Summer News (June Edition)

Author’s Note: I wrote this as a draft at the end of June, but it’s taken me a bit to get up the courage/energy to post it here. Thank you, dear reader,  for bearing with me as I got myself sorted out the last half-year. I’m planning on being more active on the blog in the coming months, partly to chronicle my experience through this recovery, but mostly to talk more about my creative pursuits because radio-silence is kinda boring, no?

This summer’s going to be a bit of an odd one.
After nearly a year of doctor’s appointments and referrals, it became clear last week that the lump growing above my collarbone is Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Ugh. It’s stage one*, and the outlook is very good, but I’m nervous about starting Chemotherapy at the end of July and disappointed to have to take the rest of the summer off as the receptionist at the Veterinary Hospital. I mean, what the heck, bod.
The focus this quarter is to maintain my health as best as I can and to have patience with myself while my body heals. I’ve got a wonderful family and amazing friends to help me through this,  and while I’m sure there will be ups and downs I’m optimistic about the future.

In brighter news, we’ve adopted a new kitten!
We brought her home last Saturday and named her Lydia. She’s a scoundrel and a dear and we adore her already—a weird looking tuxedo with the sweetest mew. She loves to be around people. Grade A kitten. Would recommend.

I’m taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo again this July. I’ll be working on Coral & Bone, my queer-romance novel about a saboteur mermaid and the emotionally distraught whaler who falls in love with her. It was fun to dip my toes into the story this past spring and I’m really looking forward to spending more time with the characters I’ve made. I’m not used to writing romances, but it’s been a fun challenge so far. Also there are kelp forests and whale magic and bar fights and a pet octopus. It’s great stuff.

The veggie garden is looking great after a bit of a slow start. It’s been a spring of extremes—either very hot and dry or quite wet and cold—and while the plants didn’t appreciate the swings they seem to have forgiven and moved on. This spring, John built us a pair of rather cleverly designed raised beds with chicken wire cages on hinges, and it’s been enough to keep the deer and raccoons at bay. Time will tell with regards to bears.

Now, off to work on a novel!

*Whoops, turns out it’s stage II, but the prognosis is still good and we’re still aiming for a cure, it’s just likely going to take 6 months of treatment instead of 4. Bummer.

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My Top 5 Fall (& Winter) Comforts

Fall is probably my favourite time of year, and in no small part because of how delightfully cozy it is. The nights are getting longer and cuddling up under a blanket looks more enticing each day beyond the equinox. Once the rain starts and that damp leaf mould perfume really takes hold, you can bet that I’m surrounding myself with all of my favourite cold-weather things.

Flannel

Flannel sheets, flannel shirts, flannel pyjamas, the flannel lining in my favourite down vest. Flannel is out in full force at my house. It is an immensely comforting fabric to live in, and it’s working wonders towards making this new house feel like home.

Wood

Though it be little, our wood-stove is mighty. As I write this, the little black box blazes nearby. The savoury smell of wood-smoke when I step outdoors. I can scavenge my own fuel from dead-fall, put handfuls of my forage on for kindling, and bask in its warmth. There’s a gentle snap and pull of air, as though a creature sleeps beside me, and I love it.

Wool

So much wool! With the cooler temperatures, knitting is comfortable again, and knitted things are the perfect weight to keep the chill off. On my needles this fall: socks, socks, new fingerless gloves for John, and more socks. On my body this winter: woolly boot socks, thick itchy pullovers, and woollen hats.

Coffee

I was strictly a tea drinker for a long time, but lately I’ve found that there’s nothing else quite as rich and decadent on a cool evening than a milky cup of dark roast coffee. The gentle curls of steam rising from the creamy surface. The heat of a heavy mug against my palm. The smokey flavour and intoxicating smell. I splurged a little this year and bought the more expensive stuff, and I have no regrets. The little bit extra for something that I love, and that centres me, was well worth it.

Vinyl

After a couple of months of not having access to my record collections during the summer move, putting on an album and leaning back for a listen is of particular comfort. Billie Holiday is getting a lot of play lately. Goes well with turning the lights down low and a hot cup of the above.

