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Things That Have Never Been: New Year’s Resolutions 2017

And now we welcome the new year.
Full of things that have never been.
Rainer Maria Rilke

Last year was the first time I ever thought of actually writing down my New Year’s resolutions, let alone sharing them with other people. Resolutions have always seemed like a private thing, something you were somewhat ashamed of, if only because you hadn’t been doing it all along. Since, for the first time, I don’t have to rely on memory for what I’d resolved to do in the previous year, I decided to revisit that list — to see how many of the resolutions I’d managed to keep — before I made my list for 2017.

Of course, some things on my annual New Year’s lists are perennial, like losing weight. Even when I weighed 123 pounds (far too thin for my 5’8″ large-boned frame, I assure you), I made resolutions to lose more weight (I wanted to look like a model, and maybe I did: people were always telling me I looked like a skeleton). Some things have been in my lists of resolutions annually, but only once I began seriously writing, with the intention of becoming a published author, and that was when I began college. Other items on my lists of resolutions began to appear as I got older: stay healthy, remain intellectually active, stay current with popular culture.

Here’s the list of my 2016 Resolutions, followed by my notes on progress, before I present my list of 2017 plans.

#1: Write More
#2: Lose Weight
#3: Write More
#4: Walk More
#5: Write More
#6: Spend More Time With Those I Love
#7: Don’t Forget Tom
#8: Read More
Final Resolution: Write More

Write More
Numbers 1, 3, 5, and 9 on last year’s list was Write More, by which I meant spend more time on my blogs, blogging more consistently, as well as spend more time on my books. I did succeed in blogging more consistently, thanks mostly to my participation in Rachel Thompson’s (@RachelintheOC) brilliant #MondayBlogs.

My readers seemed to like that I was blogging more often, as well as to like what I was actually blogging on: films and TV shows. From May to December 2016, The Alexandria Papers registered  over 720K unique views, for which I thank my readers and fans most sincerely.

I don’t recall when I realized that my readers liked the Entertainment Reviews more than anything else, but once I switched over to doing those sorts of blogs about 90% of the time (with the remaining 10% reserved for Things Wondrous Strange), I seemed to have hit my blogging stride. Despite the hard work of researching and writing the blogs, I love doing it.

Besides blogging, I did write on my books more often in 2016, working primarily on the revised version of Mastering Fiction and Point of View. It was originally scheduled for publication in Dec 2015, but I didn’t make the deadline. In traditional publishing, that kind of thing can void your publication contract, but my editors generously moved the anticipated publication date to Dec 2016.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make that deadline either, if only because of another 2016 “goal” that I wanted to achieve but hadn’t known about in time to put it on my list of resolutions. This goal made me so wretchedly ill and miserable, I often couldn’t write — or do anything else — at all.

Getting Off A Prescription Drug
I didn’t plan to spend most of 2016 getting off a prescription drug that had recently been linked to a possible increase in Alzheimer’s dementia, but you can bet I was wholeheartedly in favor of getting off it once I heard about those studies. My physician was very supportive: he set up a plan for me to get off the drug, which had been prescribed over 10 years earlier to help me manage panic disorder. According to his plan, it would only take 9-10 months to withdraw from the drug completely.

I was in shock. 9-10 months to get off a prescription drug? I never heard of such a thing.

To make it even worse, that was a “short” withdrawal plan: some patients were taking a year or two to get off the medication. Apparently, some prescription drugs, like benzodiazepines, are so dangerous that they affect every cell in your entire body, whether you are aware of it or not.

Stopping the drugs suddenly can literally kill you.

Getting off them slowly is no picnic, I can assure you.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome can cause anything from hallucinations and migraines to seizures and suicide. Obviously, I didn’t commit suicide — fortunately, I never even thought of it — but I’d say I had about 98% of the side effects of withdrawal, including almost incessant hemiplegic migraines — related to epilepsy and which can themselves cause seizures — as well as seizures from the drug withdrawal itself. I guess about the only benzodiazepine withdrawal side-effects I didn’t experience were feeling suicidal, feeling homicidal, and losing a lot of weight.

