The COVID-19 Lockdown Chronicles — It’s an omnibus!

Of headaches, Zoom meetings, sometimes really disliking technology, music, writing, and resources for working from home

Wow, what a couple of days! On Monday I had an absolutely lovely headache and actually ventured to The Outside World, to the pharmacy to get some Migril. Because guess who forgot that her Migril was finished.

It was really weird to see everything closed and with so few people out and about. (Well, at least where I live most people seem to be adhering to the lockdown and staying inside.) We seem to be in almost a kind of limbo, unsure of what will happen next but still trying to act normal.
Also, with the one undersea cable being damaged again, the internet has been really slow, making Zoom meetings quite interesting, as you might imagine. It’s not this, however that had me fuming at technology — that waited for Day 5, when I lost nearly a whole days’ work (falls on bed dramatically, cries).

So, here is a song to cheer us up a bit. Well, it’ll cheer me up, so there. 🙂

Of busy days and crochet

Today was thankfully a busy day “at work”, so I didn’t have time to dwell on — as Kathryn from Crafternoon Treats would say – The Disease That Must Not Be Named. By the way, her daily vlogs during her self-isolation is a delight to watch. Plus I find it very calming – if you like crochet and knitting, be sure to check her out!

Here’s also (at last) a photo of the finished crocheted shawl, as well as the new shawl that I started (Aranuir by Jasmin Räsänen, probably my favourite crochet designer).

Working from home resources

In other, more professional (and probably practically helpful), news, Thomas Frank is doing a series of videos about working from home. The first two are out and I must say, they are very entertaining and informative.
(Side note: have I finished putting the Home Office in the Closet together? Unfortunately not. That will have to wait for the weekend, methinks. I mean, decorating the desk takes time.)

What’s a day without music?

Finally, the day’s music was provided by Halidon Music and Adrian von Ziegler, specifically the playlists below. I am finding classical music very calming at the moment — I guess also liking it anyway helps — and I’m very glad that Halidon Music made a whole Baroque playlist. Add some earphones, and you’re ready to work! Or read and relax.

Writing fiction — outlining The Ruon Chronicles

I’m off to listen to the news now, though, and then to write a bit on the Ruon Chronicles outline. I’m trying to figure out how to structure the ending of The Knowledge Stones to keep it from feeling too fragmented, while also setting up the next part of the story.

I think it’ll do me good to focus on some fiction again. At the moment I’d really rather think about the magic systems and stuff than dwell on the pandemic as, at the moment, I can’t really do anything else than what I’m already doing to help.

I leave you with a photo of Sir Tristan helping me with my work…

Sir Tristan, hard at work…

Take care of yourselves, stay safe, and stay healthy. Until tomorrow.

The COVID-19 Lockdown Chronicles — Day 3, 29 March 2020

Day 3 of lockdown and… well, except for the creeping anxiety, it kind of feels like a long weekend that I decided to stay in. Which is weird. Maybe I will feel the weight of the lockdown tomorrow when I don’t go to the office but still work remotely and have to see my team through on a computer screen and a talk to them via a WhatsApp group.
Because it’s Sunday, I have not done much except watch a video of a church service, read, crochet, and write a bit. I’m afraid I can’t get myself to focus on any one thing for long, so I keep on jumping between Things To Keep Me Busy.
One good thing is that I’m writing about knitting and crochet for another blog, so that is entertaining to me at least. I’ll post the links here once they’re posted.
Another good, no awesome, thing is this video by John Green on tips for your mental health while in self-isolation.

Mental Health Tips from People Who’ve Been There

Be sure to check the links in the video’s description for more resources.

One thing that I am finding is that I seem to be slowing down. Taking time to think and ponder and just trying to digest and fathom what is happening around me and that, yes, this is suddenly my real life and not some weird dream or movie.
At the moment I am telling myself that I will only focus on the 21 days lockdown and not worry about self-isolation being longer. That sends me into an instant thought spiral and the last thing I need is to have another bad panic attack.
I also remind myself about a hundred times a day of just how fortunate I am even in lockdown. I have a proper roof over my head. I have my psychiatric medicine for the month. I have food in my cupboards. I still have a job. I’m still getting paid end of April when so many people have lost their jobs or just aren’t getting paid.
Also, why can’t thought spirals ever be positive? Asking for a friend.

