The Reason for the Season

Standard

I have been debating what I should write about today because it has been an incredibly long week, which is not over yet, so I don’t want to take the time to come up with something “profound” and try to peddle it to all of you.  Being Christmas Eve, I thought it might be appropriate to say something meaningful about Christmas and the holidays and whatnot, but I’ve become quite a cynic in recent years, so I’m not sure anything I have to say about this holiday would be the sort of uplifting read you’d like to read this holiday weekend.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday.  It narrowly beats out Thanksgiving (the day of Awesome Food) and Halloween (the day on which it is socially acceptable to go out in public in a costume without coming up with a damn good excuse and getting a lot of weird looks–yes, I’ve tried it on other days and no, I’m not telling you my excuses).  My favorite things about Christmas have changed over the years, but I’ve always loved it, loved the whole season.  I love the smells of cinnamon and peppermint and pine, the sounds of Christmas music and the hush of falling snow (I’m still hoping for a white Christmas this year, the weather report promises a good snow storm later today…), the warmth of a fire and new PJs, the taste of pumpkin and wassail and cocoa and eggnog and homemade candies and cookies, and all the lights and the bright red and green and silver and gold.  It is a beautiful time of year.

When I was a kid, I was always excited for the presents I would get Christmas morning.  I admit I was spoiled.  My parents never gave us really big-deal things like video game systems or our own TVs or whatever, but they always liked to go over the top.  As I got older and started earning my own money and getting better at making things, I learned the joy of giving gifts.  It is still fun to get things, but these days, I mostly want useful stuff, like a job I don’t hate or a book contract or new dishes.  The real fun is in figuring out the perfect gift for each person–now that I’m all grown up, I get why my parents get so carried away with gift-giving.  I love figuring out that one unexpected gift that would surprise someone and make their day and show them that I notice them and see who they are and what matters to them.  We’ve always passed around lists in our family, so we know what things people need or are hoping for and I usually get at least a little something from people’s lists, but I also like to be creative and come up with something outside the box.  And, if at all possible, I like to make those gifts.  I can cook, sew, knit, crochet, and do a variety of other craft-related things.  I enjoy making things.  Personally, I would much rather get a gift that someone had put time and thought into making than something they just went out and bought.  I have had a few things that were bought that were amazing and wonderful and I always appreciate a gift with any thought at all, but there’s something extra special about gifts that someone has taken the time to make.

This year, there isn’t really anything I want.  Usually half my list is books, but I’ve bought a lot of books in the past few years for school and the books I already own are still living in boxes that are cluttering my room from when I moved into this house almost two years ago, so even though there are a lot of books I want, I’m trying not to acquire more until I get some bookshelves up and deal with the books I’ve already got.  I also need a lot of practical stuff, like a new car and my credit card bill paid off, so I can’t really think about adding more stuff to my house that I don’t need when I really need money for other stuff (and it doesn’t help that I’m addicted to Loot Crate–btw, if you want to join, shoot me a message and I’ll send you a link so we can both get $5 off!–so I’m basically filling my house up with useless crap I don’t need anyway, so not much point in asking for more).  On top of that, I’m crazy broke this year.  I’m usually a really great gift-giver, but with limited resources, I feel like people are going to be disappointed with my offerings this year.  So, I’m not particularly excited about getting anything this year.

Normally, I’d be happy at the prospect of getting stuff, but not particularly focused on it because I would be absorbed in my projects for everyone else.  This year, I am in far worse debt than I have ever been in my life.  I was dealing with my final semester of grad school, which mean finishing my Thesis (319 pages), then finishing my Process Paper (20 pages, written from scratch 3 times this semester), then finishing all my Graduation Paperwork, then submitting my Final Product (which is basically all those things, plus the other two major papers I wrote during my program–which still needed revising, btw–combined into PDFs and uploaded to the school’s digital archives for final approval and which is required to graduate).  All of which, I finished about two weeks ago (I think? I can barely remember yesterday, let alone a week ago or whatever).  And then I doubled my hours at work.  I sorely needed the hours.  I told my boss I was available for more and then started covering other people’s shifts (I was rewarded when I got my paycheck yesterday and realized I would be able to afford my basic expenses for January, even though I won’t have an income that month because I will be across the country waiting to go to a writing conference that I really hope will be worth it).  With all this craziness, my budget for Christmas gifts is basically zero and I’ve had a week or two to think about what I might do, and far less time to gather supplies and do projects.  Here I am, at 2am on Christmas Eve, and I’m only about half-done with the things I’m planning to do or get or make or whatever else.  I have one day–one day of complete insanity as everyone else in my position is running all over creation trying to find those last few things they need–to finish preparing for Christmas.  There’s also the issue of decorating the tree that showed up in my living room last night, but my mother got into town a day earlier than expected (by which I mean an hour ago), so I’m leaving it up to her–maybe I should move the ornaments out there, just in case anyone is inclined to decorate…  Even eliminating non-essentials from my to-do list, I have far more on my plate than I can handle for this holiday and I feel that even with all this effort, people are going to be disappointed in the results because of what I’ve been able to do in the past.  If we could just push this whole thing off for another three months or so, I would be past all my major deadlines so I would have time to do a proper job of things, plus I would have a higher income (not a great one, but better than what I’ve had the past six months, which doesn’t even break even).  Too bad life doesn’t work that way.

