Where did this year go? How can it already be time for NaNoWriMo again?
As of a week ago, I wasn't going to participate. The story I wanted to write, and have been trying to write for the last three years, is just too complicated to bang out in one month. It needs time, thought, and a little massaging - and I'm fine with that.
BUT, I've mentioned recently about having some issues getting back into the habit of daily writing ever since I started my editing business (which is still going great). The one thing that NaNoWriMo is really good for is teaching you how to write every day, whether you "feel" like it or not. I want that habit back.
So I dusted off a story I began in August called The Mistress and Master of Sparrow House. I'd already written almost 20,000 words on it and then had to set it aside because work got crazy. It's another practice novel, with a simple concept that allows me to experiment and work at developing better writing mechanics, characters, plot, etc., so that when I am ready to write my more complicated science fiction novel, I'll actually be better prepared to do it.
This past summer I've also been messing around with posting stories on Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing platform. I write under a couple different pen names. Yesterday, I decided to get my act together and after months of putting it off designed the book cover for part 1 of The Mistress and Master of Sparrow House, and finally published it there under the name "Karen V. Calhoun." It's not a perfect story by any means, but I don't think it's terrible either. I've listed it as an "Edwardian Romance," which is not precisely true, but you kind of have to choose a marketable genre whether or not it fits perfectly. It's more of a dramedy romp, if that makes any sense. Nothing too serious, and certainly not explicit. The romance is definitely secondary to the story, and honestly it's more of a "will they or won't they" thing, which I always find is a lot more fun.
Anyway, the whole point of publishing the first quarter or so of The Mistress and Master of Sparrow House was so I would feel even more motivated to finish the novel for NaNoWriMo. I'm not sure the book really needs another 50,000 words to finish, but I'll give it go regardless, and if I complete the novel "early," then I'll just round out NaNoWriMo with another WIP. So my goal is to finish my Edwardian novel AND write 50,000 words in one month, one way or another.
Then I'll do a little editing in December/January, finish publishing the rest of The Mistress and Master of Sparrow House on Amazon, and who knows, maybe I'll send it out to a few agents. Why not? What do I have to lose.
If you're interested in being writing buddies with me on NaNoWriMo's site, I'm listed as "Wordly Bird." You can find my profile here.
And if you're interested in checking out the first part of The Mistress and Master of Sparrow House, you can read it for free on Amazon with Kindle Unlimited. I'll also run some free giveaways over the next few weeks and will let you know when those take place. If you feel like reviewing, that'd be awesome, but don't worry about it.
Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Let me know in the comments. I would love to buddy up so we can motivate each other to finish!
First, I want to start this post by saying I don't blame my mother. I'm not angry with her in the least. She did the best she could with the information and the culture that was available to her at the time when I was growing up.
But maybe we can learn from our parents without condemning them.
I just want to say that growing up with the absence of a body image isn't the same thing as a healthy body image. It's a vacuum that gives a negative body image plenty of room to establish itself later.
When I was growing up, I think my mother decided to avoid teaching me a bad body image by protecting me from as much exposure to femininity as possible. By today's standards this might seem a little strange, because it feels like we're only starting to accept that being girly doesn't equal bad, but that's what she chose to do. For example, she wore makeup to work, but I never once saw her put it on because she did it at 5 am in the morning. Even when she got dressed up for parties in the evening, I never had the chance to watch her get ready and maybe learn a little. She always kept the door to her bathroom closed.
She didn't take me clothes shopping. Ever. Instead, clothes would occasionally appear on my dresser, haphazardly, without a lot of discussion about what I really needed. This meant I was never exposed to "pink" commercialism or its subtle messages about appropriate gender roles, and so I never had issues with defining my sense of self so narrowly. The downside was I also never learned to communicate to my mother what I needed in terms of specific items of clothing, like non-sports bras, age-appropriate dresses for school dances, pants when I outgrew my school uniform, or shorts and t-shirts for gym (I wore a turtle neck to my basketball games, I have proof!). If I ever did ask for specific things (I recall a cute 90s-era spaghetti strap jumper at Wal-Mart that was sold with the accompanying white shirt you were supposed to wear underneath - so it was very modest), my request was shot down with undisguised negativity. Message received? Heck no you can't wear feminine clothes. How dare you ask. I also kind of blame my poor shopping abilities on these experiences (I'm just awful at buying appropriate clothing).
