Come to life

 

It’s spring. In Tasmania this means the weather flips between summer and winter. And on Saturday I think we got winter. In our house we were cold enough to light the fire, though we hope it’s the last time we do that for the year. We’re running out of wood.

We have some gum tree logs from a tree we cut down on our property last year. Moz bravely rescued them out of the rain and did the hard work to get the fire going. The eucalyptus logs are harder to get burning, but they last a long time. At the end of the night he pulled the fire apart, separating the two remaining logs to either side of the fireplace and we went to bed.

Sunday was much warmer and we didn’t need the fire anymore. I was sitting on the couch and reading in the afternoon when I looked up in shock. Apropos of nothing, the single eucalyptus log had burst into flame again. Full on red flames were coming out of it. It had smouldered all night and for some reason had relit itself.

I had two thoughts from this amazing occurrence.

One: Australian bushfires, and the fires in the gums of California and so on, are so scary just exactly because of this – there was no reason for the fire to start again, it just did. In a single log. That’s really frightening when you’re trying to fight a fire.

The second thought is a little more detailed. And hopefully a little more cheerful.

It made me wonder if some of us have a dream, or a desire, or even a word of encouragement that we have tucked away inside of us. Something that smoulders away, giving those around us no inkling that anything is going on. Something that just keeps you warm inside.

Then one day, for no reason, it bursts back into flame. It comes to life.

It may be a surprise or a shock to those around you. They haven’t noticed the warmth, the smoulder. But you have known. Or you might have known. It might have been buried too deep for you to even realise.

When the log in our fireplace burst into flame, I did nothing about it. I let it burn, and after a while it burned out. I’m pretty sure that the fire is dead now.

I could have kept it going. I could have placed a second log on the fire, or added some kindling.

If you want your dream to stay you’re going to have to nurture it. Now that it’s shown itself, now that it’s burning on the surface, find some other like-minded people and nurture your flame. Make an effort to do the writing, or the practice, or the exercise, or the training, or whatever makes your dream a reality. Take the next step. Don’t waste this moment.

You never know what may come of it.

 

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

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Much excitement!

Deadly Misconduct - Preview

I’m really excited. Truly. I don’t think I’ve been this excited before. Well, maybe, but only once or twice.

The thing I’m really excited about (and you may have noticed this if you’re my Facebook friend) is that I’m about to launch my first novel. It’s called Deadly Misconduct, it’s a cozy mystery, it’s available on Amazon for pre-order and on iBooks too, and it will be up on Kobo by the end of the week. There will be a print-on-demand paperback version too. It launches on the first of May.

Yes, I’m very excited.

Friends ask me, ‘Did you always want to write books?’ and the answer is, I don’t know. I really don’t.

I have always loved reading books, but writing? When I thought it through, I realised that I believed that writing a book was everyone’s dream. Isn’t it? Doesn’t everybody want to write a book?

I’ve asked people about this and while a few have said yes, (and then we’ve gone on to have fabulous conversations about writing practices and books we love and so on,) other people have looked at me like I’m mad and said that no, they don’t want to write a book.

There was a time, way back when, that I was looking for a hobby. I tried a whole lot of things – painting, drawing, cooking, long-stitch, cross-stitch, sewing, knitting, crochet, all sorts of things, but nothing really filled the bill. Nothing gave me the satisfaction I wanted.

But when I write, that fills the bill perfectly. It gives me energy, it stops the words from going around and around in my head, it satisfies me and at the same time gives me hunger for more. It’s something I enjoy, something I can do, something that also allows me to do all the reading that I love doing as well. Reading is research, writing is creating; I am happy.

Since I’ve started writing this blog and writing my novel, I have more life in my life.

So who knows if it has always been my dream? But finding out what you love to do, what you’re meant to do is, in my experience, amazing.

I think that others get the same experience from art and crafts, from running, gymnastics, dance, from singing, and playing musical instruments. There are so many creative endeavours, so many things that give life. I think people can also find their special thing in doing maths or science, in solving problems, in programming, or accountancy. Just because it doesn’t look creative to more artistic types doesn’t mean anything.  In fact, if you can make a living from your special thing, all the better, in my opinion.

