Where I’ve Been

Hi. It’s been awhile.

The last eight months have been hell. I’m not exaggerating.

On June 30, 2018, my horse and I hit a jump. I hit the ground, shattering the center of my collarbone into three pieces. (It refused to heal, and I eventually had surgery in late November to repair it.) On July 11, 2018, my dad started chemotherapy for prostate cancer. (In 2017, he went through radiation and two surgeries related to the cancer.) On August 11, 2018, my mom had a heart attack. She went into intensive care the next day. Four days later, she was transferred to a hospital in Kansas City (eight hours from my home in Indiana, four from my parents’ in Missouri ) to undergo an advanced surgical procedure that would have essentially replaced half her heart.

She passed away on September 5.

So, yeah. Hell. You haven’t heard from me in a long time. I did write a post about the experience I had, living in a hotel for four weeks, walking around and driving with a broken collarbone, supporting my dad through chemo, visiting my mostly-unconscious mom in intensive care, sitting with her in her final moments, but I couldn’t publish it.

Honestly, I couldn’t publish anything. I could barely function for weeks after her funeral.

I’m still not really sure how to be ‘normal,’ whatever that means, because I have no idea what normal looks like now. But somehow I’ve been writing, reading books, playing D&D, riding my horse, living life. There are times when I stop and realize I am no longer the same person. My life is not the same, even as I do the same things I did before any of this happened.

There are good things. My dad finished chemotherapy last fall, and we’re counting down the weeks till official remission can be declared. No Saving Throw will be out on May 14. Life carries on, I guess.

I don’t have any words of wisdom. Someday I may post what I wrote last fall about what happened, but it’s so raw I can barely stand to read it, let alone inflect it on someone else.

So if you’re still here, if you’ve liked some of my Tweets or posts or books over the years, thanks for sticking around. Truly; thank you. The support I’ve gotten from my online friends and family has been incredible, and I think that support network is half of what’s kept me going when I’ve been at my worst.

If you’d like to see more of me, I’m pretty active over on Instagram, where I post little snippets of my gaming, knitting/spinning, and horsey life. (There are also loads of cute bunny and cat photos if you’re into that.) I tweet, too, if that’s where you hang. I’ll try to update here a little more often, especially as release day approaches.

Finally, if you actually want to MEET me, I’ll be on the Writer’s Symposium programming at GenCon in Indianapolis this year, and that includes a couple of signings. I’d love to talk writing and games with anyone who wants to chat with me. I’ll likely be carrying a MtG deck and a Keyforge deck, too.

As for how I’m doing… Well, I’m here. I’m compulsively knitting socks, I’m creating a new D&D character (Dragonborn rogue, hell yeah), I’m obsessing over Age of Sigmar. I’m dragging my dad to a ranch in Wyoming later this summer, and I think I’ll finally venture over the pond to Scotland in November to hang with my bestie. There’s a lot of life ahead of me right now, and I’m doing my very best to keep living it.

Roll 20s, y’all.

The Other Side of Writing

I wrote this blog post a few months ago. It wasn’t easy to write, and it’s not easy for me to read now. But I think it’s an important topic, and one we don’t like to talk about simply because it’s not easy to discuss. There’s a chance, though, that my words may speak to someone else, that I may help someone who is struggling. And if there is a chance, and if my words reach someone who needs to hear them, it’s worth a few minutes of vulnerability. For those having a hard time, remember this: you’re not alone.

I want to talk some truth here today, dear readers.

I haven’t been around much lately, have I? I started a new job, I’ve been through a lot of changes in both my personal and professional life, and I’ve been trying to find my feet again. But that’s not all.

I’ve honestly been wondering whether or not this whole writing life thing is meant to be for me.

This is not the pretty side of the writing life. This won’t be a happy, reach for the stars kind of post. I want to talk honestly about just how difficult this business can be, and I don’t want to sugarcoat issues that real people struggle with every day: depression, anxiety, fear, stress, heartbreak.

Writing is hard. The act of writing itself is difficult, and the process of getting published can be nightmarish. No writer enters this field without considering these things. We all know that every writer will deal with rejection, that you have to develop a thick skin before you even try to submit. And we all know that persistence is often the key to getting published. “A writer writes!” they say. That’s how you can tell a real writer: she writes. She keeps going. She does the damn work, even when the work is damning her right back.

