Saturday, March 7, 2020

COVID-19 Preppers

Needless to say there's a lot of frustrations on social media right now regarding Coronavirus. Not about the virus itself per say--at this point, most of us have not been personally touched by COVID-19. Mainly the frustrations are coming from those who are annoyed by the "alarmists" who are "stockpiling supplies" and "spreading fear" (to pull a couple quotes from twitter). 

So I'd like to offer another, less popular perspective on the matter (or an explanation, if you will).

Most stockpilers aren't alarmists, nor are they panicking/scared of the virus. 

So why are they piling up on supplies then?

I'm not a prepper, but I do have enough food/water for about three months if there's ever a disaster, so I feel like I can weigh in on this with two main reasons:
  1. When thousands of people are suddenly stockpiling, you're often forced to do the same to ensure you have basic necessities--not for an emergency, but for next week. Take the toilet paper shortage earlier this week. Clint and I woke up to media reports that there were shortages on toilet paper. A friend/colleague of mine sent her husband to our local Costco for TP, and there was none to be found. Upon learning this, Clint immediately placed a bulk order from Amazon. Not because we were scared, or panicking, or alarmists, but because we want to be able to wipe our asses next Tuesday. Did we add to the toilet paper shortage in that moment? Yes. Do I care? Not really. Because unless I can convince thousands of people to slow their roll and quit stockpiling, I'm stuck doing the same, given that my priority is to take care of my family (and their booties). But the irony here is--it wasn't actually preppers that compounded the problem. It was the media. By advertising TP shortages to the masses, guess how people responded? By buying more toilet paper. And this is happening on social media all day long; fear mongering posts and tweets about mass-buying hysteria when in reality these posts themselves are inciting (or at least aggravating) the act.
  2. The second reason people are stockpiling is because situations like this remind people to take stock of what they have and prepare for the worst. This doesn't make them alarmists. They simply aren't sheep who assume that the government will always have their backs. For example, anytime we experience a small tremor here in California, it reminds me that I should be prepared for a larger earthquake, which may lead to me buying an extra case of bottled water that month to store in my cellar. This is not me trembling in fear that another earthquake is about to strike. It's simple awareness, and common sense. COVID-19 is now spreading its spiny fingers through the U.S. and we now have 45 active cases in my state (as of yesterday), but honestly, I don't know anyone in real life whose panicking about it. However, some of us are using this as an opportunity to take inventory. Think of COVID-19 as a yellow flag. A talking point. Are we prepared for a pandemic? Are we prepared for an economy collapse? Most of us aren't worried about these things, but COVID reminds us that we shouldn't sit around, guilelessly floating in our bubbles of ignorance, either. It's a good time to have those conversations, and to get ready for an event that might happen five years down the road, ten, twenty, now, or never. (Somewhat related: I just finished reading a book about the Yellow Fever in 1793, and you better believe the people living in Philadelphia at the time desperately wished they had considered these things.)
So keyboard warriors can keep railing out on social media about how preppers are making the situation worse, but really it accomplishes nothing. You'll never be able to talk thousands of people into not preparing to take care of themselves and their loved ones in an impending (albeit perceived) event. And frankly, you might be making the situation worse by leading others to believe that preppers are about to clean out store shelves. That incites panic--not a few folks quietly buying some emergency supplies. So either grab a few extra Top Ramens and canned veggies yourself during your next grocery store run, or get over it. Let them do them, and you do you.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

3 Ps that are Making My Life Pleasanter

I've been feeling pretty content lately. Not that I don't still have the occasional mood swing, but overall I've been more relaxed--in my job, in my home life, in my writing...in everything. So I was sort of sitting here, thinking about the things that have improved the quality of my life lately. I wish I could say they're big, meaningful changes, like spending more quality time with my family, or finding a home church I love. But what it comes down to is three Ps--all of them pretty shallow:
Plotting, Paddlingand Podcasts.


