The Dog Days of Summer Have Arrived

According to the news broadcast I watch, or at least their weekend meteorologist, today (June 20) at 10:24 p.m. summer officially starts. Hello solstice!

As much as I love waking in sunlight and having light in the evening, I find these long days exhausting because they throw me right out of whack. I stay up too late because my system is not in let’s-get-ready-for-bed mode when I should get moving and then it’s awful trying to haul my sorry butt out of bed. The good weather also means more socializing because I can travel about without worrying that a flash blizzard will happen. Having a life further disrupts my routine.

There’s a reason the school systems give us the summer off.

Still, it’s not all bad. I love reading outside when it’s quiet enough, I enjoy grilling on the BBQ, and I’m a sucker for flowers and food in the garden. I also adore butterflies and bees. My spider friend is hanging outside my bedroom window again. There are lots of upsides, despite my laziness.

With the peak of daylight behind me, I’m hoping to get more things done. Early in the year I deliberated giving myself the warmer part of summer off to see if that would help long term, but that was before my quick decision to enroll in courses. Now I don’t think my stories can handle the time off. Either way, I really need to get in a productive frame of mind here.

I used to find the summer so inspiring. I need to get back into that head space and get some words on the page! I think I need a change of scenery and a long weekend. Canada Day is coming up and I’m hoping to catch up on some sleep. Perhaps I’ll use the time to find a new writing spot for the next couple of months.

What do you do to stay writing fit in the summer? Do you get more done or take a break and attack things in the fall?

Taking on a Genre I Never Thought I Would

May has been a trying month for me, for multiple reasons. The week of May 22nd to 26th was especially hard with multiple deadlines that I hit only at the last minute, a too-full social calendar, a bad week of sleep, and the tail end of an illness. In the midst of feeling overwhelmed, I decided I wanted to try my hand at creative nonfiction.

I love the work of Roxanne Gay, and Bad Feminists is one of my favourite books. I’ve always thought memoir would be an interesting genre to write since I do immensely enjoy the occasional memoirs I read. I need to read more memoirs, for the record. In any case, when I think of writing one, these issues come to mind: I’m too young to write a memoir and I do not lead an interesting existence. I really don’t.

However, my mental health issues have reared their heads mightily this year. Just over a month ago I realized I was in a tailspin. Thankfully, I’m on the upswing, but I know I’m still at the delicate stage and I need to be really cognisant of my emotional state and how I’m processing.

For the sake of catharsis and trying to figure out the roots of my bigger issues, I thought writing a collection of personal essays wouldn’t be a bad idea. I started the project…and it’s going to be a much more difficult endeavor than I ever imagined. I joke to friends and colleagues that compared to people who share a lot, I’m not merely a closed book, I’m glued shut. Unsticking myself is excruciating.

Sharing any aspects of myself is difficult for me. I do not like attention on myself. I do not like being opened to scrutiny. I do not like feeling like I am being judged. All of this stems my anxiety. And the best way I know how to deal with those issues is to face them head on.

Another part of the problem is that as a writer I do not know a great deal about writing creative non-fiction. I know enough that a lot of fiction writing elements crossover, but I also know every genre has its own nuances.

I don’t have enough on my plate right now, so I’m starting a massive undertaking. But I’m also excited to learn something new and share what I learn here.

Public Service Announcement: I’m Heading Back to School!

On Friday, the entire story of how I arrived at the point of determining that I need to go back to school will be live on Anxiety Ink. The short version of it is this: I want to acquire new writing skills and eventually find a career that challenges and utilizes those skills. So I have enrolled in a professional writing certificate program specializing in marketing and public relations.

Because I work nearly full time, and I do not want to try to figure out my vacation to do the courses on campus, I am doing distance learning. I’ve never taken any online courses before so this will be interesting in itself.

My first course starts in April and I am so excited.

However, even coming to the point of enrollment, I am floored at the cost. And that’s what I want to touch on a bit today.

Right now, I work at a day job where I make just above minimum wage with a limited amount of hours I’m allowed to work. I’ve made it work, and I am on track to pay off my Canada student loan this year and then my Alberta student loan next year. I graduated in 2013 and gave myself a 5 year window to pay those suckers off.

Now, having done some minor job searching, I’m feeling underpaid and under-challenged, though I realize I’m unqualified as far as being able to head in the career direction I currently want to go in. I don’t mean for this to sound conceited, but there is not much I can’t learn. As long as it doesn’t require advanced physics or neuroscience or a non-Latin alphabet, I can learn it.

Nevertheless, people don’t want to take you on if you don’t have a piece of paper that says you’ve been educated. Because I earned my BA Honours in English, I understand the skills required and acquired in that process. I also know how those skills can be applied to a variety of jobs. Unfortunately, that opinion is in the minority as far as the job market goes.

