On Bad Advice

“I want to be a writer,” I’d say — to my friends, my family, guidance counselors, coworkers. Between the ages of eleven and twenty or so, this is what I’d tell people when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, what my favorite classes were in high school, and what I wanted to go to college for.

And after the muddled confusion and disappointment cleared from their face, they would give me a small smile and reply, “Oh. So you’re probably going to be an Englisher teacher? Or maybe a reporter?”

“No,” I insisted. “A writer.”

At eighteen, I was absolutely terrified over the prospect of graduating high school and facing the intimidating monster that was college. To make matters worse, no one seemed to be able to tell me what to do with my desire to pursue writing. Somehow, even though I’d wanted to be a writer since sixth grade, even though I excelled at English, Literature, and Writing classes, even though people told me, adamantly, admiringly, you should be a writer, no one could tell me how to make this happen.

And the summer that I graduated was such a time of emotional trauma that I didn’t have the drive or confidence to find out for myself.

Fast forward nearly twenty (GASP) years, and part of me wishes that I could tell that eighteen-year-old girl to pursue creative writing. Grant writing. Professional writing. Literature. Communication. I wish I would have told her that the choice of a major didn’t mean she’d be destined for one particular path, but rather that investigating any of these subjects would have opened the doors to several paths — editing, copy writing, technical writing, business writing, journalism. And that yes, even these more “logical” paths might have even helped her craft novels.

You see, up until the last several years, I thought that if you weren’t making money with your writing, or if you didn’t do it eight hours a day, that you weren’t a writer.

When I decided to get back into writing back in 2015/2016, I still called myself an “aspiring” writer instead of just a writer. And it took some time before I felt confident enough to acknowledge that I was truly a writer, despite the fact that it wasn’t my profession and I hadn’t made a single dime spinning these tales.

While this is probably the single most important realization I’ve had over the years, and I’ve inevitably stumbled upon heaps and heaps of advice about writing, the next most important thing I’ve learned is to find what works for you.

If you’re a new writer, or getting back into writing after a hiatus (like me), one of the first things you’ll realize when you start perusing writer websites, newsletters, and Facebook groups is that everyone is full of advice. From Stephen King to Internet trolls whose only purpose is to bash others for having different opinions or priorities, everyone seems to think they know what’s best for everyone else.

And though I’m about to dish out my own amateur, naïve advice, I’d like to think that mine has some merit, if only for the fact that I believe in finding out what works for you.

Naturally, and to the horror of diehard academics, pompous literary geniuses, old-fashioned professors, and ubiquitous Internet demons who lurk on message boards, what works for some people does not work for others.

This is true when it comes to exercise, learning a new skill, dating, paying bills, traveling, raising kids. A routine or method that someone else swears by may not work for their neighbor or best friend or sister. So why would it work for writing?

There are writers who insist that in order to be a “real” writer, one must write every day. Ideally, that would be great, especially if you’re already getting paid for your craft and your livelihood depends on your production.
But what about the young man working two jobs in attempt to pay off his school loans? What about the new mom struggling to put 200 words a day together while catering to a newborn? What about the middle-aged hopeful taking care of their dad with Alzheimer’s? What about the twenty-something coping with PTSD?
Even if you aren’t a writer whose life is currently effected by extreme circumstances, no one’s life or schedule is cookie-cutter perfect.
Even when my mental health is pretty well in check, I still have days that do not allow me to write — when I go to the pool right after work and want to spend a few precious hours with my husband before bed. When family is in from out of town and they want to have dinner. When a friend is having a crisis and they just need to spend a few hours with me venting and eating ice cream. When I bring my dog home from a day-long procedure at the vet and I cuddle up around her in bed, holding her as she trembles through the pain of heartworm treatment.
As far as I’m concerned, attending to other parts of my life does not make me any less of a writer or a “bad” writer by any means.

I am far more disciplined that I was several years ago. I’ve learned to recognize when I need a break from writing, when an emergency or special event takes precedence, and when I’m just being lazy and really need to buckle down and sit at the keyboard.
I still have things to learn and goals I want to pursue. I’m still working on landing that first paid writing job and hopefully an agent or full manuscript request. I’d love to take a class on effective blogging, marketing, and social media presence. I can’t wait until in person conferences are permissible again.
But at the same time I am damn proud of each and every one of my published works. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve managed to write two entire novels in as many years.
Yes, I get frustrated, and yes I wish I hadn’t wasted all those years putting my writing on the back burner. But I no longer beat myself up for having a life outside of writing — and I definitely don’t put too much stock in not adhering to advice that simply doesn’t work for me.

Any time I peruse Facebook or Twitter, I see plenty of people, young, old, and middle aged, begging others for help with their writing. Most of them have full-time jobs outside of the craft or personal obligations like kids or aging parents that make it difficult to stick to a routine or to “WRITE EVERYDAY.” Because of this, they feel like failures — and there is no shortage of people who comment insisting that if these people don’t do things exactly the way that they do them that they are destined to fail.

Well, I vehemently disagree. As I mentioned earlier, just because yoga works to keep your best friend in shape doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Just because some people I went to high school with had kids at twenty-one and twenty-four doesn’t mean I should have. Just because my husband and I own a house doesn’t mean that someone living in an apartment is wrong, or irresponsible or poor.

