Articles

Gettin’ Organized, Stayin’ Healthy, Movin’ Forward

Super-quick recap: Magnesium rocks, hormones suck, and aging is hell on the body. Yes, I know I’m not all that old yet, but man…my metabolism decided to just go on vacation once I hit the late 30’s, and now in my 40’s I’m trying rather desperately to drag it back and get it under control. Annoying, but possible, perhaps. Now that I’ve gotten my supplements in line and my focus & motivation back (thank God), I’m weight lifting again, which feels really good, and hopefully will be the final piece in my “put your metabolism back to work” puzzle. I don’t miss much about my younger years, but a healthy, fast metabolism is definitely one of those things.

In any case, the whole “getting my focus back” thing has made me realize just how nutty my brain actually was for the last few years, and also how much I need to put some new organizing structures in place now that I can actually see the way forward again. Some of that is household related – budgeting, meal planning, restructuring routines, and some of it is side-business related – namely, publishing. I started wondering how I’d kept things going for so long in that ridiculously unmotivated mindset, and then I realized, I really haven’t. Which is probably why I’ve been having trouble keeping track of things with this latest release I’m trying to do. I needed to buy ISBNs, and kept forgetting. Had a huge struggle with cover art for a lot of reasons, but one was not having a clear vision of the series as a whole. And then getting formatting scheduled, leaving myself time for uploading and getting the print copy put together and the print wrap done and writing a blurb, getting a couple new web sites up and running for the new alter-ego….

I was sort of drowning in everything, to be honest. And I knew what I needed was something (paper, digital, whatever!) to help me manage my writing projects. I’ve needed something to help me keep track of characters, profiles and important scenes for a long time, and nothing’s worked long term, but while I was looking for project management software this week (and not really wanting to pay an arm and a leg for it after buying more ISBNs), I actually came up with something I think will work perfectly for me, both for publishing project management and keeping writing projects organized.

If you haven’t heard of mind mapping, go check out MindMeister. It’s mind-mapping on steroids, and includes notes, task lists and due dates, and is easily used by collaborators if that’s your thing. And then MeisterTask is a sort of companion program, and you can actually create a mind map, and then export the items into a MeisterTask list in order to have a very convenient and easy to organize “kan ban board” style of task list. And both the mind map and task list have email notifications, so you don’t have to keep checking the list for what’s next if you set deadlines right up front.

Not everyone’s mind works this way, but I tell you what – just using the free versions of those two tools got my latest publishing project organized in about 20 minutes (and that’s just due to the learning curve). I can’t see myself ever needing more than the free version of MeisterTask, and I may eventually pony up for the lowest tier of MindMeister just for the ability to print maps that I make for my series books.

Yes, I get excited about new organizing tools. I love them – always have. I’ve been using “You Need A Budget” (YNAB) for budgeting, which I both hate and love at the same time. I hate budgeting, period – always have. But I need to budget and get some debt paid down and just get control of my spending, so I’m forcing myself. It’s not always easy, and never actually “fun”, but it is working, so I’ll keep doing it. *sigh*

I really need to do the same basic thing with food – “budget”. I’m kind of a food hoarder, so I buy way too much, and then waste way too much. I also spend too much time deciding what to make on any given day for both lunch and dinner (except Mondays, when lunch is always burritos, Thursdays, when dinner is always pizza, and Fridays, when lunch is always…leftover pizza). I need to develop a good solid meal plan and dinner rotation so the decisions are made on the weekends, and I don’t have to think much during the week – just cook.

Note: the calendar software I have already has meal-planning capabilities, so while there are “sexier” programs out there, I’m doing my level best to use what I have. I think I may have the most luck though with a couple of simple menu boards for the kitchen. Sometimes low-tech is still the best way to actually get something done.

In that same vein, I may have just ordered some new cookware for one of my cousin’s online Pampered Chef parties. I have a small kitchen that is overflowing with Pampered Chef (and other stuff), but I managed to convince myself that new bakeware would come in handy.

So. Menu-planning to use food, and now to use/justify new cookware too. Sounds about right. Right?

Finding the Calm

It’s late Monday night as I type again, but this week, we finish the mid-life crisis. Note that my head isn’t all that great with keeping dates and timelines straight, so all of this might not be strictly in the right order, but it’s all true, which is what matters, really.

