Tag Archives: Hard choices

Preparation and then things just click?

Hot air baloon at sunset; text: sailing off into the sunset, Alicia Butcher EhrhardtWHETHER YOU’RE READY OR NOT

And we are so definitely NOT ready.

But the last flooring was installed, the staging ladies have done their thing, and our real estate agent is now our real estate agent (all the advice up front doesn’t count until you sign on the dotted line – at which point all kinds of things start happening, like open houses and a lock box on your front door…).

We haven’t recovered from the trip.

We have no place for our stuff – the stuff we need to function as inhabitants of a house (where is my skillet, and how will I make eggs when the gas isn’t reconnected yet?). Which may be a problem, as the period between when you put a house ‘on the market,’ and the time when you are removing your last belongings so you can hand over the keys, is an unknown variable.

I don’t know where anything is

It happens to everyone, but it is especially hard to deal with when you have ME/CFS and daily brain fog: and now it’s far worse because some of the stuff in this house was put away by someone other than me, in a hurry, and without labeling either the box or the corresponding card in my card file. Or worse still, labeled as ‘miscellaneous.’ Aargh!

I located a few of the critical items in very odd places. Not sure I have everything I need, as distinct from the comforts, even yet.

And the dryer vent, taped by the painter, is loose – so I’m not sure I can do laundry (I’m living with the absolute minimum amount of clothes out).

Everything is to be kept tidy

And by ‘tidy’ we mean the way the staging ladies left it (a model home look), or restorable to that condition on short warning, when someone uses the system to ‘book an appointment.’ Aargh!

Meanwhile, we do have to be allowed to eat. Other Half and his good friend are down there trying to reconnect, safely, the gas to the stove.

But the forever home may be available soon

Don’t know exactly when, as they actually have to get everything they asked us for, and decide whether they want us. It is possible for them to reject us.

And it is possible for us to be legally required to leave our ex-home because it belongs to someone else after all these years, before we have a place to land.

It’s a first-world type problem – and I’m not whining – except complicated by my limitations. Residence Inn America for two months? We probably could survive. Rent or buy an RV? Ditto. I think.

So we’re adjusting.

Again.

And I’m marveling that I’m still standing – and taking a nap every chance I get so that I can be coherent for the next crisis event. Such as talking to the people at our brokerage (Vanguard) and being able to satisfy them that I’m me, so we could transfer money. By phone. Since the money has actually been received at the other end by the right people, I did it.

A bit nerve-wracking: you will be asked a series of questions, based on (?) publicly available information, and if you miss one, you’ll have to go the long route of being identified some other way. I’m still chuckling over one question about a boat we owned. And wondering where husband hid it all these years.

I love Vanguard. They get things done, and always have alternatives. I am currently furious at one of our banks for the way they made a decision (which led to the nerve-wracking phone ID). And at the other for the fraught way they handle wire transfers, as if you were a criminal actively trying to circumvent laws. Why is it that the people the laws are intended to protect always feel the brunt, while the people who should be caught and punished never even feel a thing? Being law-abiding is becoming more difficult every day.

There is a For Sale sign on my yard. After 37 years.

Life is interesting, but I’m finding the watershed point was signing those papers, and I’m strangely free.

That and the deposit wire-transfer going through on the same day is… unexpected.

Off to the Gray Havens.


 

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Living in a house for strangers

iPhone, keyboard, notebook on white background. Text: White carpets? Be careful what you start, because you only THINK you're in control. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

MY NEW JOB: LIVING WITH WHITE CARPETS

I have acquired a new job: living in a house with white carpets.

We made one of the two choices offered:

  1. Sell the house after cleaning it up and fixing the obvious and/or necessary problems, or
  2. Update the house as much as possible before putting it on the market.

The easy choice: sell more or less as is

Clean things up.

Touch up all the paint – I still have the cans of good quality Benjamin Moore paint in the basement, and a card file with a paint sample for each, and a list of which rooms are painted/trimmed in that color.

Have the carpets cleaned.

Dejunk.

Add a credit to the house price for new flooring to be chosen by the new owners to their taste – and which it would be so much simpler to have installed when the house is empty between us leaving and them moving in.

Put on market.

Live in your own home, only tidier, until it sells.

The hard and expensive choice: upgrades

The lovely staging ladies we hired and the husband decided to go with alternative #2.

They say (and I hope they are right!) that homes that look dated don’t sell – because the homebuyers of today lack the imagination to see their own possessions in a house decorated by and full of the belongings of – someone else.

Our real estate agent said that the division among buyers was about 50/50, and we should do what we wanted to. That many people who might buy a four bedroom house were locals moving up, and would be buying for the school district and for more room for a growing family.

But she seems excited that the upgrades are being done, and is hopeful they will help sell the house more quickly.

Houses that don’t sell can hold up future plans

Which puts us in an interesting position.

Because we are looking for the best fit in a CCRC (continuing care retirement community), and will go to a lot of trouble to pick a specific one (or small number thereof) which will suit us, and they tend to be close to full capacity, we may be on a waiting list for a while.

