Category Archives: Short posts

Lockdown is increased following covid-19 spikes

Part of Alicia's face with pool in background

THE FIRST WAVE ISN’T OVER

The requirement for reopening our facility in any small sense was that our state, California, needed to meet the parameters for reopening.

Our Yolo County authorities issue rules which must be followed by businesses, depending on the state guidelines.

A few weeks ago, on June 9th, a gradual, cautious reopening of our dining facilities was initiated, allowing those who chose to participate the ability to go to the dining room for dinner. Many changes were instituted to get people in and out of the dining room safely (most of which would have been too hard for me), but not allowing the kind of socialization we used to have of dining with others not of our ‘household.’

The reopening has been rescinded due to spiking coronavirus cases

I can’t blame this facility for taking every possible precaution – after all, one of the things that happens is that our total survival as a community depends on getting new people in to what is a ‘forever home’ as our older or frailer members leave us.

And reputation is everything in the business world – we can’t afford to have too many empty apartments or the price for the residents will have to go up.

And it is obvious that people will think long and hard before moving INTO a facility that has already had covid-19 cases.

The restrictions are necessary

because the outside world refuses to take the pandemic seriously – but we know how high our death rates would be if it got into our community and spread.

That’s not even a hypothetical: a third of covid-19 deaths, or more, have occurred in people in nursing homes.

And a CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community) by definition has a nursing home component (as well as an Assisted Living one) to go along with the Independent Living apartments (where most of the residents live, and where everyone who is part of the community must come into originally).

Lowest common denominator for the community is that EVERYONE is in lockdown.

Because we live in the same building. And are served by the same staff for many things.

I live in fear that our staff OR our residents may bring the virus in

Residents here often (>60%) come from Davis. They have local family and friends.

We can leave the community at any time – at our own discretion. We can see anyone we want – outside.

There is a requirement (probably from the county) that those who sleep one night or more away from URC then self-quarantine for two weeks when they come back.

But it doesn’t cover those who go out for the day for whatever reason, and come back the same day.

We depend on each other being sensible – including our staff, ALL of whom live elsewhere.

So I practice ALL the precautions

So that even if other people don’t do what they’re supposed to do all the time, every time, I have done everything I can NOT to pick up the virus from them if they have it.

The biggest one is that people don’t cover their NOSE with their mask.

They might as well not bother wearing the mask!

It slips down. It’s uncomfortable. They ‘forget’ – and it horrifies me.

I remind them.

They put it back on, and I see it slip off again a moment later!

Staff, Residents, Contractors here installing carpeting – they still don’t get it!

A facemask worn with the nose hanging out is NOT a facemask! Basically, it’s NOTHING – because someone having trouble breathing through the mouth behind the mask will automatically breathe through the NOSE – expelling ALL the air from their lungs through their NOSE out into the community.

Sigh.

I blame education which doesn’t teach every child that their NOSE and MOUTH are connected inside their HEAD.

Among other things I blame.

So I’m horrified, I tell them (they sometimes pull the mask up over their nose and I often SEE it fall down immediately), and I wear mine, stay away, wash my hands…

And try very hard not to leave the apartment.

A small positive note

The county has allowed limited pool access, and limited aqua therapy with a ‘medical’ person present.

So I got into the therapy pool twice for half and hour this week – and am still in a lot of pain from things I stretched, very gently, but which had had no warm water for over three months.

I may not be able to go twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday are too close together).

They may close it back down for whatever reason.

I got no writing done on those days, nor the days after (another reason I may have to do just one).

But the good feeling was amazing: in the water I am not disabled.

In the water I can move, stretch, even go up to tiptoe (in the deepest part of the pool) – things I cannot do very well or at all on land.

I am grateful.


So what has gone well in spite of the virus in your life?


 

The point in writing with care

EVERY WRITER ANSWERS THIS QUESTION

It has become common for writers to tell other writers how to write.

Unless they are discouraging other writers deliberately to keep the competition down!

And every writer who has any control (beginners can often see only one way to do things) constantly makes choices:

  • Is this word the best word for this use?
  • Will MY readers think this is pretentious – or the reason they read ME?
  • If I use a sentence fragment as part of my style, or this particular character’s mental processes, or [select reason] – will MY readers get their panties in a twist?
  • Can my intended readers follow plot complexities?
  • And – most importantly – am I limiting myself by the way I prefer to write?

All of these are valid questions, all have to be answered regularly, all have many answers.

How to choose?

I’m asking myself these questions, as usual, because I just finished the last two scenes in a chapter, and it took me two whole days of using AutoCrit (my online editing program) to get the text the way I wanted it.

Two whole days of whatever brainpower I could muster is still a lot of hours.

And they are hard work. Choices come down to nuance, nuance to familiarity, familiarity to everything I’ve ever read – and processed.

For an example, I’ll put up a section of these scenes, and show the differences:

Sample edit from Chapter 27

There are hundreds of little changes between when I’m finished with the story and when I’m finished with the language.

Why change?

The original was fine, with nothing hugely wrong.

But I’ll find I overused a particular word or phrase.

Or a piece of dialogue doesn’t sound like the character (Cecily, like Andrew, is Irish).

In fact, just as I finished checking the above comparison, I realized I’m missing two places where my tiny intimation of the speaker being Irish is incorrect (I use ye’re – but still have you’re) – and that will be checked several more times before publication.

This section comes from Scrivener – and is missing italics. I’ll have to check to make sure those are as I want them, as discussed in a post on my stylistic choices.

