I’ve Been… (Lockdown Edition)

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  • Editing what I once called Frozen Heart, or what I might now call Frost. Which title do you prefer? Or a different one? It’s going alright, but I think I’m at the point where I need to call in a professional editor.
  • Writing. I’ve started a new project. It’s inspired by Cinderella. I never saw that as a fairy tale I’d want to retell (my first thought is always that it’s over done) but much like the case with Beauty and the Beast, I realized that I had something to say about it. I will say it’s a Cinderella I don’t think we’ve seen quite like this before, and a Godmother who is also rather unexpected. But it’s still a very new project, so, for now, I won’t say much more.
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    Locked down. My city has pretty strict rules about staying in, but even if we didn’t, I don’t think I’d be going out much! My weekly grocery runs are about as much stress as I can take. If you told me a few months ago, that it’s the only time I’d really go out, I’d have thought it would be something I’d look forward to. But between worrying about staying a safe distance from others and showering and wiping down my purchases as soon as I get home, it just doesn’t seem worth it!

  • Reading. I always read a lot  and this lockdown is certainly no exception. And if nothing else, this has convinced me that it makes perfect sense to have a huge pile of unread books in your space. This is a perfect example of just such an occasion. That’s a big “so there!” to anyone who ever told me that it was a waste of space! If you want to see what I’ve been reading lately, it’s all on here.
  • Working Out. Fortunately there’s enough of Youtube to keep me fit! I love some of these workout channels. Check them out. They’re a way to stay fit indoors (all have low impact workouts or at least low impact options so you don’t need to jump around and disturb the downstairs neighbors, if you have them)
  • Binging:
    • Ozark– It’s not my usually type of show (slow burn crime drama) but somehow I got drawn in and now I’m hooked! I’m just starting the third season, so no spoilers please!
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    • Schitt’s Creek– I caught up on the finale last night. I’m really going to miss this show! Feel good viewing that makes you laugh is rare, and with the loss of this and The Good Place in the same year, it’s now lacking in my TV line up!
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    • Unorthadox– I saw this recommended a few places and I loved it. How often to we get a miniseries with no big “stars,” set in the Hasidic community, about a young woman’s self discovery? While it’s not exactly what I’d call action/adventure, this character driven drama is really compelling and absorbing. It’s only 4 episodes so you can binge it in a day if you want.
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  • Oddly, socializing a lot. My extended family has gotten together for “virtual brunch.” My book club started doing virtual meetings. And I’ve touched base with a number of people to check in and see how they’re doing. It’s not ideal, but I appreciate the various ways that we’ve found to keep isolation for being too isolating.
  • A wreck. If any of this makes it sound like I’ve mastered quarantine, rest assured I’m just as nervous and stressed as anyone else. I’m just hoping and praying for the best for myself , my loved ones, the people around me, the people away from me and the world at large.

How have you been dealing with this weird, frightening experience?

Stay in and stay safe everyone!

While You’re Isolated…

Obviously there’s not a lot to love about our current circumstances. Most of the world is in some form of isolation due to the Corona virus. We’re all in the same, miserable, anxious boat. But I do love that some people have used this as a time to connect creatively, teach others, and share art. I’ve made a list of some people, hashtags, and websites that I feel are providing great resources during this troubling time. Feel free to provide others:

Hashtag Love

  • #SunshineSongs Broadway star Laura Benanti  reached out to kids who were supposed to perform in the school musicals only to have then canceled. She asked them to perform on twitter using the hashtag, and she got a beautiful response.
  • #ArtFromHome The Ayala Museum in the Philippines has started an  #ArtFrom Home Challenge. 15 prompts are posted, every other day, for 30 days. People make
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    art according to the prompts and post with the hashtag.

  • #InternationalPoetryCircle Poet Tara Skurtu started this project. Poets from around the world are sending in videos of themselves reading their work, or just their favorite poems. Not only does the thread have some beautiful work, but it’s a great way to discover contemporary poetry.

