Personal Life

Quiet, Useful Objects

Something I’ve been longing to do but haven’t due to the pandemic is go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum looms largely in my mind because it’s one of the places I feel most peaceful, which is odd because the journey to and from the museum stresses me out and takes at least a day to recover from, but the museum itself is one of the few places where my head doesn’t feel like it’s constantly buzzing.

Photo by Charles Parker on Pexels.com

Part of that peace is that I’ve been there more than I’ve probably been to any location that isn’t a local store. For years, I made yearly birthday pilgrimages to the Met to visit my favorite pieces of art or walk along its stone halls and balconies hoping to see that one exhibit that always seems to be under renovation. When talking to friends, I’ve realized that my ideal trip to the Met is a little different than most.

When you first enter the Met, you can choose to go left to Rome and Greece or right to Egypt or straight ahead to the Byzantine/early Medieval galleries (this one being the least chosen path or only used as a way to reach the massive knee-breaking steps to the European painting galleries upstairs). I like to arrive early in the morning to avoid the crush of children and visitors in the summer, but even at the opening, Egypt is mobbed, and the galleries off the main room are a labyrinth. Instead, I make a break through the center galleries and head straight for the European Decorative Arts galleries. There’s the thrill of the chase to escape the bustle of the more popular exhibits, and the drop of blood pressure when the ceilings rise to reveal the two facades of the museum in the sculpture court, a gap where you can see that the museum was added onto in the early 1900s.

This is where I visit old friends. Winter by Houdon being the first sculpture I acknowledge upon arrival. Marble and bronze sculptures line the walls and break up the long courtyard, which ends in a glass wall where you can see Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park. Standing in that gallery feels like standing in the intersection of time. Each wall is a different style, the art is a mix of classical and modern (for their time), and an Ancient Egyptian obelisk presides over it all while I stand watch in jeans and a t-shirt.

Surrounding this gallery are rooms that are filled with personal objects and antiques. These are far more modern than other parts of the museum, think 1600s and newer, but they are my favorite. My face is glued to cabinets full of miniature portraits of people whose names have no context but were loved enough to kept close. Desks inlaid with mother of pearl stars and stained with errant ink or painted fans carried to operas or balls steal my attention. I love detail. The pieces in the European Decorative Arts galleries are most certainly objects of the well-to-do, but they spark my imagination. There are few things that fascinate me more than a clever object that was as useful as it was beautiful. I try to imagine the world the object resided in before it came to the museum. What did it see sitting on a shelf in the parlor or at the edge of a desk? Best of all are the period rooms where the walls and furniture from a real place continents away have been installed in the museum. My back straightens and the world quiets as I stand in these rooms, the parquet floor whining under my soft steps. Who lived here and how did it feel long ago?

On the other side of the last few galleries is the American Wing, which is typically my last stop before lunch. One cannot journey back in time on an empty stomach. These galleries are much the same with lots of Federalist furniture pieces, window dressings on your historical drama. I try to picture Austen-like tales set against the backdrop of bright American wallpapers and sculpted pewter cups. There’s a strange section in this gallery that appears almost like an antique store. It’s row upon row upon row of glass cases filled with bedraggled furniture. A labyrinth to dead objects. All at once, I find it unsettling and comforting after seeing so much beauty. Chair legs chewed by a dog, seats that need restringing, a bed set stacked up without its mattress. The museum’s attic on full display.

The upper stories of the American Wing are lovely but unfortunately trigger my fear of heights. I creep away from the railing or cling to my partner in what I hope looks like casual affection but is bone-deep terror of crashing headfirst to the stone floor below. But I’ll do it to see intricate glass and metalwork done by artisans now nameless and faceless, skilled hands lost to time like the builders of pyramids. A sampler done by a child catches my eye, though I don’t know if she survived to adulthood. Embroideries, quilts, gloves covered in tiny stitches, women’s work taken for granted. That’s truly what catches my eye, the details taken for granted. The things we eat off and drink from, the decoration that sits on our desk for years, the handsome legs of a chair never noticed until put in isolation.

Quiet objects.

Perhaps that’s why I’m no longer called to Egypt or Rome or even the galleries of paintings. There is no quiet. Their grandiosity smothers me, and it’s too much. I’d rather spend my day studying the curves of a teapot than a tempest tossed sea or a ruler slaying the conquered in stone. Even in Egypt and Rome, I find myself gravitating to the broken pots, chunks of fabric, and unstrung jewelry. Disappointment washes over me when I read the tiny placard and know no more of how it was accomplished, how hands long ago weaved or carved or glazed to make a quiet, useful thing, a thing taken for granted for its normality. Still taken for granted today.

Personal Life · The Reanimator's Heart · Writing

The Fear of Success

This isn’t actually the post I had planned to put up this week, so bear with me if this seems off the cuff because it is.

Since the end of last year, I’ve been trying to get my shit together, especially in regard to my writing life. I ended up taking both of Sarra Canon’s classes, HB90 (a planning/goal setting system) and Publish and Thrive (a course on indie publishing), because I felt like I was spaghetti flinging hoping what I was doing would work. I’ve been sort of methodically moving forward trying to set and hit goals in order to move toward what I want. That goal is having more time for creative pursuits, leaning more into my writing, and only teaching at the university that gives me better opportunities and is better for my mental health but pays less. I have a chunk of savings as a cushion and have been trying to strategize how I can go about doing this in a way that doesn’t totally kick my butt and doesn’t depend on my partner landing a much better job as we cannot control that.

