Category Archives: Brain training

A place to lump all those efforts to create new neural pathways to replace the ones that die; serious efforts to stave off the dementia which runs through my maternal ancestrecesses who lived long lives; stuff that makes my brain hurt, and thus must be good for it.

Making things worse to make them better

Jetty going out over a lake with the moon in the night sky. Text: There's always dark before the light. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO BREAK THE MOLD

to get to a bigger, better place.

The mold is a comfortable place.

Okay, not so comfortable: it has flaws. You are just used to the flaws.

Until the day when the flaws add up to something so large it can’t be improved.

Only destroyed.

I’m trying to get settled in the new, larger mold.

It’s just taking a lot more work, and a lot more time, than I told myself before the move (if you don’t do that, minimize the cost of the change, you can never get unstuck from the mold).

If you focus too hard on the cost of change, you don’t change. You CAN’T change.

Because change is very expensive, and not just in money.

I’m impatient.

Everyone tells me to ‘give it time,’ and tells me how long it was before they were settled in our new community, before they had unpacked all their boxes, before they knew enough people, before they reconstructed their new life.

But after the change, the invoice shows up and demands to be paid.

As the pain of the move diminishes, and becomes, like all memories, a series of amusing vignettes you recount at the dinner table to people you hope will become new friends, and whom you are now entertaining so they will know you’re not just a complainer (deadly) or a bore (deadly), the pain of the new become more evident: you are not there yet.

For me, it has been the amount of time I am still not writing new fiction.

I’ve spent a decent proportion of time with the internet blocked off, NOT writing new fiction.

Yet.

I sure hope it’s ‘yet.’

You see, I also moved to improve the body.

I have started the PT I so desperately wanted, and which was one of the main reasons for coming to this particular place. PT is downstairs. An elevator ride and a couple of corridors worth of distance.

And next to the pool, so I can just pop into the warm water afterward, and then take a nice shower, and then…

Go back to the temporary home and find myself completely ragged out for the day.

And the next day the sacroiliac joint has given me a day of intense deep aching. So I do the exercises for that…

It’s necessary. Now is the best time. And it has plopped the next barrier to writing right in front of me.

People recommend patience

and not being too hard on myself.

And not expecting too much, possibly even now, since we’re beginning the process of working with Facilities to fix our permanent abode in Independent Living from being gutted, to having a place for everything and everything in its place, a state we are NOT achieving here (doesn’t feel worth the work when you’re going to have to do it all again soon).

But they don’t have the itchy feeling of how much of my identity is tied up in being a writer – and actually writing.

So many accomplished folk here, with long resumes of happy productive lives, whether involved in work for pay or in bringing up happy and successful children, and it serves to emphasize the many things I could not do due to illness, the may experiences I will now never have.

I didn’t expect that part.

Many of them are still doing the wonderful trips and community service and voter registration and visiting schools…

The ones who are past that are often quite a bit older.

And even the ones who are now disabled who are living here often have not been that way for long.

Only now I meet more people than in my previous isolated state

and have had, metaphorically speaking (and without any ill intent on their part – this all comes out in conversations), my nose rubbed in it.

I used to be better at ignoring the fact that I was ill and isolated, and the rest of the world had lives. Problems, yes, but lives.

By a determined cheerfulness in my own life, so that I did not alienate those I still knew, I kept the worst of it under wraps most of the time. It gets very boring to listen to complaining, however justified. I preferred to spend my time with my husband, far-flung kids, and small coterie of friends enjoying their presence and company when I had it.

I made ignorance – avoidance – my bliss.

And I wrote. Things other people can’t. Don’t. Don’t even want to. But which make me unique.

And clamped down on envy as unproductive.

I’m confronting all this a third time.

Fourth? Fifth? All in a bunch, everything repressed comes back to be dealt with in a new stage of life.

I really hope it’s the last time. But it can’t be.

It gets boring, even to me.

The light will return. Proof of that is that I keep trying. If I’d stopped trying, I’d really worry.

This may be one of those raw adjustment times you put behind you once things are to a new normal. But it’s daunting to think it may total a year by the time we’re in the ‘forever home,’ and I get back to really working.

Another very good sign is that I’m aware of it. I’m not happy about the uncertain period, but I still crave writing something coherent, and even more, writing something I’m satisfied with. I know I’m not where I want to be, and that the steps we’re taking should, with a bit more of that patience stuff, put me in a better writing place.

Life moves on, inexorably

I’d just like to think that the effort for change results in a better working environment, and is a net gain.

Ask me in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, this is a recording of the current state of mind.

I have gone back into my own posts, that now number well over 500, to find things I almost don’t remember writing – and I only started blogging in 2012!

Nothing very new yet

except that I realized how sparse even the blogging has gotten, and feel compelled (by me, not my lovely readers and commenters) to put out at least an update+what I’ve been thinking post every once in a while, until I have more substantive ‘content.’

And, looked at in hindsight, there has been an awfully large amount of change survived.

Please pray for rain for California, and no rain in some other places – that has been, after the elections, another huge concern: we are right in the plume of the Camp Fire, and yesterday were in the ‘hazardous’ category. Worrying about the firefighters, and all those who have lost lives, family, and homes. And wildlife. And what happens after.

And, as usual, not being able to do a darned thing.

Be well. Write when you have a moment.


 

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When you’re heard, good may happen

Winding road into a sunset with a tree on a hill. Text: One step at a time this road leads somewhere. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

SMALL STEPS LEAD TO MILESTONES

There’s no point moving cross-county if you’re not going to improve some things in your life.

Improving the physical plant happened today in two ways.

We have what should be our permanent home in Independent Living.

Moving in is in the future some time, because they are changing a whole lot of ‘features’ into what is their new ‘standard’ for these units. So this unit, which has not had a lot of things done to it since it was built in 2000, will have just about everything changed.

I saved the basic list from an email I wrote a friend in Australia:

  • They’re going to completely re-do the place, as it hasn’t been done for many years.
  • We will get new kitchen cabinets and appliances. New counter tops.
  • They will install our washer and dryer.
  • New flooring throughout. We get to choose what, and colors.
  • Crown molding lighting – and ceiling fans (they move the air-conditioned air and heat noiselessly on the lowest setting, so the heat-exchanger doesn’t come on as often – quieter).
  • The bathrooms will be done – completely new shower and counter and sink in the master bath, and I want an accessible shower in the other one, which will be mine! All mine! for the first time in my life. I HATE sharing bathrooms.
  • All the window treatments.

Plus whatever we want (there may be some walls moved, doors covered, etc., depending on where Bill’s office area ends up).

So quite a lot, and apparently the contractors aren’t fast, and the holidays slow things down even further.

It is a bit sad in there right now – and their plan is to bring things up to the current standard every time a unit is occupied by new tenants.

We may not be in before Christmas, but a girl can hope.

Thing is, the sooner we make OUR choices, the sooner the whole thing gets underway. So I will be nagging. Or whatever it is called when you’re the squeaky wheel.

