Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Chasing My Tail

This is traditionally the time of year when we embrace change. Time change. Weather change. Clothing change. Winter is almost behind us with the dark dreary days. Brilliant sunshine and longer daylight hours lure us outside to work in gardens and on lawns. We spruce up our living spaces and think of flowers and summer pleasures.

Some people plan vacations or short day trips. Everyone is looking forward. This season, more than any other is about anticipation.

For those who celebrate, Passover and Easter are right around the corner. Food preparation and religious observances are in the planning stages. Coloring Easter eggs, planning Easter baskets and all manner of other things are on the to-do lists. It's renewal time.

I've been thinking about this. Renewal. Even at sixty-five, there are adjustments, changes to anticipate. Somehow, I always thought about retirement as settling in, finally having everything 'just right'. And much to my surprise, I find there is more work to do. So what is this retirement people speak of? If anything, it seems I have more to do than I ever did in the past.

It's just 'stuff' no one talks about. Cleaning out and getting rid of junk so my children won't have to--in case something 'happens' to us. Don't you like that phrase? Not die, but happens. Because we don't want to discuss death on this beautiful spring day. We don't want to acknowledge the inevitable.

For over two weeks I've worked on one of those necessary tasks--sorting through photographs--and there's really nothing to bring the reality of reaching the end of life like looking at old pictures. Memories flood your mind. Memories of youth and optimism and wild chances. Memories of folks long gone and life stages celebrated from birth to old age.

But death is not yet. On this bright beautiful day there are still things to tend to, tasks that must be accomplished in order to live comfortably. Life goes on. When the photographs are all sorted and packed and mailed to their new owners, there will be a new task. Or two or three or...

Retirement? It just means I don't have to answer an alarm clock. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore

Back in the way-back, there was a song, You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore. It's all about the things 'you' don't do anymore. I've had reason to think about how things change as we age.

When I was in my forties, I led an extremely busy life. My children were at the teenage to young adult stage. I worked full time. I went to school full time. I played taxi-mom full time. And when my parents were able to visit us (a long trip from Texas to New York), I enjoyed spending time with them. We were too broke to work it the other way around, so we saw them when they came to us. I talked to them on the phone. Called on their birthdays. And, with my busy, busy life, took them for granted.

Then we entered a new phase. Traveling became more difficult for them. I retired and started a new career as a writer. We traveled to see them--and our children (who are spread out over half the country). Travel was a novelty for me and an opportunity to see the country. Royalties helped pay the expenses. And we had a great time. It was lovely while it lasted.

In the last couple years, travel has greatly diminished. Part of that is due to the precipitous drop-off in royalties. There's no longer money for travel. A bigger part is the great discomfort of travel itself due to ill health and arthritis. And my parents chide me...you don't visit us anymore. And my children chide...you don't visit us anymore.

When we are young, we're all tied up in the busyness of life. There's always going to be another day, another month, another year when we can do all the things we dream of doing. And then it's gone. When I was forty, I climbed a mountain near where I lived every weekend. I stood on the top and looked out over the Hudson Valley and considered the emotional mountains I was dealing with every day. It was a difficult time in my life, but expending the effort to climb that mountain afforded me thinking time. And time to ponder the fact that I COULD climb it. Time to prove a doctor who had predicted I would be in wheel chair by that time was all wrong.

Now, I'm happy to walk around a couple parking lots, cane in hand. STILL not in that wheel chair! But I admit with great sadness...I don't travel anymore.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Secret Identities

All over the Internet, folks lurk in the shadows, hiding behind their secret identities. At work or church or with their friends, they're thoughtful, caring, tolerant, cheerful and fair. Then they go home, hunker down in front of their computers and the real folks emerge. Safe in the anonymity of the World Wide Web, they let down their hair, spewing hatred, ignorance, and stupidity. They stalk children, women, men from their lair. In roaming gangs, they attack anyone who has a difference of opinion, anyone who dares to speak out against evil.

