Is the gift worth your LIFE?

ONLY IF YOU HAVE TO

I wake up angry too many days.

Then I spend time getting myself at least back to neutral, because I live with other people, and it isn’t fair to them to have to put up with me in that mood, unless I have no other choice, and we already know I have a choice, because I have used that choice successfully every day for many years now: figure out how to, today, and get over yourself.

Every day I berate myself

Because I don’t get to work sooner.

I sit at my computer, and end up checking out whether anything has changed in the world since I forced myself to go to bed last night. Now that we have online subscriptions to the Washington Post and The New York Times, I do a quick flip through the headlined new articles, to see if anything needs my attention.

I remember the comic (xkcd, I believe) about how someone can’t go to bed because the internet is broken.

I know it’s partly physical: for some reason probably related to illness, the brain comes on slowly, and usually doesn’t really focus on anything mentally challenging until after first nap. That baffles me, and scares me, because I have to drag myself into that first nap, too, always convinced before I do so that it won’t help, that if I could just force myself through, block the internet, START working I would now be fine for the rest of the day, and I’d get everything done which never gets done.

Every day I test out my mental speed by doing hard sudokus: under about 6:30 minutes, I can probably do something useful with a small effort; over that, and I can’t usually write, and, worse, make mistakes of epic proportions (luckily Scrivener has snapshots and I do backups erratically but so far successfully). Those scare me – when it takes you a month to write a scene exactly the way you want it, and you think you have deleted it, well, it’s not a pretty feeling.

Nothing helps until somehow

The process starts up by itself, if it’s going to that day.

Many days it doesn’t – and I am helpless to understand why. Because it seems that other, equally stressed days, work.

I laugh when I see people suggest taking days off: it takes me so long to get back to where I was when I’m forced by Life to do something else for a few days that I am pretty sure I won’t make it back to writing ever.

My brain is on instructions to at least try every day, and, indeed, I have no idea what I’d do with a day taken off deliberately from writing.

Back to the ‘gift’ I’m writing about

And that gift IS writing.

Not that I have any choice in the matter, it seems, but the writing, as it is now, is the result of who I’ve become.

And that’s the question: if I had to choose, and I had the Hobson’s choice of writing what I do and being sick, or neither, would I value what I’m writing enough to choose illness if that were its price?

Is one single story – if that’s all I manage – worth a life?

Is LoTR worth Tolkien’s life, GWTW Margaret Mitchell’s? And why classify myself with them (and neither was ill). What about ‘Barbie Takes Manhattan’? Or ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’? Or ‘Harry the Cat’?

The choice is an illusion

I have children and a husband – they come first.

And, as soon as they don’t need me this instant, I try again to focus.

I took my nap, am more awake (though sudoku still says well over 7 min.), and I come back to the same question: is this worth writing? Is it worth my life? I’m not sure what the answer is, but it certainly is what I want to do with my life, with the energy I get, with the time I spend/waste every day.

I didn’t make this choice – it chose me. Somehow. Like the other gifts in my life, I’ve found myself nose deep in the pool whether I liked it or not.

By standing on tiptoe, I manage not to drown. And then another day comes, and another task, and I find myself, on the good days, inside my head walking Kary and Andrew through an exchange, planning exactly how Bianca will take the next step, knowing what is coming, but not exactly how the words will play out yet.

And wishing I could speed it up.

What did you get for Christmas?

The same old thing.

I don’t want a pony.

But I want this. And if this is the price, yes, bring it on.

Hope you got what you wanted.


 

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Is the artist in the way of the art?

IS THE WRITER’S APPEARANCE A DETRIMENT TO HER OWN WRITING SUCCESS?

When I was growing up, books had plain covers (no representative art), and the only means of interaction between reader and writer were the words on the page.

I usually skipped things like Forewords, and if I read the author’s bio, it was a quick pass, more destined to reinforce his name than anything else, so if I liked the work I could find more by him.

To this day, I have no idea what Robert Heinlein looked like, and only know what Asimov looked like because he was a bit of a media hound (and I had him confused with Einstein, which would have tickled his fancy. I think.).

There are statues of Marcus Aurelius, in stone or bronze, I assume – never even thought to look.

Modern digital life has changed all that

It is almost annoying when an author goes to a great deal of trouble not to let readers know what she looks like.

I prefer actual current photographs for avatars.

It is a problem for those with multiple pen names.

And I wonder just how much it influences the readers, especially in some genres.

Should Romance writers be pretty?

Humans who have sight are very visual creatures. It is estimated (somewhere) that 80% of our energy goes to dealing with visual input.

We react negatively to ugly things – after millenia of evolution that correlated ugly things with things that were often bad for us, such as rotted animals or toxic snakes.

Other things, such as the thickness of the ankles of young women in countries where sunlight was insufficient part of the year – which is an indication of ricketts, a disease which might also have affected her other bones, and make her more likely to have problems in childbirth, have gotten folded into our standards of beauty: thick ankles = not attractive.

I notice the way authors present themselves (check out Kristin Hannah’s Amazon author page) – and wonder how much that affects her sales (she’s gorgeous, and that’s a great photo). Wonder how any others can compete.

Do readers wonder if any of what’s in the stories is based on experience?

What about opinionated authors?

What do you think of authors whose claim to fame includes a very solid amount of in-your-face-ness? Are you more likely to read their books?

I loved Rudyard Kipling stories; reading about his attitudes has put a bit of a damper on reading his books, and would make me think hard about gifting them to a grandchild if I had one.

I make judgments about people based on their appearance

All the time.

I also immediately catch myself at it now, and look at those judgments dispassionately to see how much might be true. I have managed to change my own opinions quite a bit by a continued practice, and no longer automatically make some judgments which used to bother me a lot because they were so automatic, and couldn’t possibly be true.

But I’m wondering if, in the race for sales, those who look good have an unfair advantage. Again.

At least in getting started in the race.