I don’t regret earning my English degree, though I am wishing I had minored in either business or communications or something else. Anything to show people that I can excel in the workforce. It’s irritating because I can –I’ve been working since I was fourteen– but I can’t find anything long-term to suit my degree.

I love the arts. I will never not admire the arts and what they give society, but those outside of them do not value what they can bring. Heck, I’ve met people inside them who think they’re bunk.

I graduated with an astronomical amount of stress and debit with no career options. I was fortunate enough to find a job close to my house and have parents willing to let me live with them largely cost-free, but I’m ready to move on.

It’s a good thing I am an excellent saver despite my meagre earnings because this certificate is going to cost me upwards of $3500 in the end. Couple that with my outstanding debt at about $12,000, and the price of my education leaves me scratching my head.

It’s unfair, we live in a world that says we need a college education to truly advance and build a worthwhile career, but that doesn’t account for the insane costs that not many of us can handle. I’m in a better position than most, though I don’t come from an affluent family. I’m good with my money, I’m driven, but if something were to happen to one of my parents tomorrow I would have to drop out of this program because that would place an enormous financial burden on my shoulders.

We have to spend money to make money…I’m $30,000 in, where’s my cut?

I value education, I always have. But between the costs of education, the cost of living, and the availability of jobs that will pay me well to use the skills I’ve spent years developing, I’ve got a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

Perception

world map

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the fact that I’m a reader and a writer, that I’m fascinated with perception, especially the ways people perceive themselves and those around them. I can’t claim to have a background in psychology, since I haven’t studied it since high school—and we all know that that does not count—but I’ve had a lifelong interest I’ve continued to cultivate on my own.

As a writer, perception is something I have to be aware of when it comes to the characters I create. Even within the same story, I have to know how the protagonist sees themselves and their enemies, and I have to know how the antagonist sees themselves and their enemies. Their inward and outward perceptions provide plot fodder, tension, and so much more to a narrative.

As a reader, it’s good to be in tune to these perceptions if you want to get the most out of what you’re reading. Especially if you’re reading about a character with a lived experience so different from your own who makes decisions you never would.

As a human being, it’s also important to acknowledge others perceptions so you can be a more sensitive individual.

Recently, a few things in my life have culminated to throw ideas of perception at me. First, these quotes from Socrates arrived in my inbox: “The nearest way to glory is to strive to be what you wish to be thought to be.” And, “The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.”

Second, this exchange occurred at my day job when one of my more acerbic clients came in. We chatted while she got organized, and she told me that days before she tore a strip off someone at the Canada Revenue Agency. She followed this up with, “I don’t like to do that to anyone, but I was mad.” Honestly, I can easily see her doing this often. Even routinely. She has a very cutting personality, and she has no qualms about making her displeasure known.

You never know if people say things like this because they shouldn’t enjoy yelling at other people, when in fact they do, but they don’t want you to think they’re horrible. Or whether people don’t realize their own habits and ways of interacting with others. This perception of herself versus my perception of her are so at odds. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. If she was a character, I could easily play with this aspect to add depth to my story.

Lastly, this happened, also at the day job. Just before Christmas, my co-worker, who is a wonderful person but not the most enlightened when it comes to people not raised in small town, Conservative Alberta—and those who identify with those ways—was helping one of our clients who is from the Philippines. She asked about his Christmas plans and then proceeded to ask him if he celebrates Christmas. The man is very quiet and didn’t really answer her verbally, but he did wish her a Merry Christmas as he left.

When he was gone, she commented that it must be hard for kids of other faiths to see their fellow students in school doing all their Christmas stuff with their families. Unfortunately, such narrow generalizations are a routine occurrence where I work. I have learned to just ignore them because doing otherwise is like smacking my head against a brick wall. There are comments that raise my hackles and I have to interject. This was not one of those comments.

All I could think as I gritted my teeth in exasperation was, “People of other faiths actually have celebrations of their own that are just as culturally significant to them as Christmas is to spoiled white kids.” I couldn’t stop myself from pointing out to her that a large part of the Filipino demographic is catholic, which means they celebrate Christmas. That elicited an, “I didn’t know that.” I bit my tongue against my caustic reply.

This example illustrates Christian privilege as well as the western perception that people who don’t celebrate Christmas are missing out on something fundamental. This lack of cultural knowledge, or even sensitivity, drives me nuts. When you know nothing about how other people live and experience life, perhaps you should keep your mouth shut and not make snap generalizations.

In any case, as riled up as it can sometimes make me, it’s important to know that other people don’t perceive the world as I perceive it. And that’s not always a negative. Even here, I said Christmas is only significant to spoiled white kids, which is not true. I know that’s not true. But my own issues with the holiday sometimes allow me to forget that and I’ll perceive it in such an ugly light.

Perception speaks to so much about our society and social makeup. There are so many endless possibilities when it comes to exploring it whether for science, fiction, or entertainment.

