Saturday Edition – Writer, Paused.

My view for 48 hours earlier this week

My view for 48 hours earlier this week

I must begin today’s post with an apology to regular readers who come here today expecting the second half of the conversation that we started last weekend with the post, Getting Paid to Write – Part I. My week did not go as planned, and – as the title of this post indicates – this writer was put on pause for a moment.

To make a long and mostly boring story short, Monday evening found me en route to the ER with acute stomach pains that had been building throughout the day. By the time my beau got me to the hospital, I was barely able to stand up straight. One three-hour wait and a cat scan later, I was admitted to the hospital proper where I was told by a sympathetic young doctor that I was going to need to have surgery to remove my appendix. I had never had surgery before. The only other time I’d been hospitalized was when my daughter was born, twelve years ago. I tried not to panic.

As far as I can tell (knock on wood), everything went swimmingly with Tuesday’s surgery; but it was still mid afternoon on Wednesday before I was finally able to get home. Wobbly and unexpectedly exhausted, I spent the remainder of that day and all of Thursday just resting. (Though, I will admit to taking a much-needed shower and doing a load of laundry.) On Friday, I made my way back to my desk to start back in on some client work. The going was slow, but each day I feel a little more like myself.

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I tell you all this to explain why today’s post is somewhat off-topic, but also because I wanted to share with you (confess?) some of the thoughts that ran through my head during the forty-eight hours I spent in the hospital. While I was, of course, worried about my own health (and perhaps even more so about the well-being of my daughter, parents, and beau who were so worried … not to mention my cats), I was also distracted and entertained by a steady stream of unrelated thoughts that had less to do with my own situation than with the curious questing of my slightly addled (first on pain, then on pain meds, then on residual anesthesia) writer’s mind. It would seem that even in somewhat dire circumstances, my brain couldn’t stop coming up with “What If?” scenarios, character questions, and story ideas.

For instance, each person I encountered – beginning with the ER staff and patients – was a potential character. Though I was mostly distracted by how awful I felt, I still remember the following people from the ER waiting room:

  • The surly woman who checked me in at the ER desk, barely able to keep from rolling her eyes, and who my beau is convinced kept shuffling my name to the bottom of the pile despite the fact that I was curled in a fetal position in one of the waiting room chairs while the rest of the patients seemed content to watch game shows and sit coms on the large-screen TV that was mounted on the wall over my head … What made her so surly? Why would she knowingly cause a patient continued pain? Why did she do this job?
  • The young woman in plaid and dreadlocks who appeared to be homeless and who accepted vending machine food and a styrofoam cup of coffee from one of the orderlies (my beau said she reappeared the following night as well) … Did she stay in the ER to get out of the cold? Was she actually sick? Did the orderly know her personally? What was in the plastic bags she carried with her?
  • The twenty-something caucasian girl with a sprained finger who was accompanied by an older African American man with whom she laughed out loud while watching The Big Bang Theory … Were they father and daughter? What made them feel like it was okay to be so boisterous amidst people who were obviously not feeling well?
  • A heavy-set, middle-aged man who sat off to the side, dozing off with this hand over his eyes, as if trying to block out his surroundings … Was he here for a physical or mental ailment? What made him so tired he could fall asleep sitting up in a waiting room chair?
  • The youngish couple with their infant daughter – the mother wearing a surgical mask while she nursed the baby, the father in charge of their large collection of baby-related paraphernalia … she was the only person who made eye contact with me, but I couldn’t tell her expression because of the mask … Who were they here for – the mother, the baby? Was she afraid that I was contagious? Was she contagious?

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Throughout the stages of my stay, my writer’s mind continued to wander and distract, observe and dissect, wonder and explore. It would take far too long to capture and document all the thoughts that ran through my head, but I can tell you that they ran the gamut from imagining the relationships between various staff members to the back stories and current crises of fellow patients to the home life of my surgeon and anesthesiologist to the possibility of haunted corridors. I wondered where my appendix would wind up and about how having a piece of the body removed – even an ostensibly unnecessary one – might affect a person. I overheard a social worker talking with a Latino woman who had been transferred because she didn’t have health insurance and wondered about the possible decline and collapse of the health system. I noticed how many patients seemed content to zone out in front of a seemingly endless broadcast of game shows and soap operas and wondered if it was possible to turn people into zombies by way of television waves. I wondered about the life of the designer who had created the graphic for the privacy curtains that hung around the beds on ceiling-mounted tracks. I gained some small insight into what it must feel like to deal with a long-term illness – being shackled to an IV and leg compression sleeves.

