mollyringle: (Default)
 

While Texas drowns and another hurricane barrels toward the East Coast, wildfire smoke is filling Seattle’s sky, filtering the sun to a dim orange circle. We’ve had the driest summer on record, barely a drop of rain since mid-June. Heat and drought have rendered all the grass brown and the plants desiccated. Leaves are shriveling up and falling off trees. The “evergreen” Northwest looks not entirely unlike Mordor.

 

This is all wrong. By now we should have our first rains, cleaner air, a washing away of the summer dust. Instead we’re the Fire Nation and I hate it.

 

So, the time is ripe for a reposting, with a few edits, of something I wrote long ago on being one of those rare people who really, truly doesn’t like summer weather and really, truly does love rain, moss, ferns, clouds, and coolness. Here you go.

 

* * *

 

When I moved to the Sacramento area from my native Pacific Northwest in August of 2000 for a three-year grad school stint, the constant sunshine and 80-to-100-degree temperatures were at first a novelty. Then they began to make me bored. Then unhappy. Then borderline psychotic. I tried to believe it was the natural adjustment to an 800-mile move. I thought maybe I just needed something more productive to do with my days.

 

Then one day it rained--unexpectedly, and for that region totally unheard-of in August. All my tension relaxed. The air was clean, cool, and sweet. I could step outside, take a deep breath, and smile. Of course, it was August, so that only lasted a few days. The sun returned. The drought and 100-degree temperatures came back. Everything was yellow and brown and sky-blue for three months, like a photo of the African savannah, even into October. I plummeted into deeper unhappiness.

 

October is supposed to be the cool month, the month that is definitely no longer summer. In Seattle, October is when the battering rains howl in from the sea and knock trees down--if that hadn't already happened in September. In Cali, all remained warm and bright, the Beach Boys’ "endless summer." It was not so groovy after all. But the weather couldn't really account for my bad mood, could it?

 

Finally the rain returned in November, a true autumn rain this time: soaking, dripping, chilly, misty. The scent of wet leaves and chimney smoke rolled down the streets. Pollen and dust swirled away down the gutters. The wet pavement reflected lights at night. My mood soared.

 

I could no longer rule it a coincidence. After finishing grad school, I hightailed it back to Seattle as soon as possible.

 

Everyone's heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which renders its sufferers depressed in the winter months due to a deficiency of happy-making neurochemicals normally triggered by sunlight exposure. But when I suggest I might have Reverse SAD, I garner little sympathy or comprehension. Who could possibly hate summer and sunshine? What's wrong with me?

 

Some doctors do acknowledge "summer depression," a condition that can cause irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and decreased appetite, but researchers estimate it's only about a fifth as common as regular SAD or winter depression. What causes summer depression is less clear. Too much heat? Too much light?

 

Both, I propose; along with other factors. For example:

 

- Sun exposure can cause wrinkles and cancer. On hot, clear days I have to slather sunscreen upon myself, enduring its greasy feel; and slather it also upon my kids, who complain every time. Never heard of rain causing cancer, did you?

 

- Every summer day without rain, I have to take half an hour to water the garden, or live with beige-colored, dying plants for July and August. I much prefer the rest of the year, when the sky supplies the water cost- and effort-free on my part.

 

- We sleep less in the summer and feel the ill effects. Up here in the north, the sky starts getting light at four o'clock in the morning in June, causing birds to chirp and making it hard for humans to sleep in. It's also hard to get our kids to go to bed at eight-thirty p.m. when daylight still reigns. In dark, rainy weather our whole family regularly sleeps longer and deeper.

 

- Glaring sun in your eyes can cause car or bicycle accidents even when you're wearing sunglasses. Cloudy skies make our roads safer--aside from that one first rainy day in late summer, of course, when everyone temporarily forgets how to drive on wet pavement.

 

- For those of us with school-age kids, they are home all the time in summer, causing a “disrupted schedule” for us all, as this WebMD article on summer depression diplomatically puts it.

 

- I’m uncomfortable when I’m sweaty for hours at a time. Are there people who actually like being sweaty all day? Or at least don’t mind it? I assume there have to be, but HOW do they not mind it?

 

- Rainy seasons give me an excuse to stay inside and curl up with a book or a movie or a TV show. And if I do venture out to the park with my umbrella and waterproof boots, I'm likely to have the forest or beach to myself. In summer, I do want to go outside, but there are PEOPLE all over the place out there.

 

- Did I mention the West is ON FIRE?

 

The good news--besides the fact that autumn will eventually come--is that I'm not alone. When I asked around, family members and friends have come out of hiding to admit their preference for non-summer weather too. My rain-loving Oregonian mother suggests a few names for people like us:

 

SLUG: Sunshine Leaves Us Grumpy

SHINE: Sun's Heat Is Not Enabling

GRACE: Give Rain A Chance, Everybody

PUDDLE: Prefer Umbrella Drip-Drop-Like Environment

HAPPY: Have Always Preferred Puddly Yard

 

I’m ready to be HAPPY instead of summer-SAD, please. Hurry back soon, rainclouds.

mollyringle: (Froud - bad faeries)
Can you do something for me, world? Go out there and write a positive review about something you liked, in a place where everyone can see it, or at least where the creator of the thing you liked can see it. Your review could be for a book, a music album, a cool thing you bought on Etsy, you name it. Or, if you’d rather, compliment someone in person for something they did that you appreciate. Positive reviews only, today.

I get the feeling that the collective mood of the world lately is—understandably—stressed and cranky. And this stress seems to be emerging in all kinds of ways, including fault-finding with things (like novels, music, or cool art projects on Etsy) that are not in any way to blame for the state of the world, but people are feeling the need to complain, so they complain about more stuff than they used to.

So today I’m asking you to balance the score by doing the opposite. Go out and say something nice. Leave a good review. Praise those who are creating stuff you enjoy. And make sure you put your words where those creators can see them. Because believe me, it will help. You will make their day, if no one else’s.
mollyringle: (Beneath My Skin)

In her books about happiness and habits, writer Gretchen Rubin delineates what she calls the Four Tendencies. They are, in short:

Upholders: respond readily to both outer and inner expectations (that is, expectations from others and from themselves)
Questioners: meet inner expectations, but question outer expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense
Obligers: meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
Rebels: resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

You can take the quiz here to find out your own tendency. (I’m a Questioner. My thought when that answer came up: “Hmm, I don’t know, I really thought I was an Upholder. I question the...oh.”)
More here on the tendencies if you’re curious.

