My “Word for 2012”

At the beginning of 2012, more than ever before, I saw other bloggers talking about their “word for the year.” Even when it felt normalized (rather than capricious or trendy) it was still scary to me.

To claim that I was going to focus on this topic/image/virtue/goal for the coming year was intimating because I wasn’t sure I could focus on anything for a year.

Repeated defeats and distractions will do that to a person.

Even so, I prayed about it because I really love words. And the idea of having a pet word, an anchor for thoughts and prayers and meditations (when I remembered it, at least) was very appealing.

And I got my very own word for the year.

And didn’t tell anyone, because I was afraid. I was afraid of making a big deal out of something that would turn out not to be a big deal.

Because, honestly, when you’re declaring one word is enough to last you the e.n.t.i.r.e. year, you’re calling it a big deal. I work with words and I know what I’m talking about.

The word I got this January was hope.

In January I was (un)well into my second year of depression, but I was starting up with a new counselor (my third– there’s a story in felt-failure: that it took me three tries to find the right someone), and finding new books, and had a sense of anticipation.

I can’t say it was necessarily about “the coming year,” but it was about life in general, and I was ready for hope.

It was (I believe) in that second linked book that I read (and latched onto) a definition for “hope” that I’ve repeated many, many times this year.

Hope is the assurance that *now* is not permanent.

That is, of course, only a partial definition. It expresses a desire for change (for the better) but not enough of the positive anticipation.

I did a word search through the bible while the word hope was on my mind. About the same time, one of the elders in our church urged all of us to choose a “verse for the year.”

I feel a bit the same about verse-for-the-year as I do about word-for-the-year; only you’re not allowed to say that you think a bible verse isn’t big enough to last a year, so naturally I just was quiet rather than draw attention to myself about how I doubted I’d commit to one of those, either.

Mostly I didn’t want to start one more thing, build it up, in my head or in public, and then notice six-months later that this centering verse, chosen to draw all the craziness of Life toward a single focus, did nothing more to contain the centrifugal spatter of my life than it did cozied next to the verses that were its normal companions.

I just don’t need the extra pressure or resultant discouragement.

But even though I rationally and objectively felt this way, I still liked the idea of searching the scriptures to see if anything “popped,” and combined with the word hope, something did.

I emailed it to the elder, as he’d requested to hear from us in the church, but I asked him not to include it in the general discussion because I was so shy of it.

It was a mighty-big verse to me, and I was shy to have it connected as my heart-prayer. Especially in the context of it being “this year’s” verse. It was much easier to say, This is near my heart. I trust telling you, but please don’t extend it farther, or I’ll feel a need to be explaining myself.

And I just don’t like the idea that I have to explain my affinity to, or delight in, a verse of scripture.

Yes, after all that I’ll say what it was. Continue reading »

King’s Property (Reading Notes)

This is the first book in a Trilogy called Queen of the Orcs, the title which sounds rather Spoilery right there.

This isn’t a book review, per se, but consider yourself spoiled (warned) if you choose to keep reading.

King’s Property would have been a fascinating read at any time, but as I had just shifted to a new main character within Lindorm’s cast (wanting someone with more inherent power to act and create change within the story), it was interesting to read about a powerless main character.

Dar is a branded slave, unable to escape because the brand meant she was worth more dead than alive. She allies herself with the fearsome Orcs she was recruited to serve, and displays her character through her willingness to adapt, and her compassion for those even weaker than herself.

I remember them from my own imaginations as a teenager: a pregnant woman then her newborn daughter. A young girl who needs mothering.

My gripe with this trilogy came when I got half way through the second book, Dar has fallen in love with one of her Orc friends.

No, that’s not the part I object to: if you don’t have a problem with Elf or djinn spouses, which I always rolled with up till now, there’s no reason to cry foul because the species is ugly. Their admirable character has already been established.

Being the way I am, I wanted to know if this was a ploy or a new cord to pull through the ending. (I’d gotten all three books from the library at the same time.)

Now, I should say, I gave this a bit of time. I recognized the elf/djinn fairness of letting her chose an orc, so I was riding it out to see what they did with this new arrangement.

In this world the Orc society was matriarchal the way the human society was patriarchal. That is to say, the person who held absolute power and the ultimate NO changed gender, but not inclination to wield it.

As yet this didn’t particularly bother me, and I even thought it was fairly well played, because there are benevolent patriarchies (though Dar had not experienced them) and a benevolent Matriarchy would be just as hierarchically-based.

