Category Archives: Short posts

Second attempt to restart writing

Section of library at University Retirement Community showing Pride's Childre on the new books shelf, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THE LIBRARY AT URC’S NEW BOOKS SHELF

It takes a while to get back to work.

My previous attempt, one good working day after six months of nada, was on October 2, 2018, right after I got my files back from the crash.

My apologies for the radio silence, but it has been a combination of 1) things needing doing RIGHT NOW, and 2) an exhaustion so profound as a result of the continued stress that thinking was not a possibility.

Not CREATIVE thinking. Nor ORGANIZED thinking.

Tearing out your life by the roots has consequences

In NJ, we had doctors, cars, a driver’s license, food in the basement freezer, bicycles…

In CA, we didn’t.

We haven’t bought a car, and may not. But the shared car available at our new retirement community requires:

  • a California driver’s license
  • our NJ driving record, which in turn required doing stuff online, waiting until they MAILED us an ID, to be used online to order the record!
  • permission from our doctor (when we didn’t even have a doctor) – and I still can’t believe I had to ask permission from him when I finally got an internist and an appointment
  •  ‘Mature Driver’s Course’ – available online, and which only took me 17 hours and three days to complete. If you would like to experience frustration, try the course. And the test questions seemed to be designed to get you to fail. It only took me two tries – and I could have done it faster if I hadn’t reviewed the entire course first.
  • filling out the forms.

It would just be nice to have the option to sign out the vehicle (which comes with fuel and insurance) instead of having to deal with a car rental agency.

And yes, Lyft and Uber and the facility’s own group vehicles, and the on-site bikes and trike are all available.

But nothing is quit like putting your shoes on, walking to your car, popping in, adjusting the mirrors if necessary – and driving away.

Except that it’s an expensive option if you don’t use if often.

I had assistants in NJ

Wonderful helpful women who made my life easier, because they always did whatever I needed when they came.

But there’s no room in this one-bedroom apartment for an assistant, and a lot less for one to do, so I probably won’t have one here.

As a result, there’s a lot of non-urgent unpacking still to be done.

And we’re still waiting for a larger place.

Everything is different

Have I mentioned having a social life? It’s nice – but there is a lot of it, even with just going to dinner every day.

And most things have an inflexible time, something I only had occasionally back in NJ (congratulate me on not calling it ‘home’ very often). Which basically means a lot of time wasted because it’s almost time to do X, or you just got home from doing X.

But today I gritted my teeth

Told myself to stop wasting time, as I may have a lot less of it than I think.

Blocked the internet for several hours with Freedom.

Located the papers I created or brought.

Took out the Scrivener project, the Dramatica Story Expert file, and my Calendar.

And dove in.

I must say, I am VERY proud of my incessant note-taking as I write – because it was like having everything poured back into my brain from a pitcher.

It’s been seven months (if you don’t count the one day) since anything substantial, and I’m hoping this attempt will take.

And I found that the pieces I’ve already done are just fine, and ready to take to the next step, writing the individual scenes for this chapter.

I don’t care how many tries it takes to really get going

None of the interruptions have been my doing. Everything is taking a lot longer to do than it should in anyone’s imagination.

Registering to vote took ages, but I finally have online proof, which I printed out; the voter registration card which has been promised has not yet arrived. That was a high priority, and is usually done in conjunction with the driver’s license, but, because of the other things I need (including replacing my handicapped placard, for which I needed the doctor mentioned above to fill out the form, which meant I had to see him…), we haven’t gone to get the new licenses yet.

Looking back, there is a mañana attitude to life here – from everyone. People tell me it was years before they were completely settled. Though most people move in here older than we are now. And many are in-state, a large portion of those local enough to keep some of their doctors.

And of course we have to try everything, from the Bizarre Bazaar (bought a table and three chairs) to the End of Life discussion group which is starting (postponed that one – it’s a six-week commitment, for an hour and a half each week, either Tuesday or Saturday right in the middle of the afternoon!) to an activity I won’t mention that didn’t work.

