Character Profile: Zoorja


The cracking of a log in the flames in the inn’s hearth wake Zoorja, and her eyes blink open. She cannot remember falling asleep, and looks around the common room to try to spark her memory. The room is mostly empty, though Luigi is behind the counter, doing something out of sight. She glances down at her lap and sees that she has held onto the glaive that Dagoth shoved in her hand the night before.

She can feel it humming against her palm, the gentle wordless-voice calling to her soul, calling itself hers, whispering its name in her heart. She speaks its Loxodonian name in a quiet whisper–“Heartsoul”–and the blade sparks to life, pure white light pouring from the metal and beating back the shadows of the early morning. After a moment, she speaks the name again, and the light fades, softening to nothing as the blade returns to rest.

The door of the inn opens at her back, and a cold gust of wind draws her attention to the entrance. Three large figures duck their heads to enter, and her muscles tense seconds before the breeze carries the scent of her kind to her trunk. On instinct, she stands and turns to see them better.

Mat’Selesnya be with you, Friends,” she says into the quiet.

And with you, Child,” one of them says. Walk with us.”

Behind them, the door remains open, the landscape beyond different from the one through which they’d entered the night before. It resembles the land of her birth, the Crystalsands Tundra, and though the windows in other walls of the inn show sunrise approaching, the sky beyond the strangers is riven with stars.

A creaking on the stairs, and Zoorja sees Venhana come into the common room, seeking breakfast. The ranger glances at the strangers, then back to Zoorja, one eyebrow raised in question. She says nothing, however, as Zoorja nods in ascent to the strangers, knowing she owes them the same deference she would her clan elders.

The robed Loxodonians exit the door once again, leading Zoorja into the night. They walk for only a few quiet minutes, and in time, Zoorja sees the glow of a bonfire. Sitting in meditation and prayer around the blaze are Loxodonians of all descent–mammoth, bush, forest, tropical, dwarf, mastodon, and more she cannot name–and the elf who was present in the Laughing Beholder the night before. The eldest of the Loxodonians sits at the head of the circle, wearing the regalia of a priestess of Mat’Selesnya, and gestures for Zoorja to sit across from her.

Zoorja does as she is told, bowing her head and sitting very still, hoping that she has not gotten herself in trouble. Her friends need her; to abandon them on account of such a foolhardy errand would be tantamount to betrayal, but she cannot seem to reject the call of this distant family.

Sister Zoorja,” the priestess says, her sonorous voice soft but audible over the crackle of the bonfire. You are in the Feywild, sitting with the Celestial Herd. Brother Silver Claw”–she indicates the elf–“has come to use with news of your troubled mind. We invite you to unburden yourself so that you may be the protector we need you to be.”

Zoorja blanches, though her russet skin hides the reaction. How the Celestial Herd learned of her inner turmoil, she cannot fathom. She clears her throat, and says, I… I cannot protect these people. I have already turned my weapons on them once.”

Do you truly believe that you did that?”

A flash of Magic, Honor, and their parents in the firelight in Palebank, then the sight of her friends rushing across the snow from Mama’s burning cabin, the way her hands shook on her greatsword as she tried to resist the power of the neogi before she killed one of her friends.

Zoorja’s vision clears, and she bows her head to look down at where her thumb runs over the stitching on Heartsoul’s leather grip and tries to still her thoughts, her body. I thought the World Soul abandoned me. I thought…”

From each of the Loxodonians before her rises a ghostly, astral version of the monk in fighting stances. The snow around her fades to black, and neogi swarm across the darkness. The astral projections lock in battle against the horrifying creatures and the background resolves itself into a vast garden in a golden city, the stars around it shining brighter than she’s ever seen them.

You fought these monsters before?” Zoorja asks, though it’s not a question, as she can see it before her. Is that… Aeor? They took control of me; I cannot fight them again.”

If you do not…” the priestess says, and the scene shifts from long ago to a scene that Zoorja knows within her soul has yet to be written. The same city lies in ruin and its pain tears into her. The scene swirls and changes, and a majestic ray lies rotting and swarmed by neogi with the ruined city upon its back. The beasts simultaneously dominate and devour the celestial creature.

The scene fades, and the astral Loxodonians fade back into their physical bodies.

Zoorja can do nothing else but swallow and nod, though one question still haunts her. Can you tell me… Mat’Selesnya… she has not abandoned me?”

She would never abandon one of her children, Sister Zoorja.”

Then I will fight for her, for my friends, for the creature that carries Aeor. For Magic’s family. I will protect.”

The spectral monks appear again and bow, then fade as the Celestial Herd stands and disperses without another word. Brother Silver Claw stands alone and approaches, offering a hand.

Shall we go Zoorja, favored of Mat’Selesnya?”

