Okay, I know it’s lazy, but the days are also flying by and I wanted to get this update posted before it became the March update! I’m skipping doing this one off-site in HTML and just doing it the old tried-and-true way. It’s faster, and it gives me less opportunity to break something (as I somehow managed to do with my amateur HTML and the January post, lol).

In general, January was . . . well, as January usually is. The winter hasn’t been too bad, overall. It started off pretty rough, snowy and cold, right from the start. But then it mellowed out and we had milder temps and lots of freezing fog. We just finished another cold snap, and now the last few days have been hovering around freezing (which is awesome, for here). The days are already getting longer, thank goodness, which helps with my mood. Spring is still a long way away, though. Six more weeks of winter? Nah, try twelve to fourteen. Camping season reservations open this month, though, so I can cling to that bit of joy to get me through.

Updates on the odds and ends of life:

Speaking of camping season, I pulled my sourdough starter out and it’s still alive. So we’ll be able to make lots of delicious breads during camping trips (about the only time I cook anymore)!

I started on the bedroom project, but that’s being slowed down due to supply chain issues. I have the adjustable base for the split king, but the mattresses are being hand-made by Oompa Loompas, or something. I’m not sure which will arrive first: North Dakota spring or my mattresses. I also bought curtains . . . spur of the moment, in-store, without measuring. They are about eight inches too short, and I would need at least another set to cover the whole window. Lesson learned!

My current sewing project is still half-finished and being worn by my dressmaker’s mannequin. It looks awfully nice on her, but hopefully, someday I’ll finish it and I can see how it looks on me.

My HTML and programming lessons have slowed a bit now that regular class is back in session. I still haven’t figured out what I’m doing wrong with this site when it comes to mobile formatting, but I’ll get there, eventually. Y’all will just have to bear with me in the meantime.

The new job is going great, I really enjoy what I’m doing, and I’m loving working from home. It was scary to make such a big change, but it looks like I made the right choice!

The glitch with the introductory level communication class was resolved, so now I have to decide if I’m going to take a summer class just for kicks, or if I’m going to take the summer off to focus on some of my independent studies or perhaps even (gasp) actually GETTING BACK TO WRITING!

And that’s the fifty-million-dollar question, right? Hey, how’s the writing going?

Well, I don’t want to jinx it, but some progress has been made. I actually moved some of my writing files off my old (retired) laptop and onto my new computer. That’s huge. Until recently, my (two) new computers didn’t even have any of my writing files on them!

But here’s where it gets really exciting. I’ve started a brand new short story. Will it go anywhere? We will see. Writing has been such a touchy subject for me for at least a year-and-a-half. Hubby says he feels like it’s trying to get a deer to eat out of your hand: he doesn’t want to push too much because he’s afraid I will get scared and spring away. The human psyche really is a funny thing, isn’t it? You can plug away for years at something, and then one little bad experience can make you so averse to it that you can’t even stand the sight or thought of it.

So, it’s going to be an uphill battle. But it’s a good little story so far. I’ll let you know how it’s going next month.

(The view from my workplace on a freezing fog day in January)

No, I’m not dead. I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. I haven’t gotten sick of people, sold all my worldly goods, and moved into a mysterious, off-the-grid cabin in the woods.

I have just been incredibly, horribly busy.

Reading? No time. Writing? I wish. Camping? Twice, maybe three times only . . . and it’s already AUGUST!

Instead, I’ve been busy with work, hubby’s health, and two side projects that have eaten up all of my time.

The first side project is that I made the terrible error in judgment of taking a summer class. Not a good idea. The class itself was great, and I learned a lot. But, it was a terrible time suck. I won’t be doing this again. I need my summers off.

The second side project is that I’ve decided that if I am going to no longer be a mouse-wrangler for my day job (long story, and still up in the air), I want to be a content writer. That means I need to brush up on my web development skills and learn some new marketing skills as those often go hand-in-hand with writing content. I have experience in both, but they were both a million years ago, and the marketing was hands-on, trial and error rather than via education (I ran my own business selling homeschool products). So I need some updating, especially on the programming/web development side of things.

Things I’ve said while doing this:

“Can you believe they have IDEs now? In my day, we had to write this stuff by hand. If you wanted to get fast, you had to be good with those copy-paste keys!”

“In my day, we had to format manually, not just hit three buttons and the IDE would auto format our code!”

“In my day, we had to do two semesters of Assembly before we could even THINK about learning to code!”

