State of Mind

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My favorite way to avoid reality is reading. I’ve been doing more of it than ever since Covid came into our lives. Some days, most days, it’s the only thing I do. I should be writing my novel, but I’m…not. Ten pages a month is not a cheery output for me. My head is too cluttered right now and I wonder if it’s my age (66) or the move from the northern part of the country to the southern. During Covid. Which makes a difference.

I miss my friends. It’s hard to make new ones during a pandemic with your head stuck in a book. We had a lot to do when we first got here. Despite the crazy rising costs of houses, our plan was always to move to a house and we are stubbornly sticking to it. Also we are keeping our little St. Pete condo as an investment property because housing costs are not going down any time soon but the stock market just might crash. Another reason to buy a house. We finally got the okay for a pre-approved mortgage, our final piece of business, and called a realtor here in St. Pete. He says he has lots to show us in our $ range with our specific wants/needs.

Then this morning Al showed me a place on the Florida map north of us with newer, nicer houses for half the cost of those we’ve seen in St Pete. (Just to give you an idea, in St. Pete, a condo in a new development with the type of floor plan we want is a million dollars.) We had planned to move about an hour south if we didn’t find something affordable in St. Pete. This is an hour north. On a golf course. Not as close to the beaches, but still on the Gulf side of the state. I said okay, we can go an hour north or an hour south.

There are several reasons to go south instead of north. We have many Michigan friends who winter an hour south of us. We even have a few friends who live year round thereabouts. Then there are our boys. They have more family dotted south of us all the way to Naples, so when they come visit it is convenient. One positive thing about moving north is that it’s cooler in summer. The heat in St Pete did not please Al, and he has yet to golf. He only started walking a few weeks ago. Also, the golf courses seem plentiful in those northern ‘burbs.

My head knows I’ll get the house I want north of here and a happy husband. My heart says “stay put or go south.” Logic says Al is usually right about big moves and we’ll be content to live out our days a bit north, where there are nights when it actually freezes in winter. Freezing temps, or even a slight chance of them, make the news as it doesn’t happen every year. Most days I keep my mind occupied with Regency, England in 1815. I wouldn’t want to live then, but if it’s just in my head, I can pretend they have toilets and running water.

Beware of Darkness

IMG_2571Yesterday I took part in an election in an organization I’ve belonged to for nine years. I knew there was a person in power who is an admitted homophobe; she actually wanted us to put a note on the new membership page saying we would read no gay or lesbian material. The board voted that down. One of her more ridiculous comments was “all gay writing is porn.”

So we, the other members of the board, had to do some educating–about what gay literature is and is not, about civil liberties, and about how she was kinda asking us to break the law because she thinks it’s a sin to be gay.

This morning, after a night of reflection and reading, I resigned from that organization because this person remains on the board and with the election shaking out the way it did, I had little hope she would be ousted any time soon.

The irony is I worked in harmony with this woman for eight years before she began making racist and homophobic statements to not just the board, but to me privately. Be careful who you befriend, my friends. Sometimes they are hiding a darker side. I’m not sure why her darkness has started seeping out now, but I am sure that I want no truck with it.

So I’m done with that volunteer position on which I spent so much time and energy and moving on to better things. Hate has no place in my heart or my life.

Ten Terrific Storytellers

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Until I joined a writer’s group, I didn’t have a friend in the world who was as obsessed as I was with words. I felt kinda strange scribbling poetry and journals, like what the heck was my problem that I wasn’t like other teenagers? In my mid-twenties I finally took a creative writing class and found my tribe in a group sponsored by the professor.

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Since that first group, I’ve taken many courses, attended scores of workshops, and met hundreds of writers. Writing groups and writer friends are precious links for those of us in this mostly solitary endeavor. My current writer’s organization has introduced me to so many fine writers including published poets, novelists, and journalists.

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Cindy LaFerle

Today I’m featuring books I love from a writing group I have been a part of since 2008,  Detroit Working Writers. I am often asked for  reading suggestions, so these are that, but would also make fine Christmas gifts. If you’re looking for Michigan settings and themes, or just an excellent read to lose yourself in, I highly recommend every one of them!

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Veronica Dale

Special Star Veronica Dale’s book of short stories Night Cruiser will thrill and chill readers who want something deliciously dark. Cindy Hampel’s self-help book Its Not Personal offers hope and advice for those of us dealing with difficult people.

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Award-winning Cindy LaFerle was my first friend in DWW and her book of personal essays Writing Home remains a favorite. Debut novelist Linda Sienkiewicz knocked me out with In the Context of Love her novel of love and loss. Iris Underwood works her lavender farm and writes with equal grace. Growing Lavender is a lush adventure in verse.