Zoorja does not correct him, though she cannot believe she is favored, not when others have been shown to be much closer to the World Soul, but she takes his hand and stands. I will put down two gold pieces that Dagoth is already itching to leave.”

The elf chuckles. I’ll not bet against that. The World Soul does not abandon her children like a fickle child. She knows your heart. I hope hearing it from the Celestial Herd has helped ease your thoughts.”

He leads the way toward a nondescript hut on the near horizon, and it isn’t until they’re much closer that Zoorja sees the Laughing Beholder sign above the door. Silver Claw opens the door, and Zoorja sees beyond into the common room.

Thank you,” she says, unable to comment on his last words, though she silently promises the Celestial Herd to think on it.

Silver Claw says nothing, only nods and wanders away as Zoorja looks to the group of her friends hovering over the breakfast selection like a horde. Kirin waves from where he flies above the table, too short to see the selection otherwise, and Dagoth grunts a hello through the mouthful of food. Venhana and Kasdon are both in the corner with Mane, petting the griffon and talking to Mila, who holds the small drake, Sparky to her chest like she might a cat. Dagoth lunges at a bowl of puffy, white treats, and Aella gathers handfuls, mumbling about s’mores and mallows of the marsh as she rubs the sleep from her eyes.

A freehold can nourish body and soul,” Kirin says as she steps up to grab a plate. I hope you found what you needed.”

Zoorja smiles down at Kirin and wonders if walking back in was what she needed instead of walking away. I believe I did. Now, tell me what’s delicious.”

What isn’t?!” Kirin crows, and Zoorja laughs, trying a bit of everything, even the marshmallows Dagoth hoards like gold.

Zoorja was the second character I created. I wanted to experiment with choices far different to my choices with Clanless Nala. It’s funny to look back and remember that, because I clearly have a type, and those two are not as different as they seem.

Name, Race, Gender, Description, Et Al.

Close up of Zoorja’s faceClose up of Zoorja’s face

Zoorja is a Loxodon, a humanoid elephant. I opted to add my own flair, and decided that her herd is comprised of wooly mammoth Loxodonians, being that they are from the icy north. She, like most of her sisters, is generally quite calm and slow to rise to anger, but when she does, she is a Fury come to life. She is 7’7″, towering over her friends, and though she is hardly an adult for her species, she is much older than her friends, by decades at the least. She has not had the chance much lately, but she enjoys sculpting tiny stonework figurines and jewelry, preferring the delicate work to the larger scale masterpieces of her species.

Her fierce loyalty once rested solely with her herd, but when she was called upon to help the nearby village of Palebank, her bond with the people there and with her companions snapped into place almost as soon as she shared a drink with them. This comes from her deep well of emotion that allows her to find compassion for everyone around her, whether they be friend or foe. That does not mean she will not bring those who wrong others to justice–no one is above the law, though the laws she follows are those that preserve life in all its many forms, not the words written on the page.

Despite her fierce belief in the connection of all the world and her place within the beautiful tapestry of fate, Zoorja is convinced that she is unable to connect deeply with the World Soul, Mat’Selesyna, and every sign to the contrary goes unseen as she sees her flaws much faster than she would anyone else, her compassion always turned outward.

Backstory & Family Life

The Crystalsands Herd is a tight-knit mammoth herd with the matriarch being the 431-year-old Ajji, Zoorja’s great-great-grandmere. The entire herd is one large family, and though of course there are multiple family lines, the herd behaves as such, calling one another Sister and Brother, Aunt and Uncle, Grandmother and Grandfather as is fit.

Within Zoorja’s direct family, her mother Jasoo and father Berov are a mated pair that were blessed thrice with calves. Zoorja is the youngest, with her elder brother Heruj coming first, and her sister Vessun coming second. As she was growing, Zoorja’s closest friend was Irij, only five years her elder. They have remained close, though their paths diverged as they were reaching their adulthood; Irij found her calling in the glass gardens, and Zoorja with her weapons.

Initial Class & Changes Made Over Time

Zoorja was a level two Fighter at the start of the campaign, and has not strayed yet from that path. She wanted to be able to defend her herd from dangers, and it has come in handy on her adventures thus far. She is proficient in two-weapon fighting, and thanks to her great strength, was able to teach herself to wield a glaive in one hand and a greatsword in the other.

When she became a level three fighter, I chose for her to take on the Champion archetype, given that Zoorja’s focus has always been to protect her friends, to be a Champion for the people who need her. Since that means becoming the best she can be, it makes sense for her to focus on perfection in her fighting.

She is now a level five Fighter, having taken a Feat at level four and gaining an extra attack at level five that makes her deadly. I’m not sure what will happen in the future; Zoorja is driven by her need to protect and nothing else, so will choose what her friends most need. If that is a fierce fighter, that is what she will be.