We will have to pay for any serious upgrades; I will see what I can get due to being disabled – there are strong laws in California about accessibility. [Note: not much that applies to personal spaces such as apartments; plenty for public buildings.]

Meanwhile, I’m also upgrading me

I had my intake visit with the lovely Heather from the physical therapy department.

She’s what got me thinking on the topic of being heard, because, for the first time in a long time, I’m taking charge of the improvements for the body I inhabit.

I like the system here with our new U. California-Davis Medical Center (UCDMC) doctors. They have the first patient portal I have ever used which has me raving about setting it up and using it.

Just think: if you send an email to your doctor, he or she will respond within 48 hours. Unprecedented in New Jersey. And the portals back there were the most awful things to set up and messages through.

Here they put up your test results as soon as they’re available, and just casually mention your doctor hasn’t seen them yet. In NJ, the law said you could have them, but it was like extracting teeth from small fowl, and somehow they were never available soon, and never before the doctor had seen them: bad technology trumped obeying the law.

So, back on topic, I requested a referral to PT here in this facility, and the doctor not only did it without making me go visit him, but it was handled internally AS IF I WERE THE PAYING CLIENT. They called when they received it, made an appointment immediately, and I just popped on down.

Heather listened, and did what many places don’t seem to bother with: she asked my opinion, and my goals, and then very carefully assessed where I am. Then she proceeded to give me exactly what I asked for: exercises to strengthen the lower back to support walking. She listened about the ME/CFS, and how much energy I don’t have, and took that all into account. She will see me once a week, so I can do things at my own pace – something no other PT place has ever ‘allowed’ (they all wanted, and said insurance would only pay for, a 3 times a week schedule).

Delving into the devil in the details

I don’t know if there will be snags in the PT. I’m pretty sure the remodeling may have some, as we were given no lists and no budget, and some things, when I asked the same question several times, would finally yield a different answer.

We’ll see for both, but this is why we came here: to have options.

PT is downstairs. A couple of elevators and corridors away. The amount of energy that will save me, which can be used to do the PT, is prodigious. I can actually see doing enough of this to find out how much my walking can be improved.

Surgery is not on my list, especially not now, as I haven’t found an orthopedic surgeon who actually listened, and who could promise more than maybe. Also, it takes us ME/CFS types a LONG time to heal, 6-12 months after the surgery which has led to me not walking, back in 2007. It is too long to do again unless I have firm promises, and the logical thing to do is PROPER PT, not PT for little old ladies as I had before.

Also, I made sure we picked the UCDMC system as the only local one with a teaching hospital (though, alas, it is in Sacramento, not Davis – huh? – but it’s not that far), and this place does post-surgical rehab right here, and they apparently spoil you in Skilled Nursing while you recover. So, if the PT doesn’t do what I need, I’ll see what else there is – but from the point of actually doing everything I can (I’m one of the young ‘uns here) that should be done FIRST (the PT in New Jersey before the spinal fusion was a joke).

Teaching hospitals usually have the best facilities, and I’m hoping, orthopedists.

The PT people here are set up for old people! They work with our kinds of problems. Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the channel which has your spine in it) is quite common, as are walking problems. I’ve seen a lot of things in other people, and talked to many, here.

Maybe they have solutions.

So, not blogging much

Because this reconnecting to things we dumped in New Jersey is, quite frankly, boring. We did it deliberately, and it is taking forever to re-build a life, but everyone who has moved further than ten miles knows how it is.

Doing everything we should. Trying all the activities and swimming in the outdoor pool. Still have no car – and still haven’t jumped through the last hoop (getting a CA driver’s license) because there has been no time (and the studying first is a good idea).

But finally the two-bedroom is on the horizon. And we can actually finish unpacking, and hang the paintings, and have something other than off-white on the floor.

Meanwhile, the Pride’s Children characters are starting to nag, and I keep trying to form some kind of a schedule and have a tiny bit of energy go to fiction. I have done no marketing in ages, and have sold maybe five copies in six months. You can really disappear that way. It’s a good thing I’m not a quitter!

As I always say: I’m working on it.

And how are you?


 

How best to take advantage of expert help

Photo of desk setup with laptop, giant monitor, window in background. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt's desk in Davis, California

The new working environment in Davis

DO YOUR PART BEFORE YOU CALL THE PROS

Yesterday was a very productive day.

I have acquired a local Mac guru, and he came and spent three hours with me, sitting at my computer to get me past the July crash.

My intention had been to spend the day before getting ready for him by clearing out the working space I’ve set up, and finally unpacking several boxes full of the things I keep within reach when I write.

The best laid plans of mice and women

Of course, things never go exactly as planned.

Just as I had finished futzing with all the trivia online for the day, the spouse decided to come in and take a nap before dinner.

My ‘office’ is in the Master Bedroom (ie, the only one), and I was faced with the dilemma of starting my planned tidying-up with a sleeping man a few feet away. And the chair squeaks enough already. The other alternative, wasting up to two hours sitting in the living room, was not what I wanted to do.

And I was conscious that I had wasted all the morning, and the guru was coming the next morning at ten.

So I proceeded

as quietly as possible, to continue the plan to end up with a clean desk, the three boxes around the desk area unpacked, and me prepared with my questions for my new and untried helper (the last one wasn’t much help).

That was the plan.

The next hour or so would have made a good Laurel and Hardy movie.

I am pig-headed, Part umptyfrat

I had everything from my file cabinets on my side of the bed, right behind the desk. Piles ready and able to fall over, catch in the covers, get completely mixed up.

But this meant that I could rearrange the rug I’m using under where the chair sits so it would stop catching and tripping me, and in a more permanent way, protect the carpet from the desk chair.

So I decided that once I had loaded up the file cabinets again, I would have lost this opportunity to use them to pin down the edges of the rug and keep it (one hopes) from sliding out of place a little more every time I moved the chair.

Which then meant that I had to move the stiff rug and two short file cabinets into position while making no noise, and all by myself.

That brief description should have daunted me, and kept me from even trying until I had an awake helper, but (proof that I needed another nap), it did not.

I wish I could have saved a video recording of the process for your entertainment. I am quite flexible, though I can’t walk much at all, so I was down on the floor, in an extremely confined space, trying at the beginning to do this all without removing any of the things on top of the desk.

Then by removing the monitor and the laptop.

And finally, with no room at all to store the pieces meanwhile, by removing everything from my desktop slab – the computer stuff up onto the window ledge, the other bits and pieces to the tiny spaces around the desk location – and standing the silly top against the wall so that it would not come crashing down (silence, remember?).

But at each step I thought I could do it

and that it would only take a little bit more to be able to slide the rug under the two file cabinets, line everything up, and resume the real part of the task, unpacking.

The secondary problem, which I didn’t realize when I started, but should have known, was that, when they reconstructed the king-size platform bed in this room, the likelihood of it being completely square to the walls (I assume the building is squared) was nil.

