Category Archives: New Years resolutions

The Hundred Day Cleanup: One Step Forward, Two Steps Sideways

UPSwampHere we are, at around 8 in the morning on the thirty-fourth day of 2015. That’s as close as you can get to one-third of the way through the first hundred days of the year. And how am I doing with the enormous cleanup project?

Some progress, and a lot of running in place. There’s some good news since I gave up on carefully spelled out plans and started just doing the most obvious things first. I’ve recycled piles of paper bigger than I am, and thrown out a smaller but impressive amount of junk that can’t be recycled. Nice.

I'm sure my grandmother knew who she was...

I’m sure my grandmother knew who she was…

The bad news? That was all stuff that we brought home from my mother’s house; boxes and boxes of old papers. Junk mail ads that my mother stuffed into plastic grocery bags and never disposed of. Birthday cards and phone bills that my grandmother received or paid in 1964. Photos of people I can’t identify, taken decades before I was born. (Actually, I haven’t persuaded myself to throw out the old photos yet.) And sorting all this paperwork is no fun at all when you’re allergic to dust.

Worst of all, when I clear out one batch of boxes that’s making it hard to walk around the living room, that doesn’t mean I’ve freed up any space. No. It means we can unload more boxes from the back of the car and lug them inside to sort.

Of course, the original idea of this project was to spend a hundred days getting rid of things I’ve been saving for no good reason. How am I doing with my own stuff, the things I should have thrown out years ago? Well, I’m not making much progress with the excess paperwork and books and clothes and who-knows-what that was here anyway. Most days, I don’t find time to deal with any of my own mountain of trash.

This might wind up being the two hundred day cleanup.

The clock is ticking…

…only fourteen and a half hours left of 2012. Sorry, fourteen and a quarter.

All right, let’s try for realistic plans for 2013. One thing I’ve finally learned over the past year (and about time, too) is that there’s a limited number of minutes in a day to get things done, and a limited amount of mental and emotional and physical energy to use for doing them. So it seems like a good idea to tackle only one large new goal at a time.

The two things that have to continue are writing and providing support for my mom. I’ll certainly continue with the weekly 100-word challenges – they’re fun, they’re good practice, and I enjoy seeing what other people come up with based on the same prompts. I’ll go on blogging regularly. And, above all, I’ll keep chipping away at the boulder of book-length fiction, trying to sculpt it into finished work of my own.

What should I tuck into the corners of the day around that central core? Probably the thing I want to do least: clean the horrible house, because the inconvenience and irritation of living in this mess is getting to me. And what that needs to start with is getting rid of lots and lots and lots of stuff – we own too many things to organize them all.

Once the mess is under control, I can free up time for regular exercise, something I’ve neglected lately. And make sure I’m eating good food, not junk. Will I lose weight? Probably not, but I’ll be healthier.

And, since at least one New Year’s resolution should focus on something you want to do, I’m going to finally make time for knitting experiments – trying out odd stitches and construction methods that I’ve read about here and there. Blog posts, yes, there will be blog posts. With pictures.

(And also, I’ll go on looking forward to posts from the many varied bloggers I follow. Some of you have become online friends, and all of you brighten my day. Thank you so much!)

Only one more day of 2012!

We’re staring 2013 in the face.

I don’t usually write about my problems here, mostly because I don’t have much that’s fresh and insightful to say about the subject. But the end of the year seems to be the traditional time to evaluate our lives and make plans to improve them.

And what did I accomplish in 2012? I started off with grandly overambitious plans – “finish writing at least two books; be thin; live in a tidy house; rebuild my savings account; learn to draw; and, for the heck of it, finish several reading challenges.” It’s been a sobering year.

My house is as messy as it’s ever been, possibly worse. I’ve gained five pounds. I don’t have the free time to concentrate on drawing. The reading challenges petered out midyear, largely because I found other topics to post about, so I don’t really care about that failure. Have I succeeded in anything?

My main accomplishment, one I didn’t realize I was facing a year ago, has been to keep my mother out of the hospital and the nursing home, living quasi-independently in her familiar house with her familiar belongings and as many of her familiar routines as she feels up to bothering with. And it’s stressful for everyone involved, and pretty time-consuming.

But what about my January pipe dreams? Well, there’s writing. Writing fiction is something I’ve made progress on. No, I haven’t finished two books in the past year. In spite of my high hopes a month ago, I haven’t even finished one; it turns out that my mother now gets very upset by the prospect of Christmas (with all the things she feels she ought to do and can’t do), so upset that soothing her leaves me emotionally drained for most of the day. So that will have to be factored into future plans: December is a washout.