But what happens when the stress gets so intense that the act of putting one’s butt in the chair and hands on the keys causes physical symptoms of anxiety? What about when the depression is so intense that looking at one’s email is a crushing burden? How about when the sadness cuts so deep that the thought of bleeding onto the page makes a writer feel like she just might shrivel up and die from the loss?

Does it mean, if she doesn’t have the psychological energy to continue, that she’s not a real writer? If she needs to take a break from the persistence, from the constant effort that is the only thing that will get her published, does that mean she doesn’t deserve to one day see a reader enjoy her work? Have we even thought about what we’re telling writers who are suffering from depression?

We offer pep talks and butt-kickings, but we don’t always think about the circumstances of the person listening to our words. When we say, “You have to keep going,” we might just be saying to some suffering artist, “Taking a break means you’re failing.”

Depression is not an excuse. Depression is a real disorder, a whale of a disease that can swallow a writer whole. Acting tough is not a cure. Brazening it out is not always an option. Sometimes our suffering is so real that we cannot fake it until we make it—sometimes there is no “making it” beyond getting out of bed in the morning and continuing to function as a human being. And when that struggle goes unacknowledged, and the other struggle, the struggle to stay tough in a business that rewards tenacity, is emphasized by the people around you, it’s not easy to win the Battle of Getting Out of Bed.

As a whole, the writing support network I’ve built for myself is amazing. I have talented, compassionate friends who get up every morning and work harder than anyone else I know, all in pursuit of a dream that just doesn’t always come true, at least not when we need it the most. For some it will never come true.

I might be one of those.

I might not be.

Either way, I’m struggling.

All around me, writers keep writing. They produce thousands of words every day—amazing words—and I stand by, helpless and completely unable to write. I’m petrified by fear and anxiety, and when I see others continuing to fight while I cradle my bleeding heart in my ragged hands, I feel like maybe, just maybe, I don’t deserve to ride into battle at their sides.

I am not alone. Hundreds, thousands, millions of others suffer just like I do, though I’ll probably never know their stories.

Few people talk about this side of writing. We glory in the knowledge that J.K. Rowling and Stephen King and a hundred other best-selling, award-winning authors could have papered their office walls with rejections before they even got a second glance—but when we do that, we fail to acknowledge the painful truths that our bravado often hides. Commiserating over shared rejection does not equal true acknowledgement of the emotional struggles artists face.

That’s especially true because no writer’s path or process is the same as any other writer’s. My process is not your process. And my path to publishing may very well involve taking a break, giving my heart and my mind a breather. Just because J.K. and Stephen and all the others kept running even when their soles were ragged, that does not mean I must follow in their bloody footsteps.

Even though it feels like saying, “I am not okay, I need some time to nurse my wounds!” is really saying, “I am weak, and I cannot make it,” I am not admitting failure. I am not admitting weakness. I am acknowledging an actual struggle, one I cannot hope to win without taking care of myself.

But it doesn’t feel that way.

Maybe tomorrow, when I win the Battle of the Bed again, and I drag myself home, exhausted, at the end of another day, I’ll feel like writing. Maybe I won’t. In the mean time, though, I will give myself permission to take another step down my very own path.

And if your path looks a little like mine right now, and it leads off the battlefield and into a safe, quiet space in your mind, know that it’s okay. Or maybe it’s not okay, but that’s okay, too. We can sit here, together, and let our wounds start to heal.

Hard Lines and Social Media

Image by Michael Gil

It’s time for Kristin to take off her whimsical hat and put on serious hat, because we need to talk about something real today kids. *waits for you all to put on very serious hats*

I, and many of you, dear readers, are on social media a lot. Between Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and all the rest, we all put ourselves and our words out in public—for the whole wide world to see—on a daily basis. While in theory you can lock down your privacy settings, it may take a NASA engineer to figure out how to do it: posts and photos sneak through to the wider internet regularly, even from my fairly-private Facebook page.

