Archive for 2012
I have left the worst (to me) job in the world behind. I know some people work there if not happily then somewhat contentedly, but for me it was pain wrapped in gloom stuffed with cabbage. I left on Friday, to start at the library on Monday.
I took with me some small cuttings of fabric and balls of thread from the trash, along with a button which had been stuck in a crack in the concrete floor beside my machine since about my second day. My intention was to burn these things as a symbol of my freedom. I expected the transition weekend to be spent ridding myself of the sewing factory and welcoming the library into my brain space.
I was surprised to find myself putting off this symbolic burning of denim I’d been looking forward to all week. I didn’t need it after all. The factory was just gone, as soon as I walked out the door. Now and then through the weekend I would remember I never had to go back there, whereupon I would be flooded with relief and I might hoot and/or holler for just a sec, but by Sunday I was pretty much done with the hoots and hollers.
I was also surprised to find that I wasn’t frozen with giddy anticipation for my first day at the library. I sort of thought I might be too nervous to sleep Sunday night. But no, I had a feeling of peace and went to sleep with no trouble. Woke up ready to go, calm. I got a little antsy as the time grew nearer to leave, but it was no worse than any other appointment-nerves. Just trying to calculate the time I need to leave, make sure I have everything, etc. Starting my first day at the library didn’t seem especially significant or electrifying—just right. About time.
Being a shelver means I’m walking a lot. Constant movement, as with sewing, except I’m using my lower body more than my upper body. Once again I have to go through a period of adjustment, but hopefully this time I end up stronger rather than broken. This changing schedule is going to be strange for a while. I’ll be working evening shift sometimes, something I haven’t done since Wal-Mart in college. This means that I’m constantly thinking about what time I’m supposed to go to work, what time it is currently, and checking the schedule to make sure I haven’t gotten the time wrong.
Today I don’t have to go in till four. It’s so strange to be home all alone! Only four months ago this was what I did every day, but it feels like a lifetime.
Thanks for sticking with me through the ups and downs. It’s been a long time since I felt really good about something.
I started calling the sewing factory “the place where dreams go to die.” My brother pointed out that in “Dinner for Schmucks” they say cabbage is the smell of dead dreams. Two days later, early morning, I smelled cabbage. No way, I said to myself and laughed. At lunch I smelled it again, and a feeling of rightness seeped into my being. Cabbage, dead dreams, fits this place to a tee. Apparently, one of the girls can’t get enough cabbage and heats it up in the microwave, sending the smell wafting over to my machine. I told her about the dead dreams line, and she laughed. We shared a moment. One of the few bright spots I’ve experienced there.
I guess I had forgotten just how much it sucks out in the job world. I was expecting reason and welcome and cooperation. I had forgotten how everybody gets up in your business while you’re just doing the best work you can, how there’s always someone judging you and strangely willing to tell you how you fall short.
I had a job interview at the library. My interview was less nerve-wracking since the interviewer was my volunteer liaison at the library. I don’t know why, but she likes me a lot and is willing to go out of her way to help me. It’s good to have someone on your side.
The next step is waiting for my background check to complete. My advocate called me on Wednesday to make a provisional offer of employment, contingent on the OSBI report coming back clean--which, uh, yeah. No problems there. I had to suppress my joyous noises because I was in the snake den, i.e. the break area of the sewing factory, so I hope she understood how pumped I was. I think she did.
So the only thing I’m worried about is the part-time nature of the job. I’ll be making about as much per hour, but varying hours. It’ll be a challenge to fill in with a supplemental job if I need (or want) more money. That’s a worry that changes nothing in the way of the action I will take, which is to quit the soul-and-hand-crushing sewing job and cannonball right smack in the middle of a part-time question mark.
If everything works out I’ll be a shelver in less than a week’s time. Whenever I remember this tidbit my eyes well up and my body tingles. I belong there. You know how people say “you just know”? I knew from the beginning I didn’t belong at the sewing factory, and despite my natural optimism and every attempt to fake it till I make it, I haven’t had a single moment when I thought I might belong there. It literally smells like cabbage. However, I knew from the first time I set foot in this particular library that it was my place. When I go there I smile. I relax. So what’s the smell of vibrant, living dreams?
I’ve written three posts over the past few weeks and discarded all of them. Too mopey. My mood is on the upswing, though, so let’s see if I can keep the complaining to a minimum.
I’m getting settled as much as I can be in my new job. It’s funny how little the kids’ lives have changed as opposed to how much things have changed for me. The only difference for them is that I leave a few minutes before they get on the bus, and dinner is slightly less healthy. Both their father and I are home before they return, and our evenings go about how they did before, at least from their vantage point. I miss having time to myself and I’m tired, but having money again is fantastic. Between the two new incomes we’re making more than the hubs was making by himself at his old job. We’re caught up on bills and can start working on paying down the credit cards.