But for now, I thought it’d be fun to examine where the characters in my Greek myth trilogy fell on this framework (The Chrysomelia Stories, starting with Persephone's Orchard). So here goes!

The heroes

Hades and Persephone: both Questioners. In ancient days, Hades resists conforming to the lifestyle of his fellow immortals, and instead finds his way into the Underworld and takes up residence there, asking questions all the while. Persephone, similarly, resists her mother’s expectations about what her marriage and life should look like, and follows her curiosity toward a life with Hades instead. In the modern day, their reincarnated selves behave much the same.

Aphrodite: Obliger. Sure, she’s quite the independent and strong woman, but she does basically please others (and teach them to please themselves) as the point of her existence. However, she does also seek to please herself a good deal too, so…I wonder if Aphrodite is actually a rather unconventional Upholder?

Dionysos: Rebel. The very god of rebels! In my version, mind you, he starts out more as an Obliger, living only to please his lover. But in being saved from death and becoming reborn, he strikes out on his own and decides to devote his life to bringing revelry and unrestrained pleasure to the masses, and enjoy some casual worship along the way. Tabitha, in the modern day, shows her Rebel personality too, by only going to class or showing up for people if and when she feels like it, but she does love her friends and will travel the world to see them or lay down her life to save them, simply because she wants to.

Hekate: Upholder. She has her insecurities and sometimes feels out of place, what with her peculiar gifts and upbringing, but the woman can do well-nigh anything. And you can rely on her 100% if she says she’s got your back. Same goes for Zoe, in the modern world.

Hermes: Questioner. He’s charismatic and engaging, but holds his cards close to the vest, always; you’ll never know the extent of the divine trickster’s clever thoughts. He has complex plans and he’ll see them through, but can you rely on him to do as expected or asked? Absolutely not. Not in this lifetime or any other.

Poseidon: Obliger. He uses his water magic to protect his loved ones, even when he has to keep his powers a secret, and even when it means being lonely. But he does show some of what Gretchen Rubin calls Obliger Rebellion, in breaking the rules to rescue Amphitrite from her life of near-slavery. But even that is done to make HER life happier (as well as his own).

The villains (leaders of the cult Thanatos)

Quentin: Upholder.
She’s got nerves of steel, never lets emotion or setbacks get in the way, and sticks to her plans and her mission all the way to the end.

Landon: Obliger. He’s not really cut out for this villain job, honestly, but he wants to do his teammates proud, and now he’s in it too deep to get out easily, so he’s going to try to see this through, to impress them. He really is.

Tracy: Questioner. This evil cult needs a shake-up, if you ask him, and he’s got some new ideas he’s going to try. And he really doesn’t care if you don’t like them. He believes in them and he’s going to do them anyway.

Try the Four Tendencies on your own favorite characters!

mollyringle: (Haeckel anemones - by neitherday)

Okay, I hope you're ready for a West Coast feel-good save-the-planet piece of fluffy philosophy, because I HAVE ONE for you.

I call it the rule of one million, and it basically goes: "Is this action I'm contemplating going to make much difference? Maybe not on its own, but what if one million other people today also made this choice? Then would it make a difference?" And the answer then is usually yes. So I do the good thing.

I often think of this when faced with our garbage vs. recycling vs. food-and-yard waste options here in Seattle. I sweep the floor and find a piece of Rice Chex among the dust, for example. Do I save ten seconds and dump the whole dustpan of stuff into the trash? Or do I pluck out the single Chex and put it in the food waste where, technically, it should go?

Well, one Rice Chex isn't going to make the landfill overflow, nor contribute much to the composting world. But one million pieces of Chex? Think of that mountain of food. That's worth composting. So if one million other people are hesitating today over whether to bother in such a scenario--which, probably, they are--and if all of us choose the right thing, then it does make a difference.

Similarly:
I pick up one inch-long scrap of plastic from the beach. Big deal. One million scraps of plastic being picked up, though? That's probably several cubic yards saved from the Pacific Trash Vortex.

I plant a few flowers and one little tree. That's nice but it doesn't save the environment. But a million new trees or flower beds? Now we're helping the pollinators and the other animals and the air quality. (Although make sure they're plants native to your area for ideal results; that's a different post altogether; moving on.)

I smile and say "Good morning" to strangers today, and probably no one's going to care. A million people choosing to show politeness and pleasantness, however, is sure to make some difference somewhere.

So. Think about the rule of one million as you go about your day. I shall now stick this gold-star temporary tattoo upon your upper arm as a thank you for attending this seminar.

mollyringle: (Maurice & Clive)

I dread being controversial or political online, but I want honest and sincere thoughts on this, with as few in the way of flame wars as possible. My question is more or less: if you’re not a member of a certain minority, do you get to write about it? Since I’m a novelist, I’m thinking in terms more of fiction here than nonfiction or journalism.

On the “no” side, the argument is basically (I’ll just quote this blog post here), “It is not the place of a cis straight person to represent the LGBTA community in order to claim progressive thinking on their part. … By all means we should be allies and make all efforts to be diverse in our work, but we should not seek to take their stories from them when there are so many creators from the LGBTA community who go ignored in favor of mainstream medium, and who would give a far more accurate account and portrayal of their stories. The same goes for race. In that instance, write what you know is applicable.”*

Fair enough. But on the “yes” side, which I admit is the side I’ve been working from all these years, the argument is: assuming the portrayal is done with as much taste, compassion, and realistic accuracy as the author can scrounge up (as opposed to using stereotypes or playing the characters’ culture/orientation/etc. for laughs), then surely it’s better to have more types of characters in more books, no matter what background the author comes from.

