Depression Strikes Back

Depression has been kicking my ass for the last eight weeks.

A major contributing factor is my doctor reduced my meds. I was pretty shocked. I’ve been on them since 2001, and there’d been no discussion about this being a possibility. I asked why. She replied, “Well, you’re not as fat anymore.”

Since I lost my job in 2016, I lost weight. Partly because I can’t afford snack food, but mostly because I’m not commuting three hours a day, leaving the house at 5.45am, mainlining caramel lattes all day to keep me going, and falling exhausted onto my couch at 8pm with barely the will to inhale a pizza before I collapse into bed (spoiler: I still inhaled the pizza. The whole pizza).

For clarification, my doctor didn’t mean a weight/dosage thing. No, according to my doctor, because I’m not as fat now, I don’t have reason to be as depressed.

The consultation was the day before I moved. I didn’t have the spoons to argue with her, or express how outraged I was she assumes depressed people are depressed because they’re fat. I figured I’d give it a go. Although, I stopped my meds back in 2015? 2014? and things went very, very badly.

Sure enough, things have not gone well this time either. I started a reduced dose in early November, and spent the rest of 2017 slowly spiraling down into the delightful & familiar state where I only want to lie in bed all day, without even the strength to try to sleep.

The other contributing factor has been the reality of how much worse my mom is – and how much worse she is getting – between her brain tumor and her MS.

I feel guilty at leaving my grandmother in Auckland. And I feel pissed off at my cousins and aunt for implying through their shocked silence I’m a neglectful granddaughter and should have moved her down here to a facility close to me. You’re supposed to know the limits to your own capacity, though, right? And dealing with my mom now is going to be all I can manage.

I struggle with the knee-jerk reaction that because my mom can’t go out without me, I shouldn’t go out without her. It seems utterly unfair. How can I expect her to watch me happily heading off to experience the outside world, when she cannot?

Because of this, I screwed up.

I signed up to a beginners yoga class starting last week because I wanted to make new friends in this city. But then I felt like a piece of shit because I was going to get to go and meet humans and move my body. And I crumbled under the guilt and screwed up and asked if she wanted to go with me. And she eagerly jumped at the suggestion.

This was a terrible idea because she can’t do yoga. She can’t remember a sequence of instructions, she has terrible body-awareness, and she can’t walk unaided. I felt overwhelmed at the thought of trying to manage her environment for her – to manage her –  so she could participate.

But rather than address these issues with her, instead, when the class came around I said I felt sick, and I bailed on something I’d been looking forward to going to.

I know it sucks for my mom, to be trapped without being able to drive, to have language recede from her grasp like a racing ebb tide, to find the world more bewildering each day. But do I have to be trapped by MS, because she is?

It’s like a plane crash, right? Look after yourself, before you look after anyone else. Put my own oxygen mask on first. And if I look after myself first – which means acknowledging I have the right to have a life outside this house – then I will have more energy to look after her.

I need to sit down and work out three things a week my mom and I can do together. Like, a simple exercise class, a visit to a gallery or small township, and a movie. That seems pretty good. And reasonable. And when NZ life kicks back into normality in February there will be MS Society activities she can join, to which I will drive her.

I’m trying to remind myself I cannot be everything for my mom, even when I am trying as hard as I can. That I’m not wrong or selfish for wanting to create my own activities outside of her life.

I’m also rereading The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology.

This book helps me. Gregg Krech shares the concept of arugamama. Right now I feel depressed and sad, and I accept that. I don’t wish I felt otherwise. I do not try to escape my experience of feeling depressed and sad. I adopt a state of non-resistance. I feel how I feel, but continue to devote myself to what it is important to me to do: my life’s purpose. I invite depression to accompany me as I write.

Action isn’t something that will come after getting over my depression. Action is a way of getting over my depression.

So, I’m depressed. And I’m practicing non-resistance. And I’m writing. And trying to get un-enmeshed from my mom. And most importantly, I’m going back on my full dose of meds.

 

Review: AuthorLife Planner 2018 by Bria Quinlan

Spoiler alert: this is a negative review. This doesn’t mean Bria Quinlin isn’t a wonderful human being (I’m assuming) and a good author (as far as I know: I’ve never read her). I’m just a planner addict who didn’t find anything worth the price in here.

I was super curious about the AuthorLife Planner as I couldn’t find many details about it online except from the author. So in classic displacement activity, in an attempt to avoid actually writing, I took one for the team and bought it. I genuinely hoped it would contain useful material I could use this year in structuring my daily and weekly workflow.