What’s your best story about someone else’s perception of themselves or someone/something else?

National Novel Writing Month 2016: Plan of Attack

In the course of going through my older blog posts and stats in order to write this post, I realized that I have only tackled National Novel Writing Month twice. I wasn’t working in November 2013 so my inaugural challenge went very smoothly. My brain was fried, but I won.

I didn’t tackle NaNo in 2014 because I was working full time and just couldn’t manage it; I had completely forgotten that. Last year, I was working 24 hours a week with a full day off in the middle of the work week. It was hard, but I won. Not as easily as in 2013, but who cares? Victory is victory.

This year, I’m terrified. I currently work 30 hours a week with no extra day off. I only work 5 hours Tuesdays and Thursdays but I have other tasks for those afternoons and mornings, respectively. I also have FOUR social engagements on days off, though I’m trying to get out of two of them. I do have a week of vacation that I planned for NaNo, like I did in 2015, but the month is still scaring me.

I’m going to backtrack a little for those who don’t know what NaNo is. During the month of November, the National Novel Writing Month, I am challenging myself to write 52 084 new words of fiction. Along with a horde of other people who are as masochistic as me. Traditionally, people write 50 000 words or a book over NaNo. I usually finish and start a project. Or two. Or write a bunch of short stories if I get stuck. And I’m trying to beat my number from last year.

In 2015 I discussed my prep plan here since I had never done NaNo around a day job before. Now that seems like old hat. Still, I am once again challenging myself not to cry. I’ve written up my Plan of Attack and it’s got me a little nauseas. Slightly hopeless. I’ve never worked so much, or made so many commitments, and tried to accomplish NaNo.

As is the case all year long, I do not and cannot write every single day. I do not have the stamina. Plus, life gets in the way. My work does not care that I have a word count goal, I need to be mentally present and functional while there. Not to mention I need to get up on time, so no late writing sessions for me. Furthermore, my cats do not care about anything I do that does not involve them. They’re patient with me most of the time but I can’t park myself in front of my computer indefinitely whenever I’m home. There would be furry rioting!

The truth is, it’s hard to manage NaNo around the basic necessities of life: eating, sleeping, cleaning up after yourself, taking care of dependents (animals and children), and leaving your work space for sanity reasons. It’s worth it in the end though when you see what you’re capable of accomplishing in a single month.

Life is life, hence my Plan of Attack factors in preventatives and surprises so that when November 30th rolls around I’m not sitting at my desk blankly wondering where 10 000 words are going to come from. I actually hope to be done by the 27th.

Math, though I detest it, is my main weapon. Here’s my breakdown, the Plan of Attack:

Over the course of November I have 14 full days of writing (weekends + vacation days). On those days I need to write a minimum of 3 000 words.

I also have 4 Tuesday afternoons/evenings (minus my vacation Tuesday). On those days I need to write a minimum of 2 521 words (and still fit in my workout, oy).

3 000 x 14 = 42 000

2 521 x 4 = 10 084

42 000 + 10 084 = 52 084

The math makes it look completely doable. As long as I hit my minimal targets I am home free. I also have “bonus” days factored into my tracking calendar so that I can stay ahead of the game.

However, and this is the part I completely forgot about until now, I know that I need to start big and end not quite as big. That means I need to have higher word counts earlier in the month so that when I start to feel weighed down I will be ahead and still able to hit a my target. Now I have to redo my tracking sheet. Darn it.

Finally, I work everything out into 30 minute segments. In 30 minutes I can anywhere from 500 to 1000 words depending on how the story is shaping up. I always say 500 when I’m breaking my time down because aiming low, knowing you can exceed it, is a great feeling. And telling yourself, “just another 30 minutes” does not sound nearly as bad to the writing mind as “just another 600 words.” You simply go until the timer makes noise. That’s all you can do, all you have to do.

NaNo is all about the mental game and discipline. I’m competitive. I want to win. Having a segmented plan from the get go seriously helps me win when I am too brain fried from writing to figure things out in the midst of it all.

I’ve got both blogs scheduled to the first Friday in December because I can’t have any other writing requirements taking away from my focus. Plus, I know exactly which writing projects I’m tackling and have outlines to follow in order to mitigate time wasted on such things. I have also let everyone in my immediate circle know that I am participating so they know not to be upset if I avoid them or (other) plans in November.

I’ve never lost NaNo following my segmented plan. It’s hard, but it works.

I have a lot riding on National Novel Writing Month 2016. I’ve discussed it repeatedly on Anxiety Ink. I need to win this month because I need to know that I can create while working. I’ve failed myself this year and I need November to turn my spirits around.

Wish me luck! And I wish you the best of luck if you’re taking up the challenge. And if you do try my Plan of Attack, let me know how it goes.

The actual Plan:

nano-attack-2016