In short, my mind never ceased asking questions and posing scenarios. Though I was outwardly resting, on the inside my head was churning with countless thoughts and queries and ideas. Forced into stillness, I was even more aware than usual of all the stories that existed around me.  They wound back and forth, in and out of the room like so many threads – crossing, tangling, or running straight through without any contact.

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My head is still a little foggy and my eyesight slightly blurred (a residual affect of the anesthesia, so they tell me), but the other thought that stays with me from my time in the hospital is how many times I worried about the things I have not written. It wasn’t as if I believed I was truly in any mortal danger, but any medical crisis (even one as common as appendicitis) serves as an abrupt and mostly unwelcome reminder of our own mortality. Faced with signing the liability releases with their long lists of things that could potentially go wrong, I couldn’t help but think about all the stories and projects that I’ve been meaning to write, but haven’t. It wasn’t exactly a life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment, but I was certainly granted a  moment of clarity about what really matters to me.

I don’t wish medical emergencies on anyone, but I do hope that reading this post might inspire you to stop for a moment and think about what really matters most to you. What would you regret most if everything changed tomorrow? What would you hate to see left undone? It’s hard to answer these questions in the absence of a dire circumstance, but worth the effort nonetheless. What do you want to work on today – right now?

Thanks for sharing part of your Saturday with me. I’m heading out now with my daughter to walk one of her dog walking clients and maybe take ourselves down to the local coffee shop for something tasty. I may still be moving more slowly than usual, but I can hardly wait to get out in the sunshine and fresh air. My writer’s mind is eager to revel in the possibilities of a new day.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Maintaining healthy habits while working from home

Working from home is great, isn’t it?

You can roll out of bed, get to your desk and work in your pajamas or yoga pants without any stress or strain. Heck, you could even skip brushing your teeth, showering, or eating breakfast if you wanted.

And sleeping in? Well, without any commute or the need to get up and get ready for work, you’ve at least gained an hour every morning from the past daily commuter traffic drama, haven’t you?

Working from home is convenient. And for some, myself included, maybe too convenient at times.

It’s so easy to wake up and walk a few steps to the office chair — and sit… for hours, easily absorbed by our work and not being interrupted.

GetUpAndMove

With no one to tell us how we look, it’s easy to even stop worrying about appearance. We can work longer hours when we work from home, too. There’s always one more thing to get done, and we might as well tackle it sooner rather than later, right? Heck, there aren’t any dark parking lots to deal with or traffic to contend with – working from home gives us so much MORE time to work!

Event though these things sound like they might be benefits, without discipline, working from home can become unhealthy. We can get out of eating regularly, not drink enough water, forget to get up and move, and even sacrifice must-needed sleep.

When I worked in a corporate office I made sure to drink a lot so I had to get up several times during the day. Working from home, I got out of that habit, so now set a timer for an hour so that I’ll remember to drink something.

Exercise is definitely easier during the warm weather months. This winter was difficult in terms of getting outside to exercise, or even drive to the gym. But it’s necessary to find ways to stand (standing desk, anyone? I know Lee has talked about the benefits at least twice) and move around to get the blood flowing and the slouched back straightened out.

I gained several pounds over the winter due to not moving enough and grabbing junk food out of the pantry instead of taking the time to prepare healthy meals. Convenience isn’t always a good thing!

Have you come upon any health concerns or challenges since you started working from home? How have you dealt with them? What do you do to make working from home a healthier option than the typical office job?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Physical and Mental Stress Relief for Writers

Right about now, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed. You might feel a little stiff and achy, distracted, unable to focus. I hear you. I’m feeling that way right now, too, which is why I decided to share a few little stress relief treats today.

