Paper Trail

paper nest

I seem to have developed a latent cleaning compulsion as a response to stress and/or writing avoidance—I’m as surprised as you are—and spent the weekend cleaning and rearranging my desk and going through my overstuffed file cabinet.*

So far, I’ve found research for abandoned and active stories, clippings, half-written first chapters, short stories, shipwrecks, dialogue chunks, outlines, plot bunny droppings, frankendrafts,** essays, extremely questionable poetry, and various other scribbles of a fictional nature.***

Some of the fiction writing dates back to my college days and some is older. There are dot matrix printouts in there, wide-ruled notebook paper written in pencil, floppy disks^ and a lot of adolescent angst.

So, I’ve been hauling this stuff around since I was at least thirteen,^^  keeping it as close as Smaug did Erebor’s net domestic product and defending it with as much sanity as Thorin hoping to uncover a publishable Arkenstone—or a certain protoHobbit searching for his birthday present.

This hoard of mismatched wordsmithing is my work.  It’s my precious.

But, you know . . .

Those drawers are packed so full that they’re useless, and it’s getting to the point that . . .

It might be time to. . .

I mean, it’s possible that some of this stuff isn’t . . .

And it’s not like I really believe I’m ever going to finish that story about the . . .

I don’t even remember writing that scene and it’s just a single loose sheet of paper so there’s no context for it, so there’s no point in . . .

But what if I need it . . .

It’s been more difficult than I thought to pare it all down—it’s painful.

Because I have four drawers (and several cartons and binders) full of clinkers and clunkers

Coal Scuttle

but I can’t help seeing each one as a you-know-what in the rough


that might, if I just applied myself, turn into something fantastic.

Diamond Ring

Except that’s not true.

There may be a few diamonds among the dross, but only a few—and as time passes, they tend to disappear.

I’m not the same person I was when I started making stuff up and putting it down. I don’t think the same way, feel the same way, or express myself in the same ways. My imagination may be a tad slower, but it has a lot more raw material to work with.

And these drawers and cartons full of words and thoughts,  ink and flattened fiber pulp were instrumental in that development.  They aren’t failures or wasted potential—but their work here is done and they’re blocking my way.  Literally and literarily.

They’re a collection of dull, abandoned, heavy carapaces from a series of scintillating insects that flew off a long time ago.

And to be honest, some of ‘em need to be shredded before anyone else can get a good look.  Especially the children.

So I’m taking it a folder at a time.   Reading, recognizing, wondering, wincing, saving, shredding.

Acknowledging. Honoring.  Releasing.

I’ve done a desk shelf and two and a half drawer.  So far, my Keeper stack is smaller than my recycling pile.

It still hurts a little to let go, but I think I have the hang of it now.

I’m still planning on sedation, though, when the time comes to tackle my bookshelves . . .


*Ever see one of those commercials where a pile of folded sweaters approximately the height of Hasheem Thabeet is crammed into a plastic bag and vacuum-sealed down to the width of Giselle Bundchen?  It’s the same principle, except I used wooden drawers and brute force.

**You know—the drafts cobbled together out of typed and handwritten pages, scrap paper, envelopes, post-its, napkins, images, and digital files saved . . . somewhere.

*** Along with ancient and presumably paid bills, medical assessments, paycheck stubs from a job I left twenty years, school papers and deathless art generated by my kids, not to mention my old IQ tests from ages 6 and 11 which were, in my opinion, a tad optimistic.

^The 3½” ones, thank you, so you can keep your age-related technology jokes to yourself. We who were born before the invention of the Internet and entered the workforce when ASCII was king do not appreciate them. Mouse dependent whippersnappers . . .

^^Though some of it had been archived for decades in my childhood home, until it was dumped on passed back to me by Dad during one of my folks’ U-haul-themed Thanksgiving visits.


Image of the coal scuttle by Lajsikonik is shared under creative commons license via Wikimedia Commons.

 Image of the rough diamond is from the United Stated Geological Survey and is in the public domain.

Image of the diamond ring by TQ Diamonds  is shared under creative commons license via Wikimedia Commons.


Priority Pie, with Bonus Balloons

True confession time:

The past few months, I’ve become nearly immobilized by my own expectations.

It’s as if I’ve been standing in the center of a room that’s slowly filling up with small balloons: blue wishes, pink desires, purple promises, yellow fears, orange assumptions, red determination, green guilt.

The pressure isn’t heavy, but it’s there and I’m surrounded, and I can’t move.

