That time I wasn’t excited about the eclipse . . . until I was

Are you tired of hearing about the eclipse? If so, this post is not for you. Or maybe it is. Yeah, I was heartily sick of hearing about it too, days ago. I vaguely remember the one from 1979 and it wasn’t all that special. Sure, there was eerie spooky light, like dusk but with light and shadows at all the wrong angles. But mostly it was an excuse to stand outside doing nothing for a while.

I tried not to roll my eyes when my daughter and her husband bought the special glasses and planned to drive to South Carolina where it would be 100% totality, versus the 93% projected for this area. I mean, good for them. Sincerely. I applaud their enthusiasm.

But as for me? I didn’t really care. I know, I’m horribly jaded. Until I looked out at my deck about a half hour before total eclipse and saw this:

 

I’d heard people talk about this online, about how sunlight dappled through the trees would let you “see” the eclipse. And I thought, “Yeah, right. Sure it will.”

Okay, here’s where I admit I’ve never paid much attention to dappled sunlight. Never really noticed, or cared, that it presents itself as little circles. LIKE THE SUN. I don’t know, maybe I just assumed the spaces between leaves were all perfect circles. Or something.

Suddenly, here was something VERY COOL. And just as suddenly, I was all excited about the eclipse.

So I took a ton and a half of pictures of the little sunlight crescents and their progression on my deck. Why, yes, I am going to subject you to them. But I’ll put them in a slideshow, so as not to completely overwhelm my blog (and people’s RSS feeds).

If you can’t see it in your feed, it’s here:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

slideshow

Isn’t that cool? I even made a short video, because I realized that when there was a light breeze, the little crescents moved around, winking in and out, and looked a bit like a kaleidoscope effect. You have to watch closely to see it, as the wind was very light today (we just won’t even talk about my less-than-steady video skills). Here:

video

Good grief. Short of creating a YouTube account, I had to first post the video to facebook and then insert the URL here. *sigh* Sure hope I didn’t break anything.

There aren’t many “after” photos, as the sunlight shifted and was hitting the maple tree at an angle that no longer allowed for the dappled effect. But did you notice how the crescents moved from the upper right to the top and then to the upper left?

I’m writing this at roughly 8:30 PM and my daughter and her husband are still slowly making their way home through horrendous traffic. Current ETA 9:15. (Update: After a six-hour drive, roughly twice as long as it took to get there, they’re home!)

I pleased that my eclipse watching experience didn’t include that sort of nonsense. And I’m really glad I watched.

Were you able to see it in your area? Did you watch? More important, did you pay attention to the dappled sunlight? I’ll never again look at it in quite the same way.

 

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Ain’t no cure for the summertime flu

My daughter texted me the other day to confirm that they’ll be back in town on the 24th — which is this coming Monday! — and I was confused and surprised to realize they’ve been gone two and a half weeks already. Because I’ve been sick the entire time.

I’m just starting to emerge from the menthol-cough-drop-scented haze of near-death to realize . . . I’ve lost a couple weeks.

This malaise, whatever it is, started out as a mere sore throat. Worst sore throat ever, but still, that was the only symptom. For a short time, maybe three hours, I thought perhaps it was simply a bad cold. But no, it was just gathering strength.

If you took all the worst symptoms of an awful cold and all the worst symptoms of a horrible flu, and combined them, that’s what I’ve had. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this sick and this completely wiped out. Absolutely worthless.

The only thing I’ve accomplished in the past couple weeks is to not let the cat and dog die of thirst or starvation. It was a near thing.

I lost my voice during the first week and have been whispering to them ever since:

“Jenny, are you hungry?” Like it’s some big secret.

“Do you want to go outside? No, kitty, you stay here.” This mission, should you choose to accept it, is highly classified.

“Are you ready to come in? Good girl.” Quick, don’t let the neighbours see you.

My head has produced so much green slime, I could supply several seasons of Nickelodeon and the next three Ghostbusters movies. Seriously, I’ve gone through FOUR LARGE BOXES of kleenex. So far.

