Saturday, December 10, 2011

I Have a New Job!

No, I'm not working in a theatre again, and I didn't get any jobs with a church (except for filling in for our administrator when she's on holidays, but I was doing that before...).

I skipped the painful submit-a-resume-wait-for-a-call-and-maybe-get-an-interview-but-I'll-never-hear-back-again type of job hunting, and instead applied to our local newspaper to be a...

Paper carrier type person!

Yes, Ruth the paper girl is back. My first run as a paper girl was at the age of ten, my second was about fifteen or more years back, and I'm at it again.

I admit that I need the extra money, but to be honest, I could earn more (a LOT more) flipping burgers for an hour at the local grease joint. I get $0.13 per paper delivered, and my three routes have a grand total of 36 papers. Which is $4.68 per day, and it takes about an hour to deliver. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I also deliver our local free paper plus flyers (way more flyers than paper!). They pay .02 per paper & 1 flyer pack on Tuesdays, and .025 on Thursdays, and an extra .02 per flyer pack above the first. On Thursdays, I've had an average of 3 flyer packs. So each of my 36 deliveries nets me an extra 8.5 cents each per week, for a total payday of 32.94 per week.

Not exactly big money, especially since I use my car to do it and probably spend between five and ten dollars on gas.

Still, it's a really good deal for me.

First off, when I started two weeks ago, I was suffering from back pain so bad that I had to take a fairly expensive OTC medication twice per day in order to remain functional. Within a week, I was down to extra strength Tylenol, and now I'm down to nothing most days. Savings, about $25 per week, plus my liver.

Second, my autistic son accompanies me most days. In fact, I got the route because it was something we could do together that would get us out of the house. I investigated volunteering at our local Re-Store, but they really didn't have anything suitable for us to do. But Robin likes to walk, so the paper route was perfect. The cost of having someone else do something like this with him varies from $10 to $25 an hour. Even on the cheap side, we're saving $50 a week.

Third, I'm out walking every day for most of that hour. According to today's paper (which is another bonus -- one of those papers I get paid to deliver is mine, and it's free!), that will add another 10 or so healthy years to my life. How do I calculate the value of that, I ask you?

And I used to pay about $35 a month for a gym membership I never used, because it was so inconvenient. The paper routes I deliver are a lot closer to my home, and because I've signed a contract, I *have* to do the exercise every day, rain or shine, sick or well, grumpy or happy.

And for the most part, I've been happy. Exercise releases natural endorphins, that help dull pain and decrease depression. I also have met several of my customers, all of whom are friendly and generally cheerful.

One customer I talked to yesterday is eighty years old, and still goes snowshoeing! That's what I want to be like when I'm eighty, and having a daily paper route is a step in the right direction.

A common suggestion of get-out-of-debt books is to take a second job. What most of them don't say is that when you look for a second job, it's always good to think outside the box. Instead of looking for another eight-hour-a-day grind in a factory, try something a little lower class, but with more benefits.

Working in a theatre gave me the chance to see a lot of first run movies for free.

Working at McDonald's gave me more than I wanted of employee-discounted junk food.

Working at Chapters over the Christmas rush last year gave me an employee discount on books, just in time to buy gifts for my family of avid readers.

Now I've got a free paper and an exercise plan -- and they're paying me for it!

Think about where you spend your money, or what activities you enjoy doing, and look to those things for a second job, or a retirement income, or even your primary income! Sometimes, the benefits are worth the lower pay. Don't let anyone tell you that a particular job is too "low life," or "beneath your notice," or "just for kids." Only you can decide the true worth of a job to you.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

NaNo Post Mortem

So it's over. Thirty days, fifty thousand words, all done. What next?

Well, first off, the plan outlined in an earlier post actually worked like a charm! I made it all the way through November, and I wrote every single day, and I wasn't sick once, and while I did eat out a few times, I ate breakfast every day at home, and almost all my lunches and suppers (as in over 90 percent of them) at home as well.

I did not gain thirty pounds pigging out on junk food. (I also didn't lose thirty pounds, but that wasn't in the plan...)

I actually have started getting daily exercise, because I signed on for three daily paper routes, and that started a week ago.

My ex walked in to the kitchen yesterday and did a double take at the uncluttered counter. He'd have really flipped out if he'd looked in the cupboards -- one more to go, then the kitchen is organized! And I worked on it during November.

The two major events I've been part of planning are almost done -- the one last week went very well, considering it was our first time. The one this coming Saturday is looking to be better than last year. We're almost all ready -- I have a list of stuff to do tomorrow and Saturday, but I'll still have a fair amount of free time to celebrate with my daughter and her friend, who also reached 50K.

And most importantly, I can envision myself continuing the process of daily writing until this year's novel is done. My plan is to then go back and finish my 2008 NaNo winner, which was abandoned in mid-December of that year. Then it's on to revision for both of them.

So what did I learn?

First off, I learned that when my space and my life are organized, I can be a tortise, and I learned that slow and steady really does win the race. I honestly thought I didn't have it in me to do something at an even pace over a long period. I thought I was doomed to be the hare all my life, and fall asleep or give up just short of the finish line. (Or else burn myself out with a last minute burst of speed that might or might not propel me to a win.)

Second, I learned that what the FLYLady says really is true: I can do anything, fifteen minutes at a time. That's how the novel got written, the dishes and laundry got done, the clutter got pitched, the papers got delivered, the bills got paid, the bed got made... Focus on one thing at a time, for fifteen minutes, and you can get a lot more done in a day than most people do in a week, because all too often our time is wasted wondering what to do next, instead of doing!

Three, I re-learned the power of companionship. I'm not one who likes to journey alone. I will if I have to, but the few times I've done that, I've phoned home every day. I need friends and family to journey with me. This year, I had the girls, I had a bunch of folks over at the Absolute Write Water Cooler, and one friend my age who I met through the NaNo forums. I cheered them on, they cheered me on. We warred with each other, spoke and wrote encouraging words, and the novels got writ. More of my NaNo buddies showed up as winners this year than in any previous year, and I gave out a lot of rep points at the Cooler, and received almost as many in turn.

I need my friends!

Together, these three learnings have given me back my hope. I've been writing since I was six years old. It's always been a part of me. But I don't think I ever really believed that I could become a professional, because of the lack of daily habits.

I now know that I can do it. So it's on to the next phase: actually doing it. Writing every day, revising what I write, having it critiqued and revising it again. And finally, submitting it to an agent or publisher, and dealing with all that comes from that process.

And I know that a prolonged absence from a writing community is not a good idea for me. So I'll keep in touch with the folks from the Cooler, and I'll keep writing, and one day you WILL see my name on the bestseller list!

Happy writing!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Loving My Inner Perfectionist

I came to an interesting conclusion today. There's a lot of talk about our "inner child," and how he or she can sabotage our well-intentioned efforts to lose weight, eat well, stay within our budget, or even get out of bed in the morning.

The theory goes that instead of beating this inner child into submission, we need to embrace her (or him), reason with her, and allow her the occasional treat. And we need to learn to love her.

Folks who do this say it really works. They've managed to control the urge to overeat, overspend, and oversleep that comes with the simple immaturity of their inner child, all without feeling the grief and anger that comes with beating their inner child (who is really them) up.

I can see the wisdom in this approach, and practice it myself on occasion. Athena is the fun, kiddie part of me. She's important -- she allows me to be silly, to enjoy kiddie entertainment, to relax. I can control her the way I controlled my own flesh kids when they were little -- by being aware of her needs and not exceeding her capacity for endurance or understanding, by giving her the occasional treat, and by explaining in simple language exactly why we need to exercise control. I control her with love, not fear.

But when it comes to "perfectionism," we tend to have a different attitude. FLYLady in particular is against our inner perfectionist. When we find our inner perfectionist gaining control, instead of treating her with love, we treat her like a dirty rag. "The 'P' Word," she calls it. It's a swear word!

FLYLady's the most recent example (for me) of this attitude that I've come across, but certainly not the only one. "It doesn't have to be perfect!" we say.

And we're right to say that -- most of the time.

Look at it this way. If I'm a student, and I score 95 percent on a math test, that's not "pretty good," it's excellent! If, however, I am a surgeon, and 95 percent of my operations go well, and in 5 percent I make a serious mistake, that's 5 out of a hundred patients who are facing serious medical problems, because I, the surgeon, thought 95 percent was good enough.

Or if I, as a writer, only spell 95 words out of a hundred correctly in the book I'm writing, it will be rejected out of hand by any professional editor, and scorned by critics and readers alike. That's one reason why self-published books aren't highly regarded -- the folks who write them are so in love with their own writing that they don't see its faults, and are in too much of a hurry to get published to deal with the perfectionism that is part of producing a truly excellent book. (And I've read a couple of good self-pubbed books that could have been outstanding had the writers gone to the trouble of getting them professionally edited and published.)

We as writers need our inner perfectionist (which the NaNo folks call our "Inner Editor," and who gets locked away during the whole month of November) as much as we need our inner child.