Plotting

I've always been a pantser when it comes to writing. At the most I jot down a few notes about what I want to happen in my book(s), then pretty much wing it from chapter to chapter. But Spring of Crows is the final book in the series, which requires more intricate planning. I have to figure out how to tie every loose end in a way that lines up logically with the past two books. All of this has forced me to switch from pantsing to plotting. So before starting this installment, I created detailed summaries of what was going to happen for the first 13 chapters. It took me the better part of a day to do it, but holy cow, I'm so glad I did. Now every time I sit down to write, there's virtually no writer's block. It feels like the story is already there; my job is simply to transcribe it. Don't get me wrong, I'm still a painfully slow writer. But overall writing has been a more effortless experience, and it makes me feel so...happy.*

*(Note: I'm officially screwed once I finish chapter 13, because at that point I'm out of summaries and it's back to the drawing board, but I'm trying not to think about that too much.)

Paddling

Clint and I have tried so many different exercise regimes to stay in shape. Every time we find one we're excited about, it loses its appeal after a few weeks. It's even more tricky because Clint has knee problems, which leaves him with the conundrum of: 1. Working toward a healthier body but putting more strain and potential damage on an already-injured knee, or 2. Keeping his knee safe but throwing his body to the wolves. 

Upon the recommendation of our brother in-law, Clint started researching water rowing machines. He was pretty happy to learn that rowing offers a full-body workout, but is considered a zero impact exercise...perfect for someone with a bad knee. We ended up purchasing this:
It's a used one, but barely.

The first time we used it, it was like some medieval torture machine.

Okay...it totally wasn't bad at all. But it turns out that rowing is a lot of work. For his first workout, Clint lasted only five minutes. On the plus side, it put no strain on his knee while simultaneously kicking his ass (and mine too, by the time it was my turn). But neither one of us are disillusioned into thinking we'll have enough motivation to stick with something that's essentially work. Enter THIS:








We already own a VR system, so we purchased a subscription to Holodia's Holofit, which is a fully immersive VR cardio workout. Those pictures above aren't simply pretty screen images. We actually paddle through these beautiful environments. I can turn my head in any direction; I can look behind me, and this is what I see (and hear, as there are sounds as well--water sloshing, birds chirping, a train going by...etc.). It's amazing. The first time Clint and I tried it out, our workout times immediately doubled with no extra effort on our part. You don't feel like you're "working" when you're rowing through canyons, snowy mountains, or a tropical paradise. Each environment also includes trophies you can collect along the way, and your subscription includes a phone app that tracks all of your progress--all things that motivate you to come back. Long story short: This is the most pleasant workout regime I've ever experienced. Not only is it adding to the quality of my life right now, but it's enjoyable enough that I just might end up sticking with it long-term. I guess only time will tell.

Podcasts

The commute home from work has been a growing thorn in my side. I'm totally cool with the morning commute--it's a new day, and I like that feeling of slowly energizing in the car while sipping my coffee, chatting with Clint, listening to music, all while
taking in the pretty scenery (Silverwood Lake is gorgeous in the mornings). But the afternoon drives are grueling. I'm burnt out from answering to 108 middle-schoolers all day, and because Clint is the one driving, it puts me into passive passenger mode for 45 minutes. I get drowsy, bored, and restless. Drowsy would be okay if I could nap in the car, but I can't (that's a whole other topic), and feeling tired when you can't nap is kind of torture. So after hearing how much Shannon enjoys listening to podcasts during her commute, I decided to give them a try.

I didn't want to listen to anything informational, motivational, or political (again, long work day); I wanted something intriguing with an actual storyline. I knew immediately that true crime was the way to go (kind of funny because I don't read murder mysteries, or watch them on TV). Since real life drama isn't Clint's thing, I plugged into earbuds and listened to my first podcast alone as he drove us home from work. I loved it beyond words. The drive flew by, and I wasn't bored or drowsy at all. In fact, I was so addicted to the episode that during 7th period the next day, I couldn't wait for our commute home so I could continue the saga where I had left off.