Between my writing-self, my ADF-self, and my SDF-self, I’m in public almost nonstop. Whole areas of my life are shared with folks who look to me as a colleague or even a leader, and I take that responsibility seriously. Because I serve as lay-clergy, I try to make myself accessible to folks who might need me—but because I also use social media for personal communication, I have to take care what I say, when, and to whom.

As always, there’s a flip side to rules of personal conduct. Just as people can see me pretty much any time their little hearts desire, I’m seeing them, too. And in the past few months, I’ve discovered that I have some hard lines about what I will and won’t accept in my social media feeds.

That’s right, readers. Let’s talk etiquette.

I’ll preface this post with the following warnings:

Yes, these lines reflect my personal politics. But these lines aren’t about those politics: they’re about how we all express our personal beliefs, and how we interact with those who don’t share those beliefs. Please keep that in mind.

This post will contain some unpleasant language. I’m making a point about how people behave in public, and it’s difficult to do that without being specific. Get your smelling salts or avert your eyes if you’re not comfortable with R-rated language. Like I said, I’m serious about this stuff, readers, and it’s time to get real.

Kristin’s Hard Lines of Social Media

The following behavior will earn you an automatic unfriend, unfollow, unpin, or even block: no saving throw, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

1. Calling someone—anyone—a faggot, for any reason. See also: nigger, cunt or any others you can think of. Nope. No way. Don’t do this. No need to elaborate. However, this goes right into…

2. Using someone’s race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or anything that makes them unique as a shorthand insult. If you and I are arguing and you call me an ignorant, judgmental know-it-all, that’s not great, rhetoric-wise, but it’s still fine. It may even be accurate. But if you call me a dumb cunt, that’s unacceptable. Telling me to check my privilege would be more effective, particularly if you’re trying to say that I’m letting my unconscious race/class/whatever biases unjustly influence my thinking. Telling me I’m a woman (or reducing me to my sexual parts) and therefore stupid and uninformed, well, that’s not okay.

This rule extends as a soft line out to using gay/queer/retarded/whatever as bigoted shorthand for pointless, stupid, laughable, or whatever you’re trying to express. If you’re a teenager or other young adult and you’re using these words as slang, please—oh please—stop and think about what you’re saying. And then, as my parent-friends are always telling their two-year-old, use your words. There are clearer, more accurate ways of expressing your displeasure with something

3. Describing a politician or other public figure as a Nazi, Hitler, or any variation on this theme. I see this applied to President Obama pretty regularly, but this extends across the board from left to right. Once again, use your words. If you think the President’s policies are unfair and overpriced, and extend beyond the bounds of what you believe the government should be able to do, SAY THAT. If you think Michele Bachmann is an atavism of a sexist time when women were treated like chattel, say THAT. Hitler is not an appropriate synonym for oppressive or “does not share my beliefs.”

4. Using language of rape as a scare tactic to make a point about any other issue. Rape as rhetoric is just another exhibition of rape culture. Do NOT do this.

5. Forcing violent or bloody imagery on me as a way to further your cause. Even if you’re advocating for something that should be a basic human right, don’t take away my right to CHOOSE what media I consume. I know that people are suffering in nations far from here. I know that abortion is bloody. I know that abuse of children and animals occurs right around the corner from me. But language is a buffer between the individual and the world at large, especially in the text-heavy universe of the Internet. If you want to share these images, please use your words to draw me in. Make me care before showing me images I would never pull up in a public place.

This one is going to be a squidgy for many people, and I did hesitate when putting it here. I know we need to care about bloody and horrific causes, and I know it’s a form of whitewashing to ask people to erect an artificial barrier between social media and real-world issues. But we can’t always know what will trigger those we’re forcing to look at these images. We don’t know the story of everyone who follows us on Twitter or Facebook. When we share an image publicly, we are forcing every individual within range to not just acknowledge but also to WITNESS what is portrayed. Think very, very carefully when putting these things up for the world to see, and do not use this privilege to promote a personal agenda.

6. Behaving like a bot. This goes for self-promotion, politics, jokes, horoscopes, or any other automated content. If all I see from you is pre-scheduled or third party, even if it’s wise or funny, I’m going to unfollow you. Act like a human person if you want me to treat you like one.

