Reflecting On The End Of An Era

As some of you know, I’ve now reached the last week of my day job and will retire on Friday. In many ways it’s the end of an era. Although I was a stay-at-home mom in the 90’s, I returned to the work force when my youngest was seven and have worked different types of jobs over the years.

SFU_burnaby_campus,_1_sept_2007,_8[1]This last stint was at Simon Fraser University. Oddly, it was also one of my first jobs. When I was just twenty years old in the mid-70’s, I landed a job in SFU’s Registrar’s Department. I didn’t like my supervisor, so I eagerly took a job in the Computing Science Department, working as a secretary for the department chair. The man had a formidable reputation as being difficult to work with and the position had been vacant for some time. He turned out to be one of the best and most interesting bosses I’ve ever worked for. He was one of those conducting research to establish a definite correlation between cancer rates and asbestos workers, and all we know how that turned out.

My husband graduated from SFU. Although we were both on campus at the same time, we never met until years later where we both wound up employed for the same company. My son and daughter have also graduated from the university, and it was my great pleasure to see them receive their diplomas.

I returned to SFU in the fall of 2013, where my sister also worked. In fact, I got her started in the Registrar’s office way back then, but she stayed and I left to return to school full time. For a year, we were both up there again until she retired in the fall of 2014.

My first job back on campus was a year-long- temporary assignment in the Biology department. When that ended I was offered another year-long position in the same department, and from there I moved to continuous, part-time employment in Linguistics. Continuous employment meant that the university would subsidize my son’s university education. I worked 60% of a full-time week, and the university paid for 60% of his education. It was a great deal.

My son graduated two years ago with a degree in chemical/physics (minoring in computing science),  and I stayed on, partly because he wasn’t sure what, if any, job he’d find and I had visions of him going to grad school. But that didn’t happen. He wound up with a great job.

I have to admit that working 40-50 hour weeks at my writing and day job for the past seven years has worn me out. Compounding things was my mom’s dementia and cancer in 2018 and 2019. It’s been almost a year since she passed away.

Work-2My daughter’s in the last trimester of her pregnancy, and I feel that now is the right time to leave. An important new chapter in my life is about to begin and this grandma doesn’t want to miss a thing. Of course, I’ll still keep writing and publishing, though I might slow down a bit. Or not. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, thank you Linguistics. I’ll miss you.

 

The World’s Growing Impatience

Social[1]Long before the pandemic began, I habitually browsed through a variety of news sources to find out what was happening in the world. As I do so these days, one question keeps replaying in my head…how long can people reasonably be expected to social isolate before they chuck it in order to visit cherished family and friends, or to salvage what’s left of their business? As you all know, millions of folks are missing out on paychecks, medical procedures, visits with ailing family members, and educational prospects.

Here in British Columbia, talk has started about a slow and careful reopening, although we’re still two weeks away from lifting the state of emergency. Our provincial health officer isn’t ready to provide specific dates about starting elective surgeries or re-opening classrooms. It’s worth noting that B.C.’s lockdown hasn’t been as strict as it is in other provinces, and that many of BC’s closures are self-imposed. Still, I sense that people are starting to become really frustrated and even angry about the lack of work and accessibility to services. Here in the Lower Mainland, we are seeing more vehicles on the road than there was two weeks ago, although what this actually means isn’t clear. Maybe people just want to go for a drive. After all, gas is really cheap right now.

As I’ve mentioned before, self-isolation is easier for some than others, depending on circumstances, but is there a line that some will cross before health experts give the all clear?

The day that line is crossed will be different for everyone. Mother’s Day is coming up, as is the Victoria Day long weekend in about three weeks. If the weather is hot and sunny, what will happen then?

Governments aren’t bottomless pits of financial aid. They will run out of money and things will have to re-open—hopefully in a smart, safe way—long before a vaccine is developed. Will the majority of people be back at work this summer? Will the beaches and parks and malls re-open? If so, will the numbers of people allowed in be restricted, and if so, who will regulate those wide open spaces? It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

I don’t know what my own personal line is, but my daughter will give birth sometime in late July. I haven’t seen her in person since March 8th, and although I would never do anything to jeopardize her health, the urge to go see her will become overwhelming as time passes.