So picture me, literally, on my hands and knees, trying to position a rug I’m sitting on, by making a little hill in one end, placing my weight on it, and trying to propagate that hill to the other end of the rug (like a caterpillar moving), so it would end up a half-an-inch from the platform bed (because otherwise the chair wheels catch).

As a lovely side effect, I had turned the AC control up (so the AC wouldn’t come on so frequently), couldn’t get out of the room easily (and noiselessly), and I worked myself into exhaustion – and a serious overheating condition before I realized what was going on.

To be followed – as soon as I realized what was happening – by serious cooling in the form of AC and cold water, and wondering if I was going to be able to get control of all the pieces before our dinner engagement with another couple we’d be meeting for the first time in a very short time.

Don’t worry too much – I made it

Once everything was cleared off the top, and me cooled (husband is still sleeping!), I was able to slide everything into position. I quickly filled the file cabinets with the original (unprocessed) files – as weights to hold down the edges of the rug.

We have enough storage space – drawers under the bed and holding printer and scanner and lightbridge – so I just shoved things in to get them out of the way. The next day I was able to present a clear desk with just my computer equipment (taking everything off made that easier.

Will watch for overheating and dehydration (had a lot of water after) sooner next time. Because there always is a next time.

When the guru came the next morning

I was ready with a short list of the things I needed first, which included Mail (ultimately put on hold), Calendar with the dates for Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD in their places (still have to recover the rest of the calendar data), and me waiting for the software serial number from Write Brothers which I got with a phone call later that afternoon. The folks there gave me a free upgrade and I was back into my Dramatica files immediately.

It was a real learning experience. Sai will update my file structure later, and help recover whatever is still available. I’ll be surprised if it isn’t practically everything I had before (I do have Dropbox and Time Machine backups), even if it takes a bit of work, and he’ll leave me far more organized than I’ve been.

I managed not to seem too out of it, and he knew everything I asked (kudos, White Wave Digital), and was very careful not to do anything irreversible as he went. He told me to disconnect the old external hard drive (all the Time Machine backups before the crash) until we’ve mined it.

But it was good to be able to work with him, and connect Mac-wise. I haven’t had one or needed one before, but I was definitely out of my depth on this recovery (thanks, Apple, for the smart saving of pieces), and delighted to find someone who already knows this community and the people who live here – I didn’t even have to tell him where I was or get the front desk to let him in!

Easy peasy, and I definitely didn’t make things worse.

I’ll settle for that. People who know exactly what they’re doing are worth their weight in your currency of choice.

I know how lucky I am that we hit it off.

And I’m ready to write again.


Quick reminder: check out the sidebar for some of my favorite posts which you might not have seen.

My Patreon link is there, too, if you’re impatient for Book 2 – I am finally in a position to access all my files for the ‘backstage’ part of my writing process (assuming you’re not squeamish).

And hope to get finished efficiently from now on with NETHERWORLD so there will be more than one book link at the top. In the process of regaining my Calendar data, I remembered how much I like the end of this, the middle trilogy book. Can’t wait to get there – but much plot remains before I’ve earned it.


Feel free to share similar experiences; I’m feeling escamada, which is Spanish for sneaking past by the skin of your teeth, feeling you barely escaped – the hairs on the back of your neck stand up at the close call.

The fight for more than survival

img 0427
Mostly boxes

LIKE ENDING OF INDIANA JONES AND THE LOST ARK

This was us last week, after quite a bit of finagling once the movers did their job – and moved most of our stuff into the one bedroom apartment at the URC complex in Davis, Ca.

A bunch more boxes were stored directly in the ‘Resident Storage’ locker (no, they don’t store the RESIDENTS there). Those were raided a bit by husband in search of the lighter frying pan (I hate electric stoves even more now than before) and a few necessary significant items (dish drainer, etc., which had been packed in the bigger boxes at the last minute, along with the framed paintings).

When we’re a little tidier, I’ll show you the layout, but, aside from having to switch walls on the TV because the cable outlet was on the wrong wall, we are almost out of boxes that must be unpacked immediately.

Today is a happy day – which is why I can blog

I probably mentioned that, way back on July 3, 2018, I lost control of my computer (the internal hard drive didn’t have enough space for a proper recovery, even after restarting), and I haven’t been able to write in my Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD files since then.

NOR extract anything from my files, which means I also owe my Patreon site posts on methodology and process and glimpses into the background of my weird and wonderful writing way. I cobbled together the promised posts for serializing NETHERWORLD, and scheduled a bunch of those in advance, but I haven’t been able to produce the ones which give some people the writer’s equivalent of a ‘backstage pass.’

Which is one of the reasons I started that page, so patrons can poke behind the scenes if they wish.

Well, my dears, today I recovered access to my Scrivener files, and haven’t gone any further because one major happiness per day (at a great cost in energy) is about as much as I can take and still function tomorrow.

How?

If you don’t care, skip this heading.

The short version was:

One hour of paid time with a local Mac guru who couldn’t fix it.

Over an hour on the phone with a lovely man with the nickname of ‘JT’ at Apple Customer Support who hung with me as we delved into permissions on the High Sierra operating system.

Over an hour today with the Scrivener knowledge base: the first article that showed up  when I searched for ‘permission’ was the exact thing I needed.

Plus everything I learned when talking to these people and reading stuff online.

So I’m quite pleased that I was able to put all this together (the Apple guy bowed out when it became obvious that it might be a problem with the Scrivener part) in my pretty little head, and figure out that I needed to get a copy on a writable medium, go through a bunch of steps to make the permissions affected by my unorthodox method of upgrading give me access to my own files (the Mac had come to know me as both Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt and aliciabutcherehrhardt, and I still don’t know how to disabuse it of the personality split).

There is probably a better way, and a way to do this in big batches, and possibly a way to mend the great personality divide, but I’m satisfied for now.

And it was my prime missing part to the move.

No point in just complaining on the blog, is there?

You guys pay me for solutions, not problems.

Hehe, as the kids say.

That, and getting stains out of husband’s favorite T-shirt with a toothbrush, laundry detergent (we haven’t bought bleach yet), and a toothbrush which will remain dedicated to the purpose of laundry, have made this a good day.

The two biggest problems with a CCRC

Dinner.

People.

Both absolutely great – but I don’t think I can have dessert at a restaurant every night, and expect to fit into my bathing suit; and having dinner with new people almost every night is a whole heck of a lot more socializing than I’ve done in a long time!

We’re managing both: big salad before dinner, and scheduling dinners ahead two or three times a week (the hospitality chair dropped off an actual paper calendar – and its getting USED).

I had to call an old friend – we’ve been here three weeks tomorrow, and she needed to hear from me – so we’re going to go get dinner (5:30 is so EARLY), and then maybe, if it settles down, go swimming afterward.

Or crash, and try again tomorrow.

Best decision I ever made

The weather is California, late summer, and the humidity is really low.

Everything is in the same building.

