Mar 18, 2019

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Bread

Saturday night, just before midnight, I took out my sourdough starter, added a bit of flour and left it to sit. In other words, it was a very glamorous Saturday night.

The first breads were probably made around 11.600 – 14.600 years ago, out of wild wheat, wild barley and roots. Bread is one of the oldest foods and as people settled down and started growing crops, breads of different kinds became a staple of every known human culture.

Sunday morning I added some more flour and some more water to my bubbling mixture and left it to rest for 7 hours more.

Bubbling sourdough starter

Two general types of bread; leavened and unleavened. Both are made with flour and water and as far as I know, baked somehow. It’s wild to me just how simple something so wonderful can be. Of course, various other ingredients are often used. Salt, some other seasonings, several flours, fruits, nuts, even vegetables.

Yesterday evening, I mixed all the ingredients – rye flour, semi-coarse wheat flour, more water, and spelt – but for the salt into my bubbling starter. I kneaded it all until it all stuck together and no flour was left on the bottom of the bowl and then left it to sit for an hour.

Pulla dough after mixing, pulla being a sweetened bread-like substance traditional to Finland

Various biological and chemical agents raise leavened breads. Most often the use of leavening leads to carbon dioxide in the dough, leading to the “large, irregular holes” that are the goal of any artisan bread maker. Biological leavens include yeast and sourdough starter, kefir, and various beers. The use of sourdough, for example, goes back to the days of Pliny the Elder.

After an hour, I added 20 grams of sea salt and started kneading. There’s something supremely satisfying and relaxing about kneading bread. The dough comes together almost suddenly. Where before, it was a mixture of its ingredients, suddenly, you have a proto-bread. It’s not enough to knead a sourdough bread, however. Over the next four hours on Sunday evening, I repeatedly stretched and folded the dough, letting it sit for 15-20 minutes between folds. I did 4 stretch-and-folds and then left it sit until 21:30.

Finally, last night, just before heading to bed, I took the beautiful, bouncy dough, cut it in half, formed the two halves into beautiful, bouncy loaves, wrapped them in a towel inside a proofing basket and put them in the fridge to hang out.

Rye bread loaves ready to head into the oven

Bread is important in Finnish culture. For example, it’s customary to take bread and salt to a new house, to make sure that the inhabitants never lack for food or for spice in their life. My people all come from Eastern Finland, where the dark rye bread rules, in various forms. Karelian pies being the most delicious, most widespread form.

Three hours ago I took one of my two loaves out of the fridge. I let it sit while the oven was getting hot, getting warmer in room temperature, starting to rise again. Then, when the time came, I cut two slashes in the loaf, stuck it in the oven and threw in some water after it.

Bread is civilization. Bread is home. Bread is life.

Half an hour ago I took the loaf out of the oven. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some eating to do.

The sourdough bread I’m eating tonight

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Mar 11, 2019

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Nope

I slept terribly last night and can’t seem to function. By next week I will hopefully have finished the notes for a sleep book I’m reading and want to blog about and if not that, I have a post on bread I need to finish, but today, my brain is noping out of any further work. Instead, I offer you this brilliant edit of the Captain Marvel trailer by Twitter user HarleyIvy.

The best superhero movie trailer ever made

Did you see the actual movie yet? What are you waiting for? It’s really good!

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Mar 4, 2019

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Being kind to yourself

There’s a tendency, especially among creatives, to demand a lot of yourself. In one way this a good thing. Most creatives need a day job to, you know, pay the bills, sometimes two. The only way to get anything done is pushing yourself to meet deadlines, whether those are real or imagined.

But pushing yourself too hard can lead to some dire situations. Burn out, depression, anxiety, all kinds of lovely things that a lot of people take a turn with but nobody really wants. And when you get caught up in that cycle, it becomes really hard to take a break. I took a break last Friday after my work day at the day job was over and, frankly, spent half the night at odds with myself, trying to figure out what people even do on nights off. I wound up reading a personal finance book I’ve been meaning to finish. Yeah. I’ll admit that I might have failed slightly.

As it happens, a friend of mine was having a bad day last week as well. Their brain was telling them to work, work, while their body was temporarily not up to the challenge. And it occurred to me, that far too often, we need to be given explicit permission to even have a day off.

