Re-shaping the Quest for Bliss
It’s been years since I closed the blog, but the name is still relevant. I hashtag it on Instagram and other places #theblissquest. People still check in with me to let me know which posts tickled them most. It was hard to let theblissquest.com go, but a redefinition was and is in order. Not just for my work and author platform, but for the evolving equation that is true joy.
I think the reason I struggled with it for so long is because, I don’t feel like it’s a quest anymore. Bliss is in hand, and therefore not a hunt with a mysterious package at the end of the journey waiting to be discovered and unwrapped. Long ago I blogged that bliss was in fact the process of searching, the journey, a constant unveiling--and yet even that definition seems too small anymore.
I found bliss. Questing is part of the moving target that plays into the equation, but it’s only a fraction of the code that seems to elude so many people, even myself sometimes. After a decade of blogging about the quest for bliss, it finally seems like the right time to start sharing out the data, tricks, hacks, and gems I discovered on the long journey.
So in an effort to define this change of definition, of purpose, and of brand I’ve been brainstorming my concepts of bliss = sustained well-being, and happiness.
What does that mean to me personally?
These are abstract in concept, I know. I’ll drill down in a minute, but I wanted to mention a meeting I had with a friend who shared her list of happiness keys and they were absolutely different than my own. I don’t think one thing on either of our lists matched. Personal happiness is, well, personal. It’s so individualized.
So I won’t be taking the platform of “This will make you happy”, what I will suggest is, “This is what I do – I challenge you to find your own path to bliss.”
This re-invention of the process comes well-timed to other popular language on the market. Marie Kondo is huge right now. I remember when her book came out years ago and my friends were all beaming over it. It didn’t catch with me then, because I wasn’t in a place where material things were weighing me down or holding up my joy factor. BUT recently I’ve come to see the beautiful parallel to the Marie Kondo way in letting go of that which does not spark joy—in relationships, romance, habits, ideas, and so on. The message she relays works on non-material clutter as well.
Suddenly, I was a convert. For the last five years I’d been doing precisely that, letting go of all the non-material patterns that don’t spark joy-but I didn’t have a name for it. I was just calling it a life-cleanse. A rebirth.
There’s a powerful emotional release, a spiritual aphrodisiac-if you will, when you cut ties to things like: fear, shame, abusive relationships, negative people, negative cycles, complaining, indulging complainers, can’ts, unhealthy habits, toxic jobs, excuses, and other limiting thoughts, language, and dialog.
It’s like magic. Taking a cue from Kondo, holding the fear and saying “thank you” before letting it go, signals that its time of relevance in your life is at an end. When you mean it, feel it, and really let it go…you have planted magic beans, from which a giant stalk will grow—then you’ll get a chance to test that new courage and climb.
So, here I am on the verge of a new image release, wondering how to put the word out there in ways that are helpful, uplifting, and encouraging. Landing on a new brand that incorporates all my passions is, well, challenging. #challengeaccepted
With a fantasy fiction series, The Pillars of Dawn in progress (book three out soon!), an erotica series in the works under a pen name, and a series of creativity workbooks and essays in the queue—there’s a lot to squeeze in under one brand.
Ultimately, my written works, and my lifestyle choices all have one thing in common. The quest for bliss, for self-expression, happiness and health. The desire for a happy expansive life, and the eagerness to share out what I’ve learned.
I expect it will be a bit of a process with some evolution, but for now I offer you a map to Bliss via the #blissbubblechallenge (Video above)
After years of writing TheBlissQuest, I developed this version of my blissbubble, which I tracked in journals and notes.
Everyone’s bliss bubble diagram will look a little different. But this is generally where I track my progress. Some categories have overlap, and or could be stuffed into different sections. Some people’s bubbles might only be body/mind/spirit.
I work with these categories because they are familiar to me, personally. I’ve been using this method for years, hence the multiple categories. I know the second I drop one, or slack in that area, the bliss bubble re-distributes weight elsewhere to compensate and it’s only a matter of time before things are all out of whack on my joy ride. No one likes a wobble in their top speed.
#Blissbubble is my wholistic tracking device. I made up my categories, but you can make up your own. Then I built the bubble map on MS Word in five minutes with a smart art insert. You can also use a sketch book, note pad or cocktail napkin to whip up a #blissbubble to check in with yourself.
Yours doesn’t need to be as complex as mine, of course. Start small. Pick a few categories you want to measure and focus on. Try this smaller one for the #blissbubblechallenge
The hardest parts of the bliss map are defining your categories if you don’t already know what makes you happy. The best way to find out, is to ask yourself what makes you unhappy, angry, or vulnerable. If disorder or poor scheduling makes you anxious or angry – a key point to your bliss may be order and organization. Could that fall under mental/emotional health? Or physical needs? It’s up to you.
