I am an associate professor of human services at a regional Midwestern university. I am also a writer of fantasy and romance, hoping to get traditionally published. I have one husband and am owned by four cats.
I am not a coffee addict — I can quit anytime I want to. That’s a joke. I believe I am addicted to coffee, being unable to function in the morning without it. I can dress up my addiction with styles and flavors of coffee — my current favorite is a flat white with chocolate malt powder from Starbucks — but as my day can’t start without it, chances are I’m addicted to coffee.
This morning I fell asleep after my coffee anyhow while sitting upright in a chair, which is what happens when a 12-oz mug is not enough. After waking myself up a few times, I tried to make myself coffee in our old single-serve Nespresso. We’ve buried the Nespresso, like much of the rest of our coffee station, as my husband makes pour overs with our hot water dispenser now because we’re coffee snobs in this house.
I just couldn’t deal with the Nespresso, not with my lack of caffeine. So my husband just ordered me a flat white from Door Dash.
Yes, it’s true. My husband just Door Dashed me Starbucks. I was too busy to go out, so he called in an order for delivery.
Writing this down makes me embarrassed, because I can summarize the entire story as First World Problems. Having Starbucks delivered to my doorstep, however, is the closest to luxury I’m likely to experience, so I might as well enjoy it. That cute little brown bag in front of my doorstep feels like a holiday — and it has caffeine in it. If it doesn’t happen very often …
Today has been relentlessly dreary, with the mist throughout the day finally resolving into gray. I mention this because I have had the afternoon to work, and instead I have been falling asleep sitting up. I suppose this is a sign that I need sleep, that I have been working too hard, or that it’s just too dreary of a day to stay awake. I need something to do besides laundry, which is putting me to sleep as well.
Surveying my more imaginative side, I’ve decided I need a visit from the Bluebird of Happiness, or at least the Robin of Mildly Positive Affect, with wild news or mild news for my life. In my wildest dreams, the Osprey of Capital rescues me from this drudgery with an ostentatiously generous Powerball win. Maybe the Seagull of Exquisite Dinners will bring a menu from Waldo Thai, and somehow I’ll have the time to go there. The Blue Jay of Raucous Laughter? I could use a good laugh right now.
I may have to settle for the Wren of Amusing Email, as the other birds seem not to have found my house. Let me go read my email …
I have been writing on Avatar of the Maker after a hiatus (with other projects) and I am glad I’m revisiting it. Writing is once again a flow activity!
I’ve talked about flow before, but I might as well talk about it again. Flow is a concept originating with Mihalyi Csikmentmihalyi, and it involves being so engrossed in an activity that time flies by, yet one’s perception is of timelessness. Flow happens when the activity is neither too challenging nor too easy, but at an optimal level of difficulty. To experience flow, one must have mastery over the activity and be able to grow while doing it.
Flow is one type of engagement, and engagement is one aspect of well-being, according to the PERMA model. So, literally, when I engage in successful writing, I feel better, more complete. When I do not achieve flow in my writing, I am grouchy and unfulfilled.
After a weekend of snow squalls, the first day of Spring is bringing us a high of 59 degrees and a soft blue sky. I can feel myself stretching toward the sun like a flower. (What kind of flower? I’m not sure. The obvious would be a sunflower, but I’m trying not to be obvious. A daisy? An anemone? Maybe a tulip. I like that idea …)
After a winter that I thought would never end, I’m feeling giddy. The weather might disappoint me next week with ice and wind, but at this point I believe Spring will come if it’s not here already.
This is a time of year I struggle with some difficult anniversaries in my life. So I cling to Spring as a distraction. The remaining chill is not so bad if blue skies promise that life will be better. The rain is better than the snow I just lived through. I’ve survived another winter.
When I go to work this afternoon, I will do it with a lighter step, and a feeling that everything will be okay.
I have been unhappy with Kringle on Fire since the first draft. This is not usual for me, as I love my first drafts with the drunken happiness of accomplishment. I have to work to be critical in the edits.
But I didn’t experience that with Kringle on Fire. It felt flat. It felt trivial. It felt wooden. It felt all the things you don’t want to see in a romance novel. I thought I was missing something until I started writing again on Avatar of the Maker and it sparkled. I had characters who responded to each other and action that flowed. I liked the characters. I felt like I wanted to write it (although I had taken a break from it to write the Kringle novel.
I let Richard read through it to see what was wrong, and he picked up on the same thing. The book just didn’t sparkle.
What happened to this book? I think it was a combination of factors that were bound to doom it. First off, the female main character is a 22-year-old single mother to a two-year-old. Given that, she needs to be very cautious about exposing her son to potential male partners so as not to confuse him with father figures. (Staying the night is a definite no-no.) So that part of the relationship has to go slowly. It’s a Christmas season instalove novel, which is the defining factor of the entire series. Instalove is the polar opposite of cautious. This puts me into the situation of either putting the son in an unhealthy place or stretching out the action for longer.
There may be a way out, but I don’t know if I want to take it. I have written four Kringle novels, and I think that may be enough if the muse leads me this badly astray. I would be better served by finishing Avatar of the Maker and the other novel I have started. I feel guilty about abandoning a novel, but the Kringle book does not speak to me.
Today is my sixteenth wedding anniversary. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but again it seems like the forever of brief moments, many of them spent laughing.
We got started late in marriage — I was 43 and Richard was 38. We were definitely late bloomers, as he had never been married and I had previously married the wrong person. I’m a nerd and Richard’s a geek, which might explain the late bloomer part.
