Tag Archives: inspiration

with liberty and justice for ALL

American flag I see out my window every day

The view from my window

OUR APARTMENT – MY WINDOW – FACES THE FLAG

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

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

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

I grew up in Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am a baby boomer

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

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

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

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

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

This was a good start.

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

Happy Veterans Day!


 

Can you relate to imperfect characters?

HOW FAR MUST YOU MORPH?

Readers have always been able to switch gender; well, female readers have often had to – there wasn’t much to read with positive heroines when I was growing up, not in popular fiction – it’s amazing the number of women scientists who pay tribute to Nancy Drew in their background!

I’m sure the number is dropping, because there are more role models, and some writers deliberately create unrealistically powerful young women as characters, hoping to up the ante. (Yes, I’m perfectly aware of all the advances made in opportunities for women; but that the situation for women in physics, for example, is not much different from what it was in the 1970s when I was in grad school.)

The ability to imagine yourself as a shape-shifter or an alien is part of being a reader – and even more important when a lot of the characters are not like you.

Diversity is the Holy Grail

Though more honored in the breach than in the observance, still.

And readers are only willing to go so far before they’re not interested, requiring a modicum of something they can identify with.


Which brings up a post from late 2012:

Does your character make readers uncomfortable?

When I set out to tell the story of Pride’s Children, I was originally driven by a sense of the unfairness of society toward those who have most need of its kindness.

Specifically, your DISABLED character?

There are two USUAL ways to deal with disability in a character: as a decoration or as a problem.

The first – a ‘feature’ of a character – gets mentioned every once in a while, but doesn’t seem to stop the character from doing most of the things ‘normal’ able people do. And it mostly leads that character to be a secondary character, a sidekick, the ‘friend in the wheelchair.’

The second leads to ‘inspiration p0rn’ (avoiding search engine problems here), and the solving of the ‘problem’ consumes the space dedicated to the story, with inspirational results – problem solved – or, sometimes, the character’s death (in a disturbing trend, by suicide while making life easier for those left behind).

Ignore the fact that suicide has a horrible effect on the people left behind. Most of us know of someone close to whom that has happened, and know they would do almost anything if they could go back in time and help.

Disabilities in real life

Disabilities are far more abundant than people think. If you count all disabilities – and I do, of course – estimates run over 20%. Don’t forget the invisible ones: FM, mental health issues, pain, CFS, non-visible genetic ‘abnormalities,’ a thousand things that make life difficult for the disabled person, but generate wrath in observers who watch them use the handicap parking space. Don’t forget old age and its common memory and mobility problems.

The counting is made difficult because of a human tendency to hide problems if it is at all possible, so you will not be ‘different’ or ‘other,’ and attract unwanted attention. Presumably there was some evolutionary benefit to getting rid of tribe members who would slow you down when your tribe was in the hunter/gatherer phase (a rather long time ago).

We ‘pass’ for normal/able as long as we possibly can, which also makes us suddenly appear very disabled when we can’t pretend any more.

Animals do it, too – everyone knows of a pet who didn’t let its owner know something was wrong until it was far too late to help. Wild animals do it so as not to appear vulnerable, as the weak and the sick are noted as easy prey.

But there is a different way for a writer: reality

I have taken the step of writing a disabled MAIN character, with a significant disability, which she ignores as much as possible, and bows to when inevitable.

For this disabled character, writing is a job – and she’s been successful at it, very slowly – and by staying hidden from the world.

An Amazon reviewer:

…while much of the plot centers on the cautious romance, Pride’s Children is also about a writer’s way of interacting with the world, living with a chronic condition (CFS – … I realized that I couldn’t think of any book I’d read, recently, involving a character with a disability or chronic illness – a significant hole in terms of diversity), and the struggle to remain balanced and kind when new people and routines enter one’s carefully-ordered sanctuary…

Disability is a learning experience

Those who are or become disabled have a steep learning curve: everything is harder. Moving, learning, thinking, being independent, even making new friends – all these are more difficult the farther a character is from the norm.

And the effects are interwoven: difficulty reading means trouble holding a job, getting to that job on public transportation or by learning to drive. No disability is purely one thing you cannot do.

