Flexing Social Muscles – CoronaLife Day 173

One thing about the social distancing and quarantine…as an introvert, having a reason not to be social has been great. Staying home has worked for me on many levels. I really appreciated not having to run my daughter to her numerous activities, and just being able to hide out in my little nest.

The problem is, introverts need to force themselves to be social in order to keep up the skill. Not having to be social on a regular basis is making my social muscles flabby, as another writer said. I think there is a real risk I will not want to come back out of the house even when it is finally all clear to do so. And I might have forgotten how to have a conversation, as well.

This week I exercised those social muscles a bit. PTA meeting on Monday, orthodontist with the child on Tuesday, handed off info to the new PTA treasurer Wednesday, and picking up my daughter’s school supplies from school and meeting her teacher on Thursday. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, to be honest. I have an anxiety disorder, which has not made the stress any easier through all of this, and it makes it hard to move from a “hunker-down” mindset to a “gotta do stuff” mindset.

I am looking forward to sinking back into my cozy safe haven for the next few days, until school starts on Tuesday. It will be remote, but I expect the first week will be quite the adjustment. For one thing, night owl me will have to start getting up early again to make sure my young one is up and fed in time for check in. Still, while having no routine was nice for the summer, it is time for us to get back into it. Maybe with my daughter having a routine, I will find a groove and start getting some work done again.

Happy September, everyone!

Slow Days of August – CoronaLife Day 166

This week has been slow for me, although productive. My Board of Education duties took up a great deal of time this week, with policies to review (they are good for curing insomnia).

I am also beta-reading a manuscript with my daughter. My friend Keith Strunk wrote a middle grade book and asked my 10-year-old daughter to give him her thoughts. I am reading it with her because she is always scared to read a new author alone, and it is a fun thing we can share. I was also glad to do it because I have been hearing about this book for a long time and couldn’t wait to finally see the finished story!

In my own work, I had gotten hung up with revisiting my story Vertias. Lisa Cron’s Story Genius was guiding me well, but then I ran aground on a concept I could not quite wrap my head around. I felt I was very close to crafting a compelling “third rail,” but I knew I didn’t quite have it. So I turned to my friend, author and editor Kathryn Craft, who simplified the concept and came at it from another angle so my pandemic brain could comprehend it properly. I need to re-read all that she put in her insightful and detailed email to me, but once I do I think I will be able to move forward with more confidence. I feel that if I can get this right, get the beginning right, the rest will follow more easily.

As summer comes to a close, we are preparing for a new school year. It will be unlike the beginning of any other school year ever, but we are up for the adventure and we know we will all get through it together.

How are you spending these last weeks of summer?

Family & Frustration – CoronaLife Day 159

We got tested for coronavirus at the end of July and it took 2 weeks to get the results. We got tested because we were trying to get my daughter together with her best friend for a long weekend, so both families were going to get tested. That didn’t work out, but we decided not to waste our tests, so we went to visit my parents for only the 2nd time since February.

We had a nice visit outside, distanced, with masks when we had to use the rest room, but this time we visited longer because it didn’t rain on us. My mother is recovering from back surgery, so it was good to see how she was healing. Our visit made the day feel almost normal, like pre-COVID times.

The writing front was not so fulfilling. I reported last week that I was making progress with Veritas by using Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. For a brief time I thought I finally had figured out my character’s “third rail” – what she wants vs. a misbelief that holds her back. But now I am not so sure I managed it, and the frustration has returned. I am hoping for some inspiration, or for something to “click” but sometimes I think maybe this just isn’t a story I am capable of telling.

I wonder how much of my struggle is the pandemic pressure. We have all been home pretty much 24/7 since mid-March, and my introverted self is feeling oppressed by it all. That and the constant anxiety suppresses creativity, at least for me. But with no end in sight, I will have to figure out how to work through it, because NOT writing is galling to me.

Hopefully next week I will have more forward movement to report on Veritas. I’m not giving up!

