Happy Thanksgiving 2017!

AutumnCritters_5aToday is Thanksgiving Day here in Canada. This year has been a rough one for me. I don’t really feel like being thankful right now, so it is all the more important I do my yearly exercise of “counting my blessings”.

I am thankful:

  • For having been offered work at the moment when I most needed it. Without it, we would have been in serious financial trouble. I’m thankful, too, to have had the freedom of refusing to take more work when I felt I was burning-out;
  • For my husband getting a job in his field after four years of doing odd jobs. It’s a temporary job, but I hope that’ll help him reintegrate the industry;
  • To have found a way to rewrite and edit my novel, despite my recent lack of time and energy to actually do it;
  • To have had the perseverance to post blog articles almost weekly – that’s the same stubborn perseverance that made me burn-out instead of “taking it easy for a while”, but hey, nobody can have everything;
  • For my NaNoWriMo community, that has become a year-round writing community. The members are fun and supportive and I love them all;
  • To have learned how to knit: it helped a lot to get my mind off things when I started my burn-out leave and improve my mood – plus now I have stylish hand-knitted mittens that fit perfectly;
  • For my daughter, my little hyperactive and hypersociable princess, becoming more independent every day;
  • To have had the means of taking a creative writing course, which I am loving so far;
  • To have had to opportunity to beta-read Marnie Shaw and the Mystery of Yapton Farm; it was an interesting experience and I think the book has great potential.
    AutumnCritters_2a

Everything considered I guess my year wasn’t that bad. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m currently burned-out, but it helps put things into perspective. In a year, that will only be a small bump in the road… not to mention that it might help me find a more sustainable solution.

Happy Thanksgiving to all Canadians!

Advertisements

One Year Blog Anniversary!

anniversaryOne year ago, I started this blog on an impulse. I had become more serious in my writing and was well on my way to finishing my first novel, so I got overly enthusiastic. I didn’t really think I’d last more than a few weeks. I have missed a few weeks, especially since I started working again, but I am still here, and I have no intention of giving up anytime soon.

Statistics

Don’t you looooove statistics? I do! So here are some of those I thought might interest you: I have published 43 articles this year (this post is the 44th): 17 posts on life and personal development, 14 posts on writing, 11 book reviews, 1 short story. The most popular of them were A persona of myself, Confession of a hopeless hobbyist, What’s the worst that could happen, Declutter your text: use modifiers in moderation and Declutter your text: narrow your scope. My posts were liked  1,204 times and received 620 comments (221 of which were replies from me)

My blog gained a total of 350 followers over the year and was viewed 4,090 times, by 2,251 visitors. My best month was April with 570 views and 298 visitors. Most of my audience was from the United States (1,548 views), followed by India (619 views), Canada (483 views) and the United Kingdom (384 views). My top three referrers were the WordPress Reader (1498 views), the Community Pool (477 views) and Search Engines (156 views, 129 of which originated from Google).

stats year 1

 

Highlights

One of the best moments this year was when an acquaintance told me something like: “I got lost on your blog instead of working. Oops.” I was happy to know I could keep someone reading my different posts to the point they forget they have things to do. I had the same feeling when complete strangers would “like” several posts in a row then “follow”. It doesn’t take away my insecurity, but it soothes it a little.

Another thing that amazed me was seeing how I reached people from all over the world. I received views originating from 85 different countries!

Next Steps

Now that I have a fair amount of posts, I want to make them more easily accessible through. I’m planning to create pages of links, sorted by category and theme. I’ve also drafted a new self-introduction, which I intend to upload soon.

I’d like to find new ways to interact with my audience and my fellow bloggers, like running contests and featuring or writing guest posts. I’d also like to publish more fiction, either short stories or a series of short stories. Finally, if I can get out of my financial difficulties, I’d like to get myself a camera and take a bunch of pretty pictures to “decorate” my posts.

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_foliage-12

That’s all for today. Let me know if there are any other statistics or facts that you’d like me to share!

Fathers are underrated

IMG_1008

In parenting and in children development books, fathers are awfully rare. Those books all about the mother and the child. I guess historically that was mostly true; maybe it still is in some cases, but not in ours.

My husband is the one holding the family together. Without him, I don’t know what I’d do. I don’t think I’d be able to be a single parent.