Choose how you present yourself online

Not suggesting this should change, but I can’t quite stop making those automatic judgments about the photos that people choose to represent themselves with on their author page. Or avatar. Or book cover.

The good thing is that it is usually just at a few places, say Amazon, FB, your blog, and they don’t get to see what you look like first thing in the morning.

I need to work on that.

Do you ever think about how you are influenced by what you ‘know’ about an author?

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE in suport of CDC

HERE ARE THE WORDS THE CDC HAVE BEEN FORBIDDEN TO USE:


VULNERABLE
ENTITLEMENT
DIVERSITY
TRANSGENDER
FETUS
EVIDENCE-BASED
SCIENCE-BASED


I’m sure my real scientific colleagues, the ones with PhDs and MSs and BSs and technician certificates and experience who have been doing science at the CDC before this miserable year, will find appropriate ways to get around Big Brother.

But they shouldn’t have to.

Yes, I know. Some of it is silly jargon, and sometimes overused, and God knows we scientists are nowhere near perfect.

But we CARE about our fellow humans, even the ones who… and we want them to be as happy, and especially healthy, as possible. And make their own adult choices about the number of children they can care for.

This above kind of nonsense wastes time, doesn’t produce anything, and is downright stupid as well as authoritarian and totalitarian and [insert your favorite here].

Meanwhile, it is my civic duty to make sure these words get their regular workout, so they are ready to serve when sanity returns.

Which it must, eventually.

While I’m at it:


CONGRATULATIONS TO THE GOOD FOLK OF

ALABAMA

and the men and women who drove voters to the polls and got their friends and neighbors to register, and forced their fear down just long enough. Each American gets ONE vote, regardless of income or social standing.

Thank you, Founding Fathers. And those who have added the rest of us to the rolls of voters with the constitutional amendments and Supreme Court decisions.

May Doug Jones serve ALL the people of ALABAMA, who will be better off.


And my usual gratitude to Stencil for the ability to produce images for posts.

Forgive me for yelling.

Do introvert readers keep books secret?

ARE EXTROVERTS MORE LIKELY TO PROMOTE FAVORITE BOOKS?

I belong to several online writer groups, as well as having a circuit of favorite blogs and bloggers, and I can’t believe it took me this long to ask myself this question: do extroverted writers have a major edge when it comes to promotion?

I see people who happily post about their first book, and how they’re hoping that all their ‘peeps’ and advanced street team will be telling everyone to ignore the flaws in their work read their wonderful work.

Maybe some of them are really young.

But it’s more likely that they’re just enthusiastic and love to share.

Does intro/extroversion affect what and how you read?

I didn’t know many readers who were not adults, and not so many of those, when I was growing up. The adults tended to read popular paperbacks, things like The Agony and the Ecstasy or Perry Mason mysteries or even The Thorn Birds, but they also managed to lead normal lives, and didn’t hide books or hide from contact with humans because they were reading.

TV wasn’t so great back then (in the sense of volume), so reading – books and magazines – was one of those uses of time which came under the rubric of ‘entertainment.’ At least in my family.

But I don’t remember reading being something I shared with classmates, and I didn’t see others girls at my school sitting around with books at recess.

You couldn’t have stopped me – I figured it came pre-loaded in my brain, along with a lot of other inconvenient stuff that made me odd.

Does it affect how you share about books?

Having had some experience telling other people about books I liked, and having them blow me off, I’ve been wondering whether it is part of the introvert personality to want to keep things for myself.

And to not want to go to bat for a particular book because who am I to tell other people what to read?

I thought all writers would be introverts

Something about spending time by yourself making up imaginary friends.

But it isn’t at all true.

Having been part of the online indie writing community for the past five years, and read thousands of comments, and contributed my fair share, I finally realized just a couple of days ago that no, we are not all the same happy little introverts, writing away in our little enclaves.

And that some of the writers who claim lots of success are out there shouting from the rooftops about the marvels they have concocted for your delectation.

Whether they have or not.

Squeaky wheel premise? The belief that most people who buy an inexpensive book, especially those who don’t get around to reading it quickly, won’t bother returning it if they don’t like their purchase?

The extroverts just go out and do it themselves.

We’re hiding in the woodwork

Hoping to be discovered by somebody else who will be interested in telling the world for us.

I have to ponder this a while. Figuring it out was startling.

And there are likely to be a significant number of introverts in amongst the readers out there, and possibly some of them are wondering why all the books they see advertised and promoted seem a bit off, for them, because not only would they never act that way, but they would never want to act that way.

I enjoyed Red Sonya, but never in a hundred different lifetimes would I have had any interest in becoming her and wielding my way through the world with a sword.

And we only got Tolkien by accident. He was going to keep it all to himself.

So the problem is double-pronged

Extroverts get in the way between introverts and their potential readers at both ends:

Introvert reader << Extrovert reader << Extrovert writer << Introvert writer,

with all the noise being in the middle.

We need a kind of stealth marketing that bypasses the hullaballoo in between.

I think, after you get over all that, the introvert readers are probably the most loyal out there. And I think they may mention what they like once or twice, but they are constitutionally incapable of being pushy about it, so ‘their’ books don’t get the kind of recommendations, in volume, than the process that propels extrovert books and writers to the tops of the charts.

But that’s just me.

They also have very high standards – because they’re not distracted by the noise.

Whaddaya think?

Making do with everything you’ve got

TODAY IS MY DAY

And I wasn’t even aware of it until I read one of my favorite bloggers, Dave Hingsburger, talking, as he does most days about a little story of people with a disability running into ‘normals.’

My random thoughts about my day

Even in one of my favorite tales, H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which I’ve talked about before, in a highly dysfunctional future society which manages to continue working somehow, and where characteristics have split into the industrious but subterranean Morlocks (who keep the world working but look like trolls), and the fragile beautiful Eloi (who basically do nothing useful but tug at the Traveller’s sympathies because they are scared), there are no disabled people.

