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!

Bet you thought I was going to miss another month, didn’t you?

I’ve had the double-whammy of a lot going on plus some kind of a creative clog, whether you want to call it writer’s block, creative malaise, artistic apathy . . . the words don’t come.

As a result, I’m dropping the “pic of the day” site for a while to try and conserve my creative energy for some writing (knock on wood).

So with writing being a problem area lately, let’s focus on the successes: reading!

February 2022 #500Stories500Nights

  • 1: “The Wife’s Story” by Ursula K Le Guin (Selected Shorts, 11-25-21)
  • 2: “The Umbra” by Johnny Caputo (Cast of Wonders 480)
  • 3: “Obstruction” by Pamela Rentz (Fantasy Magazine, 10-26-21)
  • 4: “You Perfect, Broken Thing” by CL Clark (Le Var Burton Reads, 8-2-21)
  • 5: “Flight 389” by Jon Padgett (Nightmare Magazine, 10-20-21)
  • 6: “If the Martians Have Magic” by P Djeli Clark (Uncanny 42B)
  • 7: “Death Has Red Hair” by Greye La Spina (PseudoPod 767)
  • 8: “Birthday Boys” by Alice Gauntley (Drabblecast 453)
  • 9: “The City Tongue” by Matthew Sanborn Smith (Drabblecast 453)
  • 10: “Everything Poops” by Kevin David Anderson (Drabblecast 453)
  • 11: “This Most Fertile Earth” by Robert Francis (Tales to Terrify 493)
  • 12: “The Fifth Gable” by Kay Chronister (Nocturnal Transmissions 118)
  • 13: “The Proxy Marriag,” by Maile Meloy (New Yorker Fiction, 8-1-21)
  • 14: “The Depletion Prompts” by David Means (New Yorker: The Writer’s Voice, 10-26-21)
  • 15: “Camp Cupid” by Lucy Stone (StarShipSofa 663)
  • 16: “Trivial Pursuit” by Jac Jemc (Selected Shorts 2-10-22)
  • 17: “Baghead” by Renee Jessica Tan (Selected Shorts 2-10-22)
  • 18: “Dick Pig” by Ian Muneshwar (Nightmare Magazine podcast, 1-5-22)
  • 19: “In My Brain in My Body” by Evie Mae Barber (Drabblecast 456)
  • 20: “Twentyone Twentytwo Seven” by Dave Ring (Overcast 162)
  • 21: “Cleared for Reentry” by Briana Morgan (The Wicked Library EW 2022-1)
  • 22: “Portraiture” by Davis Walden (The Wicked Library EW 2022-1)
  • 23: “The Lady of the Wood” by Cody Mower
  • 24: “Rootwork” by Patrick Meegan (Nocturnal Transmissions 122)
  • 25: “A Family Man” by VS Pritchett (The New Yorker Fiction, 1-1-22)
  • 26: “What the Forest Remembers” by Jennifer Egan (12-27-21)
  • 27: “Win-a-burger” by Glenn B. Dungan (StarShipSofa 678)
  • 28: “Let the Buyer Beware,” by Michelle Ann King (Cast of Wonders 487)

