Monday, November 30, 2015

Thankful for Perspective

I like to believe that there is no such thing as a bad day - that good and bad things happen every day, and that's just life, and deeming a day "good" or "bad" is all a matter of perspective and what you're focusing on.  It's easy to have a "good day" when things are all going well; you finish a project and get recognized for your hard work, then an old friend emails you saying they are coming into town and you arrange a meeting to catch up, you get a free meal at Chipotle on your way home, your favorite show is on, etc.  But when things get bumpy, when setback after setback and irritating things start creeping into your day, it can be hard not to think it's a "bad day".  As much as I want to deny their existence, I think bad days can happen.  But that doesn't mean you have to be angry or crabby or depressed, it just means you have to work a little harder to be grateful for the things that are going well and what you have in your life to be thankful for.  It may sound bleak, but the reality is that things could always be much worse.  Small things are nothing when big bad things happen. 

I once thought I was having a bad day because my manager was getting on my case about a report and I didn't feel like I had been given enough time to really work it.  It was frustrating, to be sure, because my manager should certainly know that I had had other priorities that demanded my attention, so I couldn't fathom why she was making a big deal about it.  Then my colleague got news that her father had suddenly passed away.  Those are two very different scenarios.  I instantly felt more guilty than I've ever felt, for whining about such a little ordeal.  I had lost my perspective. 

I think it's safe to say that most bad days are not that traumatic; that is, most bad days do not involve the sudden, unexpected death of a close loved one.  For those days, I really have no solution, because everybody deals with death differently and there is no amount of positive spin that can make it "a good day," in my opinion.  But on bad days that are not as tragic, which should be most bad days, at the very least, you can say, "I'm alive and well, my family is alive and well, my friends are alive and well, and we're working through this thing called life." 

In the summer before I started 8th grade, I made a promise to myself to never forget that I am loved.  I've kept that promise ever since.  It was a petty junior high romance gone bad at band camp that had developed into the bad day that led me to that moment, crying in the girl's bathroom at the band camp dance, when two girls whom I barely knew comforted me and made me feel better.  I think that was a legitimate turning point in my attitude towards life, and I will never forget that feeling of being cared about when I thought (dramatically, as junior highers do) that all was lost.  Looking back on it now, it was a silly situation to cry over, but that promise was more profound and mature than I realized then.  Since then, when I felt lonely, I reminded myself that my family loved me.  When my heart was broken, I surrounded myself with friends who cared.  I have never let myself think for a millisecond that I am not loved, because I know I am. 

In the last year or so, I can't even remember particularly when it was, I had somehow managed to injure myself so severely that I could barely walk, I couldn't bend at the waist at all, and all forms of movement caused searing pain.  It was horrible.  I remember thinking that this is only partially what it would feel like to be paralyzed.  I made light of it by telling people how I had to put my pants on lying in bed, throwing my pants up in the air until I could catch them on my feet, and then work them down my leg.  But it was just awful.  I sat on ice and heat whenever I could to heal, but everything hurt all the time and life was very difficult.  Getting into my car was the most excruciating thing I had to do each day.  It was only slightly easier for me to get into the passenger side of a car, so I made Jaiman drive me everywhere we went together during that time.  I ended up healing just fine, and since then, I have a new and profound appreciation for my fitness and my ability to move and dance freely.  I am not the most fit, to be sure, and not the best dancer, but I can usually move as needed and desired, and when I am sore it's because I've been moving, and I am grateful for that. 

I got an early start on the Thankful blog I was planning to do tomorrow, because today was one of those days that I needed it.  I had taken a vacation day, and as is all too often the case with me, my to do list outweighed both the time I had and the energy and motivation I had.  Still, I wanted to get things done.  I got up to 25,000 words on my nanowrimo novel, although today was the deadline to get to 50,000 words.  Ah well, 25,000 words is still an accomplishment, it's 25,000 more words than I would have written on my novel if I hadn't tried. 

I took a break from writing to check my work email, just to see if there were any catastrophes I could potentially resolve - this was around 1 pm.  The first thing that caught my eye was a MANDATORY meeting - yes in all caps - from my new VP, regarding the transition I've been stressed about the last couple weeks.  And it was at 10 am.  I looked for a reschedule notification, and there was none.  Didn't he see that I was on vacation?  I looked for a recap of what was said, and there was none.  I checked the attendance list, hoping to at least see my production steering counterpart on there, because I knew he was also on vacation, so at least I wouldn't have been the only one that missed the meeting.  But he was not on there.  I guess it's not a catastrophe, but not being in the room when my senior leaders are discussing my product line and my project just seems very bad. 

