A little bit of catching up. Well, a lot.

Well. It’s been about six months since my last blog post. This simply will not do!

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been alive and up to some mischief!

Some highlights (in chronological order):

  • Revised the 24 Hour Play Writing Challenge as an online event — learned some lessons on what works and what doesn’t. I suspect the success of an event like this is all about the publicity.
  • Directed a student production of a scene from The Taming of the Shrew, gender-bent and set in the Elizabethan Era with inspiration from Marvel’s Avengers. The costumes looked gorgeous, well worth the hours of work and my sore back. We also loved our set, described by one of my colleagues as being lush and opulent. 🙂 I love having a team of adult volunteers who are able to come in and help. ❤IMG_1279IMG_1282IMG_1272IMG_1292

     

     

  • I had another table at the Northern Ontario Expo! That was a lot of fun, though I felt like I had a lot to improve. Still, my fans were happy to see me there, and there was a lot of interest in my latest release, Rip Gone Wrong, which was awesome!

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I’ve already booked my table for next year, AND — get this — my American bestie, the fabulous author Tara Fox Hall, is going to be my booth-buddy/neighbour next May! So excited! I have lots of ideas on how to keep making my displays awesome: more swag for purchase and giveaway, an even better prize wheel, and maybe I’ll invest in portable wire shelves or use a room divider behind the table.

  • Ottawa ComicCon Field Trip! Third year in a row. Learned a lot, once again, what to do and what not to do, how to deal with a crisis, how I’ll organize it differently — the kids were already talking about looking forward to the 2018 OCC trip on the bus ride home. That’s something I need to start planning in the next few weeks, actually.

And then . . . with barely a breath after coming back . . .

  • I got into rehearsals again, this time in the part of Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew for Shakespeare in the Park! My hair still hasn’t grown back to the pixie cut, but I’ve gotten rather used to the short-short. Am debating whether to keep it. But the play . . . oh, I adore performing The Bard. It was wonderful fun, and reminded me of my resolution to apply for the York Theatre Program’s Master of Fine Arts program in the fall of 2018. 😀

There’s definitely a reason my floors are always covered in clutter and debris. It’s project after project (and, admittedly, I like it that way!) . . . including online graduate school!

That’s right!

  • While the play was still running, I started the first two of ten courses for my Master of Education through Queen’s University! The courses were excellent: I took Self-Regulated Learning and Inquiry, and Organizational Learning online from July 4 to August 22. Really enjoyed them, too, and got great marks to boot! Next up, starting September 18, will be Collaborative Inquiry and Organizational Leadership. I’m determined to knock this one out of the park in two years, so it’s done before I am into the MFA of Theatre at York (if I get in) in 2019.

A bit of sad news, amongst the good, though. We said goodbye to our beloved pup Skittles, who really hadn’t been a pup in some time. August 11 was a rough day. She was (we thought) 13 years old.

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Oh, boy, and so many other things have happened . . . I put up my own laundry line, without help. The kids performed in the annual skating show and had a great time with that. We have a new pet corn snake as of last week, a year-old corn snake I have named Mortimer. My sixteen-year-old son is now taller than his father, and in addition to performing in two plays this spring, also joined a public singing group, obtained his Black Belt in karate, refereed soccer three times a week (and often two games each time), and then worked a week at Kentucky Fried Chicken before being offered another job at a pharmacy. My eleven-year-old daughter has gotten accustomed to the glasses we learned she needed this winter, has enjoyed developing her creativity at summer art classes and acting boot camp, spread her wings with friends by running to the local parks and library’s children’s program, and left evidence of her joy all over the house. Little Miss (more and more) Independent!

