Toward the end of 2018, I sat and considered some of the feedback I’d received over the year both internal (from talking to myself) and external.
I have specific goals for my writing, but I have specific personal goals as well. One is to improve the way I communicate with others when things go wrong.
My car had a flat tire a while back. The air cap was missing. I ended up missing a very important doctors appointment. It ended up throwing off my plans for the rest of the day and bleeding into the next.
I called my husband and was fuming. He calmed me and said … there had been a flat tire. He took it to a tire shop and had them patch it. They refilled the tire and must have forgotten to put a cap on. It had been slowly leaking since then, and with cold weather had compressed enough to reduce the air pressure.
Even if it had been his fault, I shouldn’t have expressed my anger that way. I said things that I regret.
I sat and read about conflict resolution and how to stop saying things that I regret.
Can’t Stuff It Back In
Sometimes I say things that I regret. I’m tired. We had upsetting news, and I felt exhausted and hopeless. It doesn’t excuse me. It’s just an explanation. When I’m physically having a rough time, or under too much stress, I’m most likely to reach that tipping point. I react, it’s a nuclear reaction, and I can’t stuff what I said back in my mouth. I’ve given life to frogs and malice like a cursed princess instead of jewels and flowers following me wherever I go.
Reading about conflict resolution, gentle parenting, and being a friend to myself has really helped me. I want to keep putting into practice those new tools I have learned.
When I find myself getting frustrated, it’s often mixed with a panicky feeling because something else is also wrong – I need rest, or food, or less stimuli. Less stimuli for me can come in the form of a clean house. If I need to clean, then I’m constantly noticing dirt or clutter and adding to a never ending to-do list.
Introspection can be difficult. It’s my observation that most of us are a little unreliable when it comes to how we perceive ourselves versus actuality.
Someone recently commented that they are “nice” to strangers but reserve kindness only for their close friends and family. I didn’t engage with them. They have the right to their approach to life.
I don’t understand this thinking. I strive to be kind to everyone I meet. Sometimes I fail, but I want to be good for goodness’ sake, not just to those who are close to me.
Kindness is often both priceless and free.
My challenge to myself this year is to be kinder in my words both in and out – in how I speak to myself, and everyone with whom I come in contact.
My challenge is to listen to understand, not to reply, and to consider the people around me, and what they need to hear versus what I want to say.
Do you have any personal challenges this year you’d like to share?
This week I’m sharing my review of Camden’s Follies: From the diaries of Doctor James Camden, Lunar Physician and Pirate (Book 1, Part 1) by J. Nathanial Corres.
To describe this story succinctly – it’s like a steampunk British Indiana Jones space opera with an unwanted harem. Let me explain: it’s set in the early 1900s and uses a mix of industrial revolution era technology with reproductions of ancient tech from translations from the Mayans, who were gifted the tech by a species that may have had ulterior motives.
What better opportunity to use this GIF?
It has that swashbuckling feel of Indiana Jones. Their main vessel is a dirigible, though that feels like a generous description given its space-faring modifications.
Dr. Camden thought he was headed to “central Africa” (no particular country/region mentioned) to study forensics and become a medical examiner, but it turns out he’s been recruited for a secret mission on an experimental vessel.
He has two women fighting over him – thus, the unwanted harem trope.
First, I’ll give you my usual breakdown of the characters, settings, and emotional payoff. Then I’ll close with some thoughts about this book, about literary citizenship, and reviewing in general.
James Camden is probably an accurate portrayal of a military doctor from that time as far as backstory, clothing, & vernacular go. At the same time, personality wise … I’m not sure he’s healthy. I think it was a common trait, especially post-war, to have a rather brusque bedside manner. He doesn’t fixate on his soldiering life, but I wonder if he’s fully dealt with it.
Source: Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” via Snicket.Fandom
Here’s my evidence that Dr. Camden may be a little cold, or perhaps having burnout, or a slight touch of sociopathy – in the beginning of the book he states this:
At first I took it that it was … perhaps he is suffering from physician burnout, a very real thing. I mean, he was wanting to work on forensic medicine instead of living people. Perhaps he knew he was at his limit for bedside pleasantries. Coupled with his lack of empathy and what seems to be a brusque bedside manner, it seems to go beyond a stiff upper lip or fatigue, though.
