Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hope and Dreams

Unless you live in a cave somewhere in the deepest, darkest Amazon, you know a little competition (the Olympics) is taking place in Rio. By their very nature the Olympic Games are totally about hopes and dreams. Just taking part in the world wide arena is a major hope and dream, whether you are at the top or the bottom group of competitors because wherever you're from YOU are the best from your country. I think some of the observers forget that.

Yes, on one level, it's all about gold and silver and bronze medals. On an entirely different level, it's about competing against the world's best and performing at your peak ability. How many opportunities does any individual have to do that? In any arena? And it all begins with a dream and high hopes.

If you're not the best does that negate your dream? No. Someone will always be better. I think about Usain Bolt, 'fastest man on the planet'. That's what the sportcasters are yelling, but who knows? Likely, somewhere in the world, quietly going about his life is another man who could give Bolt a run for his money. So, in truth, Bolt is the fastest at this particular competition. The same is true for all the competitors in all the various arenas. Winning--while exciting and wondrous--is not what the Olympic Games are about. Politics, doping, and all the other scandals are not what they're about either.

No, they're about hopes and dreams. They're about a 41 year old gymnast with the guts to go out there and compete on the world stage against young women half her age. Or the 38 year old volleyball competitor when dared to go for the gold. They're about all the men and women who sucked it up, worked like stevedores, put their futures on hold so they could represent their countries.

For those who thumb their noses at the men and women who didn't win gold, I say shame on you. Shame on you. What have you done with your life that gives you the right to badmouth them? Winner or loser, the Olympic competitors went out and tried. They got up off their couches and recliners and worked for their dream. Who cares whether their outfits were attractive or their hairstyles were up-to-date or they placed their hand over their heart during the National Anthem? They earned the right to stand on that podium.

As an American, I'm proud--and thankful--for all the men and women who went out there and worked to represent me. Competition in the Olympic arena was never my hope or dream, but we all have some hope, some dream we strive for. May we continue to work for our dreams undeterred by the naysayers in the world.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Mocking Keys

Writing is more challenging the longer you're away from it. The brain is a clever opponent, zigging this way and that, presenting other more attractive options than sitting down and actually writing. There are oh, so many books to read. And social media pages crying out for attention. And of course, the never-ending wonder of the Internet. If all else fails, the brain just takes...a nap.

What's distracting me now? An orange. The scent of it--even through the closed refrigerator door--is soooo alluring I can't stand it. I must have the orange! I. Must. Have. It.

Wait! The blog post isn't finished. No orange until it's finished.

The end.

No, no, no. That's not right. Say what you have to say. Hmmmm. What was I gonna say? Something important? No-oo.

The end.

No! Hands on the keyboard. Write! Write, write, write. Um, write? Yes. Write. But, but, writing is so hard. So hard. And there's an orange in the refrigerator. And a cheese stick. Really, writing is too hard to do today. Maybe tomorrow...

Write!

But I'm so tired. And sleepy. And zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Paralyzed with Fear

In the past few weeks I've corresponded with numerous writers who all began writing about the same time I did. Everyone is reporting the same thing...no writing going on. They sit down in front of the big white screen and freeze. The brain doesn't work. The joy and desire isn't there. Nothing. Nada.

Oh, I understand! It's been a long dry spell for me. Then today as I was putzing along with a computer game the reason dawned. It's damn hard to write when you don't really care what happens to your characters. I think we've been victims of our success.

Back in the beginning when we didn't know much, we just wrote. All those things we worry about now like POV and character development and grammar and blurbs and other crap too stupid to even discuss just gets in our way. We've forgotten how to just tell the story. We're worried about writing the great romance/mystery/paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy novel--instead of just writing the story.

How did this happen? I think we're all so hung up on 'improving' and 'honing our skills' and all that other stuff that gets in the way that we're afraid.  Yep. Afraid we can't measure up. Afraid we won't be a success. Afraid someone won't like what we write. Too bad. So what if someone doesn't like it? Back in the beginning, weren't we eager to share our stories with someone...anyone? And didn't we write because we loved writing? Didn't we love our characters to the point of living with them day in and day out so that the rest of the world didn't really matter?

If we aren't involved with our stories, why would anyone else be? That's what we're missing. Recently, I've read several books, some that we'd even call novellas, that are NOT the great American romances. But you know what? I love them. I can't wait until the next ones in the series come out. And do you know why? Because it's obvious their creators love them. They're engaged in telling their character's stories. They want to share their character's adventures.

I have a story I've struggled with for several years. And here is why. I forgot to just tell the story. I was afraid I couldn't do justice to this character. That his story would be a 'throw-away'. And in refusing to share his story, his triumph, I did him a great injustice. I didn't trust him to let me tell his story. I was afraid.

