Writing Between the Lines (aka: Time Management)

Write between the lines.

It’s a concept many of us writerly types are familiar with. After all, few of us have the luxury to just sit at home and write all day. We have careers. Kids to raise. Errands to run, meals to prepare, volunteering to do. You’d be amazed by how many of your favorite authors actually have a life beyond cranking out novels. So how do they get it done?

They write between the lines.

William Faukner Quote

Each one of us gets exactly 24 hours to do it all. Eat. Sleep. Manage the glut of daily routines and responsibilities that eat up the hours of our day. But good writers, successful writers, the ones who manage to do it all and get their work published, too, understand the secret. They write while riding the train to work. They write while their kids are in gymnastics class or at soccer practice. They write during those 30 minutes while waiting for the casserole to finish baking in the oven. If there is a crack in the sidewalk of time, we writers will find it and fill it in with words.

Busy is my other middle name.

Busy career woman

On a normal day, I wake up before the sun rises to go for a run, or head to the gym to exercise. Then I check in with my teens and commute to work. After work, I usually cook a nutritious meal for the family, then return to the gym for another workout. I spend the rest of the evening reading, writing, catching a TV show, and spending time with the teens before I take a moment to prepare lunch and clothes for the next day. Somehow, it all gets done. Even the laundry and dishes. (Okay, not always). And I nearly always manage a good 8 hours of sleep every night.

Yes, maybe it’s because I’m from Jupiter. Or maybe it’s possible because I have no friends or relationships to eat into more of my precious time. But maybe, just maybe, it all boils down to one essential thing. Time management.

time management

It takes a lot of discipline to do it all every day. It also takes effective tools, and consistency to make those tools work for you. Calendars are useful, as are reminder apps. Imagine — making your phone remember everything so that you can focus on what’s more important!

Sometimes, I listen to other people complain that they just don’t have enough time in the day to get to the gym. To cook nutritious meals with whole foods. To read books. I just smile and try to empathize. But if they were to ask me for advice, I would offer this one thing: look for the cracks.

Want to read more books? How about listening to audiobooks during your daily commute, or together with your family in the evenings? What if you plan to spend exactly 15 minutes before bed each night engrossed in a book you really want to read? It’s slow progress, maybe, but it’s still progress.

Want to exercise more? How about bringing your sneakers to work and going for daily walks during the last half of your lunch hour? How about purposely climbing the stairs at your work building? Or a habit of walking your dog each evening. Or you can brave the early morning and go to the gym when it’s not at all crowded.

strong woman stress management

It is easy to find excuses. It’s easy to come up with reasons why you can’t make those small changes that you know will improve your mind, your health, your life. It’s easy to collapse on the couch and watch TV and eat processed foods. But very little good ever came from following the path of least resistance.

You don’t have to be a writer to write between the lines. Each one of us has at least one big thing we’d like to accomplish. You’re probably thinking of it right now while reading this post. The question is, what small changes are you willing to make to reach your goal? What cracks in your daily path are you ready to fill?

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Strive to Thrive (aka: A Self-Love Letter)

People are a mess, aren’t we?

I mean, we try. We each do our best to survive the Monday, to make it to the end of the year, year after year. But who wants to live a life that’s all about surviving? It’s so much better when we strive to thrive.

(Did I just make up that slogan? Because I love it and would totally wear the t-shirt).

Thriving can be hard, though. Sometimes, really, really hard. We know what we need to do to live better, to be better people. But it takes a great deal of effort and consistency. Exercise more. Eat less. Read more, communicate better, and above all, love harder. Love your spouses, love your kids, love your neighbor, love yourself.

Self Love Collage

It’s that last one that throws people into a tailspin. What does that mean to love myself? Does that mean I’m not loving myself if I like to change my hairstyle or sculpt my body into a different shape? Isn’t it possible to love yourself too much and turn into a narcissist?

Let me clear this up: Self-love is not narcissism! Got it? They are two very different things.

Self love says:

I am worthy and valuable, and so are other people.

I deserve good things in my life, and so do other people.

I deserve to be treated with respect and kindness, and I will treat others the same way.

My goal is not to compete with those around me, but to constantly grow into a better version of myself.

I want to lift other people up so that they feel better about themselves.

Narcissism says:

I am superior to other people.

I am more worthy and valuable than others.

I deserve more good things than other people and envy those who are more successful than me.

People must admire me, or my ego will be shattered.

I must put others down in order to feel better about myself.