There are few disabled characters in fiction (which is why they stand out) because writing them is extra effort. It’s easier to write about kickass heroes and heroines who tough it out through thick and thin and keep on ticking.

Just tonight we watched, in the same show, a character get stabbed in the back by an enormous kitchen knife embedded at least four inches by the blood shown carefully on the blade when it was pulled out by the stabbed character, who then went on to limp a bit while he walked around, interacted, and finally was not shot by the police detective – and who survived with no visible effects by a short time afterward; and a character poked at in the stomach by a little knife who died instantly. Neither of these seemed at all realistic – but the plot required one survivor to talk and talk, and the other to be removed quickly from the scene.

In the same way, disability in fiction is mentioned when necessary to make a quick plot point – but not there pervasively.

FICTION = EMPATHY

I have written about how properly-constructed fiction is uniquely helpful in creating empathy in humans because it allows them to live alongside a character the life affected by the choices the author has made (type ’empathy’ into my search box).

They do, however, have to read said fiction, which means it has to be surrounded by the best entertainment the writer can provide.

I’m not surprised there aren’t more disabled characters, but I’m disappointed that indie isn’t more of a place where, since the big publishers are not supervising the product, there are more disabled, diverse, and simply ‘different’ characters and stories.

But there is that pesky thing about having to write well to sneak the empathy bits in under the radar. It takes more space, more words, more time.

It is MUCH harder to market.

I still think it’s worth it.


Do chronically ill/disabled characters make you squirm?

To write a character become the character

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW – YOU CAN LEARN

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

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

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


From October 2012:

Writing characters: To be someone else

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

I contain multitudes.

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

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

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

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

What does this have to do with characters?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

It would be so much simpler not to.

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

Do you like to become the characters you read?

Move and miss the oddest things

I MISS PLANTS I SPENT AGES TENDING

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Why pachysandra?

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

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

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

You know what they say about planning, right?

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

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

I didn’t see much life

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

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

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

And those tough little plants are making me ashamed

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

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

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

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


Where do you get your survival lessons from?

Plot quirks as much as holes

AND HOW WOULD YOU KNOW?

‘Missing’ is an odd concept

For a visual or graphic artist, there a billions of colors – digitize the spectrum as finely as you like to get as many distinct numbers as you need.

Of course, you can’t use them all.

And at some point the human eye can no longer distinguish between the shades.

A complete scene is another odd concept

That’s where the art comes in, for each writer, in deciding how much stays, how much is irrelevant (including whether or not to use scenes at all, but that’s getting a little too experimental for me).

From January 2013 comes an answer that turned my brain topsy turvy:



Upending plots to find holes

I had an interesting experience recently which gave me ideas about finding – and solving – plot problems. In the course of playing too many games of Free Flow on DH’s new iPad mini, I solved all but a small set of the 14 x 14 levels included. It irked me that, no matter how many times I went back to the remaining small unsolved set, even starting completely from scratch, I couldn’t find the trick to the solution.

A minor problem, you say. Agreed. But games can be useful (I know – this doesn’t justify all that time spent gaming) – or humans wouldn’t have invented them, and wouldn’t get so much stroking from them, so much pleasure, that they can become addicting. There is a sense of completion that releases endorphins and other good brain chemicals when a puzzle is solved.

So, I continued to come back to this set of unfinished puzzles.

But it wasn’t until, in desperation, I turned the iPad upside down that I found my answers: even though I had started each level from scratch, the orientation of the dots (you are trying to connect each colored dot with its mate in such a way that all squares on the board have a color in them and NONE of the squares is EMPTY) had locked into my brain prematurely, and I literally could not see them in a different way.

It actually HURT my brain to turn the iPad upside down, and to view each puzzle WRONG – but in a new way.

I told myself anything that made my brain hurt must be good for it (on the theory I hold that the brain is a muscle-like object, and it must be exercised).

I deliberately tolerated the stress – and quickly solved the remaining puzzles I had been struggling with for more days than I care to admit. Immediately. The skills I had developed for this particular little game had settled too soon into working on the default orientation – a technique that got me successfully through most of the 750 puzzle levels that came with the game – but not all.

