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? 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Time Flies

Heh. Was looking through some photos and came across this one from 1979. That's my bunch at Grand  Canyon on a cool, damp August day. It rained most of the way as we drove up there from Phoenix where it was much warmer--hence the shorts on the kids. But the Grand Canyon cuts through a high plateau so the temps were much cooler.

A lot has happened since this photo was taken. The kids all grew up. The youngest, cradled in her daddy's arms is now a momma with a daughter graduating in a few short days. I look at this picture and remember this wild trip, 3300 miles, camping out every night, traveling the hot searing roads from Houston to Carlsbad Caverns to Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, back across New Mexico, Texas, to northern Oklahoma for a family reunion and then finally back home. We arrived in our driveway with about $3 and change in our pockets.

Our station wagon wasn't air conditioned so we rode with all the windows down. Somehow, we packed clothing for everyone (and bedding) plus camping equipment, a folding port-a-crib, and a high chair all in the back of that wagon. I have NO idea how we managed.

We had some adventurous times. High winds near the painted desert meant the kids all slept in the car while the hunk and I slept in the tent (and our weight was all that kept it from blowing away). In Oklahoma, a tornado touched down less than a mile from our camp ground. During torrential rains. When it passed, everything was soaked.

We encountered cactus, cows, snakes, rocks, scorpions, and horned toads. The kids learned to walk wary and keep a sharp eye out for unfriendlies. But we not only survived, we thrived. I'm glad we made that trip. It was the last 'big' trip we were able to afford.

As I think about it, the memories though misty and fragmented are precious. Time passes. Possibilities slip through our fingers. And before we know it, our children--and grandchildren--are grown, moving on to create their own adventures.

Monday, May 23, 2016

In The Beginning

Back in 2006 the hunk was transferred from New York to Baltimore. I resigned my job, supervised packing up the house, and we moved--all in a four week span. Then I spent several months wandering our new apartment, wondering what I was supposed to do with myself.

Finally, my son (who was staying with us temporarily after leaving the Navy) became frustrated enough to...suggest that I take myself off to my 'office' and brand spanking new computer and write. "You've moaned and groaned for years about not having time to write. Now you have time. Go write."

So, I wrote.

When I finished, that first book was almost 300,000 words. When I started investigating publishing possibilities, I discovered no one wanted a three hundred thousand word book. So I went back to the drawing board, carved my masterpiece into several smaller chunks, polished the first one up...and polished...and polished...and...the hunk, seriously annoyed at my procrastination sneered, "You're never gonna do anything with that book."

"Hah," I sneered back. Little did he know, I'd completely prepared my submission, but just couldn't make myself press the send button. However, with him standing over me, shaking his head in disbelief...I pressed send. And wondered what the heck I'd gotten myself into.

Well, anyone who's submitted a book to a publisher knows you don't get an answer back immediately, so I began work on the sequel. Positive thinking, right?

Five weeks later, I received an e-mail asking for the entire book. Shortly after that, I was offered a contract. And by then the second book was finished, so I sent it off. And then the third...

In the meantime, I had an idea for an new series of books about three sisters who go to Camelot in search for husbands. I sat down to begin the first one. And immediately, the entire enterprise jumped the tracks. Nothing I tried served to bring the characters to their senses. They refused absolutely and categorically to behave. Finally, I threw up my hands and let them have their way. And when I finished, I had a strange farcical version of King Arthur's court that I titled, Chrysanthemum.

With a shrug, I sent it off to my editor, thinking it would be rejected, but at least she would derive some amusement from reading it. To my eternal shock, I was offered a contract for my farce. Now publishing schedules are inscrutable to the average writer. Heck, they might even be inscrutable to the publisher for all I know. But for whatever reason, Chrysanthemum ended up on the publishing schedule ahead of all the other books I had contracts for at that point.

So. On May 23, 2007, nine years ago, Chrysanthemum, my first published book was released. It's not currently available as the rights have been reverted and I haven't re-issued it yet. But in that process, I've re-read it recently, and yeah...I laughed. It's still fun. And I'm pretty sure a writer can't ask for more than that. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Book Within

What's the difference between a writer and a non-writer? The writer has that constant inner urge to write. It might be poetry. It might be a gossip column. Sometimes it's a book or a short story--or a blog. But deep inside a restlessness shifts until the writer sits down to write.

Back before I was a professional writer, I had a lot of misconceptions about the process. I thought all writers used outlines and plans. They wrote on a specific schedule. They led glamorous lives with TV appearances and interviews with the press. Hah. Boy, did I get it wrong.

Yeah, that's true for some writers. But for a LOT of writers, the struggle to find time to write, the fight for publicity and recognition, even the grappling with the unfamiliar tasks of synopsis and blurbs can be exhausting and discouraging. More--the solitary life can lead to depression and loneliness.

The single factor most readers don't understand is what hard work it is to write. I live with a complete non-writer. When we married, he read about second grade level and writing was...not pretty. So he had no concept of what it takes to write anything--even something as short as a blog post. When I'm in the midst of writing an actual book? Forget about it!

Once, I was so frustrated, I told him to stay away from me until he produced a one page document. "What am I supposed to write about?" he whined. I shrugged. After all, no one tell me what to write about. "I don't have time to mess with this," he grouched. Really? REALLY?

Well, he muttered and belly-ached and moaned and two weeks later he slapped one sheet of paper down on my desk. My friends, it was bad. But it was a full sheet.

I looked up at his mutinous expression and said, "Now do that a couple hundred more times."

"What!"

"Then check the spelling. Fix the grammar. Make sure there are no run-on sentences..."

He stomped off back to his room. But he never asked me again why it was taking so long for me to finish my book. I wonder how the public perception of writers would change if every reader did the same exercise? Would they have more respect for their favorite writers? Or less? What do you think?