Moving Forward – CoronaLife Day 152

So last week was a bad week. I felt so completely stuck in so many areas of my life, I was quite down about it. This week has been better because I had a plan and I actually followed it!

I have been avoiding returning to my YA sci-fi Veritas. I did a major rework of it last year, and managed to make it worse instead of better. So back to the drawing board, but I have been struggling with the lack of energy and motivation that comes with anxiety and prolonged stress.

I have sporadically reworked the opening chapters since January, ending up with about 14,500 words done. But then I ground to a halt, because I wasn’t quite sure where to go next. So I returned to the notes given to me by my trusty developmental editor Kathryn Craft, looking for clues as to how to move forward.

Kathryn did not let me down! She suggested I use Lisa Cron’s Story Genius book and Jennie Nash’s Inside Outline to zero in on motivation and connecting all the emotional/psychological beats that would make the story compelling. I was already familiar with Story Genius, having read it and used it for another story, and knew I would find it useful for this one. After I looked at the Inside Outline, I knew I couldn’t use it at this point. I am not an outliner, and just looking at it made the enthusiasm drain right out of me. But it will definitely be a tool I will use after I complete the new draft I am working on.

I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. So I decided to set a goal of doing one step in an exercise from Story Genius a day. If I wanted to do more, fine. But one was the goal. And I have been doing that. Walking through Story Genius, I am getting a handle on the inner conflict that drives my protagonist and the misbelief that must be resolved by the end of the story. I am getting more excited as I see thing more clearly. I finally feel like I am making progress.

Granted, it’s not actual writing yet. But I think once I get all this straight in my head, the manuscript words will come more easily. And even though I haven’t added words to my manuscript with these exercises, I have written 1,500 words of exercises. Which is something.

So I am finally moving forward with my writing, and it feels good.

What have you done lately to get yourself moving forward?

Stormy Weather – CoronaLife Day 145

We got hit by Tropical Storm Isaias on Monday night into Tuesday. It was not the worst storm to come through here, but we did lose power for 11 hours, and part of our fence came down. The fence will be relatively easy to fix (the nails just pulled out of the support post), and the power is back on. Thankfully the past couple of days have not been as dangerously hot as the past few weeks. Many in the area are still without power, with estimated times of return as late as Saturday. I hope they get it back sooner.

Inside my head was pretty stormy during the blackout, too. Everything had been building up on me and the blackout was the final straw. I retreated to my room for a good cry. After a cathartic amount of wallowing in “life sucks” and “I’m a failure at everything,” I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and went back downstairs. I’m still a bit fried today, but pushing onward.

The hard thing is trying to figure out how to shake this all off and get back to something that feels more like “me”. So much is out of my control, and the things I do control I seem incapable of controlling. I think I just need to pick something and do it. When I used to travel to VA from NJ once a month, packing myself and my then-infant up, there was always a moment when I felt so completely overwhelmed with packing I would just stand in the middle of the room, paralyzed. The only way to overcome it was to just do something. Anything. Just start with one thing, complete it, and move on to the next. Maybe that’s the key here. Life can feel overwhelming. So I should just pick one thing, even a small thing, and get it done.

On the good news side, I am happy that my mother’s back surgery went well and she is a week post-op today. She is recovering nicely and keeping my dad hopping with chores to do. I wish I could go over to visit, but the coronavirus makes that dicey, especially as cases are rising in both our areas.

I have no idea how much longer all this will last. It will be on the order of months, for certain. I am rather surprised it took me 5 months to reach a crash point. If I last another 5 months before the next crash, it will be January 2021, and hopefully the new year will be a new direction for all of us, and we may see light at the end of the tunnel.

I hope everyone impacted by Isaias is recovering, and that power is restored soon. We all could use some light in the darkness about now.

Headaches – CoronaLife Day 138

I’ve had headaches for most of the week. A lot of it is eye strain, I’ve been on the computer a whole lot lately. I always get eye strain from that. But a lot of it is stress, too.

