artisans and craftsmen. You might notice this tray is wooden.” Indeed it was, Kel noted. “We have a stepped-down economy, and not a lot of us go off-planet, as you might guess.”

Kel found herself looking at the reflections of the sun mandala, which were mere shadows on the wall as twilight fell. Her sight blurred as she found herself sucked into a vision — Keyli, the Convener of the Moot for Ridgeway III and Coyote’s mother, strolling down the hall with a feline creature that came up to above her knee, trotting beside her on a leash.

“Coyote,” she said, instantly regretting the words when they fled her mouth, “Does Ridgeway have felinoids the size of Terran Shepherd Dogs?”

Looking for Inspiration in the Hiatus

As time expands, inspiration goes down.

It’s practically end of semester at Northwest Missouri State. We’re in the middle of Prep Week (often called “dead week” by the number of faculty who are overwhelmed by the end of the semester) and I have nothing coming in until Friday to grade. I’m in t-shirt and sweats mode, only because I have a student appointment over Zoom today; otherwise it would probably be PJs. In other words, I have three more days of Nothing. To. Do. But. Write.

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I have a massive amount of time to write. Am I writing? No. I’m looking for more work to do. I’m halfway to the end of the Internet. I’ve fallen in love with three Internet cats and could dissect the modus operandi of successful cat influencers (photos plus merchandise plus charity). The inspiration to write is nil.

On the other hand, when I’m grading midterms, I suddenly explode with inspiration. If I have deadlines to meet, I feel like writing a novel. NaNoWriMo, the international writing event in November, is perfectly nestled between surviving midterms and prepping for finals. I write the beginnings of novels during that time.

But now? I’m staring at the screen drooling on myself.

Making a plan for summer

My whole summer is wide-open. Although I have interns to supervise, I can work around them pretty readily, and will probably do most of my meetings on Zoom. But the thing that takes up most of my summertime, the online class, isn’t happening. I need to write this summer to keep me sane.

I can make some plans to increase my inspiration:

  • Write this blog daily as warm-up
  • Spend allocated times at the Cafe for discipline and change of scenery
  • Work on outlines for short stories
  • Sketch brainstorming notes on paper with fountain pen (this slows thoughts down)
  • Find a muse (hopefully he’s a-muse-ing too)
  • Only surf the Internet for 5 minutes an hour
  • Find a writing sprint timer

Some of these are writing rituals, meant to separate writing from the mundane world. I’m all about ritual and its ability to make space for important things.

A question for you

If anyone out there has some ideas for getting inspiration (especially some fantasy-based prompts) please tell me in the comments!