Saturday, December 28, 2013

I Resolve to Meet My Goals (In the Category of Say What You Mean.) #52Weeks

It’s the last week of 2013. Against all expectations, I have managed to maintain my sanity status quo throughout the ordeal that was this year. But as I sit here contemplating a recitation of all the bullshit I endured these past 12 months, more comes to mind that makes me smile than frown. I guess my overriding optimism has survived – that’s good news. If I had begun the #52Weeks challenge at the beginning of the year, this would be my final post, but I started late, so I still have a few more to do. Even so, it seems like a good time to take stock of things – 2014 will begin shortly, and it’s best to know what I will take with me into it, and what I will leave behind, the detritus of a painful year.

Still reeling from my Aunt Nancy’s sudden death at the end of 2012, I kept my New Year’s resolutions simple last January. (I usually do in years when I feel overwhelmed – it minimizes the potential for failure.) I wanted to write more; I was tired of whining about not being the creative writer I had always envisioned becoming. I had only one fix for it: write. Writers write, damn it, so write.

At that point in my life, I had written many, many words, some of them published, a few of them were even creative. But mostly my writing was technical: installation instructions, manuals of operation, data sheets, press releases, white papers, and magazine articles for industry publications. (The industry varied with the job.) None of it was going to win a Pulitzer, but all of it paid, and after all, wasn't that really the goal?

Truthfully, no.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m very happy to spend my career writing for others. I see no shame in working as a scribe for hire – ultimately we all write for the audience who buys the book. Writing comes naturally and easily to me – I recall my surprise when I first learned that this was not true for everyone. I have a knack for proofreading and editing as well. I actually enjoy it as much as writing. Not all writers will say that. For me, the complete process is like working a puzzle in words instead of pictures. All the components to create the whole are present, but they are jumbled, upside down, or in the wrong place. My challenge is to bring order to the whole, arrange the pieces to fit just so and, when finally correctly arranged, create a well-crafted scene (lovely or otherwise).

This is true whether I write for myself or for my employer, but I won’t lie. It’s so much more fun when I can just make it all up. And in 2013, I did that, a lot.

I wrote a novel.

I had not set sights on that achievement when I resolved to write more. I had actually hoped to complete a one-act play by now. I haven’t; I know why, but I am not sure what to do about it yet. I will carry the unfinished play with me into 2014. I’m also bringing needed edits to the novel, which I will not attempt to elevate to greatness with rewrites. I intended Unspoken to be a fun, silly romp through space, a Douglas Adams meets Terry Pratchett meets Ian Fleming sort of B-grade pulp fiction. Astonishingly, it is that, almost  a few more nips and tucks. It will take me longer to figure out how to make an epub file so I can distribute it as an ebook. I'm not going commercial at first. I plan to give it to a select few individuals who were instrumental in shaping the novel’s early form. (As well as anyone who asks to read it, which is one other person so far.)  I plan to enter Unspoken in one of the #12Contests of 2014. As soon as it gets deservedly rejected I will disseminate it to the world gratis.

In January, I hadn’t even predicted completing a weekly blog post for #52Weeks, but damn if it doesn’t look like I might do that too. This blog hit 5,000 page views this week; I’m not sure when. I check stats like that, but I don’t measure success by them. I put aside my need for “readership” when I decided to just start writing. The egoistic yen for recognition, and its failure to materialize, had become an excuse to not write, to not bother. I was right to quit caring about that, and I will carry that strategy into the next year. Not fretting about being read has made me much more productive. I also abandoned my need to feel that my writing had relevance. I should make that a goal one day, but for now, it needs to be enough to just write.

I’m setting writing goals for 2014. I’m not making any writing resolutions. Resolutions I reserve for the ideals I haven’t achieved yet – lifestyle changes that I wish to bring to (or remove from) my day, my month, my year. This year’s resolutions include achieving my idea of “buff” arms (I admire the First Lady’s arms and shoulders, I confess) and developing the ability to do ten consecutive “real” pushups. If I can achieve the latter, it will go a long way to helping me attain the former. These may seem like shallow resolutions, but you should know, before you judge me, that for the first time in many years, I don’t have to resolve to lose weight. According to my Wii fit, I need to gain two pounds in order to achieve my fitness goal. I may get to eat macaroni and cheese this month. I will not be carrying that into 2014. So I might as well get toned arms just once in my life. I’ll take lots of photos and then go back to doing “girly” pushups. I’m okay with that.