If my hands hold up, that is. I mentioned before how hard sewing blue jeans is on the hands. After a month and a half the rest of my body is adjusted, but the fingers and wrists are just going downhill. That’s blue-collar working for ya. You’re just gonna ache, and that’s all there is to it. But seriously, if it doesn’t get better real soon I’m going to start looking for something else
The only thing is, I’m still waiting on the library. Yeah, that’s still in the works! They’re going to need someone “soon”. She doesn’t know when but she will call me because I’m her pick for the job. Part time, probably weekends. It feels like I’ve been waiting forever, but I only started volunteering there at the end of July. Holy crap, it feels like a year but it’s only been three months. I can’t believe so much has changed in that short period.
So my plan is to go to part time at the overalls factory when I get the library gig. I don’t want to find another full-time job only to have to leave when/if the library thing comes through in three months. HOWEVER, all my plans seem to turn to shit, so we’ll see what really happens.
Well that’s enough for now, just wanted to put something up here before someone thinks I died.
Well, I made it through my first week at the sewing factory. As I type this my fingers feel like cooked spaghetti. I did without coffee, worked through gasp-inducing back spasms, endured both the curious stares and complete indifference with which I was greeted.
But I made it.
My head was down; I endured; I coped. That was it. I missed my home and I felt physically crappy. Caffeine withdrawal didn’t help those first couple of days. I wasn’t aware I wouldn’t be able to take my coffee to my machine, and I didn’t have time to make and drink my usual two cups. By Wednesday, I got the bright idea to take Excedrin, which contains delicious caffeine along with the painkillers for my muscles, and drink Mountain Dew at my first break. It helped.
Monday was okay. Tuesday was a monster, because after work there were parent/teacher conferences and band practice. Wednesday was probably the best day, but that’s when the back pain started to get intrusive, and it just got worse until by yesterday afternoon I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I couldn’t even put my arms out to hold the denim without the muscles on either side of my spine seizing up. So I just gasped and said OMG and sat conspicuously still until I could continue. This happened between each pair of overalls.
But I made it!
Oh, and the fragrance. It’s a factory, so one would assume the fragrance would be better. I was surprised to realize it was worse than in the library. Each stall of the bathroom had a can of spray disinfectant that apparently everyone used on the seat before they sat down. Nightmare. My machine happens to sit right near the bathroom, the break area, and a couple of repair machines that everyone uses to fix their rejects. Plenty of people nearby with their smelly detergent, lingering air freshener, perfume and shampoo. Then Friday the weird old janitor dude mopped behind me and sprayed the tables in the break area. I thought I was going to die.
But I did not die!
Yes, I was miserable for an average of 92.7% of every day last week. But the good thing is that the first week is OVER! I know what each day will bring and how to prepare, and at the end of next week there will be a paycheck waiting for me for the work I did this week. Positive thoughts, Sherri, positive thoughts!
Nine years it’s been since I worked for someone else, except for a little editing and some volunteer work. I feel vulnerable, resigned, relieved, excited, dreadful (dreadful?). The job is at a factory that makes overalls. Here’s a video of the type of machine I’ll be running.
I did this job for several years at another factory before it closed. I swore I’d never sew in a factory again. Early on I even turned down a good job because I wanted to make a new path for myself. Somehow, I lost my way, and went in a big ol’ circle. It kind of sucks.
The job is dirty, and my hands will ache all the time, but working again is going to rock. After I stopped being depressed about the two-steps-back thing, I realized it will be much easier to rejoin the workforce in a job I’m comfortable doing, rather than adding to my stress by doing something completely new. This isn’t the beginning I’d hoped for, but it’ll do. For now.
I often post about my half-hearted job search—like how I need money, or how hard it is to find a job after being a stay-at-home mom for eight years, or how I don’t know if I can work in a public place with all the smells, or not knowing what field to go into with my non-specific set of skills. I’ve known I needed to get a job for money, yes, but also for my sanity. Volunteering at the library was supposed to help me segue into a paying job, but not for another month or so.
At least, that was the plan. But God laughs while we make plans. The hubs lost his job last week.
Obviously, my need to make some dough is suddenly all-important. Not something I can put off till I’m comfortable, which is to say, unafraid. It probably never would have happened that way anyway.
So. Money-making propositions.
Selling soap would be good, if I had listened to my instincts earlier in the year, when those batches would be nicely cured by now and ready to package. But no. The soap I made the other day will be ready in a month, and even then it’s not a sure sale. Plus, I can’t really wait a month to see some income.
Freelance editing is still an option, except many previous attempts to break the ice on that failed, leading me to believe it might not be the job for me after all. Plus, it also would take too long to see a significant amount of money.
My library isn’t hiring right now, unfortunately. I’ve decided to visit libraries in neighboring towns to see if any of them are fragrance-free. I did this last year but stopped after three. At each one, the smell was strong enough to knock me over as soon as I opened the door. I will extend my search, I guess, although any commute over a half hour will be impractical.
A factory job might be ideal, if they don’t produce something toxic. Last year, when I was looking for a job in earnest, they were sparse. All in the medical or sales fields, two fields I will only attempt if I’m desperate and hungry. I had plenty to eat last fall, so after a few unsuccessful interviews, I put off the job search. This year I’m seeing more variety, so a traditional job is a better possibility.