This means 1) we need to get on that waiting list asap, and 2) we may be living like gypsies in a caravan, with this one sold, and no place to go for sure, for an indefinite amount of time.

After all our planning!

The supposedly accepted method is to wait until they offer you the place you want at the CCRC of your choice, and THEN put your house on the market and sell it in the typical 60-90 days it takes for the CCRC to have the unit you are offered ready for habitation.

The cart has gotten before the horse

On the theory that even if we were doing the ‘accepted method,’ we might as well get started on the known necessary repairs, and we did – but I never expected them to turn us out of our home, and to be living in a house – sans window coverings because the painter wants them gone and houses show better without them (!) – for an indefinite time, with NO unit offered to us for us to move to.

Not exactly sure how it has happened.

Part of it was the wish to get the house to market during the supposed spring selling time frame (which we will have missed).

Another, other houses staying on the market for a long time.

The third – get other people involved, when the one of the homeowners has very little energy and really needs help – and the juggernaut takes hold and roles on.

And now everything we own is in boxes in the basement – to get it out of the way of the carpet installers (here all day yesterday), the kitchen/dining flooring installers (soon), and the painter (thankfully scheduled while we will be away).

Consequences

We’ll be living, for an indeterminate amount of time (hope it isn’t long), in a house with no shades.

And white carpets.

And white walls.

And everyone agreeing that it is much harder to get stains out of white carpets!

Learn from me: you can’t control the juggernaut, and you keep poking away at the things you can control (changing the carpets) before you realize what you’ve done.


Corollary to Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will, and will cause a lot more work.


Another reminder to do these things sooner rather than later if you want to have any choice in the matter. I can’t imagine doing this ten years from now.


Sympathy and stories gratefully accepted.


 

Think ahead about accessibility in housing

Long flight of steps. Silhouette of human wearing pants. Test: Too many stairs. Think Accessibility. Someone will thank you. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

NEVER THOUGHT I’D HAVE TROUBLE WITH STAIRS

And it’s a bit of an exaggeration to think that every single home in the nation should be accessible to people with physical disabilities.

Or is it?

Odd development.

We bought this house when we were both young and childless because it was the ONLY home left in this particular subdivision, the ONLY one with mature trees that the real estate agents showed us, the ONLY one on a quiet cul-de-sac.

I fell in love with the trees.

New construction in New Jersey tends to be on former farmland. That’s because of the tax structure: farmland is encouraged, so vast tracts of land in the Garden State are technically farms, and something is planted often enough to keep this tax designation. Not for me to understand or go into the details of that.

But every once in a while, someone who needs money (probably), maybe as a result of a death in the family and land passing to a younger generation, or need for more McMansions, or whatever, sells a plot of land which is converted to residential and immediately turned into mushrooms: houses dotting the land with no trees around them.

Many of the young urban professionals who then move to the new suburbs are a bit cash-challenged, and they do minimum landscaping, so that years later the developments STILL look like blank canvases – with a few huge houses sticking up, one per acre or so, with a few bushes around the base of each.

Free exercise?

Our house is a split level. With the framed-in attic, it had FIVE levels, joined by FOUR staircases of 7, 7, 7, and 5 steps. We eventually turned that attic level into a fourth bedroom and bath – occupied first by the nanny for the two oldest, then me with the youngest after a couple of problems made it desirable for her and I to sleep together for the first year. After that, the oldest child still at home got the privacy and status of the aerie. Each in turn.

I noticed, even back before kids, that we tended to live on two of the levels – living room/dining room/kitchen plus main bedroom/master bath – and I was already limiting the number of times I’d go down to the basement.

Then I had the first two, and then I got ME/CFS, and things got rapidly worse, and then the third child…

For a healthy young mother who needs lots of exercise, and has a lot of energy, maybe wasting a bunch of it on stairs makes sense. Every time a baby needs changing, a toddler someone to help at the potty, a kid to be reminded of doing homework, a husband or wife to be called to dinner – stairs.

As a nation, we don’t plan ahead for accessibility

Grab bars in showers, clearly helpful for anyone from a young child learning to shower on her own to a mother recovering from a C-section – should be required in every tub/shower enclosure. They aren’t. I have been using the shower door’s towel rack for this for decades, always conscious that it couldn’t take real stress – because it wasn’t designed for that.

Floor plans with hallways wide enough for a wheelchair aren’t built – who could possibly need them?

MOST homes become a trap for the disabled. I can’t tell you the number of days, when the back pain from botched back surgery in 2007 was particularly bad, that I literally crawled up those flights.

And as vertical stability even on good days has become a challenge, how many times I come down one of those short flights backward because one hand holds a few things, while the better right hand grabs the rail – because we have them only on one side of the stairs.

My husband’s mom hard a hard time getting up to the living room as she aged. Was that part of the reason they didn’t come often? I hope not.

Guests from a singing group had the same problem – as we all aged, some had a very hard time (at all the homes in the group), even those four or five steps to a front door became problematic.

So, at a time when some people would like to age in place a little longer, that much-loved home becomes dangerous.

