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Archive for April, 2015

Sleep is a wonderful thing, as long as you can get some. Supposedly, as we get older we tend to need less sleep, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for me. I’m still off-line for that nine to ten hours a shot that I was back in high school. Longer if I’m having a bad headache day. Which seems to be all the time anymore.

I’ve made several attempts over these last few “self” employed years to get on a consistent daytime schedule. My husband is up at the butt-crack of dawn to head off to his bruiser of a job and it just seems reasonable that his dutiful wife cleave to the same schedule so she can be the domestic goddess and have dinner waiting for him when he arrives home.

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

While most nights I do cook dinner – it does seem a fair exchange since he’s been out dealing with the nutjobs known as humans – I’m hardly the stereotypical housewife. Even that word – housewife – is an archaic annoyance to my ear. Yes, I handle the dishes and the laundry. Occasionally I even vacuum and dust. But that’s because I’m the one at home, not because I’m the woman. If our positions were reversed, my husband would be wearing the frilly maid’s outfit carrying the feather duster when I came in from the cold, cruel world.

Sorry. You probably didn’t want to see that.

Anyway, these last few months have been challenging in the sleep department. Though I have the new prescription for the post-detached retina vision, we haven’t had the money to get the new glasses. Every time we turn around it seems something else more important comes along to demand what few cents we have. You may think that getting new glasses is pretty important, and in the general scheme of things, you’re right. But when the choice is new glasses or fuel for the only vehicle that gets my husband back and forth to work, or new glasses vs. utility bills, well, you can probably understand why I’m still sitting here with an eyestrain headache.

Being a life-long migraine sufferer, my body has basically one response to any kind of head pain: shut down. I escape into something resembling sleep. But it’s erratic. I’ll be down for three or four hours, then up for anything from two to twelve hours, then down for twelve hours and up for two, down for four, up for six, etc., etc. Really hard to maintain any kind of schedule when you’re fine for a couple hours and then get hit by that dart from the big game hunter.

And even when I am “sleeping” I’ll wake up several times for various reasons, or no reason at all, so it never seems like I’m getting a full straight batch of time. Or I have really intense, detailed, bizarre dreams: the zombie apocalypse happens while my husband and I are at one of our historical events, and I’m stuffing loads of embroidery supplies into my back pack while my cats sit on my shoulders or run around my feet and my husband is loading ammo into something that looks like a cross between a bow and a sub-machine gun; aliens have attacked and I’m leading the resistance and trying to figure out how to escape from the skyscraper we’re trapped in that is now morphing into an old Victorian mansion that has money stuffed in the cushions of the couch but we can’t leave now because the party isn’t done and I have to find my husband; I’ve suddenly manifested superpowers but have to take a running jump to fly like Ralph in The Greatest American Hero and my telekinesis blows out the headlamps of a guy I’m mad at but then the dragons are trying to shoot me down and I land in a refugee camp where I’m looking for a bathroom but the only one I can find has its porcelain thrones at the ends of the arms of one of those spinning octopus carnival rides.

Yes, I’m well aware that I need professional counseling…

If it’s any consolation, it’s not any better when I’m awake. That’s why I’m a writer. And even though I have done very little with my current projects as far as putting things into words on the computer, I’ve actually accomplished quite a bit of problem solving for those projects. There are many times when I wake up and can’t get back to sleep because my brain is in overdrive. I’ve cleared up a couple issues I had with several of the characters in my current novel, which has also helped me figure out more of where that monster is going. It’ll mean a significant re-write of the 60K words I’ve already done, but, hey, I got nothing but time, right? And I’ve doodled with several short story ideas for the collection I’ve talked about e-publishing, which has given me an overall theme for it as well. I’m feeling pretty good about where I’m going with both projects, even if I’m way behind my original time line.

And so what if my sleep schedule doesn’t match everybody else’s? The only person I’m beholding to is my husband, and I make sure he’s taken care of. The only other thing I need to be concerned about is that I’m as productive as possible while I’m conscious, given the visual limitations I’m dealing with right now.

