Come to the Dark Side

Come to the Dark Side

Dark mode switch
Image by Pabitra Kaity from Pixabay

Writers (in general) spend an average of 8-10 hours with their eyeballs glued to a computer screen. If you’re struggling with writer’s block, you might switch to pen and paper, and some people prefer old-school methods for transferring their ideas to print. But if you take a survey, the majority have resigned themselves to technology. And those same people will admit to the steady decline of vision over time. The fact we thrive in cave-like offices doesn’t help (nor does our penchant for banging our skulls against sturdy objects in frustration). But most of that blame? It falls squarely on that glowing screen we glue our eyes to every single day.

Glaring white screens are melting our retinas!

Okay, so that’s an exaggeration. But not by much. The time people spend staring at screens (computer OR phone) leads to eye strain and the resulting fuzzy vision they complain about. And if you didn’t have sparkling 20/20 eye report cards to begin with, the damage accelerates. The result? Dry, red, burning eyes that scream for fluid get blurry on you, and refuse to cooperate when you’re trying to crank out an epic masterpiece. The problem’s grown worse and worse the more “high-def” screens become. Oh, sure, you can now see your words in intense colors, but your poor ocular system doesn’t want to handle that kind of processing all day.

Now, if (like me) you’re old enough to remember the first computer systems, you’ll notice a difference. When you worked on your first word processor or even game, the screen WASN’T anything to write home about. At best, you got a handful of colors clustered into blocks on a black screen. It kept us entertained as kids and allowed us to grind out HOURS of Oregon Trail without a single headache (you know, assuming you didn’t die along the way). You could also write for days at a time – usually ignoring the passage of the sunset and sunrise outside the window. It wasn’t a great time for wrists, but eyes? They rejoiced.

Because the screen was DARK!

Yes, we love seeing our favorite shows and movies displayed in rich colors and definition. It’s driven the optic companies to develop better and better screens. And demand’s pushed those monitors to our work stations and phones. Not a problem if you’re viewing a gallery, but a monstrous issue if you’re trying to edit an encyclopedia. The enhanced brilliance causes your eyes (and brain) to work harder than usual. This results in that dry eye (you don’t blink as often when you’re focused on working), those headaches, and the blurred vision writers and other computer freelancers often complain about. It doesn’t matter how much water you drink, you’ll still find yourself coping with eye issues at the end of the day. The human eye isn’t designed for staring at stark white for extended periods of time. (Our species didn’t evolve in arctic regions where we’d have the supremely-long eyelashes to shield us from the glare) So they start breaking down.

And we troop to our ophthalmologists, begging for solutions. But all of the corrective lenses in the world won’t halt the problem (trust me on this – I’m as blind as you can get without the official designation). Meanwhile, the answer’s at our fingertips: that original black screen computers started with. You got it: DARK MODE! Almost every program or app now allows you to switch your setting to dark mode. And without that horrible white screen boring into your retinas every day, your vision will calm down.

Seriously, try it!

I made the switch months ago after having this discussion with my tattoo artist. (News flash: today’s artists cope with the same problem) Every dark mode I could find? I turned it on. Within a week, my headaches went away. The ache in my orbital rims ceased. I stopped feeling the constant need to rub my eyes throughout the day. And I no longer needed to reach for my artificial tear drops dozens of times a day. Best of all? I stopped squinting at the screen. (Okay, so I wasn’t squinting – I ended up increasing the magnification to read the words) From ONE LITTLE SWITCH!

Now, I notice the difference when I encounter a program that DOESN’T have a dark mode. Within a few moments, my eyes go back to aching. It feels like a knife piercing the back of my head. And I can’t wait to get out of the app and back to my cozy little “cave.” My ophthalmologist? He approves the switch. It’s a recommendation to preserve what little eyesight I have left sans corrective lenses. (Actually, his official suggestion was to stop using a computer, but since that means NOT working, we compromised)

You love writing (or drawing or coding or whatever it is that leaves you glued to a monitor every day). But your eyes HATE it. The least you can do is baby them with a little darkness. That dark mode will make an enormous difference in your life. And even if you DON’T work at a computer all the time, make the switch. (You know you stare at the phone all the time) Your eyeballs will thank you.

To Thine Own Self Be True

To Thine Own Self Be True

Shelf of books
Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Anyone that participates in SOME form of health program has come across the phrase “self-care.” (Actually, it crops up all over social media these days, so you’ll see it there, too) The notion of taking time out for yourself has gained in popularity recently. It’s an interesting proposition – assuming you happen to have time in your schedule. Then again, I think self-care is supposed to encourage you to MAKE time. And those people are right. You can’t bury yourself in work, errands, and family every moment of the day and expect to keep a stable mental state.