And popping into the pools. Ah, pools! And hot tubs.

And the hours it took to connect so I could have Pride’s Children: PURGATORY catalogued (see picture of New Books section).

Just hope for me that it takes hold this time. I am getting very grumpy.

And how have you all been?


Accidentally published first as page, not post – brain not completely back on board! I was mystified: I usually get at least ONE comment. !Ay, Alicia!

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Were you wondering where we were

 

Part of Alicia's face with pool in background

THIS IS WHAT ALL THE FUSS IS ABOUT

This is what I moved Heaven and Earth for: to move to a place with a pool. Not just any pool, but one in the same building, and one of four.

And, of course, we moved so the kids won’t have to wait until we’re even older, and then help move Mom and Dad into the old folks home.

Things have changed in the world, and we no longer needed a big house and two cars in the suburbs to bring up a family.

And we were definitely not enjoying life, taking care of said house. Most of our friends are moving – and suddenly our quiet suburban court was no longer the place where we hung out. Not that I’ve been comfortable hanging out outside for years now, since I stopped being able, physically, to do even a half-hour of gardening (I truly didn’t mind pulling weeds) at a stretch. No point in lovely perennials if you never get out of the house.

The saga continues

We’re living in our second temporary quarters of the move.

The first was an Extended Stay America just north of Quakerbridge Mall on Route 1 in central NJ. We were there from the day before the movers took our stuff away (a night we slept two hours at the motel, and then stayed up all night at the old homestead while trying to get everything packed before the movers came.

Not the best method for me – I’d sleep a half-hour, get up to pack for a couple hours, repeat – all night long. I’ve packed that way for ‘vacation’ trips before, and it isn’t pretty. But it had to be done.

But this is much better because we’re at the guest suite until our furniture and boxes arrive at the end of the first week of September (NJ is a long way from California by moving van), and finally starting to catch up on sleep and get hooked into the system here.

The food is too good

Shrimp and lovely no-sugar-added carrot cake for dinner tonight, with a salad someone else prepared – but I can already see we will have to be careful, or the pounds will pile on – and the clothes arriving next week won’t fit!

The hours are a little on the early side for what we’ve been accustomed to, and we’re getting into the habit of being exhausted well before midnight – feels odd to a confirmed night owl, but you don’t argue with dining room hours if you want to be fed.

Photo of fitness center showing hot tub, therapy pool, and indoor pool

It took me two days, but I finally had time and energy – dropped the laundry off on the way down, and headed for the pool. For a while.

Then I took a shower in their well-appointed locker room (people don’t usually bother with locks) in the handicapped stall because our unit doesn’t have the seated shower. Let me tell you, I haven’t felt this safe getting clean since we took down the shower doors back in NJ months ago because the agent said the house looked tacky with them (they were old and corroding, but I could lightly hold onto the inside bar for some stability).

I have achieved my goal of avoiding a fall, even thought vertically challenged. We’ll have one of these showers in the permanent 2 BR apartment when we get it, but meanwhile I will take my safe showers by the pool. Falls are a major cause of problems for people as they get older.

So the first stage of the move in is over (we put things in the drawers!), and by the next time I write, we should be in our permanent temporary (1 BR) quarters, waiting to see what becomes available for a 2 BR.

In excellent spirits, if still figuring out where everything is

And you do need to take your keys and ID badge with you every time.

Not completely coherent here, but we are okay, the worst is probably over (except for the move IN coming up, and the second one some time in the future), and everyone here has been so nice.

I have to figure out a better way to send the photos to the blog from the iPhone, too, but too many details to worry about right now, and my cobbled get-arounds eventually work.

So bye for now. More when I have it. Moving is a pain for everyone, I’m sure, but eventually it will all be over.

Can’t wait to get settled enough to write – I’m way behind.

Oh, and the fitness expert/instructor seems awfully confident she can get me walking again. Please pray.


