Put Out Day

O put out day! Callooh! Callay!

I don’t know about you guys, but while I’ve been getting my apocalypse on this spring, I’ve just about *coughs* more than doubled the size of our garden from last year. Not that I’ll be able to keep it alive, since I stink at this stuff, but I’m gonna give it a go. And here we are, finally, on June first! Into the garden they go!

I know that’s a pretty late put out day for most of the world, but things run a bit chilly up here in Alaska. And although I could probably slip things out a few days early without much risk (more and more each year, it seems, hmmm), June first is traditionally the earliest date by which you will reliably be past the danger of frost.

So although I’ve been putting in my plants like a madwoman over these last couple days, I’ve actually been prepping for this day for the past ten weeks. Put out day is certainly not the beginning of the gardening process (nor is it the end).

Garden work starts for me with the planning stage. I figure out how much garden space I have and how much of it I want to use. I try to gauge how much time I’ll have to devote to the garden, and I have some serious soul searching about how much chard we will actually eat. Then I pull out my garden journal, go over where various plants have lived over the previous summers, and decide approximately where I want them to go this year.

Once I have a plan, I start to gather my seeds. Inevitably, I pick up seeds for plants that weren’t on my list. I’m not sorry. I take all the seeds I plan to use this year and write down when they need to be started- whether that’s eight weeks out or four or direct seed. I make myself a little chart where I date each week back from June 1st, so that I know when to start each one. At this point, I also start gathering my starter pots and clear off the plant rack with the grow lights that kind of turns into a giant open-faced junk drawer over the winter.

Then I start planting. Pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, and sweet onions need to be started eight to ten weeks early. I fill pots with soil and worm compost and plant those seeds first. I water them and check on them regularly. A few weeks later, I start the next batch of seeds, and then more after. I stagger them so that I don’t start the lettuces or snap peas too soon, lest they run out of leg room while the ground is still frozen.

Eventually, I run out of room on the plant rack. The tomatoes get too tall. I started too many beets. There isn’t anywhere left for the nasturtiums. The zucchinis need bigger pots. That’s when I shove the couches out of the way and everything gets moved to the sunniest corner of the house, where I set up the card table and take over the top of my husband’s Magic: The Gathering cabinet. If there isn’t enough room there, a few things can stay under on the rack, but the lights are turned off. The mint and green onions are left to fend for themselves in the shade.

By now, the sun is up more than it’s not. The sap season is over. The bees are venturing outside their hive more and more. The snow is nearly gone. I shovel the last of it off the garden and put down cardboard to catch the falling catkins and starve the dormant weeds of sunlight before they can get a foothold they will never again relinquish. I rearrange the garden plan, putting the squashes and tomatoes with their orange and yellow blossoms directly across the strawberry patch from the beehive. They should all get along nicely.

I gather the last of the seeds, the things that will go directly in the garden- the carrots, the radishes, the potatoes, as well as extra lettuce and other leafy greens for second harvests. I get horse manure and aged chicken droppings and fresh ash from the birch and spruce trees we cut down and roasted marshmallows and sausages over. I find I don’t have enough compost from the last year, so I have to buy some, which feels wrong. I amend the soil with all this rot and poop and refuse, and it makes my soil dark and rich. I water it and put the cardboard back on top.

The days are warm now, in the fifties and sometimes higher, and the snow is all gone. I start putting the plants out during the day, when the sun is high and hot, and then bring them back in at night when the temperature drops to the thirties, and then to the forties. I water them in the mornings, or at least as soon as I remember. The tomatoes are already blossoming, so I put them up by the beehive.

Things are almost ready.

Working together, my family tills and weeds each row, pulling out the spreading rose roots, shaking the dirt from the pulled grass. We cut down high bush cranberry and birch saplings and willow shoots. We clear a new row. We put in a raised bed for the kids. We plant the apple trees. Everything is coming together.

The seedlings are overflowing their pots, their roots starting to peek out the drainage holes in the bottoms of their cups. I worry I started some of them too soon. (Sorry, lettuce, I tried.) They stay outside from the time I get up to the time I go to bed. I chase the chickens away when they get too curious; they go eat grass and dandelion shoots instead.