We have to get back to the basics. Tell the story. Let the characters shine through.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Death Came Today

Fifty people died early this morning in Orlando, Florida. They weren't the only deaths in the USA...or even the only deaths of American citizens today. If their murders weren't so spectacular and gruesome, if the political spin potential wasn't so great, we wouldn't be having conversations about terrorism, or gay lifestyles, or gun control. The families would be mourning in private and life would go on.

The manner of their deaths is what sets this group of people apart from all the others who died today...All those who died in accidents, from cancer, from old age or birth, from heart attacks and strokes and family violence. People die every single day. Some die from stoning because they're just who they are--women--and others die from guns because a child found a weapon that was unsecured. Some die from a car accident because of a blown tire. Others die from beatings inflicted by family members. Death comes everyday.

A peculiar reaction happens when a mass death happens, though. People rise up, determined to blame someone or something, even if none of the dead are theirs, because by Golly, someone is going to pay! Instead of mourning, instead of pulling together to provide comfort, we argue and debate about who deserves to shoulder the blame.

I wonder. Is there a magical number that makes death more important? Does the family that lost their child to cancer grieve less than the family that lost their child to gun violence in a night club? And does their religion or sexual orientation or ethnicity or race or occupation make their lives more or less 'valuable'?

Death came today across the world, leaving terrible holes in the lives of those who live. Humans are the same everywhere. Volunteers inundated the blood banks in Orlando to donate blood. In the pictures I saw, there were black and white, male and female, waiting patiently to do their part for the survivors. Because blood is blood. It pumps through our veins. It sustains life. And when it stops, unbearable grief descends on family and friends, regardless of the cause.

The blame game settles nothing, particularly when the perpetrator is dead. If we seek to blame others, then we take away from the monstrous deeds of one man. Why do we do that? Why do we try to spread the blame for this man's deeds to others? He planned it. He carried it out. No one else. He bears the responsibility. I refuse to give him any glory by using his name, but only he did it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Absotively Possilutely

We've all known an individual who is so upbeat all the time we just want to slap them. They not only make lemonade with the lemons life tosses them, they also make lemon bars and lemon cake and lemon sherbet and lemon... Well we all know at least one.

Then there's the one who resides on the other end of the scale. Nothing is right. Nothing. If they inherited a million dollars, it still wouldn't be enough. If the sun is shining, they complain about the heat or the wind or how it makes their eyes hurt.

Somewhere in the middle is a happy place. This is a place that allows us to deal with the lemons in life, but provides comfort and contentment to bolster us in the bad times. It's reality. The secret is awareness of the good moments in the center of the bad. A good cup of coffee. Bright shiny leaves on a tree after a hard rain. A single flower blooming it's heart out by the side of the road. A child's smile. A book or song that touches the heart.

We're living in hard times all over the world. I'd be the first to admit there is violence, grief, war all around us. But if we are to survive on an individual basis, we must find a center of quiet, a place of tranquility where we gather strength to face the battles of life.

In the past, everyone was expected to take a time of contemplation, a time to live in that 'happy place' even for a few moments. Thinking doesn't happen in the hurly-burly of life. The mind and heart require quiet for that. It's probably why so many writers admit to having their best ideas while in the shower.

Take a moment. Have a cup of tea or coffee while listening to a favorite piece of music. Walk in the woods. Hear the laughter of children. Smile at a stranger. Five minutes. Just five minutes without interruption. Gear up for the day.   


Monday, June 6, 2016

Copy and Paste

Sigh. Reach out and touch someone by saying hello. Copying and pasting some mindless status takes little-to-no effort and just annoys folks. It's passive-aggressive and irritating. Say something original...even if it's just an observation about the life going on around you.

Talk about a book you're reading or the flowers growing in your garden or the silly stuff your gerbil is doing, but for crying out loud, quit asking people to copy and paste crap--especially when there's an implied threat that all life as we know it will come to an end if they don't. It's social media, not chain letter heaven.

That is all.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Self-centric

Sunday is my day to surf the web and read dubious content. The thing that struck me about the various stories that caught my eye is the extent that our culture has supported self-centrism. It's all about 'me'...even if it's incredibly stupid or criminal.

Take the young woman who asked a potential bride's maid to dye her red hair brown...so all the bride's maids would match. Um, if hair color is that important, why ask the woman to be in your wedding? Clearly, it's not because of your emotional attachment.

Or the agnostic fellow who lives far away from his family. During a home visit, he was invited to his sister's renewal of her marriage vows--in a church--and was deeply offended that he might have to go inside a church. He felt like his beliefs were more important than her ceremony. Um, don't attend, idiot. Your disapproving presence would ruin her celebration.

