Why I’m Against Butt-in-Chair, Hands-on-Keyboard

I caught Isabel mid-yawn on this one. What I get for disturbing the cozy winter’s nap with my photo-taking. She – like all cats – is the poster child for this week’s topic, which is balancing writing with physical and emotional health. There’s a catchphrase that writers like to pass around, about maintaining productivity: BICHOK, or Butt-in-Chair, Hands-on-Keyboard. I get that it’s a metaphor, meaning that you get writing done by actually writing, but it’s one I quibble with because I’m so against the sitting-down part. Come on over to find out more. 

My Treadmill Desk – One Year Later

treadmill deskA year ago, I set up my treadmill desk. And I posted the Grand Opening message here, which includes links for purchase, etc.

 I promised to give my one-year later review and findings. The upshot?

Love love love.

Seriously. Best investment I ever made.

Yes, I use it pretty much every day. Sometimes I don’t on the weekends, particularly if I’m being really active with other projects like gardening or house-cleaning. I’ve walked as much as 12 miles in one day, though it’s usually more around 8-10 miles. That translates to about 3 to 6 hours on it daily. For reference, I’m at my desk about 12 hours a day.

Can I work on it? Yes! I usually walk anywhere from 1 mph to 2.2 mph. The 2.2 seems to be my maximum for working at the same time. I walk during conference calls, while doing social media and writing blog posts (doing 1.4 mph while drafting this) and especially while writing. I do my 2.2 mph while drafting or editing the novels and it works great. As you can see from the pic above, the way I can rest my forearms on the desk allows me an anchor. I totally forget that I’m walking, too.

More – the steady cadence of walking works great to induce the trance state conducive to writing. Hopefully you all know what I mean. My best work comes out when I disengage all the “thinky” parts of brain that are making lists, wondering what’s for lunch, posting alerts that I need to remember to call such and so back, etc. Once I can sink into that state, the words flow and I’m totally focused. The walking is absolutely trance-inducing and has become part of my ritual for working.

The only things I can’t do on the treadmill is anything that requires intensive mouse work. For example, I have been working on complicated flow charts for my day job. Lots of creating shapes, dragging them, attaching connector arrows. I find it too difficult to maintain a steady line with the mouse while walking.

Otherwise, anything goes! In fact, I find I get restless now if I can’t move while I work. Sitting so much feels wrong.

Since starting to use the treadmill desk, I’ve dropped 10 pounds in body fat. My blood pressure dropped from 160 to 120. Also, my endurance has increased. Though I’ve been running and weightlifting for several years now, the daily walking has really made a difference in my overall health. My body just *feels* stronger and I can, of course, walk much farther without tiring.

Cautionary note on that: start out gradually and work up. Even if you’re in great shape already, the steady pace of the treadmill desk seems to work my body differently. I overdid at first.

I’m happy to answer questions in the comments or via personal message. I absolutely recommend it if you’re considering making the leap. I can’t imagine going back to sitting all day.

I’ll leave you with this – Jackson trying out the treadmill, too. (He still jumps on with me, from time to time. )

 

Taking Stress Seriously

Master of the Opera, Act3 Phantom Serenade (ebook)The cover for Act III of the Master of the Opera e-serial coming out starting December 31. No blurb for this one yet, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

You know you want to.

So, this week was kind of difficult for me due to the day job. A big project was due on Tuesday. It’s a long story, but let’s see if I can summarize. I worked on this project as one of the team leaders for about 13 years, until it was finally cancelled. Early on, I began recording our protocol – the rules we followed for making audit decisions – mainly because that’s the kind of girl I am. Eventually we were tasked to take our informal document into a more formal format. Over the years, it became a terrific and popular tool in our niche field. I was referred to as the “Protocol Queen.” Yes, I admit it – I was proud of it and my work on it.

Fast forward to now – the project was axed due to lack of funding. This year we were tasked to make a final update to the Protocol, set it up so people could use it without us and set it free. Of course, I did most of the work, along with a junior person. Then we ran into a SNAFU with the client currently in charge. My boss got into trouble for no fault of her own and we ended up burning a LOT of hours dealing with the problems. Our big boss asked someone else in the company to step in as project manager, to help deal with the client. At the end, the new manager did her QA. On Tuesday morning, the day it was due, I discovered she’d not only done her QA on an old version, she’d done it without Track Changes due to time constraints. The document was 125 pages. My junior person did a document compare, to make sure all the fixes we’d made between the version she changed and the good one, got transferred over. She said the edits were so dense, she could barely find our previous fixes.

