A Friday in January

I am working at my company’s small sublot for a few days, and on Friday the twenty-something yard employee who opens the gates is running a little late. He apologizes profusely, then tells me to forgive him if he seems a bit “off” today. His friend from high school was killed last night, so he’s understandably emotional. I offer my own shocked condolences, and he manages to give a few sparse details about their friendship and history before the tears he’s been holding back begin to flow. Male tears have always had the power to undo me, and COVID be damned, I rush over to wrap him in a friendly hug. There is no one else around to comfort him, and I cannot stand idly by as his grief overflows. He regains his composure and thanks me, and we turn to the demands of our jobs.

Hours later, I take my lunch break and wonder how he’s managing. I distract myself with Facebook, where I stumble upon an article about how the lack of physical touch over this last year is wreaking havoc with our mental health. I become teary-eyed near the end, thinking not only of my hug with my coworker this morning, but of the scores of people dealing with what may be the most difficult and bizarre period we’ve ever encountered.

I continue scrolling through my feed, trying to focus on positive posts. I smile when I see one wishing my favorite composer, Mozart, a happy birthday. There is a video to go along with the post, one I’ve seen a dozen times before, of opera singer Diana Damrau expertly nailing the Queen of the Night aria. This stunning and exceptionally difficult piece always makes my heart flutter happily, but today it shatters me.

Tears of my own grief and despair pour over my cheeks as I watch the artists on stage, and suddenly I am painfully aware of just how long it’s been since I sat in a darkened auditorium absorbing culture and theatrics and feeling the rush of human interaction and our shared passion for the arts. And then I am sobbing for everything.

I cry out of frustration for the linger, all-encompassing fatigue that COVID has left in my body, and I cry out of fear that the virus will have some future negative effects on mine or my husband’s health. I cry because it’s been nearly a year since I’ve swum laps or splashed and laughed with other women as we aqua-Zumba our way across the pool to Bruno Mars and Ricky Martin. I cry for the restaurants and small businesses, the non-profits and schools, the students and teachers, the nurses and travel industry. I cry for my friends in Holland and the missed opportunity to visit them in The Netherlands. I cry for the unfulfilled desire to see the Van Gogh Museum, the canals, the windmills, the tulips. I cry because I just want to sit at my friends’ kitchen table, laughing and talking and catching up while we sip beer and wine and finally taste homemade Olliebolen.

When lunch is over, I force my tears to an abrupt halt in the way that women do, in order to attend to the necessities of work and life until there is another spare moment for release.

I stumble through the rest of the day as best I can in this fog of emotion and brain fuzziness and exhaustion and wonder how long the remnants of this virus will inhabit my body and mind.

At 5pm, I head to the pharmacy for prescriptions, resting my head against the steering wheel in the parking lot for 60 seconds just to gather my wits. I have not known fatigue or frustration like this since I had mono in my early twenties, but there are errands to run and a house to clean and meals to cook and dogs to attend to.

On my way home I am sitting at a red light, fighting the urge to close my eyes for only a moment, when the tears break through again. I am sobbing because I am so tired. I am sobbing because it is so cold — the bitter January air is cutting through my coat and gloves and laughing at the meager attempts of the heat in my car. I sob because it seems like spring will never, ever come. I sob because I want to exercise swim and take my dogs to the park. I sob thinking about my messy bathroom and kitchen. I sob because I want to go to a restaurant with my friends and have a glass of sangria and eat too much rich food. I sob because I miss my mom and dad and sister and friends. I sob because we still do not know when this will end.

When I finally walk through my back door, I greet my dogs and my husband. I eat a bowl of cereal for dinner, take my pills, and go upstairs to read and rest for an hour before starting laundry and making a grocery list.

But after awhile, I fold down the page in my novel, set it aside, and flick off the bedside lamp. And I sleep. And I sleep. And I sleep.

the one where i get covid

Welp, I am officially a number. On December 28th, I developed a sore throat and began feeling really, really tired. That same day, it was confirmed by our HR department that “an employee” had tested positive for COVID. Though they claimed they didn’t consider anyone at our facility to have been exposed, I immediately went online to schedule a test.

The next morning when I woke up, my sore throat felt worse, I was still EXHAUSTED, I had a headache, and the sniffles. I called off work and went to a drive-through testing site that afternoon — luckily it was just a mouth swab and not the dreaded brain tickler.
My symptoms intensified over the next few days and I developed a cough. Still, during those first three days I truly didn’t believe I had anything other than a cold. I was most definitely sick (AND I MOST DEFINITELY STAYED HOME) but I’d been sicker — like when I had mono in 2005, like when I had the flu last March, and when I had 3 sinus infections within 2 months in 2012 and had yellow junk leaking out of my eyes.

