Tag Archives: self-awareness

While marking time do something different

Blue recliner - Golden maxicomfort power lift and recline chair

SOMETIMES ALL YOU CAN DO IS WASTE TIME

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

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

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

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

Hidden treasures at the bazaar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids?

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

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

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

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

More?

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

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

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

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

So that’s it.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


 

Trike ride is different in California Fall

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

A LONE TREE DECIDES IT’S FALL IN CALIFORNIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

So out we went, Trixie the trike and I

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

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

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

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

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

We went out to the West Pond

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

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

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

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

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

How does this fit in with being ill?

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

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

Meanwhile, I do what I can.

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

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

Peace out!


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


 

 

New after a year Low-dose Naltrexone

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

I WOULD RATHER SAY I’M WRITING REGULARLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something has changed since the move.

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

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

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

It isn’t the time commitments

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

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

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

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

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

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

as frequently as I need it to.

For as long as I need it to.

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

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

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

To give the ol’ brain some help

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

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

I want less brain fog.

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

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

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

But back in New Jersey I could still manage to write

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

And you don’t mess with what works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does the future hold?

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

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

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

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

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

I’m on it.

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

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

And how are you?


 

As close as writing can get

FICTION IS BUT BLACK AND WHITE DOTS

We are getting spoiled by high resolution. Actors now have to worry that every pore is visible to the folks at home. Photos take a lot of storage space – megabytes – because we can, and because we have Terabyte hard drives.

Most of us will never have occasion to use that detail, and we don’t want to write books that are that high resolution, either. Among other problems, they would take forever to read!


From November 12, 2012:

Digitizing reality: the fictive approximation

Even in the most connected and most fluid writing, choices have to be made. Which sentence follows which, which word is best. The basic principle of fiction is that reality cannot be duplicated, merely suggested.

When a painter uses a few strokes of red to suggest a roof, she must trust that the viewer will infer internal beams, two-by-fours, and nails to support that roof from the fact that the roof does not fall. Worse, even ‘fall’ is a suggestion: the painter does not ‘do’ gravity: the unsupported roof will not slide off the bottom of the page when the canvas is hung.

Reality is fine-grained

Reality consists of unimaginable numbers of tiny events, linked together by time, infinitely stretching in all directions. Fiction picks the stars in the skies as points, leaves us to connect the stars with planets, deep-space debris, and light.

So it doesn’t really matter which points are chosen, in some sense, because the same writer, on the same day, could select an entirely different set, and still tell the same story.

Beginners to digitization are astounded at how few black and white pixels it takes to express the iconic Abraham Lincoln. But even those few points are a random choice, because starting at each of a million different points, there are a million similar-but-not-identical digital Lincolns.

But what level of detail is REQUIRED for fiction?

It is only necessary to cover enough of the central story, at the chosen level of detail. “Wedding dress for sale. Never worn.” is in some sense exactly the same as “Great Expectations.”

What a writer strikes for is balance. For each type of story there are conventions, rough guidelines. An action thriller which spends half of its 300,000 words in interior monologue of its twisted dark protagonist is a deliberate contravention of the genre’s best-selling exemplars. It CAN be done, but must be written exceedingly well, and even then the audience for it will not be all thriller readers – because most of them want taut action-packed, skimpy-on-details, fast-paced writing with its interior monologue limited to “They killed my wife and child and now they will pay.”

Possibly, if done well, the audience will broaden to include readers who like longer stories, who appreciate the extra background, the crossover effect. A gamble. Done deliberately and competently and in a controlled manner, it may pay off. May.

How do you sketch a good-enough approximation?

I come by these thoughts today free of charge as a short scene–which had completely halted progress for over a month–suddenly resolved and melted into ink on page. I stopped trying to find better words to do what I was doing. I realized the words already there were a good digitization of the reality I was trying to portray–and that there is not a single perfect version of this scene which I have to locate somewhere out in the ether.

Life, complicated, millions-of-tiny-pieces life, had been getting in the way. I’m amazed at how few words needed changing, how few words I needed to add to what I already had. It is a good-enough version of the story reality. It isn’t missing any key pieces.

