Month: January 2018

Pillow Thought

I am very much enjoying breathing through my nose.

Snot is not something I enjoy being obsessed with, but its chronic over-production makes my life miserable so I have to keep thinking about it.

I’ve written already this year about colds and recovering from colds, along with certain epiphanies over the years around my sleeping environment and how it has caused so much congestion. The other night I woke up with my nose plugged (again) and suddenly thought that it could be my pillow.

So I switched pillows. I have a sleeping pillow and an extra propping-up pillow – the propper-up is much thinner, but even without enough neck support and only a couple of hours of sleep I woke up feeling better than I had in a while.

What I should have done was to go and buy a new pillow immediately, but I decided to try washing the old one first. That was better, but replacing the pillow entirely was better still.

This should be a calendar thing every few years: replace pillow.

Now that the quality of my sleep is improved I just have to get enough of it.

Post Script: this post was written when I had just bought my new pillow and had woken up snot-free the morning after. As I am publishing it a few days later I have to mention that I have been slightly congested again on subsequent mornings as my body has adjusted to its less allergen-rich environment. It is still a lot better than with the old pillow, though.

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Grace and Frankie

We don’t watch a lot of television. We might go days without turning the big dumb screen on at all, but when we do our serial narrative tends to be delivered by one of the streaming services.

There are a lot of good shows on there, not all of which involve superheroes*, so it is difficult to fit another one in.

If you do have a half hour slot open in your viewing schedule, can I recommend Grace and Frankie on Netflix?

Grace and Frankie is a sitcom, but it’s a sitcom with some bite. The story follows two women of (as the saying has it) a certain age, wives of two lawyers who founded their firm together. Almost immediately we learn that the two men are gay, and want to divorce their wives so they can be together. The wives end up living in the same shared house on the beach.

While the premise is strong, it’s easy to imagine it being ruined in any number of ways, but Grace and Frankie succeeds because of several important elements:

  • the cast – the main senior characters are all played by amazing actors: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Michael Sheen and Sam Waterson. While those are the most well-known actors the whole cast is good, and there are frequently guest stars who are very recognisable.
  • the tenderness with which relationships are presented – this is a sitcom (or, perhaps, a dramedy) but the relationships aren’t played for laughs. They are the most important things in the characters’ lives and they are presented seriously.

    And it’s worth mentioning that even though the premise has the two primary characters separating from their husbands in the first episode, we still see how their ex-husbands’ relationship develops as they start their life together. It’s one of the most positive portrayals of a gay relationship I’ve seen.

  • the writing – it’s delightfully witty and keenly observed. The characters have realistic reactions to events and the awkwardness of people not talking about things they need to talk about is pretty intense.
  • the continuity – everyone has changed over the course of a season.

Obviously, the show is not flawless: the half hour form limits how deep they can go into some subjects (although the aforementioned continuity means that they do have large topics); the resolution of some problems can be a bit pat sometimes; and the situations can sometimes be grotesquely absurd.

But it is a really good show. Those awards it has won are well-deserved.

I hope you enjoy it too.

[*] I prefer the more general term “superhuman” but in television they are always heroes.

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I find one of the most uncomfortable things about recovering from illness is suddenly seeing all the things that I haven’t been doing.

One of these things is of course this blog, which I will come back to writing about sensible things soon, but right now my primary concern is getting better.

Where I am right now is that I’ve finished the course of antibiotics which means the strep appears to be gone. This means the constantly scratchy throat is smooth and the swollen lymph nodes in my neck are more normal. I’m getting a bit more energy back, reestablishing work patterns and trying to get back to exercising.

I am starting from a very low base, unfortunately.

When I was at the doctor the other week my vitals were pretty decent, but the way I keep them that way is by exercising. If I had had a couple of weeks off I would start by running, but I’ve had more like three months without significant exercise so I am going to start a bit more gently.

But I am going to start. It’s time.

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Late Diagnoses and Me

Like most people, I get ill sometimes.

Acute illnesses are really easy to spot, like the stomach flu I had a few years ago that meant I couldn’t run my half marathon. Taking the time to recover from those kinds of maladies is not hard because they are so crushing that there is little choice.