Who we are

We get ignored a lot. But worse than that, we get looked down on. We get blamed for sucking up resources and money.

Periodically someone suggests just getting rid of us all (this is called eugenics: from Wikipedia, ‘a set of beliefs and practices that aims at improving the genetic quality of a human population’).

Please do try to remember that Dr. Stephen Hawking is disabled.

We are everyone else

Do please also try to remember that humans are fragile, and each of us is one second from not being at all, and one second from becoming one of the despised disabled – and in need of all those services they considered too costly before one of them needed them.

We want to work if we can

Some of us can. Some of us try to support ourselves by our own labors (I’m not in that category; I supported myself because I had disability insurance, something everyone should consider as it is 5 times more likely to become disabled than to die during the ‘working years’).

Some of us can’t. Luck of the draw. Chaos theory and an automobile heading toward us one inch to the right (ask novelist Stephen King; or better still, read the end of On Writing, where he has detailed how a careless driver nearly removed him from your list of best-selling authors).

Some disabled people are capable of producing great work; some are capable of producing a different kind and level of work. But most of us take longer, sometimes a great deal longer, to produce that work. Slow brains or bodies make it a lot harder.

Personally, I think those who keep trying anyway – against the disdain and rudeness and downright hatred they might encounter in public spaces (yeah, that kid with Down Syndrome clearing your table at the mall is, how lovely, a target for teens who think they are somehow responsible for their own wonderfulness), are demonstrating how important it is for us as humans to contribute to our society if we can.

And yes, I’m one of those, so it does sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but today is my day, so I may be permitted a small ‘beep.’

And, of course, we are your brothers, sisters, parents, children, neighbors…

Who of us does not know someone in this category?

And which of us gets through life without?

Please celebrate with me.

We’re not different. So would the world kindly stop treating us that way?

And, if it pleases you, buy our work. It might even be created to much higher standards than you think (hence the title of this post) because it costs everything we have. Yes, you are permitted to make me go viral if you like my fiction, and yes, I am working very hard (and incredibly slowly so as to keep to those standards) on Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD.

Those who can support themselves by working would really like to do that. And those who can’t will be supported by our taxes, too. I’m good with that.

Please ignore the slightly old-fashioned tone: I have been reading Miss Manners.


INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

Sunday, December 3, 2017


 

 

 

My funny 2017 Thanksgiving Day story

THE CLUELESS WRITER STORIES

The only excuse for this is that I’m pretty isolated, the kids are too far away for travel and for various reasons we two just don’t ‘do’ Thanksgiving any more (except that husband has opted to have me make his traditional pizza – I get the crust ready, he piles on everything he loves).

Out of the blue

My dear friend Sandy called this morning, to invite me out for lunch for my birthday. It’s a tradition we’ve had for a long time. As she has moved from New Jersey to Vermont (though her youngest is still here), it is an unexpected pleasure because she is here to celebrate the day at her old home.

I was delighted, and we quickly agreed on a time and place. We eschewed our old ‘writing partners’ traditional restaurant because, the last couple of times we’d been there, we both agreed quality had dropped.

I enthusiastically agreed to The Cheesecake Factory. They’re a bit noisy, more at dinnertime though lunch should be okay, but their food is good and has a great variety, and they have low carb cheesecake!

Write it down, Alicia!

I write the information on a Post It!, being as I am getting forgetful and don’t want to make her wait tomorrow, even changing the refill on the gel pen to make sure the note was nice and dark. I stick the note where I can’t possibly not see it several times today, which is what I need for it to penetrate.

I’m sitting here at the computer wasting time, as I do in the mornings, thinking about the posts I’ve read this morning, and the general concept of being thankful for what you have, and grateful in general. I turn to erase the message on the answering machine which is blinking in my peripheral vision’s range.

Suddenly, the slow-moving cogs in my brain finally do something. I stare at the note. I start laughing.

I call Sandy, startling her (I’m sure she’s probably up to her ears in cooking or something), and say, “Do you realize what day tomorrow is?”

She said no, and I pointed out it will be Black Friday. She still doesn’t get it. I said The Cheesecake Factory is in QUAKERBRIDGE MALL.

We agree neither of us do Black Friday – and I said, “But other people do.”

Disaster averted

We had a good laugh, picked a different place far from any shopping venues tomorrow, and will have a great lunch catching up.

I can only imagine what it would have been like if clueless me had gotten into the car and tried to drive to the Mall tomorrow for lunch, late as I usually am at that point.

I hope ONE of us would have noticed by then.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

Me, I’m just grateful I’ve received so many things today to make me laugh.

I write today in Uttar Pradesh

THE MOUNTAINS I CAN’T CLIMB ARE MINE

Years ago, when I set Pride’s Children in 2005-2006, I worked out Book 1, PURGATORY, in a little more detail than the remaining volumes of the trilogy (there being only so much you can carry in your head at a time, and Book 1 was quite a lot to handle).

I emphasize that the rough draft was complete, Book 1 to the end of Book 3. I know what is happening – I’m an extreme plotter, and little of importance has changed since 2000.

Some of my research has come back, not so much to haunt me, but to challenge me, as I work through turning an unbelievably rough first draft (don’t be fooled by the perfect spelling, and all the punctuation marks being in their places) into the final draft, a one-step scene by scene process for me.

Victory after a month?

I finished a scene, which took me over a month to write, yesterday. I listened to it (one of my final steps) and declared it finished to my exacting standards (hehe), posted in my victory journal, and started working on the next scene immediately.

And immediately ran into a road block at a deceptively-simple plot point:  What time do we leave the hotel in the morning?

Did a bit of quick research on distances, times, and roads in Uttar Pradesh, India, and realized I had a whopping big plot problem.

One part of the research held: I had changed the date of the scene by three days, but the sun still rose within two minutes of my original date. Don’t laugh at me – it’s a plot point, and I pay attention (so the readers doesn’t have to) in great detail when I can. I think I need that degree of detail myself, when writing, to fully go somewhere inside my head which I can’t go to in reality because of time or distance – or because it’s in the past.