Background & Previous Careers

Zoorja was a Selesnya Initiate before she became a fighter. Her herd is built around an enclave within the great white tundra and the mountains surrounding them. She did her best to learn the ways of harmony with nature and to live the life the Worldsoul reveres, but Zoorja could never still her own soul.

She does not regret her time as an initiate, given that she perfected her work with mason’s tools and learned to speak the language of the conclave, but regrets that she could not fit into that life. She does not realize that none of her family resent her for it, but see her as the strongest of them, for listening to what the Worldsoul told her was her purpose. Zoorja believes it was rather the opposite; she believes that she listened to her own self and turned away from the Worldsoul, and fears that her connection to Mat’Selesnya was forever broken by her choice.

She still carries her insignia, and will use the shelter of an enclave for her friends alone, never for herself, too worried that the Worldsoul will see her too clearly.

Daily Carry & Weapons of Choice

Being a wooly mammoth, Zoorja does not much feel the cold, but on her first mission with her friends, they were walking into the arctic. She would have swapped the cold weather gear out, but found she loves the weight of the heavy fabric. She has her glaive and greatsword, gifted to her by her mother and father when she decided to train to be a fighter. On the trip into the depths of Eiselcross, she gained possession of an Ardent Glaive and fell asleep with it in her hands. When she awoke, it had told her its name was Heartsoul, and she has begun to favor using it with her dominant hand with her standard glaive–which she dubbed Celestial on that same morning–in her off-hand. Her greatsword is most often sheathed at her back, with hand axes bristling from the futon of the crossed straps that hold her glaives when she is not in need of them. Her quiver of arrows rests at her lower back to remain out of the way of her other weapons, and is large enough that she can put her longbow in it as well. She is bristling with weapons.

After a run-in with a warlock in Palebank, she helped relinquish the dead-raiser of two Ioun Stones, and the group decided that she should receive one: the Stone of Protection. The rose-colored prism orbits her, granting her extra protection so that she may wade into the depths of battle and draw dangers away from her friends.

She carries the typical adventurers gear in her backpack, complete with a bedroll and healer’s kit. Preparing for the journey into the arctic meant she opted to pack a chest full of supplies that might help them, including climbing gear, rope, lanterns and oil. A tent they discovered in Eiselcross has been repaired and stored should they need it again. Her shield has taken up residence in the chest, given she hasn’t wanted to give up the ability to strike twice with her weapons. The chest itself can be pulled on a sledge, but she discarded the one she made on Eiselcross the moment they had returned to civilization and will make a new one when she needs one.

Feats & Stories

At level four, I decided to take the Sentinel feat for Zoorja. Defense of her friends is her biggest concern, and being able to stand guard over them was something she needed. Being able to react to an attack against any of her friends or to stop a creature from leaving the fury of her blades was something she desperately wanted; the feat just fit.

Important Moments in World

Zoorja and her companions were called to Palebank to help investigate the outbreak of a horrifying disease in which the infected slowly freeze from the inside out–later, discovered to be named the Frigid Woe. Investigations in town lead the group to a cave system wherein a local gang leader had been hiding out with one of her lieutenants, guarding a chest. Zoorja, in an attempt to find more about the sickness, opened the chest during their investigation, releasing a fine blue powder that infected everyone in the room with Frigid Woe, except herself.

Being that her purpose in life is to be a protector, she took sole responsibility for the error and carried the weight of it throughout the journey, worried that her misstep would mean both the death of her friends and of all the residents of Palebank, if the disease could not be contained. She sublimated this burden by tending even more diligently to her friends’ needs on the journey, taking it upon herself to arrange for all of their supplies for the journey to Eiselcross, and even divising a method by which to carry more than they might need by burdening herself with a packed chest of rations.

This mistake only haunted her further later on. While traveling across the ocean to Eiselcross, the ship was beset by another and while engaged in battle with the attacking force, both Zoorja and Dagoth were taken under the control of neogi, horrifying beasts that can enslave a creature. Neither Dagoth nor Zoorja could free themselves from the control of the beasts, and both of them were shell-shocked by the experience when their friends solved the problem by destroying the creatures. Zoorja did not trust herself to sleep until they reached land, and curled deep within herself with shame at ever turning her blades on her friends. The fear of having it happen again is at the root of many of Zoorja’s nightmares.

Looking Ahead

Zoorja and her friends succeeded in retrieving the cure for the Frigid Woe from Eiselcross, despite many hardships, but when they returned to Palebank, they found that a young girl named Honor is trapped within a magical forcefield that none can penetrate, the mayor’s wife has disappeared, the sky is darkening, and the undead are attacking. Not a single one of them feels they can leave the village to fend for themselves, and they’re already on the case.

