On Your Mark

On Your Mark

Ready for goals“This is my favorite week of the year, Little Sharks. As you reflect on the year past. don’t forget to plan (not WISH) for the year to come.” — Kelley Sue DeConnick

Almost there. In less than 24 hours, 2015 will be done and dusted. Yesterday was about looking back. Today is absolutely all about looking forward. We finish our last “musts” as early as possible and then we celebrate.

The cynic in me likes to note that January 1 as the start of the new year is just an arbitrary date and other traditions celebrate other days. But there is something both enticing and comforting about the end of one year and the start of a new one. The page turns and it’s a clean slate, the idea that no matter how badly we might have fallen down on our goals or screwed things up in general, we get to start again on a blank page. “This year,” we tell ourselves. “This year I’ll do better.”

But we can’t get there just by wishing. Plans need to be made, goals set. But while the goals should be SMART — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound (an acronym that personally annoys me for so many reasons, but it is a useful tool), let’s not overload ourselves and remember that other acronym that is so important to planning: Keep It Simple, Stupid. If we get overwhelmed by our planning, then what use is it?

Planners and journaling systems abound and I absolutely recommend having one you keep regularly. I’ve found that it’s helpful for keeping track of things and reassuring yourself that you aren’t just sitting and doing nothing. Planning systems abound ranging in complexity (and price), but if you’re looking for one, I’d suggest taking a look at Bullet Journal. To start, you need a notebook and a pen, your choice. I use Moleskines because I like those and a fountain pen because that’s my favourite writing instrument, but a spiral notebook from the 99 Cents Store and a ballpoint that wandered home from the office will work just as well. The reason I like it is because the system is absolutely simple, yet flexible. Within a week of starting, I was already adapting the way a day was laid out to work better for me. You can get wildly creative or keep it simple — though I’d advise limiting anything that isn’t actually logging tasks or events to a minute or two a session. I realized I was heading way down the rabbit hole in decorating my entries, which took away from actually doing them.

I discovered the Bullet Journal via Kelley Sue DeConnick and her motivational list, Bitches Get Shit Done. Sign up and you’ll get text messages several days a week to help inspire and motivate you. One of my favorites was the day my phone chimed and I found the message “FOCUS” waiting for me. For those who aren’t familiar with her work, Kelley works a great deal in comics and was the writer on the most recent version of Captain Marvel, and is currently writing the creator-owned “Bitch Planet.” The latter might not be everyone’s speed, but I highly recommend her Captain Marvel and, frankly, I think her run on the book is one of the reasons Marvel chose to add the character to their roster for Phase 3.

So you’ve got your journal to write your goals in, you’ve got a source of motivation that’ll come to your phone. Think about what you want to do for 2016 — and make certain there’s at least one “shoot the moon” goal because our reach should exceed our grasp.

Your blank page awaits. Ready, set…

Taking Stock

Taking Stock

Looking back to YesterdayOne of the rituals at the end of the December is lists. Lists of things we did, things we didn’t do, weight we lost (or gained). We make lists for the coming year — goals, resolutions, where we’ve been, where we want to go. What we want to achieve. What we never want to do again.

Many of those lists are put away shortly after New Year’s, along with the resolution that we really are, absolutely, going to [fill in your resolution here] every single day, never to be looked at again. There’s a real danger of potentially overburdening yourself at this time with expectations, only to have it come crashing down because you don’t have time, resources or the energy — and progress can seem to be painfully slow in the face of all the other things pressing in on you.

And yet, looking back is important from time to time because it’s the only way we can see how far we’ve come. I don’t see it referenced much these days, but fifteen years ago, lots of folks were following The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I did three rounds with an online circle and while a number of practices fell away almost as soon as the group dissolved and others dwindled over time, I did take away two things that stayed with me:

  • The first Rule of the Road is that you show up at the page every day. I don’t write every day, but there is always something burning in the brain. (Goal for 2016: Get it out of the brain and onto page more frequently.)
  • Amazing things can happen when you’re willing to take baby steps, fall down, get back up again, and take more baby steps.