Children’s Literature

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  • Gene Leun Yang’s book tour for his novel Dragon Hoops was cancelled, so he started “touring as a cartoon” from his Instagram page, where he responds to reader questions in comic strip form.
  • Amy Kaufman is hosting a weekly #kidslitgoesviral twitter party for MG and YA authors whose promotional plans have been upended by the virus.
  • Grace Lin is posting drawing tutorials and readings from her books on herYoutube channel. She started doing this as a way to combat the anti-Asian rhetoric has come up amid the Corona virus fears.
  • Author/illustrator Mo Willems is invites kids to draw with him every day for Lunch Doodles in which he walks viewers through his studio, answers questions, draws creatures and created simple animations for them to try at home.
  • Mac Barnett reads a book aloud every afternoon on Instagram Live.
  • Oliver Jeffers is reading on Instagram Live on weekday afternoons. Afterwards the recordings are available on his website.
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of the Lunch Lady graphic novels, is hosting daily drawing sessions on his youtube.
  • Peter H. Reynolds’ tour for his most recent book, Be You, was also cancelled. He’s taken to reading aloud from his work on Facebook Live every day.
  • Susan Tan started an Authors Everywhere! Youtube channel. She provides workshops that are supposed to teach aspiring authors as well as give kids an emotional outlet for addressing their fears about the pandemic.

Theatre

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from playbill.com

  • Stars in the House concerts–  Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s Seth Rudetsky is doing an interview/concert series with Broadway stars via skype benefiting the Actor’s Fund.
  • The Irish Repertory Theatre has launched a digital series called The Show Must Go Online, featuring homemade videos of their actors performing favorite songs, poems and monologues from Irish and Irish American playwrights, poets, and musicians.
  • The National Yiddish Theatre is offering it’s Folksbiene! Live series featuring livestreamed theatre, American Jewish performers, workshops, talkbacks, and other events.
  • The American Conservatory Theatre has cancelled performances of the plays, Gloria and Toni Stone. However, a video of the performance is available to stream.
  • The Show Must Go Online (popular title!) is a weekly Shakespeare reading group covering the plays in the order they were written, as a way for actors and theatre makers to stay connected during unprecedented times. First up is Two Gentlemen of Verona.
  • Mike Lew’s play Teenage Dick at Theatre Wit in Chicago is available for remote viewing.
  • Broadwayworld has launched Living Room Concerts where the stars perform from their living rooms.
  • Broadway Star Elena Shaddow is doing a live concert on IGTV every night at 8PM EST. She takes requests from viewers and accompanies herself on the piano in her living room.

Performing Arts

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  • The Metropolitan Opera is offering “Nightly Met Opera Streams” a free series of Live in HD presentations of their past performances.
  • The Vienna State Opera has opened is archives and will broadcast recordings of opera and ballet performances. The performances can be found here, with instructions and information about how to access them here.
  • The Seattle Symphony is sharing live broadcasts of their performances.
  • The 92nd Street Y has recent performances available from pianist Garrick Ohlsson,  and mezzo soprano Fleur Baron.
  • London’s concert hall, Wigmore Hall, has past livestreams available on the website.
  • The Paris Opera is streaming performances online for free. Full performances are available on their website.

Health/Wellness

  • Pandemic Check-In is sort of a pop up podcast that’s really a call in show for people who needs some mental health support. The people at Brooklyn Minds, a psychiatry/psychology center are behind it, alongside the LA Based podcast studio Western Minds.
  • headspace-mindfulness-appHeadspace, a popular meditation app is offering some free meditations that you can listen to any time. The collection, called “weathering the storm” includes meditation, sleep and movement exercises that can help you through a variety of different situations.
  • Outlander star, Sam Heughan,  has created a 30 day social distancing challenge for free as part of his My Peak Challenge program.
  • Planet Fitness is offering a live 6PM “work in” every evening on Facebook, led by personal trainers. You don’t even have to be a member.
  • Core Power Yoga has a collection of free classes available  any time.
  • Studio Three is a Chicago area gym that combines yoga, cycling, and interval training. They’re hosting classes on Instagram Live at several times throughout the day. Workouts are available for playback on the app.
  • Pop Sugar fast tracked the release of their new app Active, and is offering it now for free.

I’ve Been… Social Distancing Edition

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  • Setting up my life so that I can run it from my apartment. During our first week of social distancing/self isolation it felt like many people were talking about learning to speak Latvian/writing the great American novel/ arranging their pantry alphabetically in all their new spare time. I was running around making sure I had some non-perishables in the house, trying to get my insurance company to authorize me stocking up on my prescriptions as per CDC recommendation (long story short: it can’t be done), and setting up zoom meetings so I could work from home. In other words it’s been more stressful than usual in every practical way.
  • Grateful that we have the internet. Because how miserable must this stuff have been before we could complain about it to our family and friends 24/7?! Seriously, I am grateful to have something that keeps me connected to a lot of people even while we’re physically isolating ourselves. It helps to know that we’re in this together and  that we’re all anxious and frustrated.
  • Thrilled with some of the creative ways that people have come up with to cheer each other up and entertain each other. Look for more about that in my next blog post.
  • Worried about high risk family/friends and people in general.