Besides staying in touch with my family every day, our writing group are also hosting sprints throughout the day, which seems to be helping a lot to keep our spirits up.
I also hope to have my crochet shawl done tomorrow — and should then really remember to take a photo or two while the light is good!

Take care of yourselves, stay safe, and stay healthy. Until tomorrow.

The COVID-19 Lockdown Chronicles — Day 2, 28 March 2020

Welcome to day 2 of the lockdown in South Africa. As of today, we have 1 170 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country. Unfortunately, while my neighbourhood has been quiet for the most part, there are some places where the lockdown is being disregarded and the police even attacked.

I’m still trying to keep from following the news every minute of the day and have filled today with writing, crochet, and good music.
The music have ranged from Radical Face to the Firefly soundtrack (”You can’t take the sky from me!”) and some of Halidon Music’s playlists. In fact, next up on my playlist is their “Classical Music for Beginners”.

The shawl that I’m busy crocheting with some of Elle Yarn’s Alula yarn (the colourway is Tanager) is almost finished! Probably another hour or hour and a half and it’ll be done. The pattern is this “Dancing with Wildflowers Shawl” one that’s been designed for the yarn (the pattern is free), but I actually like the starting lace pattern so much that I’m repeating it for the whole of the shawl.
I’ve put my thread crocheting aside for the moment while I work on the shawl, but will probably take up the one tablecloth I’m busy with next week. The pattern is a Japanese one and very lacy, but not too difficult. I hope it’s just what I need to keep my mind busy.

Also, I’ve started exercising again and want to do at least a bit of barre (well, as well as I can do barre with my buggered knees — at least I can do the arms well) and climbing the stairs up and down whenever I get up from writing. The last thing I need is to not get any exercise in while I’m at home.
I may also have had to chase Sir Tristan through the garden to get him back inside when I slipped out to throw away the rubbish today. I’m sure my neighbours enjoyed the show…

In happy news

  • Bluprint is free for about another 2 weeks, so be sure to check out their classes! They not only have craft tutorials, but also dance, exercise, cooking, and writing.
  • One of my friends rescued a beautiful white kitten and said kitten has been dubbed Jon Snow.
  • I learned a lot more about feather stars! (See the video below)

Keep safe and keep healthy! Until tomorrow.

The COVID-19 Lockdown Chronicles — Day 1, 27 March 2020

Well, here we are on day 1 of the 21-day lockdown of South Africa because of COVID-19. It is also the day of the first two deaths from this illness. For a few weeks now, the inevitable creep of the illness and then arrival of the illness in South Africa has featured prominently on the news. On Monday evening (23 March) President Ramaphosa told us about the 21-day lockdown that started at 12am today.
Because I’ve still been at the office until Wednesday, I’ve seen the streets empty out day by day as the schools closed and offices closing one by one. On Wednesday I went to pick up my chronic meds — the first time that I’d been in a shop for almost 2 weeks — and the new security measures were quite a shock. I also had to venture out on Thursday morning for some human food and pet food before setting up for my first day working from home.

I’ve been trying to find words to write for the blog, but there just seem to not have been any. I’ve also been struggling with really bad panic attacks over the past few weeks. I can’t say my anxiety is suddenly a lot less now that I’m home, but I do feel safer because I’m not constantly surrounded by other people.
I’m hoping that I will be able to write my way through this strange time. I wrote a short piece yesterday, the first fiction I’ve written in a while (I’ve put it right at the end of the post). So I hope that that’s a good sign.
I also watched the video of Chris Fox that came out today (I’ve embedded it below) and find what he says to be very helpful.