I think this is what I look like most of the time while I’m doing refresher studies:

A lot of the people I know are a little taken aback by my decision. The prevailing attitude seems to be, “So, you think you can just decide to be an <insert job title> here and then go do it?”

Yes. That’s exactly what I think.

No, it’s probably not a good idea to decide to be a brain surgeon and dive right in. But for a lot of careers, the world of the Matrix is a reality; you can literally take classes, watch webinars, and study YouTube and learn how to do a lot! I can’t just download Kung Fu to my brain, but I can get pretty darn close!

I’m not sure why there seems to be a disconnect for most people. Does it matter if I’m learning by sitting in a college classroom versus sitting at home in front of my computer? As long as the teaching is quality (and a lot of it is: LinkedIn, Google Garage, Udemy, etc.), it really doesn’t make a difference!

So, for now, writing is on hold while I focus on all this other stuff. Then, if I end up having to leave my mouse job behind, I will be ready for this next new chapter of my life! By the next posting, I hope to have a small content portfolio created and displayed on a site I completely created all by myself in HTML!

See you next month!

Lots and lots of busy-ness going on! Puppy stuff, and school stuff, and work stuff, and yes, even writing stuff.

So how is the writing going? Well, I have abandoned my usual way of writing because it’s just not working for me right now. My usual writing process is that I maintain a calendar of submission calls and pick which ones I want to write something for. For example, there was a publisher who put out a call for Medusa stories with a deadline in mid-March. I would jot that on my calendar and work on a Medusa story with the goal of making the deadline and subbing the story to the call. But, even if the story doesn’t make it into the anthology I wrote it for, I can still send it out to other publishers (which basically means the sub-call just acted as a writing prompt).

That method of writing worked for me for years, but it’s just not working this year. So, rebel that I am, I tossed my calendar. I might pull it back out to use some of the calls as prompts, but I’m not trying to write to any deadlines this year. As a matter of fact, I’m abandoning the goals list, too, at least for this year. This is the year of freewheeling. I remain cautious, though, because “freewheeling” can become “lost and adrift” very easily, but we will see how it goes.

With this new plan in mind (and some good advice from a wise counselor), I started two new writing projects. The problem is that both of the projects are long-term/long-form (good thing I abandoned the goals list, huh? No “six short stories” for me this year). BUT, I’m really excited about them and making good progress. Both projects are more of a series of short stories strung together to form a novel. One is more daunting than the other because it also involves a ton of research and development. I’m talking about creating not just one but several languages, several races of aliens, etc. It’s sort of a blend of sci-fi and fantasy. The other project is straight horror/supernatural following the adventures of a single character as he performs his job. I can’t wait to see how these two projects develop!

Speaking of writing some horror, did you know YouTube Music has specialty playlists like Death Rattles? I use playlists a lot while I’m writing. Another good one is Zombie Apocalypse Music. You should check them out!

As for work stuff, my day job is big area of uncertainty these days. We haven’t been fully staffed since the beginning of the pandemic. After the last guy left, I took over almost all of his rooms/mice in addition to my own. So now I’m “doing the work” of two techs . . . and getting the pay for one.

For a long time, the other techs have been pushing management for better wages because they have added a lot of duties to our jobs with no corresponding increase in pay. For example, when I started, we worked in one facility; Now we have three facilities under our care. We’ve also added an on-call aspect to our job. We rotate weekends and holidays, and now whoever works the weekend is also on call for the week. I’ve had a huge problem with that part of the job ever since it was added because it means your life is on hold for that week. When the call comes, you must get to the facility asap because it means there’s been a malfunction in the watering system and the mice may be drowning. I can be out at a restaurant eating, and I’ll have to drop everything and rush in. It means I can’t even run to Fargo on a shopping trip. With four techs, that means one quarter of my year is being at the beck and call of the facility, unpaid (you get call-out pay if you have to come in, but otherwise, there’s no compensation for being on call).

I love my job and don’t want to leave it, but it looks like there will not be a satisfactory resolution to the problem. Our supervisor and attending vet (who seem to be doing all they can to improve the wages but have limited ability because of the bureaucracy) scheduled a meeting for us all to meet with HR. It only made things worse.

First, HR told us they can do nothing until August because there is a freeze on pay evaluations. That’s just fine and dandy, except that the supervisor and attending vet have been working on this for a while. They put in their requests, etc., before the freeze. HR didn’t move on it.

Second, HR reassured us that “something will happen because (list of researchers and higher-ups at the university) know what a great job you all do and how important you all are to our mission.” Great. Then why delay? Show us the money.