I got the downloadable version through Bria Quinlan’s website for US $11.99 (that is not an affiliate link and I’ve never had any contact with Quinlan). You can buy a printed version on Amazon for US$19.99.

The planner is US letter size, and the file also works fine on A4 paper. The first 40 pages are a goals workbook, and the rest of it is a really basic and unsophisticated planner that didn’t tempt me for a second into trying it to increase my productivity. Let’s look at the planner first.

The Planner

For each month there’s an overview with a Sunday start, room for “Make a Note” on the right, and a shit-ton of white space around the rest of the page.

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You’ll notice the monthly calendar only has five weeks, so months like December 2018 require the extra days to share a square with the week before. I hate this as it doesn’t offer enough space to make useful notes.

Then you get a page for “Captured Ideas” with boxes for Plot Bunnies, Social Media Planning, Advertising, Cross Promo, Newsletter Topics, Seasonal Ideas, and one additional question which changes monthly, like Who is Your Dream Cross-Promo Partner?, or reminders to order your 2019 planner, register for Cons, or prep your taxes.

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What annoys me here is the boxes for your actual entries are so small compared to the rest of the page. It looks very amateurish. This is the case the whole way through. The planner just isn’t designed very well. The margins are huge – arguably good for extraneous notes – but I’d prefer to have less white space at the edges and more room for tracking metrics and the actual stated functions of the planner.

Opposite is a page for Fill Your Well; to list relaxing and rejuvenating activities you will do this month, and a Scribble Pad, so you “Never let your ideas slip through your fingers.”

What follows is one double-page spread for each week of the month. On the right is the weekly planner, and on the left is a task list, and four sections to list your tasks, focus, and goals for Writing/Editing, Marketing/Business, Life, and Joy, plus a Notes section at the bottom.

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The weekly calendar is a Monday start with a full column for each day. Quinlan offers four sections, marked with unobtrusive icons for Time & Planning (clock), Writing/Editing (star), Business/Marketing (triangle) and Joy (heart), so you can slot in the tasks identified in those four boxes. It is therefore particularly annoying that the weekly planner is oriented on its side, so you have to turn the planner around to fill in the working slots. I dislike this. A lot.

At the end of each month there’s a single page for a monthly review under the categories of Financials, Goals, Success & Celebrations, Learning’s & Adjustment [sic], and For Next Month. Opposite is a page for journaling your thoughts.

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Interspersed throughout the year are three Quarterly Reviews (there is no quarterly review for Q4, it goes straight into the yearly review). These offer one page for notes, one page of journaling space under Success & Celebrations, Learnings & Adjustments, and Updates!, and one page for review of how you are progressing.

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At the end of the planner are five pages for a yearly review, including journaling prompts, goal summaries, if you stuck to your Guiding Principles, how your chosen focus items went etc, an overview a financial summary and list of costs, a list of projects & tasks delegated/tossed/”ramped up.” Then there’s a one-page 2019 calendar and a two-page 2019 planning overview,

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That’s the entirety of the planner contents. To be blunt, I expected more in the weekly and monthly pages, like weekly habit trackers, a weekly word count box, a top 3 goals section  – all the stuff in every other productivity journal. And pretty much any other planner is better designed.

The Goals Workbook

While the planner part of this product is highly disappointing, the workbook offers slightly more solid value. Some. It’s 40 pages, but this implies a lot more content than you get, as there are two or three workbook pages for each topic. The goals workbook gives an introduction to the Eisenhower matrix, aka that Urgent vs Important priority quadrant, and defines SMART goals. Going through the worksheets will give you an idea of your current income sources, your top 3-6 overarching themes for your goals, whether they’re urgent or important, and, if you undertake the time tracking exercise (half hour blocks for one week), you’ll have a good idea where your time actually goes.

All of this is good stuff, but because of the deficiencies of the planner, essentially you are paying $12 for this in the e-version, and $20 for the print version. Is it worth $12? Hell, no. There are literally tens of thousands of goal-setting books on Kindle offering this information, and hundreds specifically on author goals and productivity. All offer more than the contents here (and you should believe me on this because I have read a terrifyingly large number of them).

The Appendix

Arguably,  the most useful thing in the whole planner is a one-page workflow Quinlan offers, which extensively lists all the tasks required for a book launch, week by week e.g. weeks 1&2 write the Disaster Draft, week 18, Plan Cover Reveal, week 21 Plan Ads, week 24 Send Out Newsletter.