I feel strongly that a way is opening for me, and that it will be clear soon which way that is. It will probably be something I’ve never considered. The Wheel turns. Meanwhile, the hubs is hitting the pavement and I’m editing a book to put on Amazon, maybe two, and getting my resume in order. Whatever happens, things will never be the same.
Scary, but good.
My friends on Facebook might remember a few weeks ago when my bike was stolen, the idiot rode it right by my house, and I went down there to confront the gang of kids and retrieve my bike
Up to that point the kids mainly messed with mailboxes up and down the street. Like, you’d see too many doors hanging open to be coincidence. The knob on my plastic mailbox was broken off and thrown on the ground. But we’d never be able to catch them in the act because it happened in the wee hours of the morning.
Then my bike was stolen, and it seemed to escalate from there.
A friend who lives across the street from the bike-thief’s house (their apparent base of operations) had things stolen out of his pickup the same night they took my bike. I told him who to talk to, and he was able to retrieve his items from the disinterested parents. We agreed we needed to start keeping our homes and cars locked, something I’ve never had to do before, and I started rebuilding the broken shed door.
It was quiet at my house for the next couple of weeks, but apparently they were still causing mayhem at other places, because the bike-thief girl got arrested last week. A few days later they ripped the door off my mailbox, and went through and stole items my friend had set out for a garage sale. On my way into town to get a new mailbox, I saw another family standing around their mailbox, which was lying on the ground next to its post.
Since my friend’s house is the only other one on that stretch of road, he’s an obvious target. Well the other night he caught two of the boys red-handed and had them arrested.
In a perfect world, this would be the end of it. The parents would step in, finally, or being arrested would scare the kids straight…but I doubt that will happen. If I’m not mistaken, a couple of the boys are the same ones I saw writing on the playground equipment a couple of years ago. They’re just old enough to do actual damage now, and bolder with their years of small crime successes behind them.
In the meantime, I spent a good chunk of change on a vandal-proof mailbox, and when they learn to drive they won’t bother with us anymore. With a vehicle, the mailbox smashing possibilities will be endless.
Suddenly I’m very busy. I’ve gotten used to having no schedule conflicts—indeed, little schedule at all—because for the past few years almost everything I do is school-related, and they don’t overlap things. I’ve also gotten to the point where if I get showered and brushed by lunch I’m doing well. It’s not that I sit around all morning, but only that I have nowhere to be.
I can feel this changing permanently.
Part of it’s my choice, like tackling some big repair projects around the house, and part of it is out of my control. My daughter has become involved in more extra-curricular activities in middle school, and my son will be there next year. This is on top of the back-to-school season. Another commitment I’ve made is to take charge of my health, which means appointments with various doctors. (I had my first lady doctor visit in about eight years, which tells you something.)
One small (and yet huge) step is volunteering at the library. I started Tuesday, and today it seems like it could have been a dream. I often dream I’m straightening shelves at public places for no pay. Really. I fear I’ll go back in there and they have no recollection of me.
My regular times are Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I have a name tag and my own drawer and everything. On my first day, the lady in charge of volunteers showed me around backstage. It felt strange to pass through that doorway, the one that reveals just a glimpse of the library machinery, and one I’d never considered I might enter. Turns out the working part of the library is almost as big as the public part, only instead of wide spaces and neat shelves, the rooms are stuffed with desks, and papers plaster every surface, horizontal and vertical. It’s wonderfully shabby; clean but impossibly cluttered.
After my tour I was handed off to my boss, (Darlene? Deborah? Oh crap, I’ve already forgotten her name…Yay, got it!) Dorothy. She showed me how to read the shelves, which is basically fixing all the books the patrons thought they were putting back in the right place but didn’t even get close. I will be working in the children’s section, where the shelves are always in flux. So my normal job is to read the shelves, but the each employee I met seemed gleeful about the possibility of using me for her own special projects.
I always suspected my hodgepodge of skills and interests would be useful in a library, and now I know for sure I should have been a librarian from the beginning.
This is a big step, knowing that I can work around people. As far as I can tell, they don’t use any air freshener anywhere in the building, aside from the public restroom. The employee restroom smells faintly of cleaner, but not air freshener. When I finished reading the Beginning Reader shelves my eyes were googly from the shelf reading, but otherwise I felt fine. It could change, I suppose, but at the moment I think I could spend all day in that building and feel fine.
Of course, I would like to work full time at the library someday. But for now, I’ll call it an internship. At least it’s something to put on my resume, and I get to help out a favorite institution.
Now I just have to hope ebooks don’t make libraries obsolete. Would be just my luck to find my perfect job only to have it stop existing. *crosses fingers*
I’m taking this publishing thing sloooooowly. Don’t know if you noticed. I first published Mon Petit Ami in October of last year, distributing through Smashwords. I learned the ropes, trying out the coupons and reviews and changing the price. It was free through nearly every retailer—B&N, Kobo, Sony, Smashwords—and racked up about 400 views over the next 6 or 7 months.