I do my own editing

This is a statement of fact, not a battle-cry.

I found early that my brain is too damaged to do the negotiating, arguing, back and forth, discussing – that goes with having someone else edit your work.

And that it was easier for me to take on the task, plus it forced me to improve my bad habits immediately.

I like the control. I accept the responsibility. And the mistakes I make will get corrected asap if egregious, with the next major revision if minor.

And there isn’t an ant’s chance with an anteater that I’ll have to defend my own choices: nobody can possibly know my style better than I can.

I have the sense to use an excellent beta reader – and always pay attention to what she catches or notices (she’s usually right).

For someone like me, it even saves a lot of time (a relatively expensive commodity for me). Because I handle a single scene (up to maybe 3k) at a time, and it’s familiar to me because I just wrote it, so I don’t have to reload anything into my memory.

The pitfalls of that are obvious: the mistakes will get overlooked because they are so familiar. So I have many passes for just one thing. I have checklists. I keep a list of the things I haven’t mastered.

Nothing’s perfect, but that does get a lot of the little typo buggers.

Is it ‘good enough’?

Yes – after I put the hours, the work in.

Is it getting easier? Yes – if I still put the hours in, and the work, and don’t try to shorten the editing phase by getting impatient to finish.

I think it matters.

It does make me very slow.

I think it’s worth the effort.


Does lack of editing in published work irritate you? Do you notice it?


Thanks again to Stencil for the ability to create graphics – and their free account. If I ever need more than ten a month, I’ll get their paid subscription!


 

Creating and maintaining tension below the surface

BOOKS ARE NOT WRITTEN FOR THE WRITER

You’d think by now this would be obvious: the writer is the FIRST reader, but not the INTENDED reader.

Because writing is a split-brain activity, it is easy to forget that what bothers the writer may not bother the READER, by design.

And you don’t want to go to where things bother the reader.

Annoy, make uncomfortable, show up, irritate – all good words of what the writer should do to the reader – which is SHAKE THE READER UP.

Get under the reader’s skin. Make the reader think. Create a discombobulated feeling in the reader that can only be fixed by the reader changing.

All those are good – but bothering the reader means the writer did something wrong.

And this is where the split personality is required:

I have just written the final two scenes in a chapter.

They were hard to write. There is a lot going on sub rosa. By the end of the book, these two characters will loathe each other.

And right now they are thrown together in an unexpected way, with no warning to either.

But the rules of polite society apply, and they must be civil, even cordial, to each other for a period of time that may be up to two days long.

And one would very much like to get something the other has.

So the scenes are currently driving me a little batty

because the surface must be unruffled – at this point in the story there is no basis for which one person can truly dislike the other.

Which bring me back to the title of this post: Creating and maintaining tension BELOW THE SURFACE.

And the words I put on the graphic:

Books are written

for the READER

To remind myself that, when it’s all over, I have to do better than the street repair team in my previous township. I need the surface to look like the original street, not the repaired street.

A repaired street has a visible patch of asphalt or concrete – of a different color.

A repaired street patch may create a dip in the road as the subsoil settles.

A repaired street show where the damage was.

But a book can’t show where the choices were made

A novel must be seamless.

The scenes must flow.

The reader must be able to know a great deal of why the scene is happening now – as she reads it.

And the writer is not allowed (not by my standards) to stuff description and exposition into a scene just because there is space.

It is work to get it right – it would be much easier to just relax the standards and throw something the reader might need later into the present scene.

But here’s the rub: readers know. And when they run into chunks of exposition, they skip or skim.

And then they don’t find out what the writer was supposedly trying to tell them anyway.

I really, really hope I didn’t do that

I’ll find out when my first reader lets me know; I’ll find out when reviewers speak their minds.

I think I managed it.


 

How to profit from a plot hole

A PLOT HOLE CAN BE AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER

And I’m not going to tell you the size or the significance of the one I just wrestled into submission. Just how.

It’s in Chapter 29 of the WIP, Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD, the second volume in the trilogy, and you will have to remember this AND suss it out yourself when NETHERWORLD is available.

That’s not the point.

The point is that I’m pleased as punch with myself for finding out how to deal with one, and my struggle may save another writer some angst – and amuse readers who wonder if this ever happens and how writers deal with them.

Plot holes

It is almost impossible to invent a world – and not run into a few.

In fact, in the world I’ve built, I’ve been surprised time and time again when the plotting does work out, or a small change in a relatively unimportant date or fact renders everything copacetic again.

Because you do know writers make an awful lot of fiction up out of whole cloth, right?

No matter if ‘inspired by a book’ or idea (even fuzzier) decorates the credits of a new movie, or if ‘inspired by characters created by’ [name] is attached.

And if it did actually happen, there may even be apparent plot holes.

But if it didn’t, well, a writer does the best she can, and leaps into the void with a ribbon between her teeth attached to – a plot.

It depends on when you find the plot hole

If before you write a word, and you can’t find a way to get around it, you can dump the whole project.

But that usually entails dumping a lot of good stuff. Just with a plot hole or two in it somewhere.

However, your options are more limited if you find a reasonably-sized one (for your character’s definition of reasonable) in the middle (almost literally) of the second volume of a trilogy, and it is supporting a plot point you are not willing to change.

What to do, what to do?

First of all, OWN IT

Do not leave it there for an astute reader to find it, not if you’re planning to leave a legacy to the ages.