If writing every day works for you — great. If you can’t start your day without writing 2000 words at the ass crack of dawn — great. If instead you string together 10,000 words every Sunday and don’t write any other day of the week — great. If you stay awake til 1am every Friday evening crafting the perfect opening chapter — great. If you hole yourself up inside the library or local coffee shop, ignoring your cell phone and hunching over a laptop for hours on end — great.

If you, like me, write by the advice of one of my favorite groups, 10 Minute Novelists, and write as much as you can whenever you get a chance — great.

Everyone is fundamentally different — in how they think, how they feel, how they write, how they work. To assume that someone’s lack of success is because they aren’t doing things exactly how you do it is, at the very least, pure ignorance.

As someone who spent an entire decade thinking I couldn’t be a writer because I didn’t pursue a specific major, hold a certain job, or have endless hours of writing time everyday, I would never, ever want anyone else to feel like I did — that I wasn’t worthy of this craft.

Because I am. And so are you.

Please Continue to Hold


I know, I know — I’ve been a bad writer.

I’ve been inconsistent. Undisciplined. Unfocused. Lazy even. Instead of tearing myself away from Netflix or reading to focus on writing for even half an hour a day, I’ve allowed myself to be lax. Or maybe relax?

I can’t believe it’s been four months since I’ve posted a blog. Sometimes it feels like it’s been a year. And while I haven’t been doing nearly as much writing as I did during the height of COVID (round 1?) in 2020, I’ve still been puttering about here and there.

Short projects have kind of been at a stand still, but I did work up the nerve to send my latest manuscript, Ocracoke’s Daughter, to its first beta reader, and the feedback was both helpful and incredibly positive. I’m up to four rejections from agents on The Month of May, but two of them included personal messages which were quite encouraging.

I have a few ideas floating around in my mind, but I’m finding it hard to form complete storylines and my attention span has recently become similar to that of a 12 week old puppy. At first I was beating myself up, thinking about all those writer message boards and Facebook groups where it talked about what a terrible person/writer you are if you go twelve hours without writing 5000 words — namely, that you’re clearly not devoted enough to your craft.

But enough with that bull shit. While I completely understand the mindset behind discipline and dedication, I also understand that those of us who are not full time writers yet — and even those of us who are — need to make concessions for ourselves. We are only recently learning the effects of “burn out culture,” and in addition to acknowledging the need to rest and reset, we also need to be cognizant of the fact that the world is (still) experiencing unprecedented circumstances right now. It’s no wonder so many of us are struggling on different levels.

A year and a half into the pandemic, everything is still uncertain. How much longer will this last? Are we wearing masks or not? Do we send our children to school or maintain virtual learning? Is it okay to require vaccines or ask if one is vaccinated? What are my chances of contracting the Delta variant if I’ve been vaccinated? Is it okay to hug people? Shake hands? Is it okay that I traveled out of state in June? Will I ever get to visit my friends in Holland? Is COVID going to haunt me for the rest of my life?

Among all of these internal struggles, we can’t escape the very real controversies that each of these questions evoke online, on social media, in person, and on the news. It is exhausting to say the least, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to be absolutely, 100% OVER IT on every level.

I was talking to my therapist about this a few weeks ago — I’m so completely tired of waiting for things to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I’m so tired of waiting for it to be okay to travel, to have a party, to not panic every time I have a scratchy throat. I’m tired of the judgement, the arguments, the insults, the uncertainty. I’m tired of how this is effecting people, our hospitals, our economy, employment, our government. I’m tired of not going anywhere further than work and my own backyard. I’m tired of dreaming about “some day.”

Yet I cannot summon the energy to do much of anything. I get short bursts of inspiration to write, and that burst may last a few days, but it putters out as quickly as it came on. J and I have started half a dozen projects in an effort to ready our house for sale . . . at some point . . . but most of them are half finished. We can’t even take our dogs to the park or on day trips right now because Kitty was diagnosed with heart worm back in May and excessive exercise is absolutely no bueno. (She’s doing well so far, and I’m grateful that Heart Guard is paying for her treatment considering she’s been on their preventative the entire time we’ve had her, but I’m nervous about her wellbeing all the time and I am not looking forward to the second round of injections she has to endure at the end of August. Positive vibes for us and our sweet girl are greatly appreciated).

J and I talk about moving all the time. We desperately need a change and more space. We are beyond annoyed with our irresponsible, inconsiderate neighbors and we’re on the same page when it comes to wanting to sell. But the market is so unstable and unpredictable right now. Some days we want to take advantage of the seller’s market and get as much as we possibly can for our current house while there’s this much equity in it. But on the other hand, we don’t want to pay too much for any new house, regardless of how perfect it may be. And I can’t help but worry that the housing market bubble is going to burst at some point like it did back in 2009.

So here we are. Still waiting. Still holding. Still unsure. Itching to make a move, to feel safe, to feel confident, to feel normal . . . and still waiting.