Amazon, however, is the whiny, uncompromising kid on the playground who is ready to take his awesome toys and go home if the other kids don’t play his games. Ergo, Amazon doesn’t give you total control over your pricing when you self-publish and you have to like it or lump it. The lowest they’ll go on any publication is 99 cents, regardless of length, unless you cast some magical price-matching spell which I was never able to figure out. So my little 1500-ish word story languished with no sales, unsurprisingly.
So I started to wonder how the story would do on Amazon. I had a half a year’s data on Smashwords, et al, and several good reviews from complete strangers, so I thought it was time to play Amazon’s game. The only way I could get my story on Amazon for free was to give them exclusivity, so I did.
I found out a lot from my 3-day free promo. Before I did this, I’d thought the reader pool among my friends had already been exhausted. After all, MPA had been free and periodically promoted for many months. What I didn’t realize was how many of my friends have Kindles and would download my story once it was pretty much effortless. I ended up with 77 downloads over three days on Amazon, a number that took about a month to reach on all other platforms combined, maybe a bit longer.
How eye-opening is that? No wonder people play by Amazon’s rules. They have awesome toys.
Now that this promo’s over, I expect my new downloads to drop back to zero. A dollar is just too much for a story this short, especially since it’s my only publication and bears an ISBN from Smashwords—a bias I’ve seen in the Kindle forums that can’t be dismissed.
One anonymous person gave me my first review, for which I am grateful. Reviews are like currency, so every star, whether it be one or five, helps. This one happened to be a fiver.
I wish I could charge .29 for it, but they won’t let me.
So download it now! While it’s free!
The fate of the world hangs in the balance!
The world thanks you for your support!
(and so do i)
I could do one of two things right now: log into Castleville for the third time today, or write a blog post. Yay for me, making the more productive choice.
I’ve started trying to do that more, now that it seems to make a difference.
You know how sometimes life is just harder? Little things go wrong, attempts to make progress of any kind is thwarted, and you just start expecting things to go wrong? At first you try to stay positive, but eventually you get tired and just hunker down, hoping it passes someday. This is where I’ve been for a while, but it seems to be opening up.
For instance, the library. I went in Wednesday for the daughter’s routine book trade, thinking I’d take the opportunity to speak to the librarian about my volunteer application. Based on previous visits, when she was coincidentally absent to the point of absurdity, I fully expected to miss her again. But this time she was right there at the desk, checking some people out. She finished with them just as I walked up, and though we’d only met once before, she remembered me.
I don’t know why I expect people not to recognize me. I guess it’s because I have such an average face I feel like I blend in.
Anyway, she said July is a pretty busy month (as you mentioned, Fal) and she’d likely be calling me in August. I can’t wait! I feel like this is the first step on the road to actual employment.
So that’s one road block that’s opened up. I’m hopeful more will come.
What about you, any progress?
Well, people, it’s summertime. It hasn’t been horribly hot. I mean, 100+ is a common occurrence in an Oklahoma summer, but not last year’s high of 116. That’s desert heat. We haven’t gone above about 105 so far, but I suppose August could have a surprise or two up her sleeve.
So let’s see, what have I been doing with my not-too-hot summer?
I spent a hundred dollars on a family season pass to the public pool, and by golly we’ve gotten our money’s worth out of that. The pool unfortunately closed early for emergency repairs, but up till this week we went 2-4 times per week. Kept us from spending money on other activities for summer-bored children, so I think we came out ahead.
Plus, all three of the kids can swim now. Abby knew how but she wasn’t confident, and both Jonah and Maggie learned on their own this year, just from spending so much time in the water.
We’ve also been going to the library a lot. It’s cool there, and I can knit while Maggie plays with the toys and the older kids look for books. I put in an application to volunteer, but it’s been almost a week and I haven’t heard back. What, am I so untouchable as an employee that I can’t even volunteer my time in a public institution which welcomes even the homeless to spend all day there?
Surely I’m just paranoid.
Writing and/or self-publishing goals have fizzled as they do every summer. One thing I did accomplish is to remove my single short story from Smashwords distribution and enroll it in KDP Select over at Amazon. They require exclusivity for several months, but after three weeks it still hasn’t been removed from B&N or any of the other Smashwords distribution channels. I don’t guess it will go live on KDP Select until that happens. Still not sure what I’ll do with Black Veil Angel. I’ll admit, I’ve sort of lost interest at the moment.
But school is right around the corner, and that usually means a renewed interest in writing. Summer is for physical stuff, like building a new door for the shed, purging clutter, shuttling the kids to the snow cone stand. When I have all day to myself my mind automatically slows down, turns inward. Hopefully I’ll be able to make use of it this year.
This will be vague and rambling, but you’re used to that sort of thing from me, aren’t you?
So it seems like for the past year or so I’ve been figuring out what I want with my life, what has been bringing me down and where I need to improve. I remembered what joy felt like, gained a couple of new hobbies, and stood up for myself in new ways. Now I guess I’m done with that part, the discovery, and it’s time for action.
Action? Well that hardly seems fair. I thought figuring things out was action. That I’d be able to rest once I figured things out, that discovery would bring about the change I need, but apparently I have to do that part too.
But I’m so tired! Can’t you just do the first part for me, Universe? Give me a little kick-start?
