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!

Outer Banks 2020

Well, peeps, I’m only 2 months late, but here it is — my recap of our vacation to the Outer Banks, 2020 edition.

Better late than never, I guess, and I figured most of us could use a dose of the beach considering winter is rearing its frigid head in most parts of the world right now. Plus, I know it’s been hard for a lot of people to travel what with the pandemic and all, so if you haven’t been able to leave your zip code in the last eight months, I hope this post helps you live vicariously through the Internet for a few minutes.

This trip was originally supposed to take place in May, but got postponed because of COVID, so our vacation looked nothing like we initially anticipated. Virus aside, we planned this excursion with every intention of taking our dog Comet, of course having no idea that he’d end up passing away in April. We ended up taking our new fur kid, Kitty, and as an added surprise our latest (and a bit unexpected) addition Ghost came along too. Considering virus precautions and having two new dogs in tow, my anxiety was pretty high in the weeks leading up to our departure.

We did have a few hiccups along the way — somehow missing the exit for our first traditional rest stop and driving an hour out of our way & Kitty nearly jumping out of the car unleashed — but the journey went relatively smoothly, all things considered. Finding food and bathrooms during the six hundred mile trek required a little more planning with COVID shutdowns, and we had to be hyper vigilant and cognizant of hand washing and sanitizing and pay attention to the differing restrictions in each state. Once we reached out destination, we found that North Carolina’s restrictions were very similar to those in PA. We had to wear masks everywhere we went, capacity limits at tourist attractions were small, and restaurants only offered take out or sparse outdoor seating. Still, I felt safe all week and following these extra safety steps were in a beach town didn’t take away the relaxing and freeing feeling of being on the coast.

The only major disappointment was our beach house. After two decades of visiting the Outer Banks and staying in everything from mansions to modest cottages, this place was probably bottom of the barrel. The house was old and in dire need of dozens of repairs, and I was not impressed by the cleaning staff, COVID aside. Still, we made it work as best we could, and the drawbacks at the house did not detract from the stunning views and quiet, peaceful location in the southern town of Frisco. We spent hours wading, discovering seashells, watching pelicans and dolphins, and marveling at the stunning sunrises and sunsets. We took the nearby ferry across the Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke Island twice, where we made sure to patronize local shops and restaurants effected by Hurricane Dorian and the virus, and walked the haunting trail at Springer’s Point, where Blackbeard’s body is said to have been thrown after his last battle off the coast. Our dogs particularly enjoyed the sugary soft sand, where they dug holes and chased birds.

Back in Frisco and Buxton, I explored a beautiful church, Our Lady of the Seas, to get inspiration for a pivotal scene in my WIP, Ocracoke’s Daughter. I browsed a cool little bookstore called Buxton Books, housed in a pre-civil war building with each tiny room dedicated to a different subject. We made plans to attend a ghost walk on October 30th, but it ended up getting cancelled due to high winds and power outages from a storm off the coast (2020 strikes again). We visited the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, where I did some additional research on Blackbeard, again for my WIP, and as usual spent my last night walking solo on the beach, feeling the rush of salt water run over my ankles and wiping my tears as I said a temporary goodbye to the sea once again.

This vacation was definitely different from any other I’ve had in the Outer Banks, being in a much more remote location on the southern beaches as opposed to the more populated, touristy spots further north. Still, the whimsy of the island did its job in healing my world weary body, mind, and soul . . . and I already miss it.

Les Sigh.

Guess I’ll have to live vicariously through my WIP until I can return.

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.


Featured

Whatcha Writin’ About?

Ever since COVID hit the US and changed everyone’s daily life, I’ve been doing A LOT of writing. Since I’m no longer working my second job and I can’t go to the pool because it’s STILL closed thanks to both construction and this pesky virus, I’ve been spending so much time behind a computer screen I’m starting to think there’s going to be an actual imprint of my ass on my dining room chair.

Anywho, I realized that despite all this writing that’s been going on, I haven’t really talked about it at all on my blog. Which I totally should be doing since, you know, I am a writer and aside from blogging about mental health and connecting with other mental health warriors, I also want to connect with other writers.

So what kind of ventures are in that folder marked “current writing projects?”

For starters, I managed to completely rebuild the 90,000+ word manuscript that I lost back in January thanks to a USB crash. Luckily one of my friends had the first draft saved in her email and I rewrote the entire thing from that in 4-5 months.
The Month of May follows Ella, a young woman who unexpectedly inherits her grandmother’s house and must return to her hometown of Pittsburgh where she is overcome with both beautiful and horrible memories of her first love and her late grandparents. As Ella navigates these complicated emotions in the steel town that raised her, she ultimately has to decide if she’s strong enough to let love in all its forms back into her life again.
I sent it out to 2 beta readers who were actually helpful, and am going over their comments before making some ‘final’ corrections and touch ups. I’m hoping that I can start querying again by the end of the year and keeping my fingers crossed that I can come up with a 280-character pitch to participate in my very first #PitMad on Twitter on December 3rd.

