Two years ago, I was in what I not-so-affectionately call The Pit of Despair. I was burned out, miserable in my career, and fighting my own brain to be able to do what I loved. I had started a new job in the hopes that the burnout was just coming from the culture at the previous one. I was wrong.

A year and a half ago, I left that new job and took a four month break from my career (only possible due to a massive support structure for which I’m eternally grateful). I had finally been diagnosed with ADHD and was learning how to work with my brain. I felt as though I could do anything, and I was doing pretty well at it.

About a year ago, I started a new job and new career in project management, which is hilarious if you know anything about executive dysfunction, but makes sense if you know me. I was fulfilled at work, and had gone into the new job knowing that it would be a few months before I was able to have enough energy to do side-projects or hobbies agains. That’s just how job-switches affect me.

Join me in the present moment. I am still a project manager at the same company and I still find fulfillment in my work there. That is something I haven’t ever been able to say about a job until now.

But. (Did you know this was coming?)

I took time off for the winter holidays this year; 11 days straight of no work, just being at home with my partner, our dogs, and doing whatever we like. It’s been glorious–of course it’s been glorious–but it has also been eye-opening. Because without work on my mind, I have looked up and realized that I never got back to my side-projects. I never fully adjusted to the new job. I let it consume my headspace to the point where I could not tell you when I last wrote prose. There were attempts for certain, I can remember they happened. Just as I know I did some crocheting and some mending. But my garden lies untended and has for most of the year. I haven’t finished any fiber arts projects or the edits on my book. I haven’t written here or even gone down to the pond. I’m not working 24/7, of course, but when I’m not working, the energy I can muster is going to reading, cozy games, or tv because I need to just… not think.

And I don’t feel like me.

I’ve been running in survival mode. That’s what I call it. I am expending all my energy on getting through my workday (as fulfilling as it is) and then I am recharging only enough to do it again. There is no spare energy for the rest of me, and because there is no spare energy, I can feel the burnout rising. It is coming back, slowly but surely.

There is a theory that burnout can only be caused by a lack of fulfillment. Whether or not it’s accurate, it has been a helpful frame for me to use to identify what I’m feeling now. I’m not burning out because work is not fulfilling. I am burning out because the other parts of me are not being fulfilled.

There are changes coming for me in the next year–there always are, but these ones I can predict–that mean the spare energy is going to be even scarcer. If I don’t make any changes, it won’t be a matter of if I get burnt out, but when, and I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to spend time recovering. Odds are the burnout will strike much sooner than its current trajectory suggests.

All of this is to say I need a change. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but it has led me to a theme for the coming year, just in time.

The Year of Shift

I was toying with The Year of Balance” for a bit, but I’ve long learned that there’s no perfect balance of a life. Some aspects of life will need more attention at different points of the year, and that’s okay. Instead, I’m going to focus on the idea of shift: shifting gears, shifting mindsets, shifting priorities, shifting directions, yes, but also putting in a shift in various aspects of my life, moving aspects around until they have a place, etc.

I’m leaving the theme relatively open-ended, because I have no idea what I’ll need in a week’s time, let alone a month or a year. Why try to over-define it when the whole point is to being open to what the situation needs?

I can’t promise to post more, or even ever again, but if I do, I’ll try to keep you updated on the outcomes of the theme.

Hope you’re doing well, and wishing you an excellent 2024!

P.S. Laugh with me at the fact that though I wrote this in late December, I haven’t had the time or energy to post this until now. Because if I don’t laugh, I will cry from exhaustion. At least the universe is confirming I need this theme!

5 January 2024 themes introspection productivity

Validation & Writing

I wrote a book!

I don’t know if I’ve given any details or whether the project code name was made public at any point, but I wrote a novel! I know I talked about sprinting to the finish line, and I did that, it wiped me out, and I’ve been much quieter around all areas of the internet as a result, but I’ve got some energy back and wanted to talk about something I’d noticed this weekend.

First, I wrote this book in almost complete silence. People knew that I was writing something, but I didn’t talk about it much, and if I did, it was mostly to get some feedback on a world-building aspect so I could suss out any issues before everything was set to paper. I’m going to carry that habit forward for now with the exception of my beta readers, who are now in the midst of a world I created in my head, and are writing up notes to tell me what they thought of the big picture: was the pacing right? Are any of the characters flat? Did I leave a plot unresolved in a bad way? And so on.

Over the course of the last few weeks, since finishing the novel, I’ve been experiencing a lot of emotions; some of them are anxiety-based, given that I’ve handed a product of my soul out to people who may lovingly rip it apart, while others ring more like validation.