I’m doing something similar with the scenes I’m revising now:

I have text for these scenes, text that I like, and a flow through the plot that strokes my brain (we all write, first, for ourselves), but it isn’t good enough.

Revising in place, just taking the words that are there, the order of words in a scene, and making them better, is good and useful and satisfactory – after all, I worked hard to write them originally.

But it doesn’t solve all the problems. I’m stuck, in some scenes, with a feeling that I haven’t done my complete job, that there are unexplored empty ‘squares’ on the grid. A feeling that if I notice a tiny void, a reader will, too. My brain hurts.

But the reader can’t fix the problem. That’s my job. If my writing isn’t satisfying me, it has no business going out into the world.

So I’ve been taking the elements of a scene, and going back to ‘start.’ Rearranging the order, re-thinking, re-visioning.

Letting my brain hurt.

Turning the scene completely upside down, asking beginner questions: What does this scene do? Why is this scene in the book? What can the reader only learn here? Even, Why the heck did he do that?

I’m hampered by the fact that I can – as an end result of many years of reading – turn out clean copy that LOOKS finished with relative ease. And once it is fixed in black and white on the page, it is very hard to question what looks ‘published.’

It takes time. It isn’t strictly necessary.

But if I identify the plot problems – the little bugs which irk the brain – those empty squares – and solve them, I get the endorphins. And a scene I have to admit is vastly better.



The interesting part has been that I have found extremely few places where I want to go back and change something in PURGATORY – which I just finished rereading.

Apparently, once I’ve got it, it locks in, and then it’s real, and I don’t need to go back. I didn’t think it would be so.


How about you?

If you’re a writer, do you find a strong stop for each scene – or do your scenes make you want to get out the editor?

If you’re a reader, can you tell when something is finished?

Just curious.

The limitations of a writer circumvented

EXPERIENCES ARE STILL POSSIBLE

This one I picked to bring forward again because I’m glad I recorded this post about getting around some of the significant Life imposes on those with disabilities and chronic illnesses: finding ways to keep the raft of experience growing even as we chop off pieces to fund our work.

I have to find a way to make the singing a bigger part of the current life.

And it is also timely, as Easter is next Sunday.

From February 2013:


I have been coping all morning with the side effects of yesterday, not being able to write, nor even look at my notes for, the current scene under revision in the WIP.

And yet, I am not unhappy.

With the limitations of CFS, I live a tiny life: I try not to leave the house more than 2-3 times a week, I say no to almost everything, and I have worked hard to create a schedule that puts the writing first (Get up. Grab First Diet Coke. Block internet for 2 hours. Write. Take First Nap. Get up. Grab Second Coke, protein breakfast shake. Block internet for 2 hours. Write. Take Second Nap. Phew – most of day is now gone.).

My house is, understandably, a disaster area. The bills get done when I am either forced to or have a functional period after the writing. Taxes, end of year deductions, holidays, occasional trips – all interrupt the flow, and take a week to recover from – and get back on schedule from. They are necessary, so I pay the price and don’t worry about it too much. If there’s energy, I write – I don’t spend it on housekeeping.

It leaves little time for the ‘life experiences’ writers need to grow – a Hobson’s choice.

But for ten years I made space for a weekly singing lesson (even though the teacher said I should practice an hour every day – and it was a rare week when I had any energy for doing anything other than singing if I had to drive myself somewhere that week). Up to 8 times a year I go to a Folk Sing on a Friday night. And a year ago, when they were soliciting new members for the tiny choir that sings at the Princeton University chapel for the 4:30 Sunday Mass I attend when classes are in session, and knowing that they practiced before Mass (rather than having a separate choir practice night, which would have been an additional outing every week), I volunteered. With the caveat that it might not be something I could continue doing.

For those who sing, I needn’t explain the joy of learning something in four-part harmony every week, however short. For those who don’t, just know that I am treated as if it’s obvious that I CAN, and that’s enough.

After a year, which I survived, we were challenged to take turns as Cantor (it’s an erratic crew due to school and other commitments, and we were down to two or three who had cantored – yesterday all but one couldn’t come). One additional training session required – I can do this: I said yes.

