Goodbye, Ursula

Ursula K. Le Guin has never been on any list of my favorite writers or writerly influences, but she has is both of those. I have read embarrassingly little of her work, if for no other reason than I am that stubborn sort of person who the more you tell me I should do a thing, the less likely I am to do it.

My first year at Smith College, I read The Left Hand of Darkness for my scifi/spec fic class. You’re supposed to declare a major in your sophomore year, and I had no idea what I would do. English, the obvious choice as a writer, was not an option, since I’ve always loathed essays. (One of my writer friends tells me I was just never taught how to do write them the fun way.) I might have daydreamed about pursuing theatre, but I knew I wasn’t good enough (and back then I really wasn’t; I wouldn’t learn how to be completely comfortable in my own skin for years). Linguistics would have made me deliriously happy, but that required self-design and classes on other campuses in the Five College Consortium, and I wasn’t sure I had the drive to effectively handle that workload.

It maybe would have helped if I’d developed any career goals beyond “fantasy writer.”

The Left Hand of Darkness blew my mind, and the professor discussed Ursula Le Guin’s background in anthropology. Both of her parents were anthropologists, and that education greatly enriched the stories she was able to tell.

That same semester, I was taking a cultural anthropology course and loving it. So I made a deal with myself: if I got a good grade in the class, I’d major in that. And I did.

Cultural anthropology did, in fact, turn out to be a phenomenal course of study for a fantasy writer.

But even before college and The Left Hand of Darkness, some of the first books I read on my own and my favorites for years as a young child were the Catwings books. I rarely, if ever, see those books mentioned in discussions of her work. To this day, I cannot fully wrap my mind around how deeply and thoroughly those stories affected me as both a reader and writer.

In all the many roles she filled for countless people, I can only say that I would not be the writer I am today without her. RIP Ursula K. Le Guin. Thank you.

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2018. Finally.

I am occasionally superstitious. Of course, I can’t go for the conventional superstitions. Someone wishing me good luck before a performance, for example, doesn’t bother me, and I only avoid saying “Macbeth” out of respect for everyone I know who does take that seriously.

My husband doesn’t even like me to say it in the house.

But vibes/resonances? Those make sense to me. I mean, synchronicity can’t just be random coincidence. (Please, don’t start in on god. You won’t convert me.)

You know how there’s that transition period when a new year starts where you just can’t get the year right when writing the date? Well, four years ago, I wrote “2018.” Of course, I dismissed it as some weird fluke of subconscious number association. Except I caught myself doing that throughout the year. And every year since.

So what does 2018 have in store for me that I felt it four years out?

Maybe it will be wonderful. Just by the fact that I have my daughter to share this year with, it’s already wonderful. But maybe this is also the year my writing starts to become something like the career I’ve imagined. No, I can’t just sit back and expect it to happen. I’ll have to work my ass off and hope the stars align. After all, all the vibes and resonance in the universe can only offer me the potential.

Maybe 2018 will be terrible. With the puerile farce in the White House, chances of nuclear war and a thousand other tragedies are appallingly close. To say nothing of the countless other horrific possibilities of a more personal nature.

Or maybe it means nothing at all and this year will neither be fantastically good or horrifically bad.

All I really know is that I have an entire year ahead of me and I’m doing everything in my power to make it the best I can.

All I Want For Christmas

Is it normal to feel this unprepared for Christmas?

I mean, our Christmas tree has a single string of lights that ends partway up. That’s it. No other ornaments.

Presents? I usually find most of them by browsing and exploring, but not this year! Now, I wish I’d spent the pre-baby part of the year wrapping all that up. (wrapping! Get it?) I ordered some things online . . . which will arrive sometime next week.

Why didn’t anyone warn me? Except they probably did. I could not have understood this fractured inability to focus on anything not-baby without experiencing it.

But between my husband and me, we have at least a little something for all the usual suspects, even if we can’t gift everything right at Christmas. And tomorrow, the baby will spend some quality time in the swing chair or carseat while I do something with the tree.

Yeah, that’s a new development: she’ll let me set her down and get things done for up to half an hour, as long as she’s comfortably upright and can see me. Progress!

You know what else I should have been working on? My wish list. Granted, I’m terrible about coming up with one at any time. When anyone this year has asked me, I’ve had two items: a pack-and-play and an activity seat. Which are really for the baby.