Yes, we’re all in this together, but as I’ve seen on the news this week, there are different interpretations of togetherness. Many of us are still doing our best to stay home, remain patient, and see what unfolds. May should prove to be an interesting month.

Writing About The Pandemic, Or Not

We’re all so immersed in the COVID-19 pandemic that it seems nearly impossible to get through an entire day without hearing something from TV, radio, and social media. And maybe that’s as it should be. I’ve always felt that staying informed is crucial, despite the contradictory statements and misinformation.

0304_n13_covid_19_coronavirus_graphic_generic_file[1]I’ve been reading blogs from people around the world about their personal experiences. It adds a poignancy and depth to the medical stats and political statements we’re bombarded with. I appreciate the candidness of bloggers expressing their hopes and fears, or even when they simply discuss their altered routines.

But, here’s a question I came across from an author this weekend, and it’s made me stop and think. If you’re working on a novel set in 2020,  will you be making reference to the pandemic and, if so, how much reference? Will it become a major part of your plot or will you avoid it altogether? After all, there are certainly people out there who seem happy to pretend that the whole thing’s an overblown hoax, which opens up interesting psychological components in fictional characters.

Writing Clip Art(2)jpgShould you build a plot around the pandemic, or should you mention it in passing? If one of my Casey Holland transit mysteries was set in the spring of 2020, my characters would be working in quite a different way than normal. Bus drivers are not charging fares these days. Passengers must enter from the back and sit within social distancing guidelines. In other words, no full buses allowed. This kind of reality couldn’t be ignored in my work, as social distancing would have to play a role in everything my characters do, whether sharing information on Zoom or writing reports from home. Unless someone was breaking the rules, face-to-face confrontations wouldn’t be happening, yet they are a crucial aspect of mystery/thrillers.

Here’s another issue. If you want to set your book in the spring of 2020, how much detail is too much? How do you keep from slowing your story’s pace with too many unnecessary details? And do you risk losing readers who’ll be sick of hearing about the pandemic and don’t want to read one word about it?

Movies made about OJ Simpson’s murder trial and other real-life murders have never held any appeal for me, if I’ve already lived through those periods of time. I remember wishing the OJ trial would just end so we could all get on with our lives. The same is true for Richard Nixon’s impeachment in the early 70’s.

I’m curious to know if those of you who write contemporary fiction( mainstream or genre) plan to incorporate the pandemic in your work. What about those of you who are children’s authors? Is this a topic you’ll want to address down the road? What do you, as readers and writers, think is the best way to handle the pandemic in fiction?

Keeping The Routine Alive

skd190324sdcWhen I’m on vacation, one of my favorite activities is to drink my morning coffee outside in the warm sunshine and think about nothing. It’s pure bliss. I have a sundeck at the front of my house, and a patio in back but, even in summer, I don’t use either of them when not on vacation. I’m either editing at the computer, then heading out to the day job, or running errands on the weekend before the traffic gets bad and the stores fill up. And then, of course, there’s the housework.

Until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to what, if any, routine I’ll have as retirement day approaches. All I’ve really thought about is living a less structured life, where I can do more of the things I want when I want.

Patio, Summer 2019I love the idea of sitting outside weekday mornings this coming summer, coffee mug in hand, and enjoying downtime and taking life easier. As it happens, my current stay-at-home life is giving me a glimpse—probably a somewhat skewed one—as to what retirement could look like.

Aside from being an introvert, one of the other main reasons I’m doing fine with self-isolation is because I’m keeping a routine. I still get up at the same time and after breakfast, head downstairs to my basement office to work on editing before starting the day job. I’m keeping the same hours at the day job and even taking the same break time. All other activities are pretty much carried out along my regular timeline as well.

Without all of the outdoor errands and other excursions, I’ve had time to organize my bookshelves and clear my bulletin boards of outdated papers. This is a project I hadn’t planned to tackle until retirement. It feels great. I’m going through my clothes closet next.

