New Year’s Resolutions and Working Happier

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You know those New Year’s resolutions that we all make, but never keep? Well, I made one to read some of the books on my to-be-read pile. I started with Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and enjoyed it. It was thought provoking, though I don’t agree with everything he proposes, it still had a lot of new ideas, new ways of looking at things, and that turned out to be something I needed. I came away with one personal insight that was very valuable to me. I realized that the one positive thing I hadn’t been able to give my daughter was to show her my happiness with my writing, my life’s work. She saw the deadlines, the tours taking me away from her, the research trips that did the same, and I guess I put all my negativity that I wouldn’t allow anywhere else in my life on my work. I didn’t realize I had done it, but I have. Maybe that’s why my very artsy daughter doesn’t want to make a living as an artist of any kind. “It’s too hard, mom,” she says. She’s right. If you don’t want it more than anything else in the world art will eat you alive, and spit you back out. Most of us never make enough money to live well, if at all. Many writers have to keep their day jobs forever, and write on the side. Most actors spend more time waiting tables than being on stage, or in front of a camera. I have worked very hard for my success, and been very lucky that what I want most to write so many people want to read. I’m one of the ones that made it, but for every amazing success like mine, there are hundreds that aren’t so positive.

The next book I picked up was The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and that was also very well timed, because it got me thinking about happiness. I’d been working on my personal life for over a decade to make it happier. It had led me to leaving my first marriage and finding my husband Jonathon. I realized that one of the things that made my first marriage fail was that I wasn’t really cut out to be monogamous, so from the beginning Jonathon and I were polyamorous. It means to love more, even before we knew that poly was a word and there were other people out there doing it, we dated other people and added them to our lives. Thirteen years together as a couple, or more, and it just gets better. Part of truly being happy for me meant letting go of old ideas of what I thought marriage would be and embracing what worked for us.

Which brings me back to my career, my writing, what was once the passion of my life and had become a job. I’ve worked harder, faster, smarter, but I decided that I would try to work happier. I started to try and figure all this out while I was writing the newest Merry Gentry novel, A Shiver of Light, I gave myself permission to write anything I wanted part of the day, as long as I got my pages on the book done, too. Before this, with rare exceptions, I had forced myself to stay on one project at a time and write until it was complete, but when I was writing two best selling series for two different publishers, the deadlines were crushing. It was one of the things that led me to consolidating my two series under one publishing roof, though ironically the two publishing powerhouses have merged. Allowing myself the new freedom to spend part of the day on other projects didn’t slow me down on writing Merry, but seemed to energize me. It led to two e-specials. Dancing which is a novelette featuring a more happy domestic and relationship side of Anita Blake, my other series character, and tow of her boyfriends, Micah, and Nathaniel, along with a visit to see Detective Zerbrowski and his entire family at home. It was a lot of fun to write and many of you have told me how much you enjoyed reading it, so yay! I also wrote, “Shut Down,” which was an e-special gift to all of you for free while our government was behaving so childishly. I couldn’t make the politicians do their jobs, but I could give you a short story featuring Richard, our handsome, but self-loathing werewolf, and Ulfric (wolf king). Then I started what I thought was a Jason short story, and it got out of hand. It wouldn’t end and I began to fear I had a short novel on my hands. I finally had to stop working on it and let Merry and her world eat everything for awhile. For me, as a writer a book eventually consumes everything. It’s not unusual for me to work eighteen hour days for weeks on end as I finish a novel. I’d love to not work like that, but it’s simply the way my muse and I work best. Every time I try to write a few hours, then quite, and hit it the next day, my productivity grinds to a halt.

I finished the Merry book, and was exhausted, drained, used up, as I usually am at the end of a long novel. This book had been unusually exhausting and emotional for me. It was the first Merry novel in four years, the babies were finally born, and I had to remember some personal sorrows so I could do Merry and her story justice. I went to some pretty dark places to write this book. I cried more than once, and came away feeling like I’d broken my own heart. As you can imagine, it takes a bit to recover from something like that, so I didn’t force myself to write something else right away, as I usual did. I didn’t even make myself finish the Jason piece. I wrote if I was moved to write. I wrote if an idea came to me. I made notes on ideas. I made notes on Anita. Eventually I even made some notes on Merry and her crew. I’m world building at least three brand new worlds, and some day, one of the three will raise it’s hand and be ready to be written and shared with all of you.