I hope you’re having a wonderful winter so far, and that you’re able to enjoy some of your own cold-weather comforts.

Happy New Year,

Syd

 

 

The First Full Day of Fall

As I write this, a cool wind is blowing the needles from the trees, and it definitely feels like fall; the days are getting shorter, the spice of leaf litter fills the air, and the rains are returning.

It was most assuredly summer when we arrived here—white hot days and a hot pink sun brought on by the surrounding wildfires. Smoke carried on the breeze. Clouds of dust puffed up wherever we walked. Wasps veered dozily on patios. It felt like cooler temperatures would never come to the Sunshine Coast.

But they’re here today, and I couldn’t be more pleased. The house is (mostly) unpacked, and we’re getting settled into fresh routines. My new job as veterinary hospital receptionist is going well. Things are looking good, and although there’s still time to be spent on the patio, I’m looking forward to the indoor-cosiness that winter will bring.

There are some elements to living here that are taking getting used to, primarily too many bears and not enough internet. Explornet will do for now, and online gaming will have to wait for a future with higher speeds. As for the former, I learned that black bears have a sour-fruit-and-shit kind of smell, and if the wind’s right you can smell them before you can see them. I’m hoping that they will eventually learn to steer clear of the yard and stick to the surrounding wood, and though It might take me a while to get comfortable sharing a backyard with a 600lb mama bear, I can’t complain. You can’t live in the forest and not expect to see wildlife, and there’s a bunch on the property: a family of raccoons that fish for bivalves off our dock, a pair of large (and lust-filled) owls that like to make-out with each other in the wee hours of the morning, and a pack of coyotes that sing songs in the swamp. A herd of elk frequent the area. It’s downright majestic.

And anyway, there’s nothing quite like falling asleep to crickets and waking up to loon song.

I can’t remember the last time I was so well-rested.

Please Stand By

These past two weeks have been filled with the smell of cardboard and the screech of a tape gun. 

The next seven days will be spent on the road, camping every night in a different place as we make the 4500 km journey to our new home.

It’s bittersweet, and exciting, and overwhelming, all at the same time.

More on the move (and the new place!) later, but for now please stand by.

7 Things I Learned While Downsizing My Stuff

For most of my life, I’ve identified as a packrat.

I was raised by packrats. For example: during my grandparent’s emigration from Bermuda in the 1970’s, my grandfather paid to ship 2 decades worth of National Geographic magazines and his collection hundreds of found glass bottles across the Atlantic. The boxes have never been opened.

With my own long-distance move looming, I decided to undertake the overwhelming task of reducing my belongings. It’s been exciting, and sometimes difficult, but most of all it’s been eye opening. Here’s what I’ve learned.

1) Approximately 1/3 of my stuff was useless to me.

It’s not a hard number, but roughly 30% of my belongings were easy candidates for rehoming or recycling. Whether it was my wardrobe, art supplies, DVDs or mugs, I was able to pretty consistently dump 30-50% of what was there without having to give it too much thought.

2) ‘Someday’ will probably never come.

There was so much stuff that I was keeping for someday: an ambiguous time in the future when I’ll be interested in making paper again, or need a feather boa,  or finally,watch that film that’s been sitting unopened on my shelf for half a decade. Sure, maybe one day I will take up embroidery again, but it’s been nearly ten years and my box of floss is just gathering dust. Some things in life are one-offs—and there’s no shame in trying a new hobby or buying a book you think you’ll read—but I’ve learned that if it’s been years since I last used something I probably won’t miss it once it’s gone. I’ve been patient with myself in learning this, as it’s probably been the hardest lesson to sink in. It’s helped to remind myself that by getting rid of a ‘someday’ item I’m allowing myself to rebuy it, guilt free, if ‘someday’ does, in fact, come along. In the meantime, I have more closet space.

3) Digital photography can be a stand-in for the real thing.

I’m super sentimental about objects, but if I wanted to keep everything that made me go ‘aw’ I would need a second home to store it all in. By taking a photo of the thing I can still look at the image of it and get misty, but it’s not cluttering my shelves or taking up space in a box downstairs.

4) Letting go is freeing.

