a large rock jutting out of a grassy field
a rock, for comparison

My neck has been a real jerk since my birthday six weeks ago. I’ve been trying to keep doing all my usual stuff in spite of it, because I know from my back issues that not using it just makes it worse, but it’s not getting better either. So I went to physio yesterday.

It was illuminating. My physiotherapist spent half an hour trying to loosen up my left trapezius muscle and could not budge it. So I have some exercises to do (of course) and a follow up appointment (naturally), and she told me that essentially the muscle is so tight that it has pulled my upper rib out of place and that’s what’s causing all this garbage pain.

I put my tension into my shoulders, and always have. I don’t remember a time when my traps haven’t been completely solid rocks at the top of my shoulders. If it lingers there for too long, it travels down my spine in a nifty zigzag, creating a network of rib misplacement, causing me to hunch away from the pain, thereby disengaging my glutes and sending my lower back into spasms. Neat! It’s been very interesting, as I practice lifting heavy-ass weights, to see how my body wants to use my neck and back muscles (small, made for stabilizing) instead of my glutes and core (big, made for power). I have always tried to pretend I’m not a giant person – 6’2 is really tall, and there’s nothing I can do about it but try to make myself smaller. A great way to do that is to not have negative feelings. Except I do have them. I hide them. In my shoulders and back.

I’ve been in counselling for most of the past 15 years, taking breaks here and there. I decided in the fall to take a break again – maybe I’ll blog about that whole thing one day – and get a gym membership instead. I had a suspicion that really getting into my body might be therapeutic, and lo, it is. Lifting heavy weights has all but eliminated my back pain, because I am very careful about my form and I’m getting really strong, which is brilliant. It’s also been interesting and elucidating to see what feelings have come up. I have to be assertive enough to walk over to the squat racks and claim one amongst the grunting bros (luckily, there aren’t that many at 9am). I have to take up space to do the movements effectively. I’m anxious when I arrive but tired and proud when I leave. I have to carve out space for myself, and I have to push back against everyone who wants to know why I’m lifting, whether I’m being careful, whether it’s safe. I’ve always tended to err on the side of safety, so it’s a big deal that I’m pushing myself to the edge of what my body is capable of.

And now I have to confront the tension in my shoulders, because it’s getting in the way. It’s safe to put my feelings there, but it’s not healthy. So here’s to finding a way to turn my shoulders from rocks to powerhouses.

pink tulips on my dining room table, the piano and keyboard in the background

I’m on hiatus from novel-writing these days. I’m struggling a lot with the system of publishing; it seems like there are so many people trying to get in that there is no room for people like me with no connections and no previous distinction. I write okay short stories but not award-winning ones, so I can’t really pad my query with accomplishments. And they don’t care that I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil, and that this is really important to me, and that I feel like I have so many stories I want to tell. There are hundreds of people like me. And it’s discouraging.

So rather than follow the standard advice of “keep writing! It takes time!” I have just stopped.

It’s been interesting. I feel at loose ends a lot of the time. I keep having ideas bubble up, and I’m not really doing anything with them. I’m just letting them hang out. Maybe I’ll do something with them at some point.

I feel like I’m missing something. Should I just give up on writing since we’re probably not far from the climate wars ravaging the earth, or some catastrophe wiping out NYC and thus most of the publishing industry? What’s the point of writing fiction for kids if we’re all going to die slowly by our own idiotic desire to avoid carbon taxes and wealth redistribution? Or should I try to self-publish? Or keep banging my head against the locked doors of the publishing industry? I could release my books as audiobooks via podcast, or as a serial on my blog. I could just print a copy of my book to have on my shelf and call it a day.

I keep going back to my favourite mantra, only move into available space. It hasn’t let me down; forcing something will just break it. Physically, emotionally, mentally, life-wise; if there is space for my hard work to make a difference, I should move towards that. And publishing is giving me absolutely no available space. So here I am. And that’s okay.