He didn’t have it easy, either; my postpartum depression was has been almost as hard on him as it’s been on me. For months, he had to take care of a baby and a very sick spouse. He still feels emotional whenever he goes to a hospital to see a doctor, whether it’s for himself or for our daughter…

Even after I was out of the hospital and working again, he was almost our daughter’s sole caretaker for another year. Even now, when he’s there, he’s mostly the one watching over her. No wonder our daughter goes to him for emotional comfort.

IMG_1332a

A father is also, most of the time, a spouse, and he does a great job at that, too. He’s the one holding my feet on the ground when I’d otherwise get carried away with the wind. I’m sometimes so lost in my own fictional world, that I start considering life decisions in terms of what would be interesting to read about instead of what’s best for me.

He’s also there to remind me, among other things that I’m human… Metaphorically, of course: I tend to forget that, like anybody else, maybe even more than most people, I need breaks and days off to remain mentally healthy.

Whenever I have a mildly important decision to make, I always seem to want his approval. It’s not like I actually need it or like he’d lash at me for not asking him first, which I wouldn’t tolerate, it’s just… I know he sees things differently than I do and I feel like we need to communicate each other’s points of view so that we have a full 3D view of the situation.

He has his own faults, of course, but in the end, I don’t mind those so much because my own qualities more than make up for them. I don’t believe in such a thing as soulmates, but  what I do believe is that there is nobody in this world whom I’d rather have as a husband.

Happy Father’s Day to the love of my life, and to all other wonderful fathers whose work is so underrated.

Confession of a hopeless hobbyist

I’ve talked in several posts about how I gave up most of my hobbies to focus on writing, but that just made room for new hobbies to appear.

Remember in February when I said I had learned how to knit? Well, in March I accidentally learned how to crochet. Late April I’ve started practising the piano regularly again and am even shopping for an actual piano (I only have a cheapo keyboard). And now I’m considering taking horseback riding lessons and trying my hand at woodwork. Not to mention there’s a dress I really want to sew (sewing being an old hobby).IMG_20170209_161210b

Sigh.

There are some definite advantages to being like this: I am fairly polyvalent. Reading a makes me an open-minded and knowledgeable person. Writing keeps me sane by helping me express feelings I would otherwise no know what to do with.

I’m glad I’ve learned how to sew, knit and crochet. They’re both useful and anti-anxiety. That’s also the case for gardening, and I’m sure I would find woodworking extremely useful as a homeowner.

Jogging, cycling and yoga are also useful hobbies for my health. Karate, Judo, Aikido and Muay Thai contributed to making me able to defend myself if I ever was attacked. Swimming and dancing kept from becoming way overweight when I was in high school and ate a lot of junk.

Lolita fashion helped me stop apologising for who I was and feel better in my own skin. Donjons and Dragons is my one regular activity with friends and that is tremendously important, considering I’ve never been so close to being a shut-in.

Even watching TV, while not super useful for most people, is okay for me as a writer. It’s also one of the few things that still brings my husband and me together. However, I don’t tend to indulge too much in it, because it’s too closely related to reading and writing: it triggers pop-ups in my brain regarding the different stories I should be reading or writing instead.

However, I fail to find a tangible usefulness to my learning Japanese, Russian and Korean (I mean, I have no ambition to work for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service or anything), collecting BJDs (dolls like the one modeling my handmade scarf above) and Lego bricks, drawing, playing guitar and piano, playing video games, etc. I guess they help build my general knowledge and can also be anti-anxiety, but… so would a much, much handier hobby like cooking. But for the life of me, I cannot stay interested very long in that. It takes too long, and it bores me, and I don’t even like eating to begin with.

cloud-2I know that this, like my perfectionism, can be as much of a quality as it can be a fault: it’s a quality because it makes me a very polyvalent person, but a fault when it makes a scattered person. It makes me resourceful, but it’s also a sign that I have my head in the clouds when I not-so-secretly wish I had my feet on the ground.

I’ll have to accept that, too, and just focus on keeping some balance.

Besides, knowing a little about a lot of things can come in handy when writing stories. Actually, I’m sort of planning a story about a woodworker and a… not sure what the guy’s occupation will be.

Thank you for passing by, and please feel free to share about your own hobbies: I’d love to read about them.

On a side note, I’ll now post on Mondays, instead of Sundays.

Related post: Confession of a recovering book snob

When you don’t become a mother overnight

bunny mom and baby bBefore we become parents, we all have an idea of what it’ll be like. We’ll do this, not do that. We’re looking forward to holding our child’s little hand, yet we’re scared of it, too. We all know that it’ll be hard, but if other people can manage, so can we. That’s what I thought, too.