March 2022 #500Stories500Nights

  • 1: “Cousins Season,” by S. Fambul (Fantasy Magazine podcast, 2-22-22)
  • 2: “Afterlife,” by Stephen King (LeVar Burton Reads, 2-28-22)
  • 3: “The Goldfish Man,” by Maureen McHugh (Uncanny Magazine podcast 45A)
  • 4: “The Wrong Impression,” by Carolyn O’Brien (The Other Stories 73.4)
  • 5: “The Parricide’s Tale,” by Charles Robert Maturin (PseudoPod 800)
  • 6: “Myerscough and Skeleton,” by Tim Jeffreys (Tales to Terrify 527)
  • 7: “Battleground,” by Davin Ireland (Tales to Terrify 527)
  • 8: “The Mathematician” by Daniel Kehlmann (Selected Shorts 2-3-22)
  • 9: “Hobbits and Hobgoblins” by Randall Kenan (Selected Shorts 2-3-22)
  • 10: “Simons, Far and Near” by Ana Gardner (Cast of Wonders 485)
  • 11: “Free Coffin” by Corey Flintoff (Fantasy Magazine Podcast, 1-25-22)
  • 12: “Words We Say Instead” by Brit EB Hvide (LeVar Burton Reads, 8-16-21)
  • 13: “At the Periphery” by Benjamin Peek (Nightmare Magazine podcast, 7-7-21)
  • 14: “Lily, the Immortal” by Kylie Lee Baker (Uncanny Magazine podcast 44B)
  • 15: “The Horse Leech Has Two Maws” by Michael Picco (PseudoPod 796)
  • 16: “How Lovely Are Your Branches” by Tim Pratt (Drabblecast 455)
  • 17: “What Doesn’t Kill You” by Michelle Ann King (Tales to Terrify 524)
  • 18: “Bela’s Brood” by EEW Christman (Tales to Terrify 524)
  • 19: “Transition / Transformation” by Taylor Mittelsteadt (Nocturnal Transmissions 117)
  • 20: “Dream Eater” by Nemma Wollenfang (Podcasts from 3F, 2-3-22)
  • 21: “Judge & Jury” by Richard Reynolds (The Other Stories 66.5)
  • 22: “Headspace” by Beth Cato (Overcast 153)
  • 23: “Making the Merrow” by Samantha Mayotte (The Wicked Library TWL 1107)
  • 24: “Loneliness” by Bruno Schulz (New Yorker Fiction, 2-1-22)
  • 25: “Long Distance” by Aysegul Savas (New Yorker: The Writer’s Voice, 1-24-22)
  • 26: “Kaleidoscope City” by Doug C Souza (StarShipSofa 681)
  • 27: “The Briefcase” by Rebecca Makkai (Selected Shorts 3-17-22)
  • 28: “Paradise” by Yxta Maya Murray (Selected Shorts 3-17-22)
  • 29: “My Hilt Itches” by Sydney Rivers (Cast of Wonders 489)
  • 30: “The Dybbuk Ward” by Gabrielle Harbowy (Fantasy Magazine Podcast 3-22-22)
  • 31: “Troll Bridge” by Terry Pratchett (LeVar Burton Reads, 2-14-22)

I also finished two audiobooks: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch and Impact Winter by Travis Beacham.

I finished A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib, a poet who spoke at this year’s UND Writers Conference.

I am currently reading (also from UND Writers Conference authors) The Farmer’s Lawyer by Sarah Vogel and We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge.

I am getting ready to start the ebook version of a “lost book” from my childhood. It was something I read and re-read in my preteen years, and then it disappeared, probably lost in one of our moves. It had made a big impact on my imagination (one of the first things I remember reading and enjoying that was scifi), but I couldn’t remember the author or the title, or enough to make a Google search pan out. And then I stumbled on it on a scifi chat board. Imagine my surprise to find that it is considered a young adult novel!

My mom was an avid reader of horror, my granny an avid reader of romances, and my dad an occasional reader of scifi and war stories. I tended to steal books from all of their collections as well as always having at least three or four out from the school library. I’m pretty sure the book was in my dad’s collection, an anomaly. He didn’t care for young adult novels, and I generally avoid the genre myself these days. Nothing wrong with it, of course, I just have never been able to connect with a young adult protagonist. I was never able to get into Harry Potter or Twilight, either. Just a personal preference.

So I’m hoping that I’ll still find the novel just as captivating as I did back then: Spaceling, by Doris Piserchia

Speaking of the UND Writers Conference, it was awesome, as always. It was great to have it hybrid, but I wish there had been an option for more in-person events. There’s just something about the energy and fellowship of in-person events that gets lost when you are on Zoom.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Zooming in, too. There’s nothing like “attending” the conference in your PJs with a glass of wine in your hand.

Also, something came up on the last day of the conference and I had to go out of town. Hubby drove and I was able to Zoom into a couple of conference events on my phone while in the car on the way to Fargo!

And what in the world was so important in Fargo that it made me miss part of my beloved writers conference?

THIS GUY!