I put in the direct seeds and pull out the janky old sprinkler, cursing it when it gets stuck watering the edge of my driveway every two minutes. I worry over the apple trees. I fuss over whether I put down too much dung. I Google how much ash I should have added. I transfer the hardier plants into the ground- the peas and the overgrown lettuce.

Finally, it’s today! The rest of the plants go in, and more second harvests are started as well. The sun burns hot overhead, and then dark thunderclouds roll in and everything gets cool and windy. I worry for the leafy, swaying tomato plants and retreat inside, scratching at my collection of mosquito bites. I watch, craning my neck at the window, as the rain begins to fall.

It is a perfect put out day.

There will be more work tomorrow, and more the day after, for all the long, bright weeks of summer, until I bring in the last of the potatoes and pumpkins and beets and carrots. I’m a terrible gardener, but I love it. Maybe some day that love and continued effort will transform into skill and calories, like some alchemic magic.

Writing is like this too. At first, that story seems so beautifully impossible, like a perfect dream that I don’t know how to bring about. But it isn’t brought into the world all at once. It happens with a single seed pressed into three teaspoons of soil, repeated over and over again. It happens when what starts out looking like a brown lump of bird poop ends up being the fuel for some other stroke of brilliance. It happens days, and then weeks, and then months at a time. It happens failure after failure after failure, and then a breakthrough. It happens with tearing down and ripping up, and throwing in the compost heap and rotting away and trying again. It happens with one glorious bloom, and then another, and another.

Worthwhile things take time. Worthwhile things take work. Worthwhile things take soul. When writing gets tough—when you’ve lost your chard in all the weeds and the chickens scratched up the bed and ate all your radish seeds and your black currant fails to blossom and what the heck happened to the rhubarb bushes—keep at it. Everything is still so crazy right now, but keep at it. Prioritize the things that feed you, whatever they may be.

Until next week, happy writing!

From Tree to Table

I like growing and processing my own food on site. I can’t do it as much as I’d like to, and I’m not as good at it as I’d like to be, but there’s still something really satisfying about a salad that grew in your own weedy yard, or an omelet from your own sassy birds. I’m limited on what I can do here, both by the climate and by neighborhood covenants and by my own black thumb, but I do what I can and I love it.

One of the recent additions to my wanna-be homesteading repertoire (along with the beekeeping I talked about a couple weeks ago) is syrup making. Our climate is too cold for maple trees to survive, but if you’re stubborn and not afraid to steam the paint off your walls, you can boil down birch sap and make syrup.

The process of making birch syrup is the same as that for making maple syrup, but a bit… tricksier, let’s say. Birch sap has a lower sugar concentration, so it takes twice as much sap to make the same amount of syrup. Birch sap is also very perishable and must be processed or frozen quickly. Unfortunately, the sugars in the sap also scorch more easily than maple sugars do.

But the trees make up for their lame sap by giving you tons of it. Birch syrup making therefore takes a lot of boiling. We had only three trees tapped and we couldn’t even fit all the sap in our gigantic canner. We were getting sap faster than we could boil it down, the stove was on constantly, and our poor ceiling started dripping like it was raining in the kitchen. We gathered hundreds of liters of sap, and all of it boiled down to a just couple pints of sap. (Yes, I used liters and pints in the same sentence. I’m bilingual!)

Truth be told, syrup making and story writing are both total pains. They take up a ton of time and energy with little to show for it at the end. And honestly, I might not think it was worth it if I was only concerned with the results. A tiny bottle of syrup might not be enough to entice me through the whole process. But fortunately, the process itself is part of the fun. Let’s take a look!

Sap Flow I can’t really lay a lot of claim to this part of the process. Sap flow happens, whether I collect it or not. Likewise, story inspiration is out there, whether I’m paying attention to it or not. But if I know it’s happening, I can take steps to collect and process the flow. When I set the taps in the tree, that’s like starting to pay attention to all these amazing story ideas all around me.