Kristin’s Soft Lines of Social Media

These will earn you a reduction in following: an unsubscribe or a shift to a list I don’t often read. 

1. Daily promotion of your beliefs. Religion, politics, or your own awesomeness: if you’re posting daily Bible verses or politic rants or self-congratulations, you’re starting to act like a bot. Lighten up, shake it up. Share a cat meme or a photo of your lunch or something.

2. Too-frequent sexy, fish-lipped selfies or reflections of your awesome muscles in the mirror. If I wanted you to pout at me every day or if I wanted to fondle your man-boobs, I’d be married to you. This rule may just be one of my own, but it annoys the crap out of me to see close-up photos of someone I don’t know very well first thing every morning.

3. Using social media as a bridge into my personal or private life in a combative or inappropriate way. This one would (and probably should!) be a hard line for many, but since I’m acting as lay-clergy, I don’t draw as bright of a line as many of my friends. Emailing me at my SDF account for clarification on a subtle point of druid belief is fine. Emailing me when you have a fight with a friend is also good. Texting or calling me when you feel like you just can’t carry on is GOOD. DO THAT. Texting me at two a.m. to discuss ogham is not okay. Initiating arguments with me or challenging me at my personal accounts is also not okay.

Respect my boundaries, please.

What do you think of these lines? What are YOUR rules for social media?

The Worst Possible Advice to Give a Shy Person

I am both shy and introverted.* Dreadfully shy and extremely introverted. I used to get nervous calling to order pizza. As a newspaper reporter, I would shake violently before interviews. I’ve overcome a lot of this, but I still have to fight against my own nature when dealing with social situations.

And I get a lot of advice about how to deal with my shyness, most of it unsolicited and still more of it unhelpful. But the cruelest, worst possible advice you can give to someone who is shy?

“Don’t be shy.”

People say this to introverts and shy people alike, and every time I hear it, I want to punch the person who says it in the head—but of course, I’m far too shy to either threaten to do so or to act on the threat.

Think about that piece of advice. Really think about it. When you say that to a person who is shy and can’t help it, you’re telling her to turn off one of the most powerful and crippling parts of her personality. If she could turn it off, she would.

It is NEVER that simple. Tell a person who is scared of heights to just stop being afraid. Tell an alcoholic to quit drinking. Tell anyone to stop being who they are, and you’ll get nowhere, and probably offend them in the process.

Being shy is not a choice. Being shy is part of who I am.

Over the weekend, I was at a festival all on my own. I had lots of acquaintances there, of course, as well as a few friends, but for the most part, I was attending all by my lonesome. And when I’m surrounded by people who know each other, I tend to pull deeper into my shell.

At one point, I called my husband and said, “You know, I think X-Person sees that I’m shy, and he tends to treat me like you treat Portia (our timid cat): like I’ll freak out and run away to hide at any moment. Is that how people see me? Do I really seem that scared?”

“Yes and no,” Drew said. “X-Person knows you’re an introvert, and he’s trying to make you comfortable. But you do seem nervous in crowds.”

I sighed. “I feel like Portia right now. I feel overstimulated and freaked out and I want to go sit in the corner and groom myself frantically until I feel better.”

And I did. (The sitting in the corner part, not the frantic grooming part. The frantic grooming seems to cause hairballs and vomiting. At least in cats. I haven’t really experimented much with this stress-management technique.)

But in humans, it’s a common trait of introverts that we feel drained, exhausted, and nervous in crowds: overstimulated, like we say of our cats when they start freaking out and have to hide in the closet. That’s a normal thing, and I’m not being antisocial when I have to step away from a crowd.

“Don’t go hide in the dark,” people would tell me. “Come sit with us.”

They didn’t often understand that sometimes I hide in the dark because I have to. Because I’ll start weeping with exhaustion if I have to sit in the middle of a laughing, boisterous crowd any longer. Because I just cannot handle that many people around me for long periods of time.

I write all this to tell you that it’s normal to need a break, normal for an introvert to need to step away from a crowd. I know these people meant well, but they were telling me to change a part of who I am.

So next time you’re dealing with someone shy or introverted, think about what you tell them. Appreciate their need for space. Go slowly. And take it as a compliment when they start to open up to you, because that means you’ve made them comfortable.