Third, HR asked us all to write up a description of what we do every day in order to “justify” adjusting our pay. See the second point, above.

Fourth, we’ve had a job listing open since February or March, and, just like the last time we advertised, we’ve had one applicant. This time, the one applicant rejected the job once he found out it would mean a pay cut (he works for another unit in the University). No one is applying because the pay is so low.

After the meeting, I’d had enough smoke blown up my you-know-what that I didn’t need a nicotine patch anymore. I’m really concerned that when they come back with an offer in August, it’s going to be a 50-cent or $1 raise. I know that’s not enough to make up for the disruption being on-call causes for my work/life balance, and I don’t think my co-workers are going to find it satisfactory either.

The other part of this is, of course, that we will probably not get to hire anyone until they increase the pay. So we will probably be short-staffed, and I will remain doing the work of two techs, through the summer. That’s a big problem because I take a lot of time off in the summer. Naturally, as much as I love my job, I’m not cancelling my summer because this wage “freeze” is preventing us from attracting new hires.

So now I am looking for a new job. I’m not looking hard because I really, really don’t want to leave my job, but I know it might be inevitable. I’m kind of looking around in records management or web writing. So, added to all the other busy parts of life, I need to update my web presence (website, bio, social media, etc.) because I’ll be using them as part of my resume/portfolio.

I also need to add some content to Medium as part of my content. I’ve had the account for a while but done nothing with it. Can I write stuff that doesn’t involve zombies and things that go bump in the night? We shall see!

On the education side of things, I just took my final for my current course, “Writing for New and Traditional Media.” My next class isn’t required for either of the majors I’m considering (social science, communication), but I think it’s a handy refresher for any real-life job: “Professional Communication for Business.” I’ve been “professionally communicating” for years, lol, but I think a refresher course on best practices is always a good idea. After all, the last time I took a business comm course (“Business and Technical Writing”), there was no email. These days, a lot of my “professional” communication is done via email and even text!

The only thing I don’t like about the class is that instead of a textbook, students buy a fourth-month subscription to a learning platform. It’s a great idea for full-time students (All of your textbooks for about $120? What a bargain!) but not so much for part-timers like me. Also, I like to have a textbook. I can learn digitally and don’t need a physical textbook, but I like to have a textbook to add to my collection afterward.

Also, I’m exploring and trying out some Udemy classes related to copywriting in case I do end up leaving my day job and embarking on a new career chapter.

On the reading side of things, I finished Prudence, by David Truer. I’m still working on most of the other books I’ve started, but it’s so going because I’m also doing the class reading. My main go-to book right now is Sarah Vogel’s The Farmer’s Lawyer. I started it before the writer’s conference, but I’m determined to finish it this month!

My April 2022 #500Stories500Nights

  • 1: “The First Year” by RL Meza (Nightmare Magazine podcast, 3-16-22)
  • 2: “The Night Dance” by Leah Cypress (Uncanny Magazine podcast #44A)
  • 3: “Laughter Among the Trees” by Suzan Palumbo (Pseudopod 802)
  • 4: “Stay” by Davian Aw (Drabblecast 448)
  • 5: “Blue Tip Down” by Ian Sputnik (Nocturnal Transmissions 124)
  • 6: “Church of the Chronically Ill” by Brendan Vidito (The Other Stories 74.3)
  • 7: “The Right One” by Mark Towse (The Other Stories 74.4)
  • 8: “An Evil Not Forgotten” by Erik Buchanan (The Overcast 164)
  • 9: “Anything to End the Loneliness” by Hailey Piper (The Wicked Library 1110)
  • 10: “Clones” by JT Shields (The Other Stories 72.2)
  • 11: “Grief” by KG Anderson (The Overcast 160)
  • 12: “Faces of Mars” by AP Sessler (The Wicked Library 1108)
  • 13: “Where I’m Callling From” by Raymond Carver (The New Yorker: Fiction podcast, 4-1-22)
  • 14: “Just a Little Fever” by Sheila Heti (The New Yorker: The Writer’s Voice, 4-11-22)
  • 15: “Full Metal Grandma” by Alex Gray (StarShipSofa 683)
  • 16: “The Storyteller’s Replacement” by NK Jemisin (Selected Shorts 3-28-22)
  • 17: “Stillwater” by Valerie Kemp (Cast of Wonders 492)
  • 18: “How to Make a Man Love You” by Hannah Yang (Fantasy Magazine podcast, 4-12-22)
  • 19: “The Placement Agency” by Tobias Buckell (LeVar Burton Reads, 1-10-22)
  • 20: “The Stop After the Last Station” by AT Greenblatt (Uncanny Magazine podcast #43A)
  • 21: “Where the Heather Grows” by Shaoni C White (Nightmare Magazine podcast, 4-20-22)
  • 22: “Garden Empire” by Christopher Matson (Pseudopod 806)
  • 23: “When the Sun Hits” by Nick Mamatas (Drabblecast 457)
  • 24: “City of Wolves and Lightning” by Julia August (Tales to Terrify 533)
  • 25: “The Feast Day of Saint Nicholas” by Ryan Nagle (Tales to Terrify 533)
  • 26: “The Odd One Out” by Andrew Rucker Jones (Tales to Terrify 530)
  • 27: “In the Company of Bastards” by Carson Winter (Tales to Terrify 530)
  • 28: “Egg” by Priya Sharma (Nocturnal Transmissions 125)
  • 29: “An Arm and a Leg” by Lawson Ray (The Other Stories 75.4)
  • 30: “Bridge Over the Cunene” by Gustavo Bondoni (The Overcast 158)