I firmly believe a little dose of selfishness is a good thing, and it’s healthy to remember that I am not just a milk machine. Also, having a baby and working only part time means our finances are stretched thinner than my preference. So in light of self-interest, I want to share some items that should have been on my wish list:

    • Locus subscription so I know more about what’s going on in the SF/F writing world
    • A Duotrope subscription to help me find markets to submit stories to
    • Gift certificates to local bookstores
    • DVDs of shows like Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries or Slings and Arrows
    • A Hulu subscription so I can finally watch their version of Handmaid’s Tale
    • Donations toward my classes/workshops/cons fund (classes and workshops include theatre!)
    • A donation made in my name to a group or organization that does some good in the world, like Sustainable Harvest International

 

. . . And that’s a start. At least now I have a list to point people at the next time someone asks what I want. No brain required!

Still Learning

Babies operate on their own schedules, and good luck trying to dictate anything different!

I learned that more quickly and painfully when my daughter decided to cut what is usually a many hours- or even days-long process of arrival down to two hours. Of course, I knew this about babies years ago, but knowing something in theory is not the same as knowing through experience.

This does not mean I can’t have a writing schedule, but it does mean that my schedule follows no clock.

My little one has something of a routine. She wakes me up for the day most often between 6 and 7 am. Stages of eating might be interspersed with time in her play gym. She can keep herself occupied for up to half an hour or so, which gives me a chance to run around and get things done. As much as I’d like to use that time for writing, I use it for other necessary things like a bathroom break, making coffee, and shoveling food into my mouth before she realizes that mommy is eating when the baby is not.

A couple times, she’s played long enough for me to write a few sentences in the current story or get out a blog post. But I can’t count on that time.

This cycle of eat-burp-play, repeat as necessary, takes an average of two or three hours, often with a few eyelid inspections thrown in for good measure. Eventually, when she judges herself sufficiently full, she will sleep. And sleep and sleep.

So long as I’m holding her. And since this is generally the best time to write, I’ve become rather proficient at one-handed typing.

Afternoons? Well, I’m back at the day job three afternoons a week, for now. (Jury’s still out on whether I’ll have to revise that down.) The rest of the afternoons fill up quickly with visits and errands and attempts at cooking and chores.

Evenings are the crankiest, fussiest time of day, so my only other regular chance to write comes after she goes down for the night. If I can stay awake!

I managed a grand total of three sentences last night before falling asleep over the keyboard.

Yet despite being acutely aware of my limited time, I have more days when I don’t take that morning opportunity to write. Wise time management has ever lost out to my procrastination habit, and the phone now provides me with endless distraction when the baby tethers me to a chair.

Though perhaps – just perhaps – some subconscious part of me knows those are also my only times to sit and stare blankly, as this borderline introvert/extrovert occasionally needs.

Or maybe that’s just another excuse to procrastinate.

In any case, I’m learning how to fit writing with her schedule and it hasn’t entirely backfired. Yay, me!

And yay for a baby easier than I could have imagined.

The New Face Of Self Care

Self care looks very different with a baby. Self care used to be painting my nails, or cleaning the house (not fun, but necessary for my ability to function well), or an hour-long phone call with a writer-friend, or taking a day to sleep in and read a book cover to cover.

See where I’m going with this?

None of these are remotely feasible anymore. Like my writing process, my self-care is changing:

  • Any day I let myself take the time to use shampoo and conditioner, rather than my husband’s 2-in-1 is a good day. I did that this morning and the little one was screaming when I got out. But I took a breath, grabbed an extra towel for my suddenly leaky boobs, and let my husband handle it. (Which he did beautifully. It was an ego boost for him, a needed break for me, and some solid daddy-time for a daddy’s girl – an all around win!)
  • Cleaning? Um. I’ve been watching cobwebs grow and learning to be ok with it. The baby in my arms is so much more important than dusting.
  • I try to keep the house stocked with fruits and vegetables – preferably those I can eat with one hand with little to no prep time (or prepped in advance, when the rare opportunity presents itself) – to balance out the quick-shove-something-in-you-mouth-and-get-back-to-the-screaming-baby convenience food. My body thanks me and the baby thanks me. Or will when she’s older. Maybe.
  • I give myself permission to be in sweats or pajamas all day every day.
  • But make sure they’re clean.
  • And exchange them for actual clothes if I have to leave the house. This helps me feel like a more functional, if less comfortable, member of society. But I discovered an added benefit the other day when I made the dubious decision to wear a flannel shirt (that usually never leaves the house) grocery shopping. I nearly walked out the door without buttoning it.
  • Self care means bringing my laptop to bed and causing myself muscle spasms from awkwardly typing one-handed while rocking the baby and hoping the light from the screen won’t wake her.
  • And sometimes self care is letting her scream another couple minutes so I can pee and fill my water bottle and grab a snack and make sure my notebook and computer are in arms’ reach for the next endurance stretch.

