The Anxious Writer

Like most people would say, I think, this has been a rough season. Which I hope explains my extended absence. Generalized mild anxiety bloomed into a mostly controlled anxiety as the world seem to go to pieces around me. Lockdown, Shelter In Place, Daily case rates and how full is the ICU? Will it come here? It has. What happens next? Murder hornets.

All that to say, like most, I have been in full-on coping mode. I did puzzles and washed my hands way too much. I stressed about groceries and toilet paper and meat shortages. I doom scrolled social media. I started sewing again and made over 100 masks for a local charity and for family. I kept working out. I picked up working on my family history again. Anything to keep myself distracted. To keep the low-level anxiety at bay.

And now cases in Texas are spiking. But the garden is blooming and bearing fruit and I have masks and wear them anytime I am out and about. I still wash my hands but the cracking and bleeding has stopped. Mostly.

And I am back to trying to write again. In fits and starts I get words down, slowly.

I fill the bird feeders and bird bath and write a few words. I pick cucumbers and squash and write a few more words. I clean the kitchen and delete some words and reshape that sentence. And I fold laundry and watch Netflix and then write a few more words. Because sitting and focusing for hours just … isn’t happening right now. Not while the world is falling apart around me.

This Healthy Writer

Okay, attempted healthy writer.

Health is a subject that gets more and more air time between me and Mr. Quinn as we age. We’re both in our early 40s and it’s getting easier to see the wear and tear on our older friends and Facebook follows. The grumping about drug prices and knee replacements and hip replacements, etc. It fills my feed.

Things got a little more urgent for me over the summer. Less so for him. He does Ironman distance races for fun and so has a resting heart rate in the 40s. Hmph.

I went for my yearly doctor visit and we talked all things middle age – perimenopause, gray hair, cholesterol, blood pressure, the list goes on and on. Add doctor anxiety and generalized anxiety and well…

The nurse had taken my blood pressure and asked if I was nervous. I was. And it showed in my numbers. And it freaked me out.

As a writer, I am (obviously) pretty sedentary, spending long hours in front of books and computers researching and writing. That, uh, wasn’t helping my situation. I decided to make a change and kind of mustered myself into a walking habit, but it was on again, off again and sometimes more off than on and no clear goal. In other words, I’m not sure it was doing me any good.

I mentioned it to Mr. Quinn knowing that I was stumbling into shark-infested waters. Health and fitness is a favorite subject of his. In the past, his answer has always been, “You should start running.”

I hate running.

But this time? This time he had a different answer. This time he suggested I start heart rate training. Then he sat down and an hour later I had a plan. Bonus! It didn’t involve running.

It works like this. I wear my Garmin watch (a hand-me-down from him) and a heart rate monitor. I walk. I keep my heart rate in a specific range. That’s it.

And it really is that simple.

I walk six days a week. Mondays are my rest day. Tuesdays and Thursdays are ‘endurance’ workouts. The goal is to keep my heart rate in my Zone 1 range. These are usually less than an hour. Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday are ‘recovery’ workouts. Heart rate in the recovery zone, moving the legs, getting the blood pumping. Usually half an hour or less (right now they last about 20 minutes – but they’ve been gradually getting longer).

Saturday long walks. Ten minutes of warm-up and a longer time in Zone 1. This past weekend the whole thing was 54 minutes. Eventually, I’ll be out for 2+ hours. But I’m working up to that.

When Mr. Quinn asked why I wanted to do this, was I training for a race? I had to admit no, I’m not. I don’t enjoy racing. Not even a little bit. But I do enjoy being alive and not being on long-term medications to keep me that way.

I’ve taken my health for granted for a very long time and the reality is that I shouldn’t. This wasn’t a New Years’ weight loss resolution. This is me wanting to get and stay healthy so I can keep writing and doing all of the other things that I love.

I’ve been at this now for three weeks. I just checked the data and the first real progress has been noted. My resting heart rate has dropped by 7 points on average. That’s huge.

In other notes, I feel better, I’ve been sleeping better (also proven by data), I feel less anxious*.

Gonna do my best to keep at this and see where it goes. I’ve got a great coach and an achievable plan, so I am hopeful. Planning on checking in here once a month or so with updates.

I would love to hear your get healthy stories too! It’s motivating!

*I feel less anxious. A lot of my anxiety was over the numbers I got from the doctor. Driven by guilt from bad choices I’ve made and hating my body. It wasn’t and hasn’t been an anxiety disorder. I am in no way advocating for treating true anxiety disorders with only exercise. Please, if you struggle with anxiety or depression, reach out. There are people that can help.

Looking Forward

In all of the soul-searching last year I did finally discover a kind of pattern. I went back and forth between “But I love blogging,” and “But this writing makes no money,” and “But I can’t really write what I want to on my blog!”