Around June of last year, I slightly accelerated  the withdrawal schedule, after consultation with my doctor. By that time I’d spent almost six months suffering from migraines, seizures, insomnia, electric shock sensations, depression, depersonalization, and super-extreme irritability and anger (which I kept inside, not wanting to subject my guy Tom, our furry babies, my friends, or complete strangers to the withdrawal-induced non-target-specific anger).  After my last dose of the drug — 29 June — I still had to wait a few more months for it to clear my body completely, as well as for my body to heal itself before the withdrawal side effects would stop.

Why didn’t the doctors who originally prescribed the drug warn me about the horrific side-effects of long-term use, which is considered anything longer than 3 months? Did they not know? Did they not care? (I’m quite certain that one or two of them wouldn’t have cared if they had known, but that’s probably the subject of another  blog post.)

I did the withdrawal at home, and I’m grateful for that: my doctor didn’t think it was necessary for me to be hospitalized, especially given my terror of hospitals stemming from the horrifying abuse my Munchausen’s by Proxy mother inflicted.

So, one of my 2016 resolutions became getting off a prescription medication that I’d been instructed to take over 10 years earlier, and which is now considered dangerous. I got off it, despite the vicious withdrawal symptoms, and I can only hope the damage it did to my body will heal eventually.

Lose Weight / Walk More
Despite my best efforts, I didn’t lose any weight. It’s exactly the same today as it was on 1 Jan 2016. My guy Tom thinks being the same weight a year later is a significant achievement. I think it sucks, honestly, and don’t understand why I didn’t lose any weight. I ate healthy foods, drank plenty of water, walked a lot (almost every single day, despite withdrawing from medication, since I was hoping the walking would help with the withdrawal side-effects), and did other exercise, too. I continued classes in Kundalini Yoga, which I’ve been doing for about 2 years now, and I also began T’ai Chi classes early in 2016. Encouraged by one of Lydia Schoch’s blog posts, I also began lifting weights again.

No weight loss, however.

Years ago, one of my physicians encouraged me to “get healthy” rather than to concentrate so much on losing weight. I guess I’ll just have to continue to keep that in mind: I’m getting healthy. I’d still like to be about 20-25 pounds thinner while getting healthy — I just want to go down one pants size, for heaven’s sake — but I’m guessing I’ll concentrate on getting a bit thinner in 2017, as opposed to losing weight.

Read More
I love to read, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to keep that 2016 resolution. I decided to read some books that I’d previously neglected, including some popular series of books that weren’t necessarily written for people my age. I read the complete series of  The Hunger Games, Twilight Saga, Harry Potter, and Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children. I also read almost all The Saxon Tales (2 left to read in that series, but they just came out at the end of November, so I just received them in the last couple of weeks).

I read dozens of New York Times bestsellers by authors I’d never heard of before, as well as Indie authors’ books, and some of the classics that I’d previously avoided, like Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (5-volumes, about 700K words).  

Thanks to Rachel Thompson’s @MondayBlogs, I found wonderful blogs that I read almost daily in 2016. I share their posts regularly on Mondays on the twitter, but also on my FB Author Page whenever I find them. You’ll just have to check out those accounts to see all the blogs and bloggers I like since I don’t have room to list every single one here. These are just a few of my favorites.

