Roll Around Heaven

One of the recurring themes of my blog is how to reconcile our image of what a writing job is with what it really is.  It is recurring because it’s something that keeps changing and also something I keep working on.

Working on?  Well, yes.  Because you see, how to keep writing and what writing is, and what it means and how to motivate yourself changes with your career and how you face things.  For instance, when you’re first breaking in and your income is effectively zero, it’s almost impossible to fend off home distractions.  Why?  Well, because even if you intend to make it a full time, paying job someday, for now it is essentially a hobby.  So, if your husband needs you to find the car insurance forms in one of the many boxes never unpacked after you moved, or even if your husband – or kid – has an hankering for banana bread, you feel like a right b*tch if you close the office door and go on writing instead of doing what they’d like.  (Mind you, I did this a lot.  You have to, or you’ll NEVER have a paying job.  OTOH I only did it about once every three times.  So, habits formed.  Bad habits all around, when the next change set in.)

And the next change is when I started getting paid, but we didn’t need the money for our living expenses.  I mean, it was nice, but my making or not making two hundred a year was not going to make a difference.  It was maybe two dinners out and a movie.  But I was getting paid, which encouraged me, and I tried to stay with writing.

Then came pro writing which pays not much, but pays enough to make the difference in our lifestyle between ‘close to the bone’ and ‘we can occasionally repair the car.’

It also requires a lot more concentration and a lot more decision on my part.  Because habits have been formed with the kids and even my husband (though of course, he’s a grown up and much better about this) about what is my responsibility and also how I’ll herd them and keep them on track when they let things go, I’m still expected to do a certain number of things around the house that often interfere with or get on top of my writing schedule.  Like… make sure college applications go out in time.  (Yeah, dropped that this time.  So…  Well, at least he got in one.)

Beyond that, for me to make enough to be significant, I’ve had to do more than one book a year.  The average is usually four, but sometimes six.  I also, not unusually, was researching and writing the next set of proposals, otherwise when I finished the books, I had NOTHING to do.  If you count proposals as half-books (they are.  I have to get in the voice, which is half of a book’s work) I actually wrote more like between six and eight books a year…  For the last ten years.

I know you people tend to think I get sick a lot.  I actually don’t, not compared to other people my age.  It’s just that I don’t have time to stop when I do.  Which means being sick for two weeks drags overdue work up to six months, as the deadlines ALL pile up.

Still, I’ve managed to do this for ten years, and I’ve formed this self image as the little engine that could.

And then this year, I hit a snag.  Actually it started at the end of last year (properly speaking, it probably started right after I had pneumonia fifteen years ago.  The meds that saved my life have peculiar side effects, and that’s when my weight went out of control and I started having night sweats so bad that I sometimes had to get up and change my nightshirt twice.)

However, doctors didn’t think there was anything wrong with me, and well…  Your body changes with time, right?  Until a little over a year ago when my hair started falling out by the handful – not enough to leave me bald, but enough to thin my (fortunately quite abundant) hair to about half the thickness.  With this came an inability to concentrate and other issues.

I’m a woman.  I’m almost fifty.  I thought “menopause” and so did the three doctors I saw about the issues.  Only they kept getting WORSE, particularly the inability to sleep at night and the issues with concentration.  It felt like going insane, and here’s the thing, if I can’t concentrate I can’t WORK.  And if I can’t sleep, I can’t think straight.

So in desperation, and after getting three months late on delivering the second book in the vampire musketeers’ series, I went to the doctor.  And discovered I was not menopausal.  What might be happening, on the other hand, is still open.  I should know by the middle of next month, hopefully.  Some paliative measures have made it possible for me to sleep at night and think, about as well as I normally do.

At the same time, starting in January, we started getting nibbled by ducks.  “Nibbled to death by ducks” is my expression for the little things that get in the way of writing.  You do one thing here, one thing there, you look back and the day is gone and nothing accomplished.  I finally lost it and got an office in March because otherwise no writing happened.  I was averaging two hours at the desk for writing, while TRYING to do it pretty much every waking moment.

The yearly nibbling has been stuff like deaths in the family but also a bunch of piddly stuff, like appliances failing, cats getting sick and home maintenance stuff – just a lot of it.

