Monthly Archives: May 2019

Resetting your writing after a break

AND YOU HAVE TO GET BACK TO WORK

Even when there are still aftershocks to contend with, and the normal has skittered sideways a bit, there is a time when you can’t keep reacting to interruptions constantly with the fight or flight response – and you have to settle down and figure out where you are and what has changed and what has not.

And, in my case, get back to writing.

I labelled a file ‘REDEFINING my life at URC >5/24/19’ and set to work.

Where was I? What was I doing? What was next? These are questions which I’ve been attempting to answer on the fly just to get some writing done in the interim.

But I promised myself I’d do something more organized an more formal asap.

The time is now – if you can

Otherwise the trial will fail – and you’ll get endless opportunities to try again.

But eventually it happens.

You start to realize you’d forgotten many of your own notes. But there they are. And you forgot your own plotting decisions – which will have to be redone, except… here is the file.

I do this periodically.


From October 2012:

Jamming the creative process: RESET to break the jam

Sometimes what keeps me from writing is not procrastination nor ego nor fear.

It is simply that ‘things’ – writing, life, house, … – have become so disorganized (and behind) that I can’t think, much less be creative.

Time gets spent, not in getting things done, but in thinking about getting things done. Thoughts go round and round, never settling long enough in one area to get that area started, much less finished.

How is the creative process affected?

By its main requirement: creating requires a free and nimble mind.

No further writing or editing on the WIP was getting any attention of QUALITY. Scheduling time for writing, blocking the internet by using Freedom, and all other methods aimed at the symptoms, rather than at the root cause – logjam – FAILED. Quite miserably.

The problem is analogous to computer mainframe usage in the good old days, when, to avoid a single user glutting the machine, the computer would ‘roll out’ an image of the core with a particular user’s program and all the user’s data, and ‘roll in’ someone else’s program and data. (Rolling in and out used a small amount of CPU time.)

Then it would compute for a while, and repeat the process with the next user in the priority list. If the algorithm wasn’t managed carefully, or there were too many users being allowed into the queue, the machine could get stuck in a place where all that was happening was sequential ‘roll out’, ‘roll in’ – but no actual work got done before it was time for the next. All the CPU’s time was being used to manage sequencing of jobs, none to doing the actual jobs.

No one’s job got done – and the CPU was busy all the time.

That is how my brain feels when things get too messy.

I can’t actually roll a job in and get a significant part of it done – the competing jobs are clamoring for brain/CPU time.

At this point the only thing to do is declare a reset – everything stops. Then only the top job or two are allowed any traction (typically one of these jobs is ‘TAXES’), everything else is blocked out, and, after clearing the logjam (i.e., ‘Filing taxes’), work is evaluated, rescheduled, cleaned up, dejunked, and otherwise processed before resetting the queue.

Something innocuous can start the jam: a visitor blows into town and occupies prime time space for a day or two (with, for us CFS folk, the several-day recovery that is non-negotiable). Or a new, shiny program beckons, promising to solve some long-standing problem and make future workflow more efficient. Or tax planning requires that all charitable contributions to be charged to the current fiscal year be RECEIVED by the intended organization by Dec. 31, not just MAILED (as it used to be), moving the paperwork time into the Christmas time-frame with a vengeance (instead of being done in that nice post-Christmas lull before New Year’s Eve).

Or [fill in here the life events that, by themselves, could have been handled, but collided with… to create the felt-like effect of a logjam, interlocked fibers].

It doesn’t matter what caused mine this time.

If you’re really curious – ask. And be prepared for long tale of woe…!

Ahem! The solution is to RESET – and that is what I’m doing.

So: I absolve myself of guilt (no one would do this to herself ON PURPOSE), and RESET. I put the editing on hold for as long as this one takes, get extra rest, do the top project or two.

And: we’re back in the writing business (I’m assuming this post – except for the mixed metaphors – shows coherent thought).

Editing sounds positively enticing – I can’t wait to see the final version of the current scene.


And how does that connect to what I’m doing in 2019?

Current editing is Scene 26.2 in NETHERWORLD.

Current writing is Scene 26.3.

And I would say the current tale of woe is the continuing saga of replacing things we had in New Jersey that worked fine (such as doctors and driver’s licenses) but we still don’t have here. One by one.

