I’ve missed blogging. It’s a useful vehicle for me to journal my experiences and share them with my friends–known and unknown. This year, though, has challenged my ability to maintain my emotional equilibrium. No time more so than this past week. We had planned for the worst part of the inevitable with my mother-in-law. Hubs got to spend four solid days with her in person while she was still lucid. We spoke to her the last time last weekend, before the pain became too intense for her to handle without morphine and phone conversations became impossible. We were going about our lives, helping with the rescue process for a pregnant stray dog in Gayla’s town. Then we got word that fellow writer and rescuer J.C. Montgomery died unexpectedly Wednesday morning. She was my first beta reader and writing cheerleader. I may have only known her via email, Twitter, and Facebook, but her support helped me become the person I am today and her loss without ever having been able to meet her in person was devastating.
Friday night, then, we got word that my mother-in-law’s suffering had come to an end. We were grateful that she had been spared the ravages of a drawn-out illness. The grace and presence she brought to her final weeks were a clinic for the family on gratitude and living in the moment that I can only aspire to emulate. We were able to send her off surrounded by love and the knowledge that she was appreciated for herself in spite of the flaws of humanity that had sometimes created tumult within the family.
But now we are dealing with the end of an era and a chasm of emotion that is rolling us both under. I remember that Sharon was the first to call me by my married name at our wedding–when my head whipped around, her words matched her impish grin, “just testing.” She worked for many years as a retail clerk and knew when all the sales were–but also how to apply coupons and employee discounts to the degree that she would show up periodically with the statement “I saw this and thought of you. It was only a couple dollars, so it’s my gift to you.” She learned all the best recipes for a full, Italian-style meal from her mother-in-law, and friends and family knew she could forever find another seat at the table and enough extra servings of food so everyone left with leftovers and a belly more full than they could have imagined possible. The hole she leaves behind will never be filled.
Interestingly, the Institute of Heartmath published an article this week about love as an advanced mode of intelligence that underlines the many positive aspects of having loved. And BarkPost reported on a study whose results indicate that dogs are awash in more oxytocin (the love hormone) than cats or humans.
So we still have each other, and the furbabies are all checking up on us regularly to remind us that the path through loss is to embrace the love we share. Our hearts are nonetheless having a hard time catching up with that knowledge, and our heads are fuzzy for lack of sleep.
I don’t know that I’ll be posting my normal list of goals this round–I’m already several weeks late–but I have to finish revisions on The Builders, finish Fire to Dragon, and write Dragon’s Pursuit by the end of the year. So I continue to plod forward despite all the heartache, and wish that the news would quit finding more ways of bruising that already wounded organ. I’ll be posting more regularly again, as well as pointing you to my ROW80 cohorts to encourage more mutual support and encouragement in my small sphere of web-based connections. And I’ll ask that each of you reach out to those you love most and remind them of why they are special to you. Life is short, and we never know which conversation will be our last. My goal as an artist is to leave a conversation that can continue past my physical existence, but that also depends on others carrying their half of the relationship, so please, love and enjoy one another.
I promised to check in, not knowing that the disaster news from last week would be ultimately personalized this week. Another family member suddenly faces the final months of her life in the face of a metastasized lung cancer diagnosis. On the same day we learned this, I found a baby bird who had fallen from his nest in the parking garage at work. In one of those moments of transference, I decided if I could save this naked creature who was struggling to right himself on the cold concrete, it would buy a little more time and comfort for hubs’ mother. In the early evening hours, as I fed him worms and water against my own squeamishness (I’d forgotten live worms continue to twitch long after they have been chopped up), he seemed in good shape to pull through his ordeal.
His death overnight probably should not have been the shock it was. Nonetheless, it pulled the plug on my emotions, and I’ve just barely been weathering the storm since. We’re trying to figure out how to plan for the impossible and find stability in an emotional earthquake.
Trying to gain what comfort we could from cuddling up together to watch a “light” movie, we decided on Kung Fu Panda. I don’t know if it was because I was already feeling emotionally overwhelmed, but it was a much more profound movie than I had anticipated, with its own themes of death and transformation, and the message that we each of us are our own “special ingredient” to make us more powerful than we can anticipate.
