Comfort Reads for Troubled Times

Some days it feels like the world is really going downhill. Natural disasters (as I write this, Texas and India are still recovering from massive floods, large chunks of western North America are on fire, and another hurricane is gearing up to hit some vulnerable islands on the way to Florida), politics (’nuff said), bad days on a personal level…and if they all combine, watch out!

On days like this, one of the best cures is a comfort read. Simply defined: it’s a book you pick up because you know it will make you feel better. It’s by a favourite and trusted author. You’ve probably read it before (perhaps many times), or else you’ve been looking forward to reading it (maybe it’s a new installment in a series you love). Maybe you discovered it at an impressionable age and love it beyond all reason even though you know it’s not objectively the best book ever. It has stood the test of time…at least for you.

What books qualify as comfort reads? Obviously, the answer to that is very personal. Some people might crave works that are light and funny, or sweet and romantic, or even dark, so that they feel less alone.

Here are some of mine…

The Lord of the Rings

Yup, I’m one of those people. *grins* I’ve read the books multiple times. Most of those times were long ago, but I’m slowly rereading them now, and let me tell you, it’s a bit weird revisiting them for …

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(Actually) Netflix and (Actually) Chill

I’ve been watching a lot (too much) of Netflix lately. I love documentaries, and they have a good number of things I want to see. And some of the “reality” shows… Here are some things distracting me from my brain of late.

Dino Hunt–two teams of paleontologists in different locations try to get an excavation done before the rains come, the tide rises, it’s time for the students to go back to school–some deadline, whatever they can come up with. It’s narrated like it’s a competition, but really it’s just interesting. Oh, and it’s all set in Canada. And Dan Aykroyd narrates it. The episode in the Bay of Fundy is especially cool. Site of (they said, I haven’t checked) the highest tides in the world, they had ten days to get their digging done. The one guy was collecting dinosaur tracks. Footprints, from a hundred million years ago…

Reno My Reno–people buy (mostly) cottages on lakes, start renovations and one way or another get in over their heads. Dave and his team come in and save the day. I like it because it’s reminiscent of my favorite home improvement show ever, In a Fix. They send off one part of the couple (in one show it was a friend of the single mom who had been trying to help with the fixes) and keep the other to teach them how to do the work that’s needed. I like it because they’re not doing fancy stuff like a lot of …

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Beating Writer’s Block…Again

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m prone to long periods of not writing fiction. These tend to be accompanied by self-flagellation and an existential crisis: if I’m not writing, who am I? Then comes depression (or sometimes that happens first), which makes it even harder to write, and round and round I go.

The only way to break the cycle is to start putting down some words.

This, obviously, is easier said than done. It’s intimidating, especially if you’ve been away from the blank page for a while.

In the past I’ve tried fanfiction, though it’s not normally my thing, or played around with a completely different genre–not to try selling, just to play with. This time, since the beginning of the year, I’ve gone through several different stages. It’s working, so I thought I’d share…

1. First I resurrected my own blog. It’s not fiction, and doesn’t completely fill a need for me in the way writing fiction does. But I do blog with an audience in mind, and putting together coherent opinion pieces or travel posts is good practice in writing down the words, finishing a piece, and shipping.

2. Then I branched out from non-fiction and started writing the smallest possible thing every day. On some days, they were fragments of stories that didn’t and probably won’t go any further, but mostly they were haikus. I’m not trying to become a published poet, so I was writing …

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The “You Can’t Do It” Voices

Tell me if this sounds familiar…

I have a brain that persists in telling me that I am Doing It Wrong and that Everyone Else Is More Capable Than You and also that This Is Hard and You Can’t Do It, Ha Ha. What is “This”? Sometimes it’s writing. Sometimes it’s my day job. Sometimes it’s adulting.

I would just like to register, for the record, some recent evidence to the contrary. Since I’ve blogged before about how the brain-voices relate to writing, this time I’ll focus on other parts of Life.

Exhibit 1: The Day Job

I’ve held the same job for nearly 12 years. Parts of it I’m really good at. Other parts still make me flail around. But on the whole, my You Can’t Do It voices have learned to be quiet more often than not. Then, last fall, my boss asked me to train with a co-worker who was retiring, so I could hold down the fort until she could be replaced. Her position doesn’t have much overlap with mine; I don’t really have the background for the job. To make things trickier, I still needed to do my regular job too (luckily we were able to shift around some of the workload and responsibilities). Cue the voices, loud and clear. But saying no wasn’t an option. I said yes.

So far, I haven’t made any horrible mistakes that cost lots of money. I’ve kept things going, mostly. It’s been a scramble sometimes, …

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Mental Health for the Holidays

I think November’s been tough on a lot of us, and December isn’t necessarily any easier. Personally, besides the obvious stressors, I’ve also had a truly hectic month at work and came down with two colds in quick succession. Seems like a good time to review self-care. So here are some reminders, for myself as much as for you all…

1. Take the time to do something you love.

I was lucky enough to attend not one but two contra (folk dance) weekends away from home in November. Lots of exercise, friends, wonderful live music, the state of flow, and a natural high, not to mention the excitement of a road trip. (Of course, that’s probably also where I picked up both of those colds. Argh.)

2. Do something creative. If you’re a creative professional (like a writer), do something else creative.

I’m a big believer in “creative cross-training”. We writers love to talk craft and work on improving our craft, which is important. But it’s also important to go and try something else — something that doesn’t have the same stakes and expectations attached. For me right now, it’s Instagram, contra dance, and occasionally tinkering in the kitchen.

3. Try something new.

At one of the aforementioned dance weekends, I got to try English Country Dancing (a cousin to contra) and swing dance, both new to me (swing dancing has footwork, ack, but the music is so much fun…). At the other, I got to try dancing …

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Mental Health Breaks and Mini-Staycations

Have you ever come back from a vacation and immediately felt like you needed another one? Or has it been a while since you’ve had one?

If you’re anything like me, you fall into habit during your non-vacationing life. Maybe you have a favourite coffee shop, or a park or a restaurant you love. Returning over and over again to places you enjoy is comforting, for sure. I do it a lot. But don’t underestimate the power of novelty for R&R.

Last weekend was my wedding anniversary. We took the opportunity to go on a mini-staycation, just the two of us. It was a lot of fun, and it wasn’t particularly expensive. We had dinner at a new-to-us steakhouse chain, went home instead of staying at a hotel, then the next morning, ventured into a trendy neighbourhood we don’t usually frequent, and wandered down the street and picked a restaurant for brunch at random (why yes, we are slightly addicted to Yelp, why do you ask?). Good choice, too – they had delicious house-smoked bacon!

That particular street was full of fancy/trendy furniture stores, so we poked around a few and drooled at all the gorgeous reclaimed wood and designer tables. We’re not even in the market for new furniture, and a lot of what we saw wouldn’t fit in our tiny rooms anyway (giant harvest table? uh, no), but window-shopping was fun! On our way back we picked up some bright yellow potted chrysanthemums to decorate our front steps …

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