The office was cheaper per month than what I usually do to deal with this situation, which is take a week off at a hotel and I figured it would give me the same thing – a space where I’m isolated and allow my mind to enter the dream-writing state again.

It worked.  Sort of.  The office is a modified closet, which is no big deal.  How much room do a chick and her computer need?  BUT it linked to two other offices via hollow doors (permanently closed.)  The problem with these is that you hear EVERYTHING.  And one of my neighbors seems to do most of his business via phone.  So, this weekend with the help of a mattress pad cut in two (Hey, I’m only renting, and it’s temporary.  I don’t want to spend a lot of time) and two giant cork boards, I insulated the place.  Good, right?

Yeah, only last week I couldn’t use the office at all.  I didn’t tell y’all this, because it was a bad thing to announce over the net while it was happening, but my husband and my younger son were both out of town on separate business trips.  This required me to be within reach of a computer, if they needed me to find out something for them, (like, fix my son’s cell phone account.)  So I was home pretty much every day.  No problem, I said.  “I’ll go to the office every day next week.”

So, yesterday, I take a nice Sunday walk with older son and halfway through it… Yep.  I have a bad case of stomach flu.  This makes the idea of going to the office semi-daunting.  At the same time I feel I should go.

There have been consequences to my scatter brainedness.  For instance, the publishers of the vampire musketeers cancelled books two and three two weeks after book one came out.  Now, while I was late with book two – by five months – I was literally about to finish it and send it in (a week, maybe.)  I understand they’re a small company and perhaps they couldn’t handle the delay.  I don’t know.

The money wasn’t much per book, and the series itself requires a certain mind set I was having trouble getting into.  I worked on it for six months and until I got the office, what I had was… disjointed and possibly stream of alien consciousness.  (Well, it wasn’t MY consciousness.)  It doesn’t affect me much monetarily and in many ways it’s a relief, allowing me to concentrate on the space operas my mind wants to write.  It upsets me because of readers, but Sword and Blood is a complete book plus a teaser, so if you don’t read the teaser for the next book at the end, you still get a full novel.  Besides, the other two will get published when rights to the first revert.  (I promise.)

BUT… but…

BUT it goes against my image that I do not break contracts; I never fail to deliver (even when health and other things make me horribly late); I’m the little engine that could.

I didn’t realize how much I was beating myself up over this until I read Kris Rusch’s column this week.  (Read the whole thing, you owe it to yourself.) I owe Kris this type of sanity check more times than I can mention.

When I took their professional workshop, I was in the first group and didn’t have the game they introduced later, a game that attempted to simulate the effect of luck and chance in a writing career.  You got life rolls – your health went out of kilter; your relatives died; your house burned down and you had to continue working around them, which meant sometimes stopping working and dealing with them.

Kris’ column is just about that, and it made me realize I did what I could, there was no more I could do, and writing is not a suicide pact.  I can’t write with a mind not affected by health issues and distractions.  My mind is in my body, and both are the only ones I have.

Did that make me stop beating myself up?  Ah!  Don’t I wish.  So, does that mean that since I have the stomach flu today I won’t be going to the office?  I don’t know, I haven’t decided because I don’t know how bad it is today yet.  To figure that out I need to be on my feet and doing stuff.

But I’m trying to follow Kris’ rule and – given I can’t infect anyone at my office – if I’m doing okay I might go down and work half day – in other words, do what I would do if I had a real job.  If I’m not doing okay, I’m going back to bed.

I’m trying to understand life rolls and not complicate them by keeping trying to push through them.  It’s not easy.  I don’t know if I’ll manage it.  But I’ll try.  I’ll try to treat myself as a person and be kind to myself.  I’m my own boss, but I’m only the only employee I have.  Abusing myself will just end the business.

You know what?  As guilty as I feel over paying for the office, then not going in for over a week – I think I’ll go back to bed.  Tomorrow is time enough to work, and I’m more likely to be able to if I don’t make myself sicker.

Good night, y’all.

43 responses to “Roll Around Heaven

  1. ppaulshoward

    Take care of yourself.

  2. What Paul said, please.

  3. Thanks, the inability to fend off home distractions really hits homefor me.

    Now go get better!

  4. I agree with the dragon, Jeff Faria, and bearcat have said. Take care, get better.

    And thanks for the Louis Armstrong song, that was nice.