It will take me a while to find comfort in that again, though I will be pushing myself to count my blessings in the manner of the quote I found scrolling past on Facebook and have shared here.
I also received my editor’s feedback on The Builders, and will be heading out to a conference for work at the end of the month, so my blog may go dark for a while as we make the adjustments necessary to deal with our family’s needs. In the meantime, I encourage you to keep up with the other ROW80 participants, and I’ll check back in as time and energy allow.
When news like today’s, from both Orlando and LA, crosses the wire–notwithstanding the whitewashing claiming “worst massacre” that forgets Wounded Knee–it’s easy to get lost in the tears for and anger against the misguided (non-)humans who think violence and hate solve anything. So I spent my day appreciating the beautiful sunshine, cool breezes, silly furbabies, and love of my family. They gave me thousands of reasons to smile and laugh, even while my emotions remain volatile because of the huge number of families now dealing with trauma and violence and death and the aftermath those bring to individual lives.
They too will have to find ways to stay strong, to find the reasons to smile and laugh. I’m not sure what has made this sickness of hate grow so strong in our nation, though I have quite a few ideas. Some relate to why voters are angry. Some to the inaction and obstructionism rampant in Congress. Some to the sexist roles of patriarchy encoded in pop culture. Some to the level of personal emotional paralysis that sets in when we are constantly offering thoughts and prayers, with no sense that anything will ever improve–regardless of how devastated we may be by the ongoing string of horrific events our news outlets insist on inundating us with.
Some of this is finding outlet in my fictional worlds. Re-reading passages from The Builders, where I was able to put some of my research about how horribly humans can treat each other, in the context of an alien love story, seems like the appropriate balance of hope, despair, confusion, and growth. I’m still waiting for my editor to send me my revision marching orders, though, so I know the story will evolve from where it currently stands.
Because of that I spent my evening re-formatting Dust to Blood for print. It’s been on my to-do list for almost nine months now, and I knew it would be a pain. Luckily, the template and style sheets didn’t need to be adjusted at all. While it took several hours, and I still need to do the same for Blood to Fire, finishing these tasks this week starts helping shift my story brain to consider how to proceed with Fire to Dragon.
I know I promised a longer post this week, but, honestly, too much of this is too exhausting. I want to go back to cuddling with hubs, hoping our little bubble of Light helps illuminate the rampant darkness in our world. In lieu of that, check out how my ROW80 companions are doing with their goals. May the coming week find you reasons to smile, and I will return again next week.
It seems harder and harder these days to find routine in even the smallest things. I missed my check-in last week because I was pushing hard to get my WIP in shape for my editor… and to finalize the cover for it. And to get hubs ready for his gigs this weekend. And all the other little things that go along with having Huskies and a day job (where we had a major quarterly review to prepare for and present to our customers) and other responsibilities.
At the moment I have about five minutes before I have to move on to my next task, but I also didn’t want to miss two weeks of check-ins. So it was interesting to me to read that silence is significantly more important for our cognitive function than modern society acknowledges. I don’t know that many people who are willing to sit with no radio, no TV, no conversation, and consider it an important element of rejuvenation in their daily lives.
I’ll be glad when we’re past these weeks of madness and can enjoy some silence together again. On a related note, I ran across an interesting list of life lessons that are also worth considering. Sometimes it’s worth listening to the music around us (or creating it) as a way of pushing past the ordinary.
In the meantime, last night hubs helped commemorate David Bowie in his way (my way was way back in January), with his friends, The Slambovians. As Joziah notes in the video, they’re playing together again tonight (part of why I’m keeping this short), but since I’m so proud of how far he’s come, I’m sharing the video I took of it:
I’m still in the in-between space of my stories, waiting for edits and considering poking at Fire to Dragon when we have a little more time. So I’ll check in more fulsomely next week to let you know how it goes. In the meantime, check out how my ROW80 cohorts are doing with their goals.