I thought I’d be finishing the Jason novelette first, but then two other shorter ideas got my attention and I wrote on them, but . . . they weren’t ready. As my writing group, The Alternate Historians, says, “it wasn’t soup yet”, so I let the stories simmer and didn’t push myself, normally I would have. Then came two weeks of travel that included one of the most fun Geek-loving weddings Jon and I have ever participated in – we got to be part of an arch of light sabers for the Bride and Groom to exit through! Yeah, that kind of wedding! We flew straight from that out of state wedding to Spring Break with Jon’s parents, and our daughter, Trinity.

We left this overly long, overly cold, overly snow-filled winter behind for tropical beaches, Caribbean blue oceans and 80F temperatures. It was glorious. I usually try not to write when I’m on family trips. First, it’s incredibly difficult with so many demands for my attention. Second, because sometimes, I feel punished when I’m writing while everyone else is playing in the sun and surf. It’s like being in a pretty cage. Yeah I can see the sunshine and ocean, but if I can’t touch it, what’s the point? But it had been so many weeks without really writing for me, that I began to search for a place to write.

I was poking at every flat surface that would hold my iPad and full-size keyboard. I put on my new Bose headphones and made notes. But one day, I wrote enough that it felt like writing, not just notes and it was an older idea, but suddenly a new idea had bumped against it, and there was a spark. I wrote until that spark faded, and it was time to have dinner with my family.

I’ve been letting myself write on whatever my Muse and I wanted to work on, and that’s been fun. I’ve had more ideas come to me in the last few months than I’d found in years. I’ve let my Muse and I play, and it’s been glorious, but I need a deadline, a focus. Its been so long since I’ve let my mind wander through the Looking Glass without worrying about where I’m going, or when I’ll get there, that I’d forgotten that deadlines are my friends, not my enemies. They help me concentrate and narrow my vision down to a laser point and create. I had three stories ready to go, but no idea which was cooked enough to be soup. I let myself write on any of the three, and then suddenly one of them took the lead and we were off!

Today, for the first time since I typed, the End, on Shiver of Light, I wrote so long and so hard, that when Jon interrupted me for lunch, because when you eat healthier you really have to eat regularly during the day, I was inpatient, snapping at him. I knew it, I apologized, but I felt like if he didn’t get out of my office and let me finish the scene I was writing I would scream. He kissed me, and left to fetch lunch. He let me know when he got back, but today was his day at gym, not mine, so he had to eat on time, I could fudge it a little. When I was done with the scene, my injured arm hurt like hell. (It’s a permanent injury, more muscle helps which is one of the reasons for my dedication to the gym.) I was dazed and almost stumbled downstairs with the dogs trailing around me. I joined Jon in the other part of the house. We had a few minutes together while I started eating and then he had to go to gym. I put my feet up for a few minutes and cuddled the dogs on the couch and watched CSI. It’s one of my go-to shows when I’m writing well and want to be entertained, but not distracted from my story. I think we got through the first five seasons while I was writing Merry, so today was the beginning of season six. Then I went back to work. It was mostly notes, but I know exactly what happens next in the story. I know which idea I will finish next. I’ve given myself about two weeks to complete the story. I want it done before we get on the next plane for our next trip, which is about two weeks away. (I actually didn’t make that deadline, but finished it on the plane for the trip.)

I told Jon that I knew what I was writing next. He said, “I know.”

“How did you know?” I asked.

“Because this is the first time since you finished Merry that you were frantic to write and shushed me, so I’d leave you alone to write.” He smiled, kissed me, and left me to work.

