Monthly Archives: January 2017

On Minimalism, Adding Value, and Ten Thousand Steps

During this dark, drizzly, cold time of year,  walking at least 10 K steps per day can be a challenge. Picture, if you will, a middle-aged woman in gym clothes, pacing from front door to back door while listening to podcasts. That’s me. Just 1000 steps to go. Those recorded conversations really help pass the time while I walk.

Lately I’ve been gobbling podcasts about voluntary simplicity, “minimalism” being the more popular term these days. Of course I read Thoreau as an undergrad, and have been known to mutter “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity” while searching my overstuffed closet for something to wear to work. The book that really opened my eyes to the beauty and wisdom of simplicity was Elaine St. James’ 1994 volume Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter.

Trends run in 20-year cycles, don’t they? It seems voluntary simplicity is in again. So far, my favorite podcast so far on this subject is The Minimalists, in which Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, both thirty-five, discuss how they came to and maintain a simpler lifestyle. They also have a documentary out, and a website, http://www.theminimalists.com/, in which they explore and celebrate an alternative to our destructive, mindless consumerism.

A phrase these two young minimalists frequently use is “Adding value to your life.” What a great guiding question to keep in mind as I weed through superfluous belongings or contemplate a purchase. Does this object add value to my life? Does this pastime? This habit?

During these dark days of the year, here are a few things that are adding value to my life:

  • Blogs by writers, for writers
  • Upbeat novels with a much-needed HEA ending, like Ann Garvin’s I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around.
  • Remembering to turn on the music while I cook, clean, or bathe. It’s harder to gnaw on that worry bone while dancing.
  • Rose-scented perfume
  • Trevor Noah’s commentary on our crazy times
  • My favorite fuzzy sweaters
  • Playing my ukulele
  • Singing with children. I don’t sing all that well, but they don’t care.

What’s adding value to your life these days?

On Insomnia and Internet-Induced Nightmares

Has the news been keeping you up nights?

I did it again last night. I’ll bet you’ve done it too.

Sleep evaded me, and so I lay in bed for hours with a twitching body and a racing mind. Every time I started to drift off, foul tendrils of worry wrapped around my brain. What’s to come under Cheetohlini the Terrible? Like giant dominos falling in slow motion, each potential disaster landed with an ominous thunk: no more Social Security, no more health insurance for my daughter, no more pension check. No more natural gas to heat our house. No electricity, no running water. War with Russia. Nuclear devastation.

And then the zombies came shambling over the horizon.

OK—by the light of day, I can see that all this spinning of dark doom-dreams is a waste of time. There are currently no reports of zombies in Tacoma, except perhaps for druggies on 6th Avenue. Our furnace still works. Our savings have not been wiped out by a stock market collapse or government confiscation.

I went hunting online for a quote I vaguely recall—was it by Mark Twain? Something about how none of us is truly sane in the wee hours of the morning. I couldn’t find it, but I did find this one by Calvin Coolidge.

“If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”

Since the election, I spend far too much time on social media and news sites, testing the limits of how much bad news I can tolerate. The needle is definitely in the red zone, and I need to release some pressure before my worry-tank explodes.

On the one hand, when dealing with adversity and worry, my default mode is to do something. Social media alerts me to opportunities to take action, such as calling my elected officials when they’re on the verge of voting away yet another batch of our rights. Public outcry had a lot to do with the reversal of sneaky, destructive doings by Republican congressmen and women recently, and public outcry may be key in limiting the injustices perpetrated by the new kakocracy.

On the other hand, much of the online news is pure speculation about what the neon-orange man-baby might do next. I’ve been watching friends both real and virtual work themselves up into a lather. And I’ll bet they’re not sleeping well.

Where is that perfect balance point between involvement and self-protection? I haven’t found it yet.

For now, I’m limiting my time on social media, and giving my skimming skills a good workout. It’s so tempting to read the latest flare-up of righteous indignation, but too much of that stuff will leave me singed–and it will eat up all my writing time to boot.

On the plus side, cutting back on social media leaves more time for reading fiction. What are you reading these days?

On Writing Rules We’d Rather Forget

Can it really be the first Wednesday of the month already? With each passing year, the time seems to fly by more swiftly. That may be good news, considering what the next four years may hold.

In any case, it’s IWSG time again! The Insecure Writers’ Support Group is a place where writers encourage each other, express their doubts, and offer help. According to their website, it’s “a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.” They also offer oodles of resources for writers. Visit them here:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

January 2017 Question: What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

I’m bolder than I was when younger, but I’m still quite conflict-averse. This is not a good trait in a writer. When creating a story, I resent the pressure to inject every scene with conflict. But all the craft books, all the writing teachers, all my critique partners remind me that I must. We’ve all heard the adage: “Put your protagonist up a tree, then throw rocks at her, then get her back down.”

Whether on the page or on the screen, a narrative with too much constant conflict tires me out. All that strife can feel phony, contrived. Must I really throw that many rocks? And then drop my protag over a cliff and leave her clutching at slippery tree roots by her fingernails?

Why can’t I intersperse high-conflict scenes with cozy, funny scenes in which nothing goes wrong for my poor protag? I know I’ve enjoyed books in which there were plenty of low-conflict scenes. Alas, I wasn’t yet writing “for reals” and didn’t take notes on those writers’ technique and structure.

OK, here’s one: J.A. Jance is one of my favorite mystery writers. Her stories include many low-key scenes in which the protag interacts with friends and family. These scenes provide backstory, comic relief, or just a breather. Of course, Jance’s stories never lack for adequate conflict—we’re trying to solve a murder, for goodness’ sake.

I get it—my job as a writer I to show a big change in my character. But I enjoy just spending with my protag, getting to know the colorful characters she meets. I’ve created a fictional town for her which incorporates aspects of my favorite places. Most of us don’t live in coastal artists’ colonies like my protag does—most of us live in overcrowded cities or boring suburbs or out in the country where nothing much happens. Do I really have to chase poor Lola down the streets of this lovely town, threatening her with the loss of all she holds dear?

I know, for a story to sell, the stakes must be high. But I wish that weren’t so; I wish readers, editors, publishers had a little more patience, were more inclined to stop and smell the coastal breeze as it wafts over my protag and her wise, funny friends.