And I no longer do taxes since hubby retired!!!

But I’m writing. And reconnected with most of my research and organization files. And stuff I didn’t even remember was there. Phew – it would have been a lot of work to re-do some of that!

What do YOU do when you need to reset YOUR life?

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How true can a story be?

IF YOU WANT ‘TRUTH’ WRITE MEMOIR?

Knowing that memoir, non-fiction, history… all are someone’s version of  ‘the truth’ or ‘what actually happened.’

Back before I finished Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, I remember wondering whether it was okay to tell a story that would take quite a lot to be true, and yet should feel absolutely as if it was true, as all fiction that lasts does.

The image above, or a very ripe strawberry, reminds me of one of the early scenes in Firefly (one of our family’s all-time favorite TV shows), where Kaylee acquires an amazing strawberry from Shepherd Book, as part of his passage on the ship.

Is the idea better than the reality?

I can’t eat one – and we have them daily here – without thinking of the look on her face as she bites into the perfect fruit. All of them aren’t that perfect, but we don’t care – the idea of  ‘strawberry’ is a powerful umbrella which covers a little imperfection here and there.

I stopped worrying, went ahead and finished that part of the story exactly as I had planned, making it as true as I could make with smoke and mirrors.

I’m trying to do the same sleight-of-hand with the next volume.


From October, 2012:

Telling fairytales: giving readers false hopes

One of the things getting in the way of getting on with editing Pride’s Children, the WIP, is an insidious little voice in my head saying, “That could never happen!”

My brain tells me I shouldn’t write the story of someone who gets something in the story she would never get in real life – and that it would discourage people with similar problems from even thinking about what happens in the book – lest it give them FALSE HOPES.

And then I remembered that’s why humans tell stories.

In stories, the ugly duckling turns out to be the swan, more beautiful than all those picking at him. And Cinderella, the girl whose stepmother and stepsisters treat her like a servant, marries the Prince.

The point is – if we don’t tell stories and read stories – all we have is reality. Reality is harsh. If it were not for stories, humans would all die early by ‘failure to thrive.’

We need stories in which there is hope.

That it may be temporarily false is not important. If we mature, we will grow up to discover our own place, our own story, our own Prince – our own way to be happy. Either we will become President – or we will decide it is too much work to be President, anyway.

Children – and I think most people can remember being different, wanting more than they had, wishing they were more popular, or their parents had more money (so they could have that pony my eldest still asks for – at 26) – don’t have the tools to create their own reality where they are happy. Stories teach them (and adults who are still struggling with the same questions) those tools, or at least, that there ARE tools.

This could happen.

My story, if I am successful in my aims, will let someone spend a bit of time thinking ‘this could be me, this COULD happen,’ and thus keep that someone happy enough to keep trying for another day.

That is a good enough reason to write.


 

Can you relate to imperfect characters?

HOW FAR MUST YOU MORPH?

Readers have always been able to switch gender; well, female readers have often had to – there wasn’t much to read with positive heroines when I was growing up, not in popular fiction – it’s amazing the number of women scientists who pay tribute to Nancy Drew in their background!

I’m sure the number is dropping, because there are more role models, and some writers deliberately create unrealistically powerful young women as characters, hoping to up the ante. (Yes, I’m perfectly aware of all the advances made in opportunities for women; but that the situation for women in physics, for example, is not much different from what it was in the 1970s when I was in grad school.)

The ability to imagine yourself as a shape-shifter or an alien is part of being a reader – and even more important when a lot of the characters are not like you.

Diversity is the Holy Grail

Though more honored in the breach than in the observance, still.

And readers are only willing to go so far before they’re not interested, requiring a modicum of something they can identify with.


Which brings up a post from late 2012:

Does your character make readers uncomfortable?

When I set out to tell the story of Pride’s Children, I was originally driven by a sense of the unfairness of society toward those who have most need of its kindness.

Specifically, your DISABLED character?

There are two USUAL ways to deal with disability in a character: as a decoration or as a problem.

The first – a ‘feature’ of a character – gets mentioned every once in a while, but doesn’t seem to stop the character from doing most of the things ‘normal’ able people do. And it mostly leads that character to be a secondary character, a sidekick, the ‘friend in the wheelchair.’