Time limits how much a character can do, say, or think

Finally, I could experience it from the inside of the head of the character whose point of view it was. In a few places, I added what she thought and felt to what she experienced–just a few touches restored that sense of balance.

I changed the places where I showed through: where her words would be different from mine, I chose hers. Mine were better–hers were hers. She comes from a part of me I disallow sometimes, with my over-educated, over-read self-image. She WANTED–in a way I rarely allow myself any more. I let her speak instead of censoring her–and the scene finished itself.


I love writing, because I get to choose the level of detail needed to tell the story my way.

My happiest readers will be those who like my granularity, somewhere between Hemingway and Rosamund Pilcher (or worse, Proust), whose brain needs the same distance from the subject. And it doesn’t hurt if they like my stories.

How much detail do you need?

Lessons from writing a play still hold

TO TEACH A NOVELIST DIALOGUE

One of the better oldies, condensing several years of learning into a single post – and a much better sense of how to do dialogue.


From November 16, 2012:

For better dialogue in fiction: write a play

When you can’t depend on interior monologue to get your point across, you lose a huge advantage. As a writer of fiction, you can either be blatant (He felt like death.) or subtle (He remembered med school: learning all the ramifications of the vagus nerve, enervating myriads of gastric components and pathways, useless for pinpointing the source of trouble in his gut, useful only to prove something, somewhere, thought it was wrong. But he’d never expected to feel so many of them. Simultaneously.) when using interior monologue, deep or distant.

But you get to choose.

As a playwright, you work with action and dialogue. Period. And have collaborators – actors and directors – who may aid you or may fight you, but whom you don’t control.

Tradition in the theater preserves the playwright’s absolute control over the dialogue, the WORDS. Many actors and directors will routinely cross out stage directions and the author’s parenthetical instructions on HOW to say a line or move about on stage, but they will not change a WORD of the dialogue.

Even in an adaptation of the play ‘Mary Stuart’ in high school, in SPANISH (I was Queen Elizabeth I, the actual lead – whee!), our director limited himself to crossing out large amounts of dialogue (the play was too long for us), and making the tiniest transitions where absolutely necessary. He would not change the translator’s version of the WORDS.

This is an absolute gift for novelists.

I urge every novelist to go out and write a play*.

Buy yourself $100 worth of playwriting books (buy – so you can write in them). Swallow them whole. Pick a visual story. Write the darned thing (maybe I’ll get back to the how in a later post).

And learn to live within the constraints of the form: you tell your story in the DIALOGUE you give your characters.

Oh, all right. You also have setting, and choosing WHICH of your characters are on stage at a given time, and stage/dialogue parenthetical directions.

But DIALOGUE is your main weapon.

And your written dialogue in your fiction gets much better.

You shouldn’t do ‘talking heads’ or ‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue, any more than you should do it in a novel – doing so demonstrates a distinct lack of technical skills.

It’s “I’m going to paint the Mona Lisa with BOTH hands tied behind my back, using only this paintbrush clenched in my teeth.” Because that’s what it feels like when you start.

But it CAN be done. It’s been done since the beginning of time. It can be done WITHOUT a narrator to gum up the works. And it can be done so the audience feels like eavesdroppers, watching something real happening right in front of them, right now.

Heady stuff. Ask full-time playwrights. Ask actors and directors.

Dialogue in plays is elliptical

(not the shape – the punctuation mark), at cross purposes, full of innuendo and half-said things. And lies. Lots of lies. But it must tell the story or you are merely doing pantomime. It has to add up. The WORDS matter.

And that is precisely its value for writing the dialogue – and telling the story – in fiction: it has to add up.

Doing it with time constraints – on stage – leads to the most economical method of telling a story, the fewest words. Doing it on stage, intended for a live audience which gets BORED and restless within seconds if the pieces of story it is receiving do not add up immediately, is like boot camp for dialogue.

The audience can neither skip ahead nor go back to review something unclear. And it won’t like being bored. So you learn to leave nothing out, and put nothing extraneous in.

Audiences want stories to make sense, pronto, and continuously.

So you learn to feed them the story in bite-size pieces, story beats, so they can put the whole thing together in their heads and follow.