Research tools have changed

But when I wrote the rough draft, I was not concerned with details of traffic and distance in India. I did a quick pass, found the things I needed, figured I could nudge or hedge enough to make it work – after all, the scene had bridging a time and spatial gap only as a minor part, and moved on to the more important character plot points.

Today, I had to pay for that.

I had to have characters be somewhere at that particular time – which meant they had to get in a car at an appropriate time, and go to bed at a time which went with the rest, and have dinner first (all of which should be transparent to the reader), and fly in from the other side of the world.

Google Earth: villain and hero

Google Earth showed me it wouldn’t work. Not as I set it up originally, because they do such silly things as calculate how long it will take you from Point A to Point B at a PARTICULAR time of day on a day which might not be in 2005 (that calculation is lost), but can be extrapolated, with some care and patience, from what it might take today. Or next Tuesday.

It’s designed for commuters and tour guides. It is amazingly useful for me.

I hope some day to have a host of Indian readers – it’s a huge market of English speakers which has been barely tapped because of other problems such as rural electrification, vast population density, and its immense size. But I’m not going to be successful with them (assuming they actually like and read my writing) if I mysteriously shorten the distance between two Indian cities in an area where people actually know how long it takes to go from one to the other. The suspension of disbelief will go Poof!

There are many side benefits to spending time with errant details

The area is more real to me than ever before. And it was pretty solid then.

Other details that are important – and peripherally hooked in – such as who sits next to whom during a conversation, suddenly have answers from logic, not imagination. Thank goodness for real-world anchors occasionally! It gets a little rarified in the cloud-cuckoo-land of making it all up as you go.

And because I started Pride’s Children to tell myself a real story, real in the sense that it could happen, not necessarily that it did, I can believe my own lies.

 

A white rose for my memories

Bouquet of white roses and other blue and white flowers Alicia Butcher EhrhardtMEMORY TRIGGERS?

Things stay with you.

My Mamina, my mother’s mother, lost two boys. One, my uncle Joseph, was her last child, and lived only a day. The other, my uncle Billy, named after my grandfather Papa Memo (Memo is a nickname for Guillermo – William), came down with encephalitis at eleven.

My mother told me the story of how she rode in the taxi with my Papa Memo to take Joseph’s tiny coffin to the cemetery because Mamina was too devastated to go, and still dealing with the birth.

But she was only sixteen, and she missed her little brother Billy enormously, as of course they all did. A child of eleven is not really a child any more. It must have been very hard for my aunts Alicia and Betty, who were even younger.

Families cope with these catastrophes because they must, but it is to their credit that none of them became embittered in any way. My grandparents were some of the warmest people I have ever known, and showered me with love (and possibly a bit of favoritism) when my parents moved us all to Mexico in 1957.

I’m going far afield in a bit of background, but something has come, in an odd way, full circle, and I’m stopping to record it. I’m afraid if I don’t, I might forget.

Mamina told me one day in the garden of the house at Adolfo Prieto 1225, Colonia del Valle, Mexico City, of how, after Billy died, a day toward the end of the year, she came out to the garden to find a single white rose on one of the rosebushes, long after the end of the season, even in Mexico. And she knew, immediately, that Billy was at home in heaven, and safe.

They are with him now, as is my mother, Pepita. Yesterday I received a completely unexpected sympathy gift from, of all people, my financial advisers at Vanguard: a bouquet of flowers, blue – and white. With white roses.

Life happens in between story moments

FENCE, WALL – THAT WAY IS BLOCKED

Where is the rest of life? FRIDAY

One illusion novels maintain is that nothing of importance happens in the moments the writer chooses not to present on the page.

I bank on that bit of prestidigitation myself; I’m not against it, but I have to remember to consult my story calendar, the plot, and logic, when I fill in one of the prompts I always use:

Timing considerations: Since last scene, or last scene for this character, what has changed/happened? Does it make sense? Does it have conflict opportunities? Does it have to be dealt with?

A novelist fills the gap with a word, a flashback later (if the reader is lucky), or a jump cut, simply switching to a new scene with the assumption that readers can figure it out.

And we do. Movies no longer need those silly calendars showing the pages blowing off – we get it.

There is still, in most novels, a sense of moving forward in time, and not bothering to document the smaller bits that make up existence: characters eat, take a taxi, work.

But readers have an innate sense of when an author left something important out. The reader’s mind goes, “Huh?” Too many of those, and the reader is no longer interested in the story because, truly, there isn’t one.

We’re watching a couple of streaming TV programs: Hinterland (set in Wales) and Crossing the Line (set in Europe), and have these little discussions about linearity of plot, because either they do things differently on the other side of the pond, or we’ve lost some important ability, because we don’t get things much more often than we expect not to understand.

It’s a minor annoyance when watching TV, and my guess is that something got cut between the script and the final edit – different people doing the work? The shows are atmospheric enough to carry through (though the first seems both skimping and padding because I think I could cut it from 90 to 50 or 60 minutes and it would be improved considerably).

Life is boring

And full of little details – things which have to be done – but which contribute nothing to the eternal verities. I spent my good time this morning talking to online pharmacy and doctor’s office personnel – and got no writing done. Eventually, the pills I depend on may make their appearance, and I won’t be in so much pain I can’t think, much less write. As many of us are finding, those drug-seekers out there (some of which are probably just getting crappy medical care, and are experiencing pain they should be) are making life much longer and more boring for those of us who are trying to follow the rules.

It’s always so: the rules are tightened, but the people who are breaking them aren’t affected, and the ones who were not doing anything wrong have to deal with more paperwork.

This makes the future scarier

I can sort of cope now – if I don’t do anything time-wasting such as trying to concentrate on my writing for a few hours.

