Sleep, The Final Frontier

Clearly this baby isn’t me. For one, it’s sleeping.
Photo by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash

The other day my mom shared a story with me. When I was a baby they needed to have me sleep in a different place for the night. I was just old enough to climb up and peek out of the crib, which, while adorable, can quickly turn into a parent’s nightmare when several hours pass and baby still refuses to lay down and asleep. Apparently I didn’t sleep the entire night and stood peeking out of the crib waiting to be rescued.

Knowing my tendencies, that doesn’t surprise me one bit. Growing up, I was the kid who was always the last to fall asleep at sleepovers, if I slept at all. I never could sleep well when camping, and the first night in a hotel anywhere meant a night of tossing and turning.

Everyone agrees that sleep is important. A bad night’s sleep can wreck an entire day. It cuts back productivity, drains energy, and makes us less able to cope well with stressful situations.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

As an adult, and especially as a parent, I’ve hit new exciting milestones of being tired that I’d never imagined. One day, when it had been several weeks since I’d had a decent nights sleep due to not one, not two, but three kids taking turns keeping me awake at night, I forgot how stoplights worked and who’s turn it was. I had no clue which way I needed to look to make sure I wouldn’t be plowed into.

That marked a turning point in my adult life to start learning how to get better sleep. I studied every article I could get my hands on to learn about scheduling, meditation, exercise, vitamins and supplements. I became more proactive about my kids sleep schedules and my expectations for them to stay in bed. I took back my night.

Most nights at least are okay these days.

It’s turned into a delicate balancing act. If I haven’t had my walk that day. or if it’s fall or winter and I haven’t used my happy light enough, or if I’ve forgotten to take my vitamins, or if I’ve got a lot on my mind or an unresolved problem, those bad nights still come, but much further apart than they used to.

My attitude about having a bad night has changed as well. Now it means I can go down to my office and spend a few hours working at my computer or reading in the silence of a sleeping house. Sometimes I catch up on YouTube videos.

I wouldn’t wish poor sleep on anyone. It’s disruptive, it means I’m tired during the day, and sometimes it makes me angry. But, had it not been for insomnia, I wouldn’t have turned into a voracious reader as a kid. When you’re too tired to cause havoc around the house, reading is a great alternative.

I’d even go as far as saying that if I didn’t have insomnia, I wouldn’t be a writer today.

If you find yourself struggling with sleep, I totally understand. There’s no easy solution and I wish there was. But, there are things that can help and it’s worth it to learn about your specific needs then make steps to work toward better sleep.

How do you feel about sleep? Do you sleep easily, or do you struggle? Let’s talk about it in the comments.


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Lessons Learned from Buying a Used Elliptical

We’ve all done stupid things. Buying a used elliptical sounded so smart at the time. I was saving money, ensuring my wintertime happiness, and also giving my kiddos another outlet to burn off extra energy. Then reality bit me in the butt.

Let’s back up a minute. Last week I talked about the importance of taking walks to help clear my head and deal with anxiety. While walking is indeed the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to do this, the winter months are coming and the idea of walking outside during a blizzard or dreary freezing wind is not appealing in the least.

So, I had a brilliant idea – find a cheap elliptical that I could use on days when the weather is nasty and get in my exercise that way. As an added bonus, I could totally watch Netflix while working out – win.

Bad elliptical, go sit in time out and think about what you did. If you’re lucky, you won’t be a coat rack in the future.

For those of you who are experienced fitness machine users, yeah, feel free to laugh at me from this point forward. So many mistakes…

I found what looked like a great deal on a solid looking elliptical – $30 dollars and everything worked fine. We took it home at set it in the center of our family room to let the kiddos goof off on it. If anything was going to break, I’d rather it happen sooner than later and kids make excellent testing subjects. They hung on it, tried it two at a time, adjusted the built in fan, and made sure the heart rate monitor was accurate.

Even better, they didn’t break it.

What they did reveal is that it was a bit squeaky and thumpy. My goal, remember, was to be able to use it while watching TV. Being the uber-handy person I am, I decided it would be a great idea to lube the thing up and get rid of the excess noise. I looked up a Youtube tutorial, hubby bought some plastic-safe grease, and we went to town.

I’m one of those people who love taking things apart and putting them back together. It is very gratifying to fix stuff so it works better. Even better, hubby feels the same way. Usually. We lubed literally every joint and friction point just to be sure this new addition to our family could be as good as it be. If we’re going to do it, might as well do it as good as we can.

And it worked and ran as smooth as butter. For 30 glorious seconds.

Funny thing about moving parts, some don’t like to be slippery. In our haste to finish the job, we used a spray lubricant to reach a few places not thinking much about the drips. Those drips made their way under the tensioning belt and made the whole thing slip off.