While May was out to the betas, I turned my attention to another manuscript I lost in the great USB crash of 2020. At the time, Ocracoke’s Daughter was 30-40,000 words, another contemporary fiction novel that I’ve rebuilt to around 55,000 words.
Here’s a pitch I randomly wrote — Adopted at birth and raised by strict conservatives, Sarah Sullivan always thought she was destined for two things – to marry the boy she met in middle school and raise his children. But after a decade of miscarriages and indifference from her overbearing husband, she files for divorce and travels to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to find her biological parents and herself. On the serene shores of Ocracoke and Hatteras, Sarah befriends a man with his own secrets, and an eccentric woman who claims to be her aunt – and the descendant of one of history’s most notorious pirates.
I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made with this one too, but I’m feeling a bit stuck with certain aspects, particularly those that require lots of research — and possibly involve traveling to parts of North Carolina that isn’t really plausible right now with budget and travel restrictions. Thanks again, COVID.
Basically I need to do a bunch of historical research on Blackbeard the pirate and should probably travel to the town of Bath, NC, which I have no idea if I’ll ever have the opportunity to do anytime soon. Fingers crossed that I’ll get some research completed when we (hopefully) vacation near Ocracoke this October.

I’ve also got a handful of other smaller projects I’ve been toiling with —


Summer Essays — Since this summer was essentially void of any typical summer experiences, I lamented those warm, sunny hours away by tapping away at my keyboard on my porch. Instead of lounging by the pool, riding roller coasters, or attending concerts, I wrote about past summers instead and came up with a series of ‘Summer Essays’ that I hope to find a home for someday. These include summers in my parents’ backyard pool, long days exploring the hills at my grandparents’ house, four years of band camp, decades of long weekends at a friend’s cabin in the mountains of northwestern PA, memories of dozens of vacations on the Outer Banks, and the summer of 2003, when my life changed forever.

Lunch with Miss Kitty — This is a piece I’ve been working on that I hope to pitch to a handful of dog-focused publications, this one in particular about my new fur kid, Miss Kitty, and our developing bond as she adjusts to her new life in her forever home. I’m pretty happy with it but am struggling with an ending.

Sweats — I decided to try my hand at a flash fiction piece that is told from the view point of a hoodie that a tourist buys on Westminster Pier while vacationing in London. I actually love 2/3 of this piece, but again am struggling with the ending. It took on an entirely different direction than I initially intended, and I’ve always had a hard time wrapping things up in less than 1000 words, so this one may take a while before I’m ready to submit it.

I’m also still trying to find a home for the following — Light of the Fire, a short story I wrote about the bond of female friendship after one of my friends lost everything in a house fire last year; Comet is Cupid, a non-fiction narrative about how our late dog Comet brought me and my husband together; and a short poem called Stained Glass Window about how people in my life who used to be my biggest cheerleaders faded away when I finally began standing up for myself and pursuing my dreams.

Bridges to Beaches — Aside from the novels, this is probably the project that I’m most excited about, yet is the least complete. Right now it’s just a cluster of unorganized ideas in a Word Doc that have been floating around in my head for a few years now.
I love writing about traveling and visiting lesser-known places in and around my hometown, so I decided that I wanted to start a travel blog from a local and down to earth perspective. So many travel blogs seem focused on unattainable destinations — far away, exotic islands, expensive hotels in European hot spots, or remote, sometimes dangerous villages in the middle of nowhere.
As someone with a limited budget (and travel anxiety), I want to write about accessible, affordable, and unique experiences that the average person can enjoy.
Since I’ve lived in Pittsburgh my entire life, I figured I’d start with my hometown. Everyone knows about our champion sports teams, our three rivers, and our myriad of museums, so my blog would focus on the hole in the wall, best keep secrets of this thriving, revitalized steel town. The best places to go kayaking. A tiny, but impressive collection of antique cars and carriages. A $10 tour of one of the MLB’s most beautiful baseball parks. Farmers markets. Secluded walking trails nestled amid the campus of The University of Pittsburgh. Fascinating historical spots.
The blog would also include write ups about nearby destinations perfect for day trips or long weekends, like Lake Erie and Presque Isle, Columbus, OH, Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, Lake Canadohota, and New York City.
Since North Carolina’s Outer Banks are a popular tourist destination for Pittsburghers (and it’s my favorite place on earth), I also wanted to include a section dedicated to vacationing there. Again, anyone can find articles about the beaches, the popular museums, and typical tourist attractions, but I’d want this part of the blog to focus on insider tips, hidden gems, and best kept secrets of this whimsical chain of barrier islands.

Just last week I had an idea for a fourth part of the blog, and that would be a section focusing on small businesses in the Pittsburgh area — a real estate agency, a salon, a photographer, painters, musicians, restaurants, non-profits — the possibilities are endless. I think it would be a really exciting way for independent entrepreneurs and artists to make connections and get their names out there.

