Monthly Archives: April 2019

Gather scene plot points before writing

WARNING: FOR PLOTTERS

I have no idea how pantsers (those who write ‘by the seat of their pants’) decide what goes where in their books, or scenes, so if you’re a writer of that persuasion this post isn’t for you!

Even plotters have many variants

Some plotters are outliners: they construct a detailed outline for their novels, listing events in each scene, and, when they have a clear enough picture, follow their characters along and write down how they talk to each other as the events unfold.

There are writers who plot part of the time, as necessary, when they get stuck or when a section has to have a chronology to make sense.

And then there are people like me (I hope I’m not unique!): decisions are made in advance for every little thing that could happen in the whole story – an interaction between two characters about their Motivation; the introduction of a theme; the next step in a plot sequence that spans the whole trilogy…

I don’t know if I would have been this controlled had my brain still functioned the normal way – I didn’t write novels ‘before.’ But it helps me function when the amount of work I can keep in my head at a time is about one scene’s worth. At times, one beat – a section of a scene. My problem when I don’t do this it that the same ‘good idea’ will end up, in slightly different words, in more than one place in the novel!

So, necessity or temperament:

I call us Extreme Plotters

All this goes into the scenes in the list. Each scene has its little laundry list.

And then the improvisation can begin – everything is ready but the words.

And that little bit of ‘business’ will occur in only one place in the novel – and I know where and why.


From January 2013 (but I still use it every writing session):

Appreciations: Stuff that has to go somewhere

There are marks that a story has to hit to be considered complete.

For example, Blake Snyder, in his Save the Cat series on screenwriting, lists what he calls beats (on his ‘beat sheet’), things such as Opening Image, Theme Stated, Catalyst, and Dark Night of the Soul.

James N. Frey, in The Key: How to write damn good fiction using the power of myth, has a similar set which he calls a stepsheet that includes marks to hit such as the Call to Adventure, the Confrontation with the Evil One, or Obtaining the Prize; and a set of mythological characters to encounter such as The Armorer, The Evil One’s Sidekick, or the God with Clay Feet.

Other theorists have their own sets of points to hit for a novel or screenplay, and other structural systems such as Dramatica have their own collections of ‘pieces’ to include somehow in the finished product.

Finding a home for the pieces in the list of scenes

The last part of my Scene template is the section where all these systems have space to assign their points to particular scenes. I call these appreciations, or apps, from the original Dramatica version terminology.

Many of these systems have points in common, and are different ways of interpreting features that stories need. Odds are that people evaluating a novel or screenplay for acquisition will have their favorite system- and there is no reason why different systems can’t be accommodated within the same story and story structure.

The appreciations remind me that somewhere within THIS scene, I have elected to show, say, my protagonist preparing for the quest ahead by consulting The Wise Woman, or that this scene is the place to illustrate what Snyder calls the ‘All is Lost’ moment.

The illustration (‘encoding’) of the appreciation could be a bit of description or setting, a phone call and one or both sides of the ensuing dialogue, or a character’s thought expressing the theme for the reader. My choice – and where the writing and the artistry happen.

There are an infinite number of ways to illustrate any appreciation.

When done, a list of the appreciations showing the required points, scene by scene, could show an editor or studio exec that the story follows his favorite system* – and ‘validate’ the story’s structure. The point is that if the story needs to have a ‘consultation with a Wise Woman’ in it, I need to know which scene I’ve chosen to put that into. When I’m writing/I’ve written the scene, I can check the beat/story point/mark off my list once it is illustrated somehow. It is bookkeeping – that’s what templates are useful for.

The remaining few lines at the beginning and end of the Scene template situate that scene within its Chapter, and keep track of the action on a larger scale.

It looks like a lot of work to create and maintain this much structure. I think of it as preparation before going into battle. I know that when I reach the end, each of my scenes has done its job, and I haven’t left things out.

And it frees me up to do what I really want, which is to write the scenes: the stage is set, the actors are costumed and ready, and we get to Action!


*This is not an original idea – that you somehow include different ‘systems’ into the same book or screenplay – but I can’t remember where I ran across it. It makes sense – many systems are different ways to accommodate the same structure, and are not necessarily incompatible.

Thoughts?