Well, of course not. No matter how often I forget, no matter how much I wish someone else would take care of me, that’s not how it works. No one will carry me. No windfall will make my journey easier.
And I catch myself wishing I had chosen a profession instead of drifting all these years, but then I have to remember I would be questioning any of my established choices just now, because it is that time.
I laugh, thinking of how I thought I would be in my 40s. How mature. So stable. Secure in my self-knowledge. Of course, the more you know the more you realize you don’t know. I knew this a long time ago, but for some reason I didn’t think about it applying to my life’s journey, as well. Only to individual experiences.
I’m not saying the floundering is over, but I do feel a bit better. More creative and open. Ready to connect, and less judging of my failures.
Now I just have to figure out how to proceed and look for an opening.
There’s a certain amount of trust that goes along with putting your art in front of the public. You have to trust is that people will accept the work as your own truth and appreciate your candor, even if they don’t get it. You also have to trust yourself to weather criticism. You have to feel safe in your writing space and in your community and between your ears.
It also takes a certain amount of energy to trust. Trusting is something you can decide to do. You can create pockets of trust within an unsafe environment, if you have enough energy. I’ve been able to do this in the past, but I’m currently undergoing a massive restructuring that I can see now has been going on for a couple of years. Call it a mid-life crisis, or depression or whatever, but both physical and mental energy has been low, and the little I have is going toward figuring out more important stuff. Life stuff.
At the moment I have more energy than I have in a very long time, and I’m shocked to realize how small an amount it is.
However, even that small amount more will make it possible to start allotting a little more energy toward recreating the pocket of trust around writing. It will be a slow build, but I think I can do it. I would at least like to try.
I expect this will be the last post in this series. I figured it out. There’s always been fear and distrust and a reluctance to begin and self-sabotage, but the difference in my production has been the energy. I push and push myself, thinking I have something to prove or someone who’ll be disappointed, and when I don’t produce what I’ve decided I should, I beat myself about the face and neck and call myself a lazy slut. Yeah, that’ll motivate a person. Geez.
You can’t get blood from a turnip, and you can’t use more energy than you are producing. At least I know now that the problem is not with writing itself. That’s a relief. Instead of being angry with myself for failing, I can be compassionate and gentle, conserve my energy, redirect it from worry and concentrate on ways to make my life less stressful. I think that’s pretty good advice for just about any situation.
Hopefully pretty soon I’ll be able to blog about why I can write.
Wow. It was really hard to start this post. Even now, I find my gaze wandering around the room as I type. My defense mechanism is doing everything it can to keep me from thinking too deeply about why I shouldn’t think too deeply.
Because if I think deeply, things might change, and that makes me afraid. I might get what I want, and that makes me feel guilty. I might fail, and then I’ve let everybody down. I might be imperfect--in front of everybody, no less--which is unacceptable. Every active step is another step toward upending other people, and this is unforgiveable. So I stay where I am.
Except, to stay where I am means I must distract myself, so I actually can’t stay still for more than a few minutes at a time. I must have plenty of projects going at once. That way when I finish one I can move right on to another, which leaves no time for ponderings that might lead me down another path. When I solve one problem, there’s another waiting. Thank God I’m doing such a good job with the distractions, because otherwise I’d have to admit that writing is my calling after all, and I’m really just scared.
And you know, this is all pretty silly, because it’s nothing I haven’t figured out before. The surprise is how strong the roots around my ankles are. Why has it come to a head now? Maybe because the roots have grown bigger than I realized, and they threaten to strangle me. It’s fear, all right. Fear of success, failure, change. Fear of meeting myself, of imperfection, but most of all, fear of emotion. Fear of losing control, of hurting someone or myself with those pesky emotions that seem to always be at odds with my surroundings. Why does it have to be so hard? I know what I want to feel, what I should feel, so why can’t I feel it?
I’ve been stuffing my emotions for so long now that I can’t comprehend what I’ve just written. Trying to edit the previous paragraphs would strip them of all meaning, if you can understand them in the first place. This is raw, just like the fear that I am only beginning to allow into the light, and this post might not be here tomorrow.
Last time I made an unexpected connection between the failures of the two huge artistic ventures in my life, singing and writing. (And yes, I do consider myself a failed writer at this point, but I hope to change that.) This realization brought other, smaller connections to light--things I’d already identified independently, but when interconnected make a sizeable web of self-sabotage.
For instance, many, many projects go unfinished. I become bored with them sometimes, but lots of times I’m tenacious and just can’t seem to get to the finish line. Little things outside of my control might go wrong or I can freeze up with indecision, but for any number of reasons I end up spinning my wheels. And I’m not talking only about writing. It’s a widespread problem encompassing home projects, marital issues, financial goals, etc.
This is the mechanism that caused me to stop trying to get published. It is confusion, fatigue and the inability to see the path, just like when I decided to stop singing. But it’s a completely different feeling from what keeps me from sitting down to writing at all.
Another stumbling block is trying to please everyone. I’m skilled at going into other people’s worlds, and terrible at bringing others into mine. Personally, I think this is what makes me a writer—because I’m able to go deeply and intuitively into the worlds I create—but it’s not so great for decisive action, nor for knowing what I really want.