Zoorja will need to contend with her protective streak and see that it does not end up suffocating those she loves. She will also need to forgive herself for turning her weapons upon them when she was under the control of the neogi. She’ll tell no one, but she still has nightmares of losing control, and counts her friends under her breath to be sure she does not lose any of them.

5 August 2022 Character Profile Dungeons & Dragons

Interest-Based Habits

I believe I’ve read Atomic Habits by James Clear five or six times now. It’s a really nice book, though I’ve been told that if it doesn’t click for you Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg may be better for your brain. Both dive into the creation of habits and why they get stuck in our brains, then give strategies to help build or break habits deliberately.

One of the reasons I go back to Clear’s book so often is that habits are something I struggle to create, keep, or destroy on purpose. I feel as though I often need a refresher on the psychology to help me remember what I need to do to make sure I drink a cup of water right when I wake in the morning or be sure to do the dishes before I head out the door.

Part of this, I have since learned, is that brains with ADHD have a different nervous system than neurotypical brains. Neurotypical brains, according to William Dodson, MD, have an importance- or priority-based nervous system. All this means is that people who do not have ADHD can create a habit based on the importance of the task to themself, to others, and whether that task has rewards or consequences. It seems logical, and for a really long time, I wondered why–when I knew exercising every day would make me healthy in the long term–I could never make the habit stick.

Turns out, ADHD brains have an interest-based nervous system. This means that importance and rewards or consequences don’t really influence the decision to start or complete a task. An interest-based nervous system means having to believe in a task on a deeper level, having to be intrigued, or motivated by competition. Essentially, people with ADHD have to like the task, or–in this case–habit, to do the task. It looks self-serving from the outside, but just because someone enjoys a task doesn’t mean it’s not helping someone else.

Back to Atomic Habits, while the book talks about how to build habits in certain ways and even recommendations on how to decide what habits to build (by looking at your values and what gives you meaning), I had never made the connection that I needed to like the habits themselves in order to get them done.

I think this means it’s time for a reread and some careful examination of how to build my life around habits I enjoy. I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

3 August 2022 Books Productivity Strategies

I’m Mending Still

I’ve been mending for years, little things here and there. A small hole in the hem of a t-shirt, the inexplicable hole that formed in the underarm of another, reattaching a belt loop or a button, and perhaps dozens more. As recently as this past March, however, it became more of a concerted effort. I realized that I had piles of clothes waiting for me to mend or refashion them into other garments, and I hadn’t touched them.

When the repair is small, my brain thinks, I can do that later. When it’s large, I procrastinate. When I shove the piles of mending in a closet and forget about them, I never touch them. But in March, something changed. I pulled my favorite fuzzy socks out of the drier and notice huge holes in the outermost layer. The rest of the socks were completely fine except for these holes, and it felt wrong to write them off or to keep wearing them down. So I took out some acrylic yarn I never found a use for and I darned the big holes. A few days later, I noticed a hole in one of our spare blankets and patched that too, using a piece of a long-forgotten pillowcase clogging up our linen closet.

My favorite fuzzy socks, newly mended with a fun checkerboard patternMy favorite fuzzy socks, newly mended with a fun checkerboard pattern

Our spare blanket, patched with a little bit of love. Hey, only our visiting dog-friends use it, it doesn’t need to match!Our spare blanket, patched with a little bit of love. Hey, only our visiting dog-friends use it, it doesn’t need to match!

The whole thing may have stopped there, except I realized that I had missed doing fiber arts of any kind. So I scrounged around my sewing desk and found some supplies for creating a small mending kit and stashed it next to my work computer. I mended two more pairs of socks before my friend Alex sent me a care package of her remnant yarns, begging me to take them and put them to use. I made a second mending kit and stashed it in the coffee table in the living room. Now, when I fold my laundry, anything with a hole lives right in that drawer until the hole is mended. If there’s nothing to be mended, I pick up a pair of jeans I designated my Work Jeans–the ones I wear into the brambles down at the neighborhood pond. They’ve got holes and paint and seams falling apart… except that I’ve slowly been mending them with visible patches or fun stitches that stand out. Eventually I’ll need to hem them and adjust the waistband, but in the meantime I just pick them up when I need to do something with my hands. Or, if Belle has been particularly vicious with her favorite duck toy, Patches, I’ll add a new layer of outdoor fabric to his ravaged body.

Belle loves Patches a little too much, maybeBelle loves Patches a little too much, maybe

A collection of socks and t-shirts with small mends/reinforcing stitches.A collection of socks and t-shirts with small mends/reinforcing stitches.

The waistband on the Work Jeans, mended with some stitches and colors.The waistband on the Work Jeans, mended with some stitches and colors.

One leg on my Work Jeans, mended with some fun fabrics I have in my stash.One leg on my Work Jeans, mended with some fun fabrics I have in my stash.