The worst part?

When you go to sell a house, often to much younger people, accessibility features that are too obvious say ‘old’ and ‘dated’ and ‘belongs to someone I don’t want to think about becoming’ – and are literally detriments to a sale.

No one wants to think ahead.

The thought of needing accessibility features some time in the future scares off buyers.

Ours aren’t too obvious – we never installed those grab bars, or added the second handrail on each section of stairs, and don’t have wider hallways (it’s a tract house, lovingly landscaped over the years) or an accessible kitchen.

I’ve never had the energy to insist on making my own home more accessible and convenient for me, since I don’t absolutely have to have a wheelchair yet, and can get around on the bad days by hanging on to things.

Do I want to stay in this house?

We’re past that point now, as I also don’t want to be stuck in this climate, and we don’t need the two extra bedrooms any more, and more and more of my older friends have either moved away or don’t get out much either.

The kids are flown each to a different State of the Union. And as far from each other as possible.

But it’s never really been an option to stay.

We moved in in 1981!

And will move out in 2018.

I don’t have a choice: I have been defeated for a long time. I just didn’t want to admit it. Or rather, I did – at least five years ago – but it’s taken this long (and some life events) to get the husband fully committed to the idea of transitioning into a much smaller apartment in a retirement community with facilities – such as a pool, gym, and daily dinner. And one with, we hope, no accessibility problems.

This time I’m thinking it through, all the way to the possible wheelchair.

There’s a reason old homesteads used to have a suite built on the main floor – the ‘southwest corner’ – in advance of needing it, for a widowed parent or maiden aunt. Good view, warmth – and no stairs.

It’s about time.

Have you thought about accessibility?


Thanks, as usual, to Stencil for the use of up to ten free graphics a month. It’s been fun to pick an image, think up some words, play with their text features, and insert at the beginning something that ‘goes with’ what the post is about.


 

Liberate the writing mind from the tyranny of time

PLAYING WITH TIME IS THE WRITER’S TOOL

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

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

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

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

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

Half our metaphors and clichés involve time:

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

Our most common question: What time is it?

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

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

So much so that we hardly notice it.

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

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

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

Loosening the grip of time

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

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

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

Manipulating time – for story

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

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

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

‘Going to the paper’ in real life, too

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

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

Respecting time

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

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

Pretty big order, there.

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

How do you finagle ‘time’?

The major stressor and the Gordian knot

SOMETIMES THE SOLUTION IS OUTSIDE THE BOX

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

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

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

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

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

The signs were many.

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

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

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

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

Full speed ahead, man the torpedoes!

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

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

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

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

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

Such a relief: I agree.

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

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

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

Update on Pi day 2018: almost alive

JUST SURVIVED ANOTHER SH*T STORM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The house where Pride’s Children was written

AND IT WON’T BE MINE ANY MORE

If God gives me life and brain, I will finish my epic love story, Pride’s Children, in a couple of years.

Sometimes place is important. One thinks of the Brontës writing in the rectory on the moors, and wonders if it was a cold and dismal place, or a warm and cheery one. Did they have one room they kept cozy and tended to congregate in? I could find some of my answers if I took the time to look.

Sometimes I think that Kary’s house, Sanctuary, is more real than my own. I have put more thought into how it should be.

We have lived in this house, only the second one we’ve ever owned, since March 5, 1981, which is a very long time in these moving times. We have been its only owners.

My children have known no other childhood home.

As I have become more home-bound, I have spent almost all my life in the south bedroom, with a window that opens to a quiet court ended by a cul-de-sac, where the kids all rode their tricycles and bicycles and drew in chalk on the pavement.

I insisted on this house – because the neighborhood had – and has – mature trees everywhere I look. With so many developments built on cornfields, and so many owners who don’t bother to plant a tree when they move in, the new developments have a raw look to them.

I dislike the American house which often shows its concrete foundation, stained by water and rust, like a dirty petticoat peeking out from under a lady’s skirt, long after it is built. As if we should all politely ignore all underwear hanging out. Bushes are planted – which never cover that bottom foot of dirty grey.

Ours has bushes to the ground.

Abandoning a home deliberately is something new for me. I love this one in some way, for its memories, but I’m still here, and the memories are all I have. Already. I don’t want to go start clearing the debris of the winter so the bulbs can come out – I’ve done that too many times; now it’s accompanied by the pain of sitting low, and the sleepless nights that come with the pain.

The kids come very rarely, and are not into dance lessons and Scouts any more, so there is nothing for them to do. They often take the train to NY, and spend the day having fun. Without me. One wanders up to Princeton for a good walk and a bunch of Pokemon Go sites. Without me. Or walks to a local park, ditto.

I face the stairs every day. Sometimes I have to go up in an undignified way. I don’t understand why that doesn’t bother other people a whole lot more than it does. If it were them, and me watching, I would have gotten us out of here years ago. No, I have no desire to stay here – with my sewing machine sitting unused in the little attic closet I turned into a sewing room. Because I have no reason to sew. No costume for Halloween, no dress for a prom. My own clothes, which I started making when I was 14, now come in the mail.

