It’s all over now

The long covid winter has has taken so much. Our days languish. Our nights persist.

And I have adopted men’s pajamas.

The need for attractive shoes disappeared within weeks of the lock-down; the stylish pants and dresses went soon after. By summer, we donned our yoga pants and tennies. When the first chill of autumn blew the leaves from the trees, we switched to sweats where we have lived quietly, but not quieted, through the holidays – unveiling pretty sweaters in our above the waist zoom camera-shots.

January sprung confidence in the new year. But February rolled in, hope stilled in the cold snow, and it happened. The wind chill dropped and the dryer broke. Sitting on the coffee table, a forgotten gift, still wrapped – I tugged the ribbon and unpacked the thermal flannels. I studied them begrudgingly for a single moment before I slipped them on.

Warmth.

The lust for spring freedom is shackled. It can waste away in dreams now.

I have donned men’s pajamas and may never leave my writing desk ever again.

Lay it down

I love when story, seemingly already written on an ephemeral cloud, comes to us. The words pour down and we lay them on the page. They are marshaled in divine design.

It feels like magic, like power. This is genius and, we, the mere conduits.

Then…

There are those stories that drag us pathetically across the calloused black top, burn our fingers and crook our spines, harboring a shadowed threat of what it might become – one day.

We are not magic or power or even conduit, we are witch and warlock and cursed all at once, damned to live an obscure existence sucking on green m-n-m’s and cold coffee.

One moment sailing the skies, the next scouring gutters for unredeemed inspiration.

It’s a writer’s life.

Not for the weakened soul.

Death and Karma

Some years ago, a lovely new writer appeared one Saturday at the wooden kitchen table of our host’s home where we met regularly for critique group. A woman with long, blonde hair, beautiful blue eyes, who shared that she’d almost drowned.

Being washed into the Pacific undercurrent and sinking down, down, down, in this near death experience, she began to relive certain events in her life, but not from her point of view. She became her mother dealing with a rebellious teenage daughter; she landed in her lover torn to shreds and heartbroken.

She relived the emotions of those whom she had caused pain.

What a gift! Or, maybe, a curse.

This inspired me to wonder if we die the way we live. Death and karma. Was that lovely woman a selfish, thoughtless human, and her experience was to feel that pain she’d caused others?

If you’re a horrible human being, do you die a slow painful death? If you allowed kittens to suffocate, do you die gasping for breath?

I know someone who caused a lot of pain to others and he developed a disorder, later in life, in which every little bump would bruise and swell in painful edemas. A callous could glow into an infection. He spent the last years of his life in more pain that he might of caused.

However, I know plenty of lovely humans who have died in unfavorable circumstances. Certainly, that wasn’t karma.

I choose to move through this life causing as little pain and unhappiness as possible.

But it’s not because of the fear of death. It’s not even the fear of karma. There is so much pain and vexation in this world already – I don’t need to add any more to anyone’s life. I’d rather add laughter, happiness, joy. Not that I always succeed. This still is life.

I remember that woman from our critique group, her story, her presence because she yelled at me. Upon reading my story, the group began to respond. She became outraged and began gesticulating wildly. “You can’t write this. This will hurt people. You will pay for this. You can’t write this.”

I reflected on this and asked the group – after she was removed by our host – does my story lack empathy?

I attempt to create characters and stories that express the range of human emotions, the best of which teeter on the axis of sympathy and empathy. My writing partners and my readers believe I’ve achieved that.

I believe in karma in some sense. I believe what we put out there, we receive back in one way or another. Maybe death is random. Maybe not.

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The Crier is about a world where empathy is questionable. It appears a single Kindle Story and it appears in How to Throw a Psychic a Surprise Party.

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Thank you for reading. Be well.

HEAT

Many years ago, when I was young and my children were younger, my husband left. I continued to go to school, certain it was the only thing keeping me from the nightmares of my youth. I had two kids, I entered two Master’s programs, and I worked two jobs (two part time jobs) fitting them in between the small spaces of my life.

One of those many years, I supported us on a total of twenty thousand dollars. I worried a lot. About bills. About the future. About my kids.

In my youth, with five children and two adults split between a three bedroom apartment, my mother had to occasionally pawn things in order to buy milk and cereal. My father nearly always had his thumb on the heat. I’m literally talking about the thermostat. The gas bills of an Ohio winter could wipe out whole paychecks.

There were stories of people freezing to death during those cold winters. That was before they passed the law that the Gas Company couldn’t cut people off for non-payment during freezing winter storms.