And in non virus news:

  • Rereading His Dark Materials trilogy. I’ve been meaning to reread these for years, but I had planned on it before the TV series aired. I didn’t get around to it obviously, so I’m doing it now. I haven’t read it since I first read the books as a teen. I’m really interested in how some huge scientific and philosophical concepts are incorporated into what is intended as a children’s story.
  • Binging Jamestown. It’s not great. It’s not even very good most of the time, but it’s good enough to keep me watching.

 

 

On Relaxation

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Newsflash: Life is stressful.

While you’re all reeling from that stop the presses bulletin,  I’ll add that sometimes we make relaxation stressful.

Over the holiday season I saw a number of well intentioned posts on social media, urging me to take time for self-care, to cut people who cause stress out of my life, and be aware of the larger world. Depending on my mood when I read those posts, my reaction varied between nodding at the wisdom of the words, shaking my head at their cluelessness, and wanting to shout swears and hurl my device across the room.

Because on a busy day self-care is yet another thing that I have to “make time for.” Because the people who cause me stress are also the people who I love, who I care about, who support me. Because my awareness of the larger world is often what’s got me stressed out to begin with.

My point is that life is complicated. Getting overwhelmed is complicated. Decompressing is complicated. Often it can’t be reduced to the space of a tweet.

Lately, I’ve been stressed, and struggling to relax. My ways of relaxing vary but they often involve losing myself: in a TV show, in a book, in whatever I’m doing. Working out sometimes helps. Yoga can be helpful. But I often struggle between my urge to lose myself and forget about what’s stressing my out, and my need to feel productive. While a Netflix binge might take my mind off my stress, it’s limited in terms of what it accomplishes long term. I’m very aware of that, and it can make it that  much harder to lose myself, which in turn makes me more stressed.

I don’t have any great words of wisdom for this blog. I wish I did. I just wanted to say that we should try not to let well intentioned advice stress us out more than we already are. But I am curious as to how my readers relax. What helps you take the pressure off?

 

 

Evaluating Last Year’s Resolutions

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Every year I write down my New Year’s Resolutions to stay accountable. I find I’m more likely to keep them that way. In the week before the new year, I look at them and reflect on how I did, and what I’d like to change in the new year. So how did 2019 go?

  • Finish writing, and publish Frozen Heart. Also publish 1-2 other pieces during the year. Keep getting my work out there.

Well I finished writing it, and it’s in the editing process. I plan to publish it in 2020. There was a point in 2019 when I realized that I could rush the publishing process for Frozen Heart and get it out before the end of the year, or I could take it slower and and take care and pride in my work. It went into some thought about the kind of author I want to be. Do I want to compromise quality for quantity? At this point the answer is no.

I did publish an essay about self publishing in Unread Magazine and a short story called Snow Sister in Enchanted Conversation.

So overall, I’ll give myself a check mark on this one and I’ll put the publication ofFrozen Heart on my 2020 list.

  • Continue to be vocal about things that I feel are important. This means calling representatives, writing letters, protesting, donating to causes I think make a difference and anything else I can do.

I think that I’ve continued to do this in 2019. I call my representatives regularly and try to share resources so that others can do that too. I’ve attended protests, though they often frustrate me because I feel like they’re more a way for people to feel like they’re doing something and less about actually getting things done. I still don’t have a lot of money to donate but I use Charity Miles to contribute to causes that I feel are important and I try to educate others who may be in a similar position about ways they might want to contribute.

  • Try to spread happiness and positivity when possible. I feel like so much of what we’re faced with on a daily basis is bleak and hopeless. But I also think “seek and you shall find.” So I’m going to seek things that make me (and others) happy. I think just exposure to more positive things can break down the hopeless feeling that we can get.

Again, this is a work in progress. When I encounter something that others may enjoy I try to share it, so they know about it, but I also think that pushing positivity can be just as toxic as negativity if it’s done in the wrong spirit. So it’s something I’m figuring out.

  • Figure out my career path. It’s in flux at the moment and is fairly confusing!

Another work in progress. But I’ve made some strides here. I have a better sense of what I want and I’ve gotten some more experience in 2019. So hopefully that’ll lead me somewhere good in 2020!

  • Be more social. Don’t just fall into the staying inside and reading/writing/watching trap. Stay in communication more with people.

I’ve done this but it’s something I’d like to continue to work on in 2020.  I love my friends, but I’d also like to get to know more people in the next year. That way if someone isn’t available to do something I can have other options.

  • Don’t feel guilty for reading/writing/watching and staying in sometimes. In fact, don’t feel guilty about what I like/enjoy. Don’t apologize for liking, wanting, or consuming things that make me happy.