But it started to wear on me, and my quick glance at the two-paragraph epilogue (where Dar happily embraces her daughters) was no longer enough to assure me this would end my kind of well.

I back tracked a few pages (in the end of the last book– yes. I’m that sort of a reader), and found where she brokenheartedly but firmly tells her lover that there’s no way they could live a meaningful life together (on the outskirts of Orc society) even if he was willing to be “invisible” with her. No one would want to marry their daughters, etc.

It struck me that the story opened with her being pulled ambivalently from her crap-sack family, and now were ending with her walking away from the new family she had, with great difficulty, built for herself.

After the blow-off-for-his-own-good, Dar then talks with the lover’s cousin about how there’s a quite-pretty orc that will make the rejected lover a fine wife, and he’ll be well taken care of, etc.

I was willing to see the rejection as a legitimate (if misdirected) effort to prevent their future children from rejection, but this last bit of conversation killed it for me.

You see, my measure of appropriateness in a ‘role reversal’ (such as this where females assume the lead/dominance normally attributed to males, or where whites are the minority rather than the default skin tone), is to flip it back around.

So in this case, I saw a Shane-like figure (as I disclaimer I’ve never read the book or seen the movie, I just know he leaves at the end) who graciously but firmly turns down the lovely, wispy blond he’s given marked attention to his whole time in town. He cites whatever reasonable reasons he has and tells her to go home to daddy.

Which she does, bravely hiding her tears as she walks away.

‘Shane’ then turns to her cousin, milking the cow and they proceed to talk about how some other good-looking guy’s been trying to get her attention all this time, and if she’ll just let him fix her broken heart everything will be hunky-dory.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find both scenarios equally distasteful.

As it comes down to it, I really expected that, having been the bottom of the pile under the old system, Dar would have recognized the flawedness of such systems and tried to do something about it. And maybe she did in the beginning of the book-3 I didn’t read. The problem is that it didn’t last to the end.

She held all the power, and he was the good little male and did what his superior told him to do. Because she was higher than him, and he knew it was his job to submit.

I really liked Dar in the first book for her persistence and creativity in doing what she could to live the best life she could, but this ending felt like a type of giving up, and I was really disappointed.

Chose not to finish the trilogy, but I’d probably read the first book again.

Recommended for ages 17 and up:
General mistreatment and violence of both the sword and the sexual kinds. Not hugely graphic, but more than just hints at what’s going on.

Default Matters (Reading Notes)

I am in the early chapters of a book called Shadow Syndromes, and currently am fascinated by the concept the authors put forward that they label Noise.

In the same way, they say, as all sick people are going to have a baseline of feeling cruddy (tired, confused, unmotivated, general yuck) all brain issues also have a baseline of some general, indeterminate but distinctly distracting busy-ness that gets in the way of our brains doing exactly what we want them to do.

Just as literal noise (the neighbor’s music, nearby traffic, baby crying can be alternately ignorable and maddening, so can this brain-noise. It’s something extra to process, and so an additional draw on our physical/intellectual resources.


There’s this (thank God, happily married) researcher named Gottman who’s been studying relationships and marriage for decades. This book describes Gottman’s observation of the direct correlation between heart rate and the capacity to argue like adults.

Before Gottman puts his study-subjects “under glass,” and tells them to pick a subject of conflict, he hooks up monitors to measure a variety of physical markers– including “general somatic activity” (how active is the nervous system).

The correlation is consistent with what we’ve all experienced: the more active all these markers get, the less functional the communication becomes. Gottman calls it “diffuse physiological arousal,” and it’s a reasonable summary of what Shadow Syndrome‘s authors call noise.

“Gottman actually advises troubled couples to take their pulses in the midst of battle. In his experience, when a man’s pulse reaches eighty beats per minute, on average, and a woman’s pulse ninety, there is little point in going on.”


“To put it bluntly, once in a noisy state, people are simply not as smart as they are when calm.”

The heart rate is just the at-home check anybody can do: the fact is the entire body of a combative individual is getting worked up.

Intensifying the noise.

It is a collection of extra demands on the brain, diverting energy from the “higher processes” of reasoning, empathy, the reading of body language, and subtext.

What warring partners are left with is the dubiously termed, overlearned behaviors.

These are the patterns we have repeated so many times we have burned their processes into our neural pathways. They were learned and practiced in childhood, and so have had the most time to entrench themselves as the default position.

You don’t have to think about them and that is the point.

When you are too tired (or busy) to think, these are your go-to behaviors.