It is an awesome discipline to acquire – and the results, in terms of the ability to do good dialogue in fiction, are equally awesome, so much so that stripping a scene I’m editing down to ONLY the dialogue, and walking through it as if I expected it to be performed on stage, is now one of the basic steps in my process, and a step that often shows exactly where the flaws are.

—–
* CAUTION: Even though they share similarities, movie scripts and plays are ENTIRELY different beasts. I don’t recommend (unless scriptwriting is your form and dream) writing a movie script unless you are a masochist: EVERYTHING is up for grabs in a movie, and even the actors have no compunction about slaughtering your words.


When a scene isn’t going well, sometimes I just tell it in dueling dialogue – and then go back and see more of the setting and work on the pace.

Another real advantage is that, with pure dialogue, you can actually change the point of view character, and then fill the scene in from that character’s perspective. Nifty if you’re not sure whose scene it needs to be (I’ve changed perspectives in many scenes).

Have you written a play?

Stories promise more than they deliver

Reflect reality

I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE TELLING PRETTY STORIES

There is no direct correlation between the most detailed, elaborate story you can tell – and the ‘real life’ it may be based on.

We know that – and ignore it – every time we read, and not just read fiction.

Choices are made. Real life is edited – to make more sense. To make any sense at all.

Even the language we use for stories has too many choices.

But the core? Is the core something worth while?

Most writers don’t even ask themselves this question; they just start writing.

But I had a period when I wondered if it was somehow wrong to tell tales that couldn’t be true, could never happen.

Duplicate oldies!

I was surprised to find I had boosted the same old post twice in less than a month. Clearly, I need to remember what I’ve done – and keep track better!

I’ll do another Oldie but Goodie soon – and put the actual date instead of an approximate one in the heading.

Let me get some sleep, some bloodwork, and some writing done first tomorrow. Sigh.


Resetting your writing after a break

AND YOU HAVE TO GET BACK TO WORK

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

And, in my case, get back to writing.

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

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

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

The time is now – if you can

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

But eventually it happens.

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

I do this periodically.


From October 2012:

Jamming the creative process: RESET to break the jam

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

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

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

How is the creative process affected?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t matter what caused mine this time.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Current editing is Scene 26.2 in NETHERWORLD.

Current writing is Scene 26.3.

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

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

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

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

How true can a story be?

IF YOU WANT ‘TRUTH’ WRITE MEMOIR?

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

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

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

Is the idea better than the reality?

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

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

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


From October, 2012:

Telling fairytales: giving readers false hopes

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

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

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

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

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

We need stories in which there is hope.

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

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

This could happen.

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

That is a good enough reason to write.


 

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?

Still writing with ME/CFS years later

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY DON’T

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

********

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

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

********

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

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

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

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

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

During that aftermath I often surf the web.

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

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

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

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

Looking at the list,

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

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

This is data.

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

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

THE ANSWER: to be normal.

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


It’s over 29 years now.

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

I am so boring!

Why do you surf?

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?

 

Making things worse to make them better

Jetty going out over a lake with the moon in the night sky. Text: There's always dark before the light. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO BREAK THE MOLD

to get to a bigger, better place.

The mold is a comfortable place.

Okay, not so comfortable: it has flaws. You are just used to the flaws.

Until the day when the flaws add up to something so large it can’t be improved.

Only destroyed.

I’m trying to get settled in the new, larger mold.

It’s just taking a lot more work, and a lot more time, than I told myself before the move (if you don’t do that, minimize the cost of the change, you can never get unstuck from the mold).

If you focus too hard on the cost of change, you don’t change. You CAN’T change.

Because change is very expensive, and not just in money.

I’m impatient.

Everyone tells me to ‘give it time,’ and tells me how long it was before they were settled in our new community, before they had unpacked all their boxes, before they knew enough people, before they reconstructed their new life.

But after the change, the invoice shows up and demands to be paid.

As the pain of the move diminishes, and becomes, like all memories, a series of amusing vignettes you recount at the dinner table to people you hope will become new friends, and whom you are now entertaining so they will know you’re not just a complainer (deadly) or a bore (deadly), the pain of the new become more evident: you are not there yet.

For me, it has been the amount of time I am still not writing new fiction.

