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Ruminations on Priorities & Sewing

I’ve been re-examining my priorities lately…for about the 70-billionth time. I generally do that when I really want to do something I’m not currently doing, and have no time to “work it in”. But I live in hope that some day, I’ll list out all the stuff I want to do and magically have time to do every last bit of it. Preferably with a reasonable amount of proficiency.

Gotta love a good fantasy, eh?

I also tend to reevaluate when I want to make sure that the things I’m making a priority really are important enough to keep the spot they currently hold. Writing is actually one of those things I’m constantly questioning. I haven’t published anything in two years (or more), I’m never quite sure if what I’m writing is something I want to publish, and I often wonder if I really should be spending so much time and money on something that isn’t really doing much for me in return.

Aside from…you know…providing a creative outlet that keeps me from going all nutty and such.

In any case, bringing home another antique typewriter last weekend was just a plain enjoyable event, because I have no real intention of actually using it. I just love to have old typewriters around, and have that little nostalgic piece of history to look and marvel at. I find them inspiring.

But buying the antique sewing machine sent me into another mental frenzy of “how am I going to fit restoring and using this lovely piece of equipment into my already packed schedule?” If it were already in good shape and all I had to do was use it or not, that would be one thing…I can accept it as an antique piece to enjoy and maybe use “sometimes”. But I can’t just leave it in the condition it’s in. It really needs to be shined up and oiled and brought back to something lovely. I *want* to do that.

And of course having a sewing machine in the house that actually works (albeit needs some work, but it does work currently) makes me want to do some craft projects that require a sewing machine. I’ve had a couple of sewing machines in the past, but always cheap, portable, electric models that required me to clean off space to work, near a plug-in, and put up with noise, and try to keep up with the machine as it outpaces my brain by a mile…needless to say, I gave both of them away. This one…this one is virtually silent. The speed is more easily controllable. It has its own table (that looks really nice as a piece of furniture), and needs no electricity. Unlike those other machines…this is a machine I actually *want* to use.

Of course I can’t really even start restoring it (aside from washing the casing) until I order a few inexpensive parts and some oil. I’ll do that tonight (today is payday – yay!). So next weekend, I’ll have what I need to work on it…but it will also be one of the busiest weekends of the year for us, with two Halloween events and then my husband flying out for a work trip and me trying to finish up props for the yard and candy bags for the kids.

Ah, Halloween. Our favorite holiday, and my poor husband will be stuck at a conference and on a plane for much of the actual day/evening. Which is just all sorts of wrong, really. But, we’ll look forward to next year.

Anyways…I will make time for the sewing machine restoration, even if just in bits and pieces. And eventually, I’ll figure out how to make time for the small sewing projects I have in mind. It seems like something important enough to make time for…because of the impact it will have not just on my life, but on the lives of my family when I make things for them.

And I’ll continue to make time for reading and writing, because it’s good for me mentally. And crocheting/knitting, because it’s good for me to get away from the screen and do something with my hands. Weaving will also make its way into the rotation.

My stamp collection is just going to sit for awhile…I just don’t have time to put any kind of meaningful work into it. The jigsaw puzzle on the table is probably going back in the box un-solved. Social media…well, that’s just going to have to be minimalistic too. Because in the evenings after I eat and walk the dogs and before I sit down to write, I need some time to just chill…away from all screens except the TV. That’s my crochet/knitting time, and it’s time when I don’t have to be social, chatting, talking, using my brain and straining my eyes. I’ve been slipping back into that more lately, setting the yarn aside for my laptop, and while I stay more connected to people that way, I lose the time I need to just wind down and be inside my own head for awhile. And that’s an important thing to protect.

Priorities are important. And knowing when to put things aside is important too. I think I’m starting to get better at identifying what I need to make a priority at this point in my life, and what can wait until later. Which is a very good, freeing thing.

Sleep, Health, & Difficult Choices

Last week I read an article in The Guardian about a neuroscientist and his two decades of studying sleep. The salient points of the article (for me) include a drop of 70% in your cancer-fighting killer cells and a much greater risk of Alzheimer and Dementia for those who consistently get too little sleep. That, and the fact that the less you sleep on a consistent basis, the less capacity your brain has to perform the “scrubbing” operations it needs to in order to keep your brain clear of amyloid deposits. And you can’t ever get that capacity back. It just keeps getting worse.

Will science eventually figure out some way to scrub out those deposits and restore our “brain-cleaning” abilites? Maybe. I dare say that if they do though, it’ll come with trade-offs in the form of side effects that are potentially as harmful, which is how most medicine often ends up working. Thing is, they might not too, or maybe not in time for me personally to benefit from it.

In any case, better to prevent as many health problems as possible, rather than count on medical science to “save” us later, methinks.

