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Why I Basically Disappeared Off the Face of the Internet

Monday, June 6, 2016



I've been gone for the past few months. It's been a crazy few months, y'all.

It started with this:



First came the severe, debilitating pain radiating up my legs, as though my bones were aching. My lymph nodes bulged beneath my skin. When the aching left, it was replaced by joint pain so severe that it took me twice as long to do...anything, really. Every joint in my body hurt- ankles, knees, shoulders, elbows. My hands hurt so much that it took both of them to lift kettles, turn knobs, shift gears. Sometimes I would wake up in the night from the pain. Getting out of bed was a challenge, because my body had frozen itself into whatever position I fell asleep in and stayed that way for hours. 

Then my left ankle began to swell.

It's called peripheral edema. It usually shows up in people who are experiencing congestive heart failure. I'm far, far too young for that, so I knew something was going horribly wrong with my body. It can show up in other conditions too, none of which I had. The only one that fit was "systemic illness".

I went to the doctor a few times. They first tested me for Lyme's, but that came back negative- and it shouldn't have, since by that point I'd been having symptoms for weeks. I was put on different types of therapy to no avail. In the end, I was treated for Lyme's despite being negative. 21 days of doxycycline later, and I was finally free of all the strange symptoms I'd been having. Most importantly, I was finally ready to get back to my hobbies.

It's hard to take pictures or do much blogging when every movement hurts. That was my initial reason for not posting.

Then, right around when I was getting better, a close family member went into the hospital. They had emergency heart surgery. It was pretty terrifying for a while, and of course I dropped everything to be with them. To preserve their privacy, I'm not going to elaborate further, except to say that they are doing excellently now and I hope they will do so for years to come.

By now we're in May. I'd been taking a class while all of this was going on, so once my illness and my family's illness was sorted, it was time to turn my attention to finals (I got a 110%, if anyone is wondering. #slay). 

Oh! Also my Macbook Pro went into kernel panic when I downloaded El Capitan. So I had to reinstall the OS and lost... well, not everything important, because I back up those files to the cloud, but quite a lot of stuff. It was pretty discouraging.

These past few weeks I've been working mostly on my novel. I'm moving Sylvanlight to the back burner for now (don't worry, I'm not giving up on it completely- I love it and the characters to much to do so) and giving my extra time and attention to a new-ish project that I'll call Project Beta. My goal is to get it out to agents on submission by the end of the year and I'm still in the first draft- so in between my work and my classes, I'm spending pretty much all of my extra time working on that.

I don't intend to abandon my blog- hell no- but I will be dialing down the focus a little less in the coming months. It doesn't help that I'm having a sort of identity crisis with it... but that's a post for another time.

How has the first half of 2016 been treating you?

Sunday Night Cinema: The Witch

Sunday, February 21, 2016










By the time I was sitting in theaters to see The Witch, I was already beyond hyped to see it.


I'd first seen the trailer back in December, and had been waiting eagerly for it to open in wide release since then. Two months is a long time to build up anticipation for a movie, and this one certainly looked worth it.

But even though I desperately wanted to love The Witch, in the end, I couldn't.

A synopsis, for the uninitiated: set in 1600s New England, The Witch is a story of a Puritan family tormented by the forces of evil. It's an inspired idea: set a movie about witches in a historical time that was obsessed with them. Who hasn't heard of the Salem Witch Trials?

That much, at least, the film gets right. The setting of the movie- a remote homestead at the edge of a dark forest- perfectly captures the eerie feeling that comes with being far from civilization. The props and set had a real, timeworn feel to them.

Even more than the setting, I loved the dialogue. The screenplay isn't afraid to use archaic language; the characters use "thee" and "thou" as easily as you and I use, well, "you" and "I".

The story starts with the family banished by their fellow Puritans from the community. The father, William (Ralph Ineson), interprets the Bible differently than they do, and rather than back down, he accepts the punishment and takes his family with him into the wilderness.

Once they have arrived and set up their home, things begin to deteriorate: the crops are blighted; a child disappears; family relationships become tenser. It's a pretty effective psychodrama. 

And yet.

Here I've reached the part of the review where I can't go any further without discussing spoilers, so if that's something you dislike, then begone! Begone with ye!