Say hello to Bruce Beowulf. He’s named after a combo of Bruce Campbell/They Call Me Bruce, both of which sum up his personality. If there’s something you think he can’t get into, he’s getting into it. If there’s something you think he can’t do, he’s doing it. He’s the first dog that’s ever gotten out of the puppy playpen we usually confine un-housebroken puppies in while we are at work. He got out, and we still don’t know how (climbed the three feet tall walls?????).

Normally, pups are confined overnight as well, in a room separate from us. Not Bruce. He literally cried all night. After two nights of feeling like the most horrible mom on the planet, and no sleep, we came up with a solution. We have a dog-modified bed (a queen and twin pushed together so there is room for me and hubby and all the dogs). We put an open wire crate at the head of the twin, right next to where I sleep, and that’s now where Bruce sleeps. No crying at all. He’s smart as heck and knows what he wants, and he’s got me wrapped around his little paw!

And since I’m a glutton for punishment and already dealing with a busy life as well as writer’s block, I’ve decided to take a summer class this year. It’s partially because of the convenience of the summer class. It’s a “business communication” class which should be helpful for both my writing career and my day job, especially since the last time I took a business writing class, email wasn’t a thing. Time to update my skills. And, over the summer, the class is offered online; in the fall, it’s only offered in-person. I’d rather do the online version.

Speaking of school, my current major is social science with a communication minor. I (think) I’d like to switch to a communication major, but there’s one small sticking point: a required block called “experience.” This block is generally filled with an internship or working as a teaching assistant, which would be problematic for me given my day job. I’ve been in contact with advisers and they are working on trying to figure something out (though one did seem to have the attitude of, “so be a teaching assistant, what’s the big deal?”). So we will see how that works out. Worst-case scenario, I don’t major in communication. Not the end of the world.

My big project for the the next few months, through summer (in addition to the class), is to refresh the creative well. I’ve gotten some wonderful advice and suggestions from a really amazing author, and I plan to put some of that advice into action. Sometimes, changing up the outlet for your creativity can help, so I plan to dabble in some other creative play, like woodcarving and sketching. Back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was pretty good with a charcoal pencil . . . because that’s all we had back in those “dawn of fire” days, y’know.

Speaking of creative play, I bought some rollerskates–REAL roller skates, not those new-fangled rollerblades–and I plan to relearn how to use them. I used to love rollerskating (yes, back in the roller-disco days) and I was pretty good. I want to see if it’s still as fun as I remember . . . which probably means that one of these blog posts will be written from a hospital bed in traction, but I’m up for the adventure. And as long as I only break a leg, I’ll still be able to write!

Current obsession: I actually have two things I’m obsessing about lately. One is Dirtwire. I had never heard of them before I started watching Larry Yazzie fancydance on Instagram, but now I’m obsessed with their sounds.

The other thing I’m obsessing about is Black Hills gold. It’s weird because I’ve never been a jewelry person. I wear my wedding ring and my crow necklace, and that’s it. But I’ve gotten back into wearing earrings lately, and that sparked the Black Hills gold obsession. It was really popular around here in the seventies and eighties, but you don’t see much about it now. Maybe the obsession has to do with some subconscious latent nostalgia I’m not aware of? Rollerskates, black hills gold . . . what’s next? Leg warmers?

And finally, after all this rambling, we get to the question of the month: What’s your favorite family tradition?

We’ve had lots of family traditions over the years, but a lot of them have fallen by the wayside as the kids grew, moved away, and life changed. We did start a new one this year that I’d like to keep going.

We moved back in 2018. Since that move, life has been . . . challenging. There have been financial challenges, emotional challenges, health challenges, relationship challenges, etc, all happening at the rate of 100WTFs per month. Way more than what you would expect, global pandemic not withstanding. Now, I’m not saying I’m blaming the house, BUT . . .