I didn’t have time to read it, so what had been my baby went out that way.

I tried to let it go.

But what had started as a headache and feeling tired the previous week, turned into a full-blown, knock-me-out being sick Wednesday morning. I felt exhausted, achey, crushing headache, nauseated, roiling gut – I was miserable. Unable to think, I had to take a sick day – both from day job and writing – and spent the day whimpering in my armchair.

For the record, I’m not really a migraine girl, but I do get headaches when I’m sick.

Fortunately, I live with a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and he gave me acupuncture and some teas and by that night I was somewhat human again and much better the following afternoon.

It doesn’t escape me, however, that the project was over and I spent time resting and letting it go.

This reminds me of an article I’ve saved, because I wanted to blog about it. It’s an interesting article and well worth reading. In fact, I think everyone should probably read it and see if they recognize themselves. This gal ended up going completely bald from stress.

I was in Chicago for a sales conference, and I remember being in the hotel room and seeing that my hairline looked weird. I thought maybe I was just having a bad hair day. When I got home, I had a quarter-sized hole in the back of my head. I went into panic mode. I was seeing this guy, who is now my husband, and we were spending a lot of time together, so I was like, “You need to just look at this. Am I crazy? What do you see?” Within a week, I went to the doctor who told me I have Alopecia. It’s a genetic condition, but it doesn’t necessarily manifest until stress triggers it.

My doctor asked if I had gone through a traumatic event recently or if anything had changed in my life. I said, “No, but it’s been pretty stressful at work.” I had been thinking, “If I don’t get this promotion, I’m going to quit.” That may not seem like a big deal, but I felt like I had helped build the company, and I thought I would be there forever. I don’t know if it was the stress I’d felt struggling so hard to find the right fit at work and then the fear of leaving that made me go bald, but it was definitely a huge contributing factor.

This struck me, because it reflects so much of what gives me stress – that emotional commitment to my work. When she talked to her manager:

I went to speak to my manager. I said, “Look. I don’t know what needs to happen here, but I’m overwhelmed. I’m losing my hair.” He didn’t know how to react. He just looked kind of dumbfounded, because at that time it wasn’t obvious yet. I was still able to maneuver my hair so no one could tell. Maybe they just thought it was in my head. My manager said, “I know you want to move into this new position. Are you saying you can’t put those hours in to get there anymore?”

I think what’s striking about this is, how little the medical establishment and employers credit stress for what can be massive effects on our health. It’s one of those “It’s invisible, therefore it can’t be real” things. (For the record, my boss is wonderful and totally gets it – this was out of her hands.) The doctors look for trauma. The employers want us to get over it and move on. Neither of these approaches gets at the real problem.

Once, when we were in Scotland on vacation and riding one of their lovely trains, we overheard a conversation between a woman and her companion. She told her friend, “My doctor says I have the heart of an American. I have to slow down and reduce stress or it’s gonna kill me.”

That has stuck with me ever since. “The heart of an American.”

Apparently the international symbol for stress.

But, as Americans, we don’t realize it. We’re so accustomed to living with certain stress levels that we’re only aware when it really puts us out of commission. Even then – as I did – we tend to blame it on a virus or some such. And it could have been a virus that made me sick (that’s what it felt like). If that’s the case, then emotional stress of the preceding days diminished my immune system enough that it got the upper hand.

I don’t know that there’s any solution but to take stress seriously. At least for me, it’s something that can affect me profoundly. It’s something just to “get through.”

Fortunately, today is Friday.

~does the Friday dance~

Grand Opening: My New Treadmill Desk!

treadmill desk As promised, the definitive post about my new treadmill desk!

I finally got the desk pieces delivered Tuesday, though I got the treadmill piece quite a while ago. So now I’m all assembled and rocking along. In fact, I’m walking on the treadmill as I write this!

