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.

The jump cut in writing fiction

TRUST YOUR READERS

This one is sort of new to me. New to my consciousness.

Because a reviewer pointed out something, and I hadn’t realized I do this all the time, and I like to make things clear to myself.

“…Too much seemed to be going on and I was having difficulty following the plot….”

Thing is, I must have picked it up from all the stuff I read in my life, and I have my own preferences which have developed out of all that reading, and which I expressed in my own fiction.

Baffled?

I will now proceed to make that clearer.

Novelists manipulate time.

Again: NOVELISTS MANIPULATE TIME.

We decide for you what the interesting and important parts of a story are, and how we will present those to you, and especially, in what order we will tell you the story.

And you may disagree with our decisions – and perforce not read our stories – but you can’t really change the story (skipping for the moment ‘choose your own adventure’ stories).

I am rarely intrigued or persuaded by novels which bounce back and forth in time, mix two or more storylines together, or switch focus from characters I have invested in to some place else. So I won’t write them. There are plenty of writers who will do that for you.

I even warn you.

If you saw the calendars and spreadsheets and lists I carry for Pride’s Children, you’d wonder when the invasion was.

I have to know when every child is conceived.

How long someone took to get out of high school.

What day of the week someone died.

When the Memorial Day celebration fireworks are set off the Friday night before the actual holiday.

I very clearly label each and every scene I write, and that’s right there in the book.

DATE; TIME OF DAY; PLACE.

But the reader doesn’t need to know all of this.

The reader just has to know it somehow ‘feels right.’ That there is a hand on the tiller. That there is, somewhere, a reason for how the story is fed into the brain.

And, more importantly, that the emotional journey will be always forward (okay, the kind of emotional journey I write).

Modern writers save you time.

Older movies and TV shows sometimes showed actual clocks with spinning hands and calendars with days/months/years being ripped off one by one.

Now there probably isn’t a viewer on the planet who isn’t comfortable with the jump cut: you are there in one scene with a set of actors doing something, and, literally one frame later, are somewhere completely different with different actors doing something else.

I even tried to stop the process, to see if I could catch the jumps, and I kept getting pulled back into the story.

My job is to write YOUR emotional journey.

And that journey is going to have some very intense days when a lot happens – with long or short periods in between where all that happens is dinner and laundry. If I waste your time with laundry, you can be sure something very important is buried in there somewhere, and the purpose is NOT to confuse you, but to plant a seed that will give you the pleasure of discovery – some planned time in the future.

Why? Because I write long, and I edit intensely, and I take out everything that I possibly can – and the books are still going to be goat-gaggers.

Because I trust my readers to be the kind of people who can handle it.

Want to handle it. Choose to handle it.

My favorite reviews state things like:

I cannot recommend this book, this trilogy, highly enough – but not to everyone. This is a book for readers who appreciate literary fiction and a very deeply developed romance with a thoughtful debate on ethics. I believe the pace and the delayed gratification will frustrate many modern romance readers who look for fast-burning romance, titillation, and simple love stories. However, if you are a reader who will appreciate a modern ‘Jane Eyre’, this trilogy is for you.

If you like insta-love romances this is not for you – however if you love detailed, meticulously crafted sentences, strong realistic characters, and an intricate story telling style you are going to love this.

My own pet peeve – with novels and with the world – is the new trope that men and women approach intimacy and love the same way, by hopping into bed. As soon as possible after they meet, and before any of that boring talking.

I just don’t believe it – it leads to reams of pretending. And there has to be something written that is for the readers who don’t believe it, either. Because there’s plenty of the other.

So trust me…

If it’s in there, if you don’t understand it quite the instant you read it, that okay because you are going to get it just in time.

And the jump cuts? That’s because I really don’t want to bore you with anything that doesn’t relate directly to your emotional journey.

There won’t be any explaining. You are smart – you don’t need it.

And you’d pillory me if I wrote it in.

What say you?

PS I’m not sure what’s going on with comments, so copy yours before you submit them, and if they don’t post, send them along to me in an email to abehrhardt@gmail.com, and I’ll post them for you.


Thanks to Stencil for the free account to create images with (the words are mine, the pictures theirs). If you use a lot of images, check them out.


Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD is coming along nicely, and the brain is working every day again, but it’s still a lot of slow, careful work. I know where I’m going. And I think my kind of readers will like where it ends. The joy of writing has returned.

Meanwhile, the Pride’s Children PURGATORY – BOOK 1 – ebook is available on Amazon, as is the print book which is currently showing about 99% of the pages in the Look Inside feature; they tell me it will be fixed ‘soon.’


