Recalibration, Spring, and Dreaming

I don’t know if this works the same way for everyone, but every time I make a plan, I end up being surprised at how much longer things take than I expect them to. Occasionally I’m surprised the other way, but for the most part, I think I’ll be able to fit more in than I actually am. Which is why I’m constantly recalibrating.

It’s kind of annoying, honestly.

Of course there are always those tasks that take longer initially, and then I get more efficient the more I do them, so I can shave the time down some. And I hate to say it (because I hate sounding like a whiner), but a lot of the time my “allotted time” gets encroached on either by my own laziness, or the dogs, or other humans/plans going on around me that I have to be flexible for. That annoys me too – mostly when I have a nice routine going and finally have all the things in a time slot perfected to fit there, and then…the routine has to change. And that just blows my fragile little mind for some reason. I don’t know why I can’t just adjust and recalibrate to keep moving forward “on the fly” so to speak, but I can’t. My mind needs time to process the new order of things, and re-do my routines, and then settle in again and then…usually something happens to change it again.

I wish magnesium (or any of the other supplements I take or could take) would fix that too, but unfortunately, it’s more a personality trait than a physical thing. There isn’t any “fix” for personality quirks.

So then I try to “proof” my routines by building in extra time, and that never really works either, so…I just muddle through knowing that I could be so much more productive than I actually am if only I could get into a daily routine and not have anyone change it on me for a good solid six months or more.

Yes, I know. That sounds horribly boring to most of you, but it’s heaven to me (and others like me).

In any case, I don’t have a “meal budget” this week due to routines being thrown out of whack this past weekend, I let my workouts get sidelined for most of last week, and I had to spend “business hours” (ie, 10:45pm – 11:45pm) working on the new book cover/uploading instead of the tasks I wanted to, because time is finite and that had to be done on deadline. I’m trying to just roll with it. I got a quick workout in last night, I’ll try to do a menu plan tonight and I started getting back on track with the business plan last night since the book is all done/uploaded/ready to go, but it still niggles in my head that I lost all that time.

In other news, the garden is waking up, and I love going around and checking out which plants have buds on them, what made it, what didn’t, and seeing all the potential for the beauty that is to come. Both of our maple trees have buds (thought we lost the little one!), all of my rose bushes have green on the lower canes and buds on the stems, and a couple rhubarb plants that I thought for sure were goners because I left them in a big pot on the patio last year are coming up as if winter never happened, which is pretty amazing for our climate (things don’t tend to overwinter well…or at all, in pots here). I’m getting the itch to go out with a rake and clean things up, and then get started on all the “beautification plans” we have for this year. Even if we only get a fraction done, it’s going to look so much better and be so much nicer than it is now…I can’t wait to see what it looks like by the end of summer.

We went out looking for a mailbox last Saturday, but not just any mailbox. We wanted a large, nice-looking, sturdy metal mailbox, with some decorative elements to it (ie, not a big box store “box”, so to speak), so we drove out to a specialty shop on the frontage road. Unfortunately, said shop has closed up business and is waiting for liquidation auction scheduled for early May. We decided to wait and we might go out to the auction and see if we can get a nice mailbox and a patio set, if there are any up for grabs. It’s really too bad we didn’t go sooner. But who knew they’d go out of business? It happens so fast, and always makes me wonder what happened.

The other thing that made me wonder recently was running over two things as I was pulling into my parking spot for work yesterday morning: a nail brush attached to a lid, and a polish bottle. The lid/brush actually fared far better than the bottle, so I can tell you the polish was black.

Things that make you go “hmmm….”

 

Full Speed Ahead & Business Planning

The thing about newly (re)discovered skills is, there’s a certain amount of excitement in seeing just how far you can take them. The whole budgeting thing (and subsequent successes) have reawakened my love of building plans and organizing routines to help execute those plans, which is what I spent some time on last week.

