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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Congratulations! Welcome to the club!

 

Captain Obvious Reading

Glad we cleared that up.

 

According to the US Department of Education, 14% of the US population – and 19% of high school graduates – can NOT read. In US adults, one in five reads below a 5th grade level, while nearly three-quarters of American prison inmates are unable to read above the 4th grade level. For juveniles in the system, the number considered functionally illiterate balloons to 85%. Statistics have shown that the lower the literacy rate of an individual, the higher their chance of being poor, on public aid, or incarcerated. [1]

 

if-you-can-read-this-thank-a-teacher-ef-yoo-20035752 (1)

So suri. Wish i cud giv yoo a raze.

 

Despite what the sad literacy rates might indicate, the Pew Research Center reports that nearly 65% of adults read at least one printed book in the past year, and 73% read a book in any format. [2] A slight decline from the 2012 survey, but still hopeful numbers. Sadly, these don’t seem to include the President. [3] When the supposed “leader of the free world” finds reading unnecessary, that can only mean even more cognitive bias and greater misunderstandings.

 

Enter Society

This could get ugly.

 

The digital revolution has increased the efficiency and availability of hardware and software that can take dictation, transcribe music, read print aloud, and anticipate the user’s next need based on previous interactions. However, there’s some argument against our gadgets actually being good for us. The Marist Poll indicates that a majority of poll respondents believed our devices are detrimental to relationships and lives, leaving us – ironically – less connected. [4]

 

cell-phone-zombie

And what about when your battery dies?

 

 

The more our toys do for us, the less we do for ourselves. Cursive is rarely taught in schools anymore, and an angry toddler with a broken crayon might as well have done what printing I’ve seen from the younger generation. Plus our collective attention span seems to be growing shorter by the minute. With instantaneous communication, video-on-demand, same-day shipping, and click-bait disguised as news, trying to focus on anything for any length of time is a growing challenge. But writing things by hand can lead to better comprehension, [5] and reading more can make you smarter. [6]

 

Reading_quotes_crave_book32

Wands supplied by Ticonderoga and Waterman.

 

 

And now that I’ve used lots of pretty pictures to keep your attention, here’s the point of the story: go read. Go read lots. Go read now. Go read printed or electronic. Go read with friends. Go read alone. Just read. We’ll all be better off. And maybe we can stave off the regression back into pictographs just a little while longer. [7]

 

AfraidEmoji

 

[1] “15 US Literacy Rate and Illiteracy Statistics”

http://brandongaille.com/us-literacy-rate-and-illiteracy-statistics/

[2] “Book Reading 2016”

http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/01/book-reading-2016/

[3] “Trump ‘does not read books’: report”

http://ew.com/books/2017/01/25/trump-does-not-read-books-report/

[4] “6/21: Is Technology “Dumbing Down” Society?”

http://maristpoll.marist.edu/614-is-technology-dumbing-down-society/

[5] “Why Pen and Paper Beats a Laptop Every Time for Taking Notes”

https://www.communicaid.com/communication-skills/blog/writing-skillsbusiness-writing-skills/taking-notes-better-using-laptop-tablet/

[6] “Warren Buffett’s reading routine could make you smarter, science suggests”

http://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/16/warren-buffetts-reading-routine-could-make-you-smarter-suggests-science.html

[7] “How Emojis are Like Hieroglyphics”

https://www.mabbly.com/how-emojis-are-like-hieroglyphics/

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We’ve all seen it. The nick-of-time rescue. The bomb diffused with one second left. The suspect bolting when the cops show up, resulting in a parkour-style chase around the city. These, and many others, are standard tropes in film and television. Sadly, they and their ilk show up a lot in fiction writing as well. I’ve even poked fun at some of them before (“Attack of the Killer Clichés”, “Return of the Killer Clichés”).

It’s time for them to die. Really. NOW.

They used to have their place on (rare) occasion. But speaking as someone who watches a lot of streaming video while playing with string, I’m sick of seeing them EVERYWHERE. And, with the crush of indie publishing, fan fic, and writer’s “critique” sites, I’m seeing it more and more in fiction as well.

