Mission Impossible

A group of friends and I tried an Escape Room the other day. What is an escape room? A themed room where you’re locked in for sixty minutes. You have to solve some puzzles to find clues leading to the ultimate clue that will unlock the door. Nine other people can join you in this adventure. (There were six of us.) You have to reserve the room in advance, and are expected to be there early.

We started by signing a waiver in which we agreed not to reveal the secrets of the room and agreed that we wouldn’t hold the company liable if we somehow harmed ourselves in the room.

Sounds ominous, right?

Then we were briefed on the room and the rules. We went into it, boasting that we could beat the record time for getting out of the room (a little over 29 minutes). We assured ourselves, “We got this. We got this.”

The clock was visible high on the wall. We tried not to look at it at first. We started off strong, finding the first clue early. Forty-nine minutes left? Ha. Piece of cake.

Tick.

We worked well as a team, splitting up to solve separate puzzles when necessary. “Oh man, we definitely got this,” we congratulated ourselves.

Tock.

But then one puzzle stumped part of our team. So we delegated it to another part.

Tick.

But that didn’t work, so all of us gathered around, trying to solve one puzzle.

Tock.

Oh man. Still couldn’t get it. So, we moved on to another puzzle, leaving the hard one for the present. But then we had to come back to it. We couldn’t ignore it forever.

Tick.

It took so long to solve. Sooo long. One person sat on the floor, unsure what to do next, unsure where to find the next clue. We asked each other if we should ask for clues. We could get up to three. So, we asked for clues. One at a time, they came sliding under the door.

What a relief. We’re back on track. Yes! And we’ve still got time. Still got time.

Tock.

Finally, one last clue to go. But where to find it?

Tick.

Oh good grief is that all the time we have left? Hurry. Hurry!

Tock.

Where is the last clue? Where?! Why are you just standing there? Why aren’t you doing anything??

We came out with our heads hanging low, having failed to discover the very last clue that would have unlocked the door.

Isn’t it interesting what happens when you add pressure to the mix? You can be convinced initially that you can conquer, only to later discover that you couldn’t. Instead, you’d caved under pressure.

In a number of heist movies, a thief or a team of thieves would rehearse a heist by listening to a countdown. In this way, they would get used to the pressure of time as they worked through the obstacles. This helped them avoid panicking as the seconds ticked away during the heist.

Before we arrived at the Escape Room, we played an Escape Room board game. But it was far different from the reality of the room.

Though articles have been written about using Escape Rooms for corporate team building, the biggest lesson for me was not that aspect. Instead, the Escape Room showed me how I often react under pressure—I panic and give up—and how much growth I need to survive the pressure cooker of life. Granted, this kind of pressure was a little contrived. How often are we locked in rooms after all? But life will throw plenty of make-or-break episodes my way in the form of deadlines, unexpected news, rejections, etc. One thing I know I can do—brush up on positive ways to deal with stress.

How do you react when you’re under pressure?

Escape room image from twitter.com. Pressure image from warriormindcoach.com. Panic button from justcourses.com.

Sometimes, Storms Come

Last week started off like a gentle breeze literally and metaphorically. The temperature was warm and inviting. I had a lovely time with Kate Hosford on the blog. (In case you missed that post, you can read it here.) And I read a beautiful post by Penny over at her Life on the Cutoff blog. The photos of colorful flowers paired with a poem by Robert Frost made a powerful and uplifting combination. (You can read that post here.)

   

My birthday happened midweek. I spent much of the day in a windowless room without wifi. I’ll say more on the why of that in August probably. I can’t discuss it now. In celebration of the day, a friend gave me flowers (below) and a ton of my favorite tea.

Inspired by Penny’s post, I went in search of flowers to photograph, but found many of them windblown and defeated looking.

   

The gentle breeze earlier in the week had turned cold and dreary, thanks to the relentless rainstorms that shoved their way into the area. Fitting weather for the events ending the week. First, a friend texted me to say that her mammogram resulted in the need for a biopsy of “something suspicious.” And then my sister-in-law texted to announce that her mother had been rushed to the hospital.

It doesn’t look good, she wrote. Less than half an hour later, I heard back from her: She’s gone.