I’m trying to keep my eye on as much positive content as possible instead of only focusing on COVID-19 stats. This includes some daily vlogs and my favourite podcasts, some of which I’ll share here in the days to come.
While one part of me is scared out of my skin at the thought of what could happen should the illness get into the informal settlements outside the large cities (not to mention rural areas where medical help is well… basically nonexistent) and I feel sick to my stomach, another part of me knows that this needs to be documented — even if it’s just for me to look back on. (The other part of me is probably trying not to throw up or have another panic attack.) I find focusing on one country’s plight at any one time is a bit less nausea-inducing that only looking at the world as a whole all the time.
So, in light of that, I’m going to try and blog here daily during the lockdown.

I’ll share the projects I’m busy with (you can probably expect a lot of stress crocheting and knitting!) as well as other content that I’ve found helpful.
Oh, and there will probably also be pictures of Sir Tristan the Wonder Cat, and the budgies Frodo and Samwise.

To everyone reading — keep safe and keep healthy! Until tomorrow.

The Woven Stars

The tower was older than the city. Much, much older. Where the city’s walls were of finely cut stone that was yet to show wear, lichen and moss covered the pockmarked, ancient grey stone of the tower.
A single door at the bottom of the tower had long ago been shut and locked so that it could never be unlocked until the world had wholly changed.
There was one window high in the tower. Some, if they squinted in just the right light, could see that a few of the panes had been shattered by storms during the long, long years.
Some even said that they saw a figure at the window at times and a faint light could be seen on the darkest nights.
She sat at the spinning wheel while the world went scurrying about beneath her window.
The wisps of straw that she spun into the finest of yarns and knotted into patterns were coloured by snatches of voices and music that drifted up from the city, by emotions that she remembered or still felt, by the birdsong and eagle cries and thunder and wind and rain and other nature sounds that drifted in through the broken window — blue, silver, and gold.
The dark clouds came without warning and, with it, a foul air that made people dash inside, locking their houses and peering in fear through the windows as a figure of pure midnight approached. Best Knitting Needles for Scarves/Shawls
There were no stars anymore, no moon, no night sky with wisps of silver clouds.
At last, the figure came to the door of the tower and hammered upon it.
She rose from where she had been kneeling and knotting the fine threads, went to the window, and pushed it open for the first time in a hundred years.
She peered down to the void the figure left.
“Think you won this time?” she called out to the figure with its strange face and long beak.
A laugh that seemed to emanate from the bowels of the earth shook the city.
“I have won. The darkness is complete.”
She stepped away from the window for a moment and then, with a flash of light, the threads she had woven and knotted fell from the window and rose with the winds, light as a feather, to cover the darkness of the night sky.
And the woven stars shone.

Reading & Listening Update: Research, L’Morte d’Arthur Lectures, and More

Besides sitting with a nasty head cold while writing this (oh the joy of the changing season — hello there, autumn, my second-favourite season who’s not being very friendly this year), the past two weeks have not been too bad.

The one highlight (oh, and what a highlight!) was finally seeing a-ha live on stage after waiting a whopping 26 years. But more about that in a next blog post.

I’ve been Busy with an uppercase ‘B’ trying to get everything done that I want to get done by the end of February. Like outlining the whole of Ruon Chronicles. Methinks I need another month o_O

Anyway, here’s an update of the stuff I’ve been reading and listening to that I really enjoyed. Most of it is for research purposes and that which isn’t is basically my mind going “squirrel!” as soon as I spot something remotely interesting or helpful to read.

Books — Bits and Pieces of Everything

Because I’ve been so busy I’ve been book-hopping like mad. And, while a New Year’s resolution had been to not buy any more books until my TBR pile is smaller, I ended up grabbing a free book by Darla DeMorrow. (Takes deep breath to read the title.)

The Upbeat, Organizes Home Office: Five Simple Steps to Sort and Succeed for an Organized Mind, Better Time Management Skills & an Office That Makes You Smile by Darla DeMorrow

Basically I’m busy — okay, slowly — busy revamping a space for my home office. This includes my standing desk (it’s this one from Deskstand) which I haven’t been using for most the summer because I’ve been flaring quite a bit thanks to all our heat waves. Luckily now that the weather is changing I can move back into my room properly (it’s an oven in the summer) and redo the Writing Closet.