In any case, we left off with my tattoo sleeve, and the story it started churning around in my head. The sleeve was finally finished late last summer/early fall, and by then, I was ready to start writing up that story. I was also coping much better with some of the feelings I’d been dealing with. I’d taken up archery (a year ago last month, actually), and faithfully went to the range once a week or so, and I’d also taken steps to ensure I could take care of “me” – which sounds so cliche, but I think that’s because we have to remind ourselves to do it so very often.

I started sleeping more hours at night (after reading a study basically condemning my brain to dementia or worse if I didn’t), and taking time for myself when I needed it. I was still doing a lot of thinking…some of it on paper, some just in my head, about the feelings and…”loss”, I guess, is the best way to describe it. Things that I simply can’t have or do because…well, because I chose/choose to prioritize other things. I acknowledged that I built the life that I have now, and I choose to stay in it for all the reasons that I am who I am.

There are things I still don’t want to accept not having/doing, and experiences I’m choosing to go without, and that’s just something I’m going to have to live with. But I’ve made a sort of uneasy peace with them that allows me to move on. To not dwell and obsess and drive myself insane trying to make it happen no matter the cost…because obviously, I’m not willing to pay that particular price.

Vague, I know. Like I said, some things are too personal for the cold light of public scrutiny. I suspect most who have gone through this same sort of process understand just what I mean.

And of course, I was writing again. Finally. Making time for one thing that I truly needed to get back to. I’ve since restarted Misty’s story, because part of this process was figuring out what kind of a writer I wanted to be, and where I wanted to go with my stories. I started Misty over because I figured out (20k words in) what kind of “presence” I wanted the book to have, and for once, I have an inkling of how I can give it that feel. So far, the rewrite is coming along well.

I decided to release the young reader’s book, under a different pen name (it’s coming out in April). Partially because I’m curious to see how it does, and partially because I’m still curious as to where my young treasure-hunter will end up, and I actually want to write the rest of the series.

Which brings us to the present. And me, on the other side of what’s commonly known as a “mid-life crisis”. But is it, really a “crisis”? It’s definitely uncomfortable and painful and there’s a certain sense of “mourning” that goes on, but now that I look back on it, it seems more like a growth period. A period of redefining myself, and balancing the “self” I was in my youth with the “self” I grew into as an adult. Part of that was stripping off some of the armor I’d put on for protection, and parts of that were embracing my “quirkier” aspects. Yet another part was acknowledging things I’d wanted for a long time but was afraid to really examine, and deciding if I was willing to give up other things in order to have those long-held desires. In some cases, yes, and in other cases, no. And for the latter, accepting my own decisions. Which is admittedly, the hardest part, and there are still parts of me that want to throw a temper tantrum like a child because I can’t have what I want…but that was a big part of the last few years. I’m over the whole tantrum thing. I’m increasingly able to just accept what “is” and move on, though I don’t think I’ll ever quite give up those desires completely. They’re part of me. A good part.

Which is okay. Accepting that there are some things I want and will never be able to have was a big part of this whole experience. I won’t say it’s all “good”, but it is “okay” now, and I can get past it.

Recently, I’ve completely switched up my supplements too, with the idea that perhaps something in my body isn’t “processing” quite right. I’ve been doing my best to lose some weight and its been doing its best to hang on tight, and after some research and reading, I picked out some super-supplements that I hoped would give my thyroid and adrenal glands some help in balancing everything out. I knew they would affect my hormones (any little thing does), but I wasn’t really expecting how much they’d affect my brain. In a very good way.

So, if you’re up for a little “better living through vitamins” talk…that’s what we’ll discuss next week.

For now, you can all be as grateful as I am that the “crisis” is over, the sun is out, and things can only get better from here!

Less Talk, More Action

This post is going to be late. I know that, because as I start typing, it’s after midnight on Monday night/Tuesday morning, and I need to get some sleep. Normally I can blame a late blog post on household chores or family sabotage or what-have-you, but not this time.

This time is all my fault, for getting distracted by Jennifer Lawrence being interviewed on Steven Colbert, and having a pretty good time after a few shots of rum. Yum. And good for her, for being so…personable and down-to-earth even when she’s nervous and tired and has a million things going on in her head.