Part of that pleasing everyone thing means I don’t take care of myself, like going to the doctor when I’m sick, or exercising and eating right. If it’s just for me, it doesn’t matter. Writing pleases me, when I let it, but it doesn’t matter to anyone else.
It got to a point where my identity had absorbed so much of other people that I didn’t have any of myself left. I’ve spent a few years trying to unravel that thread, and maybe I’m almost ready to start rebuilding. But something stops me short. Something keeps me from crossing that finish line—not just with writing, but with pretty much everything that would define me as an independent, productive human being. Now, is that fear of success, or fear of happiness?
I’ll explore that next time.
I’ve been thinking about my reluctance to write. I used to think it was garden-variety writer’s block, and it seemed very clearly connected to stress: the normal stressors at home; the pressure of having an agent and the expectations that went along with it; physical restrictions, such as migraines. Then there are little bullshit reasons, like not having a suitable writing space (though what that might be I haven’t figured out yet).
I feel like an asshole, knowing other people write in the face of greater pressures and still being unable somehow to overcome my piddly ones. But the one thing I’ve known the entire time is that it’s a mental block. The stress isn’t only an excuse, it’s a real reason. What I haven’t known is why stress shuts me down.
So the reason I’m finally writing about this is because I think I've placed another piece, possibly the most important piece, of my psychological puzzle.
Now, I’ve mentioned the fear of success in passing in previous reflections on writer’s block, but I’ve never taken it seriously. I mean, how douchey does fearing success sound? “I’m so good it scares me.” Right. But last night I was telling my kids how I didn’t apply myself in college, a typical parent’s warning to learn from my mistakes. All night the memory nagged me, the memory of what it felt like to choose to skip voice lessons that last semester, to avoid going to the piano practice rooms (and then when I got there to study history instead of playing scales), to be glad to excuse my slacking by pointing to my full-time job.
And it felt familiar. Well yeah, of course it’s familiar because I went through it, but it felt recently familiar. And then I made the connection. It’s the same thing I do today with writing. The same reluctance to begin. The same restlessness when I finally sit down to write. The same anxiety about what I should be doing as opposed to what I am doing, and it doesn’t seem to matter what those two things are. In fact, they switch places regularly.
Once I realized this connection I started to make others. I’ll go into those in the next post. This is a biggie. I hope I can see it through.
I feel like organizing today, but I can’t seem to find a place to start. I finally figured out that when I get to this state, it’s because I need to declutter before I can organize what is left. So instead of staring at the mess or moving it from one table to another, I’ll think about what I really need and put the rest in a donation box.
I feel pretty proud of myself for taking what I learned and applying it to change an old habit. For a long time I felt like such a slave to my unconscious (and detrimental) thinking patterns, so it’s nice to have gotten to the point where I can bring them out one at a time and deal with them. I guess this is what they mean when they say you become more of yourself in middle age. You start questioning the things others have drilled into you as fact, and you decide what you believe to be true.
And then, I suppose, most start drilling their own true facts into others, perpetuating the cycle. Is this something we are meant to do? I guess we’re not drilling so much as stating the truth as we know it. Maybe it’s human nature that the first 40 years or so we absorb our truths from other people, because we’re not experienced enough to trust our own truths.
I’ve reached a place where even though I might not be able to state my truth clearly, I recognize it when I see it. I recently saw the truth in a book about creativity called The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. It is a small volume which tells me things I already knew but did not trust. I appreciate its compactness. Not a lot of jibber-jabber to fluff it up to an impressive size to the detriment of the message. I borrowed this from the library, but this one deserves a permanent place on my shelf. I’ll be putting it on my Amazon wish list.
So now I’m thinking a lot about what it means to be a creative person, how to not only accept that about myself but also how to celebrate it, and how to combine my creativity with my accumulated knowledge to let it manifest in my life.
You might remember the Thoughts from the Treadmill posts here on the blog. Well, the old, sticky treadmill I was using went the way of Freecycle, after gathering dust in the shed for many months. Apparently just having it in the shed helped keep the weight off, because, no lie, I’ve gained five pounds since giving it away a couple of weeks ago after being the same weight for a couple of years.
Of course that’s not true, but I wish having a treadmill in the shed and not under my feet could help keep the weight down. Instead, I guess I have to admit my knitting has played a part. Rather than taking the place of another sedentary activity (can you say Facebook?), knitting has taken the place of other activities I might have to actually, you know, get up to do. Not that I had that many active habits in the first place, because everything I do is on my laptop, from writing to bill paying to photos to social connections.
So now, after much pondering over which laptop-centered activity has to go and what the hell would replace it, I’m thinking I need to get a decent treadmill and set up another walking desk. The only reason I stopped using the other one is that it was just too damned hard to push myself on that horrible manual treadmill and still keep my hands on the keyboard. I actually enjoyed the walking when I had something else to do, and it felt like the creativity flowed more evenly as well.