I’m going to try to be more disciplined about my writing, including blogging. There are a few things on my mind that I’ve got to get out, even if it’s just to the handful of readers on Word Press. And since it doesn’t seem like in person conferences or writing events are going to return any time soon, it might be the best option for connecting with other writers. At the very least, I suppose it’s a place where I can unload my thoughts and worries.

When I started this post, I was hoping to have some sort of revelation about my mindset and the state of things in our world, but instead I’m just pausing every few sentences, picking at my cuticles and stare out the window at the hazy, humid day. Out of the corner of my eye I spot my empty curio cabinet, the one now void of Wizard of Oz treasures that I sold in an effort to clear out clutter in preparation for moving. Across the room is a cluster of plants I just watered this morning — an aloe plant sprawling from its yellow pot, situated peacefully behind an unidentified vine that has succeeded in crawling all the way across the floor to the other side of the dining room. There are two tiny succulent plants next to a tall, spindly tree whose leaves shadow a mason jar decorated in colorful letters. The thick glass shelters a dozen or so multi-colored notecards, each one folded to hide the word scrawled across it — Alaska, Chicago, Toronto, Ireland, San Francisco, Maine, — places J & and I want to see someday.

Someday.

What Dogs Can Teach Us About Resilience

As you may know, J & I are proud fur parents of Miss Kitty & Ghost, as well as the dearly departed Comet.

All of our dogs have been rescues, and while I’m no stranger to the love and comfort they offer, or the lessons they can teach, I continue to be amazed at how these four-legged creatures have repeatedly, unknowingly, offered me insights on life.

The other day, I took Ghost to a vet appointment for some redness that suddenly appeared around his left eye. When it didn’t go away with Benadryl, I took him to get checked out. I also asked if the vet could take a look at his other eye because J & I had noticed that something about his vision wasn’t quite right. During obedience classes, when using hand signals, we had to move rather close to his right eye before he’d react. And sometimes when the light caught the eye in a certain way, we’d see an unusual fogginess.

The vet prescribed us some ointment for the redness around his left eye, and then addressed our concerns with the right one. He wasn’t blind, and all of his neurological functions were intact, but he did have a scar on both his cornea and his lens. These were almost certainly caused by some type of penetrating injury from when he was quite young. By the time we adopted him, the injury was healed, but he does still have limited vision in that eye. Still, the vet isn’t concerned. He doesn’t squint or compensate for the lack of vision, and it certainly doesn’t slow him down. Ghost has learned to live with his injury in his young life, and although I feel horribly about whatever must have happened to our “little due,” I now look at him with a new perspective.

When Ghost first came to us, he was only nervous for a couple of minutes. He seemed to instantly make himself at home and wasted no time in harassing his older sister. His behavior has been frustratingly challenging at times, and we still have a lot of work to do, but I have a new respect for what he must have gone through with this eye injury. Since he was only about 8-10 months old when we adopted him, and anything but shy, we figured he’d had a pretty cushy start in life. But the new information about his eye tells us that he’s overcome his own struggles and pain, whether the injury was from an accident or abusive human.

Suddenly Ghost’s resilient and sometimes defiant behavior makes a little more sense. He’s had to adapt to his eye injury in order to keep thriving, and perhaps he tends to be defiant because someone didn’t treat him properly when he was a puppy. Maybe that person was cruel when trying to train him, and instead of cowering like most dogs with trauma, Ghost copes with it by running away and not obeying orders.

So while his personality is nearly the polar opposite of Miss Kitty’s, my eyes have recently been opened to how dogs deal with trauma differently — just like people. While Kitty was (and still is) wary and cautious, she’s learning to trust more and more each day. Ghost’s outgoing personality is bringing her out of her shell, and we hope that Kitty’s relatively good behavior will eventually rub off on Ghost.

But the most important thing I learned that night at the vet’s office was that we all have our traumas, our scars, our struggles. We all deal with them in different ways. And sometimes we don’t want to share those stories with others, or like animals, we can’t do it in a verbal way. Still, if we’re lucky, we find people (or pets) who are patient and kind and help us work through and overcome these obstacles that tried to hurt us or hold us back. And while ideally everyone would like to crush each hurdle easily like taking a hammer to an egg, sometimes we simply have to live with the scars life has given us.

Even if we never fully recover from a negative experience, injury, or trauma, there’s hope that we can adapt to it and work through it as best we know how. We may never be perfect, but that doesn’t mean that we’re unlovable or incapable of living our lives and pursuing our dreams. Sometimes the reality of things is completely different from how you imagined it or how you wanted it. But that’s okay too.

My fur babies — Ghost is the little one and Miss Kitty is the bigger one with the black ear

More Coping Mechanisms for Panic Attacks

Like most people, the last 10-12 months have tested my mental health. Even before I contracted COVID the last week of 2020, there were a lot of moments where I was sobbing, borderline hysterical, barely able to get out of bed, and feeling like all the progress I’d made with my anxiety over the last few years had gone out the window.

While I was able to see my therapist on a regular basis thanks to Zoom, there were a few times that I had to employ the help of friends, family, the Internet, and my own creativity to claw my way back to some semblance of calm.

So today, I’m sharing the new tips, tools, & techniques I learned in a year that has been rough on all of us.

