I wear my sunglasses at night

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I was going through some writing that I had half-way finished last year before the trouble hit me hard and I dealt with a car accident, a move, and illness. As I read my the words, I had a shock. What I wrote last year was on a different level than what I am writing now. I could see where I had gone off track and could delete entire paragraphs. It was a break-through.

I may be a talented writer, but it has taken ten years for me to get there. This included two years of not being able to write during my cytoxan/prednisone phase. I could drift back into the hallucinations and memory problems, but if you want to talk about what I went through, I have a book for that–In The Shadow of Death. I wrote this while on some heavy duty medications for Wegener’s Granulomatosis.

What I am talking around is that a good writer–writes. If she doesn’t write than she doesn’t get competent, even though she is the most talented writer in the world. As Shakespeare wrote, “Therein lies the rub.”

But writing every day is not enough. I learned this when I was writing for a now dead online magazine called Helium.com. I had to write with them for a couple of years before I became smart enough to know that I needed some pointers. I had read every book I could find on writing story. Some of it just didn’t make sense. You see, I didn’t know the lingo then. Before I  studied story elements, I had this big myth in my head about the instinctive writer. I thought that I could have the entire story inside my head. I should be able to see and write all. This was before I realized the techniques involved with dialog, description, character, and plot.

I was naive.

Why I had this idea that I could just write stories when it took me years to master poetry is beyond my comprehension now. Yes, I am also an instinctive poet, but I have studied the craft extensively. It has made my abilities better. I am still not a Master Poet. But I console myself with a thought that if you reach master status then you stagnate because there is nothing else to learn.

So the point here is that good instruction on writing story is very hard to find. What first put me on the path to writing good competent stories was when I went to Dean Wesley Smith. You might remember seeing his name on several Star Trek novels and others. He has been writing a long time and also makes a living at it.

I went to him because of some recommendations of other writers like Sarah A Hoyt, who had taken his workshops. As someone who knows, fiction writing classes are hard to find. The good ones are expensive. I went to Dean because I couldn’t find the information on my own. He didn’t disappoint. I learned that when you are writing that million words, you need to write smarter. You need to know important things like how to put the five senses in your writing. Just that one instruction changed my writing from one-dimensional to a rich tapestry.

Yes, writing is a craft. Yes, we need to write a lot to gain proficiency. What I have found as I dive into the world of writing is that every day is a challenge. Every day I learn something new. Every day. I don’t get bored.

I’m in my pajamas

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CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay

I did get up early with the express intention of writing on my current “work in progress.” My WIP is still in bit-land waiting for me to write. I did my daily Facebook socializing and then realized that I hadn’t written a post for a long time.

If anyone is interested I am still in a holding pattern with my thyroid. I finally have an endocrinologist who will see me next week. Coincidentally the surgeon will see me two days later. Since I have been getting exhausted in the middle of the day, I have been staying closer to home, hence the pajamas. Foxy is tired as well. She is lying next to my feet and watching me type. I wonder if this is meditation time for her. We do have play time and walk time and eat time. Coincidentally she is the one who makes the schedule. If I deviate, she gives me the licking I deserve. It really tickles when she licks under the chin.

I am turning into my grandparents. Many years ago, I would take my grandmother shopping. She was in her sixties and we would go from bench to bench, while I shopped for T-shirts and other summer clothes. I was into wild colors then –yep the 80s. My grandmother had that dry wit that most people didn’t appreciate. She could make me laugh. My grandmother had what they called then “hardening of the arteries.” Maybe now she would have been diagnosed with mini-strokes in the brain. Her personality slowly through many years disintegrated. She lost her short-term memory and then later near the time she died she began to lose her long-term memory. Even so she never forgot her husband. He died two years before she did. She did forget that he had died.

