Category Archives: This writer’s life

Someone out there gave me the flu

Before you get started, yes, I had my flu shot. In October.

The four-times stronger version for older adults.

And had enough of a sore arm to be sure it challenged my immune system.

This should be a safe place

There are about 350 of us, most in Independent Living apartments in the main building; fewer than a third in Assisted Living, Skilled Nursing, and Memory Support (downstairs, in the same building).

Most of the 200 staff or so have had the flu shot for a while – if they don’t get it, they have to wear the inconvenient ‘mask of shame’ until they do get it. Visitors like the Fed Ex man wear a mask the entire time they are here if they don’t have the shot.

Because a lot of the people here also came from UC Davis and Davis originally, there are a fair number of guests, though, and I’ve never seen a mask on a guest. OTOH, those are the people who are interested in keeping mom and dad or grandma around.

But we’re not locked in here, not in any way.

There is an ‘out there’

Healthy people can be carriers, even with washing our hands more than we used to.

We go to St. James on Sundays.

Husband rides the bike to the grocery store.

People here go to doctors’ offices.

And somewhere in that mass of people we’re all connected to, someone gave me the flu.

Because I didn’t create this.

I can’t remember

anyone in particular coughing and sneezing a lot, but there was the old lady in church, and the altar boy I didn’t shake hands with for the Kiss of Peace – even though he had a sniffling/sneezing even right before putting his cute little hand out.

And I’ve heard sneezes in the dining venues.

It’s inevitable. And random.

And very hard to avoid coming in contact with someone who is about to come down with the flu tomorrow.

This is practice for the coronavirus pandemic – and also shows how hard it is to prevent contagion.

Milder flu?

‘They’ say the flu shot makes you more likely to have a milder flu.

I think that’s true in my case – I’ve had two days of misery, fever, headaches – the works. But I’m definitely not as sick as I could get.

There is also, because your flu is shorter, a smaller window to pass the flu on – which reduces the spread.

So I’m glad I got the shot. And worried about what is going to happen next in the world.

Do what you can to reduce your chances of getting and passing on the flu – you can still get the shot (and unless you have a documented medical reason not to) this year, and in the future.

Immunocompromised people like me, new babies and youngsters, people too old to tolerate the shot, people who have other illnesses – we would all rather not get sick.

Thank you.

Until I get my stuff together

Lambing, almost live. by [Webster, Jim]

If you loved the James Herriot books (All Creatures Great and Small, …), you may love, as I do, these books by Jim Webster describing life and animals – from the farmer’s side. (PS, he also writes fantasy).

These (there are three more) are warm and funny and down-to-Earth – and I buy them as soon as they come out. I read this one during a Life Event this week which is now over, for which I learned to read on my iPhone – oh technological improvements!


I’m – I hope – over a long list of life events which kept me from doing just about anything in the writing/blogging department for various good and necessary reasons, mainly that my limited energy had to be focused on either doing, or waiting to assist in doing, said life events.

After trying to write distracted in that way, and having to restart over and over and over, I gave up temporarily, and went with the flow. It was too hard to keep doing my rather complicated process – and forgetting where I was.

Heck, I didn’t even make it into the pool, or out for a ride on Maggie, or on the trike most days.


Here’s Jim’s latest blog post, so you can see his style.

I promise not to let anything but major stuff stand in my way.

And I have a bunch of topics for liebjabberings, some of which may be interesting to more than me.


I need to get back to advertising, too!

Peace be on all your houses.


 

with liberty and justice for ALL

American flag I see out my window every day

The view from my window

OUR APARTMENT – MY WINDOW – FACES THE FLAG

I spend ALL day EVERY day I’m home with a giant American flag in my sights.

Today I was honored to lean on my windowsill to recite the Pledge of Allegiance for the Veteran’s Day ceremony at our retirement complex.

I literally had the best seat in the house, as the flag was raised.

I grew up in Mexico

and this was not a regular occasion for me. It was thrilling, every year, to attend the Fourth of July celebration at the American School (we didn’t attend it), as a Girl Guide of Mexico (North District – the English speaking Guides), and to parade in our uniforms with all the other expats in organizations such as The Knights of Columbus and the Boy Scouts.

