Congratulations! It’s a hernia!

I realized a few months ago that the chunk at the top of my belly seemed to be independent of my belly. For years I’ve made self-deprecating jokes about my “kitty litter belly,” shaped like a litter box, but maybe just a belly full of kitties.

The chunk grew a bit. I ignored it a long bit. Until I realized I was trivializing when I shouldn’t, and perhaps my cavalier disregard for this growth might even be disrespectful of friends who had dealt with the discovery of dangerous bodily growths.

When I finally mentioned it to people in my life, the response was mostly alarm and that tilted-head, raised-brow look.

OK!! I’ll go to the doctor.

And I did. The diagnosis took mere minutes.

A gigantic umbilical hernia!

Happy the Hernia

He didn’t actually say gigantic or use an exclamation point, but it is big, and . . . (exclamation point please) I am so happy!!!! It’s a hernia!! I’ll name it Happy. I don’t have a square belly! I don’t have a tumor! I have a Happy Hernia!

I didn’t think it would be any more serious than a lump of fat, but, what do I know? Sometimes the odd things that appear on our bodies are not only serious, they are life-snuffing. I’ve been on that journey with more than one friend.

This is not one of those journeys.

I’m grateful. I’m grateful for my health. My knees are wrecked, my back is a little crooked, and I have regular bouts of IBS. But, my heart rate is low, my blood pressure is impressive, I don’t take a single medication, and that lump on my belly is just a hernia!

I’m also grateful for my friends and family. They’re the ones who will make sure I sit still long enough to heal after the hernia extraction. If you’re the praying type, pray for them. Sitting still is not listed among the skill sets on my résumé.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Nanowrimo: Stop Thinking and Write

Next month I’ll participate in Nanowrimo for a second time. Last year was touch-and-go, especially since I was only home for eleven of the thirty days of November. My biggest challenge, however, was not the writing days I lost to the road, but rather shutting myself up. I’m an editor by trade, so it’s not surprising that I have trouble turning that off. Maybe the best way to shut up the editor is to stop thinking.

I’ll stop thinking . . . soon.

In nine more days, I’ll stop thinking for a few roaring writing minutes a day. In the meantime, I’ll obsess! What to write? A tortured love story?

Just before Terry and Pat forked paths to their cars, they turned to each other, as they had done for 935 days on their way to work: peck on the lips, Have a great day! / You, too! I love you. / Love you too! Today, Pat’s eyes lingered on Terry a little longer, realizing, I don’t, really. I don’t love you. That was the last kiss, the last time they would see each other.

Or maybe a child in a suspense/horror story?

Ophera sat quietly in the back, the mumble of her parents’ conversation indistinguishably mingled with the roar of the engine. Ophera wasn’t sure how she knew, but she knew. She didn’t feel sad. It was the textbook knowing. The first element on the periodic table is hydrogen. Hydrogen and oxygen are the two elements that make water. Her mother’s heart beat 113,889 times a day, but her dad’s 100,352 (on average). The car would veer as it entered the bridge. Moments after plunging into the icy water of the roaring river, her parents’ hearts would stop. Ophera knew hers wouldn’t.

Maybe I should go with SciFi?

Darian shut down thoughts as she pushed her ship to warp speed. No one ever said it, but they all understood. She wouldn’t be back. Even if she managed to find her way back, she wouldn’t find anything or anyone she knew at this station. She closed her eyes through the hum of the changing pressure. Darian knew it was an impossible mission. No one believed she could find the crew that shot through this hole twenty years ago. Darian’s proposal and plea were strong and compelling, finally convincing the commissioners to grant her this last-ditch mission.

Nine more days until Nanowrimo and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe I’ll write about that!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

I know nothing.

The stories I want to tell are inevitably intermingled with other lives, lives I don’t truly understand. Honestly, I know nothing I need to know to tell the story well.

The more I know the more I know I know nothing.

I’ve been reading. I’ve been listening. But the more I know, the more I realize I know nothing. Nothing about black lives. Nothing about brown lives. And honestly, not enough about white lives economically, religiously, and politically removed from my experience. The little bit I almost had right is just enough off center to be misleading at best, but mostly, just wrong.

I want to be an advocate and an ally. I want to tell a story. But how to do it well? How do I do it in a way that honors my experience and their truth?