I’m not sure this house was ever more than a house to anyone. It’s twenty years old and has been sold several times (as opposed to my old home, where it was 20 years old when we sold it and we were the only people to have ever lived in it). It’s not too bizarre for a home to sell often around here. There are a lot of people who buy intending to stair-step (upgrade as soon as they are able to). There are a lot of transient people (a military base and a college mean a lot of people are in the area only temporarily). And, as was the case for the last resident of the house, a lot of people buy houses just to rent them out. So houses here are often just houses and not “homes.” I know a lot of people don’t buy into negative energy or bad vibes, but I do. Not saying that the house is haunted or cursed, but just that has some residual negativity hanging around like an old fart.

When we moved in, I added a door hanger for hanging wreaths on the front door. I had been buying seasonal wreaths for it, but for winter, I made my own wreath out of items sourced here from the yard. Hubby liked the idea, too, so I think it’s something we are going to continue on. There’s a good vibe about creating a welcoming wreath for the front door out of materials that “belong” to the house and yard. To me, it just says, this is our home, we belong together, and it definitely makes a positive vibe.

That’s it for this month! Until next month (knock on wood), Stay Spooky!

Was it just me, or was January the longest month ever? I really did feel I was on Monday, January 73rd. Maybe it’s because the weather here has been really, really crappy this year. We’ve had a lot more snow and cold than usual, which is really saying a lot for North Dakota.

Hopefully, things will be better this month. At least there’s a spark of hope, as we can start making camping reservations in the middle of this month! At least that gives us something to look forward to!

As always, it’s been Busy City around here.

I started my new class and officially added communication as a minor, but I’m really starting to think about switching it to be my major. We will see what happens. I’m really enjoying the class, especially the fact that it’s online so I don’t have to slog across campus this shitty winter. Weather aside, the class is interesting and, honestly, it seems a lot less stressful and there seems to be a lot less work than what I experienced with my English classes. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, I loved my English classes. But sometimes the workload seemed ridiculous (one class consisted of ten small papers and two long papers; reading was regularly 75+ pages between class meetings). The work in my current class is quite manageable. I’m not sure if that’s a function of it being a different department (comm vs Engl), because it’s online, or because it’s a lower-level class (200-level vs the 300-400+ levels I was taking in English). Maybe it’s for all of those reasons. Either way, so far so good, and I’m enjoying it.

And for those of you who were following my parking ticket drama, the ticket WAS voided and everyone in our department can now park in the “Research” lot at the vivarium, as we always should have been able to. It did, however, burn my butt when, for two or three days toward the end of last week, there was a personal vehicle parked in one of the “service vehicle only” spots at the vivarium. So, I park in a spot I should have always been designated to, and I get a ticket; but this personal vehicle keeps parking in service spots, which there’s no way it’s authorized to, and I have yet to see a ticket fluttering on its windshield. I didn’t call parking services on it yet because I’m trying to be a better person, but that can only go on for so long, lol.

More good news: I also received the official hard copy of my diploma and now have that hanging in my office, so woot for that!

One of the fun things I did recently was to participate in a mystery book exchange on Facebook. This one was run by a friend, so I knew the exchange was legit. The book was done “secret santa” style, so I didn’t know the person I drew.

The idea was to send them a favorite book, so my first two thoughts were Watership Down, by Richard Adams, and Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich. After I thought a little more, I assumed that the person would likely be a fan of horror/scifi, given our common friend, and so those might really miss the mark. On the other hand, I couldn’t pick a standard in the genre (like a Stephen King book) because they likely would have read it all already.

I finally decide on the first book in the Wayward Pines series, Pines, by Blake Crouch. In spite of being turned into a miniseries on Fox, it’s not as widely known as it should be. It’s clever and interesting with some twists you see coming, and then twists where you *thought* you knew what was going to happen, but really didn’t. I like that in a book. So, I thought I’d try that one for my book exchange person.

Of course, I ran into a problem right out of the gate. I hopped on to Amazon to buy the book and have it sent directly to the name on my list, but new copies weren’t available and used copies ranged from $35 to $85.

Undeterred but muttering “the hell if I’m going to pay $35 for a book for a stranger,” I surfed over to eBay and found a couple of copies for $5. I bought two, one for myself and one for my recipient. I had both sent to me to first to make sure that both are in good condition. I don’t want to send someone a horseshit copy. It delayed my book getting to the recipient (I hope they didn’t think I forgot them) and it cost a little more in postage ($7 for first class, yikes), but it was worth it.