There was a surprising amount of stuff in my home that made me feel bad: a memento tied to a bad memory, a gift from someone who treated me badly, or an object that was broken or damaged beyond repair. Letting go of these items felt like an actual weight was being lifted from my shoulders. My home is not a museum of bad memories. It is a place for me to live and enjoy my family and feel comfortable. Anything that hinders that can hit the kerb.
I also feel that by letting go of certain objects I’ve made more room for myself to grow. It’s a little like weeding a vegetable garden: the stuff I want to grow has more room to do so without the unwanted things taking up space and resources in the garden bed.

5) The emotional value of what I have kept has increased.

Keeping only the things that I love (or that are day-to-day useful) has made those things seem even more special. Ridding my home of the distraction of lukewarm (or worse: frigid) objects made the remaining stuff feel precious and actively chosen. What I have now is more akin to a curated museum exhibit of rare treasures than the rummage-sale-bin-hodge-podge of previous years.

6) I had spent an enormous amount of money on things I didn’t need.

And, you know what? That’s okay.
Not okay as in I would recommend it, but okay as in I forgive myself for having made that mistake and by admitting it was a mistake I have learned from it. Downsizing has taught me to reevaluate what I bring into my home. Lately, my spending has decreased, and the few things I have bought have felt right. I know myself better now, and that’s a big comfort.

7) Sharing the wealth feels good. 

There were so many items that were in great condition, just gathering dust in forgotten corners. Owning things I don’t use or appreciate always makes me feel guilty: someone else could be enjoying this instead of me sitting on it like a broody hen. Liberating old toys from boxes and novels from shelves gave me a distinctly good feeling, even if the items in question were sentimentally loaded. As it turned out, setting them free into the world to be used and enjoyed by someone else brought me more comfort than owning that thing myself.

8) I am not my things.

Possessions are nice—and sometimes necessary—but they don’t define me. A keepsake can be lovely, but ultimately the memory is more important than the object associated with that memory. Choosing to get rid of an object doesn’t negate the emotion tied to it, and it doesn’t take any part of me with it when it goes. If I lost everything in a fire tomorrow, I would still be fundamentally the same person, regardless of which possessions survived.

The lessons keep coming as I continue to pick through the objects that I’ve collected over the past 30 years, and the more belongings I shed the lighter I feel. I’m hardly surprised to find that there’s so much emotion tied up in the experience, but I’ve been pleased to find out that it’s a much more positive one than I’d anticipated. I’m excited to carry what I’ve learned into this next stage of my life, and while I’m certain there will always be a little place in my home for the purely sentimental,  packrattery is something I don’t mind letting go of.

Quarterly Goals: Spring 2017

Update on Last Quarter:

Winter was a bit of a toughie, but I did pretty well on my quarterly goals. There were a few slip ups, to be sure—I canned nothing, revised only one short story, and my blogging fell by the wayside when my mood disorder flared up—but I still ticked most of the boxes I set out to…. I had more game nights and watched more new films. I read 6 books. I learned three new recipes, one of which even earned a permanent home in my go-to collection. I wrote letters and short stories and holy hell I even finished a revision pass of my latest novel, Steep. I wrote every day, finishing the quarter with a total word count of 68,126.

2017’s theme is SIMPLIFY—and part of that means downsizing our possessions so that we (a) don’t’ have to pay to haul them across the country and (b) don’t have to pay to put them in storage once we get there and into our much-smaller home. With the big move happening next year, I’m particularly cognizant of just how much crap we have tucked into the nooks and crannies of our current home.  I ‘m a dyed-in-the-wool packrat, and getting rid of things can be painful, but I trounced my goal for getting rid of stuff. Not just 12, but 17 bags of clothing, yarn, and assorted items left my home and were donated, as well as two pieces of defunct furniture and a half dozen bags of papers to be recycled. Feels good.