And next Tuesday I’m hitting 40. I’m looking forward to it. As I’ve said to friends throughout the spring, and just this evening, I’ve felt like 40 for a while now. My approaching birthday always makes me feel somewhat pensive, as I take stock and end up being overly critical of where I am and what I’ve achieved at this point. It’s easier if I can distract myself with things like cosplay and knitting, or as I’ve been doing until about a week ago, taking courses. Unfortunately, this year, we’re not going to make it to FanExpo. Between having our little Suzuki SX4 break its front left control arm in July ($$$) and our dryer giving up the ghost around the same time ($$$), we simply don’t have the funds. We’re all a bit disappointed about that, especially given that there’s an amazing line-up of guests this year, and we all enjoy going. In fact, I’d started recognizing people that I’ve seen not just at FanExpo, but also at Ottawa ComicCon! There are convention REGULARS out there, and it’s wonderful! *sob*

But then again, not going will save us more than the travel costs, tickets, and accommodations. I always end up spending way too much at conventions, in spite of my best intentions. Next time, I need to carry a set amount of cash and no debit or credit card on me. See if that helps.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. Many times, I’ve composed blog posts in my head but of course, they’re doing nobody any good in there. Remember that year that I blogged every day? That was glorious . . . I might try that again, though not necessarily with long posts (like this one). Maybe I could do pictorials. I did a lot of vlogging for a course project — that might work, too. Something else I need to get back to is working on my creepy dollhouse project. It’s official title is now Of the Empty Wood. And I need to go to the gym at least once a week. I found it difficult to keep that habit going while concentrating on course work, although listening to the readings while exercising was helpful. Remember that goal I’d set myself of being able to do a pull-up or a chin-up by this coming birthday? I’m going to test myself, but I’m not sure that it’s going to happen.

I’m looking differently at the end of this summer, I think. At all of the endings I’ve been noticing. They’re not significant because something wonderful comes to a close — they’re significant, and valuable, and memorable, because they were, and what they lead to isn’t something that’s over but something else that’s just beginning.

 

Haunted House — t-minus 42 hours 

Had a productive evening of minor chaos and major productivity at the theatre. Although we didn’t have the full volunteer contingent, we still had double or more of the number of students who participated last year, and they were almost too efficient. I’m very happy with where we left off tonight — still have a list of things to do and materials to prepare, but it’s shorter now. And the rooms are looking close to what I had envisioned. Helped my boy problem-solve his mask-making, podged my Necronomicon and painted the inside covers, too. My enthusiasm is waxing again. This should be a heck of a lot of fun!

Now, if only the teenagers would remember to dress warmly in the cold theatre . . .

   
  

A new friend on loan from other new friends!

 

The Deep Satisfaction of the Back . . .

. . . cover. 

Yes, there are other backs that are also lovely and enticing to behold. Like this one:

  
And this one:

  
Yeesh, do you know how hard it is to find decent shots of people’s backs? And they’re one of my favourite body parts! 

But I’m digressing in my search for appropriate illustrations. This is about back covers. Like this: 

  
No, wait, sorry, I meant THIS:

  
I finished covering the back of my Necronomicon and put the fan on it — after almost 24 hours, the front bottom still had some dampness. So I turned it upside down before starting on the “skin”.

It’s satisfying when you look at the back of anything and see that it got as much (or more) attention as the front. Because when you finish the story, it’s the last thing you might look at. For some, it’s also the first — you might go right from perusing the blurb on the rear (or looking for it there) to diving into the first page. It gives an impression of wholeness, a job done properly and thoroughly. Quality vs knock-off.

I like movie credits with surprises and Easter eggs and hidden scenes. Trains with cabooses. Covers tucked in at the bottom. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t really a back issue, but it’s all about balance, folks.

For writers, seeing the back cover of your own book is particularly thrilling, because it unequivocally indicates the end of the project. It’s just as or more fulfilling as writing “the end” on the last page of your draft. Bitter-sweet, actually.

What brings on all of this is that I am debating whether to do NaNoWriMo again this year. I’d be starting right after the end of the Haunted House. I want that satisfaction of working toward and seeing another back cover, but I also see more exhaustion on the horizon. I worry about taking on too much. 

But the thing about NaNo is that it is for me. I can change my word count. Write on my own time. 

On the other hand, I recall last year wanting to sleep for a week after the event ended and was cleaned up. 

It’s a tough decision to make, and time is ticking.

The peace of a productive family night

We had what was, to my mind, a perfect moment this evening after supper. 

Bridget was building and playing in her fantasy world (Minecraft), learning how to spell words like “diary” and “no one” and “secret” and “allowed”.

Jack was finishing his math homework, relaxed and focused, having brought home stellar progress reports from the first month of school.

Hubby was sitting next to me on the couch while I knitted my scarf, occasionally sharing funny videos and articles with me. And playing with the dog. 