So here’s me, giving you, dear reader giving you explicit permission to take a day off. Even if it is for just an evening. And I’ll try to remember to take one myself.

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Feb 25, 2019

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How I use Habitica

After last week’s post went live, two excellent colleagues – Stephanie Charette and Simone Heller – noted that they hadn’t been able to make Habitica work for them and I realized I’ve had troubles on that front as well. It took me a few tries before I got to the point of absolute adoration I am in right now. Stephanie gently suggested that I write about it, and so here we are. I started the first of my many, many attempts before the current one when Habitica was still called HabitRPG

Dailies vs habits – who cares?

Welp, turns out, I do. The first time around I put everything that I wanted to do in the dailies but most of it also in the habits columns. That was the point, right? Make yourself do all the things that you want to do or get punished if you don’t. That worked GREAT, for like a week. I was good to go! Excited. was going to get my shit together and put my life in order. Then after that first week, I started to realize that I couldn’t keep it up. After the first time my poor, neglected character died, I started cheating. I wasn’t hurting anyone, right? Ultimately, it just fell off and my character died and stayed dead for a good while.

The next time I tried, I made the same mistakes, with fewer dailies and predictable results. Again, my character died and stayed dead for a good while. Needless to say, it was frustrating.

Breakthrough? Not really

Around the time that Mary Robinette Kowal published her post on how sometimes writer’s block is just depression (it’s still a great post and worth the read) that I started yet another attempt at using Habitica. Somewhere around then, I realized just how useful explicitly defining both the positive and negative sides of a habit is. And by this, I do mean the stuff in the habits column of Habitica. It seemed like it would be awesome; state your goals explicitly and surely it will just work out this time! Things like “Sat down to write/Got up without writing” seemed like it would be the salvation to my sins.

Ultimately, this attempt failed for the same reasons the previous ones had; I had too many things in the dailies column and not nearly enough time or energy to get all of it done.

Atomic

Finally, we come to my most recent attempt and the one that seems to be sticking. I decided to try again after reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits. Something that he said in the book really stuck with me.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.

James Clear – Atomic Habits

So I thought about the kind of person I want to be. Or rather, the kinds of person I want to be. I listed things like “I am a storyteller; I’m always working on a story or several” and “I am sensible with money; I am working toward being debt-free and financially independent” in my BuJo notes on the book. I came up with about a dozen things I wanted to be and listed them all. I’m not pursuing all of them but they’re in my BuJo and out of my head and easy to find when/if I want to return to them.

Then I turned the 4-6 identities I wanted to start actively pursuing into tags on Habitica. After that I started thinking about the habits that would be votes for the kind of person I am working toward being but would also get the shit done that I want to get done. Now I have habits like “Checked budget before spending” and “Worked one pomodoro on fiction writing”. I have hardly any dailies. This blog post is one, although I’ve marked it as once a week daily. My dailies have turned into “you just have to get this done” whereas my habits are “these are the things you need to do to get the future you’re dreaming about”.

My to-dos are a mixture of both, mostly larger projects that need to get done. They aren’t so much a habit I want to build, even if they are building toward that future I’m dreaming about. This year I’m trying to get a short story out the door every month. Each short story is a todo marked hard and with an associated checklist. The scenes that need a rewrite for my novel are likewise a todo and a checklist. They’re related to the storyteller identity and build toward it, but can’t be classified as either a habit or a daily.

beautiful sun rising sky with asphalt highways road in rural scene use land transport and traveling backgroundbackdrop

Why this and not that?

On the surface, it seems like Habitica on its own should be enough to motivate me to get my shit done. It’s a nerdy little distraction that rewards me for getting things done. It comes with ALL THE TICK BOXES FOR FUCKS SAKE! Turns out, that was pretty far from the case. Instead of a motivator, over several attempts, Habitica turned into just another chore that I had to do. And since I wasn’t getting all of the others done, what point was it? I needed that connection to the intrinsic motivation through the habit identities to actually see the point of it all. The RPG elements are fun, sure, but I get games from so many other locations as well, another one wasn’t enough to get me coming back day to day.