Sap Collecting A single birch tree during peak flow can give as much as three gallons of sap from a single tap. For this part, simply drill a hole, set a tap, and let it dribble into a bucket. Then all you have to do is fetch a bucket of birch water once a day, easy peasy. For me, nothing about the writing process is easier than the giddy headlong rush through a first draft. When I’m in Go Mode, I can crank out up to 80k words in a month. Granted, I’m not usually moving that fast, but when the story’s fun, it just flows.

Hard Boiling Birch sap is about 99% water, so you can really boil the heck out of it when you first start processing it. It is insane how much boiling sap takes and it is insane how much editing an all-over-the-place garbage fest of a first draft needs. Especially when it’s my first draft. This is the longest part of the process and can sometimes take days for sap—or years for books.

Final Boiling Nine times out of ten, when you’re making syrup, this is the point at which things go irreversibly and horribly wrong. If you’re not watching that pot like a hawk to pull it at the right time, you can end up with syrup that is watery and not concentrated enough (and will inevitably spoil), or too concentrated and the consistency of wood-flavored taffy, or scorched, or any of a dozen other problems. Fortunately, your final draft is only mildly like this stage in syrup-making. If you take out too much, you can simply put it back in. If you don’t cut enough, you can go back and pull more. And the nasty burnt bits can be swapped out for something sweeter. All is not lost. (At least, so long as the end does eventually roll around. Endless editing is its own kind of story death.)

Bottling The final step is to bottle your beautiful dark syrup in a hot water bath and pop it in the pantry. It almost feels anticlimactic. Likewise, it can feel a little strange to finally be done with a story after working on it for so long. But syrup, like stories, is sweetest when shared with others. Opening up your work for the scrutiny of others can be a bit scary, but it is very rewarding to have something you poured so much work into bring a smile to someone else’s face.

I’ve mentioned my Star Daughter series here a few times. It’s a good example of this process. That story has gone through over twelve drafts (at which point I stopped counting) and over a million words, every single one haphazardly added, cut, rewritten, revised, rearranged, culled, and fleshed out. It took me yeeeeears to boil all those ideas down to the heart of the story I wanted to tell. Of course, this process doesn’t have to take years. (It probably shouldn’t, really.) But it’s a process that needs to happen for every story we write.

So what part of this process am I in right now? Ugh, good question. I’ve been hopping around between projects a bit, which is a thing I personally should never ever do. But I decided this morning that I want to pop out a couple shorts before the end of the month, new ideas from start to finish. So I’ll be getting going on that in the morning. I’ve been feeling a bit blah on writing lately (and about a lot of things), so I’m hoping that this gets the story sap flowing a bit more.

I’ll let you know how it’s going next week. Until then, happy writing!

The Three A’s of Isolation Motivation

Last week, I managed to sneak out a little time between one child explosion and the next to meet up over video call with the local chapter of my writing guild. There were only four of us on the call, but it was so nice to see other humans, let alone other writing humans.

We talked about how we were doing and what we’d been up to and how much or how little our lives had changed since the last meeting. And, of course, we talked about our writing projects.

I… haven’t been doing much. I’ve been slowly chipping away at the cookbook, but at this point, that involves more playing around in the kitchen than any actual writing. Another project of mine is in review right now and so I haven’t really been doing much on my end while I wait to hear back from the folks checking it over to make sure it’s right for the organization. And the rest of my freelance gigs have dried up as people realize maybe now is not the time to expand their now-closed-for-who-knows-how-long business. So for writing—real, true, and actual butt-in-chair writing—there really hasn’t been much. Normally, that wouldn’t slow me down, because fiction is way more fun than gig work anyway, but as it turns out, having constant human presence of the small and needy type saps most of my energy in general, let alone creative energy.

But nobody wants to admit that to the guild members! It looks so- so- so unprofessional. *writhes in pain* (We’re not even going to talk about how unprofessional it looked when, halfway through the meeting, there was a sudden crash and a yell and I went bounding out of the room, only to sprint back twenty seconds later with a rushed No-one’s-dead-but-I-gotta-go-bye. Aaaand then I missed the Leave Meeting button twice, with accompanying false start lunges for the door, before I managed to actually hit it and go. Yep. Totally pro.)