In the meantime, I took my time on another pair of jeans, doing my best to hide the mends so that I feel more comfortable wearing them out in casual settings. Most of the mends require intense inspection to recognize, and if someone is looking at them that deeply, I have a different problem. I’m rather proud of them in that aspect.

The jeans I’ve tried to hide the mends on.The jeans I’ve tried to hide the mends on.

A closeup of the reinforcement I’ve added to the edge of one of the back pockets.A closeup of the reinforcement I’ve added to the edge of one of the back pockets.

The number of mending kits keeps growing, too. I keep one in my bedroom closet, in case I see a small hole when I pull an outfit for the day–if it’s larger, the garment gets relegated to another location where I can take my time. There’s another kit in my bedside table for casual stitching while I watch movies in bed–an infrequent occurrence, but worth its own kit.

The mending kit that lives in the coffee table, with needles, yarn, fabric, a darning egg, and snips.The mending kit that lives in the coffee table, with needles, yarn, fabric, a darning egg, and snips.

Every stitch I place teaches me more, helps me make the next one. Every patch I finish increases the usefulness of my clothes or linens and makes me feel all the more invested in keeping them looking sharp.

1 August 2022 Fiber Crafts Projects


Today, I meant to post something about one of my D&D characters, but I am struggling to finish it. I’ve been battling some fatigue this week, so I’m calling an audible, and I’m going to show you my pen collection. It’s not the largest, but I believe I have several lifetimes worth of ink already.

I have five mystery samples that I picked up at a local pen shop and five full- or almost-full-sized ink bottles, and four fountain pens, that I’ve documented pictorially below! Have a great weekend!

Mystery Samples – picked up all at once, I’ll likely end up using them for art from now on, as it’s near impossible to fill a pen from any of them.Mystery Samples – picked up all at once, I’ll likely end up using them for art from now on, as it’s near impossible to fill a pen from any of them.

Ink Bottles – I’ve got KMZ Sheen Machine, Colorverse’s Map of Mars & Mars Attacks, and Lamy’s T53 Peridot and T52 Black.Ink Bottles – I’ve got KMZ Sheen Machine, Colorverse’s Map of Mars & Mars Attacks, and Lamy’s T53 Peridot and T52 Black.

Pens – Platinum Procyon Maki-e Plover on the Wave, Fine Nib; TWSBI GO Clear, Medium Nib; Pilot Metro Silver Dots, Medium Nib; Lamy Safari, Medium NibPens – Platinum Procyon Maki-e Plover on the Wave, Fine Nib; TWSBI GO Clear, Medium Nib; Pilot Metro Silver Dots, Medium Nib; Lamy Safari, Medium Nib

Final – I swatched all the inks and inked the pens, and did that on the Cortex Subtle Journal from Cortex BrandFinal – I swatched all the inks and inked the pens, and did that on the Cortex Subtle Journal from Cortex Brand

29 July 2022 Office Organization

Above the Mess Episode 17: At Least Keep Your Eyes Open

Above the Mess LogoAbove the Mess Logo

We discuss being stressed, the vast difference between our gardens, climate & other refugees, and a little bit of Netrunner.

Listen to Episode 17

28 July 2022 Above the Mess

The Stories We Tell: Part 01 of Many

One thing I will always rail against is the societal insistence of asking children what they want to be when they grow up and then forcing them to stick with whatever answer they say. I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but to recap for anyone who might not know, when I was asked this question as a child, I never had the same answer. I wanted to be an architect, an astronaut, a firefighter, a veterinarian, a zoologist or zookeeper, a farmer, a writer, a teacher. My most common answer was author,” but as soon as I reached the age where my dreams had to somehow become realistic–it feels like that hits around age 11 or so–that answer wasn’t enough for a lot of adults, and every time I changed my answer, I was asked didn’t you want to be [something else]?” That begs the question: why were they even asking?

The truth was that I did want to have those careers, all of them! I couldn’t choose. Or if I learned that I’d have to do an aspect I couldn’t stomach, I’d back off; this is why I never returned to the idea of being a vet. This has been a constant theme in my life; I’ve always wanted to do everything (or some approximation of it).

In high school (ages 13-18 for me), I had a mean writing habit; I was writing novels by hand in my notebooks when I should have been listening to my teachers. I was taking all sorts of electives–pottery, home economics, creative writing, two languages (French & Spanish)–playing every sport I could–soccer/football, basketball, softball, ultimate frisbee–and working hard on the robotics team. I took AP Environmental Science my freshman year and every other science class I could get my hands on. I raced through Mathematics levels, wrote a poem for the Literary Magazine, took two semesters of architecture courses. The one thing I refused to do was to move from the general education track to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program at my school. I didn’t want to be forced to be one thing, and it seemed like that program was trying to turn out engineers with no liberal arts backgrounds.