I’ve come to realize that when retirement starts, it’s probably not a good idea to throw my entire routine away. I like being productive and making to-do lists. I just don’t want to fill up every day the way I’ve done these past few years. My retired friends and colleagues assure me that this can happen before I’m even aware of it, so I’ll be mindful of this in the coming weeks.

wine_PNG9456[1]In some ways, retirement won’t feel that different than it does now. On another level, there is a psychological component, a sense of freedom in regaining a large chunk of my day just for me. I picture myself having that coffee on the sundeck, or a glass of wine in the afternoon. Pure bliss.

Six Positives To Self-Isolating

This week is our first full week of self-isolation. My place of employment sent everyone home last Wednesday, my son’s company sent him home on Friday, and my husband voluntarily started working from home on Monday.

Right now, each of us starts our day at our usual time, but rather than head out the door, we go to our separate work areas. I and my husband have basement offices and my son has his computers set up in his room (he works for a cyber security company). So far, I’ve seen more positives than negatives to our new lifestyle, and here’s why:

  1. My husband is saving 2-2/12 hours per day of commuting, my son is saving 90 minutes, and I’m saving 40 minutes, which is good for the environment, our stress levels, and our wallets, even though gas is significantly cheaper these days.
  1. read-652384_960_720[1]Instead of reading from my iPad, I’m reading more paperbacks bought from my local new and used bookstore, who need and appreciate the support.
  1. I’m able to take care of more writing tasks and am eating better on my work break.
  1. I’ve found great new exercise workouts on Utube.Flowers for Mimo
  1. My husband and I are doing more yard work together, for the first time. He usually takes care of the garden and yard, while I’m out running errands, meeting my writers’ group, or going to the gym.
  1. I’m checking in with friends and colleagues more often on social media, making sure everyone’s okay.

And then there’s the silence. I live near a major thoroughfare and generally only notice the quiet at special times, like Christmas morning, during a snowfall, or when I can’t sleep at 3:00 a.m. It’s like this every day now, and I’m hearing far fewer police, fire, and ambulance sirens. It’s almost as if the world has grown calmer, although I’m well aware that there’s plenty of angst happening out there.

I also know that self-isolation is perhaps easier for me than others because I’m an introvert and a writer. On some levels, self-isolation has always been part of life. But I do understand how difficult it can be. When I was a stay-at home mom with young kids, without a car and living on a hilly street, and my husband was putting in ten hour days at work accompanied by a 3-hour commute, I desperately wanted to go out and do something, or run a much-needed errand. Transit was terrible back then and on chilly, rainy days it just wasn’t feasible.

Still, there are things I also miss right now, like chatting with my friend while working out and visiting my daughter (who’s in her 22nd week of pregnancy), and hosting families dinners. I miss all the book launches and other writing events that have been cancelled.

But we’ll get through this and will re-emerge, and be more appreciative of what we have than what we’ve lost. There’s plenty to look forward to in 2020, and every day is one step closer to getting back on track with a new awareness and valuable lessons learned from this experience.

My Mother’s Favorite Quote

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was “Everything happens for a reason”. If she was still with us today, she’d be saying exactly that right about now. I can actually hear her words in my head. I never could argue with Mom on this point, but sometimes I had a hard time figuring out what the reason was whenever a strange or disastrous event happened to friends or family, or when I heard of immense tragedies in other parts of the world.

With the rising number of deaths and illnesses from COVID-19, plus the social isolation, struggling global economy, fear, and uncertainty, I can’t help asking why. It’s in my nature. I do this all the time in real life about many things. The question’s also a crucial component in plotting mystery novels.

tropical-habitat-natural-environment-for-manatee-mammals[1]Scientific theories for the virus’s spread are circulating, along with tons of unscientific ones. Rather than focus on bats and conspiracy theories, I’ve been approaching the question in a more philosophical way (thanks to Mom’s quote) or perhaps an environmental one.

I started realizing that with fewer cruise ships on the water, fewer cars on the road, and fewer aircraft in the sky, maybe we’re giving the environment a wee bit of a much needed break. The Monday night evening news showed images of Venice canals that were actually blue and so clear compared to their usual murky brown state that people could see the bottom. Imagine that!