Readers blab. They leave reviews (if you’re very, very lucky). They tell each other. And for some reason feel they have to mention it when they recommend it: “It’s a lovely book, you know, but it could never happen because it has a few little flaws…”

And, if you’re an extreme plotter like me, it’s plausible – it’s just that it isn’t quite possible or true.

Or the author would have noticed it sooner, and taken care of it in development or plotting or outlining or the calendar or… You get the idea.

So I did what I do with a lot of problems:

I gifted it to a character

And that’s where I’m rubbing my hands with glee.

Because now the CHARACTER has to come up with a solution. And once the CHARACTER has a solution, they have to deal with the problem of whether to cough it up right away and admit they screwed up, or to keep a good and almost logical solution tucked away in their head to be used if someone else notices.

And you then get extras: You can have them get away with it – for a while.

And have it bothering them.

And then, if you’re evil enough, you can have it come up at a most inconvenient time, force them to do their little song and dance, and let another character realize they’re not being entirely truthful.

Which has been kind of delicious.

And is exactly what I mean by profiting.

My readers will tell me

If it worked.

I’m assuming most of them will not be through my gleeful blog posts about writing – I can think of nothing worse to destroy the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ than lifting the skirts and showing readers the machine under the table.

But what I’m hoping will happen is that any reader who happens to notice that little glitch will also notice that somewhere very soon, before they got too worried by it, a solution popped up to take care of the problem – and the itch is scratched.

And they hurry along, reading, to see what other little problems might crop up – as that is the way of fiction, problem/solution/problem/solution… until the final happily-ever-after, mostly, solution at the end.

So that’s what I spent the last three days on

And a couple of thousands of words in my notes.

And images and calculations and links to places where I got my data from Mr. Google.

And then this tiny little hand-polished paragraph which will get read, absorbed, and left in the reader’s wake.

After all, one must tell one’s readers the truth most of the time, so they will not notice the occasional little lie we have to sneak in – or this wouldn’t be fiction.

On to the next author problem!


If you’re a writer, have you ever had this particular little problem?

If you’re a reader, have you ever noticed this problem? What did you do?


 

 

Nobody does anything about the weather

A red adult tricycle on the Davis, CA, greenway, with the wildlife refuge behind her.

Trixie, my trike

YOU CAN’T SEE THE WIND, BUT IT’S THERE

It is curious to me that it can get so very hot for a week or so – and then go back to reasonable, at least in the mornings, when the world is still heading into summer.

As the world goes around the sun, it gets hotter in the summer and then colder in the winter, but the small variations from day to day often seem to come from nowhere.

The husband has a touching belief in weather predictions. He thinks that what they say will happen, will happen, and seems disturbed when it isn’t dry on a day he intended to put down fertilizer that required dry grass.

Me, I believe, maybe, what’s happening in front of my nose.

Today’s trike ride temperature was supposed to be a balmy 72°F – but it was very windy, and the shorts and short-sleeved shirt I wore could have been replaced by something heavier, especially since I tend to slow or stop a lot because I’m trying not to exhaust all my energy – and lose another writing day, an all-too-frequent occurrence.

I had a bad night Sunday night – so I didn’t get out for my ride yesterday, because by the time I got up (9:30), it was already way too hot for me.

So I was extra careful this morning, and managed to go for a ride while the housekeeping ladies were here, and got blown around more than I had expected.

I had to change my route

Davis landscaping crews have altered my last two rides. I don’t know why they have to block the entire greenway path for longer than two vehicles. Most times you really can’t change the route you’ve chosen, because you can only get on and off the path at given intersections.

However, walkers and runners, even with dogs, can just slip around the trucks and trailers. The trike and I are much wider, and not really suited to going on grass or slopes – which also take more energy to navigate.

So, as I came upon another blockage this morning, I had to figure out how to get home on city streets I don’t usually use.

And it was somewhat longer. And I am more wiped out than I planned.

But getting out is necessary.

I just hope I can recover enough to finish 28.5 – I finally figured out how to handle what could have turned into a plot hole, and then one more (28.6), and Chapter 28 can go to the beta reader, the lovely Rachel.

It is frustrating to need exercise to stay even remotely well, but to find that every single trike ride can cost me a whole writing day. There’s got to be a happy medium in there somewhere.


How has the weather altered your current planning?

Are you going to watch the livestreaming of the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge on June 20 and 21? The kids and I intend to.


 

Creating a new normal from debris

This morning, while the husband had gone to the grocery store on the URC bike to get the few things we need to supplement the dinners here, I spent a half hour singing.

With Kate Wolf, on Green Eyes.

And with Gordon Lightfoot, Sundown.

The first I had never sung; the second, I remember singing so many times back when it was new, I was in college and grad school, and had joined the Columbia Record Club, and had several of his records.

It is easy to let things slip when under a pandemic

I didn’t realize how long it had been since I sang.

Apparently, going to church on Sundays, plus starting an hour-long, twice a month folk-singing group here at URC had been enough to keep my vocal chords in working order, even tired. Each time, after an hour, I had used my voice, and it seemed okay and I was happy with the quality of the sound, happy enough not to give it another thought.

Well, it has been months since I did that kind of regular singing (forgive me, Carol, singing teacher, for not singing every day).

And when I tried to sing about a week ago, it was as if someone had stolen my vocal chords and left someone else’s unused ones in their place.

It was scary. The singing voice was almost paralyzed, and nowhere near what I had come to depend on whenever I wanted it.

So there’s one more thing I have to maintain consciously

The list is getting very long.