If it's wrong and counter productive to beat your inner child into submission, it's just as wrong and counter productive to beat your inner perfectionist into submission. The way to deal with her, I think, is to give her a name, love her, and explain why she can't always have her way. Give her a chance on occasion to express herself, but set firm limits.

Just as you do when you're dealing with your inner child.

This morning, my inner perfectionist (I'm pretty sure that this is the real Yeshanu, by the way) helped me clean my living room. I started out only wanting to sweep and mop the floors, and realized that I had the time, the energy, and the will to do a bit more.

So I set the limits (we will NOT patch and paint the walls, refinish the coffee table, or buy a new lamp or TV cabinet!), and let her run wild.

The floor got swept. Then she decided to dust (I know, it should have come first and we did end up having to sweep again after). Straigtened out the pillows on the couch. Took down some tacky pictures. Loaded the broken stereo into the car to take to the dump tomorrow. Decluttered some stuff, and put up my creche. Tidied up the toys and hid them behind the TV cabinet (the little kids don't visit very often). Cleared out the old magazines. Mopped the floor.

And the living room looks fantastic! After we finished up, we sat down for a break, and were truly able to relax in our lovely living room.

November is a hard month for my inner perfectionist. NaNo means she's got to be quiet about a whole lot of writing going on, and the pace of everything else in my life means I don't really have time to listen to her. But allowing her out, for a limited period of time and to deal with a single, well-defined project, was a wonderful experience.

I feel a real sense of accomplishment right now, and we had fun, albeit in a very adult kind of way.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Numbers that Shock: One-half

Yesterday was Remembrance or Veteran's Day, depending on where you live. Today, November 12, is another kind of Remembrance Day today.

Today should have been the day my younger sister turned fifty years old. But she'll never get there--at thirty-one years of age, she killed herself.

She will never see her neice and nephews graduate from university and graduate school, just as she never saw them graduate from high school. She'll never hear David preach a sermon, or Allison play in a concert. She wasn't there to celebrate my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary, and she wasn't there for dad's eightieth birthday.

She was a writer, but her poems and stories will never be published. She won't ever win NaNoWriMo, or write a novel. She won't ever acheive... Well, what she would have acheived had she lived.

And we miss her. We have a gaping hole in our family that will never be filled, no matter how many babies are born, birthdays and anniversaries are celebrated. A part of each of us is dead.

And it has shocked me to learn that over one-half of all violent deaths in the world are due, not to terrorism and war or drug cartels or domestic disputes, but to suicide. More than one half of all people in the world who die violently do so at their own hands.

More US military personnel kill themselves than are killed in combat, and I suspect the numbers are similar in Canada and around the world.

So today, I remember. I remember when life was bad for me, and I thought at times my family might be better off without me. What saved me was remembering my parents at my sister's memorial service and afterwards, trying to cope with their grief, and thoughts of my children, left to grow up and struggle on their own, with no one to help them understand.

A plea, heartfelt from me to you.

If someone talks to you about suicide, TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY. With Mary, the clues were all there, but the rest of us were clueless. In her writing, in her comments to us, she left little clues, quite probably hoping we'd notice. We didn't, and I for one wish I had, and that I'd told her how much she meant to me.

Even without talk of suicide, tell your family members and close friends that you love them, that you appreciate them. Be specific, and tell them what they do that's so important for you. It will make their day, and it might save their life.

If you are depressed, and feel like killing yourself might be a valid option, GET HELP. And if the first person you talk to can't or won't help, keep on asking until you find someone, anyone, who will listen. Ministers and priests, teachers and counsellors, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, police officers, doctors, nurses, firefighters. Me. Someone from amongst the many people you meet each day will listen, and take you seriously.

Remember that you are loved, and you have love to give. There is help out there. And life will get better, and you WILL be glad you lived through this moment.

All my love and prayers,


Friday, November 11, 2011

The Most Famous Guelph Writer, and A Secret

Today, of all days, I am reminded that no matter how famous I become, I will never be the most famous writer from my hometown. At least I hope not. Even Robert Munch does not have that distinction.

Instead, Guelph's most famous writer is know for one single piece of writing that takes up less than a page. It's a poem, and if you live in North America and have English as your first language, chances are good you know it off by heart:

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Guelph understandably has one of the biggest Remembrance Day observances in the country. About 4,000 or so people convene in the Sleeman Centre to watch a ceremony which involves a couple of hundred participants (vetrans, militia, cadets, wreath bearers, police, fire department, EMS, postal workers...), and which is timed pretty much to the second. If one goes to the Sunrise Ceremony at Colonel John McRae house, it starts at nine in the morning, and we finished just after noon at the cenotaph.

Our guest speaker today was a veteran who had signed up as a "boy soldier" during WWII, and who spent a lifetime in the military. He introduced his son, a retired major, and his grandson, a major currently on active duty. He spoke of some of his experiences during the wars he'd been involved in, but he was a very self-effacing and engaging speaker, and he was more intent on highlighting the contributions of others than he was on "blowing his own horn," so to speak.

For that, Colonel Bayne, I salute you.

He then went on to say that some who served don't count themselves as veterans because they never saw active combat, and told us that if we'd served and been honourably discharged, we were veterans.

And I began to see myself in a new light.

At age 15, I joined Army Cadets. At age 18 or 19, I enlisted in the Cadet Instructors List (CIL), the unit of the armed forces that trained cadets. I was a commissioned officer in the Canadian Armed Forces.

I don't know what my official status is right now. I never formally resigned, instead transferring to the Supplementary Reserve List. I strongly suspect I'm still on it, because I haven't received any discharge papers.

So I'm probably not a civilian at this point. Certainly I haven't considered myself one since I was sworn in as a new officer cadet.

But I've always denigrated my service. Looking around the arena today at the young men and women serving our country, I realized that in my day I had trained many such young people, and that some of those I helped train are still serving.

I began to see my small service as something that had real value for my country.

I have thought for a while that I was born twenty years too early. I know that if I had been born twenty five or thirty years ago rather than fifty-one years ago, I would have given serious thought about serving overseas. I probably would be a real combat veteran by now. Such is my temperament.

So that's my secret. As dedicated as I am to peaceful conflict resolution and restorative justice, I am also a warrior. I would give my life to protect those I care about and those I don't even know, but I won't do it by being a sheild that gets shot at without fighting back.

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal ...
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance ...
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I have been priviledged to live in a peaceful place and time. It is my hope that by my words and deeds and by the words and deeds of other, that peace will spread throughout all the world, until one day, the occupation of warrior is no longer needed.

Until then, I honour those who give their youth, and sometimes their lives, to protecting the rest of us.

I will remember.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I'm Committed!

I came across a lovely quote this morning:

There is a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in something, you do it only when it's convenient. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.

Ken Blanchard

It was a bit of an eye-opener, really, as it helped me to realize that up until now, I've mostly been interested in the things that mattered to me, not committed.

True, I have at times shown real committment. I am, and have always been, truly committed to doing right by my kids. And it required committment, not mere interest, to finish those last few assignments and get my degree. In fact, it required a change from interest to committment that I'll never forget: I was four assignments short of completing my degree, and all were overdue, and I had exactly one week to finish them all and submit them.

And I was just about to give up when I sat myself down for a talk, and told myself, "I can do this, and here's the plan."

And I did it.

So now, years later, I'm facing the fact that I have two areas of my life that mean a lot to me, but have, until this month, garnered mere interest, and not committment.

If you're a regular reader, you can probably predict what those two areas are. Yes, I'm talking about writing and music.

At the beginning of November, I made a promise to myself that no matter what happened in a given day, no matter how busy I was, I'd find the time to add at least 100 words to my novel. I've kept that promise so far, and it hasn't been easy. Thursday and Friday were horrendous as far as scheduling was concerned. Thursday in particular I was so exhausted by suppertime that I feared I'd once again drop the ball.

But I did it. I pushed myself and I did it.

Last night, we had our first concert of the season. I had no idea how I'd make it through the night--we played Beethoven's Seventh, and playing a Beethoven symphony is like lying down in front of a herd of charging wildebeast and hoping for the best. It's exhausting, at the very least.

But I made it through, of course. Once I sat down on my chair on the stage, there was no other choice. And I realized that we all have a choice when we're faced with really hard things, like swimming lenghts in a pool or playing a symphony or writing a novel or sometimes even getting out of bed. We can give up when we start to encounter resistance, or we can push ourselves on and see it through to the bitter end.

The first option shows we were only interested, the second shows committment.

The other eye-opener last night was an announcement by a member of the BOD of the orchestra that they were trying to find a way to pay all of the players an honourarium. Wha??? They want me to become a paid musician?

And I realized that the jump from dabbling amateur to paid musician required a step on my part: from interest to committment.

And I realize that I'm ready to take that step.

In rethinking my life these past weeks, I have realized that my main regrets from the past were due to not taking my loves seriously enough. I chose to take a science degree rather than a music degree as a teenager because music wasn't something one could make money at. No one told me that as a violist, I'd be in such demand that I could find employment without having to be the best player in the orchestra!