But, even though I probably did this when I was still in California (up to first grade, IIRC), I don’t remember doing so. I DO remember doing air raid drills against the inner walls of my classroom, each row pushing our desks to the wall, and climbing under (these were Cold War years, and it might have been useless against a real atomic bomb, but it was something to do.

I wonder what the surviving grownups would have done with classes full of small children, but that’s neither here nor there.

This is our first year in the new community in our permanent apartment

Our forever home. We moved here in February. And will stay until we need higher levels of care, and even that will be in this same building.

And I have had the privilege of remembering, and of saying out loud that I believe this is for ALL Americans. Every single one of them.

NOT just the privileged few who have more money than they could ever use, and seem determined to acquire more every day.

I am a baby boomer

My parents were married during WWII, and carefully postponed having their five daughters until after Daddy was demobilized and finished his engineering degree on the GI Bill.

I have been proud to be an American, all the time I lived in Mexico, and since I returned. I thought we stood for something worth having.

Even with the present difficulties, I hope the Founding Fathers built in enough resilience that we can get back on track.

I need to go read more about how the Nation survived Andrew Jackson, and Nixon, and look for the signs of hope.

I intend to be in Independent Living here, with many people in their late nineties, for at least another thirty years.

This was a good start.

I seem stubbornly optimistic, always returning to what should be done. For all.

Happy Veterans Day!


 

While marking time do something different

Blue recliner - Golden maxicomfort power lift and recline chair

SOMETIMES ALL YOU CAN DO IS WASTE TIME

It drives me batty, but since I need to have 5 bars on my brain to write with it, there are many times when we are in a holding pattern.

This year, at our community’s Bizarre Bazaar, we acquired furniture, and this is the armchair I selected from what was available (otherwise we would have had to go shopping) when the rocker/recliner we bought back in 1986 when we acquired our first child had decided not to stay put in the reclining position, and I got tired of watching TV with my arms over my head to keep my center of gravity far enough back to stay lying down.

We paid the princely sum of $85, and had it delivered to the apartment, and plunked in front of the TV.

We knew from examining it in the days before the bazaar that it had an electric control in the pocket, but nothing else.

Hidden treasures at the bazaar

We didn’t know we were acquiring a Golden Maxicomfort Power Lift & Recline Chair, retail value new at almost two grand.

It had been very gently used, almost not used at all. No signs of wear.

I picked it because, in the cramped display out in the front courtyard, it was comfortable. And that was all we could tell.

The spousal unit, after figuring out we had something different, went online and snagged the manual (the electrical engineering certification for the owner is only a suggestion).

It comes with TWO – count ’em – power blocks and two controls. The silly thing has BATTERY BACKUP – in case you have a power failure while seated, the battery has just enough charge to lift you ONCE.

It will do any position from horizontal with your feet higher than your heart to gently standing you up to get you out of the chair.

Never in my wildest dreams would I go out and spend that much money on a chair for myself.

Kids?

This is the kind of chair the children buy for dear old dad.

It has a Zero Gravity-like position – everything gently supported.

It has what they call a Trendelenburg position, with your feet higher than your head and heart, and which stretches your lumbar region.

If I’m uncomfortable, I push a button and shift position a bit.

More?

One of these days I need to get me a decent DESK chair, as I spend most of my days sitting at the computer, trying to write something.

But meanwhile, you can imagine me stretched out for a couple of hours in the evenings watching The Handmaid’s Tale or Mom or Humans.

Still fiddling with the dosage of the low-dose naltrexone, and waiting for the brain fog to clear.

And managed to get several doctor appointments successfully navigated (but leaving the house for them is one of the reasons I have no energy for writing fiction), plus show Maggie off at the U. California Davis hospital in Sacramento (NOT Davis), to admiring glances from medical personnel. They have VERY long corridors in that hospital, and it would have been an even more exhausting morning had I had to navigate them with a walker.

So that’s it.