I woke up some mornings, my breath condensing before my eyes. My hamster went into hibernation. My father bought us sleeping bags, a cheaper alternative to turning up the heat.

Maybe that alone is what brought me to California (not really.) But there’s an incontrovertible trauma to spending your life shivering. And there’s an indisputable pleasure to being warm.

In the chilled California winters where it rarely drops below 32 degrees, I refused to deny my daughters heat. In the meager college years of single motherhood, I could not begrudge them food or space or gifts.

But I did cringe when the pink lined bill of the Southern California Gas Company came or the blue hem of the Water and Power warnings peeked over the rim of the mail box.

The one thing my father taught me was how to work hard and harder. I got through the tenuous times by believing hard work would pay off and we would, one day, be safe.

Fast forward to the Pandemic Years: I put my thumb on the heat tonight, having spent the day chilled, and nearly turned it down. Here in So Cal we don’t have the Ohio winters nor do we have the heating bills that could hinder a trip to the market for food. But every little bit will count – again.

What Your Character Reads

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You’ll remember reading some great stories in which the character is reading or recommended a book to read to another.

Authors do not peel off the list carelessly, especially if it’s a single book, author, or scene. These are chosen carefully to reveal something specific about the character, to complicate the story, or to foreshadow what is to come.

There are numerous books which mention other books or authors; however, I’ll example Charity, a short story by Charles Baxter.

In one scene a drug dealer has Othello open to Act 3. It’s unclear if the dealer is actually reading – he’s sitting in a dimly lit bar, running his finger down the page; however, the main character offers, “the handkerchief. And Iago” to identify the scene and illuminate the foreshadowing.

The story of Othello, and more specifically the scene, involves Iago as the master of a manipulation using the handkerchief as evidence of a betrayal.

This is not by some accident that Baxter chose the story and the scene. He didn’t grab at something out of the blue because he needed the dealer to be reading at a bar. He chose to use a scene from another classic text to complicate and foreshadow what is to come. However, the question becomes how does it layer the story of Charity?

I won’t tell you, but I highly recommend reading the story.

In one story, I had a character reading a book by Betty White. The book is fictional, but I wanted the character to be seeking an idea of normalcy as far from herself as I could get.

Presently, I’m working on a novel. One of the characters is rather shallow and cares about the appearance of things more than anything else. Another character is describing the home and I needed a coffee table book to reflect the first. I felt he would choose a book which matched the decor, but also shows him as worldly. I chose National Geographic’s Stunning Photography. He’s never even cracked the spine, he just wanted something beautiful to match the blue of his curtains and make him look good to his guests. I may change it, but right now I think it works.

Give thought to the choices in your work, even if it’s a book sitting on a table, passing from one character or another, or in a window. It’ll layer your work, giving more depth to your characters and the story.

 

Your Journal is Important, Especially Now

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Journaling allows us to process our daily lives. It helps us see patterns that we are taking part in physically and mentally, and most importantly it allows release.

 

Don’t hold back in journaling. These are your private thoughts and they need voicing and validation. No one ever needs to read them – or you can turn them into a creative efforts.  Some of my students have begun painting, writing, or even baking to express their creative outlets.

 

During this time, my writer friends and I are journaling to keep track of an important time in history. Maybe these will be records of human thoughts and feelings during a very difficult time in our society – much like The Diary of Anne Frank.

 

Some are doing dream journals as well.

 

In a few years, this will be forgotten, swept under the rug, or rebranded. Our society, our children, and our grandchildren’s grandchildren will need real life, first person examples of what was happening internally and externally.

 

I teach topics that deal with slavery, suffrage, native American relocation stories. We read first person accounts. These allow my students to understand critical happenings in our society not from our history books who are written by the victors or the historians recording political acts, but by the people who went through and dealt with racism, oppression, and death our history has reaped on individuals.

 

Journaling seems more important now than it ever has before.

 

It can be anything you want it to be, look like anything you want it to look like. Let it be private and burn it later. Or share it.

What Did You Do?

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I read an article which stated, there’s no need to feel you have to be productive at this time.

WHAT? Then wtf are we going to do?

I heartily disagree. I think during this time we need to set goals. We need to focus on something to keep us sane!

When this is over, I want to have something to show for it.

When this is over, in another month? another two months? giving us a total of 3 months or more alone in our homes, do we walk out with nothing to show but our muffin tops the size of three tiered wedding cakes?

I’m not telling you not to feel stress. I’m not telling you not to stress eat. I am saying – set a goal and focus on something positive while we’re doing the best we can to survive the pandemic.