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Diane DeCillis

Poet Diane DeCillis’s exquisite images and fierce emotion make her collection Strings Attached an amazing achievement. Elizabeth Buzzelli is a master of Michigan mystery who pens comic and clever plots from the northern part of our state. Her Emily Kincaid series cracks me up.

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Elizabeth Buzzelli

Speaking of “up north” C. S. Gordon’s literary novel  The Heart & Horn gives the U.P. a fresh look. Christian Belz sleuths closer to home with the Ken Knoll series featuring an architect as seemingly hapless but actually adept amateur sleuth. And Linda Anger, DWW’s immediate past president, compiled the beguiling collection Sweeping the Floors at the Full Crumb Cafe that includes poetry, fiction and non-fiction.

The DWW website features these and other Michigan authors (whose books I have yet to read). It also gives info on our 2016 writer’s conference and how you might become a member of our group. I’d love for you to join us.

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collage courtesy of Linda K. Sienkiewicz

 

Continuing Adventures

This is the cute B & B I found less than a mile from the studio where I will participate in a weekend workshop that is for the first time in my life NOT about writing. My friend Laura Zera facilitates these Desire Map workshops with deep inner attention to core desires. Like what will you regret NOT doing on your deathbed? And how can you get off your duff and do it already?

It’s amazing how much of the day I spend NOT doing what I want to do, but instead mindlessly drift from here to there in cyberspace, in my car, in the supermarket, or this week, from doctor to doctor. Giant pain in the ass, a little bit scary for a minute, but also a huge burst of happiness when I learned that I did not, in fact, have to have my vein cut open, I did not have to have a suspect “mass” removed, I did not have to wait for a biopsy to tell me if it was malignant. After three different people did ultrasounds at a hospital that shall remain nameless, the last guy thought he had it all figured out. “We just don’t know what kind of surgeon you’re gonna need,” he said.

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He actually seemed kind of excited that he’d found this rare thing; it was a tiny bit dehumanizing. In fact, I wandered dazed into Starbucks for a soy latte afterward and while waiting for my drink checked Facebook & posted what I thought was a discreet update. Ha. My son calls me “the most extroverted person he knows” on social media. Which is funny because in real life, I’m an introvert. But my post turned out to be a good thing. Lots of love plus I believe in positive vibrations.

Also, a friend I have known since junior high school is married to a surgeon. She saw my post and sent a text offering help. I wasn’t going to bother them; my doctor said surgery was not a for sure thing. “We would, however, like you to consult with this vascular surgeon…” and it was my friends’  husband, who I have also known since junior high.

Trust him with my life? You bet! So I called my friend and she got me in the next day. He was so kind and delivered the most excellent news. I didn’t need surgery, I didn’t need to do anything, this little clot was dissolving on its own and I was gonna be just fine.

And see how discreet I am? I didn’t say their names! Or the name of our junior high even! My son has no idea how much I don’t tell, which is way more than I do. I keep paper journals for the really intense stuff. Or I turn it into fiction. So…on a natural high I naturally came home and booked the workshop.

Even though it’s in Seattle, Washington and I live in Washington, Michigan. Because I deserve it and I need to figure out what to do with this next part of my wonderful life that I don’t want to sleepwalk through or throw away doing something stupid that doesn’t matter. Also, I’m working in a day with Owen, my Seattle grandson. Then I’ll meet Al in California, where we will spend a week with our NEW grandson, who is not yet born. Don’t you think Owen’s already looking like the older cousin? He’s Granny’s big boy now.

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I had one more doctor appointment this week, my yearly eye check and the only thing that happened was he dialated my eyes (still that miraculous 20/20, or as Al would say “expensive” 20/20) so I couldn’t read the fine print on the menu when I met my friends for lunch later that day. No problem. Ordered my usual sweet potato fries and a glass of Chardonnay.

Then we went shopping. I am not an avid shopper and I do better at it after a glass of wine. Not that I need an excuse to have a glass of wine or six. But even with just the one glass, I found an antique desk I really like. And a new suitcase I can manage on my own with a carry on. Because Al isn’t coming with me to Seattle this time. And I’m not going home in between trips. And he refuses to bring my huge month-in-Europe suitcase to California. Which means I need to be organized and independent and so forth. I need luggage I can handle on my own. That’s good. It’s part of my core desire, I think. I’ll know for sure after the workshop.

And of course I’ll tell you my core desires when I figure them out because I am the social media extrovert who spills all. (Not.) For example, I could talk more about Al not bringing my second suitcase to California, making it necessary for me to lug around an extra bag. (Do you think that word lug is the root of luggage?) I will say that I am okay with Al refusing to be responsible for my extra shoes and outfits. He’s got his own baggage. Actual and otherwise. Notice how I don’t say what exactly all that is. The only person I tell on is myself. That’s my rule. That and always order the sweet potato fries.