Ultimately, these are all just tools that I use and discard as they work for me. I kept coming back to Habitica because it IS fun. I’ve almost finished killing off a Skeletal Tyrannosaur with my party as I write this. In fact, this post might even be the killing blow. It’s fun to use the reward coins to build my character. It’s just that sometimes fun alone is not enough.

Do you use Habitica differently? How?

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Feb 18, 2019

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Motivation and the long con

Yesterday, I sent off my first short story submission since November 2017 (and my first rejection in about the same time some few hours later). Mostly that’s because I’ve been working on novels between then and now. A lot of it was also just, Clarion. Trying to write five stories in five weeks (our class skipped the story and the critique during the first week) while also reading and writing 17 critiques every week really just kind of broke me, even if we did have the option of working on the beginning of our novels during the last week. It took me a long while after Clarion to even want to work on short stories again.

But in the grand scheme of things, that year and a half is very small. Even in the scale of what could laughably be called my writing career, that year and a half is comparatively small. I started writing seriously in the fall of 2009. That is almost ten years ago. Fuck. Anyway. It’s a long time to work on pretty much anything, let alone something that mostly goes unnoticed by everyone. So sending that story out got me thinking about motivation. Because while there’s something uniquely gratifying about the act of storytelling, there are still things about it that I don’t inherently love. Editing will be the death of me someday and even while drafting, there are days when it all just needs to be thrown in a lake.

Intrinsic motivation is great and embarking on a long project, you basically need some, desperately. But sometimes you just need the extrinsic stuff to help you get through the difficult days. Here are things I’ve found work for me.

Habitica

Honestly, some day I’m going to have to stop singing the praises of Habitica, but today is not that day. Nothing is better for my motivation than checking stuff off a list. Why, yes, I am a Type A personality, what makes you ask?

Pomodoros

Especially when I’m drafting, pomodoros tend to make me stay focused on what I’m doing. If I’m on a roll, I can write about 500-800 words in a pomodoro and that’s great for getting some good word count in.

Rewards

I especially tend toward Diablo III as a reward system. Hell, that’s what I’m doing as soon as I finish writing this blog post. The earlier I’m done with all the tasks on my todo list, the earlier I get to go Diablo. And if that’s not enough and I’m drafting, I’ll compete against myself. 500 words broken down to 25 minutes is 100 words every five minutes. So I keep my tomato timer on the screen to my left and my draft on the screen in front of me and try to get to the next hundred words before that five minutes is up. And if I get at least 500 words during my sprint, I take a little victory lap around the apartment during the break.

Varying the work

I hate editing. I don’t want to, but I do. So what I’ve found is that not doing the sensible thing of taking care of all of a particular problem type in one pass is even harder. It’s easier for me to do one page than it is for me to do the same amount of work on one topic. Unless that work is the full re-imagining of a scene. It’s weird and inefficient, but there you go.

Trackers

Listen. I’m Type A. I can’t help it. I LIKE lists. I LOVE my Bullet Journal. A combination of these things means that having trackers of various kinds helps me focus on the stuff I need to get done. Online class that gives me a check mark when I’m done? I AM THERE! Can’t stop, won’t stop till I’m done. Pacemaker? Let me at it! Cool mortgage tracker? My naturally spendy self will find any and all ways to save money so that I can make it go down faster. Trackers do a body good.

But most of all, I don’t make myself work on projects I don’t have an interest in. Or if I need to do it for some reason, I try to find something about the project that makes me excited and then write it down by hand somewhere I can find it. Life’s too short for shitty projects.

What do you use for motivation on those long projects?

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Feb 11, 2019

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Knitting in 2019

I mentioned previously that I have a tendency of setting overly ambitious goals for myself and that also applies to knitting. 2017 my goal was to knit 12 shawls, and last year to knit 12 sweaters. I finished the 12 shawls in 2017 and 8 of the sweaters for 2018. But I started many more projects than I managed to finish. And the same goes for many previous years. I have a stash of works in progress, is what I’m saying.

One of the WIPs

So this year, 2019, is the year of working the WIPs. I’m hoping to finish 24 all told this year, some of which should come easy given that there are sweaters that only need sleeves, or a yoke and a cowl or two with just a little missing. Of course, some will be considerably harder, but there we are.

Now, I need to get writing and knitting.

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