And I’m telling you, somewhere underneath this middle-aged sprawl, I’ve got one hell of an eight-pack of coughing muscles going on. Of course, I’m now wearing my lungs on the outside and my diaphragm is up around my neck, but my coughing muscles are mighty impressive.

I am so sore.

Yes, I know. This is disgusting and I shouldn’t be talking about it. I’m totally going for the pity factor, here.

While I’ve been suffering, my daughter and her husband have been enjoying a lovely and relaxing vacation in the wilds of far eastern Canada. She reports they only saw one BEAR, while they were in Maine, and it was quite small and afraid of them. Right. I’m sure its mother, no doubt lurking protectively in some nearby bushes, was terrified of them as well.

Not that I was worried.

Here’s a picture of their version of a “simple” meal while roughing it. I can’t wait for them to get back so they can cook for meeeee. Her caption read: “Eating PEI mussels in a white wine cream broth, cooked campside on PEI, while looking at Nova Scotia across the strait.”

Yes, PEI is Prince Edward Island. I can tell you that’s where they were, since they’re no longer there. Here’s another shot from the same place, which she captioned: “Room with a view.”

I hope they won’t be too disappointed when they arrive chez moi in a few days to discover that, between bouts of coughing and sleeping 14 hours a day, I haven’t managed to finish clearing off space in the pantry for them. Or in the fridge. Maybe they can set up their tent and a cooler in the back yard until I get things sorted.

Oh well. As I said, at least the pets are still alive, even if they do think they’re now undercover spies. My current status is somewhat more iffy.*

 

 

*OK, seriously, I am MUCH improved. My voice is back, although an octave lower, and I’m even eating real food again. I just have that annoyingly persistent cough you get with the flu, the one that will apparently last *coughcough* the rest of my life. *cough*

 

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Filed under health and well-being, travel

Whole lotta nuthin’ goin’ on

Geez. Apparently I haven’t had anything to say in recent months and some of you are about to demand proof of life. This tends to happen when there’s either too much or not enough happening in my life. Oddly, this time, it’s both. I’m not sure how to explain that. Not sure it would matter to anyone if I could.

Yes, I’ve been writing. In a distracted-by-interruptions sort of way. Like tonight (Friday), for instance. My daughter is on her way from Boston to the Cape for a long weekend, as her husband is doing a two-week stint there to finish up his residency. My son and his wife are out of town for a wedding. So I figure this is a good time to get some writing done. Right?

Then I get a text:

DD: On the ferry on way to the Cape.
Me: Great! Have fun!
DD: Well, IT got a little wet in my backpack walking to the wharf. Sorry ☹
[I’m not sure what she’s talking about, but I reply . . . ]
Me: Uh oh
DD: It’s just around the edges of the first 100 pages
DD: Gives it character? I hate messing up books

OK, typing this out is too time-consuming. Here, have some screen shots:

And we go on like that with silly word-play for a while. As you do. And then a little bit later, she sends this:

Why yes, I DO use up my annual quota of exclamation marks in text messages. And now I’ve got that creepy song about the Edmund Fitzgerald stuck in my head. Not helpful, brain.

Obviously, some of these distractions are unavoidable. I’m never going to ignore my kids when they text or call me. (She texted a few minutes later to say they were docking, in case you were worried.)

In related news, and speaking of distractions, after seven years of living in other states, my daughter and her husband are finally moving back to THIS state. I am absolutely thrilled and can’t wait for them to get here. In two weeks! *GASP* How did time fly so quickly? It seems like just last week instead of last summer that this decision became official.

Anyway, they’re coming home and then, two days later, as an interlude before starting new jobs . . . they’re leaving Jenny the dog here with her BFF, The White Ninja (and me), and going on an epic three-week road trip. To Points Unknown. Or so they say.

