Worth 1000 Words #11: In the Bleak Midwinter

*I will only be making Friday posts for the month of December. Regular Monday and Friday posting will resume in January.*

Now that December has blustered into my neck of the woods, bringing cold winds, the scent of pine, and absolutely ridiculous inflatable holiday decorations adorning the yards of my neighbors, I have a confession to make: I don’t particularly enjoy the holidays. In fact, I recently purchased a shirt that truly reflects my feelings toward the holidays, which is reminiscent of everyone’s favorite reformed Christmas naysayer, Ebenezer Scrooge. It suits me wonderfully, I have to say.

img_20171120_143441_3441212692033.jpgI know, I know… disliking this time of the year is blasphemy. Everyone loves Christmas! Everyone loves cookies and bulky sweaters and watching snow fall with a steaming cup of cocoa! Everyone loves Christmas movies and carols and figgy pudding and whatever! But hear me out, because I think my aversion to the holiday season is valid.

Firstly, I don’t like gingerbread or eggnog, and peppermint is a case-by-case basis, with the typical outcome being “no thanks.” So, like, half of the seasonal lattes at Starbucks aren’t options for me, and that’s a major bummer. I also dislike snow (when I have to drive in it) and bitter cold, and though I do love a good bulky sweater, they tend to be quite itchy, and no one wants to be itchy all day, fashion be damned.

But, the main reason why I dislike the holiday season is that I work retail full-time. So, you can imagine how that is during the holidays. Last year I worked third shift for all of December and part of January, and it was a magical experience. I didn’t have to interact with people for 6 weeks. I didn’t have to care about my appearance for 6 weeks, I didn’t have to fake holiday cheer for 6 weeks. I could just do my work, listen to my own music, and carry on my own way without being bothered by last-minute shoppers who somehow think it’s my fault that we sold out of a particular item, even though we’ve had it in stock for weeks prior. I’m eternally grateful that I don’t work in the toy department, though. I work across the store, but I’m already sick of hearing about “fingerlings,” whatever those are, and last years “hatchimal” craze was even worse.

This year, I didn’t fare so well with my schedule, as I am on the early/day shift until the week leading up to Christmas – though I will say, in my 9 years of retail, I had my easiest Black Friday shift of all time a couple of weeks ago, so the holiday season didn’t kick off in a majorly disastrous fashion. I enjoy my job most of the time, but this time of year, it is far too easy to spiral into a jumbled mess of stress, irritation, the whole “too much work and not enough time” mentality, impatience, and indulging in too much candy to try and improve my mood, then feeling terrible and spending extra time at the gym to make up for it. It’s difficult to scrounge up enough scraps of “holiday cheer” to convince people that I’m jolly and not grappling with negativity and anxiety at a near constant basis. Hearing people complain about having to buy gifts for people, and seeing dejected relatives buy something that someone “probably won’t like anyway” is flat-out depressing. Enduring the same Christmas songs day in and day out is exhausting – we definitely don’t need to play 6 versions of “Blue Christmas,” but we do, and I hereby elect “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses to be the worst holiday song of all time, with the exception of “I want an Alien for Christmas,” by Fountains of Wayne, which is outright wrong. All of these factors combine to make “Bah Humbug” my personal slogan from late November into January, and it takes me until the tail end of March to actually shake off the lingering doldrums. The actual day of Christmas is so blink-and-you-miss-it in the retail world, because even though we don’t have to work on the actual day, on the 26th, the dreaded returns begin. And nothing is more soul-killing and makes me lose faith in humanity more than listening to people complain about the gifts they’ve gotten, then scoff at the amount of credit they receive for returning the gifts they didn’t want.

But every year, there are little things that make up for the dour feeling of holiday blues. Last weekend, I attended a holiday party hosted by a coworker with some of my favorite folks from work and had an absolute blast, laughing and joking and playing games and eating delicious food. I love buying gifts for friends and family, and seeing their faces light up when they open them. I love Christmas cookies (of the non-gingerbread variety) and decorating the tree. I love going to the movies in the winter, because it’s “Oscar contender” time and the quality of films gracing the screens is top notch. However, if The Disaster Artist and The Shape of Water don’t make their way to my town, I will be devastated. I can’t wait to see The Last Jedi on Christmas Eve, as has become tradition in my family. My mom and I went to see The Man Who Invented Christmas after a particularly stressful day of work last week, and it really did help me get a bit more into the Christmas spirit.