For me, once the witch was revealed to be real, I was disappointed. For one thing, it happened far too early in the movie; I think that the religious struggles that the family was dealing with would have been better magnified if the reality of the witch was left ambiguous for much longer. Because this family is actually being tormented by a sect of witches, you end up being sympathetic to them; however, in real life, they were the tormentors and the oppressors whose ideology caused suffering and ended lives.

Calvinism is a brutal theology; I don't have any sympathy for it. I was raised in an environment surrounded by evangelical Christianity, and that has left its own scars on me. This probably affected my feelings towards the way religion was depicted in the movie. I deeply appreciated that the movie made clear just how important religion was in Puritan life. I loved that this wasn't glossed over. But the actual vile implications of the theology- the actual horror- weren't played with as effectively as the setting and the mood, though I will say that this movie addresses Christian religious fanaticism much better than most.

The family deals with their attacks by the witches in various ways: William is slowly revealed throughout the movie to be a hypocrite; Katherine (Kate Dickie) deals by slowly losing her religion (I want to wander off track for a minute and say that her scene of confessing that she's losing her faith was powerfully executed); Caleb's puberty makes him slowly begin to question everything he knows, and Thomasin...

Ah. Here we get to the other reason why I couldn't love the movie.

I really wanted to like the character of Thomasin. She was superbly played by Anya Taylor-Joy and I liked how the movie showed us the family's treatment of Thomasin as someone who is made to do all the extra labor with very little thanks. She is certainly unfairly treated in the beginning of the movie.

However, I feel like it didn't go quite far enough.

At the end of the movie, the entire family is dead except for Thomasin. She ends up signing the devil's book and joining the coven of witches that killed her family. However, this doesn't make a lot of sense within the context of her character's development. She's barely a teenager in the movie, and the movie makes a point of showing that she's going through puberty. Yes, she's not treated that great by her family, certainly not by modern standards. And since she's left alone by the end of the movie, it's clear to see why she might feel hopeless. But why the hell would she want to join a group of people that just tortured and killed her family?

This is where The Witch misses. The movie had a great opportunity to more fully examine the idea of "the witch" from the perspective of an outsider. Witches have historically been people who were easy to persecute: the mentally ill, the different, and women who didn't submit properly to patriarchy (among others). And here you have a girl, going through puberty (adding the element of exploring how female sexuality is treated) in a theology that is brutal to women who want to move beyond its confines. If the horror of Calvinism had been more pronounced, it could have become a fascinating exploration of what, exactly, would drive someone to embrace an outsider ideology completely opposite to what they were raised to believe. Add in the complex family dynamics and the eerie setting and you would have had an absolute dynamite of a movie.

Instead, The Witch passes an opportunity to address and subvert the idea of witches by playing it just a little too straight. I won't lie; when I remembered that the movie had been written by a man, I rolled my eyes a little. I wasn't surprised to see that a teen girl character wasn't written well by a grown man. Even if I hadn't known the writer/director was a man going in, I would've been able to guess by how her character is handled. She was never developed quite enough to where her arc made sense, and this coupled with the slightly too sympathetic treatment of Calvinism ends up hobbling the movie's potential. I feel that if Thomasin's character had been better developed and the brutal horror of Calvinism highlighted a bit better, you could have had something truly different.

Ultimately, while I loved the style (and the score!!) of the movie, and will watch it again for these things, I left the theater feeling underwhelmed. 

What I Listen To In Order To Stay Motivated

Monday, February 15, 2016

Behold my no-budget standing desk. It's literally my dresser.


Last week, I posted about how listen to music can help get me in the mood to work when I don't really feel like it, and to help me stay in the zone long enough to get a project done. So I thought I'd make you all a couple of playlists using some of the songs I listen to in order to help you stay motivated too! The pop music one is the "gearing up" playlist, and the classical music one is the "staying in the zone" playlist.

Since pretty much my entire town is shut down due to the snow, I'm planning on spending today working on research for the novel. What about you? How are you looking to spend the day?

Let me know what you think of the playlists in the comments! I hope you find these as useful as I do.♥  

P. S. This totally awesome desktop wallpaper is courtesy of Angela Scheffer of Saffron Avenue and was posted over at Lark & Linen. Go follow both of these ladies because they are awesome!