I’m at the writing position, internet blocked, several hours EVERY day, and some times we make a bit of progress, but the bars haven’t been there much.

It’s temporary, I’m sure, or I’d be panicked. I have this feeling that when the meds settle in there will be a big burst of productivity. So I’m hanging in there for now.

Even the tone of this post feels as if there were a damper on the brain.


Oh, and some totally unknown person bought a paper copy of Pride’s Children PURGATORY, which always surprises me.

Hope they will leave a review some day so I find out who it is.

I do love the interior formatting of the paper version – because the ebook is limited to fonts the reader can manipulate easily. Check it out in the Look Inside feature at Amazon.

And pray. I’m soldiering on with this LDN experiment, but it’s not guaranteed to clear the brain fog. I will probably have to get super strict with the low-carb diet. And stop slipping up.


 

Trike ride is different in California Fall

One bright red tree on a background of green and dun vegetation.

A LONE TREE DECIDES IT’S FALL IN CALIFORNIA

Stating the obvious: if the weather is ‘rideable’ all year round, things are different.

Our other constraint is dinner: from 4:45 to 7, and 6:30 on Sundays.

So if we’re going to have dinner in the dining room, the only option on Sundays, we’re missing the natural late-afternoon slot for a bike ride.

Today the spousal unit got us takeout from the dining room, and I realized that I had a chance to go out for about an hour instead of dinner, as sunset is at 6:22 today. And the temperature was down from the 80s to a more sedate 73°, which is not too hot for me, so I MOVED.

The advantage to having been here for a while is that I have a go-bag for each activity, and can be out the door with my bike helmet or my bathing suit or my singing books in about 5-10 minutes. From starting in my pjs (which I wear most of the time while writing – or fooling around on the computer) to out the door, with another 5 min. to get to where I’m going – south garage for the trike, pool, piano lounge…

I realized I hadn’t ridden the machine I actually pedal for almost a week – instead of having few opportunities for getting outside because of the energy/temperature/humidity limits my body demands, I have far more than I can afford to take advantage of.

So out we went, Trixie the trike and I

Sylvia, my long-suffering walker, got me and the backpack and all my biking junk down to the garage, scooting backward. And over to where Trixie is waiting for an outing.

The hardest part of the ride is always getting out of the garage (uphill both ways), and today no handy car came along to open the garage door, so I did it from a dead stop. Because I have to stop, losing all momentum, to push the button to open the garage door.

I think I’m getting better at the process – all these little heuristics: go as far as I can from the bottom one way; then, before it gets too steep and I can’t pedal uphill any more, turn the opposite way, go down to the bottom of the hill, pedaling like crazy, and I’ll go farther up the other side.

Sometimes that’s enough; other times I repeat until I can get to the top of the hill on either side.

And when we got to one of the side gates off the property, someone was coming in and held the door – easy out for me. New person, here two days. Introduced myself and promised to talk later.

We went out to the West Pond

which at this time of the year is a dry creek bed.

Everything is still quite green, even though the rains of California winter haven’t come yet, but the contrast was stark with the tree above (photo doesn’t do it justice) – which had decided to go full-on scarlet. So got its picture taken – before the leave drop off.

Birdies settling in for the evening, kids and dogs and dads and moms and footballs still enjoying the perfect temperature – down the greenway at Arroyo Park next to the public pool and one of the schools.

They’ve added a new parcour course to the park, if that’s the correct name (you move from station to station along the paths doing different exercises).

Not up to that yet – may never be, as the distance back to URC is enough to make me worry about keeping some energy available to get home with. Maybe some day. A station at a time. For few reps.

How does this fit in with being ill?

It irks me that all this is available – and I don’t have the energy to get everything we’re paying for – but I knew that coming in.

If they find a cure for ME/CFS soon, maybe I’ll still be able to get into shape and do more – but they need to get a move on.

Meanwhile, I do what I can.

And the psychological lift from being able to get out of the apartment and off the property with the trike or Airwheel is priceless. I was starting to get cabin fever.