On day 2, Clint suggested I play the podcast aloud. Even though murder mysteries aren't his first choice, I think he was feeling a little isolated with me listening to it on my own. It probably sucks having your wife sitting right next to you but no ability to talk to--or hang out with--her. I was worried that us listening to it together would result in a bunch of commentary on his part when I wanted to 'lose myself' in the podcast (and not have to pause it over and over), but he was a great listener through the episode and never interrupted the story. Now Clint and I are enjoying the podcast series, Cold, on our drives home. I'll be sad once it's over (this series has 18 episodes), but I already have Bear Brook lined up for my next series, followed by Dr. Death, and so on. I know all this sounds a little weird given that podcasts aren't some new thing, but I never realized how entertaining they can be. Now I understand why people at the turn of the 20th century loved listening to radio shows so much. There's something about it that's so appealing. Not only do I no longer dread the drive home from work, I'm actually excited for it. So if you're like me and stuck with a boring commute, I highly recommend trying out some podcasts. Choose a topic you love and see what's out there. You won't regret it!

So there you have it. Maybe next month, three Qs will show up and make life even better. (Or derail things completely) (Yeah, it'll probably be that).

Thursday, January 9, 2020

My Bipolar Series

A series takes a long time to write, and it's interesting to see how much of your original plans totally change (or downright unravel) through the process. Take Chasing Echoes for example. Originally I had planned for it to be a standalone book. I wanted to read a novel about a teenaged girl who was trapped in a time loop with a guy she didn't like. That concept seemed ironic--and funny--to me. But sadly it didn't exist anywhere. So I decided to write the book myself. Again, as a standalone. Yet as I was outlining it, I realized I needed to provide a reason for my MC and 'some guy' to be stuck in a time loop. The brainstorm went something like this:
Okay, how about my MC has a supernatural dad who--for whatever reason--curses the guy into a time loop? And somehow said-guy drags her into the loop too? YES. This gives her even more reason to hate him. But...why is her dad supernatural? Who or what is he that he can manipulate time? Hmmm. How about we say he's Father Time? Awesome. Done. But wait a sec...if he's Father Time, shouldn't she, as his daughter, be something too? Shouldn't she have powers? Ughhh. Fine. She has three sisters, and each of them is the human embodiment of a season, with coordinating powers. Awesome! Great! This is SO original! But--oh crap--how am I going to incorporate all of this info into ONE book? And why would one "season" get a story but not the other three? *bangs head against wall* FINE. I'll just write one book for each sister...

And that's how Chasing Echoes went from a standalone to a four-part series.

After publishing Chasing Echoes, I did a detailed outline for the second book (Black Lilies). But despite my totally beautiful outline, I went into panic mode and decided I wasn't going to write it. Here's a post I wrote about it: Why I'm Not Writing My Sequel, in March 2016.

And that's how Chasing Echoes went from a four-part series back to a standalone. 

At this point I started working on a totally unrelated dystopian manuscript that I simply adore, The Apathetics. I reached the 12% mark with that manuscript, when for reasons unknown, I got a weird itch to write the first chapter of Black Lilies. Then the second. Then the third. And pretty soon, I was writing the whole dang novel. My writer's block was gone, and I felt excitement for the series again! 

And that's how Chasing Echoes went from a standalone--again--to a four-part series--again.


As I was writing Black Lilies, I started outlining the third book, Spring of Crows, which was going to be Krystal Aevos' (Winter's) book, and I came across two problems. Well, three, really. 
  1. An editor friend of mine told me that, due to her age, giving Krystal Aevos her own book switches my genre from YA to MG --an awkward thing to do mid-series. After researching it, I discovered he was correct; young-adult readers don't want to read about a 14-year-old.
  2. After Black Lilies was drafted, I realized I only had enough Chasing Echoes material for about another book-and-a-half, not enough for two full books.
  3. The thought of writing two more books was making me want to curl up in the fetal position and die.

That second point was quite the conundrum. With only 1.5 book worth of material (if even that), I was faced with forcing prose without enough of a storyline. Aka: Sagging Middle Syndrome. I decided taking away that fourth book would solve all of my problems...including problem #3, which was the stupidest one, but the loudest. Yes, I'd have to tighten my prose, but maybe that would be a good thing. It could lend itself to more intensity for the final novel.

And that's how Chasing Echoes went from a four-part series to a trilogy.
(And also how it was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.)

This decision doesn't come without a little residual sadness. The Aevos sisters are so...real for me, and they each deserve their own book. As a compromise to point #1 (Krystal being too young to be the MC of a YA novel), I decided to split the difference. Book 3 is told through first-person narration from Phee's point of view, but it alternates with Krystal's point of view--told in third-person narration. This gives Krystal a voice, but allows Phee to be the official MC.

