Monday, May 14, 2018

A Mad Passion

The struggle to write is an ongoing one for me. So many things conspire to hold me back: fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, fatigue, family responsibilities; but they never quench the craving to write. Even when my body aches and my hands don't want to operate I have this urge to write. The frustration of not being able to write is depressing.

For about a week now, I've been better, so much so I could gets several things done. I even started walking again and today I walked .7 of a mile. Although it was difficult, I pushed ahead and did it.

Why can't I do that with my writing?

This isn't a hobby so much as a necessity. This is my voice, putting words onto paper or the computer screen. If I lose that, I will lose my voice and who I am becomes meaningless.

The emotional connection to writing is as strong as any love you will ever experience. The passion of shaping a world, creating a character, describing the sunset is as powerful as that first kiss. The first time I wrote a story I was in the 8th grade. It was a class assignment but when my friend read it and raved about it, there was this amazing feeling that I can't begin to explain. When I was a couple of years older, I started a novel and that feeling grew. Now, each story is a new relationship filled with excitement to discover what happens next.

Of course, after you finish a story the real work of the relationship starts. Sometimes I wonder if that it why I struggle to finish my stories. I don't want the passion to die. I want to keep that fire in the belly and the excitement of discovery. Finishing it will mean the relationship is over.

Today, as I sit here and shape this post into something someone might actually find interesting, I'm itchy to write because I have a story only a few thousand words shy of done. I am going to finish it. I could be done this week. Just the thought of that makes my heart speed up a bit and knots twist in my stomach. You'd think I had some special man at the front door. I don't. I have a story waiting for me to finish it, to make it a living breathing thing to send out into the world and give someone pleasure.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Painful Rambles

I had an idea, a plan, and a strategy when I got up this morning. I put away some of the growing pile of laundry. Sarah actually helped me wash some of it yesterday. I swept and vacuumed every room.

My next move (it was 10:30 a.m. by then) was to get my stuff together and go into the yard and get the flowers planted. I figured a couple of hours would do it. I would go for my walk when I go to get Sarah. Then, I'd have writing time this evening. It was brilliant.


Today my plan was not a success. I had to sit down after sweeping because it always hurts my lower back. Today the pain is extreme. Generally, once I finish with a room I have to sit for up to 15  minutes, particularly if it is Sarah's room. That didn't help today.

Next, I tackled as much as I can before I had to sit again. It is sweeping, vacuuming and mopping that give me the most trouble but it knocks me for a loop. Anything where I've got to lean slightly forward is exceptionally bad. I need to mop in the worst way but that is not happening. It is so bad today that I decided to go get something to eat and come back. So I did. It didn't help. Not only is my back unhappy, my left shoulder and arm are in a very bad way.

What I am feeling is extreme pain. Lower back, shoulder pain, nerve pain in the arm and hand, and last but not least, pain going down my leg. I've taken the medicine I usually take for that leg pain but I think I'm hurting so bad in general it isn't helping.

This is all compounded by the fact that, yesterday I had to spray bug spray around the house to start working on keeping the ants at bay and I had to put out weed killer to kill weeds until I can get a trimmer (which I probably won't be able to use because of my back!). Anyway, that little exercise caused pain in my forearms. Remember, I've been sitting on my laurels for nearly 9 months. I'm not in good shape to say the least. I walked for several days this past week but at the moment, I'm not thinking about walking.

What I do think, is that writing might not happen. I'm also supposed to skype with a writer friend online tonight. We do this twice a month when we can. I don't know if I handle it. Sitting is the worst thing you can do it you have back problems.

I like to think that I'll get some writing in. I mentioned that I had written 371 words in one of the ending chapters of The Long Summer Run. It got me excited and I am eager to get back to it. I could be finished in a couple of days with the first draft. That's amazing.

For now, 30 minutes ago I took two acetaminophen that last 8 hours. I'm hoping this helps the overall pain. Some of the pain in my back seems to have started to respond to it. There is one huge drawback to all this. There is a storm front headed our way. It is possible that all this pain is in response to that approaching system. Yes, I know it is farfetched, just take my word for it. It happens.