However, I’m not always good at spotting things with a more gradual onset, or which look like things I get anyway, or… well, here are a few examples.

It’s Not That Bad Really

I wrote the other day about getting treatment for strep throat. This came after weeks and weeks of colds and runny noses, minor fevers and occasional muscle pain. In retrospect, I should have gone in to see someone in November. I might have got treatment for symptoms and had a less awful close to 2017, but in the moment it was always just a cold and I would be fine in a week, then I would feel better for a day or two before symptoms would recur.

Lesson 1: go to the doctor when you are ill for more than a couple of weeks. They might be able to help.

I was Fine Last Week

We used to have cats. I like cats, and I get on with cats, but it turns out that I am debilitatingly allergic to their charming fuzziness.

There’s form in my family for this. Some of my close relatives are acutely allergic, starting up with the sneezing and runny noses almost immediately, but I never was. Living with cats during the early years of my marriage was nice (mostly). I did seem to be tired a lot, though, and I spent a lot of time congested.

One weekend we went away cabin camping and I suddenly realised that there was a problem. It was February and we all had colds, but I felt better than I had done in weeks. Could it be because I wasn’t breathing cat fuzz?

It was. Turns out I have been getting more chemically sensitive as I have aged, including intolerance for oil-based paints and an intense reaction to oranges. But cats — cats are my nemesis.

Lesson 2: things that you used to be tolerant of can become a problem later. These can be hard to spot because it might be a gradual onset.

Lesson 3: being congested makes me stupid.

I Don’t Know About You, But I’m Depressed

I am not neurotypical, but I have not always known that.

I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, but I am fortunate in that my depression is mostly a consequence of my ADD. Since I learned about my having ADD, so much of my early life and early career makes sense.

The funny thing is that this is a case where I probably couldn’t have got help much earlier than I did. ADD is recognised now in Britain, but it still doesn’t seem to be taken as seriously as in the US and when I was living there it was really only just being talked about.

However, getting a diagnosis has helped me enormously because it has been a new lens to view my mental quirks through. Does ADD explain everything? Of course not, nor is it an excuse when things go awry, but it offers explanatory power and sign posts to work around situations where my brain just won’t do that. And knowing that not accommodating my ADD is what triggered my depression has helped enormously in not falling into that hole again.

Lesson 4: get help, and if it doesn’t fit you then try again.

What’s It Supposed To Look Like?

I’ve been wearing glasses* since I was 4½. I have a complicated prescription in both eyes, and I also have a squint.

I also do not have stereoscopic vision, a condition I share with around 10% of the population. I learned this at a museum (probably OMSI, although I don’t remember exactly) where there was a collection of optical illusions. Most of them worked for me, but none of the ones that required stereoscopic vision did.

When I realised that, I suddenly understood why I could only erratically hit the ball in tennis or volleyball…

Actually, if you will excuse the digression, I want to talk about volleyball.

I really like volleyball. It’s the only team sport I fully enjoy. I started playing at school because (no joke) the ball was big and I could see it without wearing my specs. Later I joined the volleyball club at one of my jobs in Britain, and was lucky enough to play with a county-level player who taught me a huge amount. But then she tried teaching us to spike the ball.

This is a skill where the setter places the ball close to the net right where the spiker is going to be. Then the spiker smashes the ball down, hopefully avoiding any of those pesky blockers. And I just couldn’t do it – I might hit the ball sometimes, but rarely and never with a clean contact. I was frustrated, the coach was frustrated, and I had no idea why I couldn’t hit the ball. This inability only made sense when I understood that I didn’t have stereoscopic vision.

There have been many other incidents over the years, from pouring acid on my thumb instead of into a test tube to lunging the wrong distance in fencing, but they all come down to one thing: I can’t tell where things are in space to the level of accuracy needed to do these things.

I don’t get eyestrain, though. I often hear people complain about having to take a break from their screen every now and then, but I’ve never had that need.

Lesson 5: sometimes, your body just doesn’t do that.

