Monthly Archives: February 2018

The house where Pride’s Children was written

AND IT WON’T BE MINE ANY MORE

If God gives me life and brain, I will finish my epic love story, Pride’s Children, in a couple of years.

Sometimes place is important. One thinks of the Brontës writing in the rectory on the moors, and wonders if it was a cold and dismal place, or a warm and cheery one. Did they have one room they kept cozy and tended to congregate in? I could find some of my answers if I took the time to look.

Sometimes I think that Kary’s house, Sanctuary, is more real than my own. I have put more thought into how it should be.

We have lived in this house, only the second one we’ve ever owned, since March 5, 1981, which is a very long time in these moving times. We have been its only owners.

My children have known no other childhood home.

As I have become more home-bound, I have spent almost all my life in the south bedroom, with a window that opens to a quiet court ended by a cul-de-sac, where the kids all rode their tricycles and bicycles and drew in chalk on the pavement.

I insisted on this house – because the neighborhood had – and has – mature trees everywhere I look. With so many developments built on cornfields, and so many owners who don’t bother to plant a tree when they move in, the new developments have a raw look to them.

I dislike the American house which often shows its concrete foundation, stained by water and rust, like a dirty petticoat peeking out from under a lady’s skirt, long after it is built. As if we should all politely ignore all underwear hanging out. Bushes are planted – which never cover that bottom foot of dirty grey.

Ours has bushes to the ground.

Abandoning a home deliberately is something new for me. I love this one in some way, for its memories, but I’m still here, and the memories are all I have. Already. I don’t want to go start clearing the debris of the winter so the bulbs can come out – I’ve done that too many times; now it’s accompanied by the pain of sitting low, and the sleepless nights that come with the pain.

The kids come very rarely, and are not into dance lessons and Scouts any more, so there is nothing for them to do. They often take the train to NY, and spend the day having fun. Without me. One wanders up to Princeton for a good walk and a bunch of Pokemon Go sites. Without me. Or walks to a local park, ditto.

I face the stairs every day. Sometimes I have to go up in an undignified way. I don’t understand why that doesn’t bother other people a whole lot more than it does. If it were them, and me watching, I would have gotten us out of here years ago. No, I have no desire to stay here – with my sewing machine sitting unused in the little attic closet I turned into a sewing room. Because I have no reason to sew. No costume for Halloween, no dress for a prom. My own clothes, which I started making when I was 14, now come in the mail.

I want to make a new home

While I still can. While I can adjust to a new community. While I can meet new people and do new things with enjoyment.

I don’t even want most of our furniture. The dining room table takes a beating when you’re homeschooling three kids at it. Much of the kid furniture was IKEA, assembled on the spot and not really capable of being disassembled successfully. The nice bedroom set, with the light bridge, is too big. The solid oak kitchen table, carefully hand-finished, and in perfect shape, is too big. Somehow or other, over the last two years, it seems every dining room chair needs re-caning and refinishing (I TOLD them not to lean so hard), and the wheels on the kitchen chairs we’ve enjoyed rolling around are destroying both the chairs and the floor.

This house needs a healthy woman in charge. And people who like to do things at the workbench in the basement. I’m not that woman: I did my time.

But somewhere I need to leave a plaque:

In this house, between 2000 and 2018, Pride’s Children was written.

The beginning of it, anyway, because NETHERWORLD won’t be finished here.

There are places I could leave such a plaque, places I know, places behind – where a new owner won’t even know there is a place.

The written record

If you’re a writer, and have a thought – a blog is the perfect home to let it run free. Who knows – some day you may gather your thoughts in words, clean them up and organize them about a theme, and publish them.

I look at this blog, with over five hundred posts since I started in 2012, and I know some of those posts would make a different kind of book on writing, and others would document the production of my own epic – and marvel that the format allows them to still be there when I’ve moved on. I really ought to go see what is there. Might make for some interesting archaeology.

I’m finishing this at six a.m. because the ice dancing at the Olympics put an earworm into my brain, and then I got hungry… You know the drill. It’s a good time for humans to get nostalgic.

How think ye?


Thanks again for Stencil‘s images – consider them if you need a source of them for your own blog. The pictures make me think, and then we’re off on another wandering trail through the writer’s brain.

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Fearlessly make a stress inventory and face it

FACING STRESS IS A TOUGH ONE FOR ME

I realized that I’ve been living in a very tightly wound knot, and I’m making myself aware of how often I need to relax my shoulders and breathe.

Stress has the potential to further affect my health, even as far as accelerating my death, and exposing me to not very pleasant forms of that.