(You can read more about this here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201206/self-esteem-versus-narcissism)

Confident free happy woman

Self love is a necessary component to being a happy and secure person. It means looking in the mirror each day and fully accepting yourself — every blemish. Every scar. And know what else? When you can fully accept yourself, then you can also learn to fully accept others. Every blemish. Every scar. Self love lets you laugh at your silly quirks and flaws, and to forgive yourself. And when you can forgive yourself, guess what? You can forgive others.

It comes in that order. First you, then others.
A match with no flame can’t light candles. A lighthouse with no inner light can’t guide ships to shore. You’ve got to love yourself first. Turn on your light, my friends.

love hands heart

Today, I love:

Those tiny crinkles around my eyes when I smile; a marker of many years of smiles and laughter.

My short, springy, curly hair. Some days, I flat-iron it until it’s straights and long. But mostly, I wear it free, run my fingers through the soft curls. I love to stretch them out and watch them bounce back into shape. Boing! Just like that little girl in the Ramona Quimby story.

The way I rise early in the morning, ready to go for a run, ready to pull on my kick-ass boots , face the world, and smash my goals.

The inner wind that pushes me. It drives me forward until I see each project to completion. It focuses me, and enables my self-discipline when motivation fails me.

The treasure trove of stories that dance in my brain, eager to escape when I sit before a blank screen, ready to write.

I love my goodness, and my messiness, my corny sense of humor, even those moments when I feel too serious, overwhelmed by the misery and hopelessness in the world (like Artax, Atreyu’s horse, in the Swamps of Sadness).

Cute curly hair

Because I love myself, I will continue to strive to thrive, to do better, to be better. I will be my own queen, wearing my crown with pride. And I will do my best to lift up those around me, those who still struggle with loving themselves, until we are all kings and queens of our own destinies. There are plenty of thrones to go around.

Raise Your Glass! (aka: Beat the Year)

Guess what, everybody? According the Under Armour, the company who makes my favorite running app, Map My Run, I beat the year! Hooray, me! *Cheers, sets off fireworks*

What does that mean, beat the year? Well, I’m not exactly sure. Last April, I signed up for a fitness challenge to see how many kilometers I could run during 2018. My grand total was 1,019 Kilometers. I’m not sure how far that is, exactly, since we Americans generally don’t speak metric without the help of Google or Alexa. But it sounds pretty good to me!

Now, this whole “Beat the Year” thing might be even more impressive if my opponent had, say, a set amount of kilometers I was actually competing to beat. I’m pretty sure the year was just lying on the couch, watching the rest of us run like rabbits and laughing her head off.

“Look at you!” the Year says to the slowpoke who ran like, two whole kilometers throughout the whole year. “You beat me! How about that?”

Still, despite my cynicism, I feel like a winner. Why? Because I did stuff. I made an effort. I challenged myself to grow. And in my interpretation, that is what it means to “Beat the Year.”

Each new year in our lives is like a big ol’ champagne glass, minus the bubbly stuff. Our goal is to fill that glass with as much bubbly stuff as possible before it’s time for the final toast at the end of the year. (Champagne, soda, sparkling water, take your pick).

champagne bubbly New Year

Everything you do, for yourself or for others, earns you a splash of bubbly in your glass. For every choice you make to the detriment of yourself or others, you pour a splash down the drain. Help a family member move to a new town? Increased your workout routine? Ate a lot more green, healthy stuff? Fill your glass just a little bit more. Wasted money on stupid stuff? Ate a lot of fast food? Spread negative gossip about your coworkers? Dump your hard-earned bubbly into the sink.

In 2018, I:

  • Maintained my almost-daily workout schedule.
  • Ran so much, that I rewarded myself with my first-ever 20-miler race (How many kilos is that, Alexa?).
  • Volunteered a few times in our community, side-by-side with my teens.
  • Drove to SoCal with a couple of the kiddos and one of their friends, and had an AMAZING time together at Disneyland and our favorite beach.
  • Landed a role as the technical lead on a very important, prestigious statewide project at work.
  • Read a lot of books.
  • Learned to step outside of my comfy cubicle and initiate conversations and walks to the coffee shop with coworkers.
  • Stood right next to the stage at an Imagine Dragons rock concert and sang my heart out.

I mean, what an AWESOME year! True, I still walk a pretty lonesome path with only my teens to keep me company. And somewhere out there, somebody else accomplished way more, or had way more fun, or learned way more great things along the way. But so what? My glass is so full right now, on this last day of the year, that it is overflowing with bubbly stuff.

The final countdown for 2018 has begun, dear readers. It’s already next year in Australia. Wherever you are in the world, whatever your stage of this life’s journey, and whoever you walk beside (even if it’s only you), I hope that your glass is full. I raise mine to you. May we beat the pants off 2019.