Using and elliptical without a tensioning belt is WAY more exciting that I’m up for. There’s no friction at all and if you work hard enough you can cut a portal into another dimension. I think one of my kids summoned a minor demon as they cranked their way to infinity – and beyond! His name is Floyd and he now lives under my 7-year-old’s bed.

Did I mention that not only was this elliptical a great deal, but it is quite possibly the cheapest home elliptical known to man? We stripped screws, snapped plastic bits, and (possibly) swore more times than normally allowed in a home with younger kids. To fix the tensioning belt, we took that whole thing back apart and degreased all those essential frictiony bits to the best of our ability.

And put it all back together again…

And enjoyed another 30 glorious seconds of smooth silent operation…

Before the #(@&)#ing belt slipped off again.

Guess who gets to learn the finer points of how to properly retension an elliptical belt this weekend?

This gal, right here.

Yay.

The moral of this story is to research before you buy, don’t be too cheap, and for heaven’s sake, be careful where you spray lube!

Arrrg, Matey! When in doubt, use the white stuff. Smells like an old amusement park.

The real life lesson is never give up. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Stuff takes longer than expected. A great deal turns out not so great. Getting mad doesn’t fix anything. Whatever you do, keep trying. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Does anyone want to adopt Floyd? He keeps the youngest up at night with his cute demon snores.


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That Time I got Schooled at a Book Club

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

There is a special joy found in talking about fiction and books and ideas with other people who love to do the same thing. As an author, sometimes we even get to go to book clubs and hang out and discuss our own books. Is it a little scary? Yes. Here’s a group of smart people who have their own very distinct view of what makes the perfect book and they want to ask you questions about the one you wrote.

I’ve only done it once.

And I got schooled.

That’s a touch misleading, let me back up. For the most part, the discussion was both interesting and safe. We discussed my journey as a writer, what other works I’ve written, where my ideas come from, all the usual stuff. There was a brief discussion on what my thoughts were on women writing male characters, which led me to assume I might have done it badly, as well as how fantasy is distinct from other genres.

All of those topics are ones I’m super comfortable with because I’ve already explored and talked about all of them in one way or another, some here on the blog. Then I did the dumb.

I got on my soapbox.

The question was something along the lines of, “What’s the hardest part of writing a book?”

My answer in the moment – marketing. But no, I couldn’t just leave it there like a normal person now, could I?

Photo by William Moreland on Unsplash

I started on the whole, for the price of a fancy drink at one of those cute soda stores you could buy a book. The drink will last maybe an hour whereas a book will give hours of entertainment. The majority of authors are struggling to sell their works that they’ve spent years on. I did the math and currently I get paid something like $0.0012 an hour if you take the total number of hours I estimate I spent on writing and editing my first book compared to what I’ve made on it so far. Novel writing is not for the faint of heart my friends.

It was a passionate rant for people to buy more books and support their favorite local authors and it was super thoughtless.

Then came the schooling.

“But Jodi, you’re forgetting that people’s time is valuable. Buying a book means committing hours to reading it. It’s not the price that keeps people from buying more books, but how much available time they have to read them. I’m very selective about the books I buy because my time is valuable. “

Mic drop.

Photo by William Moreland on Unsplash

She’s absolutely right. I’d only weighed my need to sell books against people’s ability to pay for them. I’d forgotten about how everyone leads full and busy lives, just like I do. I maybe purchase a book for myself every few months and get the rest through the library because I like audiobooks. Guess what? So do most people.

The moral of this story? Don’t assume people want to buy your stuff simply because it’s inexpensive and you’ve spent lots of time making it.


Hey, if you want me to come hang out with your book club, all you have to do is ask! Find my contact info in the About Me tab.


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Interview with Aaron Cance

Sometimes happy accidents are the best ones. I needed a friendly bookstore that would help me with an author event. Having a small hoard of authors to ask opinions from, the overwhelming reply was that I had to get to know today’s guest, Aaron Cance, owner of the Printed Garden in Sandy, and all around awesome guy.

In fact, Aaron and I got on so well, I held my book release party in his store and we’ve buddied up at various events ever since.

I’d love to introduce all my lovely readers to him. On to the interview!

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

First things first, let’s start with a getting to know you question. Share a bit about yourself, including the two things you’d bring to a deserted island.

The easiest way to answer this will be to tie the two parts of the question together. With the exception of about fifteen years of my life that I was lucky to get out of alive, I’ve mostly been pretty introverted so I would probably take a couple books along with me.  They would have to be books that I’d want to spend a whole lot of time with. One would be my Holy Bible and the other would have to be something like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man or Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.  Books that defy a single read and must be reread and reread and untangled over time.

Those who know you, know of your passion for books and supporting local authors. What was the defining moment when you decided to own your own bookstore? 