Frankly, I looked like a mess growing up, and I always felt like it was my fault. I believed I was a slob, which was reinforced by my parents when they would criticize how I was dressed! I remember them giving me a hard time about always wearing a sports bra - but those were the only bras they had bought me! I had no other choice but to wear them. In retrospect, this was insane, and I can only blame my parents' busy schedules and their long commutes into D.C. for their general cluelessness about the state of my wardrobe.
At that age, they controlled my appearance, not me. So why was I getting blamed for it? And today, I really don't appreciate those comments they made about my appearance, which were one of the few examples of their active participation in molding my negative body image, but maybe had the greatest effect. (The research certainly seems to support that. Seriously, just do not comment on your children's appearance or weight. It's so destroying and it doesn't help).
When I turned 16 and got my driver's license it finally meant a new kind of freedom to control how I dressed and took care of myself. I would drive to the local CVS and spend hours in the store poring over foundation and mascara choices. Was I ivory? Or classic ivory? Was it really better to wear brown-black mascara instead of deep black, like the magazines said? (It's not, always go black, trust me.) Or I would drive myself to the mall and root through the sales rack at the Gap or Banana Republic. Finally, my babysitting money was coming in handy so I could buy myself t-shirts and stop wearing those weird mock turtlenecks my mom had bought me five years prior. I discovered Victoria's Secret wasn't a den of loose women, but just a place to buy a bra. I solved a lot very basic problems I was having with my appearance, and started fitting in a lot better at school.
And so I developed my own feminine identity in the absence of any kind of direction from my mother.
I think she thought she was protecting me, but it wasn't working. I was just developing a bad body image all on my own. She treated her femaleness as something to be hidden. Like I said, maybe it was just the culture of the time. She became a professional in an era of shoulder-pads and power suits; when to be feminine was obviously to be less. If she wanted to earn money and get promotions, she had to project a certain masculinity. Maybe she thought she had to do the same for me. I get it.
But that meant the only role models I had in order to learn how to be a woman were in magazines; from "it girls" like Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. I particularly liked Marie Claire for their slightly more feminist angle and body-positive message compared to other publications, but it wasn't like they were censoring their ads too.
So now when I look at myself naked in the mirror, I see a flabby, overflowing gut, like Jabba the Hutt. Logically, I know this is false. I weigh less than 130 lbs (not sure where exactly, I don't weigh myself anymore). I wear a size two. I'm healthy by any appropriate standard. But I only see a chubby pig because I'm directly comparing myself to those magazine ads. That's what I think a woman's body is supposed to look like. Even though I know it's photo-shopped, I can't help it. It's literally the only idea of a woman that I have in my head, and I struggle to quash that image every time I see myself in the mirror. Or even when I'm looking at other women in real life I often catch myself consciously judging them against air-brushed models, which is AWFUL. But the problem is I only have reason to tell me that my body image is warped. I have no intuition for it, and so it I feels like I never really absorb or believe the message.
Look, I don't think it's possible for mothers to protect their daughters 100% from bad body image role models, like the kinds you see on TV or in women's magazines. They'll be exposed one way or another. But I wonder if my mother had ever worn a bikini, or put on mascara in front me, or let me choose my own school shoes, maybe I wouldn't have turned to magazines as a role model, and then maybe I would have had a better body image for both myself and others.
But I guess the only way I can find out is to do my best with my own daughter, if I ever have one, and then wait and see what she blames me for.
Regardless if I have daughters, I think the one thing I can do now is model as healthy a body image for other girls as possible (and boys too, I guess). Which means wearing a bikini even when I don't feel like my body is perfect. It's a real body, and I'm slowly learning to appreciate it. It means taking pride in my academic and professional achievements without putting down my appreciation for a cute pair of shoes. And foremost, it means just being nice to other women. Kids learn from example. There's no amount of lecturing that will convince them to feel positive about their bodies if we don't model that positivity for them.
What do you think? How was your body-image shaped? What would you do differently?