Yesterday was My First Time – and, minor bobbles aside, it was glorious, and made up for the loss of Saturday (preparation), Sunday (warmup, practice, Mass!), and today, Monday (can’t seem to get it together, and it’s 4:34pm). Let me say it this way: there is nothing to compare to the experience of opening your mouth and pouring sound into a properly-designed nave and choir in a stone cathedral. It is a living thing that feeds back the sound and amplifies your voice enough to fill the whole. I prayed – went for it. The feeling is a shock, the feedback amazing. The first notes of the a capella Kyrie (which I may have been a third low for – but it doesn’t matter, as the cantor sets the note, and all the rest are relative – the organist had told me not to worry, to just go for it and with it, rather than get a note from him) – me, alone, for a few seconds, and then the rest of us joined in – was an experience that is not available for money. Nor should it be. It is only available for love – and without fear.

The same for the first verse of the meditation, followed by all of us singing what we have been singing throughout Lent.

My point? That even in a life circumscribed by circumstances beyond control, there are still times when it is necessary – and possible – to say ‘Yes!’


How do you replenish?

 

Symbols, the grace of rest, and pushing limits

White ceramic bunny with a bow and some easter eggs. Text: Oldies but goodies, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

TIS THE SEASON FOR SYMBOLS

This post is from April, 2013.

We’re in Lent, the pre-Easter season, again.

The post took me back sharply to Princeton, and the Princeton U. chapel, and being able, with a great effort, to sing in Latin for Holy Week.

A few things changed: back then I could still stand for part of the services, and some of the singing. By the time I left last year, I could not find the energy to participate in all the holy week services, I was allowed to park ON campus at the end of the handicapped ramp at the back of the chapel, and I had published Pride’s Children: PURGATORY.

Then I knew there was a possibility we would be moving, and every last chance to sing there (terrific acoustics, great tiny Catholic choir, gorgeous chapel) was precious – though we didn’t actually move until 2018 (at the end of the summer, right before classes and singing started up again after the break).

It is bittersweet – I miss it, it doesn’t miss me.

I am no better now, and six more years of my life have not been saved by medical research figuring out what’s wrong with us people with ME/CFS and fixing it.

But I’m glad I posted this back then, and I read it again and was transported instantly to the proud vaulted cathedral of stone. And the music.

Can you remember grace, and the symbol thereof, in a time in your life?

Remembering an old and dear friend

Light bulbs in a line, with the one at the right end lifted, ready to be dropped. Test: Oldies but goodies, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

WE HONOR THOSE WE REMEMBER

As I was going through old posts you may not have seen, I came across something with current applications, as well as remembering that day in Princeton when we put our friend (mine from our CFS support group and the Princeton Folk Music Society) Dr. Paul Whiter’s ashes into the memorial garden at the Episcopal church:

I was reminded of the fourth vow some Christian monks take in addition to their other vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the vow of stability, of staying in one place for the remainder of their lives. Thomas Merton wrote that it meant giving up the hope of finding somewhere else more perfect, and settling in, for life, to the ordinariness of the chosen place.

As fascinating, intelligent man, he would have enjoyed the community we have joined.

He touched many lives, with a gentle spirit.

From April, 2013, when we had just lost him: Words are my memories.

Photo of Dr. Paul Whiter

Live readers are rare for hermit writers

Hiker on beautiful mountaintop, looking toward a far horizon. Test: For perspective, talk to one of your readers. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THERE’S A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING

And over the last week, I’ve had an experience you would have thought had happened many times before: I had a conversation with a live reader. In person.

Two, in fact. Both at my new abode.

One woman, one man.

The fun part? They’re in the same walking group here (no, I am not in it), and have been talking about me. Or my book, which is highly correlated. I wish I could listen in!

Different perspectives from each of them

One liked it, and has no clue where it’s going, but has decided what cannot be allowed to happen. Huh.

The other liked it, and seemed to connect – and asked me how I made Andrew’s Irishness work. I told her: hours of listening to radio from County Galway, and piles of notes – and a very light hand.

That last bit, a light hand, is critical for so many things in writing.