5 Tricks I Use To Keep Myself Motivated

Monday, February 8, 2016




As an ADHD-riddled person with a crippling procrastination addiction, I think I'm somewhat qualified to speak on the topic of staying motivated.

Writer friends: we've all been there. That idea that seemed so amazing, so new, so- I can't resist- novel, is now starting to feel more like some ever- present school assignment that hangs over you and spoils your spring break.

I wish I could enjoy this kegger, we think to ourselves, but I have a paper that's worth most of my grade come Monday. This makes kegstands a little less fun than they could be.

I'm speaking metaphorically, of course. I don't think I've ever actually been to a kegger?

Anyway, over the years I've collected a handful of tricks that I use to try and keep myself on track whenever I'm tempted to wander off. Here, in reverse order of effectiveness, are 5 of them:


5. Read About People I Look Up To

Sometimes, when I'm feeling down or a little stuck, I find it helpful to read things about people who are living the kind of life I want to be living. This could be browsing an author's social media or blog, reading an article about a person I admire, and so on. However.

Use this one carefully, my friends. 

It's very easy to get caught up in social media and tell yourself "But I'm actually working!" This is why I try to engage with this kind of stuff when I'm not actually about to work. Instead, I save it for my downtime, like waiting at checkout or reading in bed. This helps keep me in the mindset of working for what I want.


4. Tea

Is relying on caffeine a crutch? Perhaps. But it helps me feel nice an energized in the morning, and ups my enthusiasm and focus for whatever I'm about to do. Plus, the act of preparing it is a kind of ritual that helps prime my brain for my project.


3. Playlists

Like every writer on earth these days, I also have a playlist of the novels I'm working on. If the project I'm tackling that day is my novel, I'll load up the playlist to help get me in the mood. If it's something else, then I may listen to my "Girlboss Hustling" playlist (let me know if you'd be interested in a post on this!) or a ton of early European music. IDK what the deal is with the last one; there's just something about lutes, harpsichords, and strings that makes me warm and gooey inside. It's the music I like to listen to whenever I daydream about my future, so if nothing else is working, this gives me the extra kick in the pants I need to get to work.


2. Making Work An Event To Enjoy

When I write novels, I find that it's better for me if I do the first draft longhand (I know, okay? I know). My first novel's first draft was written in a composition book with a ballpoint pen. However, for this novel, I decided to go ahead and invest in a quality journal and a fountain pen. Why?

Because using them gives me joy.

I fell in love with fountain pens the moment I used one, and using a fountain pen with paper made for it is such a lovely, tactile experience. For me, there is actual joy in gliding the ink across thick paper and watching the slants and curve of my handwriting dry. If I'm going to be working this way, I want to do it in a manner that is satisfying to my senses.

Once I extended this to other aspects of my office supplies, I was surprised to see how much my motivation to work went up. For me, it's worth it to invest in paper, calendars, journal, stationary, etc. that are beautiful and fun to use, because using them is something I look forward to. And of course, I can't use them unless I work...

I've used this principle with my desk as well. I'm currently overhauling it with contact paper and office supplies. I used to loathe working at my desk, because it was built in to the wall and truly ugly. Once I began customizing it and making it a clean, beautiful place to work, I simply couldn't wait to go sit there. Now instead of hanging out in bed, I sit at my desk more often, and enjoy working there more.

I hadn't realized until then just how much I'm influenced by my environment. I'm someone who responds to good design and beauty, so I find it worth my while to invest my money in things that help foster this kind of environment. 

And now, finally, the one tip I've found the most helpful...


1. SCIENCE!

This Lifehacker article on the Akrasia Effect literally changed my productivity. Specifically, there is one line that had a profound impact on me:
"Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards."
I know, it's not exactly the stunning wisdom of the ages that you were expecting, right? Kind of dry. Not really pithy.

But.

Ever since I read that, I've repeated a modified version of that quote to myself hundreds of times. Whenever I'm tempted to lie in bed "just 5 more minutes" or click on another link, or recheck Twitter instead of doing what I need to, I repeat the following mantra to myself: 
"The human brain values immediate rewards over future plans."
What this does is enable me to take a step back and see what I'm doing. I might think that it'll be just one more article, one more tweet, but you know and I know the truth: it's never just one more. Instead of falling into that trap, this enables me to recognize that the reason I want to click that link is because of this cognitive bias. It's not inherently a bad thing! It's just one of the things of being human.