But after that? They get it wrong.

Oh, sure: the idea of bubble baths and manicures SOUNDS luxurious. (No idea what men are supposed to do for their self-care; that never seems to come up, even though they’re included in exercise regimes) But those ideas are horribly outdated. I mean, seriously. When did we go back to the 1950s? It’s a subtle dig to set women back in their place, and I, for one, despise the notion. Also, I don’t find ANYTHING relaxing about either activity.

I’m tall. And the average bathtub? It’s designed for short people. This means SOME part of my body is always out of the water and freezing. I’m allergic to scents, so bath bombs? They’re out (standing next to them in the store causes my throat to swell). Plus, I share a house with Tonks. She’s not afraid of water. Any time I attempt to soak in the tub (not as a “self-care” regime, but usually with Epsom salts or an herbal preparation), she perches on the side and plays in the water – or falls in, and then I have to chase her around the house with a towel. There’s NOTHING relaxing about the process. (And before someone suggests closing the door, that results in frantic scratching and attempts to pry underneath. Again, it’s more stress than it’s worth)

And don’t get me started on manicures. My nails don’t do well under the best circumstances. I admit that I add collagen to my daily superfood shake to attempt to strengthen them, but that’s as far as I’m willing to “baby” them. Nail polish? It never turns out well. I lack the necessary chromosome to paint my nails without making a mess. And there isn’t enough bribery in the world to convince me to set foot in a salon. Chemicals? Are you kidding me? How is THAT supposed to get me calm? (Not to mention that it’s an expense – and one I have to REPEAT?!)

Let’s rethink this self-care thing.

At it’s most basic definition, what is self-care? Taking time out to give yourself a break. And that doesn’t have to look like anything specific! YOU decide what the free time becomes. And you don’t have to justify it to ANYONE. My self-care? It looks like this:

  • Curling up with a book and reading
  • Sitting down to write something NOT for work
  • Taking a nap
  • Watching nonsense on TV

It’s time that I’m allowing my mind and body to recharge. And that’s what I feel self-care IS. I’m not working, nor am I running around thinking or engaging in chores. My brain stops fretting about the million and one things I’m supposed to be focusing on. Everything relaxes and switches off. To me, that’s what self-care means. And it doesn’t COST me anything. (Okay, with the exception of my book budget, which we’re not going to discuss)

What you do to shut yourself down and reset is an individual choice. And it doesn’t have to fit in with the “normal” definition. If you LIKE baths and mani-pedis? Fine. I still think they’re a subliminal message to shuffle women into the background, but everyone’s entitled to their preferences. However, if you find yourself longing for something else? Then FIND it. Figure out what makes you feel like YOU and go for it. How you take care of yourself isn’t confined to specific rules. What’s important is that you DO carve out those moments.

Do they happen every day? Maybe not. Should you find them every week? Yes. (I admit, I sometimes lapse) You’ll find yourself functioning better when you set them aside. If you need to, write them down on your calendar – and defend them from everyone else! If someone asks why you have blocks marked out? Tell them you’re doing research. (Writers MUST read to survive) Or, honestly, tell them you’re making sure you remain healthy and survive. Because you DO need to take care of yourself. However that happens to look.

Rabbit Food

Rabbit Food

Typical healthy meal
Photo by Brodie Vissers from Burst

Before you break out the pitchforks and torches, take a deep breath. I am NOT going to advocate any crazy diet out there with this discussion. I’ve already gone on a rant over the stupidity of meal-planning, remember? (I also went to some lengths on the joys found in cake-tasting, so that should clue you in on the fact that I’m not some diet-Nazi) Every diet fad that’s broken from the surface of hell has peaked and crashed under the burden of scientific evidence. Also, not one works. The best these psychotic crazes manage is to dump any excess water you’re lugging around. You WILL lose weight, but it’s not exactly the fat you were looking to get rid of in the first place.

That said, you DO need to take a look at the food you’re putting into your body. Which is difficult for writers (or any freelancer, really). Why? Because when you get wrapped up in whatever you’re working on, you can’t be bothered to put together something from the…however many food groups the food…I think there’s a pie involved now instead of the pyramid they had when I was a kid. Nope, you grab whatever’s quick. Assuming you grab anything at all. I’ve gone an entire day without food or water because I zoned out completely. My writing brain took over and informed my stomach (and the remainder of my organs, I suppose) that they weren’t vital.

Awesome for the novel I was writing; terrible for my health.