I’ve been getting 4.5 hours of sleep per night for…well, several years, at least. According to the article, anything less than 7 hours is considered sleep-deprived, and your brain doesn’t even start that deep cleaning until you’re in the last part of the 4th consecutive sleep cycle (so, the end of 6 hours). 7.5 hours would be 5 sleep cycles, which is optimal for brain health, so the article suggests.

How much damage have I already done? Hard to say…but probably a lot. When I read the article, I decided I needed to take action immediately – as in, that very night.

It took me longer than I care to admit to figure out how to rearrange my evening and morning schedules so I could still have some writing time, and yet get 6 hours of sleep. Those of you who already sleep 6 or 8 hours are probably wondering why it’s so difficult, but both my mornings and evenings are on a very tight schedule, and in between is the workday. I only really have an hour every evening of “free time”, which I spend watching TV with my husband. Everything else is scheduled by default, from dinner to dog walking to cleaning the kitchen at night and dog care/getting ready for work in the morning.

We all have priorities, of course, and I’ve chosen to make health a big one of mine. So things like cooking dinner (from scratch) 4-5 nights a week, walking the dogs (which is also one of my workouts) and ten minutes of yoga every morning are important to me, and need to stay priorities. Spending that time with my husband is too. Which means the only negotiable thing left is…writing. And I only had an hour every evening and half an hour in the morning scheduled for that.

One full sleep cycle.

So, I started looking at everything I do and trying to figure out how to make it tighter. More efficient. I managed to consolidate some things into little snippets of quarter hours here and there between other things. I banked on the fact that sleeping more would enable me to get going faster in the mornings so I wouldn’t need the time I normally do just to “wake my brain up” (20 minutes). I banked on the fact that more sleep would equal more motivation, and stacked my schedule tighter. And I figured out how I could get to sleep by 12:30am (to bed earlier…12:30 is the time I have to be asleep by) and get up at 6:30am most days and still have an hour of writing time most nights. Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays are all anomalies…I’ll have to shorten my writing time on Monday night to get up earlier to make the Tues staff meeting (have to be at work an hour earlier than normal). Friday nights are normally my “business hours” for publishing, and now those have to be cut short by a couple of hours due to needing to sleep 6 full hours before I get up to feed the dogs, and I’ll have to figure something out for Saturday nights too, since that’s my manicure night and I’m normally up very late (sometimes 4am).

Making the decision to sleep for 6 hours is hard for me on a lot of levels, but one of those is that late at night, when everyone else is sleeping and the house is quiet is my favorite time of “day”. I’m an introvert, and I need time alone, and that’s really the only time I can be guaranteed that no one will need anything from me for hours at a time. Friday and Saturday nights when I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning, by myself, just getting stuff done or doing things specifically for me…it’s a very relaxing, rejuvenating time. Giving that up is difficult, and stressful. I’ll need to figure out how to get some of that “me time” back when everyone is awake. But if that were easy, I’d have done it quite awhile ago.

And of course I need to figure out how to get the business-y stuff I was doing late Friday nights done at other times, and how to get my manicure done in less time so I can get to bed earlier on Sat nights. Both are still works in progress. I tried finishing up marketing/promo stuff this past Saturday morning after I got up (since I was up earlier due to the new sleep schedule), but just getting up earlier doesn’t make me more able to function in the morning – I’m still a night person, and my brain still doesn’t really “work” before 9 or 10am – no amount of sleep is going to help that. Those are hard-wired parts of my personality, so it’ll take some time to work the weekend schedule around the dogs and husband and everything else so I can still keep up with bookkeeping and marketing and all the other non-writing book-related tasks that need to be done. I failed this Saturday night/Sunday morning, and was up until 4am again. I still got 6 hours of sleep, but it wasn’t consecutive – there was a half-hour “up” time in the middle to feed the dogs and let them out. But now I have a whole week to figure out how to get my Saturday nights more consolidated.

Of course next Saturday night we’re going to a concert. And a couple weeks after that, a masquerade party for Halloween. So Saturdays might be my downfall for awhile. Hopefully getting more sleep every other night of the week will offset those. I’ve read various articles on Alzheimer’s studies that say preliminary findings indicate that coconut oil and curry (turmeric, cumin) can help remove those amyloid blockages as well, and I make turmeric paste for the dogs occasionally (turmeric, coconut oil, black pepper & water), so perhaps I’ll make sure to get some turmeric milk or curry in here and there throughout the week too. I do love curry…

I should mention that this past Weds, Thurs and Friday were some of the most clear-headed days I can remember having in a long time. Good focus both at work and later at home, no brain fog, I didn’t need that extra 20 minutes in the morning just to get my brain to function…it was a definite improvement on all levels. So while I can certainly “function” on 4.5 hours of sleep, I’m operating on a serious mental deficit there that I didn’t even recognize in myself until I made the change and paid attention. Kind of scary, when you think about it.