So I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how to get a little more writing in. (And no, for purposes of definition, blog writing in this case does not count. Boo.) I feel like I have to tread this ground again every time there’s a big shift in my life, whether that’s seasonal changes, major life events, employment status, mental or physical health belly flops, or, in this case, apocalyptic pandemics.

I should probably be grateful that this keeps coming up. It’s really hard to ever get in a rut if my entire life gets upended every three months. But on the other hand, it always seems like writing is the first thing to get pitched out the window whenever there’s a transition, and it’s sometimes weeks before I right myself again and get back on course.

We learned a little while ago that writing prompts are pretty hit-or-miss with getting me going again. So what can I count on to help me get back into writing? For me, at least this time around, it’s been important to make sure I have the Three A’s:

Attainable Goals This has been an important one for me lately. This Camp NaNo month’s attainable goal is eight thousand words. Jill-on-a-good-day finds this wildly, embarrassingly inadequate. But Jill-on-the-other-twenty-nine-days-of-the-month finds this just baaaarely doable. I am not at a point right now where I can crank out 2k a day, but that doesn’t mean I should throw my hands up and despair. Having attainable goals helps me to keep moving forward, even if those steps are small. All progress is good progress.

Actionable Plans Having a goal is fantastic but having an idea of how to achieve it is even better. 8k words for the month comes out to 267 words per day. If I can squeeze out my 267 a day, whether that’s when the kids are falling asleep or while they’re out at recess or, yes, while I’m sitting in the bathroom pretending to use the toilet (dignity has long since left the premises), then I can make my 8k. If I miss a day, then I call in reinforcements and beg my ever-patient husband to take the kids on a walk or something so I can play catch-up. Have a plan. Stick to it.

Accountability Buddies Speaking of ever-patient partners, have someone who knows your goals and your plans who will gently poke you with a cattle prod every now and then. Have more than one person. Heck, tell the entire internet. But if I have a goal that only exists in my head, it’s pretty easy to decide I’m too tired to work on it today, or I should probably do the dish mound instead, etc. Accountability buddies keep you going when you’d stop on your own. Get some.

Need some more A’s in your life? Here’s a bonus A: Art is not just writing. I like to beat myself up when I’m not hitting my writing goals, or when my goals are tiny and pathetic, but the truth is that any enjoyable creative endeavor helps me feel less like I want to whack my hand off with a meat cleaver and lie down in the shower to die. It might be cooking an elaborate meal. It might be dancing with my boys. It might be drawing complex geometric sharpie doodles on my arm. If it stimulates my brain as I create something beautiful, it is an art and it is good for me. Maybe I can’t write while the kids are tearing around the house screaming about their latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering achievement. But I can practice ukulele through that. And I sometimes have to accept that that is enough.

Sooo… I guess that makes Acceptance our fifth and final A, haha.

I hope you guys are hanging in there. Do what you can and have mercy for the rest. And if you can manage to squeeze it in, happy writing!

Writing Grants: Dredging for Gold in Tight Times

So, I don’t know about you, but writing isn’t exactly paying the bills around here. I make just about enough writing money to keep up on writing expenses, with a bit of extra pocket money to spend on art supplies. Not bad for now, but I certainly won’t be quitting the day jobs any time soon.

Most of the money I make at writing comes from one of three sources: freelancing, where I write custom work according to clients’ specifications; prizes from writing contests; and selling short stories. But a wee little bit of cash also comes in from the occasional grant.

As you know, I’ve been miserably awful about submissions for about the same amount of time it takes to make an entire human. But I’m hoping to get better this year! Standards have been lowered and commitments renewed. And combing through grants for a good fit may be a good place for me to start.

The Alaska Writers Guild put on a presentation about writing grants several months ago, and part of the presentation was a handy-dandy list of grants. Some are only for Alaskans, guild members, etc, but many of them are widely open for applications. With permission, I’m happy to share the list with you below. Hopefully you’ll be able to make good use of it. I know I hope to soon!

So ask me about submissions next time you see me on the internet. Watch me cringe and cower in shame because I haven’t done it yet, it’ll be fun! And until next week, happy writing!