Yes, sometimes, storms come.

Even if a loved one has reached old age after living many years in poor health, you still aren’t ready for that person to leave. But after taking turns with my brother to desperately give her mother CPR (no response) until the paramedics came (still no response) and watching the medical team at the hospital try to rouse her mother (no response), my sister-in-law reluctantly let go.

So that was the week—a grim reminder of the cycle of life: birth and death.

On Saturday, the friend who learned of her need for a biopsy handed me this hyacinth:

A reminder that though storms sometimes come, life goes on.

Speaking of life going on, thanks to the random number generator, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, you can expect a copy of How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea to come your way. Please comment below to confirm.

Photos by L. Marie (except for the author photo). The paintings in the background of one photo were painted by Rick Smith. Copyright © 2016 Rick Smith.

Differently Creative

I’ve never been the neatest person in the world. My room used to horrify my mom, who is a very neat person.

“Clean your room!” she’d tell me every once in a while, especially when guests were due to arrive. Or she’d say, “Clean that closet.” The closet was where I stowed a number of projects birthed through my imagination.

This is my desk at home.

    

Those of you who are neat might be ready to crawl up a wall at the sight of it. Heh heh. Sorry about that. Whenever I’ve worked full-time in an office—usually at a publisher or book packager—my desk was usually the messiest. Piles of books, files, and knickknacks lived on my desk. Many of my neater coworkers had that crawling-up-the wall reaction whenever they looked at my desk. But whenever a supervisor or coworker asked me for anything—a book for a quote; the address of a writer we hired for a project; whatever—I could produce it just like that.

On the day before important clients were due to visit, one of my supervisors would declare a cleanup day. (Are you sensing a pattern here? Yep? Just like Mom.) I would have to return books to the office library and dump my knickknacks in a convenient drawer—only to pull them back out when the clients left.

There’s a method to my messiness. You see, I’ve often had to work under extremely tight deadlines. Like having to produce a book in a month. All of the resources required for the project needed to be at hand. That way, I could do the job quickly, without having to get up and constantly search for whatever was needed.

As a freelancer, I’ve had to juggle multiple projects also. Which usually means stopping one project and starting another, before returning to the first project. Which also means more and more things get piled up on my desk (like the sharks I’m crocheting [see below], which are on top of my writing journal).

Another aspect to my cluttered desk is my love of color. Cheerful, colorful objects always make me feel better. Which is why I love daisies, especially Gerbera daisies.

   

A number of people have asked me over the years, “Why can’t you keep your desk neat?” My answer to them is, “Does it really have to be?”

A piled-up desk is not the image I usually see in magazine articles featuring a writer’s workspace. I usually see beautiful wooden desks with everything in its place. But what you see in this post is my space. I don’t want to pretend that it’s different from what I’ve shown here.

The bin of DVDs and blu-rays (and the occasional skein of yarn) that sits next to my desk

I don’t think of myself as more or less creative than someone with a pristine desk. I think of myself as “differently creative.”

How about you? What does your creative space look like? Is it messy? Neat? In between?

Photos by L. Marie with the exception of the gerbera daisy image, which came from freeimages.com, and the Tyra Banks finger snap gif, which came from pic2fly.com.

Resilience

I’ve mentioned before on this blog (right here, actually) that a stray orange tabby has taken up residence in the bike shed of my apartment building—a no-pet building. Not that I have anything against pets. I live here, because it’s cheaper to live here. I don’t have a pet anyway. Well, not officially. The orange tabby, whom I’ve nicknamed Feral, is my unofficial pet. I share him with my next-door neighbors who also feed Feral.

I assure you, a cat is in this photo. This is from the previous post. Feral is not fond of having his picture taken.

Feral prefers tuna, but not the cheap kind you can get at a discount store like Aldi. His palate is much more highbrow. Albacore tuna, please. In water.

Late last fall, my neighbor built Feral a little house out of a cardboard box, and lined it with straw. This house fit snuggly at the back of the bike shed. Feral seemed to like it. During the cold winter days, particularly the below zero days, I felt better, knowing Feral was out of the chill wind.