My side-business, Brazen Snake Books (BSB), needs to make money. Or more than it does now, anyways. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, and how I could best spend my limited free time making that happen (without burning out/going nutso). There has to be a balance of producing new books and keeping the names producing those books visible, so I took a couple of hours last week and broke down some things I need/want to do in order to refresh old work and make it more visible/attractive, and also all of the tasks I need to do just to keep things churning business-wise. I went through and rearranged my before & after work schedules, and my late night free time to accommodate those tasks in the most logical and efficient way I could think of, and I built in some time for education and motivation too – at the beginning of the week when I need it most.

I made sure to leave enough time for writing – without new books, none of the rest really matters. And I took some time to think about what kind of books I want to write too, and which alter-egos/genres I want to focus on building. Those aren’t really market-driven…in fact, the main ones I want to focus on are the ones least likely to sell, so I’m making things hard on myself there, but I need to enjoy writing or there’s no point. So the trick will be making those not-so-great selling genres at least sell “enough”, to break even. Though I do have a few stories in the works for a more saleable genre as well.

I feel like I have a solid plan now, which is a good thing, and I’m starting to implement it this week. Adjustments will need to be made, of course, but I feel good about the overall outlook.

Now I need to email the city and throw myself on their mercy for letting my business license lapse several years ago. We’ll see what kind of fines they stick me with. Maybe it’ll help that I haven’t been making (or claiming, for that matter) any huge profits. We’ll see, I suppose.

So…budgeting: check. Meal “budgeting”: check. Business planning/organization: check. If I could just carry all of this over into the yard and gardens this summer, that would be awesome. Though I do tend to lose motivation to work outside very quickly when it’s hot.

Part of this week’s activities include finishing up the front cover wrap for the new release I have coming out on the 20th. It’s a kids book, which is so far out of my comfort zone to write it’s not even funny, but I decided to release it anyways just because I find myself wanting to write the rest of the stories in the series and see how it eventually ends up. I’m releasing it under a new alter-ego, Marie Yoch, and I spent most of last weekend putting up pre-orders for the book and an online presence for her (still not completely happy with the web site template and that banner is way, way too big! But it’ll have to do for now – marieyoch.com). I should get the formatted print file back later this week, and then I’ll need to upload it to CreateSpace so it will hopefully be available on the 20th as well.

It’s gonna be a busy week, but satisfying too, I think.

Oh, and did I mention over here that April is National Poetry month? I can’t remember, but if you’re interested, I’m reading a poem a week, and posting a short analysis of it on the BSB blog. If you read a poem and mention it and the author in the comments over there, you can request one BSB book for free. Join us, if you’re so inclined!

Budgeting Sucks (but Works)

Happy tax-month! Here in the US, April is tax time, and like a good little citizen, I did our taxes this weekend. Our income goes up (nominally) every year, and so does our tax bill. Thank goodness we have our mortgage interest and property taxes to deduct, or it would be even more painful.

In any case, it was slightly less painful this year as far as actually getting it done goes, because I managed to keep better track of my business (publishing) finances last year. And I could have written a lot more expenses off, but I didn’t, in order to claim a (very small) profit so the government won’t be tempted to downgrade BSB to a hobby (which would mean being unable to write off expenses for it ever again). Going along with everything I’ve been discussing for the past few weeks, this just underscores the fact that my business has been just sort of floating along while my head was all screwy, and now that I’m back to a much better “normal”, I really need to up my game and start promoting my books (not to mention publishing new stuff) so I can bump that income up, and at least break even with the business expenses (I’m not right now, obviously).

Stuff to work on. Better mental clarity seems to have helped with both motivation and self-control, so I’m feeling pretty good about being able to work on building BSB this year. And writing/publishing more books.

After I finished the taxes (Turbo Tax is awesome, BTW), I forced myself to go look at the budget I’ve been largely ignoring all week because I was very aware that I’d overspent. The interesting thing is, since I’ve started budgeting, I’ve noticed that even when I overspend, I still have money to cover it, and it’s just a matter of moving things around from one category to another. I have more flexibility, and I’m also less likely to overspend *too much* – I’m far more conscious of where and how I’m spending, so my indiscretions are less damaging. That was an unexpected side effect of budgeting (though it does make sense), but a very helpful one.