So, more sleep is the name of the game at the moment. Here’s to getting more zzzz’s in our lives (or mine, at least)…

The Most Frustrating Thing

If you’ve been reading here long-term, you’ll know that a few years back, I burned out on most everything due to “stuff” going on that just made all the stuff I wanted and needed to do so overwhelming that I just sort of dropped everything unnecessary, including writing, and did the bare minimums to get by while life was all crazy-like. Part of it was changes happening rapidly and all at once, and part was a mid-life crisis that I’m only now really able to acknowledge for what it was (because no one wants to admit to something like that, really).

Thing is, I persevered, got through it without embarrassing myself too terribly much and without causing to much havoc, and now find myself in a much healthier state of mind (still very pensive and “what if?” centric, but that’s normal for me). And suddenly wanting to pick up where I left off, but with new priorities that keep me from just diving in head first (and also keep me physically/mentally healthier, so they need to stay).

There are so, so many things I want to do. My main source of frustration in life – the thing that beats me up more than anything else in this world, is that I simply cannot do everything I want to do, all at once. Not even a little at a time, because there are just too many “little at a time” things to schedule. It’s just not physically possible.

So I try to prioritize, and that sort of works, but there are still too many things on my “priority list”. And pretty soon I’m only doing one or two things, and fantasizing about doing the other things, and knowing that there just isn’t enough time or energy to fit it all in.

It’s damn depressing. And it’s also the ultimate unsolvable puzzle. Which makes my whole brain just cringe, because that’s what it *does* all day, every day, at work, at home, and everywhere else. I solve problems. I fix things. I find a way to make whatever needs to happen, happen.

But I can’t fix this.

I can’t fix the fact that I’m human. That time and space are limited. That I am interested in way too many things, and far too curious for my own mental health.

Even if I were willing to change my current priorities, I still couldn’t fit everything I want to do into my life. And even as it is now, with the few things I’m prioritizing, I don’t feel like I have enough time to give them. I want more writing time. More reading time. More workout time. More cooking time. More organizing and cleaning time.

But in order to do even that many things, I have to compromise, and give all of them less time than they really need just so they get “some” time.

There’s no happy ending to this, I’m afraid. No diagrams or schedules or 30-days-without-sleep cleanse that could solve this particular problem.

And that, for me, is the most frustrating thing about life.

One Thing at a Time

I’ve been pretty overwhelmed/stressed out lately – work, writing, personal stuff, you name it. I have a bad habit of overestimating my…not abilities, exactly, but rather the amount of stuff I’m able to get done in a specific time period. I knew it was out of hand, and that I was pretty much just past the “burnt out” line, but it was really driven home during a trip to our local art museum this past weekend.

We went to see one of Monet’s Iris paintings, which is here until December. You have to understand, I love moseying around museums and such, so I knew I was in trouble (generally speaking) when upon entering the museum, I was so focused on our goal that I was ready to skip the permanent collection and go see what we’d come to see, and then maybe make a quick pass at anything else that looked interesting.

I was in hyper-efficiency mode, which is the mode I have to operate in most days just to get everything done that I want and/or need to get done. Not the appropriate mode for a trip to the museum, and certainly not the mode I want to be in for looking at/appreciating artwork. I was annoyed with myself for immediately jumping to the most efficient way to complete our goal when we didn’t even need a plan at all other than “go enjoy the museum”.

We did go through the permanent collection, which gave me time to relax and remember that we could enjoy the whole museum and still meet our goal without getting all “control-freak” about it. Just take it one exhibit at a time, and eventually we’d see what we came to see, and a whole lot more besides. We had the luxury of not being on any sort of schedule whatsoever, and while the Monet piece was exquisite, the other exhibits were amazing as well. It would have been a travesty to skip them, or even to see them yet not be “in the moment” enough to truly take them in.

Near the end of our time there, we were browsing through the “for sale” gallery and I was sort of mentally bemoaning the lack of ability to afford some of the work I’d have liked to bring home, and I noticed that one of my old art professors had some work up for sale there. “Mindfulness” is becoming trendy again, and I remember that about him – he was always teaching mindfulness – be in the moment, every moment. Don’t focus on the past or future, just be present here and now.

It’s a good way to live, overall. Obviously some planning is not a bad thing, but I tend to get rather attached to my plans, and then when they don’t go the way I’ve envisioned (which is often), it creates more stress. And I’ve been relying so heavily on my plans going the way I want them to that I over-schedule (or rather, just pack things in so tight that there’s no room for deviation), which creates even more stress. None of which allows me to live in the moment, because I’ve created a lifestyle where I am always behind, and can’t hope to ever catch up – it’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

There is no room for being mindful and living in the moment when you’re always three steps ahead in your mind, and five steps behind “on the schedule”.