When I am writing a draft of a novel, I aim to write one thousand words a day. Sometimes it is drudgery and I have to be very firm with myself to keep my eyes on my document and my ass in the chair, and some days the words come flying out of my mind. When I’m in my groove, it takes about an hour. It’s an achievable goal that allows me to get a draft finished in a reasonable time, even if I have bad days or take breaks. Having a goal keeps me focused and predictable and makes for what I consider to be quality writing.

Sometimes I get sidetracked by other people who write for four hours a day, or have daily goals of three thousand words. Why can’t I do that, I wonder? And maybe I’ve already done my writing time and my words are out, but I try to go back to my manuscript. Inevitably, I fail. My goal works for my brain and my life, and comparison, as in the adage, is ruinous.

Goals are kind of A Thing; there are planners and resources and many, many books on setting goals, being more productive, getting more done, optimizing your workflow, stuff like that. It appeals to me a great deal; I am One Of Those Bujo People and I love it so much, and I’m reasonably well versed in Get To Done and LEAN and systems like that. But they’re dangerous, in my opinion, because they, like our public education system, aren’t designed for humanity. They’re designed for factories.

A lot of the components that still exist in school are throwbacks to the child labour regulations of the Industrial Revolution, when children were sent to school instead of factories at age six, but they were still expected to end up working in those factories a few years later. Regimented classes, school bells, and set eating times are all meant to train children to be good workers, not for good education or joy-filled living. And factories are all about productivity and efficiency, or churning out as much product as possible to earn more money for the company while paying as little as possible in hourly wages.

So while I like efficiency and productivity because I have lots of things to get done in a day, and I don’t want to spent a ton of time on the boring tasks that keep me from what I really like to do, I strongly believe that it is a razor-thin line between freeing up my time to do what I enjoy and “optimizing” literally everything in my life.

Example time: Goodreads. I use it to track the books I read, and I set a reading challenge every year. It’s usually 52 books, which is one book per week. That is a reasonable goal that means that I am always in the middle of a book, reading regularly, and keeping track of what I read. I like having a place to list the books I want to read and the ones I have read, where I can leave myself a couple of sentences about how I felt about the book, and where I can see what other people have thought of the books I’m interested in. But the problem is that my TBR list is nearly as long as my already-read list, and it makes me anxious that I’ll never get to them all, and that I have to read in order to get to them, and I need to optimize my reading time. I also have to stay on track with my goal of reading 52 books. I have to keep up, keep going, never stop. This slowly strips the joy of reading away from me. When I have so many books to read, my pile of purchased yet unread books towers beside me and my library holds feel like a work deadline rather than a joyful gift.

The other example is Ravelry. For some harebrained reason I decided I needed to knit a sweater between January 14 and 31, and I could have done it, except that by the time I had the body finished, I hated it. I hated the knitting process because again, one of my favourite pastimes had been reduced to efficiency, and then I didn’t even like the product. And then, to cap off the shit sundae, I twigged my tendinitis in both wrists and now I can’t knit for a while until it subsides. The reason I was knitting so fast was because I wanted to get to the next project. What kind of nonsense is that? I knit for the joy of the process, and it’s perfectly fine to finish two sweaters and a few socks per year. No one is going to give me a raise or a prize or some sort of national recognition for knitting a sweater in two weeks.

Turning my hobbies into productivity mules ruins them. But it’s everywhere. Ravelry has annual goals now, and the Goodreads Choice Awards makes me feel bad for not reading more of the current releases when I have a backlog of older books that are probably much more to my liking.

I like setting goals. I like getting things done and crossing off items from my to-do list. I love reading a lot and I love knitting every day, and having a library in the basement and enough wool sweaters to sustain me through this polar vortex garbage. I don’t like feeling bad because I haven’t read enough or knitted enough or written enough. I don’t like feeling like a failure when there are gaps in my habit tracker. Efficiency and productivity go too far when I can no longer find joy in the things I do for fun.

