Time to Find Balance

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I know what you’re thinking…”Where the Hell has she been lately?” Am I right? Well, if I’m not, don’t tell me. I prefer to think that you have missed me and wondered, albeit infrequently, where that hilarious, informative writer has been lately. I’m a bit needy that way.

I won’t bore you with the details of the past few months, which include family medical emergencies and the ever-present avoidance of writing. We’ll just pretend that, just like old friends who don’t talk for a long time, that we are reconnecting as if no time has passed between us. Deal?

So, what else have I been up to? Finding balance in my life. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but two things have been making me feel much more balanced. One is the use of a journal, but not a typical journal. I’ve decided that an art journal makes more sense to me since it’s about expressing myself through art, and just a few words. I like it like that, and since I suck at drawing, I think it’s more fun that way. The photo above is one of my attempts at being creative after. I know, I’m not quitting my day job to be an artist, no worries.

Also, I’m so excited to be hosting a memoir writing group in my area. I started a meetup group specifically for memoir writers after trying out a few writers’ groups that just didn’t hit the spot. I finally decided that I couldn’t be the only one out there who wanted a specific group like that. But then I second-guessed myself and asked two of my friends to sign up, thinking nobody else would show up and I’d be sitting in the back room of my favorite cafe all by myself for the first meeting. To my wonderful surprise, 25 people signed up right away, with many of them sending personal notes about how fabulous it was to find the group and how long they have been looking for such a group. Spot on, right?

The group meets twice a month, critiques about six submissions each meeting, and we cover one aspect of writing at the start of each meeting including dialogue, rewriting, POV, etc. It’s been a real hoot to meet all the writers who have signed up. Some are first-time writers, others are teachers or published writers looking to write more, and some have even signed on with an agent all ready. I don’t consider it a class but more of a discussion group, although I try to have research and information to cover each topic. I’m thinking of even offering a class after this, as long as I keep getting such wonderful feedback. It takes a bit of work before each meeting, but I totally enjoy the interaction and feedback.

So, what am I writing, you ask? Good question. I’ve been working on a memoir, but came across an interesting conundrum while doing research for the group. A lot of memoir has to do with other people, which I already knew. But the question of fairness to those other people is always in the front of the writer’s mind. Will they be upset? Will they be angry? Will they even care? At first, I thought strongly, “It’s my story, my POV and my right to talk about it.” And I know that is the truth. Everyone has their own story to write.

But then again, if you’re writing about someone close to you, is it fair to point out that person’s misfortunes and mistakes? How would I feel if someone wrote about mine? There are some I might not care about, but there are others I might want to keep to myself. After asking myself that question, and realizing that the person I was writing about might not benefit at all from the truth being told, I have decided to put that away for a bit (I’ll come back later) and start a group of memoir/essays instead. They are purely about me, my mistakes, my triumphs (of which there are fewer) and my growth along the way. After that, I may be able to revisit the first project.

So, my question to you is… if you write essays and memoirs, what do you think about including others in your writing? I know that including positive information is usually not an issue, so I’m talking about “outing” someone on their bad behavior, mistakes, etc. Would you?

NaNoWriMo Guilt

JUST WRITESeems that each November 1st signals a grand scramble full of stress and holiday pressure. Halloween seems to kick it off, like Mardi Gras, with a bang. We have friends and family over for a fun night of trick or treating in the neighborhood with drinks and a quick dinner, then the madness begins the next morning. Christmas gift planning, planning for Thanksgiving dinner, planning for Christmas dinner, decorations, baking ideas, travel to family, or hosting family and friends in town, and on top of that, I have the stress of doing NaNoWriMo, or more importantly…the guilt of not doing it.

I did it a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a wonderful way to kickstart your writing, cement the idea that it’s quite difficult to write a book in one month as well as proving that you can actually write a book in one month. Notice I didn’t say that you can write a GOOD book in one month. Completing NaNoWriMo is just the beginning of the process. Which is why I am not doing it this year. Yes, it’s great to get it all down, but I can’t handle the stress of editing this new piece of work as well as what I’m working on now, or putting it aside after spending so much time on it.

But I feel guilty and left out since I am not participating. If you done this before, you know what I mean. All these Facebook posts about word count, protagonists, plot twists, writer’s blocks, etc. Tweets of encouragement, Tweets of frustration, etc. I felt so left out last year when I didn’t do it that I even thought of just jumping in halfway through November just to be a part of the group. But then I remembered all the other shit I have to do in the next 6 weeks and that stopped me in my tracks.

So, I’ll be continuing my memoir for the month of November and participating in NaMeWriMo. (Yeah, I made that up.) But for me it’s National Memoir Writing Month. But I’ve got my outline  done and I’ve got my own goals for winning my own personal challenge. I’ve already taken a wonderful online class by Brooke Warner and Linda Joy Meyers on memoir writing, which has armed me with so many wonderful insights and suggestions. Nothing left to do but write.