Cheers!

Archery in the rain (yes, I’m a curly girl 🙂 )

It All Makes Scents (aka: Aromatherapy)

Step into my living room and take a deep sniff.

Smell that?

Yeah. It smells like Christmas. More specifically, my living room is filled with the sharp, pungent smell of noble fir tree, mixed with fresh-baked sugar cookies, and the fragrance of First Frost. Do you know what first frost smells like?

Neither do I.

But, according to Bath & Body Works, it smells like this $10 candle flickering on my TV stand, along with Caramel Apple Cider, Winter Wonderland, and Autumn Woods. If I were light them all, then I could bottle the new scent and label it, “Holiday Overload.” Better yet, I could call the combination of scents, “Childhood Christmas,” then ship it to my kids when they’re all grown up and living away from home.

Our scents…I mean sense of smell is pretty mingled up with our memories and emotions. More so than our other senses, as the olfactory bulb is pretty well connected with the parts of our brains that process emotion and memory. That’s why, when we smell a freshly sharpened pencil, your memory evokes the stern face of your 4th-grade teacher. Or why a whiff of fresh, damp mint may suddenly whisk you back to that group hike through the woods one summer thirty years ago. I tend to associate the stench of cigarettes with family road trips when I was a kid, hanging my head out of the car window to gulp in breathable air while my mother chain-smoked.

Smell is such a powerful thing. Do you know that sniffing certain essential oils can treat pain, nausea, anxiety, depression, insomnia, sore joints, and dementia?

Neither do scientists.

But that hasn’t stopped people from turning to aromatherapy as a form of alternative treatment for thousands of years. Need an energy boost? Inhale the scent of lemon or tangerine. Fill your home with lavender to boost memory, or ylang ylang to enhance intimacy. 

Despite the fuzzy science, I enjoy being surrounded by good smells. I shower daily in sunshine and daisies (according to to my favorite body wash), then lather my body with Happy Vibes skin cream. Every now and then, when no one is looking, I lift my wrists to my nose and inhale deeply. Maybe little bits of fragrance are actually releasing some feel-good chemicals in my brain, or maybe it’s totally psychological. All I know for sure is that when everything around me smells good, I feel pretty good, too. It all makes scents.

Commas from the Universe (aka: Forced Pauses)

Commas exist for a reason. They give us a way to separate ideas, or to list multiple items without miscommunication. They also tend to spark wild debates over the use of the Oxford Comma (the “gif” vs. “jif” argument of the literary world). But love commas or hate them, we can all agree that written language simply could not get along with them.

The thing about commas is, they allow us to pause. Take a beat. Which can be a real lifesaver, apparently.

I tend to be the opposite of lazy most of the time. Go go go, from before the sun rises to long after it sets. I have a full-time career. I’m a full-time mom to teens. I cook most of our family meals, and write novels and short stories in my spare time. I also workout nearly every day, and run at least 15-20 miles per week. A routine like this takes a lot of organization and a lot of energy. Which thankfully, I have. Most of the time.

But once in a while, the universe decides it’s tired of watching me run around in a blur, juggling my very active lifestyle. So what does it do? It inserts a comma in my life.

Pause.

Next thing you know, I’m stuck in bed with a cold. Any active person can tell you — we can’t stand getting sick. It keeps us from our runs and workouts and Very Important Business Meetings. Who has time for commas, when we are driven to GoGoGo?

Eventually, the pause ends, and I can get back to the business of busyness.

A couple of weeks ago, the universe inserted another pause into my life. I was out for one of my usual Saturday long runs. Since I’m not in training for anything right now, I was only planning to run for 8 miles along one of my favorite trails. I ran four miles out, and was on the run back when my knee began to complain. At first, it was just a twinge, so I continued pounding the pavement. But by five miles, the pain was excruciating. Youch! By six miles, I was walking. No, limping. So much for a good long run.

But as I limped along the trail, no longer in a hurry, I began to notice my surroundings. It was such a lovely, cold autumn day. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, and a huge flock of hawks circled overhead, stalking their prey. The sun was just beginning to set, casting a deep golden glow on the river. Someone had stopped by this way, I saw, and stacked river stones into a tower. The leaves had finished their fiery show and had mostly taken their bows, drifting to the earth.

Rock tower

I met a stranger along the path, who was also walking, and helped her identify a weird fungus-looking plant (using iNaturalist — a great app for nature-lovers). By the time I returned to my car, I was no longer frustrated by being temporarily handicapped by a bum knee.