Which, really, explains a lot for me. In real-life and in writing.

I’m an over-thinker already, so when I’m mapping out a scene, I really have a hard time, in good conscience, making a character do something stupid.

I mean, I know people do stupid things all the time and in a story that’s often how you get interesting things to happen. Character-A does something stupid, and we get to spend a chapter (or half the book) getting him out of it.

Other than writing by the seat of my pants (and not seeing the trouble myself, so I’ll believe the character wouldn’t) the best advice I ever got about getting characters to act stupid was Have them make decisions in a hurry.

Another option, according to this research, is to have them act in anger, or some other intense emotion, or while there’s enough other stuff going on that the decision-maker is not functioning at full capacity.

The point is– well, two points.

a) We really do deteriorate as an argument stresses us. So if progress (or relationship improvement) is our goal, taking breaks really is the best policy.

This might even be why discussing the issue in front of someone you both respect (even if s/he offers no direct input) can have value: it might be easier to maintain self-control with an audience, and you could get farther before hitting critical mass.

Maybe this is even the point of talk-therapy: the counselee is “forced” to move linearly and may be less-likely to perseverate or deteriorate to “overlearned processes” like anxiety.

b) What you were like as a kid still affects who you are now.

The subset of this being: teach your kids processing/communication skills NOW. And take every opportunity to practice with them.

Weight Therapy #4: Getting it *Right*

It’s amazing to me how much being healthy in my mind changes the way I take in information.

When my world feels like it’s falling down around my ears, everyone but me is the expert, and there’s no way I can go wrong doing *anything* different that I’m doing now.

In such a state, the vastly contradictory messages that daily fly at us create a fierce cognitive dissonance that my broken self wears itself out trying to reconcile.

By contrast, the reading I did over the month of July (Scale Down, Living the Low-Carb Life, Protein Power, The UltraMetabolism Diet, The Fat Flush Diet, Never Say DietYes these titles make me squirm, but yes, they all had good content that make them worth mentioning by name.) created a sort of scatter-pattern that left me with a comfortable grouping of behaviors that I have been working at consistently (my food-diary says) since June 27th.

My clustered behaviors:

  • No gluten (already integrated, and the foundation of everything else)
  • Shoot for ~24g protein/meal (an ounce of meat contains 7 g. of protein), 72g/day
  • Minimize grains
  • Using my WW points as a single number to watch how much I’m consuming.
    • With the higher protein demands, this limit brings up the consumption of (zero-points) veggies to edge out the grains naturally
  • Fist-full of vitamins every day. Divided them up into a.m. and p.m. clusters, and I forget the evening ones half the time, but my consistency is improving.
  • Minimize caffeine (which for me means choosing herbal teas– which I choose based on other reading/research I’ve been doing– heavy on the ginger and peppermint.)
  • 45-minute walk (brisk, but not a run) 4-6 days/week (usually on the treadmill with a book or a TV show).
    • reaching 10,000+ steps on a pedometer from a busy day meets the same goal: I don’t do both or I’m dead within 48 hours)
  • Loads of water. To the point where my body *craves* it and I know if I’m behind.
    • One day last week I drank two quart jars before 9 a.m., a pot of peppermint tea before I left the house, another pot of (real) tea while visiting with a friend (we finished two pots between us), a tall glass with dinner and another quart jar with my evening walk.  Realized later that I’d been so scattered in the previous two days I hadn’t kept a water bottle nearby and was seriously behind.
  • Minimal dairy– cheese in one-pot meals, and sometimes raw goat milk from our milk share
  • Sugar self-limits without the grains and dairy– I use fruit or smoothies if my sweet tooth is nagging me

Anyway, yes this is a lot of specific behaviors, but other than the protein and the walking, these don’t actually come into a list that I keep in the forefront of my mind.


It only turned into a list when I sat down to record what I’m actually doing for myself.

If I’d collected all this and tried to do it all from the opposite behaviors I lived four years ago, I’d think I was nuts.

This is the beauty of “growing into” a plan. It’s also the challenge of hearing someone ask you what to do.

I smile and try to think what to say to make the first step seem in-reach.

It’s the sympathetic smile you get from an experienced mom when your infant’s not sleeping through the night.

There are things that are just hard, and if you can do anything at all they are you only get into a rhythm over time.

Continue reading »

It’s all… Just Enough

I’ve been making a valiant effort in the preceding months to do everything.

And that made blogging easy to drop.

I read novels (!!!)