Even so it was a slow thing so I didn’t realize how much she had lost until I went to see her after my grandfather’s death. She was sitting on the porch wrapped in a light cotton house coat. Her legs were crossed and she was enjoying the sunshine. I talked to her for a few hours and she was coherent. Later I saw my aunt who told me that grandmother had seen a niece of a friend of the family that morning. She forget me, but she remembered that they had a good time. I told my aunt it was me. My aunt wasn’t surprised. My grandmother was forgetting to groom herself, she was forgetting to eat, and she was forgetting people. But she was still kind. I hope to be kind when I eventually lose my mind.

Plus she would wander looking for grandfather. She would yell, “Earl. Earl.” She would walk through the pathways and through the streets looking for her lost husband and never find him. They had been married for over fifty years.

She is gone now. I hope she is with her husband, Earl walking in the sunshine. She was a little thing, not quite five feet tall, but packed full of dynamite. She kept her husband, over six feet, and her sons also over six feet in line. She loved her grandchildren. She gave us all afghans when we graduated. This woman would sit in front of the TV and crochet. She knitted me a poncho when I was a eight years old. I wore it until I grew out of it.

Families and roots are important. I learned this from Otto. I was the one who walked away into the Navy, looking for some freedom. He was a foster boy with no family. He loved his daughters so much and looked for so many years for the people who had birthed him.

The stories we tell each other and the stories we tell ourselves make us into the people we are and who we become. I know better than most that there is darkness in every story, but there is also hope and love. I wish for a better life. I wish to tell the stories that bring hope whether they are stories of life or stories of fiction.

Even in the midst of suffering, there is goodness.

Here is my last book, Dragon Boy. It is the second in the series of Hilda’s Inn.

Silver linings and Full Moons

Lone Tree Full Moon Until I turned 38, writing was an untapped secondary talent. I had been a typesetter and formatted a few novels, I had been a sales clerk in a men’s store, and I had been an electronics tech in the US Navy.

I was a poet and had been writing poetry since I was nine years old. It was more in the style of Robert Frost. So I was still an apprentice of poetry when I decided to finish my degree. After the first two classes at University of Maryland University College–European division (yes, they called it UMUC for short or running amok was the students’ favorite saying), I realized that I had a talent for organizing words on the page. I was writing two papers a semester for English literature and one paper for German History which helped me to finally became confident with my writing. While I was there, I published a lot of poetry and had my first short story published in Bibliophilos.

In these years I began studying different forms of poetry. I tried my hand at sonnets, haiku, villanelles, and other styles. I would read poetry from poets like Auden, Basho, and others. I would study what they did and how they phrased their ideas.

Then my style began to emerge. I learned to take the word “me” out of the poetry. I learned that when I was observing something and describing it, that I didn’t have to moralize. The reader would see what I had to say. or not. Sometimes they saw more than I did and sometimes less. It didn’t matter because when I wrote, my main goal was to evoke a feeling.

Then I became ill and my entire world changed.

When I wrote this poem, I was in a hospital bed and couldn’t move. My husband wrote it down for me as I dictated it to him. Even when I thought I was near the end, I was writing poetry. This is the poem.

Jesus Wept

Your tears well
down granite cheeks—

splash the curve
of your neck.

My tongue licks
the holy elixir.

Corn silk sprouts
at my feet.
I came back to a second life. It was a life where I had to fight for every memory and the ability to think. From 2003 to 2009, I wrote little sentences and paragraphs. I wrote for  Helium, a now dead online magazine. I started small and once again I had to learn how to think and to write. I learned plot and characters. It wasn’t as easy this time.

So here I am with a second life and with thyroid cancer, maybe I am embarking on a third life. I hope it is full of color.

Sidewalk art

Blue green, blue violet, carnation pink
lemon yellow, orange red, raw sienna
drawn and melted on the front sidewalk–

a masterpiece of childhood–
stick figures, block houses, round tree tops
four-leaf clovers, flowers, and yellow bees

I was caught crayon handed.

soap, tears, and scrub brushes
hands scraped and bleeding
the offending colors erased
She said: Next time use chalk

It was the last time I made
a mark on the world–

If you’d like to read more of my poetry, here is Outside my Window and Sonnet Playground.