  5. Zen hugs, Sarah. And after the doctors hopefully rule out all the bad things, take lots of vitamins, and make sure you’re getting iodine. They keep taking it out of various products–sea salt hasn’t got any, anymore! One of the symptoms of lowish thyroid is thinning hair.

    And stomach flu on top of everything. Ugg. At least it’s usually over quickly.

  6. Weight, hair loss, concentration? They checked thyroid, right? Get the numbers. Anything over TSH 4, ride them even if they’re using outdated values of ‘normal.’

    Ferritin levels, too. Even low-normal ferritin can be too low to feel good.

    On phone — .gov links later if you want ‘em.

    Hope you feel better soon! (Hypothyroid sucks, as I well know…)

    • callanprimer

      Beth, even if Sarah doesn’t want the links, I do.

      • me too. They keep checking thyroid and telling me it’s normal. Thing is, as I found while I was going through infertility, my “normal” values aren’t necessarily normal. I.e. I seem to need higher levels of some stuff to function normally. For six years they told me my hormonal levels were “fine” and they couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t get pregnant, until I went to my mom’s doctor in Portugal and she said “Well, it’s all normal range, but these are very high end, this is very low end, women in your family tend to have them all high end. Why don’t we just raise that a little…” His name is Robert.

        • “Normal” thyroid levels are anything between low enough to not over rev your heart to high enough to avoid goiter. All the other symptoms? Apparently they don’t count.

          • I have friends with both hypo and hyper thyriods, and doctors seem to spend a few years to diagnosis it. Also thyroid problems tend to play heck with your immune system, which means you get sick all the time.

        • Okay, I’m at home, woo!

          http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003684.htm

          Key part: “Normal values are 0.4 – 4.0 mIU/L (milli-international units per liter). […] If you are being treated for a thyroid disorder, your TSH level should be between 0.5 and 3.0 mIU/L.”

          If you have a high-normal TSH, it may well be optimal to check your FREE T3 and FREE T4 values. Total values (T3, T4, no F or Free on the paper) can be useful, but if something is rendering the hormones unavailable to the body, only free values will show the tale. You may also wish to request, at high-normal TSH but with symptoms, an antibodies test, to see if your immune system is mounting 25-man raids on the Thyroid Boss in hopes of Phat Lewt.

          For Ferritin, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003490.htm is the URL, and the important bit is…
          ‘The lower the ferritin level, even within the “normal” range, the more likely it is that the patient does not have enough iron.’

          Again, another reason to Always Get The Numbers, so you can take them home, check them out with a good Google (or the search engine of your choice), and decide if you want to fire your doctor or not.

      • Still not home yet (yay, smartphone…), so till then: search on tsh site:gov for thyroid. Also, thyroid.livejournal.com is a good resource. Never trust “normal” till you know the numbers.

        Ferritin is same trick: ferritin site:gov. Both should lead to Medline or PubMed or something. Same place as the guest link had for diseases, wasn’t it? (Think that was here – don’t dare check on phone in case I lose what I’m typing.)

  7. I had one of those “no energy, no productivity, no focus” spells this weekend and could not figure out why I felt so flat despite eating right, exercise, sleeping in and so on. A family member pointed out, “Singing Carmina Burana through at least once every night for five nights will wear anyone out.” Especially when done from memory. There was no creativity left in ye olde brain. So yeah, what everyone else has said. Rest up and I’ll get some kind thoughts heading your direction.

  8. Sorry to hear about the problems and the illness. I have to work around my illness and my medications so I never complete as much as I hope to complete. ;-) Plus I am having a real bad case of cabin fever (or you can call it spring fever).

    I finally told my hubby that we needed a vacation because I just cannot concentrate unless we get this out of my system.

    Good luck

    Cyn

  9. Take care and don’t beat yourself up. ^_^

    ABeth is right, could be thyroid. Could be dietary. Could be stress – you have quite a lot on your plate. Sometimes our bodies have to beat us up to get us to slow the heck down.

    Get well. You would still be the little engine that could with half the output. ^_^

  10. I-think-I-can… personally I think it is because you have the body of twenty year old and the mind of a twelve year old. The latter is in formalin and the former in embalming fluid, and the combination of their delicate scents is bound to make one feel a tad off-color. Seriously aside from anything else, there is simply battle fatigue. I think that’s all that is wrong with me, and you also have to have that, which does spill back into your health.