This is not a new phenomenon. From the time broad use of the Internet gained acceptance, nasty trolls have slithered from their hiding places under the bridges and dared to bombard anyone who disagrees with them with foul language, name calling, and if possible, boycott the individual or company. If you don't believe it's possible to boycott an individual, think again.

Some of my Internet friends are choosing to shut down and withdraw. The insidious negativity, bigotry, and rage is spreading like toxic waste, poisoning everything and everyone it touches, infecting folks with depression and discouragement.

What to do?

I see a time when like-minded people will go back to their own little groups. Social media isn't very social as it's structured now. I expect folks will find a few others who believe as they do--whether politically, religiously, or oh, how they spell or punctuate their sentences--and they'll withdraw to the security of their group. That's a sad commentary on our humanity. It's not new. From the dawn of history, we've organized in little conclaves of 'them' and 'us'. 'They' are always the bad guys. Always.

I've spent a good part of my life working to eradicate this mentality, but even I am about ready to toss in the towel. I'm just not willing to let rabid politics, religious fanaticism, and incredibly foul-mouthed morons invade my living space. Yes, for many of us, this is part of our living space. And I say, "You're not welcome if you can't demonstrate a modicum of civility."

I believe the folk hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet are revealing their TRUE selves. Here they're demonstrating their idiocy, their stupidity, their lack of morals and judgement. They spew personal information as though they truly don't understand how the Internet works.

Maybe they don't.

Whatever. Fair warning. If you can't be civil, pass on by.  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lessons

Occasionally, I play a world building game--especially when I want to mull over the direction my current work in progress is going (or not). The game is billed as a 'world building' game, but in truth, it's mostly a war game. Try to accumulate wealth and resources, build a town, all while fighting off the surrounding towns.

It's just a game.

But there are lessons to be learned from the game. The lessons apply to life, writing, dealing with all of life's annoying issues. I jotted down a few of them. Take them for what they're worth.

In most of life's wars, banding together to fight the invaders is a logical step. BUT, never depend on the team to keep yourself alive. Some may not fight when you expect them to. Know that ultimately, you are responsible for your own survival. Be prepared, as much as possible in all areas of your life--physical, mental, financial.

He who races to the front will not necessarily win. More than likely, he will be the first to die (or lose). When you race to be the frontrunner, you leave the team behind. Who will have the opportunity to back you up? Don't stick your neck out too far. No matter how skilled, how strong, how rich, when you're completely alone, you're more vulnerable.

Don't climb on someone else's bandwagon. It's one thing to be a team member, it's another to be a sheep. Think for yourself. Just because everyone else is writing about vampires, doesn't mean you have to. Sing your own song. Lift your own sword. When the bandwagon collapses from it's burden, you won't be taken down with it.

The support team should never be despised just because they aren't warriors. Without support, there are no resources. Without resources...no life. Take care of, and respect your support team. Warriors need the folks back home to provide for their needs. And the home team needs protection and security.

Maintenance is an on-going job. If you ignore your buildings, car, farm, church, the enemy will knock them down with little effort. They're more expensive to replace than repair. Wasting money is a losing war tactic. Be conscientious in care of your possessions.

Attacking your neighbor out of greed is foolish and counterproductive. Stay on your own property or area. Prepare for the day when an enemy might invade. Don't irritate those passing by. Be vigilant. Be a good neighbor until you have no choice other than conflict. Good sturdy fences and walls can delay the inevitable attack.