Anyway, last week, I went out to feed Feral, only to discover that his house had been thrown away. The bowl I used for his food had been placed on the sidewalk.

Feral had been evicted.

As I mentioned, I live in a no-pet building. Someone might have informed the powers that be of our secret pet (though technically, he’s not in the building; he’s in the bike shed).

Two days later, I peeked in the bike shed, only to discover Feral curled up behind the bikes once more. Despite the loss of his box, he’d returned to the only place he seemed to call home. So that night, I left a bowl of food and some fresh water, only to discover the next day that the food bowl was missing, and Feral too.

He’d been evicted. Again.

I thought he was gone for good. Nope. He turned up on a day when rain fell like the proverbial cats and dogs.

At the back of the apartment building is a window with a view into the attached bike shed. I could see Feral in there, sitting nicely, waiting for me to bring a bowl of food.

Feral is the picture of resilience for me. He survived being dumped in this area by someone who didn’t want him. He’s made it through a number of winters. Sometimes he comes to the shed bearing scars earned from fights. He won’t let anyone come near him to take him to the vet. He runs away and stays away if you try to pet him. All he wants is food and water. But sometimes, when I stand at the window and look in, he meets my gaze. Just that little bit of contact—knowing I’m nearby, though behind glass—seems to be enough.

Tuna from bumblebee.com. Other photo by L. Marie.

The View in the Darkness

img_3709I haven’t wanted to write this post, so rather than talk myself out of it, here goes.

I’ve had the kind of season people describe with idioms like “the bottom dropping out” or “waiting for the other shoe to drop—whoops, there it goes.” In the last few months, my electricity was switched off due to nonpayment. Internet also. The landlord sent polite notices asking for the rent. I often wondered where my next meal was coming from. When you lack money or a job that pays regularly, you can expect this sort of thing to happen.

You can also expect to field a lot of advice from well-meaning people, who assume you’ve lost control of your life and need them to step in to fix it. “You should apply for this job,” I’ve been told so often, that if I had a dollar for every time I heard it, I could buy real estate.

Oh, I have applied for many jobs. Case in point, I applied for an office manager job at a nearby college a couple of months ago. I had to take four tests for that. I think I broke a record for how low I scored on the Windows Excel test. (The last version of Excel I had was the 2003 version.) Needless to say, I did not get that job.

Anyway, not long after that, a friend and I were headed into a grocery store (a store known for their gelato section, where you can buy a small cup for $1.25) for our bimonthly chat when we spotted a guy who is a friend to both of us.

“What’ve you been up to?” I asked.

“I just got a new job,” he said.

“Oh, where?” I asked.

And then he named the college and the department. Yep. The job I did not get. But I was happy for him. He needed work too.

So yes, I have applied for jobs while using the library’s wifi. (And yes, I applied for a job at that library three times. Didn’t get those jobs.) I networked. I auditioned for writing projects (mentioned in this post here), only to have to wait and wait and wait.

When your lights are off, candles become very precious. Now, I’m not into candles like some of my friends who love the mood they create. So I’ve tended to shove into cabinets the ones I’ve been given. Well, they came in handy this time.

I thought about how the pioneers in the days before electricity were able to do so much without it. I also thought about scenes I’d written in novels where the people had only firelight and a few precious candles to use for light. I totally had the lighting all wrong in my twenty-first century-used-to-electricity mindset.

One thing about being in the dark—you can’t help noticing the shapes of things in shadow. You also tend to appreciate any sliver of light you can find.

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I couldn’t read for long in the dark, even with candles, so I had to turn to my imagination. I told myself stories—something I used to do every night. When had I gotten out of the habit? I’m not sure. This was a nice habit to reclaim.

Anyway, my time in the dark didn’t last long. I received a check for something I can’t really discuss in public, but could tell you a little about in private. The check enabled me to have the lights turned on. And just last week, one of the projects for which I auditioned was finally approved with me as the sole author. And it pays well. 🙂 My landlord will be happy. I have a tight deadline on that one though. But I’m grateful for the work. Want to know something funny? It involves writing stories—a lot of them in fact. One hundred to be precise for kids ages 4-7.

It seems my time in the dark was helpful after all.