The Reanimator’s Heart has sort of been step one in that goal. It’s the project I’ve been working on since I started trying to get my shit together, and things have been going well. I do well with structure and goals, so I have surprised myself by actually getting a lot done. After taking Publish and Thrive, I was also able to brush up on what is working in indie publishing right now, and from watching various indie authors on Youtube, I’ve been working on my publishing strategy for this book. In the past, I’ve sort of just haphazardly launched things. I would let them rip as soon as I finished or not send them to any bloggers/ARC readers. I’ve certainly done things to tank my own success because I was more excited about people reading my work than doing a good job with the launch. This time, I’ve purposely slowed myself down, made lists, made a half-formed plan for releasing this book.

The problem is that I’m scared because it’s working.

Yes, I raised my eyebrow at myself too at the realization, but as reviews have been rolling in and people are enjoying the book, I’m panicking more. The cover is beautiful (thank you, Crowglass Design), the characters are lovable messes, and the pacing and such is solid. Between this book and Kinship and Kindness, I think my skills leveled up in certain areas, and that sort of rise and recognition of that rise is scaring me.

What if this is the best book I ever put out? What if everything after this is a disappointment?

Thus far, I haven’t gotten too far into my own head, but the panicked thoughts are seeping through more and more. The pitiful thing is that this isn’t like super viral panic-worthy success. This is “I’m doing better than my previous launch” success.

After everything that’s happened these past two years and my own issues with confidence as a creative person, I am always waiting for the shoe to drop and things to go wrong. It is an absolutely shitty way to look at life, but part of me feels like I should be bracing for impact instead of celebrating that things are going well. It’s possible to do both; I wildly vacillate between “Omg, look at my preorder numbers” and nail-biting panic.

Part of this, I think, has to do with also reaching outside my comfort zone with this launch. I set up my book with a review service, and I’ve reached out to a few authors I love and respect for potential blurbs, which I’ve never been brave enough to do. Pointing eyes to my work is something that could pan out for me, but also could potentially magnify the imperfections. Logically, I know not everyone will like my book. Certain people will absolutely hate Oliver and Felipe, which is fine. It really isn’t bad reviews that are bothering me (trust me, I’ve seen enough homophobia on The Gentleman Devil‘s reviews to cure me worrying about them). It’s a fear of success.

What if this book does really well? What if more people start reading my books? What if they’re disappointed when they go through my backlist and the rest of my books aren’t as good? What if nothing I write after this is as good as The Reanimator’s Heart? Or what if someone outside my usual circle sees it and sends the 1 star mob after me due to homophobia or whatever other assholery they can come up with?

Living in the age of the internet means constantly worrying about the wrong kind of attention for your creative projects, especially if you’re a queer author writing queer characters or in this case, a neurodivergent author writing neurodivergent characters. Will someone flag Oliver as “the wrong kind” of autistic and rip me and him to shreds? I could come up with a myriad of what-ifs at this point, all of which get more illogical and self-destructive.

On the flip side, I’m constantly trying to remind myself that people preordering and/or enjoying The Reanimator’s Heart is a good thing. It means I’ve done a decent job planning this launch, and that its success might move me a step closer to my goal of having more of an income from writing. This success isn’t random is something I have to remind myself. It means that I took the things I learned and applied them in a way that worked. Like I said earlier, this isn’t a runaway, gone viral, wtf happened kind of success. This is a building upon past success with previous books to make this launch even better. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I put in the work, and by doing so, things feel less out of my control.

I’m sure I’ll still have several absolute oh-shit panic moments between now and October 25th, but I’ll just reread this post and stare at all my past to-do lists to remind myself that months of work went into this launch and I should be proud of what I’ve done instead of scared.

If you’d like to help out while simultaneously adding to my panic, you can preorder The Reanimator’s Heart here. Paperbacks will be available closer to release day.

Personal Life

How Being Nonbinary Helped My Dysphoria

For most of my life, I have had a complicated relationship with my body.

The first thing to keep in mind is that I had severe eczema over most of my body until about 2 years ago when I started taking a biologic and the eczema was beaten back to nearly nothing. I mention the eczema in a post about being nonbinary because I want to be clear that a lot of my covering up with hoodies and long pants was because people are weird about rashes. They will give you dirty looks, stare at open sores, and generally be rude. On top of that, eczema burns like a bitch when it’s exposed to the air or the skin touches other skin, so covering the folds of my arms and legs helped to mitigate that constant pain. Due to the eczema, I covered up most of my body, and people often took that for being uncomfortable with my body. I was but not in the way they thought.

My build is what some people would call sturdy. I have muscle on my calves and straight, strong shoulders. Neither fat nor thin, just in the middle but sturdy enough and tall enough (though still average) that I am certainly not petite or slight. My chest is disproportionately large, but I’m not really curvy either. Before I realized I was nonbinary, I didn’t always like my body. A lot of this has to do with growing up in the late 90s and early 00s when the in look for women was thin, almost prepubescent in terms of build, and wearing 85 layers of tight clothing. The alternative was big boobed bimbo. No shade to the bimbos of the world, I love Dolly and Elvira, but the thought of people seeing me that way because my genes decided to grace me with a disproportionate amount of fat on my chest was alarming to say the least.

At that age, I couldn’t articulate how I felt, but the fact that I couldn’t control how people perceived me terrified me. I hate that people saw me as a woman and sexualized me the moment I wore feminine clothing. I already didn’t like feminine clothing. That had been an ongoing war with my mother since I was in late elementary school. I hated dresses, hated skirts, and only wore them when my mom insisted I had to dress up. Around 10, I discovered anime tshirts and cargo shorts in the boys section of Target and let out a sigh of relief. There were other options than the booty shorts or feminine capris the girls section had to offer. T-shirts and cargo shorts hid the things that made me uncomfortable. Puberty had been a special sort of hell as a neurodivergent person and as someone who, unbeknownst to them, was experiencing dysphoria.