So I graduated to the junk food routine. Mindlessly picking up chips or cookies while I typed? That didn’t require a ton of neurons. The package sat beside me on the desk, and any time I paused, I’d snag something. You know what that diet gets you? Fat. It gets you fat. It also makes your brain feel like crud, which interferes with the creative process. Of the two, when you’re a writer, let me assure you the second is the worse of the two. But it’s so much EASIER than:

  1. Pausing your writing brain
  2. Getting up from the computer
  3. Walking into the kitchen
  4. Putting together even a semi-healthy meal
  5. Attempting to eat and type at the same time

Who wants to go through all of that trouble?! No one. But if you want your body – and brain – to stay healthy and productive, it’s the only answer. (Trust me on this one) Which is why I grumble and fuss and complain EVERY day, but I make myself do it.

But it’s NOT a diet!

Okay, so there’s no junk food in the house in the first place. (There hasn’t been for years) So that eliminates the snacking temptation. I eat breakfast before work starts. That means I can sit down and break out utensils. When I hit the computer, I force myself to watch the clock while I work. When mid-morning comes around, I go back myself a protein shake. It’s a compromise between convenience (I can type with one hand and drink with the other) and health. It also doesn’t take very long to finish, even if I can’t chug the thing. And I’m usually at a place where I’m editing by then, anyway, so the typing’s minimal. It’s a perfect compromise.

A few hours down the road, and I’m ready for lunch. Yes, I have to MAKE lunch. If we don’t have leftovers (a rare occurrence), I have a few easy standbys. My personal favorite is rice cake sandwiches and celery with peanut butter (because I am an adult). Again, I can eat one-handed and type with the other. It’s a balanced diet, complete with protein, carbohydrates, fruit, and vegetables. But it doesn’t slow down my writing process. And my afternoon snack? A granola bar. (Yes, I focus on protein, but I also work out 5-6 times a week, so I’m feeding my muscles) Then my wonderful husband makes us a balanced dinner.

No junk, no AVOIDING meals, and my work doesn’t suffer in the process. I still think it’s annoying, and I complain that I have to GET UP and grab food. But my body likes me better. And I’m eating food I LIKE. Which is probably why I’ve maintained this so-called “diet” and haven’t others I’ve attempted in the past. You better believe I have chocolate now and then. On bad days? When everything falls apart and I want to hide? I have dessert. I refuse to deprive myself. Nothing gets cut from my world. Because as soon as you execute something, you make yourself feel miserable.

There’s a difference between dieting and eating healthy.

And that’s where all of those diet fads miss the message. They pick something out there in the world and condemn it to the depths of hell. And it’s usually something your body NEEDS! You NEED carbohydrates! They fuel your body. Protein rebuilds the muscle you break down every day. Do you need a ton of sugar? No. But is it going to kill you to have a reasonable amount? NO! It’s called a BALANCED diet for a reason. Fruits contain nutrients and vitamins your body needs – and they bring sugar with them. Maybe you need to take it easy if you’re diabetic, but you shouldn’t eliminate them from your life for good!

Diets are stupid. But eating HEALTHY isn’t. And you have to eat healthy when you’re a writer. You have to take the time to pause your brain, get up, and get the food. It’s HARD! You never want to do it. There are a MILLION reasons to avoid those meals (you can eat when you finish – in three months). But your body will HATE you. It devises revenge – trust me on this one. But if you put the proper fuel in the tank, it works happily, and your work improves as a result. It’s kind of a win-win situation.

Galaxy Eyes

Galaxy Eyes

Firefly's eyes (with Tonks)

January 2020 began a long, crazy, EXPENSIVE journey for the family. I had noticed an odd cloudiness in Firefly’s left eye in December. He sometimes had flares of upper respiratory infections, and I thought this might be one of those times. But by January, it was still sticking around – and getting worse. He needed some lab work to recheck his thyroid, so I figured I’d mention it.

Cue the dramatic crescendo.

Uncertain WHAT the cloudiness was (other than not anything typical), the vet recommended a referral to an ophthalmologist. We trooped him out the same day – and got more confusion. It LOOKED like a sequestrum – a malady more common in dogs. Cats can certainly get them (spontaneously for no damn good reason – of course), but it was rare. And there was ulceration on the cornea due to an underlying dry eye problem. Surgery was an option, but with his dry eye, it wasn’t recommended.