So this volume came by just in time for me to make the most of my space, yay!

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface by Donald Maass

Yes, I’m still busy with this one, but that’s because I’m doing the exercises as I go. It’s really a helpful book — and I think this may become my favourite craft book.

It really delves into the emotional hooks and really thinking about characters so they don’t become cardboard cutouts. And I’ve already changed part of Knowledge Stones based on the advice in this book. It’s definitely better now!

I know it’s a pricey book (she says, keeping the Rand/Dollar exchange rate in mind), but it’s definitely worth it.

The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny (Photos by Lisa Rinzler)

I’m reading this book about the Willard Suitcases again as research for an article I’m planning to write. It really is a heartbreaking book (I think more so because I have a mental illness and would probably have found myself in a similar place if it wasn’t for modern psychiatric medicine…), but I think it’s one everyone should read because it shows the people behind the suitcases in so much colour. You come to understand them so much better and really see them as people and not “just” another patient number.

Here’s an Instagram account about the Willard suitcases that is fascinating to follow as well.

Magazines — Needlework, Gemstones, and Craftiness

I’ve also been reading quite a lot of magazine articles. I usually get my international magazines from Pocketmags and, while I still prefer physical magazines, the digital ones do just make more sense price-wise. Plus I get to have magazines on my phone for those moments when I’m in a queue for instance and I don’t have my knitting with me. Because, let’s be honest, nobody likes queues.

I’m still absolutely addicted to PieceWork Magazine — their Spring 2020 issue is now out, by the way. Plus they now have all their back issues online for subscribers to read!

On the website there are also fascinating articles, for example these two:

A Brief History of Harvesting Spider Silk

Deep-Seated Associations: Textile Threads in Language, Myths, Fairy Tales, and Novels”.

 Other interesting magazines I got on the back issue sale includes a few Rock&Gemissues (which is also for research for, among other things, The Ruon Chronicles), some BBC History issues, Writers’ Forum issues I’d had my eyes on, the 200th issue of Knitting Magazine and a couple of Cardmaking & Papercraft issues. Did I get enough mags to keep me busy for a while? Definitely! 

Some of the interesting articles on the Rock&Gem website include:

Earth Science In the News: A Hum Foretells a New Volcano?

How Do Super-Sized Geodes Get So Big?

Podcasts, lectures, and lectures in podcast form

I’m quite a “slow listener” when it comes to podcasts — no listening as one and a half or double speed for me, thank you! — but I also seem to listen the longer episodes and lectures in about 1-hour intervals. One of my favourite podcasts is the Mythgard Academy lectures.

I’m currently busy with the lecture series about Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and even though it comprises 36 two-hour lectures I really don’t want it to end!

If you’re a fan of Arthuriana, or even just medieval romances and literature and would like to know more, I can highly recommend it. They also use the Middle English text, which is awesome!

Here is a link to the page of lectures (there’s video lectures available as well): Mythgard Academy’s Le Morte d’Arthur lectures

Some of the other podcasts which I enjoyed over the past few weeks, include:

The Folklore Podcast: Episode 67 — Celtic and Western European Fairies

Mark Norman’s podcast never fails to entertain and to educate at the same time. Though I know more about these fairies than those in the rest of the world, there were still much to learn and a lot of Story Fodder to get stuck into.

The episode of The Folklore Podcast which I listened to before episode 67, was episode 60 (Magical House Protection) which was just as fascinating. 

Become a patron of The Folklore Podcast over here — the perks are many; not least of all having all the episodes ad-free.*

Courtesy of The Folklore Podcast website

Lore: Episode 136 – The Third Time

I’ve been a fan of Lore for a few years now and found it quite by happy accident (or did I…) when searching for something completely different. Needless to say, I’ve been listening since and still look forward to the new episodes.

Episode 136’s description is as follows:

Folklore is our legacy. We humans have carried it with us everywhere we’ve gone in the world, and it anchors us to our roots and our community. But it also does something else: it gives us a place to hide our fear, to put it on a leash and control it. And there’s one story in particular that does that better than most.

