Category Archives: health and well-being

A time and a place for gratitude

Thanksgiving. A time to reflect and be grateful. It should be easy in this land of plenty, right? Except this past year it hasn’t been all that easy. We tend not to be truly appreciative of things we take for granted, and we take a lot for granted, until someone tries to take them away and then we’re all, “Oh, hell no.”

It’s been an “Oh, hell no” kind of year.

. . . and then I wrote several hundred words about things that have transpired this past year to make it difficult to feel thankful . . . until I (gently) slapped myself upside the head and said to myself, “What the hell is wrong with you? No one wants to hear that.”

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So, instead, here are a few things that have succeeded in making me immensely grateful and appreciative in the past twelve months.

I have siblings. No matter how difficult certain losses and situations have been or inevitably will become, my sisters are there to share them. I am so grateful I’m not an only child.

I have writer friends. As much as I love and treasure my non-writer friends, there is a special camaraderie among writers, an understanding that doesn’t need to be explained about the struggles and triumphs of being a writer. I am immensely grateful to have found the community of smart and funny writers over in the comment section at agent Janet Reid’s blog. This is not the only place where my writer friends congregate, but it’s by far the most plentiful and diverse sampling, which has value all on its own. I appreciate that Janet tolerates our neurotic brand of crazy creativity even as she attempts to educate us about an agent’s perspective of publishing.

Speaking of that blog, Janet occasionally hosts flash fiction contests, which I occasionally enter. [WARNING: shameless self-promotion ahead] [someone has to do it] [apparently] The competition is FIERCE and I never expect to win or even be a finalist. It’s great practice, but this is not my forte. I mean, please, I can barely say hello in 100 words, let alone tell a complete story incorporating five ungainly prompt words. Except, this past weekend, my entry DID manage to be a finalist.

These were the prompt words, first names of the authors whose books were the prize:

Tony
Peter
Mick
Nick
Bill

This was my entry, exactly 100 words:

* * *

My brother’s joint was the kind they’d slip you a mickey sooner than start an honest fistfight.

The regulars played billiards in the back, the snick of balls an accent to rough voices. Couldn’t compete with the tony clubs on the north side, but the table felt was immaculate. Priorities.

Conversation petered out as I stepped up to the bar.

“We don’t serve cops.”

“Good thing I ain’t planning to order one.”

We traded hard stares, harder memories.

“Cut bait while you still can, Frank.”

He sneered.

Priorities.

Goddammit.

I held the door for the Feds on my way out.

* * *

These were Janet’s comments (she generously tells us what she liked about each finalist and/or why she chose it, which is remarkably educational):

“That first line is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. The importance of a good first line can not be overstated. And the ending is sublime. This is a perfect story.”

SQUEEEE. And yet, even with it being a “perfect story,” someone else won. THAT’S how tough these contests are (if you want to see the other finalists and winner, they’re here). But I was just thrilled, to put it mildly. A few words of praise from someone with her experience go a very long way. And for that I am deeply thankful.

Let’s see, what else.

Oh, I know! Some of you might remember that last December my Bossy Older Sister gave me a birthday gift of a year of flowers, specifically orchids. I received the twelfth delivery yesterday and I think they’re the most beautiful of all. Of course, I’ve said that about each month’s delivery. This pic makes them look rather pink, but they’re actually a deep rich cranberry colour.

November 2017

Here’s a shot from above, the colour is a bit better:

I’m grateful for her generosity and creative gift-giving skills. I posted pics of a few of the early months’ orchids last spring but sort of got distracted and forgot to post the rest of them. So here they are, April through October (slideshow):

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Aren’t they gorgeous? What’s that, you say? One of the pics is not like the others? Well, imagine that.

IMAGINE THAT.

Yes, that is yet another thing for which I am grateful and thankful and OMG SO EXCITED ABOUT and very much looking forward to in the coming year.

What have you found to be thankful for in this “Oh, hell no” year?

 

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Filed under health and well-being, holidays

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

It’s never nothing

Let’s see, where were we . . . in our last episode, our heroine was tied to the tracks and a train was approaching, with no (capable) help in sight.

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Sorry, wrong story. Maybe it’s just me, but that sort of sums up how helpless I feel lately.

My dad used to say: “It’s never nothing.” It was his version of: “It’s always something.” November has proven that adage, several times over.

I know, some of you are waiting to hear the final results of NaNo. It wasn’t a complete bust, although Life sure did its best to get in the way.

First there was the election. And the results, which we are just not going to talk about, because . . . well, just because. But I eventually convinced myself to stay mostly offline, or at least not look too long or too hard at twitter and facebook, and I was starting to re-focus on writing.