It has suddenly occurred to me as I write this that I can ramble on for hundreds of words about pain. I'm so tired of it. Since it is painful to type right now, I'll stop here.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Sacred Things

I decided this week that there are some things that are sacred. I mean, they are so ingrained in our psyche that they are symbols of high ideals and profound wisdom. Millions hold the Bible as a sacred symbol of salvation, Christianity, wisdom, and moral direction. Our American flag is still sacred to the majority of Americans, regardless of what the media alphabet soup would have you believe. Once it was a global symbol of freedom. In recent years, that has shifted to a global symbol of the handout and criminal rights. Well, that's my take on it.

There are other sacred things around us. I'm sure you have your own list and we all know you don't mess with our sacred things. They're not to be trifled with and certainly not changed. Don't be taking no stars off that flag. Don't be moving the stripes. Hang it right side up unless you're a military installation in distress. Don't mess with the sacred!

Of course, the Powers That Be (PTB) always do. This week I looked and realized that someone has sinned greatly. Do you see it? For the uninitiated, that is a package of Nabisco Fig Newtons. Never mind that this contains fewer Newtons that the packages of the past. (And the content of this one is nearly depleted). That's bad enough. No. The problem here, the great transgression is not content. It is PACKAGING!

I don't know who decided that Fig Newtons should be packaged in a clear plastic tray, and then plastic wrapped in a bag with a resealable flap but you, sir, are way out of line. Fig Newtons are to be packaged in clear cellophane stacks. STACKS, sir, not trays! If I didn't love Fig Newtons so much, I would consign you to the backside of cookie hell. The flames of your ovens would rage ten times hotter and singe your eyebrows.

Fortunately for you, they are a great love of mine and I am forced to show mercy. However, I am not happy. Not only are they no longer stacked where I can simply pull out the stack and carry it with me, the entire package now contains little more than the content of one of the old STACKS! You hear me? A stack! So now, if I decide I want to travel and carry Fig Newtons with me I am forced to mete out a specific amount, put them in a Ziploc bag to protect their freshness, and put this in a lunchbox. Really? This is convenience? I think not.

You have profaned the sacred. Fig Newtons are forever changed unless someone comes to their senses and repents. I'm serious here.

Oh, and another thing. They are FIG Newtons, not strawberry, blueberry, or apple Newtons. There is no such thing as a Strawberry Fig Newton! Seriously, I know a lot of things have changed but a fig is a fig and a strawberry is a strawberry and never the twain shall meet!

I'm distraught, disgusted, and well, I'm out of 'd' words that work. This is an unconscionable act. I will leave this here now and try to console myself, perhaps with a glass of cold milk and ... Fig Newtons. From a tray. Not a stack.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Box of Memories

This past weekend I spent a day going through a file box of old writing. When I say old I mean pre-computer: before I owned a typewriter up to when I finally owned a typewriter. The earliest thing I found with a date was in mid-1973. I married in January 1974 at age 17.

It is always interesting to look back at things you've written. Usually, I'm encouraged by how much my writing has improved over the years. I'm not sure it helped much this time. You see, I've been feeling very down about my writing. The last year has been a disaster and even saying it makes me feel guilty. I should have been writing. I shouldn't have been sick! I shouldn't have ruptured a disk in my back. I shouldn't have had to have surgery. I shouldn't have rheumatoid arthritis, or fibromyalgia, or chronic pain, or nerve damage.  I. Should. Be. Writing! But I didn't. Hardly any.

This isn't news. I've written about it ad nauseam, and for more than 10 years the cycle has repeated. I get started and am pumping out the words and boom, and two weeks in I'm hit with a flare. Joint pain, muscle pain, migraine headaches, back pain, fatigue take turns. These days the fatigue is scary. After my surgery, I was excited at my improvement. By the end of December, my severe neck and back pain were gone. I made up my mind I could learn to live with the nerve damage in my hand. It hurt, but I could use it and I would not let it hinder me. The New Year seemed promising.

It wasn't until the first part of April that I recovered from two colds, but I was still tired. In fact, my fatigue has been so bad that some days I sleep 12 hours.

I've been so bummed over all this that I decided to toss in the towel. Yes. I said give up writing. Forget it. Pack up all the junk and either put it in a trunk in the attic, which I don't have or burn it in the next cookout. I'm tired of trying. I'm tired of getting up with a plan only to find I'm knocked out by 9 a.m. until noon.

I can't tell you if the pain of my illness is worse than the pain of never writing again. I can take a pill to numb one of them. The other, not so much. Then, I opened that box and started pulling out files. For several hours, I read over each page. The first thing I discovered was that my handwriting is as bad today as it was when I was 15.