 

A jackhammer sounds like a helicopter

Road crew with dump truck and excavator digging a hole in the street in front of our house to repair a sewer pipe crack.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING IN LIFE

Homeowner problems

This is still our house, but really? Now? A month before we don’t own it any more?

Didn’t need the worry!

We have owned this house since it was built in 1981. March 5th we moved in, and it has had no other family in it. In all those years, we NEVER had a sewer problem connected to the street.

Well, just for funsies, the day AFTER the Open House, a small sink hole developed by the curb, right near the real estate sign, and we wondered whether they had nicked the water line into the house (since no markings were made on the grass and bushes, and no flags set by utility companies). So we duly reported it, the township fixed the small sink hole, and we thought that was that.

Told lawyer and real estate agent, so they wouldn’t say we didn’t inform them of potential problems (water line, sewer) that we might be required to disclose.

Then we got a message on our answering machine from the head of the Sewer Dept., stating there was a problem where our sewer pipe connected to the main – in the middle of the street (so not on our property).

When contacted, found out they would get it fixed by contractors as soon as they had enough for a day’s work for one. We thought it would be forever, but they started early this morning, did NOT (bless them!) ring our door bell until around 9am when they needed us not to send anything down the sewer line for a while (now over), and they proceeded to make a standard repair.

Which they are in the process of asphalting right this minute.

What was that sound?

The sound I heard, which was like every helicopter in every movie, was actually a man tamping down soil and gravel into the hole with a jackhammer-like device (probably called, with all due irony, a tamper), was not Black Hawks landing on our lawn.

Much more prosaic.

And over much sooner than I expected – so I am impressed by our township’s efficiency at keeping us in the loop, and the contractor’s at getting a ‘not uncommon’ problem fixed efficiently and quickly.

Yay, taxes!

Yay, First World problems.

Not our responsibility, thank goodness – no digging up the front lawn and all the way to the house – no cost.

I have never been happier to pay property taxes which include infrastructure.


Of such is my life right now.

And y’all get such interesting but ultimately unimportant trivia because I can, courtesy of iPhone and WordPress, mail a photo snapped in a moment out my office window directly to my Media Library. Gotta love the modern world.


 

Update on the progress of snails

woman-indian-woman-india-person.jpg

Using a free photo for WordPress from Pexels

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

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

Why is this lovely Indian woman here?

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

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

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

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

Dejunk in haste, repent at leisure

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

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

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

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

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

Little progress to report

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

And it didn’t include the radon test results.

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

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

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

Sanity without writing is hard

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

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

Yeah, I’m slow as a writer.

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

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

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

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

So that’s the new plan.

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

So I can get back to my work!

Not very exciting, but there it is.

Oh, right: the picture

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


Thanks to Pexels for the image.


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

 

Death is the joker in the pack

Image of straw hat, and book with blue pen, open; Text: What do you want to leave behind, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

QUESTIONS OF LEGACIES HAUNT

I won’t go into detail here, but on June 17th, after we were exhausted from the first Open House (we weren’t there, but we had to get the house into tiptop form), we heard of the sad death of a young woman we had hoped would turn her life around. And the fact that she didn’t or couldn’t has haunted me for the time since.

I ask myself whether I could have done anything, and the real answer is no. Which doesn’t keep me from being sad.

And it is a useless question in a particular case, because it is so final to not be here any more.

Questions of privilege

I will never find out the details, nor does it matter that I do, not even to me. But it made me think about the privilege of being me, even as a woman who has been ill for 28+ years with a still-unknown-etiology disease. The resources I have are not useful to me – but are available to help with symptoms.

But I grew up in a two-parent family, with an education available to me, even to the PhD level. My childhood was no more mildly traumatic than any other – no child gets whatever she really wants or needs, and it wouldn’t be good for her little developing character if she did.

I was surrounded by love, and had extracurriculars such as Girl Guides and piano lessons. I have never been hungry because of the unavailability of food. I have always had medical and dental care. My problems in life are minor and common (other than the omnipresent CFS, and that didn’t happen until I was 40ish).