Finding your pockets is the journey and exploration. Some of which might be uncomfortable, but that’s the point of the exercise. After you do the categories, the rest is so much easier.
When I’m struggling, or out of balance, need perspective or feel overwhelmed, I go to the slider axis. I put a dot on the category somewhere between 1 and 5. Then I go around all the categories and then link them up.
The weak spots will reveal themselves. Those are where I focus to return a sense of balance and joy. If my community / world category is lower than all the other categories—I reach out to my community and invest energy, and or ask for help if I need it. Strengthen those bonds. If my finances are dragging behind the other categories, I sit down and crunch budget, make a plan, and build a strategy. If my creativity is slogging, I make an artist date with myself and build something new or exciting, something that feeds my curiosity. If I’m feeling emotionally drained, I reaffirm boundaries with people asking for too much energy.
Using the map allows me a visual of where my states are—or where I think/feel they are. Then I can adjust from there. (keep your #blissbubble notes to track your progress monthly or quarterly) The goal is obviously to feel my best in each category. Sometimes being honest with myself about how I really feel about a specific category is difficult—so I separate that category out, and make a smaller, more detailed axis around the points that make up that particular piece of bliss.
For example, when I was working on this map to be able to publish my current state, I realized my “Mystery” and “Health” categories were low compared to others. I already know that my mystery (curiosity/wonder/imagination) have needed attention for some time. I’ll schedule time for play and research into some weird off-topic curiosity and make that a priority soon. I’ll also book a trip to somewhere on the map I haven’t seen, yet.
As for the health, I’m not entirely sure which part of that combination might need attention: So I break it down. Mind/body/spirit.
As I suspected, at the time of completing this, my health feels out of balance because it is. I need to focus on my body and mind a little more to tune into a greater feeling of bliss.
My MIND really could use a rest lately. A good rest. Maybe even a shutdown for maintenance. This is great for a Netflix binge, or a day on the beach (only if I can truly shut my brain off). My mental health is also affected by stress. This can be caused by overlapping timelines, chaotic communication, backlog of workload, or scheduling snags. The best way to limit stress for me is to take an afternoon to reorganize my office or calendar, and get caught up on emails.
Re-configuring a workout or daily exercise, along with a tweak in diet should close the gap in BODY. Then reevaluate in a couple of weeks. (I’ll start with more hydration, adding more walking to my schedule, and cutting back on sugar)
For me, it’s not about total balance all the time. It’s about feeling good, thinking good, and actively working toward an even better place. It’s about WELL-BEING. Overall sustainable well-being.
Sometimes we slip up. Sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes we loop where it’s unhealthy or negative. The important thing for me is making a plan/goal, then chipping away at it. I’ll get there once my mind is made up, however long it takes, I’ll get there.
More importantly, even when I do have those times when all the numbers match, I’m all threes, or all fours…I don’t want to stay there too long. Challenge/adventure is my key driver for growth and change. It instigates the evolution beyond my known matrix, which is only fueled by my curiosity and creativity. These hungers will usually keep pulling me (or inviting me) out of my comfort zones. And quite frankly, I like it that way.
When I’m stagnant at 3 or 4 all the way around…I give myself a difficult challenge or goal, and or I go in search of a transformative adventure. Because for me, bliss is a state of perpetual evolution; a hunger to know, understand, learn, and interact with my world. To build something new or engage in a new process. Being too idle is stressful and crazymaking for me. I know this about myself, so I map it into my bliss planning.
I’m a builder. I must create. Change is inevitable in the creative process. When the ticks on the boxes are stale… I just kick it all up a notch and see what happens.
Cue Indian Jones theme song….
Some people refer to this need as “Upsetting your own apple cart”. I can’t say whether that’s a correct evaluation or not. I’ve been accused of it before, sometimes with merit.
I can only say this about the ratchet-it-up-a-notch strategy. There are proper healthy times to do it, and there are unhealthy toxic ways of doing it (I’ve done it both ways). In the self-destructive or externally toxic way, no Bueno.
In the personal evolutionary way…you only hurt yourself – but it could be argued, that stagnation will also hurt you, and will also become toxic. Conversely, the inherent risk in kicking it up a notch could bring you wild rewards, happiness, and personal satisfaction. For me, the risk is worth it. Nothing ventured, and all that.
So you’ll have to use your best judgement. If you’re the kind of person who sets bombastic goals, or has beautiful huge dreams…you’re probably a lot like me. Staying inside the lines, inside the comfort of the known edges will get to feeling claustrophobic, even suffocating, and a new challenge will need to be presented to keep you from digging a rut. Again, best personal judgement, and all.
Long story short, too late.