    • To a very close first approximation there is no such thing as a purely psychological problem. If you are constantly on the alert for saber-toothed tigers lurking in the tall grass, your metabolism and endocrine system adjust for that. If there really are saber-toothed tigers about, some of those secretions are discharged during the resulting occasional episodes of vigorous exercise. If there are no tigers they build up or are depleted without limit, and the result is called “paranoia”.

      Battle fatigue is not all in your mind. It starts there, certainly, but your mind directs your body to be prepared for battle; and we evolved in an environment that contained saber-toothed tigers rather than lawyers with writs in hand. Many of the metabolic changes appropriate for dealing with saber-toothed tigers are unnecessary or counter-productive when the threat arrives by telephone or email rather than a spring and leap from concealment. If you are disemboweled by fang and claw you won’t have to deal with discharging the hormones, &ct., generated in the encounter, but if you are attacked by accountants you are alive afterward, and (again) we didn’t evolve under those conditions, so our bodies don’t have ways to automatically compensate.

      You might look for a doctor who has done service in the military. Military doctors are starting to get a handle on stress-induced hormonal changes, now that the concept is current and there are cases to work on. They know quite well about what happens when you can’t even shoot the b*ds. The field is yet in its infancy, and there are some remarkably wrong-headed theories about, but there are also success stories. One of the problems is that there is frequently no baseline — the patient arrives stressed, and his or her normal (i.e., unstressed) numbers aren’t available. People vary to a remarkable degree, and dependence on averages and “normal limits” may result in problems. One thing is already clear, though: after dealing with a modern, civilized attack, engage in vigorous exercise while imagining yourself defending against tigers. It’s the closest available analogy to how our remote ancestors dealt with the problem.

      • Military doctors are starting to get a handle on…

        I know some will find this strange, but there is an up-side to war. Advances in medicine that can only occur when you have a critical mass of patients to work with. My mother is believed to be the first civilian to have received a skill graft taking advantage of processes that was developed for treating the military.

      • The NY Times (I think and I know, but there are remnants of journalism still practiced there) has an article today (yesterday?) about vets returning from Iraq having to relearn how to drive on our clean streets. Perfect example of Ric’s tigers.

        As for stress release, a happy circumstance my third freshman year of college resulted in my fencing class following immediately upon my two most stressful courses (one was most important, t’other the most difficult.) Amazing how therapeutic running someone through with a yard of steel can be.

  11. Do take care of yourself.

    Try to play around with what you eat. Iodine could be one problem, but you might also have some food sensitivities, those don’t really show in any tests but push everything out of whack anyway. As far as I know the only way to find out – and even then it can be just ‘sort of’ and it can take time – is elimination diet, like drop wheat out for several weeks and see if you feel any better, then take it back and again record any changes. One possibility is that the medication for that pneumonia messed up your gut flora, and it is beginning to seem that hell of lot of our health can depend on what kind of gut flora we have.

  12. They Canceled the Vampire Musketeers!?!?! *cries of anguish from me and my wife, we just devoured book #! and were eagerly awaiting #2*

    Do you know how long it will take to revert the rights to #1? *tries to throw money at the screen*

    I’m lucky and my own chronic condition was properly diagnosed within a month back when i got sick in Jr High, my family knew someone that turned out to have the same condition that was misdiagnosed for over 5 years! I just got lucky on what Dr had the next opening for an appointment and it happened to be his area of interest.

    • Two years by contract. But if, as I suspect, they cancelled more because of laydown (they didn’t seem to KNOW what to do with the book) than because I was late, maybe it will go out earlier ;)

      • Good, a SANE contract with a firm rights reversion deadline!

        Even if they didn’t know what to do with your weird book the publisher at least seems to have their head on straight in regards to DRM and some of the gotcha contract terms I’ve heard horror stories about from bigger companies. I’ll wish them well in their future endeavors.

  13. About that office. You are familiar with the concept of sunk costs, right? And the adage about throwing good money after bad? If health countermands using the office, then using the office is stupid no matter how much you’ve paid for it. Stay home, rest, recuperate, a little chicken soup, maybe put some matzoh balls in … a dose of medicinal chocolate (1 – 2 oz., dark, daily as needed.)