By the time I got to high school, the thought of putting on feminine clothing filled me with a special kind of dread. Every time I had to wear something feminine for a school event or a holiday, it felt like I was wearing an incredibly ugly costume. You know the scene in Beauty and the Beast when Beast is in the tub and they give him that ridiculous haircut and he just deadpan says that he looks stupid? That’s how I felt. This was compounded upon by the ease of my cousins’ transition into adolescence where they (seemed) to happily wear makeup, feminine clothing, played with their hair. I constantly felt like I was doing a really bad job pretending to be a woman. The label chafed and sagged, like I filled out all the wrong places. At some point, I stopped caring. I was bad at womanhood, so be it. I kept my hair pulled back, wore t-shirts, jeans, and hoodies/pullovers while giving zero shits, but the fact that people still perceived me as a woman nagged at me.

It wasn’t until I was in graduate school (so around 24-ish?), I stumbled upon the term nonbinary, and it was like everything clicked. In the past, I had debated if I was a trans man. I saw Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars when I was in college, and while I felt not-feminine, I didn’t think I felt that masculine. I was caught in a weird middle ground between masculine and feminine, none of which particularly appealed to me. When I finally understood what nonbinary people were and that they existed, it was like oh, so there’s a word for all these feelings I’ve had for years. All those moments of panic and revulsion made sense. They were dysphoria. It also helped explain why some things that were seen as feminine by others didn’t bother me.

I didn’t hate my body, per se. I hate how others perceived my body. That it was simultaneously seen as feminine yet not feminine enough because I wasn’t petite, because I had strong shoulders and legs, because I didn’t like to wear makeup or wear dresses. None of these things are inherently masculine or feminine, but society arbitrarily ascribes gender to them (aka don’t @ me for this, you know what I mean). Suddenly, my body felt less wrong. I was never a woman. I have always been nonbinary but didn’t have the word for the feelings. My strong body mixed with my long hair, chest, and generally, neutral clothing felt right.

This mix of hard and soft feels right to me and has settled the war between my body and mind substantially. I still panic at the thought of clothing that is too gendered in either direction (or what my brain deems gendered), but my dysphoria has subsided. The freedom to buy clothes I want and to say, “F it, I’m buying from the men’s department,” without caring about other people’s judgment feels right. The more I branch out, the happier I am, and it’s been nice to see my partner exploring more feminine options (often my cast-offs) and loving how he looks.

Personal Life

On Supportive Partners

Be forewarned that this will probably be a little gushy. Today is my 17th anniversary with my partner, so the thing that is first and foremost in my mind today is how much I love him and how much he supports me on a daily basis.

First off, let me introduce my partner a little. He is a programmer who also does cosplay and art, though his creativity really lies in 3D mediums (like cosplay armor). He is incredibly handy, a loving dog parent, and my goblin wrangler (I am the goblin in the relationship, every good relationship has one of each or that’s my theory). The Morticia to my Gomez, blah blah blah. I love him immensely and will happily gush about his many positive attributes, but I will spare you all for now.

I feel like today’s post is a no-brainer, but one of the best things that has happened to me is finding a partner who supports me and my creative endeavors. I should probably also define support in this case. I don’t think your partner needs to share all your interests. My partner and I certainly don’t. I don’t cosplay, he doesn’t write stories, but we’re both artists. We both respect the creative activities that we’re interested in. Earlier in my life, I thought my partner had to like the same things as me. I tried to get him to read my work or read books, and my poor ADHD-brained partner just couldn’t do it. At first, I was mad. How could my partner who loves me dearly not be actively involved in my projects? Was that not what support is?

Well, not really. Just as I am not hot gluing helmets made of foam, my partner doesn’t need to read my work in order to help. For one, he is the person I bounce ideas off of the most. Often, he’s just a sounding board because talking an issue out tends to speed up the process of figuring out where I’m going. He’s been helping with The Reanimator’s Heart and my other projects so much that he asked me to draw out a relationship diagram in order to keep everyone straight when we talk about them. While he isn’t likely to sit down with my book and read it cover-to-cover, he is the person who helps me the most on a daily basis, and I’m kind of glad he doesn’t because there are spicy scenes and part of me would be mortified if he read them. Don’t question the logic of it; it’s just embarrassing.

This past year or so, I’ve struggled a lot with self-worth and whether or not I can get my writing career back on track and try to rely more on that income. My partner has been the one to constantly remind me not to get down on myself and that I can eventually get to the place I want to be. It just might take some time. Whenever I mention wanting to learn some new craft or potentially trying to get back into more traditional types of art, he always agrees that I should. Trust me when I say my partner is not a yes-man. He will happily bring me back to earth when I start to spin off, but when it comes to my art or trying different things, he’s the first to tell me I should if it’s calling to me. I think part of it has to do with us both being artistic people who are also neurodivergent. We understand the siren call of a new skill or craft.

I posted this on Twitter the other day, but I think it’s very apropos for this post:

I found someone who appreciates me and all the weird shit that comes with loving me. He listens when I gush on and on about Our Flag Means Death and looks at the thousandth piece of cool pottery I’ve found on Instagram. I’ve been remodeling my office, and he’s gone along with every idea I’ve had in order to make it the perfect gothy oasis I’ve dreamed of. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when my partner acted like what I loved was cringe-worthy or weird or juvenile. I’ve seen a lot of people’s partner’s say things or roll their eyes when the other person starts gushing about their special interest or a new hobby. Or they’ve fully bought into the capitalist notion that every hobby should be profitable, and if they aren’t, they should be abandoned for more serious pursuits. Whatever those are.