The second leads to ‘inspiration p0rn’ (avoiding search engine problems here), and the solving of the ‘problem’ consumes the space dedicated to the story, with inspirational results – problem solved – or, sometimes, the character’s death (in a disturbing trend, by suicide while making life easier for those left behind).

Ignore the fact that suicide has a horrible effect on the people left behind. Most of us know of someone close to whom that has happened, and know they would do almost anything if they could go back in time and help.

Disabilities in real life

Disabilities are far more abundant than people think. If you count all disabilities – and I do, of course – estimates run over 20%. Don’t forget the invisible ones: FM, mental health issues, pain, CFS, non-visible genetic ‘abnormalities,’ a thousand things that make life difficult for the disabled person, but generate wrath in observers who watch them use the handicap parking space. Don’t forget old age and its common memory and mobility problems.

The counting is made difficult because of a human tendency to hide problems if it is at all possible, so you will not be ‘different’ or ‘other,’ and attract unwanted attention. Presumably there was some evolutionary benefit to getting rid of tribe members who would slow you down when your tribe was in the hunter/gatherer phase (a rather long time ago).

We ‘pass’ for normal/able as long as we possibly can, which also makes us suddenly appear very disabled when we can’t pretend any more.

Animals do it, too – everyone knows of a pet who didn’t let its owner know something was wrong until it was far too late to help. Wild animals do it so as not to appear vulnerable, as the weak and the sick are noted as easy prey.

But there is a different way for a writer: reality

I have taken the step of writing a disabled MAIN character, with a significant disability, which she ignores as much as possible, and bows to when inevitable.

For this disabled character, writing is a job – and she’s been successful at it, very slowly – and by staying hidden from the world.

An Amazon reviewer:

…while much of the plot centers on the cautious romance, Pride’s Children is also about a writer’s way of interacting with the world, living with a chronic condition (CFS – … I realized that I couldn’t think of any book I’d read, recently, involving a character with a disability or chronic illness – a significant hole in terms of diversity), and the struggle to remain balanced and kind when new people and routines enter one’s carefully-ordered sanctuary…

Disability is a learning experience

Those who are or become disabled have a steep learning curve: everything is harder. Moving, learning, thinking, being independent, even making new friends – all these are more difficult the farther a character is from the norm.

And the effects are interwoven: difficulty reading means trouble holding a job, getting to that job on public transportation or by learning to drive. No disability is purely one thing you cannot do.

There are few disabled characters in fiction (which is why they stand out) because writing them is extra effort. It’s easier to write about kickass heroes and heroines who tough it out through thick and thin and keep on ticking.

Just tonight we watched, in the same show, a character get stabbed in the back by an enormous kitchen knife embedded at least four inches by the blood shown carefully on the blade when it was pulled out by the stabbed character, who then went on to limp a bit while he walked around, interacted, and finally was not shot by the police detective – and who survived with no visible effects by a short time afterward; and a character poked at in the stomach by a little knife who died instantly. Neither of these seemed at all realistic – but the plot required one survivor to talk and talk, and the other to be removed quickly from the scene.

In the same way, disability in fiction is mentioned when necessary to make a quick plot point – but not there pervasively.

FICTION = EMPATHY

I have written about how properly-constructed fiction is uniquely helpful in creating empathy in humans because it allows them to live alongside a character the life affected by the choices the author has made (type ’empathy’ into my search box).

They do, however, have to read said fiction, which means it has to be surrounded by the best entertainment the writer can provide.

I’m not surprised there aren’t more disabled characters, but I’m disappointed that indie isn’t more of a place where, since the big publishers are not supervising the product, there are more disabled, diverse, and simply ‘different’ characters and stories.

But there is that pesky thing about having to write well to sneak the empathy bits in under the radar. It takes more space, more words, more time.

It is MUCH harder to market.

I still think it’s worth it.


Do chronically ill/disabled characters make you squirm?

To write a character become the character

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW – YOU CAN LEARN

I have taught myself to write from ‘right behind the eyeballs’ of the characters I’m giving voice to.

It is a process similar to Method acting – or to becoming possessed.

I even try to keep the observation of the character to the minimum intrusion I can do.


From October 2012:

Writing characters: To be someone else

The only way I can write a character is to find the part of myself that IS that character.