Wow. Sometimes I get overwhelmed at all the ideas my brain can conjure up. It’s exciting, but it’s also intimidating. I still work a 9-5 job and though it no longer controls my everyday life, my anxiety is always at the back of my mind telling me that I’m being overly-ambitious or that I’m not good enough to have any success with these projects. I’m also still struggling with the technical aspects of ensuring that any of these ventures are a success, like social media presence, SEO, and being relevant on the internet, but hopefully I’ve recently found some resources to help with such obstacles.

In addition to all of these projects, I’m still trying to educate myself about being relevant and present on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m seriously considering starting a Linked In page for my writing. And holy crap WordPress has been telling me about its new formatting and offering me tutelage for months now but it’s finally here and now I have to figure out all this new crap on my own. Oops. (BTW does anyone know how to link prior blog posts on here? I found the “embed” button but can’t figure out how to change the text of the hyperlink).
I’ve also GOT to figure out how to link my blogs to Twitter. In the words of Kimmy Gibbler, Sweet Cheese.

With any luck, and a lot of hard work, I hope at least two or three of these projects see the light of day in the coming months or years. I’d love to hear what you guys think of any or all of them, and would also love to hear what you’ve been working on! Feel free to comment with a link to one of your projects if you’d like.

And as always, thanks for reading and commenting.

some (publishing) news!

Good evening, bloggers!

Just wanted to take a few minutes to let you know that I recently had two poems published by Capsule Stories, a print literary journal that publishes once every season.

I’m proud to be featured among dozens of other talented writers, especially in an issue that’s all about “Moving Forward.”

Check out the Summer 2020 edition and their website at https://capsulestories.com/summer-2020-edition/

My poems that are featured in this issue were posted several years ago on my blog Outer Banks Poems.

Enjoy! And let me know what you think!

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Am i Boring?

yawn

I mentioned in one of my previous posts about my mixed feelings towards this writing class I’ve been taking. One of the things I find myself asking — before, during, & after class, as well as anytime I’m scowering the submissions opportunities on any given website, blog, newsletter or Twitter feed is — am I boring? Is my writing boring?

I mean, I know I can write. I’ve known that since probably before sixth grade, that day when I realized that not only was I already a writer and always had been, but that I wanted to do it for the rest of my life and try like hell to make a career out of it. It’s the only thing you’ll ever hear me say I’m truly good at. I have my battles, like all writers, and I’ve certainly been struggling to find my place in the writing world recently, especially since I don’t fit into the coveted literary fiction box. But it’s the only thing I feel (mostly) confident about and the only thing I feel I can passionately pursue.

But what if I’m just plain boring? I write what I know, which is one of the first rules of writing. But what if what I know is irrelevant? What if it’s not throught-provoking? What if it’s not insightful or deep? What if it’s not mindblowing or truly unique?

vanilla

A few weeks ago in my writing class, one of the girls was explaining her absence from the week before. She had apparently taken part in some sort of “retreat,” where attendees travel to some remote southwestern town and pay an exorbitant amount of money to take some sort of mushroom-like, mind-altering drug and spend the next several hours vomiting into a bucket and experiencing a life changing trip that blurs the lines of reality and the expands the mind in ways you never thought possible.

Everybody in class peppered her with fascinated, curious questions. A few talked about their own experiences with mind-altering drugs. Most of them spoke as if she had just scaled Everest or killed a lion with her bare hands. These people with MFAs and high-paying careers and children and expensive shoes and dozens of stamps all over their passports were enthralled by her experience. And I just sat there, mouth hanging open slightly, coming to the realization that I was, quite possibly, the most boring person on the planet.

I won’t even sip an energy drink because I’m petrified of what it’ll do to me. And these people were talking about mind-altering drugs and bad trips as though they were popping a couple of aspirins.

In our first class, during the inevitably uncomfortable “getting to know you” phase, our instructor had us go around the room and tell a “crazy story” about something that had happened to us. While everyone else spoke about living in foreign countries and nearly freezing to death on an abandoned train car in the middle of some obscure part of Russia, the best I could come up with was the time I’d ridden in an elevator with hockey great Mario Lemieux.

Jesus, I’m boring.

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I find myself thinking the same thing as I read through the submission guidelines of nearly every single publication I explore. Everyone is looking for stories about life-changing vacations, near death experiences, bizarre encounters or drug-induced musings. Everyone wants work from writers who look at a rubberband and see an alternate universe. Everyone wants to hear from writers who have lived abroad or lived in the tundra or been a guide on an African Safari. They want work from people who have been imprisoned, abused, addicted, raped. They want work from people who are immigrants, biracial, LGBTQ+, some sort of minority, disabled, rehabilitated.

I’m not saying that writers from these backgrounds don’t deserve to be heard. They absolutely, 110% do. And I’m so glad that our world is finally being inclusive. But . . . what if I don’t fit any of those categories? What if I’m just a below-average white girl who has never lived anywhere but the suburbs and thought that five days in London was the trip of a lifetime? (please don’t take this is a “woe is me” from a privileged white woman. I promise you this is not an attack on inclusion, just a personal reflection from the anxiety-riddled mind of a below-average college drop out trying to find her place in a world of extraordinary people).