I have an addictive personality, so I’ve always avoided most alcohol, and all recreational drugs (Note: may be taking medical marijuana in the future for pain; makes me chuckle). Mostly, I don’t like the stupid feeling that comes with stimulants and such, and it’s that feeling that I’m avoiding. I did my small share of experimenting once or twice back in college, found that I hated the sensation in my gut and head, and didn’t repeat. No particular virtue there.

What if you have problems – and NO resources?

What if you have resources you can’t get to? Or they are expensive somehow? Or you perceive them as losing face so severely you reserve them for a ‘last resort’ – and never feel it is last resort time? We all try to protect our futures, and people may not get help because they know how bad it might look later on a resume.

I knew I was privileged – and thought I had earned it. I worked very hard in grad school, never took stupid chances (okay, once or twice). I thought you earned privilege by behaving correctly after you got it. Not messing up. But even as I was not messing up, I was surrounded by a safety net of people and institutions I didn’t want to disappoint – how much of ‘doing the right thing’ is simply that small deviations from the norm are immediately corrected?

My sisters and I always agreed we had the best parents around (by comparison with some of our friends’ parents). No, they weren’t perfect – no parents are – but we won the lottery there, and didn’t realize it.

I did my part, but everything went my way. There was always a path.

I have never been poor or homeless or infected with AIDS or Ebola or TB. I never had an abusive boyfriend. I’ve always had ‘people’ – lots of people. The few times I’ve sought counseling for something, I usually found someone reasonably competent, on my schedule, quickly enough. And it more or less worked, until I’d solved whatever it was, and returned to functionality.

I have, since birth, been solidly middle class.

Oh, and look ‘white’ enough (I am proud of my Mexican heritage – which I didn’t choose or earn, but it doesn’t ‘show’) so no one pays any attention.

Like a nice liberal Catholic, I want everyone to have the basics I take for granted. And that’s nowhere near what happens.

The ‘liberal’ part knows that, if there were no corruption and greed (ha!), there would be a lot more money for needed services.

Well, this administration has brought so many inequalities to light, it is hard to know where to start. Along with compelling pictures of rampant privilege, nepotism, greed, and the Gospel of Prosperity.

But I’ve spent the past couple of weeks wondering what I would have done in the same situation, and whether there is anything (other than voting the right people into office) I can do now. Other than comforting and supporting the living, where possible.

It isn’t enough for me to confront my prejudices and correct them when they’re wrong. And I don’t know what I can do, what with being sick and mostly house-bound. I’ve always known this – and never done anything about it except in trying to behave right in my personal life. Within reason.

The legacy part?

I’ve had the privilege of thinking about my writing, and the books I want to leave behind me. I have the legacy of my family and my children. I hope to be remembered for a while by friends.

And I have promised myself never to forget her. She had both potential and problems, and overcame many things, with much more limited resources than I. Just not all.

Pray for her, and her family and friends. And for the rest of us.


Hard to blog when real life happens.

And it isn’t a request for sympathy for me. Just that you think.

BEAUTIFUL BUT BITTERSWEET

This is the view from the balcony.

The water is SO blue.

We came here for the kids, and it has been a great gift to see our three plus one significant other – for meals, for pool time, for watching Moana last night with them all in a pile like puppies.

But you can probably figure out it isn’t as easy as I would like!

There is a lot of walking (for me).

There is seeing middle son spend seven hours biking up, and then down, 10,000 ft., using enough energy in one day to fuel me for a year.

There is me being unable to walk as far as the ocean – so I haven’t been in it. They say it is warmer than the pools – which have been ‘heated,’ but consistently too cool. And the hot tubs, except for one, late at night, too hot to stay in for very long, with an annoying sign that says the elderly shouldn’t use them! Bollocks to that.

Hawaii apparently doesn’t have all-inclusive resorts, so fooding has been more complicated, and the five of them (four plus husband) have had to go shopping several times.

Why am I complaining?

Because I’m pretty useless for most of the tasks. My chef offspring have been feeding me – we still respect the matriarch enough to keep her around.

