Beth Burnett

Storyteller

Coffee and a book

I’m subjecting my poor students to Dorian Gray this semester, so it’s time for a reread. It’s a beautifully blustery morning and I’ve already been up and out with the dog. I finished my own writing and I’m caught up on grading papers. Now I’m bundled into a blanket and downing coffee to prepare myself to dive into my book. It’s so very male and so very British. But I still love it. That said, I did write to my department head last week to ask if I can drop it from the syllabus next semester and bring in some women writers instead. I could use some estrogen after a dose of Oscar Wilde.

 

 

happy birthdayI’m sad. I’m just feeling a little sad today. I shouldn’t be. After all, it’s day seven of NaNoWriMo and I’m averaging about 2,000 words a day. I’m healthy. The weather hasn’t gotten awful yet. But my birthday is two weeks from today and I’m thinking about money and how stressful the lack of it can be. My birthday month is my time to take stock of my life. As I’ve said in previous blog posts, November is always my month of introspection and for the most part, that introspection is positive and hopeful. But today, it’s making me sad. It seems whenever we almost get to a point where we can relax about money, something happens to take the security away again.

This month, our vet said it was time to switch our dog to a heavier medication. We did, but it costs a lot more than we expected to spend this month. She also wants us to have two of his teeth pulled because they are infected and causing him to have trouble eating. But she wants 1400 dollars to do it, something we don’t have, no matter what we do.

I found out that the college for which I teach is dropping me from five classes to three. That’s a cut in pay equivalent to our mortgage payment each month. Our plan had been to start saving money this month to try to make up for that loss in January, but then there was the increased insurance payment and the vet bills.

I planned to apply for membership in the Canadian Writer’s Union, but with an unexpected 150.00 fee for the classes I’m taking in January for my doctoral degree, I’ve had to put it off, most likely indefinitely with the cut in pay coming.

business care clean clinic

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I feel guilty every day for not finding a way to pay the vet to take care of my dog’s teeth- then I remind myself that I’m wearing a prosthetic in my mouth that replaces two teeth that had to come out after a botched root canal. A prosthetic that slices the inside of my mouth to pieces because it’s gotten raggedy over the five years I’ve been wearing this six hundred dollar piece of plastic that was supposed to be a six month fix until I could get implants.

I was talking with a close friend who has been trying to just work down her credit debt. She was just at a spot where they were going to be able to pay everything this month with regular money and boom – an unexpected vet bill. A flat tire. A dead battery in the car. They get to a point where they are *almost* okay and something happens. I don’t think they’re the only ones. If you’re reading this, you probably have the same problem. Maybe not a car battery or a vet bill, but something.

I hear you. I’m feeling sad today. Sad because between teaching, running the writing academy, running my Patreon, going to school, and writing, I work probably around sixty hours a week. Sad because my wife works a decent paying, full-time job butCapture 1 we still can’t afford to buy, not the luxuries, but the basic necessities. Sad because when it comes to something getting the back seat, it is always my writing because it is the one thing I’m doing right now that isn’t making me any money.  I should stress that my wife is super supportive and would never ask me to sacrifice my writing or any chance to enter contests, market my work. After all, she’s the one who convinced me to enter the Writer’s Digest self-published book awards – a hefty 110 dollar entry fee. (Granted, it warranted me 1000.00 when I won, but still)

I’m 49 this month and I thought I’d have this financial stuff all figured out by now. I mean, I thought I’d be going to Europe for my fiftieth birthday but I’m still trying to figure out how to get to Albuquerque in July. I thought I’d have all my credit debt paid off by now. I thought I’d have my teeth fixed. I thought I’d have, if not six months, at least two months worth of salary in the bank, the way my father always told me I should.

Instead, we’re debating what bill to skip paying so we can put gas in the van and drive an hour and twenty minutes away to get insulin for the diabetic dog.

