Tag Archives: other

Life in the Fish Bowl

Some of you may know I live in the San Francisco Bay area. As of midnight Tuesday, we have been ordered to shelter in place. This means no leaving the house except for anything “essential.” Medical needs, groceries… putting gas in your car… And we were given leave to pick up necessary items at the schools so the kids could continue learning at home.

It seems to me that, even though the order as written delineates “essential” fairly clearly, people apparently have their own ideas. I was surprised at how many people were out and about yesterday, on foot and in cars. Well, our town has about 90,000 residents, so I guess if even 10% of them need groceries or have medical appointments, that puts a good number of people on the roads. And so many people in our neighborhood have dogs that need walking. We’ve been told we can take walks so long as we stay 6+ feet away from anyone else out for a walk.

Fortunately, we have a spacious back yard. If the weather would cooperate, we could swim, at least. Our pool guy says the chemicals in the pool kill the virus. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’d be nice to be able to swim anyway.

I’m learning to homeschool. We have a schedule, and we’re finessing it as we go so that it becomes something we can all work and live with. No screens for the first half of the day. We read, play board games, practice music, draw—anything that doesn’t require a screen is fair. Kids are allowed to do online school work after lunch and then have free time once that work is done. We also have morning and afternoon outdoor/exercise time. (With the rain the “outdoor” part has been spotty.)

Thank goodness, too, for the Internet. Could you imagine all this 20 or so years ago? (If you’re old enough, that is.) Yesterday I was at least able to order some cross stitching supplies to keep myself busy over the next few weeks. The shelter-in-place order is through at least April 7. The kids don’t go back to school until April 14 at the earliest, and now I’m hearing probably not even then. So much of this is waiting and seeing, and so much of it depends on people’s behaviors. People are unpredictable and don’t behave rationally, so when things depend on them doing so, well… Don’t bet on it turning out well.

Every morning, even before we were all home and this was our new life and routine, I go through the house and open the blinds to let in the light. Now, when I do so, I feel like I’m in a fish bowl, and like the house around us are other fish bowls, and we’re all just fish, swimming in circles in our little spaces…

You’d think I’d get more reading done, or more writing, but the opposite is true. Having to manage everyone else’s schedules and needs means less time for myself. That is the frustrating bit. As an introvert who requires a lot of alone time in order to recharge, being in a house full of people means my battery wears down very fast and I don’t get plugged in all that often. I could take the easy route and let the kids disappear to their rooms and spend all their time online, but no. I won’t be that parent. I’ll adjust. We all will. We’ll make this work, somehow, for all of us.

Hidden Scars

I have focal nodular hyperplasia (FNH). This is a very long way of saying I have benign tumors in my liver. They aren’t cancerous, or pre-cancerous, but they can be a literal pain.

My diagnosis came in 2002 and quite by accident. I’d gone in for a CAT scan for another issue and the FNH was simultaneously revealed. My doctor at the time immediately took me off birth control because she suspected the hormones were causing the problem. After some monitoring (read: MRIs every few months), it was determined that the nodules weren’t growing, so all was well. (If the tumors get too big, or block anything important, they have to be removed.)

There was some concern when I got pregnant that the FNH might become more serious. Oddly enough, I had no problems when pregnant with either of my boys, but the pain returned when I was carrying my daughter. Different hormones, I guess?

And now, just recently, the pain reared its ugly head again. I’ve since moved across the country and whatnot, so it took some explaining to my current doctor. When I went in today, she of course took a look and at first didn’t believe me when I told her that, no, I haven’t had a gallbladder since 2010. Because she couldn’t find the scars.

Gallbladder issues run in my family, but it’s also very common for women who’ve given birth to have gallstones. One of those things they don’t tell you before you decide to have kids. A year after my third and final child, it was discovered I was, as the ultrasound diagnostician put it, “full of stones.” So a very dour but incredibly skilled surgeon from South Africa removed my gallbladder. There are four tiny, nigh invisible, scars. (More visible in summer when my skin goes toasty.)

Anyway, there’s something wonderful about witnessing one medical professional admiring another’s work. Once my doctor did finally spot the gallbladder scars, she was highly impressed. If only I could take the credit, but I can only say I’ve been fortunate in my choices of health care providers—fortunate, that is, in whom I’ve been able to choose because this system is the pits.