And I've wasted over twenty years of my writing career, just by being interested rather than committed.

Well, the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

So I'll go for second best, knowing that in twenty years, I won't regret my decision to commit myself.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

NaNo Survival Tips I: Plan Your Days

It's day 3 of NaNo, and I'm already a day behind schedule. And I'm happy about it, because I'm only a day behind schedule. In former years, I would have been two or three days behind schedule at this point.

Not only that, but most often at least one out of the three days would have been a day where I didn't add to my word count at all. Even the year I won has that pattern--of the 27 days on the graph (I reached the 50,000 word mark three days early!), twelve of them, or nearly half, had zero word counts. This year, I'm aiming for a little more consistency. Actually, a lot more consistency. My number one goal this month is not to write 50,000 words, but to write at least 100 words every single day.

It's going to be a challenge, because while November is normally a crazy busy month for me, this month it's even crazier than normal. Instead of one concert in November and one in December, my orchestra has two concerts in November, and two in December. Instead of planning one major ecumenical event in my community, I'm now planning two, one of which takes place the last weekend in November, and the other the first Saturday in December. I have full time responsibility for my autistic son, who is no longer in school, and I need to plan something for us to do together, so he doesn't end up watching television all month while I write. I'll probably have a couple of days of work at the church office, and I'm filling in on the security checks for a few days, and I'm preaching at a friend's church for two Sundays while she's off having surgery, and I might be preaching a third Sunday at a new church, and...

Every day, something gets added to the list. Plus, I'm making an effort to eat at home, which means meal planning, grocery shopping, and washing up in addition to meal preparation. I continue to work on cleaning up my home, and I'm babysitting my friend`s two grandsons on Saturday.

And I haven't even talked about preparing for Christmas yet, have I?

So why, you might ask, am I feeling so good about this year's NaNo? Why don't I just throw in the towel right now, and say I'm too busy? Do I have a secret magic trick up my sleeve? Am I exaggerating my other commitments? Am I going to lie about my word count? Or is my novel secretly all planned out, and all I have to do is fill in the blanks????

No, no, no, no, and no!

What I have is 24 hours each day. Much of it is used for daily living activities, sleeping, eating, washing, and so on. But I still have lots of time to do other stuff, and I do it all, 15 minutes at a time. Just this evening, I started in on my novel. I wrote for fifteen minutes, then I did a load of laundry. Then I did some dishes. Then I wrote some more. Then I switched the laundry to the drier. Then I finished the dishes. Then I had dessert. Then I came upstairs and wrote this post. The clock just struck ten. Two and a half hours after I started, I've done my daily writing, I've ensured that I have clean clothes and clean dishes for tomorrow, and I've written a fair number of words. And I even managed to get about a half hour of Civ IV playing in there as well.

What I didn't do was waste time deciding what I was going to do next, or how I was going to do it. The decisions were already made and the routines were already in place. I didn't waste time thinking about what I'm going to do tomorrow, or next week, or about what I didn't do yesterday. I'll review tomorrow's schedule (which will be at least as busy as today's) when I get up in the morning.

Nor did I waste much time unproductively staring at a flickering screen, wondering what I was going to write. I didn't have every word planned out, but I knew approximately what was going to happen in my fifteen minutes of writing time. My characters still managed to surprise me, but in the end, I controlled the process, rather than having it control me.

Pre-planning is the key to extreme productivity without stress. When I get up in the morning, I mentally review my day. At that point, the time chunking I do is in large blocks--what is happening this morning, this afternoon, this evening. I get the morning all lined up, the afternoon thought through, but the evening is barely on the radar at this point.

Fifteen minute blocks. Get up, take meds, get dressed, make bed. One block. Go get son from his dad's. May take one or two blocks, depending on how ready he is. Doesn't matter. By the time we get back to my house, it's 8 o'clock, and I have an hour to feed us both breakfast and get things ready for my day. Enough time for me to take two entire fifteen-minute blocks just to sit at the breakfast table and enjoy my cereal. Make my sandwich, tidy the kitchen, gather the things I need for the morning, and off we go!

The rest of the day goes the same. At lunch, I take time to review the afternoon, and schedule my blocks more closely. Travel time is scheduled in--all too often, I encounter those who are late for things simply because they don't build travel time into their schedule! At lunch, I was thrown a curve--I'd signed up to do an afternoon service at a nursing home, and forgotten about it. (Make a mental note to be more proactive about writing things down on my desktop calendar...)

No problem, really. A half hour after that curve was thrown, I was ready for the service (it does help that I signed up knowing that I had a service to do that morning, and that I'd just use the same sermon), and I had time to sit down and have lunch with a friend. In that half hour, I'd outlined the service, and decided what on my afternoon schedule could be postponed, shortened, or cancelled. A meeting at 1:30 went ahead as scheduled, because we had to make some decisions regarding our event at the end of the month, but I went into that meeting have decided ahead of time what precisely needed to be covered, and what could wait for later.

Evening rolls around. I've already planned what to have for supper, and know how long it's going to take to cook. I knew what was in my pantry when I decided on the meal, and I have everything I need on hand. I have time to spare. I'm too tired to write, so I use the time that supper's in the oven to lie down on the bed for a bit and rest up, hoping for a second wind. A healthy supper goes a long way towards restoring my energy. A bath and a bit of a lie-down after supper does the rest. By 7:30, I'm back in action and ready to write!

If you fail to plan, you're planning to fail.

I've always heard that, but never really understood it until recently. I've come to realize that I don't have to go overboard and plan the rest of my life in fifteen minute blocks before I go full steam ahead, but I do need to plan the next day. I need to know, before I leave the house in the morning what I'm having for dinner, and when I have to start meal prep in order to have it on the table on time. I need to know what I'm doing during the morning and afternoon, and what is critical for me to accomplish this day, what is important, and what is merely desirable.

I need to stop at strategic points in the day (I use mealtimes for this), and think about the next two or three hours. At that point, the general becomes specific, and a three-hour block of time gets broken down into fifteen minute sprints.

Then I can concentrate on each task, knowing as I do so that everything I'm not doing at that moment will get done in good time.

So that's my secret to conquering NaNo while maintaining a schedule that makes most other people's heads spin. Planning. Not obsessive-compulsive, perfectionist-type planning (no, I do not have the entire month's meals written down on a schedule somewhere, and yes, I am still, as always, open to a change of plans), but a secure enough outline that I'm not putting energy into panicking and running around aimlessly moaning, "I'm so busy, I don't have time to think!"

I always take time to think, because I know that if I take the time to think before rushing headlong into my day, the day will go smoothly, and I'll get everything done that needs doing.

Happy writing!

Monday, October 31, 2011

It's All-NaNos Eve

Since I'm too poor right now to afford candy for the kiddies, I'm celebrating this evening in my own style--sitting here at home, waiting for the clock to strike midnight, and wondering, when it does, what I might put down as the first words to a brand new novel.

And also thinking about this post by a guy named Chuck, who seems to think he has this NaNo thing all figured out, and considers himself an expert on writing.

So, because I have a few hours to spare and need to keep my mind occupied, in rebuttal to many of his points and agreement with some, I will say this:

1) Writing requires writing.

Well, duh. People who endlessly talk about writing aren't writers unless they also put some of those words down on paper, or into a word processing program, or write them in the sand with a stick, or prick their finger and use blood on the wall. Otherwise, they're wannabes.

If you're a wannabe, maybe what you need is a deadline and a whole lot of friendly folks from all over the world to spur you on. If so, you may just need NaNoWriMo.

2) Writing requires finishing.

Who says? I've written many partials. Some are just the beginnings of what may turn out to be full novels, or stories, or non-fiction books. Some of them are just bad ideas that will eventually be trashed (if on paper) or deleted from my hard drive (if on computer).

If you write and don't finish, you're still a writer. You need to finish to publish, at least in most cases. But if you write, you're a writer, and if you don't finish, chances are pretty strong that you've learned something about writing in the meantime.

3) Discipline, With A Capital "Do That Shit Every Day, Son."

Okay, I'll admit that discipline helps. A lot. But is it exactly necessary?

No. I'm about as undisciplined as you can get, and I've still finished one novel, and "won" one NaNo. During the NaNo I won, I got behind on some days, then rushed to catch up. Then got behind again, then another rush.

The tortises win more races, 'tis true, but we hares do win sometimes. (And I am working on more discipline--it's not a bad trait to have!)

4) The magic number is 1666.

Yep. That's the average number of words per day you need to write if you intend to write 50,000 words over a 30 day period.

But it's an arbitrary number, not a magic one. The magic number is actually "1". Don't believe me? Sit down to write a coherent sentence. Start with the first word.

Bet you couldn't stop until the whole sentence is out, now, could you?

The first word of any writing session is always the "magic" one, because it leads to more words.

As for 1666 (or 1667 every third day), the reality is that very few of us are average. Some days, you'll write 5000 words (and those are really magic days for most of us), and some days you'll write none. The trick is to make it all average out. If you write no words for twenty-nine days in a row, and you manage to crank out fifty thousand on day 30, congratulations! You've hit the magic number, too!