Without showing up, nothing will get done. Without being willing to take the baby steps, you cannot walk. If you cannot walk, you cannot run. If you don’t learn to run, you’ll never learn to fly.

For some things, I’m still in the crawling stage. There were major upheavals in our household this year whose repercussions will be felt for a long time. But I also see three manuscripts drafted, actually have something resembling an act where social media is concerned (not necessarily good, but it is more than I had last year at this time), and a sense of forward movement. As one year melts into another, I’m going to hold that as my touchstone, determined to keep moving forward.

What are your high points for 2015?

Monday? Already?

Monday? Already?

IMG_0582 Well, that weekend went fast.

I had a long list of goals that I hoped to accomplish over the past two days. I think I got through maybe four, one of which is visible to your left. Aside from buying a new wreath and getting it on the door, I kept up with the rows I had to do for the Advent Shawl, finished the left sleeve on a cardigan I’m knitting and started the right sleeve, and managed to post on the Plan With Me Challenge on Instagram, which I found via Kara aka Boho Berry. I didn’t get the lights up outside, or hang the framed pictures for the front hall or sorted the other art we have like I had hoped.

I did do my usual writing session at Starbucks Saturday and did some revisions on a non-NaNo project, so that was moving forward, but most of the weekend, I just…rested. I read, watched some videos, knit (which I find relaxing whether it’s on my goals or not), and curled up with the cats. The cats enjoyed it. It helped because I’d been burning the candles at both ends during November and I seriously needed the down time, which is likely the last I’m going to get until New Year’s. Work is about to go into high gear for the end of the year, there’s revisions that need doing and and I need to start lining up goals and other things for 2016. (It’s going to be a new year in less than four weeks; that’s kind of scary.)

A lot of folks recommend using Sunday evening for weekly goal setting. I don’t know about you, but on Sunday evening, I’m usually still in denial that I have to go into the office the next morning — or I’m frantically doing laundry. Monday morning, I haul myself out of bed and go walking while the world is still quiet. I’m half-awake when I start, so the mind just floats, which means it’s a great time to work through story problems or figure out what I need to do for the days ahead. Never mind I often seem to be working in a “Man Plans, God laughs,” situation; for that time, I can see the world laid out before me and, hopefully, I’ll manage to get a some things done in the coming week.

So what are you trying to accomplish over the next five days? (No, hiding under the covers is not an option. I know, I checked.)

Let’s Not Continue As We Began

Let’s Not Continue As We Began

My weapon of choice

My weapon of choice

There’s a cheery post about resolutions sitting in the draft file at this point. It was supposed to go up a couple of days before New Year’s — but work got a little insane and I put in more overtime than planned. Then I got sick on New Year’s Eve, complete with fever and body aches, had to work New Year’s Day and Friday (new system coming online with the corporate job), and ended up sleeping most of that weekend just to recover, so I could hit the desk on Monday. Then some family things happened which culminated with my father-in-law moving in with us, so the husband, cats and I now have a roommate.

Then, of course, the horrible events in Paris on Tuesday with Charlie Hebdo and the two standoffs on Friday related to that.

Suddenly, a cheery post about how I’m going to try to stick to my resolutions this year to lose weight and be more organized doesn’t seem particularly appropriate.

That’s not to say I shouldn’t make goals or be cheerful — one of the best reactions we as individuals can have to these acts of terrorism is to continue to laugh and love and strive and — above all else — live. “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” John Lennon sang in a song on his last album and it’s a truth. If we stop laughing or living, if we let our world be darkened and overpowered by fear, that’s when we let the bastards win. We acknowledge our fears, are changed and touched by them, but we continue.

This isn’t a political blog. It’s my place to spout piffle about my life and knitting, things that I enjoy and promote my writing at such point when I finally release it to the wild. But the events of this week can’t help striking close to home in emotional ways. The folks in those offices were killed because of words and thoughts, because they mocked — often cruelly — those they felt were ripe targets. It’s not my type of humor and some of the works I’ve seen from their issues offend me. But it did not justify the actions of those gunmen. Nothing can justify that. Nor does it justify the death of a policewoman on Thursday or the hostages in the market on Friday.