I’ve spent a decent proportion of time with the internet blocked off, NOT writing new fiction.

Yet.

I sure hope it’s ‘yet.’

You see, I also moved to improve the body.

I have started the PT I so desperately wanted, and which was one of the main reasons for coming to this particular place. PT is downstairs. An elevator ride and a couple of corridors worth of distance.

And next to the pool, so I can just pop into the warm water afterward, and then take a nice shower, and then…

Go back to the temporary home and find myself completely ragged out for the day.

And the next day the sacroiliac joint has given me a day of intense deep aching. So I do the exercises for that…

It’s necessary. Now is the best time. And it has plopped the next barrier to writing right in front of me.

People recommend patience

and not being too hard on myself.

And not expecting too much, possibly even now, since we’re beginning the process of working with Facilities to fix our permanent abode in Independent Living from being gutted, to having a place for everything and everything in its place, a state we are NOT achieving here (doesn’t feel worth the work when you’re going to have to do it all again soon).

But they don’t have the itchy feeling of how much of my identity is tied up in being a writer – and actually writing.

So many accomplished folk here, with long resumes of happy productive lives, whether involved in work for pay or in bringing up happy and successful children, and it serves to emphasize the many things I could not do due to illness, the may experiences I will now never have.

I didn’t expect that part.

Many of them are still doing the wonderful trips and community service and voter registration and visiting schools…

The ones who are past that are often quite a bit older.

And even the ones who are now disabled who are living here often have not been that way for long.

Only now I meet more people than in my previous isolated state

and have had, metaphorically speaking (and without any ill intent on their part – this all comes out in conversations), my nose rubbed in it.

I used to be better at ignoring the fact that I was ill and isolated, and the rest of the world had lives. Problems, yes, but lives.

By a determined cheerfulness in my own life, so that I did not alienate those I still knew, I kept the worst of it under wraps most of the time. It gets very boring to listen to complaining, however justified. I preferred to spend my time with my husband, far-flung kids, and small coterie of friends enjoying their presence and company when I had it.

I made ignorance – avoidance – my bliss.

And I wrote. Things other people can’t. Don’t. Don’t even want to. But which make me unique.

And clamped down on envy as unproductive.

I’m confronting all this a third time.

Fourth? Fifth? All in a bunch, everything repressed comes back to be dealt with in a new stage of life.

I really hope it’s the last time. But it can’t be.

It gets boring, even to me.

The light will return. Proof of that is that I keep trying. If I’d stopped trying, I’d really worry.

This may be one of those raw adjustment times you put behind you once things are to a new normal. But it’s daunting to think it may total a year by the time we’re in the ‘forever home,’ and I get back to really working.

Another very good sign is that I’m aware of it. I’m not happy about the uncertain period, but I still crave writing something coherent, and even more, writing something I’m satisfied with. I know I’m not where I want to be, and that the steps we’re taking should, with a bit more of that patience stuff, put me in a better writing place.

Life moves on, inexorably

I’d just like to think that the effort for change results in a better working environment, and is a net gain.

Ask me in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, this is a recording of the current state of mind.

I have gone back into my own posts, that now number well over 500, to find things I almost don’t remember writing – and I only started blogging in 2012!

Nothing very new yet

except that I realized how sparse even the blogging has gotten, and feel compelled (by me, not my lovely readers and commenters) to put out at least an update+what I’ve been thinking post every once in a while, until I have more substantive ‘content.’

And, looked at in hindsight, there has been an awfully large amount of change survived.

Please pray for rain for California, and no rain in some other places – that has been, after the elections, another huge concern: we are right in the plume of the Camp Fire, and yesterday were in the ‘hazardous’ category. Worrying about the firefighters, and all those who have lost lives, family, and homes. And wildlife. And what happens after.

And, as usual, not being able to do a darned thing.

Be well. Write when you have a moment.


 

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!

Liz, the 2005 Buick Tessara I’ve owned since 2008

APOLOGIES FOR THE CONFUSION OF TODAY’S POSTS

I was so happy to be sending myself photos that I didn’t realize the phone thingy was also posting blank posts along with the images.

And the names got all fouled up.

And the longish post I was writing got lost.