Firefly's eyes with the worst of the sequestrum

Over the next six months, the poor kid proceeded to suffer through eye drop after eye drop after eye drop. At one point, he was on SIX drops – half of them THREE times a day. (Good thing both of us work from home!) And then, just for fun, he developed an ulcer on the right eye. His beautiful eyes started to resemble galaxies. NOT a good look for a cat. We were regular visitors to the ophthalmologists. They knew our car on sight, and everyone knew him. (Luckily, he’s a star patient) His dry eye improved – a little…at least it wasn’t ZERO anymore. He started resenting the eye drops and began running and hiding when he heard us open the bottles. We were hitting a brick wall.

Firefly post-double keratectomy

Out of options, we decided we’d hit rock bottom. The ophthalmologist agreed, and we went forward with surgery: a DOUBLE keratectomy. They removed part of the cornea on both eyes and place grafts. With his dry eye history, we were warned the grafts may not heal – not to mention that his eyes were going to look…well, not the best. And for those first few weeks, he looked rough. We held our breath and watched the blood vessels form attachments to the grafts. Fingers crossed, sacrifices made, and star charts consulted; he’d been through SO MUCH. When we hit that four-week recheck, I don’t think either one of us were breathing.

The grafts held, though! Healthy tissue and vessel attachment showed. And at the two rechecks since, the report’s been the same. He’s been able to drop down to just three eye drops (one’s even an over-the-counter drop!) twice a day. He’d prefer if we left his eyes alone, so he takes off now and then, but it’s not as bad as he used to be. And while his eyes aren’t the beautiful stunners they used to be, they don’t resemble cloudy galaxies anymore, either. It’s a compromise we’re willing to take. And not having to see the ophthalmologist for six months? That’s a freaking miracle!

Firefly's eyes now

We can actually see his pupils again. They’re larger than normal, but they’re in there. You also get a little of the prominent blood vessels on the left, where they’re gripping the corneal graft, but it’s more subtle than before. And since the left eye was worse, it’s kind of expected. We’re just amazed to SEE his eyes again. We spent so much of last year NOT seeing them. And wondering how much of his vision was obstructed. It was heartbreaking. Older, dapper gentleman or not.

We know he lost some of his depth perception. He’s a little more careful with his jumps. However, he didn’t lose his sight, which was a major concern of ours (especially since removal of his EYES was another possibility we discussed). And for a handsome boy approaching thirteen-years-old that isn’t too shabby.

Perchance to Dream

Perchance to Dream

Cat sleeping upside down
Photo by Ilana Beer from Burst

Full disclosure: I’m not the best person to hold this discussion. In other words, this is going to be one of those “Do as I say and not as I do” lectures. It doesn’t make the topic any less relevant, though. Particularly as, the older we get, the more we tend to abuse this important aspect of our health: Sleep. You know, uninterrupted rest lasting around 8 hours a night? (Yeah, sounds like a mythical creature to me, too)

As kids, we fought against enforced nap times. We had too much we wanted to do. Now, we’d often KILL for 10 minutes of down time in our day to doze off. Usually because we didn’t sleep properly the night before. That “busy” appellation becomes our excuse to avoid sleep when we need it most. Suddenly, we’re pulling all-nighters for the stupidest reasons. (Okay, there’s never a GOOD reason for an all-nighter…unless you’re Santa Claus)

And your health crashes.

I’ve heard (and used) every excuse in the book to avoid getting a proper night’s rest. After all, writers are creative people. We come up with all kinds of inventive reasons to sit at a computer into the wee hours of the morning. As if that lightning strike of inspiration won’t remain once your brain’s rested and operating at full strength. I know it, you know it, EVERYONE knows it: jotting down a few notes for the morning will allow you to pick things up where you leave off. There’s NO justification to straining your body past the breaking point for nights on end. All you get for the trouble is a caffeine addiction and poor health.

As someone who suffers from insomnia (medical-grade, no less), I implore you: stop the madness. That whole message of “Get 6-8 hours of sleep a night” isn’t a joke or random idea; it’s a medical recommendation. I rarely manage more than 4 hours of sleep – once you add all of the time together. And you know what? It’s not enough. That deficit is why I struggle with other health problems. It’s why I spend my days exhausted and fighting to stay alert and functional throughout the day.

And it SUCKS!

I’ve had to face the truth of taking naps (much as I hate admitting it). And there are times when I have to write out those notes and put my writing aside. When you know every word coming from your fingertips is crap, it’s not worth continuing to sit there. It’s a crushing admission – especially when you know lack of sleep is the reason. And if it’s beyond YOUR control? Admitting you need to see a sleep professional is downright humbling. (I have TWO of the damn doctors – talk about feeling two inches tall!)