Rachel in the OC
by CSA survivor and advocate Rachel Thompson, (@RachelintheOC) on surviving, preventing, and spreading the word about Childhood Sexual Abuse (#CSA), providing forums like her website and twitter’s Sex Abuse Chat

Bad Redhead Media
also run by Rachel Thompson, (@BadRedheadMedia) with an emphasis on helping writers and other small business owners master social media, or, as Rachel says, “Helping You Help Your Damn Self”

Lydia Schoch (formerly On-The-Other-Hand)
by @TorontoLydia, one of the best blogs with an amazing variety of topics, from anything dog-related to becoming a Canadian citizen, from the Zen of medical tests to her weekly Suggestion Saturdays, which feature blogs and websites that are fascinating

Mimi Matthews
written by @MimiMatthewsEsq, who got a multi-book contract last year based on her marvelous blog on all things Victorian Era, from clothes and pets to personalities and other authors who write books and blogs on the same time period

Anne R Allen
written by author @AnneRAllen, with an emphasis on posts to help writers with everything from writing the first draft to revising to marketing

Barking Up The Wrong Tree
by Eric Barker (@bakadesuyo) with posts on living your life better with the principles of meditation, Stoicism, mindfulness, and more

BrainPickings
one of the most diligently researched blogs I’ve ever found, written by Maria Popova (@BrainPicker), it covers writers, artists, books, and all things wonderfully intellectual and artistic

Raptitude
by David D Cain (@DavidDCain) who writes about meditation, awareness, mindfulness, and things like whether or not there’s something wrong with you because you (think you) read “too slowly”

Spend More Time With Loved Ones (and Don’t Forget Tom)
I have to say that this was one of my priorities in 2016, especially after I began withdrawing from that prescription drug and feared it was going to kill me. I spent more time reconnecting with friends who are far away, and spent as much time as I could with friends here. With Tom and our furry babies, I pretended that each day was going to be my last, and I wanted it to be full of love. It was. I don’t regret an instant of the time I spent with my loved ones.

New Year’s Resolutions 2017
So, what are my resolutions for 2017? Many are the same as last year, but I guess it would be good to list them, if only to make it easier to refer to them throughout the year. I was going to list things like Clean my writing desk and Not upgrade to any new iPhones, but I think I’m going to slightly change the way I make my New Year’s resolutions.

Instead of setting yearly goals, I’m going to plan some things I think I can do on a daily basis.

Write
Read
Exercise
Eat Healthy
Meditate
Spend Time With My Loved Ones

I’m going to try to keep it simple and attainable this year; after all, now that I’m writing them down and actually sharing them with others, it’s important to bear in mind that I’m going to be held accountable for the resolutions I make.

I’m off to a good start: it’s the first day of the year, and I walked for 45 minutes, did T’ai Chi, meditated, had coffee with Tom before he and SadieDoggie went off to work, and wrote a blog post.

Now I’m going to gather the #GangOfSeven Rescue Kitties and read some of my favorite bloggers’ posts, some of which are already posted for this week’s #MondayBlogs.

What are some of your resolutions are this year, my Lovelies, and  which resolutions from 2016 you managed to keep?

 

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Filed under Blogging, Memoir, New Year's Resolutions, Real Life of a Writer

As If Blogging Weren’t Difficult Enough

When I first began blogging, which was only a few months ago, I admit I knew nothing about it. Still, I wanted to dip my toe (or pen) into the metaphorical pool of blogging to muse about things that interested me, share some of my traditional publishing background with other writers, and just generally explore some intellectual topics that have always interested me.

No one ever told me how difficult all this blogging would be.

Some make it look so easy. Guy with his Red Pen of Doom, for example. My twin Sophie, who seems to have recently changed her theme to an even more attractive one. (Another) Alexandria of I Don’t Blog But If I Did never seems to have trouble coming up with topics. And I suppose I don’t have to mention Amanda Hocking, whose blog-site is longer than some of my novels. Some writers I admire – John Dolan, Seumas Gallacher, and Anastasia Vitsky, among others – all make it seem effortless.

Though daunted, as I always am when I try new things, I did a few blogs and got nice comments from my Sis and friends. I managed to get in some film or music videos when I was trying to illustrate a particular creative writing topic, or just to entertain my readers. I got some compliments and some Retweets on the Twitter. I even found a blog-theme which resembled my website theme, complete with coffee cup (necessary), pen, paper, sticky-notes, and laptop as decorations around the posts. Up till today, I thought I was getting better at this blogging thing.