This was the best writing decision I have ever made. Knowing that I am now working on the last book in my series feels amazing. Writing Black Lilies was one big homework assignment; writing Spring of Crows is a joy. It's amazing how much your perspective changes when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm so excited at the prospect of having one major work complete because honestly, I don't feel like an author of two books. I feel like an author of one incomplete series. There's no satisfaction in that. But now I'm sprinting to the finish line (in my slow, sluggish way) and am that much closer to having the freedom to work on other projects. Almost-freedom tastes pretty dang sweet.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

We Wish You a Merry Power Outage

This is my third winter here in Twin Peaks, and there are three big things I've learned:

  1. The first two winters were a joke.
  2. You need a generator to live up here.
  3. Or...you must enjoy reenacting primordial days of lighting candles and stoking fires for warmth to live up here.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we got hammered with snow, and our mountain lost power for four days. This week, we got hammered with more snow and lost power for two more days.

Our local tavern, the Bearclaw, is usually dead in the middle of the day. But here it was yesterday afternoon, day two of the outage:




The Bearclaw doesn't have some big awesome generator, but they do have a small one in which they're able to plug in a few things...enough to entice mountain folks to seek refuge there.

That being said, we actually have a generator. Our property came with one, and it's amazing. It runs on natural gas and turns on automatically during an outage, powering everything on our property. So we pretty much live like kings during a power outage (though we do look like assholes when our Christmas lights are blazing National-Lampoon-style against the pitch-black canvas of our street). The problem is during outages we have no WiFi, and spotty cell service at best, which is why we went to the Bearclaw. Boredom of course, but more than that, the community up here relies on each other for information during storms--we have what we call "Rim pages" on Facebook for this very reason--so you feel cut-off from everyone when you have no WiFi, and start craving interactions with others going through similar issues.

I have to admit, the Bearclaw yesterday was spirit-lifting. The atmosphere was warm and festive, with all of these bedraggled mountain peeps gathered together, making the best of the situation.

Which makes me realize there are three kinds of people who live in the mountains:

  1. The ones who complain about everything.
  2. The ones who get annoyed by the ones complaining about everything. (i.e. "Suck it up buttercup. You chose to live here.")
  3. The ones who go to the bar and have a beer.

I've decided to be person #3. 

Here's a quick video of our last snow: Let it Snow

Here's Mr. Lump, our lazy snowman (built into the hillside by Trin and Elijah so he can look out over the street).



And here are the icicles growing from our roof. 



Anyone up for a good ole' throwback game of Frogger? You get to be the frog, but instead of dodging cars, you're dodging icy spears that could very well impale you. Fun for the whole family!

Hope your Christmas was wonderful and you have an amazing 2020.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Working with Hubby

Image result for teachers holding hands
I work with my spouse. I guess this isn't the strangest thing in the world. Couples who own a business, for example, work together. I have acquaintances who work as a husband/wife team in their real estate business. The winery down the street from my sister's house is owned by a married couple, so those two work together every day.

But there's something different about it when you work at the same workplace as your spouse. Maybe it's because there's a social dynamic with work settings, and now you're mixing your marriage into that. For Clint and I, our jobs are even further enmeshed. Not only do we work at the same school, we both teach 7th grade, we have the same lunchtime, we're both on School Site Council and the Leadership Team, and we're both friends with the same teachers here on campus. Not to mention we commute to work together 45 minutes each way, every day.

So what are the pros and cons of working with your spouse? I don't think I'm even sure about this, so let me write them down and figure it out!

PROS

Shared Interest
Working the same job means Clint and I share a huge part of our lives. Talking about work comes easy when your partner is going through the same experiences as you, and you don't have to pretend to be interested (sorry, that sounds sorta cold).

Carpooling Buddy
Carpooling can get boring after awhile, but working with your spouse means you get to make that daily trip together. I'm especially grateful for this when we have treacherous road conditions due to snowy weather. 

Help on the Job
Technology meltdown? Call hubby. Broken cabinet? Call hubby. Out of glue? Call hubby. Clint has saved my hide in the classroom more times than I can count.


