My actual dream is to open the very first sock puppet school

Supposedly, we learn from our mistakes. It just takes some of us a little longer than others. One of my (many) mistakes that I have done over (and over) again is go back to school. In (some year, a long time ago) I graduated Pace University with a Bachelor degree in literature and communications. Never being one to leave well enough alone, I decided only a few years later to go back to school for something else. After all, if one degree is good, two are better, right?

What did I go to school for? I don’t exactly remember. I did take a bunch of anatomy classes, which I enjoyed. I also took pottery, which I enjoyed somewhat less. There may have been business, which I didn’t enjoy at all. At one point, when my mom had just died, and I was not exactly in my right mind, I even quit my job to go to massage therapy school. Where did rational thinking come into play during this decision? It did not. How much, in general, do I enjoy touching people? I do not. It has been pointed out to me that when a person tries to hug me, I will pat their back once and then pull away. The only good thing about massage therapy school was that I was able to give all non-massage presentations by sock puppet theater.

Nevertheless, I went to massage therapy school for almost two years. Please take note that I said “almost two years.” How long is massage therapy school in New York? Two years. That’s right, I dropped out with about a month to go. I developed painful bursitis in my hands, and also was offered a job as managing editor of a medical journal. After that epic fail, I stopped thinking about school for a few years. I would like to say more than three, but in reality it was exactly three. This time, I applied to acupuncture school. Although that sounds like it’s really out there, it did use a lot of the classes and credits from massage school, so theoretically that time and money would not be totally lost.

I am happy to report, however, that even though I applied, interviewed, and was accepted into acupuncture school, I did not go. It was around that time that I decided, after not wanting anything to do with children the first 34 years of my life, that I did want a kid. So at that point I concentrated on getting pregnant and having my first son, and temporarily gave up on the idea of school.

A few years later, after my son was born and my first book was published, I realized I no longer had the desire to go back to school. It took me a bit to think about how these things are related, but they very much are. My job did not fulfill me as a person, and I was looking for something that did. For whatever reason, my thoughts always lay in academia rather than, say, world travel or volunteer work. But by publishing my first book, something I had wanted to do since I was in elementary school, I fulfilled my inner need to express myself and do something I love, and thus did not need to go back to school.

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My elementary school, PS 229 in Woodside, Queens. It was there that I first said I wanted to be a writer. And made sock puppets.

Walking the walk

Both my favorite form of meditation and my favorite form of exercise is walking. Sometimes I try to notice tiny details about the world around me that would otherwise go unseen, sometimes I use the walk as a time to work out a problem in a story I’m writing, and sometimes I just let my mind go blank. This love of walking started way back when I was too young to even think of it as exercise and just did it for fun. My grandmother would take me to our local cemetery (which had enough flora to seem more like a park) and we would wander around looking at the trees and interesting gravestones and then eat a picnic lunch on her mother’s grave.

When I was 18 and had just graduated from high school, I made the somewhat odd decision to live at my parent’s summer house upstate and go to college there. Having lived with family in the city for my entire life, I don’t think I was prepared for just how bored I would be, living by myself in the country. Out of sheer boredom, I just started walking down the road one day. I ended up walking for about two hours a day, every day. Years later, living in Westchester county (north of NYC by about a half hour), I found myself still in this habit of long walks. But by this time, it was less out of boredom and more out of desire. I always walked alone and found I liked the quiet and solitude. If a few days went by and I didn’t get my walk in, I would start to get stressed.

Eventually I met and married my husband and moved back to NYC. And while I do and probably always will love it here, there are not many places where one can find a walk in solitude. Not having as much free time as I used to pre-kids, out of necessity I’ve learned to make due with the mile-long walk from the subway station to my house. It may not be as green and peaceful as a country road or a park, but when I put on my headphones and tune out the world, I can sometimes grasp that tiny bit of quietness in a busy day that can keep me sane.

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Me on a wooded trail in FDR Park, Westchester County, New York.

Minimalism Game–Finally Complete!