Normally, I’m a calm person, but the past couple of years, continuing chronic illness (ME/CFS), the debilitating back pain I will find a surgeon for once we’re settled (maybe), plus new health challenges give me a resting platform that would be too much for anyone not used to it (or who has a choice).

But I didn’t realize how MUCH stress

I’m laughing at myself (laughter at self, good) because I recently identified that my assistant, who works for me part-time, was carrying way too much stress from her other, real, job, and family circumstances, and I wisely gave her one of the stress inventories available online, suggested she fill it out, and she did, and she discussed it with her doctor WITH her parents present – and I think it helped.

So I was primed – and knowledgeable – and still to clueless to realize I had an awful lot of extra stress this past year.

Fear for your life is big stress –

but you can’t think about that every minute. Not unless there’s something you need to be doing.

Including coming up this Feb. 21 on the one year anniversary of the stent debacle last year (from Feb. 6 to 22, IIRC), where it took the (?) cardiologists three heart catheterizations, 4 hospital admissions in two hospitals in different states, a nuclear stress test, and luck – before they found the place (on the third stent) which was going to cause a nice heart attack as soon as it closed up a bit more. Don’t ignore chest pain, folks.

Two more days, and all I’ll have left is the medical PTSD (keeps biting at odd times); the memory of the horrible side effects of the drugs, all of which I dumped; the possibility of more drugs if the flu (yup, I’m getting over the flu, too, and yes, I had the shot) after-effects don’t go away.

I hate turning into a hypochondriac, so I ignore anything that isn’t severe – while remembering that doctors sent me home from the first catheterization with chest pain – and a clean bill of health.

So, facing the stress requires listing all the possible sources

Very partial list:

Moving: We’ve lived in this house, only the second one we’ve ever owned, since 1981. On March 5th it will have been 37 years. I’m pretty useless around the house any more, so all the fixing will have to be done through intermediaries, which means finding, making decisions, following up on, paying strangers wandering through my house. And making the decisions (and expenditures) necessary to sell a house in good enough condition to attract a decent buyer.

Dejunking: With each assistant, I’ve been dealing with the stuff which accumulates in a house with five people and the mother ill. For literally YEARS. With no false sense of keeping it all forever. To show a house, it must be tidy, the closets must feel airy and large, and the storage spaces should appear ample. Do you have any idea how many coats I’ve given away? How many remain? And how many are not mine?

Finding our forever home: I’m not doing this again, so we have to pick a place to live, with our diminishing energy for the task and before other people have to do it for us, that we will die in. I’ve written about Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), and we’ll be visiting California to pick one, knowing it’s intended to be a permanent move.

Kids: I will point out that any good parent of adult children worries like crazy about everything (and ours are doing well), by definition.

Family: How to see our far-flung offspring, and arranging the once-a-year vacation, with activities at all levels from zero (me) to healthy young adult. We weren’t doing the ‘visit Mom and Dad for the holidays’ thing anyway (they no longer really fit here, and there’s nothing to do, especially nothing I can participate in).

Finances: Goes without saying, even if you have savings – plus there’s that pesky bit about spending after you’ve spent your entire adult life (especially since disability meant I would not be earning again) NOT-spending. They want how much for a two-bedroom apartment at the CCRC?

Gizzy: A big problem. Rodents are not welcome at all CCRCs, chinchillas are long-lived, and she’s been a bit spoiled. It would be better for her to have a younger owner. Define ‘better.’ And how to find one, and hand her over safely. I will take her with us if I have to, but I’m coming to the realization that this may not be the best solution for either of us. Love the little gray furball.

You get the idea.

There are actually many many more, and some of them are connected with writing.

Slow writers have a problem in that the possible feedback from self-publishing (not even going anywhere near what writers who are not established enough to call the shots go through with traditional publishing) is slow. Unless the writer does all the things successful indies do – promotion, newsletters and mailing lists, interviews, keyword ads – the best help is the next book, and Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD will probably not be finished this year, not at the current rate. It goes well – the advantage of a writing system like mine is the ability to work on a manageable piece at a time – but slower than usual.

Benefits of dealing rather than slogging on

The payback for doing the move should be the ability to dump a lot of the above stresses, and get back to a writing schedule which doesn’t keep getting interrupted.

Okay, those of you laughing in the back: I know it doesn’t work that easily.

But I do have the fact behind me that when I finished my parents’ final tax returns, and mailed them to the IRS, that stress just stopped. Hard. I worried for a day or two I might have done something incorrect – and cut that out. The paperwork supported the returns I mailed in – and that’s that. I have a nice plastic box an inch thick only with everything I might need if audited. Done.

