Monday, September 16, 2019

Overwhelmed by Genius

Yep. I believe this might be my problem.

I used to think it was because I had fuzzy brain syndrome. Sure, you know what that is...when your brain refuses to work due to meds or some other weird condition.

Then I thought maybe it's because I don't have any faith in my story-telling skills anymore. One too many savage reviews or something. Or an edit that just makes me tired. Or maybe it's the total lack of sales.

Perhaps it's the absence of ambition. Ill health. Fatigue. Depression.

But this! This is it! I'm simply overwhelmed by my genius. Excellent!

Who's with me?

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Worst Future

Since the turn of the century, it seems we (humans) have embraced a worst case scenario outlook. There's a hurricane out there coming our way? It'll be the most devastating on record. Four people were shot at a supermarket? Well, that's not bad...it could have been more like that bunch shot two days ago at a concert. Somehow, we've lost the ability to be positive.

I'm not talking about a Pollyanna attitude, but the willingness to be prepared for the worst while living every single day to the utmost. Folks in the past didn't expect winters with so much snow they were trapped for days or weeks, but they were prepared just in case with adequate water, food, and blankets/wood for warmth.

I've been pondering the increase in mental health issues we face as a species. And part of it, I believe, might come from our eagerness to embrace the worst possibility instead of the best. Think about it. I'll wait.

When the doctor sends you for a test do you immediately assume the most catastrophic news? Or do you adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Do you expect disaster? Or do you calmly prepare while moving on with your life? Do you celebrate all the benchmarks of life, enjoy every bit of happiness, even as you respect the difficulties life brings to all of us?

A popular phrase from my early adulthood was "Life is to be lived." I didn't quite understand it until the last couple years when my life has been fraught with illness and pain...when "I can't" seems so much easier than "I will". For every day I get out of bed, get dressed, and go out to do battle with whatever is on my schedule, I am grateful. And while I'm out there, I try to be as observant and alert as possible because some day I might not have that privilege and I earnestly horde every memory.

I often contemplate the joy my memories will bring. And when I do, I smile.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Day I Killed a Frog

The summer I was fourteen, my family went to stay with my Uncle Bill on his place in west Texas. It was a dry, dusty place with no running water, one outhouse, and a well. Mostly there were scattered mesquite trees, cactus, and dirt. Lots of dirt.

Uncle Bill raised a few sheep for their wool. And he had a horse. There was a tumbledown shed he called a barn. And off about a quarter mile away was a pond with scummy water where the animals--wild and tame--would come to drink.

It was hot. Too hot to wander around outside. I was used to going to the park near our apartment in Chicago and sprawling out on a blanket to read beneath a shade tree. With little to see or do, I soon became bored.

One afternoon, my father grabbed Uncle Bill's shotgun and asked me if I would like to learn to shoot it. That perked me up right away so I eagerly followed him out to the pond, anxious to shoot something...anything, as long as I could actually hold the gun.

After a far too extensive overview of all the parts of the shotgun, he finally allowed me to shoot. The first time I ended up on my butt. That didn't stop me. Determined to learn how to use it, I crawled to my feet and went at it again. My initial excitement soon wore off as I wanted something to actually shoot. Just shooting into the pond was boring.

So my father pointed out a prickly-pear and suggested that as a target. I think he was surprised when I hit it...and the branch of the mesquite he pointed to next. He found a couple old bottles I popped on my first try. Oddly enough, I was proving to be an excellent shot.

Then I spied some tiny frogs at the edge of the pond and without much thought, popped one of them. Naturally, it disintegrated in an explosion of frog bits and blood and sand. The little group of frogs had disappeared.

I handed the shotgun to my father and went to look at the carnage. My father propped the gun over his shoulder and said, "Never point at something you don't want to kill."

I walked away, appalled and sick.

On this terrible day of mourning, I look back at that sunny afternoon and think about how I felt and how I learned a never forgotten lesson. It was personal and required an acknowledgement of the deed, the guilt never went away because it was wanton, without reason or need.