Every day, before I can get to sleep, I have to put all my joints through my little stretching and range of motion exercises – or I twitch so badly sleep is impossible. Literally. For hours. Lying there in bed, twitching as if hit by a cattle prod every 5-10 seconds. And now I also have to get up and eat something so my stomach will let me go to sleep.

None of this body stuff used to be my responsibility (except weight: as I’ve said many times before, I do not understand why I should have anything conscious to do with maintaining the right body weight – I don’t have to remember to breathe or make my heart beat!).

I’ve given up complaining – it doesn’t help. When I realize I’m twitching because I didn’t do my exercises, I force myself to lie there – and do them.

When I realize what has woken me up at 3am is that my blood sugar is crashing, I get up, eat a half cup of cottage cheese, and then, while my brain’s blood is diverted to digestion, quickly lie down and get back to sleep.

The demands of the body are nonnegotiable

Insistent.

Immediate.

And a pain in the neck.

But I develop another heuristic, another shortcut for dealing with the new problem, pay attention for a few days or weeks, and put it on the list of ‘things that must be done.’

And I fear when someone else must take care of me, because they’re not going to have the ability to do the necessary actions the instant I need them, and I’m going to spend a lot of my time uncomfortable and not able to do a thing about it.

What a life!

One more consequence of the lovely gift we’ve all been given is to watch it go away.

How to deal?

ME/CFS? Aging? Luck of the Irish? Who knows.

I try to let it take as little of my time and life as possible.

Not complainin’, just sayin’.

And I do whatever I need to keep writing.

While watching the appalling stuff burbling out in our society that has long been suppressed. And trying not to cry.


What is on your list? What are you in charge of that you never had to worry about before?


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create graphics that are more interesting than the words I throw into them.


 

Do the right thing while you still can

SOMEONE MIGHT NEED TO HEAR A KIND WORD

The poem Maud Miller was quoted in Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse.

John Greenleaf Whittier died in 1892, but his words have resonated.

There is something valuable in using the current world crisis to do things you should have done, now, before the opportunity is taken from you.

This week I wrote a ‘thank you’ letter

I have been mulling it around in my mind for months, because it had the potential of turning into something else.

I finally gave up on the ‘something else,’ which has been, and still is, an unformed request for help of an indeterminate kind.

And that was the holdup: I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to ask for, and it wasn’t clear how. Sometimes that confusion means something: don’t do it.

But eventually I realized that right now, a thank you note out of the blue, when someone is quarantined and disconnected from office routine and usual sources of affirmation, might make the day bright for a person who, through his work, has made my life easier, and my writing better.

With my slightly increased brain function and the pressure of ‘what if something happens to either of us,’ I had a moment of energy, and quickly sat down to put words to page. Added a short handwritten note (the handwriting had been held up by the damaged right shoulder – thank you notes should probably be written by hand), and sent it off.

Now every time I remember the help, I can feel good about having sent the note – instead of guilty that I should, really, and haven’t figured out what to say. It’s DONE.

This week I sent a tough letter to someone

My, how many ‘somes’ are showing up in this post!

But the writings are private, though the insight might be useful, so they cannot be replaced by proper nouns, and can’t even be granted common nouns, so you’ll just have to see if this is still useful.

One of my favorite parts of the John D. MacDonald Travis McGee stories is Meyer’s Law, which for my own purposes I usually remember as ‘Whatever the hardest thing to do is, that’s the right thing to do.’

My ability to quote correctly is legendarily bad – here’s the Google result:

John D. MacDonald — ‘In all emotional conflicts, the thing you find the most difficult to do, is the thing that you should do.–Meyer’s Law

And I am dating myself! The stories are from the 1960s!

Detour aside, this was something that, if our positions were reversed, I would have appreciated getting from the other person. But the contents were very deep, and I greatly feared adding to the other person’s pain.

But Meyer would have been proud of me: I decided it was her RIGHT to know, and that she could deal with it however she wanted to, but I couldn’t forgive myself for not giving her that choice, however painful.

I’m glad I did and she thanked me, and it will probably be the last time we ever communicate, not because of anything bad, but because the contents were the result of our two lives touching over something (here we go again with the somes) which will never happen again.

I promise not to forget, as long as I have memory. And that has to be good enough.

The results are that now I can move on

Every time in the future either topic comes to my mind – which will happen – I have closure. I did what I needed to do. The actions are in the past instead of in a vague future.

And I did the right thing.

For the reference: it hurt as much as I had expected, maybe more – and I can take it.

I see too many books now with this as their foundation

A person in the present turns out to be haunted by something they did or didn’t do in their darkest past, and the future is forever colored by avoiding the sore topic – until something explodes.

I don’t like this trend in novels – everyone has a horrible deep dark secret. An event in the present (usually a death – or a missive discovered from someone who died) results in digging into the past, and explosions ensue.

It is true that times were different before, that things that can be revealed now – a secret marriage, a child given up or adopted, a wrong to someone’s life or reputation – might have had much bigger repercussions ‘back then,’ and we’re more able to survive the revelation now than when it happened.

‘Do it now’ stops future pain – for me

But the present state of uncertainty in our real-life lives makes me hope I don’t get to the end without doing what I should have done.

I have a few more of these to clear up, and then I’ll be free of that particular kind of regret.


 

 

 

 

Testing the new block editor tentatively

Water drops. Text: How to survive Boredom. Not very well. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THEY TELL ME JUNE WILL FORCE USE OF THE NEW EDITOR

So I’ve decided to test it out while I still have room to run and scream if I don’t like it.