AWG JULY 2019 PROGRAM

GRANTS FOR WRITERS

LOCAL GRANTS

Rasmuson Foundation

Individual and Project Grants ranging from $7500 – $40,000

http://www.rasmusonfoundation.org/grants

Alaska Humanities Forum

Individual and Company Grants up to $2000 (monthly) and $10,000 (annually).

http://www.akhf.org/grants

Alaska Writers Guild 

Lin Halterman Grants, two annual grants of $500. Available to AWG Members only. 

http://www.alaskawritersguild.com/lin-halterman-grant

Alaska State Council on the Arts

CLOSED! If they reopen (fingers crossed), they offer quarterly grants for writers and artists up to $1000.

http://www.education.alaska.gov/aksca

LOCAL RESIDENCIES

Chulitna Lodge, Lake Clark

Four ways to participate, from all expense paid to self-pay

http://www.chulitnalodge.com/artists

Alderworks Alaska, Skagway

Full artist residency cabins

http://www.alderworksalaska.com

Storyknife, Homer

Residency fellowships for women writers only

http://www.storyknife.org/residency 

Voices of the Wilderness 

Hands-on residencies in various locations and parks around Alaska

http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/votw

NATIONAL GRANTS

Creative Capital

$50,000 Grants (+$50,000 in professional development & mentorship) for artists

https://creative-capital.org/award

National Endowment for the Arts

$25,000 Grants in fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry

https://www.arts.gov/grants-individuals/creative-writing-fellowships

Speculative Literature Foundation

Grants for authors of sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, and any genre that falls in the category of speculative fiction.

http://www.speculativeliterature.org

Sustainable Arts Foundation

Grants available to women writers with children

http://www.sustainableartsfoundation.org

Awesome Foundation

Funds your “crazy, brilliant idea,” which could come in the form of literature

http://www.awesomefoundation.org

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

https://blog.creative-capital.org/category/tips-tools

https://apps.nea.gov/grantsearch

Grants

Pursue Your Dreams of Becoming a Writer With These 6 Grants

https://www.freedomwithwriting.com

Finding My Center

Many years ago, I took a ceramics class to satisfy an arts requirement for my college degree. I made a lot of really bad bowls and figurines and stuff that have since all been smashed, disappeared, or distributed to family members who feel too guilty to get rid of them. It was an entry level class and I was awful at it, but it was fun.

However, I never used the pottery wheels. I probably would have broken them, and the more advanced students were on them all the time, and I was too garbage and well aware of it to properly beg for wheel time. To this day, I have never tried thrown pottery.

But my ten-year-old has. A few weeks ago, his class went on this weird mish-mash field trip where they went to a rock climbing club, and then a ‘50s style diner, and then a high school pottery studio. Not sure what the educational aim was here (or why this teacher is so set on expensive field trips and activities like all the time), but my son had a lot of fun making a little bowl that I’m probably going to have to buy off the teacher later, to prove that I love my child, in order to help fund further field trips. (I’m not bitter.)

My boy told me in such exquisite detail about the potting process that I think he might want a throwing wheel for Christmas. He told me all about tucking his elbows, and keeping his hands wet, and maybe most important of all, centering the clay.

When throwing pottery on the wheel, one of the biggest problems beginners have is failing to properly center their lump of clay. It might seem centered (enough), but once the wheel gets up to speed and you begin to craft your masterpiece, the wobbly tower of clay suddenly ruptures and flops over dead like an overwatered cactus in fast forward.

A lot of creative work is like that, including writing. Sometimes we start a project before we’re quite ready. Sometimes we don’t see the problems until we’re well along. Sometimes we have to scrap and start over, even when something starts out so promising.

I am the queen of false starts. And messy starts. And oh-gosh-I’m-going-to-have-to-change-all-of-this-later starts. Lately, I’ve been feeling like the empress, though. This last year has been a weird year for me. I’ve been reasonably productive, and pretty successful by some metrics, but I haven’t felt creatively centered, if that makes any sense. So I’ve ended up with some preeeetty wobbly stories, structurewise.