Frankly, I think there should be more of these. It’s a lot of fun, especially when it’s complete strangers. If I did a book exchange at work, then I’d just get books that my coworkers would think I would like, you know? With strangers, you definitely get a chance to try something new. As evidenced by the book I received (not from the same person I sent to): Bang the Drum Slowly, by Mark Harris. I look forward to reading it!

I’ve been doing pretty good on my mindfulness/wellness goal of taking a picture a day. I started out doing it on Instagram, but I abandoned that pretty quickly because Instagram is nothing but trash. So about halfway through January I stopped posting on my Instagram author account and started posting my picture of the day on a new WordPress site. It’s certainly nothing exciting, but if you are curious or bored, you can check it out here:

My Picture of the Day site

And believe it or not, I actually made some progress on writing. I started with resubmitting some stories.

Part of what slows me down on getting back on track with my writing is fixing all the records I pretty much abandoned last year. Normally, submitting a story involves researching to find a publication that the story would fit with, reformatting the story so that it meets the style guide of the publication, sending the story off, and updating the records of the story to say when and where it was sent. Then, those records are updated when I hear back on the story.

Since I pretty much just stopped all the writing business in July and haven’t even bothered to update records since, I’m finding that I have stories that were sent out in last February that I’ve never heard back on and have to hunt down what happened. I’ve got stories that were rejected as far back as May that haven’t had their records updated (so they still show basically as “pending”). And I even have stories “pending” at publications that have since went out of business.

In other words, my records are a mess, which really complicates the submission process.

In spite of that, I’ve gotten four of my stories submitted to new markets. I’m working on two new stories. And, I’m working on an odd (for me) writing project (more on that later).

So the good news is, there is finally some progress on my writing goals. YAY ME!

Also, there has been progress on my reading goals.

January 2022 #500Stories500Nights

  • 1: “Love and Assimilation,” by Bryce Heckman (Tales to Terrify 510)
  • 2: “Junippy Paw,” by Gordon B White (Tales to Terrify 510)
  • 3: “The Lunch Pail,” by WB Stickel (Nocturnal Transmissions 112)
  • 4: “Joey and Rue,” by Dominick Cancilla (Podcasts from 3F)
  • 5: “Mum,” by Luke Kondor (The Other Stories 67.1)
  • 6: “Migration,” by Laura Garrity (Overcast 154)
  • 7: “An Acid Trip Through Time,” by Michelle Lane (The Wicked Library 1102)
  • 8: “The Masque of the Red Death,” by Poe (Tales From Beyond the Pale 49)
  • 9: “The Hollow,” by Greg Jackson (The New Yorker: The Writer’s Voice, 11-22-21)
  • 10: “In the Name of Bobby,” by Julio Cortazar (The New Yorker: Fiction, 11-1-21)
  • 11: “Smoke Bomb,” by Matt Thompson (StarShipSofa 674)
  • 12: “Fairness,” by Chinelo Okparanta (Selected Shorts, 11-18-21)
  • 13: “Little Nightmares, Little Dreams,” by Rachel Simon (Selected Shorts, 11-18-21)
  • 14: “Little Free Library,” by Naomi Kritzer (Cast of Wonders 474)
  • 15: “Girls Have Sharp Teeth,” by Genevieve Mills (Fantasy Magazine Podcast, 11-23-21)
  • 16: “Shock of Birth,” by Cadwell Turnbull (LeVar Burton Reads, 8-23-21)
  • 17: “Inkmorphia,” by Julianna Baggott (Nightmare Magazine, 11-17-21)
  • 18: “Mulberry and Owl,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny 42A)
  • 19: “Licking Roadkill,” by Richard E Dansky (Pseudopod 786)
  • 20: “The Doom That Came to Sarnath,” HP Lovecraft (Drabblecast 454)
  • 21: “It Creeps in the Corners,” by Erik McHatton (Tales to Terrify 516)
  • 22: “The Only Way Out is Through,” by Alex Laurel Lanz (Tales to Terrify 516)
  • 23: “Insectivorous,” by Joe Palumbo (Nocturnal Transmissions 114)
  • 24: “There’s Something in the House,” by Thomas Teller (The Other Stories 72.1)
  • 25: “Truer Love,” by Edd Vick (The Overcast 155)
  • 26: “The Sound of Madness,” by Ricardo Victoria (The Wicked Library 1103)
  • 27: “The Falls,” by George Saunders (The New Yorker: Fiction, 12-1-21)
  • 28: “Not Here You Don’t,” by Thomas McGuane (The New Yorker: The Writer’s Voice, 10-12-21)
  • 29: “Stars So Sharp They Break the Skin,” by Matthew Sanborn Smith (StarShipSofa 677)
  • 30: “The Elevator Dancer,” by NK Jemisin (Selected Shorts, 11-25-21)
  • 31: “Marigolds,” by Eugenia W Collier (Selected Shorts, 11-25-21)