There’s also … the difference of modern medicine. In Camden’s day, someone who had PTSD would be called “shell-shocked” and dealt with callously. In America’s Civil War, ridicule was considered a treatment for this disease. Surgery was very painful, not as successful, and anesthetics were not as advanced – they were basically chloroform and ether. In Darwin’s day, not that long before, it would have almost taken someone being a sociopath to handle being a surgeon: a level of detachment and composure that many would not be able to maintain. In the historical fantasy The Witch’s Daughter, Liza deals with gruesome failed surgeries. Darwin himself in real life pursued natural history because he could not stomach medicine. Camden mentions Darwin in passing, and this is by my guess about 40 years after.
Back to Camden’s sometimes chilly demeanor: When someone expresses a healthy fear of a large predatory species (that nearly killed one member and severely wounded Camden himself), he as a doctor reacts in this way:
Um, you’re the doctor? Shouldn’t you see to him?
He’s in good company, though: Sherlock himself claims to be a “high functioning sociopath” (though I’ve read psychologists disagree). Imperfect characters are often more interesting if not more relatable than perfect ones. In writing Mary Sues (or Gary Stus) are something to be avoided. Camden’s not perfect (me either), and sometimes a little aloof. That makes him a more likable character, though.
One last word about Dr. James Camden – he seems to suffer from a bit of insecurity. I make this observation because his narration demonstrates near constant criticism for other men. Again, this flaw makes an interesting character. At the same time, though, I’m not sure I would like him in person. I’ve talked about this at length with my husband and … we’ve decided that some of the best storytelling features unlikable protagonists – from Preacher to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Enjoying a story is different than hanging out with someone. Flaws that might be charming, interesting even, while enjoying a story could be quickly grating in person.
Cafea – The Tedarian female claims dibs on Dr. Camden almost immediately after she meets him, despite being frustratingly picky with men, and despite Camden being frequently mistaken for female (or perhaps because of what by some alien sensibilities passes for as feminine). She bridges the alien pirate crew of the War Dragon Fire and that of the humans’ Bernoulli. Without her, Camden would not succeed. She is fiercely loyal and knowledgeable.
Please note, this picture is again my imagination, and is not an accurate description. She is described as being an attractive reptilian humanoid female with green skin, a hint of scales, purple hair hiding a hint of black, and black irises and pupils.
Cynthia Belle-Anderson – Described as being a deceivingly delicate widow who frequently dons pith hats, Cynthia is a former spy. It’s revealed that she encouraged the selection of Dr. Camden for this experimental mission, and she’s been attracted to him from afar.
He later observed that she’s more worldly than originally guessed due to her demure demeanor and that some of the interactions between Cafea and Cynthia make him consider French women. I’m linking to Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs duMal because it was a scandalous book that feautures, among other things, women attracted to women. Le Fleurs du Mal was written in the mid 1800s and features gorgeous imagery and mostly melancholic themes. It was not received well in polite French society at the time, but given the apparent setting of this book would have had enough time to become as infamous as The Room and to possibly have become more acceptable. It’sa space opera, aka a space fantasy. The author may do whatever he likes.
I enjoyed this character – I expected her to be a bland British woman of that era, but she was a real go-getter when it came down to it. She’s fierce. Some might even say savage. The dichotomy between the exotic and intense Cafea and the girl-next-door vibes of Cynthia is intriguing, especially when coupled with their similarities. They are two sides of the same coin.
Let’s be honest: this is escapism, and a common fantasy for many men is passion between two attractive women.
Again, the picture is just my imagination! I think she’s supposed to be more looking strawberry-blonde than Tarzan’s Jane.
Bechdel Test – This book does not pass the Bechdel test, and I don’t think the future parts will either. Being from a single male perspective, we only experience what James does. Since he doesn’t eavesdrop really, we don’t experience what Cafea and Cynthia, or any of the other women, talk about together. It’s apparent that Cafea and Cynthia have verbal spats and resolutions off screen, but those appear to be regarding James.
Does every book have to pass the Bechdel Test? No. I bring it up frequently because of how lacking representation is in media and how focused on the male gaze things are. This book is written by a man (a very kind one if I do say so), and it has an authentically male POV.