First, on the physical side, sitting at the keyboard for long periods of time definitely wreaks havoc with neck and back muscles, not to mention the tendons that are susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome. To help you combat these muscle gremlins, here is a link to a series of yoga stretches plus two videos of simple, quick exercises. Doing these routines only takes a few minutes each day, and can provide some immediate relief as well as help prevent further pain and injury.

Office Yoga: Sneak These 10 Stretches Into Your Day

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buddhify2On the mental side of things, I am loving the app, buddhify2 (available for iOS and Android). I have all the best intentions about developing a meditation practice, but – sadly – those intentions often fall to the wayside in the hustle and bustle of my day. I’ve tried a few different apps, but buddhify is the one I like best so far. It includes a series of meditations that are designed to fit into your already busy life. So, for instance, there are meditations to do when you are eating lunch, commuting, and even working online. In addition, there are specific meditations for when you are having trouble sleeping, feeling stressed, and trying to deal with pain or illness. The guided meditations are easy to follow and don’t feel too touchy-feely (something I’ve found with other guided meditations). There is even a little humor.

The app isn’t free, but I haven’t regretted the purchase and am finding that these quick (usually about five to eleven minute) mediations are often just the thing to calm me down in the midst of all the chaos.

 

So, those are my quickie relaxation and stress relief tips. Now, I have to go meditate before my head explodes, and I’d probably better do some of those stretches, too. My neck could definitely use it!

Cheers!
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Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Attention Writers: Posture PSA

If you’re a keyboard jockey like me, you know about the neck, back, and wrist pain that can sneak up on you if you’re not careful. Too many hours contorted by a less-than-ergonomically-ideal set-up can leave you writhing in pain and cursing the gods for making you want to write at all. Ever.

That’s why I just had to share this awesome little video that I discovered on Facebook via writer and creative coach Sharon Abra Hanen. Sharon is a delightful woman whom I met at a Grub Street class a year or two ago. I’m pretty sure she loves writers as much as she loves writing (hence the coaching part of her business). Plus, she has an entire page on her website dedicated to “chocolate!” … so I pretty much think she’s brilliant and take anything she shares as gospel.

Here’s the video:

I guess sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words … and maybe an un-cricked neck and ache-free back, too.

Here’s to happy – HEALTHY – writing. Get those ergonomics working for you!

 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

The Canine Cure

Leo!

Leo!

In my thirty-year career, I’ve suffered the repetitive stress injuries and muscular-skeletal problems that result from overuse of my hands, poor ergonomics and too much sitting. I’ve developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, tendonitis in both hands, and trigger fingers. I’ve had any number of episodes of stiff neck, sore back, locked hips and hunched shoulders, all resulting from too much time sitting at the computer with poor posture. And while I work best in solitude, the downside is that I sometimes suffer debilitating loneliness leading to extreme self-doubt.

I’m fortunate not to have an addictive personality, and I’m not suicidal, but these are mental health risks suffered by many, not just famous writers, mostly dead. In fact, I think it is writing that helps me maintain my mental health. It’s my physical health that has required medical intervention.

I’ve had surgery to correct carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, as well as trigger-finger release, and I’ve had extensive physical therapy to rehabilitate my hands. I now work at a modified work-station that includes a split keyboard, a foot rest, and a raised screen so that I have optimal posture while at work. To

I rest this ergonomic split keyboard on my lap, with my feet elevated on a step stool, for best working posture.

I rest this ergonomic split keyboard on my lap, with my feet elevated on a step stool, for best working posture.

alleviate the stiff neck, sore shoulders and tired back from too much sitting,

The wood stove.

The wood stove.

I’ve added yoga classes to my exercise routine, greatly improving my core strength and posture. I also get up from my desk every hour to load the wood stove and refresh my tea. But I’m still lonely. Until this week.

This week I’ve discovered a cure for all my occupational ailments: a puppy. Leo is a 14-week old male lab-mix who has rescued me from the doglessness I’ve been suffering since my last canine companion passed in August.

My footstool and the cave under my desk. NB Puppies are hard to photograph!

My footstool and the cave under my desk. NB Puppies are hard to photograph!