We are not the perfect couple. We are the couple for whom people say “I cannot imagine you being married to anyone else” which means I’m a nerd and he’s a geek. I get it, though. I write romance novels about quirky people, and we could be one of those couples.
I’ve been — not exactly plowing through writing as much as shoveling through it with a teaspoon. Adding words to the too-short Kringle on Fire has been a task, but I am finally almost at the 50k point. The Kringle books run short, mostly because they have light plots and I am an economical writer. And because I can write them short as I self-publish. But shorter than 45k and they’re a novella, and I don’t want to write novellas. So I’m at the editing stage now, hoping to add 300 words to the mix.
The books that I have in my writing pile have been slow as well. I need to do some soul-searching about what I need as a writer. I don’t think it’s time to give up writing yet, but it’s time to understand why my drive to write has tanked.
One possibility is that writing is no longer a new and shiny thing. I’ve published, I’ve held a book of mine in my hands, I’ve commandeered time for writing retreats. The immediate reward is not as bright and awesome as it was. Another is that I haven’t reached as many people as I thought I would. I had a fantasy that I would have a small but devoted readership, and that hasn’t happened. A third possibility is that I have doubts about how good a writer I am because of item #2. My husband assures me I’m a talented writer, and I think I should take that to heart. Finally, I take more time promoting myself than writing. It’s necessary unless you get a lucky break, but it’s not what writers want to do.
So there are some things I have to contend with if I want to keep writing. It’s going to require more soul-searching than this. In the meantime, I write, even if I feel like I’m shoveling through a snowdrift with a teaspoon.
When I was young, my reaction to this quote was something like “well, DUH. How would you not live all the days of your life? If you’re dead, you’re not living your life.”
Later (embarrassingly later) I had a different understanding, and I was really slow in getting it. The key is “what does the word ‘live’ mean?” I had originally interpreted it as the physical act of living, including breathing, cognition, awareness, things like that. Then I realized that it’s the existential definition of ‘live’. Implied by this is the pursuit of happiness, work, etc.
Today I realized that by ‘living’, the quote means ‘living well’, and could involve happiness, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement — the hallmarks of Martin Seligman’s PERMA model of flourishing. Living all the days of your life fully, which is what I believe the quote means.
I teach PERMA in my positive psychology class. Although I think the quote is a little trite, it seems like something I could introduce to my class at the beginning of the semester as a motto. That it sounds nonsensical at first, yet has a deeper meaning might be the most important attribute of the quote.
Three years ago today is when the Centers for Disease Control declared COVID to be a pandemic. I was on Spring Break and the big question was whether the university was going to shut its doors and deliver its classes online. The CDC hadn’t declared shelter in place yet, but other universities had closed. It took two more days for our university to follow the others. An extra week of break for the students and for faculty to put together online classes, and then the new class format to get used to.
I spent a lot of that first couple of weeks frightened when I was not sitting at my computer frantically moving classes online. Luckily, one of my classes was online; another — the internship was a mess with students not being able to finish it. Some creative grading got them through and closer to graduation. The fear was widespread; after I had a meltdown in the middle of the kitchen, I called my psychiatrist and got through to his nurse. She reassured me that what I was going through was normal.
Richard worked on library tasks at home; I spent a lot of time on the computer supervising my online classes. I also spent a lot of that time baking bread. I fed three sourdough starters, one of which I captured myself. The experiments made me feel more grounded, and we had the best bread in town. I also wrote a lot when the initial shock dissipated. The longer-lasting feeling was isolation as I sat on the porch swing, seeing nobody outside.
Eventually, the restaurants and less necessary stores opened up with precautions of distancing and masks. By some miracle — or more likely masking — Richard and I missed getting COVID (until a month ago, and the vaccine made it bearable). Activities like concerts and vacations were still on the forbidden list, and we missed Christmas with my family that year.
Finally, we came back to a new normal, one with the remnants of distancing signs on grocery store floors, masks at the hospital, wariness about crowds, and memories of a disruption of life unknown since World War II. One million dead in the US made those disruptions necessary until we had the vaccines in place.
Our memories fade. We take for granted our freedom to move, to go places, to shop, to congregate with friends. It wasn’t that long ago that we lost all those, if only for a while. And it could happen again. A mutation of COVID into a harsher bug could send us back into isolation. There are other organisms that we haven’t seen in humans before that could be the next COVID or worse. We have to remember how COVID made us adapt and survive.
(Note: I am using the Day One question for today because I do not know what to write about.)
I consider myself an open person, and I have answered many questions about my past (rocky), my bipolar disorder (not as dramatic as the media would have it), my current life (could use a little more excitement), and small talk (“I’m fine, enjoying Spring Break, how are you?”) But there is one question I can’t stand being asked:
“Are you sure?”
Listen, if I wasn’t sure, I would say ‘I think’ or ‘I’m not sure, but’. Otherwise, if I say it, I’m sure of it. This doesn’t mean that I’m right, but that I believe I’m right. Just like the other person believes they’re right. We will not resolve this argument by assuming I’m wrong. Or assuming they’re wrong. When I’m sure I’m right and you’re sure you’re right, that’s the time to do research, not get into a battle.
There are probably some circumstances where “Are you sure?” is not a passive-aggressive gambit. As an exclamation of disbelief — Ok, that’s a passive-aggressive gambit; never mind. But this gives me insight. The reason I don’t like “Are you sure?” is that to me it basically says “I don’t believe you” dressed up in Granny’s polka-dotted dress1. Oh, so nice and dismissive.
What do I prescribe instead?
“I understand differently. Let’s find out.”
Think of Mrs. Beasley (a doll) in Family Affair (1966). If this is before your time, search for “Mrs. Beasley”.