New Year's night is a melancholy time. You're coming off the high of the holidays and trying to squeeze out those last few precious moments of escaping reality before returning to work. It's ironic - we bring in the new year with celebrations and resolutions to improve and make the coming year better, but we're forced to return to the same old routine on January 2 and face the challenges of bring in new resolve to the same old things, day after day.
Getting back into the routine will be hard tomorrow. There's no sleeping in tomorrow morning. No more slow starts to the day. No taking it slow through the morning and afternoon. No twinking lights on the porch and window to welcome me home from work. No cards in the mail with well wishes. No parties or celebrations on the calendar. All the presents have been given. The cards have been sent. The Christmas decorations are down and packed away and the house is cleaned. Celebrations have been had with family and friends. It's nothing but the alarm going off at six in the morning to launch me into another day; one that will look much like the days before the holidays were upon us. Supper to put on the table after work. Get on the treadmill. Play with the birds. Work on writing or keep house. Go to bed. Repeat the next day. Two day weekend reprieves after every five days of work to catch up on what didn't get done during the week. Nothing on the calendar but meetings and appointments to prepare for and the humdrum of the everyday again.
It can be depressing. And yet, maybe now. Maybe this dormant period, this period of dullness, is exactly what we need to start again. Perhaps what we need is not newness of our situation, but newness of how we approach the life we have, day in and day out. 99% of living is done in the mundane of the everyday. If we are to accomplish that resolve for change; if we are to improve; we must do it within the life we have. Change comes through dealing with the everyday in new and different ways. It comes from altering our perspective of that same old routine. It comes with determination to do it right, to do it better, to do it more effectively, than the way we did it before.
It's a challenge. I look ahead and see miles of the same old road I always walk, wondering how I can walk it better. That's the real purpose of resolutions, isn't it? To be better. To do better. To make small changes that lead to big, powerful results that light up that road with hope and a future.
So this new years night, I ponder how I'll make this walk a better one than it was in 2012. I look at what I have and study it to see how I can do things better through creating better balance. It's an ongoing challenge, but one I believe I'm up to.
Happy New Year, everybody. I hope your holiday season was merry and bright, and that you're starting out 2013 with good plans and hope for a bright future.
While most people are in the "making resolutions" stage, I prefer to use the end of the year to take a look back at what I've learned and accomplished, and to decide how to move forward. I believe resolutions are more effective if we consider what we want to do with what we have rather than blindly shooting darts at a random goal. After all, we have an entire life, and our resolutions are more likely to stick if they're things that serve many aspects of it. So without further ado, let me share that during 2012 I have learned:
1. More about the legislative process than I ever imagined possible - or even wanted to know. My work move in 2010 was a result of changes to the law governing the landscape architect and soil classifiers programs that I worked with. I got a crash course in bills becoming laws that year and believe me, the old "School House Rock" on how a bill becomes a law didn't even scratch the surface! Once the move was done, I still had to assist with getting regulations passed to go with that new law - a process that crossed over two sessions due to some oversights in the statute for the soil classifiers. Over the past 3 legislative sessions I've sat in more legislative subcommittee and committee meetings than I can count - including that fateful meeting in May 2011 when the cemetery regulations were on the agenda before mine and I also got a crash course education in things that can go wrong with burials that curbed my appetite for a few days and scarred my poor mind forever (note to self: dying is disgusting). It's not easy. In fact, it's slow, and snafus and roadblocks can pop up when you least expect it (think my "life is like a jack-in-the box analogy). You have to have a pound of patience and a ton of flexibility. But boy have I learned a lot now, and I have a new respect (or rather, understanding and better knowledtge) of what's happening in the State House. Thankfully, everything has been updated for both programs, and now they're all up to date. Barring any unexpected changes from the inside or other sourses outside the Boards, we will hopefully be ok.
What I'll do with this knowledge: As it turns out, the architects are updating their regulations and the engineers are considering updates to their statute. Those are bigger programs, so my "hands on" assistance won't be needed as much as it was for the smaller programs I worked with, but I will track their documents through the process and do whatever I can to help.
2. More about writing and publishing than I thought possible. This all started with a power resolution I made in 2011 to do everything possible to improve as a writer and to get myself published again by going "outside of the box." I brushed up on my grammer rules, revised my work, and decided to give e-publishing one more try (I had a contract to e-publish Quarantine in 2009, but the company broke the contract and filed for bankruptcy before it went to print). It worked - I got contracts for Blurry and Anywhere But Here, and they've both been published. This year, I added educating myself on publicity and promotional opportunities for my published works, and I decided to work in the areas of keeping a strong online presence and pursuing book reviews and author interviews. I also signed a contract for Splinter, the National Novel Writing Month book I wrote in 2010, and started another mystery novel and another non-fiction book for bird owners this year.