Even though I’m white and heterosexual and middle-class and American and therefore boringly generic and privileged in most ways, I recognize the problem of ethnic minorities and LGBTQ characters being underrepresented in entertainment. Plus I’m honestly into some of the stories that could be told with such characters (I’ve long squealed in delight over slash fiction, as nearly all of you know), so I want to write about them. I have this perhaps naïve hope that if someone reads a book that gets them (the readers) thinking more kindly about types of people they didn’t think about very much before, and gets them seeing more types of people as fellow humans with equal status to themselves, then hurray! The book has done something worthwhile! And it doesn’t really matter who the author is, in that case.

In fact, I’m the self-effacing type of author who doesn’t want you to think about ME; I want you to notice just my stories, my characters. It isn’t about me. This becomes a problem when it’s time to get out there and market my work in person with bright smiles, which is a task that sucks the life force out of me, but I digress.

So am I wrong? Should I be respectfully backing off and allowing “those groups” to tell their own stories? I certainly encourage anyone to do so who wants to, and I don’t want those stories to be ignored in favor of mine just because I’m white and privileged and stuff (though given my superbly modest sales figures, I really don’t think anyone’s favoring my work over others, so honestly I doubt this is currently a problem).

In my Greek myth series, I have some gay or bi characters, and others I picture as black or mixed-race. I don’t make A Big Thing of it for the most part; they’re just character details, mentioned alongside what color clothes they wear or what kind of salads they prefer or whether they like loud parties. (As an introvert, I found it WAY easier to write the gay or bi aspects of characters than to write Tabitha’s extroversion--she’s the reincarnated Dionysos, and loves organizing and attending parties, and drinking and being loud. I can’t comprehend being like that. But love and crushes, sure, I get those.)

I do try to avoid stereotypes. I’d rather a book didn’t include any gay characters than have it include one who lisped and called everyone “sweetie” and wore glasses with pink glittery frames. Same goes for all the ethnic-group issues you could run up against. I imagine, if anything, I err on the side of my black characters being too much like the white ones, such that you might not even know they’re black. But then, I also went that route because for the purposes of this story, it doesn’t exactly matter what their genetic makeup is. Also, a friendly mix of races and cultures is part of the new global civilization, and I feel like we do get to be casual about it, as long as we’re compassionate to everyone.

The one “minority” I belong to is that of women, and I’ll go on record as saying I have nothing at all against male authors who write in depth about female characters. In fact, I think more of them should, as long as they follow the guidelines discussed above: avoid stereotypes, view everyone as a human with equal rights and personal subtleties, be as fair and realistic as you can.

Anyway. The more I ramble about this, the more I realize it could be an entire doctoral thesis (and I’m sure it has been for lots of people), so I’ll leave it at that. But I welcome anyone’s thoughts! If you’re gay or trans, does it bother you if straight/cis people write LGBTQ characters? If you’re black or Latino or Asian (or fill in the blank), does it bother you if generic white people write about your ethnic group?

Further good reading on the topic: Why I Am Scared to Write About Diversity, by Cait at Paper Fury

* I do love this quote from that same post, though:

“ 'You should only ever write what you know.'— Whenever I read advice like this I can’t help but feel like Mary Shelley had some fucking weird anatomy classes I never got at school, and that I’d like to try whatever Tolkien was having." Ha! Quite so.

mollyringle: (bradley)

My list goes to 12:

1.     Quitting Facebook, or at least spending waaaaay less time on it

2.     Finishing a trilogy!

3.     Starting a new novel that is not going to be a trilogy and is way simpler and smaller in scope but still paranormal and romantic and quirky in my usual ways

4.     Getting into the habit of daily meditation - I like the app Calm to help guide the practice, but there are lots and lots of others that do similar things and look good too

5.     Stepping up my exercising. In addition to making sure I take walks on an almost-daily basis, I've started doing some high-intensity-ish exercises a few times a week. (Try this one if you dare. Calling it "beginner" may be a stretch! But it'll give you a workout for sure, and I'm getting better at it with practice.)

6.     Also tai chi. I've been doing various YouTube sessions of that on occasion, and find it really does make my joints all feel happier.

7.     Recognizing anxiety for what it is; i.e., my imagination working overtime; and redirecting that imagination into creativity, such as writing stories, or thinking up ways to improve my surroundings

8.     Probiotics for all in the household. Or at least, definitely for me, in the form of things like kombucha, yogurt, kefir, and fermented pickles, and for my kids in the form of chewable probiotics when they won't eat those other things, which is usually. It has correlated to a notable decrease in number of viruses and other infections we've caught. I won't claim it has caused the decrease, but it has at least correlated, and I wouldn't be surprised if there's a cause and effect here.

9.     Earlier bedtimes for kids, better enforced. More sleep for me too. The meditation and similar breathing exercises help relax insomnia's grip on me. And more sleep surely helps our health too.

10.  Being a lot gentler in how I think of myself, and getting a lot better at not giving a damn what other people think of me. Self-care feels real good, and ends up making me more patient with everyone else, so hey, win-win.

11.  Leasing my soul, for a time anyway, to the Merlin (BBC) fandom, and in particular the Merthur ship. Yay, slash daydreams and fanfics! I've missed your siren song.



(It's pretty much canon, anyway.)
Also, maybe I just haven't dug deep enough yet, but so far the Merlin fandom is one of the sweetest-natured I've ever encountered. Everyone has been wonderfully nice.

12.  Trying doing things in new ways, or doing new things. I'm starting small, no bungee jumping yet, but practicing flexibility in daily life is like yoga for the brain.

So my resolutions for 2016 are pretty much to keep all of those up, and do even better at them. Happy New Year, everyone!

mollyringle: (winters jewels)

In recent years, I've rarely posted about any big, serious news. This isn't because I'm hiding my head in the sand, or because I have no opinion. There usually are plenty of things I could say about the earth-shaking, generally horrifying news events, and in past years I tried voicing such thoughts about them on this very journal and elsewhere. I didn't like the results. Too much upheaval, too much debate, too much misunderstanding. At least, too much for my temperament.

I consider it a wonderful thing that some people do have the temperament to go out there and shout at their governments to change things, or to write one impassioned essay after another to shake up people's complacent thoughts. That's vital to the world and I wouldn't have it any other way.