As for the FNH, I’m due for an ultrasound next week. We’ll see if those nodules, lesions, tumors–whatever they decide to call them–are misbehaving. As I age and the chemicals in my body change, well… I can’t say I’m a fan. BUT. I’m still here, right? All these changes, no matter the inconvenience, are better than the alternative.

It’s Early But…

I don’t anticipate much happening between now and the end of the year. Which means 2019 was a singularly unproductive year for me in terms of writing. I wrote one story that I have yet to place anywhere. (Lots of places still considering it… Here’s hoping it finds a home.) That means I didn’t publish anything this year. And I’m really no closer to finishing or publishing anything any time soon, either.

What I did accomplish this year: a house move + renovations. That ate up a lot of time and energy. Plus a new routine with the kids as now they are going to three different schools which means juggling a lot of drop-offs and pick-ups. We had a big family vacation, too. And we adopted two rats (one of which passed away) and a python. For the record, that leaves our menagerie at two cats, a rat, and a snake.

In short, my life is largely focused on the domestic these days. On the up side, I read a ton of books this year. My goal was 18, and I’m at something like 76. Of course, a lot of those were manga, but I regret nothing.

I was looking at my personal year for next year. For those who don’t know what that means, in numerology one can calculate a Life Path number using one’s birthdate and then a yearly number using the month and day of your birth plus the year. My Life Path number is 6 and my personal year number for 2020 is also 6, so that should be interesting. A 6 year focuses on (again, some more) domestic concerns. Which means I may not do much writing next year either… If you’re curious about your personal year or Life Path numbers, there are many different calculators online to help you. Just Google “personal year calculator” or “life path number calculator.” It’s entertaining if nothing else.

Yeah, in terms of my “career” 2019 feels like a waste. But I moved myself and my family into a better overall situation, so I think that’s totally worth it. Next year I have a couple vacations to look forward to, and any house stuff will be relatively small by comparison. And while the first half of the year will be more of the crazy juggling of kids’ schedules, the next school year should be much more manageable. The kids will still be at three different schools, but at least one of those schools will be much closer to home, meaning all three schools will be within a 10-minute drive. (Right now, one school is 20 minutes away, meaning I’m in the car at least 80 minutes a day, not counting any other driving.)

The only thing I’m really hoping for as far as my writing goes is to find a place for this story. If all else fails, I suppose I can self-publish it… Maybe combine it with a couple other stories for a mini anthology. Sometimes stories seem more doable than bigger works, though I’ve always found short pieces harder to write in general. Maybe this will be a good exercise for me and help me hone my skill. Who knows? In any case, I don’t plan to push things. Forced writing is usually not very good. Here’s hoping my muse finds my new address soon so we can get back together and get to work.

Off Topic

My most visited posts on this site are my astrology posts. This blog has never focused on astrology in particular; I usually only post about it when I have something interesting to say (which isn’t often). This is meant to be a writing blog/site, but seeing as my writing doesn’t garner much attention…

I’m currently writing a tarot manual for a friend who wants to learn to read tarot. There are billions of these manuals out in the world, and I considered publishing mine when I’m done, but maybe I’ll just post here as I go along? I don’t know if tarot will be as big a draw as astrology, though.

By the way, if you ever have astrology or tarot questions, feel free to ask. I’m happy to share what I know. (That goes for writing, too.)

Here, by way of example, is the introduction to my tarot manual:

The tarot is divided into two main sets of cards: Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards and explores the journey of the first card in that set, which is Card 0: The Fool. In this text we’ll travel with the Fool through the Major Arcana, but here I just want to say a few things about what it means to have Major Arcana appear in a tarot reading.

The easiest way to look at it is to say that the Major Arcana are Big Things in life and the Minor Arcana are little things. Some read the Majors as signs of destiny, fate, or karma. Some read them as things that cannot be changed versus things that can (meaning the Minor Arcana). I hesitate to ever say that anything is set in stone and cannot be changed. I simply don’t believe that to be true. But I think, when you see a lot of Major Arcana in a spread, some big life lessons are—if you’ll forgive me—in the cards.