I love my husband, and part of why loving each other works for us, is that he understood that me practically snarling at him today was a very good sign. He didn’t take it personally, he understood. He married me after I was established as a novelist, so he knew what he was getting into as much as anyone can that marries an artist. We are not always easy to live with, and if you expect us to play by muggle rules then you will be sadly disappointed. But since Jon is no more a muggle than I am, it works for us.

I don’t know if I’ve figured out all I need to work happier, but I’m getting there, and it’s not the view from the top of the mountain you need to love, it’s the climb up, because you can’t stay at the top of the mountain forever. That gets you one goal accomplished. I’ve got a whole mountain range spread out before me, and I want to climb them all.

Posted by at 8:48:25 am on April 14, 2014 in LKH Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

A Twisted Ankle, a Bum Knee, and Dancing All Night

Why do I exercise? How do I stay motivated to do it? Those have been some of your favorite questions for me lately.

Why do I exercise? That’s an easy one, because to begin with I went to the gym to stay out of surgery. I twisted my ankle over five years ago now, and I didn’t think anything of the sprain. I mean we all sprain our ankles now and then, right? Except I twisted it about three times in two weeks. Apparently, I have permanently damaged my Achilles’ tendon. Orthopedist told me that she could do surgery with an almost guaranteed loss of movement, or I could hit the gym and put more muscle around the injury – think of it as an internal splint. I chose gym. I hit it with a vengeance and when I went back months later, she said, “You really did it. You went to the gym.”

“You told me to,” I said.

“I tell a lot of people that, but they never go.”

Hmm . . . surgery in my 40s with a almost certain loss of movement forever in my ankle, so I’d never run again. I’d never . . . do a lot of things again, or I could exercise more. It seemed an easy choice to me, and one I’m very glad I made.

When I walked into the gym three, or is it four years ago, I was medically not allowed to run. Now I can hit 6 mph on the treadmill for sustained periods, not for long sustained periods, but I can do it. Before, the ortho told me, “You can run to save your life, like if a car is about to hit you, but other than that, don’t.” Now I’m looking at signing up for a Monster Run.

It was my ankle injury that got me into the gym, but my back and hip stopped hurting from all those hours typing at my desk. At the very end of a book I give up nearly all gym time, and most everything else that isn’t writing, and my back starts aching again, so exercise is better for all of me, not just my ankle.

I admit that about three years ago I was doing more cardio, eating better, and had attained the weight I wanted, and then I lost my workout partner – a lot of things happened and I started to lose some of my progress. I hadn’t realized how much until my knees started hurting. I went to a different orthopedist, one for knees and found out that if I don’t lean down and take off the weight I’ve gained back, and put the muscle I’ve lost back on, I’m headed for knee replacement with in two to five years, and probably more like two, or I can hit the gym harder. I’m going to hit the gym, thanks.

I haven’t gained that much weight back, but it’s not how much you weigh, it’s how much your body can tolerate. Think of your body as a car, some can pull heavier loads than others without ruining their suspension. Apparently, I’m over my weight limit and need to get some strengthening done to my undercarriage, that would be the muscle I need back. So, Jon and I have started eating better again, but this time we mean to stay with it as a permanent nutrition change, a lifestyle change. He was told that he, too, needs to lean down and muscle up if he doesn’t want to have another knee surgery, and since early heart attacks run in his family that’s another good reason to exercise and eat healthier.

And before you ask, we do not exercise together. It’s one of the few areas where we are not compatible.

So, we exercise to stay healthy and out of the operating room as the patient. I like that I’m a size 8, but it would never have been enough reward on it’s own for me to do all this, but being able to go up a flight of stairs without pain, now that’s a reward. I also find that my mood is lighter, happier, and just all around better when I exercise consistently. That’s not just me, studies have shown that exercise truly is a mood lifter, and a natural antidepressant. It won’t cure serious depression on it’s own, but it helps.