Tomorrow, I’ll hurt. And the energy won’t be there, and I may not be able to write – but not getting out except in the van to church or the doctor’s office is worse.

Peace out!


Get your flu shot – I rode Maggie to the doctor’s office a week ago and got mine.


 

 

You’ll never guess what I’ve done

Alicia sitting on an Airwheel S8 (a bicycle seat on a platform with gyroscope stabilization)

ALICIA SITTING ON MAGGIE, MY AIRWHEEL S8

Start with the obvious: what the heck is that?

Her name is Maggie because she is made from a magnesium alloy.

Conceptually, think of  a ‘seated Segway-type device’, and imagine me zooming around the Davis greenway this afternoon, just to get out of the house.

In addition, I have Trixie, my adult trike:

img 0797

with her basket:

img 0798

for days when I have energy for exercise (and don’t even want to think about plugging her into an outlet).

And lastly, I have my trusted Sylvia (Who is Sylvia?), my Invacare walker (no pic).

These are the devices that I use to get around our new home (University Retirement Community at Davis, California).

Maggie requires the least energy from me.

Here’s the picture of one of her siblings (from an ad):

Airwheel S8

I bought her on Ebay for around $500. There are more, but I have the feeling they may be produced at the factory in batches. I got the two-year Ebay Fair Trade Warranty, which I hope never to have to use, and joined the Electric Unicycle Forum, so I have a place to ask questions (Maggie is in one of the subcategories). These devices are powered by electric motors, and gyroscope stabilized.

How did you find Maggie?

Starting over three years ago, I googled ‘seated Segway.’ Segway doesn’t make one, but I can’t stand for very long, and need the seat.

Also, I have very little energy, and I try to use it for my writing (you all remember my writing, right?).

I watched videos on Youtube, with my favorite being this. It is short (23 seconds) and so cool. I wanted to be her.

Then I checked Ebay, and found several vendors offering the Airwheel S8.

The rest has simply been convincing myself that I could do this. That it wasn’t the craziest thing someone my age (late 60s when I started looking) could even consider. That I should try it quietly riding around the corridors late at night (the corridors even have hand-rails – I haven’t needed one once).

Why?

But I knew I needed something like this because this community of around 350 people are mostly in four floors of a single building, and the halls are very long to get to places.

I can’t do so many things because I don’t have the energy to get to the rooms where they happen. Even going down to dinner was painful and energy-sucking; I did a lot of it scooting backward while sitting on the walker’s seat, looking over my shoulder.

I want to remain INDEPENDENT as long as I possibly can. I don’t have the energy to push myself in a manual wheelchair.

And I am simply not psychologically ready for a powered wheelchair or scooter (besides which, they occupy a lot of space, both in halls and when parked).

But what if you fall on your face? Won’t you look foolish?

Ayup.

The thing that surprised me the most was how easy it was.

Charge Maggie up (3 hours max). Push the red button on the base. Push the red button on the remote – and she comes to life; beep! Sit on the saddle; beep! Put one foot on the base, dare lift the other foot onto the other side of the base.

Ride into the living room and startle the husband. Go out and try it in the hallways. Done. Go home and wonder if maybe watching the Youtube videos taught me subliminally – or it really is just that easy. Ayup.

Show people in small quantities.

Within a week all pretense is over, and I’m showing off every chance I get – haven’t been this cool and the center of attention in decades.

Do you have to balance?

Not much. It’s as if you were sitting on a bicycle seat on a post on the ground. Maggie does the stabilizing by reading your slight tilt, and feeding power to the wheels to follow your commands: slight lean forward or backward to go (move toward neutral position to stop), press on the seat with your inner thigh to twirl.

I am far more stable on Maggie than on my own two feet. Irritating, but I have no choice – the nerves to the muscles on the back of my legs are damaged, and only transmit a small amount of my instructions. On Maggie I can literally just sit there, not moving at all.

Going for a ride

The hardest movement (gulp) was the first time I was faced with a downward slope. A tiny downward slope. I held onto Maggie and walked down it. The next bit was an upward slope, so I tried that sitting – rock solid moving slowly up the slope. The next downward one (gulp) I just rode down, just as stably. Huh. Within ten minutes I was doing the slope up and down to the underground garage.