A surfeit of Major Arcana cards turning up means one of two things. (1) This is important so pay attention to what we [the cards] are telling you. (2) You didn’t shuffle very well. Eventually, as you learn the cards and become confident in reading them, you’ll intuit what it means to have many Majors in a spread. What I don’t recommend is reshuffling and asking again. Asking the same question, even rephrased, over and over is a surefire way to irritate the cards and only confuse the issue further. If you feel like you’re not getting the message, set the cards aside. Or if it has been a while since you cleansed and recharged them (more on that later), do that. Then still set them aside for a few hours. The cards, like people, need breaks, and jumping from question to question wears them out.

From there, I introduce The Fool, etc.

I feel bad that it’s taking me a long time to write this manual for my friend, so maybe posting it here will give me impetus to get on with it. I guess we’ll see if these posts get as many hits as the astrology ones (or at least more than my writing ones).

Letter to Rob: Chip Tooth Smile

Dear Rob,

Been a while. I wanted to listen to the new album on my morning walk, but Spotify was misbehaving by shuffling the songs, and I couldn’t get it to stop. Thing is, I like to first listen to an album straight through because I believe the way it’s put together is just as important as the individual songs. Maybe I’m old fashioned that way. In this day of people picking and choosing songs and not having to purchase whole albums, maybe the order doesn’t matter so much. But I know work goes into that order, too, so I still like to listen to an album in the way it seemingly is meant to be heard, at least the first time.

All that is a long way of saying I’m still working on it. What I’ve heard so far I like, though there’s a certain homogeny to the sound. Perhaps that’s intentional, meant to help it all hang together. I haven’t decided whether I like it, though.

There’s certainly an undercurrent of mortality here, too, something a tad… I don’t want to say “maudlin” because that’s not the correct word for it, but… Despite protestations to the contrary (“Dying Young”), deaths of various kinds haunt what I’ve heard. An attempt to shake them off or something.

“Sentimental” maybe? Here I am, a writer, and I can’t think of the word I want. Sigh.

Between the sound and the lyrics, the whole thing makes you seem stuck on a feeling, like you’re going in circles. And that’s okay because I think that happens to a lot of people, and so this album will speak to them. Each song will reaffirm something in them because they’re feeling that way, too.

I’m probably not even making sense now.

Long letter short (too late), I do like what I’ve heard so far, though I don’t actually like the name of the album at all for some reason. That’s a “me” thing, however, something I’d need to self-delve about. The Spotify animation, too, is distracting, but I’m never really looking at my phone as I listen, so whatever.

Congrats and good luck with it and the tour.

~M

More Writers, Fewer Readers

What to Do?

I’m currently reading iGen by Jean Twenge, which discusses all the ways the iGeneration ( b. ~1995-2012) is different from previous generations. There’s a ton to unpack, and I’m not even very far along in this book, but as a writer I wanted to focus on the data that shows this generation doesn’t read. At least not for fun.

Are we surprised? Not really. Attention spans are getting increasingly short, cut into tiny slices of memes and video clips and text messages. As per the anecdotal evidence Twenge cites, most members of the iGeneration find reading boring because it requires them to sit still, be quiet, and pay attention. The result are slumping SAT scores in reading comprehension, which Twenge says we shouldn’t ascribe as either “good” or “bad” but… I can’t help thinking it’s bad. We want critical thinkers and problem solvers, but the up-and-coming generation can’t be bothered to work their brains that hard. (Twenge suggests ebooks that include videos and are written in very short chapters/info bursts, but really? We have to dumb things down for these kids?)

Okay, okay, so I’m an old fogey. That’s beside the point. In a world where (for good or ill) getting published is easier than ever, we have more content out there than ever, too. And we have fewer and fewer readers interested in buying or consuming that content.

Hmm.

“What about all those YA novels that sell so well?” you ask. Well, turns out it’s a lot of adults reading those novels and not that many, er, young adults.

“But older people still read!” Yeeeesss. But we need new readers to sustain publishing. And not just new content, since there is clearly plenty of that.

“So just write stuff they want to read.” Yeah, except they don’t want to read anything longer than a listicle.* Hell, short stories try their patience.