 

Fiction dialogue easier if you write a play

TO WRITE FICTION, WRITE DIALOGUE

Beginners novelists have a lot of craft to learn.

Technically, you are still a storyteller if you write the story as prose, an epic poem, a graphic novel, a play, or a movie, but the crafts are very different. But learning the particulars takes years, and most writers pick a format and stick with it, with each form (Ex: prose) having long (novel) and shorter (story, novella) versions to practice on.

But you don’t stay a newbie novelist if you find you like writing, and learn some of the finer details such as point of view, plotting, or theme. There is room for continuous improvement, and one of the areas which bedevil beginners the most is the art of writing dialogue.

Mine became adequate as I went along (and no, I’m not showing you early drafts of Pride’s Children), but I needed to kick it up several orders of magnitude.

It took several years before the play (Tangled Webs) I naively thought would be ready for my daughter’s sixteenth birthday present was finished, and she was in college before I did, and here is part of what I learned.


From November 2012:

For better dialogue in fiction: write a play

When you can’t depend on interior monologue to get your point across, you lose a huge advantage. As a writer of fiction, you can either be blatant (He felt like death.) or subtle (He remembered med school: learning all the ramifications of the vagus nerve, enervating myriads of gastric components and pathways, useless for pinpointing the source of trouble in his gut, useful only to prove something, somewhere, thought it was wrong. But he’d never expected to feel so many of them. Simultaneously.) when using interior monologue, deep or distant.

But you get to choose.

As a playwright, you work with action and dialogue. Period. And have collaborators – actors and directors – who may aid you or may fight you, but whom you don’t control.

Tradition in the theater preserves the playwright’s absolute control over the dialogue, the WORDS. Many actors and directors will routinely cross out stage directions and the author’s parenthetical instructions on HOW to say a line or move about on stage, but they will not change a WORD of the dialogue.

Even in an adaptation of the play ‘Mary Stuart’ in high school, in SPANISH (I was Queen Elizabeth I, the actual lead – whee!), our director limited himself to crossing out large amounts of dialogue (the play was too long for us), and making the tiniest transitions where absolutely necessary. He would not change the translator’s version of the WORDS.

This is an absolute gift for novelists.

I urge every novelist to go out and write a play*.

Buy yourself $100 worth of playwriting books (buy – so you can write in them). Swallow them whole. Pick a visual story. Write the darned thing (maybe I’ll get back to the how in a later post).

And learn to live within the constraints of the form: you tell your story in the DIALOGUE you give your characters.

Oh, all right. You also have setting, and choosing WHICH of your characters are on stage at a given time, and stage/dialogue parenthetical directions.

But DIALOGUE is your main weapon.

And your written dialogue in your fiction gets much better.

You shouldn’t do ‘talking heads’ or ‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue, any more than you should do it in a novel – doing so demonstrates a distinct lack of technical skills.

It’s “I’m going to paint the Mona Lisa with BOTH hands tied behind my back, using only this paintbrush clenched in my teeth.” Because that’s what it feels like when you start.

But it CAN be done. It’s been done since the beginning of time. It can be done WITHOUT a narrator to gum up the works. And it can be done so the audience feels like eavesdroppers, watching something real happening right in front of them, right now.

Heady stuff. Ask full-time playwrights. Ask actors and directors.

Dialogue in plays is elliptical (not the shape – the punctuation mark), at cross purposes, full of innuendo and half-said things. And lies. Lots of lies. But it must tell the story or you are merely doing pantomime. It has to add up.

The WORDS matter.

And that is precisely its value for writing the dialogue – and telling the story – in fiction: it has to add up.

Doing it with time constraints – on stage – leads to the most economical method of telling a story, the fewest words. Doing it on stage, intended for a live audience which gets BORED and restless within seconds if the pieces of story it is receiving do not add up immediately, is like boot camp for dialogue.

The audience can neither skip ahead nor review something unclear.

And it won’t like being bored. So you learn to leave nothing out, and put nothing extraneous in.

Audiences want stories to make sense, pronto, and continuously. So you learn to feed them the story in bite-size pieces, story beats, so they can put the whole thing together in their heads and follow.