That’s just lazy writing, people.

Not that I haven’t done my fair share of tropes and stereotypes. Part of my reason for doing this piece is to remind myself of all the bad writing habits I have, and possibly figure out how to fix/avoid them. As opposed to just avoiding my writing all together…

 

Minion tea[4]

…and dark chocolate…

 

So, why do we have such tropes in the first place? One word: drama. We’re trying to up the drama quotient. For a story to be successful we need to have tension and consequences and challenges for our characters to wade through. If there’s no risk for the character(s), there’s no reward for the reader(s).

But there’s a bazillion ways to cause trouble for our characters. It’s time to get inventive. We writers are really evil geniuses channeling our Dr. No selves onto the page, so let loose your inner demons and give the world you’ve created something to REALLY worry about. And I don’t mean turning that bomb they’ll need to diffuse at the last second into a dirty bomb, or a bio-bomb. Been there, done that, played the video game.

No, if you need to blow shit up, do it metaphorically instead of literally. If your characters are well developed (see “It’s Made of People”), it should be easy to come up with stuff to throw in their way. What’s the worse possible thing (or person) that could happen to them? Why does it need to happen? How will it advance the story or the character’s development? Everything you do on the page needs to keep things moving forward, in some fashion, for the overall arc of your writing.

That doesn’t mean leaving out things that can add depth to the world you’re creating, though, just because it doesn’t directly affect what’s happening. Black-clad mercenaries are a dime-a-dozen. But mercenaries who collect butterflies and read Harry Potter are something else again. Now you have some depth you can dive into. Will any of that be pertinent to your story later? Maybe. Maybe not. Right now, though, it gives me-the-reader something interesting about your character I can latch on to. There’s more there than black leather and a gun. That could mean there’s more to your story than the usual revenge/redemption/killer rampage most mercenaries inhabit.

 

Dominatrix Minion

That’s not the kind of black leather I meant. Now I need the eye bleach…

 

But what if I REALLY want to blow something up?

Then blow it the fuck up. Make it spectacular. Make it a surprise. Make it heart-rending. Make it anything but the usual. I don’t want to see your hero rushing in at the last second, huffing about how the bomb squad won’t get there in time and is it the red wire or the blue wire as he bites through both with his teeth to save the day. I want to see him crushed by defeat because he DIDN’T get there in time. Or horrified because he didn’t know the bomb even existed. Or secretly elated because now he has the perfect excuse to go on a murderous rampage.

Okay, yeah, that’s another trope, too. Sorry.

The point is, do something DIFFERENT. If you’re finding yourself falling into the same old comfortable ruts for plot points and character development, get out. Pretend it’s Opposite Day and you’re playing a game of Calvinball. Be wicked. Be absurd. Be outrageous. Kill the hero, because he’s not really the hero, his female sidekick is – psych! Don’t kill anybody, because the bomb was really a dud! The bomb DOES go off, but the entire city is coated in glitter! Anything but the usual.

And how do you know if it’s the usual? Just ask yourself: have I seen/read/heard this before? If you have, how important is it to keep it “normal?” What happens if you do THIS instead? If the ticking time bomb is integral to your story, what are you doing around that to make your characters and story different?

 

minion-emergency-helpame

Read a book, they said. It’ll be fun, they said…

 

There are occasions when we depend on tropes and stereotypes as a kind of shorthand for the reader. It can make for less explanation/exposition, and allow us to get on with the real reason this story needs to be told. But we should never depend on them. The world is comforted by formula – the tried and true (see Hollywood) – but we writers need to constantly rail against the expected, the normal, the usual, and really dig into exploring our worlds to the fullest. Whatever your genre, whether fiction or non-fiction, we want the reader to be entertained, enthralled, surprised – not bored or disappointed. Give them predictable and they’ll give you the cold shoulder. Writing is lonely enough – we don’t need to chase off any readers in the process.

Turn the formulae on their heads. Find the peculiar, the wretched, the dangerous, and let us have it. Always challenge yourself. You’ll be a better writer, and I’ll have more cool things to read.