I still don’t *like* budgeting. It feels confining and while every budgeting guru out there will tell you that it’s “really not that much work”, for me, taking the time to sit and actually allocate my dollars and then taking more time to actually check in with the budget and reconcile my accounts *is* definitely a lot of work. Mainly because I have about a million other things I’d rather be doing than that. But as restrictive as it feels, it’s actually giving me a lot more freedom to be flexible and allocate dollars to things that I want to make priorities, like debt paydown and investing. Yes, I know. Today was not a good day on Wall Street, but that’s why I’m a long-term investor (and our penny marijuana stocks did just fine during this crash, thankyouverymuch).

Days like this make me think “flea market – yay! Let’s pick up some cheap stocks!” Then of course I sound like my mother when she says she bought a shirt off the clearance rack that she might wear one time because it was “only $2, and you can’t pass up a sale like that”. *sigh*

But I digress.

We were talking about budgeting, and how it sucks, but it works, and like most other humans on the planet, when I learn (or take up) a new trick, I tend to apply the philosophy to *everything* for awhile (until it gets boring). So, given that budgeting has helped with my finances so much, I’ve started “food budgeting” (read: menu planning) too.

I’ve tried just about everything when it comes to menu planning, and nothing ever works, because inevitably, I get to those days where I don’t feel like eating whatever I planned, and then I go “rogue” with the menu, and then the rest of the week is shot and there’s no point in planning the next week since I’ll just do the same thing…

Yes, I know.

I’ve tried pen and paper, calendars, digital planners, online menu planners with recipe books, and none of it ever “sticks” well enough. I think it’s mostly because I love grocery shopping (I know, who doesn’t, right?), and I love food, and I hate buying off a list made from a menu because I’d much rather keep a well-stocked pantry/fridge/freezer and be able to make whatever I happen to feel like having that night.

Only what tends to happen is I’m tired, or rushed (lunches especially), and I spend more time making the decision than actually cooking/eating. Therein lies the rub – I want my decision-making time back…or at least limited to the weekends.

In any case, budgeting money gave me the idea to try “budgeting” with my food. Which is backwards from most menu planning advice. Instead of deciding what to make and then buying the ingredients, I decided to just shop like I normally do, and then “budget” the food I got out over the week (or two weeks, or whatever). The main goal being, of course, to *use* all that lovely fresh produce I got before it goes bad, and also to use up what I have before buying so much new.

I’m only on the first week, and the second day, but so far, I’m feeling pretty good about it. I bought a menu magnet/board to put on the fridge, and made a menu for this week (lunches and dinners) after I shopped, keeping the fresh produce and stuff that’s been in the freezer longer than others in mind. We’ll see if I can keep it up, but last night, I actually remembered to get meat out of the freezer for dinner tonight – a meal we wouldn’t be having if I had to defrost meat right before, and also one we wouldn’t be having on a random, unplanned night, because it takes more time than normal (but I get off early on Tuesday nights, and earlier still tonight due to a dentist appt).

So, budgeting money, budgeting food…who knows what I’ll decide to budget next? I just hope that some of it sticks past the point where I’d normally be bored. That’s the true test of whether or not it’s a good system.

Are you a budget-er? What are some things you budget with besides money? Inquiring minds…

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?

Magnesium, Muscles & Motivation

For those (few) of you who were waiting anxiously (ha!) for this week’s post, my apologies for being late. We had a mild family crisis of sorts Monday night, which pre-empted my writing this. Crisis averted, so…back to normal.

Last week, I was talking about supplements. After some trial, error, research, and really uncomfortable hormonal shifts, I figured out that it was the magnesium bringing me mental clarity, and the calcium/mag combo had to go. I ordered some Magnesium/B vitamin supplements, got off the calcium, cut back the vitamins to half dose, and my head is clear and focused. All is mostly right with my world, or will be after a few weeks of adjustment. Magnesium is amazing, and also very easy to find information on. Google it, read bunches of stuff, and try it, if you’re so inclined.

The mental space and focus…man. Awesome. And as a nice little side “perk”, I’m finding it far easier to resist things that used to be very tempting to me, like donuts, cookies and breads of any kind. Even a week ago, I was drooling over muffins. This week? Saying “no” is no problem, really.