Well, now I manage… but it took me about 3 years to get to that point. And even now, some days I think I’m going to go crazy. I’ve had a panic attack not so long ago after almost two years free of it, and it was because sometimes I feel so incompetent as a wife and mother that there’s no way to express it.

My experience isn’t quite typical. For one, most women don’t have postpartum depression; I was in the unlucky 10-15% who did. It probably didn’t help my bonding with my child, but that’s not all there is to it.

I have an immense love for people, and animals, and plants.  However, I don’t “bond” easily with anyone or anything. I’ve always been this way. I don’t know why I thought it’d be different with my daughter… it wasn’t.

IMG_0629cOf course, I loved her from the moment I first knew I was pregnant. I became extra careful about my health to give her all the chances in the world of being healthy. I endured two months of acute pain that’d make me cry in order to breastfeed her so that she’d be as healthy as possible (don’t do that, it’s stupid; if you want to throw your baby away every time you breastfeed because they hurt you too much, you’d BOTH be better off with commercial preparation). I only stopped breastfeeding when I was admitted to the hospital for severe depression, and at the time it felt like yet another failure.

I felt so incompetent. Ironically, I was the one to tell my husband everything that had to be done because he was rather clueless about babies in general and girls’ hygiene in particular. I had the knowledge… but I didn’t have the stamina or the endurance required to take care of a baby. I didn’t have the “warmth” either. I’ve never liked holding babies, and it wasn’t different with my own.

I loved her, but there was no special bond yet. I didn’t enjoy my time with her, either. In the first year, I could probably count the happy moments on my fingers. I know I had some, but I cannot remember them. Then again, during that year, the “happy” moments were relative… none of them was really happy because I was depressed.

I felt so relieved when I started working again only 5 months after her birth. My in-laws would babysit her during the day, my husband would take care of her during the night. Still, I knew I “had” to spend time with her to work on that missing bond – my husband wouldn’t let me forget it – but it was difficult. All of this combined made me feel like I was a bad mother.2014-04-29 01a

After a year, I started feeling better and the bond with my daughter grew stronger, but still, having to “babysit” her felt like a chore. She had started walking at 10,5 months and was very energetic, still is, and I was always tired, still am. And even if it wasn’t for my energy level… she’s a handful. My parents and sisters and in-laws think so too, so it’s not in my head.

However, the biggest improvement yet happened when we put the diapers away because she didn’t need them anymore. Suddenly, she didn’t feel like a weight anymore. I could go out with her and not bring a huge bag. Sometimes, I don’t even need a stroller. And I don’t need to be constantly watching her, either.

Now, I’m probably no different from most mothers… well, no more different than I am from most people in general. You probably couldn’t tell that I ever had “bonding issues”. I am practically her sole caretaker one week out of two because of her father’s weird work schedule, but we get along just fine.IMG245

My daughter “prefers” her father; he’s the “motherly figure” while I’m more of a “fatherly authority figure” and anyway girls that age tend to cling to their father. But I know that, when I’m not with them either because I’m working or because I need a break from social interactions, she’d like me to be there.

She doesn’t think I’m a bad mother, nobody does. It was in my head all along.

There are more than just one type of mothers. None of them is perfect, and none of them is the “right” type. All mothers do what they can. There are moments of joy, and there are moments of tears. But they endure and never give up.

To those strong, resilient women, I’m wishing a very happy Mother’s Day. ♥

5 things Dungeons and Dragons taught me about life

nat201 – Progress doesn’t show immediately.

In Dungeons and Dragons, the experience you gain accumulates and, once in a while, you level up: you get more powerful, learn new skills, etc. It’s the same for almost anything you learn.

There will always be a time when you feel like you’re stagnating. You’re not, unless you’re doing nothing; you’re accumulating experience and will level-up eventually. You just have to be patient and find the right challenges for your level. A challenge too formidable might kill your character (or your motivation); one too humble will be a waste of time.

IMAG0029a2 – Sometimes the dice won’t roll your way and there’s no higher meaning to it.

No, the DM (or God) doesn’t hate you. It’s probability. A car accident is a probability; a disease is a probability; being hired is a probability. You can and should do your best so as to put the probabilities in your favour, but a 0,01% probability is still an existing one; a 90% probability isn’t a certainty. All of us get our fair share of fumbles. Don’t worry, in the long run, we get an almost equal amount of critical hits.

Also: Even level 20 characters can get a fumble. It doesn’t mean they’re any less worthy of their level.

3 – Alone, you’re vulnerable.