I understand hunting for food. I understand target shooting at a range. I understand sanctioned shooting in the military or law enforcement. All of those have their place. But once you take a life, wherever it might be in the scheme of things, you are never the same.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Losing Your Passion

Most writers are familiar with the idea of 'writer's block'. That's not what this post is about. This is about something more devastating--losing your passion to write. Now I know there are folks who write because they possess the technical ability. There are others who do so for personal enjoyment. And then there are those who write because that's who they are.

They are storytellers. Whether they're ever actually published isn't the most important aspect of their writing, though sharing the story is an additional element. But the very action of sitting down and composing a story is the essence of who they are. They write because they have a passion for writing. Technicalities, grammar, punctuation, even spelling aren't allowed to get in the way of the story. They are the writers who sit day after day at their computer or with pen and paper, enthralled by their characters and worlds. They're the ones who can't wait for formal writing time or space and spend their time scribbling scenes and notes on bits of scrap paper or napkins.

Writing is life.

Then disaster hits. It might be family chaos or medical issues, discouragement or depression. That glorious passion and exhilaration disappears, leaving a writer husk behind. When you've been a writer most of your life, the loss is like going mentally blind. You don't just lose your stories. You lose the interest in them. And there isn't anything to take their place.

I think I'm on the edge of this lonely, lonely place...this desert where there are no characters and no worlds to explore. I used to wonder how a writer could just close up shop and walk away, but I think I know now. I'm stubborn and hate giving up on a project once I begin. I suspect that stubbornness is all that's between me and taking that walk away.

I wonder if there are no more stories for me to write. Maybe. Only time will tell.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Group Opinions

Very early in my writing career, another author wrote something in her own blog, and other writers piled on, vilifying her for what she wrote. I am deeply ashamed that I was one of those writers. As I look back, it had nothing to do with me--or anyone else. It was her personal opinion on her personal blog, but in my self-righteous take on the correct way for authors to behave, I added my voice to the chorus. I've apologized to her several times, but the damage never goes away...the damage to our friendship, the damage to our professional relationship, and ultimately, the damage to her writing career.

At that time, such an event was relatively rare, but any individual who spends time on the Internet now knows it isn't rare anymore. It's a daily event for total strangers to drown someone they don't even know in the vicious, burning acid of their unwanted, unsolicited opinions. After my experience so long ago, I have refused to allow myself to be drawn into such muck.

But I know just how easy it is.

Every one has something that's a trigger. Every one. It's usually a personal experience that resonates, that sets us up, so we jump in with both feet to batter the target. On a daily basis I read posts and comments that could easily draw me in. But after that one incident left me feeling so desolate and ashamed, I made a conscious decision to walk away, to scroll on by.

You might ask why I feel so strongly about this. It's simple. I don't want to ever again have to face the possibility I might have had any part in the destruction of another person's life, career, productivity, talent. It's incredibly easy to destroy with just a few words. Every author out there knows the truth of this statement. Every one of them knows the damage from a bad review or careless opinion can not ever be made better by a hundred fabulous reviews. For all our days we carry that bad review, that meanness in our heart.

The next time you are tempted to jump in and add your voice to the mean chorus of dissenters, think about this...there's a reason our elders taught us, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

Scroll on by.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Power of Music

Scientists say truly powerful music can give us goosebumps, raise our blood pressure, or give us peaceful solace. I vividly remember the first time I experienced the goosebumps phenomenon. My parents took me to a performance of Handel's Messiah. I found the performance uplifting but frankly, I didn't understand what all the hoop-la was about.

And then...the choir moved into the Hallelujah Chorus. Without knowing how--or why--I was on my feet, chills running up my spine, my arms roughened with goosebumps. Why? I don't know. I have discussed my experience with other musicians who were not affected in the same way.

There are other pieces of music who touch me in the same way...The long (20 mins.) piece from Chariots of Fire. Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes.

The young people upstairs play their music non-stop. It's loud, heavy on the drums, and gives me a headache. I would call it rap music. I analyzed why it affects me so negatively, and realized it sounds angry to me. I find confrontation and anger very stressful so this particular music evokes all sorts of negative feelings. I wonder what it makes my neighbors feel? Power? Sex? Anger? Why do they find it so attractive?

