An Unfinished Symphony

An Unfinished Symphony

Home improvement supplies
Photo by La Miko from Pexels

For the majority of my life, I lived in “someone else’s” home. First came my parents (you know, pretty standard). Then there was the college dorm. And then I graduated to adulthood and a series of apartments. Some I preferred over others, but they all featured a common theme: white walls and beige, SHAG carpet. Not to mention that rule of not damaging walls when you hung pictures (or curtains to block annoying street lights). Oh, and painting? That was a HUGE no-no. So while I did my best to put my personality on each temporary living situation (if it comes with a renewable lease, it’s temporary), nothing felt like me or home.

But that changed four years ago.

Tired of dealing with the noise from people on the other side of the wall – and property managers who couldn’t care less – I decided I’d had enough of apartment living. I started crunching numbers. And finding out that a mortgage and utilities (which I had to pay ANYWAY) came out LESS than my rent? That was a low blow. So I started looking at houses. Some were scary, some were all right, and then there was the PERFECT house.

Maybe not to some people. Because it wasn’t new (I loathe new construction and don’t trust it). It was built back in 1949. And the den? Exposed wooden beams and covered in wood paneling, which I adore and (according to home shows) people find repulsive. Plus it came with a gorgeous stone fireplace, complete with the stone mason medallion. The kitchen was ridiculous, considering I don’t cook, but it made everyone who saw it jealous. And the size? Perfect for me and the cats. It even came with a yard large enough that I could consider a dog. And I was convinced my meager offer (which my realtor warned me was on the low side) would never get accepted.

My realtor called me two days later to tell me I had a house.

And that’s where this really begins. The moment I saw the house, I started envisioning plans. The walls (white) needed painting. I’d spent enough time with white walls, and I refused to do so a moment longer. But everything spiraled from there. And my To Do Lists kept growing. Especially once I moved in and found all of the house’s quirks. (Every house has them – old OR new) And while I know working on a house is aggravating and annoying for some people, it’s a source of sanity for me. Well, maybe not SANITY, but it’s a break from the rest of the insanity of my working life. There is therapy found in wielding a paintbrush. You can let everything else GO while you move your arm back and forth, watching color appear beneath your hand. It’s pure bliss!

I’m not one of those who believe in “starter homes.” Maybe it’s the generation I fall under. Or it could be the fact that I know the commitment that mortgage represents. This is the house I’m staying in. And that means I don’t worry about what my changes will do for “resale.” I’m making my house my HOME. So the home improvements? They’re geared toward my tastes. And now that I’m married, the preferences of the two of us. Whether anyone else thinks they’re “in” or “trendy” or any of those silly words.

I irritate people at Lowe’s and Home Depot when I complain about the lack of color in tile choices. We’re looking to add a backsplash in our master bathroom, and we refuse to use white, beige, or tan. They’re DULL color choices. (Plus, the walls are already a sandy color to break up the blues on all of the other walls) I’m glad most people want boring in their houses, but that’s not who we are. We’re looking for a splash of color to compliment the glass prints we have in there, taken from various aquariums – and they’re bright and vibrant. (And, in case you wondered, NO, our kitchen isn’t white)

Yes, the lists of work we need to do and want to do to the house (and yard) are lengthy. And each time we cross something off, we invariably need to add about five more things. But neither of us get irritated about it. This is what we do on the weekends, or when we step away from our computers. It’s time we invest into our HOME. And it’s our break from work. I’m not saying it isn’t work, but it’s different. And it calms the mind, relaxes the body (sort of – depends what we’re doing), and eases stress. Plus, it makes where we live and work more comfortable. So it’s a positive that benefits EVERYTHING we do.

How can you get angry at that?

I think that’s where people go wrong with the way they approach home improvements. They see work that HAS to get done for [insert reason here]. In reality, they should stop and look through a different lens. They’re making their house a happier home. It’s becoming more comfortable, more inviting, more workable. (At least, hopefully) And when you start approaching a change that way, it stops being a chore. You look forward to painting, to measuring, to building. You’re creating something out of your dream. And when you get to stand back and look at the result? It’s SO much more rewarding.

Surrounded in Comfort

Surrounded in Comfort

A TINY handful of my favorite stuffed animals

“Act your age.” Don’t you love it when people utter those words? (As if you’ve been this age before or received a pamphlet on your birthday detailing what this age requires) My usual response is an eye roll and continuation of whatever I was doing that prompted the comment in the first place. Which includes adding more and more stuffed animals to my collection.

Oh, yes, I said stuffed animals.

Stuffed animals perch on the furniture in pretty much every room of the house (every REASONABLE room of the house). The ones in my office often find themselves on the floor when Tonks decides to play with them – an occupational hazard for anything in my office. And Juniper tries to take some of them as HER toys, and we have to rescue them and swap them out for the stuffies that belong to her. And there’s the fact that there are no children in this household, nor will there ever be.