So, I did not go with the cheapie option. Fair warning. There are some great blog posts out there about how to make your own treadmill desk, or how to jury-rig your existing treadmill so you can type while walking. I considered those options but ultimately discarded them. This is why:

  • As you can see, I have a small space. If I did one of the less expensive all-in-one treadmill desks, it would be in addition to my regular desk, and I didn’t want to sacrifice the room.
  • I like being able to look out my window and enjoy the view. There’s not enough window for both kinds of desk.
  • I didn’t already have a treadmill to jury-rig.
  • I’m at my desk about 11 hours a day, sometimes more. I do the the day job from home. So, on top of the writing career, I’m at my desk a good chunk of the time.
  • I wanted a good, long-term solution that would fit my life aesthetically and ergonomically.
  • For me, this is  a health investment. I’d rather spend the money on this now than on health care in the future.
  • It’s tax-deductible, too.

So, being who I am, I did a lot of online shopping and cross-comparisons.

I ended up buying the treadmill itself here. I like that it’s small, highly rated and has a control panel that sits up on the desk. They also sell adjustable height desks, but I found a better deal on the desk elsewhere. My big thing is I wanted this, too.

sitting deskSame desk, with the treadmill slid to the side, so I can sit and work, too. It works via a hydraulic lift that is very smooth and nearly soundless. This way, if I’m sitting and working and get a long phone call from my boss, say, I can raise the desk, slide the treadmill over and walk and talk–and still reference information on my computer.

I bought the desk here. I got the v.3 small frame (space  considerations), even though they’re running 5-7 weeks out for delivery. Treaddesk, where I got the treadmill piece, has a similar desk that’s very pretty, and they sell it as a package. However, by buying these two pieces separately and saved $640. Plus, if Treaddesk ships it as a package (cheaper than doing the pieces separately with them), they have to send it to a loading dock and not your house. Which I just did not want to deal with.

How do I like it? I do! The treadmill goes a max 4 mph and right now I’m walking at 1 mph. The treadmill is a bit heavy to slide, but not awful. The brick floors help. If I were to do this on carpet, I’d likely want one of those plastic aprons they sell at office-supply stores.

Feel free to ask questions!

Creating a Sustainable Writing Schedule

I love little enticing pathways into interior courtyards.

So, there’s this gal who did a workshop at a conference recently and then did a blog post – about how she’s developed a way to write ten-thousand words a day. A 10K Day. I don’t know her at all – I just glanced at her blog post because several of my writer friends were (understandably) really excited about her ideas.

I mean, who doesn’t want to write ten-thousand words a day?

I also saw a magazine cover at the gym proclaiming that Kim Kardashian (I have no idea how to spell that) lost ten pounds in one week, and I could do it, too!

I admit, that sounded pretty damn wonderful, also.

This is where I’m at right now, in the weeks leading up to the RWA National Conference at the end of July. I did some assessing on Saturday and figured out I needed to lose 10 pounds, so my cute outfits fit right, and write 80K words, so I can have a draft of RP2 finished. This works out to 1 pound every 8K words. So clearly I just need to not eat while writing.

Thus the temptation of the Big Leaps is ever-present.

Write 10K in one day? Yes, please! Lose 10 pounds in one week? Sign me up!

And yet, I also know that this leads to the Dark Side. The best weight loss is slow and steady – or the fat just comes right back and is harder to lose. I think we all know this. Which makes me wonder if similar isn’t true about the promise of the 10K Day.

So, here are my caveats. I don’t know this gal. I have absolutely nothing against her. I have nothing against writing fast. I know that there are writers who can and have turned out this much in a day.

What I think is this is not sustainable.

It’s binge writing.

I noticed, in her description of this method that she said she hired a babysitter so she could write 4 to 5 days a week (I forget which) and figured out a way to write that much. She also said this enabled her to write a novel in 3 months instead of 7. So,  a little math tells me that, at 10K per day, it would take 10 days to write a 100K novel (most novels are 85-120K, so that’s a reasonable round average.) If she’s writing 4 days/week, then she’d have the novel written in 2 1/2 weeks. Where did the other 8 weeks come from?

I’m presuming that’s revision time. (And maybe she covered this – I confess, that I skimmed.)

Some people like to work this way. Candy Havens does a Fast Draft class, where you draft a novel in two weeks and then do Revision Hell for two weeks. This works for her and for some others, which is great. I’m not sure if she feels the novel is ready to go after that, or if it takes more polishing after that.

But here’s another model.

If you take two months to draft a novel, that’s 60 days to write 100K, or about 1667 words/day. Most writers can do about 1,000 words/hour. (Your mileage may vary.) So, in two hours a day, you can draft a novel, spend a month revising it and still have a novel in three months.

