Life happens in between story moments

FENCE, WALL – THAT WAY IS BLOCKED

Where is the rest of life? FRIDAY

One illusion novels maintain is that nothing of importance happens in the moments the writer chooses not to present on the page.

I bank on that bit of prestidigitation myself; I’m not against it, but I have to remember to consult my story calendar, the plot, and logic, when I fill in one of the prompts I always use:

Timing considerations: Since last scene, or last scene for this character, what has changed/happened? Does it make sense? Does it have conflict opportunities? Does it have to be dealt with?

A novelist fills the gap with a word, a flashback later (if the reader is lucky), or a jump cut, simply switching to a new scene with the assumption that readers can figure it out.

And we do. Movies no longer need those silly calendars showing the pages blowing off – we get it.

There is still, in most novels, a sense of moving forward in time, and not bothering to document the smaller bits that make up existence: characters eat, take a taxi, work.

But readers have an innate sense of when an author left something important out. The reader’s mind goes, “Huh?” Too many of those, and the reader is no longer interested in the story because, truly, there isn’t one.

We’re watching a couple of streaming TV programs: Hinterland (set in Wales) and Crossing the Line (set in Europe), and have these little discussions about linearity of plot, because either they do things differently on the other side of the pond, or we’ve lost some important ability, because we don’t get things much more often than we expect not to understand.

It’s a minor annoyance when watching TV, and my guess is that something got cut between the script and the final edit – different people doing the work? The shows are atmospheric enough to carry through (though the first seems both skimping and padding because I think I could cut it from 90 to 50 or 60 minutes and it would be improved considerably).

Life is boring

And full of little details – things which have to be done – but which contribute nothing to the eternal verities. I spent my good time this morning talking to online pharmacy and doctor’s office personnel – and got no writing done. Eventually, the pills I depend on may make their appearance, and I won’t be in so much pain I can’t think, much less write. As many of us are finding, those drug-seekers out there (some of which are probably just getting crappy medical care, and are experiencing pain they should be) are making life much longer and more boring for those of us who are trying to follow the rules.

It’s always so: the rules are tightened, but the people who are breaking them aren’t affected, and the ones who were not doing anything wrong have to deal with more paperwork.

This makes the future scarier

I can sort of cope now – if I don’t do anything time-wasting such as trying to concentrate on my writing for a few hours.

Some day I won’t be able to cope at all, and someone else will have to do this stuff for me, and they probably will neither do it right nor efficiently, and I will have no choice but to suffer the consequences.It is laughably difficult to leave instructions for such things as “don’t feed me carbohydrates,” or ” I can’t lie comfortably very long on my left side without a VERY thin pillow under me,” or “I HATE raw tomatoes.”

I hope that doesn’t happen too soon.

Meanwhile, I cope day-to-day

Badly, because my coping skills are somewhat age-dependent, as everyone’s are, but much slower than most people’s to start with.

I really thought I’d be further along – that I’ve learned to gather the input for a scene faster, and turn it into prose faster – but it isn’t even keeping up with the increased pressure of “thing that must be done.”

The big ones

Settling my parents’ estates and filing the required tax returns – an exercise quite pointless, as there will be no tax money in it for the government.

Finding a retirement community – I have realized lately that financial information (ours and theirs), and knowledge of floor plans and meal plans, is barely the beginning. As I dig deeper, I find the questions of medical care when you can’t navigate it yourself, and even simply paying your bills in that condition, are much more important. And we haven’t even STARTED visiting the Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing components of the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), which are looming as more and more important to choose correctly from the beginning, because you’re going to end up in them if you live long enough! And you will not be gleefully looking forward to moving in to them in most cases.

Dejunking this house/Selling this house – a difficult pair of things to do requiring millions of decisions which we can repent of at leisure.

And the very worst of all

I resent not being able to work myself out of the current many holes. A lady doing the fast walking jog many people think is called ‘running,’ but won’t mess up her hair or get her too sweaty; the man with the white ponytail and the limp who goes out for a painful walk regardless of the temperature or conditions most days; the children – especially the one little grandson who spends HOURS trying skateboard tricks or shooting baskets when he visits next door – all these people are ‘working on it,’ my standard response when asked about anything, but they are actually working on something.

Me, I’m stuck. I get one little thing done, painfully, and the ‘things needing doing’ merely provides the next customer in a Black Friday-long line.

I gotta get out of this place, but it may end up being the last thing I ever do, at this rate.

I make a list, read it, pick one thing to do. It is the A1 now, and the system is to get it done, because it is the log that is holding everything in a jam. But I’ve been telling myself that for weeks, months, years – and it’s a lie. There’s always another. When do you know if something is real or just depression talking?


What’s the answer? Is there a solution? SATURDAY

I’m hoping so. I’m hoping it is to focus on all the little good pieces:

the last message from the online pharmacy was that they had approved my prior authorization – without any further calls from me to them OR the doctor’s office; they may even manage to send me my perfectly legal, non-narcotic, non-opiate pain pills without me having to chase them down, and possibly even repeat that twice more in 3 and  months. Meanwhile, I pray the generics figure it out.