This is the beginning of the re-branding of bliss and my work as a creative. These posts will eventually tie into my works on creativity and the essays to come. I’ll keep checking in on this process and sharing the tools I use.
I’d be delighted to be your ambassador to bliss, to creativity, and to well-being. If the tools I post are helpful, please write in. Share your thoughts or offer feedback. I’m always open to new concepts and challenges.
My first challenge to you?
Build a #Blissbubble for the #blissbubblechallenge. What makes you truly happy? What makes you feel alive? Map it, and share it if you’d like.
I’ve lived in multiple states and cities. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. But the most formative years, the beginning of an identity and community I resonated with began in Valdez, Alaska. I was only in Valdez for about five years, but twenty years later, I still call myself Alaskan.
This I only relevant because when I first bought the Elder Glade several years ago, my real-estate agent tried to talk me out of the purchase more than once. He expressed a deep discomfort with the idea of me, a woman, living off the beaten path with little access to amenities, and wilderness for hundreds of acres. As an Alaskan I thought I’d discovered a lower forty-eight paradise, because the cottage did in fact have electricity and running water—as well as an abundance of wild and beautiful land. Land that wouldn’t require me to shovel snow.
The story of why I left the city is a long one, and the convoluted path to how I ended up in the Oregon Coast Cascade Range is an even windier tale.
I’ll just say this, on my thirty-seventh birthday I drove out to the coast to sit by the ocean and ponder where I’d gone so far off course. While I was sitting in the sand drinking really awful moonshine, the breeze stirred my fire and I looked up at the stars. Polaris, the North Star, was staring back at me from the Big Dipper over the ocean. The symbol of the Alaska State flag was prominently in my visual, and Polaris was pointing the way home.
I realized I needed to go home. Not to Valdez, but to myself. And to do that, I needed to go home to the space within that I’d walked away from sometime in the past. Sometime in the hurried crush of survival, trying to get ahead, trying to find stability, trying to be relevant, trying so hard not to be swept under by the world—I’d been washed out to sea to tread water aimlessly for years.
That night on the beach I decided to move to the coast. I decided to rebuild. I determined I would reconnect with my voice. And I set about looking for a way to get home to myself.
Enter the Elder Glade
The Elder Glade was mine in spirit the second I climbed out of the Jeep. I knew it was a terrible mistake to be so instantly attached, so many things can go wrong in the home buying process. But I walked out into the creek, standing in the water in my sandals and said, “I love you.”
I swear, I thought I heard the glade whisper back, “I love you.”
I’d beaten my agent to the location by about twenty minutes, so when he rolled up, I met him at his car and said, “Can we make an offer today?”
He insisted that I see the interior first, but I think he knew my mind was already made. I wasn’t buying the cottage, I was buying the land. Land that spoke to me. Land that felt like a long-overdue homecoming.
It was still another six months before I left the corporate world. And a year of transitioning into part-time work for bills, full time writing, and full time cottage-steading. Coming home meant only allowing things into my life that would support the long-term goal.
The goal was to write. To become self-sustainable. To build a simpler, lower-stress life and fill it with community, beauty, gratitude, and abundance.
To accomplish this, I gave up toxic relationships, put boundaries (mostly distance) between me and people who abuse good will, letting go of expectations about my appearance--including the appearance of success. I gave up dating, but I didn’t give up wine or chocolate—I have some needs, you know. I gave up regular access to internet, the news, and the constant electrical buzz in my living space.
That’s right. No internet, cable, or cell phone on the land. The land is just the land. If I want to connect to the world, I go to the world…it doesn’t come into my space. I’ve even gotten so comfortable with the sound of the creek and the trees that I rarely listen to music in the house anymore. I’m surrounded by a symphony all day, year round.
To replace the things I removed from my life, I filled my home with animals, plants, and books. I rebuilt my art and craft space—my studio and writing areas are full of creative energy and peaceful magic.
I took up new hobbies to fill the time I would have otherwise spent on social media. Over the last year I’ve experimented with liquors, cider, bread, candles, and all manner of cooking.
Detoxing from social media and the news was harder than I thought it would be. If it weren’t for the absolute inability to get access in the Elder Glade, I might not have been able to unplug. I completely understand why people struggle. And then get drawn back in, then struggle more. Social media and the acid-inducing inhumane way people communicate with one another over the ether is a real problem.
A problem I decided I would have to limit my access to. Being an indie author means I need to do social media, have a site and a presence. I don’t have a marketing team doing my outreach. Ergo, I am still connected to the internet—but only on days I go to town, and only for two or three hours when I plunk down at a café to knock out my uploads.
In, out, dust it off. Go home and drink some scotch on the deck, and write.