The world won’t end if you stop and go to sleep at a REASONABLE hour so you’re body has time to rest, recuperate, and recover. Your world MIGHT end if you don’t. Sleep allows us to reset. It also gives you time to dream – maybe come up with new writing ideas or even ways to work through a problem area you’re struggling with. (Bonus benefit!) The world’s morphed into this hurly-burly whirlwind that functions at 100 miles a minute on a caffeine infusion. It isn’t healthy – for anyone. Take the time to REST. You don’t want to burn yourself out in a couple of years. If evolution intended us to never sleep, we’d have…okay, I don’t know what we’d have, but we don’t currently have the adaptation. Which means you need to SLEEP!

I promise, you won’t die from getting those crucial hours in every night. NOT getting sleep, however, that CAN kill you.



Image by Vidmir Raic from Pixabay

If you’re a writer or someone else who spends most of your day sedentary, you know the importance of doing SOMETHING everyday to keep yourself active. Exercise is a four-letter word, I know, but I’ve touched on how you can use regular activity as a way to recharge your creative mind. And, honestly, is it THAT bad to move around for 20-30 minutes a day? Endorphins are your friends. More importantly, they’re the friends of your imagination.

Six days out of the week, I do that crucial SOMETHING. While I wait for my Ortho doc to clear me, it’s nothing exciting and dramatic (you’re talking to someone used to kickboxing), but it’s exercise nonetheless. And I feel better for the routine. My little imagination brain cells click away, my worker synapses calm down and get more productive, and I feel like a human being again (or, you know, as close to one as I’m likely to get).

And then I make the mistake of stepping on the scale.

Who invented that idiotic torture device?! (I’m honestly tempted to blame it on a man because I swear their the only ones who benefit from the damn things) Four weeks of barre (five times a week) and yoga (once a week). Four weeks in which my hip’s stopped hurting, my balance (you can read that as “lack thereof”) has improved, I’ve finally been able to do a real push-up, and I’ve upped my weights from 1 to 2 pounds and considered going to 3 pounds. And the goddamn scale sits there taunting me?!

If it weren’t for the fact my fiance’ uses it for his telemedicine calls, that thing would have been chucked into the nearest trash compactor. (Or set on fire – whichever I felt was more destructive) I’ve certainly cursed at it, gripped it tight in my fingers and contemplated throwing it across the room, and made numerous threats at the little digital window. And then my shoulders slump, I slink past the mirror without glancing up, and I wonder why I’m bothering with the routine in the first place. (Oh, right – because it’s healthy)

Scales are the epitome of evil.

For those who may follow Silentio Sonante, you know that I’m one of those people with body image issues. Which is why I advocate IGNORING the scale if you want to check in on your health progress. It’s pointless and degrading, and it WILL make you feel like a worthless human being. Honestly, I think every scale comes issued with a gremlin that waits for you to walk in, gauging your mood so it can tweak the number to make you feel as wretched as possible. (And males are immune to goblins, apparently)

I hate that scale to the ends of the Universe and back again…about fifty times. It makes me feel worse than I do on a normal basis. It’s tempting to throw in the towel and park myself at the computer permanently. I mean, I’m a writer – I have more imagination than the average person anyway. Who needs endorphins? Plenty of people survive without exercise all the time. It’s a tempting path to follow.

Not the right path, just a comfortable one.

Instead, I’ve forced myself to measure this “success” in a different way. Screw the numbers (I’m a writer, not a mathematician). But I just rambled off an entire list of things I HAVE accomplished that didn’t involve numbers. My physical therapists are impressed and delighted that I walk in with a pain score of 0 each time. I’ve hit and surpassed the benchmarks they set up for me (and it’s definitely not from doing the assigned stretches…which I’m still not doing).

I wobble here and there on my ankles, but I’m also not using a death grip on my “barre” anymore. I even make the attempts at lifting my hand and sometimes succeed. Hell, I don’t even need the arm support for one of my stretches at PT because of my improved balance.

I’ve done push-ups on my knees since grade school. For the first time, I don’t drop down. I’m not claiming they’re the most elegant push-ups in the world, but I’m up on my toes. No, I can’t stay up on my toes when we have to lift one leg, but I’m proud I can do even that much. It’s more than I could manage four weeks ago.

And, yeah, single-digit weights sound small (even to me). Except the program doesn’t want you to go above 5 pounds. And when I boldly tried to start at 2 pounds in the beginning, I couldn’t do it. Having to drag myself down to 1-pounders was embarrassing. Being able to work myself back up has felt good. It reminds me that I’m human and regaining strength.

Not numbers, but success all the same.