Since then, curb cuts. The bumpy things they put there for blind people to sense (way too bumpy, if you ask me – poor blind people!). Driveways. Speed bumps!

The biggest danger is cracks in the sidewalks and between cement sections of sidewalks and streets – anything uneven. Maggie scoots over them while I hold my breath the first time. The asphalt paths around here have deep fissures, so I do have to watch where I’m going.

Inside, I come to almost a complete stop at corridor intersections – don’t want to knock any of my fellow residents down.

Enough for now

Many more things have been occupying my time, and I’ll post about some of them (sorry it’s been so very long since I blogged).

Adjusting to the LDN (low-dose naltrexone) has been tricky. Adjusting to the social life has been time-consuming.

But I’m finally writing consistently again (my beta reader thinks I haven’t lost my touch), have some control over where the energy is spent (we’ve used the pools a lot in the hot weather), and, as the dining room manager said tonight, “You seem much happier since you got Maggie.”

Happiness it is. I had a crazy idea to save my energy – AND IT WORKS!

Now all I have to do is reconstitute some of my singing options from New Jersey, here at URC, and I’m set in a good place.

Husband admitted tonight that he’s proud of me – and seems to enjoy explaining Maggie to the masses.

Stay tuned. Questions welcome – I’m turning into such a ham: I stop, demonstrate, and talk about Maggie anytime someone smiles!


Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD is proceeding. Prepare by reading PURGATORY – I haven’t had ten seconds for marketing, and the readers have been commensurately few. If you like it, please recommend me to your friends.

And I’m working on getting the Prequel short story TOO LATE published.


 

New after a year Low-dose Naltrexone

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

I WOULD RATHER SAY I’M WRITING REGULARLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something has changed since the move.

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

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

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

It isn’t the time commitments

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

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

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

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

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

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

as frequently as I need it to.

For as long as I need it to.

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

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

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

To give the ol’ brain some help

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

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

I want less brain fog.

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

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

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

But back in New Jersey I could still manage to write

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

And you don’t mess with what works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does the future hold?

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

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

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

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

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

I’m on it.

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

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

And how are you?


 

Finding readers who must be yours

DEMOGRAPHICS IS NOT THE WAY TO YOUR FANS

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

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

From SnapSurveys:

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

I need a different kind of marker

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

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

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

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

How on Earth do you call that a demographic?

There are hints

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

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

Others have mentioned liking my writing.

Someone wrote:

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

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

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

I poke at it with the damaged mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

And haven’t a clue how to get one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make graphics.

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

Resetting your writing after a break

AND YOU HAVE TO GET BACK TO WORK

Even when there are still aftershocks to contend with, and the normal has skittered sideways a bit, there is a time when you can’t keep reacting to interruptions constantly with the fight or flight response – and you have to settle down and figure out where you are and what has changed and what has not.

And, in my case, get back to writing.

I labelled a file ‘REDEFINING my life at URC >5/24/19’ and set to work.

Where was I? What was I doing? What was next? These are questions which I’ve been attempting to answer on the fly just to get some writing done in the interim.

But I promised myself I’d do something more organized an more formal asap.

The time is now – if you can

Otherwise the trial will fail – and you’ll get endless opportunities to try again.

But eventually it happens.

You start to realize you’d forgotten many of your own notes. But there they are. And you forgot your own plotting decisions – which will have to be redone, except… here is the file.

I do this periodically.


From October 2012:

Jamming the creative process: RESET to break the jam

Sometimes what keeps me from writing is not procrastination nor ego nor fear.

It is simply that ‘things’ – writing, life, house, … – have become so disorganized (and behind) that I can’t think, much less be creative.

Time gets spent, not in getting things done, but in thinking about getting things done. Thoughts go round and round, never settling long enough in one area to get that area started, much less finished.

How is the creative process affected?

By its main requirement: creating requires a free and nimble mind.