I contain multitudes.

Everything I have ever heard or read is part of me, and every part of it has to fit in to what I know of the world, my version of reality.

I don’t know what features and programs I came pre-loaded with, but the only access I have to it is how I react to things when they happen to me. Nothing inside me is untouched by the world I was born into, and the world I have added to that every day of my life.

Everything is a product of my experience plus how ‘I’ reacted to that experience.

One of the pre-loads is obviously that marvelous capacity for self-examination, the human consciousness, the ability to be self-aware. I don’t always know why I did something, but, with patience, I can often figure it out. Eventually.

What does this have to do with characters?

Before I can write how a character thinks and acts, I have to put myself into an alternate universe where I imagine or create how the character got to the place where he can be what he is, or she can do what she does. The backstory has to explain the present that I write in.

It gets scary: by the time I have it, at whatever depth, the character IS me – if I had lived through what she has and started with who she was born as.

I have to do some of that even for minor characters, where it helps to cast a few steps back from the present, so that the present at least seems grounded in some kind of logical conclusions.

But for the major characters, it has to go deep – deep and very far back. As far back as the baby he was, who his older sisters were, and where he fit his family’s needs.

I add his alternate universe, and mark him with the events that will take him to where I need him to be.

Then the present makes sense, a convoluted but self-consistent sense, and his actions and words are inevitable.


It takes extra time to switch from character to character, to give a reader the right perspective for each scene, so it contributes to the story whole.

It would be so much simpler not to.

But I would neither be doing my job – nor having so much fun.

Do you like to become the characters you read?

Fourth floor shenanigans at our new home

The window washer poses on our balcony at the new retirement community

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW

We haven’t been here a year, so everything is still new.

Today it has been beeping since 7 am, which is almost three hours, and the beeping is associated with not only the cherry-picker backing up, but with the arm being lowered and raised to bring today’s newest – our window washers.

The cherry-picker brought this nice man up to the fourth floor balcony, and then he clambered over the edge, and was left here cleaning the balcony window and the door

Door to our fourth floor balcony - window being cleaned

to the balcony – from the outside.

I don’t know if housekeeping cleans the windows from the inside – must find out.

Meanwhile, his partner cleaned the other big windows (they believe in lots of light here) in the living room and the other bedroom.

Of such is my day – and I’ve even started blocking out the beeping.

Another reason to get to bed on time – stuff happens that wakes me much earlier than I’d like otherwise. Especially since I couldn’t get to sleep until after 3 am.

My thanks to the working people of our nation – we so often take them for granted.


What wakes you up too early?

Still writing with ME/CFS years later

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY DON’T

This is ME/CFS month again, for my nth time – and May 12th is ME Awareness Day again – as I’ve blogged about for several years now (since we got more activists and activism going, including Jen Brea’s Oscar-nominated documentary, UNREST).

And nothing much has changed – I’m still sick all the time (that’s what chronic means), and have no energy, and don’t get much done, and don’t get what I want to do done, and all that jazz.

So I found a wayback post from Feb. 2013 that describes almost exactly the same thing I still live with. No capacity to learn – or rather, no capacity to retain enough energy to make good decisions.

And I’m six years older, which doesn’t help (unless you’re 13 and desperately want to get away from home). We ME/CFSers are not spared the vicissitudes of aging, and are probably much less capable of putting in the effort that might stave off the ravages of time (exercise, putting energy into good living and good eating, etc.) than those whose life circumstances are easier.

I say easiER, rather than easy, because Life isn’t ever easy (ask any cosseted princess).

Remember I don’t do much editing on these oldies but goodies, but it is proof of nothing much changing (except moving to California!!!) yet.

I’ll let you be the very first to know if something improves!


Writing with ME/CFS #1 – surfing the web for THE ANSWER

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CAUTION: These posts tagged CFS are a product of my struggle to write in spite of a chronic illness that has brain fog as a side effect. They are probably not interesting except to people who live with/try to write under similar circumstances. They are not intended to be whiny – though they will often sound that way. They are intended to be factual, and to help me find workarounds.

I wouldn’t bother except this is my blog, and I need an outlet, and a small subset of readers may find something helpful. Writing helps me sort things out. You have been warned! Welcome!