I know Christmas lore is filled with stories of struggling people who do their best to do good for other people and it magically all turns out.  I should note that I have always hated “The Gift of the Magi.”  I love O’Henry.  He was a brilliant writer and has quite a lot of great and entertaining stories, but that one I never liked.  It’s about two people who sacrificed the thing they valued most to give a gift to the person they loved.  Then it turns out that the gift they sacrificed to give is now useless because the other had sacrificed that thing they loved.  So now they are left with nothing.  As an adult, I read the story and in they end they laugh about it or something stupid.  The story always made me feel sick with disappointment.  It still makes me feel sick.  So “uplifting” stories like that are no good to me now.

I know you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make someone happy, but I haven’t had time to offer either.  I feel like I’m being selfish this year because I don’t have much to offer.  I don’t have much to offer because I was focused on finishing a degree for myself.  It has absorbed most of my time and money over the past few years.  The timing couldn’t be helped.  Finishing the degree now was my priority–and a reasonable one.  Unfortunately, I have not had time to catch up from that.  I don’t have hope for something magical to save the day, but I’m doing what I can with what I’ve got and I hope things will at least turn out well enough.  I will be glad when the holidays are over and my life can fall into a better routine.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

J

 

Halloween and other Frightening Things

Standard

If one door opens

Packet 3 is in the mail!  I just barely made my extended due date, the work is not up to par, and it is the skinniest packed I’ve ever submitted (25 pages out of the 40 pages maximum allowed), but it is in the mail and I can move on.  This semester has been going very badly between unexpected and overwhelming demands at work and the usual struggle of working on a graduate degree.  My advisor has been flexible and generous with extensions, without which, I would probably have already failed this semester.

It all sucks and I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but sometimes life is hard and we just have to keep pushing through it.  So I keep going because there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I want to be a great writer, and right now this is what I have to do to get there.  I will be changing jobs before my next semester so that I have more time to dedicate to my studies, but for now, I just have to

Keep Calm

and

Write On

Good luck to all of you in your creative (and other) endeavours.  And Happy Halloween Month!

J

The Impossible Dream

Standard

I recently picked up a few books on writing that I thought might be helpful.  The one I’m reading at the moment is Writing Fantasy Heros: Powerful Advice from the Pros by various fantasy writers (including Brandon Sanderson and Orson Scott Card).  I’ve been very frustrated with my work this packet and wondering if it’s even worth continuing with my thesis because how can it ever live up to my hopes and dreams?  How can I create something good enough to finish this program, let alone publish?  But I came across this bit in the section by Ian C. Esslemont:

We who follow the path of writing must keep in mind that it is an on-going journey of discovery and refinement.  One never ‘arrives.’  We are all apprentices striving to improve our craft.  The lessons here are ones I must constantly keep in mind as well.  By way of encouragement I suggest you trust in our active fantasy readers who are among the best out there in their willingness to give you a chance.  They want you to succeed because they want that dream—just as much as you hope to achieve it.

So hey, maybe there is a chance.  Writing is seriously hard work.  It makes us doubt ourselves every single day.  To make it as a writer, other people have to actually like what we do and want to read (and buy) our work, which just puts that much more pressure on us to be amazing.  But you know what?  Somebody out there does want to read my story.  I can do this.  And so can you!

J

The Road to Hell

Standard

 140605_011

As my plans tend to, this one got away from me.  I blame wordpress, because I had it set to notify me if I didn’t post every week and I haven’t gotten a notification in months.  With my busy schedule, I can’t be expected to remember AND actually go write a post…  Excuses, excuses, I know.  But here I am, just popping in with a quick update before I get back to watching Friends…I mean writing.