It is an awesome discipline to acquire – and the results, in terms of the ability to create good dialogue in fiction, are equally awesome, so much so that stripping a scene I’m editing down to ONLY the dialogue, and walking through it as if I expected it to be performed on stage, is now one of the basic steps in my process, and a step that often shows exactly where the flaws are.

Thoughts?


A quick reminder: Pride’s Children will only be on sale for about another week, if you wanted to get the 0.99 ebook version. I’m putting it back up there, and, just for the heck of it, will try the $9.99 price point. (It was 8.99 before the dollar experiment.)


 

Listen to the priceless gift of feedback

HONEST FEEDBACK IS ABOVE RUBIES

This one’s as true as when I first wrote it, before even being published at novel length, and in general people who ask for feedback in my various online writer’s groups are open to getting it, and gracious when it isn’t quite what they asked for.

Maybe I’m getting pickier at the groups I’m in.

The principle is the same: if you’re going to argue with the messenger, don’t order the service.


FROM April 2013:

Feedback: the priceless gift

Had an experience that made me take notice – so I stopped to figure out what happened.

I had gone to a new website – looked mildly interesting – for a writer. This writer put up the cover of his first book as kind of a teaser for his second – so far so good – and it sounded interesting enough that I clicked through to Amazon – considering buying.

So: he’s got me as a live one.

I read the description of the second book, and my brain goes, ‘Wait a minute – something not quite right here.’

The description for the second book was for a science fiction book. Conspiracies and space warfare and etc.

It was supposed to be a sequel – to his first book, written a while back.

But here’s the problem: the cover for the FIRST book hadn’t said a word about SF, just a one-word title and a name (of new writer – not one who is known to write SF).

The importance of covers

The ARTICLE he wrote was about the importance of COVERS. So I was primed to actually consider HIS in more detail than I normally would have done.

And it didn’t say, to me, what it was supposed to say. To me, the image and the title did NOT convey ‘SF inside.’ My opinion, of course.

So, being the nice helpful person I am, I bothered to go back, think it through, and tell this writer my impression of his cover strategy. As mildly and inoffensively as I could. I don’t do this often, and only when I think I have something to add to a thread. It takes a bit of time,

And he ARGUED with me! When I happened to go back to see if there was further discussion (being interested in covers, as a writer who will be self-publishing one of these days, because that’s what drew me to his website/blog in the first place), I read that he thought I was wrong, that there WERE SF elements on the cover, and I had somehow missed the signals.

Which miffed me, again mildly. [By way of credentials, I have been reading SF since the 1960s, and even had a membership in the SF Book Club which kept good SF coming regularly.]

Do you argue with the gift-giver?

I stopped to think why, and realized that there is a lesson there for ME: If someone does you the favor of giving you unbiased feedback about any aspect of your writing from THEIR point of view, your only acceptable response is “Thank you – I will think about what you said.”

Not to argue that your visitor and commenter is WRONG.

I have done this before, left careful feedback, and clearly labeled it ‘my opinion.’ Heck – I did it at Hugh Howey’s website (before his current fame – not that long ago), and his response was exactly right: Thanks for the suggestion, and I will consider it carefully. As a commenter (and now a fan – having gone to Amazon after his response and bought the whole WOOL omnibus), I felt listened to and appreciated. As if, in a small way, I had been able to contribute something.

So I got a valuable lesson from the experience: the one thing you cannot buy is the unvarnished opinion of a new true commenter. It is a gift when someone offers a considered opinion of your writing. It is feedback from a new READER. And it means you have made a connection. The last thing you want to do is discourage or discount the flash of inspiration you get. The aphorism is “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It is TRUE.


Thoughts?

Plot quirks as much as holes

AND HOW WOULD YOU KNOW?

‘Missing’ is an odd concept

For a visual or graphic artist, there a billions of colors – digitize the spectrum as finely as you like to get as many distinct numbers as you need.

Of course, you can’t use them all.

And at some point the human eye can no longer distinguish between the shades.

A complete scene is another odd concept

That’s where the art comes in, for each writer, in deciding how much stays, how much is irrelevant (including whether or not to use scenes at all, but that’s getting a little too experimental for me).