It made me immensely sad to think about people who are in relationship where their partner doesn’t love them for all their weirdness and silly hobbies or their special interests. They don’t have to love that thing too, but they have to love and respect you enough to understand that you love them and that it is all a part of you as a person. While my partner doesn’t crochet or write or like arcade carpet, he would never dissuade me from my pursuit of those things. He knows the weirdness is what comes part and parcel with the things he loves, and trust me, he’s a fan of the weirdness too.

Happy anniversary, Peaches! I hope he knows how much I love and appreciate him and how he’s been the tent pole that props up my dreams when I struggle under their weight.

Personal Life

When You Don’t Recognize Your Face

Today’s post is probably going to be a little on the odd side as this is, I think, a niche experience. I hope it’s a niche experience because it wasn’t a very pleasant one.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time on social media, you may have seen me post about how my eczema used to be really bad until I started taking Dupixent in 2020, and it finally was brought under control. When most people think of eczema, they think of a crusty, red patch on someone’s arm or the back of their leg, but I had severe eczema. What qualifies as severe eczema? Treatment resistant, over a significant portion of your body, impairs quality of life, and flares last a long time. I had all of that.

As soon as I hit puberty around 11, the eczema patches that were on my arms and legs basically took over my entire body. I had angry, red skin that weeped over most of my body, and at the time, the doctors prescribed cream, which helped but wasn’t enough to bring down the internal inflammation. Steroid pills helped while I took them, but within days of stopping a course of steroids, the eczema came back worse. Nothing I did worked, no amount of avoiding triggers was enough. My body was raging from the inside out, and I was consumed by pain and fatigue.

It feels so dramatic to say that, but until I felt better, I didn’t realize how awful I felt at the time. My skin cracked and burned constantly. The inflammation made me exhausted (like having HORRIBLE allergies or a cold 24/7 for weeks or months on end). And my self-confidence plummeted because I looked and felt ugly. I didn’t bother to try to cover up the open wounds on my face because makeup made it more irritated. Between not having enough spoons to care and fighting a loosing battle with my skin, I gave up on giving a shit about how my face looked and stopped looking in the mirror beyond checking specific body parts (teeth, eyes, nose, etc.).

Even the clothing I wore required me to work around my eczema. I wasn’t hiding it so much as covering it in fabric that could act as a wick for sweat. In summer, I ended up wearing long-sleeve t-shirts or light hoodies and long pants because when the open wounds were exposed to the air or sweat on a hot day, they burned and got more inflamed. I was never someone who enjoyed showing skin, but what I wanted to wear and what I could wear didn’t always align. The open wounds also liked to bleed at random, so I ruined many a t-shirt that way.

When I started taking Dupixent back in 2020, I was hopeful but skeptical. My dermatologist was convinced it would help me, and I wasn’t opposed to trying an expensive medication if my insurance was willing to cover it since nothing else worked. Shockingly, it worked incredibly well. Within weeks of starting, there was marked improvement on several fronts. It turns out what I thought was a deviated septum making it hard to breathe was inflammation in my sinuses. The Dupixent calmed my whole body. My skin cleared up, my sinus passages deflated, and my asthma has all but cleared up. I no longer sound like Darth Vader when I breathe (thanks, family, for pointing that out repeatedly when I couldn’t control it). I had no idea how miserable I was since I had been suffering with such heavy inflammation for over 18 years, but now that it’s better, I can’t imagine going back to feeling that shitty. At this point, I’m paranoid about my insurance no longer covering my meds, but a post on the failings of the American healthcare system is for another day.

Now, here comes the weird dilemma: I didn’t know what my face really looked like.

I can hear some of you now. “Kara, you had a mirror, and no one swapped out your head when no one was looking.” Yes, but I have literally had eczema covering my whole face since I was 11 years old in 2002. I never really understood what my adult face looked like with clear skin and without heavy inflammation, which causes your face to look puffier than it is. My face shape has changed, my nose looks different, my skin (obviously) looks different, and now, when I stare at my face in the mirror, I have to remind myself to zoom out and see my face as a whole rather than parts. When I try to do a Tiktok or take a selfie, my brain still rebels at seeing my face. It’s simultaneously closer to the person I have in my head and incredibly jarring because I’m not used to seeing it like this. I’m not the person who is riddled with eczema and miserable. I still have inflammatory problems that like to pop up (stiff or achy joints, the occasional small eczema patch, IBS), but my quality of life is so much better that it’s painful to think of how many years I wasted feeling horrible. Not that, that could have been helped without access to Dupixent.

So, now, I’m thirty years old, and trying to figure out my face and get used to it. I’m happy that I have so many trans friends because I think they understand this feeling of suddenly not recognizing yourself but also being happy with the results. In their case, it’s hormones. In mine, it’s a lack of inflammation. I think it helps, too, that I’m nonbinary, and I don’t feel the need to cram my face into a feminine box because it certainly doesn’t fit. The other day, I made a goofy face, and my partner looked at me and was like, “You have a nice face. Your face looks very neutral, like not too girly or masculine.” Somehow, that made my day because, ultimately, I fall somewhere in the middle. Having my body cooperate with that feeling for once in its itchy, angry life still feels strange, but I’ll take the weird small victories.

Personal Life · Writing

When a Happy Ending is an Act of Defiance

I’ve been struggling to think of what to say this past week. Or really the past month or so, because most of my thoughts amount to “I have lots of feelings, none of them good.”

Living in the US, I have been constantly surrounded by headlines about overturning reproductive healthcare/abortion, attacks on queer relationships, and transphobic laws that seem to want to stamp out our existence. It’s so much all at once that it’s mind-numbing. I’m a nonbinary person with a uterus, and while my reproductive health is somewhat secure due to steps my partner and I have previously taken, this is all a lot. I think for anyone who gives a shit about other people, this past month has been a lot.