Since I was a small child, I’ve been writing. I covered this in a story about growing up and choosing my career. As a recap, though, it’s important to note that I wrote my first stories in kindergarten (about age 6 for me), wrote my first chapter book in the fourth grade (about age 10), and didn’t slow down… until the burnout hit. The last chapter-length work I finished–before this year–was 12 years ago. This wasn’t for lack of trying, I just did not have a single ounce of energy in my body for a long time. I did a NaNoWriMo event in 2017 and hit the 50,000 word mark for a story, but I never finished it. If I had to guess, it was likely going to need seven revisions and 30,000 more words to count as complete.

With every unfinished project, with every year that passed, there was a part of me that grew a little smaller, thinking that this would be the one dream I would never achieve, not really. And the doubting part of me was growing stronger, whispering that I would never finish any of my stories, never get published, never be good enough.

I wrote The End” on my manuscript and silenced that part of my brain–at least for a while. The little girl inside me who kept saying she wanted to be an author? She ran excited-screaming laps around the forest of my soul, crowing to the gods that she’d shown them. Validation. I had done it, I had finished a novel, and I thought it was pretty damn good.

This past weekend, I had another validating moment. I went to an event at one of my local indie bookstores. There were going to be authors there, signing their books, chatting with readers, and fun giveaways! One of the authors planning to sign books at the event was the writer of a book that had recently broken my out of my reading slump, so I thought it would be fun to tell her that. When I arrived, it wasn’t as crowded as I thought it might be and the two writers there at the time were free as birds. I hesitantly approached and made a decision. I pulled my copy of the slump-breaker from my bag and asked if the author might sign it to my pen name.

This sparked questions from both women–was I an author too? When I replied not yet, but I just sent my first public proof to my beta readers for my first objectively-publishable novel” they were both over the moon for me. We talked about waking up in terror because I realized the ending had gone wrong–to which they assured me that they still sometimes did that for books that are now sold in stores–about the prolific writers we all read, and finally, about my book itself. They asked me if I could pitch it to them; I had not rehearsed any of this, so I know my voice shook, but I told them the basics, gave them what series had inspired me, and my thoughts about where it could go. One squealed in excitement because she loved the idea, the other said it was wonderful because the market doesn’t have enough of my particular sub-genre and publisher’s will be looking for it soon. Again, validation.

Sure, they didn’t get the chance to read it, but they spent a good chunk of time with me, talking about the business, pen names, our favorite authors, which books suck you in and never let you go, burnout, mental health, diversity and inclusion in our writing… It was like finally understanding what people mean when they say they love their job and could talk about it all day. I could have stood there all day, asking them questions, getting to know them, discussing the gossip in the publishing industry. I did not, of course, because I wanted other readers to be able to talk to them, but we exchanged social media accounts, and I finally feel as though I can say I’m an author, even though I’m not published yet. People within the industry accepted me as one of their own. That little girl could have crowed triumph to the trees, and I would have joined her.

As the cherry on top of that, one beta reader has already finished and provided some very constructive feedback on my novel–and feedback I hadn’t been expecting! That’s excellent; it means there’s something I can improve on before I send my manuscript out to query agents and hopefully get a book deal! Even more excellent: in general, I’d have to say the review was mostly positive, and that I have at least one hooked reader. As much as compliments make me squirm in my skin–something I’m working on–they sure do have a way of making me float on air and realize that not only did I mechanically-finish a novel (getting the words written, typed, and read), I also did well enough at it for others to appreciate my work. The wild child in the forest? She climbed a tree and stared up at the stars to think about what that might mean.

The doubt will always be around, and not everything I write will be decent; I know that. But if I can write something that even one person enjoys… well I might be able to do this for real, won’t I? And it makes my heart clench in a miasma of excitement, joy, and fear. I could have my dreams, I could fulfill my goals. I’m nearly there, even if the query trenches are rough and muddy and can tear you down. I nearly did it. And I’ll be able to prove it to myself, and to anyone who told me, through actions or words, that I never could.

22 August 2022 writing mental-health creativity projects

Desk Day - August 2022 - Sewing

Happy Desk Day! In all reality, I believe desk day was meant to be this past Friday based on the ridiculous rules my friend group made up based on a bunch of coincidences, but it’s fine. I’m going to do Desk Day today because I said so.

This month, I’ll be showing off my sewing desk. It’s a gorgeous antique kidney-shaped desk with a total of seven drawers–don’t let the bottom pair fool you, they’re double height. It’s beaten up but it has a lot of character. My parents found it on the the side of the road with a FREE sign on it. They grabbed it for me, and held it in their attic until I could drive it home! When I was cleaning it up a few months later, I was surprised with the discovery of three little trinkets from previous owners. Two are pictured here but the third needs to stay private as it is a pad of vintage return address labels for the previous owner. After a little digging, I found out that she had passed away quite a while ago, but that in her lifetime, she was married to a furniture mogul! Not the same mogul who produced the desk, as far as I could tell, but a small world either way. The chair was picked up from a local thrift store. I’m not sure how old it is and I can’t even do detailed research to find out; there’s no maker’s mark anywhere on it! But it’s comfortable for being wooden and sturdy!