 To me, however, one of the coolest things about being a human being is that we are able to observe ourselves and evaluate whether whatever we're thinking or doing is good or bad for us. This is such a cool quality, I cannot overstate this enough. Do you know how amazingly lucky we are as a species to be able to do this? Let's use this power for good!

What about you? Do you have any tricks for staying motivated? I'd love to hear them!


Three Inspiring Books That Have Turbocharged My 2016

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Earlier this year, I'd mentioned how towards the end of 2015 I was reading a couple of books that were really making an impact on my mindset going into the new year. We're about five weeks into 2016, and I wanted to share how those two books- plus one more- are still helping me meet my resolutions a month out.


First up is the fashion blogosphere's favorite inspirational book, #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso. I love her irreverent prose and the illustrations in this book are pretty rad. As someone who didn't take the road more travelled (and THAT is a saga all unto itself), reading Amoruso's story helps me deal with the embarrassment and insecurity that comes from living life on a different path than the one I was taught to want. For me, reading her book reminds me that it's okay to be different but still want- and deserve- success. Reading about how hard she worked makes me want to work hard, too.


Next is Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. We all recognize her from the crazy popular Eat Pray Love (which I only just read last week, literally). Gilbert takes on all of the psychological barriers that can stand in the way of creativity: fear, lack of inspiration, unworthiness, giving up, and so on. For my fellow writers, this book especially will be helpful to you- because Gilbert is a writer as well, and she just gets it. If there is some kind of problem you are having with your creativity, there is a section in this book that will address it. This book is what I turn to when I find my courage flagging. There is also a great podcast that goes along with the book where Gilbert coaches various creatives through whatever it is that's holding them back; I like to listen to that while driving and it complements the book well.


Finally, there is mainstream minimalism's pop culture calling card The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo and translated by Cathy Hirano. As an adult with ADHD, I have spent literal DECADES trying to stay clean and organized. I'm still not as clean or organized as I could be, but ever since I cleaned out my apartment after reading this book, I've found it to be much easier to stay organized. What I liked about this book was how it recommended people go about getting rid of things. One of the ways my synesthesia manifests itself is that I tend to believe that objects have feelings- which obviously makes it hard to get rid of anything. There was a Shinto aspect to the discarding where Kondo recommended people thank the objects that they were getting rid of and which really helped me. 

I do have to butt in here and say that the biggest problem I had with the book was the recommendation to throw everything away. I don't know if maybe the municipal waste system in Japan is different, but I simply couldn't condone the idea of sending useful items to a landfill. Consequently, instead of throwing away items, I separated them into "sell" or "donate"; this satisfied my conscience. Ultimately, I won't say that this book has completely cured me of my cluttering tendencies, but it has helped me stay organized for much, much longer than I have before. And because I'm organized, it's easier for me to try and work on my goals.


I hope that you read at least one of these books and find them useful to you. Whenever I need encouragement, a kick in the pants, or a bout of decluttering and organizing, these are what I turn to.

What about you guys? Have you read any books lately that have really helped you? Please tell me because I'd love to read them!

On Shoveling Snow

Monday, January 25, 2016

There is a quiet world of soft white outside my window right now. The snow is falling fast, making the next street over seem like it's lost in mist. And while it's quite pretty indeed, there is something discouraging in the view.

I've gone out 3 times in the last 2 days to shovel snow, and yet it's building back up, as though I'd never even tried in the first place.

See, the plan was this: if I went out every once in a while and shoveled, well, then it would be better than having to do it all in one go, right? I'm not sure what the totals are right now for my area, but I'm betting I've lost the office bet (my guess: 8"). From where I sit, I can see my car parked at the end of the driveway. It looks almost completely covered. Again.

~


That's where I feel I'm at in life right now. I have so many different plans for what I want to do in the next couple of years. But right now, they all seem so far away, and the work I do towards them feels small and pitiful. It all seems rather pointless, so why not just give up?

This is the part where the shoveling comes in.