But it is mildly annoying.

And I realize how marginal I am when it comes to taking care of myself in a strange place, I who used to take care of three little ones in strange places, more or less (I’ve had ME/CFS since before the third one – who is now the designated driver on the rental car!).

It galls a bit.

I don’t care.

It is wonderful to see their bonds still intact, and strengthened by the pleasure of being together, my far-flung kiddies. This is one of my prime concerns – so many people don’t know their own adult siblings all that well any more.

I had a lovely talk with a woman from Chicago; she said the idea – get together once a year with everyone for a vacation (not an original idea) – was brilliant. I told her SOMEONE has to initiate it – or it won’t happen.

Some families have a beach house of a cabin somewhere – that probably works, but I’ve heard stories of very uncomfortable accommodations, especially as little ones come along. I think using a resort is better.

The other part is making the three of them pick the dates – so they have to work together before – and the place. That way it isn’t foisted on them by Mom and Dad.

I suggested that it NOT be around the holidays – then they’ll be able to go to their in-laws for Christmas – when travel is expensive and complicated.

They picked May. It would have been perfect had we not been right in the middle of putting the house on the market, but even that has had its good side: the painter has repainted our interior while we are not there!

So hello from Maui

And we’re leaving tomorrow. I did note it took me until this morning to wake up feeling adjusted to the time zone.

Oh, well.

Just look at the picture: it’s gorgeous here.


Reminder: royalties and page reads for Pride’s Children (above right) in May being donated to #MEAction for advocacy for us ME/CFS types – sorely needed. Thanks for all who have participated.


 

Boosting Jennie Spotila’s post on dancing

Little girl in bikini dancing on beach. Text: Dance. It's good for you. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

TODAY IS ME AWARENESS DAY

Jennie uses her inability to dance as a metaphor – the entire post (and her blog in general) is always worth reading.

This excerpt chilled me, because we’ve been TOLD, by the NIH (National Institutes for Health) and its director who has been ignoring us for decades, Dr. Francis Collins, that we’ve getting DOUBLE the research money this year that we had last year:

If you see ME, you are watching a disaster advancing before your eyes. It’s not a disaster because the powers that be are simply unaware of it; they know. And it’s not a disaster because ME is a difficult disease to unravel. After all, cancer is a difficult disease to unravel. What can we do about complicated problems? We invest the resources needed to solve them.

ME is an unsolved mystery because the biomedical research enterprise has consistently refused to invest the funding and expertise needed to figure it out.

NIH points out that it has nearly doubled its investment in ME research from 2016 to 2017. But even NIH has admitted that ME funding must be 10 to 20 times its current level. Compared to the need, NIH funding went from .04% of the need in 2016 to .07% of the need in 2017. In other words, double of practically nothing is still practically nothing.

DOUBLE OF NOTHING IS NOTHING. Remember that – it’s an old joke.

Please read her whole, excellent post.

Dancing is a human right

No one should stop you from moving except yourself (and we all had that desire to move as small children, so ask where it went, if it’s gone).

Moving freely in your body, with energy, is a human right (and we’d be attached to rocks if we didn’t have it). Except I can’t any more, and haven’t had that energy in a long time.

I gave my remaining love of dance to my character, Kary, in Pride’s Children, because I know what it is to dance for a short while in my kitchen – something I lost years ago to both the ME/CFS and my back problems – and miss daily.

The end of Chapter 16 in Pride’s Children: PURGATORY (Andrew comes back unexpectedly to pick up a script):

Dance excerpt 1, PC1, Chapter 16

Dance excerpt 2, PC1, Chapter 16

I kind of like this one.

I REALLY miss dancing.

Shall we dance?


Remember, my royalties for May go to the fight against ignorance and lack of research.


Thanks again to Stencil, for giving me the free image (the words are mine) of a little girl dancing on the beach. It was perfect.

