You Did… What… to Your Keyboard?

I wore it out.

Yesterday was a marathon. I wrote for at least eight hours straight. Revised and added new material spanning 23 pages. I closed the computer, watched Gladiator and sewed spats, and then went to bed.

This morning, I woke up, turned on my computer, and my password wouldn’t work. I was locked out.

It took many tries before I realized what the problem was. My “n” key wasn’t working.

Finally I got in, and realized that it wasn’t just “n.” It was “a,” “b,” “n,” both “shifts,” and “enter.” You could make them work a little bit if you rolled your finger back and forth on the key for several seconds at a time, but even that wasn’t predictable.

Clearly this was not an acceptable state of affairs. So I packed my computer and headed to Best Buy, its point of origin, hoping that there was just something stuck under the keys (You know, those things that creep around getting stuck under keys at 2 am when the computer is shut.)

The Geek Squad, unfortunately, couldn’t do a thing for me, but did point me down the road to the best computer repair shop in town, the Bad Apple.

I pulled up in front of the Bad Apple and got out… but there was a sign on the door. Today, it said, the good people of the Bad Apple were taking a special lunch break and would be back at 3 pm. It was 2:30.

So I got back in my car and sat in the heat, sweating in my black Blind Guardian t-shirt, intermittently reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and texting my best friend morosely.

There was a line when the employees returned. One extremely talkative woman dropped her computer off and, while they ran diagnostics, sat there cheerfully, greeting everyone who came in, asking them, out of curiosity, what was wrong with THEIR computer?

It made me wonder if folks ever do that in the hospital–you know, cheerfully discuss and compare maladies just because, after all, everyone who’s there has got one. Common ground, you know.

Eventually it was my turn. I gave them my computer, wrote down all my passwords, and explained what was going on.

“We’ve got a two week wait list on PCs right now,” said the repair man. (I have gained a new respect for computer repairmen. Handling people stressed out about their damaged electronics has got to go on the list of most-unpleasant-jobs-ever.)

“I’m a writer,” I said. “I can’t just leave it here for two weeks.”

“You could leave it here for a day for a free diagnostic.”

I liked the sound of “free,” but I’d driven over an hour to get there and said so.

By now, our conversation had reached the ears of someone in the back, someone who had the authority to open up my computer then and there. “We get a lot of people coming from Oak Harbor and Anacortes,” he explained. “We like to get their stuff back to them the same day, if possible. I’ll open it up right now and see if there’s anything we can do.”

For the next two hours, I introverted quietly in the corner of the repair shop, listening to the loud lady cheerfully inquire about strangers’ computers and strike up conversations with them. I avoided eye contact and eventually went back to my car to get my book. I was developing a massive headache and was in no mood to discuss my computer’s health.

“Oh!” her voice cut across the waiting room a few minutes later. “You’re reading Harry Potter! Those are my favorites; I’ve read them like twelve times. I keep telling people they need to read them, and they say, ‘Oh, those are kids stories.’ My mom, she said, ‘Oh, I don’t like books about magic.’ But they’re about SO much more than magic, aren’t they? Which one are you on?”

She would be a Harry Potter fan.

I was saved by the repairmen–her computer was ready now.

The crowd dwindled, and finally I was the only one left in the corner.

“Erika?”

I got up, somewhat reluctantly, to hear the verdict.

“So, your keyboard needs to be replaced. We can order a new one and replace it ourselves, or send you the link and you can just order it and bring it in. It’ll cost about $60 to replace.”

“All right…”

At this point, the mysterious guy in the back who’d been performing surgery on my laptop came up to the desk. He had a beard and was wearing a Goonies shirt. I decided I liked him. “You know, I wouldn’t take this apart more than you need to.” He listed off a long litany of the things he’d found, including missing or broken screws and the like.

“What exactly does that mean?”

He shrugged matter-of-factly. “It’s wearing out. It’s going to die eventually.”

I laughed. “So… I really should just get an external keyboard and save up for a new computer.”

“That’d probably be best.”

“Well… I appreciate your honesty.”

Sorry I couldn’t give them more business, I left and headed back to Best Buy, where I acquired the cheap USB keyboard I’m typing this post on. It’s ungainly but, hey, I can write on it. And even having to replace the computer soon is not such a big deal. If I do well at my next couple of craft fairs, I should be able to replace it before the end of the year, no problem. Provided the car doesn’t die again, but that’s always a variable.

I should be more upset about my computer’s demise than I am. I think at this point I’m just a little astounded and proud of myself, though.