What I'll do with this knowledge: First and foremost is to finish Move and Feathered Frenzy,to work with Whiskey Creek Press on Splinter when they're ready to take it into pre-production, and to promote it like crazy when it's published. I'd also like to expand on a couple of projects that will serve in the promotion and the writing more and writing better categories: I'd like to get back into writing articles, short stories, and novellas. Shorter works are a bit more of a challenge for me because I'm a novelist at heart, but the fact is that I need to have new material to release more regularly than is possible to do with a novel, and the only way to do that is to delve into shorter markets. I'm already working on some articles, and once I get Move and Feathered Frenzy done, I'd like to brush up on my skills with the shorter stuff and see what I can get out there.
3. I flew! I did it twice, actually. My job started to require me to travel to the landscape architect conferences, so I made trips to Miami and San Francisco last year. That was a new experience for me, but not as bad as I thought. Actually, I was fortunate that my flights went well and I don't mind flying at all. This educated me in so many ways. I learned that I can travel with two carry-on bags and less than I imagined possible. I learned that it's not terribly difficult to find your way around an airport, and that Charlotte really is reasonable and easy to get around. I learned that although I love ebooks, paperbacks are really a better way to go with reading material since you have to turn off electronics so much. I learned that if you're nice to the stewardess, they'll give you the bag of pretzels that aren't all broken and crunched up. I learned that Miami International Airport is about a million square miles, and I think I walked every bit of it - but Salt Lake City is like Walmart on Christmas Eve, and located in what looks like a crater to boot, so there are different kinds of suffering. I learned that taxi drivers can scare the hell out of you. And I learned that turbulence is really a "come to Jesus" moment in a patch of rough airspace over Kansas. And yes, I've seen places I probably wouldn't have gone before. I mean, San Francisco? I had never been on the west coast,in a different time zone, or put up in a five star hotel (albeit business class) before that. It was something.
What I'll do with what I learned: Become more travel savvy, whether I planned to or not. And next up is Scottsdale, Arizona.
4. Smartphones don't make you smarter, but they sure help you look smarter. Rick and I finally got iPhones last January, and I'm so glad we did. For all the people that say "how can a phone make you smarter?" I say in about a zillion ways. I can keep up with things. I can be reached just about anywhere (unless I'm on a flight). I can keep my schedule, make lists, check news and weather, and set reminders. Heck, the only things it won't do are clean the house, clean the bird cages, cook my meals, and rake the yard. But it's the 21st century. Who knows? Rosie the Robot maid might come about in my lifetime yet.
What I'll do with what I learned: Thank God that I live in an era of computers and smartphones to make life easier and keep using them to the fullest advantage!
5. Balance in life is a personal responsibility, and sometimes you must make hard choices to maintain it. There are only so many hours in a day, and it's impossible to do everything you want to do. With personal responsibilities and the relationships in our lives, we often have to choose what we like best, do that, and drop other things. This really hit me when I quit the evangelism committee at church in October. I didn't want to do it, but frankly I'd felt the nagging in my spirit that my life was too full and I needed to let go of some things to focus on what was growing in my life. Rick and I are fortunate to have a good marriage, our birds, all of our parents alive, our families, good, stable jobs, and our home. Rick does some website design here and there, and my writing is continuing to build and grow. We have some excellent friends that we're in contact with. Unfortunately - that's all we have time for. The time we had for volunteer activities has filled up with other things growing, and we both had to accept that it was time to let the volunteering go, for a while at least. His term on council just ended and it's obvious that we need to take a break to nurture the things that are most important and tend to the biggest responsibilities that the Lord has laid before us. Life does change, so it's inevitable that this season will pass and perhaps we'll have time to resume the volunteer activities. But for now, we've decided that we want to dedicate ourselves to and fully appreciate the blessings we have at hand without overcommitting ourselves to secondary or perphiery endeavors.
What I'll do with what I've learned: This sounds like it's coming out of left field, but pondering this discovery inspired me to make getting on the treadmill regularly a part of my life again. I believe we've made good decisions to keep a balance of our responsibilities and relationships in order, but balance is a holistic thing, and it occured to me that while my priorities are in order, I'm still stressed out because I'm not physically in order. I sit behind a desk at my job, then come home and sit behind a computer to write. I need to get more physically active, and the best way to do that is to get on that treadmill sitting in the computer room upstairs. I felt better, got sick less, and actually was less stressed and had better ideas for my writing when I was walking regularly. So I'm expanding the balance issue to my body as well as my mind and soul by getting back on the treadmill and integrating exercise into my life again.
