Monthly Archives: April 2020

The mainstream literary pleasure of highly literate readers.

STUCK WITH THEIR HEAD IN A BOOK

That’s where the young readers are, when they can get away with it. I was.

I kept books in three locations in our house in Mexico City, and snuck around so my mother wouldn’t find me and want me to do something – but I always had a book. In English. Of what was around the house, including my parents’ collection of the Great Books (only the half I liked) plus the James Bond novels and such my father brought home from business trips..

It is like an addiction, pouring words into your head.

Many people learn the pleasure of reading later – and do perfectly fine with it. But there is a subset of humans who are bookworms from a young age, and once they discover the printed word, can’t get enough of it.

My readers tend to be in that group.

Figuring out words in context is a big part of that

If you read material that is probably too hard for you, you’re going to run into words you’ve never seen before. That’s when the vocabulary starts to build: you don’t understand the sentence a word is in until you have some tentative meaning for the word, so you guess, store it away as a ‘possible,’ and move on with the story.

Do this enough times, and that word will get its meaning altered a tiny bit each time you run into it, because each place you see it will give it context, and eventually most words will have a complex meaning that settles pretty close to what you’d find in a dictionary.

Or you could ask someone (mom, teacher…) or look it up, and nowadays touch it on your Kindle and have the meaning pop up, but all those things take more time and interrupt the flow of the story, so many of us reserved that for rare occasions, and just kept reading.

The literary mainstream novel

English is an incredibly rich language (we steal anything we don’t have, and, voilà, it’s English now), and I can find the perfect word for most applications – with the nuances I’m looking for.

My readers don’t need anything explained: they either know it already, or they will be fine figuring it out in context.

Mind you, I’m not looking for the truly ‘literary’ one-of-a-kind only an English professor would know them words.

Just the words that I’ve acquired from all those books I’ve read – without paying specific attention.

The only ‘class’ I’ve ever taken in ‘English’ was the Freshman English course I took when I transferred as a junior from UNAM in Mexico City to Seattle U., which it turned out later I didn’t need to take.

That class also got me to write the only term paper I ever wrote, something wild about the psychological significance of Wuthering Heights, and for which I immersed myself in the literary criticism journals at the SU library, which had articles such as ‘The Window Motif in …’

I had fun, I got an A+, and never before or since was exposed to language that way.

I am not a literary writer; I’d have to have an entirely different background for that, and it wasn’t my path as a physicist. At this stuff, I’m an autodidact. They’re at an entirely different level.

Pride’s Children is just where it all came to roost.

They said, “Write the novel you want to read, and can’t find.”

‘They’ were right. It has been great fun just letting a novel be what I wanted it to be, and using everything stored in my very odd and now damaged brain exactly the way I want to.

And my readers like it!

That’s such a charge.

Here are some of those words from Chapter 27 of Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD, which I just finished writing, and am now polishing up to send to Rachel, my wonderful – and omnivorously trained like me – beta reader. AutoCrit, my editing assistant software, flagged them as ‘uncommon in general fiction.’

  • interlocutress
  • verandah
  • malevolence
  • illusory
  • epigraphs
  • attribution
  • obeisance
  • dopamine
  • quintessence
  • scrupulous
  • galvanized
  • volition
  • tableau
  • pragmatist
  • modus operandi
  • bafflegab
  • choreographed
  • Janus
  • excoriated
  • impeccable
  • preternatural
  • demotion
  • demonstrably
  • asunder
  • pique
  • bawdy
  • Uttar Pradesh
  • pachyderm
  • impunity
  • wafting

Not really that tricky, are they?

But you don’t hear them much, and they like to get some attention, too.


Thanks again to Stencil, which allows me to create graphics with very little effort – and wonderful photos. When I need more than a few a month, I will definitely get their paying version. Meanwhile, I mention them here every once in a while, in case others need the same capacity.


 

The enervation of being unable to plan

IT FEELS LIKE A BLANKET OF LEAD

I signed up to refresh my French at Duolingo.

Every day they nag me to do the 5 minutes I signed up for.

I usually do more once I get there, but it is like lifting boulders to get myself over there and start.

Yes, I will look back when this is over (assuming I survive), and wish I had spent my time better, but…

But…

I will be better once my head clears.

Two days ago, I was struggling with a scene. This is normal for me: they don’t come easy, but I don’t care – it’s work I love.

Getting started writing every day requires a brain, and I struggle for hours most days trying to find something (other than time) which will encourage that brain to turn on.