Unlike resolutions, goals, to me, are habits I have formed that I want to keep, or progress I want to make on a project begun but not yet perfected. My 2014 writing goals include #12Contests (you’ll read more about that here), a finished one-act play, and another go at #NaNoWriMo, which I could see myself getting addicted to. It was exhilarating. There is something seriously liberating about writing solely for word count, putting quality aside until the quantity is achieved. The tactics required to meet 1,667 words per day went against everything I learned about writing well. On days when the word count eluded me, I used the excuse that it’s harder to write that much when one also works full time – next year I may take the month of November off to see if that is true.
My #NaNoWriMo Winner's tee shirt arrived this week.
I’m pleased to have kept my resolution to write more in 2013, more pleased even than I am to have successfully avoided the need to make another damn resolution to lose weight. Writing is just a daily goal now, something to maintain, like my BMI. I can temper my word-gluttony in the months to come. Instead of gorging on weekly posts and daily 1,700 word binges, I can spend a month on a single piece – the time I give myself will feel indulgent compared to this year’s grind. I don’t expect it to take more than a day or two during the cycle to identify the contest of the month. That leaves me 19 days to write, another eight to proof and revise, one more to post the submission. Even graduate school had a tighter writing cycle, but I have much to relearn about the submission process. It’s been a while since I bothered, you see. I hadn’t been writing much. Not until this year.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tarot on a Winter Solstice (A Poem in the Category of Be Where You Are.) #52Weeks

A half-hearted sunrise
And autumn’s last moon
Conga-dance the thin
Horizon line between
Less light and more.

In an ancient grove,
Under winter stars,
She steps into the
Bonfire glow, arms aloft,
Upholding heaven, her
Womb contracting with
The promise of daylight.

“As Winter approaches,
“You will need to look within.
“What part of you has died
“Or been cast off?”

“What part of you now understands
The Otherworld?”

To glean answers,
I turn the cards –
The lovely ones
This time –
Seeking ancient
Insight. Tarot
On a Winter Solstice;
The Celtic deck –
Stonehenge graces
“The Universe.”

The Present: the Adder – “Insight,
An ancient totem of
The Past: Britannia –
“A woman with an
“Otherworldly air.”

To know
You need only


The wind picked up and
Tattered clouds obscured
The aged moon. Cernunnos
Kicked the ashes of the
Conflagration grown cold --
Round and round the circle,
And the sparks flew
Upward as he traced
Her steps with his own.

Behold the Sun King!
And after painful labor
She rests; all is dark.

He will grow
Until the days of
Unending daylight
When the Hunt
Continues in
Beltane fields --
‘Neath summer
Stars. Sparks will fly
Upward when He steps
Into the bonfire glow,
Arms beckoning.

Blessed Be. #52Weeks

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Breaking Bad Habits (In the Category of Mean What You Say.) #52Weeks

I developed an impressive number of bad habits – vices if you will – before I turned age 25. I won’t enumerate them all for you. (How tedious for us both!) But as I’ve survived into adulthood, mental maturity (not the same as adulthood), and now middle age, I realize that I have successfully put aside many of them. Cigarettes for example, which I can still say I spent more of my life with than without – I have finally kicked that habit for the last time. Jim Beam and ginger ale, once my favorite dancing couple, is also now a thing of my past. As are most hard liquors in fact – it just hurts too much the next day. Coffee and donuts no longer begin my morning. Macaroni and cheese, pasta dressed simply with garlic butter and grated parmgiano reggiano, fresh-baked bread and any number of other carb-intense comfort foods on which I once subsisted – I haven’t kicked these entirely, but my usage is way down.

A few of my vices I plan to enjoy until I die.