From January 2013 comes an answer that turned my brain topsy turvy:



Upending plots to find holes

I had an interesting experience recently which gave me ideas about finding – and solving – plot problems. In the course of playing too many games of Free Flow on DH’s new iPad mini, I solved all but a small set of the 14 x 14 levels included. It irked me that, no matter how many times I went back to the remaining small unsolved set, even starting completely from scratch, I couldn’t find the trick to the solution.

A minor problem, you say. Agreed. But games can be useful (I know – this doesn’t justify all that time spent gaming) – or humans wouldn’t have invented them, and wouldn’t get so much stroking from them, so much pleasure, that they can become addicting. There is a sense of completion that releases endorphins and other good brain chemicals when a puzzle is solved.

So, I continued to come back to this set of unfinished puzzles.

But it wasn’t until, in desperation, I turned the iPad upside down that I found my answers: even though I had started each level from scratch, the orientation of the dots (you are trying to connect each colored dot with its mate in such a way that all squares on the board have a color in them and NONE of the squares is EMPTY) had locked into my brain prematurely, and I literally could not see them in a different way.

It actually HURT my brain to turn the iPad upside down, and to view each puzzle WRONG – but in a new way.

I told myself anything that made my brain hurt must be good for it (on the theory I hold that the brain is a muscle-like object, and it must be exercised).

I deliberately tolerated the stress – and quickly solved the remaining puzzles I had been struggling with for more days than I care to admit. Immediately. The skills I had developed for this particular little game had settled too soon into working on the default orientation – a technique that got me successfully through most of the 750 puzzle levels that came with the game – but not all.

I’m doing something similar with the scenes I’m revising now:

I have text for these scenes, text that I like, and a flow through the plot that strokes my brain (we all write, first, for ourselves), but it isn’t good enough.

Revising in place, just taking the words that are there, the order of words in a scene, and making them better, is good and useful and satisfactory – after all, I worked hard to write them originally.

But it doesn’t solve all the problems. I’m stuck, in some scenes, with a feeling that I haven’t done my complete job, that there are unexplored empty ‘squares’ on the grid. A feeling that if I notice a tiny void, a reader will, too. My brain hurts.

But the reader can’t fix the problem. That’s my job. If my writing isn’t satisfying me, it has no business going out into the world.

So I’ve been taking the elements of a scene, and going back to ‘start.’ Rearranging the order, re-thinking, re-visioning.

Letting my brain hurt.

Turning the scene completely upside down, asking beginner questions: What does this scene do? Why is this scene in the book? What can the reader only learn here? Even, Why the heck did he do that?

I’m hampered by the fact that I can – as an end result of many years of reading – turn out clean copy that LOOKS finished with relative ease. And once it is fixed in black and white on the page, it is very hard to question what looks ‘published.’

It takes time. It isn’t strictly necessary.

But if I identify the plot problems – the little bugs which irk the brain – those empty squares – and solve them, I get the endorphins. And a scene I have to admit is vastly better.



The interesting part has been that I have found extremely few places where I want to go back and change something in PURGATORY – which I just finished rereading.

Apparently, once I’ve got it, it locks in, and then it’s real, and I don’t need to go back. I didn’t think it would be so.


How about you?

If you’re a writer, do you find a strong stop for each scene – or do your scenes make you want to get out the editor?

If you’re a reader, can you tell when something is finished?

Just curious.

The limitations of a writer circumvented

EXPERIENCES ARE STILL POSSIBLE

This one I picked to bring forward again because I’m glad I recorded this post about getting around some of the significant Life imposes on those with disabilities and chronic illnesses: finding ways to keep the raft of experience growing even as we chop off pieces to fund our work.

I have to find a way to make the singing a bigger part of the current life.

And it is also timely, as Easter is next Sunday.

From February 2013:


I have been coping all morning with the side effects of yesterday, not being able to write, nor even look at my notes for, the current scene under revision in the WIP.

And yet, I am not unhappy.

With the limitations of CFS, I live a tiny life: I try not to leave the house more than 2-3 times a week, I say no to almost everything, and I have worked hard to create a schedule that puts the writing first (Get up. Grab First Diet Coke. Block internet for 2 hours. Write. Take First Nap. Get up. Grab Second Coke, protein breakfast shake. Block internet for 2 hours. Write. Take Second Nap. Phew – most of day is now gone.).