If you’re writing this month for NaNoWriMo, NaMeWriMo, or just National Keep Writing Month, I wish you all the best/lots of inspiration/creativity/Fun/Sleep/nimble fingers for typing. Whatever it that writing, just write.

How often do you complain?

How often do you complain that you don’t have enough time to do all the things you want/need to do? Better yet, how often do you hear others complain about it? “If only there were 29 hours in a day,” or, “I can’t seem to catch up.” Yes, some people have overextended themselves, but most people just don’t know how to organize their time.

In my life, procrastination wastes a lot of my time, and believe me, I am a master at it. I practice a trifecta of avoidance, boredom, and lack of focus.  So, two simple questions to ask as we begin the new year.  What is the one thing you do that wastes the most time your life? Is it TV, video games, eating, Facebook or Twitter browsing, cleaning? Whatever it is, it is taking time away from what you really should be doing-and only you know what that is. Shouldn’t you be writing, working, cleaning, doing paperwork, exercising, etc.   OK, once you know what you are doing to waste time, make an agreement with yourself to recognize when you are doing this and ask yourself, “Do I have something more important to do right now?” If the answer is yes…go do it.  What is the one thing you did this past year that made you happy? Was it traveling, writing, reading, spending time with friends, cooking with your kids, etc.? Promise yourself right now to make time for what makes you happy. Don’t deny yourself those little things that make you happy.   Now, I hear some of you saying, “But the thing I do that wastes time is the thing that makes me happy.” Nice try, Smartass. I’m not saying you can’t do those things anymore. I’m suggesting that you make specific time for those activities and stick to it.

For example: if you love watching TV, and it’s your time waster, then look through the TV schedule and line up your favorite shows. Then make time to watch them as a reward for getting your responsibilities taken care of. No sitting down with the remote and mindlessly channel surfing for two hours when you’ve got paperwork to take care of.  Don’t beat yourself up if you grab the remote and plop on the couch, just recognize it, think about whether you are avoiding something or really enjoying it. Avoiding something?- Get it over with and go do it. Enjoying it and have some free time?- have fun.  Sounds simple, but I know it isn’t. Nobody’s perfect, especially me. But I am going to try this year and follow my own advice. Which means less TV and Facebook scrolling and more time for what I enjoy-movies with my daughter, writing, blogging, photography, reading and art.  Good luck!

Blogs I follow and why

I don’t follow a lot of blogs, I just don’t have the time to read them all and sometimes blogs can be a bit narcissistic (ok, maybe that’s what blogging is all about, but why read even more?) But in case you were looking for some great blogs to keep track of, here are just a few of my favorites these days:

1. Saving for Someday. On top of some great tips on saving money, bargains, and deals in stores, Sara also shares some insights into her life and daily living as a giving, caring person trying to raise a daughter in this crazy world. Follow her, you won’t be sorry.

2. Pirates and Fireflies. Vicariously travel through Europe and other parts exotic, with photos that make me say AHHHHHH so many times it may be annoying to anyone around me. The posts are short enough not to be tedious, but interesting and bucolic. You won’t regret this one, unless the jealousy eats away at you. (What? I can’t help it.)

3. Nail Your Novel. Roz Morris, author and editor, shells out some great advice and quick tips to do just what she says…Nail Your Novel.

4. TIPPR Blog. An aspiring writer/editor who blogs a bit of poetry. I’m not a huge fan of poetry, but I do enjoy it sometimes, and I like getting just a bit every so often in my inbox and these are quite nice. Give a look.

OK, that’s four. I’ll put a few more up for you soon. What blogs are you following? Let me know.

 

Standing up for two weeks in the heat

Phoenix Necessity

Phoenix Necessity

OK, I am in an air-conditioned studio, but it takes a bit for the A/C to kick in when it’s 119 degrees outside. Yeah, you heard me right. I’m standing at my desk watching the grass turn brown and all the plants in my yard burst into little flames that puff out quickly because of the lack of oxygen in the air because somehow the state of Arizona has moved closer to the sun without anyone noticing.

But seriously, I have been standing at my desk for the past two weeks (during work hours, smart aleck) and it seems to be working out pretty well. I do take breaks to read longer documents while sitting, or after a long bout of standing I’ll move the tray down and sit for a bit. But surprisingly, I find myself anxious when I sit now and I want to stand back up. Scary, huh? Who knew?

So, the experiment is a success. The best part about all this is that while standing, I don’t scrunch up my shoulders while I’m at my computer. (You know what I’m talking about, you’re doing it right now. Relax those shoulders.) I no longer reach my shoulders to my ears without thinking about it. As a result, my neck feels a lot less stressed at the end of a long editing gig. And that is a wonderful bonus for someone with a history of neck pain. So, without even asking…here are my recommendations if you’re thinking of giving this a try.

1. Make sure your forearms are at approximately a 90-degree angle from your upper arms. For instance, stand up and bend your arms at the elbow and hold your hands straight out in front of you, palms down, parallel with the floor. The desk should be under those hands. I got lucky and the tray with my laptop hit just the right mark.