First off, he’s adorable and he adores me. Next, he interrupts me at my work to go out and play: we run, we romp, we explore. The activity and fresh air are good for us both. And finally, once he’s played out, he settles down in the cave under my desk, where his presence is a great comfort while I work.

As always, each writer will find a unique way to complete her text on time, in health, with happiness. For me, it’s the canine cure.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, essayist and educator. She’s the author of the award-winning novel, Into the dll2013Wilderness and a regular commentator for Vermont Public Radio. Luskin leads writing workshops and accepts select projects of prose works-in-progress for developmental editing. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Friday Fun – Energy foods for writers

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: What food (or foods!) do you turn to when you need a burst of productive, feel-good energy? What brings clarity, enthusiasm, and an overall sense of wellbeing?

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson: When I need a burst of energy or productivity it’s generally in the afternoon and I find I gravitate toward something cold – usually iced water. (My addiction to iced coffee is relegated to mornings since I’m affected by the caffeine for hours.) And now that fall is here, apples are a-plenty, so a cold apple really refreshes me. In other months, it’s some type of fruit that I’ve refrigerated.

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Jamie Wallace: I’m going to try not to sound like an infomercial, but I recently started something of a food/health experiment and I’m pretty excited about it. My mom and dad have been drinking fruit & veggie smoothies since the beginning of the year. They own a twenty year-old Vitamix blender that moved with them from the east coast to the west coast, out to Hawaii, and back again. In the old days, they used it to make healthy oatmeal cookies (with carrots in them!) and other treats, but ever since my dad discovered the smoothie thing, that’s become the venerable, old machine’s sole purpose. Dad’s been trying to talk me into doing smoothies, but it wasn’t until I came across the online “intensive juicing clinic” offered by Farnoosh Brock that I decided to give it a go. I wasted a few weeks agonizing over which juicer or blender to buy, and finally purchased the latest model Vitamix on a whim after seeing it in action at a Costco demo. We’ve only just started, but I’m already loving this new habit. I’m starting my day with a tall glass of fresh, chilled yum. This morning’s recipe has strawberries, yogurt, honey, blueberries, pineapple, a banana, and almost two cups of spinach. I start my day feeling energized, healthy, and clear-headed. I usually have some left over, so I put it aside for an afternoon pick-me-up. Perfect. Best of all, my eight year-old daughter is getting in on the act. The fact that I can load her up with fresh produce first thing in the morning still hasn’t quite sunk in. ANYway … so … my answer to the question above is FRUIT & VEGGIE SMOOTHIES! (Oh, and – happily – Farnoosh is coming out with a smoothie recipe book soon. Can’t wait to try the new concoctions!)

Diane MacKinnon: Yikes, I’m going to sound like a junk food junkie after you read Lisa and Jamie’s favorite foods for energy! I don’t really have a go-to snack, although I’ve had some great green smoothies and plan to buy a Vitamix blender as soon as I get out of debt (working on it!) My only rule about food is I try to eat carbs, protein, and fat together, so I will eat cheese and (buttery Ritz) crackers, or a Greek yogurt, or a Go Lean protein bar. I find eating simple carbs, even with a good cup of tea, makes me feel sluggish, so I try to wait until I’m hungry enough to eat a real snack and choose something a little more substantial than a cookie or a banana. I also drink a lot of water, and find that sparkling water feels like a real treat after drinking plain water all day long.

 

Wendy Thomas – I’ve got to go with fruit. Summer fruit is a treat and Lisa’s got it right about the apples (clearly one of the best things about living in New Hampshire.) I’m not one for sweet drinks (sorry, if you put sugar in my coffee, I can’t drink it) but I do like cool (not cold due to sensitive teeth) water with flavor essence (again not sweet.) When I’m working, I try to stay away from heavy foods which tend to weigh me down. Breakfast is usually toast and coffee, lunch is a salad or bowl of soup – oh and I *never* have alcohol when I’m writing. I know, I know, some of  the greatest writers were drunk all the time, but as much as I adore a cold beer, if I have one during the day, I might as well pack up my computer and go home, it just allows too much relaxation to sneak in and then nothing gets done.