And yes, I’ve tried writing when the brain isn’t on – pretty similar to making mudpies, for all the results.

Back to the point:

Two days ago I had a reasonable working day, got half the current scene into shape.

Yesterday, after two days of NOT riding the trike, I decided I had better get out there before I start making monkey noises, and went for a short trike ride around the greenway.

Except that we’re into a hot week, which means I can’t even go down to the garage to hop on the trike after about noon – because the garage is so hot I can’t function.

So it had to be in the morning.

And riding in the morning meant I was severely brain fogged the rest of the day, and could simply NOT focus.

I haven’t had carbs in days

Eating carbs usually results in me being brain fogged until the residue is out of my body, and I’m once more working on fat and protein. I haven’t been as strict with myself in the past, and it is REALLY hard not to have the only good dessert the dining staff sends in a week – after all, food is our only comfort provided by the facility now, and the lack of choice is getting me down.

But I’ve made the effort, and I can’t blame the current situation on carbs.

Today is merely the result of yesterday’s trike ride, as was all of yesterday afternoon and evening: having ME/CFS MEANS there is no way to get the energy back.

Not being able to do anything is also a sign of depression

in normal people.

We’re used to it, but I have to ask myself if I’ve let the situation and my limitations bump me into that territory.

And then I have a day in which no interruptions occur, and I keep my nose to the grindstone until it finally sharpens enough to write with, and I know it’s not discipline – it’s the disease.

What it is is a sign that I can’t expect to get a writing period on a day I go out for a mentally-necessary trike ride, which is in itself frustrating.

I can’t plan around it.

There is no plan C. I ride OR I write. And if I go longer than a day or two without writing, my brain seems to think we are doing something new, with all the Resistance to starting that comes with new things.

If you wonder why it takes me so long, that’s part of it.

The pandemic is just more of the same. A lot more.

Don’t worry about me, because I’m still doing this: there isn’t anything else.

But it gets pretty frustrating each day to have all this time – and not be able to plan or to count on myself. For purely physical reasons I can’t control.

I just hope I finish these books before the virus gets me.

Oh, and put on the list somewhere the end of the story – for those who might care – if I don’t make it.

Can’t plan that, either. Making it.


It’s hard writing one of the most emotionally powerful scenes in the novel from a place of such flat affect. The first half is great (IHNVHO), but I want the second half to hit you in the gut, too.

So no trike ride for me.


 

Scene not working? Change something MAJOR

NOVEL SCENES HAVE A PURPOSE

They are not just ‘something that happens next.’

There are many different ways to accomplish that purpose, but there’s a tendency, as a writer, to have things happen in a particular way, and to have that way get stuck in the chute.

The more things a scene needs to accomplish, the longer it may end up needing to be.

But writers’ brains have the same habit of getting stuck behind the wrong idea as any other brain. And maybe my ME/CFS brain does this more than most writers’ brains because change is so difficult for me.

When it isn’t gelling

So the first thing to do when a scene isn’t writing itself, after a reasonable amount of time expended trying, is to separate the essentials from the window dressing, and consider finding a different way entirely to enact the required elements – and change the window dressing to something else entirely.

A scene could be huge, with many characters interacting.

Or a scene can be small and intimate, or small and intimate within a chaotic outer setting, or the kind of scene where it isn’t until the end that you realize a whole bunch of things have come together.

A paced novel will have all kinds of scenes, to avoid monotony, to keep the feeling of surprise and discovery going.

But few scenes have only ONE way to accomplish their task.

When I started writing this post, I had just made a deceptively small change – the hour of the scene went from 4pm to 8pm – taking it from mid-afternoon to sunset – and was able to unstick a line of attack completely. The number of participants also dropped – from crowd scene to two principals.

Lawrence Block says that when things get stuck and you don’t know what to do next, you should bring in a man with a gun.

That’s a pantser’s move.

I’m an extreme plotter, so that’s not really an option.

But one of my writing guides, Armando Saldaña Mora’s Dramatica for Screenwriters has a whole section on how to change the scope and size of a scene, and still accomplish that scene’s purpose. Which is the real advantage of my kind of plotting, where everything has a place.

Changing a scene completely is often a budget move for movies

If the purpose is for the Protagonist to say goodbye to the Antagonist, say, the scene can be large and showy and done in front of hundreds of extras – or it can be small and intense and private and done in the back seat of a taxi (“I coulda been a contender” speech, Marlon Brando, On The Waterfront). Where the taxi isn’t even really moving.