I am much further along in the estate-settling – and can’t do anything further this weekend; I hope I have figured out the way that doesn’t require exorbitant taxes.

I think that ‘we have to get out of this place’ has finally penetrated – we’re both quite tired of the continuing stream of maintenance, and the computations are almost done; a trip to California may be in the offing (let’s hope I survive!).

I may have located the cause of a couple of physical problems – that would be a lovely set of things to remove from my life.

And my standby solution – rest and reset the brain – still seems to work. Happy weekend – I’m going to go use it now.

And maybe one of these days I’ll learn to advertise…

One for my side: Google confirms I can spell pretidigitation and know what it means!


How’s your weekend going?

And thanks again to Stencil for the ability to make images out of thin air.

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20 thoughts on “Life happens in between story moments

  1. Alice Audrey

    Knowing just when to jump or cut and when to add is tough! I can’t tell you how many times readers have let me know they wanted more when the thought of talking directly about what went on then bores me to death. OTOH my editor made me take something out of Move In because she felt it was too graphic and then used up all available words on little things I hadn’t worried about.

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  2. Janna G. Noelle

    I’m glad to read that there have been some victories for you in amongst the daily slog and hardship. I wonder if you’ll ever just say you’re done with all the things slowing you down and holding you back and run away to the western sea. “Things that need to be done” are self-multiplying. They will always exist. They will be the death of us all.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I hope not! I’ve just turned the corner on my parents’ estate – one more paper from the broker (which I know what it will say), a couple of quick tax returns (very few lines needed), and that one should be finished. Say two weeks to get the paper…

      Moving? Well, the husband seems on board, and every time my assistant comes, we (she, really) get a bunch of things sorted and a lot either recycled or trashed or repurposed for someone else: and there’s a finite amount of stuff in a house. Want a large wood desk?

      But the trip to California will be a huge effort for me – and we can’t choose a place without going. And I have a few worries still about the kids – which I’m hoping they will handle mostly by themselves (fingers crossed).

      I’m trying to get back in the mindset of writing – I respond incredibly badly to interruptions, and have almost given up the last week – and my marketing and selling has literally come to a stop, but those are both very long term projects, and not likely to go quickly no matter WHAT I do.

      I’m trying to be positive, get the tiny bit of exercise I’m allowed, watch what I eat, and not leave the house very often, but some days it leads to me staring at the computer for way too many hours.

      I keep excessive worry and guilt out of it – I’m not the least bit lazy, and chronic illness makes you very certain of your priorities. And it’s an absolutely gorgeous fall in NJ due to warmth, no excessive rain, and luck – a good one for what should be my last out herre. I don’t get out into it much – a tiny effort at helping rake leaves led to not a good day following, but too bad.

      Keep up your good work – I see you’re the kind of writer I am – massive projects!

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  3. Widdershins

    ‘…I gotta get out of this place, but it may end up being the last thing I ever do…’ I see what you did there. 😀 … and the last line in the chorus – ‘girl, there’s a better place, for me and you,’ certainly fits your journey. 🙂

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      There are two paths here, and I’m hoping we make the move before they cross.

      The funny part? Most people move when they’re 80-85; we’re 68 and 70 – and I’ve been pushing for this for at least three years, and we may STILL be too late. I hope not – I’d like to enjoy life a bit before I get a lot older.

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  4. joey

    In terms of whether something is real or depression talking, I think real is subject to our moods, or perceptions, and certainly depression’s tones. Working on it is working on it and no one gets to work on anything at the pace of success they’d prefer. Not Even Olympians. I personally didn’t accomplish half of what I’d set out to do in one summer. In fact, I notice that I frequently chose the fun over the goal and the goals are still there. Maybe next summer. Maybe never, though I hope not. Crossing things off you list as they multiply is what most of us do, never mind the pace. Thinking about doing the things is worse than doing the things.You’re workin on it!

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  5. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    And my standby solution – rest and reset the brain – still seems to work.

    Glad to hear that. It sounds like you have several BIG to-dos that are taking all the oxygen out of the room. I think you are right when you point out that when you get one thing done, there’s always more that lines up to be done. But the newcomers are not inevitably as big or bigger than the things you just got done. I am hopeful that when you get the estate, the CCRC, and dejunking/selling of house done, the new to-dos won’t be quite so massive. (hug!)

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Thanks – and I am hoping the same: I think I’ve had all the biggies I can take this year (there are several others that are too personal for blogs, but also consumed oxygen at a ferocious rate).

      Therre is a sense of finality to some of these – and I’m close on the estates one, though it turns out to have several unpredicted twists.

      I just had a rest – now back to trying to write today, as I can’t solve the other problems on a Sunday.