A Sticky Situation

Ever try gluing something that seemed to resist the glue? Though the package tells you the item you’re gluing is definitely one of the items the glue works on, it stubbornly refuses to stick to the other item. I mean you’re just gluing one piece of paper to another piece of paper, for crying out loud! A glue stick should work!

And then you turn to other glues that supposedly work—Tacky Glue, Elmer’s School Glue, and—the last resort—hot glue. Nope. It’s like one piece of paper has set its will against sticking to the other.

glues

So then you consider stapling the two together. But a big staple will mess up the effect you’re going for. You really need Item A glued to Item B. So you ask someone for advice. But that person points to the glue stick, because it has worked for him every time. You growl at the person, telling him, “The. Glue. Stick. Does. Not. Work!” He insists you’re doing it wrong then. Seven buddies of his used a glue stick every time, and it worked for them. You hang up the phone, vowing never to speak to the dude again, though he’s your own brother.

Sounds extreme, right? But the glue situation happened to me with paper recently and with fabric. However, I did not vow to stop speaking to my brother. But let’s change the situation from gluing two items together to finding a job; getting a book published; finding an agent; getting a date; finding success—whatever you currently need. Maybe you can relate to the frustration I felt then. As for the items on the above list, been there done that too.

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When we’re looking for any of the above, people give us all sorts of advice they think should work, because the method they chose worked to achieve the same goal for them. The assumption is that Method A (applying online/at a dating website/whatever) will net Goal A at least most of the time. If Method A doesn’t work, then surely Method B (networking), C (blindly sending out resumes/hanging around places where lots of people frequent/whatever), or D (cold calling) will work. If these four don’t work, well surely we must be doing something wrong.

Not necessarily. After all, can you think of anyone who has been offered every job for which he or she has applied? (Okay, there are some people who get everything they want.) Sometimes, we get none of the jobs for which we apply.(Been there, done that.)

Time for Plan B!

plan-b

The fact is that sometimes things don’t work out the way we or others planned. I know. You didn’t have to read this blog post to figure that out. Just living life teaches you that. But we also don’t have to start doubting ourselves just because someone else’s advice didn’t work for us.

What, if anything, have you had trouble doing, even after taking the advice of others? Did you eventually succeed? (By the way, eventually, I managed to get the two pieces of paper glued together. Hooray for me.)

Plan B image from teenology101.seattlechildrens.org. Find a job image from vizfact.com.

Dedication

One of my neighbors has made a habit of heading to the weed-choked field next to our apartment building to sing at the top of his or her lungs. The weeds are so tall they hide him or her from view. Perhaps that is a mercy. This person is tone deaf, with a high, screechy voice that defies an immediate gender assignment. (I suspect this person is male, however. So, for the sake of avoiding him/her and he/she from now on, I’ll just go with male pronouns.)

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The weeds

The first time I heard the voice, I thought I was hearing a cat yowling.

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He is not the mystery singer.

Nope. Singing. I think he sings pop songs. Once, I recognized the words, “Baby, ooo, baby,” but nothing else, since he uses a language different from my own. (Not Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian, or French either.)

The other day I waited to see if the singer would leave the weeds so I could finally identify him. That attempt was doomed to failure, however. He seemed to want to remain hidden in the weeds until after I left. I wondered if even a glimpse would prove embarrassing or would scare him away. This person is as elusive as a fawn.

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As I headed inside after listening to him for a while (I tried to record his voice, but that failed too), another neighbor headed out. After stopping to listen to the singer, he shook his head, laughed, and proclaimed, “He’s terrible! . . . I can’t believe he does this every day!”

Every day. Despite having a less than melodious voice—at least according to the common opinion of others.

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Why does he do it? The obvious reason is because he loves doing it. Perhaps singing brings him joy.

These days, many of us are so conscious of the opinions of others. We edit our work, put on makeup, and even take several practice selfies before posting to Instagram to avoid the negative opinion of someone else. How many times do we offer the plain, unvarnished version of ourselves to anyone? Also, how many times are we tempted to stop doing something we love, because someone else has expressed disapproval?

The singer in the weeds does his thing day after day, despite opposition. Do you?

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Singer and sun from clipartpanda.com. Calendar from clker.com.