My house is, understandably, a disaster area. The bills get done when I am either forced to or have a functional period after the writing. Taxes, end of year deductions, holidays, occasional trips – all interrupt the flow, and take a week to recover from – and get back on schedule from. They are necessary, so I pay the price and don’t worry about it too much. If there’s energy, I write – I don’t spend it on housekeeping.

It leaves little time for the ‘life experiences’ writers need to grow – a Hobson’s choice.

But for ten years I made space for a weekly singing lesson (even though the teacher said I should practice an hour every day – and it was a rare week when I had any energy for doing anything other than singing if I had to drive myself somewhere that week). Up to 8 times a year I go to a Folk Sing on a Friday night. And a year ago, when they were soliciting new members for the tiny choir that sings at the Princeton University chapel for the 4:30 Sunday Mass I attend when classes are in session, and knowing that they practiced before Mass (rather than having a separate choir practice night, which would have been an additional outing every week), I volunteered. With the caveat that it might not be something I could continue doing.

For those who sing, I needn’t explain the joy of learning something in four-part harmony every week, however short. For those who don’t, just know that I am treated as if it’s obvious that I CAN, and that’s enough.

After a year, which I survived, we were challenged to take turns as Cantor (it’s an erratic crew due to school and other commitments, and we were down to two or three who had cantored – yesterday all but one couldn’t come). One additional training session required – I can do this: I said yes.

Yesterday was My First Time – and, minor bobbles aside, it was glorious, and made up for the loss of Saturday (preparation), Sunday (warmup, practice, Mass!), and today, Monday (can’t seem to get it together, and it’s 4:34pm). Let me say it this way: there is nothing to compare to the experience of opening your mouth and pouring sound into a properly-designed nave and choir in a stone cathedral. It is a living thing that feeds back the sound and amplifies your voice enough to fill the whole. I prayed – went for it. The feeling is a shock, the feedback amazing. The first notes of the a capella Kyrie (which I may have been a third low for – but it doesn’t matter, as the cantor sets the note, and all the rest are relative – the organist had told me not to worry, to just go for it and with it, rather than get a note from him) – me, alone, for a few seconds, and then the rest of us joined in – was an experience that is not available for money. Nor should it be. It is only available for love – and without fear.

The same for the first verse of the meditation, followed by all of us singing what we have been singing throughout Lent.

My point? That even in a life circumscribed by circumstances beyond control, there are still times when it is necessary – and possible – to say ‘Yes!’


How do you replenish?

 

My writing rules have not changed

A white notebook with some sprigs of flowers with leaves. Text: From 2013 to 2019 the Rules I write by have NOT improved. RATS! Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

CHRONIC HAS NOT BECOME BETTER

These are the ‘rules’ I figured out way back when I started blogging.

I have moved cross-country, published the first volume of Pride’s Children, lived, exercised, eaten – trying multiple possibilities to no useful improvement.

It’s daunting.

Pain has increased a bit, and I walk less well. I’m avoiding any more surgery on my back unless 1) forced to (by a few things which can get dramatically worse), or 2) I’ve both finished all three PC volumes AND found a surgeon I believe can actually do anything useful.

Why? Because we CFS folk are sensitive to anesthesia, subject to wild pain fluctuations with surgery, and take forever to heal.

So I went back to look at the Rules, and am listing them, unaltered, so you don’t have to go look at the Archives for 2013. I may correct an odd typo or two.

Pray for me.

Contribute a few bucks to research on Dr. David Tuller’s fundraiser (he’s our wonderful journalist with a PhD in Public Health from Berkeley, where he works and which backs him up against some of the worst slanders about his abilities and motives. Why him? Because he’s been doing this for us for two years, and knows everyone and everything because he’s already up to speed. Because his research and letters, published on the Virology Blog, have been amazing. Because the other side, the fake scientists who insist I have a psychological disease, greatly fear him (they were getting away with murder until statisticians called them on it).

Rules from April 2013 – still valid:

*** DO NOT READ THESE RULES IF YOU ARE EASILY OVERWHELMED *** I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR CONSEQUENCES *** YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED *** YOUR MILEAGE WILL VARY *** DO NOT ARGUE WITH ME *** YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ THEM ***

Like physical laws, like gravity, especially, these laws are immutable.