I think that I’m doing better with this. I don’t feel guilty if the things I like aren’t highbrow. Life is too short to worry about that! But I do sometimes feel guilty if I’m enjoying something silly when there are important/serious things happening in the world. I know there’s a balance to be found between enjoyment and engagement. I just don’t know if I’ve found it yet.

Stay tuned for my 2020 resolutions post!

 

 

 

The Season For Giving

First of all, I don’t believe that giving is, or should be, seasonal. It should be a way of life. These are some resources that make it easier to make helping others a regular habit.

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  • Charity Miles– Walk, run, bike, dance, jump or crawl for a cause. This app tracks your exercise and donates to a charity of your choice for every mile. It uses corporate sponsorship to make donations, so it’s a way to improve your fitness and earn money for charity, even if you don’t have much extra money yourself.
  • Donate A Photo– For every photo you share, Johnson & Johnson gives $1 to a charity of your choice. You can donate 1 photo per day.
  • Buengo–  We all need to declutter. When you do, take a picture of something you no longer want/need, post it, and choose what cause you’d like to donate the proceeds to. When someone buys the item, they pay the app and the proceeds are donated directly to the cause. Charities can also post items for supporters to purchase.
  • One Today- This is pretty simple. Donate $1 or more per day to the charity of your choice. Google covers the transaction fee, so the charity receives all of the money. You can set up daily alerts so you remember to give, and get a receipt for tax purposes.
  • GiveTide– This makes giving really easy. You download the app, connect a debit or credit card, and each purchase is rounded up to the nearest dollar. You can control how that’s done. For example, you can adjust the number of times per week that roundup happens, or arrange an auto-roundup at the end of the week.
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  • FreeRice– Basically this is a fun way to “waste” time with an online quiz, but for each question your get right, a donation is made through the World Food Program. While it’s unlikely to add up to huge amounts, every little but  helps, and it’s a way to help even when you’re broke.
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  • Turn your hobby into a way to help others. These organizations accept craft donations. So you can knit, crochet or quilt and help someone in need.
  • Give blood– OK, there’s something inherently icky about asking someone to give parts of themselves physically. But get over it. It’s quick, it’s free, and it directly saves lives. Most people only think to donate after a disaster, but it’s needed on a regular basis. It can take as little as ten minutes and the website tells you exactly what to expect.
  • Make a phone call. 5 Calls is a resource specifically for Americans (let me know if there are similar resources out there for other countries!) that allows people to call their representatives about issues that matter to them at home and around the world. It even provides scripts. Remember that your government should work for you.

What are some of your favorite ways to give back? Are there are resources that you know of that I missed? Remember that kindness also counts and it costs nothing. Be a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on when someone needs one. Give what you can, even if it isn’t money. Every bit of kindness given makes the world a better place. That’s something that we can all benefit from.

I’ve Been…

  • Going through a career change. Teaching was so draining that I felt like I didn’t have the energy for anything else: writing, a social life, etc. I’m doing content writing and curriculum development now. It’s been an adjustment. It still is, but I’m starting to feel a bit more confident. I’m nervous even writing that because I don’t want to jinx myself!
  • Slowly working my way through beta feedback on Frozen Heart. It’s always difficult opening yourself up to criticism, and in a way, beta feedback and editing is like going to someone and saying “please rip this apart” and then cringing while they do. The most painful feedback often ends up being the most helpful though. One beta reader was very critical of this draft of Frozen Heart but I think she also pointed out some issues that I’m glad that someone noticed before I published it. But it’s hard get yourself in the right headspace to tackle those criticisms.
  • Writing some short stories. I haven’t really decided what to do with them yet, but for some reason I had several ideas that lent themselves to short fiction (not my usual medium)
  • Discovering the joy of “have done” lists. I’ve never liked keeping “to do” lists. It feels daunting to see everything you  haven’t done yet listed in front of you. I feel like I’ll never get it done. But when I keep a list of things I have done I feel accomplished at the end of the day.  Even if the things I put on aren’t major things, seeing them written down gives me a sense of satisfaction. I’ve even started doing things that I’ve been putting off because it means I’ll get to write it down on my list!
  •  

    Reading good books. In addition to my Persephone Readathon reads (Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski and Flush by Virginia Woolf, both of which I recommend highly) I’ve recently enjoyed:

  • Binge watching
    • Schitt’s Creek– How have I not seen this show before now? It’s silly but it’s great for turning off your brain and having a laugh.
    • The OA – Weird. Very weird.
    • A Discovery of Witches– I definitely liked it better than the book (which had too much filler) but it’s still not my cup of tea.
    • Bodyguard– I’d had this as a “to watch” for a while but I hadn’t gotten around to it. Glad I finally did.