This year, to survive the holidays, I’ve chosen to focus on all the things that make this time of year happy, and not the ones that diminish what the Christmas season is supposed to be about. I’ll cherish time with my family, enjoy the seasonal lattes that aren’t tainted by the foul taste of gingerbread, and not let the cold or the flurries get me down. My “bah, humbugs” might not officially turn into far more chipper, “Ho, ho ho’s,” but I will make an effort to enjoy the little things, and slough off stress whenever I can, so I will not be vanquished by the bleak midwinter.

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If you’re in need of a new read, or want to get someone a book for the holidays, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

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A Strange Thing to Fear

Fear is a common conversation topic this time of year, as decorated pumpkins take residence on porches and stoops, season lattes feature on every coffee shop menu, mainstream and hipster alike, and Freeform starts airing Hocus Pocus seventy times in a week.

Personally, I’ve got a couple of common fears. Spiders/insects. Open ocean. Mascots. The potential for an alien invasion. Clowns, for the most part. Talking on the phone. You know, the usual. One, however, might not be considered so… normal.

I just recently found out it has a name: kosmemophobia, the fear of jewelry. I’m reluctant to officially say I have this phobia, because I’ve never been formally diagnosed, but jewelry really does skeeve me out, to the point where it occasionally infringes on my life. I don’t want to touch jewelry, I don’t want it to touch me, I would prefer to be nowhere near it, and if I do have to touch it for whatever reason, I wash my hands numerous times afterward. Shaking hands with people who are wearing rings makes my skin crawl. Hugging people who have earrings on freaks me out. Just the word “earrings” makes me want to gag. I also don’t like little pieces of metal like paperclips, but that is far more manageable. My sister is getting married next year and I’ve already told her that, although I’m in the wedding party, I will not be wearing any jewelry.

This has been the case since I was a child, which is corroborated by my mother. I briefly had my ears pierced (thanks, peer pressure) and that was a traumatic experience I hope to never re-live. I will go the rest of my life without wearing any jewelry and I will be 100% a-okay with that. I lived a good portion of my life thinking that this fear is “weird” and I should grin and bear it for the sake of appearing “normal,” but now, I don’t really apologize for it. It’s not so extreme that I can’t handle it on a daily basis and I’m not really crippled by it, but I’m also not going to put myself in situations where I am massively uncomfortable just to keep up appearances. Honestly, I could have it a lot worse. I truly feel for the folks who have a strange fear who can’t function in certain situations or environments because of it.

I think people with uncommon phobias can at least take comfort in the fact that they are not alone, and someone somewhere out there likely endures the same type of spine-tingling apprehension they do toward the root of their fear. This time of year might be tough for some who fear the thought of Pennywise in the drains or Freddy Kruger in their dreams, but I have no fear of ghosts, goblins, or ghouls… unless they’ve got a necklace on.

Scary Neighbor Lady

A few years ago, the trick-or-treat night in my neighborhood fell on an evening in which my last college class for the day ended at 6:30 PM. I lived alone at the time, and, as bad as it makes me sound, I had no interest in participating in trick-or-treat. I usually just turn the lights off so the folks walking around with their kids will know not to ring the doorbell. But, since I’d forgotten that I would be pulling into my driveway right smack in the middle of the event, I feared that I would have to suffer through being pestered by eager children hankering for some sugar. Plus, I had no candy in the house, though I did have plenty of carrot sticks, which are not generally a hit with the youth.

Nevertheless, I heated up some microwaveable macaroni and cheese for dinner (I was the pinnacle of health in those days), set up camp in my kitchen, and started to pound out my homework for the night. My computer was located in my kitchen nook, which was, unfortunately, positioned right next to a window. Therefore, from the right angle, the passing groups of ravenous candy-seekers could likely see me sitting there. I was absolutely certain that my doorbell would ring at least a few times and I would either have to ignore it, or tell the poor little ghosts, witches, and Iron Men that I had nothing to give them.