Only one of those statements is true. I really do love blogging. I process through writing. It’s like talking with friends I can’t see. (That sounds really crazy as I read it back. Oh, well.)

The blog here may not actually directly make me any money (meaning it’s not monetized) and may not have yet sent someone searching for my books, but that’s not to say it will never happen, which brings me to the final point …

I’ve tried to really stay away from anything most would consider too polarizing on the blog here. Politics. Religion. Money. Sex. You know the drill. I followed the advice that talking about those things might lose me readers and as a baby author that wasn’t something I was willing to risk. I had barely found my feet and was really worried about offending people.

Well, I may still be a baby author (I have one book out at the moment and the second ready to launch soon!), but I. Am. Tired. 

Tired of not having a place to put all of my thoughts and journey.

Tired of not speaking up.

Tired of treading on eggshells around some seriously WTF stuff.

So here’s what’s up:

  1. I’m not going to shy away from posting anything I please. All I ask from you is that you respect this as my space. I will not suffer ad hominem attacks. Discussion is good, even welcome. But this is my space and I will be sharing my journey for better or worse.
  2. I will tag my entries. If it’s a subject that might rile you up and you can’t even, then feel free to walk away. I am not doing this to start a fight or bring stress to other people’s lives. I’ll try to post content warnings as applicable and please speak up if I miss something.
  3. The goal is to post once a week or so. No set schedule, but weekly.

Cool?

Cool.

See you on the flip side.

Quinn

(I used to sign off as ‘Q’ but then discovered that there’s a conspiracy around that letter, rolled my eyes, and decided to use the full name. Because I definitely do not want those people hanging out here.)

On Invisible Labor and a Landscaping Mini Rant

The edits on The Star of Fire are nearly done. I’ve reached the point that requires the most heavy rewriting and while I agree with the feedback I am also dreading the work. My beta just pulled a couple of threads out of the story and now I have to reweave a new thread in there. It’s tiring work, but I also love it? IDK, I’m weird.

In non-writing news: Mr. Quinn is signed up and training for another Ironman distance race next year (May 2020) which means his trainer is coming back around again. I went out to say hi and ask about his new baby last time he was here. (Brief aside: The trainer is a couple of years older than us and has a child who is in college from his first marriage – so, yeah, starting over). Trainer gave me the standard baby update including milestones, etc. but then went on to explain that he’s taken on a new role as a Stay At Home Dad this go round. He works his schedule around his wife’s and stays with the baby during the day (“Man, I had no idea how exhausting that is!”)

“Yeah, baby’s wear you out!” I laughed.

“Okay, so right. She’s great, but man it’s a lot of work and I am so tired. Like, I reached out to my ex!” He paused to give the next set.

“Your ex?”

“Yeah, so last time I was young and so I wasn’t around so much and like I was working and stuff. I had no idea how much she was really doing to balance all of this.”

“Invisible labor’s a bitch, amirite?”

He laughed. “Is that what you call it?”

And yeah, that’s what it’s called. Nobody sees it, it just gets done. Thankfully Mr. Quinn isn’t so oblivious (he still misses things), but I also resolved recently to start asking for praise. Like when I manage the yard work. I explained what it would cost to have a yard crew come out and do the work and told him that if I continued to not feel the glow of appreciation for my contribution that I would be forced to pay someone else to do it.

Reader, I get taken out for lunch every time I mow the lawn because it’s far, far cheaper for him to treat me to lunch than to pay a crew to do my job. I also get at least 24 hours worth of praise for a job well done.

On that note, I will launch into a mini-rant on landscaping. When we put out pool in several years ago was the one and only time we hired a landscaper to do anything in our yard. It may also be the last.

We asked for pet-friendly (read: not poisonous to animals) plants that were also drought tolerant (we live in Texas) and for thought to be given to arrangement when plants were mature.

We got pet friendly (no poisonings yet).

We got drought tolerant (mostly).

But I can no longer get to my backyard spigot because the plants there have grown so thick that I need a machete to even find it. So much for thought to the mature plant size. I have to cut back the plants along the stepping stones to the workshop (that the landscaper installed! He knew we would have to walk there!) 5 or 6 times every summer just so we can see the path.

Sure the beds looked good from the start but the mature size of some of these plants is killing me! Also, I feel as though a big landscaping overhaul may be in my future and I don’t like it.

Anyway, that’s my world in a blog post.

Later Days,

Q

P.S. Does anyone remember the cartoon where the character said “Later Days” at the end of every episode. I vaguely recall watching it with my older kids. And it was about some gang of kids that skateboarded I think? IDK, but I always loved that sign-off.

Work Spring

May and June. Busy in their own rite, busier this year.