Then, the day after Thanksgiving, my mom made an unscheduled trip to the hospital’s emergency room via ambulance. I’m not going to get into medical details over here — my personal privacy policy makes HIPPA look like a freakin’ sieve — but I will say that she was there for five days (mostly due to it being a holiday weekend during which certain tests were not going to happen unless it was an emergency) (I’m very grateful she wasn’t considered an emergency), and then she was discharged to a rehab/transitional care place.

And then, not even 48 hours later, in the least fun text I’ve ever received at 4 AM, came word that she was right back in the hospital again. Where she still is, as I write this. But she’s getting better, albeit slowly, and we expect she’ll be headed back to transitional care in a day or so.

Never have I been more aware of how relative is the term “better.”

As you might imagine, trying to concentrate on writing (or anything else) with all this going on more than 1200 miles away has been damned near impossible. Honestly, I haven’t tried very hard in the past week. You know, priorities being what they are.

But I did manage to write 20,057 words in November, split between two different manuscripts. Probably that’s 20,057 words more than I would have written if I hadn’t participated in NaNo. Astonishingly, some of those words seem to do what I want them to do and might not even need to be deleted during edits.

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So, no, not 50K words. But I’m calling it a win.

Don’t judge me. I need a win right now.

My plan for December is to just continue focusing on writing. And try not to panic at the sound of the phone ringing or the notification that a new email or text message has arrived. Any celebrations in December, including my upcoming birthday, are going to be small and quiet. Understated. Practically invisible.

No, I’m not being a Scrooge. I’m simply acknowledging the truth that I’m not in the mood for celebration. I’m listening to that inner voice advocating self-care over forced displays of holly-jollity.

I can’t fix all the problems in the world. Hell, I can’t even fix all the problems in my own little corner of it. But I can write stories that, if I get it right, might provide a few moments of distraction and enjoyment for someone at a time when that’s exactly, perhaps desperately, what they need.

God knows, stories have certainly helped me get through this disaster we’re calling 2016. If my stories can do that for even one person, I’ll be calling that a win as well.

 

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To a Year of Living Selfishly

I’ve been feeling reflective for the last week or so. No, not the kind of reflective that makes you all shiny and highly visible so you won’t get hit by a car while you’re out doing questionable things in the dark. The kind where you look back on the past several years and realize how many significant events you’ve experienced in that time. I was going to say “endured,” but that implies they were all bad and they certainly were not. But neither were they all good.

When I say they were significant, I mean they were significantly distracting or required significant amounts of time and energy from me. Many of them I haven’t talked about over here, or anywhere else, because, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, I am a very private person. There are things I’m just never going to talk about in public spaces. Or even in semi-private ones.

But holy guacamole, it’s been one hell of a few years. Sometimes to the point where I wanted to yell, “STOP IT. I CAN’T EVEN THINK ANYMORE WITH ALL THIS. JUST. FUCKING. STOP.” It all has taken a toll, that’s for sure.

And now, suddenly, there’s nothing significant on the horizon. Not that there won’t be, because of course there will. Life happens. “It’s never nothing,” as my dad used to say. But there’s nothing scheduled or looming and I’m feeling gloriously free for the first time in a very long time. And determined.

I don’t make resolutions at the New Year, never have. So it’s sort of a weird coincidence that I’m feeling all resolute here in early January.

I was talking to my daughter about this when she and her husband were here visiting during the last week of December and it was difficult to articulate without sounding like I didn’t enjoy the hell out of many of those events. Because I did. Especially my children’s weddings, which were wonderful. But at the same time, I’m glad they’re done.

I’m delighted beyond words that my calendar is clear. The sheer relief of having no upcoming obligations is staggering.

I really hope I’m not jinxing myself by saying this, but I feel like I’ve done my time. For a while, anyway. I’ve given so much of myself to others — sometimes eagerly and with great joy and pleasure, sometimes not — but now it’s my turn.

I anticipate– no, I am determined that this year is going to be epically, gleefully selfish. I am resolved to focusing on what I want, and what I want is to write fiction. I’m going to concentrate on that pretty much to the exclusion of all else.

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So don’t anyone plan on having any dramas or crises or grand celebrations, okay? At least, not any that require my participation or attention. I’m gonna be busy over here, learning how to say “no” more often and taking care of my own needs for a change.

Who knows, maybe a few of you will conclude that’s of benefit to you as well. It’s a new year, anything’s possible.

 

Oh, by the way, if any of you want to be notified when I’ve completed said works of fiction and they’re available for purchase, you might want to sign up for my mailing list, which you can do HERE.

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Filed under goals, health and well-being, writing

Reassessment. Recalibration.

Ahhhh, yes, we’ve finally turned the corner into fall. Autumn, for you purists out there. I love this time of year, when the temperatures drop along with the humidity and the leaves. The heat of summer in the south never fails to sap my patience and energy. It seems like a feat of endurance just to let the days go by. But we’ve made it to October and, now that our epic bout of rain and gloom has moved out, life in general will be more pleasant. Cooler, anyway. We’ve had clear skies for two whole entire days and I’m giddy with it.