Relaxing Music
This is a tool that can be used almost anywhere — at home, lying in bed, driving, or even (for most people) at work. When I need something to bring me down a notch, I pull up the Pandora app on my phone and tune into a station that makes me feel like I’m at a spa or on a relaxing vacation. I highly recommend the following stations:
* Instrumental Chill Radio
* Classical Relaxation Radio
* Happiest Tunes on Earth

Mantras
One of the most important things I learned doing EMDR therapy is to have a positive mantra to replace a negative thought or belief. My two favorites —
* I am safe. I am calm. I am quiet. (when I’m at work or trying to concentrate on something, I change the last part to “I am focused.”)
* This too shall pass or this is only temporary. Whether the source of my anxiety is a stressful issue at work or the fact that we’re nearly a year into a global pandemic, it helps to remind myself that nothing is permanent.

Cold Water & Body Tensing
If, like me, you sometimes experience the physical effects of a panic attack without your mind actually spiraling out of control, you know how absolutely infuriating this can be. Your heart is racing, your hands are shaking, and you’re breaking out in a cold sweat — but you can’t pinpoint why exactly it’s happening. My sister said she heard this once described as “when you’re playing a video game and you hear the music warning you that ‘the boss’ is coming, but he never actually shows up.” Truer words.
In these cases, I like to do one of the following:
* Run my hands and wrists under cold water for 60 – 120 seconds. The cold sensation refocus your energy and attention to something palpable instead of something abstract.
* Tense every muscle in my body for 30 – 60 seconds (or as long as you can hold it), then slowly release each muscle, one area at a time (your toes, your legs, your torso, your arms, etc). This apparently tricks your body into thinking you’ve just “fought” something (the panic attack), and it works to calm itself down once you begin to “let loose.”

Living in the Moment
Typically I loathe this term. Of course I want to live in the moment, but my mind doesn’t allow me to. That’s why I have anxiety. But this time I mean it quite literally. If my mind is racing out of control about something, I have to throw all of my concentration into exactly what I’m doing at that moment. This literally means forcing my thoughts in this pattern: I’m turning on the faucet. I’m testing the water temperature. I’m undressing. I’m stepping into the shower. I’m wetting my hair. I’m shampooing my hair.
I’m unlocking my car door. I’m putting on my seatbelt. I’m starting the ignition.
I’m walking into the office. I’m sitting down at my desk. I’m typing in my password. Etc, etc.

Sometimes my anxiety gets so out of control I have to deliberately remind my brain to focus on menial tasks in order to get the panic monster to stop roaring so loudly.

Five Things
This is a helpful tool that I read about somewhere that helps me fall asleep most nights and also helps me peel myself out of bed on those days when depression rears its ugly head and I can’t find anything to look forward to or work towards. Usually I just recite the thoughts in my head, but it can also be helpful to write them down.
5 Things I’m Grateful for & 5 Things I Want
Sometimes I’m grateful for something as simple as my bed and my favorite hoodie. Sometimes all I want is to find the courage to leave the house or the energy to make dinner.
Other times I’m grateful for more monumental things and I dare to dream about traveling the world and making a shit ton of money with my writing.
Either way, compiling these lists and reciting or reading each item several times is a sure way to calm your mind and distract it from becoming a run away train of doom.

These days, we’re all looking for ways to chase away the demons clouding out vision and messing with our minds. I hope some of these methods help you out, and feel free to share any tips if you learned something new during this bizarre period in history.





5 Good Things That Happened in 2020

By the time this post goes live, Christmas will be over and we’ll all be muddling through that weird final week of the year where we’re not sure what day it is, we’ve eaten too much rich food, and we’re waiting to ring in 2021.

Like most everybody else, I am sending 2020 into oblivion with hopes that the next twelve months look brighter and happier for everyone. While I know that the change of the calendar isn’t a magic wand that will make everything shitty suddenly go away, I’m trying to stay hopeful that we can put the ugliness of this year behind us and move forward to a more positive, inclusive, and healthier way of life.

That being said, I do want to take a moment to reflect on the fact that there were a few good things that managed to happen in 2020. These are the things that kept me going over the last twelve months, and I invite all readers and bloggers to reply or re-blog with the little things that kept them going in these unprecedented times.

  • I finished my manuscript!
    January of 2020 started with a slap in the face for me, and this was way before the word ‘Coronavirus’ was a thing. I wrote here about losing my (completed) 90,000+ word manuscript that I’d been slaving over for YEARS thanks to a USB crash. Also on that flash drive was the first draft of another novel in progress, as well as countless other short stories and nonfiction articles. I was devastated. I cried for two days and sulked for another week. But then I opened up a blank Word document and started all over again. Admittedly this was infinitely easier thanks to a very early draft that my friend (and lifesaver 10X over) had saved in her email, and I used that to rebuild the entire thing over the next couple of months. Being quarantined for spring and summer definitely helped the progress along, and I spent the second half of the year getting feedback from beta readers and editing. I plan on 2021 being the year of the query and already have my first five perspective agents picked out! Wish me luck!

