Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Year of the Office: Exercise...what's that?

Photo by Judy Breck via Flickr

Do you remember aerobics? Bouncing around, kicking, lifting the knee again and again and again, grapevines and jumping jacks? It was set to some pretty good, constant-tempo music. Boring as hell, wasn't it? It was like, god I don't want to keep lifting my knee, how many times are we going to do it? Is she even counting?

I hated aerobics. I remember doing it almost daily before I got married so I'd be really skinny for my wedding. I also remember standing behind the cash wrap at Waldenbooks (remember Waldenbooks?) with my assistant manager, my hand traveling from my two-pound bag of M&Ms to my mouth repeatedly. I'll never forget the look Dottie gave me. It said, "Do you even know you're eating those?"

Didn't matter. I was skinny for my wedding and I'm skinny now; no need to think about all those up and down years in between. Not right now, anyway. The point is, I hate exercise. With. A. Passion.

I've always hated it. I was the girl in school who failed P.E.--the one who had to walk the track three times a week because she wouldn't "dress out." I hated it all: softball (god no), volleyball (shit no), basketball (, track (fuck no), and the President's Physical Fitness Test (screw you and the horse you rode in on, fella, although I was pretty good at that chin thing where you hold yourself up on the bar idea what that's called--found it! Flexed arm hang).

I'm the girl who told her P.E. teacher she couldn't do calisthenics that day because they gave her a headache and she had to dance with the T-ettes at the football game that night. You don't want me to have to perform with a headache, do you? Hey! I even had a NOTE from my mom. I was such a princess, you have no idea. [Uh, yeah, I linked calisthenics because who the hell uses that word anymore, right?]

How many times have I told the story about my mother and I popping the Jane Fonda tape in the old VCR and sitting back with a few cold ones and watching the skinny women work out? Are you bored with that story yet? I guess I never am. But that's what I think of exercise and sports. Fun to watch, but I'm not doing that.

That's the one

Then along came Zumba. Zumba changed my life. Zumba isn't exercise at all. It's dancing! And I love dancing. I do. I really do. So, now there's this whole revolution of dance fitness where you dance routines to actual music. Great instructors choreograph fabulous moves to fit that music. I'm the kind of girl who thinks sweating is unnatural, but I love me some dance fitness sweat!

So why can't I seem to get myself to class lately? Holy cow (probably shouldn't use that word in this post), what happened?

I'll tell you what happened. I got an office.

How do you worker bees do it? How do you go to your office all day, then go home and change into your fitness clothes, and go off to the gym? When I go home each evening, you know what I want to put on? My pajamas! I'm like, I just got home...I don't want to go out again. I'm too tired to work out and then have to take another shower. No. I don't want to.

But I do want to! I really do want to dance, especially with Heather or Alyce. Why can't I get my butt to go? It's driving me a little nuts.

Exercise (read: dance fitness) is, like, divine. I don't exercise to lose weight, anymore. Truth be told, I've always lost weight better while not exercising (recent use of miracle drug not included), probably because 1. exercise makes me hungry as all get out and 2. when I exercise, I convince myself that I deserve chocolate.

What exercise does for me is make my entire life better. I sleep better, eat better, think better, and my heart loves me when I exercise. My depression is better...sometimes gone completely for years, when I exercise.

But here's thing about have to do it to get the benefits. Dang it. So, I'm going to have to recommit here. I've worked out everything else: the grocery shopping, the cooking of meals, the house cleaning (bwahaha), the goofing off and television watching. I've managed to schedule everything around my new office habit, so why not exercise? I'm just going to have to do it...ugh, it's the Nike commercial all over again.

Other than my exercise problem, the first month in my office has been fabulous! There are two manuscripts on my desk percolating, having endured their penultimate edits (a misnomer really as they'll go through at least two more read-throughs before they're ready for the world, but I'm claiming penultimate anyway).

These were the novels that were supposed to have been finished by the end of 2014 and now I'm wondering how long it would have taken me to finish if I hadn't rented the office. I mean, as fast as I'm working, as much as I feel like I'm getting done, I still feel as if I'm not working hard enough or fast enough. So many novels to write and so little time!

Anyway, here's something I found on the ground in the parking lot. What do you suppose it is?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What if we are nothing?