Despite my best efforts, the robotics team started to take over my life. It was intense competitive club, and during the competition season, we were in the metal shop every single day, often for hours on the weekend, building a robot designed to throw basketballs or race through obstacle courses. By my junior year, I was heading up the drive team, planning out chassis and wheel configurations, and helping assemble the gearing for any other mechanisms. My parents kept telling me This could be a great career for you! You can always sell a novel while working a full-time job!”

While true, while supportive, those conversations always left me feeling as though I wouldn’t have their support if I did want to go to school for creative writing, or anything that wasn’t a STEM career. Even though I’d written my first books in Kindergarten, even though I’d finished my first novel in the fourth grade–it was terrible, but I’d finished it–I felt as though they didn’t think I could do it. So I stopped bringing it up.

When I was 16, I took a computer science class because everything interested me still, and it was one elective I hadn’t yet taken. It came naturally, probably because I had been playing with Lego Mindstorms since I was 10, and with computers in general since I was tall enough to stand on a chair to see the screen. I took the AP Computer Science course the next year, and it was still coming naturally, but part of me was screaming, I’m not sure I want any of this.

The truth was that I hadn’t had time to write or even think about writing since my freshman year had ended. I was running on fumes every day of my life at that point. I was staying up until 3 am to finish all of my homework, hiding in my closet so my parents didn’t know. I was counting the seconds until I graduated, until I could leave home. I chose schools far away, but I end up choosing mostly tech schools, like MIT and Rochester Institute of Technology. In a fit of rebellion, I applied to Arizona State, thinking that if I could just get Tempe, maybe I’d slide into the pop-punk scene that had blossomed there. My best friend convinced me to apply to one liberal arts school in New York, just one, and I did.

I’m glad she coerced me, because I got a full-ride. It was a small school with hundreds of majors, and I thought, finally. In the US, parents aren’t allowed to see your university records unless you give them permission, and mine weren’t paying for it. I had been accepted as a mechanical engineering major but I never took a single engineering course. Instead, I went full throttle into the humanities. I took creative writing, archaeology, Ancient Greek, medieval history, and an honors literature course that delved into books I’d never even heard of.

Every time I went home for break, though, my parents were still saying What are you going to do when you leave school? You’ll need a job, you’ll need money.”

They weren’t wrong of course, I would need to live. I still had no idea, though.

The summer between my first and second year, I resolve myself to choose. I decide on computer science because it had once come naturally. I thought that meant I’d find it easy to balance it and hobbies. I went all-in, hoping that if I just decided it’d be easier to stick with one thing. I completed a five-year program in three, not wanting to stay in school longer than I had to.

I met my partner, fell in love, graduated.

I left school already burnt out, already having lived through five or six quarter-life crises before my 25th birthday. It was around then that I looked up and realized I hadn’t written even part of a novel since high school, hadn’t finished one since I was fourteen years old. I had stopped falling down research rabbit holes, I had stopped doing crafts, or baking, or sports. My life had begun to revolve around work: I was either at work or thinking about work.

I job hunt, I switch companies, and it continues. I dive into the productivity space hoping I can find a way to fit my hobbies in around my work and still enjoy evenings with my partner. All the while, I can feel the life being sucked out of me. I keep thinking it’s the company, the job, the work, but how do I change careers? I have no idea.

I am burning myself out to fit hobbies in around work tasks, I am reckoning with learning that I’ve been struggling with ADHD all of my life and not knowing, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I know that if I keep pushing, I will make it out, but it will be a long, long time.

I dread every time I sit down at my computer to write code. I procrastinate on work tasks because I can’t stand to write one more data access function for a poorly constructed business enterprise solution used by five people and that creates no value in the grand scheme.

Then… fate. Or kismet. I am granted the opportunity to not need to work at a day job for a little over three months. Three months of freedom to just be me, to try to do what I want, to make something of my dreams. I barely missed a step.

Two weeks in, and I find myself opening Visual Studio Code to work on a widget for the books I’m reading. On a whim. I thought I’d never want to touch code again, but I lose myself for 4 hours in the logic. I create something from nothing, sit back, and wonder.

The stories we are told, the stories we tell ourselves, they’re very powerful. I spent my entire life being told I had to do one thing. I had to work a job. I had to make money. I couldn’t do what I loved every day. I would hate my job, my career, and I would work to live, work to put money in the bank and food on the table.

What if those stories were wrong?

25 July 2022 Personal Life Mental Health Stories

Toxic Productivity & How We Spend Our Days

I used to watch a lot of vlogbrothers videos on YouTube and fell out of the habit in university. Not sure what made me stop, but they stopped being an integral part of my life. That said, sometimes I will glimpse one and get drawn in again, as happened for one of their videos from September 2021. John and Hank Green trade off making videos for each other (and the world) on their channel, and this video, how we spend our days, was put together by John.