I slowed down for a few days, then tried to ease back into running. But this past weekend, the awful pain appeared again after running 6 miles. So it was back to walking, and observing, and listening to audiobooks instead of high-energy running music. Today, I feel great, and every inch of me is screaming to get out on the trail and run again soon, but I figure I’d better, well, pause, and go get that knee examined, before I aggravate the injury. Sometimes, it sucks to slow down. But just like you have to know when to throw in a comma to keep everything flowing well, you also have to know when to take a pause in some part of your life. Everything looks different when you slow down for a moment and look around. You may not be moving forward as quickly as you’d planned. But the views can be breathtaking.

Retipuj, Sneerglaw (and Other Backwards Things)

Being from Jupiter was never easy on my social life. It’s kind of like how people grow up speaking a different language, then try to learn English. No matter how fluent they become, native-born Americans can always detect the accent. No matter how much I studied and tried to behave like the other humans my age, people just always seemed to sense that I was…different. As though everything I do has an accent.

Over time, after many peer rejections, I stopped trying so hard. I just gave into my weirdness and decided to like what I like and love myself, quirks and all. I spent much of my time absorbed in books, often re-reading my favorites. I watched movies and inserted the quotes into normal conversations whenever I could. I checked out music albums from the local library and built up an eclectic repertoire ranging from silly folk songs to classic rock. I amused myself with silly pastimes, like reading signs backwards.

“Look! Walgreens spelled backwards is sneerglaw!” I would say, cracking up laughing.

“God, you are so weird,” my siblings would tell me, rolling their eyes. I just shrugged and hunted for more signs to read backwards, which for me, came just as naturally as reading them forward. Tixe! TramK! Rouqil! Atoyot! It was my own private language; words that no one else could understand, which held magical meanings for me. It could be terribly lonely, though, to understand things on a level that wasn’t common to those around me. But that’s life when you’re from Jupiter.

Backwards words

Once in a great while, I would find someone else who kind of got it. At least, to some extent. Like Sabrina in middle school, who understood the deep pleasure of living through good books. And Jason, who acted normal in real life, but in private, sang along with me to every single Madonna song in existence, including the B-sides, in harmony. Then Chris Y., who always won when our history class played Jeopardy, and who just quietly seemed to “get it,” whenever we talked about any serious subject in depth. Maybe they were from Jupiter, too. Who knows? 

Jupiter

Then in college, I met Valarie. It took maybe seconds for us to realize that we were kindred spirits from some far away world. We were so much alike, although she had the smooth resilience of obsidian, and I was basalt, riddled with small holes that let everything in. We both read obsessively. Sang along to music that our families had never even heard of. Spoke with the same bubbly energy (although my accent was decidedly more California valley girl). It never took long in any conversation for one of us to spit out a quote from a movie or TV show, and the other would spit out the next line without missing a beat. 

“Want to go shopping at Tegrat?” I would ask her. 

“Sure,” she would answer, as though this were a perfectly ordinary request. “Then afterward, we can go grab some lunch at Synned.”

The connection between us was so rare and powerful, that we were inseparable friends. That is, until we decided to work at the same Girl Scout camp one summer. Valarie told a lie to the director that ended up putting me in a very uncomfortable situation. I was hurt, very hurt by her betrayal, yet still, I forgave her.

But she couldn’t forgive herself.

After that summer, she disappeared from my life. Stopped taking my phone calls. Wouldn’t respond to my letters. I moved to a new town and attended a different college, and didn’t hear from Valarie again until 2008, when we both began to use Facebook.

“So what do you think about Harry Potter?” she asked me when we reconnected. And it was like the last decade had never happened, and we were great friends all over again. We obsessed over the Yrrah Rettop series, and argued over whether Stephen Fry or Jim Dale was the better narrator (Jim Dale, hands down, though Stephen Fry got much better by Year 5). We swapped recipes, debated politics, and spoke in the language of literature and movie quotes. 

A year later, she disappeared again, with no warning, and for no reason. At the time, it was sad, but not the end of the world, since I had two other very close friends who also “got it,” even though they weren’t quite as into my backwards-speaking tendencies. When I lost them, too, thanks in part to my own poor choices, I was devastated.


It took 7 years before at last, I connected with another kindred spirit. “Z,” the man I dated for awhile in 2017, was a kind of miracle for me. No, we didn’t speak in movie quotes, and I never did get around to confessing that I read everything backwards and forward, literally. But we clicked in so many ways, on a deep level, as well as shallow. The core of me had been thirsting for a kindred spirit like him, and I drank him in like retaw. 