I have started

I sent my assistant to the basement with my iPhone to take pictures of the information on the tile boxes. I checked out that the tile store I bought the front hall and bathroom tile from are still in business. Closed, by the time I checked, but open tomorrow.

I called the recommended mason. Yes, he does chimneys on roofs! Sent him pictures I finally extracted from the husband’s OneDrive. He is coming by tomorrow to take a look. Yes!

Oh, and I finished the last beat of the last scene of the next chapter – and listened to it in the robot voice – and it’s fine. I think I’m writing cleaner and sparer as I go (but it could just be this scene).

I firmly believe there are a finite number of steps necessary to get a house ready for market. I am determined to direct the efforts. I talked to someone who will call me back tomorrow about staging (yay cellphones – she was half a country away on a trip).

The flu will go away. I will find something to eat, and watch Olympics, and try to get some sleep.

And go back to whatever I can do tomorrow.

Did it help to list the stressors?

Yes, but the danger there is that listing is not reducing. Only reducing is helpful in the long run. Had we any intention to stay here when I started nagging several years ago, they’re gone. The movement is forward, interrupted by everything.

It’s keep moving – or literally die trying.

If I could finish my writing first, please?

New review post on Pride’s Children site

NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS

If you’ve wondered where I’ve been, part of is these last two weeks has been entertaining a guest: Mr. FLU.

And yes, I did get the flu shot back in October (I always get one), and every year as far back as I remember; possibly that’s why the worst effects lasted about a week.

But getting over the whole thing is no picnic. I am on tissues with extra softness – by necessity. I can’t wait for my heart rate, which went up to 100 bpm and stayed there for days during the worst part (normally, for me, around 60-66) is driving me crazy because it is still hanging up there at almost 80. It’s exhausting in itself.

Life and my Universes

Also had lovely houseguests.

And today, by dint of I don’t know what force, I finished a scene I started, according to my notes, on Jan. 21. Way too long, but had only sketchy notes as to what absolutely had to go in it, no rough draft for this one, and no brain. I swear it feels no different, finished, than the ones I have more to go on than a title and several Dramatica appreciations. I even listened to it in the robot voice, and can pronounce myself satisfied (if I ever get there).

New post (with cookies) – thanks, Stencil.

New post at Pride’s Children with a lovely new review that has lifted my spirits.

Said spirits have been on a rollercoaster ride; still trying to figure out how to post about the stress load I’m carrying – and will be until we’ve moved.

Be well.

The Discipline of the Long-Distance Writer

SITTING HERE – RESTARTING MY BRAIN

I am NOT a sports fan, but Philadelphia is around the corner, and I’m pretty sure they put a great amount of very hard work into preparing for their win. As did the other team – so there is that elusive luck quantity about peaking at the right time, and having everything work out when you need it.

BUT: it is not luck that wins most times. It is luck on top of preparation. Most ‘overnight successes’ aren’t. And if you have the great win right out of the starting gate, you still have to do it again – witness the number of debut award-winning novels whose authors can’t repeat the win. And are never heard from again (unless they whine about how hard it is in the pages of The New Yorker.

Everything about Cary Tennis’ aphorism:

The most heroic thing a creative person can do is to live an orderly life so the work can get done.

is true. I don’t get anywhere without hours at the keyboard.

I’m acutely aware that, because I start at such a low level every day, a little thing like the cold that is messing with my mind is enough to render me useless to my chosen profession for both the days when I’m actually sick, and the aftermath days when I wonder where the Mack truck came from, because everything aches.

It’s not the pain that bothers me – lots of people live in pain. It’s that after a certain amount, I can’t think. And I’m way over that amount right now, sitting at my computer trying to think.

Priorities

When you have choices, at least some of the responsibility for what gets done in your life is yours. If you choose to go to the gym regularly, your body may be stronger and more reliable. If you could, but you don’t, the deterioration or lack of strength is partly your fault.

I have to get back to my basement exercises as soon as I can breathe normally, so I don’t get worse.

One thing at a time!

Use what you have in your writing

I was wondering where that extra edge of tension would come from in the scene I’m writing, and it occurred to me that I’m living it.

A common phenomenon for people who live with ME/CFS is the PEM crash. PEM – post-exertional malaise – is another one of those phrases which minimize a real disaster. PEM is really post-exertional exhaustion – a crash that can last for days after you do something more than you could really handle at the time. A crash that is made worse by trying to do things before you’re past it. A crash that is created, somehow, by taking energy out of your muscles with adrenaline.