I’m not unique and I’m not poor. My wife and I live in a house with a yard. We have a vehicle and though it isn’t paid off, it is in pretty good shape and gets us where we need to go. We aren’t hungry. We might be eating more beans and potatoes than fresh greens and organic fruits, but we aren’t hungry. In fact, right now, I’m eating a smoothie with some homemade granola. I have coffee and clean water. Other than my mouth, I’m in good health, but if I DO get sick, I live in a country where every person has healthcare. I can donate money when a friend is in need. I can give to the local (and some far away) animal shelters. I can donate a few dollars to the campaign of a woman I support. I can send a food delivery to a friend whose depression is making her unable to cook. I can and have recently bought a bike and, despite having to give up my desire to join the Canadian Writer’s Union, I was able to pay that unexpected 150 dollar fee to my university. I’m not suffering. I’m actually very lucky.

In a lot of ways, I feel guilty about complaining about money, so I don’t, mostly. I know people are worse off than I am. I know A LOT of people are worse off than I am. And I’m not in the position to help very many of them. Money can be so damaging, especially a lack of money. I’m in a better place now than a lot of people. Hell, I’m in a better place now than I’ve been for most of my life. But for today, just for today, I’m sad. And that’s okay.

And for those of you who are in the same position, or worse, I just want you to know I understand. I understand the way the worry can feel oppressive. I understand the guilt when you have to choose one thing over the other and even if you know you made the right decision, you still hate having to make it. Posts come across your timeline and you want to donate to all of them and you can’t. You want to have a break from cooking and just order a fucking pizza, but you bought a package of socks the other day and you don’t have any money in the account until the end of the month.

Oh, my friends and family. You aren’t alone. And it’s okay to be unhappy about it. Not every day, but sometimes. Tomorrow, I’ll be happy again. I’ll be introspective again and I’ll focus on something good and positive. Tomorrow will be a good day. But for today, I’m just going to have my feels.

And that’s okay.

 

I am one of *those* people. You know the ones. They insist there is such a thing as a birthday month.

Look, I can’t help it. November is my birthday month. I was born on 11/21/1970 and I hold that the time between November 1 and November 21 is mine. It really is the perfect time to have a birthday month. The weather is mostly chilly, but hasn’t gotten oppressively cold yet. There are still gloriously sunny days and, even if warm winter coats and thick gloves are required, walks are still fun and not a chore. The wind has picked up so I can sit at my desk and watch the fallen leaves blow all over the yard, smiling because I have no plan to rake them.

good enoughThis year, I’m doing NaNoWriMo for my birthday month. I’m a few days in right now and while not exactly on target, I don’t feel behind.

November also tends to be my month of introspection. Some people make New Year’s resolutions. I have November Introspection. Did I do what I wanted to do in the last year? Will I do what I want in the next one? It’s when I generally take stock of my career, my health, my life. This year, I feel I’m wrapping up a lot of pieces of work that have been sitting in various states of completion for far too long. I hit “The End” on Coyote Lost his Soul on October 22nd. I started “My One Gay Novel” on November 1. And I think I know how to finally complete “The Summer Ellen’s Sister Died” this coming year.

At the end of the month, I’ll find out if I advanced to the second heat of the NYC midnight flash fiction contest. It was so fun being part of it, regardless of the outcome.

I entered the CBC short story contest last month. I sent Revenge Prose to an agent. I feel November is the month that sets the tone for the upcoming year. And this year, I want my focus to be on my writing. (Well, and grad school, but that’s a story for another time.)

So yeah, November. Welcome back. I’ve missed you.

 

Nano

It’s November and you know what that means – NaNoWriMo. That means your writer friends who are participating this year are already hunkered down over their keyboards, possibly crying, pounding out words as fast as they can because, after all, if you can write 9,000 words on the first, you only have 41,000 to go and that is so doable, as long as you just write 1413.79 words per day. Except you miss that day because you have to go to the dentist and then you have to frantically scramble to get ahead again and DAMMIT, WHY CAN’T I THINK OF ANY WORDS.

NaNoWriMo.