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She’s not at all what you would expect.

No shroud of murky darkness. No raving anger. No muttering excuses. No whorls of swirling depression blasting everything else to bits.

Just a sympathetic smile.

She sits on my desk sipping from a delicate teacup, as if her appearance in the middle of the night – and the middle of my writing – is a perfectly normal occurrence.

Okay, maybe it is a little more normal than it should be. But it’s not any less annoying.

Looking for all the world like Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, I half anticipate her guzzling from a jug of “rheumatism medicine” instead of that dainty china doll accessory. But then, I’m not entirely sure of the contents, and she’s the type that hides that kind of stuff in plain sight.

“It’s all right, dear,” she coos. “It’s for the best.”

I just glare at her. I know what she means, and what the rest of her litany will entail. I’ve heard it my whole life. Every time there’s a bump in the road. With every obstacle, every challenge, every rejection. Even with the successes, too. Always that little whisper just off my shoulder.

A raging monster would be easy to ignore, by comparison.

“It’s just the way of the world now.” She takes another sip, pinky out, and rests her cool blue gaze on me. “And it’s ALWAYS been the way of the entertainment industry. You’re battling terrible odds on the best of days.”

She’s right about that. I’m no spring chicken and ageism is rampant, even for novelists. It should be about the product – it should ALWAYS be about the product. But people are what they are. Prejudice dies hard, if at all. And being a good writer isn’t always good enough.

“You can’t help support the household with rejection slips.” Her gnarled hand rests gently on my arm, with a little pat for emphasis. “Maybe you should just stick with what makes money. There’s no shame in that.”

No shame.

No shame in settling. No shame in giving up. No shame being good, but not quite good enough. That’s the story of my life.

All my glory days were long ago. All the genius, all the talent, doesn’t mean anything in a world that favors the loudmouth, the provocateur, the bombastic. Give the masses a sequined three-ring circus and blow up the MC as the finale, and you might get some attention. Social Media is god and goddess. Repeat the inane enough times and it turns into a catchy phrase. Watch that catchy phrase all tarted up for Sunday dinner at the whorehouse win the presidency.

“No one wants smart anymore.” Granny pulls out her big brown jug and chugs a few. I’m not sure what happened to the teacup – there’s no sign of it amidst the clutter of my desk. “It’s all about fake news and alternate facts and screwing everybody but the rich in the name of Jesus H. Christ-on-a-cracker. That’s just not for you, dear.”

Ain’t that the truth. But someone has to be the light keeper. Someone has to be the repository of reason and common sense and fact-based intelligence. Who better than a science fiction writer?

“There’s already so many good ones out there.” She winks at me and swigs another gulp off the jug.

I hate that she’s in my head. I’m never really free of her. And I hate that she’s so often right. There are a ton of good writers out there, already. The David Gerrolds, the John Scalzis, the Chuck Wendigs, the Jim Wrights. All fabulous writers with scathing wit and near-prescient powers of observation. They’ll not only keep the light burning, they’ll weaponize it and napalm the hell out of the stupids. I live barely in their shadows – a cockroach hoping a crumb will fall my way so I can feel like the gods have blessed me.

The jug is proffered in my general direction. “It’ll take the edge off.”

Like that’s a good idea. Just hide in your poison of choice. Hide in that world someone else created because you can’t handle the world you live in. Or the world you should be creating. Real writers write. Fake writers dream of publishing deals while killing orcs.

Too bad I’m old and have tits. I’d probably be a damn good game writer.

“Of course you would, dear.” The jug is tipped over and drizzling its contents down the side of my desk. “Everybody loved having you run games in college. Thirty-five years ago.”

She may look like an innocent little old lady, but her delivery would rival Dame Maggie Smith’s best Downton Abbey snark.

On the downhill side of middle age, and nothing to show for my efforts. So much of my life spent dreaming instead of doing. Because of that little bitch perched in the middle of my soul.

“It’s too hard for you, dear.”

“It doesn’t matter how good you are – you don’t know the right people.”

“You’re good. But not good enough.”

