petition to save the undead

In case you haven’t talked to me in the last four months, I’m writing a story about zombies. It’s aptly titled, “A Zombie Story”* and it’s about zombies. At least, they significantly factor in.

More than a month of the time I’ve been writing this I’ve also been traveling, and I haven’t quite yet managed that beautiful, symmetric balance between holding on to routine like a sumo wrestler practices his headlock but rescheduling life with the delicacy of a ballerina in a swan costume . . . I don’t think I need to explain how that went.

But sumos in swan costumes or no, there comes a place in every story where the gears disengage. It’s not the panic of an unforeseen plot hole, it’s not the toil of a scene that won’t come out straight, it’s usually when everything is working out pretty well. It’s the tipping point. Either the storyline overcomes and see its ending, or gets away in boredom and I move on to something else. Usually, a work pulls through. I hate throwing things away, and anyways, those 1000 words minimum a day have to be 1000 words minimum of something, right?

Amanda Hocking on the End of the World

Why the Zombies May Not Make It to the Apocalypse

Oh ho ho. But then, sometimes, there’s a twist. (There’s needs to be with zombies, you know. Because if something hasn’t been done dead already, that thing ain’t zombies. I mean, how long before you run out of brain jokes, right?)

Enter the antagonist: A really, beautifully, wonderfully fascinating new story idea. In case you’re not a writer: these things don’t come around too often. And in case you are a writer, and they do for you: Hi, I’m Emily. Let’s be friends.

So now the zombies have to duke it out with, well, let’s just say this new story about vampires.** But, more importantly, I have this internal battle between the butt-in-chair, bleeding-over-the-keyboard commitment to seeing a story from inception to finish and the desire to chase after the muse. What makes one a writer is finishing a story, but what makes an author is knowing the difference between the boredom that comes from spending the right amount of too much time with the same characters, and true boredom, which deserves to kill a story (literally) before it kills its readers (figuratively).

The Living Dead Deserve to Live

So how does a writer know the difference between the first kind of boredom and the second? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this (whether you’re a writer or a reader). But my theory is that. like with much of the writing craft, you just have to do it. Writing itself will teach you to write. And when you’ve produced a great body of work, you’ll know which stories were which, and maybe you’ll be able to tell for the ones yet to come. If not, you’ll still have a collection of stories, instead of a file of half-stories.

Thomas Merton on taking your time

So the Zombies will see their end. And I don’t even have to worry about what to do when I finish, because I have another story waiting for me. If it’s a good one, it will still be as fascinating then.

I also need to finish because this is the only thing I’ve ever written that my brothers have shown any interest in.

“Oh? You’re writing a story about zombies? Well, maybe I could read it or something. I kind of know about that stuff . . . ”

*it’s not
**it’s also not

What’s the best advice you’ve heard for surviving the zombie apocalypse? How about for writing? (Because sometimes those things happen simultaneously.)


when I’m awake

There are a lot of good reasons to start a blog. Insomnia isn’t one of them.

I have a rule: at 3 am I can give up trying to go to sleep. At that point I can get up and eat breakfast, get online, exercise, or whatever else I want to do with the two hours before my alarm goes off. But after two weeks of perpetual jet lag one runs out of productive things to do that aren’t being accomplished during daylight hours. Um, and also don’t require a lot of presence of mind; slicing an apple and anything that I have a recent scar from is off limits.

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It’s amazing what sleep deprivation does to me. Last week I made myself bleed five times in a 6 hour period (that was when the apple rule was created). But you know what I’ve recently discovered is evening more amazing? What actually sleeping does to me. I remember people’s names. And where I put my keys. And why I just came into the room I’m in. I retain my ability to do basic calculus, and think critically, and speed read. I eat less, and yet have more energy. I even create better and create more.

What I mean by actually sleeping is sleeping well, at the right time, and for the right amount of time.

Don’t Sleep Recklessly

Food is good for you, right? But not in any amount and whenever you feel like it. It’s (kind of) the same with sleep.

I’d been told since I could make my own bed that 9 hours of sleep a night was the optimum amount. Where does that come from? I frequently also come across the idea (published) that sleep before midnight is equal to anywhere between two to four times as much as sleep after midnight. (Wait, so I need to sleep nine hours after midnight, or I just sleep two and a half hours before midnight?)

