Thursday, June 16, 2011

Distractions and Focus

Fluffernutter by Sky Sloderbeck
A Google search of writing advice returns over 300,000,000 results. Of these results, many of the samples offer the following tidbit of information: Write what you know. Some people, like Marg Gilks, says that the phrase "write what you know" is misleading. Early in her article, she states that writing what you know "builds walls in the writer's mind, imposing artificial limitations bred of uncertainty. How many writers, hearing those four words, have despaired?"

I know I have despaired. The funny thing is, my problem isn't because I don't feel that I have lived an exciting enough life to draw on that for my writing. I have had so many experiences, that if I wrote an autobiography from my teenage years up until now, no one would believe it was true. Not only that, but my experiences are SO varied, that I would certainly get flack from publishers for not having focused writing even though it would be my experiences, and not the writing, that were unfocused.

The good news is that if I am writing fiction, this means I have a wealth of varied experiences to draw from to create realism in my writing. The bad news is that if I am writing fiction, this means I have a wealth of varied experiences to draw from to create realism in my writing. You see the dilemma, yes?

If you were to look in my writing journal, you would see pages of 5-6 line story ideas. Pages. Each idea stems from one of two things: (1) a story I want to read which has not yet been written, or (2) things I have come across in my wild journey that I would like to expand into a story. The problem is where to focus so that I can actually (finally) get a complete story out on paper.

It seems as if every time I settle down with a single plan, something happens in my life to veer me off course and steer me towards a different story. I was going to write a novel that revolved around dragons as a challenge that was given to me, but I set that aside (after some good progress) and began a vampire story that I have wanted to tell for years.  Then I set that aside to explore two different stories that would fall under literary fiction and not fantasy and would be at home in any Women's Studies course. Now I have set those aside to write a young adult fantasy novel that was prompted by a rather ridiculous conversation I had yesterday.

Writing what you know sure sounds easy -- until the things you know keep jostling for your attention. How do you keep focused enough to get one of those ideas fleshed out without letting other, just as worthy, ideas get you off track?

I think I have a solution to my dilemma, and (among other things) that is a self-imposed deadline, but how do others do it? I would love to hear how you fight distractions, especially distractions that are not in the form of games or web surfing, but are in the form of other equally fascinating stories dancing in your head and urging you to write them.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Five Steps to Home Happiness

Switch It Up by Sky Sloderbeck
People I have known have had different types of priorities and these priorities directly affect their level of home happiness. Some people need an immaculate home to feel content and happy at home. Some people believe that they need that immaculate home, when in reality keeping up on household duties is only a source of stress for them. Some people need a full schedule of activities inside and outside of the home to achieve a level of happiness that directly brings down their level of stress. Some people think that they need this full schedule, but keeping up with journal writing, entertaining guests, being a part of a sports league, and having their children enrolled in numerous extracurricular activities is only causing more stress in their lives.

For a large part of my adult life, I have struggled with priorities.  Every person's priorities are different, as I tried to illustrate above, so reading something (such as this article) is not a one-size-fits-all solution to happiness in the home. What an article such as this CAN do is to offer others insight into how I achieve "home happiness" and maybe offer something that others can take away and use in their own pursuit of home happiness.
  1. Don't clean (incessantly). I don't let garbage pile to the ceiling or in any way let my home get to the point that child services or the CDC would be worried about the state of my living space, but neither do I worry about making the bed every day, doing dishes every day, vacuuming every day, or putting away accumulated junk in spaces such as the living room every day. I am horrified at the thought of someone "just stopping by" to visit me; the feeling that my house must be perfect is so ingrained in me, that I will probably never shake this paranoia of unannounced visitors. That paranoia aside though, I have learned that it's really okay to not have a perfect house, and the less time I spend on cleaning is more time I have to be happy. Eventually, I will have maid service who will handle the nitpicky stuff like vacuuming and dusting, and then the other stuff won't seem so annoying.

  2. Don't do yard work. While I am in college, my income level is at the point where the government considers me below poverty level. My education is more important than my pocketbook, so this classification does not bother me in the least. It does mean that I have to be creative about how to make ends meet and to not spend money frivolously.  But there is something I spend $20 every two weeks on that, while others might find it frivolous, I find it a necessity to keeping me sane and happy: yard service. Yes, I am below poverty level, yet I pay someone to come cut my grass (a luxury usually associated with those of greater means). This makes me so happy that the cost (which is itself very small) is worth it.