Finding my laws – and exploiting them for MY benefit, is how I survive. Which I do, erratically.

Anything else is not only really stupid, but, like gravity, results in large crashes when I fall.

I have figured out these rules in detail only the last year or two, because I couldn’t afford to know them – and their immutability – before then.

I have the scientist’s orderly mind, and the drive to understand things that accompanies it. I would have made a decent scientist. Oh, wait – I did – for thirteen years.

I want to write. I am very grumpy when I can’t write.

1.    If I am playing video games, trolling the internet, or reading far into the night, it is not for pleasure. It is because my non-functioning mind can’t make decisions. This actually has a name: Decision Fatigue. It is part of the dreaded ‘brain fog.’

2.    The only way I can make good decisions is to be rested enough. Yes, I can tell. But only, Catch-22-like, if I ASK myself – and I’m often too non-functional at the time to remember that.

3.    The only way to reset the decision-making process, for me, for now, is to lie down.

4.    The best recovery sleep is one taken just as I’m getting tired – OR COLD. It is at least 35 minutes long (the extra five is to settle down). It takes three positions: 1/3 lying on my back, 1/3 on each side. It must be: as dark as I can manage the room; horizontal; warm enough (lowering body temperature is an indicator); completely dark (use eye mask if necessary); completely silent (use ear plugs, and if the neighbor is using his industrial leaf-blower – way too often – I must add to the earplugs industrial ear protection: the earplugs alone are not enough). There can, obviously, be nothing else going on, no TV, audiobook, music. Certainly I can’t talk to you on the phone and count it as a Rest.

5.    During the nap I actively try to do all my rest-and-meditation tricks (true meditation is beyond me, but I sometimes do a little praying as I settle down, especially if anxiety is a problem (it often is)): I do three yoga ‘surrender breaths’ at least in each position, more if necessary, in sets of three. Each of these breaths has me filling my lungs to the utmost, holding a moment, and then ‘letting the breath fall out’ by opening my mouth and just releasing all tension. I – not necessarily yoga practitioners – then use all my muscles to push every bit of bad air from my body. I think this compensates for somewhat shallow breathing the rest of the time – junk in the air in the lower alveoli? – but what do I know?

6.    If I am tense or twitchy, I use those first five minutes to do all kinds of stretches – some I’ve invented myself – all lying down (unless I have a touch of sciatica – I’ll discuss that separately).

7.    It doesn’t matter if I had a nap 40 minutes ago (this part I hate). If I need another one, I need another one. Typical days without too much stress get by on two, are better with three. If I am recovering from a bad night, it can take four or five. If recovering from overdoing it (described below), pushing my limits, hitting the wall, losing it – whatever – this process WILL go on for days – regularly as many days as I overdid it; if I am VERY observant, I may be partially functional sooner – but can easily lose it again if I assume I’m back to ‘normal’ too soon.

8.    My ‘normal’ is not what ‘regular people’ call normal. You’ll see. My normal means I can get through a day with only two or three required half-hour rests – and actually get something done. (Getting something done will be described later.)

9.    I cannot work through or power through my little ‘problem.’ It would be like driving a car without gasoline, or better still, without a required oil change that is long overdue.

10.    I can choose to try to bend, break, or stretch these rules. Another one of my little ‘bad decisions.’

11. I cannot evade the consequences of having done so.

12. I am consciously trying to find the implementation that allows me to make the best choices, aware that life is imperfect, and the best choices are often not available to me.

13. Stress – of any kind – loses functionality. The loss is directly proportional to the stress, but exponential, not linear.

14. My personal limit seems to be to leave the house no more than three times a week for a fully functional existence. It is very limiting, and it is a difficult limit to enforce. I often have to make an exception to not miss my yoga class; I always pay for the exception.

15. If I leave the house, on one of those trips I may stop and do a short shopping stop: more than 15 minutes, and/or without the walker, and we are done – I must leave.

16. I can’t eat sugar or refined carbohydrates very often; if I do so, it will take four days – no exceptions – to get them out of my system. Every couple of days I may choose to do the Drs. Heller’s method of eating ONE balanced meal a day with some carbs and staying within a strict limit of ONE hour from start to finish. If I do this only a couple of times/week, exactly as they describe, I minimize its effects. Minimize, not evade – but c’mon guys, sometimes you gotta have birthday cake.