Interacting with humans is a necessary function of my balance. It will surprise people to know, I classify on the extrovert scale…this is why I don’t put much stock in labels or scales.
I check in with my family once or twice a week, have regular drinks with my neighbors down the road, and meet up with friends in town for tea, coffee, and lunch. If I accidentally let my mail pile up, my local carrier does a welfare check, so I try not to worry him too much. This means wandering down the road to the mailbox in my pajamas to make sure I pick up my mail every day.
Long story short, isolation in my part of the woods can be a problem, so I make an effort to be around people, at least three times a week. Hopefully, around my healthy relationships and community, but when they are otherwise occupied I content myself with waiting tables and or service industry work. Don’t get me wrong, I wait tables because I need the money still—but just as importantly, I need the interaction in order to keep psychological balance. So I come to town to people at least three times a week.
In, out, dust it off. Go home and create.
Returning home has been about finding the center space again. It’s been about cleaning my life up in a way that allows me to hear the story, my own voice, and the music of the trees. It’s been about remembering what it’s like to sleep well, eat with love, love with wild abandon, and uncork creative energy I’d forgotten I had.
Coming home has been about finding myself in the swing on the island in the creek, sitting with my notebook staring up at sunlight patching through the canopy and completely losing time. It’s been about learning to raise chickens, and keep bees. It’s been about turning garden soil, and pruning raspberries, hunting for mushrooms in the forest, or foraging wild fruits.
It’s been so much about slowing down, hearing, seeing and remembering that when I make a trip to Portland, my teeth are on edge with all the hustle. My energy drains with the constant sound of freeway and engines, buzz of neon, and trying not to get stepped on by people playing on their phones as they boulder along the sidewalks.
I’ve fallen out of love with the city. I’ve fallen out of step with the rhythm of hurrying to be nowhere.
And I’m okay with that. The time had come. It might come again that I’ll go back, but I can’t see it in the near future. For now, I’m home and loving it. There’s peace to be had, and magic to be appreciated, and most
importantly…books to write.
In the meantime, this is where I’ll be updating, posting, and sending out my smoke signals. Welcome to the Elder Glade Chronicles. #ElderGlade #Cottagestead #BlissQuest
Homage to The BlissQuest
I should at least make a statement, a recognition of appreciation for the BlissQuest, a blog and search I maintained for well over a decade. The premise of that journey was the search for bliss, and I adored it. It was such a wonderful adventure during which I discovered that bliss was not a single destination or package, but an evolving moving target. Readers hung in there with me through some of the most ridiculous ups and downs, and I loved them for it. They believed I would find my bliss long before I knew what it even looked like.
Turns out, it looks a lot like the Elder Glade. It looks like peace and quiet and a forest full of creatures. It looks like a work schedule that allows me to write and be creative. It looks like strong community, and good people. It looks like a future that’s built on healthier relationships, and self-sustainable practices.
In short, I found my bliss. Found it at last. I know it will change and shift, but for now, I’ve got my little fingers wrapped around this new adventure and I’ll write about it from the place of being in love with the freedom and creativity of my new life. #blessed #blissatlast #createthelife
The Elder Glade History
The Siuslaw Forest runs through the Cascade Range on the Oregon Coast. This area has a significant historical background with the native American population. After the decimation and disenfranchisement of the local peoples, the logging market moved in. There are still mid-eighteen hundreds logging encampment equipment and materials on road and in the surrounding areas. I often find huge rusted spikes, chains, and or weird old clamps and items I don’t recognize when I’m wandering around looking for mushrooms.
While the lower valley and delta outlets of the county were ideal for farmland, the upper range was a lucrative lumber opportunity and remains one of the county’s larger employers and export resources.
On a sad and darker note, this county was home to an unhealthy entity. It’s not well known outside Oregon, but this state had a strong KKK community for almost fifty years. Many inhumane atrocities were committed under their flag during their bullish regime.
In short, the land and people have been traumatized in many ways over the last two hundred and fifty years. Those trauma echoes linger in strange ways. They show up in intolerance of outsiders, and a residual exclusion of race and the rejection of diversity.
The patch of Elder Glade is not exempt from the history, but it is my goal to steward the land and help it heal. This requires education, and practice, but I’m doing it slowly as I am able.
Elder Glade Cast of Characters
In my little pocket I have a pack of coyotes that surround the glade on a regular basis and howl and hoot. I’ve seen their puppies, and have watched the older coyotes play in the creek. Sierra is the mother of the puppies, and I saw her grab one of my ducks once. It happened fast. I only had two ducks and they were free ranging in the yard while I was folding laundry by the window. I saw it out of the corner of my eye. She was a streak of lightning. I went racing outside but Dilbert was long gone. Sierra had left a trail of feathers toward the puppy den across the river.