Yes, there is a lot of research in a novel like mine.

Yes, there is an entire version of 2005/2006 where you’d swear (I hope) that this actually happened.

Yes, like many writers I’m writing about things I haven’t experienced in person, and places I may not have been.

But that’s my job, and my other job is not letting the reader see it.

It can’t be in the story. Readers can’t find themselves in the middle of exposition: the info dump.

That last part is important to me. I want a reader to acquire the story without having to work at it – and I seem to have succeeded reasonably well: I could tell by the questions of both that there were no rough edges they had cut themselves on. Phew!

As I explained, I have not allowed myself the luxury of having a character conveniently think – at a time he or she would never do it – some piece of information that the reader needs. You won’t necessarily get, while reading, what some of those pieces of thought  are for, but you should understand what triggered the thought, and file it away automatically, because. I will connect the dots for you later.

Structure

And I got to say a few words to my new friends about a subject dear to my heart: plotting.

Because fiction is not real life. Even in memoir writing, the memoirist has to be highly selective – space limitations. And pity for the boredom of a reader if given everything.

And fiction has a purpose – which real life has, but not in neat chunks.

I used my skyscraper metaphor: if you aim to build high, and expect people to be able to live in an aerie with a gorgeous view, you have to plan the plumbing from the ground up to the very top: water and waste management cannot be added where convenient, as you go. Those pipes gotta connect.

And how having a solid structure in place – knowing characters, plot, setting, and timeframe, and especially why – allows me, an extreme plotter, the freedom of figuring out how. And the fun.

Conclusion: my notes are useless

I thought I’d get a pile of reactions and write them down for pondering later – so I brought a notebook and four pens (believe it or not, the first three didn’t work).

And scribbled as we went.

And found out later that I had written nothing of value.

Because the interaction itself, the pleasure of being allowed to talk about my work (while being very conscious of what I looked for when homeschooling my kids: the glazed-over eyes), the pleasure of letting someone else talk about my work interfered with coherent note-taking.

As, on reflection, it should.

The hard parts

Not talking too much.

Not correcting a reader’s perception.

Not letting out clues about where a topic will lead.

Not telling what I’m eventually going to show.

Stopping.

And still not having the right to use my own mental energy to get back into the fray, because I have to be patient a bit longer, and get the basics of life tidied up (and new things keep coming along – that’s not going to stop)…

Soon. Very soon.


A nice extra: explaining in person how important review are.


And… it’s time for our wonderful organizer to be here.

Peace out.

Question for discussion: the in-person connection between writer and reader. It is rarer than you think. Have you had it?


PS The ebook of Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is on sale for $0.99 until I’m solidly back to writing. Encourage the writer.

Being a quirky writer for yourself

A wolf baying at the night. Text: Some of us writers please ourselves. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

I WILL BE A QUIRKY WRITER

Especially because I may write few books in a lifetime, where the fiction push started late, and already ill when I began writing, I have to make the books count.

There will be a shelf next to my bed in the last place I live, and the books there will have to be what I wrote – and what I love.

But it’s quirky in an odd way. Either a reader will like what I write, or not be of my tribe.

That’s not so unusual: all writers have a tribe, once they’re past a certain minimum of quality that they can stand to put their name on nom de plume on.

Or they wouldn’t keep writing.

I write in blood

But I will never write to market. Never mind that I can’t – writing to market takes a lot of energy. I don’t want to.

Now that I’ve moved, I never have to write again. There are a million things even I can do in the new place, and they all take energy, and they are all a lot more fun than writing.

And then one person comes up to me at dinner, and tells me how much she loved the TV talk show scene, and I’m hooked again, on the dopamine that comes only to writers who have done their best, and have been rewarded, and have no internal regrets about skimping.

I honestly don’t want to go back and change a single word in PURGATORY. Which is good, because it would be an incredible amount of work.

But it’s also making me insecure about picking up the metaphorical pen again, because I haven’t been able to finish the one scene I’ve been working on since before we moved.

So much is riding on this scene

Plot, characters, theme – everything is going through a knot.

Everything is getting kicked up several notches.

Because the middle book in a trilogy needs that.