Even so, I’ve learned a lot – partly by participating in Friday Fictioneers and the 100 Word Challenge for Grownups – about writing: structuring plots, developing characters, keeping a story moving. Well before spring I really should have the current fantasy-in-progress rough draft written. (Pause for cartwheels.)

The score for the year? I guess I’m keeping up with the absolutely essential top-priority things. Almost top-priority, not so good. Tomorrow I’ll inflict a post on you about where I go from here.

(On a different subject, I just got home this afternoon from a two-day trip – my husband and I decided to give each other a mini-vacation for Christmas. I think I’ve caught up on all the comments people made on my posts while I was away; I know I have dozens and dozens of your posts to read. I’m looking forward to them, but it will take a while to get through them all. You may still be getting comments in February 😉 )

Out of the discomfort zone?

Follow that branch??

Years ago, I worked on a college campus near a wooded area full of walking trails. After a while, I started spending some of my lunch hours exploring the trails…which weren’t marked in any way. I suspect they were created with no planning by other people who liked to walk in the woods; in some places, there were “trails” that were so faint you could only see the slight depression in the ground if the sun was at just the right angle to highlight it.

Anyway, on one of my first explorations, I almost didn’t get out again. I walked, and walked, and finally decided I had definitely passed the same trees a couple of times before. So the next time a couple of paths crossed, I took what felt like the wrong choice, and escaped from the woods at last. Later, when I got familiar with the major routes, I realized that I had been walking around and around a loop. (But it was a nice loop, with a swath of ferns stretching downhill from the edge of the path.)

This past week I’ve felt like I was going in circles, without the pretty scenery to make it worthwhile. I’ve been doing pretty well lately finding time to write, even with the necessary several phone calls each day to keep my mother on track. But there wasn’t much time left over. And when you start out with Too Much Stuff and no talent for organization, chaos is never far away. By the end of last week, I could see things were out of control, and didn’t know what to do.

So I did nothing. I spent the first several days of this week neither writing nor organizing, making ineffectual starts on one problem after another and then going off and reading. It wasn’t a comfortable place to live, literally or metaphorically. And yet it was so easy to go on being stuck there, as easy as if it was a comfort zone.

Like being in a maze full of potholes

I’m not as far out as I’d like to be, but by Thursday I realized that I had to force myself to stay in focus on one thing at a time and just go on until I got out of the woods. It didn’t much matter what project I worked on, as long as I kept moving.

Getting out of your comfort zone from time to time is a useful exercise. Getting out of that discomfort zone, by any path that offers itself, is vital.

Balance while juggling

I haven’t been doing very well at keeping my life in balance over the past several weeks. That sculpture in the photo, the one that looks like a pile of chairs almost ready to topple? That’s how I feel.

True, I tend to leap feet first into many more projects than anybody has time to manage. And true, it’s been a stressful month, realizing that my mother needs a lot more help than she used to but really, really hates accepting help, and trying to find ways to help her that she’ll put up with. And true, I’ve been writing a lot more over the past month, not just blogging – though it’s been a bloggily productive month – but, more important, noveling. And I’ve been ensnarled in several quasijobs that I’ve promised to other people.

But I really need to find time to put the laundry away and get back to throwing things out!

Ah well. Just at the moment, I feel like I’m dropping balls, tripping over them, and winding up in unintended cartwheels. Luckily, I’m skilled and experienced at lurching away from disaster. And I never even aspired to ballerina-like grace, at least not after flunking out of dance class at the age of three. (Really.)

I would like to find a way to continue giving all the projects and duties little dabs of effort, though, enough so that they stay airborne, or at least enough so they haven’t rolled out of sight before I can collect them and toss them up into the juggling circle once more.

A Tardis of my own?

I think I just bought a Tardis.

(For the culturally deprived, the Tardis is how the long-lived British TV character Dr. Who gets around the galaxy. That’s not what makes it wonderful, though. The Tardis is bigger inside than outside.

Think about that. Drool over it. When you’re done hyperventilating, come back to this post. I’ll wait.)


Well, technically, what I bought is an e-reader. For my purposes, though, it really is bigger inside than outside.

I’ve only had it two days. I’ve barely started to put books in it. Mostly, so far, I’m loading it with –>FREE<– classics, the kind of books that are notorious for being really really long. At this point, I’ve got the equivalent of about 5700 pages wedged into the thing.

Depending on whether they’re paperbacks or hardbacks, that’s the equivalent of about 12 to 20 inches of shelf space, all crowded into a gadget about a quarter of an inch thick. And there’s room for more; lots more.