This is hard. I get it. We’re scared. If you want to stuff your face full of maple bacon donuts, I’m totally with you. If you have a bad day and want to curl yourself into a ball under your flannel sheets and cuddle your cat – that was my Saturday. I’m not superwoman. I’m not asking you to do anything I’m not doing myself.

When someone asks me, what did you do during the pandemic? I want to say I accomplished something.

I’m setting goals.insi

I’m in the process of another draft – hopefully the final – of my novel. I want to finish that.

I have two fully drafted novellas that need work – those are next.

I signed up to take two classes. I may take more.

I painted my patio. No shit. It’s nearly finished.

I’m going to have a hell of a lot of rooted clippings – plant speak.

My yard will look amazing – well, for a week or so after the pandemic ends, then the weeds will be back.

I’ve written two new poems. I think I’ll start reading poetry live.

I have a live online reading scheduled for April 24th, if you’re interested.

If you’ve gotten this far, I’m planning on offering a free writing class to whoever wants to share some writing. I may recruit other writers to offer their opinions. I think we should workshop too.

So – speaking from the future – what did you do during the pandemic?

 

 

KUDOS and LOVE

to those who are serving,

police, fire, grocery clerks, doctors, nurses, volunteers.

You are my HEROES!

 

Writing in the Time of Cholera

journalA number of people have mentioned the book Love in the time of Cholera to me lately. Ron Terranova, fellow writer and Poe lover, reminded me Shakespeare had a very fertile writing period during The Black Plague.

My writer and critique friend, Jo Rousseau, said she’s keeping a journal and thought many people should. It would be interesting, she said, to see the pandemic from different points of view.

There are people who are having trouble focusing on writing. I have to admit, I was one of them.

While others are saying they’ve never gotten more done. Perhaps they are in the minority? Or maybe they write well under pressure?

Just the day before Jo mentioned the journal, I started keeping my own. I’ve been plagued by disturbing dreams.

Our lives are changing, but not forever. We will come out of this, we will get through this, and I, personally, want to have something to show for it.

I started listing the things I’m accomplishing every day. I’ve added some other things, pandemic jokes and memes. Someone else is writing down the use of language, such as “social distancing”, and how those words are changing and shaping our understanding of society. It’ll be interesting how this comes to use after the pandemic.

Beyond all the free things being offered to keep us safe and sane, free yoga classes, free workouts, free virtual tours of national parks and art museums, there are a number of other things to keep us busy.

It’ll help us all to accept that, for a little while, we need to stay home and find alternative ways to sail through our days. 90186249_1912526478878981_330678285262389248_o

I urge all writers to keep a journal. Not to focus on writing to publish, but a personal historical account for your children, your grandchildren, or for the future. How will this time be remembered? Consider how we think of the Plague and The Flu Epidemic of 1918. What do you know about it? Do you know any people, any stories, any personal or family accounts of the day to day life? Encourage your children to keep journals too – in the future, compare them.

Journaling has helped me get back to writing.

Stay well. Stay healthy. Be safe.

Much love and appreciation.

Crying

People feel all sorts of ways about crying. I feel it’s cathartic, sometimes needed. Sometimes I worry our world is headed in a different direction. My new story explores a world that feels differently.

Let me know what you think. The Crier on Kindle.

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The Likability of Unlikable Characters

I wonder if the new fad to make unlikable characters because people like them a myth.

I like detective stories, mysteries, among the other things I read. But in the last six months, I think I’ve read far too many stories with these types of characters:

The bad guy who kills other bad guys. Hasn’t this become a cliche? Or have I stumbled upon a pile of similar motifs?

The good guy spends his nights in cheap motels with young prostitutes doing blow. But, you know, he has a heart of gold because he doesn’t actually sleep with the ho; he just talks to them. At one point, it seems, he’s up for three days strung out on coke and coffee and is still able to critically analyze a scene and glean more than the other officers.

My suspension of disbelief has been suspended.

Why am I reading this book?

It’s richly detailed – in parts. It had a good enough beginning to get me interested. Also, I like to finish a book.

But I’m at the point, now, that I’m considering abandoning it. Too many issues for me to keep reading.

The characters names are similar or the same to well known famous book-to-movie characters. It makes it hard for me to picture anyone else but Tom Hanks.

Writing is hard. Originality is challenging.

Some people believe there are only so many stories. They are just told in different ways. But they have to be told in fresh, believable, even likeable ways.

I will read some books with unlikeable characters. But I have to like someone!

Opinions welcomed, please.