Given their history, I assume they know exactly where they’re going and that it involves proximity to BEARS, and they decided not to tell me their plans so I won’t worry. Please. Like that’s going to stop me.

Provided they survive close encounters of the BEAR kind, upon their return they’ll be living with me until they find a house to either rent or buy. This wasn’t their original plan, but the housing market here is insane. To say it’s a “seller’s market” is a vast understatement, especially in the area they want to live. It might take a while to find something.

This will be interesting. In a good way! Probably. I hope.

So I’ve been preparing for long-term houseguests. Little things like cleaning out the fridge and freezer and pantry, throwing away things that are expired or unidentifiable or inexplicable, so no one dies of food poisoning. Or shame.

I’m also clearing out some closet/cupboard space so they have room to put stuff that isn’t going into storage. When my daughter was here for a quick weekend visit toward the end of April, I convinced her to help me clear off a shelf in the under-stair closet since it held a few things of hers.

Although mostly it was my detritus, like this, which I thought some of you might find amusing:

Yes, that’s a bottle of Crème de Menthe. See the little Georgia liquor tax stamp? I’m not even going to tell you how long ago it was that I lived in Georgia. Suffice it to say, it’s so old it turned blue.

And then there was this little gem that I didn’t even know was IN that closet, shoved way in the back.

Not only do I not know how old it is or where it came from (I’ve never been to Puerto Vallarta), I have no explanation for why no one ever drank it. Too late now.

This is what happens when you have too much room for storage. Things just expand to fill all the available space and then “out of sight, out of mind” takes over until you need that space for something else. Or until you’re in the mood, as I have been lately, to purge all the “crap” from your life and simplify.

What else has been going on . . . Oh, my son-in-law was here for a long weekend in early May for job-related doings, and I made two big pans of lasagna (Ed Giobbi’s recipe, which is a ton of work but so worth it). Doesn’t it look good? It was.

 

My daughter was not happy to miss out and wanted her husband to bring some back on the plane. Yeah, right. I sent her the recipe.

Oh, here’s another distraction, even as I write this: My Bossy Older Sister just texted to tell me her son, who lives in NYC, was texting her about the free ebola on the subway.

Me: WHAT?!

Oh, turns out she meant free ebooks (thanks auto-correct) courtesy of the NYPL, celebrating the new free wi-fi on trains. Here’s a pic of the “book train” my nephew was on, which is pretty cool:

Are you starting to see why I haven’t posted for a while? There’s a lot going on but none of it is particularly interesting, let alone blog-worthy.

But I’m plugging along with the current story, in spite of having NO IDEA what I’m going to do with it once I’m done. I suspect that’s part of why it’s taking so long to finish. I’m dragging my feet — er, fingers? — and putting off that decision.

There’s so much uncertainty hovering over this particular project and it has me feeling all ambivalent and lacking momentum and at the same time completely stressed out.

One of my writer friends summed it up well a week or so ago in a group forum when she said she felt stuck because she couldn’t decide what to do with her story once she was done– whether to query agents or self-pub. In my mind I was all, “YES, EXACTLY.” But I didn’t say anything because I have no advice for her. It’s the kind of decision a writer has to make for herself. I know all the options, all the pros and cons of each, have read ALL the facts and opinions out there. And I can’t fucking make up my mind. Or rather, I make up my mind only to change it the next day, or the next hour, each time absolutely convinced I’ve finally made the best choice for this story. And then change my mind again.

I can’t adequately describe how frustrating this is. I’ve faced decisions in my life that were difficult, or that made me uncomfortable even when I knew what was for the best. I’ve honestly never encountered a decision like this where the sides are so evenly balanced that I don’t know what to do. Yeah, I’m a mess.

I know, I know. Cue the tiny first-world-problem violins. I need to just finish the story and THEN decide what to do. I’m trying. Actually, I’m very near to being done enough for delta readers.

And really, I need to hurry up and finish before my distractions manifest in physical form.

In two weeks.

I’m just glad they’re not arriving via ferry.