Throughout the day, my phone has been running terribly slow.  Tmobile had pushed a new update and it caused the whole system to run like garbage.  This may be the most frustrating thing at all, because there is literally nothing I can think to do except go to Tmobile and demand they fix it, which they won't.  I tried to send a message to my sister in response to a question she asked, and it took over an hour to send.  Then it took me another 15 minutes to type out an apology that my phone wasn't working and I couldn't communicate right now as a result.  It nearly crashed as I tried to end the message with a period, so I hit send really quickly before it crashed. 

I had asked Jaiman to see if he could get the plastic to feed into my new 3D printer, and he figured it out - the directions were wrong.  Leave it to a man to do the opposite of the incorrect directions and solve the problem.  I am grateful for that.  But then, after spending quite some time taping up the table of the printer, a belt snapped and my attempts at repairing it lead to complete disaster, cutting right through the nicely laid tape. 

So, I moved on to another project - putting up the Christmas tree.  This is one of those annual projects that I always kind of dread, but I'm glad when it's done because I so love Christmas and nothing is better this time of year than a lit up and decorated Christmas tree.  It's nice to have help fluffing the branches, but I knew Jaiman likes it even less than I do, so I went ahead and worked all three pieces while he was at work.  Feeling accomplished, a got the base set up and the bottom section in, and plugged that puppy in.  Of course, more than half the lights didn't light up.  I was prepared, though, with my handy little Christmas light repair tool I had bought a couple years ago.  It had solved my problems before, and it could surely save me this time.  But, I tried and tried and could not find the busted bulb.  I scooched around the tree several times, with no luck.  I gave myself until 5 pm, at which point I decided that I needed to go to It's Sugar to try to get the special Japanese Kit Kats I wanted to bring in to work for food day, get cash for my Gypsy Jitterbugs dues, and then head to practice.  So at 5, I called it quits, having had no success at all on the lighting, and now having three large sections of Christmas tree hogging the floor of my front room. 

As I was about to leave, I noticed that my debit card was not in my phone case.  The case had loosened up in recent weeks, so the cards were slipping out from time to time.  This set me on a mad hunt around my house to find my debit card.  Why did it have to be THAT card?  I could live without one of my credit cards, but it's hard to pay dues when I have no money and no means of getting it.  Finally, I found it and left, slightly later than I wanted to be leaving. 

There was a line 5 deep at the drive through ATM, so I drove around and parked.  Both walk-up ATMs had lines of two each, but I figured it would still go faster than waiting in the car.  I got in line, got my money and headed to the store.  I got the Kit Kats, but they were a little pricier than I expected.  Ah well, now is not the time to be cheap, right?  I got to dance practice right on time.  Dance went well, and I headed home. 

I should add that I had also seen the wreckage of a terrible accident on my way home - it appears a van had T-boned an ambulance, and both were smoking and severely damaged.  The van was on its side and just completely crushed.  Glass was everywhere.  People were on the side of the street, one was crying with her head in her hands.  It was really ugly.  I made it home safely, and for that, I am thankful.  I am so weary of the dangers of driving, that I should be thankful every time I get anywhere without crashing and especially without dying. 

But, I wasn't feeling very grateful.  I was feeling sorry for myself, now with a 3D printer I'm fed up with, a Christmas tree I'm fed up with, a phone that doesn't operate, laundry to do and an unknown situation to walk into at work tomorrow.  Not to mention that I had wanted to walk Carly, which I hadn't, and clean the kitchen, which was still a mess, and a few other things that deep down I probably knew wouldn't get done when I put them on my list to begin with. 

So, I needed some perspective.  My house is messy, but I have a house.  My 3D printer is not up and running yet, but I am an early adopter and this is to be expected, some day I'll chalk it up to experience and have great war stories to tell about the early days of 3D printing.  My work is frustrating and tense, but I have a great job, I like my colleagues and my managers.  I have a boyfriend who can help me troubleshoot things, a family that loves me, great friends who care, a cool car, some fantastic Christmas decorations, and I can dance.  These things are what matter.  I won't look back on today and think, "Stupid Christmas lights!"  I'll think back on today and remember the words I wrote, the efforts I made, the dance I did, and the people and things in my life that make it interesting.  These things are only difficult now because they are things that I have and care about. 

It's a little like how the people you care about most have the biggest capacity to hurt you or let you down.  My "bad day" wasn't really bad, if I didn't have a phone, a Christmas tree, a 3D printer, and a half-written novel, I'm not sure what I would have done with myself today.  I'd be bored, and certainly that would be worse than getting frustrated at these fun things.  And if I didn't have a job, I'd be in a lot worse situation.  So I am thankful for perspective. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Advent Calendar for Writers