If you take a look at my reading list in the past year, you'll notice that a large percentage of the books I've read are from the Aubrey/Maturin series, which follow the adventures of a British naval captain and his surgeon during the Napoleonic wars.
I've read eight books in the series thus far (there's twenty-one total) and have raved about some (H.M.S. Surprise and Desolation Island, in particular) and detested others (like The Mauritius Command), but eight novels is a lot. I've never gotten so deep in a series before, and I've been wanting to read other things too just for some variety - yet I can't seem to stop, and I think I finally understand why.
The Aubrey/Maturin books almost always finish in the middle of major action; usually a battle. The endings typically occur moments after a victor has been declared.
It's not a cliff-hanger, because there's usually no indication of what will happen in the next book. There's no unresolved conflict, mystery, or questions (besides some long-term, more minor plot points). The books just tend to end on the climax of the story without any kind of denouement. It's very addictive, because you finish the book on such a high note that you can't help but want to read more.
So, this is just a tip or an idea for you writers out there. If you're planning a series, maybe consider finishing your books in the middle of the action/climax. You don't have to leave questions unanswered, necessarily (though you can, that's a sure fire way to bug your reader and get them to purchase/borrow the next book), but maybe consider getting rid of the boring denouement altogether since it can leave the reader on a down note, which doesn't immediately motivate them to pick up the next book in the series. I have to say, it's really an effective method to finish the book in medias res (i.e., in the middle of the narrative), rather than using a boring, if tidier ending. It's the main reason I keep slipping the next Aubrey/Maturin novel into my library haul.
Maybe you call yourself a "cat person."
You might even go so far as to call yourself a "crazy cat lady."
But would you let your cat do this to your hat?
Would you remove every cleaning product beneath your sink just so your cat has a safe place to hide when he gets scared during a thunderstorm?
And do you tie a pair of shoelaces to the back of your jeans for your cats to chase as you walk around the house, going about your business?
Because I'm that cat lady.
This October marks our second year of living on a farm* outside Chapel Hill, which is the longest my husband and I have ever lived anywhere since we left our parents' homes. We had a string of mediocre rentals in Maryland, so we moved around a lot during graduate school. And then there was that whole nonsense with the dog in Durham, but it all worked out in the end because we moved out here as a result.
We've loved living here. I think I do even more so than my husband because I like having this kind of space to roam around outside and I really don't miss living close to restaurants or bars. I kind of grew up this way in a somewhat rural part of Maryland where our house was situated in the midst of horse farms, near a river. I spent a lot of my childhood wandering around the woods and fields, wading through the streams, canoeing, etc. (basically trespassing), and there's just something special about knowing what all the plants and animals are up to year round.
But since living out here, I've found a darker side to the country-life that I didn't know existed before. Because for all the days the farm looks like the above picture, it also can look like this:
Beyond the the gloominess and the isolation (and the spiders), there's also this sense that we're intruding. The animals that live out here are wild and sometimes a little dangerous, and it's their land, not ours.
We have coyotes and they run around in packs in the early evening and at night during the fall/winter. Mostly, we hear their high-pitched yipping a ways off through the forest, but sometimes we hear them circling around the house late at night. Seriously, they come to our house and investigate.
I almost stepped on a copperhead the other day. Like really, almost put my foot right on it. I see snakes all the time out here and most of them are harmless. But there's also a sizable population of copperheads, which are poisonous. If my husband is around, he's strong enough to kill them with a rock. I'm not that strong, so I always have to run back to the house to grab a hoe, but most of the time the snake just slithers off somewhere before I can kill it, and that's almost worse, because now you know there's a poisonous animal lurking somewhere nearby, but you can't see it.
And then just the other day, I took our dog for a walk in the morning, and then again a few hours later after lunch. At some point during those few hours, an animal, probably a coyote or a fox, left behind a long, thick piece of intestine on the path where we walk. It must have killed a small deer, maybe a fawn, or maybe even a dog or cat. Whatever it was, both the animal that was killed and the thing that killed it had to have been fairly large. And we're quietly sharing the same space with it, whatever it was, which can be a little disconcerting.