Which means I’m also sticking to my diet plan better, and between that and being motivated to work out, and work out hard, with weight training (which is really the only exercise my body has ever responded well to), the weight is starting to slowly lose it’s grip on my poor, tired hips.

I fell in love with weight training back in college, when I’d head down to the free weight room at the Y between lifeguard shifts and lift while I oogled the big burly guys. Weight training just feels good to me – the pressure on my muscles, pushing them to fatigue, and then getting that little adrenaline rush and kick of dopamine when you wonder if you’re going to be able to pull out that last rep and then you…just do it.

I’ve trained since then, but not often, and never with enough true stress to actually make much of a difference. My body tends to respond well to heavy stimulus, but not light – so while yoga in the morning keeps me limber, I will never build muscle. Same with pilates or cardio or any of that. It’s incredibly difficult to get my heart rate up enough for cardio to do any good.

So, just after the first of the year, we bought a set of dumbbells at Costco (really nice set). Last week, I went downstairs and between the dumbbells, the Total Gym (yes, the Chuck Norris thingy – it’s actually awesome as far as bodyweight trainers go), and running upstairs and back down between sets to check on Murphy, it was a fabulous workout, and also hard enough that I felt it for the first time in a long time.

And it felt good. Really good.

I think my muscles needed to be reminded of just how good it feels to work, and work hard. I was really looking forward to Monday night’s workout, and ended up skipping, so Tuesday night I finally got to workout again, and it felt awesome. Again. Better yet, I wanted to do the workout, and I felt motivated to do it. And that is something I haven’t felt in a very long time.

Motivation paired with focus is a magnificent thing.

So, less cravings, more focus, more motivation…fabulous.

During the first workout, there was lots of clicking and popping of joints while I went through my sets. By the second workout, just a few little token pops here and they subsided as the workout went on. I’m not lifting too heavy ( just 15 and 20lbs on shoulder raises), so they should strengthen fairly quickly.

Now if I could just convince myself to get a full 6 hours of sleep every night for the rest of the week, that would be pretty great.

On that note, I’m off to bed. Next week, maybe we’ll discuss budgeting. I’ve been doing that too lately. It’s both annoying and gratifying at the same time. Mostly annoying, but I don’t have an overdrawn bank account anymore, so there’s that…

Where the Body Goes, the Mind Follows

Everyone make it out of this past weekend’s bi-annual time warp okay? I like daylight hours well enough, but nighttime is when I feel most alive, so this is my least-favorite time change. But, I’m managing passably well, I suppose. Only six more months until my inner vampire will be happy again.

A few things about me that might be of interest before we start talking about supplements:
– My body is incredibly sensitive to supplements, vitamins, drugs, etc.
– My personality is such that I pay attention to and notice the *tiniest* changes in my body (yes, it’s annoying – I generally don’t share).
– I’m a control freak, and I studiously avoid anything that fogs my brain or slows my thinking for any length of time. That includes most pain-killers, psychotropic drugs, and large amounts of alcohol. I’ve been tipsy, but only had one hangover, ever, and I’ve never done any kind of street drugs or been “high” aside from the occasional contact high with friends or in concerts. My greatest fear is probably general anesthesia, which I wouldn’t even let a dentist use when he wanted to pull one of my teeth (I’ve had several teeth pulled, fully conscious, thank you very much). Yes, I have a high pain tolerance.

All that said, I am constantly studying herbs, spices, and various vitamins/minerals in order to try to keep my body running as well as it possibly can. And a very interesting (I think it is, anyways) side effect of this is what happens to my brain in the process. Depending on what I happen to be “experimenting” with on any given day/week/month, my thoughts can either be completely chaotic and have the texture of a bouncy ball, or they can be overwhelmed with anxiety in several different forms, or they can be calm, focused and downright serene about life. That calm focus is the goal, of course, but sometimes a new supplement or different percentages of things can screw that up almost instantly.