However, the words were familiar and I could remember the days I wrote the earliest poems. I remember the spiral notebook I wrote them in. The cover had a pretty mountain scene I loved. I'm still a sap for pretty notebooks. Here's one right out of that notebook. I've kept the format and errors.

I Love You
I love you more than I can tell,
I love you more than water in a well.

I love you more than mountains high,
I love you more than stars in the sky.

I love you more than the ocean deep,
I love you more than I love sleep.

I love you more than the valley low,
I love you more than you'll ever know.

I love you more than the sun and moon,
I love you more than Sunday afternoon.

I love you more than the birds and bees,
I love you more than flowers and trees.

I love you more than a clock can time,
And I'll love you beyond the end of time. 

By Cynthia Patch
(written about 1973)

Yeah, I know. Corny. I was barely 16 and back then things were a lot more innocent. You'll notice this was before my marriage. I didn't even have a boyfriend at this point.

In those days I wrote with a Bic school bus yellow, AF-59 accountant pen. If you remember those, you're old. I loved those pens. You could get them in red, blue, or black. I used the blue, and the pen wrote such a nice clean line. I don't know when I stopped using them, but I doubt they make them anymore. That could be when I stopped using them. When I read the early poems, I could see the pen and remember the feel of it in my hand. These days, I can't hold a pen that slender and the ink has to be either liquid or a gel to limit the need for pressure.

Jump ahead 20+ years, to February 28, 1995, my last year of college. I was taking Creative Writing with Patti Aakhus. I was sorry to hear she passed away a few years ago from cancer. I loved her class. Here's a poem I wrote in that class.

She smiled, she laughed, she chatted
Stepped close to the wall of backs
Slipped into the circle
Breaking the bond with strange words and strange clothes.
Faces with slide away looks
Turn away laughing, silencing.
She cried broken tears that covered her sharpness
And sealed the approaches.

When I read this I was brought up short. Did I write that? Wow. I know, not earth-shaking poetry but I really like that. I lived that!


Look into my palm
tell me what you see
Tell me if the broken lines
are things that happen to me
Broken dreams, broken hearts,
and broken toys, you see?
Broken by these hands of mine
with all its broken lines.

That is another in-class poem, and I love it. I don't remember if I liked either when I wrote them. I have lived a bit longer and now, I understand them. They mean something to me. Honestly, I wrote more poetry in that class than I had since I was 15. And you can see the difference. I "feel" the difference.

The trip down memory lane gave me some encouragement but it also disappointed me. I've wasted too much time and allowed things to get in the way of the writing. I read in this month's Writers' Forum something that resonated with me. In his article, Tales from My Guru, Hugh Scott said:
"Disappointment comes because you are focused on being published, whereas your focus should be on creating. That is getting on with the writing, enjoying the jigsaw-placing of word into word, the genius of dropping one idea on to another, the excitement of finding a phrase that expresses, oh, precisely what you want to express, and the discovery of rhythms that no one in the world has ever put on paper, and the silent beat of drums arising from the page, and the rocking laughter at the lunatic jokes that demand to dance on your keyboard. Oh, and a thousand other things that are nothing to do with being published but everything to do with creating!"
And that's the truth. Just write and stop worrying about blogs, platforms, social media, and publishing. Write.

I'll finish it here. I think I need to address the constant focus on my illness and instead, focus on the thing that makes me feel like I'm alive. Maybe I'll feel better then.

Here's one final find for this post. I have no idea when I wrote it but I suspect it was in the 80's. I don't know what it was going to be. I only know that now, it feels finished.

I thought of you this morning
When I stood at the window, yawning,
And I smiled.
Good night.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Cost of Doing Business

I was going to share this meme on my Facebook page, but it reminded me of when I actually bought books for $4.99 or less.

In the late 60's I was around 13 and I remember getting a cash gift from my grandparents. It was an embarrassing amount, and I spent it on a pile of gothic novels in the bookstore! I was so excited. They sold for 79 cents each! I had at least $40.

I was a member of the Weekly Reader Book Club around the same time. Mama let me get new books every month. I can still name some of them!

In the 70's and 80's I was a member of the Doubleday Book Club and getting a real bargain every month on half dozen books. Over the years, I was a member of several book clubs but Doubleday was my favorite. You could buy a hardback book for less than $10. In hindsight, that's astounding. Now they're closer to $30, although book clubs might be lower.