It is something only the novelist will know in a novel, where words themselves are relatively cheap, even if producing them costs blood: was this scene completely different at any point before publishing?

Changing the scene in NETHERWORLD

You don’t have to choose between ‘telling’ and ‘showing’ a scene; there is more than one way to ‘show.

The original scene was going to happen while ON the set of Opium, filming in India, where the main character would watch the filming for an hour or so, and then form her own conclusions about the undercurrents in the cast.

It works much better without the actual filming being observed, and the scene purpose is fulfilled in an even more intense way. Since the details of filming were background in PURGATORY, the reader gets the idea – and I don’t have to repeat it.

The result:

  • An unstuck scene
  • A better scene
  • A scene between two main characters, instead of one with many to track
  • Advancing the plot
  • Better dynamics
  • Definitely better dialogue

So if it isn’t working, and you’ve spent enough time that it should have gelled by now: consider that you can use a lot of what you already figured out – but reframe how the reader is going to learn what you need the reader to know.

Be bold; try something different.


Really different.

Have you done this?


 

The tiny start of each new day

WE HAVE IT EVERY DAY

I realize it’s become a little routine, getting going in the mornings as efficiently as possible, so I’m recording it to laugh at in the future.

Mind, this is me ALWAYS – and has little or nothing to do with the coronavirus.

It might amuse you.

There are many steps (beyond the obvious first one):

  1. Find brain – it’s in there somewhere
  2. Do anything that absolutely must be done before you even turn the computer on.
  3. Turn on the lamp in the corner from the switch by the door.
  4. Say my morning prayers – even though I rarely remember the promises I made.
  5. Turn the overhead light on from the control on desk I can reach from the bed.
  6. Move to the desk chair.
  7. Turn the big monitor on – and make sure the switch goes to blue (behind PostIt so it doesn’t affect my sleep by being too bright).
  8. Lift the lid to the Macbook. While waiting for the screens to come back,
  9. Reach for phone, and plug it into the charger (I don’t charge overnight because I need it for a clock in the middle of the night, and a flashlight)
  10. Critical: reach down and turn the power strip with the two bright green lights ON
  11. Now it’s okay to turn the desk lamp on (with a touch).
  12. Open the venetian blinds and the shade to let the light in.
  13. Pills: take morning ones, set the later ones out.
  14. Check the email.

The reason for waiting to do 11. until 10. is done is that I keep forgetting to do it – until my Macbook suddenly shuts itself off and goes blank.

And when I look, and the two green lights are NOT on, I realize I forgot – and the battery went to as close to zero as the Mac allows, and I DID IT AGAIN!

So I’ve linked them deliberately.

After that come the optionals:

  • Diet Coke #1.
  • Breakfast (but that can wait for hours if the brain is on and I want to try using it first).
  • Water and ice for the HydroFlask tumbler I sip from all day long. Cold!
  • Facebook, quick answers to anyone who seems to want one.
  • The Washington Post, and The New York Times – quick scan.
  • Load up a page of sudokus – hard – for when I block the internet.
  • Check the calendar.
  • Check the To Do list – maybe – not good with that; stuff gets done, but not in an organized manner. Occasionally, clean the list, remove stuff already done.
  • Extra Vitamin C? Extra painkillers? Extra liquid B12?
  • Checking if any books have sold on Amazon overnight, or the nice person who took it out of KU has read any more pages.
  • Check The Passive Voice and Writer Unboxed; comment if I feel like it.
  • Think whether it’s been long enough that I should consider watering the twin coffee plants and the flowery thing.
  • Open the living room blinds that let me see out from my office past the living room, somewhere into the distance.

And finally, if I have any energy left at this point,

think about what I might need to accomplish today.

Think about adding an energy-draining shower to the list for today.

Including whether I both need and can afford to take a short trike ride for mental health and a tiny bit of exercise, like today – if so, try to remember the ritual associated with that now – from taking the cellphone and the locator bracelet for emergencies, and the keys, and the backpack, and water…

There you have it – boring as all get out, so I try to do it quickly, so I can go on to procrastinating from writing by thinking about writing.

Oh, and worry about the coronavirus, COVID-19,

and whether we’re still going to be safe, here in our total lockdown at the CCRC.

But that one goes without saying.

All this is so I can get to the real reason for getting out of bed:

  • Working on the current/next scene in Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.