I felt dismay then just as quickly hope when I listened to Justina Ireland weigh in on the controversy surrounding the young adult novel American Heart

Dismay because at first her words seemed to convey that I could never tell a story that included color. But then that nugget of hope:

“If your good intentions fall short of the reality the first time and that just kind of puts you off the sauce, then why were you here in the first place? I mean, if I’m trying to run a marathon, I’m not going to stop because I had one bad run day. It’s a lifetime.”

I’m here in the first place because I want to stand up and use my privilege and voice to connect and encourage empathy. I’m here for the lifetime, for the marathon. I’ll listen harder, lean in deeper. I’ll see myself. I’ll see you. I want to tell our story well.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

 

We All Drop Dead

As I tidied my website a bit, I realized I needed a new subcategory in my menu: dead.

Dead.

I already have several relevant posts. Sooner or later we all drop dead. I don’t obsess, but perhaps I’m at the age when I don’t block the thought completely. Consider, for example, my purple folder, my dead cayenne, my body donation, what we learn from pets that die. Arguably the most important is “Are you ready?

I have to confess that, despite my intentions to be prepared, I’m not. I think about it more, but I don’t do more, at least not “as more” as I should.

It’s easy to make light of our plans, our check-out tickets. our sunset. But filling that purple folder with proper information and making sure everyone knows exactly what’s in it and where it is? It’s challenging. I hope I don’t drop dead before I’m done with it!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

 

Even the Weeds

I’m leaving my rural office until November in the morning. I’m grateful for this place. Even the weeds. And the butterflies and bees that are drawn to the weeds.

I think I’ll get some beehives.

Shut up! Now you’re complicating things!

But, it’s  just . . .

Stop it. Just be here. See the beauty before you.

I’m grateful for these weeds. For the beautiful things that are drawn to them. But mostly for the time with my parents. Yes, those folks who might mow down these weeds from time to time.

But not these weeds at this moment.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Right Reserved, 2017.

Prep Work

—I have to do what first?
—The prep work.
—Ugh.

Why is prep work important?

When I finally decide to do something, I just want to jump in and get down to . . .

painting the bedroom.
tiling the floor.
planting the garden.

Yet, almost always, just jumping in is not prudent. Sometimes it’s not possible.

prep work

Before painting, clear and wash down the walls, fill the holes, tape the edges and windows, and, unless you’re also replacing the it, protect the floor.
Before tiling, remove the old flooring (even if the last owners didn’t!), then clean, clean, and clean. Over there, clean a little more.
Before planting the garden, pull the weeds, turn the soil, make the rows, and feed the soil.

In school, prep work is attending class, studying for the test, reading before writing a research paper. At work, similar.

But what’s the prep work for creative work?

Sometimes it’s just staring into the space before you. Sometimes it’s getting a good night’s sleep.

Just do it. It nourishes the work you’re about to take on.

Good night! I have prep work to do.

prep work

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

The Parish Fair

parish fairI took a few hours this morning to go with my parents to the Washington Parish Fair, purportedly the largest free county/parish fair in the country and the second-oldest fair in the state.

A Creek Runs Through It

My dad is proud of this fair. When my kids were young, we spent the bulk of our time on the carnival rides. Today, however, my folks and I spent the morning winding through the craft booths, the blue ribbon displays, the 4-H barn, and the Mile Branch Settlement, a pioneer village, with authentic cabins and structures, and “pioneers” in period dress.

One of the best decisions the organizers ever made was to put the carnival rides on the other side of the creek.parish fair

Dad’s not opposed to carnival rides, but he’s proud that, at this fair, they are secondary to the “main” part of the fair. The creek that separates the two parts, he believes, has helped keep the emphasis on the slice of Americana displays and competitions.

I had forgotten that most fairs were primarily capstones for those who worked the land and livestock. These days, “Let’s go to the fair” is more likely to excite images of ferris wheels and ball and bucket toss, not historical displays, the steer a teenager raised, or jars of canned goods draped in blue, red, and white ribbons.parish fair

This fair is primarily organized, operated, and imagined by people from the parish and nearby communities, not by “outside,” disconnected businesses that drop in to make a buck.  That is special.

parish fair

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

 

Renewing Ritual

Moon Ritual

When my first-born was a toddler, her favorite book was Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. We read it every night, until we were reciting it. We both loved our ritual.

When I realized we didn’t need the book for the words, I recreated the images from each page on construction paper, and tacked them to the wall of her bedroom, circling the room from left to right. (GM fans will appreciate that her room was dark green.) We could fall back on her pillow, nestled in a Goodnight Moon room, and let our eyes skip from image to image as we recited the words. The words morphed here and there over time, but this ritual worked its way deep into my heart.