I’m still trying to find an adult trike to ride; promises were made about there being one here which will have to be pursued.

There are so many convenient exercise and fitness classes that I’ve already overdone it.

You have to work hard to get your money’s worth – but we will do it.

Not the slightest desire to return to the East Coast.

Over and out for now, and I’ll try to find something more interesting for the blog next time, but this is our life now, and we’re making it work. Husband is on the Security team for the Bizarre Bazaar – starting this week. I unpacked a copy of Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, and delivered it to the library – maybe I’ll find a few readers here.

And I’m getting back to work on NETHERWORLD tomorrow. Promise. Go catch up on the chapters already posted there.


And how are you? What have you been doing for the last three weeks?


 

Liz, the 2005 Buick Tessara I’ve owned since 2008

APOLOGIES FOR THE CONFUSION OF TODAY’S POSTS

I was so happy to be sending myself photos that I didn’t realize the phone thingy was also posting blank posts along with the images.

And the names got all fouled up.

And the longish post I was writing got lost.

And I am just so tired, I couldn’t even face fixing things this morning. Plus an unreasonable pain from a pinched nerve just wouldn’t go away – finally tamed it with ibuprofen and hours on a cold pack.

The cars are not going with us

My husband isn’t sentimental about cars; we sold his yesterday without much of a backward glance, even though he’s the only owner it ever had, and I don’t have a picture.

So I headed to the window, took my first picture through the screen, realized it was junk that way, took it again – and here you have the car that did the bulk of the homeschool hauling around, and all three kids learned to drive on it (and aced their parking tests!), and it has been to Pittsburgh, PA, and to Troy, NY, bunches of time (we didn’t drive to Pasadena because that was way too far), hauled more junk than I can shake a stick at, and had its seats in and out to make space.

Her name is Liz, because youngest daughter told me (I took her along and made sure she sat in every minivan on the used car dealer’s lot to make sure her older and taller siblings would fit when they visited) that if you name a car, you have to take it home.

The dealer here will take her off our hands on the day we head out of town, and the convenience of having him do the transfer paperwork right has trumped any thought of selling her privately for possibly more money. Plus we’ll keep her up to the last day, and not need a rental. Plus luggage.

I don’t ‘love’ inanimate objects, though I do anthropomorphize, but Elizabeth (Liz) gets thanked a lot when I leave this place – and make it back safely.

The packing is going, going, almost gone…

The captain's bed in my office, with a blue fitted sheet, covered by things still to be packed, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

The last of the captain’s bed

and the rooms are emptying to a pile of boxes in the living room ready for the movers this week,

Empty closet with packing materails, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

and this is the last of it – and will be the first boxes opened because that’s where the toothpaste is. And the antacids.

We’ve reached the point

where we’re leaving whether the sale goes through or not.

If it doesn’t, the house can stay under management, empty, fixed, and ready to sell until it does, and our lawyer said he can handle the closing. But signs are positive (all fingers crossed, now, guys), as it toodles along lackadaisically toward the new folk, and they have ‘happily’ (according to our agent) agreed to accept a few things we are leaving them because they really need them even though they don’t know that yet.

The house is another thing I will definitely miss, but oddly, because, since the staging ladies and the painter and the flooring people did their thing it hasn’t been my house, anyway.

We’ll have to remember with our memories, and the house as the backdrop of family photos, because I never got to do what I was going to do, namely clean it up for sale (but without all that newfangled staging stuff), and then take pictures. So there are birthday parties in the office, kitchen, and dining room; and Christmases in the living room; and some Thanksgiving photos’ and lots of pictures of the exterior through all the seasons.

But no photos of a tidy house of mine.

That’s all for now, folks

It may be a while before the next post, or, living in an Extended Stay America for a week, I may have so much time on my hands that it drives the words out of my head onto the page. Dunno.

There are still an awful lot of things to do and I hope I don’t forget any of the ones which are critical.

Or pack them inaccessibly. I left the pool floats where I will open them first, and kept a bathing suit out. First things first, of course.

I think I’ll leave you to ponder the existential thrill of letting go of so many things at once and with no time to ponder individual ones, nor to take photos of most of the things which are staying in NJ in the homes of friends, strangers, and the dump. I kept the photos and the digitized home movies and the music transferred to an iPod (need to make a backup of that, too).

It’s supposed to be freeing to empty it all out, to let go, finally, of project you really are never going to do (my assistant took one of them – if she does it, and sends me a picture, I’ll post it, but don’t hold your breath).

I don’t feel free yet, just empty. It does and it doesn’t help that I’ve been almost completely home-bound for many years now, leaving as infrequently as possible because of the energy it takes.

I will get back to writing, and learn a new, communal place, and move on to the next phase.

I don’t regret any of this – but it is a very strong demarcation in my life.

I’m sure you have stories from your moves – I’d love to hear. Please share.


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Update on the progress of snails

woman-indian-woman-india-person.jpg

Using a free photo for WordPress from Pexels

But can I put text around the image, as I’m doing here? Yes!

I hadn’t actually tried, and now I can see how to get text around a photo, too.

Why is this lovely Indian woman here?

Because she’s a character, and I like a picture before me to ‘think on.’

I learned one way to wear a sari, way back when I wasn’t even twenty yet, but there are many ways and many styles and many different methods to keep them from falling: it’s one long piece of cloth.

If you think that’s easy, and you haven’t been born to it, be my guest. The Muslim Girl Guide family I stayed with in what was then Bombay took pity on me, and gave me a long black half-slip with an elasticized waist to tuck the folds into (I don’t think women who know what they’re doing use slips, but what do I know?). They arranged for a tailor to make me a short blouse from the piece of cloth that is attached to the end of the sari for that purpose.

This is my visual guide for Shraddha, which means Faith, a lovely name in any language.

Dejunk in haste, repent at leisure

There are so many things that need sorting and repacking for the move – my office is a warren of piles.

But the hastily-packed boxes are slowly giving way to 1) discards, and 2) well-packed boxes which will be in two categories – need as soon as I get there or at least while living in the impermanent quarters, and need, period.

‘Need’ means ‘this is MY stuff.’ And no, I’m not tossing it just because it occupies a few boxes worth of space.

Some of it may still end up being weeded out, but I made the huge mistake of trying to do that to my writing notebooks – 20-30 of them – only to find that I could discard a few pages of the ones torn out, but had to put back together, in order, most of what I had so cavalierly ripped out.

Live and learn. No, I don’t use them a lot. But I can’t dejunk this fast.

Little progress to report

Even when the next thing on the list gets done (today we got an over EIGHTY page report – talk about padding! – from the buyers’ home inspector), there’s another one just behind it. I thought we would just use this report, and fix things, but husband says negotiation happens first.

And it didn’t include the radon test results.

And it didn’t include any information on their mortgage commitment, contingent on their appraiser’s report, which has ALSO not appeared.