Of course, the topper for the week is the fellow who was convicted of rape, then given a six month sentence because more time might negatively impact his future. Yet again, a victim is pushed aside in favor of a convicted felon. Why? What about her future? Doesn't her life have value?

Or the chick who caused a car accident that killed four people--because she was texting--and now is whining because she doesn't believe she should have to serve time. Four people died. Since when do we let someone walk away when they are clearly at fault? Hello...if you shot them, you sure wouldn't.

I have to scratch my head over such stories. Are we really so self-centered no one matters except ourselves? Are we so accepting of such behavior that we not only approve, but even support injustice based on self-importance? I don't understand.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Not in my Lifetime

"High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants," the rock slab says. "Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point." ca. 1896
 
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/century-old-warnings-against-tsunamis-dot-japans-coastline-180956448/#BMfZk8EpPFTcV1Jb.99

The warning stone above was carved after 22,000 Japanese citizens died in a tsunami. In 1896. Many who died in the most recent tsunami were living and working below the points where the tsunami stones were erected. And why? Because 'nothing like that has happened in my lifetime'.

In the midwestern USA a flood disaster is in progress. I cannot tell you how many videos I've watched where shocked, homeless survivors say things like, "I'm in my seventies and I've never seen anything like this." Or..."My grandpa is ninety-two and he said there's never been flooding like this before." Well, that's pretty much the definition of a hundred year flood. The notion that it's never happened before, therefore it never will, is false.

My heart goes out to all those people who've lost their homes and family members to floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, wild fires, hurricanes, volcanoes and other natural disasters. But the truth is life is pretty much a crap shoot. Wherever you live you have to expect the unexpected--and that means you'll likely have little-to-no warning. I have observed my fellow man and woman for quite a long time now. And I have to say in spite of the ever present mountain of information and electronic media, people are oblivious. 

They're oblivious and have pathetic faith that nothing bad will happen to them. The police warn of a serial killer/or rapist attacking women in a certain scenario or part of town. "Don't walk alone," they warn. "Lock your windows and doors. Be aware of your surroundings." And yet...the warnings go unheeded.

Folks build on low-lying land or flood plains because they can't conceive of that much rain. They live on the coast because a hurricane is not going to come ashore exactly where they live. They live below a volcano because it hasn't erupted in years. 
 
Time to wake up. Mother Earth is seriously annoyed and she's changing. Just because something hasn't happened in your lifetime...your chances are going up sharply that it will in your future. Heed the warnings.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Aging--Not for Sissies

To all those twenty somethings out there...your life is just beginning. You may think you're all grown up and adulty, but the truth is you're starting on the road, not at your destination.

I married three weeks after I turned eighteen. I was sure I was ready. Phft! No one is ever ready for any new experience. We all learn on the job. Spouses don't come with learner's manuals. Neither do children. And grandchildren? Parents? None of them come with learner's manuals, either. You just keep rolling along, doing the best you can in your current position.

This year, I'll be sixty-seven when I reach my birthday in November. In December, the hunk and I will be married forty-nine years. That doesn't sound right. Didn't we just get married a couple years ago? Really?

Another thing that doesn't come with a manual is the aging process. Of course, for every person, it's a different experience, but there are some things I wish I had known way back when.

Live a life with less stress. This was a small nugget of wisdom one of my doctors doled out to me when I was back in my forties. I didn't get it then, but I sort of understand it better now. Stress, above all, is the #1 killer in America. At that time, I had four teenagers, a high-stress job, financial distress, and I was a full-time student in the evenings at college. You might say I was seriously trying to kill myself. Not because of all the peripheral stuff, but because I was damned determined to manage everything around me. I didn't have any idea how to say 'No!' to anyone. But I learned. Oh, I learned.

Self-care is the first commandment. If you're a micro-manager like I was, then you by default must give up the time you need to take care of yourself. You don't eat right. You're more than likely sleep deprived because you're worrying about crap you can't control anyway. You definitely don't exercise because who has time for that? Somebody or something might slither out of your control. By the time you understand what you've done to your body, the damage is done. And from there it's an uphill battle all the way. Remember this--no one on their death bed says they wish they'd spent more time managing other people's lives. Nope.

Take time everyday to meditate. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear it now. Meditate? Well, you might call it prayer or thinking time or downtime or something else. But basically, this is time when nothing else intrudes. If you have kids, you might have to go take a bath with the door locked. You could kill two birds with one stone and go for a walk alone. No music. No television. No computers or cell phones. Absolutely no input except from yourself. I'm firmly convinced one of the great losses in modern life is the time to simply think. I believe that's why studies have found that knitters and crocheters are less stressed--because the process allows time to think.