5) The Problem With 50,000 Words

Um, he's just plain wrong here. It's true that in some genres, 50,000 words would not be considered a publishable novel. But as Chris Baty points out in No Plot? No Problem!, several well-know works of fiction are about that length, including The Catcher in the Rye (not that this particular book is readable, but it was published and continues to sell well), Of Mice and Men, Brave New World, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Hmm. It seems publishers would disagree with Chuck.

Furthermore, my own personal belief is that as e-books become more and more accepted, the length of novels won't be as important. Publishers of paperbacks don't tend to like books shorter than 90,000 words not because they're inferior, but because consumers are reluctant to shell out ten bucks for a skinny little book, and a thicker book also automatically garners more of the all-important shelf space, making the book more visible to consumers.

As e-book popularity grows, the length of the book will become much less important. E-books are dropping in price, to the point where many are only a buck or two, and folks will shell out two bucks for just about anything. (And if you don't believe me, take a trip to your local dollar store...) And shelf space no longer matters nearly as much as an author's willingness to market the heck out of his or her book.

6) The True Nature of "Finishing"

Actually, the true nature of finishing depends on what your goal is. My goal for the NaNo I actually "won" was to complete 50,000 words of fiction, and to have fun. In that sense, the partial book I wrote is finished. I won't be working on it again. It doesn't have an ending, it's never going to be published, but it is finished. I've let it go.

If you want something more along the lines of a complete novel that's submission-ready, of course you aren't going to be finished at the end of November! You've only just started.

But then, having a submission-ready novel was never the goal of NaNoWriMo, and never will be.

7. Draft Zero

Here, Chucky-boy is just plain silly. No, your NaNoWriMo draft is NOT a zero draft, it's a first draft. The idea that a first draft should be more complete than a NaNo draft is daft, and the fact is that some folks can turn out a very good first draft indeed in thirty days.

8. Quantity Above Quality

This is one of the most misunderstood parts of NaNo. NaNo was not really created for folks who have no trouble sitting down every day and producing two thousand words of high quality work, or even two thousand words of crap.

It works best for those of us whose inner editor is so insistent on "high quality" that no words get written. Ever. Those of us who previously considered a writing session a failure if we didn't turn out a polished, ready-to-submit manuscript with the first draft.

Writing quickly, without regard to quality, bashes down that roadblock of perfectionism, and enables us (and yes, I'm one of those writers) to get the words out.

And when we do, we're often surprised at how good the book we've written really is.

One of the regrets I have with the NaNo I "won" is that I deliberatly wrote a book that by its very nature is unpublishable (because it includes characters and worlds that are the property of other writers). I did it that way because I was in a horrible slump, and realized that the only way I'd get any words written at all was to remove even the possibility of publication.

And what I wrote turned out to have a plot and a theme that was so resonant to me, and writing that in parts was so good, that I might have gone on to do more work on it, if I'd had any chance of publishing it.

But that isn't why I wrote it, and it acheived its purpose by restoring my confidence in my ability to write a good story.

9. Beware "Win" Conditions

I'll just quote him here. I wouldn't have been so crass at the end, but he's right.

If you complete NaNoWriMo, I give you permission to feel like a winner. If you don’t, I do not — repeat, awooga, awooga, do not — give you permission to feel like a loser. This is one of the perils of the gamification of novel-writing, the belief that by racking up a certain score (word count) in a pre-set time-frame (one month for everybody), you win. And by not doing this, well, fuck you, put another quarter in the machine, dongface.

Every year, I have to reassure people who are afraid to even start that the only losers are the ones who are so afraid they'll fail that they don't even start. If you write one single word more in November than you would have writen without NaNo, you've won. If you made some new friends and had a little fun, you've won.

That's why, when I refer to my official win, I put the word "win" in quotation marks. Because I've won every single year I've entered. November has, for the last seven years, been the most prolific writing month of the year. I expect this pattern of winning to continue.

10) We're Not All Robots Who Follow The Same Pre-Described Program

True enough. NaNo isn't for everyone. What confuses me is this: If NaNo isn't for you, Chuck (and seems from your post that it's not), why are you wasting so much time and energy blogging about it? Spend some time blogging about something you enjoy, for Heaven's sake! Or even (gasp!) writing another novel!

11) November Is A Shitty Month


Excuse us for not all being American, and having Thanksgiving to deal with. Nor does everyone in the world celebrate Christmas with a huge month-long shopping spree.

The point of having it in November, btw, was because it is a crappy month for Americans. The weather's not great, so you don't feel left out by your buddies who are heading off to the beach. You've got so much else to do that time spent alone writing a novel feels more like a treat than torture.

It's all in how you look at things...

12) The Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good

Right again, of course. That's the whole point of NaNoWriMo right there--to take the pressure of perfection out of the picture, and allow the goodness to happen.

13) Total Suckity-Ass Donkey Crap Is Also The Enemy Of The Good

Not necessarily. Think of your first steps. Not very sturdy, and you fell down a lot.

Or your first printing. Probably didn't look like anything recognizable.

Or your first words--the ones only mom could understand.

But you experimented, and learned, and if you kept practicing, you eventually became able to walk and chew gum at the same time, and print your name so that most folks could read it, and speak in a manner that gets your message across.

Why do we think writing is different? We think that because we've already learned to spell, and write in complete, gramatical sentences, that we should be able to write a decent story.


You have to learn to do it suckily before you learn to do it well. And the writer who tells you that his or her first novel was a runaway success is NOT telling you about the hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of words that were written that will never see the light of day.

I've been writing since I was six years old. Intentionally, and not just for school.

And I'm still learning new skills, and sometimes I write suckily.

But with everything I write, I learn. And the next think I write is less sucky.

So, if NaNoWriMo can teach you anything, it's that you're almost certainly going to write a lot of stuff that sucks before you write anything good. And every NaNo is a step towards being less sucky.

14) You Have Permission To Suck -- Temporarily

Um, just who in Hell's name do you think you are?

First off, no matter what I write, it's not ME that sucks, but my writing. And if I keep writing (with the intent to improve, that is), OF COURSE that sucky writing is going to be only temporary.

But even if I write for my own amusement, and every single thing I write is sucky, your permission matters not at all, sir.

I'm going to skip over the next bunch of points in order to indulge in a bit of a rant.

Most of the folks who do NaNo know what it's all about, and engage in it for the right reasons. But on the Absolute Write boards, and in blogs like this, there are those who think that because it's not for them, it's a useless and even harmful exercise for everyone.

I don't get it. They're ranting about the "rules" of NaNo being too restrictive, and not conducive to good writing, yet the rules they set out for others are far more restrictive and crushing than any of the actual rules of NaNo, which, for the most part, are more along the lines of official suggestions.

And Chris Baty and friends set up the challenge, so they have a right to set out the rules. If you don't like them, that's your perogative, but they do work for most of us who participate, and if they don't work for us, we disregard them. There's even a whole section on the NaNo forum for "rebels," folks who, for one reason or another, find it necessary or desirable to modify the "official" rules.

End of rant, because Chuck's last point is one that needs to be emphasized.

25) November Is Just Your Beginning

Now, for some, it may be the beginning of a life without writing. Been there, done that, may or may not have bought the tee shirt, but it's not for me. The world can live without my words.

Fair enough. I am not a better person than you because I write, and you are not a better person than me because you don't write.

For those of us who do write, November is also the beginning.

If you get to the end of the month with a manuscript — finished or not — in hand, celebrate. Do a little dance. Eat a microwaved pizza, do a shot of tequila, take off your pants and burn them in the fireplace. And then think, “Tomorrow, I’ve got more to do.” Because this is just the start. I don’t mean that to sound punishing — if it sounds punishing, you shouldn’t be a writer. It should be fucking liberating. It should fill your heart with a flutter of eager wings: “Holy shit! I can do this tomorrow, too! I can do this in December and January and any day of the goddamn week I so choose.” Don’t stop on November 30th. You want to do this thing, do this thing. Your energy and effort can turn NaNoWriMo from a month-long gimmick to a life-long love and possibly even a career. Let this foster in you a love of storytelling made real through discipline — and don’t let that love or that discipline wither on the vine come December 1st.

Those words, I can agree with wholeheartedly. They bring tears to my eyes.

November, each and every November, is the beginning of the rest of my life as a writer. And that, my friends, is why I'm impatiently waiting for midnight. Beginnings are magical times, and the fact that I'm beginning again doesn't take away from the magic, any more than celebrating Christmas or birthdays or the first really warm summer day gets old.

Happy new beginnings, friends, and whatever you do, may you have joy in the task!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's That Time of Year Again!

Yep, the time when everyone goes bonkers with fear that they might catch a cold or the flu. And there's some pretty strange and outright bad advice going around, so I thought it might be good to post some antidotal common-sense type advice that will (we hope) keep us well.

Note that I am not a doctor or a nurse, just a regular human being with a few brains in her head who reads a lot. This advice is not meant to counter anything a trained health-care provider says--if we conflict, go with the advice of the person who's trained and paid.