In addition to the short stories, I finished reading Crooked Hallelujah, by Kelli Jo Ford.

I finished reading Stoicism for Inner Peace, by Einzelganger.

I haven’t made much progress on the two reads I’ve been working on for months; I’m still working on Walking Dead and Philosophy and still working on Moby Dick.

Next up on my reading list are books related to the UND Writers Conference coming up in March. I’ll have to double-check, but I think I’ve purchased at least one work written by all the conference authors, which means I have a lot of reading to do!

To aid getting back on track with my writing, I’ve been prowling the internet for calls for submissions. Not only is that a good way to find markets for existing stories, some submission calls have a theme which can inspire a new story. For example, one of the calls I found is for stories about giant bugs. I haven’t written a giant bug story in a while, so I think I might try it!

The prowling reminded me of one of my . . . traits? quirks? handicaps? . . . as a writer. While I treat the act of writing as an art, I treat publishing as 100% a business with a product to sell. I make art; but then I want to *sell* that art!

For example, a penny a word is my minimum for submitting. I see a ton of calls for $10 or whatever, but unless the pay rate works out to be at least a penny a word, that’s not for me. This is actually somewhat unusual because there is a large cohort of writers that follow the “for the exposure” theory of publishing. That theory follows the belief that the more publications you have, the more name recognition you earn, which parlays into higher pay later. I agree with the writing cohort that says, “do accountants, car mechanics, and lawyers work for free to gain name recognition?” I guess you could call our theory of publishing the “show me the money” method! I’m not saying one method is better than the other. Heck, there are a lot of writers that I recognize because they are being published *everywhere* for free, which means that part of their method definitely looks like it works!

Another example is that I never, EVER enter contests. I don’t mean the kind where a publisher recommends your work for the Pushcart Prize; I’m talking about the ones the writer has to actively and intentionally enter.

First, a lot of contests require a fee. While I do understand that the fees cover the costs associated with the contest, I stand firm on the belief that money should only flow toward the writer.

Second, the danger is that might end up giving away your story, which means you are giving away your product for free. In a lot of contests, your story gets published whether you win or not. Really, you are gambling. You ante up your story in the hopes you’ll take the pot. If you don’t win the pot, your story gets published by the contest and can never be published anywhere else except at reprint rates. Again, not a judgment call on entering contests, but it doesn’t fit with my writing business.

BUT, in an immediate example of every rule has an exception, I actually *am* entering a writing contest . . . for poetry. One of my unstated goals for this year is to dabble in other writing. During my prowling of sub calls, I found a cute little poetry contest I plan to enter. It’s really outside my comfort zone. I’m willing to take the gamble on trying something new. I have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, but it’s a fun little exercise in refreshing the creative well by trying something new.

Here’s a link if you want to see what type of writing I’m going to be trying: Scifaiku!

And, last but not least (or more accurately, “holy crap I almost forgot”), the question of the month:

What’s the dumbest way you’ve been injured?