Though I still find it difficult to come up with topics, I started to feel a bit proud of myself.

What a mistake.

Today, when I signed in, there was a notice that my theme had been changed and needed to be updated. When I originally updated my theme from a rather bland one to that which matched my website, I experienced no difficulties whatsoever. All I did was choose “Activate”, and my entire blog-site was there, complete with my customized side-bar, which took me at least 2 weeks to master and arrange to my satisfaction.

Since I liked that theme – some sort of Messy Desk Theme – I went ahead and updated it.

Mistake #2.

Without looking at my site first (mistake #3), I began to update some of my earlier posts, making the hyperlinks more sophisticated, for example, and introducing some videos into posts which had not earlier had them, eliminating some videos from posts that now seemed cluttered. Having taught students to use computers in my writing classes for the last ten years of my University career, I save obsessively – the memory of crying students who’d lost work still rings in my ears – so the blog changes were saved successfully. My only non-mistake of the day, it would seem.

Then I looked at the blog.

It was totally deformed. And I mean that seriously.

The footer was partially obscuring the header, though I had merely updated the theme that I had successfully been using. There was a dark background behind the posts, a background almost identical in color to the posts’ print, obscuring the writing. The sidebar was missing completely. At least, that’s I thought. Until I scrolled down the entire length of 6 months of blogs and found the sidebar in the footer-area. Not arranged as a footer, mind you, but as a long, SuperModel-skinny sidebar. Stuck down in the footer area.

I tried refreshing the page.

No change.

I tried to return to the un-updated version of the theme.

Nope. Not possible now that the theme has been updated.

I tried to switch to another theme. Though its customization indicated that it had room for a main column and a sidebar, I simply could not get any sidebar to appear, despite my moving all my WordPress widgets from the “Inactive Widgets” box where they’d been placed to the area titled “Sidebar.” Apparently, though there was nothing in the theme’s description or Live Preview to indicate this, its Sidebar was limited to a certain number of widgets, which happened to be about 1/4 of the ones I have.

I tried another theme that seemed quite simple and had only one main column and sidebar. My “Inactive Widgets” box was empty, though none of the widgets I’d so laboriously constructed was in the Sidebar. I quickly switched to another theme, hoping that my widgets would re-appear in the “Inactive” box (they did). However, I couldn’t get any of them to  appear in the newest theme’s Sidebar. I went back to the Messy Desk, hoping that it might have been fixed somehow in the two hours I’d been attempting to re-create by blog.

Wishful or delusional thinking, I suppose.

I tried to apply – I mean, activate – three more WordPress themes. All had similar problems with sidebar widgets, footer areas, blog posts. One had all the titles of my posts on one page, with the first sentence of each. Ugly and too crowded. Most seemed to have a limited sidebar area and randomly selected which of my sidebar widgets to include, without allowing me to change which showed up. Several had no background or header photographs, no matter what their previews showed. Some had no color selection even though the description indicated “marvelous customization.” A few even had multiple footers – on top of each other.

rds092086

After screaming, raging, and cursing designers who don’t ensure that their updates work with the applications they’re designing them for – I’ve been through this before with Android devices, Mac apps, and apps for the iPhone – I poured myself yet another cup of coffee, apologized yet again to my boyfriend for waking him up by making him think the house was on fire, and tried one more theme.

As you can obviously see, it’s rather girly.

While I readily admit that flowers and the color pink are among my favorites when choosing clothing items, I’m not certain I like it as a blog theme.

Still, it has a sidebar that allowed me to recover all my missing items. It doesn’t have five footers. I could put my sidebar in the order I wanted. My blog posts actually showed up – as opposed to just appearing as a title list with the first sentence of each.