In Mexico we have a name for this sort of piddling progress: we say the other person is giving us atole con el dedo. Atole is a drink which is not milk – but sort of looks like it. Calories in the form of a thickened carb like cornstarch or wheat. Gruel of a thin kind suitable for drinking with sweet bread from the bakery (and a horrible thing to do to your stomach if you are a growing child – very little protein). Atole can be fed to a baby instead of milk by dipping your finger (dedo) in it, and letting the baby suck it off. Takes the place of giving the poor kid milk, and is an incredibly slow process to boot.

It masks a lack of progress with the appearance of progress.

Sanity without writing is hard

Without help, this is slow because carrying the boxes is too much for me.

And I need to spend time getting my writing soul back to work, because that’s how I feel that day-to-day life has a purpose.

Yeah, I’m slow as a writer.

Now, I’m stopped, and I don’t like it.

At least we’ve reconsidered the original plan of driving cross-country with the more valuable items in the car. It’s 3,000 miles.

And after I imagined the trip – husband said a week – I realized that I’d be in poor shape after such a trip, hours sitting on this poor spine without being able to move much, and driving a lot because it isn’t fair to make him do it all.

So I suggested we take a nice plane ride, Newark to Sacramento, and sell or donate the cars. Someone said ‘ship the car(s).’ Will investigate. Husband thinks it’s hard to get a car in California quickly, but I know I can walk into Reedman in PA, and walk out with a vehicle here; California shouldn’t be a lot harder.

So that’s the new plan.

If the buyers will get their act together so we can get out of here.

So I can get back to my work!

Not very exciting, but there it is.

Oh, right: the picture

And you’ll have to read Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD to get to know Shraddha. But she might look like this.


Thanks to Pexels for the image.


They LIED: on my blog, the text is NOT around the photo. Is there text to the right of the photo on your screen?

 

Liberate the writing mind from the tyranny of time

PLAYING WITH TIME IS THE WRITER’S TOOL

Freeing the mind from the constraints of the linear computer screen.

My ‘left brain’ is linear. Orderly. And must eventually win: the words I produce on the screen or page will have to load into the brain, even in chunks, in an orderly fashion.

I call that the tyranny of the chronology. Or the tyranny of time. Tyranny, in any case.

Even if the story is being told non-linearly, with foreshadowing and backstory, and revisits the same events from different points of view, the ORDER of the words in the final product must be a queue: one behind the other.

We are creatures of time, mired in time, stuck in time – and used to dealing with input presented to us, in time.

Half our metaphors and clichés involve time:

A stitch in time saves nine.
In a timely manner.
Time heals all wounds.
Time to die. Time for dinner.
To everything, turn, turn, turn.

Our most common question: What time is it?

We’re born.
We live.
We die.
In that order.

Time is a relentless dimension, going always headlong into the future from the past, with a moment only in the present – and we are dragged along, willy nilly.

So much so that we hardly notice it.

Time is like air, not noticed until there is a lack

The right brain, which doesn’t do things that way, is also dragged along. Even if it takes in many things at one perception, each instant in time will bring a different set, to be perceived and dealt with – if possible – before being assaulted by the next.

This affects writing in many different ways, but especially in giving a power to the words already on the page – in their ordered stream. The left brain resists changing that which is already sorted into a linear order. It did all that work to organize things, and now you want to change their order? It demands to know, Why? It gets in the way of finding a better order, a more coherent whole.

Loosening the grip of time

For me, one of the best ways to stop that linear progression is to go to paper: a fresh sheet of scratch paper invites scribbling. Pencil, pen, colored markers. A neon yellow highlighter. A printed copy of the current version or pieces of older versions invites scissors and tape. And rearranging. Always rearranging. Clumping – and stringing out. Grouping in different ways.

I know there is software for that – to make a screen more like a whiteboard. Maybe the next generation will be comfortable with its freedom, and not notice its inherent limitations: the screen doesn’t allow you to cut it into pieces.

But ‘going to paper’ stops time for me for long enough to see if this fiction has a BETTER timeline in it, a different order for all those perceptions and illuminations of the right mind.

Manipulating time – for story

Always in mind is the idea of how to slip all these bits and pieces of the story into the reader’s head so a coherent whole story can assemble, KNOWING the reader’s mind is different from my own, KNOWING that the story for the reader will be different from my version in many and subtle ways because every head is a whole world, and every world in a mind is different from every other one. Presenting the building blocks in the best way I can think of to invoke the reader’s use of her built-in software.

Overcoming my OWN Resistance to changing anything – to make it better – requires that I manipulate time for my own purposes, which also requires that I step out of the constraints linear time puts on ME.

‘Going to the paper’ does this every time I try it: there is something magical about messing with time, but I have to do it non-linearly, with different tools than my usual ones, and in a way that takes me back, metaphorically, to when it was okay to scribble anything anywhere (and I even had a hard time staying on the paper), before I was truly conscious of time, when there was only ‘now.’

‘Going to the paper’ in real life, too

I have to do a lot of year-end paperwork. It is stressful and confusing, and requires decisions from a mind not functional yet this morning. I can sit here, staring at the screen until the cows come home – and nothing useful will happen.

Making notes on paper, scribbling, adding bits and pieces, and drawing arrows from one piece to another – going to the paper – is the only way I’m going to get through it.

Respecting time

The most important thing a writer can do is to respect the reader’s time – and put nothing into a story that is not strictly necessary.

That said, it has to be in the context of the readers you hope to attract, as time sense is a strong predictor of the kind of books a particular reader wants, and the writer’s is developed by the sum total of everything the writer has ever read.

Pretty big order, there.

I think the most important measurement of respect is that your target readers will never demand back the time they spent reading you. And the ones who are not your ‘tribe’ will accuse you of wasting theirs.

How do you finagle ‘time’?

Give us this day our daily pain

Bromeliad in green and red. Text: Any purpose to daily pain? Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

WORTH OFFERING UP IF YOU’D GET RID OF IT?

Some days, if I squint at the daily/morning skeletal pain and muscle pain, I can call it the result of not stretching, or even ‘stiffness’ or ‘mild joint pain.’ synovial fluid in the joints needs to get moving, and the joints themselves have adhesions – everything’s, scientifically speaking, gummy.

Some days it’s worse than others. I don’t like it, but I can handle it.

But this morning, while resting in extension (like the Sphinx) on the floor, I was marveling that I’d never noticed that ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ from the Our Father has one of those little cross-linguistic glitches – the word for bread in French is pain.

No rhyme or logic to it, just a noticing.

The saints offered their pain up.

I’m not saintly or heroic, but I can do the same thing, try to handle every day with as little medicine for pain as possible (to ease the load on liver and kidneys in getting rid of the byproducts). I can ignore some of it, and a special seat cushion takes the brunt off, but there is usually enough left to be, well, significant. Too bad, and I say, “The heck with it!” and try to find something that won’t leave me groggy but will reset the brain.

Above that level, there is the way it takes over, and you do nothing else until stretching, isometrics, yoga, and chemicals are allowed, even if I end up not being able to think.