If you haven’t found the special thing that you love to do I encourage you to keep searching. I didn’t make it to this writing thing until my children had grown up and could look after themselves. I’m really not sure if I could have done it before then.

What I’m really trying to say here is:

You do you.

Don’t try to be anyone else. Keep curious, keep experimenting, keep looking for what you can give to the world. Enjoy the process and find your special thing. It’s worth it!

And of course, I’d love to have you buy my novel if you enjoy a cosy mystery. But no pressure 🙂

Deadly Misconduct by R.J. Amos

Research to die for?

Alicia is determined to return to academia after time off to care for her sick mother.  An unlikely conference in sleepy Hobart town throws her into the path of Professor Conneally, who offers her a dream job in Cambridge.

It seems the universe is on her side – until the professor drops dead at the conference dinner. Alicia’s convinced it’s no accident, but no one will believe her. Can she find the culprit before the conference is over? Or will she lose all her friends, and the opportunity of a lifetime?

Pull on your slippers, get cosy in your favourite chair, and spend an hour or two solving the mystery in beautiful Tasmania.

Changing Dreams

We interrupt our regularly scheduled transmission to bring you an important announcement.

TL:DR I am finishing up my contracts at the University of Tasmania over the next eight months and going on to new and exciting things.

I thought it was about time that I make this Facebook official. It’s beginning to feel very official. Very real.

I have said already on this blog that this is the Year of Saying No to everything. Well, it turns out that one of the things I am saying no to is my job.

At the beginning of this year I wrote in my journal, “I’m not going to keep going as I am. I’m done…Ready to move on.” I have taught the foundation chemistry unit at the University of Tasmania for ten years, for three semesters a year. And I have taught into a couple of other third-year units as well. I have also worked in research at the University of Sydney and at the University of Tasmania for seven years combined. I have supervised  one honours student and co-supervised three PhD students. And no, I don’t have tenure, I don’t have a permanent position. My work has ranged from casual by-the-hour work to as much as a two-year contract. If you want to know how I feel about that, you can read this post.

This year, I was ready for a change, and there were a couple of different options available for me to apply for at the university. But as the year went on, I felt more and more that it was time for me to try something new. You see, I want to write. I want to produce novels and write non-fiction books, and generally put my creativity out into the world. But I also want to live, I want to be healthy, to spend time with family and friends, and to exercise. And while others may be able to hold down a university position, and write, and have a life, I know I can’t. I’ve tried.

I have read a few books this year about how to get the writing business going and most of them advocate waking at 4am to write before work, going to work and doing a good day’s labour, and then coming home to work on the business more after work hours. They say that it’s stupid to give up your day job until you are able to support yourself with your dream job. I can see their point, but I have two problems with that scheme for myself.

One is that I’m already struggling to have enough energy to do what I already do. Even with all the changes I’ve made to diet and exercise, and with figuring out and fixing my thyroid issue, I’m still exhausted. This may be due to certain aspects of the university job. I don’t know. But the bottom line here is that I would be taking my time away from my family and letting them down if I put writing first and added that workload to the work I’m already doing. I’m not willing to sacrifice my family’s well-being or my physical and mental health for a writing career that may or may not happen.

Another issue with the aforementioned plan is that the university system already wants me to work from 4am until 10pm for my academic work. To truly ‘make it’ in academia it needs to be your whole life, your passion. You need to be willing to work when you’re on holidays, to work over the weekends, to stay until 4am getting an experiment right. Now, there are several articles I’ve read that show that you don’t have to sell your soul to the university to ‘make it’ as a professor but I feel like the pressure to work long hours is there and that I would be fighting against the trend if I were to treat an academic career like a ‘9-5 job’ and even taking on that fight is exhausting. But to try to run an academic career and build a writing business at the same time? Hats off to anyone who can do that.

I was talking to a creative writing lecturer earlier this year about my book and she asked, “How are you able to write and work in academia?” and I had to say that I couldn’t. I couldn’t keep it up. That I was leaving the uni behind. She looked relieved, to be honest. For her, writing is her academic career and good on her. She couldn’t imagine being able to write as well as do the uni thing. And neither can I. Not on a long-term basis.

So, what is my plan?

I have nixed the idea of becoming a stand up comedian. Just thought I’d let you know that.