As you will have noticed if you’ve been following me in recent months, I’ve been working on my latest novel. The final draft is done and off to the editor, so now it’s on to cover love… Gayla pulled off another great one–which was a difficult task, given an alien protagonist who was genetically engineered to wear the median skin tone of all earthlings. I have to tell you… There aren’t many options for people of color as cover models. Even fewer that are interracial between two women. So we took off in the direction of the galaxies through which they travel. I’m very proud to share this with you:
Given where the story is in the editing process, I suspect my estimate of a July release remains reasonable. I’m really looking forward to sharing this one with everyone.
A friend was in town visiting the past few days, which is always both exhilarating and exhausting. In this case, it was another person going through marital woes, reinforcing my gratitude for the love and support I get from hubs. It’s remarkable the number of people who struggle with their connection with their partners, where one or the other of the pair has a heart closed by fear, pain, or past wounds that make trust impossible. I suspect it’s another symptom of one of the deep illnesses of our society that people aren’t raised to understand the primacy of love–that it is the pivot around which health, vitality, creativity, and success revolve.
Maybe that’s just my perspective, though.
But it is painful to witness friends struggle through the challenges that sap their capacity to participate fully in their own lives. At one point in our conversations this weekend, our friend said, “I feel like I’m participating in somebody else’s movie.”
I can empathize, having come late to the idea that I could do something for myself aside from work and maintain a connected home life. I didn’t start writing long-form fiction until a little over five years ago, and it’s its own revelation: I’m able to follow in the footsteps of some of my heroes by couching truths of a life fully considered in a framework that allows others to expand their horizons as well.
Focusing on writing does make it challenging to maintain that connection, which is why one of my goals always has to do with a date-night with hubs. This week we watched the next two episodes of Agents of Shield as well as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I loved the movie and am more lukewarm on the TV show. Marigold reunited a lot of the actors from Calendar Girls and played with the topic of what you DO when you reach “a certain age.” Dame Maggie Smith killed it with her depiction of a deeply racist woman who unfolds in the Indian environment to share her vulnerability and grow beyond it. There were so many subtleties to the story I’d be happy to watch it again, and am looking forward to seeing the sequel.
On the writing front, I started the first editing passes, added structure, and am now awaiting my next batch of beta feedback for The Builders. I may actually be on schedule for a July release. We’re also working on promotional materials for hubs’ gig, which now has a flyer.
We’ve had even more rain here in the past week, which, combined with our visitor, mean our average steps are back below goal.
This week is also slated to include a lot of running around; I already know of two trips I need to take up to the home office in Maryland. So I’ll keep this short and encourage you to see how the other ROW80ers are doing with their goals.
It’s been a challenging week for a number of my friends and me–on two separate continents, there are marriages on the rocks; one of my friends is beginning the process of moving across the country; a neighbor just lost her father unexpectedly; and I had to set aside time for a minor surgical procedure. All in the midst of an already heavy work-load week for me with meetings both downtown and in Maryland. I was emotionally wrung out by Friday afternoon.
Which meant it was a great time to cuddle up with hubs and watch the final Agent Carter and the newest season’s first episode of Agents of Shield. Both of which made me wonder this weekend why ABC decided to cancel the former on such a cliffhanger, and how much of a commitment I want to make to the latter with some of the newest character developments. Having been in the writing (and improving my writing) process on a serious basis for almost six years now, I have less and less patience with cliffhangers. They strike me as a lazy way to try to trap readers and viewers into continuing with a story arc, when really the goal should be to have people so invested in the character(s) that fans return without that unnecessary prod.
We should be able to bring our curiosity to a story and have it rewarded. Our empathy should be engaged. And then I read an article in Psychology Today that reports American anti-intellectualism, while always a strong undercurrent, has become stronger in recent decades, as evidenced by fewer adults reading for pleasure, more obsession with entertainment, fashion, and other fads, and an increasing focus on mob rule. In an eerie parallel, another outlet reported on findings regarding reduced empathy in those who take NSAIDs. Given the almost automatic response to pain as reaching for palliatives of these kinds, and the number of people who suffer pain on a regular basis, there’s a scary intersection in these two bits of news for me. This is not about how schools are ridiculously overloading grade school students with academic make-work, this is about finding the patience and tenderness to sit with pain and darkness and discovering how it can transform us.