Sure, it takes discipline and adherence to schedules, like we talked about yesterday, but so does healthy weight loss. And, to me, this is a healthy approach to a sustainable schedule.

Change your eating habits, work out every day, get plenty of sleep and water, and the weight will come off.

Develop good writing habits, write every day, get plenty of sleep and water, and you’ll have a novel.

It’s not great on a magazine cover, but it works.

 

Why Me?

David had a classmate, Marjorie, who died of cancer this last winter.

I never got to meet her. Not for any particular reason. At first we just weren’t in the same place at the same time. Then her tumors came back and she finally withdrew from the acupuncture college. Because I wasn’t a friend, I didn’t go visit her when everyone went to say good-bye. It just didn’t seem right.

But I felt like I knew her, because David liked her so much and often related to me the things they talked about.

One thing that stuck with me – she told David that she finally had to get over the idea that she was a bad or negative person because she developed the cancer, because it ultimately defeated her. See, when you’re in the natural healing world, there are strong ideas that your mental attitude governs your health. Negativity or bad emotions promote chronic disease states is the thinking. Positive thinking creates health and healing.

All of this success stuff comes from similar philosophies. “I create my own success.” Your life becomes what you envision it to be. Anything can be yours if you simply envision it, be positive and make it happen.

The flip side, of course, is that if you don’t get what you want, it’s because you failed. Failed to envision enough, be positive enough, what have you.

Like with Marjorie. She failed to cure her own cancer. But she ultimately decided to refuse to accept that as a personal failure.

She lived ten years past her initial diagnosis of terminal cancer. She enjoyed her life and continued to follow her passions. Part of that meant coming to terms with not seeing herself as a bad person because she got sick. How she dealt with the disease truly showed her strength of character. And she died surrounded by friends and loved ones, both animal and human.

This is what I was trying to get at on Friday. I’m not sure I did a very good job.

(Either that or everyone was out enjoying their summer weekend, which is all to the good.)

I absolutely believe we have a hand in our own successes. But I think there’s danger in believing we can control fate. It would be nice, sure. Tempting to try. Ultimately, though, the universe goes where it goes and takes us with it. Sometimes beautiful summer days fill our weekends. Sometimes tornadoes hit. The weather falls equally on the good people and the bad people, the positive thinkers and the bitter, angry ones.

The differences show in how we handle it.

We love to tell stories about grace under pressure. The heroics, large and small, that shine when disaster hits. We rarely talk about how well someone handles success.

My favorite religious studies professor, David Hadas, who I quote often, pointed out to me that, when tragedies occur, we look up to whatever gods we follow and ask “why me?” Rarely, he said, does anyone look at some amazing bounty they’ve received and ask the gods, “why me?”

It’s easy to believe that, when our efforts are rewarded with success, it’s because we are so wonderful and deserving. But that’s as much of a trap as believing that we deserve cancer. Or tornadoes.

The true test is how we handle it.

PV=nRT

Yesterday, two crows chased our resident Cooper’s hawk down the valley, where it turned and made a stand on a juniper. One crow took off, but the other lit also. It looked like the hawk had captured something the crow wanted. (No, we won’t think about what kind of critter it likely was.) After a fairly long stand-off, the crow finally gave up.

I found out yesterday that my blood pressure is high. Technically it’s on the high side of pre-hypertension, but for a person who’s always had pretty low readings, it was daunting.

It’s also totally hereditary and thus no surprise. My mom has been on high blood pressure medication for almost twenty years. She’s in otherwise excellent health and the medication works well for her.

So far as bad apples in the genetic gift basket, this one isn’t so bad.

Still I’m annoyed.

Oh, I have a list of things to do, to try to lower it naturally. I can increase my magnesium and Co-Q10 from what I’ve been taking. David has me adding Hawthorne berry extract. I’ve been working the weight and body fat down, but now I need to get serious about that last ten pounds. I might have to back off drinking wine, my very favorite thing.

*sigh*

Amusingly – or not – I’ve had the gas law, PV=nRT, on my list of blog topics for a while. That’s the formula that describes how pressure, volume and temperature interact. It’s a fascinating equation, really, because so much of our world, and our physiology, is governed by it.