The teaching contract I presently have will finish at the end of December and after that I will have two days of research a week until somewhere around the middle of next year. That gives me about eight months to figure out if I can make a living working for myself. If I can’t then I will be looking for another job around the middle of next year. We shall see.

I would like to write about 2000 words a day. Working towards both fiction and non-fiction books. Writing generally takes 5-10 years to pay off if you’re going the Indie Author route (which I am). Yes, 5-10 years. Not a short-term investment.

In the meantime, I hope to make money by doing some English language editing of scientific journal articles and theses. That is, taking work written by people with English as a second (or fifth – these people are incredibly skilled) language and correcting their English. I am in the middle of writing a business plan for this idea and I’ll be setting up a website in due time and trying to get that off the ground. It’s something I really enjoyed when working with my PhD students, and something I have also done voluntarily for an open access journal. But now I’d like to make it pay.

That is the plan. And my teaching for the semester has all but finished so in a couple of weeks (after exam marking) I’m going to be able to put decent hours into the new stuff and get it underway. I’m pretty excited about it.

I also started crying in the car as I was heading home after my last lab class. My last ever lab class.

So you could say feelings are mixed. I’m laying down one dream, and picking up another.

Anyway, that’s the news. I wanted to let you know.

What are you saying “yes” to?

Rocks in a jar

Life is full of possibilities.

If you read any self-help book, any blog on entrepreneurship, any cornflakes packet, you will see that you have to trim down those possibilities. You cannot do everything. You cannot have it all. At least, not all at once.

And it’s hard work to figure out what to say yes to. At least it was for me.

I tend to think that other people’s ideas are better than mine, that they’ve thought it through more, that they know what’s going on more than I do.

So when someone asks me to do something, I tend to say yes.

But doing what everyone else tells you to do is exhausting. You just cannot fit it all in. At some point, some decisions have to be made. And as you are the only one living your specific life with your specific burdens and challenges and your specific energy levels, you are the one that needs to make the decisions about what your life holds.

You know the analogy with the jar and the rocks, pebbles, sand, and water? I have always had trouble with that analogy. Putting sharp, angry rocks in a glass jar? What happens if you push too hard and the jar breaks? It took me a while to get past that but I saw a video the other day with some ping-pong balls instead of the rocks, beads instead of the pebbles, and then sand, and then beer. And that helped.

So, just in case you are one of the three people in the western world who have not heard this analogy, this is how it works:

The jar is your life. The ping-pong balls are the big things in your life. You need to put the ping-pong balls in first: family, friends, health care, time with God. The beads are the slightly smaller but still important things: your job, house, car, looking after those. The sand is everything else. The small stuff: surfing Facebook, watching TV, that sort of stuff. The beer is just to remind you that even if your life is full, you can still have a beer with friends (I’m not so sure about that last part, I’ve definitely had times where life was so full that a beer with friends would have pushed me over the edge, but maybe that’s just me).

It took me a while to understand something about this whole example (and I may be the only one who has trouble with this) but the thing is not to just state that the important things are ping-pong balls, but to schedule time to allow these ping-pong ball things to happen. Not to just say to yourself, “family is one of my top priorities” but to actually map out in your calendar that four nights a week you are not doing anything other than spending time with your family, that Saturday afternoon is for a family car trip, and that Sunday all the family will be going to church and eating lunch together afterwards. Schedule time for the important things first, then put in time for the less important things, and let the sand take care of itself.

Ok, so this is a helpful place to start, but for me I still had difficulty with it – what are my ping-pong balls? What exactly are the important things?

I started on this saying no journey because of two things: I was sick and tired of always feeling sick and tired, and I had decided I wanted to make time to write. I needed to clear my schedule so that I could exercise, and make and eat healthy food, and rest, and I needed to clear my schedule so that I could follow my dream and write a book.

Now, cutting down my TV viewing, and my social media time was a good start. (Notice I didn’t say cutting out, just cutting down – some relaxation is important). But it wasn’t enough.

If I kept saying yes to party-plan parties, all the church activities, dinner with everyone, social events, work opportunities and so on, I would have neither the time nor the energy to write anything. I needed some way to divine what belonged in the ‘important’ category.