At last, I have a Tardis.

Living the perfect life?

Yesterday was the twelfth day of Christmas, twelve lords a-leaping and all. The feast is over. Time to get back to work. Time for those New Year’s resolutions.

So I spent a few hours today sorting through a collection of old papers, and did pretty well – for me – in getting rid of them. Maybe a sixth of them will be kept for now (and sorted through again later). About a quarter of the pile – say three inches worth – ought to be shredded, so they’re sitting in an Amazon box, labeled SHRED ME, for the moment. And the rest of them went straight into recycling.

Those of you who are naturally organized will just shrug and say “And?” But for us packrats, this is a huge accomplishment. I really am throwing a lot of stuff out these days.

To get to this point, I had to rethink the whole process and learn to ignore the Official Rules. “Handle every piece of paper just once!” “For every item that comes into your house, something else has to go out!” “If you haven’t used it in the past year, throw it away!” Sorry, we can’t all be that efficient.

Yes, there’s way too much stuff in my house. A lot of it – as much as half of it – needs to go away. But I make bad decisions when I’m shouting at myself “Make up your mind, don’t waste time, when in doubt throw it out, blahblahblahblah!”

The rules of thumb we all know, the ones that are supposed to tell us How To Live Organized Lives, just don’t help. Actually, that’s true of most rules of thumb, for me. I wonder if they help anybody? Think about it. If the Standard Advice really, really worked, first time, every time, for pretty much everyone, what would happen to the market for self-improvement books? Who would buy them once we’ve all been improved?

Then again, maybe I’m just weird.

Letting the boulder take flight

My fantasy-in-progress has been stuck for months, making little twitches in random directions.

It really isn’t any fault of the f-i-p. A couple of Octobers ago, I was hunting for a Nanowrimo plot, and decided it would be fun to toss together as many cliches as possible. (Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland inspired me.) Getting to the required 50000 words was easy, though the story was nowhere close to finished by November 30. So I kept pushing it along, just like Sisyphus, as it got heavier…and more awkward…..and almost……..too………….unwieldy to move at all……………

But if I abandoned the Encyclopedia of Stale Tropes plot, what sort of story would I have? Sure, I liked several of the characters and some of the scenes, but how to give them an interesting world to inhabit and something coherent to do there? A sensible person would have given up, but then I’m not sensible. I kept struggling for a plot and a theme, and the story kept lying there twitching.

When I pushed myself back to regular blogging – was it only a week ago? Yep, it was – it kind of felt like I was making a mistake. I’ve been struggling to steal time to focus on fiction writing and steal energy to focus on fiction….anyhow, clearly blogging would be a waste of my overbooked life.

So I did it anyway.

Guess what happened? Plot snarls that have been tangled around my ankles for months unknotted themselves and slunk away, or turned themselves into decorative bows perched on top of chunks of story background. All of a sudden, the fantasy-in-progress works; I know what kind of people (for a loose definition of people) should inhabit it, what kind of world they live in, what they want and fear, and how they can struggle with each other trying to fix things. And what they’ll do when they see how their struggles turn out.

I guess this is what writing exercises are good for. (Yes, I’m the last would-be writer in captivity to figure that out.) Apparently spending time writing anything wakes up the underground part of your mind that solves problems, including plot problems.

It’s not Sisyphus’ uphill boulder any more. I don’t know about anyone else, but the f-i-p has turned into a story I want to read. I’d better hurry up and write it.

More than I can chew?

Various diet books have assured me that we don’t eat with our mouths, we eat with our eyes. (This always strikes me as implausible, and also ridiculously messy if true.) Thus, for example, they claim it makes perfect sense to serve “guacamole” made of pureed peas.

Sorry, diet gurus. My eyes aren’t going to waste time eating when there are so many books to read. This is really a post for my own convenience; the real point of it is to be an easy to find list of everything I’ve just promised to read for an assortment of reading challenges.

Really. It’s just a list. A long list.

Move along. Nothing to see here, except a woman who never learned when to stop.