  • We rescued 2 doggos!
    As if 2020 hadn’t started off crappily enough, and as if the beginning of the ‘rona pandemic weren’t scary enough, J & I lost our fur baby Comet in April. Saying goodbye to our fuzz bug was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and having a house devoid of any paws or barks or clumps of fur was beyond depressing — especially in the middle of quarantine.
    The silver lining to having a fur baby cross the rainbow bridge is, of course, welcoming a new one into your home. J and I happily welcomed Miss Kitty into our home in May, and Ghost joined us in October. It’s been a crazy ride with quite a few struggles, but overall I’m so happy that we have two crazy mutts sharing our home. Kitty is the epitome of a rescue dog — she was found lactating and emaciated on a four lane highway near San Antonio, TX, and clearly had a history of abuse and abandonment. Seven months in, she has made SO MUCH progress and is quite simply the sweetest girl ever. Ghost still has a lot to learn (we have puppy classes scheduled for January!) but he too has made lots of progress, including learning how to ‘give paw.’ Watching these two play and snuggle together absolutely warms my heart and I cannot say enough about how good it feels knowing you saved a life (or two) by adopting rescue dogs.
    If you’re searching for your own companion, may I suggest God’s Dogs in Texas? https://godsdogsrescue.org/
    Both Kitty and Ghost were adopting through this nonprofit and they were awesome every step of the way. If you prefer to meet your 4-legged friend before adopting, I highly encourage you to visit your local shelter or rescue. There are so many animals out there who need homes!

  • I had 2 poems published!
    While I am most certainly a writer, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a poet. I dabble from time to time, and a few years ago wrote a couple of pieces about the Outer Banks. This summer, Capsule Stories published those two poems in their print journal, and I was super excited to be able to share my love of the barrier islands with strangers and other writers.
    Capsule Stories is a refreshing, accessible literary journal that actually publishes in print, so check them out if you’re looking for something new to read: https://capsulestories.com/
  • Joe Biden & Kamala Harris won the election!
    I still get emotional when I think about that day that my husband texted me the news — I was standing in line at the deli at the grocery store when I learned that love, peace, and integrity had triumphed once again and that Joe Biden & Kamala Harris would be the next pair to occupy the White House. While Biden wasn’t my ideal candidate and I know that his presidency won’t solve all the issues in our country, I am beyond relieved that we won’t have to suffer another four years of hate and lies. It is also incredibly refreshing and encouraging to see how much diversity Biden will have in his cabinet, and I look forward to seeing his efforts on bridging the massive divide that currently separates this country.
    Love trumps hate. Love trumped hate. Love is love.
  • We went on vacation!
    When our friends moved to Holland last year, I was hopeful that J & I would get to visit them sometime in 2020. Of course those plans derailed like a train running on moonshine, and god only knows when we’ll ever get to go overseas again.
    However we did manage to make it to the Outer Banks for the first time since 2017, and though this vacation looked different than any other, it was nice to get out of our zip code and feel the sand and sea on our skin, especially when we were so desperate for some type of peace and relaxation.
    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that travel won’t be out of the question for the rest of my life, and in the meantime am having fun living vicariously through books and movies and Facebook posts.

So did anything good happen to you in this mess of a year? Please share, even if it’s something as simple as buying a favorite shirt or learning to cook a delicious batch of cookies. Stay safe, stay healthy, and here’s to a better 2021 — whatever that means!

We Have a Ghost

No, not that kind of Ghost.

Remember a few posts ago I mentioned that Kitty was getting a little brother?

Well, he’s here, and after much debate, J (and I) named him Ghost.

Ghost is about 10 months old and came from the same rescue in Texas as Kitty. We don’t know much about his story, but believe he was saved from a kill shelter. He’s part Jack Russell and possibly part Schnauzer, and only weighs about 25 lbs. And every pound of him is pure energy.

The first and only time I had a puppy was when my family adopted my first ever dog, Maggie, back when I was eleven, and I have to admit that I forgot just how energetic puppies are. Ghost is in instant play mode as soon as he opens his eyes in the morning. He’s always running, jumping, grabbing toys, and prodding at poor Miss Kitty 24/7. The two have learned to get along pretty well for the most part, but I’d be lying if I said the first few weeks weren’t tough — there was even an incident caused by a piece of rogue chicken that resulted in lots of yelping and Kitty ripping some of Ghost’s fur out — something that sent my anxiety into overdrive and had me practically hysterical. But after many conversations with doggy foster moms, friends, and our vet, I eventually realized that this wasn’t quite the horrible sign I thought.

We only had Ghost for 2 weeks before going on vacation, and that was a challenge in and of itself (more about that next time). Even though we’ve been home for nearly a month now, he still has a lot to learn. Though his potty accidents are now few and far between (knock on wood), he is most definitely getting enrolled in puppy classes as soon as one comes around that works with our schedule.

Ghost has learned to sit and give paw (adorable!) and we’re working on “come,” but he’s completely oblivious to “down” and “stay.” We also can’t seem to get him to stop jumping (and nipping) when we come home, and he is SO destructive with his toys — even ones that look indestructible for bigger dogs. J and I have tried everything we can think of — and everything fellow dog owners and the Internet recommends — but he does not respond to yelling, clapping, “AH! AH” or even bops on the nose. We’re trying to be patient and know that he’s still in his transition period, but we definitely want to correct these behaviors soon before he begins to think it’s okay to jump (and walk) all over people and completely ignore the rules.