Our leaves haven’t started to change yet, so I’m sharing a picture my daughter took in Boston last week. I suspect she’s trying to stave off winter by documenting the landscape sans snow. Can’t say I blame her, after last winter.

I feel somewhat guilty that I haven’t posted for a while, but I’ve been busy. Sometimes I’m quiet over here because I don’t really have anything to say, other times because there’s too much. It’s been the latter, these past couple months. Frankly, I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with things that are not particularly blog-appropriate. Nothing earth shattering, just the normal stuff we all have to deal with and tend not to discuss in public. Proliferation of cat hairballs, neighbours vs. trees, family drama, ongoing physical therapy. The return of the goddamn raccoons to the attic. You know, the usual.

I also seem to have been in a state of re-evaluation. Thinking deep thoughts about how I spend my time and looking seriously at the things that suck up not just time, but also my attention and energy. Deciding whether they’re worth it. Some are, some are not. Debating changes in my life and how to be more productive.

And of course, there’s the writing. That’s been a big part of my deliberation and I’ve been struggling with it. Writing, deleting, writing some more and not liking that either. There have been days, weeks lately when I wonder why I’m doing this and whether I should just stop. But the prospect of not writing is more terrifying than the struggle to write is frustrating. So quitting isn’t really an option, even though I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, and am doing it poorly. Feeling like a giant fraud.

Yeah, I know, supposedly this is normal and all writers feel this way, from time to time. Or always. So I guess that’s comforting. But it’s not really much help when you’re the one feeling it.

My brain keeps replaying a conversation with my older sister after she read the novella I published. There was a note of surprise in her voice when she said, “It was really pretty good. There were parts when I forgot you were the one who wrote it.”

“You mean like it was written by someone who knew what they were doing?”

“YES. EXACTLY.”

So, clearly, not me.

*sigh*

That has got to be the most backhanded compliment I’ve ever received. Well, about writing anyway. She didn’t mean it that way. My older sister has been nothing but supportive of my writing efforts. One might even say she’s been bossy about it. But I can’t help remembering her saying that — even though it’s not the only thing or even the biggest thing chipping away at my confidence lately, not by a long shot — and it reinforces this feeling that I really don’t know what I’m doing most of the time. And after all these years of effort, of learning and practicing, that’s disheartening.

So I was hesitant, to say the least, when an unpublished writer friend asked me to give her feedback on a manuscript. Although . . . now that I stop and think about it, she didn’t ask. I pretty much insisted she let me read it once she was done editing.

Geez. Talk about bossy. This was back at the start of summer and probably I was high on prescription pain meds at the time. That’s my excuse anyway.

But by the time she sent it to me a couple weeks ago, all that hubris had disappeared and I was in the midst of feeling worthless and fraudulent and talentless. And pitiful, let’s not forget pitiful. [cue tiny violin] I doubted whether I’d have anything remotely useful or insightful to say. It took me almost an entire week to even open the document.

Then I started reading. And let me tell you, while she might be at the early stage of writing where you inevitably make a few minor rookie mistakes, this friend of mine can write. Honestly, that was a small part of my reluctance, the concern that maybe she wasn’t very good after all and I wouldn’t know what to say. A very small part, because I’ve known this woman for years and, even though she only recently admitted she was writing fiction, I could tell she was a writer. A terrific writer with a voice that’s perfect for historical romance, which is what she’s writing.

But I also realized something else, while reading her manuscript. I DO know something about writing fiction. I know quite a lot about writing fiction. I was able to tell her what was working and what wasn’t, and specifically why. I think I gave her some coherent feedback that will help make a good story stronger. She might not agree with me, and that’s fine. It’s her story.

So I’m relieved by that realization, but also frustrated. Why does it have to be so fucking impossible to have this kind of clarity about my own writing? Why does it take reading someone else’s manuscript to see my own mistakes and strengths, to be reminded of what I know and realize that I might not be totally screwing things up in my own writing? Does this ever get easier?

Probably not.

There’s a huge difference between reading for pleasure and reading with the intent of giving feedback. If you’re a writer, I suggest you give it a try, if you haven’t. Provided you can find a willing victim. You’ll pretty quickly figure out what you know and don’t know, based on the type of feedback you’re able to offer. You might even realize you know more than you thought you did.

But there’s also a difference between being able to see what is or isn’t working in a story and being able to put that into practice. A difference between being a good reader and a good writer. It’s all about the execution.

So, I’m struggling, with all sorts of things, and I imagine I’ll continue to do so. But I will try to get back to blogging more regularly. Now that fall is here and I’m feeling more human. Perhaps The White Ninja will cooperate and do something blog-worthy.

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Or perhaps not. Don’t anyone hold your breath.

 

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Filed under deep thoughts, health and well-being, writing