My sewing desk, mid jeans repairMy sewing desk, mid jeans repair

The succulent wall hanging is something my partner and I picked up from a local eclectic store and it really fits in with the whole office aesthetic of plants, plants, and more plants.” My main sewing machine is a Janome. I’m currently working mending a small hole that appeared in my jeans, which is why the desk is a bit messy. In the corner, I’ve got my Singer serger. I don’t use it often yet–not worked up the courage to work with knit fabric — but I did give it a good clean when I got it off of craigslist. I changed out the blade and needles for good measure, too. Some of my sewing friends hadn’t even known that was possible!

Mending the hold next to the pocked on these jeans, playing a bit of thread-chicken with the top spool.Mending the hold next to the pocked on these jeans, playing a bit of thread-chicken with the top spool.

When I’m sewing, I’ve usually got a pair of snips, a pair of scissors, a seam ripped, and some kind of measuring device out on the desk. Why I went with the flexible measuring tape today and not the hem gauge, I have no idea, but the scissors are delightful, as they fold up to be the size of a small altoid container. They need a bit of sharpening, but I love them for the quick cuts I need to make when I’m mending.

Off to my left, I’ve got a repurposed tea-canister full of pens, pencils, and tools, and a lovely cork-lidded jar full of ribbon and yarn scraps! It’s getting full now, so I may need to come up with a plan for some of those notions, and I think one of those plans might involve the brass box I’ve left out. On the bottom of the box is a sticker that labels it a pin cushion. At the moment it’s empty, which means the cushion was pulled out at some point, but there’s nothing stopping me from putting one back in. It’s either that or making a stylist mending kit to pop into a purse or using it as decor forevermore. We’ll see!

My notions jar, writing instruments, and a possible pin cushion project.My notions jar, writing instruments, and a possible pin cushion project.

Given that I’m a visual person, I pulled out all the buttons in my notion stash the other day to try to imagine using them, especially as I’m trying to think of some sewing projects I could tackle. There are some incredible bakelite options, as well as the plastic we’re used to, but every single button in that collection was picked out from a vintage or antique store. They’re so adorable and detailed that I just couldn’t pass them up when I saw them. The white ones are all different as well, meaning there are endless opportunities for fun with them. The lone white & black patterned one is really calling to me today, so maybe I’ll think about some kind of blouse that only needs one closure. And when I decide, I can pop a label into the collar that declares the blouse me made.”

So many buttons, so few ideas at the moment.So many buttons, so few ideas at the moment.

Overall, I love sitting and creating at this little desk. I have a bigger craft table–the subject of a future desk day post–for cutting fabric and drafting, which is certainly necessary, but when it’s time to sit and sew, there’s something so special about doing it in the soft-lit corner on a desk that’s had multiple homes in a chair that has been worn down to comfort.

15 August 2022 desk-day office-organization

Sprinting to the Finish Line

Last week, I opted to use the single week’s worth of buffer I’d built into my blog posting routine to take a step back from blog writing. I did this very deliberately, as I was in the last week before a self-imposed deadline on another project: finalizing a draft of my novel before sending it out to beta readers.

Normally I cannot make myself do only one activity for a full week; it’s exhausting and boring and I just don’t wanna focus for that long on anything… usually. When I’m approaching a deadline, one I know is real and binding, my brain goes into extended hyper focus, though, and I find it much easier to single-task.

So I spent last week editing, rewriting, and rereading over and over again, trying to get my book finished before the deadline I’d come up with. It worked for the most part! I got 95% of the way there by my deadline” and I’m finishing out the last 5% today–that work being a final read-through before I export the book into a variety of formats and send it on to my readers for feedback–but in that hyper focus mode I completely forgot the cardinal rule of these types of hyper focus weeks.

If I sprint to the finish, I will need to lay down at the finish line.

Every time I plan for one of these intensive sprints, I forget that I need a recovery period, a time to lay down and read someone else’s book, or scroll through the same 200 Pinterest pins I see over and over, or rewatch all of a favorite YouTube series. Sometimes I need a couple days to do an admin reset because while sprinting, I tossed all planning out the window because who can think when they’re running at full speed? I didn’t plan on using this week for that sort of recovery, but my body and my brain sure are telling me I need to adjust. So if my posts are a little scattered this week or if I suddenly come back to blog about the incredibly ridiculous Personal Knowledge Management system I’ve built out of twigs, you know why.

Be well friends, see you after I nap ten feet from the finish line.

8 August 2022 mental-health productivity strategies

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 dnd

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 pens

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 podcast

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