Like most dogs (and people), Ghost is a work in progress, and the fact that he learned “give paw” in only a matter of a week or so gives us hope. Besides, he’s pretty damn cute and a big cuddle bug. The fact that he wants to cuddle up beside us all the time creates some competition and jealousy between him and Kitty, so J and I are also working to make sure that the two of them know that they are both loved equally and that no one is being ousted. In fact, we bought a king sized bed so that all 4 of us can sleep together more comfortably (hey we needed a new bed anyway). And even though he can be quite a pest towards his sister, I’m glad they have each other, especially during the day while we’re at work.

Drama aside, I’m falling more in love with this little turd every day, and it melts my heart when him and Kitty play together, run in the yard, and curl up next to each other to sleep. I’ll be sure to keep you guys posted on their progress in the coming months.

And without further ado, a barrage of pictures —

Updates Available

Hello, all. I just wanted to pop in and share some updates with the blogosphere. My last post focused mostly on all the writing projects I’ve been working on recently, and I’m really proud of myself for getting so much accomplished in this dismal summer/year as far as my craft goes. I realize that my blogging hasn’t been as consistent as it once was, but of course the entire world is a dumpster fire right now so what IS ‘normal’ in 2020?

Certainly not the last few weeks of my life.

After giving the rundown of my writing projects in my last post, I felt really motivated and was looking forward to getting back on track at blogging weekly or bi-weekly. And then the universe laughed.

My mom had a mild heart attack on September 22nd. The doctors said that this kind of heart attack is very common in kidney transplant patients, and she was only in the hospital for a few days for observation and to have a stent put in before she was back home recuperating. Aside from a nasty reaction to one of her new medications, she’s doing pretty well. With her medical history, this mostly just seemed like a bump in the road, albeit a scary one, but it definitely knocked me for a loop.

J and I have also spent the last month or so becoming more annoyed and frustrated with our disrespectful neighbors and our neighborhood — so much so that we met with a family member who is a real estate agent and discussed the first few steps of selling and buying a house. While we’re more optimistic about our options, we have A LOT to do before these plans can be put into motion, so we have to bide our time for at least another 6 months. Unless we hit the lottery of course.

The BS at work exploded with MAJOR changes two weeks ago, and it’s wreaked havoc on my mental health and confidence. I won’t go into too many details, but I will say that I still have a job, although nearly every single thing about the position looks differently than it had for the past six and a half years. Some days I feel really optimistic about where I’m headed at my 9-5, and other days I feel like my brain is going to leak out of my ear. I have no idea where this is going.

Our dog, Kitty, is going to be a big sister.
I temporarily lost my mind a few weeks ago and agreed to get a second dog. J and I had talked about it after Comet passed, and before we adopted Kitty, but I kept saying I wasn’t ready. But then one day J sent me a picture of an adorable pup from the same rescue organization that Kitty came from, and I started crying as soon as I saw his face. So. We’re getting a second dog. I’m excited for Kitty to have a companion, but I’ve never lived with 2 dogs before and it’s definitely going to be a big adjustment for all of us. Plus, he’s coming 2 weeks before we go on vacation . . . so we’ll have 2 dogs in the car with us on a 10+ hour drive to the beach. I’m sure there will be plenty of blog posts about this to come.

So, yeah, in the midst of all of this, I’m trying to get ready for vacation . . . without really getting ready. This trip was initially planned for May, but COVID ruined that, so we postponed until now. With the way 2020 has been going, I’ve done pretty much NOTHING to prepare for the trip, which goes against everything my type A personality believes in. Normally I’m making color-coded lists and tossing items into suitcases a month beforehand, but this time I’m trying to fly by the seat of my pants. Because again, who knows what is or isn’t going to happen at this point.
Except, you know, there’s 2 dogs going with us.

Any positive/happy vibes you could send would be appreciated.


(Still) Confused About Freelance

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This is going to be a “whiny, poor me, I don’t get it” post. A more honest, raw version of this one from a while back.

Because since 2016, when I decided to devote every minute of my spare time to my writing, I still have yet to understand a lick of how to make money doing so.

I signed up for yet another newsletter that supposed to help with this kind of stuff. And just like every other website/newsletter/club/class, I find myself asking the same questions and thinking the same confused thoughts . . .

Step One is to acknowledge your uncomfortable feelings. Yes,  I know that it’s normal to be nervous and intimidated. Yes,  I want to be my own boss, make supplemental income, and be proud of something. Yes, I want to help people by providing a service I’m good at.

Step Two is to find my niche. What is my niche? I don’t have a college degree. I’m not an expert on anything except maybe Tudor History and Harry Potter. Sure, I’ve worked some form of admin or customer service work over the last fifteen years, but who hasn’t? How can I possibly use that to help me find writing jobs?

I’d like to think that after six years in the salvage auto/insurance industry that I’ve picked up on some decent information. But I’m hardly a “qualified” expert. I have no licenses or certifications. And offering to proofread or re-write one of our clients’ or vendors’ websites is probably a conflict of interest. I can’t sacrifice my 9-5 job.