I think part of my problem may be in the sorts of projects I’ve been working on this year. More about this later, but a much higher proportion of my writing has been for either nonfiction or ghostwriting on other people’s creative projects. So a smaller chunk of my creative brain power has been spent on the sorts of projects I enjoy the most (which is mostly people running around getting stabbed in the woods, apparently). This has put me a bit off so that when I do get around to those projects, my head isn’t in the game. This is probably further exacerbated by how busy I’ve been with life in general. My time for art in any form has shrunk considerably as we welcomed a new foster child into our home late last summer. He’s an awesome kid, but takes a looooot of time and attention. I basically doubled my kid load, meaning that most of my time for feeding my creative soul now happens between ten at night and… whenever I go collapse into bed. Sometimes that’s ten, because I’m tired. Sometimes it’s one in the morning because I really want to work on something that isn’t kid related. But then I’m exhausted in the morning and I pay it back for days. So yeah, I’ve been off-balance lately.

So how to center myself a bit more?

Honestly, I think the biggest thing may be to accept that, at least for a little while, I’m just going to have less time for art. I can’t not take my kid to his appointments. I can’t ignore my natural children, either, who are needing more attention than ever as we navigate these emotional waters together. But rather than just settling for less art, I think I should also shift the focus of what time I do have for art. I’ll have to do a better job of reserving my art time for the art that I find most fulfilling. And I’m going to start doing more of my visual art out in the midst of the kids instead of only while holed up in my Tortured Artist Cave. (Writing will have to stay in the cave, though. I cannot write with any distractions whatsoever, unfortunately.)

Giving myself the breathing space to make art without the guilt is probably the key here. Maybe I can’t produce the same volume of work that I have in years past. And maybe I don’t have the same amount of time that I have in the past. But letting myself create for the sheer joy of creating, rather than worrying about deadlines and output and word counts and dollars, should help bring me back to center. I’ll write more in a couple weeks about my goals for this year and how those shaped up, and then I’ll roll out a shiny new set of goals for next year.

Until then, happy (happy, I say!) writing!

Stealth Workouts

Twice a week, I find myself driving twenty minutes across town. I drop off a child. One hour later, I pick him up again. It’s not worth the gas to go home, and the place is pretty remote so there is nothing else within miles for me entertain myself with, except for a connected gym and a trampoline park which are both wildly overpriced.

When these appointments started, I would sit in the foyer on a squeaky plastic chair next to a fake plant and a table littered with board books, old issues of Highlights Magazine, and pamphlets about how to talk my kid out of doing drugs. I mostly chatted with the security guard or played solitaire on my phone, since I couldn’t ever seem to remember to grab a book, but if I was really on it, I would bring headphones and take French quizzes to win fake internet money with which I could buy little outfits for my avatar, a green cartoon owl named Duo.

It was low-grade terrible but could have been a lot worse. I could live with it.

Then, while spying on the security guard, I realized that of all the surveillance cameras he monitored—the halls of all three floors, the elevators, all doors in and out, several views of the parking lot—none of them were watching the stairwell. So with his blessing, I went to check it out.

Concrete steps with metal and rubber grills on the edges. Painted metal handlebars. Three dusty buckets of mysterious construction materials stuffed under the bottom flight. You know this stairwell, I’m sure. You probably have one at work, or your apartment building, or your doctor’s office. These are actually all the same stairwell, dimensionally connected across all space and time no matter where you enter or exit, from the florescent lights at the top to the patterned carpet at the bottom, covered with dust and the powdered remains of ten-year-old leaves, with maybe a skittle or two and a crumpled plastic juice bottle to liven up the scenery. You’ve been here before, but maybe you didn’t stay long because it looks like the kind of place that a homeless vampire from the 1700s might skulk while he tries to figure out where it all went wrong and what the heck ‘yeet’ is supposed to mean anyway.

Inspection thus passed, I sat thoughtfully in the foyer again the next visit. “You know,” I said to the security guy. “I should probably go walk stairs or something instead of just sitting here.”

“Do it.” He was probably tired of me hanging around making small talk while thumbing curiously through wall racks full of pamphlets about AIDS or safe sleeping positions for babies or how to make friends when you feel like nobody understands you. “You won’t be able to get back through the doors at the top of the stairs, but if you come back up before the elevator shuts down at five, it’s not a problem.”