I’m the procrastination queen, so I really made sure to put myself behind the 8-ball this year. I just finished the book I’ve been working on all year on October 27th. October 27th. That means I had four days to create an outline for the NaNo book I’m starting this morning. Four days in which I was also grading papers, participating in student discussion boards, running the GCLS Writing Academy, and oh, you know, sleeping.

Four days. But I did it. I have an outline. And in a few minutes, I’m going to write the first words of what I hope will be 50,000 in the next thirty days.

See you in a month.

 

If you’re a writer, if you appreciate LGBTQ characters in novels, if you READ queer, women-loving-women literature, or if you just want to hang around with a bunch of people who fit into one or more of the above categories, you might consider checking out the Golden Crown Literary Conference annual conference.

This year, it’s going to be held in Albuquerque (amen and thank you, spell check). All the details can be found here.

beth reading

Me, probably saying something super important

What doesn’t come through on a web page is the sheer love and joy I get every time I go to one of these conferences. The classes are amazing. The presentations are informative and fun. The panels are a great way to hear from some of my favorite authors. And the author readings are an excellent way to hear from old favorites and get a sample of the work of a new author.

I love getting a chance to read from my own work. I truly enjoy presenting about the GCLS Writing Academy, a passion project of mine that seems to get better every year. And I have a lot of fun sitting on panels with my friends and fellow authors or readers, talking about important topics in women-loving-women literature today.

But all of that almost pales in comparison to my biggest takeaway from GCLS. Friendship. 61da3XHXUlL._UX679_Connection. Community. GCLS brings together a lot of people who are passionate about a single important subject. We may have a lot of differences in other ways, but we are all there because one way or another, we care about queer women’s stories and we are all in for talking about it, listening to others talk about it, and immersing ourselves into the world of a convention about it for a few days.

Of course, being readers and writers, many of us are also introverts, so there can be a bit of awkwardness in the beginning as we learn to open up to each other and create a community. But GCLS offers group lunch tables, a con virgins meeting, a meet and greet, and other ways to get to know each other.

At my first conference, I volunteered – GCLS always needs volunteers to help things run smoothly. It’s such an excellent way to meet people. I found if I had a defined role, it was a lot easier to talk to people.

If you’re at all interested, check out the link and see what you think. There’s still time to apply for a scholarship if needed and there’s even still time to propose your own presentation or panel ideas!

What do you have to lose?

On the heels of my friend Sonya writing about her experience as a woman of size, I was inspired to post today about the importance of taking care of one’s emotional, mental, and physical health regardless of body size.

I am naturally unmotivated and I work from home. I’m an online college instructor and a writer. Since my work calls for me sitting in my chair and since I’m generally kind of lazy anyway, forces conspire to keep me pretty inactive. On top of that, I get seasonal depression (which, I guess, is new and improved over my regular depression) so the need to hibernate, stop showering, eat a lot of crap, and spend a lot of time playing Spider Solitaire is real.

This year, though, I decided to get the upper hand on SAD instead of sinking deeper and deeper into it and finally realizing sometime in February that I’ve been in a deep depression for months, my house has fallen apart, and I haven’t eaten anything that doesn’t come out of a package since the last time it was over 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

beth and joy in the rainAs soon as the temps started to dip here in the Okanagan Valley, my wife and I started putting Vitamin D drops in our coffee. One small, tasteless drop in the coffee every morning to help supplement what we’re missing from the lack of sun. It’s actually a great thing we started this when we did because immediately after, it rained here for three weeks straight. It SEEMED like three weeks straight. It might have let up here and there. But really, I’m surprised we aren’t all covered with fungus at this point. It rained so much our cold weather gear didn’t dry between walks. That’s a lot of rain. But I digress.

We have been taking pretty hearty walks twice a day since we moved to BC (end of May) but we made a promise that we would continue to do so even when it was super cold. We sometimes use guilt in the form of our senior dog to get us out on very cold days. “Look at him. He has one thing left that he enjoys in this world. How can we deny him?” So we giphy-1walk and walk and walk. Through the woods, up hills, by the river. The dog gets to sniff deer pee and eat grass and we get to enjoy nature and physical activity. On good days, these walks are the highlight of our day – the air is crisp and clean and the exercise ramps up our appetites for our hearty winter soups and stews we tend to gravitate to in cold months. On bad days, we stomp around in too much winter gear shivering and saying, “This is GOOD FOR US” through chattering teeth.