The only other thing I know a lot about is mental health and therapy. But again I have no qualifications, no degrees. Just because someone knows a lot about a disease doesn’t mean they’re qualified to write about it. So I can’t even make money writing about things I have intimate knowledge of. How is this supposed to be helpful?!

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Clips. Okay, here’s something I finally have. I’ve published six pieces over the last few years and I have my own blog. Yay! But . . . I’ve never been paid for those pieces. And most of the writing samples are deeply personal or fictional. How am I supposed to use personal essays or fun flash fiction to sell myself to businesses looking for content or technical writers?

Portfolio & Online Presence. I kind of have these too. Score! But again, my portfolio is full of un-business related credits. And while I do have social media accounts for my writer-self, those are mostly to interact with other writers and readers. LinkedIn apparently is a must. But I already tried searching for freelance jobs on there and only one came up. What the heck am I doing wrong? How do people find me on there? What could I possibly post on LinkedIn that isn’t on my Facebook, Twitter, or blog? And for the third time — HOW ARE MY PUBLISHED PIECES ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH, FIRST LOVE, AND THE OUTER BANKS GOING TO GET ME FREELANCE CLIENTS?!?!?!?!

Rates? Screw rates. This is probably the aspect of freelancing I’m least concerned with. At this point I’ll let a college kid pay me $20 just to proofread his mediocre term paper. Throw me a bone here, please.

Prospects and Marketing. 
I’m starting to feel like a broken record here but . . . how can I have any prospects when I don’t have a niche? How can I have prospects when I don’t have any relevant business experience or credentials?
And how am I supposed to market myself without any of the above? Not to mention the fact that I’m still the most technologically inept millennial on the planet. In the four years since I’ve been back in the writing world, my eyes still glaze over anytime I read anything about marketing, SEO, widgets, or site traffic.

I just . . . I can’t . . .  I don’t understand.

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It’s like math class all over again. I feel like I’m doomed to fail because I’m not business minded.

Any help anyone has ever offered has only made me more confused.

Is it possible I’m just entirely too stupid or just not good enough to make money writing? I’m not even asking to be one of those people who can quit my FT job. I just want to make, like, an extra $100 – $200 a month.

Is that too much to ask?

PS:  The writer who runs the latest newsletter I’ve subscribed to considered herself a failure for “only making” $500 a month freelancing when she first started out. Sigh.

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Get to Know Me in 20 Random Questions

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these questionnaire type blogs, and considering the weight of my last three posts (and the constant boredom brought on by COVID), I thought it might be fun to do one now. Feel free to join in!

1. What’s the first thing you notice about people?
I’m never quite sure how to answer this one because to be honest, it depends on the person. I think it’s mostly how you present yourself — not just appearance but your demeanor. Are you patient, kind, and inviting? Or are you annoyed, demanding, and short-tempered?

2. What is your eye color?
Brown. Boring old brown. Maybe cause I’m full of shit?

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3. Do you have any siblings?
Yes, a sister who is 2 years younger. She’s an artist too! Check out her fabulous paintings:
EllaMessArt

4. When was the last time you cried?
A few days ago watching the series finale of Fuller House. No shame.

5. What was your favorite and worst subject a school?
Favorite was usually a writing class or history class. I was always good at English class but grammar was boring to me, mostly because it came so easily.
Any kind of math was the WORST. And then there was the torture of gym. Shudder.

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6. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
I always struggled with this question too BUT a few weeks ago I learned a new word — ambivert.
So now I have a new way to describe myself and a word to add to my arsenal.

7. What was your favorite TV show as a child, and what is it now?
When I was really little, I remember watching Winnie the Pooh with my dad on Saturday mornings.
Now this is a bit of a tougher question as I only allow myself to watch maybe an hour of TV a night, so I really only watch 1 show at a time. Recent faves include Friends, Seinfeld, GoT, Fuller House, & Sex Education

8. What is your biggest fear?
Still not ready to say it out loud — to myself or anyone else.

9. If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be?
Oh, man, that’s a tough one. Probably sit down with writers, editors, and agents who could best help me become the writer I want to be. And then go to the beach.

10. Do you use sarcasm a lot?
Only every 10 minutes or so, especially at the 9-5 job.

11. If you were another person, would you be friends with yourself?
You know, I don’t think so. That’s not meant to sound self-depreciating or anything, but I realize that I can be really emotionally intense and sometimes needy.

12. What are your favorite smells?
The beach. Old books. New Books. My Gram’s house.

13. Would you rather win the lottery, or work at the perfect job and why?
Probably work the perfect job, which would of course be writing. The ‘why’ would be to prove to everyone who doubted me that I could make a damn good living as a writer. And to actively live my passion of course.

14. Morning or evening person?
It really depends on the situation or event. Do I like getting up early to go to work? No. But do I like getting up early to go on vacation? Yes.
Do I like staying up late finishing a project or chore? No. But do I like staying up talking with good friends or watching a hockey game? Yes.

15. Aside from necessities, what one thing could you not go a day without?
Lip balm. It’s an addiction.

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16. What’s your favorite music genre & artist?
Impossible for me to answer. I love so many different types of music — Mozart, show tunes, Green Day, Christina Aguilera, Queen, Ed Sheeran . . .