And I had no idea it was this one place I would have foundered for a while, no matter where I had been, until I started writing and realized how many threads I held in my hands, how many things go from before – toward the end of this book, and the end of this story, and how critical it is to get it right.

I think my subconscious knew, and my brain protected me.

So I would have time to consider what I’ve set out, fully.

I can’t wait to get to these ends, but the path has to be lit and leveled and have the right slope and the best edging and a solid underpinning of rock.

Because it leads toward high cliffs, and I would rather my characters (whom I’m very fond of) found resolution almost any other way. But there is none.

Glad I got that off my chest

And may your New Year have that kind of pull on you.

Once you get over being afraid of heights, the view can be amazing.

Over to you: what’s in store in 2019 that you can’t wait for?

 

Christmas Present: a change of focus

A mug with the legend 'The Adventure Begins' over the image of a canooist. Text: A new life begins now, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

KEEPING PROMISES TO MYSELF

I have been holding my breath for a very long time.

Worse than that (but necessary), I have been saving my physical and mental energy for well over six months now, not having enough to write because there was so much to do with moving, selling the house, getting used to a new place (temp.), and now, making the arrangements for the permanent new place.

I had gotten into hoarding mode: don’t spend the resources unless you absolutely must, because you cannot get more, and there are so many things which must be done.

Occasionally, I got a few days in where I was writing, or trying to, and the current scene would get a few more details or another bit of motivation or an insight, but the dark would sweep in again (okay, I’m exaggerating, but things became pressing, and I knew the whole process was depending on us doing something or making a decision on something, and it would take even longer to get over all the drama if we didn’t) and halt all progress on Book 2.

It seemed selfish to even attempt to write

because there are so many burdens on my husband I can’t help with, and there were a few things I could do for us.

I succeeded in NOT crashing, something that happens to us ME/CFS types when we overdo it, over such a long period I thought it would be forever.

And in keeping up some semblance of a cooperative household.

But the last couple of days I’ve realized that intense period is over.

And I have slipped into a waiting mode, a hoarding mode as I said, that is no longer strictly necessary.

There will be supervision.

And we do (he does) have to finalize the choice of ceiling fans.

And I need to remind Facilities that carpeting has a nap, and that seams need to go where they won’t be seen (I’ll write that email today so they have it whenever Christmas is past and someone decides to install the carpet).

Even PT is technically over

Long story. Some progress. But I am now on my own, with a set of exercises, and a sequence leading to the hardest in the set, all laid out on paper, with the timing up to me.

I have to be careful – that’s where some of that energy had to be spent – because the pattern is now ‘day of exercise, followed by two days of hugely increased pain,’ repeat ad infinitum. And dealing with that level of pain is exhausting.

But we were all pleased at how quickly I progressed, even with minimum repetitions, and I can get another referral for more PT when I feel I’ve mastered this bunch.

I am now officially hard-abbed and hard-assed (yay, isometrics and work against a resistance band), to a degree not acquired before.

It really helped to insist on being taught correct form until I got it – the difference is quite amazing for some of the exercises. We didn’t actually do physical therapy at the PT sessions: I used them to demonstrate progress, and get trained, and find out what next, in writing and pictures.

Which helped a lot when the first temp PT person, who was very good, left, and I met who she had told me was the permanent person here, only to find out that he is just as temporary! He’ll be here a while, and may still be when I decide on another bout, but I made sure he did an evaluation to document where I am now (I didn’t want to waste my last session with her on it), and there is a nice bit of progress.

Nothing earth-shattering – I still can’t walk without the walker – but a huge change in strength in appropriate muscle groups, and distinct progress.

So now all I have to do is keep doing it, pushing toward the exercises I can’t do well yet, and keeping everything core rock hard when moving something else…

And the question pops right up: are we writing?

Because, given a life of luxury and doing things to entertain myself, I would rather be writing, if only I can have my brain on board, please.

There will be a long (could be several months, might be just one) period between these last home choices and move-in day, but I can’t afford (writing-wise and mood-wise) to stay on hyper alert for being needed to do something at short notice, so much so that I have to save every drop of energy.