  3. Don't cook (every single day). I value healthy meals, I really do. Grilled chicken and fresh green beans are my idea of a great meal. There is one problem: I hate to cook. Hate it. So how do you eat healthy while feed yourself and your family, and do this when you hate to cook? Well, the ideal solution would be to hire a personal chef, but seeing as how a personal chef would cost a bit more than the $20 I spend every two weeks for a yard person, that is one (more) luxury I can't have now. So how do I solve this dilemma? Like cleaning, cooking is a necessary evil; it is something I must do whether I like it or not. But like cleaning, I only do it when necessary.  I am not beyond grabbing McDonald's or going to sit down at Bob Evans if the budget permits. So yeah, I don't have a perfectly clean house or perfectly cooked meals, but I'm okay with this and not having to cook or clean every single day makes me happy.

  4. Work on my passions. I love writing. I love photography. I don't have time to "chase the light" as much as I'd like. I get writer's block or distracted like a dog spotting a squirrel far too often to write as consistently as I'd like. Even though I don't do these things as much as I'd like, I DO do them enough that I am a happier person for them. And while my son is gone on his 4-6 week trip to Georgia, I suspect that there will be a LOT less housekeeping and cooking and a LOT more "working on my passions."

  5. Goof off. I play World of Warcraft. I also play in Second Life (though, I don't play much in SL now, unfortunately). I read lots of fiction. I use StumbleUpon far more than is necessary. I tickle my son to hear him laugh. I speak in goofy voices, again, to make him laugh. I cut out paper snowflakes and make tents out of kitchen chairs and sheets, all with my son. I act like a kid, I laugh, I have fun, and I don't worry that I left the plate on the table next to me after finishing lunch.
I am not Suzy Homemaker and never will be. I don't want to be. My idea of a perfect home life is not having dinners cooked from scratch and on the table by 6pm every night. My idea of a perfect home life is not cleaning and dusting every day and yelling at my son to stop climbing on the furniture or fuss at him for eating a snack in the living room. My idea of a perfect home life is not being a literal soccer mom and having those home and garden sales "parties." My idea of a perfect home is not about being "perfect."

I want maid service and a personal chef, things that even a middle class American can easily have. Yes, I've been pricing them. I can get one maid service to come to my home every two weeks to do the nitpicky stuff I don't want to do for about $50 every two weeks.  I can get a personal chef to cook me and my son a month's worth of dinners for $400. I want to keep my lawn service. I don't want to cart my son around to an extracurricular activity five days a week. I want to be able to pursue my passions and maybe even get a paycheck from those passions one day. I want to be able to goof off to keep my mind young, reflexes sharp, and smile lines on my face.

You can never get back the time you lose with loved ones.  You can never get back time you lose with yourself. So why waste that time on things that are not important? Will my son be a better person if I make him do pee wee football and baseball (when he's already stated that he really doesn't want to do them)? I doubt it. Will I be a better person if I have a floor so clean you can eat off of it? No, and what's the point anyhow? I have plates, you just might have to wash one first.

I am sitting here on the couch with a laptop on my lap and glancing up from this article I'm writing to look around me from time to time. What I see is a stack of clothing on the floor, ready to be sorted and folded so they can be packed for my son's trip.  What I see is a suitcase and backpack piled on the floor near the clothes. What I see is a dusty television, a carpet that needs to be steam cleaned, a plate left over from my lunch, and an empty soda can from the same. What I see are four kitchen chairs -- in my living room -- and a sheet on the floor between them from where my son and I played at making a tent. What I see is a happy five year-old on the Internet searching for "Sid, The Science Kid" -- all by himself. What I see is slight chaos, and in that chaos is immeasurable happiness.

Note: I am an A-type personality with ADHD. Having a messy house really does a number on my being able to concentrate when writing and makes me all itchy and twitchy. I feel calmer and more able to focus when the house is immaculate, but the act of cleaning or of being anal-retentive about keeping it clean is a constant source of stress for me. Of all the tips above, the housecleaning one is the most controversial for me and the hardest for me to live wholly by -- which is why you can find me at 4am cleaning the house like a mad woman from time to time. For the most part, I squish down that control-freak part of me when it comes to the house and just remind myself, "Whether the house is immaculate or not is not important, the time you spend with your son is what is important."  That helps. That helps so much.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Poem: Asunder

Eyes are Windows by Sky Sloderbeck

Pain tears through, ripping apart joy
Selfishness and immaturity demand payment

That payment is the rending of two souls.
Ich habe Angst.

"I'll miss you so much" echoes over and over
It draws hot, salty tears and incapacitates
But a sociopath has no conscience to care.
Du hast Schadenfreude.

Days until my death are counted down
Fünf, vier, drei, zwei, eins
A piece of me is taken.
Ich bin nicht vollständig.

Remain strong, put on an actor's mask
Hope that the careless surgery
Does not scar him as it does me.
Bleib sicher, meiner süßer.

The surgeon does not care who he hurts
As long as he gets to wield the knife
And revel in his self-centered desires.
Die Klinge ist scharf.