I almost forgot A Flicker of Hope.

Gratuitous Foxy picture

img_0584 Since this has been an interesting week as in the “Chinese” curse “May you live in interesting times.” I thought a doggy picture of my companion would be appropriate.

I finally lost my monitor. I knew I would lose it because there was a high squeal coming from the back. To my opinion as a former electronics tech, I was losing a cap in the power supply. Since it was a small monitor and buying parts would be more expensive than a new monitor, I used it until one day it wouldn’t turn on.

I think I might give it to an used electronics store– it is probably fixable. I just don’t have the time, energy, or money. Also I have room to write, but no room for electronics repair as a hobby.

The second thing that happened this week was the attitude of many of my doctors. I have been trying to get an appointment that leads to surgery because it is obvious to me that my thyroid is going to malfunction more and more until it dies and/or I have other problems. Because it is supposed to be a slow-moving cancer, many of the doctors do not have the urgency that I have about getting this problem fixed. One told me that getting the surgery now or in three months wouldn’t make any difference considering the kind of cancer I had.

I am learning once again that beating my head against the wall of medical “knowledge” will only give me a sore head– in more ways than one. So I am now cranky as well as exhausted with my body going through so many ups and downs this month– (cold then hot, happy then angry, and always in extremes).

I would like to go back to “balance.” I miss those days.

Today I went back to one of my novellas that I started last year. I want to get it written and then published. I also have started the third book in the Hilda’s Inn series called “Unlicensed Sorceress.”

The good news is that I have had enough energy to rearrange my writing room and clear out all the paper that was clogging my energy levels. More good news is that I am enjoying my new monitor. I find it easier to use for my writing.

Don’t forget that I do have a new book out– “Dragon Boy.” You can find it here at Amazon.com.

Grace under pressure

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Since I was given my diagnosis of thyroid cancer (papillary thyroid carcinoma) on Tuesday, the stress has been building because I haven’t received any phone calls from the surgeon so that I can get an appointment. It blows my mind that the word “cancer” means something to me, but not to the doctors that should be treating me. Plus with the thyroid out-of-whack, the stress builds quicker and more forcefully.

I was thinking of how I should deal with the doctors when I remembered the few months we dealt with Otto’s diagnosis of cancer. At least in my case, we know where my cancer is located. I became more and more angry and he became more and more polite and kind to the nurses and doctors around him.

It was a scary time. I am now feeling some of the same pressures even though I have been assured by a couple of people including my primary care doctor that this is one of the most survivable cancers. It is also the easiest to treat. Except even with all this going for me, if I am not treated early, I end up like the five percent who don’t survive. What makes me anxious and ultimately angry is that I am seeing no forward momentum in eradicating this problem.

When I go to sleep at night, I feel this huge lump in my throat and I am now sleeping in a reclining position because I can’t swallow well while I am sleeping. Now that I know what is in that lump, I feel it every day. I felt it before, but I thought I could trust the doctors. If I hadn’t pitched a fit about not feeling good– and that I needed to be checked (I went to the ER, I had labs and fecal tests, and I had a sonogram). I would still have this thing in my neck, ready to spew cancer cells to other parts of my body.

It doesn’t help that my thyroid is releasing hormones erratically. It doesn’t help that I feel this lump whenever I swallow. It doesn’t help that I want to scream at someone–

So how did my late-husband stay kind under that kind of pressure. Part of it was that he really cared about my emotional state. He would diminish his pain a little so that I wouldn’t worry as much. Plus he was kind. He really was kind underneath.

I learned a lot of my coping skills from him. He used to tell me that I needed to hold a good memory close so that I could remember it when I was unhappy. Plus I needed to visualize it as clearly as I could. When he was close to dying and needed help to remember his good memory–I recreated the beach for him. I told him about the water washing up onto the sand. About the colorful fishes swimming around his feet. I described the women in bikinis walking hand in hand and splashing water.

I want to borrow his “grace.”

