Tag Archives: self-awareness

This is not the time to be careless

REQUIRING MEDICAL CARE DURING A PANDEMIC

is not a good idea.

This is a time to be extra-careful, if you’re older, not to fall.

It is a good time to lower your stress and eat right, and possibly not need that trip to a hospital for chest pains.

It is a time to watch your rage (while at the same time creating it – nice quandary), so you don’t, literally, blow a gasket.

It is a good time to think things through and take the safest course, to process the information from the outside world with more care.

You can see where this is going, right?

Yesterday, on my way back from the swimming pool (with its inconvenient limited hours), I was sitting on my walker (because standing and walking hurt), scooting backward as I do, when I needed to push the big metal pushbutton that opens the automatic doors.

I didn’t give it much though, but had to reach slightly behind me, and had to push that button harder than I expected, and something popped – and hurt a lot – on my right upper arm/shoulder/biceps area.

I have injured myself, and I’m irritated at how the stiffness of the button, and the need to get through the door after it swings open, made this go bad. But I’m the one injured, and right now the thought of going to the doctor, and possibly needing some attention, scares me.

So I’ve been babying it, trying not to use my right arm at all.

Nothing appears to be broken or torn

I used ibuprofen, and I sat with the cold-pack for a while.

Nothing is visibly swollen, and this morning it wasn’t actually hurting unless I moved it (not going to do that if I can help it).

And I can type – the important part.

But in ordinary circumstances I’d call the doctor, go see him, maybe get an X-ray, end up in PT, but right now, while we’re waiting for the first big wave of COVID-19 cases to hit the local hospitals, I don’t want to go to a doctor’s office. I don’t want to risk not being able to come back (retirement communities are looking askance at those who go out into the big bad world and then come back). I don’t want to possibly need surgical intervention – not even sure I could get it!

And I don’t want to go to a place where I might pick something up!

I just feel stupid

even though it was probably truly accidental, and I could never have foreseen the combination of circumstances that would result in an injury – from a seated position!

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you might remember that when I dislocated my finger, I pulled it back into position, and iced it myself – because I was hosting a picnic, and knew what going to an ER or Urgent Care facility would do, timewise, and that the best time to fix a problem like that is immediately, before the joint has a chance to swell.

It made sleeping tricky.

I had to ask my husband to load the washing machine for me.

It was very awkward taking a shower – and I had to be very careful – but our pools have chlorine and salt water in them, and I was decidedly not going to bed that way.

And it doesn’t hurt yet today, though I dare not move it much.

My advice?

Don’t be in a hurry. Don’t be upset, as I was, at petty rules not allowing us for the present to take a shower in the dressing room by the pool.

Be more careful out there than you think – this is not the time to require medical attention – if you can avoid it. Stay safe – just in case.


 

Shopping patterns change with the circumstances

NORMAL WHEN IT’S NOT NORMAL OUT

A flyer from Kohl’s in the mailbox touts a sale March 25-29. It’s a surreal reminder or normality – advertising flyers are set up, and the sales decided, months in advance. The products, seasonal, have to be ordered, decisions made about what clothes people will need in the next buying period, Easter – it appears, from the elegant children’s clothes.

While some incomprehensible person in Washington says grandparents should die for commerce, instead of being around for the grandchildren to hug for the Easter dinner in their cute new duds. And Italy reports considering that breathing support won’t be available for those under SIXTY. New low.

We’re not that far out from normal

It is very different, depending on which pictures you see in the news – between the photograph showing a packed Bondi Beach in Australia or Daytona Beach in Florida and ones showing a piazza in Rome more empty than it’s been in years – but it hasn’t really been that long yet.

A few months since the first cases in Wuhan, China, to total lockdown in Davis, California, for the safety of old folk for whom there will not be enough ventilators in local hospitals.

The SCALE has shocked the world, but far too many people still don’t believe it.

And the more optimistic among scientists, and especially among politicians, are hoping ‘normal’ comes back within a couple weeks, wherever they are, so that we don’t mess up the economy too much for their taste.

We’re still in the world of Just-in-time inventories

Of factories with so much capacity they can produce what is needed with a quick turnaround – and of inventories so low doctors and nurses are re-using face masks usually disposed of after each patient, and re-using them for many, many patients.

We’ve gone from crowded shopping in grocery stores where there are SALE! signs everywhere, to standing six feet apart in the checkout line.

And we don’t know which patterns will last, and which will be gone the minute there is a vaccine to protect from COVID-19.

We’re feeling mental whiplash.

A month ago…

Having the husband head out on the facility bike to do some grocery shopping was a bit of exercise tacked onto a chore…

…Now it is a death-defying adventure into a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Getting together in a small group in the Piano Lounge to sing folk songs…

…Not even allowed because the room is small and enclosed, even if people stay six feet apart from each other.

Going to the pool was almost a social activity…

…And now we are being supervised like children by management to make sure no one uses or touches anything.

Online shopping was a convenience

For us, without a car yet in California, it was so much easier to have things delivered that I think we had a package a day delivered to the front desk!

Now it’s an adventure in finding a time slot in which your local grocery store can deliver food and TP (assuming they have some) after you’ve filled in a very detailed form online with many restrictions – and for which someone else will choose your ripe bananas.

