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Reader Q&A: Trainers, Valentine’s, and Sana!

Since yesterday I’ve been asked by several people who my trainer is.  His name is Bash (here’s his instagram feed), and it’s not an exaggeration to say that he really turned my health around.  I talked yesterday about being intimidated by exercise, but let me elaborate:  I wasn’t just intimidated, I was overwhelmed.  Walking into a gym meant confronting every body issue, every childhood instance of being bullied, a lifetime of being told and believing that I wasn’t capable of being physically strong.  And yeah, when I was a kid, I had terrible knees, and that didn’t help.  PE class hurt, and not in that “oooo, my muscles are burning so good” sort of way.

Hey, though, my knees still hurt — the difference now is that I push through because I know I can, because I know that my limits, and my ability to grow, have not been maxed out.  And having had a taste of what I can achieve with my body, I want to keep pushing myself for more.  It feels like magic sometimes.

But if I’d started out with a coach who wasn’t quite the right fit, it would have taken me a lot longer to get to this point.  I got lucky with Bash.  He recognized that I was not advanced in…shall we say, the ways of the Force (my athletic midichlorian levels were almost nonexistent), and so, like a good Jedi, he started out small, but persistently kept pushing me to do more.  Like a Ben Kenobi, as opposed to being trained by Darth Sidious.

It’s the little wins, guys.  I can’t run worth shit, and my plank positions still look more like trembling triangles than sturdy flat lines, but hey!  Progress!

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In the comments of an earlier blog post, James asked: I’ve just received Monstress, Issue #8 and devoured it–sorta like the Monster, I suppose. The story and artwork simply never get old. I wanted to inquire as to how the artwork’s done. Is it done traditionally, paper/pencil/ink–maybe Chinese stick ink? Or is it done digitally?

I’ve sat beside Sana while she sketches with pen and paper — and it’s honest-to-god a thing of beauty, watching her pencil.  She’s so effortlessly amazing.  But Monstress is completely digital.

Here’s a sketch she made while we were on tour after SDCC.

Beautiful, right?  Wait until you see #10, out in a couple weeks.  My author copies just arrived.

 

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Finally, Happy Valentine’s Day!   Every day is Valentine’s Day, if we’re talking about celebrating each other, and being grateful for love.  Love and friendship and family, and the blessings of all of these things.

I saw this image…I thought at first it was a hoax, but I researched, and it seems to be real.  It’s a photo from a 1972 excavation in Iran.  The 2800 year old couple, male and female, were likely asphyxiated during a fire (the hole in the skull came from the dig), and yes, it looks like they’re kissing.  Or at least, holding each other, right to the end.

Waaaaaah.

Coping mechanisms

For the last couple years I’ve been making a concerted effort to exercise more, for the simple reason that I sit all day on a couch or desk, hunched over a laptop, and after years and years of doing that without much of a break, my body started to hurt.  Neck, back, shoulders — everything.  If I had a deadline, like clockwork I’d wake up some morning unable to turn my head — my jaw tight, pain radiating up and down my back into my skull.  Tension, bad posture, muscle weakness, you name it.  I’d take a bunch of Motrin, then keep working while resting in bed, propped up on pillows.

Now, you have to understand, I was that kid who hated gym, who always came in last in all the physical tests, never got picked for the team, blah, blah, blah.  Running a mile was a death sentence (still kind of is), a sit-up was out of the question, climbing stairs from the basement to the first floor made my legs burn with a serious hell no.  I liked to sit and eat and read and take easy (very easy) walks.  If you’d asked me then, or ten years ago, five years ago, if I could ever see myself regularly working out, I would have laughed in your face.

But…but…something had to change.  My health sucked.  I didn’t like being in pain.  Also, I’m getting older.  That mattered, too.

I decided to work with a trainer (because I didn’t know what to do, how to begin, how to even use a machine at the gym).  I started walking more, taking the stairs instead of the elevator.  I was always afraid, stupidly, that exercise would make the pain worse — when, in fact, just the opposite happened.  Movement was the best medicine of all.

It’s been almost three years of focused, regular, work — but I’m almost never in pain anymore (unless you count my aging knees), my neck doesn’t lock up, my back feels strong.  It’s a good feeling.  Great, even. And it startles me, sometimes, how much better I feel — even compared to my twenty-year old self.