Finally, don't depend on one strategy. Don't copy the other guy's tactics. He's already seen them and knows the counter. Surprise can never be underestimated. Don't blab about your plans. Don't signal your intentions.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

sliced bread

"The last best thing. An American inventor named Otto Rohwedder devised a machine that sliced a loaf of bread into individual slices. First sold in 1928, it was touted as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped,” which led to popular phrase “the best thing since sliced bread.” All of which raises the question, what did people say before “sliced bread”? “The best thing since indoor plumbing” was one phrase. And before that?—“since powdered wigs?” “Since moveable type?” “Since fire?”
See also: slice
Endangered Phrases by Steven D. Price Copyright © 2011 by Steven D. Price"
 
Heh. Of course, I always understood this expression. Truly. But until recently, I didn't really take it to heart. As many of you know, the hunk bought me a KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook so I could make bread. My elbows and shoulders protest vehemently when I try to knead bread by hand now.
 
I'm very picky about how my bread tastes and for several months I've been spending my mad money on artisanal breads because I pretty must despise the gluey taste of most commercial breads. Anyway, I've been making bread. A small loaf doesn't last long, even with two people so about every three days, I whip up a new loaf. And of course, every loaf has to be sliced by hand.
 
I'm pretty good at slicing bread. But the hunk? Oh, brother. His slices are fat, skinny, slanted, broken...Well you get the idea. So I can truly understand how wonderful a bread slicing machine must have been. Just imagine how many more slices of bread were possible from a loaf, when every slice was the same thickness!
 
We won't be investing in a bread slicer. But I definitely appreciate the inventor, Otto Rohwedder. I wonder if he had any notion how much he changed life for millions of people? It's not always the huge inventions that make life easier.
 
 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Inner Peace

"Try to lead a life with less stress." That was the advice my doctor gave me a few years ago, right before discharging me from a hospital stay for acid reflux. Quite frankly, I couldn't see how I had any control over outside factors like my job, my children, the too many bills with too little money. All I saw was the complete lack of reason in his directive. If things had continued on that track, I suppose I would have been dealing with a bleeding ulcer by now.

But the hunk was transferred from New York to Baltimore. In a little over four weeks, every single obligation I had was gone. Vanished like the wind. I resigned my job, resigned my church position, moved my kids (all adults) out of my home, and ended up in an apartment with no responsibilities. It took me six months to finally settle down, finally unwind.

This is what I learned. The world didn't end. My old job went on with someone new performing it...possibly she was even better at it. No one missed me to any extent. All the other folks I was absolutely sure were depending on me...weren't. All the tasks I was positive were life 'n' death important...weren't.

A friend I've met since that part of my life once asked me how I could live without worrying, without anxiety. How could I be so darned ZEN? I ask myself two questions. Do I own this problem? No? Then I move on. If 'yes', then the second question comes into play. What can I do about this? Sometimes, the answer is not a thing. If there's something I can do, then I try to do it.

About 90% of the time, I don't own the problem. Really. I might wish I could help out, but most of the time my help is NOT needed--or wanted. Too often, we want to meddle when we shouldn't. Too often, we try to control events and lives that are not ours to control. Too often, we should smile and move on.

If we do all those things, then we will have time to put our efforts into helping where it's really needed. Inner peace.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Olde Blaguer

Heh. And we thought blogging was something new. Apparently, it's been around for a while. 

A lot of people ask questions about blogging, as though there is one true way to blog. Like religion, there is no one true way. It all depends on what you put into it, what you expect to receive from it, and why you do it to begin with.

What should I write about? How often should I post? What if no one reads it?

Yeah...what if no one reads it? Or, if they read it, what if they don't respond? I would say that all goes back to your reason for blogging. Are you blogging so a zillion folks read it and post controversial comments? Or is it more of a sharing-your-thoughts kind of deal? The truth is most people don't comment on an informational blog or a sharing thoughts blog. They read it--and then usually go on their way. 

The best you can hope for as a response is their continued patronage. Let's face it, there are a million blogs out there. If someone chooses to read yours, then that's pretty cool. If they also write a comment, then that's even better. But the days of your average, non-controversial blog attracting a long string of comments are past. 

When I first started blogging, I used to have around ten readers who commented. Now, the post has to really strike a chord with readers to attract more than one or two comments. 