Respect/Admiration
This one can go the other way too--if you work with a spouse who's underperforming, it might embarrass you or make you feel judged by your admin/staff. But in my case, Clint is a creative, tech-savvy teacher and overall fun person who's respected on our campus. It's cool to feel this level of admiration for a colleague, then remind myself "Oh yeah, I'm married to the guy."

Breakfast
When Clint makes his breakfast, he makes mine. I come downstairs every morning to a travel mug of coffee and an egg/avocado/burrito-thing ready to go. (Though honestly, even when we worked separate jobs, he would still make my breakfast, so this is more an 'awesome hubby thing' than a 'working together thing').

Gossip
Clint is exposed to different staff members throughout the day than I am, so by the time we reconvene, we're both loaded with juicy gossip that the other wasn't privy to. And the best part? It doesn't count as gossiping when you share it with your spouse, because married couples are allowed to share everything. ;)

Empathy
Misery loves company. I love my job, but sometimes I'm so tired and drained that the idea of going to work makes me want to curl up in the fetal position. But when Clint and I are both dragging ass at 5:30 a.m--going through the pain together--it makes work an easier pill to swallow.


Friends/Colleagues
Clint's always been a great sport about going to wine nights and other social events with my colleagues. But now that we work together, my friends are legitimately his friends, too. We both love hanging out with people from work, and it feels good that he's no longer tagging along as my 'plus one.'

Flirting
Clint and I have a bit of a "professionalism be damned" attitude at work. We have no problems hugging in front of people, saying "I love you," or even dropping the occasional innuendo. Our colleagues have grown accustomed to our flirtiness and just roll with it (or jump in), and it adds a fun dynamic to what would otherwise be an ordinary day.

Family
Work feels less like work when family is there. I felt this dynamic back when my kids attended my school too. Maybe it's because no matter what curveballs are thrown at you throughout the day, knowing that the people you love the most are nearby, ready to give you a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on...well, it softens the blow.

CONS

Attached at the Hip
There's truth in the expression "absence makes the heart grow fonder." Being together 24/7 means never having time apart to miss each other. Little nuances, habits, etc., can be charming in smaller doses, but can compound to frustrating levels when you never get a chance to hit the reset button.


Toxic Negativity
I'm an upbeat "roll with the punches" person who doesn't like to dwell on negative stuff. My preferred commuting style is to blast my music and ignore any jackholes on the road. So when Clint blows off steam over a bad driver or road construction or whatever, it verbally craps on my entire morning. He also likes to fester in work politics, which I prefer to brush off (why dwell in things you can't change?). If we do get into an argument, there's no way to 'get away' to clear our heads. Honestly, this is the biggest con. I feel like this one should be in bold red.


Leaving Work at Work
In the old days when I came home, Clint and I would spend a few minutes at most talking about our workday before moving on to greener pastures. But now, having our livelihoods in common means work tends to consume all of our conversations. This makes it difficult to "leave work at work." We had to come up with ground rules last year (i.e. No talking about work once we hit the trees, no talking about work in bed, etc.), because living and breathing work from 5:30 a.m until 10:00 p.m is mentally draining. Unfortunately we're still struggling to follow our own rules, so this one's stuck on the list.

No Mystery
Back when Clint worked for the railroad, my job as a teacher held a sort of mystery and prestige (and vice-versa). Things you don't fully understand tend to be an enigma in your mind. I was 'the teacher in the family', he was 'the railroad conductor in the family', and it was cool having our own niche. But now that he's working the same job as me, it's lost its enigma-status. Sometimes that makes me feel less special in our marriage.
See the source image

That's about the most I can brainstorm this round. But that was pretty enlightening! I'm happy to see the pros outweigh the cons.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Future

It's one of those rare moments where no one's home except for me, so of course I'm sitting here lavishing in some gourmet cheese and red wine. I love alone time to a degree that's probably unnatural, though I'm sure I'll feel differently someday when I'm an empty nester and these kinds of moments happen more often.

So I'm sitting here, enjoying my wine, and I decide I want a little music. I tell our Google Assistant thingy "Hey Google, play some music." "Okay, playing music from your Spotify," she responds, and awesome music starts piping from my living room speakers. I say, "lower the volume by twenty percent." "Okay," she says, and lowers the volume. I realize it's a bit too low, so I say "Increase the volume by ten percent." "Okay," she says, and increases the volume. Now it's perfect.