Calendar Ritual

I haven’t been practicing any positive daily rituals of note since around the time we drifted away from the green room. My yearning for more ritual probably drew me to the calendar commitment. I didn’t begin the thirty-day commitment with ritual in mind, but as I crest my fourth month I realize, these are tiny rituals. Some are more mundane than others (so far, movement, tea, clear table, write . . .), mostly things I felt I didn’t have time to squeeze in.renewing ritual

When I mark off each day after I complete the commitment, if I have also completed a commitment from a previous month, I note that month’s number. It’s usually all of them. I’m changing my habits, my routine. I’m allowing myself time for positive, indulgent moments.

Bath Ritual

This evening, a flock of bluebirds swooped in for bathtime. I have more work to do tonight. But I allowed myself the time to enjoy them. When they lingered, I took a little more time to take photos. I took them through a window so they’re not great, but they are an affirmation, the ripples of ritual, of allowing these moments.

I’ve never seen twenty plus bluebirds in one place. Today I did. And bird watching is not even on my commitment calendar.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Why I Look Up

Every week I spend at my rural office, I can’t help myself. I look up. I stare at the sky. I nearly lost the dogs walking through the dark fields one night because I couldn’t stop looking at the stars and the moon.

I look upI look up

A few months ago, I made a commitment to spend a week each month in my “rural home office” so I could hang out with my parents a bit more. You can read about this Uncertain Journey here. An unexpected delight of these visits has been the sky. I didn’t come for the sky’s daily pageantry, but it’s why I look up when I do.

Perhaps looking up is part of my living metaphor. I don’t know what I’m doing on this journey. I could look up more at home. There is, after all, a sky, followed by the expected entourage: sun, moon, stars, and clouds. The blessing when I come here is not so much the looking up, but that I’m inclined to look up.

Sky FuelI look up

I expected these visits to be challenging because of my schedule. Instead, they’re becoming easy, like muscle memory. I look forward to the visits. The time here, however, has not weakened my connection to my home fire. Since beginning this journey, I feel more connected and engaged when I’m home. The long list of to do’s doesn’t magically shrink, but I’m more focused and energized when I set out to tackle it.

Maybe looking up for a week fuels me.

The sky, the light, the colors, and the dance of the clouds are a faithful source of healing energy and peace. I need to remember to look up more when I’m home.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017.

The Magic of Freelancing from Home Part 2

So you want to work from home? For yourself? Wondering how to “get in”? Sounds magical when you hear someone else talk about getting home to finish up some work? Honestly, it’s not any more magical than that very phrase taken out of context, and “getting in” depends on more variables than I could cover in a post. But if you’re considering the leap from workplace to home office, chew on these five freelancing-from-home essentials to decide if it’s right for you.

Five Freelancing-from-Home Essentials

1. Qualifications

One rule that doesn’t change when you freelance: you need to be able to supply what’s in demand. Data entry, coding, copyediting, writing, proofreading, PhotoShopping . . . the list is endless. Is there a demand that you can supply?

2. Home Space

If you’re going to work at home, make sure you have the appropriate space. It might be a room, the kitchen table, or even the coffee shop on the corner. But you need a space where you can be productive.

3. Tools and Technology

Do you have the things you need to do the job? Computer? Software? If you’re moving from an office where you have access to expensive software that is part of what you would bring to the freelance table, you’ll need your own at home.

4. Discipline and Chaos

You’ll need the discipline to get the work done, and often, you’ll need to hurdle chaos as you go. I’ll get into the dark side of the battle between domestic and freelancing in another post (when I’m ready for a deeper share), but consider the logistics of working at home: your workspace is in the middle of things that need tidying, sorting, cleaning, tossing, or (and especially if you have children at home) feeding and entertaining. It’s best if you can ignore them, except, of course, the hungry pets and children. Tuning out the chaos around you to work is crucial to content focus and turnover deadlines, which will become the very reason you can snag the next freelance gig.

5. Connections

Even if you have the first four essentials locked down, you’ll need connections. These might be connections you have through your industry, workplace, friends, or school. If you don’t already have one or some of those in your pocket, you won’t have the magic key until you seek out the necessary connections. The good news is that it has become easier to connect both socially and professionally. Be wary, however, as you seek out connections. After all, you’re working to get paid. Make sure they have a reputation for that!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.