“You don’t really want success, do you? Just think of all the crowds you’d have to deal with.”

If she were an ugly monster, beating her would be easy. Heroic, even. But Granny is a sweet little thing, always looking out for my best interests, of course. Protecting me from the hurt. I won’t get rejected if I don’t put myself out there in the first place. I’m okay right where I am. I have a nice house and a great husband and there’s no need for me to get myself all beat up over something that’s really a pipe dream. Let’s face it – everybody wants to be a writer. And they’re a dime a dozen. So many of them will write for free. And so many of them will write badly. The world is littered with terrible copy under noisy videos claiming to be news, and no one seems to care.

“That’s right, dear.” The teacup has returned, held between finger and thumb like it is a dirty diaper and there’s no pail in sight. “No one cares about quality anymore. So you shouldn’t waste your time.”

I lean back in my chair and scowl. “Fuck you, Granny.”

 

 

Worst thing you write

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“Where do you get your ideas?”

Just about any artist, in any field, will have this question thrown at them at some point. If they’re being truthful, the answer is “Damned if I know.” Sure, there are about a bazillion different books, videos, blog entries, pod casts, and what-have-yous out there that claim to be the One True Way. But they’re all bullshit. Except for the person that created them.

Because the “process” is different for everybody. Anybody can learn the fundamentals of an art form. In writing it’s things like spelling, vocabulary, sentence structure, and point of view. In music you have reading the score, learning your instrument, timing, and breath control. Each field has their own set of basics that is universal across the globe. Get a solid grasp of the basics, and then maybe you can wander off on your own. After all, you have to know the rules before you can break them.

 

picassoquote3

 

But the origin of ideas is as individual and personal as a pubic hair. Just like DNA can point to a specific individual, so can the manifestation of an art form. We can tell the difference between Beethoven and Liszt, Rembrandt and Monet, or Austen and Shelley just by observation. Unidentified works can be reasonably attributed to their creator because of unique characteristics, such as tonality and phrasing, color palette and brush strokes, or vocabulary and style.

The beginning is no different. Stephen King reportedly gets his ideas from seeing one or two things in juxtaposition, then asking “What if?” Sting is known to use “semantic intuition” for his writing, a process where the title comes first and then the song (something I do as well, though didn’t realize it was actually a thing until I read this article). An artist might be doodling on paper, and then is suddenly struck by something, a spark lit in the dark that leads to a fire of work. Many times the finished product is hard pressed to show any relation to the original root inspiration because that’s just how it works. We still have more mystery of the mind than mastery, so trying to explain how looking at a lamp at a friend’s house led to a space opera trilogy (true story!) is just not gonna happen. Because I don’t know how to explain it any better than “It just is.”

It’s all done in the subconscious. Mine is apparently run by a bunch of gremlins in the middle of a color run while drinking copious amounts of moonshine. That’s the only way I can explain some of the stuff that goes on in my head. My dreams are vivid, convoluted messes that range from the whimsical (flying over a field of white, fluffy sheep) to the fantastical (riding a dragon while wielding a great sword); from the wishful (yay! Telekinetic powers!) to the fearful (post-apocalyptic survival, anyone?); from the reassuring (my husband’s arms around me) to the nightmarish (lots and lots of blood). I have no idea where most of this stuff comes from, and a lot of these dreams have been with me since pre-TV childhood, so I can’t blame them on that.

 

brain difficulties

 

At any given point there’s about a dozen different things going on in my head. I don’t know how it is for other people, but it’s never quiet in there. Never. Every now and then something appears out of that maelstrom and I have to put it down on paper. Sometimes it’s a complete story that seems to auto-write itself. Other times all I get is a cryptic clue that would leave Columbo scratching his head. As I mentioned above, I get a lot of titles before anything else. They just kind of appear – POOF! – fully formed and then it’s up to me to figure out what they’re really about. Sometimes I’ll just be reading something and select words will jump out at me and put themselves together, for no known reason. On occasion I’ve seen writing prompts that have words assigned to numbers, and then you use a random number generator to pick the words you’ll use. A couple of my stories waiting for words started that way. Great titles. No idea yet what they’re about.