 Life is good and so were these.

Five Ways to Find Writing Time

Lately, I just cannot find the time to write and it’s making me crazy because if I don’t write, I don’t fully enter into my inner reality. I live a shallow, surface, running around being busy kind of life. No month is busier than December and no time in recent memory have I been more occupied with everything except writing than these last several months.

One way I worked around my hectic schedule was to write, if nothing else, morning pages every day. They save me when I just can’t find more than a few minutes in my day  to write. It’s like exercise, even 20 minutes with pen and paper (or on the yoga mat) is enough to keep body and spirit in tune. Only just, but some days that’s got to be enough, and it is. I still follow Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” directions: three pages uncensored first thing every day. It works. It has worked for me since 1992. Here’s what Cameron says about morning pages in The Artist’s Way: “There is no wrong way to do morning pages. These daily morning meanderings are not meant to be art.” That’s key because my “real” writing needs to be polished and shaped and pretty. So this takes the pressure off thinking about what word to use or if I went off on a tangent  or didn’t add enough detail or any of that other stuff revision requires. Revision takes time. Lots of time.

Two things I never thought I would say “I can’t do lunch” and “I don’t have time to read.” When I first read a writer talking about not going to lunch with friends because it disturbed her writing flow, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. That was before I was published. I didn’t know then what I know now. When you are writing one book, correcting proofs on another, and promoting a third, it takes time and skillful management of your day. For me, I began to notice that writing, real writing–which for me right now is revising a novel–came in dead last. “Promotion” on Twitter and Facebook and even here on the blog is fun writing. It’s interactive. I don’t go deep into the writing cave all alone for hours at a time. Putting a stop to clicking around the internet is just another way to say “writers can’t have lunch.” At least until the days’ writing is done.

Three books are currently on the go in my Kindle. A novel, a non-fiction, and a book of short stories. I used to read books for a living and became a very fast reader as a result. These days even that doesn’t help as I struggle with my twin loves of reading and writing. I have heard MANY published writers say they don’t read at all when writing a book. This used to astound me. If I had to choose one, I’d choose…well, thank stars I don’t have to, because I became a writer as a result of my love of reading. So to hear a writer say they don’t read … it’s like a sin or something. Or so I thought. Until I took a look at my schedule and saw where my time was going.

Four things occupy the greatest amount of my time these days: teaching, home-making, socializing, and shopping. It is December, which accounts for the shopping. Also the decorating and baking  puts “home-making” higher on the list than usual, and socializing means cooking more for my own parties and for other bring-a-dish type events. I have one Saturday and one Sunday. Would have had a lunch here on Tuesday but I fell Monday and had to cancel. And then school…just like any day job, it takes the majority of time. But the end of term is in sight. Sigh of relief.

Five ways to find more writing time: Put writing first every day, stay off social media until after the real writing is done, promote your writing after the actual writing is done, don’t do lunch, and take calendar in hand, look at how you manage your time, and then rearrange your schedule so writing becomes a daily priority.

This isn’t easy to do. My day gig is about to end, so that won’t be an issue, but Christmas will. I’m not canceling anything already on the books. Neither am I adding anything else. I’m just saying no. And I have started telling my friends that January is my writing month and I will not be available for visits, lunch, shopping, or anything at all from 6 am until 2 pm Monday – Friday.  Since most of my friends are not writers, they do not understand this at all. They might even be upset with me for putting writing before time with them. They might think “it’s just one day out of the month” but what they don’t think about is that I am blessed with many friends. And once they figure out I’m done teaching for the winter, I will receive many lunch invitations. I’m just going to say no.

My novel was due in OCTOBER. If I say no to lunch in January and get down to serious work, it WILL be finished and on my editor’s desk by February 5, when I leave Detroit for Seattle to cuddle my grandson. My friends know how much writing means to me, but my motto has always been “people first, writing second” and I lived by that. Now I’m changing. Now I’m putting my own desire to write ahead of everyone else and finally am determined to be there for myself and my heart’s desire.

If you want to write more than anything, if you finally want to finish that novel or memoir or book of poetry, then you may have to make some difficult choices. Yours may differ from mine. But one thing I only recently learned is that is okay to put yourself, and your own special dreams and desires, first. Writing doesn’t consume my entire life: I take the weekends off. When I finish a book, I take a month or two to play and travel before I start the next story. When I’m not on deadline, or past deadline, I play with my week sometimes.

But when it comes down to finding ways to write, if you want it, you will do it. I have found ways to write all my life. The ways constantly evolve depending on my life stage. Being a mom and wife came first for a long time. I still wrote, but family came first. Always. Now my children are grown and have families of their own. My husband still needs me, but weekends are our time. Writing is what I want to do with my time right now, and I have a simple plan to make it happen.