I’m tired, my brain feels pulled in a hundred directions, and I feel the negativity creeping through my veins because a very loud minority has decided I shouldn’t exist and many of my friends shouldn’t exist. Or if they do, it’s only on their terms.

And it has made it very hard to write lately. The weight of hatred and uncertainty looms over me constantly, but it reminds me why I started writing in the first place.

Back in 2014, we were still fighting to have same-sex marriage recognized. States were facing lawsuits after banning it even after it was legalized country-wide. Anti-queer sentiment was overt, loud, and just as painful as it is now. I remember staring at my books with their cast of queer characters and wondering if there was still a place in the world for me. Publishers were still pushing queer characters to the sidelines or cutting queer plotlines all together unless they were not on the page. I’ve written before about why I self-published, so I won’t stay on it too long, but the sidelining of queer characters/relationships was why I decided to self-publish. No publisher or company or anyone but me could make my characters straight.

Writing queer characters who eventually got their happily ever after was an act of defiance. In romance, marriage is the usual happily ever after because that’s what cis het M/F couples do. It’s recognizable, it’s legally binding, it’s overt. I wanted that for my characters even if that wasn’t legally possible in the 1890s. The next best thing was a faux wedding (as seen in Dead Magic‘s binding ceremony), but having queer characters find each other, love each other, live closely, and be recognized as a couple by their friends and family was still defiance.

When you write anything involving historical elements and queer characters, reviewers will toss back in your face that “being gay was illegal” back then. Well, so was prostitution, adultery, theft, and murder, yet all those happened as well and no one complains when they read about those things in historical romance. The double standard is eye-roll inducing, but each of those obnoxious reviews spurred me to write more queer characters and eventually more trans characters.

In the back of Kinship and Kindness, I even included a short further reading section about trans people in the 1800s. So many lived normal lives where they worked regular jobs, socialized, and even married. Often, the weren’t even outed as trans until after death, but people don’t want to take into account that people could blend in or that their communities protected them or at least looked the other way if they knew. We all know of famous supposedly straight historical figures who had a “roommate they were really close to” or “a dear friend” they often holidayed with in the South of France that people still refuse to believe were some flavor of queer.

When we write queer characters during times that feel fraught, it is an act of defiance. Writing their lives is a declaration of our existence, our struggles, our love for each other. The stories don’t have to be happy. Their lives don’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) perfect. But writing queer characters into existence as complex, real people is hammering home that we cannot be stamped out. We will not disappear.

I’ve been trying to remind myself of this as I work on my writing. My projects matter even when the world feels like it’s pressing in. There’s always the hope that someone will see themselves in my characters and feel better for a time or lose themselves in whatever drama is playing out. The Reanimator’s Heart has a society of paranormals where people are more likely to be queer than not, and there’s also a lavender marriage where each participant has a partner of their own (one of which is a sapphic trans woman and the other is an autistic gay man). Even if it’s the mid 1890s, everyone manages to live a fulfilling life and eventually find happiness, and that matters.

If you’re writing queer books right now, no matter how bleak it feels, it still matters. Someone out there is clinging to your work in this storm.

Personal Life

Rediscovering Your Weird

Growing up, I was always a weird kid. If you’re neurodivergent, you won’t find this nearly as odd, but for those of you without autism or ADHD rewriting the brain script, you know the kids. I loved Ancient Egypt as a tiny child. I was obsessed and would pour over the pictures in my uncle’s books and prattle back the names of gods and pharaohs. Then the obsession switched to dinosaurs, and little Kara dreamed of being an archaeologist or a paleontologist. Since then, I’ve had many obsessions/passions, some weirder than others. For a while, I was very into Sherlock Holmes (the original books and the Basil Rathbone movies from the early 40s), anatomy and diseases (with a brief foray into poisons), Phantom of the Opera, Vincent Price, and I’m sure there have been many micro-obsessions along the way. When I get into something, I get into it hard.

At some point, adults assume you will grow out of the weird shit you like or you become a closeted weirdo. I’ve never exactly been good at hiding things or being subtle, so as much as I tried to hold the weirdness inside of me, it always trickled out. When you’re a weird person, it can be hard because you know you are one bout of public weirdness away from people thinking you’re a total pariah, so there’s a constant pressure to perform normalcy. As a queer, nonbinary person, normalcy is already a very flimsy word, but there is the eventual expectation that you will put away your black hoodie with skull print and don a blouse and slacks and let your weirdness die in an unmarked beige grave.

In graduate school when I was in my early to mid-twenties, I tried to be more normal. I wanted to be taken seriously, to be seen as professional, and on some level I was. At the same time, normal people still seemed to sense the underlying not and I was growing more miserable. By the time I graduated and started teaching, I was sailing into burnout. Trying to maintain my job, my writing, and my mask of normality was exhausting and something had to give. Writing caved first, but writing is how I maintain my sanity on a more regular basis. So I needed to get that back and employment is necessary, so I let normalcy finally slip from my fingers.

After roughly three years of letting that mask slip, I can safely say that I highly recommend it. In that time, I have embraced the fact that I am nonbinary and feel better about my body, my clothes, my persona, etc. I enjoy teaching more because I don’t feel the need to project something stiff and lofty. I can just be Professor Jorgensen who is a bit strange and quirky, but that’s what makes a good creative writing professor. I feel like a warmer person, a happier person, and a person who is, generally, more fun to be around because I’m not sitting there like a shaken soda bottle ready to explode. And the people who are put off by the real me are people I don’t particularly want to be around. If you see me referring to people are “normies” on Twitter, I mean people who are enforcers of normality who give you the wtf face for deviating at all. The normies can stuff it because I’m having a grand time and creatively, mentally, and emotionally profiting from my newfound enjoyment of life.