Which is coming along very nicely.


Do you find yourself doing the same list of heuristics every morning in the same order and playing a game with yourself to see how fast you can get past it?


 

They’ve blocked off even the swings

img 1076

Sign on a park bench in a playground area

I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT SAYS – STAY OFF?

And I don’t know because this is as close as I could get to the bench with my iPhone while sitting on the trike – and I wasn’t about to get off and maybe accidentally touch something – out there.

It makes sense. You don’t want people touching surfaces other people have touched, and possibly infected, and no one is going to go through and clean every bench and every slide and every swing, so at least you can tell people they shouldn’t touch. Anyone sane, with the small children who usually use this playground equipment, isn’t going to want to touch things which might infect the kids.

Because there are two ways the coronavirus can get into YOU:

  1. Someone who is shedding the live virus coughs or breathes in your general direction – and YOU breathe in some of what came out of their respiratory system,
  2. You touch something that has the live virus on it, and bring it to YOUR T-zone on YOUR face (mouth, nose, eyes).

That’s it.

‘Live virus’ is a misnomer; viruses aren’t alive in the normal sense: they don’t eat, grow, reproduce, and die.

You could think of them as a little poison packet, capable of doing damage in the right circumstances.

But those are quibbles. They are little blobs of Something that can, under the right circumstances, both make copies of itself, and make you ill from having had your cells hijacked to make copies of the virus, and by circulating through your body in enough quantity to overwhelm your immune system, which normally has the job of killing invaders.

It is unfortunate if you get the virus the first way, stupid the second way.

So everything is closed, and that includes the swings.

Getting out is a privilege

One I hope they don’t have to remove due to the human inability to follow simple instructions such as distancing and washing hands.

But it is discouraging to see simple things like swings for kids and park benches for all blocked off as dangerous. I can understand the kid cautions. But find it hard to understand why you can’t sit on a park bench – and then, without touching your face, go home and wash your hands.


Thanks to the person who took Pride’s Children PURGATORY out of KU this week. Hope you enjoy it – and hope you think seriously about leaving a review. Reviews are amazingly encouraging to writers working on the next book.

Stay well, all. You know what to do.


 

Creating a roadmap for scene arcs

I’ve done this before – and didn’t realize it actually needs to be a ‘thing,’ a part of my regular writing ‘process.’

Most of the time, my plotting assigns all kinds of details to scenes, leaving the actual writing to when I get that far in the list of scenes, as I work one at a time until it’s finished.

So I can concentrate on writing one scene, one little visual polished bit, at a time, knowing that the scene will fit into the story like a jewel into a necklace.

But a scene can be too small an entity to work with when the story arc needs several scenes to tell a part of the story, during which point of view will shift in each scene (I stick religiously to a single pov per scene), but the story will continue, and, if I’m skillful enough, the reader won’t notice the patchwork quilt squares, but only the whole.

IF my plotting is good enough initially, and thought out in enough detail, I can trundle along, scene by scene, and the bits will connect.

But when the plotting was changed in the great 2007 reorganization?

Then I was forced to make some large decisions and some fine grained decisions about what would go where of all the bits in the story, and some of those details were tentatively assigned to a scene, or a point of view character, and I knew I would have to rearrange some of the bits when I got there.

I’ve done the several-scene roadmap idea more than once before. The first three chapters of Purgatory, for example, are all about the Night Talk show where two of the main characters meet in New York, while the third main character watches the show from Los Angeles.

So I’ve worked with the concept before, that plotting can have arcs even within the larger story, but I never stopped to formalize that for myself.

It’s a lot of work

I think of it as fractal in nature: pick a scope – sentence, paragraph, beat, scene,… and plot first, then write – and the dialogue will happen, the interior monologues will support it, because we all know where we’re going, together.

Sometimes a film director will allow actors to improvise – but it is always within the director’s (and the script’s) larger vision of the whole. Within that whole, individual pieces can be executed in many ways, but all have to serve the story. Or they will have to be expunged (kill your darlings) from the final product, which will otherwise be a mess.

But for extreme plotters like I am, breaking up the process, and doing the structure solidly FIRST, allows me to just write when I get there, to listen to the characters in my mind, and write down what they say, because I’ve given them the setup – and the writing part of my brain seems to have a mind of its own.

Back to my skyscraper analogy

Get the plumbing and the elevators and the water lines and the steel structure right first – or the sewage from the 29th floor won’t proceed to the treatment plant, and the first time someone flushes up there won’t be pretty for those on the 28th floor.