What if writing about mental health is a fad that fades away? What if it doesn’t fade away but I get lost in the shuffle? What if my triumphs and struggles with anxiety aren’t raw enough? What if I haven’t overcome enough?

paper

What if my passion for traveling to the Outer Banks is too boring? What if nobody wants to read about a sleepy beach town that thousands of Pennsylvanians flock to every year? What if nobody cares that Blackbeard the pirate used to roam the beaches or that the iconic lighthouses might be haunted? What if nobody cares about the wild mustangs that have lived on the beaches of Corolla since the 1500s or resilient spirit of those who call the barrier islands home?

What if nobody wants to read accessible, contemporary/commercial/genre fiction about a young woman clawing her way back to life and love after running away from her hometown in the throes of heartbreak, anxiety, and depression?

What if nobody wants to read a short story about a young man who is planning the perfect proposal while also struggling to start his own business, only to have the love of his life say no when presented with a diamond engagement ring?

What if no one wants to read about two best friends who grow apart through life’s changes, only to reconnect over the tragedy of a house fire?

What if no one wants to read about a recent high school graduate who comes of age the summer after her grandfather’s death?

I know none of these ideas are earth shattering. I’m not gunning for a Pulitzer Prize or a Pushcart nomination. I don’t want to meet celebrities or wrangle with the rich and famous. (although it would be cool to be on Ellen … )

I just want to write relatable fiction for the everyday person. I want people to see themsleves in my characters and their experiences in my plots. I want people to laugh and cry and escape from the world while they’re reading my words.

Is that boring?

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Confused About Freelance

In my post from two weeks ago, I talked about re-evaluating my writing goals and trying to come up with a plan as to how to achieve them.

If I could choose one big factor to change in my life at this point, it would be no longer working a second job cleaning so I could devote that time to writing – and making money doing so. I still need the extra income, and I would be absolutely over the moon if I could make and extra $200 or so a month writing.

But how does one accomplish that? Ideally, I’d love to make it happen with a travel blog, but the idea is still in its infancy and I have a lot of details to figure out before I launch it. I also still have a lot to learn about blogging, and while I’m hungry for the information, I’m having trouble finding a place where I can learn everything I need.

I’ve read countless articles about exposure, social media, and marketing, but my eyes gloss over 2-3 sentences in – especially when it comes to necessary evil that is SEO. I still have no idea how to make it work, and even if I did, it’s clear that getting to the point where you have thousands of followers and are making a tiny bit of money from a blog is a full time job in and of itself. Which I quite literally do not have the time or knowledge for.

help

So I figured I’d start small by learning what I could in my small amount of spare time, but that’s proving rather difficult too. Even though there’s a pretty decent community college system where I live, I only found one class about blogging, and the location was an hour and a half from my house, and started only 45 minutes after I leave my FT job. So that was out. I then discovered website dedicated to Pittsburgh bloggers, and was excited to see that they offered peer mentorship, classes, and general connections for local writers. Then I realized that nothing had been updated on their website since 2015. Moving on, I sought out two nearby universities known for their writing programs. I’d heard that such institutions offer non-credit or certificate programs, so I figured I’d check them out. One program required 6 weeks spent at a “retreat,” and cost over $6000. The other was only a few credits short of being a full time student – neither of which is an option for me, financially or logistically.

I just want to find somewhere that offers some sort of “blogging for business” or “writing for profit” class. Something within an hour’s driving distance of my house, maybe once or twice a week for less than an entire month’s salary. I just don’t know where to go or what to do to find it.

really

So, begrudgingly, I realized that maybe I do have to turn to freelance writing after all – maybe if I made some headway with freelancing, it would open up doors to travel writing and blogging opportunities and provide the cash necessary to learn about those things in the process.

I’ve looked into freelance writing several times in the last three years, but each time there were several aspects about it that scared me away. The biggest reason was the fact that I’d never even heard of half the programs they were requiring to be able to complete projects. And the fact that I’m pretty sure I’m “the most technologically inept millennial on the planet” means I’m not the kind of person who can just install a new program and teach myself to use it overnight, let alone use it well enough for a project I’m being paid for. I don’t even know how to use Skype for God’s sake. As I mentioned above with blogging, I’d be willing to take classes to learn this stuff, but apparently those types of classes simply do not exist.