And then of course there's the more subtle dangers, like the ticks that carry Lyme's disease. My husband is a very outdoorsy person, and never thinks twice about exploring in the woods. But since he got bit by that tick and has been really suffering from the effects of Lyme's disease (and struggling with doctors** who don't want to prescribe any more antibiotics even though his symptoms haven't completely gone away...), he's admitted to feeling much more uneasy about living on the farm than he ever had before. I can understand that when it feels like there's danger lurking beneath every leaf.
Anyway, happy two-year anniversary to us and all the wildlife that's puts up with us while we're here. It's a privilege to live out in the country, but it's not a petting-zoo.
*Technically, it's not a farm, but I don't know how else to describe it so you'd understand. It's a very strange place that's more like a semi-public park, though it has a specialized farming purpose.
**Don't worry, we're going to find a better doctor.
So I know earlier this week I said I was super excited to have internet again at our house, and practically the first thing I did after we got hooked up was write that post for you guys. And then literally 1 hour later - the internet died (which kind of made me feel like a liar).
I could bore you guys with a long story about how it took 4 days of dealing with two different call centers that appeared to be in parallel universes, neither of which seemed to have any knowledge of the other (very Androids Dream of Electric of Sheep), but long story short - the Internet is now fixed, and we're back in business.
And it's funny, because now that I really, truly seem to have it again, I have no idea what to with it. I'm totally out of practice. My husband said the same thing. It's like, to us, there's only two websites in the world: Washington Post and CNN. When you're on a restricted data-plan, that's pretty much all there is.
But today, I realized I could actually click on stuff! Like even links that went to Youtube videos! So that was kind of cool. I saw a pretty good video of John McCain back in the 2008 pretty much living the definition of a respectful presidential candidate. Who'd of thought that was possible?
And then I got stumped again. Like, what do you do on the Internet? I finished two big editing jobs today, and I was all set to have some fun goofing on the web, but my mind was a total blank. I've gotten so used to ignoring people telling me to check something out that I literally have no idea what's trending these days.
So, with no better ideas, I just spent a good part of my Friday night watching a bunch of Jenna Marbles videos, because I remember doing that two years ago back when we lived in civilization. (Is she still a thing? See how out of date I am?)
Then I got bored again, and a little voice inside my head was like "Dude, go read a book."
But, no! I worked hard for this Internet! I wasted so much time talking to that shadow call center. I really wanted to find something to do with the Internet besides work.
And honestly, I could only think of this blog, and actually that sounded pretty good, which brings us back to the present.
So help me out, what do people do on the Internet these days? Is it all Netflix? (I draw the line there, we are not getting Netflix.) Are there Youtube videos you like? Anything decent on Amazon Prime? I'm open to suggestions, though in all honestly, I really might just go read a book.
That's right, the Wordly-Bird household has officially rejoined the 21st century after a two year hiatus.
Two years ago, my husband and I were living in downtown Durham, NC. Then we got a German Shepherd and our apartment building kicked us out (well technically, they said we could either get rid of the dog or leave, and we of course chose to leave). So we moved out to the country where the Internet wasn't super available. And after a few days of living without the Internet, my husband I agreed it was actually pretty nice. We felt generally less distracted and calmer. So we did without it. No streaming video. No Pandora or Spotify. Heck, not even Itunes. We had just enough data on our phones to read the news every day, and except for the fact I got pretty tired of my music collection, it worked pretty well for us...
...right up until I started to work from home on my science editing business 3 months ago. Since then, it's been a major hassle driving to the library to get access to the Internet when I need to market my business, or send documents to clients. Eventually, I had so many clients and deadlines that I didn't really have the time to make the half hour drive (one-way) to the library each day, so I started relying on my phone's data more and more, and basically running out every month.
Last Friday I was driving home from an errand and feeling a little stressed about the data issue again, and I had this moment of "enough." For whatever reason, I just happened to reach my tipping point that day and decided I would figure out how to connect Internet to the house. Luckily, the satellite company was running a pretty good deal ($80 a month for TV and Internet, I've never paid so little for it before!), so I signed us up, and here I am now, writing to you from our home Internet for the first time.
This must seem like the silliest, most trivial announcement ever, but if you had been living without Internet for the last two years, this would be a pretty big day for you too.