Eventually the nebulous cloud will begin to coalesce, and I’ll start putting the bits and pieces together. Usually characters are the first to show up. When they do, my job becomes easy, because all I have to do then is just sit back and write what they tell me. Doesn’t matter to me how interesting the concept might be, how cutting-edge the science might be, what kind of statement is being made – if I don’t have people I can connect with, I’m not interested. I need to be able to put myself into the story by virtue of one of the characters. And it doesn’t have to be a main character, either. Or human, for that matter. I just need a spark of familiarity and I’m all in.

And, yes, I get stuck sometimes. Not including those grinding depressive cycles that cause me to ignore my writing because it doesn’t matter (read: I don’t matter), most episodes of what is commonly called writer’s block can be broken with a series of questions. If I’m looking at a blank page with no thread of a start, I might pop over to the Random Title Generator and give it a spin. Today’s results were:

Emerald Snake

The Green Dream

Slave of Rings

The Dream’s Lord

The Sparks of Silence

Hunter in the Male

Hmm, some interesting possibilities there. Take Emerald Snake. The questions I use are the six basics of journalism: who, what, when, where, why, and how? Who’s interested in this thing? What exactly is it – literal or descriptive? When did this story happen? Where is the snake? Why is it important? How does it all end?

 

notthecreativeprocess

 

My first inkling when I saw that title was a flash of the great film noir The Maltese Falcon. Again, no idea why it engendered such a response, but now we have a framework on which to build. We need a hard-boiled detective type, a femme fatale, and a cunning adversary. Except – since I’m a science fiction writer – let’s make it a starship first officer, an alien ambassador, and a computer built by some ancient and long-dead species. Now I just keep asking the basic questions to build the story. Who is this first officer? What does s/he want? When is this part of his/her life? Where is s/he going? Why a starship? How does this officer matter? I watch the trunk of the plot fill in, asking those questions at each new junction, and following them to the branches of subplots, asides, flashbacks, parallel storylines, and backstory. Sometimes that’s all I need to get it done.

But sometimes I get stuck in the middle somewhere, and those basic questions aren’t bringing me anything. That’s when I bring out the big guns. The first is from the character’s point of view: what can he/she/it do (not necessarily deliberately) that will totally fuck things up? Every one of us has been in a situation and made a decision that we thought was perfectly fine at the time, only to discover later that it was exactly opposite of what was needed. The second question is about the scenario in general: what is the worse possible thing that could happen now? Plans go awry, innocent interruptions have deadly consequences, and people make mistakes. Stories aren’t interesting if the characters are walking through their world without a worry. Just like humans seem to feel more alive when there’s a little danger involved, so do stories when circumstances are turned on their heads. Throw the snake in and see what happens.

There are as many ways to create as there are people. The trick is to accept that there are no tricks, because trick implies a deception or a joke. Being a creative artist is no joke, despite what the modern world may tell us. And trying to fit into that world is deceiving our true selves, not anyone else. Wherever your spark of insanity comes from, however your ideas come to you, just let it roll. Because in the great scheme of things, the way that works for you is the only One True Way.

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Life is nothing but a never-ending series of choices. Every choice has its consequences, both good and bad. Every choice has an easy way, and a hard way. Most of us spend our time trying to figure out which choices are going to give us the best results, for the least amount of bullshit. It’s never exactly what we want, but that’s life, and it’s certainly better than the alternative.

Some of us dare the Fates and take the hard choice, the choice that’s fraught with uncertainty but gets us another step closer to our ultimate goal, to the place/career/love we want more than anything else. Most people who take those steps fail. Some stop right there. Some keep trying. Every now and then someone succeeds. And that’s how we get our great artists, our star athletes, our world leaders.

make-a-different-choiceQuotesGram.com

My husband and I were talking this weekend about the rut we’re in. Every day is pretty much the same: work, dinner, computer, sleep. Rinse and repeat, ad nauseam. We both claim to want to do something different with our lives. I want to do the full-time writing thing. He wants to do the full-time blacksmith thing. We want to work for ourselves and get out of Southern California and get some property somewhere in the trees of the Pacific Northwest.