Here are some examples of questions I run into while browsing through freelance job sites:

  • A business looking for someone to write their Wikipedia page. The description is literally only 2 sentences but it says the writer has to “write and maintain” the page. Does this mean I have to know how to set up a Wiki page? Does that mean I have to know how to write HTML and shit? Or am I just writing the content?
  • Someone who makes sauce was looking for a writer to write a catchy product description and history of the company for their jar labels. The description states “must be knowable of food labels designs and layouts.” So do I need to design it too?
  • What in God’s name are “white papers?!?!?!”
  • Why do most websites make you sign up for an account before you can even see what kind of jobs are offered?
  • When bidding on jobs, how am I supposed to compete with people who have extensive resumes?
  • Is it weird that I don’t like the idea of “ghost writing?”
  • Once you sign up as a “writer” for any given site, is there an option to ask job posters questions if you’re unsure about a certain aspect of the task? Is it advisable or professional to do so, or should you just stay away from any jobs you think are unclear? Because TBH almost all the jobs I look at are unclear to me.

As if the intimidation factor weren’t enough, I also have serious, scary questions about freelance work —

How much time a week/month is it going to take for me to make around $200/month?

Is freelancing going to leave me enough time to work on my blog and do creative writing for contests and calls for submissions? What about my novels?

Does freelancing have to be about writing mind-numbing junk? Is it the soul-sucker of the writing world? Is it going to burn me out? Does doing this mean I’m a sell out?

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All of this uncertainty about freelancing and getting paid to write has made me feel really anxious about something I love. And since writing, at its core, is really one of the only things I’ve ever been good at, that anxiety leads to frustration, anger, and even sadness. I don’t want my passion for writing to be limited because I lack understanding of technical junk and business sense.

I have no shame in admitting that my ideal dream would be to become a full-time, professional writer one day – novels, blogs, travel magazines, freelance gigs, you name it. As long as I was writing for a living I’d be happy. While I know that such a dream is far fetched, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep trying.

In the meantime, I’d settle for small, part-time gigs that allow me to make a few extra bucks a month to supplement my full-time income. I just have no idea where to start, and I’m feeling incredibly lost in trying to get there.

If any of you have any specific answers to anything I’ve asked in this post, I would be eternally grateful for the advice.

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Places I’ve Been, Part 5 (Erie, PA)

 

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Lake Erie, PA and Presque Isle State Park are popular destinations for travelers looking to spend time enjoying one of the Great Lakes.

The first time J and I took the three hour drive north, it was an impromptu decision several years ago, where we hopped in the SUV with our dog one August day and really had no plans other than to get to the lake. Once there, we were pleasantly surprised by the size of the park itself and the beauty of the day. While it was exceptionally windy and the lake’s usual calm waves resembled violent ocean waves, the sun was shining brightly through the clouds and not many people were out and about. We quickly found a beach that welcomed puppers, and spent time walking through the sand, picking through bountiful driftwood, and trying to convince our Comet that the water was nothing to be afraid of. Mission not accomplished. We did, however, snap the adorable family photo above, and vowed to come back for a longer stay sometime in the future.

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We got that chance in June of 2016, when we visited for a long weekend. The place we chose to stay was called Light on the Lake, located directly on the coast in nearby Northeast, PA.  (NOTE: Google lists the B&B as “permanently closed,” and I couldn’t find the website, but there is an active Facebook page so I’m not sure of its current status).
The location was spectacular, offering unbelievable views of the lake and a nearby marina. Delicious breakfast was provided, and we spent some time exploring the rocky shore and driving through the miles upon miles of grape vineyards. I didn’t realize until this visit that Northeast, PA is an extremely popular spot for wineries, and is even home to a jam and jelly plant.

The bed and breakfast was a nice place to stay, quiet and homey and ideally placed. My only complaints are that the building where guests stay is the same building where the owners live, which made me feel a bit awkward. The décor in the room was also quite dated, making me feel like I was staying in my great-aunt’s old house. (NOTE: the above mentioned Facebook page boasts a remodeled room, but it’s a different suite than ours. So some updates have been done since our stay).
Still, it was cozy and clean, and I’d definitely recommend this is a good stop for travelers.

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During our stay, we spent the day at the Erie Zoo, which I was pleasantly surprised by. The zoo is small, but there’s a wide variety of unique animals to see, and it’s really beautiful. My favorite animals included the otters, capybaras, penguins, the red panda, and the leopard who was snoozing snugly in a plastic tub, just like a house cat might. There were plenty of flowers and plants throughout the property, and I especially loved the hanging baskets that decorated a small bridge visitors passed over.

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We also spent a day on one of the many Presque Isle beaches, but unfortunately we hadn’t brought our bathing suits. It was early June, and the weather report hadn’t been promising, so we didn’t think there’d been any opportunity for swimming. Of course when we actually arrived, the weather was clear, sunny, and hot, and there we were, on the beach, fully dressed, unable to enjoy the water. We did some wading, though, and it’s always relaxing to sit with your toes in the sand, listening to the crash of the surf.