I don’t know. I’ve been injured so many dumb ways! The top two would either have to be the time I nearly cut my finger off trying to slice through a frozen kielbasa, or the time I had to go to the ER in Grand Forks, North Dakota to have a porcupine quill pulled out of my thigh. I was the highlight of the ER that night, as there are no porcupines for many miles from here, and none of the doctors had ever, in their whole careers, ever had to pull a porcupine quill out of a human being. There was some debate on whether they should maybe call in an expert for my case . . . a veterinarian. Fortunately, after waiting while every single person on staff that night tromped in to see the spectacle and hear my lame story, a quick surgery removed the quill and left me with no noticeable scar.

And for those wondering how I got the quill? I had decided I was going to learn how to do quillwork (crafts using porcupine quills), and I decided a good place to work would be in front of my patio door because the light was good there. At some point, I either dropped a quill on the floor or one blew out of the jar (because I was sitting in front of the open patio door). I was working sitting cross-legged on the floor, and at some point, I shifted and rested my leg on top of the quill. The rest is Grand Forks history.

That’s it for this month (see, I told you it was January 912th; look at how long this post was)!

Until next month, stay spooky, my friends!

Happy New Year!

Lord have mercy, let’s hope this year is better than the last two! Hubby and I did our ritual of burning the calendar to get rid of the bad juju from the past year. We were going to skip it this year because it is ridiculously cold here (it was -37F this morning with a minus fifty-something wind chill), but he was so angry and sick of last year that he decided he was going to do it in spite of the weather. So we put the 2021 calendar into the fire pit outside, doused it in lighter fluid, and burned that bitch to ashes!

The good news is, I’m officially a college graduate. The bad news, I’m not sure when I’ll be receiving my diploma. See, I’m in a dispute with our parking office, and they have a ridiculous amount of power. I have a hold on my student account (transcript something-or-other) which I’m assuming means they aren’t releasing my diploma until the parking ticket is resolved. I’m a little worried that if it isn’t resolved before classes start, they might even cancel my registration!

Anyway, this all happened because I drove my own car over to the vivarium and parked in “research” parking. I’ve done it before several times over the last three years. The girl who had the job before me did it. But, for whatever reason, I got a parking ticket this time. Thinking it was an error, I filed an appeal. I mean, I work for the Center for Biomedical RESEARCH, and I transport and take care of the RESEARCH animals, and my email address ends in RESEARCH.edu. I should be authorized for the research lot next to my vivarium, right?

They rejected my appeal.

I requested an in-person meeting. They denied it, saying the only way they allow in-person meetings is if there is significant (their emphasis) additional information that I was not in violation. You mean besides the stuff I just listed?

So then I asked, who CAN park in the research area, then? They replied that they can’t tell me that.

Seriously?

So I may be in violation, or it might be a clerical error, but you can’t tell me which.

They did say, “We have a list of names that are allowed to park there.” Obviously, I must not be on that list, so I talked to my supervisor. He was as shocked as I was. He parks there. All my coworkers park there. Worse still, no one ever asked him for a list! And when I do take my personal vehicle over there, it’s usually because my supervisor wants to use our mouse-transport van for other business (like picking up parts for our wash bays, etc).

So our admin, on behalf of my supervisor, sent an email to them saying the ticket should be voided, that we need to park there to tend to the vivarium, and here is the list of names that should be added.

The parking office replied, “The list of names is given to us by the SMHS.” In other words, they politely told the admin and the CBR supervisor to bugger off, that they aren’t high enough on the food chain to request parking at a facility that we are partly responsible for.

Of course, the holiday has delayed any further progress on it, so I won’t know what happens next until some time next week. I know our admin had copied a couple of folks from the SMHS on the emails, but I didn’t see any responses or reactions from them. Either that was handled in private, or perhaps they were already gone for the holiday.

So you’ll have to wait until next month to see how “RESEARCH tech vs Parking office” ends. Even if it has a happy ending for me, I feel bad for all the students that have to deal with this over-reaching parking office. Can you imagine if you were some kid from Ohio who graduated and went back home, and you needed your transcript for the job you had lined up, but the parking office was holding it hostage because of a parking ticket? I would be livid!

My reading and writing were pretty stagnant in December. There was just a lot of other stuff vying for my attention.