But apparently we don’t want those things bad enough to actually do anything to get there. We spent some time trying to figure out why that is, why we keep talking about these desires and yet doing nothing to advance toward them. The conclusion we came to is that we’re safe right where we are, and change is scary.

We have the epitome of a First World problem. We have a nice two-story house in the suburbs. It may need some significant cosmetic work, but it has a solid foundation and a good roof and everything works the way it’s supposed to. We have a regular income that allows us to eat decently, keep the lights on and the water running, and feeds the beast that gets my husband back and forth to work. We don’t usually have anything leftover at the end of the month, but our basics are covered, and we can make adjustments for the rest. We have a nice routine and few surprises. Quiet and safe in our little corner of the world.

And yet we are dissatisfied. It is a common dilemma, I know. Most people get to a point in their lives where it is no longer possible to reach their dream, and so they quietly plod through their existence and make the best of what they have. Some can achieve a certain measure of contentment, despite themselves. They never actually forget their dream – it still makes for a good fantasy every now and then – but they’ve accepted that it will never come to pass.

But my husband and I can actually still achieve what we want. We have the skills. We have the desire. What we don’t have is the courage.

Everything-you’ve-ever-wantedQuotesCover.com

You see, leaving your nice, quiet, safe little rut takes a huge amount of bravery. You don’t know what’s out there. Will there be monsters waiting? Will your family understand? Will you suddenly learn it’s not REALLY what you wanted? Worse yet, what happens if you FAIL?

Safe is easy. Risk is scary. Status quo is good. Change is bad. From childhood we’ve been encouraged to take the safe route. Follow the rules and play nice with others and do what society expects of you, and life will be fine. Want to be an actor/writer/musician? Okay, but get that degree in accounting/engineering/law, just in case. Always work with a net, because that’s safe.

But sometimes you just can’t be totally safe. To advance, you have to take chances. You have to test your boundaries and abilities and hope you can come out the other side. Explorers and scientists and artists throughout history have often put their own lives on the line to make the breakthroughs we all now take for granted. What if Magellan had never set sail? What if Curie had never gone into science? Both of them died as a direct result of their works, but they would have eventually died anyway had they stayed safe in their little ruts. By taking risks, they each gave the world invaluable legacies.

innovation-and-risk-taking-quotes-4-638SlideShare.net

I doubt there are those kinds of legacies waiting for my husband and I. But we can certainly change the way things are now to make things the way we want. While there are obvious logistics issues, there’s nothing we can’t handle, as daunting as some of the tasks may seem. Hell, there’s a part of me that would be happy to just stuff everything we own into storage, sign the house back to the bank, pack the truck with the cats and other essentials, and just go see what we can find. We wouldn’t be the first to make such a bold change, and it would certainly yank us right out of our rut by the hair. It would be terrifying, but sometimes that’s just what you need.

Because if you wait for everything to be perfectly planned and the timing to be just right before you start your journey, you might as well never pack your bags. The circumstances will never be perfect. NEVER. Which is exactly when you’ll reach your goal if you don’t take a chance.

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It is Tuesday afternoon. The sinus headache searing behind my left eye has been with me since Sunday afternoon. Molten-lava-hot needles of pain swirl from one side of my head to the other with the slightest movement. Lights are too bright, sounds are too loud, smells are too strong, stupid is as stupid does. Thinking is a chore. Motivation is totally gone. Not surprising, given how little I had to start with.

Annoyance is high.

Annoyance threat level a

Sunday was a day spent in hiding, hoping to get rid of the damn headache. I accomplished nothing. Didn’t even get out of the pajamas. Not that I do that much anymore, either.

Monday was a busy day. More issues with the truck. That meant getting up at the butt-crack of dawn to drive the husband to work. Hit the grocery store on the way back. 7:30 on a Monday morning is a nice time to do shopping. No crowds, no screaming kids, no villages and their idiots blocking aisles trying to figure out the difference between the fifty-eight cent house brand and the exact same stuff packaged under the Name Brand for twice that. And everything all nicely stocked and neat, not looking like it had just been looted like it usually does on the weekends.