20000 Leagues Under the Sea
A Study in Scarlet (Doyle);
A Path of Shadows
A Forest of Kings
A Viking Voyage
Assorted unspecified Terry Pratchetts
Busman’s Honeymoon (Sayers)
Cards on the Table (Christie);
Champagne for One (Stout);
Daniel Deronda
Dead or Alive (Wentworth);
Death Comes As the End (Christie)
Don Juan
Double for Death (Stout);
Endless Forms Most Beautiful
Fearless Fourteen
Fer-de-Lance (Stout);
Graveyard Dust
Gray Mask (Wentworth);
Have His Carcase (Sayers);
Holiday for Murder (Christie);
Hope’s Edge, the Next Diet for a Small Planet
In the Bleak Midwinter
In the Best Families (Stout);
Ink Exchange
Jane Eyre
Lilith’s Brood
Maggie Without A Clue
Miss Silver Intervenes (Wentworth);
Mr. Zero (Wentworth);
Murder Must Advertise (Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey);
Myth-ion Improbable
Nine – and Death Makes Ten (Carr);
Of Death and Black Rivers
One Virgin Too Many
Poirot Loses a Client (Christie);
Princesses, the Six Daughters of George III
Rattlesnake Crossing
Rolling Stone (Wentworth);
She Came Back (Wentworth);
Sister to the Rain
Star Island
The Case of the Lame Canary (Gardner);
The Black Mountain (Stout);
The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat (Gardner);
The Case of the Howling Dog (Gardner);
The Case of the Counterfeit Eye (Gardner);
The D.A. Takes a Chance (Gardner);
The Blind Barber (Carr);
The Crooked Hinge (Carr)
The Burning Court (Carr);
The Five Red Herrings (Sayers);
The Case Is Closed (Wentworth);
The Case of the Dangerous Dowager (Gardner);
The Red Box (Stout, Nero Wolfe);
The Hand in the Glove (Stout, Dol Bonner);
The Maltese Falcon (Hammett)
The Three Coffins (Carr)
The Nine Wrong Answers (Carr);
The Blind Side (Wentworth);
The Case of the One-Eyed Witness (Gardner);
The Forgotten Garden
The Complete Persepolis
The Clock Strikes Twelve (Wentworth);
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
The Case of the Restless Redhead (Gardner)
The Ivory Dagger (Wentworth);
The Problem of the Green Capsule (Carr);
The Man in the Brown Suit (Christie);
The Chinese Gold Murders (Van Gulik);
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
The Peacock Feather Murders (Carr);
The New Faces of Christianity
The Moonstone
The Iron Khan
The Frogs
The Hound of the Baskervilles (Doyle);
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (Sayers);
The Associate
Thirteen at Dinner (Christie);
Through the Wall (Wentworth);
Un Lun Dun
Unnatural Death (Sayers);
War and Peace

and, probably, miscellaneous old short science fictions that I suspect aren’t keepers any more.

Adding to the confusion –

The Mixing It Up reading challenge. A little of this, a little of that – I’m planning to focus this one on my TBR purge, though, so there is an overall theme to my choices. Even though no one else – well, no one else who hasn’t tried to locate something in this house – will be able to see the theme.

Categories are –

This can be any classic work, from Alcott to Zola.  Always fancied trying Great Expectations, or finally feel like tackling Jane Eyre?  Now’s your chance!  From the fun to the frightening, the gentle satire to the all-out swashbuckling epic, there are hundreds of years’ worth of books to choose from.
My pick – Daniel Deronda. Because I finally made it past the first hundred pages of Middlemarch and discovered it’s a good story, so maybe with persistence I’ll like this one too. (Don’t think I’ll ever figure out why I bought Daniel originally, though.)

This can be modern or historical, biography or autobiography.  From the latest celebrity autobiography to an academic biography of Henry VIII – it all counts!  Perhaps you fancy a book on your favourite classic movie star, athlete or musician?
My pick – Princesses, the Six Daughters of George III, by Fraser. Six biographies in one!
Ideas for this one range from a delectable cookery book to a food memoir (like Nigel Slater’s Toast or Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential), a book on wine to the history of marmalade.
I’ll wrestle with food as politics and moral duty, at least that’s what I expect this book will be about: Hope’s Edge, the Next Diet for a Small Planet, Lappe