If you’re battling that goblin, walk away from it. Look for some other way of “measuring” what you’re doing. Think of it like submissions: do you count the number of rejections or the number of times you’ve submitted your work to the world? You choose the more positive association. It’s healthier, and it makes you feel better. (Crazy, right?)

I still want to dismantle that scale (piece by tiny piece). It still makes me feel an inch tall when I dare to set a TOE on it. But shifting focus away from the thing that makes me feel bad to what makes me feel BETTER helps. We’re writers – we know how to shift focus. And we know how to turn a negative into a positive.

“I Seriously Hate You”

“I Seriously Hate You”

“Because if there’s anything you need to be a physical therapist, it’s a sense of humor.”

~Adele Levine, Run, Don’t Walk: The Curious and Chaotic Life of a Physical Therapist Inside Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Fun fact about me: I’m one of the most accident-prone people on the planet. Seriously – it’s almost superpower level (although I’m not sure what good it would serve). I fall UP stairs, I trip over my own feet (and thin air), and coordination and balance are foreign concepts. My parents threatened to make me take ballet as a child to teach me how to walk – I’ve always been THAT bad. This translates to frequent bruises, and A LOT of injuries.

Injuries = Physical Therapy

While I’m no stranger to the OR (and my natural resemblance to Sally from A Nightmare Before Christmas proves that), I try to avoid that scenario as much as possible. I may have a chronic illness, but I still don’t do well with pain, and surgery means PAIN! So whenever a doctor offers to start with physical therapy I agree without hesitation. Doesn’t always keep me from going under the knife, but I have to try.

Let me explain one simple fact for those that have never experienced physical therapy: IT SUCKS! Physical therapists somehow found a way to exempt themselves from the Geneva Convention, employing legalized torture. Even worse, they post this list of cheerful “Nevers” all over the building reminding you that you are their guinea pig for the entire 45 minute session.

What the hell?!

You get a nice little 5-minute warm-up, and then pure hell commences. And they SMILE the entire time! They even laugh! All while you grit your teeth, dig your nails into your palm, and wish you were dead! Then you drag yourself outside, with a cheery, “See you next time!” following behind you. Oh, right, and you’re usually given special exercises to do at home – to continue the “fun.” (I’m pretty sure they implant some kind of micro-camera to make sure you do them, too)

I’m not exaggerating, but physical therapy DOES help. And if you DON’T have a condition like fibromyalgia, it may not be as bad. Unhappily, I have pain receptors on every milometer of my body, so every second of my Graston session is beyond my tolerance level. My therapists know, but neither of us have a choice if I’m going to get that particular muscle through to the other side. They DO push, but it’s right up to the line of tolerance and no further. I might get tears in my eyes, but they don’t fall. It’s a delicate line, and physical therapy dances right to the edge.

I might hate it, but I appreciate it.

My current therapist is a champ, because I frequently tell him I hate him and threaten to kick him in the head. (I have a right ischiofemoral pingement) While vocal cursing isn’t allowed, I admit that there are a lot four-letter words happening in my head when he asks. He knows how to get me talking so I don’t break my jaw. He watches how hard I’m clenching my hands so know when I need a break. And he knows very well that I keep count, and he’ll stop me when he thinks I’m going too far.

He also knows I’m not doing my stretches at home, and he’s stopped asking.

It’s medically-sanctioned torture, but it’s better than surgery. Every session HURTS LIKE HELL, but I can see the progress. This current round’s progress isn’t going as fast or well as I’d like, but it IS there. The laughter helps (I won’t throw that quote in – everyone knows it), and so does his promise that we’ll get where we’re going.

On my bad days, when I have to sit on the couch and watch my fiance’ do kickboxing without me, I feel like it’s all a lie. When I spend the remainder of the day wanting to detach my leg from my body, and I reach for the phone to cancel the rest of my appointments, it seems pointless. Then I remind myself that a month ago, I couldn’t do ANYTHING without pain. Now, I can at least work without wanting to scream. I can walk without a visual limp. Maybe it isn’t much, but it’s SOMETHING.

Besides, even if I end up needing surgery, I’ll still end up back in physical therapy afterward. (Kind of how the wretched system works) Might as well get used to the routine now.

So, yeah, I hate every minute I’m there. I’m a terrible patient, and I complain. It keeps the pain from getting the upper hand. And when my therapist tells me he gets it, he understands… Well, at least we’re on the same page.

Elixir of Life

Elixir of Life

Water bottles

Water – so annoying and yet so very necessary. Without it, you shrivel into a prune and develop massive health problems. With it, you have to confront the necessity of stepping away from your computer for bathroom breaks. Kind of a catch-22, but I’m going to assure you the former is the better option.