The natural thing then is to step back, clear out the calendar/to-do list and start over, leaving room for deviation and enjoying life moment-to-moment. One thing at a time. Ironically, that also stresses me out, because there really isn’t much on my list that I genuinely don’t want to do. On the contrary, I have many varied interests that cover all aspects of my life from work to writing to hobbies to personal stuff, and I want to *do them all*. Which is why my schedule is so tight in the first place – I don’t want to give anything up, so I try to cram as much stuff in as possible.

Alas, I have to choose. Prioritize. And realize that there is no way I can possibly ever do and experience everything I want to in life, but especially not all at once. I can’t learn and do everything I want to for work projects all in the space of a few weeks, or even a few months. I can’t write all the books I want to write in the space of a few months or years. I can’t work on all the hobbies I want to within a week, or a month, or maybe not even this year.

It’s a little depressing, and a lot annoying, but there simply isn’t time. And trying to do “all the things” is just going to drive me crazy and stress me out. Knowing I can’t do all the things, and that I have to pare down and prioritize stresses me out too. It’s a major source of angst in my life, and I wish I could say that I’ve figured out a way to make it easier, but I’m still working on it. Letting go of something we really want is difficult, especially when the only thing holding us back is the other stuff we want to do. A rather glorious dilemma, when you think about it.

One thing at a time. One. Thing. At. A. Time.

Today is Labor Day here in the US, in honor of the labor unions who fought for safe working conditions and fair wages back when there were no laws against working your employees literally to death for pennies. My situation isn’t nearly so dramatic (obviously), but it is kind of ironic that I’m basically acting as a slave-driver to myself, pushing hard enough to hurt my physical and mental health while not paying myself nearly enough to offset the damage.

I have a few things I need to work on today (since it’s a holiday and I’m at home), and more than a few that I should work on, but one of the things I’m definitely going to make time for is going over my to-do lists and the calendar and revamping my plans into something more manageable on all fronts. Something that leaves time for being in the moment, even when things go awry and my plans are pushed aside for other things. I won’t be able to alleviate all the stress right away due to various obligations I have to others, but I can at least start to take some of the pressure off.

One thing at a time.


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On New Cover Art, Stress, & Priorities…

First up this fine Monday – the last serial novel (now in editing) formerly known as Under His Wing now has a new title, and new cover art! I think it’s pretty spiffy, but I’m biased…
FandS_400

Flame & Stone will be out later this month. Good stuff!

I saw a meme on FB last week (yes, I know, we all saw at least several) that was talking about how a heart attack feels for women (which is often much different than what a man feels). Towards the end, it was noted that one of the leading causes of heart attacks in women is actually stress, rather than something like high cholesterol (so one shouldn’t assume they aren’t having a heart attack just because they have low cholesterol).

For me, stress is a control thing. I get stressed when I feel like I can’t control some part(s) of my life. I get even more stressed when I want something or want to do something that will require me to give up something else that’s important to me – which is an issue of selfishness colluding with my control-freak nature. It’s one of my worst personality traits, I think, but it’s fostered by that innocent little statement that “we can have it all” if we just work hard enough.

Honestly – no, we can’t. Life is a series of decisions that require give and take, and a day only has so much time in it (same amount for everyone, obviously). The decisions we make determine how our life progresses, but unless you have very small goals/very few interests, it really isn’t possible to have “it all”. Facing that particular realization has been…a bit difficult for me. One might even say stressful.

One thing I always forget is just how much a good 20 minute exercise session can help. It’s good for my body, of course, but more than that, I find it extremely mentally clarifying. It doesn’t take much time, but it does require the decision to make it a priority, which pushes something else out of the way. It’s very important though, and without it, I have little chance of making good choices in other areas of my life.. Funny how that works.

I’ve been doing a lot of re-prioritization lately…deciding what’s truly important and what can either be dialed back, or let go of altogether. It’s not an easy process, but it’s necessary, and once it’s done, I’ll be happier for it. Obviously working out has to be a priority, as does writing, and from there, things get a little gray for me. But I’ll figure it out. It seems like I go through one of these cycles every few years, and it’s just something that has to be re-evaluated as we grow and change.

Change stresses me out…and not changing can too. Weird how that works. I’m just glad that my personal cycle of change seems to be dialing back down to “low” again. Stress is a waste of time…and apparently, bad for my arteries too.

If you’re interested in some of the changes I’m making on the writing/publishing front, check out The Writer’s Desk (formerly The Drafting Desk) for this week’s writing/publishing report.


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