Galvanized by my disappointing failure in April to read a book in two weeks (I’m still sorry Mary!), I leaned into reading in May.

Image courtesy of Sanja Gjenero via stock.xchng

Then something clicked– a visit to the used book store, the right thing being on my kindle, and a delicious chemistry of calm in the household.

Before the Fourth of July I had read The Healer’s Apprentice, The Fairy Path, Silence of the Lambs, By Darkness Hid, To Darkness Fled, From Darkness Won, The Iron King, The Short Straw Bride and Clockwiser.

Thoroughly enjoyed all of them. Showed me all sorts of storytelling elements I’ve been studying and digging toward. Absolutely delightful blend of work.

It was just beginning to feel like a binge, and life was getting fuller, so I set aside fiction (which demands sustained reading) in favor of a nutritional, non-fiction season.

Trouble was, I felt suddenly guilty that I was no longer a reader. A fiction reader. A reader of what I wanted to write.

Because, look at me, I’m. not. reading! {fiction.}

Ridiculous, right? {please say yes.}

I made me think how I really don’t understand Grace.

No, really, it does.

And don’t give me that ‘None of us understand grace,’ bit. I didn’t understand digestion for years, either. There are some things that kinda just work on their own, but that doesn’t mean your relationship to them is unchanging.

Let’s try a healthy-food analogy (since that’s what I’ve been reading like crazy the last two or three weeks). Turns out Food is like the the code someone writes to create software. Only, the software in this case is the DNA regeneration in your body with normal cell production.

What you eat tells your body which elements (nearly endless, it seems) to activate or hibernate. Very like binary code.

Now, I don’t have to know any of this for my body to do what it does, but if I want my body to end up in the right place (physically/mentally/emotionally sound), I need to feed in the right code.

And that will take some awareness. A remembering. Continue reading »

Including the Kids

I read a wide variety of topics, some pretty esoteric stuff.  And it’s tricky sometimes because I want to talk about what I’m processing (and Natasha in particular wants to do grown-up talk) but there’s always the question about how much is appropriate for the kids, and how much they would even understand.

Currently I am reading three books:

  • The Midnight Disease by Alice Flaherty (a book about the way the human brain works related to the various aspects of application and frustration reflected in writing and not-writing)
  • Deep Nutrition by Catherine Shanahan (a book– so far– about epigenetics and how food functions very like programming code being written for the DNA/genes to run.)
  • You’re Already Amazing by Holley Gerth (a book with a very ‘girlfriend’ tone that urges the reader to look very closely at herself and at life in the light of scripture).

Can I just say right here how much I love synergy?

I might (I doubt it) have finished one of these books already if it was the only one I was working on, but then I would have missed all sorts of interconnected gems.

Tonight I used something from the Midnight book with Natasha.

There are times she gets really *tight* about something and she can’t let it go. Just tonight for example.

“It’s happening again Mommy!” (I can guess she’s a bit regressed when I hear Mommy. My least-favorite title.)
“What’s happening?”
“I’m scared KNIDS are going to come and eat Elisha!”

And I have to try not to roll my eyes if the lights are on.

I really wonder if this started out as a game, or sleep-delay tactic, but whatever the origin these fears are now full-on terrifying to her, and just plain irritate me.

As anyone with fearful children will tell you, reassurances and discussions (or lectures) of reality are no use in these situations.

So I did an extemporaneous mini-lecture about perseveration.

I explained how a person whose brain has been damaged in a particular way will perceive something accurately, but then see only that. You show him a fork, ask him to name it, and he’ll say fork.

But then you show him a spoon, a knife, a toy truck, and each of those will also be called a fork.

The way to break this cycle is to draw his attention away from the idea for a moment:

A loud noise outside, or a family member walking into the room, will let the fork leave the center of his focus long enough for him to correctly name the new object.


But this merely shifts the problem, as everything now is identified as a stapler.

The point is, I told Natasha, You can use the same idea to shift your thoughts. If you let them go.

*Too* many times, she has come out to us in the living room sweating with anxiety. I’m convinced she rehearses the fear all her steps out to where we are, so whatever it is is only amplified, not relieved, by travel.

“Imagine your thoughts are a bouncy ball,” I suggested. “Right now, your ball is on the purple elephants step [She laughs]. If you want to quit thinking about purple elephants, you should try a shift of some kind. Go get a drink. Use the bathroom. Climbing down the ladder will give your brain a chance to bump the ball off the purple elephants step. AS LONG AS you don’t keep it there.”