Because you can only lose 75% of your kidney function before you have to face the reality of dialysis and needing a kidney transplant. That REALLY cuts into writing time. So drinking your 64 ounces (at least) a day of water is important. Your kidneys will thank you, and so will your body.

Now, I used to struggle with meeting that goal. It was just plain impossible – not only from a practical standpoint (my previous job made it impossible on a lot of levels) but from the fact that I just plain didn’t want to guzzle that much fluid. Have you ever measured out 64 ounces? It’s insane! Even broken down over 15 hours, it was too much. Well, I convinced myself it was too much. Plus, it was water. Water was BORING.

Then I got a kidney stone.

I cannot accurately describe the level of pain a kidney stone produces. That 1-10 scale they ask in the ER? I gasped out a 13 and meant it (okay, I meant a 236, but they rolled their eyes at my 13). After the stone was analyzed, coffee and tea fell off the list of things I was allowed to have (a lot fell off that list, but we’re discussing fluids). Do you know what it’s like to be a writer and be deprived of coffee?! (Side note: soda was already off my list due to other health issues – being me is fun!)

Water became my new best friend. And it turned out water wasn’t so bad after all. Kidney stones don’t like acid, so I added a touch of cranberry juice or lemonade to my water for flavor. Now the struggle was meeting that 64-ounce goal each day. It still felt like an insane amount to achieve during my waking hours. I mean, remembering to eat was difficult enough – now I needed to drink, too?

Parents to the rescue!

My parents bought me that big blue water bottle you see in the picture. It holds 64 ounces, so I didn’t have to keep track of glasses each day. (Yes, I tried that – it didn’t work) I fill it each morning, and it sits beside me on my desk while I work. That shade of blue is in the corner of my eye while I work – a nice subtle reminder. When I need to run errands or when I hit the gym, it’s a bit bulky. So I have my trusty Child water bottle for those times. That water bottle holds 20 oz. I either fill it from the big bottle or fill it separately and go for more than 64 oz. for the day.

Yes, drinking regularly means peeing regularly. I’ve made my peace with that fact (seriously – is it THAT much time out of your day?). Mostly because I’ve noticed other benefits from meeting my water intake each day:

  • My skin looks amazing
  • My hair isn’t falling out or breaking anymore
  • My lips don’t chap as much
  • My weight stays on an even keel
  • I don’t wake up parched
  • The blue bottle has some heft to it, so I get an arm workout every day

It’s your call, really: stay healthy enough to continue your writing, or sacrifice your health and lose time you could be writing. Personally, I hate hospitals, so I do everything I can to avoid them. If that means I have to step away from the keyboard a few times a day, I’m willing to accept that.

Besides, no way in hell am I going through another kidney stone!

The Autopilot Concept

The Autopilot Concept

My I Love Kickboxing gloves

Admission: when I first conceived this post, we weren’t in lock down. I considered holding off until orders were lifted, but A) that could be another couple of months for some, and B) I realized there was no reason. After all, it is entirely possible to find ways to exercise in the comfort of your own home. So onward!

Yeah, I know: some of you cringed when you saw the “E” word. After all, as writers, our place is sacked out in front of our computers, shoveling sustenance into our mouths (when we remember to do so). And I used to abhor the thought of taking an hour out of my day, too (not to mention the very idea of getting into anything resembling gym clothes and going in front of other people).

What changed?

For one, a lot of surgery. I have the fortune of inheriting really bad genes, and my body hates me (not a joke – it does…but that’s a post for another time). Some of those procedures came with physical therapy and therapists laughing hysterically (turns out, I am also a freak…and not in the way I knew). Since I didn’t want to keep repeating that process – anymore than I already had – and because I wanted to stave off some of the nastier aspects of my body destroying itself, the E-word was the solution.

Now, before you jump to any conclusions, this had nothing to do with weight loss. I’m a major advocate of loving your body, however it looks. I don’t believe in starving yourself, I definitely don’t believe in depriving yourself (I eat normal food, and I have never turned down anything), and I think all fad diets are absurd. None of my surgeries were related to weight; they really were bad genes, as well as terrible job conditions.

Moving on: I discovered that the gym really wasn’t so bad, especially because I walked in with the indispensable accessory of headphones (you people are introverts – I know you own them).


I suddenly had an entire hour of privacy to live in my head! Once I had figured out the various machines, my body could go on autopilot, and my brain was FREE.

I get SO MUCH writing work done!