6. Breaking Bad and Arrow are awesome shows. OMG! If you aren't watching these shows, you should be. Thanks so much to whoever it was that suggested Breaking Bad to Rick. We caught up on that show through Netflix and it's addictive! And Arrow, the new CW show based on The Green Arrow, has surprised me by hitting the ground running right in it's first season. I don't watch much TV (in fact, Supernatural is the only other show I do watch, and it's much better this season too), but these are worth checking out. Arrow and Supernatural come on The CW Wednesday nights at 8 and 9. Breaking Bad is a summer show that comes on AMC. Unfortunately, we don't get AMC through Dish TV, so we'll have to make arrangements to buy the 2013 season through our iTunes account and catch the episodes as they're released.
7. Skimping on sleep is counterproductive. I had a bad habit of staying up late to work on my writing, then getting up early for work the next day. It used to not bother me but, well, I'm not in my 20's anymore and skimping on sleep plus increasing job duties = bad idea. When Rick and I changed our work schedules in August, we decided that we needed to be serious about getting to sleep on time and getting a full night's rest so we could focus and be at our best the next day. So no more late nights for me. And you know what? I've actually been MORE productive since then, because I find I plan and utilize my time better (for example, I can do some pretty good writing and editing on my lunch hour if I take my laptop to work).
8. Transitions are tough, but once you've been hit with so many, you get numb. I learned this when our church lost our head pastor and associate pastor within a month earlier this year. Did it hurt? Yea, like hell. But I was amazed at how people seemed traumatized by it. At first I thought wow, that's selfish. Don't you want them to move ahead and better themselves? It's unfortunate they both left, but I couldn't begrudge either of them taking new opportunities and frankly, pastors are always going to move on eventually. Then it hit me: No, that's not it. It's just that after my life got smashed to smithereens in 2010 and I had to completely reconstruct it, losing two pastors was barely a blip on my radar. Other people hadn't seen the massive changes in their own lives that I'd just gone through, so this WAS major to them. And while we have certainly had to find new pastors plenty of times, it had been a while so frankly, we as a congregation were settled in and since we didn't see it coming, it was a shock to many. But to me shocks and adjustments had been a way of life for a while.
What I'll do with this knowledge: This was a good reminder of the concept of grace and of realizing that perspective is a personal thing. We all come from different places, and I believe this is a good illustration of how your experiences color your perception. Frankly, I'm still pondering this realization and what it means to me, and I really don't want to rush it because I think it's one that needs to sink in and grow strong roots in my own mind. But I think it's a good thing because one thing I already see is that we all handle things differently, and we need to be patient with one another and work together to help others and move forward. Where they are weak, we might be strong and where we are weak they might be strong. Working together, we can come through with a greater overall perspective. And it's a good lesson of faith too, as we work, wait, and look for a new leader for us.
I'm sure there are many more discoveries I've made during the year, but these are the big ones that spoke to me and are guiding me into my future. I hope that you'll also take some time to take stock and forge ahead into the new year using the confidence and wisdom you've gained through your experiences to keep moving ahead and making a better life, each and every day.
In closing, I believe today's benediction at church was a wonderful and beautiful sentiment that I wish all of you for the new year, and beyond:
"May you be filled with the wonder of Mary, the obedience of Joseph, the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the determination of the magi, and the peace of the Christ child. Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirigt bless you now and forever."
Amen. Bless you friends.I wish you all joy, peace, prosperity, and happiness and thank you for being there to listen, help and support me.
Happy New Year!
What is holiday detox, you ask? Well readers, it's that period immediately following Christmas when you're so tired and burned out that you can't motivate yourself to do anything. The house is a mess and you don't care. The "to do" list is growing, and you say to hell with it. You're worn out from celebrating with all the family, food, fun, presents, and to do of the holidays and you want to hibernate in bed for, oh, the rest of the winter to recover.
Be honest, who's there? Has anybody else had a wee bit of a problem motivating themselves to do things they don't want to do?
I know I am. I'm Christmased out. The holidays are nice, but it's time for them to move along out of here. I fully believe that the days between Christmas and New Year's Day are a time when the world needs to back off and let us be lazy, just for a little while. We need some time to ourselves before we get back to the grind. We need a break to rest and recuperate from the heavy activity of the holidays. We need to drop out for a while and tend to our own wants and needs. And that's not a bad thing. In fact, we probably need it more often than just post-holidays. We need to take time to ourselves regularly. If we work ourselves to death, we'll eventually break down and then we won't be good to anybody.
