NaNoWriMo 2019

When I was a ministry intern, I would walk into my apartment after an emotionally draining day or full evening and all my energy would whoosh out of me at once, usually the moment I turned the lock on my door and my day. I’d step out of my heels in the dark—feet suddenly aching, shoulders suddenly slumping, suddenly away of my dry throat and sore, watery eyes—and drag myself toward the short list of necessities I had to accomplish before I could tuck myself into bed.

One day last week, my energy left me in much the same way it used to. I’d had a long, full afternoon. I’d spent it with people I love, and I’d enjoyed it. But I hadn’t intended to be out so long or to interact with so many people on my day off, the day after returning from a trip with Tyler over the long weekend. I felt the crash coming as I drove home, and held out until I could turn the lock behind me. 

I took off my shoes, set down my purse, changed into sweatpants, and lay down on the couch. And because I have a capable and sensitive husband, I didn’t have to do much else. When he got home a few minutes after I did, he fed and played with Tara. He checked the porch for packages and made sure I had a glass of water. He cooked. I didn’t put in a load of towels, as I’d intended. I didn’t write, as I’d hoped. I didn’t even read. I merely lay on the sofa under my favorite blanket and recharged for four hours, then went to bed. 

As I look ahead to November and the writing I hope to accomplish during it (50K words as part of National Novel Writing Month: NaNoWriMo, or NaNo), I’m looking at ways I can try to avoid becoming emotionally and physically overtaxed. 

First, I’m taking an honest look at my calendar. I have multiple trips already planned, including a work trip I’m trying hard not to dread, and Thanksgiving, for which neither of our families have finalized plans. I’m considering how I can write on weekdays and my few free weekends to help make up for the days when I’ll be traveling. I’d like to believe I’ll at least get a sentence written even on those days, and I might, but I’m not going to saddle myself with unreasonable expectations or set myself up for failure. I also don’t want to burn out because of the combination of life events, work requirements, and my writing. Holidays can be overtaxing in and of themselves. So can writing 50K words in a month. So I need to be honest about when and how much I can hope to write. Thankfully, I have participated in, and written about, NaNo before.

Two, I’m outlining. In drafts past, I’ve written a bunch of scenes, then strung them together and decided what I needed to write to fill the gaps. To some degree, I’m doing that again. I’m rewriting a manuscript I “finished” years ago but that wasn’t working. I’ve selected a few scenes from that draft that work with the new characterization and pacing, and written a lot of others to mark the changes in plot and the addition of a second point of view. But the main thing I want to avoid with this project is overwriting. I don’t what to write a bunch of scenes I don’t need. I don’t want to waste the time or the energy. 

Throughout October, I’ve been spending my lunch breaks researching various outlining methods, and working on a detailed outline for myself. I’m sure I’ll deviate from it, and I’m not sure how effective it’ll be, since I haven’t written from one before. But I have found it helpful so far. I think it’s also helpful to announce my intentions, thus this late-October treatise:

I’ll be attempting to write 50k words in November. I may not get back to you. I may not be able to hang out. I may not sound particularly with it when we talk. I’m sorry in advance if I sound rude or distant. I’m building worlds with words and it’s taking up a lot of my brainpower. I’m trying hard not to overdo it, and I’m grateful that you understand. 

Imaginary Raja

As a shy, awkward, noise-sensitive, anxious child, I often imagined I had someone big and strong with me at school. As a kindergartener, I pretended I was friends with the Power Rangers, even lying to my classmates about knowing them to make myself feel less afraid, less unwanted, less small and powerless. When I got older, I imagined Raja, the tiger from from the movie Aladdin. Even older than that, I imagined Aragorn, who I envisioned as my really awesome uncle (making me a sort-of princess) but let’s talk about Raja.

Jasmine was one of my favorite characters. She was interesting and kind, and she had this big, cuddly, protective tiger who helped her, who was on her side 100%, and who was capable of scaring away all the people who made Jasmine feel unsafe and small. Sometimes as I walked in the hallways of my school, hoping to be ignored but desperate to feel special and seen, I imagined I had an invisible Raja with me. I’d even reach out my fingers with one hand when I particularly needed to feel comfort, pretending I could feel Raja’s fur as we walked. Doing so made me feel less alone and more confident. Raja wouldn’t let anything happen to me. Raja was big and strong and on my side. I knew he was there, I could see him, though no one else could.

My Sunday school teachers told me I should remember Jesus was with me, or God, and picture them when I was scared or lonely. (Not that they knew about Raja. I’d learned from the Power Rangers not to try to pass off the lies I told myself to make myself feel better as truths.) But some of the bullies claimed to have Jesus with them too. I couldn’t pit Jesus against himself. Even though I knew Jesus wouldn’t approve of their teasing, I also knew Jesus doesn’t love me more than anyone else. Prayer and other aspects of my faith were very incredibly important to me growing up, but in this matter I didn’t always feel like my faith was helpful. So I pictured Raja. 

I’d lean against his warmth. I’d brush his fur. He’d walk beside me in the halls and curl around my chair in class. Raja would let me lean against him on my bed at home and cry. Raja would sleep between me and the window, which I was afraid some thief or murderer would come through. Raja would bound along beside me at recess and in gym class. Raja would growl at the teacher I loathed and bare his teeth at the kids who were the meanest to me. I had Raja, even if I was the only one who knew it. 

I’d forgotten all about this until recently, when a friend and I were bemoaning how little Raja was developed in the live-action Aladdin, released earlier this year. Raja had been important to both of us, and we’d both been so disappointed not to see more of him in the movie. The admission of Raja’s role in my childhood slipped out, almost before I consciously remembered it myself. I realized I had never told anyone about Raja before. Nor had I remembered my Raja in a long time. But thinking on the character, introduced perhaps for the first time to a new generation of kids through the new movie, I wish that they’d had the supportive, protective figure in Raja that I knew as a kid, and that had so helped me.