Over the years, I've owned thousands of books. When we moved to Germany in 1977, I had to leave behind about 800 books. When I moved back to the states two years later, I left behind another 700 books. I used the base library, too. Over the years, I've collected many times that and with every move, my husband threatened to divorce me. One day I was going to have a room devoted to books.

When I started college at in 1988 at 31, I was in heaven. I had to buy lots of books. I read lots of books. I even researched lots of books and spent hours pouring over historical books in the library. I had books on Russian, European, Latin American, and American history. I had books on dinosaurs, psychology, anthropology, archeology, and communications. That was only for school and didn't include my pleasure reading.

By this time book clubs were almost a thing of the past so my book purchases were at the store price. I frequented second-hand shops and a couple of local used bookstores. I was still a sap for Book-a-Million, Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and Barne's and Nobel. You could always find good stuff on sale, too.

These days I dare you to find a book by an author you love for $4.99 outside a discount store or second-hand shop. I also dare you to find Waldenbooks or B. Dalton in a mall. You won't. In fact, you won't find a lot of bookstores anymore. The meme made me remember all the books I owned and how much I'd spent over 40 years on books. Despite all the books I bought over the years, if it wasn't for the library, I'd not read more than a few books year. I suspect this is a factor in why books sales have declined. Many people can't afford to buy many new books because of the price. Believe it or not, a lot of people don't own a Kindle.

I bought two series of 6 books each for my granddaughter this past Christmas. They're paperback books. Those two 6-book series (only the first two installments in a much, much longer series) cost me over $70. I bought three more books from the series that didn't come in a boxed set. These cost me around $40. That's a lot of money on books. She had already read the third boxed set at school and is in love with the series. Can you see where this is going? I could spend $1000 on this series for her. I won't. Her dad and stepmom bought three more of these books. I told you it is a huge series by author Erin Hunter. The total spent on 18 books is about $150. Hunter should love us.

Don't get me wrong, I understand how hard it is to write a book. I am a writer. But I also am a reader who is on a limited budget and books are not the priority. They are a much-loved luxury that I have to plan for. I do buy books but only when I can afford it. I use Kindle a whole lot but I prefer to buy paper books of those I want to collect. I just ordered a new release from my favorite author and it cost me $15... for a paperback. I wouldn't have done that for anyone I didn't know or who wasn't an author I was sure was excellent.

So, yeah, I wish I could buy books for $4.99. I've read 22 books since January 1. My kindle has about 600 books on it, in a wide variety of genre. I will tell you that most were giveaways. There are a lot of public domain books because I love classic literature. There are about two dozen reference books on it. Most of the time I have a couple of library books on it. I obtained a lot of novels from authors giving away sets of their older novels to generate interest.

I can't tell you how many of my Kindle books were free new author books. As a result of these, I discovered some great new authors to add to my collection. The vast majority of these (free) books are not worth $4.99. In fact, it would embarrass me to give away some of them if I were the author. I've deleted many free books from both my Kindle and my Amazon account after I'd read a few chapters. Yes, they were that bad.

It is important for writers to remember that readers want quality, and readers are willing to pay for it. Yet, I'm not willing to pay for mediocrity or plain rotten writing. The author is not always the best judge of quality and it shows in many of the novels turned out by indie authors. Some books are not worth a plug nickel. I'm sorry if that hurts, but it is true. Of course, a lot of authors think their writing is horrible but I can tell you, not enough of them think that.

Writers need to get used to people complaining about the price you ask for your book. It is a fact of life, whether the books are worth it or not, most especially if it is not. The best way to ensure that they buy more than the first one is to make sure it the very best work you can do. Edit, rewrite, edit, and revise as many times as it takes. Find a good editor, someone who will get tough with you. Ask people you don't know to read it and tell you the truth. Accept that truth with graciousness and view it as an education in writing.

If someone is editing for you, their suggestions are to help you make that story better. They're not an insult to your character. I love editing but telling a stubborn writer to fix their grammar, rewrite paragraphs, or change sentence structure is daunting. Don't be that writer. If you're not willing to make changes, you're not ready to publish it.

Once you've got a well-written book, you won't have trouble selling it. They'll still complain about the cost. That's called the cost of doing business. Incidentally, I don't by that $5 specialty coffee either. I make my own flavored coffee at home, and my coffee is good curled up with a good book.

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