I was irritated, but a little part of me was like, “oh, okay. It’s for the puppies, it’s okay then.”
I realize that’s not the way I’m supposed to think about it. Donna, the other duck, was wandering around quacking and checking the hiding spots for her mate. I felt terrible for her and tried to explain the circle of life but she was having none of it.
I’m a bad duck mom. Donna disappeared a week later….
There are two roving herds of elk, for which I’m building a set of herder characters in my books, part elk, part human peoples. They come to graze on the island, or, during winter they jump over the fence into the garden. I usually let them keep the vegetation mowed down for me, but when they get in the garden, I do chase them off. I always forget how enormous they are until I’m clapping my hands and walking toward them. They’re massive.
I’ve spotted a cougar, but only once. I’ve seen scat from a black bear, but I’ve never spotted the bear itself.
I saw a wolf. A big, shaggy, black and gray wolf, that liquified my insides with its gaze as it lowered its head to warn me away. I didn’t need to be warned, I stepped on the gas and made off as fast as I could.
I have a pudgy rolly-polly racoon, Marvin. Marvin got into my trash once, and ate a bunch of expired Chinese takeout I’d thrown away. Then Marvin promptly vomited piles of sweet and sour pork all over the driveway.
Bad Marvin. Now I keep a bungee lock on the trash. I also suspect Marvin of thieving my vent hood caps, and the occasional loose item from around the yard. I don’t know what he wants with the hive tool or the small trowel, but I imagine he’s got a pile somewhere of knickknacks he’s pilfered. Marvin is a kleptomaniac.
There are lizards, frogs, salamanders, bats, a hundred kinds of birds (a heron, an eagle, blue jays, crows, swifts, wood peckers, robins, and more) voles, moles, pack rats, mice, nutria, and I’ve smelled mink but never seen them. Strangely, I have not seen any rabbits. The creek has salmon, and trout, as well as a few other fish I don’t know.
Those are the wild critters. I also have critters of my own; a dog, Buttercup, a cat, Furious, and five hens, Flora, Fauna, Merriweather, Rosemary, and Houdini (yes, Houdini is a hen and a master escape artist).
This spring I’ll re-bee the hives: Borg Station #1, and Borg Station #2.
I’ve yet to decide if I’ll be farming trout again this year.
The Elder Glade is the perfect home for me to write and recover from the world. My goal to be self-sustainable is ongoing. My desire to be a good steward to the land is a work in progress with a steep learning curve.
Out here my imagination is rich, well cultivated and safely protected. It makes productivity higher, and output crisper. It also means relaxation is more complete. I remember when a rest in the city might take me three days to recover from an event – out here, a day by the water is like a week of couch and bed rest in the city.
The trees are dense with moss, the forest floor a carpet of bramble, vines, and berries. It’s impossible not to write it into my work. Impossible not to be inspired.
So I’ll write it in, cultivate it, make it a character in my stories. The Elder Glade is the bridge between the real world, and my fantasy world.
Welcome to the Elder Glade. Welcome Home.
Last year I told myself I’d learn how to make a decent bread. I’ve made okay bread in the past. Usually by accident. Most of my bread-making efforts are colossal failures in flavor and texture. This happens from either over-working the doughs, or under-working…I never can quite seem to get it right.
Ultimately, last year got buried by rushed projects, and prepping for two manuscripts and by the time I got back to bread, the year was gone. Then I realized, those two manuscripts I’d been working on were not unlike the bread process. I hadn’t made a French loaf, or a sourdough round, but I’d basically gone through all the steps but with words and printer paper.
Write a novel or bake a classic loaf of bread as follows:
Recipe = theme
Yeast = characters (1 Tbsp. Yeast)
Flour = plot (5 Cups Flour)
Salt = conflict (pun intended) (2 1/2 Tsp. Salt)
Water = world ( 2 Cups Water)
A classic French loaf contains only four ingredients; flour, water, yeast, and salt. We’ll be writing a French Loaf Novel with just the basic classic ingredients.
I’m of the school of learning that all good stories are character based. However, we’re only using one small packet of yeast for nearly five cups of flour. That’s a lot of plot and a little character…have faith, it will make sense in a minute.
With 2 ½ teaspoons of salt you’d think a character will need a bit more conflict than that, but conflict/salt is really for flavor, and to retard the yeast/character from growing too fast. Character growth does define the story and character arc…have faith, it will taste great in the end. This will also ensure an even pacing in your story.
Plot and recipe in hand, we go to the work surface.
You can use a mixer/computer or do it all by hand/pen paper. Whichever your preferred method gather your main ingredients first.