I can unravel scenes that I was blocked on, design characters, sketch out plots, work through dialogue – whatever I need! I just program whatever playlist is most appropriate into Pandora, and I’m all set. With the volume set high enough, even if someone tries to bother me, I’ll never hear them (and I have a great resting bitch face which tends to discourage people).

I did branch out from the gym, and I joined I Love Kickboxing. Even there, where I can’t wear headphones (they play music throughout), and I need to listen for the exercises to be called out, I still get work done. During the bag rounds, my body knows the movements, and my head goes off on its own. When I’m frustrated about a scene or short story that won’t work, punching a bag is the best therapy in the world!

Still not convinced?

Have you noticed how much geek swag is out there?

Above are my actual kickboxing gloves. I deliberately bought two sets of 16-ounce gloves, and I painted them with Harley Quinn’s symbols. My gym bag has a flerken on it. I have a headband with the Cheshire Cat grin. I have a Venom tanktop and a Lion King top and short set.

People, they cater to US!

Yeah, it’s a little harder to workout right now. My kickboxing classes are now via Zoom, and it’s shadowboxing instead of with a bag (it’s a little weird). Instead of using an elliptical, we’re walking the dog around the neighborhood on nice days. It’s also using the Nintendo Switch and our Ring Fit Adventures and Fitness Boxing games.

They still work the same: the body knows what it’s supposed to do, and while it’s exercising, the mind can do something else. You’d be amazed at what you can accomplish while you’re on autopilot. And if you get a little added benefits from the exercise itself, well, that’s not a bad thing, is it?

Just give it a try – see what comes of it. You’ll be glad you did, I promise.

Brain Fuel

Brain Fuel

Meal Prep on Table

Ah, meal prepping – two words that are the very bane of my existence. The concept of buying out Costco so you can rush home and spend the entire weekend (what a waste of good writing time!) cooking the EXACT SAME FREAKING MEAL one thousand times and then turn your refrigerator and freezer into an ad for Doomsday-Preppers-R-Us is ridiculous. Who in their right mind wants to eat the same thing day-in and day-out?! Have you people not watched every movie or read every book warning against such pablum?!

Stop the madness!

Still, I acknowledge that it is important to put fuel in our tanks so that we can continue to function, and our brains need fuel so that we can continue to create our writing. I also acknowledge that when we’re up to our eyebrows in our fiction and the words are flowing like waterfalls, we can barely remember to stop and go to the bathroom (don’t laugh – you know you’ve been there). Hell, I’ve lost an entire day before when I was on a roll – looked up and couldn’t figure out why it was still dark out and had to be informed it was now night, that I had typed all day, and could I please move my ass and do something “constructive” (that wasn’t my current relationship, needless to say). Getting into that creative roll is awesome, but starving your body is bad. Looking like you’re preparing for an impending Apocalypse is also bad, and denying yourself any variety in life? You got it, super bad.

Luckily, I’ve found a compromise.

First, you find a significant other who likes to cook. Just kidding (although, seriously, it’s awesome, and I highly recommend one). I do a half-ass meal plan each week on Sunday night. I have a planner where I write out what I’m going to have for the week – JUST THE WEEK – for breakfast and my snacks (my fiance’ makes dinner each night, so that’s up to him). This saves me from having to think about things in the morning when I’m still waking up, and it gives me a structure for the week when I’m planning my work. Lunch is often leftover from dinner, so I don’t worry about writing it down, or I have a few staples I can rely on and rotate through, so I’m not stuck eating the same thing every day. No two weeks have been the same yet, so I don’t get bored.

Second, you find a few recipes for breakfast, snack, and dessert that make multiple servings and rotate through them. That will give you extra you can keep in the fridge without stacks and stacks of those silly meal containers. I have a growing list of recipe cards, and when I finish off one Rubbermaid container, I make something new. It works out great, and, again, I’m not getting bored. Also, I’m usually only making one or two things at a time, which only takes about an hour out of my day (max) – not the entire weekend. It’s usually an hour I need to get up and walk around and stretch, anyway, so it works out. The fridge only has one corner taken up at a time, and I get to keep my work on track – everyone wins.

It really is that simple!

We need variety in life – not just as writers, but as human beings. Most of us have routines, regardless of what kind of work that we do, and those routines can take a lot out of us. Whether you thrive on routine or not, it wears you down. You need to have a little color and dance in there to make your life meaningful.

So put down the thirty pounds of skinless chicken breast that is going to take away your entire Sunday to grill and consider just getting a few cans of tuna…unless you’re hosting a major get-together to celebrate an accomplishment. Then I say let’s hit Costco!