 

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Filed under blogging, just for fun, parenting, writing

And now for something . . .

. . . completely different? Well, slightly different.

How did it get to be the end of March, already? Yes, of course, in the usual way, days passing one after the other without pause. Perhaps the better question is why haven’t I accomplished as much as I had planned to by now. I am making progress, but it’s been slow.

Speaking of time passing (and in an effort to post something less “controversial”), on my latest birthday (in December) my Bossy Older Sister sent me flowers. Red orchids, to be exact:

I’d never seen red orchids before. Aren’t they gorgeous and exotic? The enclosed note said something about the flowers helping me celebrate all year long. Which confused me, because these were cut flowers and I didn’t see how I was going to keep them alive for an entire year. I asked her about it and she said, “No, silly. You’ll get new flowers every month, for a year.”

WOW. What a wonderful gift. I love flowers, absolutely love them, but never buy them for myself. It just seems . . . overly self-indulgent.

So the red orchids lasted almost three weeks, but then they were gone and I’d pretty much forgotten about the “every month” thing when one day in January, these showed up:

MORE ORCHIDS. I thought the red orchids were just a lucky selection for one month, but no, turns out it will be an entire year of ORCHIDS.

These were delivered in February (sorry, by the time I realized it was a horrible blurry pic, it was too late):

And just last week, these arrived:

You can’t tell from that pic, but the centers of these look like Johnny Jump-ups, so it’s like getting two flowers in one. Wait, here’s a close-up:

So this has been delightful, getting fresh flowers every month. Luckily, The White Ninja is indifferent to the additional coffee table décor and hasn’t eaten any of them. Yet.

What other innocuous things have been going on . . .

Oh, my daughter and her husband took a two-week vacation in Europe. I freaked out just a wee bit after their plane took off and I realized they were going to be 30-some-thousand feet over the vast, deep, unsearchable expanse of the Atlantic for several hours. Which was unsettling because I hadn’t anticipated being bothered by that. But I was, on both their departure and return.

They’re back now [whew] and my daughter has been sending pictures, most of them the usual touristy sort of thing: here I am next to some ancient stone structure, here we are drinking beer, here’s a lovely landscape. Great shots, but you know the kind of thing I mean.

But this one is different and it really caught my attention. And my imagination:


She titled it: Rainy Cityscape

I love that it’s not the usual tourist picture. I love the shine of wet cobblestones at night, the juxtaposition of the modern bicycles and the centuries old Bächle. But mostly I love the mysterious, almost spooky, atmosphere it invokes.

Makes me want to tell a story.

Yeah, maybe I’d better finish the ones I’m already working on first. Before another month comes and goes.

 

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Creativity in times of despair

Lindy West summed it up rather astutely in the opening paragraph of her 14 Feb column titled, “The first 25 days of Trump have been a zoetrope of galloping despair” [The Guardian]:

“Today, during my morning routine of opening my laptop, clicking on literally anything, and just screaming and screaming, I made the astonishing discovery that Donald Trump has only been president of the United States for about three weeks. Which is weird, because I could have sworn we had fallen through a tesseract into the airless crush of a two-dimensional void at least seven eternities ago, or what would have constituted seven eternities if such a place had a linear concept of time. Turns out, though, it has only been 25 days, we are still on earth, and every cell in my body has not been excruciatingly flattened into pure math. It just feels like it.”

No, I’m not going to get all political over here. Not today, anyway. But I do want to talk about the effect all this upheaval is having on me, and on almost every writer I know. This feeling of being emotionally crushed or creatively flattened and unable to write.

It’s a problem I’ve been hearing about both publicly and privately on an increasing basis since the inauguration. Several well-known authors have addressed it in blog posts– some of their advice has resonated with me and some has fallen flat. That’s to be expected. We’re all in different places in our lives and careers. But the underlying assertion is that stories are vitally important, and there’s no denying that.