17. If necessary, I carry Atkins bars, and can have up to a couple a day. These are for true emergencies – and are sometimes what keeps me from going off the deep end, the illusion of a candybar, some chocolate and peanut. They are good for a meal-on-the-run, but if I’m on one of those, we are already compromised, and I know it. Sometimes they are the only thing that gets me home safely when I have to drive. I WILL pay for it.

18. The BEST solution to leaving the house is to get into bed the minute I get back. I’m very bad at it, because by that point I’m living on fumes, and I make very bad decisions on fumes.

19. No matter how many times I beat myself up about it, no matter how many times I fail to do the right things, I don’t seem to be able to do this perfectly.

20. I’ve been collecting some of the above data for the entire 23 years I’ve been sick. Some of it ‘clicked’ but recently – I have a bit more time to observe myself right now.

21. If I can’t get to sleep at night, I can take 1/4 of a 3mg. Melatonin tablet (which, taken as I’m getting sleepy, works best). I can also take 1/4-1/3 of a muscle relaxant (Skelaxin), which helps when all my yoga stretching doesn’t quite get the twitches of RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) out. I WILL PAY for these the next morning with between 1/4 and 1/2 day of additional grogginess. Most of the time these methods will get me to sleep – but the cost in functionality the next day is significant. Less doesn’t work. Taken too late (I told you I’m making these decisions from the very bottom of the decision quality scale), they don’t work.

22. It takes me 2-3 days to get back on a normal schedule if I stay up too late, longer, proportionately, if I do it for more than one day in a row. Most of the time I make an actual bad choice (I COULD set an alarm, or block the internet, or turn the computer off, or put the book or the ereader game down); sometimes something occurs late at night, usually by phone, occasionally because I HAVE to finish something. The REAL RULE is: go to bed. At the same time. As I get sleepy. Like a two-year-old.

23. When I get into the lowest energy state (zombie-like but still technically awake), and caught by something that gives my mind the appearance of intelligent occupation (pick your computer game of choice, or web-surf desperately for content), I’m amazed I can even make the decision to go to bed – after hours (literally) of being stuck in la-la land. I ALWAYS beat myself up when I do this. It never seems to help.

24. I get into the lowest energy state, because, goddammit, I’m a grownup, grownups don’t take naps like two-year-olds, and I hate taking naps (you see the lack of functional decision-making here, right?), and I’ve allowed myself (sometimes by design) to get to that state by going along as if I WERE normal, and not planning when the next nap needs to be, and how many I need to take to get through the day.

25. Here’s the new rule I just figured out: WRITING helps. And having it in an easily-accessible SCRIVENER file, where I can get to it before I do the next thing, helps even more. I’ve known these rules for year, have most of them written in the more than twenty notebooks that have journal pieces, my journey as I go through life, my writing notes as I work through revisions… BUT it hasn’t been until I’ve started using Scrivener – because of its ability to have so many files for a project and not take forever to open – that I’ve started adding a section to each project where I keep track of this stuff. Now, every time I realize I’m writing the same things, and nothing is new, I’m starting to use that as an indication that I’m ready to work.

26. Writing seems to help focus my mind – that’s why I do it. But I’ve written the same words many times before – in various chunks. Slowly. By hand – which is often a good things to do (I write most of my new text longhand, and revise on clean printouts much better than on a computer screen) is TOO SLOW to capture the torrent of thoughts which flow through my head.

27. Writing LISTS seems to help focus, as well. Brain says, “We’re doing a list,” and puts stuff out in some kind of order.

28. Getting things out of my head, and onto paper where I can see them, counteracts the ability to hold only one thing in my mind at a time (see post about likening my brain to an old-fashioned computer with a single processor: I DO NOT MULTITASK well.

29. Too many things in the queue leads to total paralysis – I can’t do what needs doing for one task before another forcibly takes over the single neuron I use for thinking (the other is used for breathing, thank-you-very-much, and should not be co-opted frequently: that least to hypoxia? anoxia? death? And it usually forgets to switch back). Putting the queue on paper is the trick – I’d discovered that when capturing the To Do list manually – but only the computer list allows for editing the list easily, putting things into the right order as I edit, and modifying lists items as I go. By hand that requires re-writing the list – and gets to be all-encompassing of the time, so much that list-making becomes the sole activity.