*Here’s an interesting tangent: iGen’ers don’t party as much, aren’t as into drinking or sex. So all these “old” people writing books for them… Books that look like something out of the 80’s, with parties and sex and alcohol… These books don’t reflect the current teen experience. Write a book entirely in text messages and memes and you’d be closer to the mark. And they’d be way more likely to read it. Especially since it probably wouldn’t take as long as reading it in prose form.

Bottom line/takeaways: the youngest generation isn’t reading books beyond those assigned to them at school (and sometimes not even that much). They have short attention spans and aren’t interested in an activity that takes time, patience, and concentration. We have more books and writers than ever and fewer readers. [Yes, I know those who do read often read avidly and voraciously, but again, we need new readers in order to sustain writers and publishing.] Already magazines and newspapers are desperate, and publishing is next in line; only people writing pithy (and short) articles online will be safe. And because trends move more quickly than ever, even then one is only likely to be a brief success.

Where am I going with this? Well, to be honest, I haven’t been writing much lately anyway. I’d already seen success (as I personally define it) as unattainable for me. So this data only reaffirms that I made the right choice by walking away. The situation is only likely to worsen.

Then again, once enough writers quit the field, those left might still find an audience, eh? Good luck out there!

Still Here

I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. I’m just unpacking and sorting and lining up contractors, etc.

Last Thursday I finished up with cleaning our old house so we could had the keys over the new owners. Usually I’d say it felt strange to think we wouldn’t return to a place we’d lived for nearly seven years, but honestly, it doesn’t feel strange to me at all. I think maybe I was done with that house long before we actually sold it. At the very least I’d detached emotionally from it.

There are few places I’ve lived in my life where I immediately felt happy and at home, but I’m grateful to be able to say the new house is one of them. Still, the unpacking process is a slow one as we try to decide exactly where we want things and how we want to use the space. I love that my office is at the very back end of the house (in the old one it was in the front, with the window looking out at the porch).

At the same time as I’m organizing my house, my life, my world, I’m trying to decide what I want to do with myself. What do I enjoy (when I have the time)? Well, I like editing, and helping fellow writers work kinks out of their stories, and reading tarot for my friends. I like speaking to new writers about the process and industry, too. And I love being involved in theatre. Unfortunately for me, I don’t often get the opportunity to do any of those things. And that’s the really sad element to my life—that I’m not valued for any of the things I enjoy doing.

In the meantime, I mostly am relied on for keeping up with laundry, keeping groceries stocked, handling all things kid and school related, and also managing a certain amount of house-related things (like the pool). Since this takes up most of my time anyway, I guess I shouldn’t mourn that no one wants me for my other interests because it would be difficult to fit them in.

There you have it. I may or may not go back to writing if the bug bites. For now, I have plenty on my plate. But if you happen to have questions about writing, editing, or tarot… Feel free to ask.

Life with a Nutritionist

No, I’m not living with one. At least, not in close quarters. I am living with one telling me how and what and when to eat.

First off: Why hire a nutritionist? At my last general wellness visit with my doctor, I told her that I kept gaining weight and nothing I did seemed to stop or reverse it. I’d changed my eating habits, begun counting calories, was exercising—nothing worked. My doctor told me not to be concerned, but as a precaution she also sent me for blood tests. Everything came back normal. So then I got sent to a gastroenterologist. He diagnosed me with “low motility,” meaning my gut is slow at digesting and *ahem* eliminating. He put me on an expensive medication that kept me tied to the bathroom. I decided the cure was worse than the disease and quit after a month.

Finally, my doctor suggested a nutritionist. So I decided the start of a new year was the perfect time to tackle a new health regimen. I’m now four weeks into a nine week program. I’ve lost about 11 pounds, and of that about half has been body fat. I look better, but it hasn’t been easy, and I do worry whether I’ll be able to keep the weight off.

Here’s the current situation: I have to eat certain amounts and kids of foods at certain times of day. I eat at 6:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., noon, 3:00 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. (roughly half an hour before I go to bed). At those times, I have to pick from an approved list of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. I cannot have breads (except Paleo bread), pasta, or dairy. I can’t have sugar; the only sweetener I’m allowed is Stevia. I can’t have starches like corn, rice, potatoes, carrots, or bananas. It’s not very fun, especially for someone who loves cheesesteak, mashed potatoes, and ice cream.