      But it is freakishly hard for me to switch gears, and I don’t know if I will be able to make enough progress today for it to have been worth the effort! We’ll see – and I don’t think any of the work I pour into writing is entirely wasted, and it’s all captured in writing. There’s just so MUCH of it – this scene is tricky.

      Hope you’re also having some of the waves diminsh – you haven’t had an easy year either. Hugs.

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  6. marianallen

    It’s always something, isn’t it? I’m looking at options for Mom NOW, as her dementia and physical problems increase, while she’s still enough with me to participate in the decisions. She wants to stay in her own home as long as possible, meaning hiring some private nursing so I can get some of my own work done. When or if she needs a higher level of care/oversight, she’s had a weekend at a place she likes. She’s in long-term hospice care because of her incurable and deteriorating conditions, so I’m getting lots of support in addition to her getting care and oversight. I’m still digging myself out of the hole of my best friend’s death, but I celebrated her on El Dia de Los Muertos (with respect and love, not by being silly), and that helped release the pain.

    I admire your courage and tenacity. You inspire me to eat that elephant.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I’m so sorry about your mom’s problems – even the best of care is heartbreaking.

      I would make one comment only: most people wait too late to make the move – and it is harder to adjust to the new place, you don’t get much of the fun stuff there, and the stress of providing supevision to in-home care means YOUR energy goes to logistics. Once your mom is in a place where the logistics are someone else’s responsibility, then you will enjoy your visits together more. Most people underestimate the amount of time and energy ‘keeping someone in their own home as long as possible’ really takes – and how much it shorts the other things. Shutting up.

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Some of the places we’ve looked at (Independent living, not AL) allow pets, others don’t. I checked one out, and the contract you have to sign to have a pet is quite long – and there is a significant fee. The reason is that an animal is completely dependent on humans for its care – no matter how much it is loved. It was daunting – each step very reasonable, expensive, and obviously necessary – but what a task!

          Could you at least bring the cat to visit? I’m sure that’s nowhere near the same as having kitty around. But the cat has far more room to roam at home. No getting around that.

          I’m still pretty sure Gizzy will have to be rehomed, and I’m ignoring that for now, but maybe… Not that she is much of a pet – but we have an understanding, and she does have a lot of room here. When she’s awake and bothers to use it. I wasn’t thinking far enough ahead when the kids offered her to me, just that she was so cute and soft and I was sure I could change her. Hmmm. Where have we heard that before? My brain is already creating the perfect cage for her, using the space at the top of rooms…

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        2. marianallen

          My daughter’s chinchilla is very attached to her, but she’s also an unusually social chinchilla. There are chinchilla rescue societies that will match animals to would-be owners, and will even assist in transporting them safely. Winter is ideal for transferring a chinch, of course, with their love of cold.

          I’ll check into the cat living/visiting, although the cat HATES the crate I would have to use to bring her to visit. We may have waited too long to move Mom. They had fun events the weekend she was at the Springs, but she didn’t want to go. She just turned off in the unfamiliar environment. Part of the whole dementia thing. At home and with me, she’s in touch with herself. Away and without me, she’s lost.

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        3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I’m so sorry. Hug your mom extra, for me. Whatever you decide is the best you can do. I don’t know what else to say. I had to let my four younger sisters take care of my parents – and there’s been precious little I can do, with the CFS, and all the way up here. Just think ahead as much as you can – and realize that at some point they just can’t live alone. Not safe.

          I’ll look into the chinchilla rescues – Gizzy isn’t as social – I think I got her too old. We suit each other – except for the move. I will look to be able to take her, if possible.

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        4. marianallen

          Chinchillas are generally one-person critters, or so I’m told. Sara’s Dasha is extraordinarily friendly. I hope you can take Gizzy; I know you’ll miss each other. But, as you so kindly say to me, you’ll make the best decision possible for you both.

          I’ll give Mom your hug. She always appreciates them. 🙂

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        5. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Just curious – how old was Dasha when Sara got her? I think the problem all along has been that Gizzy was already six months old when she came to me, and I wasn’t prepared; I’ve had to learn as I go.

          We’ve done treats and teaching her a few tricks – there is absolutely nothing as cute as a chinchilla who give you her tiny paw – but she does more moves on command for my daughter Rebecca. Or rather, I’m a big softy and hand over treats more quickly. I think the fear of noises may not be changeable after a cerrtain point. If we make the move, I’ll try more time, but she does disappear under the bed to digest – and that’s it.

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        6. marianallen

          Dasha was probably a year old when Sara got her. She was sold as new, but she had obviously (when they got her home and to a vet) been neglected and abused. And she LOVES hard metal rock and roll! She has favorite bands and singers, and fusses if Sara plays somebody she doesn’t like.

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        7. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Your daughter did a wonderful job with Dasha! I’m so impressed. I know Gizzy was not abused – I thought at six months she was just too old to change, and that I was too uncertain.

          Oone of these days I’d love to talk to your daughter about her methods.

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