Story vs. Academic

Sonnet Playground coverMy first experiment into writing besides the elementary school papers on “saving the environment” was poetry. I edited my first poem when I was ten years old. My grandfather had written a beautiful poem, but after I read it, I asked him where the rest of the poem was. He agreed that it was unfinished. Several months later he sent me the poem with an additional verse for my review.

I cut my teeth on limericks in fifth grade and I have been writing form and free verse poetry ever since.

Incidentally, the only reason I wrote the “saving the environment” paper was because of the prize and the praise. Yes, I won that prize because I used the passenger pigeons as a metaphor for what can happen when we don’t moderate our actions. If you don’t know, passenger pigeons are now extinct.

When I began writing stories instead of telling them, I found that this style writing was totally different. I could break grammar rules judiciously. There was a story arc. Plus characters were not caricatures of people. The best writing was when a character had a problem and did its best to solve that problem.

As I jumped into the world of story writing, I couldn’t use shortcuts like I did with poetry or even academic writing. I couldn’t just state the problem and tell the audience how the problem was solved. I had to get into the character’s head and then solve the problem as the character. I couldn’t hand-puppet the solution.

Here is where it gets mystical and dimensional. You may have listened to writers talk about their characters. As a non-writer, you probably think the writer is two minutes away from an insane asylum. Yes, we can sound a little out there sometimes.

There are a couple types of writers– those who can outline their story and characters and those who cannot. Those who cannot are either really good or really bad– and if they keep writing and progressing become gateway writers. So what is a gateway writer? Well, they are walking the edge of the real and the void every day.

They are the writers that say that the characters were mulish and refused to solve a situation the way the writer thought they should. This type of writer starts talking about how a character takes on a life of its own. Sometimes there is a rawness to their writing that hits the reader viscerally.

Writers that outline sometimes do better and learn faster than the gateway writers. There is no right way — just the way that works for the writer.

But even the outline writers who have gotten really good in the craft of writing will talk about being haunted by their characters.

So as a beginning writer, (I wish someone had told me this when I wrote my first story), use the five senses for describing the character and the situation, study the story arc, and watch people.

There are more moving parts to storytelling than to an academic paper– which makes writing story a whole new adventure.

The horror— Children’s Rhymes

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From Pixabay

Ring around the Rosies
a pocket full of posies
ashes, ashes
we all fall down

This was our version of a children’s nursery rhyme that I played when I was in elementary school–in the 60s. The origin of this play rhyme dates back to at least 1665 or maybe even farther. Some scholars think it was a child’s rhyme about the Black Plague… and others have debunked it. But in this world of offended and re-offended people, if we look too closely we could turn this into a racist rant.

Here is what a Nicki from the Liberty Zone has to say about the colorful history that is making the rounds–starting with Eenie, Meenie, Minee, Moe– a child’s counting rhyme. So what is making the offended even more offended? It’s a “Walking Dead” T-shirt. Personally I don’t watch that show. I am terribly prejudiced against “zombies.” Especially the kind that like to catch and eat “brains.” So don’t start screeching because I am a zombie-hater.

What I am saying is that so many of these rhymes come from our distant past. Many of them have been re-purposed (a word or two changed) to make them more acceptable. I don’t have a problem with that– my ears are not as tender as some.

I do have a problem with eradicating our distant past. For instance, when mathematics were first introduced, it was for accounting. A person who could count above their fingers had a better chance of accurately knowing how much property they had. It was magical. You could say that the families who taught their children counting games had a leg up from other families.

I wonder sometimes how many of our children will be able to use their numbers if we do go into a dystopia world. How many of them could do the simple mathematics?

It does bother me when we throw the “baby out with the bathwater.”

I would rather see children playing circle games outside than be inside on the floor watching TV or playing video games.

Plus we do forget what it was like to be a child. Many of the rhymes I learned came from other children instead of the parents. We forget that children have a complete subculture that is hidden from adults.

So yea, let the children play with nursery rhymes and circle games. Let them describe their world from their eyes.