Soak your character in the world until it comes alive. Then feed it plot and conflict. Some will say the conflict defines the plot—and I don’t disagree. It’s semantics, but I go with the feeling that conflict defines the perimeter of the plot. Tension and conflict are an absolute necessity-but it needs to have boundaries for the reader to be able to relate to challenges.
For example: conflict that escalates, and quadruples and overwhelms the growth capability of the character is no longer tension, it’s a cancerous blob overrunning your plot. Tension and conflict need to be proportionate to the circumstances and resilience of your character(s). This generates flavor, and gives the story body.
Your character/yeast is a living entity. It’s now alive in the world, digesting the plot. As the yeast breaks down your flour, it’s extracting proteins, sugars, and fuel. It off-gasses (farts out) air and lift the flour particles, and stretches the glutens in the mix.
You’re now kneading the dough, either by hand/pen or mixer/computer. Working the small scenes, the micro moments that create the larger picture. Your hands are dirty, sticky. You’re getting tired and possibly sore, and you might need a break. The more you work the dough, the more the glutens in the flour activate with the water and it binds all the ingredients together.
Punch it. Knead it. Push it. Pull it. Bang your face on it. Bleed all over the keyboard. Weep into your flour pile. Get smudges in your hair and on your clothes. Go through impostor syndrome, and hate ALL THE THINGS YOU’VE EVER BAKED. Then shove it away. Storm outside. Drink half a bottle of wine. Drunk text your ex. Sleep for two days. Wake up and eat twinkies for breakfast…then realize what you did wrong and rush back to the work surface, make a few rapid tweaks, and voila.
The rising/proofing process for bread is very much the same for writing a book. You must step away from it to let the magic happen. Do something else. Walk the dog. Take a shower. Go for a drive. Have dinner with friends. Rise time= flavor.
In real world bread time this means let it rise at 76 degrees for 90-120 minutes.
Whew. Take a break. Cover your dough in a bowl or under a dishcloth. Close your laptop. Walk away from the story for a moment. This separation of the effort allows the mind to percolate. The character is still actively digesting plot. It’s still growing in your mind, at the back of your thoughts, whether you’re consciously focused on it or not.
After you’ve tweaked it, from the first prove. You’ll shape the loaves and let it prove once more, covered. In novel writing time, the last proving process is where you might.
Sit down to make some final edits. Have a glass of whiskey. Read three chapters and realize you changed a character’s name halfway through a paragraph. Oh crap! Rush through “find all” function correcting character discrepancies-during which you also notice an over usage of the word “that”. Suddenly sober, irritated, “find all” function for a record number of overused words. Pour second whiskey, then third, no longer sober. Over used words and phrases stack up in final edit rounds until shame tastes like whiskey and self-loathing and disgust in craft failure tips scales to full blown COLD FEET. Must burn manuscript before anyone knows of such fraudulent failure and literary abuses. Fourth whiskey leads to picking up phone- luckily pass out before any calls or questionable texts can be sent.
Second rise time in bread world about 90 minutes.
Wake up from drunken impostor syndrome-driven blackout, realize the oven is preheated and ready to go. Hungover. Tired. Drained. Sore. Hungry. FUCK IT. Put that shit in the oven and get it over with. Email draft to editor. Greasy breakfast, followed by resignation letter sent to editor. Editor politely writes back that you’re not an employee and you cannot resign from her. She sends a bill anyway. Hangover fest greasy breakfast comes back up. Bathroom floor pep talk begins. Get up, girl. Take a shower. Get your shit together. It’s just a draft. If it doesn’t work…try again later. For now, wait to see what the editor says. Be strong.
This is bake. It’s setting all the ingredients to a firm presentable, tasty state. Writing world bake time can be six weeks. Bread world bake time is 20 to 25 minutes in a 425-degree humid oven.
When the bread comes out of the oven, let it cool. Let the aroma of your hard work and that fresh yeasty goodness fill your home. Enjoy warm, hot bread and cool butter and let the troubles of your day drift away.
In writing world time, this is when the edits come back. You’ll open the email from your editor and see the pages bleed red. At first, you’ll judge it. Maybe you’ll be too overwhelmed to read more than a few comments or pages. LET IT COOL.
Bread cuts more evenly when it’s not hot. Edits make more sense when they’re cool.
Come back when it’s still warm, but not hot. Edits begin to make sense. Logic fills in gaps. Synapses make connections. You realize: this is fixable. Can work with this. Few more tweaks to the recipe. Try again. Polish. Add some butter. Not so bad, actually. Could have been worse. Few more bites. This is good. It’s all good. Carbohydrates. Yum. Stack of edits to make better story. Excellent. Carbohydrate high allows for cheerful mood. Ex texts back. What the hell? Things were going so great with new edits and fresh bread. What drunk idiot invited him back around? Certainly could not have been you.