We all know, often first-hand, how stories can make an important difference for people going through overwhelmingly difficult times. We’ve all heard accounts of how the escapism or optimism of fiction has literally saved people from despair.

But what happens when writers are among those who need to be saved? How do we continue to create when we’re the ones overwhelmed and not feeling up to the task?

I realize that right now some of you are thinking, Well aren’t you all just speshul creative snowflakes. Buck up and do your job like the rest of us. And, well, maybe you’ve got a point. Maybe.

Except . . . doing a job where you create something out of nothing but imagination IS different. I know, because I’ve done those other jobs too. Answering the phone, waiting on customers, wielding a shovel or a hammer, typing a legal brief . . . hard work, yes. But a completely different kind of effort.

It’s tough enough to be creative when you’re feeling normal– well, as normal as writers ever are. But when you’re feeling outraged or hopeless? Helpless? Oh, man. It’s almost impossible to maintain the belief that what you’re doing matters. That it even should matter, in the face of more dire things. It’s so damn hard to tamp down the anger and pessimism and cynicism — and yes, the fear — to focus on writing stories that will entertain by somehow being clever or funny or romantic or scary or even just delightfully different. All those things you’re not feeling and don’t think you can fake.

I’m not saying it can’t be done. It can. I’m still doing it, or trying to, albeit more slowly. But it isn’t easy. Not for most writers I know, anyway, and certainly not for me. I’ve had to devise strategies to try to achieve some daily balance, to invent a new normal in my life. I’ve had to make several adjustments to my routine in the past few weeks, so hope and creativity aren’t being continually crushed into oblivion.

Here are some things that have helped, for me:

1. Limit time spent on social media. I’d like to ignore all SM entirely, forever. But I can’t actually do that and still call myself an informed citizen, something that’s important to me. But my curiosity and [so-called] self-restraint are such that I’m quickly down the rabbit hole, reading that in-depth article about sea urchins that I randomly decided was fascinating, and then two hours later realize I’ve also read a political history of the Ukraine (talk about upheaval) and bookmarked five new ways to prepare salmon and have watched perhaps twice that number of cat videos. And, yeah, read a half dozen political articles. *sigh*

So I decided I needed a timer. I really wanted an hourglass, because it just seems like such an interesting thing to have and I know a couple writers who use one . . . except I’d constantly be looking at it to see whether the sand had run out, or ignoring it entirely since they’re silent, and that’s not exactly productive. So I got this thing (quarter for scale, but it’s about 2 inches each side):

img_0267

I love it. It’s so simple to use, it’s genius. To activate, you turn it so the amount of time is on top and it beeps (loudly, unlike sand) when time is up. To stop it, turn it so the zero is on top. The one I got has settings for 5/15/30/60 minutes. There’s a little digital screen on the bottom doing a countdown, but I never look at it.

The key is to remember to use it. I set it before I venture over to twitter or facebook or my blog feed and I STOP WHEN TIME IS UP. Knowing I have limited time makes me read faster (or skim) and stops me from wandering off. Mostly.

Also, because sometimes just getting started is the tough part, I’ve used the timer a couple times to convince myself to write for “just 15 minutes.” After which I turn it off and keep writing, obviously.

2. Re-arrange the workday. This is related to limiting time spent online. I used to check email and news and blog feeds and social media first thing, then write in the evening and into the wee hours. This was no longer working for me, even with using a timer. The outrage was accumulating to new levels every day and messing with my head and my creativity. And probably my blood pressure. So I flipped my schedule.

There are still a couple things I check at the start of the day, in case someone needs me urgently or there’s a more than twenty percent chance of mushroom clouds, but the vast majority of that is now relegated to the end of the day, after I’m done writing.

I haven’t completely adjusted to this new schedule — it is NOT easy — but on the days I manage it, it’s really sort of amazing how peaceful life can be. Sure, crap still happens and I miss hearing about it right away. But that’s okay. *twitch* Really. Not like I’m the one in charge of stopping it or fixing it or anything. Unfortunately.