Not forward, not back.

But when I realized that I was the one blowing up all these balloons, I also realized that I was the one holding the hatpin.

So, I took last week off to figure things out.

And make pie charts.  Just because.

Why pie chart


First, I wrote down a list of things I want to do and have to do and don’t want to do and can’t do and have to do before I can do and do be do be do be do.

And then I wadded it up and threw it away, because I already know that even if I can, somehow, have it all, I’ll never be able to have it all at the same time.

So what are the daily essentials that I need to function?



There’s some necessary overlap, because my family and friends and writing* can keep me sane, if they so choose, and I can’t spend time with them or write or work if I’m not healthy, and I don’t have health insurance without work . . . so it’s more of a Venn Pie.**

All I have to do is figure out how to balance the slices on a daily basis.

Here’s the plan, so far:


Professional LibrarianI don’t have much leeway here, except for what I do on breaks, which usually involves a combination of the other parts of the Timepie.

But at least work is on a fixed, steady schedule:  I put in a solid eight hours a day, five days a week, work one night a month and every other Saturday.

So it’s easy to plan around—and three cheers for the aforementioned health insurance and timely mortgage payments.

Moving on.


I like the idea of being healthy, I’m just not very good at following through.

I don’t sleep enough, I overwear my disposable contacts until my eyes hurt, all of my favorite activities are  sit-ivities, I’m a wee bit caffeine-addicted and consider the Comfort Food Diet a valid lifestyle choice. . . And while I’m not afraid of doctors, I don’t bother making appointments for myself unless I’m coughing up something disturbing or that nagging pain isn’t going away—or the stick tells me I’m up the duff without a GYN-OB.***

But it’s past time I make the time to make some changes, which includes consulting medical professionals who will help me figure out what changes to make.

Therefore, I’m declaring this the Year of Health, because the Year of Sarah Finally Accumulating Medical Charts in One Place After a Decade of ERs and Drop-In Clinics takes too long to say.

I’ve already started:  last week, I went to the dentist, who inspired me to hurry up and find a regular doctor by showing me a chart of my enamel-less teeth^ and asking me questions about acid reflux, sleep apnea, and tooth-grinding stress.

But scheduled doctor appointments, while occasionally problematic, aren’t as tough to fit in as the daily stuff.

The dietary improvements I’m trying out—I won’t bore us all explaining them—take no more time than my old habits, and neither does exercise, or what passes for it around here, which I’ve already been doing.  Mostly.

SleepHowever, there’s no question that I need more sleep. And to get more sleep . . . I have to sleep more.^^

And that takes time.  Which means I need to finish up the stuff I need/want/have to do in a timelier manner so I can go to bed earlier or get up later.

I mean, I could warp the space time continuum in order to add a few hours between 02:00 and 02:01. But since I’m trying to reduce the amount of caffeine in my system, I’m not going to challenge the Laws of Physics anytime soon.

At least, not without the okay from my doctor. When I get one.

So . . .where can I make room?

Family and Friends:

Nope.  Not budging.  Or if I am, it’ll be towards more, not less.

That I need family and friends time is a given.

But though I’ve been pretty good about keeping up with e-mails and texts and lunches (with friends) and driving and feeding and hugging (the kids), I’ve been shirking a lot of invitations to girls’ nights out (R movies and art shows and nice dinners) and girls’ nights in (G movies and fingerpainting and pizza) lately because there’s so many other things I think I should be doing, so even when I’m out (or in) with them, I’m not really present.

Green BalloonInstead, I’m off somewhere thinking about  all the other stuff I should/would/could have been doing, batting those balloons back and forth—supposing there’s room in my subconscious—and occasionally holding the rough twine tethering a floating ball of maroon resentment, which will turn the color of guilt about five minutes after I escape leave.

My family is the biggest source of those green balloons.^^^

Because as much as I complain, as much as I occasionally threaten to mail them all to my parents in a cardboard box (“Breathing holes are a privilege, kids, not a right.”), or secretly plan to run away from the circus, I kind of love these guys.  A lot.

I may kvetch (and blog) about interruptions and distractions, bad timing and my apparent ability to render all other adults in the house invisible, but at the end of the day—the end of all my days—I’ve do understand that I’ll never regret a single moment I’ve spent with them.°

And that pretty soon, the kids will stop asking for stories or attention or braids or even a Mom-shaped beanbag to lean against while they watch TV.°°  Better get in that quality time where and when I can.