And I’m having some talks with myself about how to shake myself out of wait/interruption/hoard energy mode.

I need to create a semblance of a ‘new normal’ for myself

The old one is no longer available, whatever it was, and it didn’t allow for all the new opportunities I have now for exercising/moving/not just sitting.

The social opportunities need to be sorted out – we have a large number of lovely new acquaintances, but turning a few of those into new friends is just starting.

I love going to dinner and meeting new people – and wonder why I’m left as limp as the proverbial dishrag when it’s over. And the answer is that being coherent for an hour, and coping with a flow of new input, is very difficult for me. We have to eat. We can have dinner just us two at a small table. And no one will judge us. Except I do, sometimes, for having missed an opportunity!

I have a tendency to retreat into sudoku and other such entertainments which can be stopped at any time (ie, the unplanned interruptions).

I have a tendency to push myself to stay awake until the need for a nap is so overwhelming that it can’t really do its job of clearing out the debris of thinking.

I have a tendency not to plan when I know there isn’t a prayer of being able to follow the plan.

But my Christmas present to myself is to realize there is a new present

to be determined, and figured out, and planned.

I have paid most of the price for a new life. I am exceedingly grateful to have it.

Now I have to figure out how to open that present and live the new life, not just survive it.

And to remember that the next move, however horrible, will be to the promised land (yes, I still have to turn our new balcony into a bit of a garden because all I’ll be able to see most of the time is the flagpole).

Not so much New Year’s resolutions as waking up to the new world.

And getting Book 2 finished, etc., etc., while still getting into the pool as often as possible, and using the adult trike, and getting up my courage to buy and use an Airwheel S8 (my long-term plan for mobility). And learning to use CBD oil to manage some of the extra pain. And doing some trips out of here for something other than picking carpeting and going to church.

New life, new choices.

Present, not past or future.

I HOPE each of you is getting a present, too. I’d love to hear about it.


Christmas blessings to all who believe in Peace on Earth to humans of good will. There are still a majority, I am convinced. Don’t know why, except that I seem to be the eternal optimist. In spite of everything.


PS Not much feedback yet, but several people here have already read PC. And it would be amazing to be invited to participate in one of the many book clubs they belong to.


 

Marching off to the carpet store

Apartment layout with colored sections to indicate rug and tile colors

Grownups with crayons

NECESSARY STEPS ON THE CRITICAL PATH

I figured I’d update my faithful followers and occasional readers on WHY there is not more progress toward Book 2 in the Pride’s Children trilogy.

And reassure you – there has been some progress, which I will write about when the current scene is actually written, because I discovered a new technique (for me), and it dislodged the logjam.

But I’m not actually writing yet because…

I have to focus now on getting out of this temporary place as soon as possible.

Which in practical terms has meant such things as borrowing a box of crayons from Facilities (who got it from the ‘healthcare activity department’) – to decide which colors go where.

Above is the winner.

You’d think they’d have visualization tools in a place where apartments are being renovated for each new set of residents, some nice piece of software with all the floor plans already included, and a quick way to try your choices even for the non-computer-savvy crowd.

But no.

Turnover is significant in a community this large

I hadn’t really thought about what it means to be 96% occupied, but one thing we found was that certain apartments – if you have a preference – may not come up for reoccupation as often as you might need, so there are waiting lists.

Also, a community of this size (and with permanent residents) may have a large number of units turn over every year (around 20, for a rough estimate), and that each of these gets renovated to the taste of the new occupant.

In an ordinary apartment complex, many things are standardized, and the tenants don’t decide what the floor coverings will be, and often have no choice of colors. Management makes changes mostly on its own schedule.

In a different community, one of ownership – houses or condominiums – individual owners arrange for – and pay for – their own choices with individual contractors.

But in a CCRC, management makes the changes according to the new residents‘ wishes. Too many cooks. Many of those ‘cooks’ also think of the apartment they don’t own as if it were their own new house. Many are willing to pay for significant upgrades – because they’re used to having their own way. Which process may also delay the completion of the new units, so the residents can’t move in!

We’re going for the simpler version

Let management do most of what they want – it seems good enough, and we’re easy.

Ha!