This year, I decided to try something different when the snow falls. Previously, I'd waited until the snow finished and then dressed myself against the cold as best I could, trudged outside, and spent maybe 2 hours shoveling enough snow out of the way to free my car. However, I wondered whether it might be easier to do it in batches, rather than all in one go?

So far, it's been a bit depressing. I try and I try, and nothing really seems to happen. I continue to try in the hope that it will be worth it in the end, but what if it isn't?

~

I'm writing this final part on the other side of the snow storm. The street outside the house I'm staying at is not well treated. When I drive into work later today, I hope I don't run into any issues.

I finished my last bit of shoveling yesterday. It wasn't fun, but it wasn't 2 hours of work either. I finished it in about 30 minutes. My area had a grand total of 18 inches.

Was it worth it? I think so. I'm glad I put the effort in to do the extra bits of work, even when it seemed a bit hopeless. And so I'll continue to put the extra bits of work into my other projects, and hope that at the end of it all, I was glad I put the work in for those, too. 

After all, the effort is the only part we can control, and I'd rather do my best than not do anything at all. 

The One Sunscreen I'm Using This Winter

Saturday, January 16, 2016



Back when I was still reviewing the 2015 Sephora Sun Safety Kit, I'd broken the offering down into 3 parts: physical, chemical, and miscellanea. I never did get around to the chemical part (oops), but even if I had, it wouldn't have done this little gem any good, because summer is the wrong time of year for it.

Vita Liberata's Passionflower and Argan Dry Oil Broad Spectrum SPF 50 isn't really a summer sunscreen- at least, not for me. 2015 saw a few oil-based sunscreens hit the market and I expect this trend will continue into 2016. I hope it does, because for me, oil based sunscreens are an excellent winter sunscreen.

I have normal skin that sometimes gets the tiniest hint of oil in the T-zone, a leftover from my teenage years moonlighting as an oil field. Because I use 2-3 acids in my daily skincare routine, I always worry about skin flakes congregating in the lower half of my face. Oil based sunscreens during winter really help with mitigating this.

The advertising copy for this calls this a "dry oil", which is marketing speak for "this oil absorbs fairly quickly but is still an oil but we want to catch your attention so we'll call it dry and make it seem ~*~unusual and magical~*~". The company also repeatedly uses the phrase "stunning dewy radiance" which actually means "this shit makes your face real shiny, k?" But I mean, it's a sunscreen. that's an oil. No shit it's going to make your face shiny.

What will help mitigate the shininess is to use only 1 pump of the stuff and massage it into your skin really well. I used to use 2 pumps, and boy howdy did that give me some stunning dewy radiance. I was so radiant I was flashing back to my oil field years. I was stunning small animals with my radiance. It also doesn't absorb quickly if you use too much. 

However, once it's in there it tends to do pretty well at moisturizing your skin. I have a moisturizer from Silk Naturals that I'm using right now and this is an excellent supplement to that. My skin doesn't get as flaky when I use them both in tandem, so I'm pretty much sold on oil-based sunscreens for winter.

If you're a Sephora Beauty Insider, this sunscreen is currently on a promo that will net you 2x the points when you purchase it, through 01/18/2016. Even though my sample size shows no signs of running out any time soon, I'm considering purchasing the full size- since, after all, I'm going to be wearing this every day for the foreseeable future.

Thoughts on Fear, the Year Behind, and the Year Ahead

Friday, January 1, 2016

It's the waning days of the year as I write this post, gathered from scraps of paper pilfered from work. By the time anyone reads this, it will already be next year, and perhaps everyone will be tired of "end of the year" posts, and no one will read this. I'm oddly okay with that; I think this post is a little more personal than I usually get- so if it remains a shout into the void, I won't be too bothered. 

I've been reflecting a lot recently, both on the past year and the growth I've experienced as an individual. 2015 wasn't what I was hoping it would be- but then, what year is? We all start with such high expectations, only for life to curve in ways we can't see. Some years we miss the turn, and crash in a ditch among brambles and poison ivy, but if we are lucky, we have a team who will help get us out of the ditch and back onto the road.