Some day I won’t be able to cope at all, and someone else will have to do this stuff for me, and they probably will neither do it right nor efficiently, and I will have no choice but to suffer the consequences.It is laughably difficult to leave instructions for such things as “don’t feed me carbohydrates,” or ” I can’t lie comfortably very long on my left side without a VERY thin pillow under me,” or “I HATE raw tomatoes.”

I hope that doesn’t happen too soon.

Meanwhile, I cope day-to-day

Badly, because my coping skills are somewhat age-dependent, as everyone’s are, but much slower than most people’s to start with.

I really thought I’d be further along – that I’ve learned to gather the input for a scene faster, and turn it into prose faster – but it isn’t even keeping up with the increased pressure of “thing that must be done.”

The big ones

Settling my parents’ estates and filing the required tax returns – an exercise quite pointless, as there will be no tax money in it for the government.

Finding a retirement community – I have realized lately that financial information (ours and theirs), and knowledge of floor plans and meal plans, is barely the beginning. As I dig deeper, I find the questions of medical care when you can’t navigate it yourself, and even simply paying your bills in that condition, are much more important. And we haven’t even STARTED visiting the Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing components of the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), which are looming as more and more important to choose correctly from the beginning, because you’re going to end up in them if you live long enough! And you will not be gleefully looking forward to moving in to them in most cases.

Dejunking this house/Selling this house – a difficult pair of things to do requiring millions of decisions which we can repent of at leisure.

And the very worst of all

I resent not being able to work myself out of the current many holes. A lady doing the fast walking jog many people think is called ‘running,’ but won’t mess up her hair or get her too sweaty; the man with the white ponytail and the limp who goes out for a painful walk regardless of the temperature or conditions most days; the children – especially the one little grandson who spends HOURS trying skateboard tricks or shooting baskets when he visits next door – all these people are ‘working on it,’ my standard response when asked about anything, but they are actually working on something.

Me, I’m stuck. I get one little thing done, painfully, and the ‘things needing doing’ merely provides the next customer in a Black Friday-long line.

I gotta get out of this place, but it may end up being the last thing I ever do, at this rate.

I make a list, read it, pick one thing to do. It is the A1 now, and the system is to get it done, because it is the log that is holding everything in a jam. But I’ve been telling myself that for weeks, months, years – and it’s a lie. There’s always another. When do you know if something is real or just depression talking?


What’s the answer? Is there a solution? SATURDAY

I’m hoping so. I’m hoping it is to focus on all the little good pieces:

the last message from the online pharmacy was that they had approved my prior authorization – without any further calls from me to them OR the doctor’s office; they may even manage to send me my perfectly legal, non-narcotic, non-opiate pain pills without me having to chase them down, and possibly even repeat that twice more in 3 and  months. Meanwhile, I pray the generics figure it out.

I am much further along in the estate-settling – and can’t do anything further this weekend; I hope I have figured out the way that doesn’t require exorbitant taxes.

I think that ‘we have to get out of this place’ has finally penetrated – we’re both quite tired of the continuing stream of maintenance, and the computations are almost done; a trip to California may be in the offing (let’s hope I survive!).

I may have located the cause of a couple of physical problems – that would be a lovely set of things to remove from my life.

And my standby solution – rest and reset the brain – still seems to work. Happy weekend – I’m going to go use it now.

And maybe one of these days I’ll learn to advertise…

One for my side: Google confirms I can spell pretidigitation and know what it means!


How’s your weekend going?

And thanks again to Stencil for the ability to make images out of thin air.

The writer comes from somewhere

Ernest and Pepita Butcher

THE BEST START ON LIFE YOU COULD GET

Life has been biting at my ankles this year, and I’m almost at the point of telling you you can have 2017. I don’t want it.

Mother, 94, has gone to Heaven to be with Daddy, who died three years ago at 91. We  imagine them dancing together again. We all thought they would be here forever, even if diminished from their prime of being one of the most vital and alive couples we ever knew.

My sisters and I, growing up in Mexico City, agreed many times that they were the best parents we knew, and we wouldn’t trade them for anybody else’s parents.

So many stories we can tell, and will remind each other of, but I’m sure everyone has their own family stories, and I can’t do them justice. But they SHOWED us what love is.

And we hope we are passing it on.

Writers have only so many hours

Desktop with coffee and office supplies. Text: The longer the to do list, the less efficiently I handle it. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

OF 24 HOURS IN A DAY, 2 OR 3 OF THEM ARE GOOD

I mourn the loss of reading material online, which is hypocritical of me, as I’m also NOT producing any of it myself on a regular basis. Blog post reading material, that is.

With me, having two main tasks on the plate is a stretch. Right now I have several – and the blogging has suffered.

I apologize for the self-centered post to follow, but it may explain the hiatus a bit.

The A1 task has become ‘finding a place to live.’

I am vetting Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) in California, with a few in NJ and PA for comparison.

I had hoped we’d be out of here by now, resting after our labors in a new community, preferably in California (land of better weather and my birth), with the time-consuming search behind us, and nothing more challenging, apart from my fiction, than using the new pool and gym and having dinner with other compatible residents.

The problem: it is a ‘forever home,’ and will require quite a lot of our money over the coming years, and, even though we could change once we got there if we didn’t like the one we picked, we’d be older, possibly frailer, and it would be a physical and financial challenge.

So, pick well – and give the community the rest of your life.

So, picking well is crucial. And hard.

The A2 task has become ‘get rid of this house.’

The reason we’re moving, and not aging in place, is that THIS house and yard and my lovely perennial garden consumes way too much of our energy, and our social life is diminishing to the vanishing point as OTHER people leave. And the common-in-this-day: our children do not live near us or each other, and that won’t change.

My mother, in Mexico City, is lovingly taken care of by a rotating staff of three aides – supervised by my whole family. I can’t expect that – no extended family here. I hope we get the kids to supervise when we’re older, but it will be remotely most of the time. We had our children very late as we established OUR careers, and they are barely getting started in many ways – one of the unforseen consequences of me listening to all the people who said you could wait. Plus I never expected to be sick. 28 years this November.