But after that, interior walls may have some variation (as long as they aren’t load-bearing), so that one floor can have a large open conference room where the floor directly above has offices or apartments. That is my roadmap idea. Within the plan for a whole building, there can be individual floor designs – followed by the decorating (writing) of the individual rooms which is the ultimate purpose of the skyscraper – interior spaces of all kinds and sizes within the plan.

Sometimes I can plan a whole building at a time, others a floor at a go, sometimes just one room, and sometimes a perfect grouping of furniture before the fireplace where we will sit and talk.

And the roadmap part?

Think of the roadmap as linear, while the floorplan of a skyscraper’s floor is 2D, and the building itself is 3D.

The ROADMAP allows you to visit every room on each floor – in a particular order, the one chosen by the storyteller.

Think of it: the last time you let a Real Estate Agent show you a dwelling, did they arrange your tour so you ended up in the perfect room? The one the agent knew would close the deal?

The ROADMAP is how I get you where I want you, the Reader, to go.

I work and plan and think and manipulate – so you will say wow.

The whole idea is to tell the story for YOUR pleasure – and for that you have to let me be dramatic, and show you everything in an order I hope you will like.


Just when you think your writing process is a lock – there’s something more to write ABOUT it. For me, it’s one more thing nailed down that I won’t forget to do because my brain isn’t working.

It’s an interesting way to work, with a limited brain as my tool.


 

Easter with bunnies but no peeps

A takeout container with a sugar cookie pink bunnie and a petit four with bunnie decorations

Bunnies!

OUR STAFF CONSIDER OTHER NEEDS THAN FOOD

This is a good place.

In ordinary times, every holiday gets celebrated – and there are special meals, special desserts, alcoholic beverages (Mimosas, anyone?) for holidays.

The rest of the time you may bring your own wine and beer, or purchase it by the bottle or glass. Very California wine country, our neighbors.

The decorations are wild. Staff wear special extras. It is so Christmassy at Christmas, that we don’t feel the need to decorate our own digs.

So tonight’s dinner – which I haven’t eaten yet because I had lunch and then went out for a trike ride before dark – came with extras.

Bunnies – 2 cookies, 2 petit fours

My very favoritist thing in the whole world is the tiny petit four.

The yellow bunny and the other petit four didn’t survive to be photographed. Then I thought maybe I’d take a picture and share.

Dinner was acceptable – ham and shrimp – unless you don’t eat those, and then there were other options.

But dessert came protected by its own recyclable (5 – so not very) container to protect the delicacies, at least until they got near the person who eats bunny ears.

The day was gorgeous

It got up to 73°F, and I went out for a nice slow trike ride – I’m managing a couple of rides a week since I don’t have to save energy for the pool days. It’ll do.

I’m never going to get that much exercise, as it is contraindicated (at least getting very much is – heart not supposed to go aerobic because it can’t sustain that).

But it’s beautiful out there in Davis right now.

img 1073

which I didn’t get off the trike to get close enough to identify, but might be bougainvillea or could possibly be crepe myrtle (ours in New Jersey was that color).

StreetsIMG_1046 are mostly deserted.

But riotous growth requiring significant pruning hasn’t occurred yet.

Not very exciting, but I recognize the need to get out of the building, and onto the greenway periodically, for mental health.

Family visits with the kids, and with my sisters in Mexico, made the holiday special – we’ve promised to do it often, now that w’ve all figured out Zoom (thanks for making it free for 40 min. ‘meetings’).

Keep celebrating, keep sane, keep doing something you love

This won’t last forever, and we’ll want to account to ourselves for what we did, read, ate, and wrote.

I’m writing – the second book in the Pride’s Children trilogy, NETHERWORLD (for the hell the characters must go through at times) – is coming along nicely.

It’s about time! I thought we’d never run out of things that absolutely had to be done before we could settle down into quarantine, and that required my attention personally, but it has happened.

None of it included organizing or cleaning – so I have little to show for it.

But today marked the completion of a scene started just a week ago, which I thought was going to be almost impossible to write, but when I settled down, followed my checklists and my process, and focused only on the piece at hand – it went as it always does, right down some path deep in my brain that I can’t anticipate exactly, but includes all the stuff loaded into the ‘must go in this scene’ list – and somehow makes sense.

Don’t ask questions of your muse, lest he or she decide you aren’t trusting enough!