The Bernoulli is caught in interstellar disputes between the Garinthians and the Dragon Helm Pirate clan. We see various close range battles, several shipboard combat scenes, and romps on alien worlds with big game hunting. It feels very time appropriate in its observations to the doctor- the author was careful to avoid anachronisms.
For me the clearest scenes were in the engine room and the scenes with the big game. I’m not going to spoil them for you: they’re quite exciting.
This is a quote (sans context) from this book.
Conflict makes for good storytelling, so, dear doctor, I don’t believe you will.
This story was very clean in regards to the intimate scenes. Perhaps the author was thinking a gentleman wouldn’t kiss and tell, but I think he could have been a little more graphic. This detracted from the emotional payoff a bit.
Otherwise, it plugged along at a decent pace. Sometimes being interrupted and having to pick it back up made for me needing to re-read a bit before to know what was going on if i was interrupted during a tense scene, but alas – that is my life.
Camden’s Folly shows at once time appropriate sentiments and observations along with more modern themes- diversity, atypical romantic formats (aka polyamory), and with it provides interesting observations of modern heteronormativity and mores.
I truly wish this was a TV series so more people could enjoy the story. I think it would lend well to other formats – the sign of a truly good story.
This is an indie published book. As far as I can tell, it did not have a professional editor. There are typographical errors throughout – misplaced homonyms, extra or missing commas, and some issues with capitalization and consistency.
I once read that the average traditionally published book has about ten typographical errors in it. This has quite a number more, but please remember that there was not a team of people working on this story: just one writer. I hope that you can overlook those ink marks to enjoy this story. As a reviewer, I want you to know that I aim to help both the author have their book be promoted and the reader in selecting worthwhile pieces. I hope this review will accomplish both these tasks. It’s truly an enjoyable story and I look forward to the future installments.
Camden’s Follies: From the diaries of Doctor James Camden, Lunar Physician and Pirate (Book 1, Part 1) is available on Amazon.
This post was not sponsored. I will say that J. Nathanial Corres is such a wonderful example of a writer supporting other writers. I am so pleased to have made his online acquaintance. He is a pure example of literary citizenship.
In the words of Corres, and Camden: Geronimo!
Image note: screenshots are from the Kindle App of the book, and a few are from TV/movies with a note regarding where I found them. Also, the reptilian artwork is linked back to the original source on Deviant Art, and of course if the artist does not want me using the picture I will punctually comply in removing it.
Unless otherwise noted pictures on my blog are ones I personally took or from a CC0 source like Pixhere or Pixabay.
With Egyptian and Métis/Native American* roots, this sorceress has a long life span, souped up powers, and a big attitude
In a world where witches, wizards, and vampires have all been integrated (though painfully) into modern society, Irelynne – a sorcerer – must hide her unusual magic while investigating a series of murders that only she will be able to solve.
Ire is funny, relatable, and very competent. Zoro the “cat” is very sassy.
There were fresh takes on common tropes, but with a sense of modernity and respect that can sometimes be lacking in fantasy.
I look forward to the next book (due out in 2020).
What comes to mind when you think of Ireland? Maybe it’s the Blarney Stone or leprechauns. Maybe it’s St. Patrick or druids.
After reading Ghost of the Gaelic Moon, I think this book will come to mind for me. This was a lighthearted paranormal romp through Dublin and beyond. Ireland is on my travel bucket list, so maybe one day I can experience this magic myself.
Here is my (hopefully) spoiler free review covering the characters, setting, and emotional payoff.
Minimalism and mindfulness have their own places on the shelf of life. Sometimes we need to put them back in their places. Maybe your experiences are different but I’m going to share mine.
Minimalism. The oft praised design concept that conjures up fresh tiny houses, Scandinavian designs, Japanese zen gardens, and futuristic serenity come to mind. Jane Cumberbatch’s Pure Style Livinghas maintained a treasured spot on my bookshelf for over a decade with its praise of white, sterile, industrial inspired function. #goals
In contrast I have a maximalist house. It’s overly large (we’re planning on expanding our family). It’s overly cluttered (I’m working on that). My life is anything but sterile. It’s functionally chaotic.