No further writing or editing on the WIP was getting any attention of QUALITY. Scheduling time for writing, blocking the internet by using Freedom, and all other methods aimed at the symptoms, rather than at the root cause – logjam – FAILED. Quite miserably.

The problem is analogous to computer mainframe usage in the good old days, when, to avoid a single user glutting the machine, the computer would ‘roll out’ an image of the core with a particular user’s program and all the user’s data, and ‘roll in’ someone else’s program and data. (Rolling in and out used a small amount of CPU time.)

Then it would compute for a while, and repeat the process with the next user in the priority list. If the algorithm wasn’t managed carefully, or there were too many users being allowed into the queue, the machine could get stuck in a place where all that was happening was sequential ‘roll out’, ‘roll in’ – but no actual work got done before it was time for the next. All the CPU’s time was being used to manage sequencing of jobs, none to doing the actual jobs.

No one’s job got done – and the CPU was busy all the time.

That is how my brain feels when things get too messy.

I can’t actually roll a job in and get a significant part of it done – the competing jobs are clamoring for brain/CPU time.

At this point the only thing to do is declare a reset – everything stops. Then only the top job or two are allowed any traction (typically one of these jobs is ‘TAXES’), everything else is blocked out, and, after clearing the logjam (i.e., ‘Filing taxes’), work is evaluated, rescheduled, cleaned up, dejunked, and otherwise processed before resetting the queue.

Something innocuous can start the jam: a visitor blows into town and occupies prime time space for a day or two (with, for us CFS folk, the several-day recovery that is non-negotiable). Or a new, shiny program beckons, promising to solve some long-standing problem and make future workflow more efficient. Or tax planning requires that all charitable contributions to be charged to the current fiscal year be RECEIVED by the intended organization by Dec. 31, not just MAILED (as it used to be), moving the paperwork time into the Christmas time-frame with a vengeance (instead of being done in that nice post-Christmas lull before New Year’s Eve).

Or [fill in here the life events that, by themselves, could have been handled, but collided with… to create the felt-like effect of a logjam, interlocked fibers].

It doesn’t matter what caused mine this time.

If you’re really curious – ask. And be prepared for long tale of woe…!

Ahem! The solution is to RESET – and that is what I’m doing.

So: I absolve myself of guilt (no one would do this to herself ON PURPOSE), and RESET. I put the editing on hold for as long as this one takes, get extra rest, do the top project or two.

And: we’re back in the writing business (I’m assuming this post – except for the mixed metaphors – shows coherent thought).

Editing sounds positively enticing – I can’t wait to see the final version of the current scene.


And how does that connect to what I’m doing in 2019?

Current editing is Scene 26.2 in NETHERWORLD.

Current writing is Scene 26.3.

And I would say the current tale of woe is the continuing saga of replacing things we had in New Jersey that worked fine (such as doctors and driver’s licenses) but we still don’t have here. One by one.

And I no longer do taxes since hubby retired!!!

But I’m writing. And reconnected with most of my research and organization files. And stuff I didn’t even remember was there. Phew – it would have been a lot of work to re-do some of that!

What do YOU do when you need to reset YOUR life?

How true can a story be?

IF YOU WANT ‘TRUTH’ WRITE MEMOIR?

Knowing that memoir, non-fiction, history… all are someone’s version of  ‘the truth’ or ‘what actually happened.’

Back before I finished Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, I remember wondering whether it was okay to tell a story that would take quite a lot to be true, and yet should feel absolutely as if it was true, as all fiction that lasts does.

The image above, or a very ripe strawberry, reminds me of one of the early scenes in Firefly (one of our family’s all-time favorite TV shows), where Kaylee acquires an amazing strawberry from Shepherd Book, as part of his passage on the ship.

Is the idea better than the reality?

I can’t eat one – and we have them daily here – without thinking of the look on her face as she bites into the perfect fruit. All of them aren’t that perfect, but we don’t care – the idea of  ‘strawberry’ is a powerful umbrella which covers a little imperfection here and there.

I stopped worrying, went ahead and finished that part of the story exactly as I had planned, making it as true as I could make with smoke and mirrors.