Got home and put the groceries away. Had a nice breakfast with the pain pills and watched the latest episode of Once. Set up the crock-pot for dinner with a nice roast and potatoes and carrots. All done just in time to take the truck to its appointment at the repair shop. Another code with the transmission. We’d just spent our tax refund rebuilding it less than two months ago. But the warranty from that visit will take care of this one. All I have to do is wait in the lobby for about an hour while they do the work. Thankfully I brought stuff to read, and the lobby is clean and brightly lit. Not-so-thankfully, the chairs are tiny plastic things that I suspect have been stolen from the nearest elementary school. My butt goes numb after about fifteen minutes.

And, of course, the job takes four times longer than initially estimated. By then I’d given up reading because of the headache. I also can’t find my feet. Could have sworn they were attached when I got up this morning. It takes me ten minutes to bring them back online, and only after I unwedged myself from that damned tiny chair. I leave the shop just in time to fetch the husband from work.

Traffic is more terrible than usual. It’s overcast and there are scattered rain showers around the area. I like rain. But not when I have to drive in SoCal. These people have no idea how to drive in anything but full daylight – yeah, okay, maybe not even then. I learned their ways when I lived in L.A. And I have a BAT (big-ass truck). A little assertiveness and 9,000lbs of steel gives me the right-of-way. We still don’t get home until after 7:00pm.

Oh, and who had opened the windows for the first time in months because it was actually cool and nice out? Yeah, this idiot. The weather app didn’t say anything about rain. So of course the skies opened up just as we were getting off the freeway. The master bedroom was a little damp by the time I got the window closed. Thankfully not the bed, though by that point I likely wouldn’t have cared.

By bedtime, my head is screaming, my hips are on fire, and my mind can barely focus on brushing my teeth. For once maybe I’ll get a decent night’s rest.

I must have cussed the husband out when his alarm went off, because he came back to bed long enough to apologize for waking me. The next thing I know I’m packing a mesh bag with essentials, which for some reason include embroidery supplies and cassette tapes (but no player) and bells, as I decide not to wear the rainbow-striped hippie-hoody because it’s too noticeable, and leave a collage of clothes, shells, string, paper, and whatever as a clue to those who might be wondering where I’m going since I can’t wait because the aliens are about to find me and all I have to defend myself with is an old stick and my cats. And that’s when my alarm went off.

Yes, I’m trying to be a responsible adult. No, it’s not working out that well. It took me two-and-a-half hours to get downstairs, and all I’d managed to do in that time was take my morning meds. I have a crap-ton of stuff I should be doing, but instead I’m hiding in video games and streaming media. Every night I chastise myself for my lack of effort and make a list of what I’m going to accomplish the next day, and every morning I’m hiding in bed trying to convince myself I really should at least get up. Every morning dread. Every evening frustration. Every day disappointed at myself.

I know somewhere inside I’m the one setting this trap. The self-doubts and lack of self worth are a constant contrast to the dreams and desires, an endless Mobius loop of internal turmoil that ends up in a stalemate. And I’m the only one that can get rid of the trap. Reprogramming the internal monologue of depression is one of the hardest things anyone can do. You’re probably wondering how hard is it to just think positive thoughts? Immensely hard. Amazingly, astoundingly, excruciatingly hard. Because the depressive’s brain is hard-wired for the black hole that is depression. It is automatic and unbidden and pervasive. It is at the instinctual level of the lizard brain, where everything hides and is so deeply imbedded even metaphorical dynamite won’t dislodge it.

So you pick just one thing to work on, and go after it with a dentist’s pick and the patience of an archeologist on a dig. It will be slow going. Some days won’t see any progress at all. That’s normal. Other days will be a veritable flurry of activity. That’s normal, too. Piece by piece, grain by grain, eventually, that one thing will be rooted out. There will be a crack of light in the darkness.