Conclusion

I don’t rec this planner. $12 isn’t a lot, but the contents are not worth it. To get most use from this as an actual planner you’re going to have to print it out and bind it, and the dimensions of the bound planner are unwieldy, to say the least. I think Quinlan should offer the workbook and the workflow appendix as a standalone for purchase, for a lot less than $12 though.

By the way, see how all those pics up there are of printouts, and not screenshots of the pdf? Apparently, I’m a fucking idiot, as I took the file into my copy shop to be printed and bound for US$20 before I looked at it. What I did read about the planner was so glowing I just assumed it was going to be at least a little useful. I would never have printed it out if I’d looked at it first. This review really is Mistakes I Made So You Don’t Have To.

2018 Challenges

My friend Kate and I are doing an exciting 2018 challenge: using up all our journals and pens. And not buying any new ones. This is going to be tough for me, but the gods know I own enough to get through. So in a year’s time I’ll be posting a pic of my empties and a stack of my filled notebooks. Join us!

My friend Katie also challenged me to not read any books about writing this year. This I’m not sure I can do, mainly because I own a hell of a lot that I haven’t read yet and I’m excited to try, like Linda Barry’s Syllabus. Or Views From the Loft. Or Words Overflown By Stars. But I’m going to stay away from all the generic titles promising to teach me how to Write Your Best Seller Without Getting Out Of Bed, of which I have inhaled far too many in the last 36 months. And I can definitely not buy any writing books this year. And I’m absolutely not reading ANY time management, anti-procrastination, motivation, or self-management books this year.

And yes, after failing yet again to do the 2017 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge (because reasons), I’m trying the 2018 reading challenge. I can do it this time!

But most importantly, my focus for 2018 is writing and releasing books. That’s it. That’s all that matters.

The Mighty Manawatu

I’ve been in my new home for five weeks. I’m in love: with the house, with this city, with my garden.  I miss the ocean, but the beach is a 30 minute drive away, even though it’s the fierce, cold Tasman Sea, not my familiar Pacific.

Instead I get to walk beside the mighty Manwatu River. I found a great riverside trail, and if I walk to the Fitzherbert Bridge then back along the streets it’s a nice, even five miles.

Admittedly it doesn’t look so mighty right now.

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They had floods here in July, but now we’ve had no rain to speak of in months, although it’s not an official drought, because that would give farmers some government relief the government is clearly reluctant to offer.

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Schools just let out for the summer break, and it’s 82F every day. In the afternoons I nap on a quilt, in the shade of the ornamental cherry tree, where the breeze keeps the heat down, while the starlings and wax-eyes flutter overhead.

I’m treasuring how calm and peaceful things are here.

In August last year my mom was asked to take medical leave from her work. On 31 December 2016 we found out my mom had a brain tumor, and because of the brain damage caused by her MS they won’t operate. She had to take retirement. We spent the year traveling all over the country looking for our new home, while we also waited for the condo to sell.

Thank you, universe, from the bottom of my heart, for sending me a buyer. Thank you, universe, for guiding me to this new house.

My mom had to give up driving, and I’ve watched as her memory and language skills decline weekly. My grandmother fell and broke her hip, and needed hospitalization, and I went to the United States anyway, because getting away to travel isn’t going to be so possible in the future.

I only published one book, and I forgive myself, because I didn’t just survive 2017, I sold a house, bought a house, moved to a different city, and most importantly, met treasured friends in the flesh. I fulfilled a dream I’ve had since I was six years old, and went to Disneyland.

I’m joyful, and revived, and eager to greet 2018.

 

Review: The bound Japanese Franklin Covey Planner – a rival to the Hobonichi

The Japanese version of the Franklin Covey planner should be better known. It’s a day-per -page planner printed on Tomoe River paper, in A5 Hobonichi Cousin size, so it’s a great alternative to a Hobonichi.

The planner is a Monday start for all weeks and months. It opens with a page for your details, and an overview for 2018 & 2019 on one page.

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All the months are together at the beginning of the planner, then all the daily pages are grouped together after this. There’s a double-page spread for each month, starting with December 2017 (although there are no daily pages for December). There’s room for a Master task list down the right hand side, and plenty of extra room at the bottom of each monthly page spread.

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There are two double-page spreads for 2019 future planning, then the daily pages start. There’s no similar yearly view for 2018 in the planner.

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My favorite feature of the FC is each week begins with a Weekly Compass page. This gives you a place to write all the weekly tasks you need to do, as well as identify your “big rocks” aka key tasks for your roles (if you’re not familiar with the FC method, there’s a basic primer here. A weekly task list is crucial to my own planning, so I find this superior to the Hoboncihi layout.