Strangely, an old post about George Lucas‘ (and many other, more luminous thinkers’) thoughts on the meaning of life popped up in my Twitter feed this week, too. As did this year’s commencement speech at Sweet Briar College. Those both reflected some of the discussion we had in my LEAD class earlier in the week. My conclusion then and now: To the extent that anything drives me, it’s the hope that I’m leaving the world a better place because of my existence in it. There’s bits of Lucas’ sense of interconnection (the “force”, if you will, that ties us all together) as well as Busque’s urging to embrace the Big Hairy Audacious Goals in that assessment, but what really resonates with me is the picture that floated across my Facebook stream that I’ve included in this week’s post: It does take time alone, surrounded by darkness, to find how we can best take flight. Hold the Light for others who are struggling.
For myself, that means I’m done drafting The Builders. Finally. I’ll be incorporating beta feedback this week before shipping it off for editing. Then I’ll be moving on to the final installment of my Red Slaves trilogy. The record-breaking streak of days with rain has meant my daily average number of steps has fallen off again, and the dogs are spending two days a week at Affectionate to make sure they don’t get too nutty in the house. That means KouKi is getting pretty good at agility, too. Hubs has been rehearsing heavily to prepare for opening for the Slambovians June 5th, so we’re all wrapped up in projects for the moment.
I still have goals to reach, and suggest you check out how my ROW80 buddies are doing with theirs, so I’ll be back again next week.
I’m not sure where the time flies these days, though I am sure the fact that this week kicked off with a migraine made any productivity a bonus. I still haven’t finished the final chapter of The Builders, though I added almost 500 words to the WIP. I also read a post about story endings that finally gave me clarity about how I want to wrap things up. If I could just sit down without a to-do list a mile long, I could probably finish post-haste.
Another week, another try.
In the meantime, we’ve started building out hubs’s new musician site, and we’re slowly emerging to attack the new forest of grass that sprung up in the week and a half of rain we’ve “enjoyed”. My phone indicates I’ve upped my average walking distance back over 2,000 steps per day, so there’s more progress on the fitness front.
Aside from all that, I’ve been pondering the great divide between our living experience in the DC area versus the midwest and the southwest. Someday I’d love to return to where there are more cacti, mountains, and a regular view of the Milky Way, but until then, I’m going to have to pay attention that I don’t become complacent about how wildly out-of-sync this area is from an income and cost-of-living perspective versus the rest of the country. I discovered a data aggregation site that includes tracking (based on publicly available numbers) about U.S. median income. From that starting point, I read an article about the persistent level of poverty, another about the things the middle class can no longer afford, and what wage stagnation looks like. This was all capped by a new chart put together by economist Pavlina Tcherneva that shows the dramatic inversion in financial gains for the middle class over the past 20 years. All of these things together make it obvious why zombie stories have become the popular new metaphor for our country: We’ve all been sprinting so hard to just keep pace, we have no energy to consider how we might actually get ahead.
It’s crystallized my view that we need stories that have hope and some kind of happiness in them to start changing the mental narrative that traps us in the negative thought spiral that nothing can or will change. We are all invited daily to choose our perspective. One of the things I most appreciate about my path with hubs is his growth to a daily practice of gratitude–it’s become one of the most powerful tools for both of us to be able to step outside the race and appreciate the peace we can enjoy together. So I’m sharing a useful post on tools that remind you to be thankful. I particularly like the quote that kicks off that post:
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder
So for this week, I will continue to do the small things I can with great love in my heart. I would encourage you to do so as well–and to check out how the other ROW80ers are doing.
Coulda, shoulda, woulda week, here… mainly because both hubs and I were hit with a flu/cold combo that left us with precious little energy to do anything other than sleep and moan to each other about how horrible we felt. Once again I count my lucky stars that hubs has the tools (needles and herbs) at home so we’re on the upswing again in less than a week.