I want to make a new home

While I still can. While I can adjust to a new community. While I can meet new people and do new things with enjoyment.

I don’t even want most of our furniture. The dining room table takes a beating when you’re homeschooling three kids at it. Much of the kid furniture was IKEA, assembled on the spot and not really capable of being disassembled successfully. The nice bedroom set, with the light bridge, is too big. The solid oak kitchen table, carefully hand-finished, and in perfect shape, is too big. Somehow or other, over the last two years, it seems every dining room chair needs re-caning and refinishing (I TOLD them not to lean so hard), and the wheels on the kitchen chairs we’ve enjoyed rolling around are destroying both the chairs and the floor.

This house needs a healthy woman in charge. And people who like to do things at the workbench in the basement. I’m not that woman: I did my time.

But somewhere I need to leave a plaque:

In this house, between 2000 and 2018, Pride’s Children was written.

The beginning of it, anyway, because NETHERWORLD won’t be finished here.

There are places I could leave such a plaque, places I know, places behind – where a new owner won’t even know there is a place.

The written record

If you’re a writer, and have a thought – a blog is the perfect home to let it run free. Who knows – some day you may gather your thoughts in words, clean them up and organize them about a theme, and publish them.

I look at this blog, with over five hundred posts since I started in 2012, and I know some of those posts would make a different kind of book on writing, and others would document the production of my own epic – and marvel that the format allows them to still be there when I’ve moved on. I really ought to go see what is there. Might make for some interesting archaeology.

I’m finishing this at six a.m. because the ice dancing at the Olympics put an earworm into my brain, and then I got hungry… You know the drill. It’s a good time for humans to get nostalgic.

How think ye?


Thanks again for Stencil‘s images – consider them if you need a source of them for your own blog. The pictures make me think, and then we’re off on another wandering trail through the writer’s brain.

The Discipline of the Long-Distance Writer

SITTING HERE – RESTARTING MY BRAIN

I am NOT a sports fan, but Philadelphia is around the corner, and I’m pretty sure they put a great amount of very hard work into preparing for their win. As did the other team – so there is that elusive luck quantity about peaking at the right time, and having everything work out when you need it.

BUT: it is not luck that wins most times. It is luck on top of preparation. Most ‘overnight successes’ aren’t. And if you have the great win right out of the starting gate, you still have to do it again – witness the number of debut award-winning novels whose authors can’t repeat the win. And are never heard from again (unless they whine about how hard it is in the pages of The New Yorker.

Everything about Cary Tennis’ aphorism:

The most heroic thing a creative person can do is to live an orderly life so the work can get done.

is true. I don’t get anywhere without hours at the keyboard.

I’m acutely aware that, because I start at such a low level every day, a little thing like the cold that is messing with my mind is enough to render me useless to my chosen profession for both the days when I’m actually sick, and the aftermath days when I wonder where the Mack truck came from, because everything aches.

It’s not the pain that bothers me – lots of people live in pain. It’s that after a certain amount, I can’t think. And I’m way over that amount right now, sitting at my computer trying to think.

Priorities

When you have choices, at least some of the responsibility for what gets done in your life is yours. If you choose to go to the gym regularly, your body may be stronger and more reliable. If you could, but you don’t, the deterioration or lack of strength is partly your fault.

I have to get back to my basement exercises as soon as I can breathe normally, so I don’t get worse.

One thing at a time!

Use what you have in your writing

I was wondering where that extra edge of tension would come from in the scene I’m writing, and it occurred to me that I’m living it.

A common phenomenon for people who live with ME/CFS is the PEM crash. PEM – post-exertional malaise – is another one of those phrases which minimize a real disaster. PEM is really post-exertional exhaustion – a crash that can last for days after you do something more than you could really handle at the time. A crash that is made worse by trying to do things before you’re past it. A crash that is created, somehow, by taking energy out of your muscles with adrenaline.

I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline itself, being very slowly processed by a damaged liver, or if something else in the fragile body system is triggered by the push that precedes the crash. There is no known cure, though fluids, proper nutrition, and LOTS of rest can help.

It is another of those realities which cannot be ignored.

We’re watching the Olympics, and hearing about the athletes pushing through their pain and damage. And about permanent damage that can end an athlete’s career. Sometimes, they can work through the pain; sometimes, if they do the hard rehab work, they can improve their performance. Sometimes they try to ignore it; sometimes that works, or works long enough for them to achieve the next milestone. Hard to know whether they can take the chance – and win in spite of an injury – or whether, this time, it doesn’t matter how much pain they can tolerate in a broken foot, because they still can’t use it right.

I always come back

So far. Eventually.

But I’ve both speeded up (due to experience and practice) and slowed down (due to having been ill longer, and, that favorite of everyone, getting older).

I’ve reached an odd-enough spot that I want to document it, to see how to improve process, if possible, or to just move it along this time.