Our Bodies Are Complicated

These are the lessons I draw from these incidents

  1. go to the doctor when you are ill for more than a couple of weeks. They might be able to help.
  2. things that you used to be tolerant of can become a problem later. These can be hard to spot because it might be a gradual onset.
  3. being congested makes me stupid.
  4. get help, and if it doesn’t fit then try again.
  5. sometimes, your body just doesn’t do that.

I hope they help you too.

[*] some people say “corrective lenses” in this kind of remark, but I have always worn spectacles. I can’t do contacts. Just no.

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Aftermath II: The Aftermathening

A major benefit of Three Things is that you can see when you are starting to get off-track.

I am off-track.

If I was feeling right I would be correcting things: putting in more effort on the things that need it, triaging away the things that aren’t as urgent, setting aside dedicated time to focus on a knotty task. This is how I work on problems.

The sad thing is that I am not right. I haven’t felt actually well for more than a day at a time since the middle of October. It’s been low-grade fevers and sore throats, congestion and exhaustion and muscle pain. I’ve always just worked through colds in the past, since they’re viral infections that can’t be hurried along, and during November I am entirely focussed on The Book so I didn’t have time to think about my health.

The effect is that the amount of energy I have had to spend on anything has reduced radically over the last couple of months. I’ve had no more effort available to apply, the triaging has been de facto (ie I just haven’t done stuff), and the time I would usually set aside for dedicated work has been destroyed by my being, functionally, a zombie outside of the day job.

My not getting better finally penetrated my consciousness this week. One of my kids was diagnosed with strep throat last week, and I went in to see if something like that was what was underlying my persistent illness: rather than the continuous series of colds that I was used to, maybe this was a long-term infection instead?

The drugs have helped a bit, and I got word back from the doctor that there is strep there for me too, with all the antibiotics that that entails.

Here’s to getting back on track.

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January Things, 2018

December was blighted by illness, just like November. This has been one of the worst cold and flu seasons I can remember, and we’re only half way through.

Still, let’s see where I got to despite that.

Three Things for December

  1. finish November novel – completed, although I still haven’t done the in-a-draw printout. I have paper, and I have a stand-in cover. Still struggling with the chapter formatting.
  2. revise Song – no work. I effectively took the last week of December off from everything, and that included working on writing. I will say that I needed a break.
  3. short stories – no work, much as for the Song revision

One out of three… I really hate colds.

Three Things for 2017

Where does that leave me for last year as a whole?

  1. finish A Turquoise Song – incomplete. Made good progress, but still a lot to do.
  2. talk to some agents, aiming to obtain representation – first stages complete, looking forward to continuing this quest in 2018.
  3. investigate producing Livia as an audiobook – equipment collected, but my voice has been shot for weeks now.

I’m going to give that 1.5/3 overall. Progress on all fronts, but nothing really finished.

Three Things for 2018

New year, new goals. What can I achieve today?

  1. finish A Turquoise Song – this is obviously the most important thing still. I want this done by the end of April.
  2. submit my work – this was going to be a goal about short stories, but then I remembered that I still need to get my novel in front of agents and then I realised that submitting my work is the actual goal here. A sub-goal will be finishing more short stories.

    I am aware that I should provide a measurable indicator, but I don’t have a good sense for what is a reasonable pace so I am resisting setting an arbitrary goal at this time.

  3. produce Livia as an audiobook – I know that this is something I want to do, now.

These are good goals, though.

Three Things for January

What a glorious luxury, setting goals only a few days into the month!

  1. finish a short story
  2. revise Song – get back to this
  3. re-engage with crit group

The ruins aren’t smoking any more, so time to rebuild.

Things in Retrospect

This completes my first full year of using three things as my primary planning tool.

I think it’s working.

There are a lot of similarities with my old sabbat-timed traffic light indicator system, but the reporting burden is a lot lower. What I really like is the scalability: I am using three things down to the day level of detail, and finding value in that daily planning process.

So, while I cannot claim that three things is necessarily making me more productive at this point, I can say that I have a much clearer sense of where I stand with my goals from a daily perspective which the previous system really didn’t support.

Finally, as an extension of the simpler reporting, this turn-of-year post was much much easier to write.


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