I spent a lifetime trying to do things the way other people told me they should be done, and it just didn’t work, and I just wasn’t happy. Now that I’m doing things my way, for me, I’m experiencing a lot more satisfaction with my life. So I guess the whole point of this meandering rant is, it’s your life, find what works for you.

And what works for me right now is another nap…

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Creative people often do a variety of creative forms. Most of the world knows Jeff Goldblum as a fine actor, but few seem to know he’s also an accomplished jazz pianist. The comedic talents of Red Skelton are unrivaled, but he reportedly made more money off his paintings and prints of clowns than he did off television and movies. And writer Stephen King has been known to pick up a guitar every now and then to play a little classic rock for fun and profit (read: charities). Not content to be the proverbial one-trick pony, we creative types just have to get our hands into everything (da Vinci, anyone?).

The question is: where does that drive/motivation/curiosity come from? There has been an ongoing argument throughout the centuries about Nature vs. Nurture, sometimes translated as talent vs. skill. Are we born able to do certain things, or can we only be taught those things? The debate has been long and passionate on both sides, but recent studies indicate it’s more of an <AND> equation than an <OR> equation. We get handed a genetic package of possibilities – the predilections toward art or music or football – and that package can get us a ways down the line, IF we’re given the opportunities. Then to put us over the top, you have to polish that rough stone. Even so, there’re no guarantees you’ll get anywhere.

Music was my first creative medium. I was picking songs out on a friend’s piano when I was two. By the time I graduated high school, I could get by pretty reasonably on a half dozen different instruments, and had composed a piece for full orchestra. Writing was much the same. I was already reading and writing ahead of my age group by the time I started kindergarten. Seven years later, I took the formal lessons and turned them around into fictional explorations, writing stories for extra credit in English class. I’ve also drawn in pencil, sculpted in clay, blown glass beads, danced (yes, in public), tie-died fabric, designed and sewn historical garb without a modern pattern, built wooden furniture, fabricated metal needles, and fletched my own arrows. None of this is unusual from my perspective. But sometimes even my own family is boggled by my abilities.

Recently, I posted pictures on social media of a belt I crafted in wool using an old technique called tablet weaving.

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This is something I’ve done as a hobby for nearly a decade now, and I’ve posted other pictures of my work before. But this one seemed to spark something in people. I received a tremendous amount of feedback and questions, and my own mother marveled at how she didn’t realize I could do something like that. To me, it’s just understanding the engineering and then it’s pretty simple. To the rest of the world, it might as well be magic.

Well, maybe it is. I know plenty of people who are amazingly skilled at something, understanding techniques and theories for their chosen thing far beyond the average, but it is impossible for them to think outside the box. They are excellent craftspeople, but lack that intangible spark that would make them truly exceptional. The world is filled with amazingly skilled cellists, but only one Yo-Yo Ma.

And don’t tell me it’s all just about drive or desire or training. I’ve known several people over the years that wanted nothing more than to be “famous” singers. They sang everywhere they could, they took classes, they worked with vocal coaches – anything and everything you can do to learn the craft and be better at it. And you know what – even after all that, they still couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket (not that it seems to matter anymore, what with Auto-Tune – see American Idol…).

Plenty of people really want something with all their heart, and will never get it because they just don’t have even the basics for their great love. Some people will succeed amazingly well despite their lack of “talent” because of their hard work and dedication. Lots of people have natural abilities that could put them ahead of the game if they applied themselves, but they don’t have the push to build on them so their talent goes to waste. All of it is a crapshoot. There is no real answer to the equation, because the one thing that really decides whether or not any creative artist succeeds isn’t within them, but without.

Most creative forms are as much science as art. Writing has grammar and punctuation, music has scales and arpeggios, painting has form and color. You have to learn the rules so you know how to break them, and then you have to work hard indefinitely to build your brand and be ready for opportunities. But, still, nothing guarantees any of us will ever do more than sit in the dark with our wishful thoughts. ‘Cause most of the time it just doesn’t happen. Then suddenly it does.