 

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New after a year Low-dose Naltrexone

Baby coffee plant with around a dozen leaves in a blue and white ceramic pot

I WOULD RATHER SAY I’M WRITING REGULARLY

but the reality is different: and I have a temporary good excuse.

BTW, WordPress is giving me a hard time here, but the photo above is a picture of one of the coffee bean plants I’ve managed to keep alive since they were given to us by one of our new neighbors (as babies). I guess you could call them toddlers now.

I’ve named them Castor and Pollox. One of these days I will figure out which is which, but they came out of the two halves of a single coffee bean, so they will always be twins.

Our new place faces north (we picked it that way so I can sit by the window every day), but there is an indentation, and there is a window ledge which gets sun in the morning. The plants have been much happier (How does a plant display ‘happy’? It grows.) since they get some morning sun, even though coffee plants grow best in shade.

They get the same treatment my houseplants did in New Jersey: if they live, I water them once a week or so, and they are allowed to continue living.

This is true of the twig that came with a flower arrangement a while back – because it had perky green leaves, I continued to water it, and I think it’s still alive, probably with some rooting going on in the block of florist foam that holds it. One of these days I’ll plant it. If it’s still with us.

Something has changed since the move.

There are a lot more people here, and trying for a minimalist experience – having dinner several times a week with new friends, is challenging for someone like me who used to try to limit leaving the house to twice a week.

Because I now have the pools (have to use them on these hot summer days) and the adult trike I just bought from a resident who is 91, and isn’t planning on riding it any more.

And an occasional concert. And a Mass/communion service twice a month. And a very occasional resident’s meeting or management/resident meeting or…

It isn’t the time commitments

And the occasions are all pleasant, not too taxing (for the normal person) and something to do.

Plus the many decisions (we bought new mattresses!) involved in having a new home (I got the new doctor, after about a HUNDRED hours over four weeks, to give me the exact SAME pain prescription I’ve been using for fifteen or more years).

I still don’t have a California driver’s license; it’s next on the list. I think.

But the time commitments have been far more than I had before.

And I’m trying to keep up with a few friends back home, and my family in Mexico.

What I’m trying to say is the brain isn’t reaching writing strength

as frequently as I need it to.

For as long as I need it to.

I sit at this computer every day, doing all the things that usually worked in the past – blocking the internet, taking B-1 and B-12 (I’ve now added a Vitamin C pill), pacing and taking naps as needed, trying not to eat carbs (they mess with my mind – but I had dessert last night).

But the creative brain isn’t clicking on, and when it does, it doesn’t stay on for long.

I think it’s tired of me diverting its output to mail, doctors, phone calls (necessary), minor new things, major new things, and legacy stuff.

To give the ol’ brain some help

I’m trying the last ME/CFS managing trick I had saved for a time like this: Low-dose naltrexone (LDN).

It has helped many people with ME (and other things) function.

I want less brain fog.

But it may eventually help with pain and sleep and possibly some of the exercise intolerance, and maybe the orthostatic intolerance. I dunno.

I’m taking it for less brain fog – and there are no guarantees.

It was prescribed to me by a neighbor/doctor who used it with his patients.

But back in New Jersey I could still manage to write

Most of the time. Slowly. By not leaving the house. By doing almost nothing.

And you don’t mess with what works.

So I’ve had the capsules for two years without trying them.

Brain creativity doesn’t seem to be coming back, or not fast enough, or strongly enough.

Thing is, there’s a ramp up period for LDN

To avoid side effects, and overdosing, the recommendation (I have a nice FB group with supportive knowledgeable people) is to start very low (0.3mg for me), and not increase the dose more often than about every two weeks IF you aren’t having continuing bad side effects.

Because I AM having (minor) side effects – when I change the dose (so far twice). And one of those is disturbed sleep – until you get used to the dose!

All I can say so far, after a month, and two steps on the dosing schedule, is that I’m tolerating the LDN.

And that there seems to be a positive effect on several areas, small, but I can’t REALLY tell yet, and, though I can work a bit longer at a time (‘work’ defined as ‘butt in chair’), I haven’t gotten enough better yet in achieving the level of brain functioning that I need to write reliably.

Something extra: it may help with walking, some, by diminishing the pain walking now causes.

What does the future hold?

Dunno. And LDN is NOT a cure for CFS or POTS or any of the other symptoms. Especially it is not known to be a cure for fatigue or exercise intolerance.