May 12 – ME/CFS Awareness Day – again

Picture of dog with its tongue out. Text: No treats for me. ME/CFS has stolen all my energy. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

AND AGAIN THERE ISN’T ENOUGH ENERGY TO GO

I am represented by my shoes. Thanks to the people who take the shoes, label them, place them where people stop and look and ask: my shoes represent one of the #MillionsMissing. Me.

I am represented by my fiction. Specifically, ALL my royalties for May 2018 will go to support #MEAction‘s fundraiser – because they are being activists for all of us who have ME/CFS and need medical recognition, research, and training. I’m not delusional, trust me. I’m just sick. Lots of us are. You can ignore us – and make us even more miserable than we already are. But you can’t make us go away and not be sick, and, like AIDS patients before us, we are holding you accountable for this misery – because those wo do nothing when they could are enablers of the misery.

I am represented by my blogs. This one, and Pride’s Children’s blog – where there is a new post! About me learning to use a new marketing book which may help me find the people who will read and love and be waiting for the next book in the trilogy (coming – as fast as I possibly can – this year, or next at the latest). A curious thing (to me) has been a whole bunch of people signing up to follow it and liking the posts – without ever going to that site. I suspect the word ‘marketing’ kicked some bots into gear, but traffic is traffic. It’s difficult for me to market when the people who have left 5* reviews range from young women in their 20s to older men in their 80s. I’m greedy. I want more of you.

I am represented by my Patreon, where at least one lovely patron and I are having very interesting discussions – and the patrons get to read Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD before anyone else. Curious? Drop by and read the free public posts – and ask yourself if you can REALLY wait another year…

I’m represented by my Facebook page, which is for RL friends and family, and a few extras (it’s not all that exciting, though I have boosted a few posts).

But I’m not represented by me. 😦 Because, as happened today, the spoons went to something silly and necessary that jumped to the top of the To Do list right during one of my four naps, and had to be done that minute. Today’s energy, and tomorrow’s, are used up already. And Sunday, I already know I won’t be able to go sing – there is nothing in the energy bank to allow me to do what I want to do. And I know perfectly well I’ll make myself much worse if I foolishly try. No problem – I can do it, go sing – but the cost will be days of staring at the wall, and I can’t afford them.

Thanks to all who are doing something and going to an event for May 12, ME/CFS Awareness Day – again, since we’re still not getting anywhere, and not only are we still sick, but new ones join us every day. I’ll be there in spirit. Spirits are invisible.

Liberate the writing mind from the tyranny of time

PLAYING WITH TIME IS THE WRITER’S TOOL

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

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

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

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

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

Half our metaphors and clichés involve time:

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

Our most common question: What time is it?

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

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

So much so that we hardly notice it.

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

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

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

Loosening the grip of time

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

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

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

Manipulating time – for story

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

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

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

‘Going to the paper’ in real life, too

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

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

Respecting time

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

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

Pretty big order, there.

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

How do you finagle ‘time’?

Give us this day our daily pain

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

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

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

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

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

No rhyme or logic to it, just a noticing.

The saints offered their pain up.

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

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

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

I don’t understand offering pain up.

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

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

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

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

A writer’s Patreon can be fun

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

FOR THE CHATTY WRITER!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reward tiers, ie, cost to patrons

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

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

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

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

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

So it’s an easy thing to try out.

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

2) Decide if you want more.

Easy peasy.

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

 

Life imitates art for investigative journalism

A red typewriter with a manuscript in progress, with the words: Can a story contribute to the cause it's based on? Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

EMPATHY COMES FROM SOMEWHERE

ALL my ROYALTIES for Pride’s Children for April 2018, Kindle Unlimited, ebook, and print, will be DONATED to: Help me help ME/CFS investigative journalist, David Tuller, PhD Public Health, Berkeley, get funding for another year.

David has been unbelievably hardworking this past year – and is up to speed. More than that, he is feared (that’s the only thing that explains it) by the UK psychologists who insist a disease I’ve had for 28+ years is both all in my head, and can be cured by 1) changing my belief system, and 2) doing more exercise.