On New Year’s Day, 2021, the day when the shitstorm that was 2020 was supposed to over and done with, I woke up feeling the best I had all week. And then I got the email that my rest results were in. After a few clicks it was confirmed in bright red letters — I was POSITIVE for COVID-19.

I immediately notified my husband, parents, and sister, the only people I’d been with other than my coworkers. Then I began to panic. What if I relapsed and got worse? What if I had lingering effects? What if my family was sick? What would happen to my job?
A few hours later my husband began to exhibit symptoms and I became even more stressed out. A few days after later, HE tested positive for COVID and my guilt swelled. J was born premature and his lungs and sinuses never fully developed. He’s had pneumonia a few times as well as bronchitis. I was scared.

It’s been about two weeks for me, and I am sloooooowly starting to feel normal. My nose is still stuffy, my cough is still lingering, and I get tired really easily. Oh and I have almost NO sense of smell. For someone whose mom used to call them “dog nose” this is a really interesting new way to navigate things.

J’s symptoms are about 5 days behind mine, and while his cough seemed worse than mine and he had stomach issues, I’m hoping he’ll be on the upswing shortly. I’m not much for organized religion, but any good vibes or prayers would be appreciated.

So now my house is a disaster of epic proportion, the dogs are going nuts, and since we can’t leave these 4 walls it’s almost impossible to turn off CNN as we watch the US tumble into an even more disturbing and embarrassing example of a democracy gone wrong. And don’t even get me started on how indescribably LIVID I am about the way my workplace has (mis)handled this whole debacle.

Yay. 2021.

As I wait for my second round of test results, I’m trying so hard to keep things in perspective. I’m trying to focus on my health and my husband getting better. I’m trying to be thankful that my family didn’t get it and that J & I are generally young and healthy and should be able to beat this. I should be thankful that both of us should still have jobs after this. I should be thankful we still have a home and food on the table.

But all I can think about is what I’ve lost thanks to COVID — 80 hours of PTO. The possibility of personal days and vacations, even if they were stay-cations. Trust and faith in the system. Dreams of having a girl’s weekend with my best friends to celebrate 25 years of friendship. Traveling to Holland to see our friends that moved there in 2019. Seeing the Grand Canyon with my husband. Buying a new house in a better neighborhood.

I understand that right now so many people are focused on survival mode, and thinking about these types of luxuries might seem selfish and immature. But in the past when I’ve been struggling to get through tough times, I always try to focus on something good to look forward to. Unfortunately, right now no one knows if or when those good times will ever come around again.

I talked to my therapist yesterday and she reiterated the importance of focusing on little things, especially in the dismal winter that has consumed western Pennsylvania. We probably won’t see the sun here very often over the next few months, which only magnifies mental health issues — global pandemic, financial crises, and unstable government aside.

Sadly I feel like I have to put aside big dreams of traveling and moving right now. I have to dust off my happy light, restock my essential oils, and try to be satisfied with mundane things like chocolate cake, a (shortened) hockey season, warm towels out of the dryer, and my dogs’ adorable head tilts.

I’m trying to hard to think about better days. Sometimes that makes things easier. Sometimes it makes things harder.

Until next time, please take care. And for the love of all that is holy — WEAR A MASK.

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.

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 —

I Had a Photoshoot!

I have a confession to make — the picture that I’ve been using on this blog, my social media accounts, and sending along with submissions to publications is from . . . 2009.

I’ve never claimed to be a a photogenic person, and aside from my wedding pictures haven’t had any professional photography done since. The black and white of me posed with my chin in my hand was taken aboard a cruise ship eleven years ago and the only picture of myself I loved other than the ones where I’m in a wedding dress.

So I was long overdue for new ones.

Luckily, my sister told me about a fantastic local photographer who is married to one of her coworkers, and after looking at her website I had to give her a shout.

JM and I met up on the last Saturday in September at Mellon Park in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill/Shadyside neighborhood to get the shots, and I managed to have a lot of fun. Considering I hadn’t had professional photos taken since 2013, I had to admit that I was nervous. I’m not a natural in front of the camera, and I was super worried that I wouldn’t like the finished products.

But JM was open and friendly and gave me plenty of suggestions and direction on how to play up my best angles and use the beautiful setting of the park to my advantage. Before I knew it, an hour had gone by and it was time to wrap up.

When JM sent me the finished photos a few weeks later, I was so excited — and actually happy with the results! There were plenty of pictures I could use to update my social media pages and use as headshots, and I really liked the way I looked in most of them.