This Quarter:

I’m keen to keep up my momentum on downsizing, and maybe even pick up the pace with the advent of open windows and longer days. Here’s what I want to accomplish this spring:

  • Write every day
  • Complete Camp NaNoWriMo
  • Watch 3 new films
  • Read 6 books
  • Print a new zine
  • Try 3 new recipes
  • Seed the front lawn
  • Knit a sweater
  • Giveaway or recycle 12 bags of stuff
  • Have 6 dedicated game nights with John
  • Write or revise 3 short stories

After clearing out a bunch of my yarn stash, my knitting slate is also clean. I’ve got a couple of patterns on my wishlist of things to make, and I’ve got a new Cobblestone Pullover planned for my needles this spring.

Writing every day has become easier, in part due to the Magic Spread Sheet. I’m also getting back into drawing and having fun doing it, and I’d love to take part in a couple of zine shows this summer and fall. It feels good to be stretching my creative muscles after a dull winter, and I foresee the next three months being full of new creative endeavours.

Here’s to spring, and to the fresh start it provides!

 

 

Advice for Camp NaNoWriMo

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I am participating in this April’s Camp NaNoWriMo.

Although I write every day throughout the year, I enjoy the sense of community and cocksureness that comes with a NaNoWriMo marathon. I go in every year for the November event and over the past couple of years I’ve tried a spring or summer challenge as well, so I thought I’d offer some advice to someone trying their hand at a Camp for the first time.

Write something other than a novel.

Novels are great, don’t get me wrong. Love reading ’em. Love writing ’em. But part of Camp NaNoWriMo’s charm lies in venturing outside of the noveling box. Try writing 30 new flash fictions. Crank out a dozen short stories. Craft haiku after haiku about pasta. Write a film or comic script. Draft a new blog post daily. You can choose any format you like, so don’t’ be afraid to go wild. Just as with IRL camp, Camp NaNoWriMo is a great time to step outside of our comfort zones and explore new territory.

Test the waters of a new genre.

NaNoWriMo is about challenging ourselves. Picking a new genre, format, style of writing, or POV is a great way to flex some muscle groups that might have atrophied in our day to day practices. I’m trying a sort of western adventure this time around (I read them, but I’ve never tried to write one) and from a first person perspective, which is another rarely-used tool in my arsenal. If not now, then when?

Raise the stakes.

50K is apparently a cake walk for some people. I’m sticking with the traditional goal this spring, but if you’re feeling frisky you could try a higher level of difficulty. See if you can’t do 60,000 (2000 words a day) or 75,000 (that’s 2500 words a day). Some people try 100K. Wild.

Lower the stakes.

If you’ve attempted the 50K challenge before but never quite managed to pull it off, then Camp NaNo is a wonderful thing.

Reaching your daily goal doesn’t need to feel like torture. You can set a total of 25K. You can try for 100 words a day. The real point of NaNoWriMo, I think, is to make the habit of writing daily, and whatever your word count goal: you’re working to build good habits that can last you throughout the year.

Join a cabin.

I’m a diehard misanthrope, but even I rush to get sorted into a cabin come Camp time. You’re not going to connect with every last one of your cabin mates, and the number of active members will have most likely dwindled by the end of the month, but those that chat back and stick around will prove to be a real source of support. You can choose whether you want to be matched with people of your same age group, or writing within the same genre or word count goals if you prefer, but whatever you choose I highly recommend settling into your digital bunk and singing songs with the rest of us. It’s fun, I promise.

All of the other advice applies.

If this is your first NaNoWriMo ever, then be sure to check out all of the resources at your disposal! There are a tonne of blog posts, videos, articles, and even a few books that will help you on your way no matter the season. I posted some tips on getting ready for the main event on my blog last year, and they most definitely apply this April.

Throw caution to the wind.

Try not to worry about whether your plot has holes or if your characters are rice-paper thin. Like most things, you can always fix it later. Right now—the first draft—is about getting the story down so that you can change it. Swat away any mosquitos of doubt. This month is about laying down a base to build future story upon. It’s about creating something that will inform your later drafts—even if all that means is letting you know what isn’t going to work. In the immortal words of my favourite fictional teacher:

“It’s time to take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!”

-Valerie Frizzle

 

It’s already April, and the first few days of camp are happily underway, so slather on some sunscreen, hike up those socks, and let’s get our hands dirty. With words, I mean.

If you’re taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo this April, let me know in the comments below, and include any tips of tricks you’ve discovered in your travels.