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Then there’s a day per page which is very similar to the Hobonichi layout, but you have even more space, as there’s no quote at the foot of the page. The top has a daily task list, and the appointment bar runs in half hours from 7am to 11pm. The grid is 4mm, and light enough it’s easy to ignore if you prefer to go freeform.

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The paper is the same excellent quality, fountain pen friendly, as the Hobonichi. The cover is plain white card, with two ribbon bookmarks.

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The back has three blank double-page note spreads. The edges of each page are marked with the month to make it easier to navigate through the planner, but they’re all in one color – burgundy – instead of multiple colors as in the Hobonichi.

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The spine is cool, as you can see the stitched binding.

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The main difference is the Franklin Covey (FC) doesn’t have the weekly view, but for me the weekly page more than makes up for it. However, even without this extra section, because of the weekly page the FC is pretty much the same thickness as the Hobonichi, just a smidgeon thinner.

 

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Hobonichi Cousin on the bottom, Franklin Covey on top.

 

But we’re not done! With the FC planner you also get a separate Organizer Planner Guide and Forms. This is a 95-page booklet that contains a bunch of cool organize-y stuff you can use for wasting time instead of actually being productive.

The first 15 pages explain how to use the Franklin Covey system with the planner. Explains in Japanese, that is.

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There are sections for writing down your roles, values, mission statement, and six Goal Planning Pages. If you’re familiar with the Franklin Covey system it doesn’t matter at all this is in Japanese, you can totally work out what you’re doing.

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This is followed by Monthly Expense Trackers, Budget Worksheets, Yearly Income and Expense Tracking, and an Annual Summary of Expenses.

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Then come three Meeting Planner double-pages, four pages of Contacts, four pages of Client Files, four Information Records, and three Project Planners.

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Finally the booklet rounds off with calendar pages for 2017-2020, and one page each for future planning 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022, broken down by month.

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The booklet ends with 17 notes pages with dotted lines 4mm apart. If you write large this is a small scale, but again the gray dotted lines are easy to ignore.

Both books together will fit into a Hobonichi cover, as well as all the A5 covers I’ve got.

I bought mine on Rakuten Global Market and it was shipped fast and efficiently. I got a version without any cover, because the gods know I have enough journal covers, but the planner does come with very basic colored covers as well. If you’re interested in trying one make sure you order the bound version, otherwise you’re going to get the regular ringbound planner pages which Franklin Covey also produce for the US market. You also want to make sure you’re buying the daily planner, as there is a weekly one available too. The planner comes in B6 as well as A5. Basically you need to search Rakuten for:

Notebook system notebook Franklin planner 2018 that I bind it and begin in notebook January, 2018, and there is no Franklin planner in A5 organizer cover

The cost is US$29.55 vs US$33.26 for the Hobonichi Cousin. Shipping is still pricey because EMS is expensive, but you save the 500 yen handling fee Hobonichi charge.

Although it’s tempting as a delicious time-waster I won’t be using the Forms booklet; I don’t have meetings or clients to track. But for 2018 I’m going to try the planner as my daily carry notebook for lists and to-dos, in a Hobonichi cover. I’ll be planning my work out and tracking my progress in a different planner my friend Katie gave me, which I will review at some future date. I don’t want to overwhelm y’all with planner reviews: I seriously have enough to post a couple a week for months. I bought a shit-ton of planners to audition as potentials for next year (let’s not discuss how bloody much this cost me) including some I couldn’t get shipped to me in NZ and bought while I was in the US. It’s going to be seriously shaming to share them all with you. But, you know, it’s a cheaper vice than cocaine? Or polo ponies?

When classic tech pisses off “new” tech

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(Updated 11 Dec: see bottom of post)

In 2014 Astrohaus Kickstarted a “smart keyboard” called the Hemingwrite to the tune of nearly $350,000. Since then they released it onto the regular retail market, and it’s now called the Freewrite. 

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The Freewrite is a single-purpose, distraction-free writing tool. You type on a Cherry-MX mechanical keyboard, your words are displayed on a tiny e-ink screen, and you can upload your text to Dropbox or Google Drive via the Freewrite website. Because of the lack of features the Freewrite can last a month on one charge.

True, the Freewrite was hailed by some aspretentious hipster nonsense”, but while a couple of post-use reviews have indicated it’s a product better in the imagining than the using,  others have found it a useful tool for the easily distracted.