Photo by Damian Gadal via Flickr

I go through some very dark moods. Apparently, we can't escape the evils of the world. They're all over the place now--on Facebook and Twitter, on my Google news homepage. Lots of people relish in posting pictures that I suppose are intended as calls to arms, but for me...on some days...are kicks in the chest.

Most days I'm okay. I can see a headline, or a picture, and move past it. I might even read a news story and be just fine. Other days, a glimpse of something awful and a headline that tells me more than I want to know send me into a dark, deep hell. I think I don't want to be here. I don't like this place.

And I wonder what's wrong with me. Why can't I see this stuff, know it's happening, and not let it affect me like this? And then I think, wait a minute, this seems normal. Shouldn't this be the normal reaction to such things? What's wrong with everybody else? I think, sometimes, that I don't belong here.

No worries. I muddle through those days and when they're done, I just pop a dose of ZzzQuil, have a good night's knock-out, and wake up feeling much better, ready to be like everybody else.

I've been trying to tell myself that, while it's all very terrible, it's not all that bad. Everybody dies, after all. Some people die earlier than others. I don't mind that, really. But I mind that other people, sick people, murder some of us. It's disgusting. Anyway, I just keep trying to remind myself that death is part of life and let it go and all that.

And lately I've been thinking that it matters even less than that.

All this horror comes from sentience, you know. From the awareness that we are finite and that what we have here will end. We will cease to be.

And sure, I've never had much problem with that. I wasn't particularly upset when I didn't exist before. Why should I be so upset about not existing in the future? I was reminded of this in an essay I read today by Adam Frank over at NPR--What if Heaven is not for real? His has always been my attitude toward my own death, at least.

But then I mulled it over a bit more and realized that it's not only sentience that makes us fearful of death. It's this idea that we mean something--that we are special. Look at how wonderful we are! We write, and paint, and chisel stuff out of rocks. We love and we laugh and we care for our children. Death is so much more meaningful for us than it is for, say, a butterfly. Right?

I am reminded of a study done some time ago that showed us we really do not have any kind of free will. Before we think consciously of an action, we've already begun the action. I remember laughing when I read about it--shocked and pleased with the idea that humans are animals, no different from the birds, really. And I remember telling my brother about the study and his reaction: alarm, denial, anger. The very idea that we have no will, that everything we do might be nothing more than instinct, like the cat pouncing on the wriggling piece of yarn, appalled him.

But this idea helps me. Calms me.

What if, in the grand scheme of things (I do not believe there is a grand scheme of things, but you know what I mean) our pursuits are no more meaningful than the rolling of dung by the beetle, than the cutting of leaves by the ant? What if, to an outside observer...a superior race of beings...dare I say...a god? What if we are merely creatures, doing instinctively what creatures do? The murders, the wars and slaughters, death, love, art--what if human life itself is no more grand or terrible than the lion taking down the gazelle, the eagle soaring above the clouds, the robber fly liquefying the innards of its prey, the purr of a house cat, or the Japanese hornet decapitating its victims?

What if we are nothing more than the rocks and the dust? What if we are nothing...

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I write like...

I happened across something interesting while I was taking a break from working, today. And liking any excuse to dawdle, I dawdled.

The site is called "I write like..." You plug in a sample chapter or blog post (at least a few paragraphs) and the doohickeys analyzes your writing, comparing it to famous authors.

So here's what I got.

Dianna Dann, in Camelia:

I write like
Margaret Atwood
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

Dianna Dann, in Always Magnolia:

I write like
Cory Doctorow
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

Dana Trantham, in Children of Path:

I write like
Jack London
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

D.D. Charles, in Zombie Revolution:

I write like
Cory Doctorow
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

My last blog post:

I write like
Ray Bradbury
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

And best of all! Best, best of all, ever!
Dana Trantham, in the soon-to-be released The Story Runner:

I write like
Margaret Mitchell
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

Woo hoo! I write like all kinds of great people. But I'm apparently schizophrenic or something. Okay, okay. Back to work.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Year of the Office: Day One

I have this memory of when I was a very little girl. It’s soft and sad, like most of my childhood memories. I’m at home, but I know that I’m being taken somewhere and dropped off. I’m scared. I go into my mother’s room where she’s getting ready to go wherever it is she’s going (I think she might have gotten a job) and I ask her if I can take a stuffed animal with me. She says I can take anything I want. So I go to my room and gather up an armful of stuffed animals and put them on my mother’s bed. I may have gone back for more; I’m not sure. But I know that my mother had to tell me that I couldn't take them all. I was scared and I wanted to bring my home with me.