I won’t tell you how useless it is to turn a real physical illness into hysteria. And that I would be in perfect shape if exercise helped: it is KNOWN to make everything worse for us – within very strict limits, I stay as fit as possible, but going over those limits will crash me for days.

Sympathy comes from watching someone else’s story

Beautiful real life ME/CFS (ME/CFS – myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome) sufferer Jennifer Brea gets our sympathy, for her wonderful documentary UNREST (hope you’ve seen it) portraying her personal story, and that of others.

She’s much more photogenic than I am. The documentary was actually nominate for an Oscar!

She’s also had ME/CFS much less time than I have. I really hope she recovers – something which seems to work better for patients if they rest aggressively in the early years.

But to get EMPATHY for this disease

which has devastated the lives of so many millions worldwide, you either have to get the disease (please don’t) or live it virtually – by reading. Pride’s Children: PURGATORY lets you live with CFS for long enough to see how it gets into your bones and affects everything in your life. And yet it is only subtext to the story.

One more degree of difficulty for life, living with a tiny fraction of the energy able people take for granted.

I want more people aware of what someone with ME/CFS goes through, and it is similar to many diseases in some of its aspects. Chronic invisible illnesses hide everywhere among us, and we keep them hidden because no one wants to listen to the details.

As Pat Patterson, Amazon reviewer, says:

“You get a private tour of the life of someone living with an incapacitating disease.”

If you haven’t read, or know someone who hasn’t

This would be a good time to get them to read – even to gift them Pride’s Children: PURGATORY on Amazon.

As I’ve probably mentioned more than once before, I make about the same amount in royalties whether you buy and ebook or a print version, or borrow the book from Kindle Unlimited (with subcription or free trial). Paper is more expensive because there is, well, paper and shipping involved. But because it is a nice fat book, I’ve been able to price so that any of the formats available (including a KU borrow) have about the same effect on my bottom line. So you can freely choose which is your preferred format.

And do a little extra with your dough.


A brief description from Pat Patterson’s review:

“Kary is CLEARLY a hero, by any criteria you want to apply apart from armed combat, and she is the center of the book. She lives in isolation in New Hampshire, and writes; she suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and it robbed her of her previous career as a physician, and gave her weak/treacherous husband the excuse he needed to rob her of her family. She has other grief in her life, but she does not share the pain casually.

“Andrew is an Irish actor/singer/modern day knight, who is on the verge of explosive fame, who values his privacy and guards it like a dragon guards his gold. Their paths cross in a late-night talk show, and sparks fly.

“Bianca is a drop-dead gorgeous actress who resents being trivialized by her spectacular beauty. She is attempting to pry credibility from the paws of the power structure, and intends to use Andrew as the crowbar.”

Hey, when your readers are so articulate, it’s much better to quote them. (Used with Pat’s kind permission.)


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create images like the one above – their picture and fonts, my words.

Chinchilla peeking out between bed and dresser

A NEW HOME FOR GIZZY

It’s not a very good picture (I’ll replace it when I can), but my regular readers know that I have been stressing about either placing my chinchilla with new owners OR moving her to California to a yet-to-be-chosen retirement home.

Either was going to be stressful for her and for me (and for my very patient husband). From New Jersey to California, especially when we don’t have a new place yet and haven’t sold this one, would be … complicated.

But re-homing a pet is a major challenge in life, as anyone who has ever had to do it knows.

The search is over. A good friend, and former assistant, had mentioned a month ago she was interested in Gizzy.

And today Gizzy and her trousseau moved further south in NJ, to what is really the PERFECT home for her: younger, healthy people with experience with small mammals and large ones, and definitely pet people.

I’m not really a pet person

Everyone laughs at me when I say this, and points to the spoiling of the little grey furball by yours truly.

I’ve had Gizzy for over five years, and enjoyed most of it.

She only had to sit there and look at me for my heart to melt. Because she is so beautiful (note to self: must post better picture) and I’m a sucker.

When she did additional things, like sit on my lap, touch noses for a treat, or give me her paw (if you don’t melt when an animal does this…), it was gravy.