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The mornings when the psychic energy to block the web is missing,

I roam the small set of sites I follow, looking for someone else to give me words to read.

Today’s excuse was that DH called me from work before my brain was on: he’d left important papers in the front hall and a frantic romp through two computers and a memory stick were required to email him usable copies. Other days it’s been a call from a doctor’s office requiring me to do something immediately, or a call from my dad needing a bank transfer…

I’m seeing a pattern here: whatever the attention-consumer is must be dealt with RIGHT NOW. PWCs (persons with CFS) have a much smaller amount of usable psychic energy – which I will define as the ability to MAKE myself do something as well as the ability to ACTUALLY do something – than normal people. It’s part of the brain-fog problem. If I could jot the interruption on a sticky or my ‘gathering’ sheet or type it into Things – and deal with it in the normal course of business (maybe today, maybe not until next month), it would lose much of its power to consume. But I can’t – this is an EMERGENCY and must go to the top of the list. Worse, it must be done NOW.

Somehow, I come up with the energy to deal with what needs to be done – and it gets done – but there is an aftermath, a surcharge if you like, and the accomplishment is followed by a period of being awake but completely non-functional. We PWCs really can’t afford adrenaline – it takes much longer to metabolize it.

During that aftermath I often surf the web.

I’m looking for THE ANSWER. What’s the question? Who knows – who cares? Something in me wants someone else out there to tell me what to do, now, in such an authoritative way that it drags my mind out of the hole and gets it to work again.

There’s nothing there. I have a file where I record the ‘nuggets’ gleaned from surfing, the things I am absolutely grateful I have discovered. A short list (Dec. 2012-Jan 2013):

I: Standing desk, walking desk [PV + comments]          3:02 PM
I: Boomer Novels – and Boomer Cafe website [PV]       9:41 AM
I: Sworn Secret,  Amanda Jennings [Dead Guy – Lynne Patrick]
E: Friend – Have started Freedom: IT CAN WAIT        11:17 AM
I: Sharon Reamer. Good book video, cover [PV ->]    12:27 PM
I: Dropbox – saving your information         [PV?]          12:27 PM
I: Reviews [PV], bloggers charged with defamation    12:29 PM
I: Decision fatigue – and sugar!

I: means the nugget came from the internet, E: that the information was in an email. PV is thepassivevoice.com.

Looking at the list,

I can see that many hours of surfing went into relatively few really critical pieces of information – and ALL of them could have waited. Until the day’s writing was over, at least, or until the next day. In the case of late ones, I was surfing instead of going to bed, thus mortgaging the next day’s writing, for the relatively small pleasure of today’s surfing. I KNOW these things – it’s a little daunting to see that my precious nuggets are so irrelevant.

Back to the question of Why? I think it is because, like playing solitaire or sudoku or a million other games, the ability to do something that looks as if I’m using my brain – ie, being human – is required to keep me sane. And I have used up the ability to be creative, so I settle for the APPEARANCE of creative: Look – I solved another HARD sudoku puzzle! I’m ME. I’m functional!

This is data.

I don’t think I’ve put it quite this clearly before: human brains WANT to create, to ‘do something useful with their time.’ If I can’t have real, I will settle for apparent. It’s Catch 22: if I have the energy to get myself out of the loop, I’m not IN the loop. If I’m IN the loop, I don’t have the energy to get myself out.

I’m learning. I can restore SOME functionality when I can put myself down for a nap. Afterward, most of the time (depending on the surcharge), there is some restoration of functionality for that day, that time – I may even get something done.

THE ANSWER: to be normal.

It’s not on the web. It’s interesting that after 23 years I still look for it. The brain wants what it wants: to be the way it used to be.


It’s over 29 years now.

Still here, still broken, still trying to find an answer I’ll remember when the brain refuses the jumps.

I am so boring!

Why do you surf?

Move and miss the oddest things

I MISS PLANTS I SPENT AGES TENDING

I don’t know if pachysandra live on the West Coast, and I’m no longer in charge of anything living from the plant kingdom except two tiny but growing coffee plants, but re-reading this post made me feel wistful and encouraged at the same time.

Pachysandra is a very Princeton ground cover. Dark green, shade-loving (so it does very well under trees), and distinctly slow to invade, it is perfect for filling in large tracts where there will be falling leaves – it eats them and rarely complains.