He opens the video with a quote from Annie Dillard:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

This quote is from her book on writing, The Writing Life. I have yet to read it, but I’m excited to see if it pulls me in.

The video John put together dives into aspirational capitalism’s insistence that we have an endless number of choices in how we spend our lives, but John notes that often, our constraints are not things we can control, and while we don’t have a lot of choice, we do have some.

This thought then lead John to muse about the difference between the things in his life that don’t look economically productive, but give him the most joy, give him the most personal productivity, such as driving his kids to and from school. Those experiences don’t create economic value for him, but they do create value in the form of connection with his kids, joy, and other unquantifiable meaning.

I’ve struggled for a long time with the fact that my self-worth is tied to my productivity. If I’m not productive, what am I? This video was one of the cornerstones of reexamining the toxicity of that idea for me. First, our experience of our own productivity doesn’t need to look like economical productivity. If you are producing your own joy, or joy for others, is that time spent worth less than the time you spend making money? No, and in fact, is probably worth more.

Second, it helped me realize that if I want to spend my life in a certain way, I need to spend my days that way as well. Putting off life until after some economic milestone is hit is not how I want to spend my life or my days. If I want to love my partner, laugh with friends, write fun stories, eat amazing food, see beautiful places, I need to do that every day, not in some imagined future.

And third, it helped me realize that if I’m prioritizing things such that I’m never engaged with my partner while we have dinner, or I’m thinking about work when I’m walking my dogs, my life will never be spent the way I idealize it.

Over the few months since I’ve watched this video, it has helped me reconcile these thoughts and come away with a better understanding of what I want from life and how I can get it.

22 July 2022 Productivity Introspection

We Have Merch!

I’ll get to the point; we have merchandise over on TeePublic! If you’d like to support the blog and get a fun t-shirt, sticker, mug, or what have you, all of the designs can be found over in our TeePublic store! They’re on sale for the first 72 hours, but I’m sure I’ll be running promotions every once in a while if now isn’t the time for you.

To go behind the scenes, my lovely friend Ben made me a bunch of logos for Flex Potential a long time ago, and recently, I realized I really wanted to be able to pull on a t-shirt with my own logo. I thought that I would get around to hand-embroidering it, but I haven’t had time. While doing some research for another project, I found TeePublic and realized that in the meantime, I could get a screen printed tee and also provide value to some of my readers for the site!

TeePublic prints designs on demand, meaning there will be no unsold merch sitting in a warehouse, wasting away. They only work with clothing brands that meet stringent working conditions, including ethical labor and environmental standards. They make the products as close as possible to their final destination, reducing the carbon output of shipping a product, and they offset any carbon that is produced for every shipping method. If a product turns out poorly, either due to an error in the printing process or otherwise, they will take the return for free, no questions asked, and find a way to make it right. This means repurposing t-shirts by removing the misprint or donating t-shirts that are in perfect condition. They have similar pipelines for all of their products! These practices made me eager to work with them over another artist-supportive brand.

If you want to grab yourself something from the store, I’d really appreciate it, but there is no obligation to do so. This project was purely selfish. Now I’m going to go order one of everything so I can live in Flex Potential gear the whole year round.

20 July 2022 Merchandise

Wish-Casting: A Dream Studio

In a recent post, I talked about how there was a time when most of my planning” looked more like wish-casting. It was a way of looking ahead an unknown number of years and saying if I just X every day, I will get Y.” As a method of determining what I needed to do every day, it was terrible. As an imagination technique, it was quite fun, and I stand by it in some respects.

If all I did was wish-cast, and think about how my life would be better if I only had some random product I saw on Instagram, that would be toxic. I need to live in the now, enjoy what I have, and find contentment and happiness in the present moment; you should, too, but I’m not going to pester you too much about it. That said, it can be fun to dream, to imagine something magical that you could build for yourself in time.

One of the things I find myself wish-casting often is a studio space for myself. I am privileged to live in a multi-bedroom, single-family home in the suburbs with my partner and our two dogs, but there are times when I wish I could hang herbs in bunches from the ceiling, or set up a still in dining room, or set up an oil painting just for fun. I mean, I could, but it’d immediately be in everyone’s way, including my own. So, every once in a while, I think what would it be like if I could take over an entire maker studio?* I’ve decided to compile my current thoughts on it because it’s exceedingly fun, and why not?