On the writing front, I accomplished absolutely nothing other than finishing off that final for my last English class.

I’m still listening to the audiobook version of Moby Dick;

I’m still working on The Walking Dead and Philosophy;

I failed on #500Stories500Nights again. Got one good month, then fell off the track again. Ah, well. It’s a new year.

I did finish two ebooks: Plague, by HW Buzz Bernard, and DRYP The Final Pandemic, by RA Scheuring. I love books about pathogens, so I enjoyed them both.

I’ve also started Crooked Hallelujah, by Kelli Jo Ford (in actual dead tree book form)!

Another “thing” that I’m starting is the study of the philosophy of stoicism. There are a couple of different books that I’ll be working on as part of it. Part of it will be The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman (and the accompanying journal), and also the Stoic Six Pack: Meditations, The Golden Sayings, Fragments, Discourses of Epictetus, Letters from a Stoic, and The Enchiridion. Nothing like a light reading project!

I am also trying to learn wood carving. It’s something I’ve always thought about trying, and hubby’s been encouraging me to find something that we could do together out in his workshop.

He does all kinds of woodworking. He’s built a lot of things around the house and camper (like custom doggy steps for our bed in the camper, a custom storage unit for the camper, my beautiful–but dusty–altar pictured above, and even those crows above the altar). So I’ve been watching some YouTube videos and once the supplies come, I’m going to try it. Even if I never get good at it, it’s something hubby and I can do in his workshop together, working side-by-side. I just hope I don’t lose any fingers. I’m not one of those writers who is very good with dictation software, so I kinda need all my fingers.

Last but not least, let’s get to that goal I set of doing a “question of the month” here on the blog.

For this month’s question, I picked: what’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

That’s a complex question. I’ve always been really flighty in my employment, flitting from job to job. Up until my current job, the longest I’d ever stayed at a job was two years. When you spend that much time changing jobs, you tend to have a wide range of employment, and a lot of them are pretty shitty jobs.

One job clearly stands out as the worst, though, and it’s one of TWO brief jobs that I had right before I took my current job. And when I say brief, I mean BRIEF!

The first job, I lasted only three days. It was night shift sorter at the post office. I was hired part-time, no benefits, but I ended up putting in thirty-six hours in those three days. When I asked my co-workers, “Wow. When are they going to hire enough people that it won’t be like this anymore?” They laughed and exchanged knowing glances. One gal stepped forward and said she’d been doing the job for seven years, and it had *always* been like that. They said they just gradually got used to it, and by the time they realized they were always going to be working twelve to sixteen hours a day, six days a week, they were so in love with the crazy amount of money that they were making, they couldn’t walk away. Well, maybe they couldn’t . . . . I walked.

I went straight from that job into the worst job I ever had: pest control call center. The job was an awful lot like telemarketing, except that some of your contacts were also regular customers. But whether you were making cold contact or they were contacting you, the icing on the cake was spending the whole day talking about bedbugs and mice and cockroaches in five-star hotels and fancy restaurants in places like Vegas and Beverly Hills. Yay! Jobs like that will make you never want to travel (or eat anywhere) again! God it was awful. I think I lasted three weeks or so at that job, and the only reason I lasted that long was because the first week or two was training. Once I got out of the training modules and on the phone, I soured on the job pretty quickly.

Almost worse than the job itself was the animosity from the other workers. This job was one of those places that tries to screw over “employees” by hiring everyone through a temp agency. So most of the workers there were unbenefitted and not “guaranteed” continued employment (not that anyone is “guaranteed”, but you know what I mean). For reasons I don’t quite understand, I was hired as a standard employee, not through a temp agency. So I had more benefits and job security than everyone else, and they were pretty pissed about it. I bet they were even more pissed when they found out I just abruptly quit my “cushy” job. Bleh. One man’s shit show is another man’s stable income, I guess, and that one just wasn’t for me.

Thankfully, I saw an ad for my current job shortly after, and that’s where I’ve been ever since, nine years and counting!

That’s it for this month, folks! Hopefully next month I’ll be able to tell you all about the really cool short story I’m working on, LOL!

Until then, stay spooky!