Also, I really want one of those green velour shirts she was wearing. I mean, not that exact one, which is probably far outside my budget, but a knock-off would be awesome. It looked cozy and comfortable, but still casually elegant.

I have a “thing” for shirts. Never realized that until this crisis thing, but I do. We all have our quirks…

In any case, we have a mid-life crisis to crawl out of today (or tomorrow, depending), so better get back to it, lest the blog post series stretches out as long as the crisis itself (ugh)…

The year after I got my rattlesnake tattoo was a year of major changes. The boss left and the new one took over (and is good at it, thank goodness). A few other people left, and that meant extra work and stress all around until people could get caught up and up to speed on training and such. One of my dogs went blind, which is how we found out she had diabetes, and then finally had to have a tumor-ridden ear flap removed. We put her down a couple of weeks later when she just wasn’t recovering and it was pretty clear she wasn’t really going to thrive ever again.

After a month or so, we adopted Murphy, which was kind of a drawn-out process in and of itself (but worth it, of course). By that time, it was April, and the summer brought more work stress with no real end in sight.

I’d been trying to write that whole year, and aside from a few bits here and there…nothing. A common thread through this whole process had been the refrain that I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t selling, I sucked as a writer so why even try, and those negative thoughts just kept swirling around in my head, whispering in my ear every time I sat down at the keyboard. I knew I wasn’t good enough, but I was struggling to figure out what I was doing wrong, and I was never one of those writers with absolute confidence in her work (I envy those people, I tell you what), but I never really thought I was terrible at it, until those years. And I was left wondering why I kept trying, when clearly I had no natural talent for storytelling.

I’d written a young adventure novel for a baby press, and I pulled that just before it was due to be published because I figured that none of my other stuff was selling that well, and I didn’t want to be known as a “children’s author”, and if it did sell by some miracle, how was I going to get the rest of the series done (five-six books planned)?

Like I said, my head was a mess.

The thing about being a writer is, you tend to do it whether you publish or not. I mean, I know writers who say they wouldn’t write without publishing, but I think for a lot of us, writing is a way to connect with and make sense of the world in a “safe” environment (our heads). And when we can’t do that, it doesn’t do good things for our own mental health. We get crabby and sullen and depressed, and add those negative thoughts above to the other feelings and “things” I was dealing with…it was not pretty.

I admit…part of what I like about getting tattooed is the big dopamine hit you get when your brain has to deal with prolonged pain for a period of time. I’m lucky enough to have a pretty high pain tolerance, so tattoo pain is mostly just an annoyance for me, where someone else might be truly miserable in the chair. At the end of that summer, when stress levels were starting to go down, the dogs were getting along better, and I was able to get a little better perspective on life in general, I made several tattoo appointments, one after the other. A horned toad. A barn spider. A grasshopper/lady bug pair. All of which have their own meanings and reminders, and comprise the half-sleeve on my left arm (yet to be finished).

Then I did something completely out of character, and decided I wanted a skull cameo tattoo with lace on the inside of my right forearm. It was the first time I’d picked out a tattoo that didn’t have any sort of particular meaning to me before I had it done. I’ve always loved cameos in general, and the skull cameos are so “Gothic Victorian” that they appeal to me on many different levels.

I generally give my tattoo artist an idea of what I want, and some general photos of similar images I like, and then just let him design a custom piece based on that. When I went in and he’d designed this cameo motif to fit the entire inside of my forearm, I was a little reticent. He explained that he thought the lace would make a nice wrap around the outside, and I wasn’t really visualizing what he had in mind, but I trust him, and I love his artwork in general, so I went ahead and got the cameo done, and scheduled the lace for a month or so out.

The day after I got my cameo, she started whispering to me. Now, I know you’re thinking that I really am crazy, but obviously, the tattoo wasn’t “actually” whispering anything. The creative part of my brain was churning, telling me that the girl in the cameo’s name was Misty, and that she died under mysterious circumstances in an old abandoned mysterious gothic mansion in…the middle of nowhere, Montana.

And just like that, for the first time in *years*, I was excited to write something. Even though I was working on bits and pieces of other things as I could, the story forming in my head and giving life to my tattoo was writing itself even thought I hadn’t put anything on paper yet. And I had to finish some of the things I was working on, so I purposefully didn’t let myself start writing it either. I just let it mull around in my head for the next year or so, and every time I thought of a new character or important plot point, I added that to the tattoo sleeve on my right arm.