We are being responsible with time, money, and our wishes, and setting ourselves up now, BEFORE the crisis that usually precipitates moving (often then into Assisted Living or a Nursing Home) for older adults.

We also plan to enjoy the freer lifestyle – there is no point to having a suburban house unless you have a lot of family or friends there frequently. One of my ambitions is the ability to travel – because the grass is not our problem, nor the drains, nor freezing pipes… You get the picture.

Many of my generation are starting to see the benefits, and doing the same thing: move while you can enjoy the Independent Living part of the new place, be already situated in a place you chose when you need more care.

So: DEJUNK the place, fix it up, sell it – find new place, move in, fix it up a bit. Unfortunately, for someone like me, this is the same as a To Do list item: climb Everest.

The A3 task is: finish my dad’s last tax return

And do Mother’s for the last couple of years.

I finally got one step further on this task.

A bit of background: as the only child in the States, it has always been my duty to take care of such things as my parents needed. They were both American, and lived in Mexico. And my Daddy was, if not secretive, definitely of the older generation, which kept things close to their chests – especially finances – because it was nobody’s business but theirs. Daddy always paid whatever taxes he owed to the USA as an expat. He was a WWII veteran, and an honest man. I miss him a lot. I don’t get there to see Mother nearly enough – and it is a hugely exhausting trip for me.

That wasn’t a problem, but the orderly transition of information was never made, and a bunch of things had to be regenerated or reconstructed after Daddy died, and the IRS made this rather difficult because there were pieces I had to justify acquiring.

Needless to go into detail, but I now have the information I need to file those tax returns, which means that job goes to the head of the queue, as it has been several years. It wasn’t CRITICAL, because there will be no taxes OWED (fines are based on unpaid taxes), but I really don’t want to have to carry that paperwork with me as we move, and risk both losing it, and having the whole filing be postponed MUCH longer.

The A4 task is: writing Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD (formerly A1).

This is the real reason for fewer posts: the writing is happening when I have the brain and the energy, and I’m much farther along than before. Book over blog posts.

On bad days, if I can write at all, the text seems leaden and ungraceful, but I plow ahead, and have been pleasantly surprised to find that the graceless prose requires far less work to bring it up to my standards than I expected: being tired and low while writing doesn’t get in the way of the fact that the PROCESS I use is solid.

Though, as I stated in a comment recently on FB, no one in their right mind would use my process.

But it WORKS for me, still allows me to put together this vast story by creating tiny individual mosaic tiles to cement into the solid overall framework with some tweaking but no loss. I marvel at this. It’s taken twenty years+ of writing to get to this point, of knowing exactly what to do (except for the art part – that comes from no conscious process I can see or summon): gather everything I have decided must go in a scene, and the process plus subconscious turns it into a short story.

Because that’s how I see every scene: a short story, as complete in itself as I can make it (without the redundancy of creating the world anew each time).

The A4′ task is: marketing Pride’s Children: PURGATORY (formerly A2).

With only one of me, and so much effort in the marketing department being unfruitful (you have no idea how much time I’ve spent on Amazon ads this year, but it was a huge commitment which hasn’t panned out, but may, one of these days), and that me being so low energy, it is currently stalled.

And likely to be ignored a lot, while at the same time I mourn having no sales or borrow except the occasional one I generate at great effort by hand. I’m mourning a lot of things right now – what’s one more?

But this one is actually a drain on the spirit, even though I hope the publication of more works will be the promised kick to sales of Book 1. This is practically an indie promise: write more books, and you will do better.

Which begs entirely the question: nothing will happen without marketing, and marketing two or three is more work.

The rest of the list: singing, a bit of socializing, life.

Less of all that every day – my folk group singing is yielding to the reality that I’ve been in this group for years, if not decades, and every single one of us is that much older – and now finding it hard to drive at night. In its current form, its days are numbered. We’re singing along, waiting for the old dear to have one of those crises I wrote about above.

I thought I had lost my choir singing on Sundays; after the stents, the meds gave me anxiety and panic attacks of major proportions, and I’ve written about the Post-Traumatic Stress created, but most of that seems under control since I am NOT on the meds (and I’m doing my cardiac rehab in the basement, thanks for asking, three times a week). I’m actually better at climbing the stairs to the crypt of the Princeton chapel where we practice (NOTE: shortness of breath IS a sign of possible artery blockage – you aren’t getting enough oxygen!). Now I’m worried about the voice part, which I always knew would happen some day, but it may get a bit better, at least until we leave, if the STRESS level drops. Singing is largely breath support, and stress makes that harder.

And the socializing, when it happens, really wipes me out – but is psychologically necessary. I look forward to it being less stressful in the CCRC, or why move? And I will be missing all my friends, which won’t help. I’ve asked to go to the annual folk-singing picnic by Skype.

That’s the update.

There sure has been a lot of adrenaline – which I handle badly – attached to these events and their outcomes, and the ability to cope, which involves being able to really rest for at least a half hour out of every three, has been severely compromised (and I have no idea how it will go when we visit 5-8 CCRCs in California in the 10-day or so trip I still have to plan).

But I am hopeful.

And I am WRITING many more days than not.

And I am making PROGRESS on NETHERWORLD, which is REALLY the A1.

Peace to all of you. How are you?

For your trouble, here is an epigraph from Chapter 22:


The heart does not rest
For at battle with itself
It can never win.

Tahiro Mizuki,
trans. by R. Heath


My appreciation, again, to Stencil for allowing me to produce the graphics which head many of my posts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The delicate sensibilities of a writer

THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA

I’m sitting at my computer feeling sorry for myself, and I get a sign from God: a hair is annoying me by touching my wrist.

I look down, don’t see it.

