Monday, January 28, 2013

Last week

This past week was not the greatest ever here.  Out of the five usual days of school, we had one holiday and three early-out days.  That one holiday, last Monday, was useful.  We ran a few errands and cleaned the house.  But early that evening, Tim started feeling ill, and by about 9pm he was tucked into bed with chills and fever. He has only just started feeling better this afternoon.  That means he missed four work days plus all those glorious early-out days.

On Tuesday, I dropped Jonathan and his friend off at school and things were just fine, until 3:40 when, during a meeting with a student I advise, I got a phone call from my boy letting me know that his art teacher was sick, and I needed to pick him up.  So the meeting ended.  

On Wednesday, I cancelled my two afternoon meetings to make space for the early-out day.  After a few hours of working from home, Tim stumbled into the kitchen and groggily asked if I knew what I was going to ask Jonathan's teacher at our parent-teacher meeting in just a few minutes.  Dang.  I forgot.  So I did the parent-teacher thing on my own.  

On Thursday, we had freezing rain.  We don't get freezing rain in this part of the country.  Snow?  Yes.  Rain?  Yes.  Hail?  Yes.  Tornadoes, golf-ball sized hail, or freezing rain?  No.  That's for Texas.  But on Thursday, we had freezing rain.  Jonathan discovered the freezing rain first, as he was walking down the driveway on his way to school, and without any warning, ended up sitting hard on him bum.  I did the whole sympathetic mom thing and got some rock salt out of the garage to sprinkle over the little frozen puddle where he had slipped -- and discovered that the entire driveway was a sheet of ice.  As was the sidewalk. All the 3/4 mile to school.  And then the neighbor up the street came sliding down to our house on the polished ice sidewalk, and I could barely make my way back up our driveway to put the rock salt away, and I realized that this was the kind of day where I should stay in my house, in my bed.  But nobody bothered to cancel school (they didn't know better, because we don't get freezing rain here).  So we slid all the way to school, and then I had to get back, sliding all the way.  (And man, were my quads sore after all that sliding!)  And I decided that the next time we have an ice storm, I am cancelling everything.  Everything.  

On Friday, Jonathan woke up with a sore throat.  No!  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Christmas trees, sister wives, and selfishness

We took down the Christmas tree yesterday.

I know.  I know.  It should go down New Year's day.  Or at least the following weekend.  Definitely before school starts again.

School has been going for two weeks.  And yesterday, we took down the Christmas tree.

Please don't judge me.  Well, ok.  You can judge me.  Why not?  I do.

I didn't want to take down the tree on New Year's day.  We still had family in town.  And then the day after that we were cleaning up from family, and didn't get to the tree.  And then the next day I woke up with the flu.

("Tim, bad news.  You remember that virus that has been going around?"  "Yes."  "I've got it.  You're on your own getting Jonathan back to school today.")

So I was recovering from the flu that weekend.  And then the semester began, sans prep time (because I was sick the week before).  And so things went along.  Until this weekend when we finally took down the Christmas tree.  Complaining all the way.


Last week, I had a dream that Tim was marrying my sister, as a second wife.  It was a very vivid dream.

In the dream, the marriage really made a lot of sense.  I love my sister.  She likes to cook.  And in my dream, she was lonely and wanted to be part of a family.  (In real life, she is married with three kids and has plenty of family, thank-you-very-much, but this was a dream.)

Anyway, in the dream I was surrounded by family, all happy for my sister, all excited.  We were dressing up and putting on makeup and giving hugs and the sorts of happy, excited things you do just before the wedding of someone you love.  And I was fine with all of it....