So far it seems very much like the old editor, except with new controls – which I don’t know yet.

I don’t even remember creating the graphic above, but it’s in my media file from my days in New Jersey, so I probably did.

I’m getting a bit more energy from my low-dose naltrexone.

ldn works differently from medicines.

It blocks opioid receptors in your brain for a couple of hours, during which your brain decides something’s wrong – and creates more of them.

This leads to more endorphins, and other things happen, so you find yourself dealing with generalized inflammation as well.

Some people even think it will help deal with the coronavirus; I’m not going to test that deliberately, and don’t know how I will tell that I have or haven’t, but it’s a good thought. Anything that helps.

I’m also getting, a lot of the time, less brain fog

This is the main reason I’m interested in it: in these thirty years I’ve had ME/CFS, I haven’t found anything I can DO to reduce brain fog, and have had to wait every day to see if my brain would kick on and be usable.

Then I’d have to make sure whatever functionality showed up that day wasn’t needed for something critical in life, which is why I did very little writing when we were moving and packing and sorting and dejunking and dealing with real estate agents (theirs) and lawyers (theirs) who didn’t do what they said they’d do or when they said they’d do it, even though the contract clearly said we could dump the whole idea if they didn’t.

My top level functionality hasn’t improved

but I think the bottom level may have come up a bit.

The most notable effect, after taking a year to slowly titrate the ldn up to the therapeutic dose, is that I seem to spend more time every day toward the higher end of the functionality my brain is capable of, and get more done in that time.

And it seems to come every day, which was something I couldn’t count on before.

In fact, I was doing prep work for today’s writing around midnight last night – something that, trust me, never happens. I’m usually dead by 8 or 9 pm, even though my brain refuses to admit it and allow sleep.

Objective measurements?

Four finished scenes in the last two weeks – absolutely unheard of.

It still takes a lot of time to do what I do, but I’m spending more time per day doing it, so it is taking fewer days to get in the necessary time.

As my friend MT would say, Woo hoo!

And other than finding it slightly annoying, I’m not having any trouble making the new block editor do exactly what the old editor did, which is a few headings, some paragraphs of text, and image or two, and

Wait a minute. Where did the categories and tags go?

There they are, under a tag ‘Document’ up at the top of the page.

So far it is twice as many steps to select a heading style for a block of text. Annoying.

There is still a link ‘Switch to Classic Editor,’ which I will use until it disappears, but this was not that hard to figure out – for my simple blogging needs.

Which I’m pretty sure won’t change until five years or so from now when they decide to edit the editor again.

Oops. WAIT. Where’s my horizontal separator line?


This exercise has taken me to the ONE UNFORGIVABLE SIN of an editor, eating my text.

The previous one SAVED everything as I wrote.

Now I have to do it manually.

VERY BAD EDITOR.


It’s a thermostat not a bank account

Skyport

THANKS FOR MAKING MY THERMOSTAT HACK-PROOF

Sometimes the modern world is just SILLY.

When we got our first wi-fi accessible thermostat, years ago in New Jersey, I thought the concept was silly. But the thing needed to be tweaked many times to keep us comfortable (okay, me comfortable – the husband doesn’t notice a range of temperature of at least 20°F), so I found it convenient to be able to do so from my office, without having to go down to the dining room, which was at the far end of the next floor down.

This was a time when I was often having to drawl back upstairs due to back problems, so the wi-fi enabled thermostat was a convenience.

But we’re in a two-bedroom, one-floor apartment now

and it is fewer than twenty steps from my desk to the thermostat by the kitchen.

Nevertheless, we got the wi-fi enabled thermostat because it was the only one available that would let us keep the apartment comfortable by allowing a RANGE of temperatures, instead of just cooling and heating settings.

Yup. We looked for a long time, and couldn’t find, in most thermostats, the most obvious necessity for a thermostat: the ability to go through a California day, heating in the morning, and cooling in the afternoon during the summer, without having to switch manually from heating to cooling or back. Every day.

So. We got the fancy one.

And it came with an app for the desktop (and one for the mobile phones – but that’s just ridiculous).

And it requires an account.

And a password.

Keep in mind that this is a SINGLE thermostat

for maintaining a SINGLE heating/air conditioning unit in a small apartment.

To keep me from walking fewer than twenty steps.

Because, even though it’s the fancy one which can maintain a RANGE, it still needs tweaking by a human, during the peak heating or air conditioning seasons, several times a day.

So I created an account, and a login, and a password – probably 6-8 characters.

And today I get this letter.

So I’m venting here about the ridiculousness of the whole concept of needing a 12-digit password and all this rigamarole for a THERMOSTAT for an apartment.

Because I doubt that if I write to the company they will take me seriously (and I’m not taking them and their 12-digit hack-resistant thermostat seriously).

And I cannot imagine why it is necessary, and I thought it would amuse my readers.

The thermostat can handle far more than our little apartment, and has settings for zones, and several stage AC units, etc., etc., etc.

And I still can’t imagine why it needs a non-hackable password.

Oh, well.


I should mention the thermostat does work, after I do all that tweaking, and that the tweaking is probably necessary because of the stupid place the thermostat temperature sensor was installed – probably right next to the thermostat – something over which we had NO control, but I know I will have to go through this procedure whenever they tell me to, and this is my revenge on people who waste my time.

And yes, I know I’m wasting more, but it makes me feel better about the future.

Plus I haven’t blogged for a couple of days from the inside of the CCRC in total lockdown, and small things can be annoying. Such as losing your 12-digit password.