I’m trying to do the same sleight-of-hand with the next volume.


From October, 2012:

Telling fairytales: giving readers false hopes

One of the things getting in the way of getting on with editing Pride’s Children, the WIP, is an insidious little voice in my head saying, “That could never happen!”

My brain tells me I shouldn’t write the story of someone who gets something in the story she would never get in real life – and that it would discourage people with similar problems from even thinking about what happens in the book – lest it give them FALSE HOPES.

And then I remembered that’s why humans tell stories.

In stories, the ugly duckling turns out to be the swan, more beautiful than all those picking at him. And Cinderella, the girl whose stepmother and stepsisters treat her like a servant, marries the Prince.

The point is – if we don’t tell stories and read stories – all we have is reality. Reality is harsh. If it were not for stories, humans would all die early by ‘failure to thrive.’

We need stories in which there is hope.

That it may be temporarily false is not important. If we mature, we will grow up to discover our own place, our own story, our own Prince – our own way to be happy. Either we will become President – or we will decide it is too much work to be President, anyway.

Children – and I think most people can remember being different, wanting more than they had, wishing they were more popular, or their parents had more money (so they could have that pony my eldest still asks for – at 26) – don’t have the tools to create their own reality where they are happy. Stories teach them (and adults who are still struggling with the same questions) those tools, or at least, that there ARE tools.

This could happen.

My story, if I am successful in my aims, will let someone spend a bit of time thinking ‘this could be me, this COULD happen,’ and thus keep that someone happy enough to keep trying for another day.

That is a good enough reason to write.


 

To write a character become the character

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW – YOU CAN LEARN

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

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

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


From October 2012:

Writing characters: To be someone else

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

I contain multitudes.

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

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

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

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

What does this have to do with characters?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

It would be so much simpler not to.

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

Do you like to become the characters you read?

Fourth floor shenanigans at our new home

The window washer poses on our balcony at the new retirement community

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW

We haven’t been here a year, so everything is still new.

Today it has been beeping since 7 am, which is almost three hours, and the beeping is associated with not only the cherry-picker backing up, but with the arm being lowered and raised to bring today’s newest – our window washers.

The cherry-picker brought this nice man up to the fourth floor balcony, and then he clambered over the edge, and was left here cleaning the balcony window and the door

Door to our fourth floor balcony - window being cleaned

to the balcony – from the outside.

I don’t know if housekeeping cleans the windows from the inside – must find out.

Meanwhile, his partner cleaned the other big windows (they believe in lots of light here) in the living room and the other bedroom.

Of such is my day – and I’ve even started blocking out the beeping.

Another reason to get to bed on time – stuff happens that wakes me much earlier than I’d like otherwise. Especially since I couldn’t get to sleep until after 3 am.

My thanks to the working people of our nation – we so often take them for granted.


What wakes you up too early?

Still writing with ME/CFS years later

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY DON’T

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During that aftermath I often surf the web.

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

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

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

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

Looking at the list,

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

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

This is data.

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

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

THE ANSWER: to be normal.

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


It’s over 29 years now.

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

I am so boring!

Why do you surf?

Move and miss the oddest things

I MISS PLANTS I SPENT AGES TENDING

I don’t know if pachysandra live on the West Coast, and I’m no longer in charge of anything living from the plant kingdom except two tiny but growing coffee plants, but re-reading this post made me feel wistful and encouraged at the same time.

Pachysandra is a very Princeton ground cover. Dark green, shade-loving (so it does very well under trees), and distinctly slow to invade, it is perfect for filling in large tracts where there will be falling leaves – it eats them and rarely complains.

Our neighbors didn’t have much of it, and they had a LOT of raking and blowing in our neighborhood, as we lived, by choice, where there were many trees.

I think trees are what I miss the most from New Jersey – we had a good combination of evergreens and deciduous trees such as sweetgums (a pain to clean up the gum balls, but the colors are glorious – from green to yellow through red to deep purple on the same tree at the same time). My window here faces another wing of the building across the entrance courtyard with the flagpole, and there are some trees greening up, but it’s not a forest.