On top of all this, I have to take a lot of pills. First thing in the morning I take a probiotic and two Omega fish oil capsules. With breakfast, I’m supposed to take a Caltrate, too. Before lunch and again before dinner I take a starch blocker. At dinner I take three more Omega-3 capsules, a vitamin C tablet, another Caltrate, and another probiotic. Oh, and somewhere in all that I also take a magnesium pill as well. Yeah, it’s pretty f***ing insane.

And not inexpensive. All the health food, all the pills—the cost adds up quickly.

My nutritionist says that I’ll be able to add dairy and bread back into my diet at a later date (when we get to “maintenance”), once we’ve rebalanced my hormones or whatever. She also says I probably won’t want those things, but I have serious doubts about that. I don’t crave them the way I did in the first week or so, but I still want to be able to eat them. There’s nothing to make you want something like being told you can’t have it.

I worry I’ll be stuck eating off this restricted menu for the rest of my life. That if I don’t, I’ll just gain all this weight back and be fat again. And sometimes I wonder if losing weight and being healthy is worth all this sacrifice. I honestly can’t decide. I want to be healthy… But I also want to enjoy life. Eating should be a pleasure, not a chore.

So I’m about halfway through this… experiment? I don’t know if that’s exactly the right word. We’ll see what happens. I don’t have the extra energy that the nutritionist said I’d have, but I am sleeping better than before. That’s a plus. I worry about things like vacations. I want to be able to eat and not have to think about whether it fits my prescribed menu, and without feeling guilty for my choices. I’m not convinced there’s a good middle ground except moderation. And a life full of pills and supplements.

Worth it? What do you think?

My History with Pink

I took one of those random Internet quizzes today about what color I am, and the result was:

Your color is pink! You are a loving, kind, and generous person. You are very approachable, as people are attracted to your warmth and softness. You are also instinctively protective and tend to take care of others first.

I don’t know why I take these quizzes except to see who, if anyone, “gets” me. Deep down, we all want to be understood.

As for pink, I don’t mind it, and when I was young I considered it my favorite color. Except… I don’t think it actually was.

Let me explain. I was a child (and am a person) who very much wanted to meet and exceed expectations. And I felt like I was supposed to like pink. So I liked pink. Or thought I did. But if given a choice about things, I didn’t typically pick the pink one. I leaned more towards purple. Yet if anyone asked, I would say my favorite color was pink. Because that was the “correct” answer.

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to win approval. My parents were very lax in a lot of ways, which meant they never seemed very impressed by anything I did. For the most part I’m extremely grateful they weren’t the pushy, demanding kind of parents, but over time I’ve come to realize that the lack of praise affected me, too. I ended up looking to my teachers for approval, and I got terrific grades, so there was that at least.

“Liking” pink, then, was just another attempt to be dutiful and hopefully win some appreciation from the adults around me. (I’m an only child.) But deep down, I liked purple. That happens to be my dad’s favorite color, too, so I never wanted to admit that I liked it because in my childish mind that would be taking away from him and/or showing favoritism toward him. I even chose my first My Little Pony based on the fact that she was purple with green hair—my dad’s and mom’s favorite colors combined. I was dead set against playing favorites and hurting feelings. (The pony was Seashell, btw.)

I would even color pictures in purple, green, and pink in an effort to combine my and my parents’ “likes” and not leave anyone out.

It’s been a long, hard road in coming to understand myself and my constant search for acknowledgement. I wanted the gold stars, the stickers, the pats on the head… And I still do. I feel crushed when I don’t receive them. I wonder what went wrong, or what is wrong with me. So I struggle now to remember that my worth is inherent and that it doesn’t matter if others recognize and affirm it.

It’s okay that pink really isn’t my favorite color.

Proof of Skill

Today I read an offhanded remark on a site that said something along the lines of (paraphrasing): “Well, they’ve only ever self-published, which is fine, but it’s no proof of their skill as a writer.”

Hmm.

It made me wonder: How do we measure “proof of skill” for writers?