Most of my life has revolved around books and reading.  Even when I was very young, we didn’t have very much money and not a whole lot of furniture, but there were always books in the house.  Outside of school, I started with a healthy addiction to comic books that transitioned right into the limited pool of young adult books that were available in the 1970s and then right into science fiction and horror.  Then a period of not reading very much for a while.  Simply put, after a while I realized that my life had some empty corners, that something really satisfying and meaningful was missing.  I eventually realized that it was the pleasure that I took from reading so pledged to start building a library for myself.

Then school.  That sense of something missing led to the realization that if I didn’t want to work on factory floors or in distribution centers my entire life, that I’d better go back to college.  I could chase a degree that would allow me to read for occupation, as well as for pleasure in the evenings.  This also led to my first bookstore job in 1996, and I’ve never done any other type of work since.  After working for Crossroad Books in Wisconsin, I started my own online business brokering the sale of rare and signed books, and did pretty well with that.  Eventually we moved to Utah for graduate school and I worked for Barnes and Noble, Ken Sanders Rare Books, and The King’s English.  I think it was at The King’s English that the seed to open my own shop germinated.  I was trying, for quite a while, to work my way into a management position there but hit a certain point where I realized that it wasn’t going to happen, so started plotting my own store, which was the logical alternative.

Of all the books you’ve encountered, what’s the one that impacted you the most?

I can probably trace different formative events in my life back to books.  I think the one that had the single most profound impact on me, an impact that has lasted to this very day, was Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.  I wont try to unpack all the reasons that Ellison had for writing it here, but it affected me on a number of different levels.  First and foremost, it’s a novel about the voyage of self-discovery.  I think a lot of people are not happy in life because they’re either not happy with who they are or they don’t know who they are or want to be.  Invisible Man plumbs the depths of these questions pretty seriously, including going so far as to consider what your place in and relationship to history is or will be.  It was a novel about black identity, but is, in the most basic sense, just a novel about identity in general.  On a mechanical level, it had a profound influence on the way I both appreciate writing and on how I write myself.  Ellison was a master word-smith.  It’s not an easy book, but I honestly think that anyone who’s serious about writing (in any genre) would do themselves an enormous service by working through Invisible Man.  Ellison was concerned with his narrative, but also with the way that words sounded together on the page, the way the worked together, the musicality and rhythm of language.  He was making music – but he was doing it with the written word.

Many might not know this about you, but you’re also working on writing a book. What can you tell us about it?

Right now, I’m finishing up what I think will be the last round of revision work on my second novel.  I’m pretty excited about it because my first took just over ten years and I think that it’s pretty much unpublishable.  I’m really proud of it, but having been in the book industry as long as I have, don’t really know that there’s a market for it.  The one that I’m finishing up now is much more straightforward, and just a terrific story with, i feel, really strong commercial potential.  As soon as I put the finishing touches on it, I’ll be looking about for an agent for it.  I have a couple leads, but those can come and go pretty quickly, so I’m probably looking at about another 6 months of finding a good agent.  If nothing happens with it within a year’s time of what I’d consider it’s completion, I’ll probably publish and market it myself because that a considerably more viable means of publication today than it ever has been before.

I ask this question to everyone – what’s the most interesting item you have in your writing space and what’s the story behind it?

I hope this doesn’t sound like a cop-out answer, but my answer to this would be music.  I don’t really have sculptures, posters, luck-items, or anything like that around when I’m writing.  Like other writers, I’m heavily influenced by other writers, but don’t really have an inspirational object at my desk.  What I do use, however, is music.  Most every word I’ve ever written, whether part of one of the two novels, a short story, a poem, or an essay, was written to music.  In the back of my head I want my prose to play like music.  Not in a campy ‘it’s perfect as a song’ type of way, but I want it to have emotional impact, and rhythm and tone.  I always write to music that is similar in tone and emotional impact to the work on the screen in front of me.  It helps keep me in the game.

What’s next? What are you working on?

Right now I’m working on a short piece of horror fiction called “A Man of the Cloth.”  It’s  a three tiered short story in which my main character has three terrifying life experiences that come to be interconnected and exist structurally in the story like a Russian nesting doll.  I’ve also put down 6,000 words of a realistic fiction that’s written for a YA audience.  In a market that’s still hungry for YA fantasy and science fiction, I’m not really sure what’ll happen with this story, but it’s the next story that wants to come out.  So I’ll write it now and figure out what to do with it later.

Meet Aaron, the friendliest bookstore owner I know!

About today’s guest:

Aaron Cance holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Wisconsin and a M.A. in British and American Literature from the University of Utah.  His essays and reviews have appeared in Fiction Writers Review and 15 Bytes: A Utah Arts Journal, and a few of his poems have been published by Southern Minnesota State University’s Bare Root Review.  Some of his  poetry was collected for the chap book Nocturnal.  He has been selling books to people since 1996 and is the owner of The Printed Garden, Booksellers in Sandy’s historic Union Square.  He lives in Holladay with his wife, daughter, and two very eccentric cats.

Connect with Aaron:


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