On top of all that, I feel like my creativity has flourished, especially once I started finding more Gothic/weird artists and authors on social media. It had been drilled into me that I would grow out of my love of black and bright colors, and that skulls and anatomical hearts are icky and to be ignored. But that’s what I love. At heart, I am a little autistic science Goth who loves learning about diseases and anatomy and how that all fits into the larger picture of humanity (those degrees in English and biology still come in handy). Now that I’ve started embracing my favorite things and consuming them in larger quantities, I can see a change in my art. I’m more excited about my stories, I connect better with my characters, and I know there’s an audience for it because I have found equally strange people online.

That’s probably the best part, finding others who seem to like me even more now that I’ve stopped hiding the strangeness. People who like my pics of bejeweled skeletons from German catacombs or are eagerly anticipating The Reanimator’s Heart because Oliver sounds adorable. People who like me for me is really all I’ve ever wanted, and in the past, I thought muting who I am would do that when instead it put me in the path of people who wanted to mute that side even more or would absolutely hate the real me. By showing who I really am online and in real life, it scares off the weak and lures in those who find my eccentricities charming. My partner always has, even if he doesn’t fully understand them, but it’s nice to have people who also like those things as I do.

The point of this really is, if you’ve been hiding your strangeness or a fondness for something out of the ordinary, this is your sign to let it out and enjoy it. Holding it in will hurt you in the end, and you might be cutting yourself off from some great friends or even art that can’t happen until you embrace who you are.

Weird has a second definition besides strange. Weird’s archaic definition is destiny or fate (wyrd in Old Saxon, Old German, etc.). I like to think of it as embracing my destiny. I am destined to be a strange person who likes strange things. I am destined to be a queer, nonbinary person. Some of us are fated to be weirdos, and that’s a good thing because we appreciate and see what others don’t.

If you’re someone out there who feels out of place or that you have always been a bit different from everyone else, embrace your weird. Embrace who you are and hold tight to it. Doing that gives you that special spark, that bit of green fire that will help you attract those who will love you for you and scare away those who would seek to change you. I, for one, plan to be hella weird from now on.

organization · Personal Life

How I’m Getting My Sh*t Together

If you saw my post on “Life’s a Mess but There’s Hope,” you know that I have been having a rather rough time. Earlier in the year, due to life/emotional stress (or from a potential asymptomatic covid leftover), I was struggling with brain fog, checking OCD, and general anxiety. This combined with work stuff and writing malaise had wreaked havoc on my self-esteem and self-worth, so while I was mainlining YouTube videos, as one does when they feel shitty, I came across Sarra Cannon’s videos about her quarterly planning.

I already am a big proponent of using planners and have used a bullet journal every year since 2016, but when my downhill mental spiral started in earnest in 2020, I stopped setting concrete goals and my organization devolved from there to the bare minimum. So when I saw Sarra’s planning videos, I was excited, especially since she is a writer and entrepreneur, and it turns out her HB90 system is centered around exactly that. Before I go on, I’d like to say that I am in no way affiliated with Sarra’s classes. I just took the HB90 course and felt that I benefited from it.

What is the HB90 system?

The HB90 system was created by author Sarra Cannon (YouTube channel is Heart Breathings) as a way to help others stay organized and move toward the ideal life they want. Instead of focusing on a year at a time, she breaks things down by quarter. Some of you might shrug and say it sounds like every other planner, but there were certain aspects that greatly appealed to me.

The first one was that this system focused on quarterly goals instead of yearly goals. A problem I often faced was getting off track due to life and my yearly goals would rapidly spiral into why bother land. I wouldn’t be able to right that ship and would give up. By having quarterly goals, they are smaller chunks, and after each quarter/90 days, you do a review and figure out what worked, what didn’t work, and what you need to do. That way, if you know you were doing something self-sabotaging, you can sort of check yourself and figure out how to move forward. Also, you can decide if you want to continue a half-finished/unfinished goal or shelve it next quarter.

The other thing that appealed to me was the visualization/ideal life aspect. At the beginning of the course (and each quarter), you fill out questions regarding what you truly want your life to look like. The idea is that if you have a specific direction/vision, you know that your goals should aim you toward that vision and you can eliminate or minimize things that won’t move you toward that life. It wasn’t done in a “you should be rich in the future with a mansion and a convertible” or girlboss kind of way. She’s simply asking you to find an ideal in order to make sure your choices make sense. Something I struggle with is “spaghetti flinging,” so if I don’t know what I need to do, I will do all the things instead. This means, I do a lot of random stuff that doesn’t amount to much. This is meant to eliminate that because I can say, “Yes, this idea is great, but this isn’t what I’m focusing on right now.”

I don’t want to go over every aspect of this course (this is what taking the course is for), but something I appreciated was that Sarra Cannon is mindful of reality and different realities. She asks you to be realistic but also kind to yourself. Don’t set yourself up for failure by being like “New Year New Me!” while still having old you’s habits and abilities. You have to work on that gradually, and I was so relieved to hear her talk about if you have chronic health problems and budgeting your time based on how often you know those things take you out of commission. This really isn’t a hustle culture kind of thing, so that work til you drop and hustle harder wasn’t there. It was about knowing what you are currently capable of and potentially working toward different habits in the future or scheduling yourself better right now. As someone who has inflammation problems, migraines, and anxiety, I can’t live up to the ableist standard of hustle culture, so this took some of that pressure off me while I was working on my goals/schedule.