But easy or not, we still have to sign off on everything, and it turns out their desire to standardize more from here on (and speed up the turnover of units) is getting a bit of pushback from us because ours is the first apartment of our floorplan in the new system, and we think there’s room for improvement. So we make very logical explanations of why something is better.

And they, wanting new people to be happy, have listened.

So the battle is to make the decisions as quickly as possible – but with foresight and questions and details and…

Meanwhile, we’re occupying two units.

And I desperately want to get back to my writing, especially now that I’ve figured out a path through the maze, but I can’t, in due conscience, live with a faucet which is installed so far back on the bathroom countertop that you can’t move the lever which closes the sink. Or a host of other minor atrocities.

So we move each day a little closer

And I try to have a little more patience, and move things along, but still not end up with a light fixture in the bathroom with naked compact fluorescent bulbs!

So, for your delectation – and in appreciation of your patience and because I haven’t blogged in too long – I give you my crayon drawings.

The colors are the ones we both still like – and will remind us of the home we sold (and which doesn’t probably look anything like that any more).

We don’t like white. Not for floors. They always look dirty, always show up pieces of stuff, always need vacuuming, and require instant action if you spill something so it doesn’t stain permanently. Newer carpeting is better, but I’m still not impressed. White is loved by designers because it artificially makes places look bigger. ‘Artificially’ is the key word.

And you have to watch these people very carefully: so far, every time we’ve had a layout presented to us which solved a problem, and which we now approve of – they have snuck something else in which wasn’t a problem before – and now is. I’m sure that’s a finite problem, and we will eventually lock it in – but we have to watch each new printout for the removal of things we thought we’d already agreed on!

Authority and responsibility should go together, in principle

But this process doesn’t work that way, because there are three parties involved. We’ll be living in the new apartment for the rest of our lifetime’s ability to live independently (a sobering thought), but we’re not paying for most of the renovations – except through the buy-in, but that’s not a direct payment to the contractor.

We have not been given a budget (they like to keep that under their hat), except that they’ve finally given us a number to aim for in the carpeting cost (we’re off to use that information today).

We don’t know exactly what the budget is for appliances – but the facility likes to keep them in certain families because they have spare parts which makes maintenance easier for them (except that they had given us the option of a refrigerator with a water dispenser, which we enthusiastically accepted, and then rescinded it).

I drink a lot of water. I’ve been filling water bottles and putting them in the fridge. Back in NJ I didn’t take the trouble to have the icemaker fixed, and so spent a lot of time filling ice cube trays, and don’t want to be doing either for the rest of my life, especially as I get older and feebler…

And so it boring goes

It should be over soon.

Except then for making sure they do what we thought we agreed to have them do.

Before correcting mistakes gets too costly.

Pray for me, sympathize, and this may happen to you, too, some day – so learn what you can.

And I’ll be back to blogging about something less mundane asap.

Happy to hear your stories of remodeling, especially if I can learn something useful for us now.


Meanwhile, check the upper right hand column of this blog if you have Christmas presents to select for literate grownup readers.


 

Second attempt to restart writing

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

THE LIBRARY AT URC’S NEW BOOKS SHELF

It takes a while to get back to work.

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

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

Not CREATIVE thinking. Nor ORGANIZED thinking.

Tearing out your life by the roots has consequences

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

In CA, we didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had assistants in NJ

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

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

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

And we’re still waiting for a larger place.

Everything is different

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

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

But today I gritted my teeth

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

Blocked the internet for several hours with Freedom.

Located the papers I created or brought.

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

And dove in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And how have you all been?


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

A jackhammer sounds like a helicopter

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

Homeowner problems

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

Didn’t need the worry!

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was that sound?

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

Much more prosaic.

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

Yay, taxes!

Yay, First World problems.

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

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


Of such is my life right now.

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


 

Boosting Jennie Spotila’s post on dancing

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

TODAY IS ME AWARENESS DAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please read her whole, excellent post.

Dancing is a human right

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

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

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

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

Dance excerpt 1, PC1, Chapter 16

Dance excerpt 2, PC1, Chapter 16

I kind of like this one.

I REALLY miss dancing.

Shall we dance?


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


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