78[1]About a month ago, I read that emissions in China had decreased by about 25%. Whether this percentage is true or not isn’t as important as the often destructive ways human beings have interacted with animals, oceans, rivers, trees, jungles, and so forth. Did you seen photos of all the garbage left on Mount Everest earlier this year?

I’ve come to the conclusion that Mother Nature has just walloped our bottoms with a warning to behave, or else. We’ve even been sent to our rooms to think about what we’ve done. Lord knows we’d been given plenty of warnings through frequent and severe storms and fires, among other things, and too many of us still weren’t paying attention. Now, the ante has been raised and if we don’t pay attention this time, we’ll receive another beat down that’s going to kill a lot more people than the 7,500+ plus souls so far.

It’s up to each of us to step up game and help heal the planet, or face something much worse. At least, that’s how I interpret Mom’s quote.

Underwater_turtle[1]

The Writer and Retrograde Mercury

djfgjf-300x218[1]For those of you who read horoscope columns, you’ll probably know that Mercury is retrograde right now. In simple terms, it means that the planet appears to be going backwards, which causes disruptions, mishaps, and communication snafus, among other things. Astrologers tell us that this is a bad time to start new undertakings and buy expensive items like cars and computers.

It also means that this is a great time to finish projects, such as manuscripts. In fact, you’re not supposed to start any new projects because there are bound to be problems and mishaps. Mercury retrograde lasts about four weeks, but the aftermath can last another two, and some say you shouldn’t start anything new about a week before the retrograde period begins.

During my post-publication hangover (see last week’s post), I’ve actually been editing a couple of manuscripts that have been works in progress for a long time. Editing always helps take my mind off of chores, tough situations, and even the small things that niggle at me.

So, after six months, I’ve just finished the 4th draft of my 135,000 word urban fantasy novel. The past four weeks have gone so well that I was able to finish the last two sections more smoothly than I had with the earlier sections.

Whether finishing this draft is due to retrograde Mercury or sheer avoidance of all the marketing and promotion tasks ahead, probably doesn’t matter. Finishing it does. A 135,000 word book with five sections and seventy chapters is not something I can whip through in a couple of months. It’s a slow marathon. I’ve now put the book away for a few weeks before the next go-around.

After completing the draft of a long work, I tend to gravitate towards shorter works to edit. So, last Friday, I started the umpteenth edit of a Casey Holland novella, which I first started five or six years ago. It’s about 25,000 words and twelve chapters, which almost feels like a short story compared to the urban fantasy.

I don’t intentionally build my writing life around astrological cycles, as there are far too many other components in the decision-making process. But I am saying is that Mercury’s retrograde, I finished a long manuscript, and that makes me happy.

The Post-Publication Hangover

Publishing a full-length book is a momentous project that often takes years to complete. So when publication date finally arrives, it’s certainly cause for celebration, not to mention some relief. For me, acknowledging release day might involve a dinner out, a book launch, a library reading, or perhaps just a special glass of wine at the end of the day.

The Blade Man, front coverAfter a book’s release, I always feel somewhat discombobulated (I love that word). I have trouble sleeping, feel a bit anxious, lethargic, and can’t fully concentrate on anything for long. I start second-guessing myself as to whether the book should have been published. It’s the kind of niggling that I suspect most creative people suffer.

This has been happening a lot these past two weeks, so I’m not jumping into marketing and promotion tasks with great gusto at the moment. There’s a long list of things that need to be done…approaching libraries, bloggers, and reviewers, for starters. I haven’t had the incentive to do any of those things, which tells me two things. One is that it’s time let my mind and body relax. The other is that old post-publication habits might not work anymore.

1431975253_60f22e0295_n[1]So, I’m now engaging in a little TLC. I read an article a couple days back about self care (you can find it HERE) and there were good tips on inexpensive ways to look after ourselves, and don’t we all need more of that in what’s proving to be a rather stressful 2020?

Until recently, I drank four cups of coffee every morning, which pretty much took all morning. After lunch, it was caffeinated tea right until supper time. It’s no surprise that I recently began to feel like I was carrying a large, hot rock in my gut. I’ve now cut back significantly on caffeine and it’s helped a lot.