Sharing Resources

One thing that I’ve noticed is that in almost every field there seems to be a notion that there isn’t enough success to go around and that when we have an advantage we have to protect it. But that’s something I’m trying to move away from. I believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.  One of the advantages of the internet is  the incredible resources we can find, so let’s share. These are some great tools and things that I’ve discovered that help make life a little easier.

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Health

NextGen Jane– A data driven women’s healthcare company that tracks data to allow women to make more autonomous decisions regarding healthcare.

Career

Fairygodboss-  A career community for women with jobs, company reviews, advice and connections.

Ladies Get Paid– a free, private online network that connects thousands of women around the world who share advice, resources, and opportunities.

Self Care

Positively Present– A blog focused on helping readers to be positive and live in the moment.

Mindful– Offers information and resources for people who want to practice meditation and mindfulness. It offers practical suggestions, guided meditations, and podcasts.

Noisli– This site lets you mix and match sounds and create ambient noise that will let you relax or improve productivity. You can even get it as a chrome extension.

Activism

5 Calls- Allows people to easily call their representatives about national and local politics, which is one of the most effective ways to make your voice heard. Provides scripts about important issues and explanations of the issues and their history.

Fitness

Charity Miles– An app that donates to the charity of your choice for each mile, you run/walk/bike etc. You get exercise and your charity gets money. It’s win-win!

Cocolime Fitness– Suzanne Wickremasinghe created this fitness program aimed at people who suffer from chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, adrenal fatigue, and more. You don’t need these conditions to do the workouts though! Medium intensity exercise can benefit lots of people whose bodies can’t handle high intensity for whatever reason and you can still get a great workout. The youtube channel has free full length workouts and there’s more information available on the website.

Jessica Smith TV– Jessica Smith’s youtube channel features hundreds of free workouts of various lengths and intensity. You can find hour long workouts but even if you only have 10 minutes you can get a workout in. Her website also features fitness tips, workout programs and more.

LWR Fitness– Lucy Wyndham Read’s fitness channel is awesome if you don’t have a lot of time, but still want to get in shape. She has a lot of 4 minute and 7 minute workouts (along with some longer ones) that keep you burning more all day long and she explains how and why these work. She also has lots of ebooks, courses, recipes and podcasts, and her blog has a ton of information .

Writing

The Hemingway Editor– This is a writing software that edits your writing for adverbs, passive voice, phrases that have simpler alternatives, and difficulty. You can paste your writing into the website or download the desktop version.

Grammarly– This free software checks for grammar, spelling, plagiarism. It’s available as a browser extension or an app.

Scrivner– I use this software for writing novels and it’s a life saver! It lets me compose text out of order and put it together later, in sections as large (or small) as I want. Everything I write  is integrated into an outline so I can go from one chapter to another with a quick click rather than scrolling through a lot of pages! I can also keep resources and research right by my draft so I can easily refer to them when I need to. You can download a 40 day free trial and then it’s only $45 to buy the full version.

What are some of your favorite resources?

What’s The Good News? Part 3

I’ve had a rough week, and once again it seems like the world has too. So here are some reasons to be happy:

  • A 10 year old boy walks a blind deer to a new patch of grass to make sure that she finds food, every day, before he goes to school.

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  • Bored teens like this one took a challenge to clean up an area that needed it.

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  • Doctors in Denmark have discovered that premature babies who cradled a crochet octopus toy had improved breathing, regular heartbeat, and strong oxygen blood levels. It’s believed that the tentacles remind the babies of the umbilical cord, and the toys have calming effects.  Babies with these toys are less likely to pull on their tubes. (x)

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  • A London HIV patient has been cleared of the virus following a bone marrow transplant, making him the second person ever to be “cured” of HIV. While the procedure can’t be used as a general cure, due to risks associated with stem cell transplants, it has the potential to be a crucial step toward finding a viable, large scale cure. (x)
  • Paul Barton is a volunteer at a rescued elephant sanctuary in Thailand. He plays classical music to the elephants on the piano. They find the music calming and soothing. (x)

  • An Indiana elementary school partnered with a nonprofit called Cultivate to repackage unused cafeteria food and give out on Friday afternoons to students who otherwise wouldn’t have enough to eat over the weekend. (x)
  • In Wales and Scotland a “Climate Emergency” was declared to address climate change, in response to protest. Both nations plan drastic reductions in carbon emissions.