I am a woman and a writer. More than once, I’ve found my voice stilled for one reason or another. While I now live in La-La Land aka Los Angeles, I grew up in a more conservative environment where I felt compelled to measure what I said or put on paper. It never as bad as what so many have to face and my parents were certainly supportive of me reaching outside the “safe” zone, but I’ve known the chill.

The cry of “Je suis Charlie” has gone out across the world, paying tribute to the cartoonists and staff of the newspaper. The call also goes out of “Je suis Ahmed,” honoring Ahmed Merabet, one of the two officers killed Tuesday. He was a Muslim, who died trying to stop those who killed others because they didn’t like what they said.

So, my major goals for this year are simple: to write and laugh and live, not give into the fear. To actually get my words out there this year. They will not shake the world, but they are my words and I should not let them linger in darkness. To try to stand up as others have stood and acknowledge that all persons have a right to a voice — even if we might find their words personally offensive. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in her biography of Voltaire. May it never come to that, but if it does, may I find that courage.

May we all find that courage; the world would be better for it.

On the road

On the road

The road goes ever on...

The road goes ever on…

Okay, I’ve finally found a use for Facebook.

Several of my fellow writers, including Maria Powers, Christine Ashworth, and Maggie Marr, have been logging their exercise under the hashtag #healthywriter. Needing a kick in the pants, I jumped in. Earlier in the year, I’d been walking regularly, at least 40 minutes five days out of seven. Then I was sick for about two weeks and found it difficult to get back in the groove of things.

Cut to a couple of months later…

Make that several…

So it was November when I noticed the #healthywriter tag again, and said to myself, “Self, you need to stop making excuses and get back into exercising. This is a good way to do it.” So I actually got out of bed, got moving and did it. Of course, I then promptly managed to find an excuse every other morning that week not to, but we’ve all done that sometimes. (Haven’t we? Please tell me I’m not alone in this.)

But somehow, for the past two months, I’ve managed to make it out at least one day a week, sometimes twice, and even three times a few weeks. That’s where Facebook comes in. See, now that I’ve poked my head up, there are people who will know if I’m avoiding getting out and walking. They won’t come after me — okay, some of them might — but I’ll know they know. Amazing what powerful motivation not falling down in front of folk can be.

But then I remembered something important I’d forgotten between the time I’d stopped walking and now: It’s really, really quiet out there at the moment just as the sun is coming over the horizon. That’s no one but you and a few other hardy souls, who are more than happy to leave you to your efforts as long as you leave them to theirs. For that short period of time, there is no one demanding your attention, nothing that needs to be done, and no one you need to answer to except for yourself and that road ahead.

Of course, you haven’t left anything behind and any number of thoughts, good and bad, can go swarming through your head while you’re out there. But for the briefest of moments, we have the illusion that we’re free, with nothing to tie us down or hold us back. Sometimes that illusion is what we need to get us moving for the day. It’s not just that we’ve done something good for our bodies (we have), but we’ve done something good for the mind and spirit. I’m not talking about a virtuous sense of accomplishment for having exercised; nothing makes me reach for a donut faster than reading about that. What I’m talking about is the gift of time alone, where even if your mind is still working at the problem that’s been gnawing at you, your mind’s able to work at it without fifteen other things demanding your attention at the same time. I try to figure out how to solve plot problems, a new way to tackle a knitting pattern that’s giving me fits, consider how I’ll cope with a situation at work, or, sometimes, just let the mind drift.

Even if you’re not looking to get into an exercise routine or can’t go pounding the pavement early in the morning, I recommend that every once in a while you give yourself the treat of stepping outside when the world is quiet and just let your mind relax. If nothing else, you can enjoy the sunrise – and that’s always a sight worth getting up for.

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