Because, according to the good fellows at the Bad Apple, my keyboard died from sheer use.

I wrote so much I wore out my computer. 

It actually feels kind of badass.

 

 

I Wanted This… Why?

Turns out there’s a great deal more romance in WANTING to have plenty of time to write my story than there is in actually having the time and trying to write. It’s so much easier to roll one’s eyes back in distress and complain about the agonies of never being able to commit your worlds to paper than it is to actually do it.

But I don’t think these things through. Not till, you know, I’ve saved my tail off and eaten rice and beans repeatedly and started a new business and actually made my summer-to-write happen.

One fine summer’s day not too long ago, I sit down, open my computer and start reading my last draft of Book 1, just, you know, to get a sense of what I still need to do to it.

And Chapters 1 and 2 are actually a delight to read. See? This isn’t so bad! I’m going to finish this thing yet.

Then I hit Chapter 3 and get an odd sense of deja vu. Didn’t that conversation between two main characters already happen? And wait, why are they suddenly pretending that they know nothing about the very important issue that they already discussed in Chapter 2?

My valiant all-day read through comes to a halt at Chapter 7. It’s too much of a wreck to keep reading. All that mess needs to be reworked before I can even begin to formulate what needs to be done to the remaining 2/3 of the draft.

I have made a full page of notes in a separate document. And I have become thoroughly disgusted with myself for imagining this kind of labor as some sort of reward. I send a few moaning, depressed texts to friends, wait for their gratifying responses, and decide to sew cravats for the rest of the day. At least THAT feels productive.

Writers are such masochists–this isn’t fun. Not in the least. It is, in fact, forcing me to confront the fact that I’m not very good at what I most want to do, and that I do not, a great deal of the time, actually want to do what I tell everyone I most want to do. It’s forcing me to confront all of my inadequacies and insecurities. It’s depressing and time consuming and frustrating. And it is NOT fun.

I open up my computer and begin making planned changes to Chapter 1.

Now, three days later, I’m finding myself wishing that I didn’t have plans this weekend so I could start sorting things out on paper, organizing the wreck that is Chapters 3-5, breathing new life into it, wrangling with the characters until their words and facial expressions come out so right that I’m smiling like an idiot and reading it out loud to my cats.

It’s just a different kind of work, and in a way, harder than my usual summer jobs. It’s not even work I’m sure I want to do half of the time. But I’m somehow driven to it. I know that I will be more unhappy if I never do it than if I make myself sit down and do it. And who knows? Maybe, someday, something will show up on paper that validates everything.

So bring on the pain, summer. I have been waiting for you.

 

 

Why I’m Opening Another Online Business (Or, the Lunacy of Hope)

Two months ago, I was on the way home from the thrift store. I had just picked up a long maroon corduroy coat because I couldn’t be parted with it. On the way home, I began imagining the cuffs trimmed with velvet, black lace on the back. And in between thoughts of, “I didn’t need this coat to begin with!” and “Another project?” the little thought slipped into my mind… “Hey! I could sell that!”

Thus GaslightEmporium was born.

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The maroon coat that started it all. (Model: Rachel Hammons)

Two months later, I’ve just launched a second Etsy shop. With uncalled-for optimism, I’ve laid out money for over fifty items at local thrift stores, spent countless hours hand-stitching embellishments onto them while watching my favorite shows, paid $150 for a professional photography session, and launched a second Etsy shop.

This, on my busiest school year yet, the same year that my school opened to 6-8th grade as well as 9-12th. I’m so busy with my classes that at the beginning of the school year, in favor of preserving sanity, I canceled almost all of my fixed evening activities to free up that time for lesson prep.

Oh, yeah, and I’m still running that art business and going to conventions and selling it and all that.

I needed another Etsy shop like I needed a hole in my head. Why and wherefore? And shouldn’t I be investing that time in, you know, things for the kingdom of God, like, say, my local Awana club or something at church?

Why, in the name of common sense?

It’s not because I love embellishing clothing items (although I do). Or because I’ve turned my back on serving God (quite the contrary!). Or even because I couldn’t make ends meet.

It’s because I have books I want to write. Stories, that ooze out of me whether I want them to or not, that have been begging to be written for more than ten years. Stories that, if I want to let myself be as grand and pompous about it as I was in college, I feel “called” to write.

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I call this item the “Writer’s Coat.” Maybe it’s a bit symbolic.

I know, opening another business seems somewhat counterproductive in that department. Now I’m sewing in those snatches of time that I could be writing.