30. I dumped this out, non-stop, in a half-hour. Feels good. Now I have to eat something – and go finish taxes. I can work for maybe another hour before Second Nap. First nap was almost two hours because I went to sleep at 5am. I am coasting, feeling almost human, but it won’t last – another one of the rules: feeling good, functional, almost normal, DOES NOT LAST.

Changes since 2013:

Very few.

I don’t do organized yoga since I’m no longer vertically stable enough to stand, and half the yoga I was doing was done standing.

I am no longer in charge of taxes – I did them until hubby retired; then he took them over. Probably a good idea.

And it’s now TWENTY-NINE PLUS years.

I’m still trying. Daily.

Book 2 – NETHERWORLD – is coming along. Very slowly.


There’s an incorrect word up there somewhere, but I’m too tired to find it again. Lemme know if you do, and I’ll fix it.

 

Symbols, the grace of rest, and pushing limits

White ceramic bunny with a bow and some easter eggs. Text: Oldies but goodies, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

TIS THE SEASON FOR SYMBOLS

This post is from April, 2013.

We’re in Lent, the pre-Easter season, again.

The post took me back sharply to Princeton, and the Princeton U. chapel, and being able, with a great effort, to sing in Latin for Holy Week.

A few things changed: back then I could still stand for part of the services, and some of the singing. By the time I left last year, I could not find the energy to participate in all the holy week services, I was allowed to park ON campus at the end of the handicapped ramp at the back of the chapel, and I had published Pride’s Children: PURGATORY.

Then I knew there was a possibility we would be moving, and every last chance to sing there (terrific acoustics, great tiny Catholic choir, gorgeous chapel) was precious – though we didn’t actually move until 2018 (at the end of the summer, right before classes and singing started up again after the break).

It is bittersweet – I miss it, it doesn’t miss me.

I am no better now, and six more years of my life have not been saved by medical research figuring out what’s wrong with us people with ME/CFS and fixing it.

But I’m glad I posted this back then, and I read it again and was transported instantly to the proud vaulted cathedral of stone. And the music.

Can you remember grace, and the symbol thereof, in a time in your life?

Remembering an old and dear friend

Light bulbs in a line, with the one at the right end lifted, ready to be dropped. Test: Oldies but goodies, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

WE HONOR THOSE WE REMEMBER

As I was going through old posts you may not have seen, I came across something with current applications, as well as remembering that day in Princeton when we put our friend (mine from our CFS support group and the Princeton Folk Music Society) Dr. Paul Whiter’s ashes into the memorial garden at the Episcopal church:

I was reminded of the fourth vow some Christian monks take in addition to their other vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the vow of stability, of staying in one place for the remainder of their lives. Thomas Merton wrote that it meant giving up the hope of finding somewhere else more perfect, and settling in, for life, to the ordinariness of the chosen place.

As fascinating, intelligent man, he would have enjoyed the community we have joined.

He touched many lives, with a gentle spirit.

From April, 2013, when we had just lost him: Words are my memories.

Photo of Dr. Paul Whiter

I can’t seem to find my mojo

Light bulbs in a line, with the one at the right end lifted, ready to be dropped. Test: Oldies but goodies, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

PULLING UP POSTS FROM THE PAST

It occurs to me that most of my followers have not seen a lot of my old posts.

I have 568 posts, WordPress informs me (and 61 draft posts – another story).

So I’m going to drag some of my favorites out of the Archives and re-post them so y’all have something to read here while I find my writing mojo again.

My brain wants to write fiction, and refuses to come up with blog topics I can follow to a written end right now.

I’ll curate by saying a few words about why I’m posting them again, and liven them up.

Here goes:

I miss my little friend, though I know she’s in a better household with healthy younger people and pets, and is probably having much more fun than she had with me. Gizzy was my pleasure, my responsibility, and something extremely soft to sometimes put my cheek on – for FIVE YEARS.

They can live to be twenty-two in captivity – I’m not sure I am going to make that many in good enough shape to take care of her.

Here are 4 Lessons about readers from the chinchilla.

Let me know what you think about these!