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3. News curation. Probably most of you have already seen this site, “What the fuck just happened today?” There are days I just want a quick summary of the mayhem, and this is a good resource for that. I appreciate that there are links to news sources if I’m feeling all masochistic and want more detail. Again, setting the timer is invaluable.

4. Pacemaker Planner. No, not the medical device for your heart. This is a tool for planning and tracking your writing. It also has settings for exercise and finances, for you non-writers. I’m finding it helpful in setting a goal and focusing on it. Accountability at a glance. It’s easy to see whether I’m falling behind and need to step up the pace, or if perhaps my projections were unrealistic and need adjustment. Plus, the graphs are just cool.

I created a sample to see how it works, and below are a couple screenshots. I set a goal of 25K words between 21 Jan and 10 Feb, with a provision that I wasn’t going to write at all when my daughter was here the weekend of 4-6 Feb (there are a lot of options; adjustments are easy to make). The blue line shows consistent distribution of words-per-day to meet the goal. The green line represents words written each day (these are made-up numbers).

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-12-54-16-am

Here’s the same info, but using the option of the blue line changing so you know how many words you need to write daily to meet the deadline, given what you’ve written.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-12-54-46-am

Here are a couple more screenshots showing a different sort of timeline, one that will look familiar to NaNo participants. Again, the first one uses the option of keeping the original target blue line and the other one changes it with input.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-12-55-21-am

 

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The basic plan is free to use, but I signed up for a paid subscription. There are a few additional features with the paid version, but that’s not why I got it. I just think it’s important to pay creative people, even if — no, especially if — they’re generous enough to put their work out there for free.

They’re currently running a special promo for an annual subscription (link to blog post with discount code), good through March 31. If for some reason that link doesn’t work, I got a code when I signed up, which they encourage people to share, so let me know in the comments or via email and I’ll give it to you.

NOTE: I am not in any way affiliated with any people or products mentioned in this post. I don’t get a commission or even a pat on the back for sending potential customers to these sites.

5. Maintain focus on physical health. Yeah, all those boring but necessary things like balanced nutrition and staying hydrated and moving body parts other than my fingers on a somewhat regular basis. Going outside to breathe some fresh air, feel the sunshine on my face. Getting enough sleep, taking naps if needed.

It seems too obvious to even mention this stuff, but I often need the reminder. Just because I want to curl up into a little ball and hide under the covers doesn’t mean it’s a sensible long-term plan. And a long-term perspective is important.

6. Have faith in history. Or humanity. Or something. As catastrophic as current events seem, these are not historically the worst times we’ve ever known. Nor will they be the last of the worst times we’ll ever know, sadly.

Oppression relies on widespread deception and social isolation and fear of the unknown, all of which have become almost impossible to achieve, let alone maintain, in the internet age. Never mind the eventual futility of employing those tactics in a country that cut its teeth on rebellion and principles of freedom and equality. Our collective memory is not impaired.

We haven’t been told we are not allowed to write or create. Yet. But imagine we have been, if that helps, and imagine how that would spur motivation. History is rife with examples of people who found a way to create in spite of chaos and tyranny. There’s strength in the knowledge that bringing beauty or laughter or diversion into the world is as much an antidote as an act of defiance. And there’s hope in realizing that sometimes we just need to outlast the bastards. To take care of ourselves so we’re able to do the hard work of fixing things once they’re gone. To hold tightly to the certainty that they will indeed, one day, be gone.

Speaking of which, my timer just went off. Good thing, as I’m bordering on the political when I said I wouldn’t. Time to get up and move.

Quickly, to wrap up, those are a few strategies I’ve found helpful in trying to maintain sanity and creativity in uncertain times. If you’re struggling similarly, whether you’re a writer or not, maybe some of them will work for you as well. If you have other tried-and-true suggestions, I’d be more than happy to hear about them in the comments.

 

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Filed under creativity, deep thoughts