As a shut-in, basically (little energy and little mobility are a real deterrent to shopping in stores), I’m used to the concept.

But everyone else is still trying to wrap their mind around what can and cannot be done, at the same time they wonder why on earth they would even buy an Easter dress.

Welcome to my world, sort of

And I wonder if you will have been changed permanently by your visit, or whether you will just have a few vacation photos tucked away in a virtual album somewhere.

Try to remember – and have some understanding of what the permanent residents deal with daily.

I STILL don’t see much of a plan for the NEXT time we get a novel virus.


Stay well. Read books. Get around to those projects.

If you survive… what will you have to show? As I tell myself to stop watching the news and get back to NETHERWORLD. It isn’t writing itself, but we did have a good day.


 

Lockdown with food delivery CCRC style

OTHERS ARE KEEPING US SAFE

When we moved here, it was for life.

A Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) is the last place you will live. Once you buy in, you are promising, like some medieval monks, to stay in one place, one community – for literally the rest of your life.

This is the first serious test of the concept that we’ve dealt with: we have put our health and welfare into the hands of management – and they are doing everything in their power to keep us safe.

Even our tiny folksinging group – fewer than 10 people – was canceled.

And fed

We are now on total lockdown in our apartments. There will be no community events, no gatherings of people, no groups coming from outside, no family or friend visits (except for the terminal).

And the food – one of the good things about a place like this with several venues for dinner or lunch and a fair number of choices about what you may choose for those meals – is about to get very different.

We have been given a tiny number of choices (so you can tell them you’re vegetarian or don’t eat fish or dairy), and they will decide what to bring you – and deposit on the ledge outside your door!

Choice seems a minor casualty

I’m sure they will be trying to keep it as interesting as possible, and we will make do, and we have things in our freezer and pantry to supplement or replace.

We will have ways of continuing to get staples from local grocery stores.

But the ability to choose from different entrees, sides, and desserts – a big part of gracious living at a CCRC that justifies the entry and monthly fees – will be gone. For MONTHS.

We’ve never bought the 5* restaurant boast (though occasional meals are superb, the ordinary is not), but we’re about to find out what happens when they decide what we eat. And how much.

Meal TIME and TEMPERATURE will compensate a bit

We don’t have to eat dinner between 4:45 and 7pm if we choose to set the delivery aside and eat at a more normal 8-9 PM; and we DO have a microwave oven and a regular over to heat buffet food that is usually not all that hot by the time we get it to the dining room table and eat it (for me, because I bring my plates to the table on my walker’s seat, and prefer to make only one trip, cold dinner entrees are the norm).

It’s going to be institutional. It’s going to be weird.

And it’s going to be a struggle for me, the picky eater who doesn’t eat many carbohydrates.

We’ll survive – and this is the only way staff time can be used to both deal with food and  the safety precautions, too.

We will continue to be fed, like the passengers on the cruise ships, and it will be someone else’s problem as long as they are handling it.

We are lucky – it could be far worse

As it is going to be far worse for so many people out there.

We don’t have an easy way to make a change in our living arrangements – the house in New Jersey is long gone, and this is our home.

And we’re all grownups here, and will adjust, and keep the proverbial stiff upper lip.

Please note: I’m documenting and commenting, not complaining.


Meanwhile, some lovely person is reading Pride’s Children PURGATORY from Kindle Unlimited, and I’m delighted to watch their progress through the author tools we have.

If it’s you, please consider leaving a review on Amazon!


 

Fear of leaving the safe apartment

SOCIAL COST OF DISTRUSTING YOUR NEIGHBORS

I like my new neighbors in the retirement community we’ve joined.

Most of us live in the main building, with Assisted Living, Skilled Nursing, and Memory Support dowstairs – which makes it easy to visit friends and partners in different levels of care.

Right now, we’re all staying physically away from each other, and the contact with the outside world is being curtailed daily.

But I’ve had the thought of realizing that we are dependent on a huge number of people doing the right thing when they leave this place and come back, say, for a doctor’s appointment, or to visit family in town.

We are isolated because OUR kids aren’t near

While we still depend on the staff being careful, it is daunting that it could be anyone who is the first person exposed to the coronavirus to come into this closed community and make the rest of us less safe.

It is easy for us – we have no small grand- or great grand-children nearby. Accidentally. So we can’t be virtuous – we’re not being presented with an occasion where we have to make a decisions that affects others.

The situation is without precedent in our lives.

My extended family in Mexico is minimizing their exposure

But it will be very difficult watching from this far away when and if something happens – and not being able to even go help. And social distancing in Mexico will be hard. People who go to work on crowded subway trains will be at great risk – and they take that risk with them into their jobs.

The current Mexican government is not widely trusted, and is doing the same thing as the States; not testing much.

Head in the sand doesn’t keep things from happening. It just undercounts the cases and provides a false sense of security.

So we’re about to take our lives in our hands

and go downstairs to have lunch with whomever is out and around.

Wish me luck.

And my own sense of safety ignores – because I can’t do anything about it – the risk that the husband takes every time he heads out to bring dinner home.

Stay safe out there!


 

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?