It’s now late Tuesday night, and I really do need sleep, so this story will go one more week, wherein I find peace, if not total contentment, and a way to deal with my extraneous emotions in a more productive manner than previously.

If you’re still with me, we’ll wrap up this whole mid-life crisis thing next Tuesday.

On With the Crisis…Off With Her Head!

Tuesdays really seem to work better for this weekly post than Mondays for me (oddly enough), so…weekly posts will now always be on Tuesdays. Until they’re not. Because…life.

Also, if you missed last week’s post, this one may not make much sense. We’re talking about mid-life crises this month. You can catch up with this post, and then come back. Or just jump in and read on, you adventurous soul, you…

Now, where did we leave off last week? Oh right. Existential questions like whether I’m beige or not, whether I married the right guy or not, and whether or not I was living the life I was meant to live, or if I’d picked the “wrong things” altogether, and completely missed my “calling” in life, dooming me to be miserable for the rest of it if I don’t drop everything, do a 180-degree turn and start all over again.

I know, I know. Dramatic, much? But that’s how it feels to go through this sort of thing – or that’s how it felt for me. I suddenly understood why people just up and walk away from everything they have, even if it’s good, to start over and build a new life from the ground up. I understood why people buy sports cars, and maybe go clubbing, flirting with not-their-spouses and generally behaving like teenagers in adult bodies.

Luckily for me, I generally tend to err on the conservative/responsible side of things (always have, even when I was a teen), so while I did have some major mental gymnastics going on, I managed to keep the collateral damage to a minimum. Not that I didn’t entertain leaving my life behind and starting over, mind you. I don’t like admitting that, because I love my husband and we have a good life together, and I’d never leave my dogs no matter what.

There was an inciting incident, of course…I can pinpoint the exact second it started. I’m not going to share that, because…well, while it seems like I share all my innermost thoughts here, there are still certain things I keep close to the vest. Let’s just say that this incident led to a lot of…feeling like I’d made a wrong decision somewhere, and that I might be missing out. And if I did that with one thing, how many other things would that decision have affected?

Needless to say, I spent years (yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, but I do mean years) trying to deal with these feelings of wanting things I didn’t have, but not wanting to give up what I did have to get them, and going back and forth, back and forth trying to figure out how I could literally “have it all” without losing anything I already had.

Newsflash, ladies: If you haven’t yet figured out that our moms were wrong, this is when it happens. We actually *can’t* have it all – not without hurting people we love. We have to make a choice. Often it’s the same choice or set of choices we had years ago, but this is when we revisit those choices and decide whether to start over or not. It’s crazy-making, and I tell you what – I had lots of mental temper-tantrums (and some verbal too, when I was by myself, or ranting via email to my bestest buddy). It was horrible. Like a big, ugly, take-the-whole-chalkboard math problem that was completely unsolvable, but I stil had to try.

And I had to try to act and interact with other people as normally as possible while the mid-life crisis was doing it’s best to ruin my life. Which isn’t easy, especially when you have to focus on interacting “normally” to begin with.

In the middle of all of this, when I already felt like I was losing my mind, my boss announced he was retiring. Quite a few people thought I should apply for the job, and I thought about it for months, going over the pros and cons, and running it through the same mid-life metrics that had been running through my head for at least a couple years by then. Is that who I wanted to be? Is that what I wanted to do with my life? Would I be giving up other opportunities if I did that? Would I be closing doors I didn’t want to close if I applied? Or if I didn’t apply?

Had I not already been questioning practically everything about my life by that time, it might have been easier. But I had been, and it wasn’t, and I agonized over the decision until finally I decided that no, I didn’t want to do that kind of work, or be that kind of person, or close the kind of doors that might have closed (I know that last part doesn’t really make sense out of context – but it does if you’re in my head, so just go with it). I disappointed nearly everyone close to me, but it was the first decision I was really and truly happy with in a long time.

It was also the first time in a long time that I felt like I was in control of my life. I’d made the decision solely with my own interests in mind – no one elses, and that felt really good. It had been a long time since I made a major life decision without first weighing the potential ramifications it would have on other people (and usually deciding in favor of whatever would make other’s lives easier).