In an effort to cancel out the negative effect, I decided to play one of my own CDs and was surprised at the result. First of all, I couldn't 'hear' the music from upstairs, though my music was pretty soft. In some weird way, it blotted it out. And second, an immediate feeling of calm flowed over me.

Certain songs always give me that soul deep sense of peace. Amazing Grace. Abide With Me. Hmm. Many of them are hymns--not surprising when I was brought up in a religious home. Some songs are universal, I think. It wasn't by accident that Amazing Grace was chosen for the funeral scene for Spock. Who can forget the sound of the pipes as his pod was shot out into space?

Music. Melodies for the soul.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Inspection

Every year our apartment complex does inspections of every apartment. Some years, most years it's a simple walk through to check for damage, illegal pets, illegal tenants, etc. Then there are the years they do a full court inspection--like this year.

So...late Monday evening a note was posted on our door notifying us that they would be here Wednesday with exterminators to inspect all the apartments in our building. In order to be ready, we needed to empty every cabinet in the kitchen and bathroom, all the closets so they exterminators will have access to the floors. They will also inspect smoke detectors, replace filters, take pictures of the appliances, floors, etc.

We have no storage except the closets. Yesterday was akin to moving with a twenty-four hour notice. And I'm not sure how they'll take photos of the floors as they are covered with boxes and totes and all the rest of our stuff.

On the upside, I found some stuff I've been looking for. On the downside, we found stuff we need to throw out. A lot of stuff. But not today. Today, we need a shovel to just hold back the tide. And tomorrow we'll have to put it all back. More or less. The hunk has resolved to toss out at least one box per day. At that rate, it will all be done around Thanksgiving...or New Years.

As we age, we discover there are fewer and fewer 'things' we need or want. For the last three years our rule has been 'one item in, one item out'. I suppose we should go to a 'one item in, three items out' rule. Anyone have a shovel?

Thursday, March 28, 2019

High Ground

I've been reading the ridiculous coverage about the rich parents paying colleges/universities obscene amounts of money so their undeserving children will have a place in school. You may ask how I have the nerve to make that judgement call. It's simple. If it takes that much money to guarantee an admission, then the kid obviously didn't or cannot make the cut. Based on the few comments the kids made, I found no reason to change my mind.

Here's the thing...arrest the parents or whatever, fine the schools or whatever, but the kids are supposedly adults, so what are their consequences? They get a free ride in more ways than one? The way I see it is simple--the parents never treat their children as adults, the kids never grow up and learn to be adults. Never.

If the kid went along with the scam, then I believe there should be some sort of consequence. Maybe no admission to college for five years. Maybe not ever. Or maybe all the money paid should go into a special account that covers the college costs for students who would never have a chance otherwise to attend college. Or maybe require the ninnies to work a real job...like digging ditches or picking up trash along the beaches and highways or sorting recyclables, for the same time period they would have taken in school.

While mom and dad are having their careers trashed and their pics flashed all over the media, the kids are living the good life. Is this where we've arrived? It's fine to want better lives for your children, but teaching them the 'anyway to get ahead, legal or not' life plan isn't the way to go. It teaches the kid nothing except entitlement.

All of us learn by making mistakes. Some have the resources to escape the consequences. I'm pretty sure that isn't a good thing for them or our educational system or our country. We no longer know where the high ground is because we're so busy dancing on the low ground. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Plot Holes

Without disparaging him, I believe I can reveal that the hunk is not even remotely a writing critic. So you know how bad any given television show is by the number of plot holes he mentions. Of course, he didn't understand the concept of plot holes when I first began writing, but after twelve years of my yammering, he's getting the idea.

A couple nights ago we were watching a show on Netflix and he started muttering. I wasn't paying much attention as I was splitting my time between watching and reading. Suddenly, he says, "Plot hole! They never tell you how they know this!"

I had to laugh. If my non-reading husband can point out the plot issues...well, you know it's a truck size hole.

Readers might wonder how that can happen. And I have the answer. The writer carts the story around in their head for the duration. From beginning to end, they have an idea of the general layout. They sit at their computer pounding away on the keyboard, making sure the basic parameters of the story are present, but often they miss the holes simply because they know in their brain what the story is about. And what they know never makes it into the written story.