 

Staying comfortable in the saddle again

Section of a side view of the Rose Garden at URC showing the side exit door and some of the path

Out door – but not in right now

UNEVEN SIDEWALKS AS A CHALLENGE TO CONFIDENCE

We are on lockdown, which currently means you can go out, but not in, through all the usual exit doors in our building.

Why? So they can control who comes into our facility, and make sure they’re wearing a mask, and pass a quick health check, and I think take their temperature. Good precautions, and control of entrances is a part of that.

They’ve added a check station by the campus’ front entrance from the street, so cars and people coming in can be queried as to whether they are essential personnel, essential visitors, or not. A patrol car with a private security guy sits there, and some of our staff are in the little covered space to deal with contractors, delivery people, etc.

No enforcement possibility is necessary – it’s all voluntary, but family members are being turned away, even if they’re bringing something, most of the time.s-l500

Maggie2 is identical to Maggie

Both are black. Unobtrusive.

Maggie waits for me to find a part and a repair person.

But I found that after two months of not riding, I’ve lost confidence in my riding ability and Maggie2’s balancing ability, so I need to go out with some excuse to ride around a bit every couple of days.

Part of it is sidewalks and paths and curb cuts and cutouts: they make look smooth to an able-bodied walker with no balance problems, but they are neither truly flat nor even remotely smooth.

Sidewalks and paths are made a square or rectangle at a time, with gaps between them. When a repair is done, or a utility opening is created, the finished product is roughly smooth (an oxymoron).

I’m not a light-weight kid with the great balance of youth

There is a lot of me, and the Maggies cope, but I sometimes wonder how much of a strain it is, and how near the actual limits I might be, especially when riding outside, with up and down slopes. I don’t go near steep gradients any more, and plan my travels with slopes in mind.

But if I haven’t been in the saddle for even a couple of days, I’m ever so slightly nervous when I hop on board, such as to go down to get the mail. When trundling down the corridors, I’m conscious when I start that I’m a little unstable.

It’s like when I haven’t spoken Spanish for a while, and my sisters rattle off on the phone, and I’m expected to just jump in and participate – and I feel so awkward reaching for a noun or wondering if they still say things in a particular way.

So tonight I went for a little planned ride

Checked the battery – 3 out of 4 dots. Good.

Took the elevator down to the first floor (elevators are wobbly because they’re on cables), and headed toward the side door (in picture). Right now the entire first floor is being painted, the furniture changed, and the carpet replaced – and is covered with a layer of plastic that crinkles as we ride along.

Use the paper towel so I don’t touch any surfaces directly, from the elevator buttons to the door opening buttons first into the stairwell, and then out into the side Rose Garden.

Grit teeth – tell myself it isn’t that big of a slope out. It isn’t.

Say hello to other Resident who chooses this moment to come out with a large dog and a frisbee – and ask that they both be mindful of where I am, as I don’t want to be knocked down or startled off my perch by a vigorous dog which is aching to get some running and jumping and catching in.

Go down the path – and run into a moving van which has barely left enough room for Maggie and me to go down the sidewalk.

In through the front lobby – and check that I can get out of the building near the Skilled Nursing section. They say yes. But when I get down there, I find that the door opener doesn’t work after 5pm, but I can get out if I push the door. Push, hoping no alarms will go off.

Then around the north end of the building, in and out of the patio area, and back to the front entrance – all the while up and down slopes, on and off of sidewalks, around sharp corners (keeping the two of us in the center of the walk), around patio furniture piled willy-nilly, smelling some lovely roses, and up and down several curb cuts.

On our way back now

Check in, chat a moment, tell them the door doesn’t open automatically after 5pm., but you can still get out (front desk seems knowledgeable all the time, but the details sometimes escape them).

Chat with a few of the servers, both of us masked – we miss our dining room staff like crazy. One is excited they are moving toward reopening some of the dining venues. I tell him we are not: no cure, no treatment, no increased hospital capacity, no vaccine – and exhausted medical personnel. We’ll probably stay in much longer than strictly necessary.

Pick up the mail. Chat with another Resident (I have to keep backing up). She’s hoping the path from hospital (starting in December, not covid-19 related) to Skilled Nursing and now to Assisted Living is only temporary, and that she’ll be able to go back to her Independent Living unit. I tell her I hope so, and want to know – I will be resisting the Assisted Living part in a similar situation unless I’m sure it’s reversible if I can handle it.

Zoom up the corridors, reverse the elevator ride – and husband say: “That was a short ride!”

Decontaminate

Put mail away, put everything back in its place, being very conscious of what might have touched a surface outside the apartment, stabling Maggie2, and washing hands twice, thoroughly, during the process.

And we’re home!

I regained my comfort, mostly, with riding. I’m glad I included time outside and with challenges – they were a bit scary and got better on the circuit. Other people commented on how smoothly we move – and I didn’t disavow the prowess.

But I know.

And that’s all the excitement of the quarantine/isolation at the CCRC today. Absorbing, eh? And reset the brain by seeing other humans (I haven’t been out much otherwise), and talking to them.

Until next time.

Tomorrow is trike ride day.

These things seem and are trivial, but they’re also important to do for psychological welfare, especially since we’re going to be at this a long time.


Stay well.

Writing persists, though right now it seems to be taking me 5-6 hours to get that brain to come on every day. I am well into becoming Andrew to write the next scene, after days of gathering.

That’s all I ask for.

Hope everyone out there is staying safe. Or recovering. I know some are not, and still have trouble some days believing the whole disaster.