That decision started a chain of new decisions that helped me start crawling out of crisis-mode, even though that would take another year, year and a half. Fairly soon after that, I made an appointment for another tattoo.

Which is the part of the story I’ll tell next week…

The Making of a Mid-Life Crisis

I was thinking about things this past weekend while changing out my earrings for February and regretting the Coke I’d downed earlier with a huge bowl of nachos (no regrets on the nachos, thankyouverymuch). I used to abuse my body with alarming regularity before I got smart and realized exactly what was causing my skin problems (mostly corn syrup), and while my body was young enough to weather the abuse then, it’s older now, and less tolerant of poor choices.

But changing my earrings out – seven of them – for the season reminded me of the first time I had multiple piercings in my ears, between when I turned eighteen and could sign for such things myself, and my mid-twenties when I cut my hair off and decided the original seven piercings didn’t go with the new “do”, and looked too “out there” for the professional look I thought I needed back then. Or did need, rather. I was “homogenizing” myself, blending in with the workforce and trying not to draw attention to how I looked, so people would hopefully focus on what I said and did. I was young, and looked younger, and I was learning a lot and trying to prove myself in my job.

Yes, plenty of people choose to do that with visible tattoos, piercings, funky clothing and hair, etc. And more power to them, I say. But I don’t regret adopting a more conservative look and demeanor for myself during those years. It made things a lot easier on me, I think. With every small change I made, I noticed measurable differences in how people treated me. Wearing my hair up more often, then cutting it off. Dressing more professionally/less casual and wearing makeup resulted in a very noticable difference in how people responded to me when I was talking or trying to explain something. Those things made it easier for me to sort of “grow into” my job with less barriers due to my physical appearance – mostly with people outside my own department.

Adopting a fairly professional demeanor at work was a way of protecting myself too. My very first job as a teenager and on through college went about as you’d expect, with a lot of personal sharing among staff, and also a lot of backstabbing and personal vendettas that left a rather sour taste in my mouth. I was so tired of it all and hurt that people who had acted friendly toward me actually didn’t like me much at all that I was determined not to ever let something like that happen again. So I put up a wall – separation of work and personal life, and for the most part, I did that by adopting a professional demeanor that did its job well. Maybe a little too well, I’m realizing now. But at the time, it’s what I needed.

I’ve mentioned before (I think) that I stopped getting tattoos because my husband doesn’t particularly care for them. I was taught that wives are to be subservient to their husbands, and even though my own personality and feelings are somewhat different than that (*ahem*), it’s hard to leave all that ingrained teaching behind. I felt like subjugating my own wants and needs for those of my husband was just what a good wife does. Turns out, it’s a great way to lose yourself and become resentful of the limitations that you’ve placed on yourself (my husband never once even hinted that I should stop getting tattoos – it was all me).

What does all this have to do with a mid-life crisis? Basically, I spent years “toning myself down”, blending in, acting “normal”, and keeping a safe, professional distance from people. I kept my appearance neutral, my tone moderated (for the most part), and focused on doing whatever I could to…not be “liked”, really, but to be an “acceptable” person for people to be around. I kept the most real parts of myself to myself, hidden under layers of virtual “beige”, assuming that’s what I needed to do in order to be tolerated and get things done. And for awhile, I think it was (the real “me” is not always the easiest to be around – I am rather…quirky, to put it nicely).

The thing is, you can only do that for so long. Eventually it starts to wear on you, and you start thinking about how you used to be. And you question if that old “you” was the real you, or if the beige “you” is the real one, or if you’re not either of those things, but something else entirely. Did I make the right decisions? Did I marry the right person? Did I do the right thing staying in the job I have, or should I have looked for something better? What if I’d chosen a completely different life – would I be happier? Or would it be worse? Maybe the same, in a different way?

I was between thirty-five and forty when these questions and other unsettling thoughts started plaguing me. I thought I was too young for a mid-life crisis, until one day during the tail end of it, I came across a couple of articles that said women often experience one right in that general age-range. And the key thing for a lot of us is…we’re trying to figure out where we lost that piece of ourselves that’s missing. Often, the search for that starts back in the high school/college years.

This is long, and there’s quite a bit more to the story. So if you’re interested, stop by next week for another slice.