I’m also managing to keep to a regular gym routine this month, combining resistance and cardio workouts with core strengthening. Some of the other tips mentioned in the article include meditation, reducing social media time, eating more vegetables, and so forth. I’ve been doing most of the above except meditation, but I keep forgetting about the importance of deep breathing.

The author also offers another great tip called checking in with yourself. For me this means putting writing, publishing, and promotion into perspective. Although writing is hugely important in my life, this type of work doesn’t deal with actual life and death matters. I’m not a surgeon, or a search-and-rescue patrol person, or a soldier, or a cop. I’m an author who isn’t perfect, but who keeps striving to do a little better with every single sentence. And I’m trying real hard not to be a perfectionist but, oh boy, it’s a battle.

The Blade Man is available at:

Amazon: mybook.to/TheBladeMan

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-blade-man

Apple books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1495092401

UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LDre1

On a Personal Note…

This week, my focus shifts from writing and promotion to share two great pieces of news. I had to wait until my daughter informed her employer, but I’m now thrilled to tell you that I’m going to be a grandma in late July!

My firstborn is having a baby and needless to say, I’m thrilled. In about a month’s time, she’ll have an ultrasound to make sure everything’s okay, but she’s still undecided about whether to reveal the gender, so we’ll see. Once the baby arrives, I’ll be helping her and my son-in-law for those first few weeks. Although both of them are competent, meticulous planners, they have no idea how an infant can blow apart a schedule. When my daughter’s maternity leave ends, I’ll be babysitting part-time. This is a welcome lifestyle-change, and it also leads me to my second piece of news.

8888110788_fb214ca74e[1]I’m retiring from my day job at Simon Fraser University on May 29. As some of you know, I’ve already talked about retiring, but now there’s a real date. I’ve given official notice and the countdown has begun. Because I’m overwhelmed with promotion stuff for the new book and want to complete more projects, I’m taking as many paid vacation days as I can between now and May 29th.

As writers know, retirement from a day job has little to do with living a retired life. It’s about changing time management strategies and priorities, and making time for those things I’ve let lapse.

My daughter is nearly an hour’s drive away, which is why their new home has a guest bedroom and bathroom, so I’m buying a new laptop to replace my sluggish, ten-year-old beast. By the summer of 2021, I’ll be splitting my time between their house and ours, which hubby says he’s fine with. He’s a pretty independent guy who’s more than capable of cooking his own meals. Not so great with laundry and vacuuming, but we’ll work it out.

Staying Health in an Unhealthy Season

hjrezv1282671478-opt402x422o00s402x422[1]Like many of you, I’ve been paying close attention to the coronavirus outbreak since it began making daily headlines. I work at a university here in British Columbia, where instructors have already faced the occasional student who refuses to come to class because until the face mask they’ve ordered has arrived. A small number of people have also suggested that instructors wear a face mask while teaching.

All the TV news, social media, and work discussions have served at least one useful purpose, which is to remind me that all sorts of germs are out there right now. So, we’ve ordered more disinfectant wipes for our common areas, plus hand sanitizers for the staff. I also keep a small bottle on the front counter in my office with a sign encouraging people to use it if meeting with department personnel. I take it upon myself to wash my hands more often and wipe down countertops. I’m also trying to make a conscious effort not to touch my face, which isn’t as easy as it should be.

Last week, I was working out at the gym, when a young woman got on the bicycle beside me and, while chatting on her phone, said, “I’ve been sick a week”. I was working on a circuit equipped with about 18 different machines. It was fairly empty at the time, but she picked the one next to me. I quickly moved onto a machine well away from her.

Gym users are supposed to use the wipes provided in the dispensers to wipe equipment down. I’ve noticed a lot of people doing so lately, but the sick woman didn’t have one. I’m not prone to paranoia and definitely not hysteria, but I do think everyone needs to be more diligent with hand-washing.

When I came to work on Monday, someone had stolen our hand sanitizer from the front counter, ignoring the do-not-remove label. If people are behaving that way at a campus thousands of miles from the epicenter, what must it be like for those living in Wuhan, China?