It's easy to notice the holes if you've never read/watched the story. They're obvious. But when you've worked and reworked and revised and edited a story over a period of months, the questions fade into the overall noise and background. Then you leave the reader or watcher wondering what in the world you were thinking about.

I set my books aside for a couple months so I can approach them with a fresh perspective. I'm not always successful, but I do try because I know exactly how frustrating it is to wonder...how do they know that?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Recommendations vs Reviews

A while back I noticed a spate of authors begging readers to review their books. I've thought a lot about the recommendation vs review thing. I would rather a reader recommend my book. Some will ask what's the difference?

The way I see it is a recommendation is general. Maybe you're in a library or bookstore and meet someone looking for something to read. You get into a brief discussion about books and mention several authors/titles you've enjoyed. Recommendations are general and focused on genre. For instance I might recommend N.J. Walters if someone was interested in paranormal romance or Anne McCaffrey is they were looking for sci-fi fantasy. John Sandford or Jonathan Kellerman might be good recommendations for mysteries. I might even get into a discussion about the books an author writes under different pen-names (Nora Roberts/J.D.Robb or Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick). Regardless, the entire conversation would still remain general.

A review on the other hand is personal. A review is about how the book affected a particular reader. One of the problems an author--especially a new author faces is the difficulty in understanding the difference between the two. I have a book that received both a one star review and a five star review. Same book. The one star review was quite long which is unusual. The reader trashed the book from beginning to end, citing examples. The five star review mostly consisted of "Wow!!! Great book!!!"

Both reviews were the personal opinions of one person. They might as easily have been written for Shakespear's Romeo and Juliet. And their effect on the author should be the same. What the individual reader takes away from a book depends on so much of their personal background and baggage. This is true regardless of genre. It's pretty much why I ignore reviews while paying more attention to a friendly recommendation.

A recommendation asks nothing from me. If I read one of the recommended books, I have no pre-conceived expectations except the possible enjoyment of the story. But a reviewer expects me to agree with their assessment. For my own enjoyment, I decline.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Joy



Life is tough. Most days, I'm do pretty good. But there are occasionally days that are dark. I could choose to believe everything is hopeless. On those days I choose joy. Everywhere, there is at least one thing that can bring a smile to our face. I choose to seek it out.

Laughter doesn't negate compassion. It doesn't wipe out grief. It doesn't take away pain or fear. What it does do is give us the healing gift of joy for however many minutes we allow it to. Isn't that the loveliest thing you've heard today?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Losing My Mind

Getting older is...difficult. Of all the annoying things I've encountered, memory loss is the worst. I used to have a memory like the proverbial elephant. Now, I can't remember stuff I thought about this morning. Case in point--I worked out a fairly complete blog post (in my head). Had breakfast. Sat down at my computer and that blog post is totally wiped as though someone cleaned my brain with a blackboard eraser. Boom.

Before readers tell me to consult my doc STAT, been there, done that. Brain scans show nothing untoward. Best guess is some combination of medications causing brain fog. Lalalalal...

I write down stuff. As the memory has fuzzed up, my notes have grown more detailed. I used to be able to write a name/phone number down and when I glanced at them, instantly knew what the significance was. Hah. Now I write down the number, name, circumstances surrounding them, dates, etc., etc., etc. Still might have to puzzle over them for a while.

Dementia does run in my family but not until folks reach their late eighties generally. Sooooo looking forward to that--NOT. On the other hand, by then I'll have plenty of practice.

In the meantime, I'm discovering a whole new advantage to memory loss. When I re-read a book, it's like it's a brand new story. In fact, I may never have to buy a new book again. Time was I could recall the character's names, story plot and sub plots, and possibly even most of the actions. Heh. I might even remember the character's descriptions and the place the story took place in.

Yesterday, I read a Jonathan Kellerman book I've read previously, numerous times. Didn't recall anything about it until the last two chapters and then mostly had the details wrong. Interesting. It was a new experience for me. In the past, when I re-read a book it was because I looked forward to revisiting an old friend. Now it seems I'll have a host of new friends. Apparently, there are some upsides to aging.

Blessings.