Pick the next one thing to work on. Repeat as necessary. Don’t give up. Let people/medication/pets help. Celebrate your victories. Ignore everything else.

Did I get everything done today that I wanted to? No. And I’m making myself not care. Because today I got out of bed. Today I played with my cats. Today I wrote a blog.

TODAY I WROTE A FUCKING 1,000+ WORD BLOG!!!

Yeah, one more crack in the dark. It’s a long, hard fight, but it is SOOOooo worth it.

 

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Time marches on. As a child, it seemed days actually meant eons. As an adult, days pass like mere microseconds. The alarm goes off, you get out of bed, you turn around, and it’s next month already. It seems like college was just yesterday. And just this morning my scale gave me numbers I could read without guilt. But both those events were actually decades ago, as we humans measure time. DECADES. It might as well be a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

I’ve been thinking about time and age, and the lost opportunities the passage of both provide. It’s something that’s been at the back of my mind for a while now, but really hit home recently with the passing of a friend. She was a lovely lady I met through my historical group. And even though she was well into her seventies, she was still very active and mentally sharp as a tack. She had been kind enough to be one of my beta readers for my novel, even giving me valuable written feedback. We followed each other’s adventures on Facebook, exchanging pleasantries and LOLing the various shared memes. And mere hours after our last electronic meeting, she was gone, felled by a massive coronary. A brutal reminder of our painful mortality.

Every man diesWeHeartIt.com

In the last several years, a number of others I know have also passed. Heart attacks. Strokes. Aneurisms. Some of them even younger than me. And still others are dealing with significant health issues. I’m now in that age group when things like serious illness and death are more common. And people are starting to treat me differently. The grey hair and glasses means more “ma’am” and less “miss.” It means senior discounts without asking, and offers of help at the grocery store. On one hand, I’m glad that there are still people in the world that do those sorts of things. On the other, I want to scream, “I’m still young, dammit!” Inside, I’m still a curious kid, wondering at all the bright things in the world, and not feeling any different than I did thirty years ago.

And therein lies the problem. We think we have all the time in the world, when – in truth – we have merely a blink in the cosmic sigh of existence. None of us know how long we are destined to be here. Happily ensconced in middle age, surrounded by a decent house, just enough groceries, purring cats, and a loving husband, it’s easy to put things off until tomorrow. Then tomorrow again. And yet another tomorrow. Then suddenly, there are no tomorrows. But by then it’s too late, and none of the things you wanted to do have been done.

According to Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse from Australia, people on their deathbeds regret the things they didn’t do more than the things they did (“Regrets of the Dying”). I’ve heard that from other sources as well. The common theme working through all of them has been, “I worked too hard being what others expected me to be, and not what I wanted to be.” I don’t want to be one of those people.

Yet, I’ve squandered the opportunities I was given. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education I’ve barely used. I was gifted a position in the American Film Institute’s screenwriting program over several hundred other applicants. I could have had my MFA if I had stayed. I gained an internship as a reader with a production company that went on to do amazing things and have incredible success. I could have been in on the ground floor of a Hollywood trailblazer. All are the first chances most people never get, that some people would sell their souls for, and I wasted them.

We regret the things we DIDN’T do the most. Don’t be one of those people. Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams. If you’re a young person, go. Hell, it doesn’t matter what your age – GO! Do it now! Don’t wait for a “better time,” or “more stability,” or “less stress.” Those constructs never happen. Don’t be like me, muttering, “woulda, coulda, shoulda,…”

So, here I am, looking back on decisions that can’t be changed now; a meandering path of wrong choices, bad choices, questionable choices, NON-choices, that deposited me to this desk today. My husband, family (whether blood or chosen), and animals are the bright spots in that quagmire. And it could be argued that I had to take that path to get those wonderful things, but part of me still thinks I can have my cake and eat it, too. I can have my amazing husband AND a great writing career, because I have the one thing so many others are denied: a second chance.

I have the support system, I have the time, I have the skill. What I don’t have is an excuse.

sometimes-you-need-a-second-chance-because-you-werent-quite-ready-for-the-first-quote-1

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