Hope that, amid the chaos, there are things going well in your life, even if they aren’t any bigger than a pink sugar cookie bunny – or the picture of chocolate bunnies with face masks my husband forwarded this morning from wherever he found it.


 

Stress may make you very clumsy

Section of pristine-looking carpet with toes of two socks

I can’t see the stain; can you?

SOME THINGS WORK RIGHT

What is the significance of a photo of a section of carpet?

Lately I seem to be more clumsy, especially in the kitchen.

Because standing is painful, and awkward, AND I hurt my shoulder a week ago (it’s mending – slowly, as we ME/CFS types heal), I do a lot of my meal preparation sitting on the seat of my walker (Sylvia – yes, I name things, and she’s been with me over 15 years).

The walker seat has sides, and my arms and elbows sometimes run into its frame.

And for some reason (yes, I’m paying attention in case it is a real problem), I keep dropping things and bumping into things.

It is a small kitchen.

And the pullout cutting boards make very good food-preparation surfaces.

And I try to do everything I possibly can for myself – not wanting to overburden the spouse when we hope there will be many years ahead.

So, last night I heated my dinner…

Chicken with a cream sauce, and cottage cheese.

I set out for the living room where the husband was watching TV.

I got about three steps out of the kitchen when I used the ‘F’ word, very loudly.

Our nice lightweight plates have no friction with the walker seat on which my plate rested.

And I dumped a FULL serving of chicken, cream sauce, and cottage cheese – right in the middle of that space I photographed.

If I had been thinking of y’all, I would have photographed it BEFORE I cleaned it up.

I just want you to admire that job

I immediately rescued that which could be rescued.

Removed the rest of the larger bits with paper towels.

Fortunately, yesterday morning was housekeeping day – and everything had just been vacuumed (could have been – and was – FAR worse before they decided to give us housekeeping back).

Then I got out what our eldest has recommended, Woolite pet odors etc. + OXY, cleaner.

I sat down on the rug.

I followed instructions:

  • Spray, do not soak, do not scrub.
  • Let rest 5 minutes.
  • Blot with clean white towel.

Five minutes later, and I came back, did the blotting.

And took a picture, because I could not believe what a good job this stuff does, even though I’ve used it before, in NJ, on carpeting of that color – but with red wine or Birch Beer soda or spaghetti sauce, all red.

I think it’s the OXYgen. Good for organic spills.

And possibly that I attacked immediately.

You REALLY can’t tell.

And that’s the story of the photo.

The clumsiness I’ll have to watch.

It may be stress.

It may be the beginnings of something else.

Or it may just be that sitting to do things is awkward.


Dinner was delicious. Mostly cold. I didn’t care by then.

 

Don’t cancel old folks essential services

BE CAREFUL WHERE YOU ECONOMIZE

Management here at the CCRC sent out a memo that said they were reducing the every-other-week housekeeping services to each apartment – and that the ladies would come in and clean bathrooms and remove the trash ONLY.

I assume, since this was not covered in the memo, that they were diverting part of the time to public cleanings, such as the handrails that line our corridors, public areas, elevators…

To which a bunch of people replied, WTF?

So they came and did that the first week on quarantine, and left, and the memos to boneheaded management started flying back.

Not that big a deal? Sacrifice for the cause?

People around here haven’t done housework since they moved here – that’s one of the things we pay for. But the important part of that is that many people CAN’T do their own housework – they are physically incapable of it, don’t have the upper body strength, can’t stand long enough.

And can’t take prolonged exposure to cleaning products.

Management realized that this was a no go, and changed back to regular cleaning, on schedule (and they’ve never taken the trash out before – I wonder if they will continue to do that).

And the state of our kitchen, with just one missed housekeeping session, is exactly what you would have expected if no one did the floors or the appliances for a month. Gross.

The lovely husband keeps cooking areas clean, and we both keep dishes under control, but added to eating far more meals here than ever before, we have had the additional tasks of dealing with the takeout containers (which seem to be bought from a different manufacturer, and thus have different recycling/composting/trash requirements almost every day).

The residents have EXTRA work, too

It’s a small annoyance turned critical because we have to worry about whether those containers are safe to touch, and wash our hands many extra times around handling things.

It occurs to me that since they no longer have service in the dining room, they are saving a bundle on those staffing requirements that take a lot of time – we get our own ice water, coffee (they don’t bring coffee with dinner), plates, dessert from the buffet, everything. Gracious dining takes effort.