I sat, ate my dinner, and worked on an essay about the movie I’d just seen in film class. Through the window, I could see the kids walking about, going door to door, their laughter and cheer muffled through the pane. Reveling in their Three Musketeers, Hershey Bars, Skittles, and my personal favorite, Bottle Caps. Yet, though I expected it, not a single child rang my doorbell.

My porch light was on (I used to turn it on before I left the house for late classes, and had done so out of habit earlier that day) and I was plainly visible through the kitchen window, eating mac n’cheese and typing away at my desktop, and still, no one rang my doorbell.

In an attempt to pinpoint the reason why the neighborhood folks would be avoiding my house, since I was a relatively reclusive neighbor and spoke only to the people who lived to the right of me and the family across the street (the family across the street were GREAT neighbors and gave me free firewood during Snowtober in ’11,) I remembered an instance where, after seeing some of the neighborhood kids playing in my yard without permission, I yelled at them out the window to, essentially, “Get off my lawn.” There was a sort of “drop-off” in the yard marked with stones that was all-too-easy to tumble off and cause injury, which I did not want to be held accountable for. I mean, I could have been nicer about it or chosen some gentler phrasing, but if you’re gonna get kids who aren’t related to you and who are blatantly ignoring your property line in the first place to listen to you, you gotta be firm. At my behest, they scattered like the soot sprites in My Neighbor Totoro, and I never had to yell at them again. 

I suppose, at that time, I did not realize the toll my reprimand would have on my neighborly reputation. On that chilly October night, as all of the trick-or-treaters avoided my stoop, I came to realize that I had, in the eyes of a humble New England neighborhood, become the Scary Neighbor Lady.

But, instead of lamenting this, I decided to embrace it. So what if I could strike fear into the hearts of children with one bellow of “GET OFF MY LAWN!”? I’d never actually harm a kid, so I figured I might as well embrace my new reputation and use it to my advantage instead of trying to change it.

Although I never had to yell at the neighborhood kids again, they did end up fooling around in my yard one more time that I can recall, only it was the front yard instead of the back. My car was in the garage at the time, so they likely thought I wasn’t home. There’s a stone-lined drop-off onto my driveway that, if a child had fallen off, could cause pretty serious injury, so I definitely didn’t want them playing out there unsupervised. But before I could open the window to say anything to them, I met the gaze of one of the kids through the windowpane, and saw his eyes go wide with terror. I sharpened my glare, and that was enough. He motioned to his comrades to flee, and they sprinted away from my house and down the street, to play in some other neighbors yard, I assume.

I’ve since moved away, and have no such reputation in my current residence, but I like to think I’ve become an urban legend at my old stomping grounds, and that on trick-or-treat nights, the neighborhood kids still refuse to stop at “Scary Neighbor Lady’s” house.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Stress

Stress is my mortal enemy.

…Well, stress and woodpeckers, but the former occurs far more frequently than the latter.

I am always curious to know how others folks handle their stress, because I struggle with it and have yet to find a solution that sticks, especially now that I’ve more or less kicked my caffeine addiction (3 cups a day is my max, now) and can’t rely solely on coffee to soothe my nerves. I know coffee should have the reverse effect – for me, it’s more of a tranquilizer than a stimulant. It even makes me fall asleep.

I envy the “water off a duck’s back” kind of people, who don’t let negativity and pressure get to them – or, if it does, they are able to channel it in a productive manner or not show how badly it irks them. If I go into a day with a smile and good intentions, one stressful situation can throw me totally off-course. My fitbit often starts registering an accelerated heart-rate when my stress levels bubble up, and my natural expression is one of anger – I’m not even mad most of the time, but I assume it’s just my inner stress making itself known.

I guess those fidget spinner things that recently popped up are meant to help with that sort of thing; to assist with stress and anxiety. I tried it out, and let me tell you, it made me even more irritated. And when I see someone using one in public I feel the intense urge to slap it out of their hands. However, I used to carry a stress ball around in my purse and and it worked pretty well if I was on the go, especially while waiting in line at the grocery store or whenever I was forced to be in the presence of obnoxious children. Or adults. Recently, I’ve discovered shimmer pillows – and they are SO SOOTHING. I have no idea why or how it works, but I find them extremely calming.