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One of our missions during our mini vacation was to find a bar or restaurant where we could have dinner that would be broadcasting the Stanley Cup playoffs. When we planned the trip several months prior, we had no idea our Pittsburgh Penguins would be vying for Lord Stanley’s Cup. But since the Cup playoffs are on such a national stage, we didn’t think it would be an issue popping into a bar to catch the game – especially because if the Pens won, it would be for all the marbles. Unbeknownst to us, we were staying in a town that didn’t even seem to acknowledge hockey’s existence. And we didn’t realize that we were closer to Buffalo, NY and their Sabres than we were to our Pens. So when we meandered into a sports bar for pizza and fried pickles, we were perplexed that the bar staff didn’t even know which channel the game was on. And once they found it, no one in the entire bar was paying the least bit of attention. After we’d finished eating, we rushed back to the bed and breakfast to watch the rest of the game on a tiny, old-fashioned TV that was so small and had such poor quality we could barely see the puck or the scoreboard in the corner.  Luckily, we lost that night in spectacular fashion, so we were able to see them win the Cup a few days later in the comfort of our own home.

Before leaving, J and I briefly stopped in the “downtown” area of Northeast, where we took a short walk through a pretty little park, complete with fountains and war monuments. The town mostly consisted of antique shops, craft stores, and family-owned businesses. We also popped into the closest winery for a quick tasting. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of it, but vineyards and wineries are plentiful in this part of Pennsylvania, so if you ever choose to visit, I promise that finding one will be easy.

This vacation was a quick and quiet one, the highlights being the zoo and the unexpected good weather. If we were to return in the future, we’d definitely bring our bathing suits and the kayaks and spend more time on the water and hopefully explore more of what Erie has to offer.

If you enjoyed reading about this adventure, you might also like …

Places I’ve Been, Part 1 (Laurel Highlands, PA)

London, Part 2

Places I’ve Been, Part 3 (New York City)

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Re-Calculating

We’ve all been there – in the car, the GPS propped up on the dashboard, giving turn-by-turn directions to a place we’ve never been before.

Despite the calm computer voice and the highlighted route on the high-def screen, sometimes we make a wrong turn. Maybe a street isn’t marked or an exit is closed or our signal is lagging. So we end up missing our turn and we’re suspended in a state of blind panic while we try to decide if we should slam on the brakes, pull an illegal U-turn, or just pull over and cry. (Well, that’s what I do when I’m lost anyway).

But while we’re panicking over our missed turn, the GPS voice calmly assures us that she is “re-calculating,” and before our eyes, the map on the screen re-centers itself and figures out how to correct our mistake.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had a digital lady in our heads that could help us re-calculate when we seem to have veered off course?

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While there are plenty of voices in my head, none of them are calm or reassuring, and none of them have ever re-centered me and pointed me in the right direction a la Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

But I know enough to realize when it’s time to change courses or try something different, and I’ve been feeling like this for a while now – in several aspects of my life.

While I’m still waiting for some magical internal GPS to tell me what to do about the frustration with both of my jobs and my house/neighborhood, I’ve decided to take the reins when it comes to the only thing I really know anything about, and that’s writing.

When I decided to get back into writing back in 2016, I had a couple of goals – I wanted to start a blog, gain some followers, submit articles and short stories to publications, and get a few things published. Though the tasks seemed daunting, I figured that once I’d made those smalls steps, the bigger accomplishments would easily follow – things like winning contests, guest-posting, and even – gasp – making money. I didn’t come into this with a specific timeline for accomplishing any of this, but I have to admit that three years in, I’m really feeling the frustration.

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Don’t get me wrong – I am so, so proud of this blog and everything I’ve accomplished since 2016. It still blows my mind that strangers on the Internet (all 220 of you) want to read regularly about a weird girl in Pittsburgh who has anxiety attacks over cooking new recipes and driving on the highway . . . and other random adventures. I especially love the fact that I’ve “met” so many fellow mental health warriors and have chatted with readers and writers across the US and different parts of the world – including Canada, Ireland, and even Australia. It is so fulfilling to know that I can connect with strangers over something that comes out of my mind and heart.

While I have absolutely no plans of shutting down Quirky, Confused, & Curvy, I have to admit that I’ve started thinking about exploring other blogging options. I don’t want to say too much because I haven’t fully hashed out a plan, but I realized that when I was doing the “Places I’ve Been” blog posts I was having a lot of fun reflecting on my past travels near and far. I even love writing about little local adventures, like my post about Phipps Conservatory and my visit to the cemetery where my grandparents are buried.

I’ve realized that I’ve gotten a bit away from what I actually enjoy writing about because I’ve been so focused on the next step towards my goals – getting more publishing credits and making money.

According to all the writer websites and groups, in order to accomplish these aforementioned goals, one must submit to literary publications and, after dozens (hundreds?) of rejections, get published and possibly paid. Based on the advice and banter I’ve seen from these sites, once these things have been accomplished a handful of times, you can start calling yourself a professional writer and actually get paid – whether it be writing as a full-time career or having a successful freelance gig as a side hustle.

So I’ve spent most of my summer giving myself a headache (and the occasional panic attack) by staring at my laptop, formatting and re-formatting short stories and personal essays, and submitting them to literary journals. (I’m 0 for 10 in the last three months BTW).