But I'm not cut out to be one of those people. And here, I expressed it best in a just-for-myself journal entry from this past May (just before deleting my main Facebook account, in fact):

---

My sensitive soul may be overstimulated by the barrage of world crises in the internet and radio these days. Even just the Facebook friends and their woes from around the world are a bit too much for me and add to my anxiety. So, rather than shutting out the world, I could draw in my focus to the world immediately surrounding me. Honestly I think that's all humans are equipped to handle anyway. I was picturing my childhood, cozy rainy days in Corvallis where our household had nothing to do except gaze out at the quiet rain and read books and have meals together. We weren't expected to keep in touch with a hundred people's lives all day, or read the news more than once a day (in the paper). Nor were most other people throughout most of history. And I daresay anxiety, or at least overscheduling, was rather less widespread than it is now.

So yes: less World Wide Web. Less news. I can be the quiet type of semi-hermit who creates a gentle, beautiful haven of calm in this chaotic world, and shelters her family and friends in it. Those people aren't lesser-than compared to the globally-striding heroes. They rock in their quiet way and they are necessary. I know I treasure them, so I'm happy to be one. And in any case, it sure reduced my anxiety levels today when I turned my perspective to look at myself this way, and resolved to draw in my focus and do what I can in a smaller way rather than trying to care about more than I can handle.

---

So, though I may occasionally still get fired up enough about something big to write a post about it, what you can usually count on around here (and around my web presence in general) is that haven of calm. I want people to feel safe around me. To feel thoughtful and interested, but without any yelling. To get more impassioned about fandom than anything else. (Which, really, is minefield enough.) So happy holidays, and here, browse my shelves of books and have a cup of tea.

mollyringle: (Legolas - do I please you?)

I'm feeling like I'm harping on the subject of cutting back on Facebook, and I apologize. BUT. I also want to elaborate on my reasons for too-casually comparing FB to a toxic friend in the last post.

What I did not mean: that the people on my friends list were, themselves, toxic friends. To my knowledge, they weren't. Mind you, the vast majority of them, I haven't seen in real life in years; haven't even met some of them at all; so to be completely truthful, I can't judge what kind of friends they are.

But that's part of the problem. My daily free time--and to too great a degree, my daily work time--was being spent involved in the posts of people I hadn't seen in years or possibly had never met. Sure, that's life for us all, this day and age, right? What's the problem? Am I condemning the entire internet because it's composed primarily of people I've never met?

Well, no. I see great value in lots of the internet. I'm picking on Facebook in particular. Not even the professional-page side of FB: I actually think it works fairly well for groups, where everyone has an interest in common, and also works pretty well as a professional notice board for us artists and other businesses (assuming FB shows our posts to our followers, which I'll bitch about in a minute). It's the personal pages, and their associated friend feed, and the culture thereof, that I am mainly disillusioned with. Why, then?

Because of the likes. And the algorithms, which are tied in to the likes.

Every social media site, through its design and through the possibly unpredictable alchemy of its users, develops a feel. An ambience, a mood, an ideal. On FB, the ideal is to get as many likes and comments as you can. Well, sure, that's the case on most sites. But FB makes the game a little more diabolical, because if you don't engage your friends and followers, FB actually does not show your posts as often to them. That alone is one of the major reasons I lost patience with the site. It's really simple, FB, and it's what we all want: just show us every one of the goddamn posts from all the people or pages we're following, in the order they were posted, and don't filter them, don't re-sort them, don't fuck with them in any way. (Look, it's making me swear; that's how irritating it is.)

But FB does filter them and hide them and boost them, according to the algorithms, and we all feel the effects. Because then what we often find ourselves trying to do, subconsciously, is support the popularity scheme. Boost our friends! Get them to boost us! You better not forget to click "like" on the good stuff or else it might actually disappear! And how can that mood NOT result in a deterioration of quality of interaction? In short, what I've concluded is that Facebook breeds competition, not relationships. As a result, people are snarky more often than they'd be in real life, because a funny, snarky response will get likes from other commenters--never mind how rude it is to the person whose wall you're posting on. It also means people will post whiny, trendy, or obnoxiously controversial things more often, because those get more attention and interaction than a quietly thoughtful post would. (And if you do post something quietly thoughtful, brace yourself for the snarky commenters fishing for likes.)

"But Molly, then you were doing it wrong," you might say. "I use Facebook to empathize with my friends and family far and wide, and to feel comforted and uplifted by staying in touch with them." Okay. If that's your FB experience, I won't doubt you, and I'll count you lucky. What I know is that for me, it became anxiety-provoking. And not just for the usual reason the articles give: the ones that say "Facebook is depressing because it makes you see only the awesome side of your friends' lives, and thereby makes you feel bad about yours." That actually didn't happen to me too often, though sure, it makes the list of my grievances.

I actually had the opposite problem, as someone prone to anxiety: I'd see posts about something upsetting happening to someone I sort of know somewhere, and I'd feel my worry ratchet up. Not just worry for THEM, but worry for my own family: if this upsetting thing happened to an actual person I'm reading about right now, WHAT IF IT HAPPENS TO US? IT TOTALLY COULD. Because that is how anxiety works. Yes, it's stupid, but it's also very common, which is why I think FB is doing a lot of harm to an awful lot of people, because, remember, thanks to the interaction algorithm, you get a lot of comments on passionate complaint/rant/life-is-unfair posts. So people post them a lot on FB. They actually don't post stuff this whiny on all sites on the internet. If you spent most of your time on Pinterest, you'd think the world was mainly a pleasant place devoted to baking cupcakes, collecting pretty clothes, and squeeing about fandom. (If only! Ah, I do like Pinterest...)

By the way, as a psychological aside, the more time you spend fielding commiserating remarks about your annoying problem, the longer you're spending thinking about it. You're giving it life. You're choosing to feed the wolf of anger instead of the wolf of serenity. You're *wallowing*, when you could be doing something else.

I could have been doing something else instead of scrolling and liking my way through the friend feed, and monitoring the likes I was getting on my own posts. That right there is probably my number one grievance against FB. There was writing and reading I longed to do. Family and neighbors to talk to face-to-face. Exercise to get. Things around the house to sort out and fix up. A whole real, actual world to look at and get involved with. So why had it become so seemingly important to ANSWER ALL THE NOTIFICATIONS several times per day--per hour, even?