I think that's one good resolution to make for the new year - to take more time out for yourself. I know a lot of people would say that's selfish and rude, but I'd counter that those accusers aren't truly in touch with themselves and need to take this opportunity to get in balance themselves. (Or they're selfish jerks that think everybody in the world should be their handservant and their attitude needs correcting - but that's one for another entry.) If there's one truth I've seen this holiday season, it's that the world isn't going to give you a break. It will work you to death and wear you down to nothing. It's our responsibility to keep life in balance, and to work things out for the best. We have to be aware of what's going on and what we have, and to stay alert and in balance. To do that, it's necessary for us to say "no" to the demands of the world every now and then and tend to our personal needs. The best way to do that is to take regular time outs. And the world won't give them to us, so we have to take them. I say resolution #1 is to take what we need to be our best, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Block out time to yourself that's not open to anybody. Setting boundaries isn't wrong. In fact, it's the only way to achieve confidence and to have balance in your life.
So go ahead and take a break - God knows, you need it. And make that a habit in the future, while you're at it. ;)
That's all today. I hope you have a great week.
Two years ago, I opened my Open Salon blog with an entry on why most New Year's Resolutions fail. In retrospect, I believe I took the wrong angle on the subject. I should have taken a more positive and helpful approach by addressing what makes them work, instead of how they fail. In this final entry in the "Surviving the Holidays With Your Sanity Intact" series, I'd like to discuss this issue. Don't worry - it won't be a lengthy dissertation. In fact, in two years of retrospect and reflection on that entry, I see that there's really one secret to making those resolutions stick.
In order for a New Year's Resolution to work, it has to be something that you believe in. Simple as that.
Ok, maybe it's not so simple. We live in a world full of voices that tell us what we should do, what we ought to be. You should diet and exercise, they say. You should get organized, they say. You should break a bad habit, they say. Good advice, except for one thing: Who are "they?" And what do "they" know about what's truly in your heart?
Perhaps this is harsh. Maybe "they" are concerned friends or family members. Maybe "they" are colleagues or neighbors or acquaintances. Maybe "they" mean nothing but the very best and "they" really and truly believe that these suggestions are for your own good. The problem is that "they" don't live your life every minute of every day. You do, and if you aren't happy with it then you'll only be able to force yourself to do something to make others happy for so long before you crack.
Don't get me wrong. It is helpful to be held accountable, but the fact of the matter is that people aren't going to be there every minute of every day to hold you up. Nobody is going to follow you around to make sure you get on the treadmill, or avoid the vending machine, or tidy up before you leave today. There's no substitute for self discipline and you're only going to have it if your resolution is something that is meaningful to you on a deep, personal level.
That's not to say that the common resolutions are wrong - just that you need to make sure you have a reason that is meaningful to you. Start the diet and/or exercise program to get in better health. Clean up to feed a personal need to get more organized and efficient in your life. Take that class in something that your passionate about. Write that novel because it's a story that you feel passionate about sharing with the world. Volunteer with that committee or group because it's a cause you believe in. You alone are the only one that knows what speaks to you, and I urge you to search within to find out what you truly long for in your life when making those New Year's Resolutions.
Thanks for joining me for another blog series! I hope this has been inspirational and helpful. 2012 promises to be another exciting year with my next novel, Anywhere But Here, scheduled for publication in 2012. I plan to take you through the journey to publication when it goes into pre-production in the coming weeks. I will also continue to work on publicity for my novels and will tackle another type of writing that I have long needed to improve in: Short stories. Stay tuned!
Happy New Year everybody!
I think I finally figured out why I wasn't having any luck with my short stories. It's because I was taking the same approach to them as I did to writing a novel. Unfortunately, what works for novels just doesn't work for short stories. It can't. It's a totally different form.
Novels are about creating a world and weaving a tale that takes readers on an adventure. They should come out of it feeling like they know the characters and have lived the experience.
Short stories are about hitting emotions. You don't have time to develop complex plots or deep characters. The limited space of a short story (or even flash fiction) requires that you hit the readers emotions hard and back off. Readers should come out of short stories relating to feelings or emotions.
I was missing this, until now. Lately, I've been trying to tweak my approach. It's a work in progress, but I recently had a bit of success. A flash fiction piece I wrote for Paragraph Planet will be posted there tomorrow. I hope this means I'm getting on the right track.
Don't get me wrong - novels are still my passion and my #1 form. But I enjoy short stories too. My inability to write ones that really "pop" (or get published) has been frustrating me for a few years. I hope I finally learned the secret to nailing this particular form and that I will continue to improve. I'd like to be able to write short stories well too. Nobody wants to be a one trick wonder.
I saw that my New Years Resolution to research ways to write better was paying off with the book contract, but maybe it's paying off in other ways too. I should have done this long ago but better late than never, right?
It's definitely a process, and I see that it needs to be a continual process. To become a better writer is not only about writing and reading - it's about studing the craft as well.
That's all today. Bye!