Through it all: baby snuggles. Which are quite possible the best things ever.

Word Count Surprise!

The other day, I woke to an email congratulating me on reaching 10,000 words for NaNo.

The night before, I’d plugged in the day’s word count to the site without looking at or thinking about the month-to-date total, so the email caught me by total surprise. Cue the dance party!

 

100 or 1,000 words doesn’t seem like so much in the great scheme of things. But 10,000? No matter what measure I use, that’s a lot. 10,000 is a couple of short stories.

Actually, by the end of NaNo, I’m hoping to have completed three short stories. Well, their first drafts, at any rate. Though it’s not looking likely I’ll make it. Remember: I am counting blog posts and journal scribbles, so this word count isn’t even mostly story.

Story words or not, knowing I can write that much in a month while mom-ing – and the month isn’t over yet – comes as a giant relief. I can still write! I can make appreciable progress!

Go, me.

So Far . . .

So far, the little one is asleep and I’ve just broken 8000 words with my writing for the month.

How awesome is that?

When I’m updating my word count with 100 or 200 words in a day, it feels like a drop in the ocean. My biggest writing day so far? Something over 600 words. My daily average, according to stats tracking on the NaNo site, currently sits at 434, which seems higher than it should be.

It’s a relief seeing these small amounts add up.

I squeeze writing in where I can – where it’s feasible – but I allow myself not to, as well. Frequently, I have a free hand and I don’t use it for words. Instead, I’m reading a book, or catching up on social media, or reveling in this tiny-but-not-as-tiny life we made.

That last one involves snuggling and photos. Lots of photos. My Instagram is nothing but baby photos, Twitter is often hopefully pithy baby related comments, and my daughter has her own album on my Facebook. It’s the first Facebook album I’ve ever created, and I’ve had an account since 2007. I am most definitely one of Those Parents. And yet you would be amazed at my restraint.

It’s good that I don’t try to cram in words at every spare second because that’s not sustainable. I’d burn myself out in short order. Besides which, the whole point of my revised NaNo challenge is to figure out this new balance.

What I’ve learned so far:

  1. Don’t draft by hand when I’ll have to transcribe it later. This little one just does not allow me that much time, so in the interest of productivity and my mental state, this is no longer an option (after having been my preferred process for more than a decade). And no, I’m not interested in dictation software; composing aloud is a tragedy waiting to happen, I don’t want to use a crap program that will just cause me more work in the long run but can’t justify to myself the expense of a good program, and the times it would be most useful – so far – are times when I least want to risk waking the baby.
  2. Multiple projects at once are my friends. Where before I couldn’t split my focus enough to make this a feasible approach, split focus is now my baseline standard. Can’t make words come on one project? Switch to another. Most recently, I’ve had two short stories in process of rough draft going in Scrivener, plotting of another short story by hand (because plotting just works me through things; I don’t have to type it later), and a novel manuscript on my Kindle for the necessary read-through before tackling revision.
  3. Don’t power through; sleep. When the computer starts sliding off my lap, or the pen starts making feathery blotches on the page, or the Kindle starts slipping from my fingers, it is past time for me to sleep. I need to be functional for the little one, and I need to be functional to make my words coherent.

November is zooming by too fast, but at least it’s not over yet! Next month, I get to refigure this fledgling balance (again) with the addition of working part time.

P. S. The baby has slept through the entirety of me writing this post, and today’s word count sits right around 750. The day is still young! The thought of perhaps reaching the 1000 word mark in a single day makes me giddy.