The immediate projects are competing fiercely

And they are getting done – albeit at a speed that would make a tortoise cry: my parents’ final tax returns (VERY long story) have been in the mail long enough that it’s the IRS’ problem, not mine. Yay! But talk about soul-sucking, useless tasks that teach you nothing you can use in the future.

I have a couple of small typos/errors I want to fix – but will have to re-load all the information about making files for Amazon and CreateSpace into my head, and then learn the new task: how to post a change in a published work. Good to know, not so easy to acquire; I’ll have to take notes, too, or I will forget.

I’m putting off working on putting Too Late, the Pride’s Children prequel, up on Amazon because it is TOO SHORT, and I fear a backlash. From whom? Dunno. But my fertile mind throws up roadblocks whenever it can find them. It would throw up roadblocks if I decided to STOP WRITING and just ENJOY OLD AGE. So it’s no reason to stop.

On the record: I am now more afraid of doing a short story wrong on Amazon and forever ruining my reputation than I am of having gotten my parents’ tax returns wrong and being jailed by the IRS for tax evasion. Easier to laugh at that once I’ve pinned it to a blog post.

The long-term move is back on the horizon

We have to get out of this house. Not because it isn’t lovely here – it is – but because the maintenance is something I can’t help with any more, and it is unreasonable to let the husband do it all, and difficult to find people consistently to do it for you. Plus the complete social isolation of rarely getting out of this room.

But now, following the last days of all four of our parents over the past three years, we have a whole lot more questions to ask and details to worry about that we hadn’t even realized – and won’t be in a position to control at whatever age they happen, because you are not all that functional at that time of life. Way too many things went wrong. Things like nurses in the hospital who won’t make the effort to make sure their patient can HEAR them. Things like ‘hospice’ – a lovely idea from the 70s – having been turned into another Medicare supplier which is farmed out to the lowest bidder, and has failed, dramatically, when most needed. They don’t even have hospices any more – just services dependent on funding and staffing. Once would have been bad luck. Twice is systematic.

So the thought of moving near where at least one of our children might locate permanently (San Francisco), rather than generally to California and taking care of ourselves, has reared its ugly head to mess up the choices. But most people don’t move out of a retirement community once they’re in (except when they can’t pay for it), so choices made now are crucial for the future. When we won’t be in a position to make them for ourselves.

This is what I do when I feel a tiny bit better

I hope being able to think a few things out, and blog about it however lamely, means the cold is on its way out. I’ll still be a dishrag for a couple of days, but the drive to write SOMETHING, and to try to make it coherent, first comes back when I realize I haven’t posted in a while.

And if I can use that idea in the scene in progress, well, I won’t say it’s been worth it, precisely, but I may be able to profit from it anyway.

And here we go. And there’s another bunch of semi-connected thoughts out of the mind and onto the page.

And I’m more terrified than ever of getting the flu!

How’s your winter going?

What do you do with infuriating reviews?

NOTHING

I won’t even defend the grammatical correctness of that statement in the picture: EVERYBODY has an opinion, most of them WRONG.

WRITERS put their opinions out into the world where anyone can read them.

Readers have opinions, too, and they get to express them in many places, one of which is the very modern REVIEW.

This is the system now, people.

Get used to it.

For all the complaints, the reviewing systems are not going to disappear because they have enfranchised the disenfranchised billions who never had a platform before, and now they do.

Moderators may keep the discussion to civil levels.

Insecure bloggers will delete or alter comments they don’t like from opinionated readers who disagree with them.

But I’m finding that I don’t spend much time reading the word of bloggers who don’t ever bother responding to their interlocutors. Not worth it. It has become a two-way street.

[Sort of. The pitifully awkward communication via mobile may be the ONE thing that destroys the system, because it is much harder to do on those tiny keyboards. But wait for good speech-to-text software and microphones that can pick up the speakers subvocalisations, and we may be back in business.]

Everyone’s a critic.

Today a writer whined about her first 1* review, on an FB group I participate in – after writing a bunch of books! Lucky woman. Most of us get a 1* on the first book!

I could tell you stories. In fact, I will. Below. Because one of those reviewers (not the 1* one this time, but bad enough) got MY goat. [Lovely thing, name of Billy, soft, intelligent, beautiful brown eyes… but I digress.]

Writers are asking for it

Literally. We want reviews. We want feedback. We want to know when our arrow has hit their bullseye.

But we don’t want their bullshite.

We want praise. Glorious and unstinting and erudite and literate (not the same thing) praise.

Because, to be able to write well (assuming that’s what the goal is; with some writers you wonder… but I digress), we have to sit at the keyboard and open all our veins to get enough blood to write with (takes lots of extra blood for all those sidetracks and failed attempts that occur with good writing… but I digress).

And being open is a target for, well, bullies. (Anyone who doesn’t like our prose is… darn it with the digressions today.)

Unconscious bullies. Jealous bullies. Bullies-who-had-a-bad-day.

What to do?

NOTHING.

Nothing overt or aimed at readers or argumentative or likely to start a flame war online!

There is enough garbage on the internet already.