17. What is the first thing you do in the morning?
Check the time, then go to the bathroom for teeth brushing and other bathroom-related necessities.

18. If you could eliminate one weakness or limitation in your life, what would it be?
Anxiety.

19. You’re wearing a fragrance, what is it?
Avocado Co-Wash from Lush. Sooooooooo refreshing!

20. If you could eat lunch with 4 celebrities, who would they be?
OMG I really don’t know how to answer this. I’ll just leave it at that.

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Anxiety & Masks

 

holding breath

I’ll be honest — the first time I put a mask on I wanted to claw it off immediately.

It was back in March, before things got really bad here in the States, and a few weeks before Pennsylvania’s governor mandated that masks be worn in all public places.

My husband, who works in a hospital, encouraged me to wear a disposable surgical mask to the grocery store, and I admit that I ripped it off after about ten minutes. It was itchy and awkward, and I experiencing claustrophobia for one of the first times in my life. The only other time I’d felt like I was suffocating or that the walls were closing in on me was when we’d gotten lost in The Underground on our trip to London.

Needless to say, when it became mandatory to wear a mask and I realized that I was going to have to wear one all day in the office, I had a full-on panic attack.

While I 100% support the mask mandate, I realize that there are some people with invisible conditions — like anxiety or claustrophobia — that may have a hard time adhering to this rule, so I wanted to share some ideas that helped me and might help others adjust to this new normal.

  1. Material & Type:
    The first disposal mask I tried was a high-grade surgical one. I didn’t like the way it tied around the back of my head and the thicker material was too much for someone who’d never worn a face covering. I felt the same way when I tried to use a mask that a coworker had made from an old pillow case. It was entirely too thick, which made me hot and it to me it felt like an actual pillow was being held over my face.
    After trying a few different things, I found that a different type of disposable surgical mask worked better for me, as did masks made out of thinner fabric like these ones from Target.
    You can also play around with different features or types of masks — some people like ones that loop over the ears, while others prefer ones that tie behind their heads. Some people are more comfortable wearing a scarf of bandanna. In most cases, as long as you’re not performing surgery or caring for someone with COVID-19, any of these are acceptable options.
  2. Size:
    This is something I didn’t give much thought to when I first started wearing a mask; I assumed they were ‘one size fits all.’ But now that it’s become a staple in life and something that’s probably not going away anytime soon, I’ve realized how important it is to have a mask that fits properly. And for those of us with anxieties, the fit may help alleviate some of those uncomfortable feelings.
    I have a tiny head, and subsequently a tiny face. Sunglasses, headbands, and ball caps are typically too big for me, and the same goes for masks. The fact that the first few I tried were entirely too big for my face probably contributed to the feeling of being suffocated or overwhelmed. The last few I’ve purchased have actually been kid sized, but they work well for my apparently small dome.
    If you’re struggling, try a smaller size or a different brand. As long as it covers your mouth and nose, you’re good!

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3. Practice at Home:
Like with almost everything else, practice makes perfect. In order to get used to masks, I wore one around the house for a few minutes at a time before I felt comfortable doing so for extended periods. When it came time to wear one out in public, I first ran out to pick up a prescription, knowing that the trip would be short and I could take it off in probably less than ten minutes. Once I tackled short errands, I was finally able to wear one for a long trip to the grocery store and during work.
Concentrating on taking slow, even breaths also helped, as did using mantras like “I am safe” and “I’m getting plenty of oxygen.”

4. Use Essential Oils:
I’ve become a fan of diffusers and essential oils over the last couple of years, and occasionally use them on my mask. If I’m having a rough day at work or feel a panic attack coming on randomly while wearing one, I sprinkle the fabric with a few drops of lavender or this CBD oil.. Having the calming scents right against my nose helps me breathe better and stay calm.

5. If You Wear Glasses:
One of the chief complaints about masks is that they make your glasses fog up. While I usually wear contacts, there have been a few occasions where I’ve had to suffer through wearing my spectacles in conjunction with a mask, and it is a pain in the ass.
For those of you who wear glasses daily, may I suggest a mask with a nose wire? My husband, who wears his glasses all the time, works on the dock at a hospital, and explained that if the wire is pinched flush against your nose, it will greatly reduce fogging.
If you’re the crafty type, you can even make this a DIY project using materials like pipe cleaners, paperclips, or even twist ties.

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6. Have Fun!
Look, we’re all kind of grasping at straws for ways to maintain sanity at this point. If we have to wear masks, we might as well have fun with it. If you’re the artsy type, have a (small, social distance-enforced) party and make masks with friends and family. Use old t-shirts, pillowcases, socks, and even bras to make yourself a one-of-a-kind face covering.
Flaunt your interests with sports team logos or these fabulous literary masks.  One of the coolest masks I’ve seen is this one,  for Harry Potter fans, which is an impressively authentic version of the Marauder’s Map.
You can also use this opportunity to support a good cause with the purchase of one of these masks that give back.

Well. There’s a post I never anticipated writing.

Hope this helps someone and hope you’re all staying safe and healthy.

 

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