Around the same time we started the D drops, we also started light therapy. We got these Verilux HappyLights. I’m not sponsoring that brand and I don’t know enough to know if they’re better than any other brand – these just happen to be the ones we bought. Every morning, before anything else, we pour our coffee and sit with the lights for half an hour. We do it at the same time every day, so it has become kind of a ritual.

giphy-3Which leads to what I think has been the biggest point of self-care over the past couple of months. We’ve started getting up at 5 AM every morning. Hear me out on this. Joy works at 5 AM on two of her work days. On another, it’s 6 AM. Then 8 AM. Then 11 AM and noon every other weekend. We were getting up at 4 some days, and 10 some days – I always felt exhausted. Finally, I said if we had to get up that early some days, we might as well do it every day. I choose not to get up with her at 4 AM on her early days, but I set my alarm for five AM every day. This has a couple benefits. First, I’m on a regular schedule which has me tired and ready for bed around 8:30 PM, when it’s already dark anyway. Second, getting up at five AM seems to have given me new motivation for getting my work done. I’ve finally finished my seventh novel – a sequel to Coyote Ate the Stars that I’ve been dragging on for over a year. I’m caught up on grading in all of my classes. I’ve recently completed a flash fiction contest! I’m kind of on fire right now. Part of me thinks that my body is saying, “If you’re dragging me out of bed at 5 AM, you better make it worthwhile.”

I know everyone’s mileage may vary and my depression isn’t the same as your depression. But I will say that the combination of upping my D vitamins, getting on a regular sleep schedule, having daily physical exercise and time with nature, and the happy lights has made a huge difference already. I know it’s only mid-October and we have a long road until next spring. But putting in a routine right NOW while I’m still on top of things feels really hopeful.

Though–my house is still a mess.

 

 

The Elephant in the Room

By Sonya Schryer Norris

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Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

I’m big.

Real big.

Real, real big.

And recently I had a revelation about what my fat body is capable of. I have a belief born of hard experience that if I do so much as basic housework my back will go out and I’ll be in agony. I’ve had back pain since a childhood playground injury, but it is exacerbated by poor conditioning and obesity. It’s not polite to talk about fat, even when you’re talking about yourself.

But!

This summer, on a five day prescription for Prednisone due to a nasty case of bronchitis, I cleaned out closets, rooms, corners, bookshelves, and drawers. I moved stack after stack of books, and bags and boxes of clothes. I sorted “stuff” and carted my own piles to recycling or trash or the car to take to Goodwill. I reorganized, cleaned, and reclaimed living and storage space. I worked in one half to one hour sprints with breaks of about the same time. I got disgustingly sweaty, dried off, and got sweaty again. I stank.

I learned that physical activity doesn’t always result in pain. This was a genuine revelation. And it was AWESOME to feel physically productive. I’m used to being intellectually productive, but not satisfied about what I can do with my body. And due to the Prednisone, I was pain free for the first time in years. It’s also been years since I’ve been free from fear of what’s happening in my body. I’m afraid my fat will kill me.

I’m told by some that’s a fallacy, while others insist in calm tones that it’s just a statistical fact. In the meantime, I live in quiet dread that I’ll die by heart attack or stroke in my 40’s.

About a year ago, I went on a retreat to think seriously about what I wanted for my life. One thing I wanted was to be healthier. To have greater mobility. To have less pain. And to live in less fear.

I considered what I was willing to do to make that happen. Given my fear that physical Sonya at LITA revactivity would lead to pain, I decided on adding movement that was psychologically acceptable. First, I decided to park on the far side of the lot at work. I bought a FitBit to help me with a little reward when I made my modest step goals. Beth, here at Beth’s New Life, challenged me to a FitBit Adventure Race: the Pohono Trail. I was up and walking circuits of my floor every hour. On the last day of the challenge, I got in more steps than any day before or since. Since my revelation about my capabilities with more intense movement, I began a water aerobics class with a friend to build up strength.