I’m sharing some of my favorites and will definitely be updating my photos on my website in the near future.

photos taken by Janelle Michaux Photography

I know that plenty of writers or other professionals use old photos because they feel, like me, that they aren’t photogenic or they don’t know how to create flattering images of themselves on their own. Let’s be honest — as writers, our typical uniform is sweat pants, a t-shirt, a messy bun, and some sort of chocolate pastry. Writing and reading is a mostly solitary endeavor and most of us know more about semicolons and literary magazines than makeup and good lighting. And while it can feel like you’re taking a big risk by hiring a photographer you’ve never worked with before, I highly encourage anyone who needs new headshots to give it a go. Just make sure you do your research when hiring someone to take those photos — ask for personal recommendations if you can, and don’t feel badly about scrutinizing every shot on their website. Bonus points for photographers who give tips about choosing outfits or hairstyles. And while a writer’s budget is typically pretty tight, DO NOT scrimp when it comes to your pictures!

So let me know what you think about my new headshots, and if you decide to update your own images, tell me how it goes!

Do Not Open til November 2020

Four years ago, in 2016, I wrote this letter to myself and sealed it in an envelope. I stuck it inside my nightstand drawer and didn’t think about it much until the last couple of weeks. I fully intended to open it this month, but I wondered when it would be appropriate to do so. Election day? Once the results were announced? After the news, whatever it may be, settled in?

Last night J & I had two friends over to celebrate the Biden/Harris win and the inevitable end to trump’s four years of an embarrassing parade of hate and misinformation. It was the first time the four of us had been together since COVID, and it felt good to be in the company of good friends again. It felt good to catch up, eat pizza and wings, drink beer and toast with champagne. It felt amazing to watch Kamala Harris and Joe Biden take the stage and celebrate with crowds of (masked) citizens who had taken to the streets to celebrate the end of a reign of racism and lies.

And this morning when I woke up, it felt appropriate to open that stuffed drawer of my night stand, sift through four years of greeting cards, newspaper and magazine articles, phone chargers, and coupons to recover the letter I’d written four years ago in the wake of an unprecedented election.

I’ll share it with you now —

Hey, you,

Four years ago, you made history by voting for a woman for President of the United States. She didn’t win, and it was heartbreaking and terrifying. (I don’t think you need to be reminded of who did win).

You spent hours crying your eyes out. You got into all sorts of political arguments. You felt angry, hopeless, embarrassed, and sad. But then you felt empowered. You realized you had a job to do and a cause to fight for and people to help. When you read this in 2020, I don’t know where you’ll be in life or where we’ll be as a country or humankind. But I guess the point of doing this is to remind you four years from now of how low and hopeless so many people felt and how somehow we banded together, and hopefully not only made it through but prospered and made some big changes.

So maybe by 2020 we’ll have a new president. Maybe it’ll be a newcomer we haven’t heard of yet or someone like Michelle Obama. Maybe you’ll be a mom, maybe you’ll live in a bigger house, maybe you’ll be really successful with your writing. Or maybe you’ll still live in the same house and work at C and write in your spare time.

But where ever you are in 2020, and whoever is on the ballot this time around, just take a moment to reflect on this simultaneously dark and bright moment of 2016 — and what is hopefully an even brighter moment in 2020.

Friends, I cannot tell you how good it feels knowing that trump will be a one term president. Like most of the world, J & and spent the last four days watching the endless election coverage and riding the emotional roller coaster that came along with it. There were moments of of hope and disbelief — that Biden/Harris had flipped several red states and counties blue, that the margins were so close, and that even after the disaster that has been the last four years, that so many people still support this mockery of office.

I was standing in line at the deli counter at the grocery store when my husband texted me to let me know that Biden won. I quickly logged onto CNN.com to verify the news, and my knees almost gave out. The relief spread quickly through my body, lifting a weight that had been burdening me and so many other Americans for four long years. As the girl behind the counter sliced my Dietz and Watson, I looked around for someone, anyone I could share the news with. The other shoppers all seemed oblivious still, and I knew it was inappropriate to broach the subject with strangers. I accepted my meat and cheese with shaking hands, then rounded the corner with my cart and texted my sister and my friend with tears in my eyes. As I struggled to get a hold of myself next to the baked goods, I was amazed at how suddenly it was so much easier to breathe.

It has been a long time since I’ve felt proud to be an American and hopeful for this country and its people — all of its people. I know that we still have so much work to do and there are so many more things that need to change, but I truly believe that we took the right first step this past week in electing two people that not only represent the diversity and beauty of this nation, but have its best interests at heart.

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.


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.

(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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