I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline itself, being very slowly processed by a damaged liver, or if something else in the fragile body system is triggered by the push that precedes the crash. There is no known cure, though fluids, proper nutrition, and LOTS of rest can help.

It is another of those realities which cannot be ignored.

We’re watching the Olympics, and hearing about the athletes pushing through their pain and damage. And about permanent damage that can end an athlete’s career. Sometimes, they can work through the pain; sometimes, if they do the hard rehab work, they can improve their performance. Sometimes they try to ignore it; sometimes that works, or works long enough for them to achieve the next milestone. Hard to know whether they can take the chance – and win in spite of an injury – or whether, this time, it doesn’t matter how much pain they can tolerate in a broken foot, because they still can’t use it right.

I always come back

So far. Eventually.

But I’ve both speeded up (due to experience and practice) and slowed down (due to having been ill longer, and, that favorite of everyone, getting older).

I’ve reached an odd-enough spot that I want to document it, to see how to improve process, if possible, or to just move it along this time.

The immediate projects are competing fiercely

And they are getting done – albeit at a speed that would make a tortoise cry: my parents’ final tax returns (VERY long story) have been in the mail long enough that it’s the IRS’ problem, not mine. Yay! But talk about soul-sucking, useless tasks that teach you nothing you can use in the future.

I have a couple of small typos/errors I want to fix – but will have to re-load all the information about making files for Amazon and CreateSpace into my head, and then learn the new task: how to post a change in a published work. Good to know, not so easy to acquire; I’ll have to take notes, too, or I will forget.

I’m putting off working on putting Too Late, the Pride’s Children prequel, up on Amazon because it is TOO SHORT, and I fear a backlash. From whom? Dunno. But my fertile mind throws up roadblocks whenever it can find them. It would throw up roadblocks if I decided to STOP WRITING and just ENJOY OLD AGE. So it’s no reason to stop.

On the record: I am now more afraid of doing a short story wrong on Amazon and forever ruining my reputation than I am of having gotten my parents’ tax returns wrong and being jailed by the IRS for tax evasion. Easier to laugh at that once I’ve pinned it to a blog post.

The long-term move is back on the horizon

We have to get out of this house. Not because it isn’t lovely here – it is – but because the maintenance is something I can’t help with any more, and it is unreasonable to let the husband do it all, and difficult to find people consistently to do it for you. Plus the complete social isolation of rarely getting out of this room.

But now, following the last days of all four of our parents over the past three years, we have a whole lot more questions to ask and details to worry about that we hadn’t even realized – and won’t be in a position to control at whatever age they happen, because you are not all that functional at that time of life. Way too many things went wrong. Things like nurses in the hospital who won’t make the effort to make sure their patient can HEAR them. Things like ‘hospice’ – a lovely idea from the 70s – having been turned into another Medicare supplier which is farmed out to the lowest bidder, and has failed, dramatically, when most needed. They don’t even have hospices any more – just services dependent on funding and staffing. Once would have been bad luck. Twice is systematic.

So the thought of moving near where at least one of our children might locate permanently (San Francisco), rather than generally to California and taking care of ourselves, has reared its ugly head to mess up the choices. But most people don’t move out of a retirement community once they’re in (except when they can’t pay for it), so choices made now are crucial for the future. When we won’t be in a position to make them for ourselves.

This is what I do when I feel a tiny bit better

I hope being able to think a few things out, and blog about it however lamely, means the cold is on its way out. I’ll still be a dishrag for a couple of days, but the drive to write SOMETHING, and to try to make it coherent, first comes back when I realize I haven’t posted in a while.

And if I can use that idea in the scene in progress, well, I won’t say it’s been worth it, precisely, but I may be able to profit from it anyway.

And here we go. And there’s another bunch of semi-connected thoughts out of the mind and onto the page.

And I’m more terrified than ever of getting the flu!

How’s your winter going?

The Greatest Generation is now gone

AND, UNTIL IT’S YOUR TURN, LIVE

At the beginning of 2014, my children had four living grandparents 90 or over.

As of last week, they have none. Husband’s dad, a good man, at 97, the last of our beloved parents, now knows if there is an afterlife or not. Our parents are missed, and there is nothing anyone can do about it except remember them.

It is sobering to think about now being the matriarch and patriarch of anything: husband and I are both eldest children. My parents did that so well for so long, and I can still remember my grandparents in Mexico doing the same thing. And I am not capable of doing any of what they did, keeping the family together by having everyone over for dinner on Sundays or Mondays, holidays and birthdays. I have been the beneficiary, and can’t pass it on. Our kids are currently in San Francisco, Boulder, and Troy, NY.