But, you see, I had an epiphany several months back. I realized that the quantity of writing, the pacing I needed at this point, required larger blocks of time. There comes a moment when you step back after having written “in your spare time” for the last ten years, and you realize that you have frighteningly little to show for your efforts. In short, you realize that things have to change if you want to arrive at your longed-for destination.

And I decided what I wanted. I wanted my summers. And in that embellished maroon jacket, I saw a possible ticket to a summer off.

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Why not turn a jacket into a steampunk-y vest?

I’m a teacher, but that doesn’t automatically mean that I get summers off. My Christian school is in a small town and is itself very small. I get paid enough to live off during the school year, but not enough to cover my summers. For the last three summers, I’ve worked 40 plus hours a week at a local camp and conference center. I’ve been scrubbing toilets and hauling garbage to support my teaching habit.

When put that way, it sounds shockingly unfair. Either that, or I sound like I’m complaining. Really, neither is true. I work with fantastic folks at both school and camp, and I honestly don’t mind the work at all. Somebody’s got to do it, after all! Why not me?

I wouldn’t mind at all, if there weren’t other things I wanted– even needed– to do. If there weren’t stories shut up in my bones like fire, burning to get out. And, for the first two summers, I actually got some writing done after work. But I’m not getting any younger, and this summer most evenings I’d be too tired. Or just as soon as I hit a good writing rhythm, I’d realize that I really needed to go to bed if I wanted to survive to the weekend. I didn’t get much done. And it felt awful.

I don’t want to do it again. I want my summer this year. I want it to write.

I did the math. I know I’ve got to save at least $6000 if I want to have my summer free, which is an astronomical sum. I don’t think I ever saved that much at once even when I was paying graduate school bills. It’s utterly ridiculous. Ludicrous.

But dreams ARE ludicrous. And the people who achieve their dreams are ludicrous people who refuse to let the odds dictate their efforts.

So I dove in feet-first. I even have business cards.

Here’s to ludicrous dreams and my even more ludicrous self. Here’s to the chance at a summer to write.

Particularly, here’s to GaslightEmporium.

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Here’s me modeling one of my favorite tops in the shop. It’s actually made up of parts from three different tops.

 

 

 

 

Note: You can visit my new shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/GaslightEmporium or like my page on Facebook  (https://www.facebook.com/GaslightEmporium) to see works in progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Blogging Again and Opening New (Classroom) Doors

I could sit around all afternoon and explain in great detail all the posts I wrote in my head between last January and right now. Life hasn’t exactly been boring, and I’ve had plenty to say. I just haven’t said it.

I could have written about the heavy days following the almost-breakup I was writing about in January… but that seemed hypocritical in view of the relatively positive note I’d last ended on. Also, I doubt it would have made very good reading.

I could have written about the really cool Tom Bombadil painting I did (after all, isn’t that one of the reasons I have this blog? To write about my art?) But the time came and passed.

I could have written about my close friend’s struggle with mental and physical illness this summer, but that was not my story to tell. Besides, I didn’t want to embarrass her.

I could have written about my reactions to the whole gay-marriage debate, but I’d grown far too tired of everyone yelling at each other and no one thinking straight (I know, I know, horrible pun) to subject myself to that same scrutiny (cowardly, I know). Also, by the time my thoughts on the matter had begun to gel into something resembling coherence, everyone seemed to have moved on to Cecil the Lion.

I could have written about writing, but, after all, isn’t it more time-effective to just go ahead and write the novel instead of writing about writing? (Besides, my summer job consumed so much of my time, I barely wrote. Why write about writing when you’re frustrated about not being able to write much in the first place? Talk about counterproductive!)

The time for excuses is past, though. A new school year is upon me, a new convention season is coming up, more people are going to be taking my business cards and looking up this hapless blog… so I’d better post something worth reading, sooner rather than later.

And what I’m going to post is, surprisingly, that I’m thankful to be still here, still posting. I’m thankful for the bad times and the good times I’ve had since January. Because even though there’s been an awful lot of awfulness this year, all of that awfulness has, I think, had its good sides. It’s refining me into a person who is better able to face life fearlessly and love others even when things seem bleak. It’s teaching me to take action, to cut out things that aren’t really worth my time and energy so I can focus on the things and people who really do matter so much to me.

And also, all of this has somehow inexplicably made me very thankful to be starting a new school year. I feel at home in my classroom, almost safe, settled. I love having students come to me, watching their faces light up as we talk about things that I love. I love seeing them learn. It is a beautiful thing.