Do I care? Not in the slightest. My stuffed animal collection makes me happy and takes my stress level down. They add color and memories to our home – much better than the stuffy, expected “adult” decor a person demands. We live surrounded by personality – not expectation. Which isn’t to say that we lack culture: I have a kitsune, an anhinga, alebrijes, and dragons of various regions. Not to mention the menagerie of various animals.

It always comes back to being yourself, especially in your downtime.

If you rejuvenate sitting in a leather couch with a glass coffee table and architectural magazines, then that works for you. That image alone gives me hives and makes me feel like I wouldn’t be able to move or even breathe for fear of damaging something.

Maybe you surround yourself with art canvases, easels, and palettes of paint – ready to capture whatever your muse drives you to create. It’s not practical for our household of critters (and I have zero art talent), but I know creative people who’d salivate over that possibility.

I like sinking down into my couch, surrounded by soft comfort and color. The cushy faces remind me that things aren’t so bad. (And when they’re knocked on the floor, they don’t break) For someone with uncertainties, having something to hold reassures me the world isn’t so bad.

Where’s it written that, as soon as you pass the age of 18, you have to surrender everything fun and comfortable and sweet in favor of hard angles and boring dreariness? I tried that for a few years – pushing my stuffed animal collection into tubs in a closet – and I was MISERABLE. My home felt confining and uninspiring. My writing suffered for the environment. Nothing felt right, and the words came halting and bland.

I lacked ME!

Now, I don’t suffer from that problem. Even if some people walk into my house and sniff at the abundance of stuffed animals tucked here and there. Am I worried about having the house featured in some magazine? Of course not – why would I? I’m more concerned with setting up a home that feels comfortable and sparks my imagination. That means fuzzy faces poking out from the top of speakers, shelves, and even the top of my printer.

Never let someone else’s judgement interfere with your personal flair. If your home drives your imagination and creativity, who cares what you use to decorate? Stuffed animals, collectible toys, skulls – go for it! “Adult” is a terrible appellation – avoid it at all costs.

Fill in the Blank

Fill in the Blank

Two of my coloring books and my favorite set of markers

Let me lay all of the cards on the table: I was coloring well before it became a trendy fad (and, no, I don’t mean back in school when you got graded for it). Coloring books and crayons (markers and coloring pencils came later with the popularity boom) have been my go-to solace from the world since my parents first introduced me to those tools. I endured side-eyes and forced smiles from people when I perused the aisles in stores (clearly sans children) for years. Now, I roll my eyes at those same people gushing over how therapeutic coloring is (hypocrites).

That said, coloring books really are wonders, especially for people in the creative arts. Obviously, they’re great for people with artistic flair, but anyone with a penchant for creativity can benefit from taking a break with a coloring book and their color medium of choice. Why? Because coloring quiets your brain. Why else would therapists champion it all the time? You go into a zen state where everything falls away, leaving you with no concerns, no stress, and no thoughts beyond which color to pick up next.

Tell me that doesn’t sound awesome!

So, yeah, it’s a hero for people, like me, who battle anxiety and depression (if you read my Silentio Sonante blog, this isn’t news). When the brain goes into overload, it’s a safe escape and reset button. For my loved ones, they know the sight of my bamboo lapboard and markers scattered around me means I’ve hit my limit. They leave me alone until the book closes, and then they ask how I’m feeling. It’s a silent “Do Not Disturb” sign that conveys more information to them than the actual little door sign.

But coloring books do so much more.

Writer’s block happens – ask any writer. (And if they tell you it doesn’t, they’re lying through their teeth) You hit walls, and hammering at them gets you nowhere. You can’t force synapses to function. Coloring can offer solutions. It’s designed to relax you, and your malfunctioning brain. (Okay, maybe writer’s block isn’t a malfunction, but it sure feels like it sometimes!) Set your trouble scene at the front of your mind, pick a coloring book, and then let go. Somewhere in the midst of all of those colors, things start to unravel. Maybe because you stop beating at the wall with a sledgehammer and step back from it for a second (and realize there’s a freaking door two steps to the right). Maybe because you give up on the stranglehold you have on that synapse and return the blood supply.

Who knows?

Whatever the reason, you’ll figure out the scene and be able to get back to work. I find my grip on the markers relaxing. (I can also tell which pictures come from writer’s block versus mental health moments simply based on color intensity and color choice) My jaw eases, my shoulders sink back to their normal position, and I smile again.

Give it a try. Whether you need it for creative inspiration or just as a break from the world. You’re not being childish (even if you use crayons – my giant collection is still a personal favorite…even if the names are kind of weird). You’ll thank yourself for the investment, believe me.



Screen shot of Groove playlist

Everyone has their own preference for a working environment, and no one is wrong (okay, scratch that: standing around gossiping about people and not actually working is wrong).

Much as it drives me insane, my fiance’ likes to have the television on while he works, despite the fact that it isn’t even in the same room as his office; the noise reaches his office and provides sound.