So, since the last post, I really don’t know, since I can’t be bothered to read my own blog.  I sent in packet 1 with 4 annotations and a fair amount of creative work.  I got that packet and response back and was fairly disappointed.  My advisor had less insight than usual and I’ve been so busy I didn’t really write any new creative work; I was planning to just edit the stuff from the first packet and send it in again, but he had very little to suggest in the way of corrections.  So, I spent a few days lost and frustrated—and complaining to all my writer friends—before I decided to just deal with it and do the work without the guidance I was hoping for.  I stuck with the same advisor as last semester because we worked well together and I could see I still had a lot to learn from him, so I think I need to be more clear about what sort of input I need during this semester because I gather that my advisor leaves things up to me because he seems to think that I’m rather insightful and have everything under control (soooo not the case…).

On top of that setback, Life Happened and I was required for some unexpected work and family responsibilities, so I ended up with really about 2-3 days total to spend on packet 2.  I usually spend a good portion of a week or two really focusing on the packet, so I basically just had a meltdown and questioned whether or not I was really cut out for this program.  Then I explained the situation and my ever-understanding advisor gave me an extra week to get this packet in.  So, I can breath a little, but I hate falling behind on the schedule and it’s odd while all my Goddard friends are chatting about sending in their packets when I have different deadlines than them.  In any case, I now have an extra week to get out this packet and my boss gave me a few days off to make up for all the overtime I did before, so I have a reasonable amount of free time to focus on it and can breathe again.

With that burden temporarily lifted, I got really excited about my thesis again and spent last evening/night discussing timelines and species etc with my writing partner, Amanda.  I also got a few inspirations on my nature walk yesterday afternoon (when the block hits, go for a walk in the woods.  Bring a notebook.).  I feel more capable and even if I don’t get a lot written, at least I have a lot brewing and I’m dealing with a lot of the planning and technical stuff that needs to be done.  I’m not super worried about writing a lot of my thesis this semester.  I know what I’m doing now (look at me, all sounding like I know what I’m doing) and I’ll pump out a zero draft in November.  After that, I can fill in the gaps and get down to editing.

So, I breathe again.  Sortof.

Now the issue is the critical work.  I’m still completely lost on the Long Critical Paper (LCP), but at least I have it scheduled out into 3 packets to get it done, so I should be okay about it, but I’m still freaking out at the moment.

Also, Annotations.  I really hit my stride last semester and figured out what I was doing.  I always got positive responses on the work I submitted and all was well.  This semester seemed off to a good start too, especially now that I’ve done 5 of the 12-15 required for the semester.  BUT, now I feel all annotated out.  I got so deep into seeing the world of stories in an up close and critical way, that it started to take the fun out of reading and then I burned out.  I’ve got two books to annotate in this packet and I haven’t a clue what to write about.  Not a clue.  And my brain just doesn’t want to be creative about it.  And I’m too tired (all the time, seriously, when am I not tired?) to get in there and do it, so I don’t even want to think about it.  And now that I’ve got an extra week to do the work, I have to actually turn in something decent.  It’s good to have the extra time, but at the same time, now there’s actual pressure to do a good job, whereas when I didn’t have time to do a good job, I stopped caring about the quality of it all and was ready to just BS my way through 25-30 pages and call it done.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at in this lovely Packet 2.  And we’ll see where it goes from there…

J

 

Long Time, No See

Standard

140724_006

I realize it’s been a rather long time since I posted and I need to do something about that.  After last semester ended, I didn’t have much Writing stuff to write about because I wasn’t doing it regularly and, obviously, didn’t have school stuff to write about.  I intended to get back into the routine once school started up again, but that didn’t really happen.  I’ll try to do better now that school is in full swing.  (Btw, I’ll be more motivated to keep it up if I know I’ve got readers, feel free to say hi!)

So, quick updates: I believe I posted about Residency.  Again, it was AWESOME and reminded me why I’m doing this.  Now that I’m actually doing this and not partying with all my writer friends, it’s a little harder to remember and the motivation is slipping.  Always looking for motivating suggestions!

My first packet of the semester was due last Monday.  I finished it up on Friday (after a rather violent battle with my printer and quite a few tears.  Note: I intend to buy a new one before the next packet is due.) and got it to the post office 30 minutes before they closed.  I assume it is now in my advisor’s hands and that at some point, it will make its way back to me.  Hopefully with some positive feedback.  As far as that packet, I am proud to say that I turned in 4 annotations (the most I’ve ever done in one packet!  Also, that puts me at 5 so far for the semester which is 1/3 of the max I could do, and that’s in my first of five packets, woohoo!), the usual process letter (5 pages), and 18 pages of creative work (6 of Sarah, the rest of William).