I have a headache because yesterday my school district held its Board of Ed meeting to vote on the reopening plan we will submit to the state Department of Education for approval. Some parents were okay with it. Some were not. I can honestly say not one person is really happy about it. We all want things back to normal, but normal is not on the table this year. So we follow the guidelines and do the best we can, knowing that at any moment a directive can come down from above and change absolutely everything in the plan. I understand the issues people have. I hear them. But given the guidelines we have, this is the best we can do with the resources we have. My heart hurts for all of us.

I have a headache because my mother had back surgery Wednesday. I’ve been worried. Back surgery is always tricky. She came through it great, so far. If it wasn’t for COVID, I’d be going over to help get the house ready for her to come home. Maybe stay a few days to help out. But I can’t do that, and that squeezes my heart.

I have a headache because I have pandemic fatigue. Don’t we all? I am tired of being careful. Tired of thinking about it. Tired of tracking the numbers (going back up in my state, by the way). Tired of waiting for someone I love to get sick. Tired of keeping my kid home. Tired of never being alone. Tired of parenting 24/7. Tired of never, ever getting a break from any of it. Tired of seeing so much precious time with my parents missed, so much of my daughter’s irretrievable childhood slip away in pandemic limbo. My heart cries for all of us.

Maybe it’s not headaches after all.

Maybe it’s all heartache.

The Waiting Game – CoronaLife Day 131

I don’t know about you, but I have gone through many times in my life where I feel like I am waiting for something—although a lot of times I didn’t know what. Just that feeling that something was going to happen. Like you are marking time.

I’m feeling like that this week, although this time I have a pretty good idea of what I am waiting for. There are long-term things: a coronavirus vaccine, a slam-dunk treatment for COVID, the November elections. But the ones more on my mind are the short-term things. Next week our district decides what to do about school in September. Next week my mom has back surgery. Next week my family gets COVID tested so we can hopefully have a visit with some friends also getting tested.

Lots going on next week. The anticipatory anxiety is killing me this week. It feels like a wire inside me pulled so taut it hums with the stress. I want it to snap, to relax, but at the same time it feels like the only thing keeping me from falling to pieces. Anticipatory anxiety sucks.

We did go out this week—to the dentist. My daughter needed her checkup, and I am glad I decided to brave it and go because she has 4 cavities—2 in baby teeth, 2 in permanent teeth. Time for another lesson in brushing. In an odd juxtaposition, the Tooth Fairy also came this week, just a day or two before the dentist appointment.

So that’s where I am this week—playing the waiting game. Something’s coming. I guess I won’t know what that something is until it gets here. I hope it gets here soon, because the tension is draining me.

How about you? What are you waiting for? Something you’re worried about? Something you are excited for?

The Elasticity of Time – CoronaLife Day 124

It’s funny how time isn’t constant (even though it is). We’ve all experienced it. Time flies when you are having fun. The clock hands don’t seem to move when in a boring class or meeting. Our perception of time is elastic, with hours flashing by like minutes or minutes crawling by like hours.

I had mentioned that the last two weeks of March seemed to be several years long. Those first weeks of lockdown were endless. Then April, May, and June slid by in a blink. For me, July has slowed to a slug’s pace again. Granted, we are already halfway through July, but each day feels like a week, yet at the end of every long day I feel as if I have accomplished nothing.

When time is slow like this, I feel very heavy. It’s as if I am carrying emotional and physical weights. The state of the world seems darker, I feel helpless to do anything to combat it, and my stress level threatens to overwhelm me. I have difficulty falling asleep, I have no creative drive, and I feel the tears pressing on my eyes all the time. It’s like the collective anger and fear and hate swirling in our country presses in on me all at once, making it hard to breath. All I really want to do is hibernate and wake up when this is all over.

I’m not sure why July screeched to a halt for me. I have not yet parsed if my mood creates the time slowdown, or the slowdown causes my mood. Perhaps it is the looming specter of school in the fall on my mind. With all the unknowns about putting children together in groups again, it is eating at me. I’m also feeling the guilt of not getting any writing done, when I really have no excuse. I feel lazy and stupid and like a complete failure.