Some people require absolute silence and make me question how in the world they function (seriously, what is wrong with you?!) How you don’t go insane with nothing but your own internal dialogue and buzzing of your surrounding electronics (or worse – the scratching of your pen) is beyond me, but if that’s your modus operandi, more power to you.

I’m a music afficiando.

Regardless of what I’m working on – contract work, speculative fiction, or even personal essays – I have music going through my speakers. Music keeps me from tearing out my hair, greases the wheels on my creativity, and even manages to loosen stubborn plot knots. (It also blocks the sounds of the television, but that’s a different story)

What I decide to put on depends on what I’m writing. Contract work tends to flow best with hard rock. Why? I think because it’s what I usually listen to, so the lyrics don’t distract me as much. If the assignment is particularly difficult, I switch over to Disney and show tunes. Again, I have those lyrics down cold, and the familiarity is soothing on my brain. There’s the slight chance of my getting distracted with the need to perform, though, so I have to use those playlists sparingly if I actually want to stay on schedule.

When it comes to my sci-fi and fantasy work, it really depends on what I’m writing. My novels DO have playlists, and I’ll leave them on endless loops when I get into writing/editing jags. I think by now most writers have playlists for their novels – assuming they don’t fall into that silent category (the very idea of writing an entire novel in silence makes me want to climb the walls – and not in the good Ghost-Spider way).

And, yes, songs cure writer’s block.

I can’t explain how or why, exactly. I’ve had lyrics supply me with words I needed. I’ve also just had instrumental bridges strike the right chord (I know, I’m hilarious) in my brain, and an entire scene has bloomed under my fingers. If something isn’t working with one type of music, I change playlists for another. Tempo, rhythm, tone – the variety is pretty much endless, and it can provide whatever emotion I need at the time. These days, there’s also no shortage of streaming services available. You aren’t even limited to music from your country; the entire world is open to you. Some of my favorite musicians hail from Norway, Spain, and Japan.

Music really is universal.

My work gets done, my writing becomes richer, and I don’t have to sit at my computer in complete, utter, sanity-zapping silence (I really have to know how you work in silence. Have you never heard music?). Since my taste in music encompasses just about everything (except Country – do not bring that twanging mess in here), I also get to incorporate a wide variety of emotion into my work. My writing is better for it, and so is my mental well-being.

Just give it a try, especially if you’ve been staring at the screen for more than 5 minutes without a thought of how to proceed. Pick a song – even at random – and see what comes of it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

From Dream to Reality

From Dream to Reality

Cork board globe with colored push pins

As writers, we know that, in order to achieve our goal of publication, we have to lay out a plan of steps first. If we miss a step, then that goal is going to remain out of reach. Following those steps is what keeps us on track to that wonderful dream and keeps us on an even keel…most of the time.

Turns out that applies to EVERYTHING.

True story. Even in the “real world” – that place that exists away from our pads of paper and computers – breaking dreams down into steps makes them achievable. Crazy, right? It’s easy to talk about doing something, or wistfully mention something to a significant other over a bowl of ice cream, or glimpse something on television/in a magazine/online and think, “I want to do that.” The words fall out of your mouth and disappear into negative space.


I’m just as guilty – believe me. I had a list of places I wanted to visit rattling around in my head, built up from the past twenty years (at least – and, no, I will not disclose my age). I’ve checked off a whopping two of them. While binge-watching “The Amazing Race” with my fiance’ about a month ago, we both started making those fateful remarks of, “[insert city or country here] would be amazing to visit.”

He finally looked at me and said we should make a list of everywhere we wanted to visit and make a plan to go to at least one every year. Considering that we already have two lists of Work to be Done On and Around the House that continually get misplaced and pushed off, I wasn’t keen on the list idea. (Sidebar: lists are great and all, but if they are not staring you in the face every day, they are not going to get accomplished) I then suggested the globe.

Voila! Our cork board globe and push pins was born! That picture is our actual dream vacation globe. The red pins are where we’ve already been (together). The blue pins are where we’ve planned to go this year (one is potentially going to be scrapped depending on what COVID-19 decides to do; the other two are our honeymoon locations). And all of those green pins (and you can’t actually see all of them) are where we want to go…and those keep multiplying as (mostly he) we see/read about new places.

It’s made our dreams reality and given us a concrete plan to follow. It’s also made it fun and given us a conversation piece to have around the house. Instead of driving ourselves crazy with always saying, “I think it’d be great to go there,” we can just take out a pin and pop it into the globe. And when we finish one trip, we get to move on and decide the next year’s and change pin colors.

It’s making a dream fun and attainable!

It also grants me a moment of peace when I’m tied up in a scene I can’t make work or finding myself frustrated that queries are getting rejected. I can look at that globe and find determination to keep going. Yes, it’s a goal and dream for the two of us, but it’s one for me, too. What new articles can come out of a trip somewhere I’ve never been? What new ideas, characters? It’s sanity on multiple levels, and that ain’t a bad thing!