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One or two of the rejections have hurt, but for the most part, I haven’t been disappointed or even surprised. Because here’s the thing — I don’t like literary fiction. I don’t really write it and to be completely honest, I’m not a big fan of reading it. I know you’re supposed to read samples issues of publications you’re submitting to, but I realized that every time I did so, I was usually bored by the second or third paragraph. I don’t want to take anything away from writers who I am sure are talented. And I don’t want to scoff at well-known publications that writers everywhere strive to be a part of. But I simply enjoy a different type of writing and reading, and I feel like I need to start focusing on that again. Call it mainstream, call it genre fiction, call it chick lit, call it whatever you want. These are the things I enjoy reading and writing, and I don’t want to apologize for it.

The struggle I’m having, though, is the fact that nearly time I click on a link in my newsletters from Winning Writers, Authors Publish, and Submittable, the publications are looking for entries that are “literary.” So where does that leave me? Is there even room in the publishing world for the type of writing I do? I had a couple of panic attacks thinking that the answer was no. But then I remembered that while I’ve only had a handful of pieces published, I have, in fact, been published.

So I looked back at the pieces that were accepted by different publications – two are about mental health and one is a “letter I’ll never send” to my first love. No literary pretense or flowery prose to be had. So there must be a place out there for my writing . . . and other writing like mine. There are plenty of talented authors writing mainstream fiction who are household names and make a pretty penny doing so. And there will always be people looking to read articles and short stories that are written to be taken at face value. Still, there’s that little annoying voice in the back of my head telling me that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the writer in me because I’m not into literary stuff — or that I truly must suck as a writer if every single sentence I write doesn’t have some deep, artistic hidden meaning.

But paranoia aside, changing the direction of my writing goals has lead me towards different obstacles.

Time would be the number one issue, and the easiest solution would be to quit my part-time cleaning job. With an extra couple days a week free, I could write more, maybe join a critique group, and even take a couple of classes. I’d love to brush up on my skills, and I desperately need to figure out how to create a WordPress site that optimizes SEO and maybe even generates some cash. And if I can’t make any money with my blog, I just might try my hand at travel writing or freelancing — both of which I feel like I’d also have to take classes on if I’m truly serious about replacing the cleaning job with writing income.

Of course if I quit the cleaning job, there goes the extra money I’d need to take aforementioned classes. So you can see why I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

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I don’t have a concrete plan right now on how I’m going to work towards my new goals. I feel like that makes things more difficult to achieve, and it triggers my anxiety something fierce. But I’m trying to just take a step back right now and keep my eyes peeled and my ears open for opportunities.

In the mean time, I’m going to take a break from submitting and concentrate on just writing whatever’s in my heart.

Hopefully it leads me somewhere good.

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Places I’ve Been, Part 4 (Southern Caribbean)

 

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For our honeymoon in November of 2013, J and I hopped aboard Princess Cruise Lines for the second time in our relationship and explored the islands of the southern Caribbean aboard the Crown Princess.

The ship was as beautiful as its sister we sailed on in 2009, but it was almost an exact copy, so there was no surprise or new things to explore. From what I understand, all Princess ships are pretty much mirror-images of one another. While this might make navigating your way around the ships easier if you cruise with Princess more than once, I think it would be fun exploring the newness of a vessel each time you vacation. Still, we had a comfortable room complete with a balcony, and J’s mom had sent us a surprise bottle of champagne to mark the occasion.

 

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Our first port of call was again Princess Cays. Unlike our last visit, this time J and I decided to try one of the excursion adventures and rented one of those giant floating bikes with the brightly-colored wheels. I always thought it looked like fun – but I was a bit wrong. The seat on the bike is metal, and what happens to metal when it sits in the scorching hot Caribbean sun all day? Yeah. It gets painfully hot. I’m pretty sure I lost a layer of skin off my ass and my thighs when I sat down. The other issue with this giant floating bike is that pedaling is HARD. I’m not the most fit person in the world, but I thought I was more than capable of peddling a bike. Unfortunately, getting enough momentum to your bare feet against giant pedals isn’t as easy as you may think, especially when the ocean waves are bobbing you up and down unpredictably. And finally, doing any sort of manual labor in ninety degree heat is only made worse when you’re wearing a bulky life vest. While I was sadly disappointed that our floating bike adventure was less than relaxing, we did manage to snag some beach time and swung by a few shop to add to our Christmas ornament collection.

Since the next islands on our itinerary were quite far south, we spent the next few days “at sea,” where we whiled away the hours playing hilarious and challenging games like trivia and bingo, enjoying the pools and hot tubs, sipping fruity drinks, and watching movies “under the stars.” Unfortunately, we ran into some rough waters for a day or two – bad enough that they closed a few of the upper decks due to high winds and the ship deployed its outriggers in order to try to keep the boat from rocking in excess. At night, you could definitely feel the ship swaying, and I experienced some mild seasickness for a few hours.