Did you ever do an Advent Calendar when you were little?  Every day you got a little morsel of chocolate.  Now that we're adults, we can eat chocolate whenever we want, so I don't see the appeal in the traditional Advent Calendar.  But, in the spirit of improving my writing, I thought I'd put together a fun December schedule of writing activities to put the Christmas spirit to work in my writing.  I am also working on brevity, so my word count may be a bit limiting intentionally.  I will be sharing my responses on this blog, and I encourage any writers out there to use this as they see fit, and share your responses as you wish. 
1 - Coming out of the Thanksgiving season, write a blog post about what you're thankful for.  If you've already done that, write a blog about what you're looking forward to (in the next week or in the coming month, keep it short-term).  Word count: 300 - 700.
2 - Write a Christmas letter (whether you send it or not is up to you) about what you've been up to this past year.  Word count: 350 - 650.
3 - Compose five tweets about your favorite parts of Christmas, with links to a graphic, video or song.  What gets you into the Christmas spirit?  What do you look forward to (eating/drinking/singing/watching/doing)?  Word count limited to 140 characters in each post.  
4 - Write a short essay on the best Christmas gift (1) you've received, (2) you've given, and (3) you'd like to give.  Word count: 450 - 1500.
5 - Write a short story about the holidays in some fictional world - on Mars, set in the future, or set in your favorite fictional world, etc.  Word count: 500 - 750.
6 - Write a parody to a beloved Christmas song or poem.  Word count: varies
7 - Write a blog post about what you're looking forward to in the following year.  Word count: 300 - 700.  
8 - Create a To Do list of the best Christmas traditions to partake in or to start.  Word count: 150 - 450.  
9 - Write a review of a product you've purchased or received in the last year that you absolutely love.  Who else would want one?  What makes it unique and life-changing?  Word count: 300 - 650.  
10 - Write a blog post about your favorite quote from a Christmas movie.  Include a clip if you can find one!  Word count: 300 - 700. 
11 - Write a short narrative about the worst (and/or most comical) Christmas disaster you've experienced or heard about.  Word count: 300 - 750.  
12 - Interview a friend, colleague or distant family member about their Christmas traditions and write a blog post about it.  Word count: 350 - 900.  
13 - Write an essay about the true meaning of Christmas.  Word count: 450 - 1500.  
14 - Use your stories from #5 or #11 to write a Seussical short rhyming story.  Word count: 75 - 400. 
15 - Write a short narrative about your favorite Christmas from your childhood.  What made it feel magical?  Did you believe?  Word count: 500 - 900.  
16 - Write a report to Santa that an Elf on the Shelf would write if he was watching you.  Have you been naughty or nice?  Word count: 300 - 650. 
17 - Write an essay describing what would be a perfect Christmas holiday for you.  Who would be there?  Where would you celebrate?  What would you do?  Word count: 450 - 1100.
18 - Write a blog about Christmas shopping, what you love, what you hate, what you might do differently next year.  Word count: 400 - 700. 
19 - Use your response in #15 to write a dystopian version of the story.  Word count: 500 - 1200. 
20 - Compose five tweets about the ironies of Christmas.  
                              - OR -  
      Write an essay about the logistics of Santa Claus, how the elves know what to make, how Santa delivers presents to all the kids in just one night, how Rudolph's nose shines bright enough to lead the way through fog without blinding Santa, etc.  
21 - Write an original poem about family, winter, holidays, traditions, love or peace.  Word count: varies.  
22 - Write a letter to someone who is no longer walking this Earth.  What would you want to tell him/her?  How would Christmas be different if he/she was still here?  Word count: varies. 
23 - Write a blog post about your favorite Christmas song or story, and the emotions it makes you feel.  Word count: 450 - 900. 
24 - Write a warm holiday greeting for social media, that rhymes to send to your friends and family.  Take a nice picture or choose one from earlier in the year to share with it.  Word count: 25 - 100.  
25 - Write a heart-felt thank you for all the memories you've made and gifts you've received. Word count: 35 - 75.  
                                                       - OR - 
      Write a short narrative about the fun you had celebrating Christmas this year, and what made it so special.  Word count: 400 - 750. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Big Stone Gap" book review

Imagine knowing all your life that when you hit 35 years old, your life would change completely. Then, at the age of 35, like clockwork, your world gets turned upside down, the people around you aren't who you thought they were, you aren't who you thought you were, you upheave your entire life's work and prepare to skip town for good with no particular long-term plan. Only love, the greatest power on earth, can save you now, but you've spent your whole life running so hard from love that you can't even recognize it in your dreams. 

That's my synopsis. The one I read for the book "Big Stone Gap" was this: "A long-buried family secret disrupts the quiet life of a single, middle-aged woman in 1978 Virginia." I was expecting much darker secrets and more of an action-packed mystery to play out, with crime scenes and police investigations and suspects. Instead, the plot was rather simple, borderline quaint: small town girl seeks answers about family, learns about herself and sets things right. But it was so genuine and relatable, that there were many moments that made me laugh, cry, get mad at, and be embarrassed for the main character. I could just as easily put myself in the main character's shoes if I was born and raised in a small town in the deep south, and in the end, the book made me reflect on my own life, and appreciate my friends, family, and my love so much more.