It wasn't. It was not important. I finally grasped that. And life has become so much more peaceful, my outlook so much more reasonable, after letting the FB fog clear from my mind.

This whole post is probably pointless. Most people either fall into the "Yep, I already hate FB" camp, or the "Noooo! You're wrong and I heart FB!" camp, and I won't change anyone's mind. But it was on my mind, this bit of statement for the defense, so I wrote it down, mainly to sort out my own thoughts. If it does spark any useful ideas in anyone else, so much the better. I do wish you all peace and happiness, whatever your camp.

Now I already feel like I'm wallowing in anti-FB resentment, so I'll go read one of those books I so wanted to read. :)

mollyringle: (Avatar)

My stress and anxiety levels in recent months have been so much lower than last year's. I could yet stand to improve my overall happiness, but "equanimity" does now describe me far more often than it used to. As a result of being calmer, I sleep better, which means I have more energy and don't get sick as often, so my physical health's much improved too.

There are lots of changes I've made, large and small, that I would say have contributed to this improvement. But here are a nice tidy three:

1. Ditching Facebook (and not replacing it with some equally time-devouring online activity). I've discussed this in previous posts. But just in case you wanted an update, I still think this was a fabulous, wondrous move, on par with breaking up with a toxic friend. (In fact, it basically WAS breaking up with a toxic friend. Or at least, a conglomerate of mostly non-toxic people who, together, somehow added up to one gigantic toxic friend.) I miss it less and less with each passing month. I'm stronger in my solitude; I have wise thoughts and am happy to keep them to myself or tell them to someone I know in real life rather than feeling any need to rush online and share.

[Edited to clarify: I'm not calling any individuals "toxic friends." I'm fond of everyone I was friends with on FB, and am happy that I'm still in touch with many of them via the *several* other ways available to us these days. It's the Facebook environment as a whole that I'm calling toxic. Too many posts, too much snark, too much drama, too much getting messaged and tagged for unnecessary reasons, too much intrusion on my work and thoughts. It felt like being trapped at a loud party I wasn't allowed to leave. Not everyone has that experience on FB, clearly, but that's what mine was like. So I post this because if anyone else is suspecting FB is detrimental to their peace of mind, I want them to know it's quite possibly so. And I want them to feel healthier too, so I do recommend reconsidering one's relationship with the site. Not with the people, necessarily--that's not the same issue.]

2. Meditating every day, or almost every day.

(I have yet to achieve the Avatar state, however.)

Yeah, meditation's all trendy and stuff these days. In fact, I hesitate to even mention that I do it, because it's so ridiculously trendy, except I must recommend it because the results are marvelous. I really do feel calmer and more compassionate on average, even with just 5 or 10 minutes a day of sitting with my eyes closed and somewhat half-assedly telling my thoughts, "Shush, come back and focus on the breath, and stop replaying that hilarious YouTube video from earlier." The practice of noticing what my thoughts are doing in the first place is the valuable part, it would seem. And though noticeable progress did take months in my case, it was so worth it. I would sooner go back to Facebook than stop meditating now. (Yes, even that!)

3. Cool tip I heard somewhere that works: when feeling stressed in a rushing-around, not-enough-time kind of way, I intentionally slow down, to the degree of doing something fully three times slower than I have to. It wouldn't make sense to take your whole day that slow, of course, but doing one minor task that slow, as a token gesture, shows your brain that it's okay; taking 45 seconds instead of 15 seconds to put away the bread isn't going to make the world collapse. Also it buys you a little time to think, breathe, get your next move figured out. It works. I like it.

Calm down, world. Calm down.

mollyringle: (kodama)

In my teens and twenties, when I woke up in the morning from disturbing dreams, I often found that a good way to dispel the lingering feeling of dread was to do something about my hair. That was something I generally had to do anyway in order to get ready for the day, but its oddly therapeutic quality struck me time after time. I'm not the sort of woman who particularly likes doing hair (my own or anyone else's), and am merely average at hairstyling. So I could only conclude that the therapy came from letting go of troubling thoughts by focusing on a mundane task, especially one associated with vanity and a certain amount of whimsy. Doing my hair centered my attention on the here and now, and made me think about what I wanted today to be like, or at least what I wanted today's hair to be like.

I didn't know at the time that this was mindfulness. The mindfulness gurus tell us that to find peace, think only about this moment; be immersed in what you're doing now, and do it with full attention. Do that as often as you can, and those little spells of tranquility will sweeten your whole day; indeed, your whole life. It works, these days, when I manage to do it, but it's the kind of thing kids and youths do instinctively and frequently, and we stressed-out multi-tasking grown-ups have to read lots of books and web posts about before we remember how to do it. And then it still takes tons of practice.

As a kid I used to go out in the backyard and just wander, touching plants and watching the creek flow and swinging on the hammock. I knew what each tree's leaves and fruits and flowers looked like and felt like and smelled like. I'm pretty sure I'm not that familiar with my own garden now, even though I'm one of the primary people in charge of tending it. Now I'm rarely taking my time in the garden and noticing all its details. It's usually a chore I'm rushing through to get to the next ten things I have to do; or gardening is something I'm doing for exercise, and I'm listening to a podcast while I do it, so it's not really the relaxing communing with nature that my childhood lazing in the backyard was.

I don't think it's just about growing up, either. I suspect it's the modern lifestyle, a way of living our parents didn't experience, and indeed, no other generation has ever experienced. With the entire world and its trillions of webpages in our pocket at all times, and our hundreds of "contacts" expecting us to pay attention to their updates hour by hour, we're enslaved to our devices rather than being free to wander and relax. It's no wonder every other person you know is stressed, anxious, and/or depressed, and that we have to ask Google what's wrong with us and find our way to mindfulness posts to figure out a solution. (Part of the solution being, with some irony, to get off the internet more often.)

Quitting Facebook has freed up more of my time, and indeed, I've filled those hours with going outside, sitting or wandering in parks or my own garden, browsing books, and interacting with people in real life. It's all felt a lot healthier than coming up with appropriate comments for an endless scroll of status updates. But I still have worries and troubling thoughts--part of the novelist mindset, I guess--and obviously I had bad dreams and needed to fix my hair to get over them even before the internet was a part of my life.