“Another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.” Yup. Part of the week’s research included watching that used in a whole bunch of their movies. And yes, that quote is accurate. Memory is funny.


 

Too tired to post about ME/CFS yesterday

Image may contain: possible text that says 'MYALGIC ENCEPHALOMYELITIS (ME) MILD ME 25% CAN WORK WITH GREAT DIFFICULTY AND AT LEAST 50% OF THEIR FUNCTIONALITY. MODERATE ME ARE HOUSEBOUND OFTEN REQUIRE A WHEELCHAIR OUTSIDE OF HOME. DAILY TASKS LIKE BATHING AND COOKING LARE A STRUGGLE. VERY SEVERE ME ARE TUBE FED, IN SEVERE PAIN, OXYGEN AND OFTEN CAN NOT SPEAK. SOME AWAY. THEY ARE SOME THE SICKEST PEOPLE ON EARTH. SEVERE ME BEDBOUND IN DARKEND ROOM ALMOST COMPLETELY DEPENDENT FOR ALL PERSONAL CARE. MEICFS AWARENESS @CHRONICALLYRISING'

MISSED EVEN WRITING A BASIC POST:

MAY 12th WAS INTERNATIONAL

ME/CFS AWARENESS DAY

So today, a day late and many dollars short, I’m boosting a post from @ChronicallyRising on Facebook, which will give you an idea of what I live with.

For over THIRTY YEARS now, I have been in the very badly mislabeled ‘moderate’ category – with occasional good days where I’m lucky if I have lost ONLY 50% of my functionality.

Because this is my daily reality, I don’t make a big deal about it.

I have used my experience with the disease

to write the on-going Pride’s Children trilogy, where I have gifted one of the main characters, Dr. Karenna (Kary) Elizabeth Ashe, with the ‘mild’ form – and explore how being chronically ill affects your whole life and all your choices.

When you lose your entire medical career, ‘mild’ is a misnomer.

Society writes you off; it did her.

She learned to write – something I’ve done. But I’ve given her a better experience and a traditional publisher in 2005. She’s turned into a reclusive but well-loved author of several historical novels, by spending ALL her energy on her work (since there is no way she can be a physician any more).

And living alone.

She is much younger than I am – in the ‘adult woman’ vague category.

And there’s nothing wrong with her – except disease and society’s expectations. And how much she gives in to them.

The world may find out

after covid-19 slams through its entire population, that the incidence of this kind of a post-viral, post-survival of the acute phase, syndrome, is far more common in the pandemic’s aftermath.

It is speculated that a large proportion of the survivors will have life-long problems. Numbers are not available this close to the outbreak.

Maybe my stories will help those who are ignored by the healthy, the researchers, and those who fund public health initiatives – until it happens to them.

We are all still people, still worthy, still capable of pain and loyalty and love.


 

My writing is a walk through a minefield

I AM ALWAYS MY OWN FIRST READER

One piece of advice to writers I’ve always followed is to “Write the book you want to read and that you can’t find.”

I guess as a writer I’m looking for the readers who FEEL the way I feel.

I’m having trouble finding more of them because WE tend to hide our feelings as too intense, too troubling, too deep – and are much less likely to discuss those feelings with other people as we recommend a book.

It is too close.

I am not my characters, and my characters are NOT me.

Because, if anything, there are significant parts of me I’ve consulted when writing all three of the main characters in Pride’s Children PURGATORY, and now Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.

Readers know what it’s like to be inhabited by warring camps, typically portrayed in cartoons by a little angel over one shoulder, and a little devil over the other.

I contain multitudes.

But I AM an actor

The training, and the thinking, and the practice come in very handy when you have to split parts of yourself off for a character – and maintain some distance from your self.

I’m sure you can’t play Macbeth without finding justifications for killing your king.

So, before you go traipsing through one of my scenes, I have to do the hard work of feeling my way from the First Line to the Last Line, so that it is smooth and satisfying for a reader who goes that way but once.

It’s part of what makes me slow.

Adrenaline is hard for my body to process – and all hormones are big parts of the emotional states that accompany their surges through the bloodstreams of humans.

I have to feel more than usual, and have a smaller capacity for recovering from the emotional hormones, than most people.

You have to get very close to emotions to write them.

Yesterday, as research for the next chapter in NETHERWORLD, I had to go through, over and over, a part of life that, as a married woman who just celebrated 45 years with her first and only husband, was very far behind me.

No one knows the future – it could be useful in some cases, but I’m hoping I won’t need what I went through yesterday, because, as all important decisions, it was exhausting!

And I can’t stop writing these sections until I can recreate that on the page, in words, first in myself, and then, with some degree of certainty, in both men and women.

Models in literature

I had myself wondering today how close Margaret Mitchell got to Scarlett O’Hara, or Charlotte Brontë to her Jane.

I’m not sure Mitchell was fond of Scarlett – Scarlett and my Bianca have a lot in common – and Mitchell gave Scarlett no HEA: she prevailed, but her victory was Pyrrhic at best: never being hungry again is pretty low on the hierarchy of needs.

I take some of my examples from Dorothy L. Sayers, who at least left Harriet and Peter happy and married, but made them work very hard for that win: the hard work is, to me, essential to the outcome.

I don’t take shortcuts.

All of this may make more sense when the next book comes out, if you’re one of the clan.

I hope you are.

When this is all over, I’d love to talk about it. Right now I’m too raw.