Not-Summer

In Georgia, we basically have 2 seasons: summer and not-summer. At the changing of the two, however long that process might take, I tend to get migraines and tension headaches. The muscles in the back of my neck, just above my hairline, curl themselves into knots and squeeze. My temples take turns throbbing while I play medicine roulette. 

Let’s say I’m at home on the weekend and I develop a headache. Maybe it’s allergies? I take some Flonase and wait 30 min, also drinking extra water in case dehydration is to partially to blame. 

Nope. Maybe it’s a tension headache. Let’s try Advil and a hot bath. 

An hour later, the headache has gotten much worse. Admitting to myself that this is now a migraine, I ask Tyler to massage the knots in my neck as I lay in a dark room, my cold hands or an ice pack pressed to my forehead. Okay, Tylenol and caffeine. 

Except, of course, that after nearly two hours I’m often so eager to stop the increasingly debilitating pain that I bypass regular strength Acetaminophen and head straight to Excedrin Migraine, a mix of Aspirin, Acetaminophen, and caffeine. This medicine, at least for now, I know will start working in 30 minutes and leave me pain-free in an hour. But because it’s so strong, I try to exhaust all my other options first. My typical caffeine intake is one can of Coke per month, so two Coke’s worth of caffeine in one pill is a lot for me. And that’s just one element of this medicine. It’s the nuclear option. 

I’ve had 2 migraines this week (thus why this post is late), and a third weeks ago, all of which required the nuclear option to find relief.

Sunday, I got a migraine so suddenly—while the washing machine was leaking and Tyler was kneeling behind the dryer trying to figure out where the water was coming from—that I went straight to Excedrin Migraine. I could barely open my eyes in the brightly lit laundry room because of my photosensitivity, and Tyler needed my help immediately, not after a couple of hours of experimentation.

However, this was around 9pm. Remember when I explained how much caffeine is in a single pill, compared with my usual intake? Yeah, I didn’t fall asleep until after 3am. I went to bed early and appeared in the living room every hour until 1am like a sick child to talk to Tyler or hold the cat or just to take a break from the tedium of just lying there.

I continued to experience the caffeine’s effects Monday, feeling wide away at 7am, attentive through the usual 3pm slump, and as awake as ever throughout the evening. I didn’t feel tired until I woke up for work on Tuesday, nearly 36 hours after I took the dose. I hadn’t taken Excedrin Migraine so late in the day before, but now I see it isn’t a good option for evening headaches. 

Some of this is stress-related, I’m sure, so I’m exercising more and taking time every day to stretch and focus on my breathing. I’m working on mitigating the life circumstances (*coughworkcough*) which are contributing to my stress. My monthly massages, started 4 years ago to help prevent migraines, remain vitally important to their management. I’ve also started using an app called Migraine Buddy to help me track my symptoms and hopefully uncover some of my triggers. 

I’ll keep exploring other options, but let’s focus on the good for now: not summer is finally (sort of) here!

Being a Cat Lady

Before Tara, I’d only ever lived with dogs, fish, and gerbils. The gerbils were in childhood, the last of my 3 fish died just after college, and the dogs were my roommates in my working adult life. So living with a cat has been different. I knew and loved the feeling of walking with a dog, being greeted at the door, and I still love to surprise Addie and watch her bound toward me, wiggling with excitement.

While watching a friend’s two dogs and my roommate’s dog for the weekend, I enjoyed a small pack. I felt powerful and fun, with all these well-trained dogs who were so happy just to be near me, tumbling over each other to press against my legs as we navigated to the door and played in the yard. However, coming down the stairs the other day with Tara, who’d slipped inside to hide in the shadows of the upper landing, I realized that this is how being a cat lady feels. This sly, silent little kitty wants to be near me, will get into mischief and then follow me back out of it. With her tail in the air and her nimble paws on the steps, I felt trusted and graceful and capable. 

I like being a cat lady. When writing recently, Tyler brought Tara in to see me. Without speaking, he released her in the hallway and she came silently into the room, leaped up onto my lap, and stepped on my keyboard. I’ve heard writer friends describe this very scenario so many times, and now it was happening to me. I hoisted Tara up onto my desk and watched her explore it. When taking a long nap the other day, Tyler brought a sleeping Tara to lay on my blanket with me, a curled up comfort. And when he’d had a stressful day at work, I brought him out to Tara to cheer him up.  

Cat lady life agrees with me. I like being inside, like writing and reading and watching movies, like cuddling and napping. All of these things can lend themselves to life with a dog, but in my experience, the dogs get bored with me, and then I feel guilty for not being more fun. And I’ve enjoyed doing these things outside with Tara. No, I don’t enjoy the scratches of bites when Tara gets overstimulated (she is teething), but I’ve felt the tiny daggers of puppy teeth and taken my share of scratches from excited, bouncing dogs. I know that cats can be trained, much as dogs can. 

And, of course, Tara is adorable. Her latest game is to hide under my the full-length skirts before bounding out to attack a nearby toy. This game is similar to one she likes to play behind the curtains on the porch. Tiny but growing, she’s cuddly and pretty patient considering the number of times Tyler and I try to pick her up and cuddle with her. She’s got moxie, pushing against us to get down when she’s had enough without using her claws. Yesterday, she spent over ten minutes determinedly pulling a wand toy from her basket, then cheerfully dragged it around the room for another ten. She’s loving and gentle in surprising ways. She’s also stubborn, but that just means she’s part of the family. 

I love my cat, and I love being a cat lady.