Most of my years have had more crashes than successful turns, but I've been practicing my driving, and perhaps I was simply luckier this year, but I feel that I was able to navigate the turns a little better than last time. I'm afraid just typing that sentence- as though expressing satisfaction with how I've grown as a person will invite terrible things into my life- a kind of magical thinking I'm prone to and that I'm getting very, very tired of. 

That is what I want from 2016- to learn how to live despite my fear.

~

I've been reading two books lately that are definitely influencing me- Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Both are quite interesting on their own, but together seem to have a synergistic effect- because both are about how to shed shackles of fear and try to live the life you want.

In 2015 I only just began to realize how much fear controls my decisions- fear of what? Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of pain, hurt, and a thousand other tiny things that all add up to a giant, hulking monster of an emotion. Fear is a reptilian thing- it lives in the part of our brain that was there before the meteor, and all of our self-awareness and reasoning is a scaffold that was built on this calcified emotion.

How do you fight something this essential to how we operate? How do you reclaim the parts of yourself that you value- the bits on the scaffold- from something that lurks, largely ignored, below the surface of your consciousness?

I guess you start by being aware.

~

Awareness is a funny thing; for me, it takes ages to develop any sort of awareness about anything. Situations, relationships, how I feel about things- I tend to live so obliviously that it's kind of a miracle I'm still alive. 

(But am I truly oblivious? Or is that something I cling to subconsciously, as a way to justify my actions?)

In 2015 I slowly learned a lot about myself- some good, some not so good- but forgive me if I want to share only the good parts with you. Some things I need to keep to myself, if only for my own sanity. I am not trying to be a tease, or withholding- some knowledge takes time to process before you can let it out into the world, whether in books or essays or confessions. 

Objectively speaking, 2015 was a dismal year for my ambition of being an author. I sent my queries to so, so many agents- the current count is 145. And do you know how many offers of rep I've gotten?

0.

That's quite the number.

It's tempting to think of that time and effort as being wasted. When I look at the pie chart on QueryTracker, it's enough to make me wonder if perhaps I'm a tad delusional? Why would I keep trying in the face of overwhelming evidence that this isn't working?

Well, that's one of the things I learned about myself in 2015: that I'm capable of facing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune- and will keep trying anyway.

I didn't used to be this way; I used to think of myself as being a quitter, who gives up at the first sign of adversity. Some of this is just who I am; but a lot of this, I've learned, is because of how my brain is wired. ADHD coupled with MDD and OCD is quite the motivation-killer. I have a few more roadblocks than other people, but this doesn't mean I'm defective. It just means that I have to take this into account when going about my life.

That's another thing I learned in 2015- how to work with my limitations.

My limitations are many. I'm disorganized; I'm chronically late; I'm not good at compromising; I let my emotional state dictate far too many of my actions. I could go on, but then it would be 2017 and I'd still be writing this post. 

I feel that once you're aware of your limitations and how they effect how you treat others, you can do 2 things: you can ignore them, and continue as you always have.

Or you can change the outcome.

~

For 2016 I have a few more mundane goals: to rebrand my blog and launch it under my own domain; to finish my current novel; to branch out into video production and explore my passion for it. All of these things will be difficult; they will require many changes on my part. But if I am to at least try to pursue the life I want, I need to be willing to make the changes necessary for this. I already know the consequences of continuing as I always have: a life I'm not happy with. We only get this one life, and the idea of spending it not doing what I love is the saddest, most terrifying thing I can think of.

I hope anyone who reads this is able to spend 2016 building to live the life they want. There will be curves and roadblocks and detours. There may be an unforeseen crash or two. But I hope I get back on the road, and I hope you do, too.

~

My thoughts on all of this- fear, awareness, limitations- are still murky and will change over time. This is by no means a definitive post on the matter. But I think that if there is one thing I want to resolve to do in 2016, it's to be aware of my fear, how it limits me, and how I can overcome it to achieve the life I want.

There are a lot of changes that would need to be done for this- mindset changes, daily routine changes, changes that I don't even foresee yet- and this is where it all has the potential to break down. Change is one of the hardest things to deal with- yet, as Octavia Butler so brilliantly noted, "The only lasting truth is Change". 

Change is another thing I'm afraid of. One of my limitations is that I don't react well to it. I'm aware of this.

Time to change it.