Now, I’m bogged down with 4 days in a row of 11+ hour shifts, so it’s all I can do to stay alert enough to take care of the baby.  I’m listening to and reading 3 books at the moment, because at least I can listen while I entertain the baby and then he’s being educated too, and then, hopefully, by next week, I’ll have a few books I can write annotations on.

I still have creative work to worry about.  I haven’t written much new since Residency and now that I’ve decided on my thesis, there’s all this pressure about what I write and that it has to be good and worthy and all, so I’m feeling paralyzed and blocked about the work and basically just terrified to even try, so I’ve been focusing on the other requirements (mostly the reading because it’s so time consuming).  I really need to get back into the habit of writing regularly because even if everything that comes out is crap, at least I’ll have something to work with and if I know it’s going to be crap and I’m going to write it anyway then I won’t worry about it and maybe something good will come of it.  In the words of Sarah: ugh.

And, last but not least, this semester I have to write my 20-page Long Critical.  I have never in my life written such a long essay so the very thought of it overwhelms me.  I’ve had a general topic since the beginning of last semester.  I discussed it with my advisor as an option for one of the two Short Criticals (5+ pages each) and we both agreed that it was a more suitable topic for the Long Critical.  So I’ve had that sitting around gathering dust for six months or so, but now I need to refine it.  I have a few ideas on how to narrow it down, but nothing solid yet and I don’t even know where to begin my research.  I need like two secondary sources but it is NOT a “research paper” as the teachers at Goddard have made very clear, so, I really don’t know what it is.  I guess it’s a Long short critical and a short critical is just a long annotation.  So, it’s one of those 3-page papers I’m writing all the time now, only stretched into 20 pages.  God help me.

And so, with that, back to work and thinking about writing.  I will try to be more diligent about the blog.  And about writing my thesis.  And breathing.

So long for now…

J

 

Solitude

Quote

“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.”
― Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

* * *

“I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.”

(Audrey Hepburn: Many-Sided Charmer, LIFE Magazine, December 7, 1953)
― Audrey Hepburn

It’s been a very busy month and even though we’ve already had the residency for this semester, packet work doesn’t officially begin for another week, so here’re a couple quotes to tide you over until I get back to work and start posting regularly again.

J

 

The Final Countdown

Standard

This is it, one more sleep before I head off to Vermont for Residency #2.  I’m nervous and worried about residency and the semester for all the reasons I’ve discussed before, but I’m also very excited to meet up with my friends again and for all the cool workshops and everything else.  The drive will be at least 8.5 hours according to Google Maps; hopefully the weather will clear up and the traffic/construction won’t be too bad so I make decent time.  I mostly just want to be there and settled before dinner which is 6-7, but I don’t have to be checked in until 11am on Friday, so I’ll be fine whatever happens.

Here’s to the new semester and new adventures!

J

The Night of the Doctor

Image

The Night of the Doctor

This week is off to a rather bad start and I’m feeling enormous stress as the new semester approaches, but on the bright side: I put up my newly acquired Doctor Who poster tonight. I may never Allons-y, but at least I can rest peacefully knowing that the Doctor watches over me while I sleep.
J

Excuses, Excuses

Standard

I haven’t written much lately; I’ve been very blocked and it’s my own fault.  At least that’s what it comes down to.  I don’t know what to write.  I’m at the point in both of my stories that I don’t know enough about the story to write it, but I’ve come up with enough that I can’t just write anything and start from scratch because they are already stories and I need to stay, at least somewhat, true to the story that is and wants to be.  At the same time, I’ve got all the advice and suggestions from my advisor this past semester rolling around in my head and I don’t know how to apply it to my writing and every time I start in one direction, I remember something he said that makes my thought not work and so I give it up.  My absolute surety that I’m a crappy writer and just can’t possibly measure up to my idols is keeping me blocked and keeping me from even trying.  So, I’m very blocked and the most likely reason is that I’m thinking too much and writing too little and everything else is just excuses.

But I still have my excuses and I don’t even want to write.  I’m questioning more and more that I can even be a decent writer and my decision to pursue that, even if I haven’t got any other directions worth going.  I don’t want to write, but I need to write as much as I can before the next semester starts in 3 weeks because shortly after that, I’m going to have to make a decision and I don’t know either of my stories well enough to choose one to work on for the rest of my degree.

But I don’t want to write.  And the stories don’t want to be written.

J