There was that strong half-orc warrior that got killed by one of the smallest creatures in the bestiary: it got on his back and he was unable to fight against it, dying a slow death. Had he not left the party alone, any accompanying member would have been able to save him. But he thought there was no need for that.

It’s easy for people considering themselves “strong” to think they can do everything on their own. But all of us have our kryptonite. Besides, it’s so much more fun to share experiences with people.

4 – You’ll encounter bosses once in a while.Creator Dragon a

Sometimes they’ll almost kill you. Sometimes you’ll fall and your companions will save you. Sometimes you companions wil fall and you’ll save them. Sometimes, too, one playing character will die and there’s nothing you could have done differently to save them. But even then… the rest of the party has to keep moving forward.

It’s really just like life. You can get knocked down and it doesn’t mean you’re weak. The characters most at risk of falling during a fight tend to be those with the highest armour class and constitution – in other words, the most resilient. They take all the hits to protect other characters who could not endure them. Which brings us to…

5 – Diversity is essential.

While the tank takes most of the damage, the mage, for her part, deals most of the damage. The healer cast protection spells on the party and keeps everybody alive. The thief is especially useful outside of encounters as a stealthy vanguard, lock picker or trap detector.

All those characters don’t necessarily get along, but they understand the value of having different skills and point of views in the party.

IMAG0039a Centaur made using hopeso 009’s technique.

It’s good to have contacts with people whose personality or culture is different from yours. Sometimes, problems that seem impossible for you to solve seem simple in their eyes.

Diversity is precious and we must embrace it.

 

A persona of myself

selfie01aA year ago, I had this crazy idea of creating an online persona. I was going through one of these phases where I hate myself and wish I was somebody else, when I realised that with the internet I could be someone else. Nobody would know it wasn’t true.

I’d create a character for myself, the person I’d love to be. She’d be beautiful, stylish, elegant, classy, smart, sensitive… I could dye my hair, photoshop my face, use a pen name. There were no limits to whom I could pretend to be. I mean, obviously I couldn’t pretend to be famous or anything, but… I wouldn’t want that anyway.

Hannah Jane McMurray 03
Ida would look more or less like Hannah Jane McMurray

The name I chose for her was Ida. It’s made up the 3 central letters of my full name. If I was to make it big or get found out as a “fraud”, I could say cool stuff like “Ida is my core self”.

She would be a writer. Not a famous one, just… a surviving one. Ghostwriter, maybe? That would explain why her name couldn’t be found anywhere. She’d be driven, she’d know how to get things done, unlike me. She wouldn’t bother with countless hobbies like I do, either. She’d be writing, reading… maybe just… playing piano in her free time (I do play a little).

She’d be 30 something and have written several books. She wouldn’t let herself get sidetracked. She’d be quite assertive, too. And a business woman, out of necessity.

Her beauty routine would be psychotically perfect: she’d exercise 6 days a week, eat healthily, keep a steady weight all year long. She’d take excellent care of her skin, paint her nails, go the beauty parlour every week. Her house would be clean, her garden well-groomed.

Belle 03
Art by Arisbeth Cruz Hernandez

Oh, but she’d have to have a few faults, or else she’d look superhuman. So… I guess… uh… well, she’d be a perfectionist like me. And then… wait, I gave her too many qualities, she looks like a freaking Disney princess. She wouldn’t be assertive; she’d be a shyish introvert like myself. And she wouldn’t be so pretty. It’d be a bother to heavily photoshop all of my pictures anyway. There is no need for a writer to be model-pretty.

That’s when I realised the beauty to die for was the only unachievable characteristic – that is without surgery and time-consuming daily routines. Nothing was keeping me from becoming that person. I could take better care of myself. I could give up those hobbies that didn’t make me feel like I was doing anything of value.

Ida became me. I was fine with it; I was good enough. I already was who I wanted to be, all that was missing was a clear path to follow.

DIGITAL CAMERAThen, gradually, I became more like the original Ida. I became more driven; I wrote two first drafts; I gave up all of the hobbies I could; I even go to the beauty parlour every few weeks now. I still gain weight in the winter to lose in the spring; my house is still messy most of the time; my lawn is half grass, half dandelions. It’s fine. People gotta have faults, hey?

Becoming a surviving writer might never possible. It doesn’t matter, being a struggling writer is good enough.

Who would have thought I’d have to create a fake identity to find my true identity?

Just be yourself. Let people see the real, imperfect, flawed, quirky, weird, beautiful, magical person that your are.
– Mandy Hale