To hell with that guy. You’ve got bread, wine, and a draft to polish for the recipe book. Enjoy.
P.S. French Bread Recipe to Patreon Patrons for January 2019 reward tier.
Welcome, 2019. I hope you brought a nice wine and some chocolate. We’ve got work to do.
If you know me, you know I like to set a lot of goals. If you’ve known me for a ling time, you know I usually set unrealistic or super challenging goals, and only get within spitting distance of achieving a handful at best.
A friend recently asked, “So, Athena, have you been successful at anything this last year?”
I’ll admit, it stung. I also know she didn’t mean it the way it sounded, and we all had a good laugh about it. The truth is, my goal setting and subsequent non-achievement is a lot like buckshot. I pick a bunch of things, throw my energy at it, and hope to hit something, anything in the attempts.
Last year (2018) My goals were to:
What I managed to accomplish of those goals?
My chickens are not dead…yet. And I explored a first round of hard cider fermentation, that tastes like Satan got drunk and threw up in my mouth. That’s it. Those were the only things on my official list I succeeded at.
It’s hard to remember sometimes, that we are not the sum of our failures, nor of our successes. I frequently remind myself I rarely get things right on the first try—that’s why my books are usually seven drafts before print. Polish. Time. More polish.
It’s with that in mind that I’m sitting down for my annual planning session. I’m such a geek about planning. I love it. I love the new planners that come out in the winter. I love the new calendars, scheduling tools and so on. It’s been a tradition for the last three years that I sit down on New Year’s Eve or day and make a map. I compare the previous year’s map, make notes about progress, and then knock out a schedule, an outline…more like a guideline than actual rules. Once the map is in, then the rest is all wingin’ it.
My tricks... (Can’t say they are guaranteed with my track record, but this is how I do it):
Build by priority first. Pick three things to focus on in the new year. Who am I kidding. I pick like twelve. Then I try to prioritize them by need, urgency, excitement, and financial ability. (I color code everything by priority in a draft wheel, seen below.)
Build by quarter. Don’t cram all the goals in Q1. Sure, there are some deadlines that need to be met by season and financial ability. Such as getting the garden in on time, or the new bees established before the forest goes into bloom. Save some good goals for Q3. It’s the prime quarter for non-urgent deadlines, and non-seasonal timelines. (See quarterly draft below. This is the sketch I make that allows me to see the needs of the year. I’ll use this draft to build a schedule, then input it into my calendars and planners)
Mark completion dates – then map backward to start points, and pivotal timeline needs.
Example: (using what I learned last year) I’ll mark on my calendar that the trillium blooms in my forest three weeks before the daffodils and the ground cover starts to flower, three weeks after that the forest is in full swing and the fruit trees start to blossom. SO-if the bees need a month to establish in their new hives (I’ll be feeding them for that month, then they’ll need to forage) The bees need to be in by the time the trillium blooms the last week of Feb – to the second week of March. That will give them time to establish, feed, then begin foraging when the forest goes into flower. This will maximize their survival chances when the mid-summer flower shortage begins. Go to calendar: Order Bees by Jan 20th, receive Feb-March, install no later than March 5th, 2019.
Save exact “dates” for the most important events. Giving windows of time, such as third week of May-to first week of June to items that are not essential dates, allows for fluidity and flexibility as schedules shift and change. Save important dates such as “Scold of Jays to layout designer, Feb 13th” as an exact day, so you can shuffle other non-essential items around to fit a more urgent deadline.
Don’t lock yourself in too tight. I say this, then I do precisely the opposite. I know better as a project manager, but I do it anyway. So, for what it’s worth- give yourself breathing room on both time, and goals. This is why Q3 is such a great period for catching up, breathing, pocketing time for items that fell behind schedule. Often, my most creative work is done in Q3-Q4. I take care of the business end of matters in the first half of the year, deadlines, planning, etc. Then the second half of the year is creative development, Nanowrimo, publishing and so on.
Create “Hold Space”. If you’re pre-planning vacations or other activities, that’s awesome. Be sure when goal setting to leave pockets of wiggle room for down time, mistakes, and just being. If you pocket the space in advance, you can use it for hold over projects that run together. It also helps for things such as dieting or working out, or getting organized—sometimes you just need to take a break from the efforting. Sometimes you need to go off the diet/workout plan for a week, or just sit by the river and veg. Save space for feeling human.
Be realistic. This is such a load of crap. Seriously, I should just stop this blog post, because I don’t follow any of my own advice. When have I ever, in my entire life been realistic? If you want to be realistic, set goals you know you have in the bag. Such as “Eat more chocolate” “watch more Netflix”. You know you’ve got that. But…how does that stretch your matrix in any way? How does striving for what you already know you can achieve push you to be anything different from what you are? How does being realistic get you anywhere near your dream margin?