*I include a note here because I’ve noticed that it’s become trendy common for people to post articles about how they are introverts but not shy, and how introverts are harder to spot than you think. Every time I see someone who is the life of the party sharing one of those articles, I want to cry for those of us who identify as shy AND introverted: they’re throwing the curve off and changing expectations for the rest of us.

Wedding Lessons I Learned… From My Own Wedding

In case you don’t know, I got married a couple weeks ago. And now that I have some distance from the event, I can share some of my hard-earned wisdom.

1. Learn to pick your battles. Realize that every time you point out something that doesn’t look the way you expected or doesn’t play out how you anticipated—even if it’s something tiny, and you’re just pointing out your surprise—people will try to fix it for you. Be aware of this, and keep your mouth shut, or you may end up with people running around trying to fix something you just don’t care about.

2. If you’re getting married outdoors during an unusually hot summer, get a full updo. I had my heart set on a half-up, half-down look, and it turned out just beautifully… six hours before the ceremony. By the time we’d finished the pre-ceremony photos, the curls were coming out and I found myself standing in front of the bar mirror with a curling iron, making the futile effort to fix my limp hair, while the bartenders were setting up cases of wine all around me. And by the time the reception rolled around, there was sweat dripping from the ends of my hair. I repeat: get an updo.

3. Roll with the punches. We had a brief music mishap right before the ceremony, and I had terrifying visions of having to throw a hissy fit, refusing to walk down the aisle, until the right song was playing for me. I was too hot and dazed to worry, really, and the music got sorted out: everything turned out okay. Sometimes you just have to let things go and know that they’ll work out all right in the end. And if something goes wrong, only you will know that it did. (Unless it’s obvious: see #5.)

4. Expect everything to be a blur. As the bride (or the groom, or whatever), you planned out every detail of this wedding… and on the day everything finally comes together, you’ll probably be too nervous/excited/busy/hungover from the previous night’s festivities to actually observe the beautiful day you planned. I wasn’t hungover (I swear!), but I was ridiculously nervous about the whole thing coming off without a hitch and so busy getting beautiful and having my photo taken, that, at the end of the night, I said, “I feel like I didn’t even get to attend my own wedding!” Apparently this is normal.

5. Laugh. This one is definitely the most important, and I’ll give you very specific reasons why. My husband and I did our cake cutting without a hitch: he neatly sliced us a huge piece of cake, and we opted to feed it to each other nicely. After that, a cater-waiter appeared like magic to take care of the rest of the serving. Delighted, we scampered back to the head table to enjoy our delicious dessert.

Now, just so you know going into this story, the cake was one of my very favorite parts of the wedding. It was iced to look like a birch tree with green leaves, each layer was a different flavor (the top, which we sliced, being my favorite: white chocolate raspberry sour cream cake), and cake toppers handmade to look like little owls.


Adorable, right?

We were enjoying our cake, chatting and laughing, and feeling glad we weren’t in the giant cake-scrum, when there was a squealing noise and a crash. We all looked up, puzzled, and could only see people milling around. I briefly remember seeing one of my girlfriends staring at me in horror, and then she appeared at my side like she’d Apparated.

“It’s okay,” she said. “The owls are okay, and you got your piece of cake.”

“What…?” I said eloquently, still confused.

At that moment, the crowd parted, silence fell, and everyone turned to look at me. I could see the wreckage of our cake on the floor. I covered my mouth with a hand, and a million thoughts ran through my head: I’ll always be the bride whose cake got destroyed; no one is going to get any dessert; we paid an unholy amount for a cake that’s now on the floor; AAAHH EVERYONE IS STARING AT ME, I HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!

I had a sudden moment of clarity. I could cry, I realized, and a part of me really wanted to, and there would be a lot of drama and catering minions running to Kroger for more cake. Or I could laugh, and the whole thing could get blown off.

I opted to laugh. The tension eased palpably. It turns out that only the top, most delicious layer was destroyed, and we still had plenty of cake. The owls survived. People started telling stories of the cake that tried to run away. And instead of being the bride who cried, I’m the bride who laughed.

So there you have it. Above all else, laugh.