    Seriously, mind your health because you never know what will break it irreparably. A few years back my sleep apnea met up with a severe upper respiratory infection and permanently re-wired my brain. I read at about half the speed and can now only do two things at once where I used to engage in three or more tasks simultaneously and effectively (I could read a book, watch the news on TV, listen to a program on the radio and carry on a conversation … in fact, that was pretty much NECESSARY for me to attend to most conversations.)

    • I know about broken brain — to me that happened with the concussion. I used to embroider, watch tv and read, and carry on a conversation. Now I do one or two things and it’s a lot. OTOH I can now do art. I’m not sure it’s compensation enough!
      I did stay home, had more lemon tea than any human being should have, and am now almost human.

      • Lemon tea? Not ginger? Um. At least you are feeling better, and that is the important thing.

        The Spouse observes I have to knit, which I even do in movie theaters, as it is at least constructive fidgetting. I have also found that I can, with some books, knit while reading.

        • I do filet crochet for the same reason. Also on long car trips and planes

          • I find filet crochet requires a bit more attention than I can give it in a dark movie theater. I find I stick the hook in a wrong place, and sometimes that is not even my finger.

  14. I think it was, they didn’t know what to do with the vampire Musketeer novel. Nothing else remotely like it in their catalog.

  15. Now you’ve got me worried. I think the other guys are right about adjusting your readings to non-Earthling standards. Sorry about not commenting, I just remembered that I accidentally used CAPS when fixed my WordPress acct.

  16. Best wishes. I hope you and your doctor(s) get you sorted out quickly. And also, I hope the rights revert to you sooner rather than later. :x

  17. Should I ever run across Dean Wesley Smith at a con, we can share “fan estate horror stories”. Reading about a SF Fan with Hoarder tendencies — well, at least he didn’t mention a three-foot-high stack of used Kleenex in a back bedroom….

    (I. Shit. You. Not.)

  18. Vitamins A, D, and B12 are your friends. (And yeah, I’ve had the hair thing after a rough year of respiratory ailments plus a lot of eating meringue cookies. Respiratory ailments and eating only egg whites uses up your Vitamin A supplies like no tomorrow, and then your hair falls out. So you take more vities and stop eating eggwhites.)

    • It’s not whole eggs or the yolks that are the problems. It’s eating just egg whites with no balancing yolks, or other supplies of the vitamins. Makes hair and feathers fall out. Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare anybody.

      • Uh. No. You’ve given me, no pun intended, food for thought, since I seem to dispose of vitamin A for whatever reason, and I haven’t been taking it. Um…

        • I will toss out my own nutritional depletion horror story. After a series of upper respiratory assaults (apparently I was not intended to breath) I had pretty much lost all sense of taste: tomatoes were like cardboard, even ketchup and salsa had no tang. A rueful comment to a coworker at lunch one day brought the information that a bad cold can deplete one’s zinc and the result is diminished sense of taste, especially in regard to ‘maters. (She had discovered this while waitressing, after tossing our a half dozen “bad” tomatoes.) Sure enough, a short time with zinc supplements restored life’s savor.

        • Then while thyroid’s still a possibility, I think A and co. are a good plan — especially since low levels of Vitamin A make you more susceptible to respiratory diseases. It’s a vicious circle.

          • The other part of it, is that you heard me frantically trying to think on whether this was the time when we were having meringues and souffles. I’ve also been known to supplement my protein shakes with egg whites. Okay then.
            There was a thyroid involvement I think — the near-term memory loss and inability to concentrate as well as extremely dry skin and half a dozen other issues including but not limited to foreshortening of the eyebrows — BUT I think that was not so much loss of thyroid function was thyroid resistance caused by hormonal issues. At least since the doctor has been playing with the hormones (with marked lack of success so far, but my system is weird) it has banished some of the symptoms and exacerbated others, which leads me to believe this is largely hormonal. … you know, if the reproductive system was going to BARELY work, the least it SHOULD do is cause me no trouble. Sigh.

            • Well, you can still have egg whites. You just need yolks too. Everybody knows that eggs and egg yolks make your dog’s coat nice and glossy…. :) Seriously, I hope this does help. At least my experiences serve as good cautionary tales!