Last one into the water’s a rotten egg.

Life Update: the First Day of Spring

It’s officially spring, and I couldn’t be happier about it. This past week was a doozy—a difficult end to a difficult winter.

The Thursday before last, the hot water heater in my rented home experienced a critical failure. I came downstairs at 3am to find a stream meandering it’s way through the laundry room. I won’t get too into the details here, but no hot water tank meant that we had no hot water or heat. The last blast of winter in these parts happened to coincide with our plumbing dilemma. It sucked.

The next 7 days were filled with as many visits from technicians as it became clear that not only was the hot water tank busted, but its exhaust system was dangerously inoperative. I’m buggy about using natural gas at the best of times, but finding out that the system in our home had been dumping exhaust into our walls for the past two years was brutal.

The system is now fixed and (aside from needing to mend the insulation and drywall in the garage) the excitement is pretty well over. Anyone who’s had a landlord during a home-related crisis knows that the road ahead is not a smooth one, but at least it’s a road with a reduced risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

I’m doing my best to quell my anxiety in the aftermath and perform self-care. Today, the weather is decent enough to have a window open. This weekend past, I built a worm bin for composting kitchen scraps. I got some soil on my hands and the smell of humus in my nose at a garden show. I deep-cleaned the parts of the house I do have control over. And I’ve been busy writing: new scenes for my novel ‘Steep’, letters to penpals, journal entries, and now here on this blog.

Sometimes staying busy is the next best thing to happiness—and it’s easier to stay busy in the spring—so here’s to the vernal equinox and the warmer days ahead.

A Writer’s Life for Me (Writer Tag)

Hi-diddle-dee-dee..

I’ve seen this kicking around on youtube and a few blogs so I thought I’d join in the fun. No one tagged me, but I’m going for it anyways because I’m a scoundrel with a complete disregard for the rules.

I’m not sure who started this tag (if you know, please let me know) but here are the questions as I’ve seen them laid out:

What kind of writer are you?

I’m still figuring this one out. I write mostly science fiction and fantasy now, but I used to be really into crafting horror and adventure stories. Short and long form both have their benefits and drawbacks, but I’m beginning to prefer the expansive playground of the novel over the microcosm of shorter fiction.

When did you start writing? What made you want to try?

I’m not sure what made me want to start writing. It’s just something I’ve always done. It makes me happy, and keeps my brain from picking itself apart, so I’ve never really questioned why. I’ve written fiction for as long as I can remember. My first story (which I’m pretty sure is still kicking around in a box of keepsakes somewhere) was dictated to my Mum after I drew the illustrations in highlighter and crayon and was, if I correctly recall, the star-crossed tale of two mice trying to make it back to one another after inexplicably being abducted by humans. I was two.

In grade school I filled cahiers with adventure stories set in Aztec ruins or wildly advanced submarines, and wrote a LOT of horse fan-fiction. I really loved horses. And sea trenches. Never combined the two, surprisingly (and thankfully). Highschool and early adulthood was all about horror shorts: urban folklore with a lot of moody lighting where everybody dies in the end. I’m glad to have outgrown that phase.

I first started to try writing professionally (still trying, folks) a few years ago, and it’s been a fun, (and only slightly harrowing) adventure. I’ve kept trying because I think I’m capable of making it work as a main source of income, and I’ve continued to love it despite the intense self-doubt that doing this seems to bring—and that says something.

What inspires your stories?

Sounds trite, but… everything? Life?
Science articles, news stories, true crime, friends, family, my pets, dreams, museum exhibits, public transit, food, history, walking, mythology, music, video games… Everything has a narrative, if you look hard enough, and every person is interesting in their own way.

I guess when you boil it down, the answer is other stories.

What themes do you like to explore in your writing?

I don’t know that I intentionally inject themes into my writing, for better or for worse, but some common ones that seem to crop up like weeds are death, family conflict, friendship overcoming all odds, and animal intelligence.

Are you a Pantser, Plotter, or a bit of both?