My Ideal Life

When I was asked to imagine my ideal life, I struggled a bit. Academia has been going through a weird time of upheaval, especially in the humanities where I work, and that has made my own life more complicated. What I decided to do for my ideal life was to create a vision board on Pinterest, and I quickly realized it would make no sense to anyone but me. What I want is a life lived creatively. I want a rich, fulfilling life that is focused on things that make me feel good: my partner, my dogs, going to museums, doing creative writing, doing more art. There’s certainly room in there for a full-time academic position if one should ever come available, but I don’t feel like I can bank on that due to the current climate at US universities. I would like to model my life a little on Vincent Price’s. He was an actor, obviously, but he also loved art and cooking, and I want a life that is filled with creativity in various forms (he also wrote a book about his dog, The Book of Joe). I already crochet, but I’d like to do more traditional art, maybe even pottery, and I’d eventually like to live off my writing (especially if teaching full-time is ever off the table). This means my overall goals should be pointing me toward being able to rely on my writing more and giving myself the space to treat my writing seriously.

My Goals for 2022 Quarter 1

Goals in the HB90 system are a little different from what we normally think of as goals. The HB90 system asks you to pick things for goals that are slightly out of your control. That way you can see whether the tasks you put under them worked or not. So I’m not posting ALL of my projects under these goals, but the idea is that you have an overarching goal, then projects under it (larger scale stuff that you would normally consider goals) and those projects get broken into tasks that can be accomplished between a few hours or a week’s time. So here are my goals for Q1:

  1. To work on publishing new books while reworking my back list to increase my monthly income to $X/$Y/$Z a month (numbers have been hidden because I felt awkward talking about how much I make off my books).
  2. To create an energized community surrounding my works and increase my social media followers by 10%/15%/20% (Focus on newsletter, blog, Instagram, Twitter).
  3. Continue to work on my teaching materials and to maintain my mental health by maintaining a decent work-life balance.

To accomplish these goals, I will be writing more (please see my 2022 Projects post for specifics), reading some books on marketing, taking another course to keep my author knowledge up to date, hopefully sending out more newsletters, fixing the back matter in my books, and working on some departmental stuff for one of the universities I work at.

The Kanban Board

The top level of my Kanban board for quarter 1, aka the to-do section. The other sections aren’t shown since they’re empty.

To keep this post from being 8 miles long, I will not go into minute detail about the Kanban board (you can check out one of Sarra’s videos for detail), but the Kanban board is part of the HB90 setup as well. It is originally a Japanese form of organization where you get a dry erase board/paper/digital board and divide it into three parts. It goes to-do, currently working on, done. The idea is that you put everything in the to-do part, and as you work on it, you move it down until it ends up in the done section. Sarra uses sticky notes, and because my tasks aren’t super granular this quarter, I decided to use dry erase magnets as they are less likely to fall off.

The things written on each magnet are tasks that I need to do this quarter. I’m sure I’m missing some, but that’s what the extra magnets are for. What I like about this technique is that it is very visual. I am a tactile, visual person who needs lists in front of my face in order to remember to do things. If I can see progress (aka things moving down the board), I think I will feel better about myself and maintaining my mental health with be easier. Something I have struggled with is feeling like I’m doing so much but not getting anywhere. Something I’m still gauging is how much will fit in 90 days, but that should come with practice and will vary based on what classes on I’m teaching and such.

Final Thoughts

I’m excited to have some sort of framework in which to organize my writing and indie author stuff because these last few years have been a shit show for me. Sarra Cannon’s videos and course has helped to reignite my focus and zest for being an indie author. I’m cautiously hopeful that this will get me back on track.

Let me know if you want to know anything else about the HB90 program or how I use planners in the future! I do plan to update you all on how this is going at the end of the quarter.

Personal Life

Life is a Mess But There’s Hope

Typically I go on Twitter to word vomit, but this word vomit felt way too long for Twitter, and threads, despite their length, tend to get ignored because TL;DR. I get it, but if you’re here, you’ve [hopefully] committed to sitting through a life update or sorts.

First off, this year has been a fucking mess and a half. I don’t use the f word often, but it belongs there. If you haven’t been on my social media as much, besides Covid, my classes being ten kinds of messed up due to covid and university mishandling, several pets (2 cats and my mom’s dog) passed since 2020, and my dad had a severe Covid infection early in the pandemic, managed to get off a ventilator, recover, and go back to work after months of rehabilitation before suddenly passing away in May. I’ve been on a mental health roller coaster I never asked to be on, and it made OCD symptoms I was uncertain I had VERY OBVIOUS over the past few months.

I developed health checking anxiety/OCD with my dad and once he passed, my brain decided the only sensible thing to do was to pass it to my dogs. I’m working on it, but that truly isn’t the point of this post. I just feel like I need to do a lot of scene setting since I haven’t posted a whole lot as of late on my website and this is why.

What I’ve learned about myself recently is that I need structure, badly. I am the kind of person who does well with lists, schedules, time blocked out and planned in advance, which is why I was so good in college and graduate school. I was strict with my time and reaped the benefits. What happened to disrupt this was a sort of mental health free fall in 2018 and that I had started to come out of right before the pandemic, which then plummeted right back to where it was and worse after that. I never was able to regain the structure I previously had, and over the course of 2+ years, I sort of forgot I ever had that structure and with that laxity came mess.

Messy mental states, messy emotional states, messy writing/publication, messy everything.

And I don’t like mess. What I’m trying to do at this point is go back to a fairly regimented life again. I took the time I needed to cool down and get my brain straightened out, but I think to feel the best I can, it would be doing myself a kindness by rebuilding that structure.