I made a cage with the fingers of one hand over the palm of my other hand.

“If you don’t let it move, it won’t. Give it a chance.”

All these words were delivered with my end-of-the-day, how-much-of-this-is-useful-and-how-much-is-just-delay-? pseudo-conviction.

Jay took the kid-calls that came in the next half-hour, till Natasha bright-eyed and grinning tumbled into the living room.

“It worked! See, I was smoothing my hair, then thought, I bet I could make a pony tail–“

This is a morning-story,” I interrupted. “You belong in bed.”

She backed away, grinning. “And it worked, Mama,” she finished. “Your idea of getting down worked!

And she took herself back off to bed, tear-free.


There’s More Than One Kind of Writers’ Block

I don’t know why I never thought of it before, but it’s true.

For the longest time I enjoyed a smugly self-satisfied sense that (due to my limited writing time or imagination or some wonderful gift) I almost never suffered from writers’ block.

I made this determination based on the fact that I was never at a loss for words.

Because I assumed that writers’ block was like artists’ block: the literary equivalent of staring at a blank canvas and not knowing where or how to start.

Hint: for writing– especially with a computer– you just start. Put words down.  Make a muddle.  Build of your chunk of marble so that you have something solid from which to carve out your masterpiece.

But I was wrong.  Because I have struggled with finishing. With delivering.

I like to say (just because it sounds cool) that my Super Power is instant extrapolation. But what that really means (as I hinted in the last post) is that I react to things before I need to.  I anticipate, flinch, before the burn.  I call that way of life exhausting! because it is, but didn’t really see an alternative and got a bit fixated on the exhausting! (Because it really made me feel like I was working hard.  That’s what makes you tired, right?)

Well, here’s one alternative to consider.  It’s in a free ebook called The Flinch, and can be summarized like this:

  • Name this gut-reaction that is not very (if at all) useful. They call it The Flinch.
  • Recognize that the purpose it serves (keeping you safe), done too well, can hold you back from anything meaningful. Can keep you from taking good risks that will grow you.
  • Overcome the fear of The Flinch by reminding yourself failure isn’t permanent, and pain doesn’t last forever.
  • Use the momentum, the speed and impulse of The Flinch to react forward rather than cringe away.

Anyway, it was a short read, and brought up some good thoughts.

Best question it raised for me:

“Have you ever asked yourself why your stomach tenses up and your can’t watch imaginary characters on a television screen to awkward, embarrassing things? You should.”

Continue reading »

You know what’s delicious?

Going through a list of personal interests/roles/priorities (this resource was what prompted the inventory) and firming which ones are just for me.

All mine.

Only and completely for my own enjoyment of life, and nothing to do with what anybody else thinks.

This is a big deal because it means if I’m happy, the task is successfully completed.

For the first time I realized that for me this is guitar and piano.

Previously when I’d try and go through the process of making a schedule (Always beginning with a list of everything I’d like to fit into my life) I’d include the “good” stuff I knew a disciplined me would do everyday with intent. That meant music practice (along with bible-reading, prayer and cooking), and even writing it down would leave a sour taste in my mouth. The reminder of something else I must not want enough ’cause I can’t make it happen.

If I’m really going to go out of my way to do a creative something every. day. I want it to be writing!

What Amy (different Amy, not me) suggests instead is a step back, to first define the roles you have, and draw tasks from those roles.  It is, I suppose, a way of looking at priorities, but in a specific way.

For me, God, Jay, kids, house, is *way* too generic a list.

By saying the activities/jobs that are tagged under each role, I am able to break things into smaller chunks– but not so small that “musician” could make the list.  She limits you to seven roles (blanks on the worksheet, anyway) so *everything* isn’t included.

And I was able (because of her very specific insistence) to include self in those roles.  Once I saw music as an activity I did to become my best self, not a goal of it’s own, I felt instantly freer.  For the first time I saw that every time I dink around (and get a little better, and show my kids music is play and a delight), I’ve done enough.  With very. few. exceptions I have no need to perfect any one song for outside consumption.

Another bonus was seeing my list of “jobs” (what I want to do to become the best I can be) in my wife role, were basically covered by fulfilling a couple of the remaining roles on my list: home-managing and teaching the children.  These are the big things (I asked!) that make my husband feel loved and that he has a peaceful home/happy family.

So I’m recommending Amy’s (short!) book on time management.  Short reason: it’s about knowing where you want to go, and making small steps toward that every day.  It’s moving beyond wishing to living.

And that is delicious.