But I doubt very much if any health care provider will take issue with anything I have to say here, so here goes:

1) Be aware and accepting of the fact that as a human being, made of flesh, you are going to get sick at some point. Don't panic, as long as you're not dead! Colds and most flus aren't death sentences any more--they're usually no more than minor inconveniences.

2) You'll get over the inevitable faster if you admit it and take care of yourself while you're sick. If you're sick, stay home!!!! Don't go to work because you feel "kind of okay," wait until you feel well. Don't send kids to school with "just a cold." First off, you will get better faster if you're not wearing yourself out while you're sick. Second, you'll bless everyone else by keeping your germs at home.

3) The two lists I've seen about flu prevention both miss my number one, most important precaution.

GET A FLU SHOT!!!! In Ontario, they're free and available at your doctor's office now. If you don't have a family doctor, there are clinics just about everywhere--call your local health unit on Monday ('cause today's Saturday and they're probably closed). The year after I go the flu for real (and not "stomach" flu, but real, honest-to-goodness influenza), I started getting the shots every year. I haven't been sick with the flu since, and even my incidence of colds has gone down.

If it's not covered by provincial health insurance (because you live somewhere else), investigate how much it costs. Being sick with influenza can keep you off work for a week or more, and make you feel sluggish for even longer. Is it less than a week's pay to get the shot? Then get it...

What are you waiting for???

3) One of the lists I read started with "Demand (their word, not mine) that any visitors or guests who enter your home wash their hands right away."

Um, right. NOT!

Now, washing hands is a good thing, but it's YOUR hands you need to wash if you want to avoid germs, because it's (hopefully) YOUR hands that will be going near your mouth and face and food. Unless your guests are holding your newborn (in which case I'd say, "If you want to hold the baby, you can wash your hands in the bathroom. I've set out fresh guest towels just for you."), I wouldn't worry about their hands, except to invite them to use the washroom before a meal. (Once again, suggest, don't demand. "I've set out some guest towels in the bathroom, if you'd like to wash your hands before we eat." Then they'll seem like complete boors if they don't wash, and you haven't demanded a single thing, or even made them feel uncomfortable.)

But like I said, it's YOUR hands you really need to worry about.

Wash after you use the toilet, before you eat, and before and during food preparation. Before and after visiting someone in the hospital, visiting a doctor, etc. Use common sense. Washing your hands CAN get excessive, but most people don't go nearly that far, or even nearly far enough.

Use soap and water. A study I read done by a soap company looked at the difference in health outcomes in a third world country after distribution of different types of soap. The control group was not given any soap. One-half of the remainder was given plain, ordinary soap with instructions on how and when to wash. The other half was given antibacterial soap, again with instructions.

Both soap-using groups had better disease outcomes than the control group. But there was NO DIFFERENCE between the two different types of soap. What matters, therefore, is not that the soap has antibacterial agents in it, but that you use it.

4) Get enough sleep. Once again, numerous studies show that adult North Americans don't get anywhere near enough sleep. Six to eight hours minimum, folks. It will help you recharge your immune system. It will keep you alert so you don't have as many accidents. And it will keep you from getting overly grumpy, which could keep you out of prison...

Okay, so maybe not that last, but you get the idea. The proper amount of sleep is important in maintaining your overall health.

5) Eat healthy amounts of healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Forget about processed "fruit-flavoured" snacks, and go for an apple. A smoothie is great, a real banana is even better. Carrots and peas and beans and salads...

I'll stop now. I'm getting hungry.

I've seen plenty written about how important vitamins and trace minerals are for your heath, but I've never read a study (which doesn't mean there aren't any, just that I haven't read them) that shows that a daily pill will keep you healthy. Vitamin pills can't replace real vitamins, direct from the source, IMO. And they don't taste nearly as good, either.

6) Stay hydrated. Drink enough water. Water, folks. Not fire-water, or cola, or tea or coffee. Just plain water.

And use a re-usable water bottle when you do it (or a glass), so that we can keep our environment healthy, too.

7) Stay out of places with lots of sick people if you possibly can. Some of the advice on the lists I've read tell you to stay out of places like grocery stores as much as you can, but that's just silly. Sick people don't generally go to the grocery store, they go to the hospital and the doctor's office. So unless you really need to go, stay out of those two places.

DO NOT go to the emergency room for a simple head cold. One, it wastes taxpayers' money. Two, it wastes your time, because you'll be put way, way down on the triage list, after the person with the sprained baby toe, and definitely after the guy with the stab wound, and the woman in labour and all the other fun people you'll get to meet. Don't go there just to pass the time or read a book, either. (I've never done this, but apparently a few people do.)

Read your book in the library, if you must get out of the house.

If you're sick with non-life-threatening illness (you can breathe okay, you can talk, you're not terribly disoriented, and you have no or a low-grade fever) try PHONING your doctor for advice first. Wrap yourself in a blanket, drink lots of water, have some chicken soup, and read a good book or watch an old movie. You'll be well in a day or two.

8) Finally, be a little wary of zapping your cold or flu with too many OTC medications. First, read the instructions carefully. I have some meds that say it's okay to take them every four hours, but when you read further, you find out you can't take more than three doses per day.

Second, don't take them so you will feel "well enough to go to work." Meds DO NOT make the illness go away, they just disguise it. Your body is still sick and it still needs the time to heal. You may actually be sick longer than otherwise if you take meds and continue with your daily routine, heedless of your body's real needs. Second, you're still contagious, so other people can still get sick from you, no matter how good you're feeling.

Stay home, take time to get well... (Wait. I think I've said that before.)

Seriously. I think a huge part of our problem with infectious diseases is our insistence that we are machines who can "bash on regardless." We're not machines, we're living organisms, and we'll live longer, healthier lives if we respect the difference.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Are You A Minister Yet?

Every so often, someone will ask me that question. What they usually mean, of course, is, "Are you ordained yet?"

The last time I heard that question, it was in a diner in a small town I've never before been through, and will likely not be through again, at least for a while. I don't even know the name of the person who asked it, or where I'd known her from. She might have been from a pastoral charge where I served as a student, or one of the ones I occasionally visit as a supply preacher. I'm good at recognizing faces, and voices, but names I don't always remember, especially if I go to a church where no-one wears a name tag, and I don't learn the names in the first place!

The distinction between the question she voiced and the question she was really asking is important. The friend who was with me at the time actually started laughing, knowing that for me, the question was hard to answer because the answers to the two questions are dramatically different.

No, I am not ordained.

Yes, I most definitely am in ministry.

At the time, I was driving her up to a town where her father-in-law resides, so that she could be with her husband who had been hospitalized while visiting his father. The next day, I would be baby-sitting her grandchildren, and on Monday, I'd be in the church office behind the administrator's desk, taking her place. This is ministry.

On Thursday, I conduct a service/bible study at a local retirement home. Not many folks come out, but the ones who do are so fanatical that the thought of the (ordained) minister of our church taking my place for a Thursday has them having palpitations. This is ministry.

Today I walked the grounds of a local retreat centre with the land manager, discussing how this year's Live Nativity Scene will play out, and on December 3rd, we'll put on this pageant for over 500 guests. This too is ministry.

Whether it's starting a Messy Church this coming winter, or being our church presbytery rep, or simply listening to someone who needs a shoulder to cry on, I'm engaged in ministry.

I'm even engaged in ministry at home--making dinner for an ex-husband who's had a stressful day (I do this for him twice each week, and he does it on Saturday, when he doesn't work), or taking care of my autistic child, or laughing and praying with my two older children, or checking up on my parents. Loving our families is ministry.

So yes, I'm in ministry. But I'm not ordained, and at this time, I won't be pursuing that path. I'm too busy...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

One (Baby) Step at a Time

Wednesday morning, I found I just couldn't do it.

I got up a little later than usual, as I didn't have to go get Robin from his dad's or feed him breakfast, and I wasn't feeling great to begin with. I faced the bed and told myself, "Rise and shine, Ruth! Get dressed right down to lace-up shoes."

No. I couldn't do it.

"Make the bed?"

Nope. No go.

"Eat breakfast?"


"Okay. Baby steps here. How about a sip of water and your meds?" (I take two pills, both in the morning.

Yes. I can do that.

A little while later, I was sitting at my computer wasting time with CivIV or some such game, and I felt strong enough to get dressed.

Once dressed, of course, I had to make the bed.

Then I realized I was hungry, and headed downstairs to have my breakfast. And my morning routine was completed only about a half hour later than usual, because I was willing to take baby steps.

All too often in the past, I've looked at a task taht seemed overwhelming, felt I couldn't complete it to standard, and so didn't even start. I've got lots of novel ideas, and more than a few first (and even some second) chapters hanging around, but only one novel to which I've typed, "The End."

It seems that in order to be able to type those magical words more often, or to live in a clean house, or to balance my budget, I'm going to have to go back to taking baby steps.

Can't write a whole novel in one sitting? How about a chapter, or a paragraph, or even a single sentence?