   
    
 The TV was off, unneeded. It’s amazing how much easier it has become to turn it off without cable, having our favourite series and films completely on demand without ads. Much preferred over the old stand-by.

And now, as I sit waiting to pick up our teenager from karate, Hubby is helping Bridget with her math, exhibiting much more patience and firm guidance than I could have with her. To be perfectly honest, I sometimes struggle to keep the emotional coolness needed to help with homework after a long day. I get frustrated trying to help her. But Mark understands her and how her mind works, to a far greater degree, in part because she shares many of his personality traits and likely has similar learning disabilities. Certainly, the diagnosis last year of Bridget having a mild intellectual disability fits, and while it’s not quite what he had to struggle against in his youth, it’s close enough. He can relate to her and be the firm voice that she needs. 

   
 I think kids just listen differently to one parent than another, especially when one tends to be a pushover (I blame years of being over-tired, particularly while anemic). Or they listen to certain authority figures differently than a mom or a dad. That’s why it takes a village to raise a child: it’s far easier to tune out the voice that’s around even fractionally more frequent, than the voice called in to take over, pinch-hit, or teach a skill set that is one’s own weakness.

It’s much later, now. Bridget is in bed, and by some miracle, she not only finished her math with her dad, she also VOLUNTARILY learned to — by the holiest of Holies — wash the toilet. 

Bridget. Cleaned. The. Toilet. 

  
This child, who whined and outright refused for MONTHS whenever I told her to clean the toilet, begging for other jobs to do (and doing them with less and less fanfare), sulking on the couch earlier, scrubbed the toilet with Scrubbing Bubbles’ disposable brush thingy. 

I am in heaven. 

And I made time to layer the front of the Necronomicon with papier mache — got creative with a little corn starch (and salt for preservative), seeing as I forgot to bring glue home. 

   
 
Yes. It’s been a good night.

I think I finished paying back one of my loans tonight!

A loan that we first took out approximately thirteen years ago, shortly after I’d finished university and (gulp) started working on my student debt. A loan that we had to renew and extend six years ago, when our furnace broke and we were in a rough patch. It’s done. I put the final payment in, one slightly bigger than I’ve been able to do lately, which may hobble me for a few weeks, but I’m crossing my fingers that that’s it — one less phone call to dread, one less payment to make, and next month, more funds to redirect to the damned student loans.

Because that’s what I have to concentrate on next.

I know, and have known, in retrospect that loan B was a pretty dumb move while loan A was only in the starting stages of payback. But at the time, we had so much hope that it would work out. I’d gotten the money to help my partner start a business and be his own boss, after he’d researched and planned and scoped out property and then was denied starter business loans from the standard banks. We were optimistic (he had to be, to start a restaurant in a town we’d just moved to, and I had to be, because I believed in his abilities to make it happen — which it did, for six weeks), but fresh out of school and seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses after having struggled through it for over five years.

What we didn’t know at the time, but soon discovered, is that the statistics for new restaurant failure in six weeks are startlingly high — in the 90 percentages. And of those few restaurants that make it through the first six weeks, fewer still survive the first two years. We discovered (painfully) how important capital is in keeping the business afloat in those crucial first months and years, because it takes roughly the first year to pay down borrowed money or credit from suppliers, and then another year to start to break even after you’re meeting all your expenses. We also learned that even if a grant is offered, it can be taken away in a heartbeat if someone on the other side of the money thinks you don’t need the extra.

So that’s what happened, in a nutshell, without visiting the gory details with a microscope. Tonight, that part has finally finished (although I’ll be skeptical until I get notice from the company that it’s so). I can turn and concentrate on the first set of debt again, shrinking it slowly to nothing, hoping against reality that I can have it gone at least a year before my older child will need to go away to university or college. That’s a whole other story, about the student debt. A different battle that has dovetailed with this, through life events and employment struggles and personal, emotional losses. I wanted the student loans paid off by the time my son was 13, as was my original goal. If I’m fortunate, maybe I can have them gone in two years. I’m going to be one of those people, I suspect, who just wraps up her own educational costs and then has to turn around and start the process all over again for the next generation, and there is something wrong with that.