I am easily distracted. On many occasions I have gazed longingly at the Freewrite, but the US$499 price tag (plus $30 for a felt case) made this an impossible purchase.

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Astrohaus market the Freewrite as “the world’s first smart typewriter” but this is untrue. Because AlphaSmart.

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AlphaSmart (later Renaissance Learning, then NEO Direct) manufactured smart typewriters from 1993 to 2013. The units are lightweight portable word processors, with a tiny LCD screen. They run on 3x AA batteries, which will keep them going for 700 hours aka a bloody long time. And they let you write in a distraction-free environment because they can’t connect to the net. To transfer your text to your laptop you just plug in a USB cable. The most popular models are the Neo and the Neo2. Secondhand units run from $20-$50 on Amazon and eBay. AlphaSmart units have been successes with writers since long before the Freewrite, so the introduction of the Freewrite inevitably brought a screed of comparison articles, which basically said the AphaSmart and the Freewrite do the same thing, but one costs a monthly rent payment.

Because I couldn’t afford a Freewrite in this lifetime, I bought an AlphaSmart and I have never regretted it for a second. These things are rugged as hell and fit inside a standard laptop cover. So, all good, right? Astrohaus make a cool-looking aluminium smart typewriter with lovely keys for those with a lot of money. Second-hand AlphaSmart units get exactly the same job done but earn you no hipster points. Yay, consumer choice in a capitalist system.

Then yesterday Astrohaus announced a “buyback” where you send them your AlphaSmart, and they give you $50 off a Freewrite.

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Astrohaus know users compare the products, and they don’t like the results. So here’s what I want to know: what is Astrohaus doing with the AlphaSmart units they collect? Because I’m having Will It Blend visions.

AlphaSmarts are fucking awesome and a brilliant example of what tech can be: a sound, practical, rugged, incredibly versatile device that will function under the most adverse of conditions. This is literally a unit you could hand down to your kids.

Good scenario: Astrohaus donate the AlphaSmart units to communities and schools – particularly ones without consistent reliable power – to use for learning and creating.

Bad scenario: Astrohaus scraps the AlphaSmarts and removes a competitor from the consumption chain, one machine at a time.

Wow, the dark side of capitalist choice has never been so starkly illustrated.

I’ve asked Astrohaus on Twitter what they’re doing with the AlphaSmart units, as have others, but no response yet. Do me a favor? Tweet Astrohaus and ask them. If enough of us work together maybe we can get some useful tech donated to people who can use it. Because the alternative is pointless to everyone except Astrohaus.

Update 11 Dec:

I heard back from Astrohaus via Twitter.

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I find it difficult to believe donating them was their plan from the beginning: they would have partnered with someone, promoted this from the offset, and worked out the logistics of physically redistributing hundreds/thousands of units. But I’m glad that’s their plan now. Thanks to those who reached out to Astrohaus to get an answer on this.

Mistakes I made so you don’t have to

OK, so, my first mistake was not the decision to go back to my Air BnB and rest up before the GRL evening program. That was an entirely logical and sound decision involving wise and judicious boundary-setting.

No, my first mistake was, having gone home, deciding that to relax I would eat – alone – a single-serve pot cookie, recommended by the dispensary as a gentle option for newbies who haven’t touched marijuana since 1991.

My second mistake was thinking, only an hour later, the cookie wasn’t working.

My third mistake was eating the single-serve THC chocolate.

My fourth mistake, and this, I think, was the critical one, was the brainstorm that – having ingested multiple THC-laden products – what would really relax me was a two-mile walk around a strange city. Again, alone.

The gravity of my compounding errors appeared one mile out when the time dilation set in. I’m not sure if the paranoia or the deja vu came next: both came before sensory distortions.

It took either five minutes, or around eight Martian years, to go from walking on a pavement beside a busy road, to traversing a black-sand beach atop ragged white cliffs, at the bottom of which ran a buzzing ribbon of expressway traffic. By the time I was 0.8 miles from home the small part of my brain that was not currently walking in an alternative reality – yellow, in the key of peppermint, and flavored with disquiet – remembered there’s a bloody good reason why I didn’t smoke pot for the last 26 years. Being utterly unable to restrain my mind from wandering really freaks me the fuck out.

Having floated home I curled up helplessly on the bed as my synapses buggered off to the playground beyond objective reality.

For five hours.

It was not fun.

The takeaway: when in Denver, imbibe with friends, single-serve means single serve, park yourself somewhere safe, and skip the aerobic exercise.

Oh, and I have two pot cookies available.

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