Can't clean a whole room in one go? How about a 1 foot by 1 foot area of counter?

Can't pay a whole bill when it's due? How about paying what I can, and planning to pay the rest ASAP. (And explaining to the creditor what I'm doing...)

Very few people have huge chunks of time or energy or money to do large tasks. All we're given as mere mortals are little bits and pieces, never enough individually to do the job at hand, but if we use them instead of wasting them, the job will eventually get done.

I think there's a quote about that from a book I read somewhere:

Oh, yeah.

"The master was full of praise. 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let's celebrate together!'" and "To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away." (Mt 25: 21 & 29, New Living Translation)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I'm FLYing!

A good friend of mine has been urging me to check out FLYLady, a site that she claimed would help me organize my home and my life, something I've been trying to do for ages. Or at least since yesterday...

Anyhow, I have, in the recent past, made some respectable progress towards de-cluttering and organizing my house, but it's still nowhere near where I want it to be, so a week or so ago, I did follow my friend's advice, and have since become a devotee.

Not a fanatical one, mind you--as with other home organizing books I've read and sites I've visited, I still take what I think will work, adapt others that seem to need some tweaking, ignore those that aren't applicable, and leave until another time those that are too expensive or too hard to do right now.

But it isn't the actual de-cluttering and cleaning methods that keep me coming back. It's the philosophy.

FLY stand for "Finally Loving Yourself." I realized that having a messy home full of broken junk, sink overflowing with dishes and counters so cluttered I couldn't cook was a form of self-hate. I realized that if I truly loved myself, I would make an effort to clean up and cook decent meals, just as if I were a guest in my own home who I wanted to impress.

And the results?

I reorganized my dining room to be more functional before checking out the site, but it continued to develop clutter, and the kitchen still wasn't clean enough to cook a meal. But after checking out the FLYLady site...

Step One: Shine Your Sink. Which you can't do if the sink is full of dirty dishes. So I did a load of dishes. Then another load. Then another load. And I put them away once they'd dried. Then I cleared the clutter off the counter, putting the small appliances that I don't use every day (most of them) in a cupboard that's actually perfect for that purpose. A little scrubbing of counters and sink, and I had a kitchen I could use!

I've managed to do that one simple step every day for a whole week, and guess what?


The caps and the bolding and the exclamation points say it all, I think. And because the kitchen is clear and I'm using the dining room to eat, I'm more conscious of moving the clutter out before it has time to accumulate into mountainous piles of crap that's mostly garbage. So I've had the ex-husband over for dinner twice this week. I cooked a crock pot full of winter veggies drenched in maple syrup and ginger (do as the recipe says, folks, and use all that ginger!) that was apparently so good the kids didn't leave me any. I made a second pot tonight, and while veggies aren't really my thing, I ate a full serving and a bit.

But the real cap of the week was Sunday. I walked into the house after church and did a quick double-take, because for a split second, I wondered if I was in the right house!

I'm continuing to work on my house--I still have the office, bathroom, upstairs storage and basement to clear out and clean up. And of course, then I'll be doing a second round of the house, paintbrush and curtains in hand.

Once all that's done, I'll truly be able to say that I've conquered my CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome), and I'll have a house that I truly enjoy living in and showing off!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's been a rough couple of weeks in our town--I've spent a lot of time and energy supporting a friend who's had a real run of bad luck. As I explained to a couple of people, it's payback time--when I was going through my rough times, this friend and many others were there to hold me together. Now I can do it for her.

Sunday morning's sermon featured a story about a man who had journeyed to Colombia, where he saw poor villagers--the men sitting and chatting in the sunshine, smoking, the women sitting on front porches of brightly painted houses, washing dishes, peeling potatoes, nursing infants, and children swimming in a muddy river. He noted that these people didn't have a lot of things, their environment was not pristine, their food less than the best. But there was more joy in that village than he'd ever seen on the streets of any North American suburb, where kids had expensive video game systmes, where we throw out more good food than some people eat, where both men and women are fully employed.

They had joy because they were thankful for what they had. We have so much, I think, that we don't even notice it any more.

A case in point--as part of my "101 Things" project, I've been cleaning out my house. Today, I got the kids over and we cleaned out my front hall closet. I found the boots that I didn't wear last winter because they were buried under a mound of stuff. I have enough paint to cover all the walls in my house--twice! I've twice asked for paint coupons from my co-op (they supply the paint, I do the painting), and twice started and not finished the job. I found two pairs of running shoes--and I was just about to go out and buy another pair because the pair I've been wearing are worn out. I found my black dress shoes, that have been missing for over a year. Lots of brooms and mops, some good, some ready for the dump. Stuff that should be in the car (like the gas can), stuff that should be in the basement (like the paint), stuff that needed to be thrown out, and stuff that should have been given away a long time ago.

How can I be thankful for my stuff when I don't even know it's there? Or when I can't get to it?

So now, thanks to my kids and a couple of hours' worth of work, I have an organized closet.

And I'm thankful.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Guess What I'm Up to Now??

So this is my first post in almost two weeks, when I'd resolved to post more regularly. Just like me, I might have thought, except...

I spent much of those two weeks thoroughly cleaning and rearranging my dining room, and considering what the rest of the house is going to look like when it's done. That means I:

Got rid of a load of garbage

Mopped the floor and washed the walls

Re-imagined a bookshelf as a pantry (my built-in pantry is too deep and dark for me to see what's inside it)

Re-imagined the pantry as storage for tools and small appliances that don't get used every day (it's a BIG pantry, after all, and perfect for this use)

Emptied out the grungy, algae-filled fish tank and cleaned it

Moved the fish tank stand to the other side of the dining room and set up a bigger tank, which I then filled with my four adult guppies and half million or so babies, as well as a pleco and a cory catfish

Cleaned off the table, and took two baskets of papers and books up to my office, as well as a few stacks of books that had been on the bookshelf

Brought the bar table with the cast iron foot upstairs (with the help of my autistic son), covered it with a nice vinyl tablecloth, and filled it with plants, all properly potted and watered

Put a nice tablecloth on the table

Washed the windows

Took down the faded posters stapled to the walls

Hung some nice pictures

Collected all my art stuff and moved it to the storage space under the fish tank

Arranged my cookbooks, gardening books, and art books on spare space in the new "pantry"

It took me just about the full two weeks because I was doing it in between living the rest of my life, and (or so it seemed) holding everyone else in my universe together. Just the usual...

But now I have a dining room that I like to eat in, plus healthy plants, plus a really nice looking fish tank, plus space to do art and the ability to find what I need in the way of art tools and materials. Add that to the fact that my living room and bedroom are organized the way I like them and occasionally have been know to revert to a "clean and tidy" state, and that's three rooms of the house that are livable. Six to go, including kitchen, entry way hallway and stairs, office, basement and bathroom...

And (surprise, surprise!) I've started a new project. Well, sort of new, anyhow. I came across a reference to doing 101 things in 1001 days, and after looking it up, decided that it might help me keep track of my progress on some of my life goals.

Now I know I started "school" back a while ago, and haven't really reported on any progress since then, but this will tie in with it, so it's not really starting something horribly new. Also, most of the 101 things I picked to be on my list were either on my immediate "to do" list, or have been on my "someday I'm gonna do this" list for a long while. Some others are quite simple and fun things that I never would have thought of doing, that don't take much time, and heck! I'm in it for the experience.

I broke my list down into sections like "Health and Fitness", "Finance", "Writing", etc.

So here's a sampler of my goals:

1) Lose 50 pounds. 1001 days is a workable length of time, and this will get me down to my goal weight. Thanks to the internet, I can develop a plan that will work for me. Related: Participate in the 200 sit-ups project, Get in the best shape of my life, Go without fast food for a month.

2) A bunch of goals that I NEED to do, but have been putting off due to finances: See a chiropractor (I recently injured my back), Get my eyes tested (last time was at least three years ago), Go to the dentist for a check up (last time was years ago--I had to have an emergency filling replacement recently, but no check up or cleaning was done).

3) Getting my finances in order, including goals for becoming stable, putting aside regular savings, donating regularly to my church, and controlling my buying habits.

4)"Go and Do" Goals: This is the largest section, but most of these are one-offs, fun things that will only take a day or two (or even a single session) to complete. But the fun things are here: Sleep in a yurt, Go kayaking, Ride in a hot air balloon, and so on. Also some cleaning goals in here (I might have given them their own section, but I didn't): Give away all my unwanted books, Get rid of 100 things, Clean and organize the house, then Paint the house.

5) Travel goals, because I stay at home too much. I'd like to Go on a Cruise, Go on a Road Trip, Visit a National Park, and Visit a New City, possibly Boston.

6) Food and Eating goals, separate from the Health goals: Make a pie on Pi day, Try a new recipe every month, and so on.

7) Art and Music goals: Learn all of the Suzuki viola repetoire, Learn to draw well enough to Draw a self-portrait, and others.

8) Writing goals: Of course! Participate in NaNo, and win this time! Also NaBloPoMo. Complete the Artist's Way, which I've started a few times and never really finished. Write a non-fiction book, Publish a novel.