Learn to enjoy preparing and sharing food. This might sound counter-intuitive, but it's not. A large part of the whole let's-eat-out phenomenon is we really, really, really don't like food preparation. And a large part of that is because we do it alone. For those folks who have families, this is especially true. We start to resent having to do all the work because we're doing it by ourselves. And our spouses and children don't appreciate our efforts because they don't contribute. Why are cookouts more fun? Because we do them as a group effort. We're all there, socializing while we prepare the food, and then...we continue that socializing while we eat. Put the damn cell phone in a drawer and declare a moratorium on 'talkie' time. Turn off the radio and television. Shut down the computer. And gather in the kitchen to prepare dinner and eat together. Time is precious. Don't waste it.

Pay attention to your body's messages. Men especially tend to ignore what their bodies are trying to tell them until they just drop one day, but women are just as guilty. For men, it tends to be a feeling that seeking medical help means they're not manly or something. For women, it's a sense of guilt. You read that right. We feel guilty because we have the notion that everything around us will come to a screeching halt if we take time for ourselves--even to take care of our health. HELLO! Serious illness will definitely keep you from managing everything you believe you need to manage. AND just a head's up. If you drop dead, life will continue on for the survivors. It's a unpalatable truth, but there it is. None of us are irreplaceable.

If you reach your sixties, there will be adjustments. I don't care how much you do to take care of yourself, there will be changes. You will inevitably discover you can't move like you did when you were younger. You'll find certain foods are not friendly anymore. You may need more rest. Patience evaporates more quickly. There's a need for solitude and quiet. Traveling might be more challenging. Why? Because hopefully you are facing the challenges of aging. The alternative--death--is not one any of us want to face any sooner than we must. As we age, we learn to cherish every day. We celebrate waking up in the morning. We treasure time with friends and family because we start to see time is not something we can take for granted.

If you are younger than me you still have time to assess your life and how it will affect your aging process. Let me tell you, the time will pass so quickly it will take your breath away. You'll look around in amazement wondering how the time has gone. When did that happen? Be purposeful. Be aware of every moment. Once it's gone...it's gone.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Gettin' Down

Found this photo of me at twenty-eight and I stopped to marvel at my ability to squat down next to my youngest child of four in her stroller (you can't really see her, but she's there). Based on clothing, etc., I imagine this was taken in the fall of 1978... a little while ago. I can't imagine getting into that position now.

My knees pop when I bend. My hip joints protest in no uncertain terms. Nah... I don't get down like that anymore unless I'm in a swimming pool.

But ya know? It's good to have proof that I COULD do it once upon a time...

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Weekend

Properly speaking, Memorial Day Weekend is to honor all the men and women who've lost their lives in the service of our country. But for me, it's also a weekend that reminds me of the day I lost my mother 57 years ago. A few moments before midnight on May 29, she died in a car accident on a lonely starlight rural road in New Mexico. I was ten years old then.

This picture is about what she looked like when she died. At the time, from my childish perspective I thought she was old...not as old as my grandparents, of course, but OLD. It was only when I approached the age of 31 myself that I realized just how young she was.

So today I remember my mother. Still miss ya, mom!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fifty Ways to Kill

Among the stranger things an author might research are all the ways to kill off a character. You might think it would be easy to knock off a character--but you would be wrong. Of course, there are the usual suspects. Shooting. Stabbing. Poisoning. Car accident. Drowning. Battle. But those have been done--pardon the pun--to death.

I've started a list of the more unusual ways my favorite authors have killed off a character. It takes imagination and creativity to make it work. You can't just present a messy death without setting up a plausible scene...and a believable narrative. So here's some of my favorites...not fifty, of course, but two or three.

1. Beheading by video game. Fantasy in Death by Nora Roberts. Yep, this one definitely grabbed my attention. I'm not going to 'splain it, but I read the entire book in one sitting to find out how Lt. Eve Dallas figured it out.

2. Bear attack. Prey by Linda Howard. The trick here was arranging a realistic reason for the character to be available for the bear. Incidentally, this was one damn, scary bear. Brrrrr.

3. Fall from a horse. Connagher by Louis L'Amour. Again...the reason this was unusual was because so many times western writers use guns as though that was the only way folks died then. This time the character was trapped beneath the horse in the wilderness...and eventually died there.

I've read a zillion stories where authors have killed off characters. And I've spent some time considering all the ways a human can die. So it surprises me when an author goes with the tried and true as though shooting or stabbing someone is the only way. Yeah, it takes more thought and time to set up, but the payoff in adding interest to the story is immeasurable.

So...what's the most interesting way you've read of a character dying?