It’s also incredibly useful, in times of stress, to focus on the body instead of the mind.  That’s something I never thought much about — how exercise has a calming effect.  Folks would say that to me, but it didn’t make sense — until I started working out.  And now, more than ever, I need distractions, I need calm.  Not, for once, because of my writing — but because of everything happening in our country.

Coping mechanisms.  Which leads me to this morning.  There’s a place down the street where you can take spinning classes.  I had no clue what that was, I thought it meant actual spinning (hahaha). And then I found out that spinning refers to stationary bike-riding.  But with loud music.  I was like, “Cool, I’ll try something new.  I got this.”  So this morning I signed up for a 7 am class.

Yoooooooooo what.  WHAT.

First of all, there was no whining, crying, or quitting — but damn.  WTF is this?  What is this arcane fusion of shadowy neon dance club and stationary biking?  Biking where you’re never supposed to actually sit down?!  And why did everyone act so happy to be there?!

Let’s just say that if my goal was to get fit AND be distracted, spinning was A++.  But beyond that, the best part of those 45 minutes-going-on-eternity was our coach screaming, over and over, “YOU’RE A BADASS BITCH! BADASS BITCHES RIDE HARD! RIIIDE!”

I confess that being called a badass bitch did not actually make me ride harder. But I did start laughing and my feet slipped off the pedals and I almost fell off my bike into the woman next to me.

Yes, stay smooth.

This isn’t meant to be some infomercial on why folks should stay active.  More like, making changes in our lives, even ones that are intimidating, can have real benefits.  I was super intimidated by exercise.  I still kind of am.  I lived my whole life being told, and believing, that I wasn’t that person.

But I was also told that writing wasn’t a real job, that readers wouldn’t buy romance novels written by Chinese writers, that women don’t read comics, or write them…and I shrugged and just kept plugging along.  Being able to climb a flight of stairs without feeling like a walking heart attack is simply part of that larger journey.

Also, don’t forget, a good distraction.

 

Food porn, politics, and cats

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
– James Baldwin

I never used to talk much about politics.  But the world doesn’t become a better place through inaction, or by putting our heads in the sand and pretending there’s nothing wrong.  Even if we don’t see eye to eye, that’s okay — but there are very real ways we should all unite around a future built on common decency.  We’re stuck on this little world, together — we’re all we’ve got.  Let’s be excellent to one another.  Let’s remember how fragile democracy really is.  Freedom isn’t a given.  It has to be protected, tended, championed.

That said, I need a different outlet where I can remind myself of the things I love — where I can discharge some of this nervous energy that can’t be transmitted in 140 characters or less.  And I suddenly remembered tonight that, hey, I’ve got this thing called a blog.  Gee whiz.

We’re all writing in the long form via Twitter — only now it’s called a thread.  I love reading threads, the immediacy of them, the serialized argument staged in fragments.  Reminds me of law school, in a way — how I would break down my thoughts around a problem, bit by bit.

But sometimes you don’t want to think about making words fit on the canvas…sometimes you just want to write and write.  About nonsense.  About food.  About cleaning out your closet, or publishing, and comics, and the weather.  Or about books.  Or race and sexuality and feminism.

About anything.

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Lately, my twitter feed has been nothing but politics and food porn.  I read an article recently where a doctor suggested that taking lots of food photos can indicate a mental illness; it suggests the food or the restaurant matters more than the company you’re with; that it’s a fetish; an obsession.

I mean, okay.  Maybe that’s all true.  Or maybe sometimes you’re like, “Damn, that piece of avocado looks real juicy and I need to show my mom.”  Or maybe you’re really loving the experience of having a meal with someone you love, and part of that experience is the food you share.  Or maybe you’re trying out a restaurant for the first time and your friends are like, “PICTURES OMG.”  Or maybe, sometimes, food is comforting — maybe you like to eat, damn it — and a good meal is part of the diary you keep (like, “…on Tuesday I negotiated a stand-off between a grizzly and the local school board; and then, a burger.”).

Whatever.  When you’re a writer and spend your days inside ALL THE TIME ALL YEAR ROUND — forcing yourself to leave the house is kind of essential.  Meal time is good for that.  Also, our kitchen is tiny, so cooking is a pain.

Here’s tonight’s spread (or part of it).  In other news, I like fish.

I hope wherever you are, wherever you’re reading this, you’re safe and warm, with a good book or loved one nearby.  I’m all tucked in, ready for a long night of work — there’s a two-tailed cat that needs some adventuring.