9) Reading goals: Not too many of these, because I really don't need goals to motivate me to do this, unless the goal is to actually do other things instead of reading! But I'd like to read the Koran (or Qu'ran), and a book on Buddism that my son-in-law loaned to me a while back. Also, I'd like to read a book in French, and I have two candidates: Harry Potter and guess which book?

10)Photography goals: Picking up this hobby again would bring me great pleasure, especially since digital photography can be so much cheaper (due to lack of film and development costs) than old-fashioned film photography. So I've got a few goals relating to photography.

11) "Make and Build" goals: Again, a category of mostly fun, one-off stuff. The thing that's going to take the time is knitting this sweater, but what ya gotta do, ya gotta do!

12) Learning goals: Taking a Spanish class, Learning archery, Learning how to sew, Learning to Zumba dance. These, of course, tie in closely with my "Jackboot Masters of Everything."

13) Movie goals: Because what's life without a good movie attached? The primary goal here is to attend the midnight premiere of a movie, and I've got the movie all picked out. Only this time, I'm going to get at the tickets early enough to take my daughter, because ten years in purgatory for getting only one ticket for the Return of the King showing (that was all they had left), is long enough.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Living On Nothing (Almost)

This week has been a real eye-opener for me. I've never had things fall together so easily with regards to finances, and considering I don't and will not be getting a job, and am not going to applying for any government assistance beyond the tax rebates and credits I get already, that's saying something.

What did happen is that due to some effort on the part of my ex, I'll now be getting a fair amount in spousal support every month so that I can stay home and care for our autistic son. Add the almost monthly payments from various levels of governments, and I'm almost surviving.

All I need to do is cut my expenses.


I started out this morning asking myself, "What can I get for free?"

That question was in part brought on by my reading this weekend of the book Free: The Future of a Radical Price, by Chris Anderson. Although it's two years out of date (and a LOT has happened in those two years, especially in the book publishing area), it still contained some thought-provoking ideas, the most disturbing (but not surprising) of which, to me, at least, was the likelihood that as consumers get used to free, they'll resent paying anything at all for electronic information, including books and music. So how's a home-based writer supposed to make money?

I'm still thinking that through, but there ARE options, and they're good ones. Merchandising, public speaking, teaching, and so forth are all ways writers make money while giving away books. And the upside of free is that (hopefully) people will actually read my stuff. Which, really, is the only point of writing. If nobody reads my stuff, or if everyone who does read it hates it, I'll just fantasize in my head and spend my time playing viola or Sims.

And really, my basic income, while not excessive, is enough. And isn't that what we pray for? Give us THIS DAY our DAILY bread. Nothing here about retirement plans, or well-stocked pantries, or even enough money in the bank to pay the bills tomorrow.

Just enough for today. Which I have, with thanks and praise to God and my ex-husband.

So I stopped thinking about what I could GET, for free or otherwise. Instead, the question becomes, "How can I reduce my costs of living to as near zero as I can get?"

For some things, I may be looking at getting stuff for free, or trading stuff I have but don't want or need for stuff I want and/or need. Or re-purposing stuff I already have but don't use or need into something a little more useful. Or simply reviewing the need or want and figuring out if I really did need or want what I think I did.

Once I changed the question, answers started appearing if by magic. I got a book from the library about home organization that's so clear and simple even I can do it. The author starts at the entry way, and says that there are five things every entry must have, including a "landing strip" for keys, wallets, purses, bills, etc. I don't have one--I use the kitchen counter, which is awkward when I need to wash dishes (which I do at least once a week...).

I also got a book about sewing simple gifts, and one of the projects is a hanging with pockets that's so simple that even I could do it. I thought about adding a valence at the top with curtain hooks facing out to hang keys on (that courtesy of a book on sewing simple curtains I read a short wile ago), and voila! I will post a picture of my "landing strip/wall art" when it's done and hanging up. And the good part is, it will cost me some time, but I have all of the fabric and notions I need to make the thing.

I needed a fruit bowl that would go with my kitchen. I have newsprint, flour and water in abundance. I'll take a picture of the paper mache bowl when it's done...

(And did I mention that of all the free things most of us have access to, the public library system has to be at the top of the list, value-wise?)

I also realized that I need to give at least as much as I get. I'm not emotionally cut out to be a freeloader, and even though I'm providing real value to society by keeping my son out of a group home, I need to do more than just line up at the food bank. I need to give back.

So I thought about what I have. My record player is broken (thanks to said autistic son), so the records are being offered up on the altar of Kijiji (actually, I just checked my email and am arranging pick up as I type this...). The old, broken washing machine went just as fast, and will be gone from the house by tomorrow at this time, hopefully. These things are of real value to someone else, and worth less than nothing to me, due to the space they take up.

In return, a few months ago, I got a six-year-old washer and dryer set from someone who had upgraded their appliances. All I had to do was talk a friend into loaning me his van to pick it up. (And when the van broke down on the 401, who did he call for a ride home? Not the taxi company, that's for sure...) I also got a good used computer, which has been re-homed at my ex's school.

This fall, I'll be looking at my free time, too. I already do some volunteer work, but there's room for a bit more, especially if I can find something my son and I can do together.

It's not quite a return to the barter economy--I'm not giving directly to the person who's giving to me, but to someone else. And there is a place for money. But the real skill is in knowing when to give and get for free, and when to pay or charge.

Friday, September 9, 2011

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish...

I have an audition Sunday for orchestra. The Board of Directors, along with the Music Director, decided in the spring that all players must audition, I think as more of a placement and coaching thing than as a "you have to pass or you're out" kind of thing.

But you see, I don't know for certain, and as the least accomplished member of the orchestra (and I can say this with no pride and no exaggeration), if it so happens that it's a pass/fail, situation, I will almost certainly fail.

So I had to decide over the summer how I would handle it if that was the case. I'm a charter player in the orchestra. I haven't played every year, and I miss too many practices, but I'm one of the reasons the orchestra actually exists at all--it was founded by a friend of mine so that people like me would have a place to play. But I have to admit that the orchestra has improved (a lot!), and I haven't. Because I haven't been practicing, just playing.

And I decided that if I didn't "pass," instead of complaining, I'd ask to just play at practices, and not concerts, and re-audition after the first concert. In the meantime, I plan to practice my fingers off.

Which is where the fish come in.

My daughter is in the midst of training as a Suzuki teacher. One thing that HER first teacher did was have "fish" charts, where the fish had a hundred scales that could be coloured in, one for each scale or practice passage played. Ally made up a blank scale chart with 103 scales, and I photocopied it a bunch of times, and now I'm doing scales and practicing one particular passage in a Seitz concerto 103 times. I've been able to play that concerto movement all the way through for years, but never well. So my goal it to master that to performance level, so I've broken it down into passages to practice.

As well, I am (of course) practicing the passages of Beethoven's 7th that have been designated for the audition.

And an amazing thing has happened--after only an hour or two of concentrated work, I'm already sounding better.

20 scales down, 83 to go...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Numbers that Shock: 10,000

The book jacket blurb for Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers begins:

There is a story that is usually told about extremely successful people, a story that focuses on intelligence and ambition. In Outliers Malcolm Gladwell argues that the true story of success is very different, and that if we want to understand how some people thrive, we should spend more time looking around them — at such things as their family, their birthplace, or even their birth date. The story of success is more complex — and a lot more interesting — than it initially appears.

Except that it isn't complex at all, though I did find it fascinating. It turns out that birthdate and birthplace, family culture, and yes, even intelligence and ambition, have only one function in success: to allow the would-be successful person to reach that magic number.


Gladwell cites a study done in the early 1990's with a group of music students at the elite Academy of Music in Berlin. The school's violinists were divided into groups according to how well they played. The truly elite students had the potential to become world-class soloists. The second group was merely good — Gladwell doesn't say so, but knowing music as I do, these players would go on to become orchestral players and private teachers, much as my daughter aims to do. The third group were students who would likely not have a professional music career, but who would end up teaching in the public school system.

The students were all asked the same question: Over the course of your entire career, how many hours have you practiced?

Most of these students started playing at around five years of age. At that age, they might have practiced fifteen to thirty minutes a day, or two to three hours a week. But by age eight (the same age my daughter decided she was going to be a professional music teacher), differences started to emerge. Some students were practicing more than six hours a week by age nine, eight by age twelve, and by age fourteen, two or more hours a day. By the age of twenty, these top students were practicing, which Gladwell defines as "purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better" for over thirty hours a week. By the age of twenty, these top performers had reached that magic number: 10,000. Ten thousand hours of purposeful practice.

In contrast, the future teachers had totalled a mere four thousand hours, and the good students about eight thousand hours.

The same result was obtained with pianists, and when Gladwell scratched the surface of successful people as diverse as famous musicians, computer geniuses, hockey players, and chess grand masters, he found the same number cropping up. Ten thousand. That's how many hours of purposeful practice it takes to become truly masterful at something. Your age, your gender, the place and era into which you were born, your economic status, your intelligence and your natural passion for an endeavour — all of these things will help you, but only insofar as they gain you the opportunity to put in those ten thousand hours of practice.