I try to comment when I read other writers' blogs because I see a response as a form of appreciation for the time they spent putting the post together. Whether it's informational or promotional or even an interview, it took time--time that could have been invested in some other pursuit. Therefore, I want to let them know I value the time they invested in reaching out.

My blog is a sharing-your-thoughts kind of blog. At the end of the day, I hope that readers go away with something new to think about. And maybe even a smile. 

Blessings.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Never Happy

Some folks are never happy. Never. If there is any possible negative viewpoint on any life event, they'll find it. I'm not referring to those who are in a temporary life slump due to illness or catastrophic circumstances. I'm talking about those folks who are so determined to view everything through the worst possible lenses.

In the past, I had a neighbor--we'll call her Minnie--who came over far more frequently than I really wanted her to so she could share the latest familial disaster with me. When I resorted to not answering the phone or the door, she stood on the landing outside my door and yelled, "I know you're in there!" Well. Yes, I was, but it's not illegal to not answer your door--or phone.

I've noticed there are people who are never happy with the actions of others. When they have the opportunity for constructive action, they don't do anything. But they're really noisy with their opinions. Our President (love 'im or hate 'im) cannot not do anything. Anything, that doesn't bring down an avalanche of criticism. If he just sat in his office twiddling his thumbs, someone would criticize that.

A well-know author resorted to explaining her viewpoint on her writing and career because there's always someone who isn't happy with her books. Really. WHO held down these clowns and made them read her books? Quite correctly, her reply was, "Bite me." If you don't like a book, song, TV show, movie, the most effective way to express that is never spend your dollars on whatever has your panties in a twist.

I have nothing against protest or dissent. Most folks involved in protesting one thing are positive about other things in life. But there are a few, very negative, very bitter people who are unhappy about everything. If it's raining, they want sun. If the sun is shining, it's too hot. If someone offers them cake, it's too sweet, too chocolate, too dry, too moist, or the frosting is the wrong flavor.

Here's my philosophy. I woke up this morning. Every morning I wake up is a good day. Whatever happens today, I will cope with it because I'm alive and that's good. If it's raining, the grass will grow. If the sun is shining, the grass will grow. If it's snowing, it will eventually melt...and the grass will grow. Life is good.

Oh, yeah. Coffee makes life better.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Instructions for Dummies

 I don't know...Seems like it would save time if you just wash it with the kid still dressed...Sort of a two-fer, ya know?
 And yeah, most Moms know how to do it, but what if we don't wanna? I mean, I have other things to do than someone else's laundry. Right?
Hmmmm. I don't believe I want it to be my job. If you can't follow the instructions...then go naked. Actually, don't worry about the instructions. Just skip all that crap and go naked from the beginning...

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cooking Bacon Naked

The thing about retirement is you never have to get dressed--unless you're going out. When you're retired, no one comes over to see you. They're all working. Or shopping. Or doing other stuff that requires clothing... like gardening or mowing the lawn.

So, back to the bacon. Cooking naked has certain hazards. You can't get too close to the stove (or oven). Things tend to splatter and spit when you're cooking. Come to think on it, using a mixer can be hazardous, too. Cake batter, in particular, has a tendency to spray in a chaotic fashion if you're not careful. The up side (if you're naked) is the body is easy to clean. The downside is hot splatters can be painful.

On most folks the stove top is right at the level with their belly. This is good because the important stuff below the belly is safe. However. If you're a lady, there could be difficulties for the top. Which is why... I leave all that naked cooking up to the hunk. It's a win-win situation.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Perspectives

Blizzard of 1967 in Chicago. A friend posted a comment on her timeline about schools closing for the extreme cold temperatures. Lots of people pitched in with their own opinions. It costs more to heat the schools, some kids don't have appropriate clothing, it's colder standing still than it is walking...blah, blah, blah.