I have plenty of time – the move was the correct solution for so many things: social isolation, shedding the requirement for house and yard and vehicle maintenance, being prepared for when we need higher levels of care (it’s downstairs, and people there are still part of the community), better weather, exercise facilities (for my poor joints and muscles)…

My best hope is that these hours on the computer will start being my happy time again, my functional time, my ‘she has a brain’ time, and NETHERWORLD will get finished and published.

I’m spending a small amount of this current time in promotion – getting more reviews – and hand-selling. I will tell later if anything comes of any of it.

But there has been a LOT of change, and it takes time to absorb change and to adjust to a new system of everything.

I’m on it.

It’s slow – but I hope it will speed up soon.

And I’m still writing every day – yesterday I watched Bollywood wedding dance videos. For NETHERWORLD.

And how are you?


 

Finding readers who must be yours

DEMOGRAPHICS IS NOT THE WAY TO YOUR FANS

I HAVE BEEN WRACKING MY BRAIN since I got the idea for Pride’s Children. In the year 2000.

Because marketing is consumed by demographics – to women of a certain age and income; to children; to men who own pickup trucks.

From SnapSurveys:

Demographics are characteristics of a population. Characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, education, profession, occupation, income level, and marital status, are all typical examples of demographics that are used in surveys.
Mar 12, 2012
Birds of a feather flock together.

I need a different kind of marker

Something that has to do with the kind of reader people are, and the type of books they pick on their own.

When I get the chance to ask, my readers usually have some of the following features:

  • They have read a lot, starting in childhood
  • They have read classics – for pleasure – and were not forced to; books such as Jane Eyre and A Christmas Carol and Pride and Prejudice
  • They’ve read good contemporary books of their times – Rebecca and The Thorn Birds and Gone With the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird and The Complete Sherlock Holmes
  •  Their repertoire often includes good SF and Fantasy, such as The Lord of the Rings and Dune and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and On the Beach

But some of my best reviews have come from older men, and some of my best readers are young women, and my incredibly supportive fan is Marian Allen who is in my general age group.

How on Earth do you call that a demographic?

There are hints

One reader told me he had learned a lot about himself, and would be rereading.

Another has told me he was surprised to be pulled in.

Others have mentioned liking my writing.

Someone wrote:

you have managed the best instance of “the story is not finished, but this segment of it feels finished” that I have ever encountered

Many start, and put it off because they find a density they want to read slowly – and I wonder if they ever get back.

My return visit had me entrapped in Prides Children and I haven’t GOT TIME, but maybe just a little more…supper time… must go…one more section… but just wanted to say its VERY GOOD, and what an ironic and sharp eye you have for le mot juste, and the silence pregnant. Very enjoyable, no sign of the damaged mind but I resonate strongly with your main character’s memory lapses and undefined connections of perfect lucidity once connected for the more lumpen Elise! I have not yet reached her TV appearance but it beckons. [italics mine – the TV appearance is very early in PURGATORY!]

I poke at it with the damaged mind

I wonder why there hasn’t been more recommending to friends who read.

I wonder when Elena Ferrante’s mystique is debunked, and suddenly her work isn’t as good.

I wonder when there should be a niche for disabled/chronically ill authors, with a little bit of slack from the establishment – and they tell me they are not taking indie self-published authors, while there are few in the category who get published by the traditional publishers. A pro bono approach I could submit to.

I wonder when I watch younger, healthier authors putting gobs of time into keywords and marketing and boxed sets and book magnets and publishing more books – and there is no way in h-e-double-hockey-sticks I can do any of that.

In this, my model, if you like, is John Kennedy Toole, who didn’t do any of that, because he was dead. A Confederacy of Dunces was pushed by his mother after he died by suicide, and won a Pulitzer after it attracted (was forced onto) the attentions of an influential writer, Walker Percy.

I need a Mentor, an Influencer, someone with a Voice

And haven’t a clue how to get one.

I need to ‘go viral,’ when that is as intangible as you can get.

I need to do only the writing, and am told over and over that all authors want this, and should get off their duffs.

I think I would do a great deal better on the writing side if I had some confidence in ideas which might pan out – and that I could actually do.

I listen, I learn, I think. I follow, I read, I think more.

I’ll figure it out – or literally die trying. Morbid? Realistic?

I’ve started a hundred tiny brush fires, at great expense in time and effort. One of these days, one will burn down the fences.

And if you’re in one of my categories – or can add to that list – please let me know.


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make graphics.

Also let me know if WordPress is causing you grief by putting in ads; supposedly the ones on a desktop go below the posts, but I understand the ones to mobiles can be intrusive.