I’m not a huge fan of these terms, as I find their binary limiting as a descriptor of how the creative process works. I think that any creative process requires both structural support and room for exploration in the moment to create something that is interesting and can hold an audience’s focus. I also think that there are many ways that these two tools of creation can be expressed, and the space between them is difficult to define so, short answer: a bit of both.

Where are you at in your writing journey? Querying? Agenting? Published?

As far as prose, I’m currently working on my nth revision pass of my 5th(?) novel, none of which have been published. I’m also writing short stories and sending them off to paying markets, but no acceptance letters yet. I’ve had some comics published through small presses that I wrote and illustrated, but that was years ago and I feel weird still trucking that out as an example. Looking forward to querying my current MS and would love an agent at some point.

Have you ever entered any writing contests? Finalled? Won?

No. This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think that a lot of writing contests are a bit too much like a lottery? I am absolutely not down for paying to submit my work somehere, and while there are some good free-to-submits out there I would far rather send my stories out to paying markets. Contests seem like working for exposure, and that just doesn’t seem like a worthwhile pursuit to me.

Who are your writer heroes?

Oh. So many. Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Ray Bradbury, Terry Pratchett, Nnedi Okorafor, Jeff VanDermeer, Margaret Lawrence, Dorthea Brande, Stephen King, Alice Munro, Toni Morrison, Neil Gaiman…

Have you ever been to a writing conference?

Nope. I’d love to attend a Clarion-style workshop one day.

Top 3 tips for newbie writers?

I’m breaking the rules and posting 4 (I repeat: a scoundrel):

  1. Write short
  2. Write a lot
  3. Read widely
  4. Finish shit

 

Some of these were answers to questions that I hadn’t considered before, or at least not well enough to put into words, so it was a fun exercise. Actually, it felt a bit like doing one of those throwback “20 questions” lists from grade/high school that probably contained enough information to hack my bank account, and while you won’t get the name of my first pet or the city my father was born in out of me, I could probably be persuaded to do another tag in future.

If you have any suggestions on a fun writing/reading tags, let me know in the comments, and happy writing.

 

 

YouTube Roundup: 6 Creators That Brighten My Day

This past week saw me mostly sleeping while I nursed a serious bout of bronchitis. I think my cat was awake more than I was, but when I was awake I watched a lot of YouTube in an effort to lift my dismal mood. I thought I’d share with you some of my regular go-to channels for content that makes me smile.

Books and Pieces

Elizabeth loves science fiction and her enthusiasm is contagious. With a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre and a high level of taste, her recommendations are sure to include a new favourite for just about any SF fan. She updates weekly with book reviews, anticipated titles, and hauls.

 

The Brain Scoop

Hosted by Emily Graslie and currently based out of the Chicago Field Museum, this SciShow title is chock full of interviews with professionals of the life-sciences and profiles of unusual species. Educational, humorous, and featuring the odd dissection video—I relish anything and everything the Brain Scoop puts out.

Jenny Mustard

This Swedish blogger talks minimalism, vegan eating, and creative pursuits, sometimes with her partner David. She’s inspired me to eat healthier and buy less, and when you add her weekly podcasts to the mix there’s plenty of inspiring media coming down the pipe. Between  Jenny’s feminist outlook, beautiful eye for detail, and quirky sense of humour, I always end up a little happier than when I started watching.

Just Between Us

A (semi-autobiographical?) comedy show by Allison Raskin and Gabby Dunn about two odd-couple besties living in LA. There are narrative shorts as well as couch interviews/chats and both are equally enjoyable. It’s updated twice a week, and always works as a pick-me-up.

Ask a Mortician

Death-positive activist and badass Caitlin Dougherty updates weekly with informative videos about cultural issues pertaining to death and dying. It’s funny, thought-provoking, and educational.

Cool Ghosts

Quinns and Matt of Shut Up & Sit Down talk video games, and it’s delightful. I don’t have the money/equipment to play a lot of newer games, and the Cool Ghosts channel lets me experience games vicariously and laugh while I’m doing it. If you like board games, be sure to check out SU&SD as well—brilliant stuff.

 

I’m on the mend now and looking forward to getting back to my regular schedule on the blog as well as life. If you have a favourite YouTuber that brightens your day, let me know in the comments below, as I’m always on the lookout for new channels.