We wrapped up our school year in May – I’ll have a college Sophomore/Junior next year, a Senior in high school and a 6th grader next school year. How in the world did I get this old?!

That was a flurry of activity in itself. Then there was the beach trip (logistics on me) then a quick turn-around to life and then, then!

We left for two weeks in Scandinavia/Europe.

It was fun and educational and worth every bit of the time lost to planning and stress.

In the intervening weeks (days, hours, minutes, seconds) I was writing and editing.

Oh, also, my parents moved out and then we rearranged the whole house and also cleaned out the storage room, garage, and laundry room, and also finished two big projects in the shop.

It’s been a jam packed two months and I am ready to have some semblance of normalcy and schedule.

But not quite yet!

Tomorrow is my birthday and also the last weekend of June. I’ll be celebrating and assisting with tri workouts this weekend, but Monday?

Monday is for work and normalcy and schedule.

My Most Important Lesson {To Date}

I think all newborn baby writers tap away on their first book with the latent idea that their book is for the masses. Everyone will read and enjoy my masterpiece they think.

Other writers know better.

I know better (now).

The truth is that not every book is for every reader. There is no Everyman in the world who will universally love every book ever.

Never was this lesson driven home for me more than over the last week. I found myself, as I usually do around this time of year, wanting to read some good romance novels. This can be tricky for me, because I enjoy specific kinds of romance and Amazon isn’t the greatest place to actually find what you’re looking for in most romance sub-categories.

I love sweet romance, and while I’ll read steamy from certain authors, those have to be highly recommended (so leave me a list in the comments would you, Mama needs some good romances! Still!).

Anyway, I found a handful of new to me authors with books that looked like they might work and I downloaded them to my Kindle.

And I deleted them almost as quickly.

My first reaction was “Those weren’t good books.”

But, I was wrong.

See, the first book was deleted because it was written in first person present. I discarded that one before I was three sentences in. So, I can’t say it was a bad book based on a stylistic choice.

The second one was not a sweet romance and danced over the light steam line with impunity. Again, a stylistic choice, though I wish Amazon would make romance categorization easier/better/whatever.

Those books weren’t bad books, they just weren’t the books for me!

I don;t like first person present. But other people do. They like to write it and they like to read it. I don’t, but that did not make this book a bad book.

I don’t like erotic romance. But, other people do. They like to read it and they like to write it. I don’t, but that did not make this book a bad book.

And that, I think, is an important idea to keep in mind when reading reviews on your own work. The people that didn’t like your book may say that you wrote a bad book. They may offer constructive criticism. But it may be that their dislike should only be read as “this wasn’t the book for them.”

For the record, I didn’t review either book. Nobody deserves a bad review based on stylistic choices in my opinion. And I did find a great book that fit the bill, so that was a good thing as well.

But all of this was a great lesson for me. Readers are allowed to like what they like and they don’t have to justify that.

Getting a Move On

Every writing book I’ve read in the last few weeks has had one thing in common. Besides talking about writing.

They all have spent a fair amount of words on the importance of moving your body. And I get it. Writing is super sedentary. Literally nothing I do requires me to move. I could work in bed all day if I wanted.

That’s not a good thing. It sounds amazing, but it’s not good.

So, I signed up for a 5k in March. And I fired up the old Couch to 5k app again. It’s not my first time racing, and hopefully it won’t be my last. On a positive note, I didn’t hate running as much as I did before. Of course, I’ve been out exactly one time, so talk to me in a few weeks about how I’m feeling.

This time around I really want to pay attention to whether or not I feel more creative overall. That’s supposed to be a benefit of getting out and moving. I think last time I was so miserable the only creative boost I saw was in writing about food. Ha!

I won’t bore you with training details here, but will let you know how the 5k goes.

Merry Christmas!

The funny thing about writing is that it, well, requires a LOT of writing. And that’s what I’ve been up to.

All that to say, I hope you have a very Merry Holiday season. I have some posts planned for the new year and will see you then!

NaNoWriMo Prep Week

On publication of this post, we will have a little more than two days before the start of NaNoWriMo. You know what that means! Time to prep for real!

Meals

If you need meal ideas I have some suggestions here and here. This year I have another suggestion – EMeals.

I used EMeals back in the day when I was working and had two little kids. The pre-planned meals and ready to go shopping list were lifesavers. When I quit working to stay at home this was one of the things that got cut. Then Pinterest happened. And I did meal planning on my own.

But, y’all, I am overwhelmed by the same meals on Pinterest 476 different ways. Did you even know that there could be 476 tortilla soup recipes? Me either. I would scroll and scroll and everything was either unappetizing, unhealthy, a variation of the same recipe I saw 30 seconds ago, or an all-day affair. I don’t want to cook all day. Thanks.