I’ll probably get used to it, though the girly-pink-flowery theme doesn’t seem to fit some of my more intellectual blog posts. Like the ones on Shakespeare, Alzheimer’s, Caregiving, the Holocaust, acting, films, traditional v. Indie publishing, Creative Writing, classic Literature, unreliable narrators, mastering literary point of view…

The über-pink-hyperlinks containing the titles of my books seem rather odd, given that some of my books are on the Holocaust, Alzheimer’s, assisted suicide, serial killers, severe child abuse, rape, death, Jesus (as a great Jewish teacher and spiritual leader), the Roman Empire during its occupation of Judaea, and other such sundry topics.

Maybe I won’t notice the pink after a while.

Still, I won’t be updating themes with any regularity. I won’t be changing them because I get bored either. I’m too terrified to do that.

Yes, there were warnings that you should save your material: I did that. It’s not that I actually lost anything. Not permanently. It’s just that I lost things long enough to take me seven hours to restore my blog-site, and the only theme that seems to work is a girly-pink-flowery one that makes me feel kind of silly.

I wear flowery dresses, retro-design pink embroidered sweaters, red stilettos, and classic costume jewelry from the 1930’s-1940’s  because I like the contrast between looking feminine – like a Barbie doll, as one of my best friends once laughingly commented – and having a fierce intellect that scares most people off until they discover I have a sense of humor. I like the fact that my appearance makes people think I’m a powder-poof until I open my mouth: the more astute ones usually then get the joke. Even if they don’t, they usually find me charming or interesting. (And if they don’t, it simply doesn’t matter to me.) You see, I choose my clothes to contrast with my personality. I like frilly, girly, flowery clothes, but that is not my personality, brain, or intellect.

Thus my hesitation with a girly-pink flowery blog theme.

It doesn’t even go with my name, which I chose myself.

I dumped the ugly Appalachian name I was given, as well as the silly nickname I used in high school when I was too young to legally change my name, to a name I thought suited my personality and my art better. Alexandria Constantinova. My first name was chosen when I was about 17, after I read Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet. 

My middle name is the Russian-feminine version of Constantine, after Emperor Constantine, because he unified the divided Eastern and Western Roman Empires, among other things, and somehow, it just seemed to fit me. I also liked the “theological-noir-action” film Constantine, based on the series of graphic novels HellBlazer, because theological/moral topics and Noir art are two of my favorite things in the world. They’re the intellectual equivalent of dark chocolate and coffee.

(Alexandria Szeman didn’t appear on my first novel because my editor at HarperCollins insisted that my name “wouldn’t fit on the cover of my book” and claimed, furthermore, she wanted an “easy” first name to go with my “hard” last name. Despite my protests, my first agent did not argue with the editor, so I was intimidated into using my high school nickname. When my second and third books were published, my second agent and second/third editors/publishers were horrified by my insistence on using my real name: they didn’t want to “lose the name recognition of The Kommandant’s Mistress“, so I was stuck. Only my fourth editor laughed at the idea that my real name wouldn’t fit on the cover of a book, or that my readers wouldn’t be able to find me or my work.)

I chose Constantinova because it seemed to go well with Alexandria. Both those names seemed a perfect contrast to the way I dress, while matching my personality and art. They also honored my ethnic heritage.

Will people look at my blog now, with its flowery-girly-pink theme, and assume that its content is lightweight and frivolous? Will potential readers assume I am only concerned with clothes, makeup, and celebrity gossip?  I wasn’t even interested in those things when I was a little girl, although sometimes I pretended to be to hide the fact I was smart because my family kept telling me that I’d never get married (this, when I was as young as 6) if boys ever discovered how much I liked to read and what big words I used.

All this time, I thought that coming up with topics to blog about would be my most difficult task.

Maybe, I’ll get used to the pinky-pink blog theme.

Then again, maybe not.

On the other hand, I could always pretend I intentionally chose it to contrast with my intellectual blog-posts…

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Filed under Blogging, Creative Writing, Memoir, Writing