It appears that my bad ramen habit will be one of them. As with many of my vices, I started using ramen noodles in high school. They were fast. They were yummy. They were my go-to after-school snack. Back then I didn’t make soup. Like a true junkie, I drained the water, added the full flavor packet, and reveled in the salty, savory, tender, curly noodles. I carried this addiction to college (along with some other vices), where I met peers who were equally afflicted. Purists, all, we didn’t share recipes, we merely swapped admissions of which “color” we thought tasted the best. After all ramen wasn’t an ingredient, it was the entire meal. (Two servings per pouch? I don’t think so.)
My gratitude to for posting this picture of the Ramen Flavor Rainbow on the Internet.

I like to eat healthy. I try to cook fresh, light,  (mostly) organic vegetables and lean, hormone-free meats these days, for as many meals as possible. Except for lunch -- every weekday, for lunch, I make soup -- wonderful, delicious, chock-full-of-fresh-veggies-and-tofu soup. And it starts with a packet of Top Ramen Chicken Noodle flavor in the orange pouch.

Kim’s Lunch Soup
Crunch one package of Top Ramen Chicken Flavor noodles into a microwave safe bowl. Add 1-1/2 cups of water, the seasoning packet that came with the noodles (some days I only add half and pitch the rest – the sodium levels are obscene), two teaspoons of fresh minced ginger root, 4-5 white button mushrooms sliced thin, a generous dash of ground white pepper, a few dashes of soy sauce, and a few dashes of hot sauce. (Or add 2-3 tablespoons of finadene sauce, which is my preferred.) Cover and microwave for about 3 minutes. Add two handfuls (about one cup) of fresh baby spinach leaves torn into pieces. Cover and microwave for another 2 minutes until spinach is just cooked and noodles are al dente. Add 1/8 cup of tofu cut into bite size cubes and 1 tablespoon of fresh sliced scallions. Serve immediately.

Sometimes I add an egg that I’ve scrambled and cooked omelet-style in sesame oil to the finished bowl. It absorbs the broth without getting mushy – my twist on egg drop soup. Sometimes I get really ambitious and buy wonton wrappers, which I slice into strips and fry in canola oil. It only takes a few seconds until the dough crisps into brown crunchy fried noodles. Lightly salted, they are delicious on top of my lunch soup or straight out of the zipper bag I store them in.

I recently tried to break it, my bad ramen habit. I really did. I’ve read the articles detailing just how difficult processed ramen noodles are for the human digestive track to break down. I’ve watched the YouTube video that shows just how hard it is to digest.  After I watched the YouTube video, I tried to modify the recipe to use healthier ingredients. I boiled whole wheat thin spaghetti the Sunday evening before the work week to a perfect al dente, tossed the noodles in sesame oil, and stored it in a zipper bag to be added to the soup bowl as needed. I concocted my own, lower sodium, seasoning mix and used homemade chicken stock instead of water for extra flavor. This variation of my lunch soup is also delicious, but it takes too long to prep on Sunday, and even with all the prep, it takes more minutes of my lunch hour to prepare, time I cannot spare.

At some point toward the end of graduate school, I walked away from ramen. I don’t recall why. For many years thereafter, I dined out for lunch: Charlie’s Chinese Restaurant (the hot and sour soup, the chicken with garlic sauce…), Burger King Whoppers with cheese, heavy pickle, no onions, KFC 3-piece crispy strip meals with cole slaw and macaroni & cheese, crispy Taco Supremes from “The Bell,” Arby’s Roast Beef & Cheddar with a side of potato cakes and extra Horsey sauce – I ate it all, all the time. Truly, fast food at lunch became one of my all time worst habits. Ever. As bad as smoking for my health – I have no doubt of that.

Over the years, my lunch food indulgences began to turn on me. Charlie moved away, and the food quality at his eponymous Chinese restaurant tanked. I’m not sure which of us changed, but suddenly, one day, Burger King Whoppers with cheese became moments of pleasurable taste followed by hours of heartburn. The same happened with my other fast food lunch favorites, one at a time, so I switched to salads – usually spinach salads. I really love spinach; I always have. (As a kid, I loved Popeye the Sailor Man. I would eat large mouthfuls of spinach and then wait for my biceps to bulge the way his did in the cartoon. It was one of many life lessons in disappointment. Cheerios never gave me the strength of the Cheerios kid either. Advertising is such bullshit.)