Ideally, this studio would be a separate outbuilding from the main house, situated in the center of our lush (non-existent at this time) gardens. On one side of the house would be a brick garden workroom/shed assembled from bricks and connected to a lean-to greenhouse. I think the shed would also need to have a staircase down to the root cellar, where we could store our back stock of perfect potatoes and apples from our rich orchards. The greenhouse will have a door into the building proper, entering the butler’s pantry, wherein I’d store preserved herbs, jars of pickles, and the necessaries for the fully stocked kitchen designed to process the veg that comes into it, but also to make cakes and breads and even distill something. Who knows, maybe it’d be fun!

If we go through the mudroom off the kitchen-still room, we’d hit a barn–fully renovated and well-insulated, in which I’d have half of the space earmarked for a pottery studio with its own kiln, and the other marked off for woodworking. I’d share this with my partner of course, it wouldn’t make sense to have two wood shops, I’m not unreasonable.

If you opted instead to wander from kitchen to library, you’d find a tiny writing desk with a view of a cottage garden so lovely, you’d never want to leave, especially not with the fireplace crackling in the evening.

Across the hall, you’d walk into the painting studio, which would get some excellent light and always have a canvas on an easel, waiting for a brush. The brushes, of course, would always be clean and never would be left in the paint.

If you decided to head back toward the butler’s pantry, you’d be able to peek into the sewing studio, with racks of fabric, cool machines in every corner, and a custom dress form that would be half-covered in an intricate outfit-in-progress. It’d have to have some nice light too, so of course it’s on the same wall as the sewing studio.

If you happened to take a wander upstairs, you would find an office designed for development work, with a wide monitor and some awesome speakers for focus music. I’m sure there’d be room to grow, so give or take a couple empty rooms.

This is all, of course, completely over the top… but I can wish-cast, can’t I?

20 July 2022 Wish Casting Office Organization

Rethinking Maker, Manager, Consumer

Nearly two years ago, or perhaps a little more than that, David Sparks spoke an idea into my life; people are simultaneously a maker, a manager, and a consumer. He wrote this up in a blog post about journaling and broke down the differences between each of these three roles. The maker is creating things, putting them out into the world. The consumer is experiencing others’ creations, whether through media or physical objects. The manager is handling all the admin work around that, like paying the bills, scheduling meetings, deciding what has priority.

At some point between then and now, David also offered up what he considered his ideal ratio for these three types of tasks. I’ve forgotten what he came up with and it doesn’t really matter, because I think this ratio will be different for everyone. A movie reviewer will need to consume more movies in order to write reviews–not just the movies they’re reviewing at the time, but entire catalogs and genres so they can make comparisons and talk about the career of a director. A writer on the level of Stephen King is going to spend a lot of time creating and will likely need to give someone else the manager role so they don’t have to deal with it. Project managers are going to need to maximize their management time… as is any parent, if we’re honest.

I, historically, spent a lot of time being annoyed at myself for my ratio. I felt as though I was always consuming or managing, never creating. I would plan and plan and plan to create and then end up scrolling through Reddit or Instagram, or fall into a book and not resurface from the series for three months. Over time I have realized, however, that my creative periods come from combining the things I consume in new and interesting ways. I see a fascinating runway look and think, I wonder what it would take to recreate that feeling, then sketch up designs for a dress I’d wear to a cocktail party. I spend seven hundred hours watching Regency-period films or reading Regency-period books and end up thinking about the ramifications of some Austen-era character managing to figure out space flight; can you imagine how much faster ladies would be allowed to wear pants if they had to survive in zero gravity? Soon I stopped regretting the amount of time I was spending consuming.

Time managing myself was harder to shake. I love planning. It makes me feel like I have set everything in order, that everything will work out, and that my dreams are possible. To be clear, my dreams are possible, but not because of how diligently I plan. Plans are made so that when the field changes, you know how to react. I was planning for no changes for the longest time. When I realized this was an exercise in futility, I stopped planning for a while. It was shocking how fast I got anxious, feeling like I was flying blind into the unknown. But how could I go back to spending all that time planning if the plans would change?

The truth was that my excessive planning was more like wish-casting. I was trying to escape into an imaginary future by planning” how everything would be if I could only exercise the plan. When I made that connection, I realized it wasn’t plans I needed, but the organization and making habits that helped me get my creating done. So my admin time transformed into making lists of what I needed to create, setting up structures that allowed me to adjust my course as I went along, setting aside time to do things like review the business budget.

I couldn’t tell you an exact ratio for my three roles. It changes daily, but I can say that during the work week I try to spend only about an hour managing myself daily, at least 6 creating or doing things that are important to me, and maybe 3-4 consuming tv shows or podcasts or books. That is obviously not all of my waking hours, but let’s be honest, I am not always doing something. Sometimes I’m just taking a nap.

As a complete side note, if you enjoy what I write here, or get something out of it, please consider checking out my page on Ko-Fi. Thanks for being here! 💕

18 July 2022 Creativity Introspection Planning Productivity