Last week I went back to EMeals to get out of our dinnertime rut. And you know what? It’s even better!

I pick the meals from any of their meal plans – clean eating, gluten free, budget, paleo. The list goes on and on. Then, I can send the shopping list to Kroger Clicklist and once I load up my shopping cart I just drive over and pick up my groceries. At mealtime, I go into chef mode and the recipe is on my screen, step-by-step. As a bonus, most meals take 30 minutes or less. The food’s good and healthy and the family has been raving.

But you’re here for the time savings right?

The time savings here is incredible. I planned our week’s meals and did my grocery shopping in less than 30 minutes. It was another 30 minutes to drive to the store where an employee came out and loaded my groceries into the car, then to drive home. Considering that a shopping trip would usually take me upwards of 2 hours plus time to make the list and find the meals? That’s 90 minutes just off the shopping plus probably another 2 hours off the planning and list making.

So I think I saved about 4 hours out of my week and I have a plan for dinners for the week and they cook fast.

Yeah, I’m ready to win NaNo.

 

Current Events, The Catholic Church, and My Books

TRIGGER WARNING: This post will reference child abuse, sexual abuse, and the Catholic Church. Nothing too graphic on this page, but the link is graphic. Please use caution.

Last week I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I scrolled past this article. I kept scrolling. Current events are a struggle for me. I want to keep up but the constant barrage of what feels like raw sewage from a fire hose pointed at my face gets exhausting. News had just broken regarding the Catholic Church and Child Abuses. Again. I thought it was just another article. But something made me scroll back. Did I read that headline correctly?

We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Orphanage

This was new. Anyone even remotely aware would know that previous allegations were limited to male priests so anything against the nuns would be ground-breaking.

I clicked the link.

It took me two days to read the full article. First, because it’s long, and second because … it made me sick and I had to step away. I’m a fast reader. Always have been. But this? It turned my stomach to the point that I had to keep stepping away.

I went back to Twitter when I finished, desperate to not feel alone after having read about the full-on depravity detailed in the article.

I’ve mulled it over for days.

Like most people, I think the question I’m left with is this: How could a group of adults, who should ostensibly know better, conspire in such a way as to damage and hurt children left to their care?

Please don’t read that and think that I doubt, even for a minute, the testimony of the victims. I don’t. Some details may be wrong or missing and everyone’s perception may be different. But that kind of trauma leaves marks and these victims were traumatized. By adults. Representing an institution that put itself in a position to be trusted.

And the harrowing thing is that I’ll probably never get an answer to my question other than the tired refrain when similar things like this happen:

In order to inflict their actions on their victims, the perpetrators had to see the victims as less than human and deserving of their treatment. 

I found it telling that nobody reported the abusers telling them that any of the treatment was atonement or penitence. They told those kids they deserved what they were getting because they were “bad.”

It breaks my heart.

But it also caused a different kind of chill to run down my spine.

In The Star of Fire, Phoebe travels to 1871 Chicago. And she stays with the nuns that are running the newly opened St. Patrick’s Girls School. I used the nuns real names. I’ve looked all over, but there’s just very little to be found about them. They arrive from St. Louis, pay witness to one of the biggest disasters on record, aid in the recovery for a bit, and disappear into the sunset, reassigned to a new location and a new area of service.

Their thoughts, feelings, opinions, dreams, hopes, and in this case, treatment of their charges is left to history*. I chose to write them positively, primarily because I saw no reason not to. There are no classroom scenes, so no reason to talk about rulers across palms or knuckles. The story isn’t centered on the nuns. They’re secondary characters.

And then, in a crazy turn, when I started researching and writing The Star of Storms, I found at the very center of that disaster yet another set of Sisters, serving in the St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum. These nuns didn’t fare so well. They get even less of a role that the Chicago Sisters did.

But what about the article? How does that even apply?

The fact remains that the article states that the treatment of children in orphanages was pretty terrible across the board. That would have to include Galveston.

Was the treatment in schools any better? Did those kids fare better because they had actively engaged (as much as they could) parents?

Was St. Joseph’s an anomaly? Or was Galveston just as bad? How do I portray it without evidence either way? It’s such a bit player in this book, does it even bear mentioning at all?

There were 94 children at St. Mary’s the day the storm rolled in and 10 nuns. That’s an insane child to adult ratio anyway but add to it the emotional baggage the kids would have from being orphaned or given up or removed from their parents care and you’d see a lot of acting out. And the women left in charge were from another country, young, and untrained – in child-rearing and in dealing with childhood psychological trauma. Add to that the possibility of being overseen by a priest who himself was using the church to gain access to children (as was the case at St. Joseph’s) and you have a recipe for disaster.

How could it have hoped to be any different?

It’s certainly an angle that I hadn’t considered before, and an angle that I have to consider now.