My guess is that we mostly measure authors by their sales, simply because that’s the easiest way. It’s quantifiable and concrete. And since publishing is a business, certainly sales matter. “Oh, So-and-So sold a bazillion copies of Bookity Book? Must be a great author!”

But there are plenty of books that sell a lot of copies that aren’t all that great. I mean, it’s subjective, of course, but just as many people seem to hate Twilight and Fifty Shades as love them. So sales aren’t necessarily proof of quality. They’re really more proof of appealing to a large (I won’t say lowest) common denominator.

How else might we figure proof of a writer’s mad skillz?

Less quantifiable is “buzz.” Which is to say, how much are you hearing about a particular book or author? (And, really, how much good are you hearing about it/them?) If many people are talking about a book, there are usually two reasons: it’s amazing or it’s offensive. It can, I suppose, even be both(?)…

So does word of mouth = proof of skill? Well, it = proof of marketing skill at least. But again, there are plenty of hyped-up books that end up being big disappointments and just as many hidden jewels gathering dust on shelves, and whatever ebooks do when they’re ignored.

Does being picked up by an agent and then a big publisher mean you’ve got amazing writing skills? Based on the comment that started this post, that still seems to be the gold standard. Even as we continue to say that self-published books are often just as good, and sometimes better, in quality, that they’re often more original because of the authors’ creative freedom . . . Deep down there’s still a sense of a need for gatekeepers to validate a book or author, an idea that books need to be “good enough” for an agent or major publisher, and books that were self-published clearly aren’t or weren’t. Never mind that self-publishing is no longer a last resort for many authors; they’ve learned they make more money and save a lot of time by doing it themselves. The stigma, alas, remains.

And I must say, of big-house books I’ve read lately, I’ve noticed a lack in editing quality in many of them. Now, I don’t know if that’s down to the authors or the editors involved in those books—I suspect many of the books were hurried out without enough proofing—but I’m just saying: having an agent and a big publisher doesn’t, in my view, immediately mean an author has skill. It could mean they had a connection to someone in the industry. It could mean they had a good idea that, even half-baked, the agent or publisher thought he/she/it could sell. It could even mean—yes, I’m going to say it—that they’re the token [insert diversity here] that the agency or publisher was looking for so they could feel good about themselves. I’m sorry, but I’ve worked in publishing, and I’ve seen it happen.

This isn’t to put actual, skilled writers down. This is just to say that the way we decide whether an author is “skilled” is . . . Biased a lot of the time. Subjective to each person’s preferences. There are a lot of factors involved. Being self-published versus agented and published by a big house—that’s not a definitive guideline as to an author’s skill.

The final facet of an author’s skill might be their actual craft, from the foundations of punctuation and spelling to the more lofty question of how they use words to build a story. BUT, again, not all of a writer’s ability can be determined this way. After all, a good self-published author probably hired an editor and proofreader. So maybe the author can’t spell and doesn’t know a comma from a semicolon but found someone to fix that problem. Maybe the story had huge plot holes that a development editor helped fill in. On the flip side, maybe the editor at that big publishing house was tired that day and missed a few things.

The key thing that set me off on writing this was the very casual dismissal of self-publishing I felt underlying the comment I paraphrased above. Not just because I’ve self-published a number of my books, but because to say something like that and not maybe define your personal criteria for “skills” feels a bit like a fly-by. Every reader has a checklist, whether they’re aware of it or not, of what they will and won’t tolerate in a book. They consider the authors who tick all their “yes” boxes to be “skilled” and authors who don’t, or who actively tick their “no” boxes, to be hacks. I’d like to think that most readers are open to self-published works so long as those books tick enough of their “yes” boxes, but I’ve seen readers in online groups have that as a “no” box: NO SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS. Sad but true. They cite poor experiences with self-published books as the reason for their prejudice, but have they loved every traditionally published book they’ve ever read? I doubt it, and yet they don’t boycott those.

I won’t claim to have answered the question of how to discern a writer’s skill. There are too many moving parts, and I think the largest part is that we won’t even all agree on which authors are skilled to begin with. What some readers treasure, others despise. What some consider classics, others consider trash.

How do you decide whether an author has skills? What’s on your reading checklist?