I feel for my friends who live with a lot more than I do – I had that experience as a side-effect of the various cardiac meds: every single one of them raised the pain to the I can’t think of anything else because I’m dealing with pain level. Glad the new cardiologist decided the benefits, if any, weren’t worth the consequences. Not that I would take them now, but it does help to have at least one doctor who’s okay with that; really reduces the stress.

I don’t understand offering pain up.

I’m not good at those theological bits. I don’t believe God gives other people pain or suffering that is waiting for me to offer my pain to be removed. But pain does teach you a lot about self-reliance, and getting help, and the limits of what you can take and do. Many people reduce or ignore what others magnify. I don’t see the point in taking on more just so you could offer up more. Seems like there are no good limits on that.

I do offer up acceptance and patience and such. I don’t ask Why me? because the answer is Why not me? if there’s going to be any at all. Not often, anyway.

I’m scared it will escalate – and I won’t be able to do enough to ameliorate it to the bearable level. I don’t think I’ll get rid of it any more – it’s too constant a companion.

I’m a wuss: I offer it up, but will do everything possible to get rid of it – at the same time.

A writer’s Patreon can be fun

Neon plastic dinosaur toys with text: A new venture, a writer's Patreon; Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

FOR THE CHATTY WRITER!

I just finished another free public post in my new Patreon:

Workspace notes for Scene 21.2
https://www.patreon.com/posts/18317676
984 words

I’m using this Patreon as
1) a place to post the finished scenes in Book 2 (Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD) as I create them – the first chapter of the book, Chapter 21 in the trilogy as I number continuously in case I ever get to put the whole thing in a single volume (tagged ‘Free public posts) is now posted in its entirety, a scene a post.
2) a place to talk about me, me, me: my writing process, my ideas, my scenes – for those with a burning desire to examine how I do what I do (still producing more ‘Free public posts’ for now).

Why? Because I need it; but more because my writing process produces 10 to 100 times more written material, per scene, than ever ends up in a scene, and that’s the kind of ‘reward’ Patreon recommends that writers produce for their patrons.

I’d love to see Ursula LeGuin’s work notes for The Left Hand of Darkness if they were available, so I’m enjoying producing a few of this kind of posts to see if they are attractive. My #1 patron loved the first one. We’ll see how her enthusiasm holds up.

And it got my brain going this morning to have something both specific, and not too hard (as it’s based purely on that background material I already produced) to get writing on.

Stop by and poke around the free stuff already there, and give me some feedback. Are you interested in having patrons?
https://www.patreon.com/alicia_butcher_ehrhardt

And for me, the question is: Will you be my patron?

I checked out many of the writing Patreons. It’s not an easy site to do searches, but patience was rewarded, and I looked at fifteen pages of them to see what other writers were doing, what they were offering as rewards, and where they were on their writing journeys.

For strict writers of fiction (short stories, novellas, novels), I noticed that many were looking for support while writing their first novel – with no previous material listed as proof that they could finish one.

It is continuous crowdfunding – so to keep patrons interested and coming back, the writer has to produce a lot of new material.

I’m among the more organized Patreons; it isn’t a requirement. I’m sure the pressures of keeping a subscription site going are considerable if you don’t have a lot of usable material already. There are a lot graphic artists doing things like webcomics and graphic novels. Alas, I lack the talent (or the interest to develop any I like) beyond producing at least a few more covers that scream ‘Alicia did it!’

When I get to that stage again, I might use this (if there is interest) to post not just the final cover, but some of the steps and the thinking. Again, if I’m doing the background writing anyway, some of my readers might enjoy watching the process.

Reward tiers, ie, cost to patrons

My lowest tier is for scenes, and the next lowest is for scenes + background posts. Patreon wouldn’t let me offer them for less than $1, but you are allowed to cap the number of payments you will make in a month (which won’t stop you from getting them, only from paying for more than one a month).

My intention is to post up to two scenes a month, and up to two additional background scenes a month (to give myself time and space to make them look good – and remove a few spoilers from my notes which were intended to be private or to overwhelm my biographer(s)).

Patrons will help shape what I put up for those Workspace posts.

There are rewards for the truly committed – I’ve priced them in consideration of how hard it will be for me to satisfy the requests, and warned some may bring my writing on that day to a halt (I can only use each energy spoonful once, and I get far fewer than normal humans get).

Patrons can stop patronizing (patroning?) at any time, and late joiners will have the advantage of getting more early posts for free – and the disadvantage of not having as many credits toward a copy of the book when it’s finished.

So it’s an easy thing to try out.

1) Read the public posts already there (click button in sidebar to take you there).

2) Decide if you want more.

Easy peasy.

Maybe I’ll see you there. Got questions? Wish I’d had someone to answer them when I started the Patreon, but even I managed it in a week or so.

 

Flexibility is worth working through pain

Setting sun behind woman leaping. What you give to keep yourself in shape? Alicia Butcherr EhrhardtIT IS HARD WORK TO STAY FLEXIBLE

To keep writing

Over this past week, while struggling with the chore of de-junking a house, divesting myself of decades worth of stuff, and getting my singing in, I have been physically exhausted (even though I direct the work, not do it).

The sleep I’ve been getting has been fractured, erratic, odd – and never deep enough.

So, the perfect time in life to take on another major task?

So, of course I did

As I mentioned in the previous post, I started a Patreon page for Pride’s Children; NETHERWORLD, Book 2 in the trilogy (see button on sidebar – I figured out how to have one with a link!!!).

Because, among other things, I realized that the moving tasks are ordinary. And while they need to be done, and every detail has to be supervised by me, and there has been a huge emotional content (you try capturing in a few scrapbooks about twenty years worth of homeschooling three kids!), it wasn’t hard, or tricky, or complicated, or complex, or even challenging.

Ordinary stuff. Every homeschooling family has tons of stuff to dispose of. Every family moving out of a long-time home has a lot of stuff.

But there is no great intelligence or problem-solving ability necessary; in fact, that gets in the way because methodical and utilitarian are the words that describe the process. Just do it. Make a decision: box it for the move, declare it object unnecessary, give it away.

What keeps your brain usable as you get older?

I’m convinced it is USING that brain, not letting it get fuzzy and lazy and go easy.

Starting a page on another platform for promoting your work – that’s complex and challenging. Patreon doesn’t make it particularly easy – I find a lot of applications which are developed for online and Windows use somehow seem to lack menus and a sitemap which works and guides that are more than basic – and I had to keep poking to find even rudimentary details. Such as which is the best way to get your money out (when you get any).

Inexplicably, for Direct Deposit via Stripe,  the payment page gave you a form to fill out which required banking information AND your Social Security number, but which didn’t mention fees.

And for Paypal, it listed some fees which could reduce your take.

Thus giving you the impression that even though Stripe usually costs money, the direct deposit part didn’t. Making it better than Paypal.

Stuff like that. (It’s not true, BTW. But you have to figure it out based on the amount being transferred, by going to the two payment methods’ sites and doing the mental work.)