At long last, I am finally done with the minimalism game I was doing in January. Of course, now it’s the end of March, so, yeah. But the point is that I did it, and in the process, got rid of hundreds of items that were filling up my house with their uselessness, ugliness, and stress-making.
By the end of the game, you will notice that I included things in categories rather than individual items. Some may call this cheating, but these projects were very time-intensive. For instance, we had several hundred CDs. I had to go through them, separate the cases, paper materials, and actual CDs, and then put the CDs into a very large storage folder, and put the paper and the cases into recycling. This took many hours. Likewise, shredding several years worth of my husbands pay stubs took a full weekend of intermittent shredding.
Also, I am still going at it! My current two projects are to flip through old magazines and recycle them, and to make stray yarn into either preemie or chemo caps (depending on yarn weight).
But right now, I need to shift my focus and get back into writing, if I am to meet my self-imposed deadline of this summer for the next book in my urban fantasy series, plus do some writing for an RPG I’m going to be taking over for a few months, plus another writing project.
So below are the final days of the minimalism challenge. The next time I do this (probably in the fall), I will probably only commit myself to one item a day!

Week 4

Day 22–(1)Tank top too big. (2)Alka-seltzer that’s ten years old. (3)Small white onesie. (4)Small blue onesie. (5)Small pajamas. (6)Many old cards. (7)Broken AC. (8)Old underwear. (9)Birthday gift bags. (10)Gross bowl. (11)Gross toothbrush holder. (12)Decorative pillow. (13)Decorative pillow. (14)Earring unmatched. (15)Sock unmatched. (16)Earrings I’ve never liked. (17)Hockey puck. (18)Many broken discs. (19)Plastic toys I hate. (20)Disgusting cat toy. (21)Husband’s underwear that I hate. (22)Baby pjs too small.

Day 23–(1)Old notepads. (2)CD sorter. (3)CD sleeves. (4)Ripped towel. (5)Unmatched sock. (6)Small baby hat. (7)Boots that never fit. (8)Small plastic toys. (9)Old magazine. (10)Ugly underwear. (11)Knife that has no purpose. (12)Useless shelf. (13)Surgical tape. (14)Broken plastic toys. (15)Shirt my husband hates. (16)Son’s ripped pants. (17)Very old shirt. (18)Faded t-shirts. (19)Old face mask. (20)Broken Tupperware. (21)Unflattering shirt. (22)Shirt that hasn’t fit in years. (23)Plastic wreath left by previous owners.

Day 24–(1)Decorative pillow. (2)Another decorative pillow. (3)Baby hat I didn’t like. (4)More old underwear. (5)Husband’s shirt that I hate. (6)Old belt. (7)First scarf I knitted but don’t like. (8)Broken CDs. (9)T-shirt that looks ridiculous. (10)Jeans that are too big (Yay!). (11)Weird food items we won’t eat. (12)Plastic baby toy. (13)Razor holder never used. (14)T-shirt that hasn’t fit in years. (15)Husband’s very old white undershirts. (16)Belt missing buckle. (17)Inedible goodie bag contents. (18)Razor holder that’s never used. (19)Pumice stone. (20)Socks with runs. (21)Ugly barrettes. (22)Last of the maternity shirts. (23)Huge men’s shorts I can get both my legs in one leg. (24)Old robe.

Day 25–(1-6)Bowls left in cabinets by old owners. (7)Old pajamas. (8)Old nightgown. (9)Sweater with broken zipper. (10)Plastic game. (11)Broken toy. (12)Broken suitcase. (13)Old lanyard. (14)Old character sheets. (15)Granola bars no one likes. (16)Goodie bag rejects. (17)Fish tank. (18)Fish tank stand. (19)Fish tank light. (20)Fish tank heater. (21)Fish tank plants. (22)Fish tank gravel. (23)Fish tank hose. (24)Fish tank filer. (25)Fish net.

Day 26–(1)Fish tank cleaner. (2)Large box of other fish equipment. (3)Broken toy. (4)Old lipgloss. (5)Bucket with a hole. (6)Old herbs. (7)Broken bucket. (8)Second diaper genie. (9)Small hat. (10)Broken light box. (11)Small baby hat. (12)Dress way too small. (13)Shirt way too big. (14)Shirt missing buttons. (15)Pens that don’t work. (16)Ugly underwear. (17)Faded out shirt. (18)Horrible shampoo. (19)Baby outfit with broken snap. (20)Tupperware lid. (21)Worn out tank top. (22)Shirt with hole. (23)Worn out shirt. (24)Rubber ball too small. (25)Ripped bra. (26)Wicker basket.