Another factor in my weight gain is my crappy eating. I cook more than I used to, but I don’t think my improvement is keeping up with my metabolism. Oh, and that reminds me, I probably need to get my thyroid medicine adjusted again. That might help. Another thing is anxiety, which I’m working on slowly to alleviate. Stress has been shown to increase belly fat, or so the diet pill commercials tell me.
I think I’ll go look around for a small electric treadmill at the pawn shops and thrift stores. If I can’t find a decent one there, I guess I’ll have to consider a new one, even though the thought of spending the money sends me into fits of anxiety.
And there goes another button.
I have a choice to make: whether to keep my domain or let it expire.
I’ve been hosting this website on GoDaddy for a couple of years now. No complaints with them, neither price nor service. I’ve had the domain for longer—I think five years, total—and I used to redirect to my old wordpress.com site.
Well, I decided it was time to empty the old blog. I kept the url in case I ever need to go back, but all the content has been deleted as of this morning. There was no tangible reason to delete it. The content moved with me to this domain, so it’s not like I was embarrassed of it. It was just sitting there unviewed. But you know, a need to start fresh has simmering below the surface, evident in the ebb and flow of my new projects. Shedding the old blog was a symbol, I guess, of releasing old and tired ideas and habits, of mental clutter.
When I checked my email this morning, I got the confirmation that Wordpress had deleted my content as requested, along with the domain expiration notification from GoDaddy. I have to make this decision every time the domain expires, but this time it is really tempting to let it go and just not have a blog or a website at all. The social networking sites have the capability to add any content I wish, free of charge and light on maintenance. I haven’t been posting here much, anyway, because all my ramblings have occurred on Facebook or Google+.
I don’t know. I have a lot to think about. I daydream about deleting my entire internet presence (as much as I can) and starting over.
So tired, body and soul. I watched two of my little grandboys yesterday while their mother (my step daughter) was at work, and we had a wondermous bonding day.
I am ever so grateful my kids are older. A bit bewildered, also, to realize that I used to do that baby stuff with its constant attention every day for, like, 8 years or so. Obviously it's different with someone else’s children, who are missing their mother and in a strange place with strange toys and strange napping places. And also there’s a rhythm to taking care of babies, a pattern of attention that a mom’s brain attains over time, which I have since lost.
But dang, no wonder I felt so frazzled all the time back then. And at the time, I didn’t appreciate just how much work it was. I should have made the husband do more. Oh, but I’m remembering now I tried and it didn’t work.
So anyway, take the constant need for attention of a 2-year-old and an almost-one-year-old, multiply that by 9 hours, add in the smelly detergent on their clothes, and that’s a recipe for a hangover.
But the bonus daughter agreed to start using the free and clear detergent again, so I’ll be able to have them to visit again, hopefully on a more regular basis. My kids love having their nephews around, and so do I.
So I looked at the oils I had on hand, and made the (foolhardy, for a beginner) decision to formulate my own soap recipe. I actually remembered to take pictures to document the process, and this is how it all went down.
I’ve been using Miller’s Homemade Soap Pages for all my information up to this point. It’s an old HTML website, but I think the owner still periodically updates it. Lots of good resources there, including a lye chart. Different oils take different amounts of lye for saponification, so you have to do a little math (See, daughter? Told you you’d need it. Do your homework.) to come up with the correct amount of lye according to your recipe.
I did the math, then found an automatic lye calculator on the soap guild site, which confirmed my numbers. (Okay, daughter, maybe you don’t need it. On the Internet, somebody else has always done it already.) Now that I found the calculator, I won’t be calculating the lye myself anymore.
One thing I have to work to overcome is the fear of wasting ingredients. I put off making this soap for several days because I was afraid to use the last of my shea butter in case I messed up the batch. I’m learning how to waste usefully, as in research and development, but it still gives me the willies.
On the previous batch, the oatmeal soap, I used a wooden spoon and stirred the old fashioned way. I hadn’t paid good attention to the temperatures and I ended up stirring for 40 minutes trying to get to trace (the indicator it’s ready to pour, about the consistency of thick cake batter) before I finally threw it in the molds and hoped for the best. This time I used my stick blender, and it got to trace so fast it was gloppy by the time I got it all scraped out of the pot into the mold. So the oatmeal was too thin and the shae butter was too thick. I’ll be able to tell where the middle is on the next batch.
I had to wait a month for the soaps to cure before I could use them. The week before they were ready, I sent a bar of each to the DarcKnyt and Falcon (So whaddya think, guys?) I found the oatmeal recipe to be sort of icky in its slipperiness, and it doesn’t lather well. It also smells verrrrry faintly of lard. The shae recipe of my own devising turned out much nicer, smelling quite neutral and lathering nicely. Gives me a little more confidence in my soap-making ability.
The irony? Soap and detergent bars like Dove just dry out my skin too much, so I’ve started using another technique to clean my face with a homemade coconut oil concoction.
I’ve been told I should write a tutorial on how to make a batch of soap. Not sure how much interest there is in my circle, but I might do that sometime in the future, when I’m a bit more experienced.