And we have the example of very popular writers: pick your favorite, and your favorite book, and go look at the reviews. All of them. ESPECIALLY the negative reviews.

And remember, on AMAZON a 3* review is NEGATIVE/CRITICAL. Don’t believe me? Check those reviews on your favorite book’s page again: the 3*, 2*, and 1* are CRITICAL/NEGATIVE reviews.

On Goodreads, 3* is good, 4* is great, 5* is ‘best book I ever read.’ According to their rubric (I don’t make these things up – what’s the point when you can check so easily?).

On Amazon, 4* and 5* are good, 1*, 2*, and 3* are bad. Just to summarize that neatly for you.

Got it?

Find a place where it’s safe to vent (your own blog should be such a place, even though it’s pretty public, as long as you don’t identify anyone specific or any specific negative/critical review). Better still, complain only to friends and on closed writers’ groups, but it may not be as satisfying.

The upside?

Another review is another review. They keep adding up. SOMEONE is reading.

And reader/reviewers write their thoughts and opinions in their reviews; other people may read the reviews and gain more understanding of what they may be choosing to read. This is good, especially with the negative reviews.

But it ALWAYS points out to you that your ad copy, cover, description, back copy, quoted editorial reviews – everything up until the sample/Look Inside – is attracting certain readers. This should make you pause and THINK.

I know I have a lot of thinking to do (I knew that already, but it was far down on the To Do list, and has moved up quite a bit) when I get a negative review from someone who probably should not have read the book. Because it’s really not their kind of book – and I can’t change it to BE their kind of book. The story’s already set in concrete, all the way to the end of the trilogy, even the parts I haven’t written yet. The style, tone, characters, plot – all implacably going to be very similar to what is already published.

If someone states unambiguously they don’t like Mexican food, don’t give them a coupon and invite them to rate your Mexican restaurant. ‘Twill end badly on Yelp.

So our signals are crossed.

I’m glad they tried something obviously out of their regular reading zone. I’m very appreciative of their reviewing – most readers don’t, and it is an effort I appreciate. I’m not particularly pleased they rated the way they did, but I’m very glad they pointed out in their review what they liked and what they didn’t. That’s data for me, not for writing, but for marketing.

Not sure this counts as a rant, but it is an attempt to bang my head on the wall. Without doing too much damage – I’m slow enough already.

As an author, I do not go to my reviews and down rate the reviews I don’t like. It’s better if readers do that.

Now I’m going to take a nap. All this ranting wipes me out. Especially the ‘tread lightly’ part.


A reminder that Quozio and Stencil provide me ways to make images, gratis, and I would get a subscription if I needed more than a few graphics a month. This little bit of advertising – and the things I create with their tools – will have to be my form of payment for now. I AM grateful. The words, of course, are mine.


What’s your favorite negative review?

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?

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.

 

Character motivation fail last ditch solution

SOMETIMES, LOOK AT THINGS BACKWARD

I’m STILL a new author. Millions of words written over more than twenty years, but only one novel published.

It’s always something

And I’m surprised to land in a situation I haven’t had to write before? Gimme a break! There a huge numbers of situations I haven’t landed characters in and had to write them out of yet.

Sometimes I just have to laugh at myself. After the headache from pounding my head against the wall goes away, of course.

Book 2 of Pride’s Children, NETHERWORLD, has been giving me writing problems since the minute I got started on it – that should have been a clue.

There is no point in writing scenes and circumstances similar to the ones in PURGATORY, because I’m finished with PURGATORY. I know – have always known – that NETHERWORLD has to kick everything up to a new level, or I’m just going through the motions to finish a story I could be bored with.

How is the second novel in a trilogy different?

Only I’m not. I have a whole new set of story pieces that need exploring. Plotting with Dramatica does this. And writing with it has been described as going through a four-story house, thoroughly exploring every room on each floor before going up the stairs to the next floor. Everything on the second floor is new. Sitting on top of the first story, but not requiring me to go back down to the first-floor rooms, because they’re already done.

What I have to do, instead, is listen to the gut feeling that tells me I’m NOT writing something the way I want to (I know when it’s right; this scene isn’t).

And yet the process is complete. I know how to gather all the pieces of a scene, how to get it (or something like the final version of ‘it’) started, how to organize the flow, how to end a scene with a line that leaves a question.

Notes from the current Production file:

I have one per scene; that’s where I work all this stuff out because the inside of my head is not usable workspace for complicated stuff – I lose too much.

All this agonizing really means is there’s work to be done. So do it.

Other writers have written outlandish things – there are solutions. Only I will have to figure out my own.

And in all those years of stuffing my head with reading material, I must have absorbed something useful. Making the effort will bring up any pieces I can’t find in my writing books. It’s just work.

The Production file notes (pieces removed, so as not to give plot away at this stage, marked by ellipses):

Nope, there’s still a motivation problem. We know why Z is unhappy – Y is being a stinker about the …. We know why Z pushes X and wants W there.
But we don’t really see why X ultimately agrees to assist.
X is stuck – things are NOT moving forward.
X thinks W might be able to help.
W can say no, and X will be off the hook.
But X is the one who has to write a letter to go with the … Z is sending.