Correction= Be Unrealistic.
Unrealistic dreaming and goal setting are where creative magic happens. The hunger to try, the curiosity to experiment, the willingness to reach—it’s a creative goldmine. Be as freaking unrealistic as your little heart desires, just prepare yourself for a tough road of hard pushing, and or some let downs. You might not--in fact probably won’t win them all. If you’re lucky, you’ll get close. If you’re blessed and lucky, you’ll get close, have fun, learn something, and become re-invigorated enough to re-think and try again.
Manage expectations. Yes. I push myself hard. Too hard sometimes. But I love it. I love the challenges. I love the complexity of multiple adventures running parallel to one another, to the potential that something might work, or I’ll learn something new, or I’ll accidentally succeed beyond my wildest dreams. It’s like ADHD goal setting. I try to do it all. Unfortunately, this tactic comes with inevitable failures. Fractured focus, not enough energy, money, time to go around to all the things I want to accomplish in one year. Focus, and tunneling in on one or two things is a better chance of success, absolutely. Where’s the fun in that?
Still, I cried when my trout died. I cried when my bees flew away. I cried when my deadline for Scold of Jays lapsed, again. I also knew-I’d try again. And again. And again, if I had to. I knew some of my first attempts wouldn’t work. It was my first time farming bees or trout, so yeah, there was a learning curve. That learning curve took time away from other projects like Scold of Jays, and my other writing. I picked up a new part time job to make ends meet. This ate into time and energy.
When I stung at my friend’s remarks, it wasn’t because she’d hurt my feelings, it was because I hadn’t managed my own expectations well. That is totally on me. Taking on too much, taking on a lot of firsts, reaching beyond my comfort zones, coming up short in my own mind. Bam. Expectation management failure. I knew it in last year’s planning session that I might not hit any of the targets, but I wanted to know how close I could get.
How do I plan to combat that this year? Learn from what went wrong. Trim my workload. Plan better. Realize I still might not make it this time around. Remember there’s always next year to try again. I mean, what else am I going to do out here in the middle of nowhere, but try again, and again, and again until it works?
Which brings me to my last piece of advice. (Seriously, why are you still reading my advice that doesn’t work?)
Don’t be afraid to fail. That’s my best advice for goal setting and planning for 2019. Failure sucks, but you’ll get over it. If you’re so afraid of failing that you don’t try, then you probably didn’t really want the challenge/success in the first place. Be honest about it. It’s okay to not really want to lose twenty-five pounds, or give up Facebook. If you don’t really want to do it, why both. If you really DO want to do it, then crack on, yo!
Give it your best, and don’t be afraid of the outcome one way or the other.
Sometimes I win. Rarely. I fail a lot. Like, a lot. I don't want to say I'm comfortable being a failure, but I recognize that it's a part of real development and life innovations. It's the other side of the coin, so I've made peace with it as a function of stretching beyond my comfort zones.
When I roll into winter solstice tired, hung-over, exhausted beyond words, trailing a to-do list a mile long, feeling like I got hit by a bus. Ego burnt. Body wilted, chubby (stress eater), cupboards bare, dishes dirty, house in general disarray. Stacks of notes to process, piles of books to reference, but I just want to sleep for a year. That's a job well done.
How do I know? How do I know the lack of fruition won’t keep me down? How do I know the tally of everything that went wrong on my planning list last year won’t discourage me from trying again?
I know because I woke up an hour before my alarm on New Year’s Eve 2018 so excited to plan 2019, that I couldn’t sleep in another hour. I need to know. I need to know what I can do next year. I can’t wait to try again, to screw up a lot, to build some cool new things, to plant new beginnings, make new future possibilities, write more stories, and evolve, again. What shenanigans lie in wait? What chaos will bring magic? What successes or failures will I learn from this year? What misadventures will I be writing about next year? What wondrous wins will I be able to report?
I’m not just the sum of my failures or successes, I’m the amalgamation of my attempts. I’m alive with curiosity.
So I wish this for you, dear reader. May 2019 bring you a year of curiosity. May you be smitten with the hunger to try new things. May you be pricked with just enough discomfort to look for new solutions to old problems. May you be awestruck with new passions. May you be open-eyed, wide-hearted, and full of fresh desire. May you be infused with courage to reach, dream, and discover. May you be protected enough that some failures will not wreck you, but will invigorate new opportunities and spark the engines of innovation in your life.
Sounds like a mixed bag, right? Life, isn’t it just, though? May your mixed bag have some delicious goodies, and a tribe to share them with.
PS. Now that the sketching and lists are wrapping up, I’ll start to migrate the notes, dates, and deadlines into my calendars and planner. Voila!