I’d also like to use this post as a little bit of accountability for myself later. At the end of the week, I’m starting a course on planning/time management/structure for writers. As an indie author, the lack of structure and self-made deadlines leads to laxity on my part. My hope is that this will help me recenter and find direction again. I’m someone who uses a bullet journal anyway, but extra structure and new techniques never hurt.

Some other goals include:

FIXING MY WEBSITE. So I broke my website. You may have noticed that it looks far fuglier than it used to. I messed around with the theme without realizing the theme I previously used was “retired,” so now it looks hideous by comparison. Luckily, my partner can code and promised to fix up my website fairly soon, so yay. Stay tuned for a custom website that doesn’t look like this sad basic-ness.

PUBLISH 2 BOOKS IN 2022. I have two projects open at the moment: Trousers and Trouble (book 2 of the Paranormal Society Romances featuring trans leads) and The Reanimator’s Heart (which is book 1 of an off-shoot series based out of the paranormal society but it’s more of a mystery-romance than just a romance). I’m very excited about both projects, so my hope is that getting my shit together soon will lead to me finishing them fairly quickly (or quickly for me). My last two books have been a semi hot mess in regards to releases, and I REALLY want to do this properly this time.

GET BETTER AT MARKETING. I suffer from “I don’t want to bother them” syndrome, which is totally anxiety driven and in turn leads to my book releases being meh at best. Trying to rebuild my self-confidence and work on actual ways to market my books instead of flinging spaghetti is the goal here. I’ve already done some note taking and video watching, so I’m hopeful.

WRITE MORE CONSISTENTLY. There’s a vicious cycle with my mental health and writing. No writing = bad mental health = no writing = bad mental health = lather rinse repeat. Then the writing muscle withers and I have to rebuild all that. Hence my current need for structure. The hope is that structure will allow more writing and more writing will help to smooth over those spike bits of anxiety I’m still dealing with.

As mentioned earlier, the hope is that the course I’m taking along with my current drive to get my shit together will actually work and propel me into doing more and getting closer to my goals faster. I am really, really sick of spinning my wheels as I have for the past few months. On one hand, it’s perfectly understandable given what happened; I get that. At the same time, I hate how it feels. I hate feeling like I’m constantly failing or falling, even if I’m not. This certainly isn’t a new year, new me, rah rah type post, but I do want to remind myself that it is possible to get my shit together. It also helps to have a post like this to remind myself what I intend to do.

We’ll see. Either way, hopefully you all will hear from me more often, whether you want to or not, lol.

Stay safe, peeps.

Kara

Personal Life · Writing

In Defense of Small Word Counts

Let me let you in on a little secret. I don’t write a lot of words per day.

My daily word counts vary from 350 to 700 on a good day, but I almost never break 1,000 words unless I’m at the very end the book because the resolution is often easy for me to write since all the major strings have been tied.

On social media, it’s common for people to post their word counts after a writing sprint or just as a daily thing they do to hold themselves accountable. When I see people post that they wrote 4,000 words in a few hours, I feel sick. That’s more than I write in a week sometimes, most times. Seeing giant word counts is something that bothers me on and off. When my writing is flowing well, I don’t really care. When I’m struggling, all I see are other people’s numbers and I begin to feel inadequate.

When I’m writing consistently, it’s easy say to myself, “Why do you care? You’ve published 5 books. It isn’t like your words don’t add up to a full book.” And my books aren’t exactly tiny. Most are over 90,000 words. So what if it takes me 6-9 months to write it? I’d like to blame capitalism for that. Everything we do is measured in productivity and inevitably we tie our self-worth to the outcomes of our labor. How many words per day is merely a metric by which I measure my self-worth when things aren’t going well.

Someone might say, “Ditch the word count. Just write.” I tried that last year when my mental health was rather shitty, and it did the opposite of help because without something to push me, I wrote nothing for a few months. When writing is a form of self-care, you understand how this can cause a downward spiral. My small daily word count goal of 350 words is like saying I’m going to meditate for 15 minutes every day. It’s something I have to push myself to do because my brain, when it’s feeling low, resists doing it even though it’s good for me. A small, doable goal gives me the push I need to get it done.

Once I hit my 350, I can stop and go to bed. Most of the time I keep going. Days I don’t write because I just don’t have mental or physical spoons to do so, I make up for it the next day. I have a word count tracker that I use to chart my progress and hold myself accountable. Days I don’t write, I don’t put a zero in. Some may think it’s cheating, but zeroes made it harder to write when I was down. Now I just fill in 350 and make up for it the next day by writing 700 words or as I tell myself 2 350s.

We do what we must to trick ourselves into taking our medicine.

For years, I’ve dreaded things like NaNoWriMo where you write 50,000 words in a month or 1,667 words a day. Before I made friends with other writers, I thought you had to be a pro to accomplish such a massive daily word count or be on speed. It never seemed possible. Then I made friends with writers who seemed to do it without a lot of trouble and my confidence cracked. I couldn’t do it. I tried to do NaNo and gave up within the first week. Despite all the hype and support of other writers, I stared at that word count like it was Mt. Everest. Only the strongest and best could do it, and I couldn’t.

What I failed to notice is how many writers do NaNo and don’t publish or shop the book after. Plenty of books grow out of NaNo, but most don’t or they need to be heavily revised. That’s far from my usual process. Until last year, I had never had to totally rewrite a book. My books need editing, but most of it is fact-checking, copy edits, and cleaning up/beefing up descriptions. What I start, I finish, even if it takes the better part of a year.

I guess the point of all this is that you have to do what works for you. If writing a lot and then editing a lot is what comes naturally, then do it. If you write a little at a time, that’s fine too. There’s no one way to write even if there are plenty of books that try to teach you how to boost your productivity. At some point, you have to come to terms with what your process is and embrace it as best you can.