Information Love

Things I had to look up today (so far — the day is still young) for writing-related research:

1. loincloths (for women)
2.  kopi luwak (cat poop coffee; processed in the bowls of the civet and harvested from their feces)
3.  bears

This is all very, very tame.  I think most writers probably earn a spot on some government watch-list for our online searches; mine have included everything from making bombs to assembling guns, disposing of bodies, bull-riding, giving birth in the wilderness by yourself (I discovered there’s an actual reality show about just this thing, which is a little too much nature, thank you), how much sperm a dragon might produce, setting broken legs, determining how long it would take to starve on the open sea, various infectious diseases (such as lycanthropy), how many mice would it take to make a fur hat, mermaid sex, spontaneous combustion —  you know, normal stuff.

Google is magnificent for this sort of thing.  So are libraries and librarians, but some questions are more embarrassing than others.  From the list above, I think you can probably guess which ones I’d rather not discuss out loud.

All of which matters only because, as writers — and, hopefully, for non-writers as well — there’s no such thing as too little curiosity.  In fact, the more curiosity, and the weirder it is, the better.  You never know what’s going to be useful. And don’t wait until you have an idea, either. I love used bookstores (well, any bookstore), and prowling the non-fiction sections — history, science, etc — for all the fascinating and incredibly specific subjects that some lovely individual(s) researched the hell out of.  Whether it’s the history of salt or the class politics of shopping malls in Latin America, fill your head with information.  Read the newspaper.  Watch documentaries.

Research can spark inspiration, just as much as inspiration necessitates research.  It’s part of the fun of creating worlds and characters, and stories!

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Staying organized (and nostalgic)

I used to blog a lot more than I do now — I blame Twitter, of course.  It’s easy to jot down a quick message in 140 characters, and then I hate to repeat myself here:  it’s a bit redundant.  But today I was flipping through my first blog, Web Petals, which I started writing waaaay back in 2003.  Remember Livejournal?  I mean, Livejournal still exists and plenty of folks use it, but it’s been a while for me — and I’d forgotten some of the features I loved.  Like those fun icons that would go with my posts.  Here are some of my favorites that were always showing up at the blog.  Some of them I made, others I picked up from sites where designers posted icons for public use.

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Anyway, so there I am feeling nostalgic, and I stumble upon an old post of mine, back from 2009 — a New Year’s resolution. To get more organized.  It made me laugh.

My own organizational skills are notoriously bad. Dreadful. Pathetic. Crummy. Maybe sad. I do, however, have a yearly planner, because there’s too much going on not to make an effort. I make a list of all the things I have to write for the year, and then go through and mark the dates. I’m good at marking dates and making lists. I love lists! So much fun. I feel very productive. Especially when I get to cross something off. Give me a gold star for effort, baby.  Seriously, though — I need whatever structure I can give myself. I write a lot.

Not much has changed. I still love lists.  The difference after all these years, however, is that I’ve learned how not to be overwhelmed by my lists.  You can see above — I’d make lists for THE WHOLE YEAR.  I’d set deadlines for myself that I wouldn’t meet, and then get disheartened.  It was all with good intentions, but it wasn’t actually productive.

Now?  I make teeny bite-sized lists that are all about the present, the immediate future, no more than a week or two out — and it’s all part of a conscious effort to not feel overwhelmed.

This is my calendar (see below).  I’m not showing a page with actual lists because there would be way too many spoilers on it (sorry), but what I love about this calendar (a Lena Corwin Deskpad) is that it allows me to see the full week,  every day, all at once — and the columns aren’t big enough for me to go crazy with too much work.  I keep it small, I keep it essential.  Monday?  Maybe there’s a dentist appointment, an interview, and a certain number of pages I need to write.  Tuesday?  Could be more pages, plus a few emails I need to address.  You get the drift.  A little bit each day.

Some people have digital calendars — that’s cool.  I like writing things down.  Whatever works is fine, but keep it simple, especially if you’re someone who gets overwhelmed (like I do — and it doesn’t take much, trust me).  The hardest part about this job is that as writers we have to stay self-motivated — all the time.  Especially when deadlines are always around the corner.  Organization is part of that process, knowing what needs to be done, and when; trying to manage all the moving parts of being a writer.  I don’t always do a great job with it, but I keep trying to improve — and this calendar and my little teeny manageable lists are part of that.

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