I’ve already started working on this, too—and I found out that I’m not as resentful now that I’ve learned to ask for time back—three hours a week to run away from home.

Look!  That Sanity slice just got bigger!

As for my friends . . .  when I’m with them, I think I’ll let go of all the balloons and just be.

Balloon free


This is gonna fluctuate with the ebb and flow and jostling of the other parts of the ‘pie.

But there’s a couple of solid changes I can make that may help—a few adjustments in, shall we say, medication.

We all have things we do, little rituals, little habits, that help us center ourselves.

One of mine is reading.  Always has been, always will be, not giving it up—though “existentially incapable of giving it up” is probably the correct way to put it.

Computer games are another habit of mine.  Specifically, Time Management games—probably because I can have as many do-overs as I want and there are cheats and walkthroughs, interesting storylines set to a snazzy soundtrack, and plentiful rewards and applause for a job well done.

Makes a fine change from reality.

But there’s centering, and there’s avoidance—and there’s ignoring all the other things I would/should/could be doing instead, in favor of yelling, “Five more minutes!  One more level!” ay myself, until my eyes burn, my mouse hand hurts, and I’m restocking grocery shelves or harvesting pumpkins or doling out playdough in my sleep, which began a lot later (or earlier, depending on your POV) than I’d intended.

It’s past time to put some parental controls on my inner child and try a little Real Life® Time Management.

I haven’t decided whether to limit myself to playing on the weekends, or try to earn screen time with wordcount/chapters/pages.

Or use the time to reacquaint myself with one of the hobbies I seem to have traded in for pixels and points.

But I set my alarm for an hour last night, tore myself away from The Beardless Wizard, and had an early bedtime.


Time Flies

So . . . what’s left?



Writing Pie

I like writing fiction and I like blogging my version of reality.

Both of them are worthwhile, both are beneficial, both can be a blast.

But one of my goals is to be a published author. More to the point, I want to be a paid published author.

Which means I have to scale down the time I spend writing posts and boost the time I use on fiction, both the writing of and the querying of.

To this end, I’m going to be dropping one post a week, to start, and I won’t be working on posts until I produce pages.

That also means the timing of publication—which has been holding steady at Noon CST for a while—is going to be more random.

Like today, for example.

And none of them are going to be as crazy long as this one, believe me—you’re getting all of last week’s at once.

Talk about your time savers . . .

Toy Balloons



*To be honest, I write interesting stuff when my sanity slips.  But I wouldn’t want to live in that headspace full-time, and my family also prefers that I’m here more than there. Maybe; I’m told I can be amusing while on bookbrain.

**Off-topic Inquiry:  Can a Venn Pie be a Real Thing?  Strawberry, Blueberry, and Cherry, for example? Would I need to invent a new pan or just make and freeze seven kinds of pie (yes, I drew a Three-Pie Venn and counted) and carefully reassemble?  Or have I just proven (proved? indy?) that the Sanity Slice is just wishful thinking?

***No, I’m not trying to tell you something. The equipment still works, but the factory is closed.

^No cavities, though.  Weird.

^^This would’ve probably dawned earlier on someone who isn’t as sleep deprived as I am.

^^^Any guilt my friends give me is the motivational kind and much appreciated.  Thank you.

°Even the two-kid-solo-parent clothes shopping trips. Stay tuned for that post; it’s a lulu.

°°But not money; we’ll always have my overdraft.



The nuts must flow, so let ’em go . . .

There’s a useful story out there about how to catch monkeys—some of you already know how it goes.

Find a tree with a small hole in it, opening up into a larger space, like an abandoned nest—or weave a basket with a narrow opening or mold a pot with a narrow mouth.

Drop some large nuts into the tree or basket or pot, place a couple outside as encouragement, and wait.

When the monkey shows up, they’ll see the nuts, stick an arm through and grab a handful. But since the opening is so narrow, they won’t be able to pull their fist out.

The monkey will screech and dance and yank their poor arm half out of its socket—anything but let go of those nuts.

Even when they see the hunters coming.

I don’t know how many times I’ve set my own traps with insane word counts and scenes that don’t work, characters who don’t belong, weird plot points, obscure references, the One True Writing Habit of other people, and even whole stories that arrive DOA—or not at all—no matter what kind of surgical procedures I try.

If I let ’em go, I could move on to something that works, or at least something that’s more fun that swinging one-armed from a #!%&%ing tree.

And then there’s the assorted fears and self-esteem issues that are only insurmountable if I keep holding onto them and screeching and pulling and kvetching and deliberately mistaking for real problems instead of nutty ones.