An article I read talked about the mental stress that clutter causes. I had a hard time explaining it to my husband before reading the article, but this really helped. Clutter causes anxiety for me because it represents endless to-do lists and embarrassment. I want the house to look like a magazine cover, but it’s a mess. I don’t think I could ever have someone help me clean up either – I’m too particular, and it would make me very uncomfortable. When I first brought the baby home, a few close friends or family offered to help, but I had to turn them down. Having anyone else clean up my mess would rack me with guilt.
In the spirit of reducing and destressing, I tackled the closets, the bookcases, and some keepsakes. The Marie Kondo method really has helped me trim down my closet to clothes I enjoy wearing.
Why own clothes that don’t make me feel good? Why keep books or keepsakes that are just collecting dust? If I don’t treasure them, then why not give them a happier home with someone else?
Like The Decemberist’s song, “[A]nd if you don’t love me, let me go”.
Marie Kondo’s method of folding socks and t-shirts has transformed my drawers. The idea of treating my belongings with respect has truly increased value for objects I otherwise disregarded.
Someone who has read Kondo’s book was telling me that there’s an idea expressed that if your house is cluttered it’s because you’re choosing chaos, and that if you’re choosing chaos in your most intimate of physical environments it’s to distract you from the disarray in your own mind. Again, I have yet to read it, so I can’t speak to the quote and tone.
That idea, however, been bothering me for a few days. Am I choosing chaos in my home to avoid chaos in my mind?
I’ve been trying to get as much done as I can, but I seem to consistently fail. I definitely relate to having chaos within, and I’m doing my best to tame the chaos around me.
Someone else told me that they choose to view chaos in their physical environment instead of as the result a choice (blaming oneself) as merely a case of insufficient resources. They view it not as a personal failing but as a symptom of too little time/energy.
This brings me back to mindfulness.
Studies upon studies tout the line that mindfulness meditation has health benefits, improves mental health, etc.
What if you can’t get into it, though?
I’ve had to deal with some intense physical pain during my life. Sitting and focusing on what I’m experiencing in the moment isn’t always goodfor my mental health personally.
Mindfulness sometimes employs labeling: naming experiences, condensing actions into an idea to limit internal monologue to allow more time to focus on the present.
An example of labeling might go something like this:
It brings acute awareness to physical sensations. For me that sensation tended to be pain.
My mindfulness labeling went something like this:
Inhale. Hurting. Exhale. Hurting. Inhale. Hurting. Exhale. Still Hurting.
It sucked. I don’t want to just sit and think about how much pain I’m in. I can’t negate that being the most poignant part of my experience in those moments. Mindfulness that focused on labeling the present was not for me.
Does it helpothers? Yes. More power to them.
For me meditation that focuses on controlling thoughts is more helpful: mantras, focused breathing (especially square breathing).
Sometimes this sad vending machine is a pretty accurate depiction of me.
Minimalism, for all its beauty, isn’t working for me. I’m trying to tackle the clutter one type at a time and trying to become better organized. That’s one tool that I’ll have to shelve for now.
There are cleaning guides I’ve looked at as well. They seem to over-simplify cleaning. Focusing on a single room a day sounds like a great approach, but it hasn’t worked for me. I can’t do just one load of laundry a day or one load of dishes either. I mentioned this to a friend who said they think this only works if your house is clean to begin with and you’re just doing maintenance cleaning instead of nitty gritty cleaning and you live by yourself. With a baby and pets, laundry and cleaning are constant. I also have to decide – do I want to treasure this moment with my child (who will only be this size right now), or do I want a perfectly clean house? Cleaning can wait.
The same goes for meditation: mindfulness isn’t my cup of tea. With so many types of meditation, I’m lucky I’ve found other ways of quieting my mind.
My go-to meditations besides square breathing are simply counting one on the inhale and two on the exhale and trying to free my mind of any thoughts; and a singing meditation:
When I breathe out, I breathe out peace. When I breathe in, I breathe in love.
My goal right now is to shelve those thoughts deriding myself for perceived failures in organizing my physical and headspace and to just accept that sometimes I have insufficient resources. I don’t think the Serenity Prayer was meant to be applied this way, but I definitely need “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
What are your favorite ways of creating order in your headspace and/or physical space?