Because even though this house needs a lot of work and the car is beginning to need repairs (and our kids are rapidly outgrowing it with their lengthening legs), I do not want to borrow any money until the student loans are done and gone, and then I don’t want to borrow again, period. I’m tired of losing so much of my paycheque to interest and premiums and monthly amounts due, sick of the relentless phone calls reminding me that I’m behind again this month when unexpected expenses and tragedies and opportunities get in the way, frustrated by having my hands tied for years and sometimes only scraping by. I’m very grateful that it’s gotten better for us in the last three years, and that my hubby is doing well at his new job. I don’t want to lose hold of this new momentum. I’d like to keep moving forward, instead of churning the wheels in the mud. I want the letter in the mail that tells me “Congratulations! You’ve paid off your student loans!”

And even then, I don’t want to borrow any more, unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. There’s been too much of that.

The catharsis of building a Haunted House

Not a real haunted house — the fun Hallowe’en event. Just so we’re clear! 😜

There are a couple of new elements to this year’s experience, and I’m finding that they are having a positive impact on my mood: 

1) I’ve got reams of help, in the form of three — THREE! — other adults sharing the tasks of design, tracking, and development, and over sixty (OH MY GOD) students who have signed up to participate. I’m fully aware that we may only end up with 30 or 40 regular volunteers, but that’s away and beyond what we had last year. 

2) I get to be crafty, and not just in planning messed up ways to make people scream (and possibly pee a little) — I get to make messed-up crafts. This afternoon, for example, I experimented with zombifying a stuffy. Observe the prototype below!

 

I wonder what the custodian thought about this?

 
I think I will experiment further with adding green and yellow blobs for protruding guts and bones, maybe using papier mache. It was so fun making it, though! As I told one of my partners in crime, I felt both bad and giddy at the same time. Found myself actually apologizing to the thing while I was cutting it open and pulling its stuffing out. 

And then laughing crazily as I daubed it with red paint and glued on the fangs. 

Pure, delicious, consuming evil. 

And this is just the start. We have pages of plans and notes to share with the rest of the volunteers, teams within the larger group that will work together to make the second haunted house even more creepy and frightening than the first. 

I will admit, it’s taken me a little while to get my momentum up on this. Coffee helps, but even more so is the excitement of the others, their push to do it well and get the jobs done — that’s lighting my fire, even in my exhaustion. I cannot wait to see it pulling together over the next two weeks. And as soon as I have footage, making the trailer for social media, too! (I’ve got one ready, using pictures from last year, which will go live on Oct 1 — I’ll post the link for you to enjoy as well. 😬)

I worry, too. I’m anxious about trusting the kids to get their jobs done, and to be there when they say they will be. I worry about the lists of things to be obtained by borrowing, buying (damn, still haven’t asked about my budget!), and making by hand. But knowing I’ve got a team around me and (potentially) a small army of teenagers who are eager to make their friends and family shiver and shriek makes all the difference. 

Stay tuned for updates and photos as the project takes shape. Hallowe’en’s a-coming!

Memories of Fan Expo 2015!

Egad! It occurred to me tonight that I hadn’t yet shared with you all the awesome pics we took at FanExpo this year! I’m so sorry for the delay. We’ve got shots of amazing cosplay, fun events, celebrities, and our loot. So much fun — hard to believe it was only three weeks ago.

Enjoy!

Teaching the Two-Step through (Pre)Teen Emotions

First middle / junior school dance* of the year, tonight. Bridget was so excited to learn about it yesterday, she was practically vibrating. She had her outfit put together last night, and repeatedly squealed how nervous she was. Jack was more laid back, nearly waiting until the last minute before deciding to go. 

*younger kids went from 6-7:45, older kids/young teens went from 8-10

Bridget didn’t even look back, once I paid her ticket. She drifted forward, Cinderella at the ball, found her friends and there were happy hugs all around. When I picked her up, she didn’t want to leave, of course. Her crush wasn’t there, but she wasn’t too disappointed. She’d chased a different boy down and made him slow dance with her. 

We had another chat about consent on the way home. 9 and a half, folks.

Jack didn’t have quite as good a time as he’d hoped. I won’t go into the details here, but suffice it to say that he finds himself wishing life were scripted. Doing my best to help him figure things out.