If you haven’t read PURGATORY, and do so now, you’ll have a much better idea of what I’m talking about – as well as an appreciation for why it took so long. I had to learn to do the writing/feeling connection – and do it in EVERY scene.


Drop a line if you have any idea what I’m saying. It gets lonely out here.


 

Jeweled anniversary moments in the midst of pandemics

Trolley with white tablecloth displaying our anniversary dinner

Our 45th Anniversary Dinner – courtesy of dining staff

OUR GRATITUDE TO THE DINING STAFF

Before the pandemic, gracious living was the touchstone of the University Retirement Community we moved to as our forever home.

When the staff called a few days ago for an unrelated matter, it occurred to me to ask is there was anything they could do for our 45th Anniversary, as we wouldn’t be able to celebrate otherwise.

And this was their lovely response yesterday.

Chicken teriyaki and a special dessert enhanced by notes wishing us well from several of our staff.

A shoutout to those working behind the scenes, even now

It is not easy to bring dinner every night to the 250 Independent Living apartments (and three meals a day to those in higher levels of care).

The last time this was done, a norovirus had invaded, and the lockdown resolved the matter in less than two weeks – complete isolation and a prompt response does that.

But this time they have been working harder and longer, and we have lost the lovely daily interactions with staff which are so rewarding – finding out about their schooling and families is part of here, and there is a scholarship fund and an employee appreciation fund we contribute to (tipping is not allowed) to make our thanks patent.

We miss them like crazy.

They are doing a tough job, and any time we interact (rarely and in masks now), it is a pleasure to have the younger people on staff around.

Management has a different job

Keeping us safe and fed and supplied and from going bananas those of us who need help.

Keeping our campus safe and only open to essential personnel.

Figuring out what to do in the immediate and long-term future.

I wouldn’t want to be them right now – it must be scary, knowing how so many vulnerable people who will live many more years if the virus doesn’t get in here are in their care.

Easy to criticize, impossible to replace.

Yes, they might do it better, but I don’t think it’s pure luck that we’re still functioning, though it might be luck that we haven’t had a scare yet.

But I don’t want to neglect the bright spots

The gardens.

The ability to go out onto the greenway.

Their determination to follow ALL requirements of the various governmental agencies – and do whatever more can be done.

And the little happinesses like ours, yesterday.

Thank you, URC and PRS. We notice and are grateful.

PS The cake was really good.


 

Seniors afraid in lockdown without being consulted

NO ONE HAS ASKED FOR MY OPINION

Decisions are being made left and right about the people who are living in senior communities.

From Independent Living, to Assisted Living, to Memory Support units, to Skilled Nursing facilities, managers and administrative personnel, government officials and medical personnel are taking decisions without consulting those of us who live in these places.

Those who can’t make their own decisions

There are a certain percentage of us who will not be making decisions for themselves because their minds are failing, and they don’t understand what’s going on – or what the options for doing something about it might be.

Families and facilities will be making those decisions, and many in this group have been badly served in homes and in those facilities which were supposed to keep them safe. Many have died without a clue as to what was going on, and without having their loved ones with them.

And yes, they are living and dying afraid.

But some of us are perfectly coherent – and we are being ignored

There are many of us who need some physical caretaking, and others who have joined a facility like our Continuing Care Retirement Community are perfectly functional and coherent but getting older.

Management routinely ignores our expertise and refuses to take advantage of the fabulous array of powerful minds here.

It is a lack of respect.

It is being managed by people who have far less knowledge and experience, compared to the accumulation in our particular facility, than we do, and who act as if we were children looking for something entertaining to do with our time.

I admit we will all fail with time – and some will accept that more graciously than others – but it galls.

Even though I’m one of the people whose expertise doesn’t go to the public good, I recognize the people among us who have been and still are powerhouses – and it galls.

It is a form of gaslighting

If you treat people for long enough as not having competence, they will give up – and that’s not good for us.

The result is an unnecessarily exaggerated lockdown, partly due to those among us who are not capable any more of understanding the limitations, but applied to those of us who are, and it doesn’t make for happy compliance when those with opinions keep getting shot down.

It’s not a good time to leave.

We made our decision, highly based on the people who live here, and will probably stick it out unless one of our kids has extraordinary requirements, and possibly even then, because I am so physically limited I’m practically useless.

It could be, SHOULD BE different

But it could feel SO much more like a collaboration between those of us PAYING for services and those providing them.

Which would serve to allay the fear, and find safe ways around the restrictions such as people who moved here so a spouse could be in the Memory Support unit most of the time, but have some meals with spouse and other family members in the various dining facilities, could see that spouse.

I greatly fear that we have lost what makes this place special, and are too easily giving up what makes this place good for couples where one person deteriorates first.

I fear for the mental health of those completely isolated ‘for their own good,’ who can’t understand or remember the explanations – and have no family or friend able to supervise their care. It is well known that the one thing that keeps a facility on its toes is supervision – for the little things which don’t appear on the checklists.

And for those who need the facilities here to exist even slightly well, I think we are being so restrictive that they/I am in pain far more than necessary, and some may be losing the will to fight on.


Management shouldn’t be as overwhelmed as they are – the business efficiencies, unquestioned, add up to hardship.

The lack of transparency really hurts.

And the attitude is confrontational.


 

The mainstream literary pleasure of highly literate readers.

STUCK WITH THEIR HEAD IN A BOOK

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

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

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

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

My readers tend to be in that group.

Figuring out words in context is a big part of that

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

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

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

The literary mainstream novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And my readers like it!

That’s such a charge.

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

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

Not really that tricky, are they?

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


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