Day 27–(1)Deflated balloon. (2)Cloak cat peed on. (3)Mixer. (4)Blender. (5)Broken toy. (6)Brita filter not used. (7)Kid’s old socks. (8)Socks with holes. (9)Tiny baby pants. (10)Crappy knife. (11)Shirt I thought I was sentimental about. (12)Cute but tiny baby jacket. (13)Weird lace thing. (14)Crap plastic toy. (15)Dirty rubber ducky. (16)Tons of underwear I don’t like. (17)Very old frying pan. (18)Tons of husband’s underwear I don’t like. (19)Too small baby socks. (20)Binkies baby never liked. (21)Sentimental old t-shirt. (22)Old robe. (23)Ugly pajamas. (24)Another old frying pan. (25)Blouse no one liked. (26)Granola bars we hate. (27)Key to my office (given back).

Day 28–(1-10)Very small onesies. (11-28)Old magazines.

Week 5

Day 29–(29+)Like 8 years worth of my husband’s pay stubs (shredded and recycled).

Day 30–(30)Books.

Day 31–(31)CD cases.

Buy quality, not quantity

This should be the end of Week 4 of the minimalist game, but I am severely far behind. I am up to Day 24 I think. Not that I’m trying to make excuses, but the past week my older son had food poisoning for two days followed by false croup for two days. I was not out of his sight for more than a minute or two for all this time, because if I was, it would result in badness. Not that I’m making excuses, but I’m making excuses. Also, the holidays.

Anyway, I have given myself up until January 23rd to complete this challenge. The remaining few days are the hardest, of course, and I’m going away on vacation that day, so I do want to be done by then. That is, as much “done” as I will ever be.

This brings me to another issue that came to my attention in this struggle to embrace minimalism. Eventually, you do have to buy some stuff. For me, the first thing I really wanted was a pair of boots. Not just any boots, but $400 Frye boots. Every time I saw someone wearing boots I liked, I noticed they were of the same make. I agonized over it for days and days, and eventually gave in and visited their NYC retail store, which is only a few blocks away from my office. I was just going to look. Yeah, right. I didn’t even believe that myself.

What happened was, I went into the store and made a beeline for the pair I had wanted, thinking they would never fit my oddly shaped feet. Well, they fit. Also, they looked amazing. And felt amazing. And at that moment, I thought my life would be complete if I could just have those damn boots.

What I would like to say now is that I didn’t buy them. But that would be lying. I did buy them, and I liked them so much, I had to wear them out of the store. And then I went home and got rid of many pairs of shoes I hated to make room for these new, wonderful boots. And as I was tossing old shoes and boots into the bag for the charity bin, I noticed that they were all cheap shoes, possibly about $40 each.

One thing that really swayed me into buying the Frye boots was a coworker telling me that they would last for ten years at a minimum. The cheap shoes I was used to buying usually lasted me about a year (and that’s being generous). When you look at it that way, it’s the same price, except the boots I bought are more beautiful, well-made, and comfortable. And of course, if I’m buying one pair of boots instead of ten, that’s nine pairs of boots that aren’t cluttering up either my house or wherever they eventually end up.

The lesson here is to buy quality over quantity. I’m trying to get to the point where this is second nature to me. This weekend I went to buy a shower curtain liner, because the $2.99 one I bought last month had already ripped. I bought the $30 one that is supposedly mildew- and tear-resistant, because those are the things that usually cause me to have to replace the liner after only a few months. Because if this one lasts 12 months even, I will still have saved money in the end, as well as kept some garbage out of the landfill.

So that’s where my head is at today. I promise I’m still working on Fresh Blood, the sixth and final book of the Vampire in the City series. But more on that on another day!

The gift of meaningful experiences

Before I get to the point of this post, I just want to note that I do intend to tie this concept of minimalism to what this blog is primarily about, writing. But seeing as next week is Christmas, I did want to write about that, or at least one aspect of that.