And that’s why I think it’s magic…

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Writers are notoriously difficult to domesticate. Solitary, aloof, shy, they startle easily and are overwhelmed by everyday things most of society takes for granted.

Like, say, society…

They are able to live for untold weeks on caffeine and chocolate and artificial light while creating worlds the depths of which would astonish the gods themselves. Contradictory creatures as well, they are often the agents of change while vehemently resisting it. They’re picky about their tools, writing ONLY with a #2/HB pencil (Roald Dahl), or a fountain pen (Neil Gaiman), or a manual typewriter (Danielle Steel), while not giving a whit about fashion, food, or fraternization. Elusive, reclusive, depressive, angst-ridden – all are common descriptors of writers. And yet everybody seems to want to be one.

As a writer myself, I can attest to the traits mentioned above. I see them in my own actions, my own avoidance of all things “out there.” Such as, out there, outside, you know, where all those damn people are. I’m like a cat in the window watching birds. I’ll bask in the sun and chatter about how I want to go out there and pretend to be frustrated that I can’t, and then walk away with my nose in the air when the door is opened. Brave in talk, fearful in action.

I’ve always been separate from everyone else. Some people use the term lone wolf, but I’m more cat-like in my demeanor, so I’m going with Siberian Snow Tiger. My husband, also a loner, is somewhat like a polar bear – enjoys the cold temperatures and eats whatever he wants. The two of us work very well together. We’re so good together, in fact, we have a bad tendency to keep to ourselves far more than is healthy for the average human. That’s been especially evident these last few years, as medical and financial issues keep plaguing us. We don’t want our friends to see us “like this,” so we cocoon ourselves in our little suburban cave. The irony is, we’d be the first ones out the door if one of them called us for help, but gods forbid we return the trust.

But we’re not getting any younger. We have no children and several of our best friends have already made their escape to better lands. I began seeing us in our dotage, that crazy old couple that doesn’t talk to anyone and nobody notices is missing until their bodies are found three years after death. I didn’t want to end up like that.

So we’ve been making small efforts to get over our self-imposed isolation. We’ve had friends over two weekends in a row now. It forced us to tidy up the house (it’s hardly clean, but, hey, gotta start somewhere), and to take showers and wear something besides pajamas. We had great conversations and good food and a few laughs. We are lucky to have some really cool people in our lives and it takes these sorts of things to remind us of that.

And it’s also fucking exhausting.

Some people thrive off being around other people. They can take that energy and recycle it through themselves and distribute it to those around them and come out stronger for it. Writers aren’t generally on that side of the curve. For me, being around people is like being bombarded by an unending rain of puff balls (the colorful decoration variety, not the not-so-colorful fungi variety) – at first it’s kind of fun and a little silly, and then it gradually slides down the scale into unbearable madness.

It’s a sensory overload situation. In the days when I still went to school or work, I would come home simply exhausted. Not because classes or jobs were that difficult, but because I just couldn’t process all the information coming into me from those around me. Voices, smells, textures, emotions, tastes, colors – details that go beyond what most can fathom. The average person seems to be able to tune most of it out, but I don’t have that feature. I register everything. Not all of it consciously, but it all hits my sensors at some level or another and I just simply can’t handle it all. I’m great at observing, lousy at participating.

That’s why most writers don’t participate that much. They hide out in their version of a home office and watch the world from a distance, penning their observations in prose or verse and not realizing they’ve worn the same sweat pants for three weeks straight. All those people who think they want to be writers don’t really understand what it entails. It starts with being okay with being alone. You have to enjoy your own company. Then you have to understand that you’re not really alone, because you have all these people in your head demanding attention. All that information your sensors took in from being out with real people now spills out onto the page. Sometimes in quick bursts or subtle reveals, or tortuous hours searching for just the right word, but it gets out eventually.

And so will I. Get out eventually, that is. While I enjoy the company of my friends – and will continue to make myself less isolated- I’m not a social person. No more than I’m a day person. I’ve come to realize and embrace both these facts, and will continue to resist the demands of a world that thinks something is wrong with me because of these traits. I will go after that bird when I want to, not just because you opened the door.

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