The study of music students showed something else that is of enormous interest to me. In the entire study, there were no students who were "naturals" or "geniuses," gaining status and ability without putting in the prerequisite hours of practice.

More importantly, at least for me, there were no "grinds," students who worked harder and put in more hours of practice than their peers, without gaining ability.

10,000 hours is the only thing that's standing between me and my dreams, and I can't really blame any innate lack of ability for not being a better writer/artist/musician/researcher/scientist.

Gladwell says it takes a person about ten years to accomplish this feat. But starting from zero, and working purposefully for five hours a day, the actual time needed is five years, 175 days. (And I'm not starting from zero, at least in math...)

Ten years is a more realistic number, but even then, I realize that at age 51, I'll still only be 61 (and hopefully have lots of good years left in me) by the time I acheive mastery in whatever it is that I want to master. And to be honest, I'm partway there already in anything I'd care to try my hand at.

And a short note to the naysayers: No, I'm not so unrealistic as to think that I could, for example, become a world-class basketball player. My age, my gender, and my height are all against me. But if I wanted to, I could practice and become very good indeed.

Nor am I blind to the fact that the reason many people never acheive excellence is because they're too busy trying to live and survive. I think that one of the major aims of any just world order would be to give everyone that chance, though.

But I cannot any longer avoid the striking reality that if I so choose, I can become truly an expert at something, and that if I end my life being only moderately talented, it's my own damn choice.

I think one of the truly sad things about humanity is our addiction to the ideas of "fate" and "talent." Belief that it takes "talent" to succeed has kept many, many more people from succeeding than lack of opportunity ever did. Perhaps it's just because we've been fed this bs for so long, or perhaps it's human nature to wish to avoid taking responsibility for our lives, or maybe it's just easy to pretend that our lack of will to practice is due to lack of talent and not to the choice we've made not to practice.

Because it is a choice. Not an easy one, I grant you. In talking to my daughter, I realize that the choice she made not to be a top student was indeed conscious, and not due to lack of faith in her abilites as a cellist. She wants to spend time with friends and family, she wants to pursue other interests. So she's chosen NOT to be in the top group at her school

But it was a choice.

In my case, I too have a choice. My kids are grown. I have lots of interests and activities to fill my time, but I do have a burning desire to be really good at a few things, or maybe even only one thing.

My question to myself: What will it be, and am I willing to take the hours to purposefully practice that skill or skills?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Sounds of Silence

The more observant amongst you, my gentle readers, will have noticed that I haven't posted in nearly a month. (It's okay if you didn't notice, really...)

I just wanted to pop in to explain what's going on with me, and what's not.

First, I'm not giving up the blog. (Sighs of relief all around. Thanks.)

Second, the lack of posts was quite deliberate, and not related to having no material to post. In fact, I have two posts already written but not posted in my notebook right now.

They're going to stay that way until September, because I've decided that I need to take a short sabbatical.

You may have noticed that I was bouncing around for a while in the Spring. I noticed it too, and what was happening in the blog was nothing compared to what was happening in my life. I'm at a crossroads right now, and I'm not sure which of the many branches before me I need to take. And it's painfully obvious that I can't take them all.

So I decided to take a break, and just think for a while instead of do. So I started cutting out things that were distracting me from thinking, and the internet was the first thing to go. Right now, except for this blog posts, I've cut my internet usage down to banking, email, and occasionally reading those blogs to which I subscribe.

No Absolute Write. No Stumbling. No blogging.

Just time outside, and time thinking.

And so far, I'm happy to report, it's working. I'm beginning to get some clarity about my direction, and I've actually started working on my fiction again.

I have just over a month to go with my self-imposed internet exile, after which I'll be back. See you then!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Being Poor With Flair: Rights and Responsibilities

I've noticed, through my years of living, that a certain sort of person is likely to insist on his or her rights in any given situation.

Specifically, the person most likely to loudly demand their rights is also the person most likely to deny that they have responsibilities. And I've noticed that it's more often poor people who demand rights, while middle class and rich people understand and fulfil their responsibilities.

Now, I do understand that as a poor person, your rights are more likely to be overlooked by the authorities, and by other people in general.

BUT (and this is truly a huge BUT) you can do a great deal to prevent the worst of this trampling by living responsibly.

You have a responsibility first and formost to yourself. If you take care of your health and your finances, you'll be less likely to need to demand your rights to quality health care and to social services.

You have a responsibility to your spouse if you have one, and to any children you have begotten. If you fulfil those responsibilities without undue complaint, you'll be much less likely to have to defend your rights in a family law court.

You have a responsibility as a citizen to vote and to obey the laws of your city, state or province, and country. If you fulfil those responsibilities, you'll be less likely to need to defend your rights in a court of law.

You have a responsibility to every other person with whom you interact to treat them with respect due them simply because they're a human being. If you do this, you'll be less likely to need to demand your right to be treated with respect in return.

You have a responsibility to your employer to do the best work you can do while you're being paid to work. If you fulfil this responsibility, you'll be less likely to need to demand your right to unemployment pay.

Note first that I said, "Less likely." Life isn't perfect, or fair, and even people who behave themselves are going to get knocked about sometimes. It happens to everybody. Get back on your feet, get moving again, and in due time you'll get over it.

But my observations have been that folks who loudly insist on their rights without doing their best to fulfil their responsibilities tend to be both poorer and unhappier. They often think that the world is conspiring against them--and usually, they're right. Because they in return are conspiring against the world.

So stop the conspiracy! I've said many times that the only person in the whole wide world that you can change is you. If you change yourself and stop demanding your rights all the time, and instead focus on your responsibilities, you'll find that bit by bit the world will come to trust you, and stop hitting you back.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dot and the Meaning of Life

I was going to write something witty and interesting and useful, but I drove to Toronto and back today, so I'm not feeling very witty or interesting or useful at all. But while stumbling around, I ran across this video:

Notice that it's only after Dot faces what's after her and does something about it that she finally can rest.

And if that doesn't say something about tackling your finances (and other problems in life), I don't know what does.

(You can find out more about Dot here. Almost makes me want to get a cell phone...)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Some Tips for Changing Your LIfe

First, a question. Why are we bothering to change our lives anyway?

I can't believe that I would actually quote Ayn Rand, but here it is. Even people I disagree with will say, often on a regular basis, things that can't be argued with. She said, "You can avoid reality, but you cannot ignore the consequences of reality."

And if the reality is that you need to change your money-handling habits, you'll be suffering the consequences unless and until you change. To put it another way, if we continue to do what we've always done, we'll continue to get what we've always gotten. Fear, and self-loathing, and out-of-control bank charges.

However, if we change, we can work towards a new life free of the fear and limitations and degredation caused by our poverty. So we're going to change.

But change is hard, and the process can take a long time, and we aren't, as a race, hard-wired for waiting.

Plus, change HURTS. Because we have to face the fact that much of what we learned from our beloved (or maybe not-so-beloved) parents about how to handle money was WRONG. We have to admit we've been making mistakes, mistakes that have cost us dearly. And as humans, it goes against the grain for us to admit we're anything less than almost perfect.

Changing your money habits is not going to be easy right from the get-go. You WILL be knocked off your feet a few times. If you can accept this, and realize that the only way you can truly fail is if you give in, give up, and go back to your old way of life, then you'll be well on your way to succeeding.

Some tips that won't make things easier, but will make it more likely you'll eventually succeed:

1) Don't give up. How many times did you fall down as a toddler when you were learning to walk? Many times, and yet unless you were born with a physical disability, you learned how to walk at some point in your first two or three years.

2) Don't expect perfection right away. When you learned how to walk, first you sat up, then you crawled (or scooted on your bum). Then you stood up, with help. A few steps towards mommy's open arms, and soon you were walking. Within days, maybe even hours, mommy couldn't keep up with you any more. Another image: airplanes navigate by approximation. They head in the general direction of their destination, and it's only as they get close that they get more exact.

3) I'm suggesting things in this blog that have worked for me. If one or more of my suggestions doesn't work for you, try something else. There's nothing "wrong" with you or how you're doing it--you're just different from me, and require different techniques to overcome your difficulties. Read up on learning and personality theory, and identify how you learn and interact with the world. We're all different, and we all approach the subject of money differently. That's okay.

4) Expect resistance. From your family, your friends and acquaintances, co-workers, banker, creditors. They wll resist not because they want and need you to stay the way you are. They will resist because we humans instinctively shy away from big changes. And if one part of an equation (in this case, you) changes, then in order to maintain equilibrium, all of the other parts (them) have to change as well.

Here we have a very important learning: You cannot directly change anything or anyone other than yourself. You cannot change your spouse, your children, your elected officials, your community, your country, the world. You can only ever change you.

But if you change yourself, everything and everyone you have contact with will have to change with you.

Perservere. Make a new, happier life for yourself. You deserve it, and so does everyone else who will choose to remain in your life.