But I feel it, and I know it’s there, so I reach down anyway, and pull that thin white invisible hair up with a ‘Gotcha!’ feeling – and I know what He’s trying to tell me today, just this minute, just for now: if you can feel a single hair on your wrist, and KNOW it’s there, you have the sensitivity you need to write.

It has been a tough time. The Amazon ads don’t work – I have not yet figured out properly how to attract the people who click on my ads to continue on to buying, followed, it is hope, by reading, and then by whatever post-reading effort a reader might make: review, recommend, …

Winter is coming.

The days are significantly shorter, and today is the Fall Equinox.

One more time, I have not used the summer well, and now it’s over.

I think the hummingbirds are gone – I haven’t seen one at the feeder in days. I wish them well, on their long and unbelievable journey to Central America. If I manage to move, as we hoped to, I won’t be here to see them next year – I will ask the next owners to put up the feeder. Maybe they will.

Or maybe they will decide that all these perennial flowers – the bee balm for the hummers, the black-eyed Susans, the butterfly bush, the lilies – are too much trouble to weed, and they will replace them with lawn.

If we are still here next spring, when things need weeding and pruning again, I will have failed – but the urgency isn’t making anything faster.

New beginnings.

I just want to be in a different place for the next thirty years, if God grants me that many. A place with other people around – we have become very isolated, and it’s not going to get better.

The cul-de-sac at the end of the street needs new children on tricycles.

I can clean the windows, with assistance, one more time, but it is getting to be an almost impossible task.

It hasn’t been a good year, what with fires in the West, hurricanes in the Southeast, and earthquakes in Mexico. And genocide in Myanmar. And stents in my arteries.

Will California really be better? I remind myself the Big One hasn’t hit yet. I’m scared of moving, but more scared of staying.

The real reason?

It’s too hard to write when I keep getting interrupted by things I can’t do well needing to be done, and I’m hoping that will be minimized when I no longer feel responsible for a house. And I have a narrow window here to make use of a gym and a pool to improve what capabilities I can, and I want to do that before it’s too late.

So I can write.

I’ve missed my 40s, 50s, and almost all of my 60s due to disability; I think living in a place where someone else is responsible for almost everything has the potential to be better.

I want to be selfish.

Does this resonate? Time passing and opportunities drying up before you get to use them?

 

Fiction: the SECOND-BEST path to empathy

DIRECT EXPERIENCE BEST PATH TO EMPATHY?

En carne propia‘ – ‘in your own flesh’ – is always the best way, subject to the limitation that reflection is necessary to develop empathy, and a certain amount of facility with the concept of sharing something emotional with another human being, which is not necessarily evident in all cases of shared experience.

Having cancer does not confer automatic empathy with other victims of the disease.

And direct experience also has the flaw of actually being divisive if the two people with the same experience have reacted very differently, and they put that down to some inherent quality in themselves. This results in the ‘I got cancer, and I did X, and now I’m far better than those lazy sods who won’t make the effort to do X…’ phenomenon.

Because direct experience doesn’t include another person.

You’d think it would make people empathetic, or at least sympathetic toward the others in similar circumstances, but no.

Fiction is a largely underused way to deliberately develop empathy

The fiction-based trick is that you can be pulled into experiencing what another person – a character in a book – experiences, IF there is enough information in the writing.

On August 22, 2017, I had a guest post on Big Al’s Books and Pals, and I posted the link to that article here. The title Al chose out of the ones I supplied as suggestions was ‘Want to be someone else? Read fiction.’ Which is true, but didn’t mention empathy. My bad – I should have chosen my own title.

I had a couple of interesting conversations there with readers of the blog who commented, and that was the extent of the feedback.

I’m reproducing the whole post here:


Fiction is uniquely positioned to develop and increase empathy, because it provides a way around and under and through the barriers most people put up around their hearts and minds.

Humans think in stories. Why? Because we spend our lives learning the rules that ensure our survival.

Our brains are wired to learn in two ways: first, by direct personal experience – a hard way to learn some rules. Our feelings then cement the lessons, make them unforgettable.

And second, by empathy – acquiring knowledge through the experience of others.

For this, reading fiction is the best way to learn. The rub is the experience has to feel real for it to serve that purpose, exactly as if it happened to us. And the way we do that is through our emotions, which are engaged when the experience is ours.

Fiction is better than facts: facts have no emotional component to make them stick. We store them away, hope to remember them when we need them. Going on a hike across the desert? Bring water. Check.

Fiction is better than non-fiction: reports of the experience, say, of crossing the Antarctic in the middle of winter, are both entertaining and raise in us sympathy for the sufferings of the explorers. Poor guys!

And reading fiction is much better than video input for one simple reason: we can’t pretend video is happening to us when it is so clearly happening to someone else. Sympathy, not empathy.

And that’s the key: reading fiction is the best way we have to feel the emotions created by experiencing something as directly as possible without it happening to us. Because, as we read, we have to put in the effort to create, out of black marks on a page, the actual experience in our minds.

Listening to stories works almost as well, but requires a storyteller, and the emotional component is affected by that teller.

Reading is just you and the book.

Oh, and the author.

Most fiction invokes the sympathetic response in the reader – the entertainment value hooks the reader, and we’re off on an adventure. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, because we need entertainment to relax after our own lives, however crazy or calm. Lots of entertainment.

But the best fiction aims deeper: to ‘grab the jugular.’ To ‘feel like a punch in the gut.’ Or the dreaded, to make you think. Which is really to make you experience, to fully engage your empathy, to make you feel as if it happened to you. To teach you. To change you.

Here is where another of the rules of life comes into play: humans hate being preached to. The preaching is an overt attempt to change the reader or the listener, via logic backed up with emotion. Usually negative emotion, fear: you are bad, you will go to hell, you must change! You are bad, you will destroy the Earth, you must change! If you touch the stove, you will get burned, don’t!

So the author without the moral authority of the preacher or the physical authority of the dictator has to be sneaky. Covert. Tease and wheedle rather than command. Better still: make you complicit in your own change. Make you want to change.