I don’t know what will snap the elastic back to the rapid time flow again. I have a feeling that if I could shake off the malaise, it would do the trick. But since I don’t know what triggered it in the first place, it’s hard to see a road leading out. There always is a road out, though, so I guess I will just have to ride along until I find it.

In the meantime, I hope you all are faring better than I am. Stay smart, stay safe, and see you later!

Wrapping Up – CoronaLife Day 117

Being that it’s now early July, a new month, “wrapping up” might seem a strange thing to be doing. However, that’s what I’ve been doing this week.

I am handing over my PTA Treasurer position to someone new tomorrow. So I have spent the last week and a half wrapping up all the loose ends. I finished the June books, plus the end-of-year numbers (our fiscal year is from June to July). I made a preliminary budget and all the spreadsheets for next year to help ease the transition, as the treasurer who handed off to me had done for me. I also filed the taxes and pulled together all the paperwork for the year-end audit.

Wrapping it all up.

My daughter’s remote learning adventure ended in late June, but I have still been wrapping up with that. We collected her school “stuff” the last week in June and left it to quarantine in our garage for a week. So now she has been able to get into that. I finally remembered to look at her report card, LOL. And we managed to figure out how to get her school online reading account connected with our home account.

Wrapping up.

I have just begun the 7th Harry Potter book as I re-read them. Why not? The last time I read them was back in 2007. I’ve been reading them aloud with my daughter (together we are on Book 4), so I’ve sort of read them twice in a row. But now I am nearing the end of my personal reading of the saga.

Wrapping up.

I wish I could say I am wrapping up the period of malaise and creative barrenness I have been in for a while, but I’m not seeing much signs of that. I’m not quite sure if I need to kick myself harder or stop beating myself up over it. I want to write, but find myself frittering away hours online instead. My focus has vanished, my drive has deserted me.

On my walks, I have begun listening to music. I have a collection of songs that has always been strongly tied to writing for me. That’s what I have been listening to. And it may be helping stir the Muse a bit. It’s too soon to tell. But I need something to shake me out of this, as I really am not happy where I am.

Where are you on your creative journey these days? Stay safe, everyone!

Before and After – CoronaLife Day 110

We’ve experienced an abrupt before-and-after this year: life before COVID-19, and life after it. For those of us in New Jersey, the before-and-after delineation date came on March 14th, the date the schools were closed and life in quarantine began.

Many of us have adjusted to a new normal, this coronalife we are living for the foreseeable future. We are holding on to the knowledge that this, too, shall pass, for nothing lasts forever, no matter how it feels, and that someday there will be an “after” to this present “before.”

Today, though, I had some fun with Before and After. MyHeritage, a genealogy site, had a free trial of their photo enhancing software, which both enhances and colorizes photos. This in no way changes the originals, so the past is preserved. The original photos—dings, creases, and all—hold the weight of history, and I cherish them for the truth that they hold. But I also appreciate the colorized versions as a bit of fun and a chance to imagine more fully people I have never known.

First up I did my 4 grandparents. All but one had died before I was 5 years old, and of course I would not have remembered them as the young people they are in these photos.

Next I did my great-grandparents. I never knew my great-grandfather, but my great-grandmother lived to be 96, when I was 16. My only memories of her are as an old lady in a nursing home, certainly not the elegant woman in the photo.

I went back in time, to my 2nd-great-grandparents, who were a shepherd and his wife in northern Scotland (note the sheepdog in the photo), and my 3rd-great-grandparents. My 3rd-great-grandfather came over from Ireland in 1842, settled in Delaware, and married my 3rd-great-grandmother, a descendant of Colonial settlers.

I think my favorite photo was my grandmother and her 2 sisters. It’s a sweet picture to start with, but the colorization brought an angelic innocence to it that I find endearing.

So that was my before and after adventure for today. I maxed out my free trial, but I may do more later, depending on the price to do so.

What do you do to relieve the stress and monotony of coronalife? Stay safe, and let’s all work together to get through this “before” and into the “after” as soon as possible.

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