And then I fell on my head. Again.

Hey, hey, dear bloggy friends. If you’re wondering why this space has been post-free for the past few weeks, for a change it has nothing to do with general indolence or shirky distractions. For the second time in two years, I’ve been coddling my brain after giving it a good thumping in January. Ah, post-concussion symptoms, what stabby little thorns in the side of daily life you are.

Clearly I shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house without a suit of full body armour. If any of you happens to have one kicking around, perhaps we can negotiate a fair price? Or perhaps I should just learn not to fall on my head, although if I haven’t mastered that skill in the past few decades, I’d say the body armour is probably the more realistic option.

It’s taken a while, including several weeks off work, and several more weeks of returning to work with modified hours, but next week I’ll be back to full-time. I’d say I’m operating at about 75% of pre-concussion capacity, and every week is a bit better than the last. Baby steps, right? No rushing a pummelled brain, apparently.

It’s been hard to be patient, though, and every now and then I fly into a panic, worrying that the changes are going to be permanent, that the fall has distorted my personality and turned me into not-quite-Kern. I find myself examining my behaviour for evidence that I am now Not-Me, and I end up having the following kinds of conversations with myself (mostly in my head but, sadly, not always):

Neurotic me: Oh, crap! I’ve become testy! and impatient! and unwilling to suffer fools gladly!
Less neurotic me
: Hold the phone, self, you’ve always been testy and impatient, haven’t you? And, really, does anyone suffer fools gladly? Suffer them, sure, because, really, short of homicide, what’s the alternative, but gladly? I think not.

Neurotic me: Oh, no! I’ve turned into a grumbly-grumping cranky pants!
Less neurotic me: Wait. Never mind. The tendency to cranky-pantsing  pre-dates the concussion by a couple of decades. At least Face it, self, sometimes you really do sweat the small stuff.

Neurotic me: Oh, woe! I can’t type a paragraph without woofing out at least two typos!
Less neurotic me: Um. Yeah. So very not new. While you’re at it, why not blame the concussion for your horrible penmanship? And your inability to draw a straight line? Not to mention your atrocious housekeeping skills? Honestly, know when to grab hold of an excuse, woman.

No, my personality, for better or worse, seems to be pretty much intact. And everything else–the sensitivity to light, noise, people in groups, anything sudden, people with shrill voices, and so on–is livable.

I’m still me. Phew.

And it’s nice to be back.

Five ways to eviscerate your stress

As I sit here contemplating the mixed joys of returning to work tomorrow after a rather tumultuous and not-so-fun-filled vacation, it occurs to me that I might not be the only person who’s going to be needing a mega-strength de-stressor or two over the next few days. Or possibly weeks. Not months, surely? (Ignore me while I sob into my virtual hankie.)

Well, I can’t offer you valium or xanax, either because I’m greedy that way or because I don’t have any. One or the other, I’ll leave it to you to decide which bloggy factoid is most likely to be true. After reading the first couple of paragraphs you might be excused for assuming that the former was true until I consumed the entirety of my valium/xanax collection, rendering the latter true. It would certainly explain the rambling.

As I was saying, though, I can’t (or won’t) offer you the happy drugs, and I can’t honestly claim that my plundering of the interwebs has churned up the mega-strength de-stressor we all yearn for. (Oh, don’t give me that guff. Of course you yearn for it too, and if you don’t, well, kindly keep your well-balancedness to yourself out of consideration for me and my neurotic compadres.)  I did, however, manage to dredge up a few little tasty ideas for you on keeping the stress monster safely under the bed where it belongs. (Hello, nightmares.)

Allow me to present Five Ways to Eviscerate Your Stress. 

1. Do Nothing for Two Minutes

First up, let’s start by dipping our toes in slowly, slowly. Try doing nothing for just two minutes. (I admit that I failed repeatedly for a good ten minutes before I could stand to keep my fingers off the mouse pad. Oops. But I did finally make it through the full two minutes. Felt good!)


 2. Write it out – Journal 

Journalling is my go-to strategy for drowning my anxieties. I just sit down with my notebook open to a blank page and start upchucking words–about what’s pissing me off or scaring the bejesus out of me or how very much I’d rather be canoodling with a pitt viper than doing what I have to be doing. I write until I feel better. It doesn’t mean that anything is fixed (although it often feels more fixable by the time I stop), but it’s satisfyingly cathartic.

3. Put it in a Poem

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’ve never written a poem or your poems suck or you think all poetry sucks. It doesn’t matter. Just try it. There’s something about the discipline of scaling the verbiage back, of trying to distill your deepest or most frantic thoughts into the fewest, most incisive words that helps a person get to the heart of their angst.

Not sure where to start? The Poetry Foundation has an interesting article on How Do You Begin a Poem. The excerpt that resonated most for me was Matthew Dickman saying, “some sort of celebration in my chest wanting some words to understand itself, some sort of grief needing a body.”  You may also want to have a look at these idea-tickling prompts over at Ploughshares.

4. Laugh

Did you know that rats laugh? They do, they really do, especially when they’re tickled, apparently, according to this fascinating article in Scientific American. Okay, so the article isn’t saying that rats have a finely honed sense of humour, but still I think we can agree our wee rodential buddies are onto something. Laughter feels good, plain and simple. Just trot over to YouTube and watch Kristin Bell’s “Mary Poppins Quits” video to see how good it feels.