And while all this is accomplished casually without any fanfare, it hits me. I'm living in the future. I can barely comprehend it. The fact that I can turn my music on and adjust the volume without so much as lifting a remote has me feeling awed (isn't this the stuff we used to see on sci-fi shows as kids?), yet simultaneously underwhelmed. It's all happened so fast, yet I feel like the proverbial frog boiling, where technology has crept upon me with such rapid stealth that I've barely noticed. My sister wrote a great post on this concept years ago: The Last Time I Loved Technology.



Not only do I feel a combination of awe and ambivalence, I also feel a mixture of giddiness and trepidation. Giddiness because--how lucky am I to get to live in this amazing century where the world's information is more than doubling every twelve months? Trepidation because (and maybe this is the writer in me)--I see the dystopian nature of it all. Language devolving to the digital version of cavemen drawings, personal connections forsaken in lieu of relationships over screens, and so on. I won't get on that soapbox because it'd take me at least 50K words to step back down, but this oldie from 1969, in all its ridiculous insanity, sums it up nicely: In the Year 2525. Some of these lyrics might take visions of the future to preposterous levels, but you have to admit--this song has some sharp and interesting insights given that it came out well before the internet and cell phones.

So yeah, the curious and inspired human in me feels blessed to live in this era. But sometimes, something else in me waits for the other shoe to drop.


~~~

*Update: Since I drafted this post, Clint and Elijah came home about two hours earlier than I expected, and poor Clint is sicker than a dog and puked down the side of our Pathfinder. See why I bask in Me Time when I have it? :P

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Cringy Character Tropes

I have a few character tropes for heroines that kinda make me want to throw my Kindle at the wall. I don't have anything really insightful to say about them--if you're an avid reader, you've come across these tropes a few times yourself, and have likewise come across people like me who are also irked by them. But I have to get these out of my system, so here goes.

Trope #1: The Short Fuse Chick
This protagonist is moody and angsty. Other than her one best friend who she confides in, she has a tendency to treat people like crap, especially the boy she has a crush on. She also tends to fall into teenage-cliches, such as perpetually being annoyed at her siblings and despising her parents. That is--if her parents are alive. Often her angst is attributed to the fact that one or both of her parents were killed when she was a kid. Her childhood is often tragic, but (in my humble opinion) no excuse to be a jerk to everyone all the time.

Trope #2: The Wet Blanket
This protagonist has no personality. Onwardly she may have original thoughts and clever ideas, but outwardly she is dull and has nothing interesting to say. Yet, for reasons unknown, men vie for her attention (think Bella from Twilight, here). She may be pretty, or plain in appearance...it doesn't matter. Despite her doldrum demeanor, she exudes some kind of pheromones that make every girl want to be her best friend and every guy want to be her boyfriend. Because of her mysterious desirability (which is in no way backed up by one iota of personality), these heroines are often involved in another annoying trope: love triangles.

Trope #3: The Immune Bad Ass
This protagonist wears leather pants, wields weaponry with the ease of an added appendage, has ninja fighting skills, drinks her coffee black, and would never be caught dead in a dress. Basically she's toxic masculinity with a vagina. She almost never loses a battle and has zero flaws, other than being emotionally unavailable and refusing to let anyone get close to her. Males in her world often serve as sidekicks to her badassery, or comic relief. Some feminist authors fall for this trope believing that giving their heroine any emotions, softness, or traits typically associated with femininity is making her weak. Whereas I'm scratching my head thinking "Um, why can't a female be 'girly' and a badass? (Cue Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Don't get me wrong, I love a strong heroine and can't stand Mary Sues. But there needs to be a balance here, because (other than in comic books) very few readers can connect to heroines that are essentially emotionless fighting machines. Relatability is the key to connection, and this character is totally unrelatable. 

I wonder if these tropes bother others? I am pretty picky. To be fair, none of these are deal-breakers, but they will make me roll my eyes and care less about the MC, which in turn makes me feel less invested in the outcome of the story. On the other end of that, I have awesome character tropes that I adore, but I'll save that for a future post.