Now, if that doesn’t make you want to listen, nothing will.

I Should Be Writing: Episodes 478 “War of Art”, 473 “Character Names (1)”, and 472 “Trust the People in the Basement”

I love Mur Lafferty’s podcasts I Should Be Writing and Ditch Diggers. Her honesty about her writing and struggles with mental health really hits home.

Thanks to the episode about character names, though, I realised that I have three (yup, 3) characters with very similar sounding names in the first part of The Knowledge Stones. So I need to work on changing some names…

The podcast about War of Art actually needs a whole post as it was something which I have also been thinking about when it comes to self-help-ish-like books and craft books.

*Yes, I know I work in advertising, but some of the podcasts really do go overboard with the amount of ads that they have. I quite like the way Lore does ads; leaving them until almost at the end of the episode. However, if a podcast’s creator(s) are able to get revenue without advertising, I’m also really happy because it shows me that people are still willing to pay for the content they enjoy. But let me stop before I start a whole marketing lecture!

Thoughts On Writing Outside Your Genre

If you’ve been following the blog, you probably noticed that most of my stories are fantasy, sci-fi or some form of speculative fiction. So you can understand my trepidation when I learned that the genre for the Jozi Shorts Anthology is contemporary fiction. Well, colour me challenged.

The last non-genre story that I wrote was Pandjieswinkelgoed that appeared in Vrouekeur magazine two years ago.

Luckily we received an extension on the closing date for stories, as I could not for the life of me think of anything to write. Well, at least not anything that wasn’t genre fiction. I did finally get an idea for the story, and ended up still writing some of it on the day the story was due. Oops.

It’s called “The Goldfish and the Astronaut” as I quite like the title and, yes, it does go with the very-much-not-spec-fic story. The astronaut bit actually popped into my mind when listening to “Difference Maker” by NEEDTOBREATHE.

“Difference Maker” by NEEDTOBREATHE

What I learned from writing outside my genre

All in all, though, writing a story that is outside my usual genre did teach me some things:

  • I can actually write outside my genre when I need to (or want to). Writing about “normal” people may just be possible — without ending up giving them superpowers or adding a dragon to the story, or something, I mean.
  • Writing outside your genre takes practice just like writing in your genre does. Boy is that story going to need some editing still!
  • A short story needn’t be a sprawling epic — a few moments of a life can feel “epic” as well. Also, you don’t necessarily need a dragon or other creature to make it epic.
  • I still really struggle with happy endings in short stories. Give me longer pieces and I can do it. Given me a few thousand words and, apparently, I cannot.
  • Waiting for the story to magically write itself is not going to work. You need to start typing or writing to get the story flowing. (Where are those story elves who work through the night cobbling a story together when you need them?)
  • Writing outside my genre does stretch some writing muscles you didn’t know you had. So, much like a new yoga position, you need to practice your muscles if you want to write anything worthwhile.
  • Don’t dwell on it. Much like writing an article about tarantulas all of a sudden and having to do oodles of research, you will need to do some research for your story as well, and may have to dig deep to find the humanity.
  • I will get lost in looking at the gallery section if I go on the NASA website.
  • Even when writing non-genre fiction, my search history will somehow turn out weird. Go figure.

This week I’m back to working on The Ruon Chronicles’ outline and hopefully doing a breakdown of book 2 to see where some changes are needed. I still want to finish this by the end of February, so let me get cracking!

Digging out my embroidery skills

I hope I’m not the only one who buys craft kits and then take a year (or five in this case!) to start on them. In 2012 I got one of  Rosework’s embroidery patterns called “Firebird” and finally started working on it about a month ago. (Roseworks is a local — i.e. South African — brand.) In my defence, though, I have been busy with needlepoint and did not realise when I bought said pattern that it called for over 40 colours of embroidery cotton.

Okay, and I forgot I had it for a while… (Part of the reason why I really needed to declutter my craft cupboard — I had stuff in there I’d forgotten about.)

