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.

To write a character become the character

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW – YOU CAN LEARN

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

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

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


From October 2012:

Writing characters: To be someone else

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

I contain multitudes.

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

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

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

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

What does this have to do with characters?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

It would be so much simpler not to.

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

Do you like to become the characters you read?

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Still writing with ME/CFS years later

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY DON’T

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

********

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

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

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

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

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

During that aftermath I often surf the web.

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

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

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

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

Looking at the list,

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

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

This is data.

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

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

THE ANSWER: to be normal.

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


It’s over 29 years now.

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

I am so boring!

Why do you surf?

Gather scene plot points before writing

WARNING: FOR PLOTTERS

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

Even plotters have many variants

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

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

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

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

So, necessity or temperament:

I call us Extreme Plotters

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

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

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


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

Appreciations: Stuff that has to go somewhere

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

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

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

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

Finding a home for the pieces in the list of scenes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thoughts?


 

Fiction dialogue easier if you write a play

TO WRITE FICTION, WRITE DIALOGUE

Beginners novelists have a lot of craft to learn.

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

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

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

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


From November 2012:

For better dialogue in fiction: write a play

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

But you get to choose.

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

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

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

This is an absolute gift for novelists.

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

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

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

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

But DIALOGUE is your main weapon.

And your written dialogue in your fiction gets much better.

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

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

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

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

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

The WORDS matter.

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

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

The audience can neither skip ahead nor review something unclear.

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

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

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

Thoughts?


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


 

Plot quirks as much as holes

AND HOW WOULD YOU KNOW?

‘Missing’ is an odd concept

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

Of course, you can’t use them all.

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

A complete scene is another odd concept

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

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



Upending plots to find holes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letting my brain hurt.

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

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

It takes time. It isn’t strictly necessary.

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



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

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


How about you?

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

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

Just curious.

The limitations of a writer circumvented

EXPERIENCES ARE STILL POSSIBLE

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

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

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

From February 2013:


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

And yet, I am not unhappy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How do you replenish?

 

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.


 

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.