The kitchen is set up, I assume again, on a much diminished menu (no choices), and a streamlined process by which food is put into containers, and bagged. Time and staff is saved there, too.

But the main reason we need housekeeping

was very evident: we, as a group, don’t see well enough to do a good job, and often don’t have the energy – one of the first things people are advised to look for when deciding to put mom and dad in a home is whether their parents’ housekeeping standards, always so high, are not being followed any more, and mom and dad’s once-lovely home is starting to not only look tacky, but require all of the offspring’s energy when they come to visit.

So that visits consist of overwhelmed children trying to do everything mom and dad no longer can. Instead of a nice visit.

It’s really hard to run a heavy vacuum cleaner when you’re in a wheelchair or use a walker. Dusting up-high surfaces you can’t even reach becomes optional, and they forgotten.

And the back of the handles on the refrigerator get awfully grotty.

Small things?

We’re in the vulnerable group: older, and often with more than one ‘condition’ which makes us think seriously about owning homes and living alone.

And most of all, being a burden to our children.

But precisely because of this, we’re spending all our time locked down in our own apartments.

Can you even imagine what the interiors of all the apartments would look like after many months – because it will be 12-18 months before a vaccine is developed, and it will likely NOT be offered to the old and sick first, because, hey, the young people have to restart the economy – of no one doing even minimum cleaning?

The sight is not one I, as a housekeeper, would like to have to come in and face a year from now. And have to start cleaning up.

This decision was definitely a step too far. We haven’t reached such dire situations here – yet.

And my thoughts and prayers and charitable dollars go to those folk around the world who have nothing, not even clean water. Nor a safe place to be locked down in.


Today’s tiny essay was brought to you courtesy of the lovely housekeeping ladies here at URC – who work very hard, and then go home to their families, worrying all the time about the same virus I can’t afford to get.

I can only tell you my tiny part of the story. Because that’s all I can see myself.


 

Sleeplessness is where coronavirus stress shows

I FEAR THE FEELING OF FALLING ASLEEP

I have to confess that I’m not normally an easy sleeper.

Partly because late evening I feel almost human (it’s not real – I don’t make good decisions then, and I can’t write then).

And partly because every single morning is a struggle to get myself into a state where I can function at all.

Here at the retirement community I’ve had the ability to sleep later in the morning, and to take naps whenever I need to (or should) take them, I have been able to compensate – and get enough total sleep during a day so that I’m not a complete zombie (there’s a reason sleep deprivation is literally torture).

But it’s mostly fear

I have learned, grudgingly, to give in to the sensation of losing control of my own mind – because I try to master my fears.

But I have never liked the loss, and I fight it – especially when I’m tired and my decision-making faculties are diminished – and I can literally force myself to stay awake if I think something bad is going to happen that needs me to be coherent to deal with it.

This is NOT improved when I wake up in the morning and something new hurts.

Or I find the body position I’m in has resulted in one ankle pressing the skin and flesh on the other ankle into something completely flat that aches and cramps as the blood returns, quite painfully.

Or the medicine that I took right before sleep has decided to dissolve in the back of my throat and wake me with uncomfortable pressure in the middle of the night.

If I could skip sleep

I would. Almost every night.

But I feel worse without it.

And I know intellectually that sleep is so critical that a form of torture is to not let people go to sleep.

I also take 3-5 half-hour naps during the day to rest my brain: if I haven’t had enough sleep the night before or days before, those naps can turn into deep sleep with nightmares during the day. Even with an alarm.

The lockdown and the coronavirus make it hard to let the day go

The tireder I get, the less I can use my mind to suppress the things that are worrying me – as they are worrying everyone on the planet right now: my personal situation re medical services, the lives and careers of my children, and of my family in Mexico. The uncertainty of tomorrow.

Knowing we haven’t had a case here (probably), and wondering if we will – given the news that the virus rips through senior communities leaving devastation in its path.

Since it’s a constantly changing situation, we can’t relax into a new routine, because nothing is routine now.

So I have trouble sleeping.

I’ve tried most ‘solutions’

But I either can’t take them (I tolerate very few meds) or they require me to do something at a time my brain isn’t capable of it.

And you can’t cure existential angst – it’s real.

Meanwhile, I brush my teeth, make sure I have something I can eat in the middle of the night, do my stretches for restless leg syndrome, say my prayers – so that when I reach that point every night where all of a sudden sleep is worse than continuing awake, all I need to do is lie down.