But anyway, so about two months ago I found a local place that sells the DMC embroidery cotton for a lot cheaper than the usual wool-and-embroidery-stuff-though-it-actually-sells-sewing-machines-but-I-love-the-people-there shop I go to. And I thought huzzah! Now I can actually afford to buy the cotton!

So, long story short, and after taking an hour to find all the colours (I may have gotten distracted after spotting quilling paper), I walked away with a bag of embroidery cotton, and the realisation that I haven’t embroidered anything but a few Ruon charms in years. And that the Firebird pattern stated ‘advanced’ when I looked a bit closer.

Turns out that I seem to be all right with the basics still… Mostly thanks to this little embroidery kit I got with Molly Makes and Craftsy Unlimited videos. Let’s just say that before watching the video on French knots I was utterly unable to make them. No matter how many tutorials I read. It’s the main reason I never did any proper candlewicking patterns…

Here is the Molly Makes embroidery:

Love embroidery on white background finished

And the Firebird embroidery, which is my embroidery WIP:

And here are the Ruon charms — they form part of my stories in The Ruon Chronicles.

embroidery 3

 

The Great Declutter of 2018

Or, I decided I need to declutter the entire house

I felt smothered. By things and by memories, but more by things. I’d made some big changes during the past few months, the biggest of which was starting a new job at a new company, started redecorating a bit and tried to forget about The Clutter. See, I’ve been living at my place for close to 17 years. We (my mum, sister, and I) moved in just after my grandparents’ deaths (we had been living with them – long story) and I took over the lease after my mum passed away. By that time my sister was also out of the house and married.

I went through a lot of stuff, threw out a lot of stuff, and some of the stuff I just put in the cupboards and kind of forgot about it all through the ups and oh-so-many-downs of bipolar and trying to keep a life together while being chronically ill, working full-time, studying part-time at university and trying to be a fiction writer.

pexels-photo-209271

Enter 2018…

At last I think I am really in a good place and in the right place to sort out all the clutter once and for all. Yup, even That Cupboard that I’ve been putting off.

I’ve set limits for myself though – doing the main work ONLY on Saturdays, getting people in to help when I must (here’s looking at you, broken washing machine in the storeroom that needs to go) – and basically taking things easy and not putting pressure on myself when I’m busy having a flare.

A good point my therapist made when I talked to her about The Great Declutter (TGD) was that I should think about it as if I was emigrating to wherever. I only have one container in which to pack everything so I need to decide what I really need and want and what I just keep hanging on to that may even be holding me back. Obviously I won’t be throwing out family photos as junk!

Thinking about it like this I’ve really went to town throwing out items I will never use again. Most of it will go to charity or recycling, luckily. So I’ve already contacted a charity in my area and an e-waste recycler who will come and collect all the things I can recycle or donate and set up tentative dates for collection.

So while I’m not running through the house getting rid of everything, I also won’t still be busy doing this when Christmas rolls around because I’m only working on it once a month!

Two weeks in I think that TGD is a wonderful idea. I try not to look too much at the living area slowly turning into storage, but the parts of the house I’ve already tackled is making me feel happy. I think it will really feel like my home once I’m done! Of course, then crafting for the house will also start in earnest. Mwahahaha

cleaning-washing-cleanup-the-ilo-48889

My Word of the Year – Creativity

This year I decided that, besides my “normal” type of goals, I am also going to choose a word for the year. I ended up choosing “creativity” as it encompasses so much for me. Creativity means feeding the soul, means hope, means looking at life and at the world in different ways. And we truly need hope and regeneration right about now. It is also more than just writing, craft or art. Creativity includes creating a healthy space where you can live up to your full potential.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to live in a bubble where I don’t have an idea of what’s going on in the world (oh how much I sometimes just want to switch off everything and go live on another planet), but I don’t want to just be weighed down by the negativity found in the news and online. I want to continue to see the beauty in everyday things and surround myself with beauty as much as possible.

Because of that I have decided to take up journaling again and will try to, besides more writing, knitting, and crocheting, also draw again. Basically to just be… creative…