And I am just so tired, I couldn’t even face fixing things this morning. Plus an unreasonable pain from a pinched nerve just wouldn’t go away – finally tamed it with ibuprofen and hours on a cold pack.

The cars are not going with us

My husband isn’t sentimental about cars; we sold his yesterday without much of a backward glance, even though he’s the only owner it ever had, and I don’t have a picture.

So I headed to the window, took my first picture through the screen, realized it was junk that way, took it again – and here you have the car that did the bulk of the homeschool hauling around, and all three kids learned to drive on it (and aced their parking tests!), and it has been to Pittsburgh, PA, and to Troy, NY, bunches of time (we didn’t drive to Pasadena because that was way too far), hauled more junk than I can shake a stick at, and had its seats in and out to make space.

Her name is Liz, because youngest daughter told me (I took her along and made sure she sat in every minivan on the used car dealer’s lot to make sure her older and taller siblings would fit when they visited) that if you name a car, you have to take it home.

The dealer here will take her off our hands on the day we head out of town, and the convenience of having him do the transfer paperwork right has trumped any thought of selling her privately for possibly more money. Plus we’ll keep her up to the last day, and not need a rental. Plus luggage.

I don’t ‘love’ inanimate objects, though I do anthropomorphize, but Elizabeth (Liz) gets thanked a lot when I leave this place – and make it back safely.

The packing is going, going, almost gone…

The captain's bed in my office, with a blue fitted sheet, covered by things still to be packed, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

The last of the captain’s bed

and the rooms are emptying to a pile of boxes in the living room ready for the movers this week,

Empty closet with packing materails, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

and this is the last of it – and will be the first boxes opened because that’s where the toothpaste is. And the antacids.

We’ve reached the point

where we’re leaving whether the sale goes through or not.

If it doesn’t, the house can stay under management, empty, fixed, and ready to sell until it does, and our lawyer said he can handle the closing. But signs are positive (all fingers crossed, now, guys), as it toodles along lackadaisically toward the new folk, and they have ‘happily’ (according to our agent) agreed to accept a few things we are leaving them because they really need them even though they don’t know that yet.

The house is another thing I will definitely miss, but oddly, because, since the staging ladies and the painter and the flooring people did their thing it hasn’t been my house, anyway.

We’ll have to remember with our memories, and the house as the backdrop of family photos, because I never got to do what I was going to do, namely clean it up for sale (but without all that newfangled staging stuff), and then take pictures. So there are birthday parties in the office, kitchen, and dining room; and Christmases in the living room; and some Thanksgiving photos’ and lots of pictures of the exterior through all the seasons.

But no photos of a tidy house of mine.

That’s all for now, folks

It may be a while before the next post, or, living in an Extended Stay America for a week, I may have so much time on my hands that it drives the words out of my head onto the page. Dunno.

There are still an awful lot of things to do and I hope I don’t forget any of the ones which are critical.

Or pack them inaccessibly. I left the pool floats where I will open them first, and kept a bathing suit out. First things first, of course.

I think I’ll leave you to ponder the existential thrill of letting go of so many things at once and with no time to ponder individual ones, nor to take photos of most of the things which are staying in NJ in the homes of friends, strangers, and the dump. I kept the photos and the digitized home movies and the music transferred to an iPod (need to make a backup of that, too).

It’s supposed to be freeing to empty it all out, to let go, finally, of project you really are never going to do (my assistant took one of them – if she does it, and sends me a picture, I’ll post it, but don’t hold your breath).

I don’t feel free yet, just empty. It does and it doesn’t help that I’ve been almost completely home-bound for many years now, leaving as infrequently as possible because of the energy it takes.

I will get back to writing, and learn a new, communal place, and move on to the next phase.

I don’t regret any of this – but it is a very strong demarcation in my life.

I’m sure you have stories from your moves – I’d love to hear. Please share.


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Death is the joker in the pack

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

QUESTIONS OF LEGACIES HAUNT

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

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

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

Questions of privilege

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

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

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

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

What if you have problems – and NO resources?

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

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

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

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

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

I have, since birth, been solidly middle class.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The legacy part?

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

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

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


Hard to blog when real life happens.

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