If your body doesn’t need as much exercise as mine does to stay healthy, great for you. It really is a genetic thing how much weight your body can carry and be in good working order. The same goes for how much junk food you can eat without upsetting your system. Everyone is different, so do what makes you feel good, but I’ll add that the older you get the harder it is to stay in shape, especially if you don’t exercise and eat junk food. Our goal is to get Jon at his “fighting” weight before he hits 40, because that is a metabolic milestone that makes everything harder. Whatever weight you want to lose, muscle you want to gain, doing it before you hit another decade is usually a smart idea, because it does get harder from there. I love every decade, life just gets better, but the one thing I have noticed is that its harder to get in shape and stay there, but thanks in part to the fact that I do workout, it’s the only downside to getting older that I’ve found. I believe sincerely that the amount of good, consistent exercise, and healthier eating habits are a large part of why I get mistaken for being ten to twenty years younger than I am. I admit that part is awesome, but I’m also happier, healthier, not in constant pain, and Jon and I can dance for hours again. We danced a lot when we dated, but injuries and lack of exercise had stolen that from us. Hard work in the gym and the kitchen won back what we thought was gone forever and we just recently proved that we can literally dance the night away again. That was a very sweet extra to all this healthy stuff, and more romantic than we could have imagined. Yay, gym workout and eating better, who knew they could be so damned romantic?

Posted by at 2:15:28 pm on March 28, 2014 in LKH Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

My Ass, and Bare Faced Beauty

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I posted this picture on twitter. I was pleased that I could tell the gym work was paying off, so I posted. I figure if those of us with curves don’t post, as well, that too many people will keep thinking that only thin women exist. Besides, at 51 I’m pretty pleased that gym work can still make me want to show my ass on line. It was sort of a bit of happy silliness, and then another woman on Twitter said, “That was very brave.”

Brave? It was brave to put up a picture of my ass on line? I thought bravery was running into burning buildings to save people, or putting a gun to your shoulder and defending the constitution of this United States, or holding the hand of someone you love while they go through chemo – all that takes bravery. I really didn’t think my picture went in the same category as things that can win you medals, or give you the stuff of tragedies. But other women echoed the sentiment, and I sort of understood, but not really.

When did body issues become the stuff of medal worthy bravery? When the hell did it become an act of courage to show our bodies unretouched to the world? Then Robin McKinley, another writer, put up a link to a story in the Guardian. It was about Botox celebrating it’s twelfth anniversary, and how common place it had become. The article further stated that one of the reasons Botox is so common and popular is that teenagers are using it so their selfies on line look smooth and ageless. What? I mean, What the Fuck? Teenagers are injecting themselves to look “ageless”? They’re teens for Gods’s sake, how much more ageless do they want to look?

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I wear light makeup most of the time, and for photo shoots I wear what my makeup artist puts on me, hairstylist, too, but enough was enough. I took a selfie of myself without any makeup on, my hair in it’s natural fuzz of curl, and I put it up on Twitter. There, done! I got some lovely compliments, and other people echoing my surprise that teenagers should be worried enough to take Botox, or anything else to look smoother. Then I ran into a strange controversy that seems to have come up around the #barefacedbeauty campaign that was originally supposed to help support money going to cancer research, but had also been high jacked by women on both sides of the makeup divide, those who do and those who don’t. Apparently, some anti-makeup women were trying to bully those that wore makeup, telling them they were a selling out the modern feminist movement, or some such nonsense. The movement to raise money for cancer research is still a good cause to support, so if you want to contribute, please do. I thought the issue of some women arguing about makeup at almost a moral question level was just another example of how we, as a group, seem to let differences divide us, rather than letting our common ground unite us.

How about everybody leave everybody else alone? If you want to wear makeup, do. If you don’t want to wear makeup, don’t. Do what makes you happiest. The same goes for curves vs no curves. Be whatever is a healthy weight for your body. Some women struggle to gain weight their whole lives, and other’s struggle to lose, and some people have wonderful genetics that helps them stay at whatever weight they want. Let’s stop the body shaming and just own that women come in all shapes and sizes. No one size, or body type is better than the other, just be healthy, whatever that means for your body.

Posted by at 10:10:18 am on March 24, 2014 in LKH Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 88 Comments