From October 2012 when we were still homeowners, and I was far more mobile:

Pachysandra, writing, and mental toughness – driveway, part 3

Is there life in the apparent dead? What does it take to hold on, take root, and grow again?

As a writer whose writing continually gets interrupted – by my own physical problems in combination with doing what needs to be done – I wonder if it’s even worth trying again.

Sometimes I get my answer – YES! – in very odd places. Being a writer, I think about it, organize the words in my head, and then write about it. I can’t help myself. A few notes on the ‘gathering’ page of my notebook, a little bit of time, and out it comes.

Why pachysandra?

Because the stuff is tough. And full of life, even when chopped off.

To do the driveway …, the edges had to be cleared of overhanging vegetation. Pachysandra is a very polite grower: it goes where it’s wanted, slowly filling in where its roots are allowed to wander, following the soil. Even the inch of soil and leaf litter that washed over the end of the driveway. Slowly and steadily, because it wasn’t told not to, the pachysandra moved in until it was literally growing on top of asphalt.

I trimmed the plants. I tell myself it is like giving the plant a haircut – the cuttings aren’t all that important if the plant is left functioning where it can. But the cuttings looked so healthy and green and cheerful I just couldn’t toss them. So, with some vague idea of transplanting the bits and pieces to fill in a couple of bare spots left by the drought of a few years ago, which were only slowly and politely filling in from the drought survivors, I threw the pieces into several buckets, and dumped a couple of inches of water in each.

You know what they say about planning, right?

The original plan was to put the cuttings in neatly, cut ends in the water, toss in some rooting hormone, and plant the neat little survivors when they had a few baby roots. Well, when you’re in a hurry, and the driveway sealers are coming TOMORROW, neatly turns into tossed in clumps, the cut ends often didn’t make it into any water, and a bunch of what looked like white roots with root hairs and an occasional green tip got thrown in, too, with no plan or purpose.

Then a bunch of stuff happened – and it was over a week before I got back to my buckets. To my surprise, most of the pieces weren’t dried out and dead, or drowned and decaying. I reluctantly spent some of my time and energy – after all, I had PROMISED the parent plants – dug some shallow trenches in the bare spots in the hard dirt, lined up a bunch of pieces in each trench, and pushed the dirt back in. Loosely.

I didn’t see much life

The pieces were either way too many stems and leaves – or those bare-root pieces with NO leaves. I figured the latter could decompose and serve as organic material if nothing else. Only a couple of the pieces were traditionally transplantable: a piece of stem with a few leaves and a chunk of root. I watered, mostly dumping the water the poor plants had been soaking in or not soaking in, making very unpromising mud.

Two days later, noting how many of these pieces STILL looked alive, I watered lightly with a watering can – water is heavy, and I carried it from a bathroom sink rather than drag out the heavy hose for such a small job.

I’ve had no time for them – but darned if those pachysandra cuttings aren’t still holding their leaves up and green and perky – and waiting for me to provide a little water. I expected a few pieces might survive – but instead of a ten percent survival rate, I have a ten percent FAILURE rate.

And those tough little plants are making me ashamed

to doubt that my writing, too, will come back the minute I give it any encouragement, provide it some time and water and sunlight, and just let it live.

I can’t kill it. It’s going to look for ANY hope, politely and slowly filling in where it is allowed, until it, too, pours over the edges of the frame I’m keeping it in, into that shallow layer of mud on top of asphalt where the roots are shallow. But green and vigorous. And HEALTHY. I can channel it, prune it, replant it where I want it.

And I should. Because it is full of life and mental toughness – just like that well-behaved but riotous ground cover that keeps pushing the boundaries.

I take my lessons in survival where I can get them.


Where do you get your survival lessons from?

Gather scene plot points before writing

WARNING: FOR PLOTTERS

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

Even plotters have many variants

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

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

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

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

So, necessity or temperament:

I call us Extreme Plotters

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

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

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


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

Appreciations: Stuff that has to go somewhere

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

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

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

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

Finding a home for the pieces in the list of scenes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thoughts?