On the other hand, we still made a quick appearance at our nephew’s 15th birthday yesterday (OMG – I still remember him in diapers!), and did our part to support a niece who’s doing everything she can to spread smiles and caring. In fact, I recommend everyone go visit the video she and her business partner posted for #letsredefinenormal. It’s a good cause all around. Because Kipling had it right: our pack (our family) is our strength, and we strengthen our pack with our support.
From a writing perspective, my brain being mostly trapped in the haze of illness meant I somehow surprised myself with an additional 1,775 words for The Builders. That’s the best I’ve done in a while, well over plan, and leaves me with just the final chapter to write. Because my head felt like it would explode yesterday anyway, I went back to the beginning and started editing. (I fell into word overuse with “just” this time…) I’m about halfway through that process and feeling good about getting the work to my editor on time at the end of the month.
On the exercise front… feeling winded going upstairs and downstairs is not the recipe for mile-long walks, though there was a three-quarter miler before we got sick, and a couple half-milers before the exhaustion truly felled us. Still some work to do to get back on track with that.
I’m grateful my productivity wasn’t a complete loss last week, and am looking forward to “the end” (FINALLY!) this week. In the meantime, consider checking out how my ROW80 colleagues are doing with their goals, and I’ll check in again next week.
We lost another great one this week; Prince figured regularly in the soundtrack of my teen and young adult years. My hubs, when he was a professional journalist and music critic, even got to interview him and review his concert in Milwaukee–which one of his hometown papers cited this week as part of its memorial. While, yes, many of his lyrics were frankly sexual, what sticks with me are the many times he was profound. He was the kind of prolific artist and generous talent others can only aspire to. And the BBC ran an article this week that confirms 2016 has truly sucked from the perspective of losing great artists.
It’s sucked in other ways, too. On the home front, we’ve been having to do the adulting thing of installing new docs now that my brain has finally caught up with the fact that we’re coming up on two years out from relocating almost 800 miles. This week that meant an MRI for me on Tuesday and eyes being dilated on Wednesday–both of which contributed, among other things, to that background sense of headache until I finally got to sleep it out yesterday. They also meant our tenuous walking habit back-slid. My phone estimates the low average for the week at 1,100 steps per day.
Then there was the series of adulting articles: Changes to how trad pubs are handling copyrights (read: rights grabs galore), an assessment of who’s most likely to get divorced (hint: the American rate is actually less than 50%), and finally, the financial insecurity most Americans face. That last hit close to home for me; I would imagine it does for most of the people I know–and especially for all those who’ve chosen some form of the writer’s path. Some of the realizations that author had contributed to my reasoning about not remaining a journalist a year after my newly minted bachelor’s degree was completed. Even so, starting from a liberal arts background has made ending up where I am now (still by no means financially secure) a challenging journey that has included stints of a rice-and-beans existence.
Yet I’m happy with the choices I’ve made. I’m really happy I still get to write–even if it’s not my full-time career or income at this point. This week I sold my 250th copy of my books and celebrated the fourth anniversary of publishing my first book. I’m making progress. I was able to add 1,371 words to The Builders, crossing the 47K word threshold. Not quite to goal, but given everything else going on, a decent enough effort. I’m considering a different path to release on this one. The Kindle Scout program was hotly debated over at The Passive Voice this week, and it sounds like, for those accepted into the program, there are quite a few upsides. The agreement (as opposed to the one outlined by Kristine Kathryn Rusch above) even allows for easy rights reversions. I’m not sure how much I want to push friends and followers to vote/nominate/generate the noise to make me attractive to the folks who run that show, but it would offer another possibility of raising awareness for my fiction should I choose that path. If any of my author friends have any experience that direction… chime in and let me know how it went.
Ultimately, I recognize happiness as a choice. One I’m invited to make daily, when I look at my hubs and our three furbabies. Everybody faces challenges and sadness at some point, and I’ve made the conscious decision to focus on the moments I’m able to share with those I love as opposed to anything else.
So I’ll be back to pursuing my more regular pace of life this week, hoping that means I will get back on track with walking goals as well as pushing past done on this latest book. In the meantime, I’ll be checking in on my ROW80 compadres, and recommend you do as well.