As we reached the island of Curacao, J and I watched as we cruised by dozens of oil rigs, which is apparently the island’s biggest export. Once ashore, we spent the morning shopping and exploring the old ruins and markers of famous battles, marked by aging cannons and crumbling forts. Our initial plan was to go back on the ship and change into our bathing suits, then hit the beach, but it was so incredibly hot that we ditched the idea and just stayed on board to enjoy one of the pools. Curacao’s coast was quite rocky, which meant we’d need to take a taxi to a more accessible beach. Since we hadn’t booked a cruise-approved excursion in advance, we erred on the side of caution and just hung back. This ended up being one of our most relaxing and quiet afternoons aboard the ship, as most people were off exploring the island.

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The next day we arrived in Aruba, catching a glimpse of the coast of Venezuela as we made our way to the dock. I was thrilled to be far enough south to see another continent, and my excitement only grew as we got closer to our next destination. Aruba was absolutely beautiful. From its brightly-colored coastal buildings to its pure white sand beaches and crystal clear water, it was truly a slice of heaven on earth. And while the weather was of course hot, it wasn’t unbearable thanks to the trade winds. These winds not only make the environment comfortable, but we quickly learned that they are also responsible for the tilt of the famous Divi Divi tree, a large shrub that always leans to the southwest and are found in abundance on this beautiful piece of land.

We’d booked an excursion for this island, and it was money more than well spent. We boarded a refurbished school bus with no windows and painted in bright, funky colors with a giant banana on top. Our driver was a happy-go-lucky local with a huge personality and a wealth of knowledge about his native land. He spoke five languages (Dutch, Spanish, English, French, and Papiamento), and kept us laughing as we sped down the coast. Along the way, I marveled at how clean and modern the island and all of its hotels and restaurants were. Everything from Holiday Inns to Ritz Carltons were stunning, and each eatery and shop boasted bright, inviting colors and often upbeat music. I very quickly came to understand why Aruba’s official slogan is “one happy island.”

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The first stop on our tour was the California Lighthouse. Here, we learned the history of the structure, posed for pictures, and sipped coconut water right from the source. I was truly impressed (and a bit terrified) as I watched two local men hacking the fruit apart with machetes and almost no effort.

Further down the coast, we stopped at Moomba Beach, where we’d have several hours to enjoy the scenery before the bus returned to take us back to the ship. Moomba Beach was absolutely stunning. Besides the picturesque landscape, there were beautiful ships anchored nearby, everything from touristy pirate ship recreations to bright sailboats and speeding jet skis. There was also a small cluster of shops and restaurants, complete with a cigar shop and tiki huts. Light fixtures made of glass bottles hung among the palm trees as did old anchors and thick ropes, making me feel like I had stumbled onto the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. After J and I did some swimming, he somehow convinced me to rent a jet ski, and we spent an hour speeding through the water. Once my initial panic wore off and I loosened the death grip on J’s life vest, I actually managed to have a pretty good time.

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All too soon, our tour guide arrived to whisk us back to the ship. He blared The Beach Boys’ Kokomo from the bus’s speakers, and made us dizzy circling three times through a roundabout before getting back on track. When the bus came to a final stop at the dock, I actually had tears in my eyes. Falling in love with Aruba didn’t take long.

As our ship pulled away from the most beautiful island I’d ever visited, J and I waved sadly from our balcony. But Aruba had one final surprise – we somehow managed to spot a shark swimming alongside our ship just before he disappeared beneath the waves. Though we were safely several dozen feet from the creature, it was easy to tell he was quite large – at least ten feet if I had to guess – and I shuddered to think that we’d just been swimming in those very waters.

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The last few days of our honeymoon were “at sea” again as we made the long trek back to the Florida coast. J and I passed the time playing board games in the library, lounging on deck, drinking more alcohol, and enjoying a Coldplay concert broadcast on the giant outdoor movie screen. We even splurged on a couples massage to top off our relaxation.

The negatives this time around were minor, like the unbearable heat and unsightly oil rigs in Curacao, and the excessive rough weather the first few days. We also felt a bit more “buying” pressure from Princess this time. For example, after our massage, we were taken to a “recovery” room, which basically consisted of the masseuses giving us water, then trying to sell us exorbitantly priced lotions and oils. When we declined, they kind of grilled us as to why we weren’t interested, and that rubbed me the wrong way (no pun intended). We also had an unpleasant incident where J and I wandered into an area of the ship called “The Sanctuary” and made ourselves comfortable on lounge chairs in a cabana. After sitting there peacefully for ten or fifteen minutes, a steward came up to us and asked if we had reservations. When we looked at him like he had two heads, he explained that the cabanas had to be rented – at some absurd rate of around $100/hour. While I understand that certain amenities cost extra, there was no indication that any part of “The Sanctuary” required reservations or additional funds.

But the ship was beautiful and the majority of the staff pleasant, and we enjoyed some amazing meals and incredible sights throughout the week. Our honeymoon cruise was one to remember, and I am so grateful we got to visit Aruba. If we ever come across the funds, I would not hesitate to spend an entire week there.

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