I’m going to stick with my thousand words a day writing goal. It works for me. But it’s not going to change; I’m not going to optimize it. I’m not going to optimize my knitting and reading. My goal is a joy-filled life, and that means taking the time to find that joy as I live.

At last, at last, I have writing time again. The kids are back in school and I have long, glorious mornings of time to use as I see fit, and I plan to use it to plow through the final edits of this novel. With luck, I’ll be finished by Christmas. 

This summer had a lot of highlights and the kids got to do a lot of fun stuff, but it was a tough one for me. I didn’t have any time off, other than a couple of hours on weekends, and I absolutely need a regularly scheduled routine in order to write efficiently and well. And I am not as patient or kind as a mother when I don’t get the chance to recharge. I have to fight the impulse to call that selfish, but it absolutely isn’t – parenting should never be a single person’s task. It’s too intense. So next year I will do things differently, and make sure I have regular breaks. It’s only been a few days of the school year, and already I feel better, and the kids are more responsive, and the whole system is smoother. 

I feel a bit like I’m on a timeline. This year my youngest is in kindergarten in the mornings, so I have my glorious time, but when she starts full-day grade one next year, I have a looming sense that I need to get myself straightened out work-wise. I love writing, but it doesn’t pay me anything right now. My job is extremely part time to fit our current life and I love it, but it also doesn’t have great long-term prospects. So next year, when there’s more flexibility, I feel like I need to get my career sorted out. I’d love that career to be writing. That requires putting in a lot of work this year, to prove that it’s worth it. It’s an interesting impulse, the desire to prove that writing is worth my time and energy. It’s worth it insofar as it makes me feel more whole, but if it isn’t earning us any money, it seems hard to justify. On one hand, that’s gross. On the other, I would really like to earn money from my writing for the status of “paid author.” So for better or for worse, that’s my goal. And I have one year to sort it out.

Hello, it’s been a while!

I’ve decided that this year I am choosing a word of the year, and setting related goals. I’m not going to pretend that this isn’t New Year’s resolutions, a thing that I do every year even when I say I’m not going to. Every year I think *this* will be the year I get my shit together and become a perfect, transcendent being; every year I fail. And it’s not popular to set resolutions anymore, because they’re fake constructs. But so is the new year happening on January 1st! So whatever, I love fresh starts and, after a great deal of introspection, I’m not afraid to fall off a horse and try again, probably because I literally did that as a kid and it’s one of my best memories. (Side note: I rode two horses, a small, sweet, fat Arabian who caused problems for me because I was too tall for her, and a giant Appaloosa asshole who stopped dead while I was attempting a flying lead change. I had the presence of mind to jump out of the stirrups and LEAP OVER HIS HEAD AND LAND ON MY FEET, and if you don’t think that’s badass, you can leave this blog right now.)

So! My word of the year is BRAVE. I am already brave. I’m brave enough to write a book, edit it, ask for help from beta readers and editors, and query it to widespread rejection. I’m brave enough to tell people I did that. I’m brave enough to shelve that book and start another one, knowing how painful it’s going to be when it gets rejected too. I’m brave enough to have three kids. I’m brave enough to keep going back to therapy even though it’s really, really hard to keep staring down into the pit of blackness inside me. I’m brave enough to write this all down on my blog where anyone could read it. I’m brave enough to jump off a horse, for crying out loud.

But I want to practice being braver. In spite of all those brave things, I am still really afraid of what people think of me. I’m afraid of setting boundaries. I’m afraid of anger, both my own and other people’s. So while I don’t plan to actively piss people off this year, I’m going to try to practice being okay with disappointing people, stepping on their toes, and setting boundaries to keep myself healthy, even if it makes someone angry. And I’m going to practice dipping into my own anger and letting other people see it.

I’m also getting a narwhal tattoo.