2. Get a gel mat. I found one at Costco for just $14.99 rather than the $50-$100 versions I saw online. It really does make a difference.

3. Try a few different pairs of shoes to find just the right ones that you can stand in for long periods. You’d be surprised what works. I have a pair of sandals that work much better than any sneakers. And, you may want to go barefoot like a friend of mine recommended.

4. Shift around. If you get stiff or sore the first few days, shift your weight around. It helps to move a bit.

5. If possible, step one foot in front of the other and lean forward and rest the front of your thigh on the desk. That gives you a bit of a break on your back. Thanks to Sean Preuss for this recommendation. If that doesn’t work, try putting a box or book on the floor and put one foot on it to ease your back a bit.

6. Dance. No kidding, it really helps. While I’m working, I’ve got music on and I sway to it. During a break to read emails or check FB, I put on some AC/DC or even some ’70s disco (shush, no judging). It feels good to move around and you won’t realize that you’re actually exercising a bit.

7. Sit down. This is not a contest. If you are sore or tired, sit down. Most advice I got was to move from standing to sitting frequently to give your body a break. The longer you do this, the easier it becomes and the longer your standing shifts will be.

8. Don’t buy an expensive desk or chair right now. Make sure you can do this before dropping big bucks on something that may wind up on Craigslist. Just a computer tray, a strong box or two, just make sure it’s sturdy.

Go for it, and let me know how you like it. I’m loving it and keeping cool with a fan and A/C here in AZ.

 

 

My Stand-Up Desk Experiment (Day One)

For those of you following, my week of solitude was a success. I spent a lot of time getting the writing done that I wanted, I watched a few movies, and I spent time with my great-nephew. Daughter had a fabulous time at camp and can’t stop talking about it, which is wonderful to hear.

As a matter of fact, I had such a wonderful week in my office that my back was starting to yell. Sitting in a chair too much can be quite painful, especially for anyone with prior back/spine issues. Considering how bad it is for you to sit in a chair all day, I decided to get/create a standing work station to see what all the fuss was about. First, I talked with Sean Preuss, a trainer to friends of mine and an author who writes standing up. Then I searched Pinterest and the Internet for stand-up desk DIYs just to get a feel for what I needed. Here are a few of the sites I visited:

1. One Year at My Standing Desk

2. The Standing Desk Experiment: Five Months In

3. Forbes Magazine: What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Standing Desks?

4. Lifehack: The True Benefits of a Standing Desk

What did I learn? The desk should be at elbow height or just below. Your arms should be at right angles from your body, including your wrists, while typing. An anti-fatigue mat for standing is a good idea. Get ready for a sore back and legs at first. Move around a lot if you can.

My Standing Workstation

My Standing Workstation

So, after all that research I started the search. I was planning on stacking books on my desk until I searched my teenager’s room and found a study computer desk we had bought for her a few years back. Since she doesn’t use it all that much anymore, (the dining table worked fine and she just graduated). It has two heights, and the lowest height is perfect for me. As you can see from the photo, it’s wide enough to put a mouse/trackball to the right. There is actually a built-in mousepad there. Too bad I don’t need that. There is also a light on the left for late-night reading.

Day one: I find myself shifting my feet a lot, side to side. I finally decided to put a box under the desk and rest one foot on it, similar to standing at a bar (except nobody served me a martini here. This bar sucks!). I have even stood for a bit with my foot propped behind me on the chair I’m not using.

The space right between my shoulder blades is screaming at me. I think this is just my body telling me that my posture is pretty damn bad and I should just sit down, but I’m not giving in that easily.

This little table gets cramped quickly with the laptop, trackball, and speaker. (What? I need my Pandora when I work.) The wire is too short to sit on the desk. But the good news is that there is a lot of room under the desk to put things. And, it can be folded down in case I want to sit for a little bit and take a breather.

I need better shoes. I think I need to invest in some really good shoes to stand in all day. It’s like walking all over Disneyland but without the big annoying mouse. My feet hurt like crazy, but I didn’t get any ice cream shaped like a mouse head.

From what I’ve read, it does get a bit uncomfortable the first few days. Some people say don’t do it all day on the first few days. I may sit after finishing this post, or I may take a walk. I will definitely be finding a gel mat to stand on soon, and hopefully one that doesn’t cost the same as my computer. Have you priced those out? Geez! I suppose it’s worth it, but I may be trying to make my own.

So for now I’m shifting side to side and shrugging my shoulders a lot. I have actually found myself swaying to the music and walking around my little office a bit more.

If you have one of these, let me know what you do to ease fatigue and soreness. I’m hoping this will be a great solution. I have heard that people lose weight after doing this, although that is not my goal. This is just my first step at trying to get a bit more fit, work out a little more, and live a bit longer.

Stay tuned for updates. I’ll let you know how the long-term standing sits with me. (Get it? Standing-Sits. Hehe, I’m crack myself up!)

Thanks for stopping by!