It’s also, I might add, a particularly exciting school year. After years of such low numbers that most other schools would have given up, my little Christian high school has expanded… we’ve grown from the six students we started last year with to twenty students (!) from 6th through 12th grade. For the first time, I’m teaching middle school. For the first time, I’m teaching enough classes to merit having my own classroom (!!) which I spent way too much decorating. There was a lot of energy and excitement leading up to this past week, the first week of school.

And then the students came in the door.

And, after a week of organized chaos, the rhythm of a new school year has begun to settle–and it is good.

With this rhythm, I’ve even had time to work on my story. And, later today, I fully intend to get a new art project started. I’ve got big plans to do an Eowyn piece before GeekGirlCon next month. Maybe, if the first one goes well, I’ll even do a set.

I guess there’s a reason we have seasons. There’s a sense of refreshment as an old season closes and a new season starts, as a summer ends and a new school year begins.

It’s just enough refreshment to kick me into blogging again. Maybe I can keep it up for a while this time.

I Owe It to Them

Writing is incredibly difficult.

There are many days when I sit back and just wonder why I do it. Deep into the darkness of my soul, in the spot where I periodically question the meaning of life, drifts the question of why, exactly, I’m doing this.

It’s a valid question. What I’m doing really doesn’t make a lot of sense, when you think about it. I’ve been working on this particular story for approximately eight years, if you count that short story that got it all started my sophomore year of college. I’m on draft six of book one of a trilogy, with nothing on the other books but a lot of brainstorms. I do not write fast, I am not very good at making time to write, and I think in long, sprawling, epic plotlines. There is no end in sight, and I’m not too likely to have large spans of open time to spend on it. To make it worse, I really do want to finish it. I want to get it published someday.

I have a lifetime of work ahead of me. And that’s not counting the prequel to the trilogy or the completely unrelated sci-fi series that’s sprung up in an untended corner of my mind.

So I periodically must ask myself why I embrace this particular form of madness.

I would love to say that it’s because the world needs my stories because of the deep and powerful themes that run through them. I would love to say that I must write because it’s a divine calling. And while I wouldn’t doubt that those things are marginally true, the real reason I keep coming back to the story, despite the pointlessly long road ahead, is my characters.

Just thinking of them makes me happy. Selva the warrior-princess-politician, with her misguided passions that I understand so well. Hob, with his mind of an engineer, and trust of a child. Quynn with his noble ideals that send him crashing from the stars into the depths of evil. Gunther, with his cynical smile and will of iron. Nia, whom life crushed and left by the side of the road, but whom hope found again. Dar-Jabin, the rascal with no morals who made Nia’s happy ending possible. Dane, my bright-eyed scientist girl who cared so selflessly that it nearly destroyed her mind.

Yes, I love them, the messy darlings. I love them like the very real people they are. And, since it’s not THEIR fault that I’m working two jobs and have needy friends and have to eat and sleep, it’s really not fair of me to deprive them of the fantastic stories they deserve.

So, hobbit-like, I will keep pressing on through swamps and over mountains, through dark spider-infested forests and abandoned mines, for really the same fundamental reason that I do most of the other unreasonable things I do: on behalf of people I care about. No matter that these people are fictional. I’ll keep writing till they have stories worth sharing. I owe it to them.

In Which I Return to My Blog

Hello, everyone… the few of you who actually read my ramblings!

I am back, after a several-month absence, and I plan to be back for some time. You’ll excuse my absence; I wrote a book. Well, at least a draft of the first book in a trilogy. It’s not the first draft of the book, but I’m hoping it will be the final rough draft– a draft where I have nailed down plot and characters to a certain extent, and will be able to move forward with more detailed editing instead of just moving around and changing large story chunks.

And yes, I will begin work a new draft of Book Two as soon as the school year is off to a good start.

I do plan to add posts about my writing process as well as writing in general to the blog as time allows and the ideas strike. I have been working on this story for about seven years now, and there is no end in sight– although it’s come a long way from the original college-class short story that spawned the epic. It’s fantasy, very traditional fantasy, that allows me to develop a delightful cast of characters and put moral questions to myself and ponder them in a story context. It’s a chance to swing around a sword, save a few lives, and experience a world where good and evil are at least partially personified. It’s worth the work.

The art will continue, the teaching will continue, the kitty stories will continue– and I look forward to sharing elements of my writing journey with you as well.

Here’s to more blogging and the stories to be written still!