...up until the moment I saw Tim walk in holding my sister around the waist.  He gave her a look that said he would love her and cherish her forever.  And suddenly I felt horribly sad and angry inside.  He had never looked at anyone like that except me.  And suddenly I didn't want him to share that look with anyone else, even my sister.  But what could I do?  She was my sister.  She deserved to be loved, even as a second wife.  I couldn't call off the wedding just minutes before it started.  I couldn't ruin this special day for my sister.  I was horribly selfish to even want to do so.  And just because Tim looked at her like that didn't mean he wouldn't still love me.  Selfish selfish selfish.  There was nothing I could do to change the future, to keep my sister from marrying my husband, and I was selfish to even want to change it.

I woke up angry and depressed.  And mad at Tim.  He has been walking around on tiptoes all week.


I am still depressed.  I blame the lack of sunshine and vitamin D.  Lately, it has been so cold that only the small skin surrounding my eyelids eyes goes outside uncovered.  Every inch of the rest is wrapped in fleece and wool and polyester thermals.  I also blame the air quality.  With the cold, the air gets stuck, and it slowly fills up with worse and worse pollutants.  It has been moderately unhealthy for a week, but it's moving back into the dark red, unhealthy-for-everyone zone next week, with no end in sight.  It's hard not to be depressed living in air that is sucking away my life with each breath.  And of course, no quality discussion of depression is complete without bringing up the matter of hormones.  December was a bad month. And while January has been better, I got in the habit of wallowing.

I know ways to get out.  Those ways include taking care of my sleep schedule and my exercise routine.  They include setting aside time to work on long term projects and logical thinking.  It helps me to think of what I have accomplished and set careful goals to accomplish more.  That's the way I work.  You have seen it in previous posts: item by item detailed lists of what I will do and then what will happen and then what I will be (happy).  My neuroses.  But I haven't felt like it.  Sometimes I don't feel like being happy.

Because I'm selfish.

Take that, sister.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Winter inversion

It can only be January.

A week ago, a ball of very cold air found itself trapped between the mountains, pushed down by warmer air, too weak to move up and away and out of the valley.  So the cold air, it curled into fetal position, and succumbed to death, its body spreading cold and lifeless across the valley.  And as the air began to decay, it became darker and darker, and blacker and blacker, and even colder.  And it filled up with all the filth that a city of two million people push into the air each day, people who expect the air to swirl and dance and take their filth to a better place.  But the dead air did not move, not even to shudder.  And the filth was pushed back into the city all that day.  And the day after.  And then the day after that.  And the day after that.

Warnings came.  Don't exercise outside.  Consider wearing a mask.  Don't drive if you can help it. ... But who can help it?  The city doesn't sleep, even trapped under the body of the dead air, waiting for inhuman hands to find it, lift it, rescue us!  And if it's unsafe to exercise outside, then walking or biking to work isn't an option.  More cars.  More blackness in the air.  The snow on the lower sides of the mountains becomes jaundiced with haze.  Then gray.  The schools cancel all outdoor recesses.  Mornings, the dead cold air presses heavy against the ground, foul and freezing, and we stumble through it.

The forecast is grim.  Cold and haze for five more days.  And cold and haze for five more.  Then five more, as far out in time as the National Weather Service will go.  

And then, possible snow Thursday.

Not just snow, but blowing snow.  Blowing snow Friday!  We cheer!

Thursday comes, and then Friday, and the snow and the wind dive into the valley and tear up the dead air and cast the remnants of its body down into the ground and up into the sky.  And the icy flakes scour the valley and wipe it clean and white and cold.  Deadly cold.

And the forecast tells us that the storm will end, and then there will be more still days, in which a new ball of cold air, blown in with the snow, will find itself spent and exhausted, too weak to climb out the valley walls, and it will curl itself into a ball and die, and let its body decay over the city.  And two million people will slowly suffocate again.

It must be January.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Rejection reflection

Toward the end of the 2012, I sent out a round of query letters to literary agents, in a first attempt to get my novel published, and for my efforts, I received back a round of form rejections.

This means a few things.  First, it means November was less pleasant than it might have otherwise been.  It hurts to have people tell you that you aren't good enough, even (especially) when it's true.  But I guess I am recovering.  I can now admit to the universe that I am a reject, and decide how to move on from there.