I was a senior in high school the year this picture was taken. The Chicago schools were closed the actual day of the blizzard for an in-service day. It was graduation day for the Winter 1967 class--Chicago schools had mid-year graduations back then in addition to the standard June graduations. I was at school to help set up the choir chairs for the graduation scheduled for that evening. Fortunately, I had made arrangements to stay with a friend who lived across the street from the school because I didn't get home for three days. That was a Thursday. The school was closed ONE day (Friday). We were back in school on Monday.

In my era, girls wore SKIRTS to school. Slacks weren't allowed. Think about that.

At that time, there were no school buses. If you didn't want to walk, you rode the CTA. But that cost money and we didn't have money for bus rides. I received fifty cents for milk for lunch for the week. My student pass for the bus allowed me to ride for forty-five cents. Do the math. One ride, no milk for the week, my choice. Then there was the wait--on cold, windy corners--for the bus. So the individual who said it was colder waiting for a bus, than walking, was mostly correct.

Of course, things are different now. Many children don't have a hot breakfast before they go out the door. My mom was up every morning, making sure I had a hot bowl of oatmeal or cream of wheat, plus toast before I left for school. Every morning. It was waaaaaay before the days of microwaves and packaged foods.

Another commenter on my friend's post mentioned how poor kids didn't have coats, scarves, gloves... Well, we were poor. Until I was a senior, I didn't have any clothing bought for me. It all came out of the missionary barrel at church--or from my cousin. I was thrilled to have it. Things were recycled--not through thrift shops where they cost money--but through local churches. I wasn't worried about what my peer group was wearing. Neither were they. We had other stuff going on. The Vietnam War was in full swing. Our fellows were worried about whether their number would come up in the draft. Girls were anxious over whether their boyfriends and brothers would have to go. Mostly, we did our best to get on with life.

A lot more was expected from kids back then. We had chores. We had responsibilities. We had civic duties. On the weekend we had church. Free time? What was that? We didn't own a TV. After my homework was done, I would sneak in a few minutes of reading before 'lights out' was declared...at 9:30 PM. By then, I was so tired, sleep wasn't an issue.

Looking back, I wonder how things would be different if we could redo the seventies. What if we didn't have microwaves and all the other conveniences that have somehow moved the center of the home from the kitchen to the living room in front of the TV? What if we didn't have electronics that allowed us to separate even more, accepting the false idea that we were more connected? What if cell phones had never been invented? Would we be more involved with our families?

Frankly, I don't know. Without the Internet I would be isolated. Health issues keep me indoors, away from the possibility of infection. It would be a lonely place without the ability to reach out across the world. I think that old world is long gone. We can't compare our youth with the youngsters of today. There are new terrors and new problems for today's parents. Oh, we can shake our heads and say, "Back in my day..." But this isn't then. This is now.

And they close schools because it's cold.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Write Stuff

Wow. We've nearly reached the end of 2014. I can't say it's been a stellar year for me, but I've certainly had much, much worse. This is the second year in a row I haven't finished writing a book. I would like to break this trend in the coming year.

I've noticed a preponderance of posts on Facebook about writing rules...grammar rules...punctuation rules... Now, I have nothing against rules, in general. But sometimes rules get in the way of writing. This morning I read a list of ways to determine if you're a grammar nerd. One of them was 'mentally correct books you're reading'.

Here's what I've observed through years of reading lots of books (on average about four hundred books a year): If you are more interested in 'correcting' the story than reading it, you're wasting your time. A story should grab you by the short hairs and drag you along for the ride. It should involve your heart and soul so thoroughly you barely have time to breathe as you flip page after page, racing to keep up. You lose yourself in a real story. Nothing matters. Punctuation. Grammar. Vocabulary. Nothing matters except the story.

If that's not happening when you read, why are you doing it?

When I'm editing/revising my own work, the way I know I have it right is when I get so involved in reading the story, I forget to edit it. Think about it. If you aren't caught up in your own story, why would anyone else be?

That's the kind of stories I want to write in 2015. The write stuff.