Studies actually show that, in terms of longevity, anywhere between 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 hours is best. In fact, “There is just as much risk associated with sleeping too long as with sleeping too short. The big surprise is that long sleep seems to start at 8 hr. Sleeping 8.5 hr. might really be a little worse than sleeping 5 hr.” That’s worse for your lifespan, your health and your emotional well-being.

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In terms of when the best time to sleep is, it can differ from person to person. Which is why some of us, despite our best intentions, feel perpetually jet lagged. “During the week, everyone is expected to get to the office more or less at the same time—let’s say 9 a.m. This suits larks just fine. Owls know they ought to go to bed at a reasonable time, but they can’t—they’re owls. So they end up having to get up one, two, or, in extreme cases, three hours earlier than their internal clock would dictate.” It’s not just conditioning, it’s has to do with how we’re built, and it can change throughout your life. (Ever notice how it always seems to be the very old and the very young who are morning people?)

So there’s something to think about if you’re ever lying awake at night. Or you could read more about the best kind of sleep on the Buffer Blog. Or you could ponder big questions, like:

If you desperately needed energy but had only a very limited amount of time, would you spend it eating or sleeping? (Or…?)

the elephant suitcase

Originally posted at SeetheSparrow.

Even though I hate living out of suitcases, I have the whimsical desire to one day fit everything I own in one . . . 

It began with a little black bag. It was detailed with antique paintings of yellow elephants and golden vines, and maybe that was the reason I splurged $25 on it at a time in my life when $25 was a splurge. But, I told myself, it was practical: it had wheels on the bottom that rolled, gloriously, in every direction, and it was “carry-on” sized. I mean actually, fit-in-those-little-test-cubby sized. It other words, it was small.

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That spring I traveled to Istanbul for two weeks and I had a one-day stopover in Zurich. I packed everything I needed into that little case, even though it was winter in Turkey and I took a full-length coat and a wool sweater. It felt like such an achievement. I smiled proudly when people said, “You packed so light!” But I still had way more than I needed, despite getting stranded an extra four days by the Icelandic volcano that made European air travel an impossibility.

Before I’d left, I’d also packed up everything else I had — into my car. And for the next six months I basically lived out of that car, from LA to Denver, Kansas City, Tulsa, Chicago, Detroit, Niagara, Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Boise, Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, San Fransisco, Sequoia National Park, back to LA.

Carrying everything you own in the world around on your back sure makes you think about what you own — and why — and what you even need all the stuff for — and how the heck it all got so out of hand. Tortoises aren’t slow because of their size, they’re just afraid and dealing with a lot of angst.

At that point in my life I’d already moved 7 times, not counting when my parents were the ones packing for me, and I was stunned not only at the amount of stuff I was able to accumulate through all that, but the amount I was able to retain despite it. For me, what wasn’t filling a logical need, was filling a psychological need.

It’s a common story, I moved around a lot as a kid. If not a lot — then at least enough. My mom learned to deal with the frequent rehabiting* by getting stuff, furnature, books, food, whatever at an alarming rate once we were in a new place. And my brother learned to deal with the loss by never getting rid of anything, be it the tiny cans of coke we got on the plane, or his birthday cake (which he once kept 7 years). I took neither approach. I like the things I own to be meaningful, so it was only in times of stress and loss that I held on to the stuff in my life — namely, times when I was moving. I used to unpack from college with a trash can beside me. In anticipation of leaving I would get overly sentimental, and just pack everything that came into my hands. So one month after my tour of the U.S., when I moved permanently to India, I went with three checked bags . . . and one overstuffed elephant carry-on.

Of course, that didn’t nearly max-out my closest. So I accumulated stuff to fill the space, and then decumulated** all that same stuff when moves to increasingly smaller apartments made me feel more like a pharaoh packed into his tomb than a living breathing person.

It’s all been a process of learning to live with less. For my last month-long trip I only took a backpack. Last summer, when I lived three months in Switzerland, I only packed my little elephant case. And the same summer when I flew to California to be in my cousin’s wedding, I only brought a purse. That is a really liberating feeling.

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On this journey through life, I want to travel light. Not just of the external excess I carry around with me, but the internal baggage as well. This tortoise wants to shed her shell.

The journey begins here.

* not a word
** also not a word

What are your packing habits like? What could you do without?