X has an ethical dilemma.

Turn it INTO an ethical dilemma

Let’s look at it from the other side: X DOESN’T write the letter. X argues with X to attempt to see what’s bothering X. X figures it out: sort of screwed either way.

Then X looks at consequences further down the line – and doesn’t like them.

Work OUT the ethical dilemma

Production files again:

Then Z goes ahead with his plan (and Z’s now pissed at X); W comes or doesn’t.
If W comes, W will wonder what the hell, and why didn’t W even get a whiff of warning from X.
If W doesn’t come, does W interpret it as X being protective? Or as X not warning W – for X’s own selfish reasons?

Ethical dilemmas in real life

I need to remember that in real life, if the answer is clear, an ethical dilemma doesn’t exist or is trivial, and it is BORING.

And that readers pay to see someone other than themselves grapple with consequences as a way to see a different possible solution.

I’ll work it out. Soon, I hope. So I can write it – and go on to the next one.

 

 

 

I have weeded for the last time

FEELING FOOLISH IS NO EXCUSE FOR TAKING RISKS

This may be a bit incoherent. I’ve had a rough week again.

As you grow older, there is an interesting concept of trying to identify when you do something for the last time, and whether that last doing is bittersweet. I have weeded possibly for the last time, because the personal cost was too high.

As someone who has so little functionality, these events have been coming at an accelerated rate.

I fight back. Try to continue doing things. Try to pick them up again when I haven’t been able to do them for a while.

During the spring, I weeded when my assistant was weeding, both to show her what was a weed (she’d never had a garden), and to do a bit of work that I used to love on my own garden. Several times I overdid it, and was stiff and sore for several days after.

Does weeding cause chest pain?

On Monday, with my brand new WORKING heart rate monitor, I did exercises up to the limits, which I hadn’t dared to do with an erratic old monitor.

On Tuesday, I spent maybe an hour outside, lying on a boogie board, pulling weeds, while husband and assistant pruned bushes. It was doable. I’m so proud of my ability to sit on the ground, and get up and down, that I overdo it. And it was nice to be out of the house. And not TOO warm, I thought.

On Wednesday afternoon of this week I asked myself:

Today’s contretemps was that I did exercise to a higher level (new HR monitor – this one actually works and displays continuously) on Monday, and weeding on Tuesday, and last night felt very odd, and have had the shakes, and a high BP, and a lot of (most probably muscular) pain, including in the chest area – because I was foolish enough to do my weeding while sitting/lying on a mat on the ground.

That may have been my last weeding, ever. Sigh. I love tending the garden, but I can’t afford the after effects.

Or it could be more of the other – and I’m fervently hoping it is not.

I may have to see someone and talk it all out – the hospital and stuff came back very vividly during this ‘episode’ – that’s what PTSD does.

I don’t mind the fuss IF there’s something wrong that needs caring for, but I really don’t want to go through it again unless strictly necessary, and I can’t tell. So the anxiety level is higher than I’d like, and I kept husband home from this morning’s bike ride with friends – and then spent the whole time asleep, because I didn’t get a good night’s sleep.

The perfect storm: adding small effects to get a scary one

Wednesday night, after a bunch of stuff, we went to the hospital.

Because the BP was increasing all evening. When it hits 200+/100+ I get nervous.

Because I felt unwell – shakes and chills (part of my normal temperature control problems, but were they at a higher level?).

Because I was out of it – not myself – not thinking clearly.

Because the stiffness across the front of the chest would not go away or yield to stretching. Not so much pain as incredible tightness.

Because, when I was weeding, it was much hotter out than it had been. I had a can of soda when I came in, but that’s all.

Because, apparently, I stopped drinking water, with the absurd idea that if they needed to do a test, not having water in my stomach would mean they could do it the same day instead of making me stay overnight (like last time).

You go to the hospital if you’re really worried it’s serious.

I should have known, when we went at 9PM, that something was wrong because I needed to use the bathroom as they were taking me to a room (after an ‘abnormal’ EKG) but nothing happened.

Of course, they don’t let you have water in the ER – and once you’re there, you do as they want you to do. So, as the time passed, I got more and more dehydrated.

I should have known when they said the veins on the back of my hands were standing out very well, and would be easy to draw blood from. But none of my veins, usually so cooperative, were easy Wednesday night.

When they gave me some water a bit later, I was able to produce a sample – but didn’t do a very good job of it.

I have learned this year to advocate for myself better

They came to tell me that they were admitting me. The older you get, the more risk factors you accumulate, and they want to be careful.

But they also told me both blood and urine showed that I had a massive infection, and they rolled in an IV bag of an antibiotic I’d never heard of.

I stopped them. I asked, since I had no UTI symptoms, whether it wouldn’t be better to wait until we were sure, and how long I would be okay postponing an antibiotic if I needed it, and they were willing to wait until after tests the next morning when I explained that I overreact to drugs and was worried about side effects. The nurse said the main one was diarrhea – but they could give me a probiotic for that. And seemed taken aback when I said that would be TWO new drugs for me, and I would rather wait until after the test. She said, “But it’s just a probiotic.” I explained they’ve made me sick before.