Stress is a good thing sometimes, because it does, in a way, show dedication and perseverance. It shows that you care about doing a good job, or that you want a certain outcome and are bothered by the aspect of failure. But in large doses, it is a detriment – a productivity-killer. A blood-pressure raiser. Because in the throes of stress, it’s all to easy to plummet down the negativity slope and end up wallowing in a pit of frustration and despair, surrounded by “What ifs?” and worst-case scenarios.

I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to channel my stress and negativity into something productive or useful, and I’ve had some minimal success thus far. Stress often manifests itself into discouragement, for me – which, as a writer, is a total killer. But I’ve found that forcing myself to face my fears and confront the stress instead of hunkering down into a ball of blankets and waiting for it to pass, opening up a blank document and pounding out a free-write or some new chapters instead of throwing my hands up in failure, is the way to go. Stress is natural – I’ve faced the fact that I’ll never get rid of it entirely, because it’s just who I am. But I can learn to adapt and handle it better than I have in the past, and I’ve resolved to do just that.

And thus, I am curious – how do you handle stress?

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Writing Techniques: Multitasking

I’m going to admit this straight up; I cannot multitask. It is a persistent challenge for me.

I also don’t know how people can multitask. I’m not talking about multitasking in everyday life. Like, I can juggle laundry and chores with life stuff and all that…. on a good day, anyway. But I cannot do other things while I’m writing. Like, this is my screen right now:

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I’m watching a UK panel show while writing this blog post. As such, it is going to take me approximately 489 hours to finish this post, because I will inevitably watch something else after this video is done, which will reduce my writing pace to a crawl. And for maximum productivity, I have found that I cannot multitask like that if I want to accomplish anything.

I used to watch TV or Youtube or Netflix or whatever while I was editing or working on a manuscript, but I’ve come to realize that I can’t do that if I want to get things done. I end up paying too much attention to one thing and not enough to the other, and it flips back and forth and back and forth until it destroys my concentration. Even if I do manage to slog through an editing session while catching up on my stories, my attention is never focused 100% where it needs to be, which makes for less than satisfactory results. I can pop on some music to help fuel the inspiration; anything else and I’ll be working at a snail’s pace with frequent distractions. Some people might be able to multitask like that, or watch a movie while working on writing, but I cannot divide my attention in such a way and still produce my best work.

Multitasking by juggling multiple writing projects at the same time, however, is a different story – but still a challenge. Inspiration is fickle, and the well of ideas can run dry after being dipped into too often. For example, I currently have a primary project that is in the revising/pre-query stage, but there are times where I feel burnt out on it; like all my motivation is spent and I can’t muster the right level of attention needed to achieve my best work.

To combat this, I can’t throw myself into a massive new project – if I do that, I’ll get too focused on something new, and alas, I am not an octopus capable of extending eight limbs to divide my efforts in multiple directions. When motivation starts to fray, I either walk away for a bit to clear my head, or I’ll draft out some blog posts. Sometimes, to help encourage myself to return to that main project, I’ll jot down some freewrites about the characters to examine situations in a different way, especially when I hit a wall and don’t know which way to take a particular plotline. Sometimes I’ll re-imagine a scene from a different perspective, to gain new insight on characters and relationships. Occasionally, I’ll work on preliminary stages or snippets for a new project, but I won’t go too in-depth with it – just the framework, to try and get creative juices flowing again. It’s like being a spider with multiple webs, but more work is put into fortifying one web until it is complete, while the others come together at a different pace.

Even if I am juggling multiple projects at once, which is generally the case, the majority of my focus remains on one of those projects… the danger of multitasking can stretch my attention too thin, and have a negative impact on my writing. I do wonder how other writers deal with multitasking – it might be a challenge for me, and effortless for another. But I do know for sure that if I want to do my best, I need to put emphasis on focus, and must minimize potential distraction in any way possible.

SIDE NOTE: I’m taking my novel I’m With You on a virtual book tour via RABT book tours next month! Stay tuned for updates!