That’s not unlike how I felt moving into my office downtown over the weekend. I had an urge to bring everything I had at home, just in case I might want or need it. I brought books from my home office—writing books, books I haven’t looked at in years (mostly because I look everything up on the Internet these days). But I just had to have them. They make my office look writerly, I suppose…for the janitorial service when they come to Swiffer the floors. And who knows, trapped here (probably not the best choice of words) all day, without the television, the kitchen, the recliner, and email access, maybe I’ll crack open one of those books when I need a break.

I brought the tiny cat sculpture from my desk back home and the ball full of sand and seashells. And my rocks. I like rocks. Sometimes, you need a smooth rock in your hand. I have my cup of pens and pencils, my red Swingline stapler, the unscented Dionis lotion with natural goat’s milk that actually smells like sweet milk, and my box of tissues. I have a plant on the windowsill—but it’s new. I have a mini refrigerator stocked with Diet Coke and water. I’ve got everything here to make me feel like home, but not quite home—which is entirely the point.

At first, I was scared. Nervous. When I thought about not being at home, I worried that I would be miserable in a strange space. So I grabbed all I could, filled my arms with home. I resisted a lot, though. I kept telling myself it's just an office. I can't bring everything here. I'm still going back home at the end of each day.

But as we set everything up--the soft pink chair, the rug, the bookcase and books, the desk and my computer--I started to feel part of the place. I got excited about it...couldn't wait to get started, to get here, and work.

My husband has been encouraging me to get an office since we started this publishing venture some two years ago. I balked. Working from home made sense. It’s cheap, for one thing. And I liked being at home. I liked working in pajama pants and slippers. I liked that the kitchen was just at the other end of the house. And I liked that I was home with my boys, even though they’re grown now. I also liked the control I had over the thermostat.

But the problem was that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get a full day’s work out of myself except on rare occasions. I'd linger at my main computer far too long in the morning. Often so long that I convinced myself there was no need to get to my home office that morning because it was so near lunch time. I’d be at a project, get to a point where I needed a break, take the break, and not get back to work the rest of the day. I lack discipline. I had a hard time exorcising some of the myths about writers from my mind—the ones that served my laziness well. Myths like, “it takes years to write a book,” and “most of the work of writing takes place when you’re not writing.” Whenever I found myself not working, I’d rationalize that I wasn’t lazy; I was an artist.

But I’ve known for a while now that I can write more; I can produce more.  A lot more. If I can just get myself to stay at it, get back to it after a quick break, tackle another project when I can’t do any more on the one at hand, I can get a full day’s work out of myself at least Monday through Friday. So here I am in my wonderful office in “historic” downtown. Standing at my third floor window, I look out over a US 1 intersection, see the cars coming and going (see into them sometimes, too). In the distance, I can see the causeway over to the beach. While sitting at my desk, my view is rather strange. I see a bit of the tip of a lamp post and some wires. One black wire ends bluntly and there are several inches of what looks like black tape dangling off it, dancing in the wind. It’s a good view, one that intrigues, but isn’t addictive enough to keep me looking at it for two long while I'm working.

It’s quiet here, but not too quiet; just like home. A little too cold, but that can be remedied. I have this “author” jacket that I think makes me look writerly. I once read about the idea of having a totem of sorts that you wear when you write. It was supposed to put you in the writer frame of mind. A scarf or a hat. I’ll say my writer jacket is my totem.

It’s not a perfect set up, of course. The problems I foresee are few. First, I’ve been at home for so long, I’m not sure I want to be out in the world. There’s this National Car Rental commercial with Patrick Warburton. In it, he says, “I don’t have to talk to any humans, unless I want to. And I don’t.” That’s me, pretty much. There are other people here. And they’re friendly.

Second, well. I drink a lot of Diet Coke. Okay, it’s not like a constant thing. And I drink water. And so, well…I have to use the restroom provided for all the women on the floor. I kind of liked having my own private bathroom—who wouldn’t?

But these things I can get used to. The benefits are great. I feel professional now, sitting here at my desk typing away. I feel productive. I feel like writing.

So this is the great year of the office experiment. My productivity should soar. I'll keep you posted...