I have so many stories, and I have passed them on (ask my kids – I’ve talked their ears off), but I have not the energy to write many of them, not while I’m still writing fiction myself: there are only so many hours in a day I can use, and stories are best transmitted in person.

Making new traditions

I have come up with the idea of us going to a resort once a year, all of us. Not at Christmas or Thanksgiving, but at a convenient time. We can see each other every day, spend time with slow Mom on the beach or in the pool, and then those who can will take advantage of whatever the resort and local area have to offer, and maybe gather for dinner. For that talking part. A way to bring together someone with no energy and descendants with it in abundance. As long as the old folk can travel.

This way, I reason, they can go to the in-laws (when they have them) for holidays without trying to be in two places at once.

We’ll see if it works out; but we can’t maintain the family homestead, an awkward but much loved house with way too much space and maintenance, and too many stairs, just so the small clan can gather at a time when travel is horrible and in a place (suburban central NJ) where you have to go elsewhere to do anything. I have failed the task of ‘everyone is going to Grandma’s house.’

So be it.

At home in Mexico, a gigantic extended family still gathers – but we don’t go.

Now to focus on the two of us

I have to make my tiny daily allotment of energy cover getting out from under the responsibilities, which are becoming overwhelming (mostly for husband), and out of the social isolation which comes from having little energy to go anywhere.

Selling a house and moving, possibly cross-country, and settling in to a retirement community, is non-trivial, but it is only going to get harder. Most people leave it too long, and move in a crisis. I need things I can’t walk to here: a pool, a gym, facilities like a sound studio – and many of the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) have them. We need to find friends – ours here are moving away, or are no longer with us.

And I am aware of how delicate my ability to write is: everything that has come along has stolen days worth of writing because it needed that focus and clarity I can only achieve for a couple of hours a day at most.

The last of the big brain-sucking tasks,

finishing the tax returns for my parents, who were both American citizens even though they lived in Mexico since 1957 (and Pepita when she was a child), was finished yesterday. Daddy’s went with the postman.

I gritted my teeth and filled out Mother’s immediately following, aware that if I set the second task down I would have to learn from scratch all the tasks and arcane instructions – when I could force myself to do it again some time in the future. It was such a huge task (for me – not for a normal human), and consumed so many hours since June 2016 when my sisters gave up and asked me to do it, that I despaired of ever finishing. Mother’s is sitting in a sealed envelope for the postman today.

Each return was four simple pages. Above the surface there is no evidence of the frantic paddling below that reading and filing take, IRS worksheets and arcane bits from processes intended to make it hard for the very rich to take everything with them (ie, hand it over to their rich heirs). To finally end up at the same point for each detour: $0.00 – insert in box X of form 1040.

And on the bottom line: no tax owed. Which is good, because, IIRC, IRS penalties for filing late are some percentage of the tax owed.

I made every mistake possible during my filing of this twice-in-a-lifetime (mine) paperwork, including, yesterday, deleting the just completed return by writing the IRS instructions over it. Don’t tell me I should have let a tax accountant do it. Just believe me that it would have been far worse, and on someone else’s brisk timetable (the horror!).

I can do this stuff: but it takes days’ and days’ worth of all the energy I have.

And I learn nothing that I can use again. I fervently hope.

I’m a writer now, and still working

I plan to finish Pride’s Children, Books 2 and 3. Several nice people have claimed they’re waiting for the rest of the trilogy. As long as life and brain hold out, that’s the plan, and I’m very aware it doesn’t depend on my intentions. I hope God isn’t laughing too hard.

With the latest marvelous review, I have made some new connections on Goodreads, and possibly learned some useful marketing tips.

I despair at where the energy will have to come from to do a better marketing job, but obscurity is the other option, and I’m not happy with that, either.

When I do settle in to the writing, though, the deep pleasure is still there; my beta reader is content and says I haven’t lost it; and I still experience that moment, for each scene, when it all clicks and I know: that’s the way it really happened.

Given that Olympic skiing is off my list of possibilities, I’m glad I have the writing one for the story only I can finish.

There is so much yet to learn

A huge part of life is doing the best I can so that, if they every figure out ME/CFS, and it isn’t too late for me, I will be able to take advantage of the medical research, and maybe write faster. Or go skiing again.

My support group on Facebook has other people like me, and invaluable sustenance (as well as overwhelming loss). We CFS folk have little hope, but losing it all hasn’t happened for me yet.

If I did, I have no idea what I’d do all day.

But we are the oldest generation now, husband and I, and we don’t give up. Yet.

That’s why I’ve been missing from the blogging world. Hope you’ve all been okay.