When my husband and I bought the house in Christiansburg, I just came home and ate leftovers for lunch, but then the company I worked for started to fail. I was laid off in job cut round number 3, and I found work about 30 miles away. Lunch at home became an impossibility. With fast food and my GI tract still in an abusive relationship, I started “brown bagging.” (My insulated lunch bag was actually teal and purple.) Eventually, I got bored with eating variations on the theme of cottage cheese and fruit, carrots and water, or spinach salads with decadent blue cheese (the components of what would turn out to be a failed diet). Then, in 2006, I rediscovered ramen. I don’t recall what inspired me to add spinach greens and mushrooms, ginger root and scallions. Tofu came late to the party, as did the optional egg, an effort to get more protein while eating less meat. My husband’s version of finadene sauce, as he learned it when he lived on Guam, adds the heat I love. On a good day, my lower eyelids sweat as I slurp my soup. And every day is a good day.

As a bonus, my lunch soup has never given me trouble digestively; I’m certain it’s the fresh ginger root.  Even so, I cannot lose the image of undigested ramen noodles squirming and writhing in a stomach like maggots. Honestly, it detracts from my enjoyment of the pleasant balance of flavors and textures. I want to make a healthier version of this soup work, because I am addicted to it; I think the hot sauce induced endorphin hit hooked me. But, as it was with my nicotine habit, quitting Top Ramen in the orange pouch has proven much easier to say than do.  The addiction grows stronger with each relapse; and the reasons to try again to quit become more elusive. Especially when you compare my ramen soup to a Burger King Whopper with cheese, because on paper, the soup looks pretty healthy.

Burger King Whopper With Cheese
Kim’s Lunch Soup with Top Ramen Chicken Flavor
Fat (g)
Sodium (mg)
3,172 (full ramen seasoning packet)
Carbs (g)
53 (3 dietary fiber)
64 (4 dietary fiber)
Protein (g)
Vitamin A (%)
Vitamin C (%)
Calcium (%)
Iron (%)
Potassium (mg)

Hmm. I’m glad I made that table. I suddenly feel much better about my Top Ramen lunch soup. I’ll revisit the gruesome video another day to remind myself that I need to rein this habit in – perhaps cut down to only three days a week rather than five. I have since discovered Marco & Luca’s hot and sour soup, so I now have a second supplier for my spicy soup habit. It’s good to have a steady source for one’s addictions to keep the withdrawals at bay. Why break a habit if it feels good? I'd rather kick back with a bowl and slurp soup -- sweat the tension away.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Reflections on a 30-Day Writing Habit (In the Category of Want What You Have…or in this case…Had.) #52Weeks

It’s Wednesday, December 4. This is the first chance I have given myself to write since (unbelievably) completing the #NaNoWriMo challenge. I did it: 50,000 words in 30 days, word count verified, and tee shirt order placed. It took me until 10:30 pm on November 30, but I did it. I wrote an entire novel in 30 days. (My first novel took three years.) While some were growing mustaches for Movember, I bullied myself into a serious daily writing habit.

So, naturally, as soon as I achieved success, I decided I deserved a break. Plus I had a major backlog of things that I had put aside during the time I frantically wrote 11,145 words in four days while simultaneously helping my husband navigate through the painful process of hip replacement surgery, hospitalization, the return home, and all the things we both had to learn about life with a walker. Laundry, for example, had reached a crisis point. So I have spent the last three days washing clothes, helping my husband get back on his feet, literally, and getting myself back into my morning workout routine. (In November, I still got up early, but I wrote instead of exercised – in case you wondered, this is not great for one’s ass.)

In these past three days, I have missed the novel – not badly enough to go back and begin proofing yet. My editor is currently hopped up on painkillers (the result of that recent successful hip replacement). We agreed that it would be best to wait for him to return to lucidity before attempting to proofread the novel, so I have some time. But I have missed writing a novel.