So I spent the predictable night in the hospital, disturbed every time I started getting some sleep, with a roommate who had a sister – they talked softly most of the night, but at least I was on a heart monitor, and someone was aware and available.

I asked how to stop the bed from automatically changing its setting every time I got slightly comfortable. I was told the only way was to unplug it – and lose all capability of adjusting it at all. I unplugged it. Horrible lumpy thing either way.

Once I realized I was dehydrated, I poured glass after glass of ice water down my throat. Made for a busy night, but it scared me that I could let myself get so dry and not even have an idea it was happening.

Vitals and blood tests through the night gave them data. The morning BP was normal!

I got the nurse to order another urine test, and made darn sure it was a clean sample. When they finally sent the results back, the evidence of bacterial infection was minimal. In this light, the extra white blood cells in my blood – the same on sequential tests – was labeled ‘mild’ and, since it was not increasing, deemed not worrisome.

So I let them keep their antibiotic, after worrying all night about having delayed the START of the antibiotic if I actually needed it.

My new favorite cardiologist

At half past ten, the cardiologist (another new one from the same practice) came to talk to me. He said the EKG was abnormal – but the same abnormal as my EKGs have been since the stents, so nothing to worry about. He said the monitoring all night long didn’t show any problems. He said the sequential tests for cardiac enzymes in the blood was negative after two tests, and that should be enough, given no other symptoms.

We discussed indications for coming to the hospital – and I got reassured that while high BP is bad, it takes days before it can do any major damage unless it stays very high continuously, and mine wasn’t in that region.

We discussed all the factors that made me go in – and basically concluded it was a perfect storm. He told me I was right to have come in.

I got bold – that advocacy I’m talking about – and handed him a copy of the paper on my family of stents which concludes that a month or two is as good as 12-18 months of antiplatelet drugs. He shrugged and said guidelines take a long time to catch up to research! I told him it seemed to bother my own doctor to be queried on these details – he thought my doctor must have had an off day.

I asked him if he knew my history – and he recited it back to me, correctly!

And he released me!

Subject to the rest of protocol, of course.

Which took until 4 PM.

An unexpected test – and refusing meds

When someone came in to do an echocardiogram, I asked who had ordered it and why it had been ordered, since the cardiologist had said I was free, not ‘free subject to X.’ The tech took her machine with her, and went to check it out as I did not recognize any of the names on the paperwork.

She never came back, and my nurse said it was some kind of mistake when she came to tell me she would be doing the paperwork. My nurse seemed annoyed about it, too.

I refused all the medicines the hospital had prepared for me: my own meds, but supplied by the hospital pharmacy, would be charged at huge rates. I stopped the whole procedure by telling the nurse I had already swallowed the morning ones (I had – forestalls arguments), and that the others I would take at home at the regular time with my dinner.

This also prevented the whole foofarah which would have arisen because my pain specialist has authorized brand name Celebrex because I tried four generics a year ago when they came out – and only one worked. Pharmacies that operate on bulk go by the lowest bidder, and cannot guarantee a manufacturer for generics.

I sympathize with hospitals trying to make their money in the current climate, but it is no reason to cooperate with unnecessary – and potentially damaging – things to me.

I’m fine – what did I learn?

I spent Thursday evening vegged out, Friday as a very slow recovery from all the assaults on everything (I joke I made my quota of people for the month in the first two hours in the ER – it is SO hard for me to cope with new people, new situations, noises, and bright lights). And Saturday I seem relatively okay, if slow.

I haven’t done any exercise yet. Possibly will do a shortened version of the cardiac rehab tomorrow or Monday, and ease back in.

And I have some new benchmarks. I know more kinds of chest pain that are just muscular. One doctor told me that if I could find the exact place where the muscle hurt, it was probably muscular, whereas if it seemed behind rather than in the muscle, to worry. A bit vague, but helpful. I know it’s only sustained high BP which puts me at risk for stroke. I was told only to take my BP in the mornings if asymptomatic. Duh.

I made the right call. After all the prior stuff – and the addition of all the above into SOMETHING, I didn’t have the right to put my husband through the stress. I even sent him home from the ER when they told me I’d be staying.

I managed to pack most of what I would need, quickly, in a small bag. Ate something with protein (I hadn’t been hungry all day), grabbed some Atkins low carb bars. (One ended up being dinner.)

Next time I will take salt and potassium in my own baggies, because food services and nurses simply do not believe me when I tell them I need to take a lot of both to keep my blood volume up, and by the time I see a doctor, it isn’t high on my priority list, and it is actually dangerous for me NOT to have them. The food they offered me was disgusting; I choked it down for the protein.

It took several days of my life away from me, put me through another bunch of stuff, and has left me behinder.

I hope there isn’t a ‘next time.’

Don’t take stupid chances.

Have you had similar ‘learning experiences?’


Thanks to Stencil for the image and ability to add words.