More scope to indulge a whole range of interests here, including local history, military history or world history.  It might be a biography of Anne Boleyn, a book on World War II aircraft, a study of the American civil war, or something with a much smaller focus, like Bill Bryson’s At Home or Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History.  Whatever floats your boat!
Ancient Maya history – A Forest of Kings, Schele and Freidel
This covers literary and popular fiction, so you can’t really go wrong with this one.  From Sophie Kinsella to Haruki Murakami, Wilbur Smith to Isabel Allende, Jenny Colgan to Kate Mosse, you should be able to find something to fit your tastes!
The Forgotten Garden, Morton. Because it’s taking up a good two inches of shelf space, and it’s time to either fall in love with the story or free up some room.
This will be an entirely new genre for me, but I’m looking forward to hitting the library to see what all the fuss is about!  First on my ‘to check out’ list will be Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.
My choice – The Complete Persepolis by Satrapi
This category will cover everything from the genteel Agatha Christie and the scrummy Hannah Swensen Mysteries by Joanne Fluke, through Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, to the gruesome forensics of Martina Cole and Val McDermid.  You could even delve into some gritty true crime if that’s more your style.
I think I’ll delve into ancient crime – A Path of Shadows, by Haney, in which Lieutenant Bak solves crimes for the pharoah Hatshepsut.
One for Hallowe’en, perhaps!  Maybe a modern writer like Stephen King or James Herbert, or you could turn to the classics with Edgar Allen Poe or the ghostly writings of M.R. James?  Some YA novels would also fit into this category – Darren Shan, or Lindsey Barraclough’s Long Lankin – but no paranormal romance!
No romance, as far as I can tell from the cover, but some serious spookiness, I think: Un Lun Dun, by Mieville
I’d say the cheesier the better for this one, but it’s up to you!  Mills and Boon, paranormal romance, chick lit fluff, whatever.  Personally I’ll be browsing our Mills and Boon shelf at the shop and pulling out the trashiest title I can find!  🙂
How about Twilight (Meyer, of course), than which there is no cheesier? Come on – when was the last time you met a sparkly vampire?
Again, plenty of scope here.  From the hilarious characters of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld to Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings, Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries to Frank Herbert’s Dune, you can go modern or classic, and pick from any number of sub-genres.
Another book I’ve been intending to read for a long time – Lilith’s Brood, by Octavia Butler.
The world is your oyster, as it were!  Maybe you’re going somewhere interesting on holiday and want to read up on it first?  Rough Guides, Lonely Planet guides, that kind of thing.  You could pick a Bill Bryson (always popular) or choose a book on a particular city, country or continent, like Francesco da Mosto’s Venice or one of Michael Palin’s books.  Then there are all the delectable memoirs by people who’ve moved abroad and opened a taverna/olive farm/vineyard!
No tavernas and olives – A Viking Voyage, Carter. A bunch of men in wet cold wool breaking their backs in an open boat in the North Atlantic. Maybe this should go in horror?
This could be a novelty collection of limericks, a collection by a particular poet, or if that sounds a bit daunting, a single, longer narrative poem.  How about ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, ‘Hiawatha’ or ‘The Waste Land’?  My particular favourite is probably Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’, which is more like a simple fairytale that just happens to rhyme.  Or you could choose a play – how about Ibsen, Miller, Shakespeare or the brilliantly witty Wilde?
There are some serious shading to grim selections on my list – time for a poem and poet that take, who took, nothing seriously. (Maybe Greek independence.) Byron’s Don Juan.
This one might take a little more thinking about, but it should be a bit of fun!  Journalism collections can range from Nick Hornby’s Shakespeare Wrote for Money to Marian Keyes’s Under the Duvet, Jeremy Clarkson’s The World According to Clarkson to Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Big Country.  Anything that’s been published in a newspaper or magazine first!  Humour could be a book of cartoons, a novelty joke book or The Wicked Wit of Oscar Wilde!
Well, it certainly intends to be humor. Let’s see if it succeeds: Myth-ion Improbable, by Asprin
Again, this one throws the doors wide open for you to follow your interests.  Always fancied learning more about space?  Are you curious about the life of Charles Darwin?  Or got a lifelong love for a particular animal?  There are some wonderful ‘popular science’ books around too, including things like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, David Attenborough’s natural history books,and the entire works of the brilliantly funny Mary Roach.
My choice – Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Carroll. Much detail about how evolution happens, getting down and dirty among the genes.
This leaves the way open for pretty much anything, whether it’s reading The Hungry Caterpillar or The Magical Faraway Tree to your kids, revisiting the joys of The Secret Garden or Treasure Island, or devouring something from the modern tide of YA.  Lots of dystopian fiction, coming-of-age novels and supernatural shenanigans to choose from!
Time for YA – Ink Exchange, by Marr. Tattoos and fairies (faeries?) and high school, oh my!

Another wide area!  Books on society and women (Female Chauvinist Pigs, Living Dolls), books on society and children (Toxic Childhood, Nurtureshock), books on how television and the internet are affecting our lives, Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, books on Freud or Marx…
The New Faces of Christianity – Believing the Bible in the Global South, by Jenkins. Religious growth in the southern hemisphere; what does that mean for the world’s future?

Oof. That’s an ambitious list – something in every category, and a lot of them are long and several are a long way from easy reading. Well, I did resolve to clear stuff out of this place by the end of the year – I have to read these sometime!