Basically it says that Pressure multiplied by Volume equals Temperature. The n and the R describe molecular action, which is pretty stable for most purposes, so we can safely ignore it for most purposes. That makes the equation P*V=T. Or, to put it in a way that makes more intuitive sense by using that algebra you figured you’d never need, Pressure = T/V.

Thus, the hotter something is? The more pressure you have. Think of a pressure cooker. The more you raise the temperature, the more pressure inside the pot. Once you take off the lid, you increase the volume from a little pot to a great big room, and the pressure decreases.

There are more factors when you get into liquids, but the overall principle is the same. Body temperature is relatively steady, so blood pressure becomes largely a function of volume. As arteries narrow, for whatever reason – constriction due to stress or a wallpaper of fat – the volume available decreases and pressure goes up. That’s why diuretics, like my mom takes, work well. Reduce the volume of blood and there’s less pressure.

For whatever reasons, too, computer screen time is being linked to elevated blood pressure and there’s strong evidence for email apnea. So I’m resolving to decrease my screen time. And also to get up from my computer once an hour and breathe, walk, do the dishes or Tai Chi.

It’s not easy for me. I tend to sit for hours, concentrating on my work until the driving need to pee forces me out of my chair.

Yeah, I know – not healthy behavior.

But I’ll get better about it.

The Happiest Person You Know


An old flame got in touch with me the other day.

I hadn’t seen or talked to him in over 20 years. And neither had anyone else that I asked. Contrary to my fears, he hadn’t self-destructed. He’d done AA, married, had some kids and fishes a lot.

“I’m the happiest person you know,” he said.

Well, you know me — I want to quibble that two Facebook messages after 20 years doesn’t really count as “knowing” someone. And his happiness is self-reported. I have no way of knowing if he is representing his life accurately or if those things truly make him happy.

But I’m happy for him.

Penelope Trunk posted the other day the culmination of her research on happy lives versus interesting ones. She even has a little quiz to rate your own life. I came out -1, which puts me as “suspiciously well balanced.” Or lacking a self-identity. I’ve never had self-identity issues, but I always come out on this stuff as well-balanced. I’m halfway between right-brain and left-brain, halfway between Type A and Type B. It’s why I call myself a fence-sitter — I’m always on the line in-between.

I could never say that I’m the happiest person you know. Though I am a very happy person. I also think I have an interesting life.

Yesterday, David went for his physical exam. This is a new primary care physician, since we moved here only six months ago. He picked her partly because she has a reputation for being friendly to natural medicine approaches. She, like many people involved in natural medicine and new age spirituality, is very much against alcohol consumption. She told David he should give up alcohol since he’s pre-hypertension (his blood pressure was 124/84 and she feels anything over 120 is too high). David says he enjoys our cocktail hour; enjoys having a drink with dinner and he’s unwilling to give that up. She asked if he needs to drink (don’t they always ask that?) and he said no, but he likes it. Then she said that, since David practices Tai Chi, he should understand that you don’t need alcohol and that you can lift your consciousness through Tai Chi and that’s what Tai Chi is all about. And David said, no, Tai Chi is about moderation. It’s about the middle path.

Sure, we knew plenty of people in our years of training in the Taoist arts who gave up alcohol. David gave up alcohol for two years. I gave it up for weeks and months, doing various purifying gigs. People also totally gave up things like refined sugar, meat, sex. Sometimes you have to give stuff up. Sometimes you’re allergic or addicted and it can’t be in your life because it becomes a poison.

But it’s interesting how people gravitate towards the idea that anything that gives you pleasure is somehow interfering with spiritual development. Is simply bad and wrong.

In the long term, though, it’s hard to say what will contribute most to your life. You might give up all the food and liquor that give you pleasure and live into an ascetic extended old age, but what have you really gained? And what if you get hit by a bus?

As I said, I’m a middle path kind of gal. I gravitate to the health choices that make immediate impacts. Eating right and exercising are not only good for my long-term health, but they make me feel good now. Those choices improve my quality of life. I love a good glass of wine and the occasional brownie, too. Those also contribute to my enjoyment of life.

The happiest people I know? They’re not the ones laboring to give up all bad influences, trying to live forever and become wiser than everyone else. And neither are they the most interesting people I know.

The happy and interesting people are the ones savoring every moment of their lives. Pursuing their passions and savoring the pleasures.

I raise a toast to that!