I'm excited because not only is going to help me run my business more smoothly, but having the Internet at home is going to make blogging so much easier. These past few weeks I literally haven't been able to post because I've been so busy with taking care of my husband (who's feeling much better by the way) while juggling editing deadlines that I literally haven't had a moment to upload blog posts, not even the ones I'd already written offline.
So, anyway, I'm really looking forward to being able to write and share here more easily.
That and watch cat videos :)
Sorry for the lack of posts around here. Been a busy bee on the editing front. Also remember that cold I told you about? Took me a solid 3 weeks to get over it. Seriously, this horrible cold has been an epidemic in Chapel Hill. Seems like everyone I meet has "just" gotten over it.
Despite feeling less than 100%, my husband and I managed to take a quick visit up to D.C. to see my parents and squeeze in a sail. Fall sailing is the best. The wind was pretty strong out on the bay (gusting up to 24 knots!), but once we got the sails double-reefed it wasn't too bad. Here's a picture of my dad. Doesn't he look happy?
I think sailing is his favorite thing to do in the world. It's one of my favorite things to do for sure. We sailed to Rock Hall on the Eastern Shore and had the most amazing crabs at Waterman's Crab House. They were so big and sweet (crabs get huge in the fall). Lately, I've had an itch to move out West, but I'd definitely be sad to be even more land-locked than we already are in Chapel Hill. Maryland is a pretty nice state if you know how to take advantage of what it has to offer (the water, mostly).
On the editing front, business has been good. Maybe too good. I'm getting loads of jobs, but then I feel like I'm always scrambling to keep up. I definitely need to start charging more. I have about 5-10 professors who have been giving me great repeat business, so I think they see the value I add to their research, so maybe it's almost time to start inching up my rates. I spend way too many hours on their manuscripts for how much I charge. This has been a reoccurring problem for a while now.
I don't mind working that hard, but it kind of defeats some of the purpose of starting this business, which was to free up more time for me to write. I'm sure some of you more experienced readers out there could have seen this coming. Starting a business is really, really hard work, and I feel so much more motivated to succeed than I ever did when I was working for somebody else. But that also means I haven't had nearly as much time to write as I had hoped I would. There were some quiet weeks over the summer when I had few editing jobs and could write all day long, but I haven't had a single day of that kind of "free time" in weeks. Part of the problem is I'm just not making time for myself to write, but then again, I'm also pretty exhausted trying to meet editing deadlines.
But all of that kind of pales in comparison with the other issue we've been dealing with at home, which is Lyme's disease. A few weeks ago, my husband was collecting fire wood out the woods and then a few days later he found a strange rash on his leg that itched like crazy. It looked like this:
In this neck of the country, we are very Lyme's disease aware. Deer ticks hang out in leaf litter, so my guess he got bit while he was collecting fire wood. He went to the doctor and came back with a 3 week course of antibiotics. Good thing he did, because even after taking the antibiotics, he started to develop symptoms: painfully sore/stiff joints, especially his knees, a serious fever, chills, congestion, etc. They say that the early-stages of lyme's disease is like a really bad flu, but I think the pain goes beyond any flu I've ever had or seen. It's like every immune response in his body suddenly turned on, and all his nerves are on fire. He describes it as a constant, deep aching or shooting pain. My husband is one of those people who hates taking time off work, but even he's very willingly stayed home these last 3 days and pretty much hasn't gotten out of bed. It just hurts too much to move around. It's really hard to watch him suffer like this (he's in serious, serious pain) when all I can do is try and make him as comfortable as I can, and ensure he's drinking lots of fluids and taking his medication. Poor guy, especially since he just got over his own horrible cold a few weeks ago. He just can't catch a break.
Way too much sickness going around here, lately. Just a lot of bad luck, I guess.
Anyway, I think we might go back to the doctor and see if they can't prescribe any stronger antibiotics. I know a lot of people who have had Lyme's disease (friends and family members) and all of them say to takes at least 3 weeks of antibiotics, and maybe another round to really get rid of all the symptoms. Fortunately, the doctors around here don't seem to be that resistant to treating it.
Wish us luck.
Writer, editor, scientist.