And how does the author do that? By pulling you in with superior entertainment value (remember, we need lots of stories) up front, and by layering the experience which creates the empathy for the new experience under that. Great stories, story moral picked up by the reader from being the character, having the story happen directly to him.

We then come full circle to Show, Don’t Tell. Show the character having the divorce or being attacked by terrorists or marrying the prince. If you have your parameters right, if you’re telling the story the right way, the reader has identified with the character, and the reader is getting divorced. The reader has to escape the terrorists to save the President. The reader walking down the aisle just realized the rest of her life is proscribed by royal protocol.

The author’s power is very real.

Authors don’t always use this power to its fullest, because there is a final step: choosing the purpose of the empathy, choosing the change for a higher aim: the good of humanity.

Sounds horribly preachy, doesn’t it?

What prompted this post is that I don’t like a recent way this power is being used, to push an agenda which makes me sick to my stomach: the proposal, supported by carefully crafted stories, that people who are defective/handicapped/ill should remove themselves from the world because they are a burden to other people, and that this frees the other people to go on to something better.

Disabled people already face an uphill battle in many areas of their lives. Having society go back to an earlier model of disability which says that ‘they’ are a burden to other people, and therefore don’t have the right to the same hopes and aspirations as the ‘normals,’ is a huge step backward. To encourage them to consider removing themselves is a further abuse against their rights to live and to love.

As an author of fiction, I have the following tools:
I know how to create sympathy and empathy.
I know how to appeal to men and women.
I know how to entertain.
I know how to bury something deep in the fabric of a story.
I know how to make you identify with a character.
I know how to create situations that test the limits of character and privilege.
I know how to manipulate your emotions.
And I know that ‘disability porn’ – using disabled people to be ‘inspirational’ – is roundly despised by disabled people everywhere.

By picking the right story to tell, I believe I can make you buy my premise that disability is not the end of life as you know it.

Now that I’ve revealed many of my secrets, you still have to decide whether you’re going to let me try. And then decide if I know what the heck I’m talking about.


Why repost my own post?

Because I don’t think readers of the original blog, which sends out daily emails with reviews of indie books, are used to posts that are not a review, and I’m hoping the ideas will resonate with readers of this blog.

 

Physical or Mental: Why it Matters

It being Labor Day – and so many of us ME/CFS people remembering how much we used to be able to work, this post seemed especially relevant. Treating a physical illness as mental is bad for two reasons: the physical illness doesn’t get researched, and solved; and the real mental illnesses don’t either.

And my perennial: follow the money. Whose interest is it to keep ME/CFS classified as mental? Those who (mis)treat mental illnesses and have invested their professional careers in it.

The Self-Taught Author

This is the second in a three part series of articles looking at related issues. The first article can be found here, and explores Dr Sykes’ reply to the ME Association regarding the Science Media Centre’s recently coverage of new biological evidence in ME/CFS.

This article is going to explore the broader topic of why it matters whether the disease is considered physical or psychological.

Dr Sykes believes that, “Any organisation serious about CFS/ME should not care whether the causes of and treatments for an illness are physical, psychological, or a combination of the two.”

What an extraordinary statement. I would have to argue the opposite: Any organization serious about ME/CFS absolutely must care.

An example outside of ME/CFS

In 1980 the claim was still being made that incest occurred in fewer than one in a million women, and that its impact was not particularly damaging. (Bessel Van der…

View original post 1,405 more words

Come into my parlor says the writer to the fly

LET ME SHARE WITH YOU, DEAR FLY

Let me show you around.

Let me show off the carefully constructed room I have created for myself, and I want you to see.

Constructing the tough scenes

I have spent over two weeks crafting the scene I just finished.

I have known for almost all of this century what would happen here: this scene has ONE main job.

It is a pivotal scene: without this one scene, the second book of Pride’s Children, NETHERWORLD, comes to a screeching halt.

The way I write, though, that is not unusual.

Perennial preparation

Outside my window a pair of goldfinches is systematically eating every single seed on the drying heads of the coneflowers planted just, it seems, for them and for this purpose. I never see them at other times of year – the little yellow and black birds, tiny compared to the big fat robins that eat the worms, tinier still compared to the crows and pigeons, and microscopic compared to the hawk that lives around here somewher (in themiddle of suburban NJ!), but bigger than the hummingbirds whose feeder I need to replenish today.

But for the goldfinches to have this feast, a whole host of details must have gone perfectly: the perennial plants were introduced years ago, the weeds have been removed (now by my assistant, as I can’t do much of that any more), the fertilizer was applied, and, most importantly, I have kept that same assistant from removing the drying seedheads of this year’s crop as garden debris. Yes, it would look a lot tidier, but the whole point of the garden was hummingbirds and butterflies – and the other wildlife that eats the various seeds and drinks the different flower nectars.

It is still a surprise to the writer

Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m an extreme plotter. Hundreds or thousands of pieces have pre-planned scenes (yes, there is a bit of give – I’m not a psychic) where they will ‘happen.’

This particular scene had the regular mix of other bits attached – some pieces are identifiable as recommended by Save the Cat, Blake Snyder’s books for screenwriters, and others come straight from Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction.

I have known about the details for the past two years.

But the details as executed, oh!

And it was still very hard work – three weeks of it – to turn this collection of plot points and character bits, events and revelations, new leads and old connections – into something that I felt would take me there, and be so real I couldn’t imagine changing any of it (now – the weeks have been nothing BUT changing the HOW).

So I can take a reader there with me, invite that reader into this scene, one of the rooms on this long house tour of mine, and have the reader feel at home and comfy in the plush padded armchair whose footstool has a hand-embroidered tapestry cover.

It is finished now

And it is real, and reliably causes my brain to load the experience.

So it’s ready to eventually share. Here’s a taste:

Andrew snippet

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. What? Where? Why? I promise it all connects.

I’m on to the next.

And the goldfinches have gorged themselves for now.