Another goal I made during the retreat was to eat lower on the food chain, and to eat more homemade foods. My friend Dragon and I started making dates for cooking marathons. We prepare foods that freeze well and we’ll have the stove, oven, and crock pot all going at once for several days in a row. Without her moral support, I’d never be able to do it. We prepare meals such as a soul-satisfying, vegan split pea soup. Even other choices, like meatloaf with a side of rosemary roasted potatoes, are better than the platters of French fries that tempt me in the cafeteria at work unless I pack an appealing lunch.

Many people encourage me. They invite me to dance with them. To walk with them. To swim with them. A college lover who shares my emotional take on food helps me realize we still understand each other, even from across the country and many years. These women let me know that I am valued. And sometimes it takes a village of these friends to remind me that my health is worth fighting for, no matter my pace. These women combat the cruelty I face due to my weight with kindness and I can dip into its reserve long enough to order a salad instead of something deep fried and send a triumphant, cross-continental text which results in a prompt thumbs up emoji response.

Occasionally, someone will make a thoughtless comment about my weight. Sometimes, people are purposefully cruel. People were cruel when I was ten pounds overweight, when I was a hundred pounds overweight, and when I got to be two hundred pounds overweight. And the judgment felt the same at every stage. The humiliation was the same. The shame was the same. The fear of social ostracism was the same. I get it from strangers and friends alike. When you’re my size, it’s hard for people not to take note. For instance, when you break one of their chairs just by sitting on it. When you fall on the ice and it takes three people to help you back up. When you have two seats for an airplane trip and you’re traveling alone. When you attend a show with someone but can’t fit into a standard theater seat and have to ask for an accommodation in the back of the room.

I look at pictures of myself at age 11, when I was 80 pounds. I was teased in school about my weight and on a diet. Inside, I feel exactly the same today as I did as a mildly chubby tween when I waddle my way from the parking lot into work each day. My internal experience has not changed. My fear of being dismissed – of having my ideas and emotions dismissed because I am overweight – has not changed.

I normally don’t talk about my fat with anyone who is not an intimate friend. My silence is not protecting me. Audre Lorde said that, and she was right. My mobility is impacted in ways that make me think twice about where I go in public. Making excuses for not going out just divides me from others. I’m in pain every day. It makes me crabby and there’s no way to explain and not sound like a broken record of complaints. My relationship with food is “complicated” and most people don’t understand how going through a McDonald’s drive-through is so satisfying that it can soothe the worst emotional crisis. Or how, after years of yo-yo dieting that always results in weighing more than when I started, the hopelessness is as much a problem as the extra pounds.

I wish I could say that I draw the line at relinquishing my dignity to judgment, but I’ll tell you the truth. That judgment can be paralyzing. Sometimes, the cruelty is stronger than I am. It’s the every day hurts that wear me down. When I go out with people who are in better shape than I am, I’m sometimes left to struggle behind them like a pouting child. Eating with others can be a trial of self-evaluation and second guessing what’s socially acceptable for the occasion. And there’s the invisibility that comes when people tell me in the most matter of fact way that my fat was so loud, they literally couldn’t hear the words that came out of my mouth. Because that’s happened, too.

I’m not going to explain how I got to be this way. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything. I’m fighting now for my health in the ways that I’m able to. But even if I were making no effort, it wouldn’t change my right to human dignity. Being fat is not a crime or a sin or a moral failure.

Remember that part about my dignity.


Sonya and Scout revFollow Sonya at WordPress where she blogs as the Snake Lady Librarian. She’s currently unwinding a true story about a cross-continental quest to study romantic female friendship poetry complete with tales of manipulating Welsh librarians for the benefit of decoding 300-year-old erotic expression, walking in the footprints of vacationing Romanovs, being psychologically repelled from a 17th century monastery, Serious Ass Research Monkey Serendipity, and the revelation that Antwerp has better French fries than the U.S.