If I let these go, I’d be a lot less likely to tie myself up in knots when the going gets rough.

The worst part of this is that I’m not only the monkey, here, I’m the hunter. 

And also nuts.

Neurologist and addiction psychiatrist Judson Brewer doesn’t use this analogy in his talk about getting out of our own way—though I’m sure he’s aware of it—but that’s what instantly came to mind after I watched it.

Because it’s kind of hard to feel that writing rush I love so much when I can’t see over my own elbow . . .

Walnuts or Cashews?

A Bowlful of Metaphor

While we were hiking back to our car after our souvenir shopping expedition in Eagle River last week, my mother and I were caught in the rain.

We ducked into a small gallery about half a block from the beaten tourist path.  Inside were wooden shelves full of pine needle baskets and pottery and paper-crafted fairy dolls and wildlife paintings, small leather moose and all sorts of etcetera from local artists. In the far corner, a man was sanding a hand-carved sign in a small, half-walled workshop, and the place smelled like fresh pine sawdust.

Mom and I explored, while the owner and her summer resident friend caught up with each others’ lives and also the lives of the two extremely well-groomed dogs bouncing in the back room behind a baby gate.

I half-listened as I wandered over to look over at an artfully jumbled display shelf, not really looking for anything in particular—I’d already bagged my duck for the day—when a small, three-footed bowl of rich, shining colors glowed at me from behind a series of hand-painted, cat-themed ceramic tiles.

The bowl was rough edged and textured and shiny and brilliant, and I picked it up and turned it around in my hands, calling my mother over to show her this marvelous thing that I’d found.

The gallery owner told me that the artist rolls out slabs of clay and stamps them with different things—metal pieces, flowers, grasses, pebbled linoleum—then tears off pieces of the textured clay to fashion things, before painting each torn piece a different color, with thin borders of darker or lighter hues separating them.

There were several bowls scattered around the room, each one clearly from the same artist, but so different from each other.

My bowl—because it was, no question—has a keyhole in the bottom, as if it’s waiting to be unlocked.

I found the whole concept remarkably familiar and undeniably metaphorical.

Even before I tried to take a photo of it.

The first couple of drafts shots didn’t go well.  At all.  But I learned from them and adjusted, and tried different settings and angles.

I’ve come close, but as it stands, I can capture the individual characters colors, but not that luminous shine:

  Patcwork Bowl 2

Or if I can get the  glow, the individual colors go muddy:


And nothing I’ve tried so far comes close to showing why this piece of patchwork pottery caught my attention and hasn’t let go.

My husband gave me tips, which I gratefully accepted, and Jane kindly offered to take the picture for me, though I gently turned her down—it’s my story bowl, and I want to get it right, if I can.

It’s entirely possible that I won’t be able to do it justice.

But if I keep trying, maybe I’ll come just close enough for others to see what I see.

Which is remarkably familiar, too.

Slow and Steady Confuses the Enemy

I don’t like football* much.

FootballSure, I’ll root for the Bengals out of hometown loyalty whenever they hit the Superbowl—and sigh sadly when they choke—and display appropriate pleased surprise when I’m told that Miami of Ohio actually won a game, but after nine years in various marching bands, the merest glimpse of a gridiron tends to give me a damp wool stinking, sun glaring, out of tune-ish, heavy hatted,  flashback headache.

Plus, it’s essentially boring—like a real battle,** it’s made mostly of Hurry Up and Wait.  If I had my way, the clock would only stop for halftime*** and every single time out—team or referee—would cause an immediate electric shock to be administered to a favorite body part of the person who called it and the general manager of that team and the owner.   We’d see some freakin’ hustle then . . .

But there are exceptions to my general apathy of the sport—and some analogies are too good to pass up.


If you can see Number 14 as a writer, the players in yellow as all the I Don’t Wannas and I Don’t Have Times and Oh, God This is Complete $#&%s that make up Writer’s Block, and the players in white as the I Think I Cans, I’m Gonna Do it Anyways, and Just One #$%& Word at a Time of the writer’s interior support team . . .

. . . then I can admit that football has its uses after all.


*American football, that is.  Soccer, as most of the civilized world doesn’t call it, is fine by me.  As is rugby, which I consider GBH soccer—or maybe land hockey.  Tomato, tomahto.

**Which it isn’t.  No, really.

***Which would be broadcast in full, commercial free.  Musicians suffer for those shows, damn it.