Then he left. (And ah, here come the saert, right on cue). He left, and one year, three months, and almost three weeks later, my heart still aches, and I would do anything if he would just reappear, and be my good friend. But maybe he, too, detected my alien accent, and didn’t understand.

The human world is so easy with relationships. They preach of how people come and go, and how one must let go, move on, make new friends. But their language is as foreign to me as backwards-speak must be to them. Maybe they are all obsidian, like Valarie, able to let it all roll over their surface. While for me, it’s different. True connection with people, and the love I feel for them, gets deep inside my pores, and can’t be extracted or forgotten. 

Or maybe, like my odd way with words, other humans have it all backwards. For so many centuries, people lived clustered together in small, tight-knit communities. They stayed together despite their differences, because that was how humans survived and thrived. People didn’t come and go from your life until someone died. Good and bad, perfect and imperfect, they remained together, and strengthened connections. No one mysteriously disappeared from your life, unless they got dragged off by a bear. 

Maybe the modern concept of relationships coming and going like freeway traffic is the real alien here. A sort of human devolution. We were never meant to break connections the way we do.

I would love to have a chance to discuss this with the people who still live deep inside of me. With my former best friends. With Z. And with Valarie, wherever she may be now. I don’t know if they would agree with me, but I think they would really get it.

Stuck Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere

Quincy California Sierra Nevada Mountains Small TownWhen I was 16 years old, I decided to move to the Middle of Nowhere. With high school graduation behind me, I packed up my sparse wardrobe, shabby bicycle, and cardboard boxes filled with books and thrift-store kitchenware, and moved into my first apartment in Quincy, California.

“Why on earth would you want to live there?” asked pretty much everyone. Quincy, after all, is a tiny town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When I moved there, it had no traffic lights, far more trees than people, and zero chain stores, unless you count the 24-hr. Safeway supermarket in the center of town. It was nothing like my Bay Area home, nothing like the dull suburb where I’d lived during high school. Quincy had no shopping mall, no Target stores, no roller skating rinks. The only movie theater had one small screen and played the latest blockbusters about two months after they’d been released.

Plus, Quincy was in the middle of nowhere.

Middle of Nowhere Sign

But I loved that little town. It was quiet, but filled with character. It was isolated from the rest of the world, but only because the outside world couldn’t be bothered with traversing the long, winding highway leading up to our Main Street. It was different from typical California suburbs, with its seeming lack of sophistication and modernization, but how is that such a bad thing? Quincy was an awful lot like me.

When I woke up in the mornings in my tiny apartment, the first thing I liked to do was throw open my bedroom curtain. The view outside was stunning — picturesque, snow-capped mountains, tall, elegant pines, and a huge meadow, where deer and other wildlife scampered around in the sunshine. Everything was green and gold, and lovely. As I hiked through the trees to my college campus, all of the darkness and stress of my high school years melted away. In the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the woods, I was in the middle of transforming into a confident and joyful young woman.

Of course, Quincy wasn’t really in the middle of Nowhere. It was literally in the middle of Somewhere. For people with cars (unlike me), you could drive for exactly one hour in one direction to get to the city of Chico, and an hour in the other direction to get to the city of Reno. At times, my college buddies and I would pile into someone’s vehicle and head out on the highway, in order to escape the calm and serenity of our little town and seek out a shopping mall, or a real movie theater, or a Target store. No matter how isolated we sometimes felt living in Quincy, we knew that we could always choose one direction or another and find ourselves somewhere, eventually.

Isn’t life kind of like that?

Sometimes, we just find ourselves in the Middle of Nowhere, like when that ex-con dropped off Pee-Wee Herman and drove away. We don’t know how we got there, and are pretty much stuck until Large Marge shows up with her big rig to cart us away.

PeeWee Herman in the middle of nowhere

Okay, bad analogy.

But sometimes, we place ourselves in the Middle of Nowhere. Unable to deal with something in our lives, we pack up our cardboard boxes and head off to live in the woods, where we can forget about the noise and crud that plagued us back in Somewhere. Sometimes, we need the Middle of Nowhere in order to heal ourselves. Or to recenter, as we transform into a better person. Kind of like a caterpillar in a chrysalis.

And for some of us, the Middle of Nowhere is where we choose to hang up our tattered wings and retire.

Just know this. The Middle of Nowhere really is a misnomer. No matter your reasons for finding yourself where you are, no matter how long you choose to stay, you are never really stuck there. When you’re ready for a change, just open up a map, get in your car, and drive. Or hitch a ride in Large Marge’s big rig. Whatever. Just pick a direction and go. You are always in the Middle of Somewhere, and you can get there, eventually.