So this is my newest batch of soap. I hadn’t made any in a couple of years, and I was extremely nervous to try again, for some reason. I guess because there’s a lot of finesse involved, and finesse comes with practice. I had to relearn everything as I went along.
This soap is made from lard, coconut oil, and olive oil. I don’t use any kind of fragrances—obviously, because of my MCS—so any recipe I use will have to include oils that don’t stink to high heaven. Lard does (omg, does it ever) but the coconut mostly covers it up. Since it’s fresh it smells strongly of the ingredients, but after it cures for a month, the scent will be very mild, if present at all. So that’s good.
I think all my soaps will include coconut oil. It smells heavenly.
Oh, and I forgot to mention the oatmeal. That’s why it’s all speckled. The pictures aren’t quite capturing the color, but your browser will change it anyway.
I think I might stick with the all-vegetable soaps from now on. Vegetable oil doesn’t have that dead-cow smell that always makes me gag. Crisco is a good solid vegetable oil that’s relatively cheap and readily available. Pretty silly, huh? Crisco? Who’da thunk it.
And I guess that’s why I keep returning to this soap-making deal. It’s fascinating to me the ways I can combine common household items (drain opener, grease) to make another, superbly useful household item. It’s probably why I never got into art for art’s sake, because I can’t use it. If I decide I need art to hang somewhere, I’ll make that, but not because I have a burning desire to paint. I have a burning desire to craft useful things, like knitting needles, hats and soaps. Having MCS has been a curse in a lot of ways, but in this way it has been a blessing, because I’d never have looked for alternatives if I hadn’t been forced to, thereby opening up this whole new crafty world. I mean, I always liked to work with my hands, but it was mainly focused on woodworking, fixing things around the house, occasional sketching. I’m happy about this new chapter opening up before me.
And now I need to go plan my next batch of soap.
I’ve been in a decluttering frenzy. Somehow I’ve made it out of whatever funk was keeping me from living life beyond the bare necessities (probably that stupid Christmas thing I go through the last quarter of every year), and I now find myself with tons of energy and a huge desire to improve my space. That’s what prompted the last post, this “what do I do with this crap” quandary.
I pared down and organized the contents of my kitchen first, and then I actually took the stuff to the Salvation Army. Once I broke the ice, it became easy to let things go. I tackled the books, donating a large box to the library (all mine and the kids’—can’t get the hubs to sort his books), then the kids’ clothes and toys, including the ones in the shed.
And wow. The shed. My “shed” is huge, mmkay? People mistake it for a two-story house. It actually looks bigger from the outside, but still. That’s a lot of space to hold everything we decided we don’t need but don’t know what to do with. The guy that lived here before was a hoarder, and we inherited (long story) the shed portion of the hoard. O. M. G. It was packed. I tried to clean it a little at a time because I didn’t have a pickup or money, but finally gave up. I never did get all his stuff out. Especially irksome is an inline V-6 motor that’s immovable and constantly in the way. I’ve tried selling it on Craigslist and giving it away on Freecycle, and nobody wants this stupid thing.
But I digress.
Point is, I’ve been sorting stuff in there, too, and it feels good. A big problem in the shed is storage. There’s a ton of floor space but very little shelving, so everything ends up piled here and there. I’m dying to do a whole renovation to the place, maybe make a little apartment out there with a bathroom and everything.
First I have to rid myself of all those things.
Christmas 2010 I made this decadent body butter to give away as presents. It’s made of shea and cocoa butters, calendula-infused jojoba oil, and hemp oil. It’s not really good for overall moisture, but it’s perfect for rough patches, like elbows. Only problem was I made so much that I couldn’t give it all away. Now, over a year later, I still have ten whole pots left and no idea what to do with them. The butter seem to be perfectly good for having sat on the shelf, but I doubt it would last forever, or even till I could use the whole supply.
I thought about selling it online, but where would I do that? Could I make an Etsy shop or something similar for only ten pots? Seems like overkill. Also, I’d have to charge six bucks a pot, before shipping, just to break even. I don’t know if they’re worth that much, and I’d like to make a profit. There’s also the question of packaging. Those nifty little tins don’t take glue very well, so I’d have to buy sticker labels. Sounds like a fun project, but for ten pots? I don’t know.
Another unfinished project is the wooden knitting needles I tried to make. Well, I did make them, but they turned out looking, smelling, and feeling like crap. Walmart doesn’t carry the size I need, and the internet said it would be simple to make my own, but it’s been a lot of work and I still can’t use them. If I want to continue this project, I’ll have to start fresh with a new dowel, but it’s so much work I doubt I will. I’ll just find the needles online, I guess.
And then there’s the hat I knitted my youngest. I made it, it was wonderful, then we washed it and the stitches loosened up, which made it too big. I expect things to shrink in the wash, not stretch. We unraveled it, and the ball is waiting for those damned knitting needles to be finished. So is my son’s ball of yarn. Meanwhile, I’ll work on my older daughter’s shawl.
You know, it seems like last year was all about letting go, in many different areas of my life. And 2012 seems set up for me to start tying up the loose ends letting go created. This is fine with me. I need forward motion.
If you have any ideas what I can do with this damn body butter, let me know. And happy new year.