So: keep fixing your hair. Keep studying leaves in the garden. Keep noticing what's actually around you. I'm mainly telling myself this. But I'm telling you, too. Yes, you. In fact, fix that one piece of hair--there, you got it.

mollyringle: (books & pearls)

It's been more than a week since I quit Facebook, and I'm starting to feel that going back to it, to the old levels of interaction, would be about as appealing as re-entering a dysfunctional relationship. So yes: I recommend quitting Facebook. I'd be deeply pleased if the next mass exodus online was from Facebook. As long as we don't replace it with something even more annoying.

Because, see, as I've said to some friends today, what’s unusual for me this time is that I’m not replacing FB with some other online network. From about age 21 to 27, I was deep into IRC. Then I segued into LJ. Then when LJ started to become a ghost town, I went with everyone to FB. But this time, after axing the majority of my FB connections, I’m not transferring my online interaction to any new site. If anything, I suppose I’m replacing it with books and real life, which is probably where my focus should have been all along. It does take some getting used to, though, since I’m turning 40 this year and that means I’ve spent almost half my life entangled in these sites, more deeply than was probably ever wise for my quiet-loving and sensitive personality.

And when I put it in those addiction-ish terms, I begin to think people aren’t so far off when they throw around words like “detox” and “withdrawal” for leaving a social network. OMG my problems are so nerdy. But the detox, I think, is working, and the withdrawal symptoms are clearing, so if I dare, real life is here, waiting for me to dive in. Or books, in the hours I can't take real life. Always fine to dive into books.

mollyringle: (angsssty)

Short version: I've broken up with Facebook.

Long version, in the form of a mental conversation held with myself many, many times over the last couple of years:

Me: I need to cut back on all the ways I waste time.

Mind: Such as Facebook?

Me: Maybe, but, you know, other stuff too. All the activities that are mostly just adding to my stress instead of helping me.

Mind: So, Facebook.

Me: Haha, but it's handy to have a login there, in case people need to tag me.

Mind: So that you can come to the site and wind up wasting tons of time on Facebook.

Me: I guess, but also, I mean, the news, I should avoid the news. That's just an endless stream of upsetting stuff.

Mind: So is Facebook. Which also is half advertising and news stories these days.

Me: Well...I could just try avoiding Facebook but going to it sometimes...

Mind: We've tried that. You suck at it. You end up spending as much time there as ever. Pull the plug.

Me: But I have to keep my author page. Marketing says I have to.

Mind: So keep that. Pull the plug on the main one, though. You know it felt good that one time you did it before.

Me: Well...true...but people might forget about me.

Mind: People you've never met, or hardly ever see? You were just complaining about how you wanted more time to yourself, and more time for the people you know in real life.

Me: Hm. Then. Okay. Yes.

Also, I was tired of having snark lobbed at me on my page when I don’t do that on other people’s pages. Tired of people forgetting there are human beings on the other end of the internet. Tired of keeping track of everyone else’s drama. And tired of the clickbait, and the ads, and the hiding of posts, and everything else FB does wrong. I’m sure I do have “issues” to work out (look up "generalized anxiety disorder" and "highly sensitive person" to name two of the major ones), but I would submit that so do lots and lots of my friends list, and they may not even realize how much worse FB is making those issues.

Today in the wake of clicking the "delete" button, I feel drained and still tired, but lighter. Freer. Once I unhook the Pavlovian reaching for social media from my brain ("An interesting thought! I should post it on Facebook!"), I will probably be freer still. Of course, I did come back here, to social media, to discuss it, but LJ has always been better at being a solid and fairly sedate record of life, rather than a snark-comment badminton-match like Facebook. (And lately, like, almost no one is around on LJ anyway.)

Stuff I'm doing and enjoying instead: Amazon Prime's music library is pretty sweet. That has supplied me with a delightful soundtrack of all kinds of stuff the last few days. And I've been watching "Merlin" on Netflix, and am now in the early episodes of season 4. Adorable Arthuriana angst and sparkly magic and all-too-easy slash potential! Yay! And of course, loads more time for reading and writing. (The reading lately is book 2 of Cinda Williams Chima's Seven Realms series - fun mostly-teen high fantasy with a refreshing Native-American-like slant to some of the tribes.)

This weekend I plan to spend more time outdoors, sitting under leafy trees, gazing at Puget Sound, picking flowers, that kind of thing. May you be fortunate enough to do similar. Cheers!

mollyringle: (Minas Tirith - John Howe)
f7969d646e66e054ff0d2ed6dce8414f

Saw this C.S. Lewis quotation today, and it was fitting, for last night I was ruminating again upon how "paranormals" are indeed not some recent shallow fad in fiction, as some people believe, usually those who claim they find deeper meaning in "real" life fiction.

I can write, have written, and will write contemporary ("real life") fiction, and I do read it, and it can indeed be great. But it isn't the only place to find meaning in the world of stories. For what are the oldest known stories passed down among humans? Myths. From all over the world, they follow the same pattern: totally fantastical stories about monsters, gods/deities, faery folk, magical powers, and imaginary lands. Is it just a fluke that those endured, rather than true-to-life family sagas or down-to-earth relationship stories? I think not. I think imagination, and casting our everyday problems into larger-than-life settings and symbols, is exactly what makes us human and gets our brains revving.

If you like myths and fairy tales and other paranormals, you already know this, but maybe you can tell it to the next person who sneers at this silly little fleeting several-thousand-year-old "fad" of humans making up fantasy stories.
mollyringle: (Hughes - Night)
A couple of years ago, as the spring equinox approached, I wrote a short piece about Persephone digging herself out to get the season going. Today is the autumn equinox, and I've finally written a corresponding piece about her descending back to the Underworld. There. We now have a pair of equinox bookends.

I should note that these two vignettes do not feature the same Persephone and Hades that I've written about in Persephone's Orchard. The Persephone and Hades shown here are more magical and more connected to the seasons, have a much more tentative marriage, and in general are more like the gods in the myths. Enjoy, and happy equinox!

AUTUMN

Persephone treads the forest path alone. Twilight is falling earlier now, just after dinner, and the air is turning cold. She glances at the jewels on her rings and sandals, but so far they aren't lighting up to brighten her way. They haven't sensed the Underworld and Hades yet.