Toward the beginning of that whole mid-life “thing”, I started taking MSM because I thought it would help with…some aspect of my body (I forget what…it was several years ago, in my defense). I did all my research, and as usual, nothing mentioned anything about mental side effects. Just how great it was for so many things. So, as usual, I tried a quarter of the normal recommended amount first (because…sensitive). The first day, things were okay. The second, things were a bit weird. My body felt fine, but my thoughts were starting to race a bit. Still, I have my off-days like everyone else, so I didn’t think much about it.

Long story short, by the end of two weeks I was an anxiety-ridden mess, misinterpreting people’s actions/words (I’m normally pretty decent at interpreting people), and not interacting well at all due to all the weird and confusing thoughts going through my head. By then it was pretty obvious that it was the MSM giving me some sort of odd mental reaction, so I stopped it, and within a day or so, I was back to “mid-life” normal.

It’s kind of freaky how stuff like that happens. And if you’re not paying attention and keeping track of what’s changed in your life (for me, a new supplement), it’s very easy to miss the cause of such a quick onset side-effect.

In any case, I’ve taken a multi-vitamin for years, and during the mid-life thing I found that fish oil really helped to calm the anxiety in my head. I started taking it to balance out my cholesterol and get more omega 3’s in, and realized not long after that my thoughts were clearer. I stopped it for a few days to test, chaos returned. Started it again, and within a week, I was mentally more stable. I’ve made sure I am *never* out of fish oil since then – it makes that big of a difference for me.

I’ve tried a lot of things, with varying results, and I could share them, but the thing is, everyone’s body and chemistry is different, so what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. Right now, I’m experimenting with new supplements that are made in Seattle to replace the basic Costco variety we normally buy. The difference is night and day. We have a calcium supplement, whole food vitamins for women/men (same basic mix on the label, just proportioned a bit differently), and new fish-oil tablets that are stronger than our usual.

I’m not gonna lie – it’s not all roses right now. There’s a fair amount of vitamin D in both the calcium supplement and the vitamin, and that tends to wreak havoc on my system (physically). There are a lot of other vitamins/herbs that have been blended together, and according to the company, they’re put together in specific amounts that should make all of the elements more bioavailable. Which for me, is basically code for, “These things are strong – start slow and pay attention.”

Of course I didn’t, because I’m trying to figure out if there’s anything out there that will help talk my body into letting go of extra weight (unsuccessfully). I just went ahead and started with half a dose of calcium, and a full vitamin dose. Which, predictably, made me physically miserable for a solid week until I backed off on the vitamins (cut to half-dose).

But, while my body was rebelling, my mind was doing something very interesting…like…nothing. My anxiety shut down, my thoughts calmed, I could focus without even really trying, and I wasn’t worried about much of anything – just like when I was younger. It was glorious!

When I cut back on the vitamins, the mental effect was still there, just not as strong. Which was disappointing. So now I’m kind of playing with the amounts of the calcium/vitamin supplements to balance out for my physical comfort, and hopefully once I get that figured out, the mental benefits will stick around as well. If they don’t, you can bet I’ll be breaking down those vitamins and figuring out what gave me that shining “moment” of serene relaxation again. Because that is the person I want to be.

All this to say…what we put in our bodies has such a huge impact not just on how our bodies work, but how our minds work as well. I’ve done so much as far as cleaning up my diet, and it’s still not perfect, but it’s pretty decent, overall. And I know I still don’t get the vitamin/mineral balance I need just from diet alone, so supplementation is an important part of my life. Naturally, as our bodies age, the things we need change, so it’s not really a “set it and forget it” type of thing – it’s something I pay attention to and tweak often, because what helps one day or week may not the next, depending on what’s going on.

Now, to sleep. I haven’t been getting all I need of that lately either, so I’m making a better effort. Except for tonight (Mon/Tues), so I can get this post out (since I have to be up early anyways). But the rest of the week, you can bet I’ll be getting my 6 hours in.

I wonder if those years of sleeping 4.5 hours a night contributed to my mental issues…could I have saved myself a lot of angst just by sleeping more? Something to ponder further, perhaps. After I get some sleep.