Question of the month: If you had to create an alter ego for yourself, who would it be and what would you name them?

Doesn’t everybody on the Internet have an alter ego? I thought that’s what Facebook and Instagram were all about: the display of our perfect selves and our perfect lives <wink>.

Seriously, though, I do have a sort of alter ego already. My pagan name is Windlistener, and that’s the name I use to reflect my more spiritual side (or indicate that I am in “spiritual mode” as opposed to day-to-day mode, I guess?).

It used to be my main internet handle, too. The name came about back in the early days of the Internet. While munching on a bronto-burger, I was trying to sign up for my first hotmail account and having no luck because all the usernames were already taken (a reflection of my unimaginativeness, not of how many hotmail accounts already existed).

I had put on a Disney movie for the kids to watch while I struggled, and after what felt like my hundredth try at a username, I heard one of my daughter’s yell from the living room, “Mom! Mom! Come see.”

“Not now. I’m busy,” I replied.

“But mom, mom, MOM! You have to see! Pocahontas is a wind-listener, just like you!”

From the mouths of babes.

Her term for it was much better than what my mom used to call it. I love wind (which is probably the only reason I’ve survived in North Dakota so long). Every time I step outside, I stop and a moment and turn my face to the wind. My mom called it, “testing the air like an old hound dog.” Wind-listener is a MUCH better descriptor.

I also had an alter ego when I first started writing. I had heard that women had a tougher time breaking into horror and sci-fi, so I started my writing career under the name, Douglas Graves (Doug Graves . . . get it?). I abandoned it not long after because:

  1. It’s silly;
  2. It’s no fun to write under a pen name because you want people to know it’s YOU;
  3. I found out Stephen King had a radio station and the mascot is a zombie named Doug Graves.

So, Douglas Graves had a brief life and short publishing career, but Windlistener lives on.

I’ve also adopted a little side project for a product I love. I’ve become a Zox Ambassador.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to become more mindful, think more positively, and be more (for lack of a better word) Zen. And Zox wristbands fit perfectly with my mindfulness practice.

The wristbands are made of colorful stretchy fabric and come with mindfulness/inspirational messages. They are sort of like those rubber mindfulness bracelets that were so popular a few years back, but they have better color/pattern choices, are way more comfortable to wear, and have better selection.

My husband wears the “One You Feed” wristband as part of his mental health journey. It’s based on the old story of “two wolves live inside you” and has a great graphic of a wolf on it.

I wear the “Love Always Wins” bracelet and the “Let it Slide” bracelet. The love bracelet does double duty because it is rainbow colored and stands for LGTBQ+ rights I so strongly believe in AND stands for the fact that love conquers all (in our case, the struggles hubby and I have faced during his mental health challenges). The slide bracelet is a purple pattern and is my reminder to not let everything get to me. I use it as a reminder to follow the Stoic philosophical principle of “I can’t control anyone or anything; I can only control how I react.”

You can find your mindfulness reminder at this link: Think Positive/Be Mindful with colorful Zox wristbands. If you use my code (BRENDA19460), you get 25% off your first order, and I get an affiliate commission. #zoxrep @Zox

I love my Zox!

That’s all for this month! Keep your fingers crossed for me that my day job comes through, and don’t forget to come back next month for updates on my mystery projects.

Until then, Stay Spooky!