Digging and logical thinking

It would be nice to have no fees to deposit your money earned into your bank account – Amazon does it, right? Amazon’s fees are probably included in their calculation of their cut – they just don’t break it out.

Doing this kind of mental work, hard, new, in a different and unintuitive (for me) format is worth doing – because it keeps me flexible – for the next thing that comes along.

I’ve found myself getting lackadaisical about learning tasks like how to control the network of TV and Netflix and Amazon video and Youtube – the spouse clicks thousands of times a night while organizing a couple of hours of something to watch. I let him do it, most of the time.

But watching TV is not my profession. Writing is. And I take it seriously for now, and as long as I can do it. And it changes continuously, but no one is going to make it easier for me.

So I charge in, do the work, maintain the flexibility to attempt and conquer the next challenge, and revel in the ability to still master the new.

It’s exhausting – and necessary.

And then there’s all the daily physical exercise

Which keeps the physical pain under some sort of rough control, so I neither take too much additional medication nor sit here in a haze of pain, unable to think.

But physical pain is boring. Not intellectually challenging.

So I’m not talking about it.

But I gotta get my mental ‘steps’ in, and push that to the limit.


Do you find yourself slacking off when there’s something new to be learned? Are you conscious that you’re passing up opportunities to keep the ol’ cerebrum functioning? Are you making an actual choice?


Don’t forget to visit the Patreon page  – the first chapter’s on me (pages are public), and you don’t even need to figure out how to create an account, and then have to close it. Feedback welcome, whether or not you will use the platform to read.


 

The major stressor and the Gordian knot

SOMETIMES THE SOLUTION IS OUTSIDE THE BOX

Things get tied in knots; sometimes the only solution to a bad marriage is a divorce. But that applies in other situations:

Teacher/student – this teacher has it in for your kid, for whatever reason, and the only way the kid will survive is switching to a different teacher, or a different school.

Parent/child – the child must leave home to get away from a controlling parent OR the parent must eject the nestling which has turned into a cuckoo bird and is eating the family out of house and home.

Boss/employee – leave that job, if you can, before it eats your soul; fire that employee before she sets the factory on fire.

And one I’ve done once before, in many years in the system: if the main stressor in your life is a particular doctor, switch before they stress you into the heart attack they think they’re protecting you from.

The signs were many.

Doctors have different outlooks on life, differing way of using ‘guidelines,’ different bedside manners.

Because change is so hard for me and others with ME/CFS (usually entails MORE doctor visits, transferring of many records, finding the new person, hoping you don’t have an emergency until you’re comfortable with the new one, getting them to read all your paperwork…), we often stay too long with one who ‘at least fills out the Social Security paperwork.’ I don’t need that any more – but worrying about blowing a gasket (ie, stroke) from an occasional blood pressure spike is a sure way to spend your life worrying about your pressure, which RAISES it.

I had reached the point of considering my home BP measuring device an additional stressor, and the taking of the BP another. But I have friends who have had strokes, and it ain’t pretty.

It reached the breaking point a month or so ago when something (I have an idea now, but no proof) led me to have a BP spike DURING my semi-annual cardiologist visit, in their office. ONE measurement. They refused to take it again (to see if it would be coming down), and instead went to full alert.

Full speed ahead, man the torpedoes!

To make a very long story short, after having an abysmal experience with – and stopping after ten pain-filled, zombie-brained, gut-wrenching (lit.) days – another BP med, I switched cardiologists – to the one I just saw (and had met during one of my hospital excursions and noted he was a breath of fresh air then).

He says, not only don’t worry about it, but don’t measure it! He realized the process had become stressful, but that my record of measurements didn’t show a real problem. He suggested, since I need salt to maintain blood volume, and don’t follow a low-salt cardiac diet, that I might have had too much some night (yes, yes, yes! very possible – when I add salt to the occasional popcorn or nuts!). NO ONE had ever told me it could set off a spike.

He actually listened to my difficulties with tolerating meds, said I’d tried most of the first-line ones, and reacted badly, and that the next line of them would likely have even worse side-effects. But that he didn’t think I needed any.

I see him in six months, and the largest stressor on my list (death due to not taking the doctor-prescribed cardiac meds) vamoosed in a puff of smoke. Plus the secondary stress I was also ignoring: going to that office and that doctor. It’s subtle.

Changing was the right thing to do – and a serious object lesson: listen to your stress level. If a doctor constantly puts you on red alert, consider whether this is the best doctor for you. With the other one, I felt every time that I was defending myself from being put on medication I didn’t need.

Such a relief: I agree.

I should have listened. To myself. We’re not all alike; neither are they.

I was just worried the first one would prejudice the second one, and I would then have to go far afield to find… You can always stress yourself out.

And I learned that the salt I need may cause BP spikes. Good to know – will watch that more carefully.

Status post March 7, 2018

IMG_0080

STILL HERE, STILL ALIVE

A quick update to anyone wondering why there haven’t been any posts in a while. Busy, is why, and no brain.

House:

We are moving at the moving thing. Have had professionals in (yeah, we’re too old to do this one) for almost every aspect of the process of getting this house ready for sale. A person with CFS can’t do this. A person with CFS is doing this. Ergo, very little writing stuff.

New Jersey:

Just had a huge load of snow dumped on us. And it’s still snowing. At least 4″, maybe more, and the neighbor’s car is stuck in the street outside my house. Will it finally be our last one here? Depends on Mother Nature.

California:

Still the goal (I hope), but we haven’t been able to get out there to look, so aren’t even on a waiting list. The process slowly accumulates data, though. I have a better idea of what to look for in end-of-life care after our parents have all gone before us from Jan. 2014 to Jan. 2018. They all lived long lives (91, 91, 94, and 97), and we will always miss them. Some of their later years were NOT fun – possibly we can learn from them. One thing we HAVE learned is to get out of this house and leave affairs in tidy order, because it gets much harder with age. I simply can’t imagine how other people wait until they’re 85!

Writing:

Still working on getting reviews – just got a very nice one from the Midwest Book Review. Found a few tiny typos in PC1, and am just perfectionist enough to be in the middle of reloading the corrected files, and just human enough to tell you there are two errors of typography that I cannot correct. I have failed, they “doesn’t shows,” as my Uncle Charlie would say, and they will stay there to avoid tempting fate. 2011 Mac version of Word is to blame, and no, I’m not telling you what they are. I have some Pride.

Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD

Sent off the next finished chapter to my beta reader last week. I am proofing and editing solidly before sending things out now, a chapter at a time, but long chapters (13K) take a while to research, write, and edit. I hope the rest goes a bit faster, but can’t wait until I’m someplace else and all the junk is gone, even if I have a simple table and one chair.