She has said goodbye to her mother for the summer, which is always sad for both of them, and the poignancy has radiated out into the world. A cold wind blows at her back and shoots through the forest. It desiccates green leaves, turning them brown and red and yellow and sending them swirling to the ground. Good thing she and Demeter snipped all the frost-sensitive herbs this morning and hung them up in the kitchen to dry.

Over the past six months, they've also banished apple blights, blessed grape arbors and wheat fields, celebrated the birth of lambs and calves, and attended about a thousand and one harvest festivals. Honestly, Persephone's sick of making fresh grapevine wreaths for her head every day. Switching those for one sturdy jeweled crown, which needs no maintenance except the occasional quick polish, is fine with her. Read more... )
mollyringle: (comet)
sirius

I'm not a good astronomer, only able to pick out a few constellations or individual stars. But Sirius is probably the one star I'd know just by looking at it even without Orion nearby to point the way. All stars twinkle, but Sirius glitters and flashes--red! blue! yellow! white! full spectrum! I stared at it a while last night, and when I pointed it out to my husband and said it could easily be mistaken for a plane due to its brightness and flashiness, he peered at it and said, "No, that *has* to be a plane...doesn't it?"

Then the Pleiades and Jupiter grouped up together in one of the skylights over the bed, so, thank you all around, clear winter skies.

Speaking of astronomy, did you know there are two, yes, TWO possibly brilliant comets coming in 2013? Comet PANSTARRS will be the more modest opening act in March, and the potentially dazzling Comet ISON is due for around November. Keep an eye on astronomy pages for details. (This blog seems dedicated to the comets in particular.)

Speaking of science in general, you could do a lot worse for a new year's resolution than this philosophy from Neil deGrasse Tyson:

degrasse tyson

Or maybe you just need something faux-literary and silly. Here you go.

poeboy
mollyringle: (books & pearls)
On the "fun yet business" side of things, go here to enter to win one of my ebooks, or any of the other contenders for "Best Ebooks Read by Andrea at the Reading Lark blog in 2011" (she named two of mine - hurray!) -

http://readinglark.blogspot.com/2011/12/goodbye-to-2011-giveaway-1.html

And, to look ahead to 2012, I suppose we all need to frame our resolutions. I have yet to fix on a really good one for next year. But if it helps, I will share with you the two absolute best New Year's resolutions I ever made. I don't remember the exact year of either of these, but they were from sometime in the past decade.

The first was no more getting into arguments online. Yes, that means no posting obnoxiously controversial opinions either.

The second, in a similar vein, was no more indulging in road rage. (I never discharged firearms at fellow drivers, but angry passing or speeding or swerving to "get back" at annoying drivers doesn't help any of us, especially ourselves, does it now?)

Sure, I slip up on both these counts from time to time. But even following them 90% of the time has led to a dramatic reduction of my stress and irritation levels. Imagine--just imagine--the widespread peace and harmony if everyone in the world adopted merely those two simple resolutions. For the first one, Internet traffic would probably drop by half. Or maybe the time spent in flame wars would be diverted into creating and laughing at LOLcats instead. Hey, that'd still be a global improvement on the whole.

But I cite those two resolutions because anger is my biggest flaw. I suppose if you have a different main flaw, you might draw more benefit from a different resolution. Share your own ideas if you like. Happy New Year, whatever you wish to start or stop doing!
mollyringle: (winters jewels)
2011, it would appear, has not been very nice to most of you. In fact, it's been cruel. Quite a few of you have lost a parent, or another relative, or a close friend, this year. Several more have had scary medical diagnoses, for yourselves or a loved one. And we won't even talk about finances.

Suffice to say, if you feel like you've been alone in your sufferings, believe me, you haven't been. There's a LOT of it going around. And aside from the "misery loves company" angle, you also haven't been alone in the sense of being unremembered. I, for one, have been thinking of you and feeling for you. And I am stepping up to demand of the Powers That Be: hey, Powers, make the bad luck leave the good people alone! Make 2012 better! Make things better NOW, in fact!

But, regardless of the answer the Powers have in store for us, we can take a moment and focus on the good things we do have. So, please, come here and do that. We can all bask in each other's good news for a change.

If you wish, you can start with the bad things ("Sucky Thing X happened this year, but..."), but you don't have to share that if you aren't comfortable. What I do want every commenter to share is something good that's happened to you lately. It can be small ("I made a pretty decent loaf of banana bread") or big ("Cushy new job with minimal hours and six-figure pay!!"). Whatever it is, we'll congratulate you.

So okay, here's mine. I have nothing grave to report from the year, thank goodness. My two little guys keep bringing home illnesses to set us back, but they've all remained at the nuisance-but-not-serious level; and though the kiddos annihilate my free time, they're intelligent and cute and hilarious and affectionate, and on the whole I'm very lucky. Plus right now I'm re-reading Middlemarch and watching Downton Abbey for the first time, both of which cast a lovely glow upon my life. And I'm making some delicious Southwest corn and sweet potato soup this evening.

Now you!
mollyringle: (kodama)
It isn't like me to post something creepy and sad with pretty much no hint of "cool" or "funny." But this is bizarrely riveting, and, initially, scary enough to make "The Blair Witch Project" look like the silly little joke that it is. As the clip's info explains: "The Aokigahara Forest is the most popular site for suicides in Japan. After the novel Kuroi Jukai was published, in which a young lover commits suicide in the forest, people started taking their own lives there at a rate of 50 to 100 deaths a year."

Yikes.

So. These are two segments of a short Japanese TV documentary, each about 10 minutes. (Warning: not highly graphic, but certainly disturbing content.)

When I watched the first section -
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CK1KdAha78
- I was mostly just creeped out.

But after moving on and watching the second section -
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1eXOXYI3bc
- I settled down to a general sadness, and a great fondness for the kindly geologist with this strange and vital job of sweeping the forest to prevent suicides when he can, and find the ones he couldn't prevent.

Since we're on the subject, I'd like to share the wise words of Ed Chigliak from "Northern Exposure":
"Suicide's not the Indian way. Don't go where you're not invited. Know what I mean?"
A good rule. Make it yours too, my friends.