Although my family was never religious, we did celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, which of course means buying a lot of stuff. When I turned maybe 20-ish, we basically stopped celebrating it (no tree, no presents). My parents and I did spend the day together, however. We would usually go out to the movies, and then go to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The point was that we were together, and we always had a good time. And no one missed the gifts.

After my parents both died (about a dozen years ago), I stopped celebrating entirely, because I didn’t really see the point. My husband and I used to go out with friends and drink on Christmas, because that’s what married couples do before they have kids. Now that we have two kids, my perspective has changed a bit.

I want to give my children holidays that are meaningful and memorable. Does this have anything to do with getting stuff? Absolutely not. Do I remember anything anyone ever gave me for Christmas? No, not one thing. When I look back on this holiday, and holidays in general, from when I was a child, I remember is tons of relatives coming over to visit, and sitting down to share a meal with them. That’s what I remember, not the gifts.

In fact, the only gift I remember ever was when I was in my mid-20s and bought my mom a spa weekend. We stayed over for two nights and had massages and swam in the pool, and generally had a great time together. That’s why I generally prefer the gift of time and experience rather than material gifts. Instead of taking up space in your house, they add something of value to your life.

I always highly appreciate offers to take me out to dinner or a movie, or offers to take me and the kids to the park or zoo. This year, my husband and I bought tickets each other tickets to a show we wanted to see (Ghost Quartet, for those interested). We are taking our older son to see How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Madison Square Garden. I know these are events we will be able to look back on and remember for years to come.

Did I buy the kids other gifts as well? Yes, because they are very young and of course have not yet learned to not compare themselves to others. But did I buy them expensive gifts? No, I spent about $15 a child (excluding tickets to the show). And in addition to the show we’re going to this Sunday, I also have some activities planned, like having friends over to decorate ornaments and bake cookies. To me, minimalism is not about the absence of things (although a less cluttered house is always a bonus), but rather the presence of people who matter in my life.

What are you thinking?

You may be the annoying questioner or the annoyed answerer on any given day, but more than likely you and your significant other have traded the question “What are you thinking about?”

Some idyllic but often untrue answers are: “How much I love you.” “How beautiful our children are/will be.” “Remember that night in Paris?”

Some mundane but truthful answers include: “What to make for dinner.” “Should I change cable companies?” “What made that stain on the carpet and will it ever come out?”

What my actual answer was: “If you were ejected from a submarine at enough of a depth that you wouldn’t be able to get to the surface quickly enough to hold your breath and would get the bends from doing so anyway, and you had three dots in Forces, two in Mind, two in Spirit, one in Prime, and one in Correspondence, but none in Life or Time, would you be able to survive, and if so, how?”*

Fortunately my husband and I have been together for more than ten years and he already knows how weird I am.

In any case, in my further musing on this question, I have done a survey of my own brain as to what thoughts occupy it the most, and this is what I came up with. Note that this list is in order of actual importance to me, and may not be a true reflection of the percentage of time given to each category of thought on a random day. For example, a few days out of the month, I can think of little else than “why isn’t there chocolate?”

1. Kids
2. Stuff to write about
3. RPGs that I’m playing in
4. Video games that I’m playing
5. Why isn’t there chocolate

*This is from a role-playing game that I’m in, and if anyone knows what I’m talking about, feel free to give your opinion!

On endings; or, not letting a vampire jump over a shark

Today my new book, Demon Blood, was released for Kindle. It is the fifth book in the Vampire in the City series, and since I started writing these novels, I knew it was going to be six books. Am I excited to write the last book in the series? Yes! In fact, I have already started writing it, and in this last book, will tie together most of the loose ends and settle most of the character arcs. Am I sad that this will be the last book from Emma’s perspective? Yes, it was fun to write a character so down-to-earth but funny, and at times even clueless. But everything has to end, lest it stagnate, and Emma and I are almost ready to part ways. Writing the last book is a tad bittersweet though, but I’m sure she’ll be able to get by on her own now.

On the flip side, I am very excited to begin an entire new series. I can’t stop myself from planning it out, thinking about the protagonist, and trying to pick out a name to suit her personality. That’s one of the great things about being a writer–there are always new stories to tell!