5. Listen to Rain on a Tent

Or, when all else fails, why not just kick back for eight hours and zen out to the sound of rain falling on a canvas tent. Go on, I dare you. Maybe you could even knock off a few poems while you listen.

Do feel free to share your own stress-busting strategies in the comments. I can use all the help I can get.

Dear 2015:

Well, hello, 2015, you brand spanking new year, you. What have you got to say for yourself?

I know what you’re thinking, 2015. You’re thinking, “Hey, lady, I hope you’re not planning to launch a list of New Year’s resolutions like the rest of the blohgosphere when  you’ve obviously forgotten to compose a 2014 in Review post, you lazy slag.”

See, we’ve only been acquainted for a matter of hours and already I know you better than you know me, because for your information I totally didn’t forget the review post. Not doing isn’t the same thing as forgetting, let me remind you, and not doing is exactly what I did. Or didn’t. Um. That could use a bit of an edit. (Also something I’m not doing.)

It’s not that my year was a write-off. I’m actually quite pleased with it on a number of fronts. I finished the first draft of my first not-utter-shite novel. I took two writing workshops that inspired and improved my writing. I started writing poetry again. I went on the first real vacation I’ve taken for years.

Other aspects of 2014, though? So very much not something I choose to relive, however briefly. Those aspects will remain stuffed away in a trunk in my own personal dark attic, waiting until I need them to inject their special misery into a particularly nasty story that I’m trying to make particularly nastier. (And the plot bunnies start breeding like mad…)

So, there you go, 2015. You can stop staring at me with that j’accuse expression, and you can also fold up your worry pants and tuck them away in your dresser, or chest of drawers, or highboy, or lowboy, or wherever units of time choose to stash their emotional wardrobes these days. (I’m not drunk, not even drinking, I swear.)

As for the resolutions, well, they’re pretty simple: I will write more and I will get my literal and figurative houses in order. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know the trend in goal-setting is for specificity and measurability and time-boundedness, but guess what? I couldn’t give a rat’s nethers. When my life turns into a corporate wonderland, I’ll start composing resolutions  that fit the S.M.A.R.T. criteria. Or shoot myself. (One of my resolutions was going to be that I’d think fewer cranky/shitty/unkind thoughts, but then I wrote the last couple of sentences and realized I had to either delete it or fail right out of the gate.)

And there we have it. Lovely to meet you, 2015, and I look forward to spending the next twelve months discovering what you have in store for me, for those I love, and for the planet. Be kind, okay?

NaNoWriMo: Researching la vida loca

Ah, yes, here it is, November 11, and I’m clocking in at word 10,048 of my National Novel Writing Month story–only 8,000 words or so shy of where I should be if I were the type of person to worry about these things. Which I really am, truth be told, but worry isn’t the same as blind panic, so let’s just imagine me tossing my head in a devil-may-care manner and laughing merrily in the face of pressure. Or tossing back a stiff scotch in an oh-crap-time-you-are-an-evil-cow manner and whimpering less than winsomely in the face of cold, hard truth.

Or maybe let’s not imagine me at all. That might be easier.

Let’s talk instead about research and all that simply fabulicious advice that gets tossed around about how important it is to avoid diving into the Google brain-suck pool while trying to hammer out that first draft, even if you desperately need to know whether a Sig Sauer takes a magazine or a clip or if you load it by gripping bullets the size of fingers between your teeth and spitting them into empty chambers. Even if you want to know whether it’s possible to perform a Bilateral Cingulotomy on a brain with only a paring knife and a couple of toothpicks (not recommended, by the way).  Even if you think your story is doomed to explode into a million shards of fictive splatterosity  if you don’t discover right this very exact minute how many times a day Spongebob Squarepants has to take a poop.

The preponderance of interwebby advice seems to be, “Stop! Don’t jump! Step away from the Google and keep your eyes on the story. The gaps will wait till later.” (Tell that to Spongebob after he’s stuffed his spongy self with prunes and Metamucil.)

It’s good advice. Obviously. Why waste precious noveling time trekking through the webbyverse to find out whether the frontalis or orbicularis muscles are responsible for lifting the eyebrows and making the forehead all crinkly (it’s the former); or refreshing your memory regarding the more entertaining names for the highly poisonous Caladium plant (Heart of Jesus or Angel Wings; good grief, who names these plants?); or trying to nail down that perfect shade of blue for your villain’s eyes (ultramarine? viridian? glaucous? International Klein Blue?–go on, I dare you).

Obviously your story can wait for you to plug in those pivotal bits of plotterificness at a later date. No brainer, right?

Except–and you had to know this was coming–except sometimes the story can’t wait. Sometimes the story plonks its butt down on the big comfy couch and refuses to budge until you feed it a few tasty tidbits of knowledge, of lore and legend, of nourishing Google esoterica. Sometimes the story wants the facts, ma’am, and nothing but the facts will do to get it moving again.

And the other part of the “except” is this: sometimes this weird and wonderful detour into the land of rollicking factoids brings unexpected gifts, new directions, a previously uncontemplated story angle. Sometimes that “waste” of times pays off in unexpected ways.

Of course, that could well be one of the reasons I’m 8,000 words behind, too, so you might want to go with the experts on this one.