Second, the rejections mean I need to decide how serious I am about publishing fiction.  I already have a great job that I love (most of the time), and an awesome family that I love (most of the ... oh wait).  I have some sort of personality disorder, however, that compels me to do multiple difficult and stress-inducing things all at the same time.  Do I want fiction-writing to become stress inducing as well?  Do I want it to take more time from my family?  Is there a way to take it up a level without having it become another stress in life?  After the round of rejections in November, I decided no, and spent my decompressing time playing epoch video games (with the family ... sometimes).  But I am ready to try new things again.  I am planning to attend a local writer's conference a weekend in February, for example.  I might sign up for a writers' workshop one Saturday in January, as well.  If I am serious about publishing fiction, I think I need to meet more like-minded people.

Third, all those rejections mean that I need to learn to write a better pitch letter, and sparkly first five pages of my novel, so that if you read my pitch and/or first five pages, you feel compelled to request to read the rest of the manuscript.  In fact, you will be so sucked into the amazing writing and story in just those few paragraphs that you will not only request the manuscript, you will hover over your email inbox until the manuscript appears.  Yes.  Yes, that's what I shall write next.  Unfortunately, since no one in the publishing industry has yet read my manuscript, I don't really know whether the novel itself is viable.  Of course, I like the novel, and some of you have told me you like it.  In 2012, several wonderful helpful people read my manuscript and offered feedback.  I would especially like to thank K.A. for her detailed feedback and comments, including line by line editing.  I owe you, K.  If and when you are willing to let me return the favor, just let me know.

Fourth, I feel like I need more consistent feedback and support to improve.  I would love to join a local writer's group, for critiquing and advice.  But I don't know how to go about doing so.  How does one find a group of people who live near oneself who all like to write?  I think one must sign up for writers' workshops and maybe meet those people there.  Or perhaps I could join an online group.  Perhaps.

Fifth, my rejections have made me look more seriously at self-publishing.  From what I have investigated, it appears that authors who self-publish have much more control over content.  They can charge less for their book ($2 instead of $10 for the electronic version), which means more interested people might take a chance on reading the book.  They receive a higher margin of profits, if there are any profits.  The downside is that there is no peer-review process -- no editor gives their stamp of approval to the finished product, letting readers know that they can trust that this book isn't just crap.  But these days, publishers expect authors to do their own marketing anyway.  At least that's what it sounds like.  Which means the benefits of traditional publishing are dwindling....  And so should I really take my novel there?

OK.  So that's where we stand on that hobby.  And although it has consumed much time, it's still just a hobby, and I have real life work and responsibilities as well.  And potential rejections to face there, too.

At work, in terms of things that could be rejected, I have two grant proposals out, three submitted research papers, a tenure file, and a sabbatical leave request.  I should hear back on whether each of those things is rejected (or not) within the first half of 2013.  At this point in my career, I am not expecting all the decisions to be rejections (though likely some will be).  As opposed to my fiction hobby, I am a little more established in my real-life career now, and people trust me to do good work, and they reject my contributions a little less frequently.  But even if the above things are rejected, I will spend some time feeling sorry for myself, then dust myself off and try again.  I will write another grant proposal, or try a different journal, or maybe look into a new university.  I know now how to work past these rejections in my career.

Which is interesting.  Really, I am where I am in my career due to luck.  Someone back in 1999 and in 2004 and again in 2007 was willing to take a chance on me.  They picked me out of the slush pile for the fellowship, for the postdoc, for the tenure-track position, out of a lot of good applicants.  Because I was lucky enough to have someone take the risk on me, I was able to follow up with hard work and produce products of interest to others.

So I guess that's the take home message for hobbies, too.  Given enough work, and some luck, things could happen.  And I'm already lucky in that I can afford to be patient.

So to conclude this long, boring, reflective essay, I would like to wish all my readers good luck and hard work in 2013.