Edit: For further reading, this blogger traveled to Aokigahara and wrote a detailed account of his journey, complete with some photos and videos. A very chilling and sobering place indeed, and a brave traveler.
mollyringle: (Kimberley)
Some years spring comes gently and gracefully. Other years, like this one, it seems we have to fight endlessly for it through snow, slush, mud, wind, and rain. Currently, I long for spring and am wanting to throttle winter. So I wrote this. Other than a mood piece or a really weird short-short story, I'm not sure what you'd call it. But I call it...

PERSEPHONE DIGS HERSELF OUT

Persephone treads the stone passageway under the earth. The jewels in her crown, belt, and sandals light the path for her, surrounding her with a gentle white glow, like those little lights humans string on their houses at winter solstice. (She's never up there that time of year, of course, but she's seen pictures.)

The solstice was three months ago. She's done now with the winter half of the year. She's arranged and co-hosted the Underworld holiday party, supervised all the clean-up, and personally written the thank-you notes. (Honestly, did Hades ever help with those? Good thing he has broad shoulders and a world of jewels to recommend him--and the attractive habit of not talking much.)

Hours ago she locked up her winter wardrobe, kissed her husband goodbye, and set off. She passed the three-headed dog, who whined and yipped and jumped up to lay his heavy paws on her shoulders. She sent him into a stern Down-Stay, scratched all six of his ears, and moved on. She exited the hundred-foot-high gates of the Underworld, wiggled through the dense crowd of ghastly and sad and excited souls crowding for entrance, and set out on the lonely road that sloped gradually upward. A glowing soul, or a regular living cave insect, has sometimes crossed her path, but otherwise it has been nothing but her and the cool black rocks.

Now she feels grit beneath her sandals. Soon it turns to soft soil, and then squishy wet dirt. The smell of earth and mold fills her nose. Before long her foot splashes in a shallow puddle, sloshing cold water over her foot. "Crap," she mutters. She lifts her skirts out of the way and continues forward in the increasing muck, her glowing jewels reflected and twinkling in the puddles. As she advances, the walls of the cave narrow and the ceiling lowers until she has to stoop to keep from hitting her head.

Finally she finds herself at the end of the tunnel: a complete blockage in the form of a huge tangle of tree roots. They corkscrew down from above, covered with grime and dripping with chilly water.

Persephone stops with a sigh, looking up at the gnarly hunk of roots and earth. "I hate this part," she says, then takes a deep breath and ducks into the tangle.

She reaches up, fingers parting the roots to make room for her head. Taking hold of two sturdy, slimy roots, she hauls her body upward into the knot of dirt. She dislodges mud and groundwater, which splatter onto her hair and gown and face. Wincing, she mutters a lively curse Hermes once taught her (in Ancient Greek, even), and pushes her arms further upward into the wet clump. As she fights her way higher, the pressure of roots and earth squeezes her tighter. Pebbles and clods of dirt tumble down the back of her gown and lodge against her rear. Worms and insects crawl over her hands and feet. The roots score scratches in her arms and tear at the hem of her gown. Soil and dead leaves fall into her eyes and land on her lips; she grunts and spits them out, and continues to struggle up--painfully, slowly, up.

Just as she's wondering if this is finally the year some other bastard god or bitch goddess has played a mean trick on her and gotten her trapped in some endless hole, her fingers break through the surface. Through the narrow fissure, white daylight pours onto her skin. With a gust of relief, she shoves one foot against one root, her other foot against another, and stretches both arms into the free air.

Persephone hauls the rest of her body out of the earth and collapses on her back, coughing the dirt out of her lungs, and gulping down the cold fresh air. She's shivering convulsively. Beneath her crackles a crust of snow on top of a carpet of dead leaves. The sky, sensing her presence, parts its clouds and lets the sun spear a beam down onto her. The brightness and hint of warmth make her open her eyes, though she has to shield them for a moment against the glare. She casts a look around from her position on the ground. Beside her rises the massive oak whose roots she just battled. Around her is a forest of similar trees, their branches rising bare and their feet in the snow. Still, her arrival brightens the colors even as she glances about--tree buds swell and turn a deeper red, wildflower bulbs send their green spikes an inch higher, the earliest tiny leaves on a shrub unfurl in brilliant chartreuse.

She drops her hand and looks straight at the sun. "There you are. You'd better warm this place up. It's fricking freezing."

She sits up, and heaves herself to her feet, shaking dirt out of her skirts. "Ugh." She examines her clothes, arms, feet, and hair (which has completely come loose from its tidy twist and is matted with grime now). Her tongue finds a fleck of dead leaf stuck inside her lip, and she spits it out. Where her saliva lands, a clump of daffodils springs up and blooms, delighted to receive such honors.

Persephone plants her hands on her hips and addresses the sun again. "Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to take a nice long bath in the hot springs, get a massage, and put on a clean gown. Then I'm going to come back out here and start taking care of things. You need to have all this--" She kicks at the crust of snow. "--cleared away by the time I get back. Understood?"

The clouds pull farther away from the sun, letting it shine brighter. Simultaneously, a gentle rain begins to fall, melting the patches of snow.

"That's better." Persephone turns and begins walking toward the rainbow that's appeared beyond the nearest hill. "Also, if you didn't get me a cute massage guy this time, we will have storms of trouble."

In obedience to the goddess of spring, thunder rumbles from dark clouds on the horizon, backing up her threat--but keeping its distance until she should give her orders. As she walks, violets sprout in every spot that her dirty, cold, scratched feet touch the earth.
mollyringle: (sepia)
Things I've given up in recent years that I don't particularly miss:

Most of my hair products
Getting into arguments online (yes, email counts)
Cute but uncomfortable shoes
Seeing movies in the cinema
Watching violent or depressing movies
Keeping up with the news

I could also make a list of things I've given up that I do miss and hope to have again someday, but I'm focusing on the positive here. Comfort and simplicity are of the good.

Humor, meanwhile, is always good. So enjoy this inspired blend of Weird Al and Doctor Who, in which it is proven that David Tennant's Doctor is, indeed, white and nerdy. No wonder I loved him!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-4_kvxPBYY

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