Health:

Finally agreed to try a new blood pressure med, Diovan, an “angiotensin II receptor antagonist,” whatever that is, supposedly with fewer side effects. After the debacle of last year, the only thing that made me reconsider is that I’m under quite a bit of stress right now, and occasionally get BP spikes in the evening, an alarming state of affairs. If I can find something I can tolerate that does its job, possibly I can avoid blowing a gasket until we’re resettled. Started up my cardiac rehab again (up to 75% of before) after getting the flu – and being out of commission for three weeks. Plus the flu gave me higher blood pressure, and kicked my nice low 60-66 heart rate up to 100 – MOST uncomfortable, because I COULD not meditate it lower. There are many reasons your BP can be up – perfectly reasonable reasons, but that doesn’t protect you from the consequences, so I’m being sensible. Again, assuming I can tolerate something. Not hopeful, but maybe it’ll give me a breather. Oh, and I’m in the process of finding a cardiologist who doesn’t RAISE my BP. Wish me luck. NOTE: since I started taking the stuff 3 days ago, I haven’t been able to THINK, but then there is that stress…

So that’s it, my pretties. Boring as all get out, but you are updated in case you were wondering, and I’m trying to do about ten times more than I can (sang in church again, FINALLY, the last two Sundays). And resting aggressively so I can be there mentally for my assistant as I am the final arbiter for dejunking. Hate it, hope a lot of it will be over soon, and I can get back to my nice calm writing.

And how are YOU?

The Discipline of the Long-Distance Writer

SITTING HERE – RESTARTING MY BRAIN

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

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

Everything about Cary Tennis’ aphorism:

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

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

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

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

Priorities

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

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

One thing at a time!

Use what you have in your writing

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

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

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

It is another of those realities which cannot be ignored.

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

I always come back

So far. Eventually.

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

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

The immediate projects are competing fiercely

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

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

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

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

The long-term move is back on the horizon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How’s your winter going?

The Greatest Generation is now gone

AND, UNTIL IT’S YOUR TURN, LIVE

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

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

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

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

Making new traditions

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

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

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

So be it.

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

Now to focus on the two of us

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

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

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

The last of the big brain-sucking tasks,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a writer now, and still working

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

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

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

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

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

There is so much yet to learn

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do with infuriating reviews?

NOTHING

I won’t even defend the grammatical correctness of that statement in the picture: EVERYBODY has an opinion, most of them WRONG.

WRITERS put their opinions out into the world where anyone can read them.

Readers have opinions, too, and they get to express them in many places, one of which is the very modern REVIEW.

This is the system now, people.

Get used to it.

For all the complaints, the reviewing systems are not going to disappear because they have enfranchised the disenfranchised billions who never had a platform before, and now they do.

Moderators may keep the discussion to civil levels.

Insecure bloggers will delete or alter comments they don’t like from opinionated readers who disagree with them.

But I’m finding that I don’t spend much time reading the word of bloggers who don’t ever bother responding to their interlocutors. Not worth it. It has become a two-way street.

[Sort of. The pitifully awkward communication via mobile may be the ONE thing that destroys the system, because it is much harder to do on those tiny keyboards. But wait for good speech-to-text software and microphones that can pick up the speakers subvocalisations, and we may be back in business.]

Everyone’s a critic.

Today a writer whined about her first 1* review, on an FB group I participate in – after writing a bunch of books! Lucky woman. Most of us get a 1* on the first book!

I could tell you stories. In fact, I will. Below. Because one of those reviewers (not the 1* one this time, but bad enough) got MY goat. [Lovely thing, name of Billy, soft, intelligent, beautiful brown eyes… but I digress.]

Writers are asking for it

Literally. We want reviews. We want feedback. We want to know when our arrow has hit their bullseye.

But we don’t want their bullshite.

We want praise. Glorious and unstinting and erudite and literate (not the same thing) praise.

Because, to be able to write well (assuming that’s what the goal is; with some writers you wonder… but I digress), we have to sit at the keyboard and open all our veins to get enough blood to write with (takes lots of extra blood for all those sidetracks and failed attempts that occur with good writing… but I digress).

And being open is a target for, well, bullies. (Anyone who doesn’t like our prose is… darn it with the digressions today.)

Unconscious bullies. Jealous bullies. Bullies-who-had-a-bad-day.

What to do?

NOTHING.

Nothing overt or aimed at readers or argumentative or likely to start a flame war online!

There is enough garbage on the internet already.

And we have the example of very popular writers: pick your favorite, and your favorite book, and go look at the reviews. All of them. ESPECIALLY the negative reviews.

And remember, on AMAZON a 3* review is NEGATIVE/CRITICAL. Don’t believe me? Check those reviews on your favorite book’s page again: the 3*, 2*, and 1* are CRITICAL/NEGATIVE reviews.

On Goodreads, 3* is good, 4* is great, 5* is ‘best book I ever read.’ According to their rubric (I don’t make these things up – what’s the point when you can check so easily?).

On Amazon, 4* and 5* are good, 1*, 2*, and 3* are bad. Just to summarize that neatly for you.

Got it?

Find a place where it’s safe to vent (your own blog should be such a place, even though it’s pretty public, as long as you don’t identify anyone specific or any specific negative/critical review). Better still, complain only to friends and on closed writers’ groups, but it may not be as satisfying.

The upside?

Another review is another review. They keep adding up. SOMEONE is reading.

And reader/reviewers write their thoughts and opinions in their reviews; other people may read the reviews and gain more understanding of what they may be choosing to read. This is good, especially with the negative reviews.

But it ALWAYS points out to you that your ad copy, cover, description, back copy, quoted editorial reviews – everything up until the sample/Look Inside – is attracting certain readers. This should make you pause and THINK.

I know I have a lot of thinking to do (I knew that already, but it was far down on the To Do list, and has moved up quite a bit) when I get a negative review from someone who probably should not have read the book. Because it’s really not their kind of book – and I can’t change it to BE their kind of book. The story’s already set in concrete, all the way to the end of the trilogy, even the parts I haven’t written yet. The style, tone, characters, plot – all implacably going to be very similar to what is already published.

If someone states unambiguously they don’t like Mexican food, don’t give them a coupon and invite them to rate your Mexican restaurant. ‘Twill end badly on Yelp.

So our signals are crossed.

I’m glad they tried something obviously out of their regular reading zone. I’m very appreciative of their reviewing – most readers don’t, and it is an effort I appreciate. I’m not particularly pleased they rated the way they did, but I’m very glad they pointed out in their review what they liked and what they didn’t. That’s data for me, not for writing, but for marketing.

Not sure this counts as a rant, but it is an attempt to bang my head on the wall. Without doing too much damage – I’m slow enough already.

As an author, I do not go to my reviews and down rate the reviews I don’t like. It’s better if readers do that.

Now I’m going to take a nap. All this ranting wipes me out. Especially the ‘tread lightly’ part.


A reminder that Quozio and Stencil provide me ways to make images, gratis, and I would get a subscription if I needed more than a few graphics a month. This little bit of advertising – and the things I create with their tools – will have to be my form of payment for now. I AM grateful. The words, of course, are mine.


What’s your favorite negative review?