I have another project, a one-act play, which I have been working on for most of this calendar year. I had planned to finish by mid-January, and I hoped that by ignoring it for a month I could break through the stuck part. It hasn’t worked...yet…or maybe it has. I haven’t really turned back to the one-act since traipsing through the far corners of the galaxy in the Anna-Rae on an intergalactic quest for the Words of Power (thanks @LynnHuber…your suggestion became a great weapon for me to work with).

Without the novel, I feel bereft. I admit that this has caught me off guard.

At least I still have a few more weeks of the #52Weeks blog posts to write. (Only eight or nine – can you believe it?) It’s funny to me how much less challenging this is now, after November’s word orgy. Before November, I fretted, weekly, about whether or not I could kick the #52Week challenge’s ass. Today, I am not overly concerned. (It will be fun to see if I end up eating those words, but I won’t delete them – it’s good to stare one’s own hubris in the eye.) After #52Weeks, I plan to do #12Contests for 2014, and yes, the novel, Unspoken, will be one of the year’s submissions. It needs to be edited first. Seriously edited. For example, the ending is all wrong and not how I intended it to go exactly.

You see, I hit 50,000 words before I properly reached the end of the story. I could have stopped at the required word count, verified 50,000 words at 9:00pm, and walked away. But I know me, and I knew that if I didn’t at least give the novel a crappy ending, Unspoken would go unfinished. So I spent another 90 minutes, logged another 1,115 words, and finished the novel, poorly. It’s wordy anyway. And I suspect when I go back for a re-read, I’ll discover entire scenes that need to be added in order to connect the scenes already there. This should counter-balance all the unnecessary words I need to cut.

One does not re-read the novel that one is writing during #NaNoWriMo. Re-reading leads to editing which, done correctly, leads to a reduced word count. Reducing the word count is counter-productive. In hindsight, re-reading is the reason my first novel took three years to finish instead of thirty days.

When I do re-read the latest novel, I will need to rework all the passive voice too…for the same reason. I walked sounds so much better than I was walking. But from the vantage point of a #NaNoWriMo challenge, proper writing has merely cost the author a word. Attempting to write a novel in 30 days encourages verbosity. So much for the five-figure tuition I spent for an M.A. in English that taught me the frugality of language -- you can’t meet a 1,667/day word count by writing well or carefully. I’ve spent a lifetime believing that quality mattered more than quantity, a notion thoroughly unsupported by the 30-day novel writing challenge. I’m rethinking everything now. What else did I get wrong?

(Fun fact: in the course of writing this post, while allowing myself to proofread, I corrected multiple pronouns to the actual name of the thing, and my excessive use of contractions is now a thing of the past. Why? Because #NaNoWriMo. Pronouns and contractions shorten one’s word count.)

Until now, I did not write an Acknowledgment for my novel, which, on reflection would have helped to fatten up the word count. If I had, though,  I would have written this:

On October 30, when I decided to do #NaNoWriMo, I needed a plot and an outline fast, so I tweeted, “Let’s play a game." You stepped up, so I want to acknowledge:

.@dbw780: Thank you for saying “science fiction” and not “westerns” when I asked you to name your favorite genre. I could have made it work, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.

@thinkinunicorns When I asked you, “please tell me your favorite color,” you were getting to choose a defining characteristic of the “sidekick.” Green was good.

.@PhilthePill You got to choose the hero’s name. You chose your own. But this is not your story. You were right though. Santiago makes a good character name.

.@LynnHuber: I asked you to please tell me your preferred weapon. I liked your answer.

.@Vidocq_CC: I asked you to please tell me your favorite place to vacation. We went there...sort of.

.@Lauren88 I agree, that is disgusting. So it’s the villain’s bad habit.

.@Hokie_Lisa You got to pick the secret weapon. It was easier to make silver earrings work than I thought initially.

.@hokielove That’s my favorite flavor, too. So it’s the source of the villain’s power.

I’ll send you all a copy of the e-book as soon as it’s available. Thanks for playing.

KHN Dec. 2013

The NNoWriMo winner's Screen.