And the battle to stay asleep begins.

Because it’s never a one-time decision.

Things that keep me from staying asleep:

  • hunger
  • uncomfortable binding around any part of me
  • anything bumpy under me
  • pain
  • worry
  • a thought in the middle of the night that must be written down
  • sometimes (!) fiction
  • being too cold or too hot (repeat several times each night)
  • gut pressure (what the heck did I eat?)
  • thirst
  • the sound of the firetrucks and ambulances coming to the lobby
  • outside sounds (do they really have to do these things mid-night?)
  • rain
  • husband’s breathing
  • funny tastes
  • a muscle that twitches every ten seconds for hours
  • etc.

I can now consume cottage cheese in the middle of the night without waking – much. Which then requires that the next chunk of ‘sleep’ be done sitting up a bit.

If I’m desperate, I turn the computer on and play sudoku or something – after about an hour and a half (one sleep cycle), my body is given permission to try again.

And eventually it takes. And sometimes I can sleep enough into the morning to almost have a decent number of hours’ worth total sleep.

I don’t think it will get better for a long while – the world has turned and is now essentially unstable.

Who wants to go to sleep when it might be your last time awake?

Which is silly, because ‘going in my sleep’ is my preferred method of checking out!

Because I’m not ready. Honest. I’m in the middle of a novel, the middle of a trilogy, and finishing them is the plan.

Even if ‘plan’ has become a joke.

Hope y’all do better at this sleeping thing than I do.


 

Maggie2 is here with nowhere to go

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MY NEW AIRWHEEL S8 IS HOME

I thought she wouldn’t get here until April 2, and she was several days early.

Shipping is erratic in these times.

It was so easy – plugged the one connection between the saddle and the supporting column, put it on the charger, and a couple of hours later everything was charged up and ready.

The next day I hopped on, went down in the elevator, and brought home the mail – just like before.

As if the entire time between Jan. 29 and March 31 had been erased at a single stroke.

But things have changed so much in the interim!

The entire world is now upended – and I have very few places I need to go, as today, Yolo County, CA, told us to close the pool – not even supervised socially distanced hours are to be allowed.

It’s a big loss – and not necessary. I hope they take it back in a while – I don’t see what could possibly contaminate people who don’t even get to use the dressing room, are in chlorinated salt water, and go home to take a shower. Abundance of caution.

But I can run around the corridors at night with the wind in my hair if I want – even in normal times there’s never anyone around after about 9pm.

I could even do it in my pajamas!

When the world returns slowly to some kind of normal

I will already be in position to move around.

Because I am in the vulnerable cohort, older, with chronic illness, and physical disabilities that keep me from walking or standing long or comfortably (which is why I got Maggie in the first place), I assume it will be a long time – on the scale of a year – before we’re even allowed out of quarantine.

Just having beds available again in hospitals will still not make covid-19 easier for us to survive – although it might make it possible in the few cases where a ventilator makes a difference. The illness itself is hard on my group – and most people here are older than we are.

We have to wait for the vaccine – and hope it is effective (the flu shot is around 60% effective, I understand). We have to hope the immunity it – or surviving the disease – confer on people of my condition is long lasting.

The future is not known

We have to hope they learn enough from dealing with this that there isn’t another pandemic for a long time.), and

But maybe they’ll reopen the pools, and limited visitation (maybe for those who are certified survivors (if that makes them unable to infect us), and I’ll resume riding my little steed to the pool. One can hope.

It is a mistake to expect the worst. But it is life-threatening to risk what you know may kill you even with a lot of medical help.

I’m just happy my long hunt for a mobility device is again satisfied – for now.

The original Maggie will be repaired as soon as I can get a control board (assuming that’s the problem) and someone willing to watch the Youtube videos and install the board for me, and a backup now sounds like a very solid idea.

There is still nothing on the market that I find as perfect a solution for me.

Now back to writing NETHERWORLD.

Today was a good day – I made progress into the next scene – all my process still works, plus I added some new strategies from Donald Maass’ Writing 21st Century Fiction – heartily recommended.

I can’t do anything about the world out there – younger healthier people will have to gather the data and do the research and create a safe and effective vaccine – but I’m still excited about where the current scene is going (Rachel will be pleased), and how the end of the Chapter is designed, and how the plot keeps kicking.

That is my job. I’m not bored. I’m not looking for other things to do. This I can.

Wish me luck.