This is the part where I concentrate on remembering the roller coasters of fresh hormones at 14. And at almost 10. It’s been getting harder, though. Maybe that’s why some writers focus on youth fiction — it might become easier to reconnect with those memories and be able to empathise with the kids. 

Survival strategy: 5 minutes at a time

So many thoughts whisking in and out of focus tonight, it’s hard to settle on just one. Phrases and images streaking through my head like comets, darting from the shadows into the centre of my awareness and away again. They’re reminders of things I haven’t gotten done yet and need to do, snippets of conversation, fragments of plans for upcoming projects now on my list, shards of dialogue and story concepts, a bombardment of words in restless movement. Overwhelming. 

I started my scarf again tonight, using needle markers to keep my counts accurate. I probably did a little too much, because my fingertips on the right hand are a little numb. But knitting made me content for a few hours, being a relatively simple task that I could problem-solve with a small degree of hassle. I can see it taking shape again, the time and effort paying off in each row of yarn. Wanted to do some reading and editing, but that kind of focus isn’t possible when one child is needing help with homework while the other has to be guided into bed. And once that’s over, the energy is gone. All that’s left is the bombardment, beating down inside my skull.

I think I’m struggling again. Tough time of year. Hell, it always seems like it’s a tough time of year for me. So many triggers, and so little relief. So tired, all of the time, it feels like. I do better when I have deadlines and creative projects, solid goals to achieve to make other peoples’ lives better, outside of my house. It’s within these four walls, staring at the mess that we can never seem to get the better of for more than a day, that I falter. Sometimes I daydream about living in my classroom, where there’s a microwave and couches and books and a washroom down the hall, because in a way, it’s simpler there. The responsibilities are different, more clear. At home, my worlds are colliding now that my son is in high school, because now his homework is of the type that I assign. The separation between professional and parent has thinned to nearly non-existent. I’m using my teacher-voice after-hours. 

My battle with mental illness began when I was around 10 or 11. I remember thinking about throwing myself out the window so I wouldn’t have to be alive anymore, dealing with the mean kids at school and the emotions that just seemed too much to handle. I was curious about death, as well. But I knew it was a fantasy, and I feared getting reincarnated in a place that was unhealthy or dangerous; I didn’t want to have to live through all the tough parts of being a little kid again, and I recognized how lucky I was to have a stable family. But the fantasizing never quite went away. 

Right now, I’m not in a deep pit. Been taking my medication and trying to do the things that make me happy, focusing on the positives, trying to get enough rest and eat healthy foods, identifying my triggers head-on so they don’t drag me down. But I’m starting to get that feeling lately that I’m moving through thicker air, as though there are weights on my arms and legs and shoulders. Urges to cry. Despair that I’ll ever accomplish the myriad little things that a parent and homemaker need to do to keep a family healthy, as well as keeping up with my professional responsibilities. My son wants to help, but I see him beginning to struggle with his own anxieties and feeling overwhelmed, and I don’t want him to spiral, either. I tell him, just focus on doing one little thing at a time, for five minutes at a time. That’s all we need to do. And when we watched Meet the Robinsons together today, which we hadn’t seen in years, we both got teary at the end, between Lewis finding his resolution and the song, “Little Wonders”, reminding us both to try to let go of the big stuff weighing us down. If only it were as easy to do in reality as it is in fiction.

And the beat does its thing

In the midst of all the travels and prep for travels and arriving home to get right back into the routine, we picked up a new computer screen to replace the broken one! Huzzah! 

Unfortunately, due to the post-road trip exhaustion and getting right back into the routine, the monitor is still in the box on the floor two days later. 

And the absolute turmoil in which we left our home has gotten worse.

But the kids have been doing their homework, we’ve had enough to eat and given them healthy lunches, and the weather is with us for a little while longer. (That’s something else on my list, besides engaging us all in cleaning — obtaining a shed for the backyard so I can empty the tent without bringing all the gardening and yard sale stuff back inside.)

With all of this, I’m having trouble finding the energy to focus on my writing. I woke up in the night from a horrifying yet interesting dream, and I managed to jot down my impressions, but that’s been it for a week or two, or longer. The muscles I use for stringing together words in a fiction are thin and weak from lack of use, and from having to be redirected in other directions. Even the flash fictions I have been composing for this blog feel like a struggle right now. 

But fiction keeps me healthy. So I have to keep trying.