I made a mind-map. You can tell how serious this is by the fact that I made a mind-map. I hate them. Lists are my thing. But I tried a few lists and they didn’t quite work, so the mind-map seemed the way to go this time.

The segments of my mind-map were: Family, church, work, health, and writing. In each one of those segments I included the things I thought were important. My feeling was that if something didn’t fit into one of those segments then it was sand.

Here’s a new thing that I learned. In the Family section along with the cooking, washing, budgeting and shopping, I also included ‘emotional energy for my family’s needs’ and ‘Saturday adventures’. I realised that I needed to put down-time in the ping-pong ball section if I was to live the life I wanted.

The other thing for me was defining the writing as a section on its own. As its own collection of ping-pong balls.

Writing is my dream, and it is my ‘thing’. It took me a long time to figure that out. Just so as you know, I’m in my mid-forties now, and I think I may have finally found the thing I love to do. I have tried many different hobbies – art, craft, exercise, maths, science, music, dance – none of them filled the gap in my life the way that writing has done. I’m hopeful now that I have found the passion of my life.

I read this amazing book called The Art of Slow Writing Louise De Salvo that described the lives and loves of many different authors throughout history. As I read it I found that I related to oh, just about every category. I remember telling my friend that I wanted to write a book, but doesn’t everyone? She said no, not everyone wants to write a book, and that maybe I should give it a try.

So I did give it a try, and I enjoyed it immensely. I enjoy the process and I enjoy the outcome.

However, in my mind my writing can be less important that any other important thing that anyone else would want me to do. You see I don’t know that I am ever going to be a successful author. In order to become a writer, I need time to practice. Time to write books that will never be seen by another human being. Time to fail. Time to learn the craft. And I have had difficulty allowing myself that time because my (maybe never seen or used by another human being) stuff just didn’t seem as important as anyone else’s (already out there and doing good) stuff.

I needed to change that. To change my mindset.

I’ve found some books really helpful to me in letting me know that it was ok to follow my dream. One is The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeuerst. She does a wonderful job of explaining that there is a job that only you can do, and that you should spend your time doing it. That it is right to say no to some opportunities if it stops you from doing the one thing that you should be doing.

Jon Acuff in his book Quitter says that if you figure out what your dream is, then you will spend less time doing the things you like, and more doing the things you love. I really like the idea of filling my life with things I love, things that I am meant to do. The idea of me giving to the world a gift that only I can give, living a life with meaning and purpose.

When you have that shining orb in front of you, that reason for living, then it is easier to throw off those things that ‘hinder and so easily entangle’ and to ‘run with perseverance the race set before you’. To run my own race. To reach my own goal. To give the thing I give the best. To live my best life. For all of that, I needed to learn to say no. Otherwise I am like a ‘wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind’ insecure, unsure, exhausted, and going nowhere.

The good book says, “each of you should carry your own load”. God has given you a load to carry. He has made you “to do good works which He planned beforehand for you to do”. It’s worth asking Him what he made you to do, thinking it through, finding out what your special shiny ping-pong ball is.

So, step one towards saying no: figure out what you’re saying yes to. Know your dream. Write your vision statement.

I have learned that dreams and goals are different. Where a goal is a short term, achievable stepping stone towards your dream,  your dream, according to Kristine Kathryn Rusch, is a big, unachievable, shining city on a hill that you are moving towards. A dream gives you purpose. Jenny Baxter agrees. She says in her blog Treasuring Mothers that your dream needs to be big enough that you can’t achieve it on your own. You need a dream that is big enough that you are dependent on God to come through for you to make it happen. Your dream is your hope and purpose – the thing God put you on the earth to accomplish.

That’s the thing that will allow you to say no, and help you figure out when to say yes. Cherish your dream, value it, invest in it, give it your all. And make sure that you don’t let all the sand eat away the time that belongs to the ping-pong ball of your dream.

Have you found out what your shiny ping-pong ball is? Do you agree that knowing what to say yes to is the first step to saying no? Have any of you lovely readers ever tried applying the ping-pong ball method to your lives?  How did it go?

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

If you would like to hear more about my writing journey as it comes to the pointy end with my first novel (a cosy mystery), please drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. The newsletters are more writing focussed – what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’m reading myself. I look forward to hearing from you.