Our neighbors didn’t have much of it, and they had a LOT of raking and blowing in our neighborhood, as we lived, by choice, where there were many trees.

I think trees are what I miss the most from New Jersey – we had a good combination of evergreens and deciduous trees such as sweetgums (a pain to clean up the gum balls, but the colors are glorious – from green to yellow through red to deep purple on the same tree at the same time). My window here faces another wing of the building across the entrance courtyard with the flagpole, and there are some trees greening up, but it’s not a forest.


From October 2012 when we were still homeowners, and I was far more mobile:

Pachysandra, writing, and mental toughness – driveway, part 3

Is there life in the apparent dead? What does it take to hold on, take root, and grow again?

As a writer whose writing continually gets interrupted – by my own physical problems in combination with doing what needs to be done – I wonder if it’s even worth trying again.

Sometimes I get my answer – YES! – in very odd places. Being a writer, I think about it, organize the words in my head, and then write about it. I can’t help myself. A few notes on the ‘gathering’ page of my notebook, a little bit of time, and out it comes.

Why pachysandra?

Because the stuff is tough. And full of life, even when chopped off.

To do the driveway …, the edges had to be cleared of overhanging vegetation. Pachysandra is a very polite grower: it goes where it’s wanted, slowly filling in where its roots are allowed to wander, following the soil. Even the inch of soil and leaf litter that washed over the end of the driveway. Slowly and steadily, because it wasn’t told not to, the pachysandra moved in until it was literally growing on top of asphalt.

I trimmed the plants. I tell myself it is like giving the plant a haircut – the cuttings aren’t all that important if the plant is left functioning where it can. But the cuttings looked so healthy and green and cheerful I just couldn’t toss them. So, with some vague idea of transplanting the bits and pieces to fill in a couple of bare spots left by the drought of a few years ago, which were only slowly and politely filling in from the drought survivors, I threw the pieces into several buckets, and dumped a couple of inches of water in each.

You know what they say about planning, right?

The original plan was to put the cuttings in neatly, cut ends in the water, toss in some rooting hormone, and plant the neat little survivors when they had a few baby roots. Well, when you’re in a hurry, and the driveway sealers are coming TOMORROW, neatly turns into tossed in clumps, the cut ends often didn’t make it into any water, and a bunch of what looked like white roots with root hairs and an occasional green tip got thrown in, too, with no plan or purpose.

Then a bunch of stuff happened – and it was over a week before I got back to my buckets. To my surprise, most of the pieces weren’t dried out and dead, or drowned and decaying. I reluctantly spent some of my time and energy – after all, I had PROMISED the parent plants – dug some shallow trenches in the bare spots in the hard dirt, lined up a bunch of pieces in each trench, and pushed the dirt back in. Loosely.

I didn’t see much life

The pieces were either way too many stems and leaves – or those bare-root pieces with NO leaves. I figured the latter could decompose and serve as organic material if nothing else. Only a couple of the pieces were traditionally transplantable: a piece of stem with a few leaves and a chunk of root. I watered, mostly dumping the water the poor plants had been soaking in or not soaking in, making very unpromising mud.

Two days later, noting how many of these pieces STILL looked alive, I watered lightly with a watering can – water is heavy, and I carried it from a bathroom sink rather than drag out the heavy hose for such a small job.

I’ve had no time for them – but darned if those pachysandra cuttings aren’t still holding their leaves up and green and perky – and waiting for me to provide a little water. I expected a few pieces might survive – but instead of a ten percent survival rate, I have a ten percent FAILURE rate.

And those tough little plants are making me ashamed

to doubt that my writing, too, will come back the minute I give it any encouragement, provide it some time and water and sunlight, and just let it live.

I can’t kill it. It’s going to look for ANY hope, politely and slowly filling in where it is allowed, until it, too, pours over the edges of the frame I’m keeping it in, into that shallow layer of mud on top of asphalt where the roots are shallow. But green and vigorous. And HEALTHY. I can channel it, prune it, replant it where I want it.

And I should. Because it is full of life and mental toughness – just like that well-behaved but riotous ground cover that keeps pushing the boundaries.

I take my lessons in survival where I can get them.


Where do you get your survival lessons from?