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.

Digging Out

That seemed like an appropriate post title today, given that not only are we at the part of my mid-life crisis story where I start digging my way out of it, but we’re also still digging out of who-knows-how-many feet of snow this week, because…apparently this is what our “banana belt” of the state has become with climate change, etc. I’m not sure where we’re going to put much more snow. There’s just no room! It’s gonna be a huge mess when this all decides to melt…

In any case, last week, I left off with a decision not to apply for a very lucrative job, and to make another tattoo appointment. Understand that while I was making these decisions, I was still questioning everything, and trying to keep my head and such where it belonged – which is in the life I’d made for myself, rather than in a fantasy world made of different decisions. I kept flipping back and forth, almost mourning the road not taken, as odd as that sounds. And wanting desperately to know what it would be like, even though my head kept telling me that even though it would have been very different, I’d still probably be in the same mental space at that time, just looking the other way.

Tattoo artist’s rendering of my business logo for Brazen Snake Books on the outside of my right ankle/calf.

That’s the thing about us humans. We always tend to get to a point (or points) where we want what we don’t or can’t have (or chose not to have earlier). And it doesn’t seem to matter what we choose in the moment…somehow, we’ll always hit a point of wondering “what if” later down the road. Just knowing that is at least some comfort, I’ve found. Sort of.

When I turned forty (in the middle of all this, and before the whole job decision thing), I finally decided to go get a tattoo I’d been wanting for years. I got it in a somewhat inconspicuous place on my lower ankle, easily hidden for work. But that wasn’t where I’d really wanted to put it. I was still in conservative “don’t make anyone else uncomfortable” mode, so I went against my own desires. Getting the tattoo was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t enough. And after I decided not to apply for the higher level job, I decided it was time to take some sort of a big step for myself. Something that would make me feel bold and more in control of my own decisions. Something that would force me to acknowledge my own needs and desires more publicly, because it would be on display nearly all the time. Something that would make it harder for me to repress who I am, and thus hopefully embolden me to embrace that publicly, as well as privately.

My bold, beautiful rattlesnake, inner left forearm.

So, eleven months after getting my publishing business logo tattooed on my ankle and six months after deciding to stay with my current job, I had my tattoo artist design a rattlesnake tattoo with bitterroot flowers (Montana’s state flower) for the inside of my left forearm. The snake’s tongue flicks out right down onto my wrist, so it’s impossible to completely hide without both long sleeves and gloves. It’s beautiful, and bold, and there to remind me to be bold, and to listen to my instincts instead of just listening to my head all the time. And also to remind me not to deny who I really am, even if who I am/what I like makes other people uncomfortable because it’s outside the norm.

It took awhile to get used to wearing this tattoo. It’s not inconspicuous, and it did indeed force me to allow people to see a sliver of the “real me” and to be okay with their judgement on that, no matter what it was. But it also helped me to embrace “being me” in public, and it made me feel bold and empowered.

An interesting side effect is that by growing in that way, I started dealing with those other feelings I’d been struggling with. I started realizing that I didn’t have to actually get rid of them, or overcome them, or change them. That they were part of who I am, and that as long as I didn’t act on them, it was okay to acknowledge and even entertain them without guilt (or as much guilt, anyways). Just being able to do that, to examine them without so much guilt and dismay attached to them allowed me to finally start really thinking about what they meant, and why they had become such a big deal in the last few years.

It also allowed me to start writing about them. Not directly (except to my best friend), but in fiction, where I could sort of look at them from all sides, from a removed perspective that would allow me better personal perspective. I do some of my best thinking while writing fiction, and throughout this whole mid-life crisis period, writing had been nearly impossible. Finally writing again and starting to deal with my feelings on paper was a relief. Those stories aren’t finished yet and won’t be for awhile, but I consider them therapy, and still work on them a little here and there, as I’m able.

It’s kind of amazing how relatively small decisions can be so influential in all areas of our lives, isn’t it? But while I was finally writing again, I still had a ways to go before I’d feel content and “at peace” with my life again (mostly). Which is where we’ll hopefully end up…next week.

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…