Now, this building is literally connected to a gym. But as I have mentioned once or twice (or a thousand times), I am the cheapest of skates. I compare the price-per-ounce of every grocery I buy, every single week, just in case they went and changed it on me. I will always choose to languish sick at home an extra week than spend the ten dollars to see a doctor at my husband’s work’s health clinic. Every time. So why would I go to the gym when I have this perfectly serviceable creepy stairwell at my disposal?

It started out small. I clomped up and down the steps in my oversized winter boots for a quarter hour before coming back up to wait for the boy. But why stop there? If you have three flights of stairs, some buckets, and a pile of floppy plastic wall trim, you’re only limited by your imagination.

Things got more complicated. I started timing exercise sets on my phone—squats, stair sprints, planks, crunches, and so on. I wore tights and sports bras under my street clothes. I ditched the boots under the stairs. Then most of the outer layers of clothing as well. The workouts stretched in duration and intensity. But as that happened, I started to look more and more like a crazy person—especially considering that there was a fully equipped gym three feet away on the other side of the wall. I started to get self-conscious. Then, on the rare occasion that someone else was actually using the stairs to go up and down floors (who does that?), I started hiding. With the squeak and slam of a panic bar, someone else would come in the stairwell and I had moments to assess if they were above or below me, going up or going down, and then, drenched in sweat and wearing crazy tight pants and stripey socks, I dove beneath the stairs to squat pressed against the wall like a startled Gollum in a cave (except his hair is better than mine).

Then things started to get really weird. I mean, time is hard to come by and I’ve got a lot of stuff going on. I would do French quizzes while getting sick glutes on the stairs. I texted ladies from church about their ministering assignments and upcoming enrichment activities as I did wacky belly-dancing core workouts. I brought my laptop if I was behind on my word count for NaNo, and did this awful plank-while-sprinting thing where I had to get so many words before I could stop (which really just made for bad words and bad exercise form). I would max out the volume on my phone and listen to scriptures, running up three flights of stairs at a dead sprint while blasting the commandments of God handed down from Mount Sinai in this weird stairwell that I was making waaaay weirder by the day. I would do all these things in the same workout session, waiting for my kid to finish his appointment and never quite having enough time to finish everything I started. I was multitasking on a whole new level. And if that squeak-bang door announcement ever sounded, and it did at least once a session, I would instantly kill the volume and flee to the bottom of the stairs, squeezing down into a sticky ball of social anxiety wedged between a bucket of paint and a half-used box of powdered wall spackling, just add water.

I was being so incredibly weird, and I loved it. Man, it would have been miserable and mortifying if someone caught me at it, but good golly, it felt like I was getting away with a crime every time someone went through that stairwell and didn’t spot me. Just earlier today (no, this hasn’t stopped, and it’s not about to), I didn’t turn off my French quiz quite fast enough and the last echoes of “Avez-vous apporté-” were still sounding in the stairwell when someone came in. They paused, silent, then came uncertainly down the stairs. They paused again at the bottom of the flight, standing just before the door to leave.

Maybe they heard the labored breathing I couldn’t quite stifle. Maybe they could smell the scents of fresh sweat and discount-bin Lärabars. And then maybe they decided I was that 1700s vampire and it was best not to investigate. They left, leaving me feeling like I had just reached a whole new level of got-away-with-it rapture.

You know that NaNo Badge you can earn for writing where you probably shouldn’t? Oh yeah. Badge unlocked.

Reblog: 8 Things I Wish I Knew When I was Writing my First Novel

Ahhh, the month of wacky reblogs continues! When I asked my writing pals what their favorite writing videos were, this one from Hank Green floated to the top. (And if you like it, it links to more in-depth videos too! Into the rabbit hole we go!) In all my fantastic ignorance, I only really knew Hank Green from SciShow (which I’ve linked on this blog before), so I’m intrigued by a book being out there too, with another on the way! Who knew?

Next week is the last week of month, and then we’ll get ourselves back to usual and I’ll stop just reposting other people’s content. Until then, happy writing!