The Discipline of the Long-Distance Writer


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.


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?


12 thoughts on “The Discipline of the Long-Distance Writer

  1. marianallen

    Mom had that PEM, and it took less and less exertion to trigger it. So I know it’s real, because I’ve seen it in action. When I get Mom’s estate settled, I want to sit down with somebody and settle MY affairs NOW, so my heirs don’t have to track down this and that. Already have my corpse disposal arranged and paid for.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      You’re one ahead of me on the disposal bit, but I figured it will be time for that when we’ve found our ‘forever home.’

      As for the badly-named PEM, ‘malaise’ is such a weasle word and part of the minimizing of our condition the medical establishment is so determined to stick to, I’m going through a bit right now everyone can relate to: the exhaustion that follows the flu, and how long that lasts, even for normals. No healthy person I know caught the flu. I leave the house once and pick it up from a surface at the doctor’s waiting room. Not fair. But then nothing really is.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I wish for some fuss to be made, thank you very much, but it will depend on the system where we move, and what my kids want. Then proper disposal of the ashes in a Catholic church somewhere, like my parents, or a cemetery, like husband’s parents. Subject still to be discussed.

          As for anything else, I don’t think there will be too many family members by that point. We’re quite well dispersed (Michigan to California to Mexico City), but I don’t know most of my nieces and nephews very well any more, as I don’t spend much time with any of them. Sigh.


        2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Be sure to have many, and frequently – the end of life isn’t always suitable for parties. They have this thing called a birthday that is very handy for celebrating. We have never done enough celebrating, partly because of my lack of energy. I intend to start remedying that. Enjoy your fuss.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Of course. She would want that. People used to stay close to their relatives – we are so dispersed that we don’t have a natural way to do that. We will have to think what we want. It’s a serious decisioin – for the next generation’s comfort.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

    Just pray we’ll both get at least our fair share of luck. If I had a choice, of course, I’d give it to all the people who are far worse off than I am. I have a roof over my head, food, medical care, and a bit of my brain left. Many others don’t even have clean water for drinking.

    It irks me: we could fix ALL the world’s problems if people would stop stealing public money, and if governments and dictators stopped spending money on war. Those people have a lot of ‘splaining to do.


  3. joey

    I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with a cold. I’m glad you feel the worst of it is over.

    I feel like I am living on borrowed time, especially when I’ve been well so long. I don’t know WHY. I can point to a few things in my life and nod to whether they’ve played a part, but I generally do feel lucky. I had never heard of the PEM, but I definitely understand the crash bit. There are legions of us, sick because we’ve done too much, and others who never get sick no matter what they do, bewildered by it. It’s not something that can be explained unless you live with it (in your own body or with someone who struggles with it.) My parents and my husband are really the only people who’ve noticed. I haven’t crashed sick since June. Again, borrowed time. It leads to gratitude though, and that’s good.
    It’s very hard for people like you and I to stop, to rest, to let go. I think that’s why I identify with you so much.

    The new hospice isn’t the old hospice, that’s certain. The old hospice care costs so much, it’s not available to most. I presume, truly presume, I will be caring for my mother. I wonder if any of my kids presume they will care for me? At any rate, I watched what happened with my father and I wasn’t impressed. Best intentions, poor follow-through.
    There was a woman in the pharmacy yesterday, picking up her mother’s meds, and the date of birth was 1922. I listened to her and the pharmacist, delighted to find that this mother, she isn’t particularly mobile, but she still reads and has her wits about her. This impacted me, as it always does — How lucky. How is this luck determined?

    It goes back to what I wrote in the other paragraph. Luck. There isn’t enough of it to go around. I do not have the answers, and that’s another reason I enjoy reading you.

    Liked by 1 person


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