As close as writing can get

FICTION IS BUT BLACK AND WHITE DOTS

We are getting spoiled by high resolution. Actors now have to worry that every pore is visible to the folks at home. Photos take a lot of storage space – megabytes – because we can, and because we have Terabyte hard drives.

Most of us will never have occasion to use that detail, and we don’t want to write books that are that high resolution, either. Among other problems, they would take forever to read!


From November 12, 2012:

Digitizing reality: the fictive approximation

Even in the most connected and most fluid writing, choices have to be made. Which sentence follows which, which word is best. The basic principle of fiction is that reality cannot be duplicated, merely suggested.

When a painter uses a few strokes of red to suggest a roof, she must trust that the viewer will infer internal beams, two-by-fours, and nails to support that roof from the fact that the roof does not fall. Worse, even ‘fall’ is a suggestion: the painter does not ‘do’ gravity: the unsupported roof will not slide off the bottom of the page when the canvas is hung.

Reality is fine-grained

Reality consists of unimaginable numbers of tiny events, linked together by time, infinitely stretching in all directions. Fiction picks the stars in the skies as points, leaves us to connect the stars with planets, deep-space debris, and light.

So it doesn’t really matter which points are chosen, in some sense, because the same writer, on the same day, could select an entirely different set, and still tell the same story.

Beginners to digitization are astounded at how few black and white pixels it takes to express the iconic Abraham Lincoln. But even those few points are a random choice, because starting at each of a million different points, there are a million similar-but-not-identical digital Lincolns.

But what level of detail is REQUIRED for fiction?

It is only necessary to cover enough of the central story, at the chosen level of detail. “Wedding dress for sale. Never worn.” is in some sense exactly the same as “Great Expectations.”

What a writer strikes for is balance. For each type of story there are conventions, rough guidelines. An action thriller which spends half of its 300,000 words in interior monologue of its twisted dark protagonist is a deliberate contravention of the genre’s best-selling exemplars. It CAN be done, but must be written exceedingly well, and even then the audience for it will not be all thriller readers – because most of them want taut action-packed, skimpy-on-details, fast-paced writing with its interior monologue limited to “They killed my wife and child and now they will pay.”

Possibly, if done well, the audience will broaden to include readers who like longer stories, who appreciate the extra background, the crossover effect. A gamble. Done deliberately and competently and in a controlled manner, it may pay off. May.

How do you sketch a good-enough approximation?

I come by these thoughts today free of charge as a short scene–which had completely halted progress for over a month–suddenly resolved and melted into ink on page. I stopped trying to find better words to do what I was doing. I realized the words already there were a good digitization of the reality I was trying to portray–and that there is not a single perfect version of this scene which I have to locate somewhere out in the ether.

Life, complicated, millions-of-tiny-pieces life, had been getting in the way. I’m amazed at how few words needed changing, how few words I needed to add to what I already had. It is a good-enough version of the story reality. It isn’t missing any key pieces.

Time limits how much a character can do, say, or think

Finally, I could experience it from the inside of the head of the character whose point of view it was. In a few places, I added what she thought and felt to what she experienced–just a few touches restored that sense of balance.

I changed the places where I showed through: where her words would be different from mine, I chose hers. Mine were better–hers were hers. She comes from a part of me I disallow sometimes, with my over-educated, over-read self-image. She WANTED–in a way I rarely allow myself any more. I let her speak instead of censoring her–and the scene finished itself.


I love writing, because I get to choose the level of detail needed to tell the story my way.

My happiest readers will be those who like my granularity, somewhere between Hemingway and Rosamund Pilcher (or worse, Proust), whose brain needs the same distance from the subject. And it doesn’t hurt if they like my stories.

How much detail do you need?

Lessons from writing a play still hold

TO TEACH A NOVELIST DIALOGUE

One of the better oldies, condensing several years of learning into a single post – and a much better sense of how to do dialogue.


From November 16, 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 go back to 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 do 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.

—–
* CAUTION: Even though they share similarities, movie scripts and plays are ENTIRELY different beasts. I don’t recommend (unless scriptwriting is your form and dream) writing a movie script unless you are a masochist: EVERYTHING is up for grabs in a movie, and even the actors have no compunction about slaughtering your words.


When a scene isn’t going well, sometimes I just tell it in dueling dialogue – and then go back and see more of the setting and work on the pace.

Another real advantage is that, with pure dialogue, you can actually change the point of view character, and then fill the scene in from that character’s perspective. Nifty if you’re not sure whose scene it needs to be (I’ve changed perspectives in many scenes).

Have you written a play?

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?

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

********

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?