‘Owner’ is a misnomer – expect to be more of a zookeeper

But chinchillas are problematic as pets, since they are not really domesticated (disregard Youtube videos) because they are awake for very short periods, generally dislike being picked up or petted (Gizzy chose to sit on my lap), and run entirely on their own timetable. They are overproduced by unscrupulous breeders who sell them to people who don’t realize the chinchilla can live TWENTY YEARS under the right conditions.

They are wild animals, and as such, chinchilla shelters are overwhelmed by mistreated, ignored, or badly understood chinnies who are confined to cages forever. You are given the role of zookeeper when you get one, for relatively little return of affection (the stinker loves my daughter better than me, and behaves – for treats – much better).

You can’t return them to the Andes. And they won’t remain alive, like feral cats, outdoors. They can’t get too hot or survive much humidity. Go look all this up if ever tempted to buy one; if you want a chinchilla, please rescue one.

Anyway…

All of the above is understood by her new family/keepers, and I am so grateful they took her, today, in spite of all this (and have another family member with a chinchilla who told them the exact same things). There were many boxes – hay, treats, housing materials, the pieces to an enclosure, child-proofing gates, a roomy cage, volcanic dust, water bottles – all the stuff that either came with her (like the roomy cat carrier) or we acquired.

So Gizzy is squared away, and I can have the spare bedroom emptied, cleaned, and repainted – and will have to get used to that door being open, as it was unless a child was closeted away, until Gizzy became the rodent who lived under the bed.

I will miss her, but I am not really a pet person. She was my little love, and my responsibility, and I took that very seriously. This will be better for her. I literally can’t do the things she needs – each day it was getting physically trickier, even as I loved to have her walk on my back – when she deigned to.

Changes are unrelenting in moving us forward. There is no going back any more, only savoring everything for the last time here. It is upsetting after 37 years, and high time.


And I am proud of myself for figuring out how to take a picture with the iPhone, and email it to myself in a blog post. I guess the old brain still works a bit. I even put in the alt-text.

The major stressor and the Gordian knot

SOMETIMES THE SOLUTION IS OUTSIDE THE BOX

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

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

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

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

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

The signs were many.

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

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

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

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

Full speed ahead, man the torpedoes!

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

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

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

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

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

Such a relief: I agree.

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

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

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

Update on Pi day 2018: almost alive

JUST SURVIVED ANOTHER SH*T STORM

Concerned about occasional blood pressure spikes, I asked the cardiologist to prescribe something with the fewest side effects possible, and was given a prescription for an angiotensin II receptor antagonist (ARB) called Diovan, which was filled with a generic called Valsartan – and I’ve again lost ten days of my life.

After I’ve had a horrible pain and zombie-brain time with it, I start getting more detailed with my research, and find out the Celebrex (my pain med and ONLY other prescription med, which I finally found after trying about thirty other things) and Valsartan (and not only other ARBs, but also ACE inhibitors and betablockers (my old pal from last year, metoprolol – which contributed to last year’s hell, and which I also won’t take again)) are contraindicated because each drug makes the other drug less effective.

I’m getting very annoyed at people who don’t check drug interactions.

Also, people like me, with ME/CFS, are often sensitive to even small doses of meds. Starting on a SMALL dose would make a lot more sense. Maybe they think it was a small dose. I don’t. Ask my husband about my pain-filled week+. I don’t like to spend a long period of time breathing through pain I can’t seem to get control over, while worrying about the extra load in painkillers and what they will do to me and my poor overloaded liver and kidneys.

Just generally annoyed – and farther behind – AGAIN. It gets tiring. And when they don’t even call back after a week after I reported side effects (they said they would), even more.

I halved the dose, then quartered it, then stopped. Five days later, I’m starting to regain control, and my mind worked last night for a couple of hours. Woo hoo!

And yes, I’m aware I’m two days late for Pi Day, and didn’t get any pie. Hope your life is more even-tempered.

And I’m still worried about those occasional spikes. But no med will help if I CAN’T TAKE IT!