Tag Archives: contemplation

One Year Out

Or rather, “The vacation I took to to celebrate being about a year out from the car accident and concussion that pretty much reset my life.”

A core lesson from the accident: I needed to carry decent health insurance, and “decent” tended to fall outside of “what I can afford as a freelancer.”  Truly, at the scene of the accident, I should have been taken to the hospital right away.  I feared the cost more than I feared the health consequences of my brain rattling around in my skull, and I didn’t want to head into my 50s with that same fear of, say, heart palpitations or weird lumps or menopause symptoms or…  You get the idea.

That lesson led to a fulltime job.  Darlings, I do indeed love my job, but going from a freelancer and martial arts instructor to an employee working always on someone else’s preset schedule has been an adjustment.  Especially since the job requires this not-a-morning-person to be onsite at about 6:30 in the morn.  But heck, I’m helping to make whiskey, so I can’t complain!  And the job comes with paid vacation time—something I haven’t had since I was my son’s age—and that led to the celebration.

Last year’s concussion caused lingering problems, from sleep difficulties to sporadic balance issues to minor aphasia to blank-outs.  (Not blackout. Blankout—the sensation of suddenly not knowing a thing that you know you should know, and not being able to articulate anything more than, “Um…  Hold on…  Um…”)  I certainly didn’t trust myself to camp on my own.  NO WAY.  What if I forgot to pack up my food at the end of the night, and attracted a bear?  What if I stumbled into the campfire?  What if I couldn’t remember which direction I was supposed to go on the trail?

For the first time, I was afraid—truly and deeply afraid—to head out on my own.

So I decided to use a bunch of vacation days, packed up my Tucson, and took off for six days in Wyoming.  Yellowstone and Grand Tetons.  I hiked extensively my first couple days up there, and stayed in an extremely Wyoming hotel for the first two nights.

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Why the hotel?  Because I was scared to death I wouldn’t be able to figure out a campground.  I’m glad I let myself transition that way, but I needn’t have worried.  I ended up in Grand Tetons (which I preferred to Yellowstone because it had far fewer people and far more solitude) the following evening.

Yes, I had bear spray.  And thankfully lost my fear of accidentally spraying myself in the face with it.

Then I drove mostly two-lane highways through the Wyoming countryside down to Laramie, Medicine Bow, and Vendauwoo.  I climbed boulders.  I walked through the pines.  I watched the Milky Way come into being.  I played with chipmunks.  I read two novels.  I watched cows wander through my campsite.

I ran kata, and bo and nunchaku, and practiced some knife work.  I’m rusty on all of them, but I least I could remember all my empty-hand katas, hit myself in the jaw only a couple times with the nunchaku, and gave myself only one nasty cut with the kukri.  I remembered where the first aid kit was and how to use it.

I stared out the horizon.  I let my mind wander.  I planned what I would do when I returned home, what I would do when I turned 50, and where I’d like to be when I turn 60.

I rested.

I proved to myself I was okay, and okay was pretty damned wonderful.

And since I was okay, I spent the first morning after my return rappelling down thirty-eight stories in downtown Denver to raise funds for the Cancer League of Colorado, in memory of my late husband (liver cancer), my best friend who was also my son’s godmother (breast cancer), and in honor of my martial arts instructor who beat throat cancer last year.  (Donations are still being accepted at the link, if you’re so inclined to give to a group that donates every penny to cancer research and patient support services.)

The highest I’d ever rappelled before was about, maybe, forty feet or so.  When the moment came to step onto the ledge and lean back over the edge, I will tell you honestly I almost backed out.  Then the voice in my head, “Bitch, sit your ass down in that harness and get it done.”  And so I did.

I will not lie.  It was terrifying.  I screamed at least once.  I wanted to quit halfway down.  When I reached the bottom, people had to hold me up for a minute because my legs wouldn’t work.  My son hugged me while I was still shaking, as did my friends Katy, Don and Rob.  (Rob had gone over the edge before me.)

I never wanted to do it again.  Now I kinda do.

So really, what I did on my summer vacation was prove to myself that, even if I’m fragile, I’m fixable.  That I can step off the sidewalk (or the ledge) and still be all right.  That even though I’ve different limitations than I had ten years ago, five years ago, or even one year ago, the way to deal with those limits is not to dial back my ambitions but to rethink my tactics and strategy.

I’m back, my Darlings–ass in the harness, whiskey in hand, stepping over the edge.  Let’s do this.

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#SFWApro

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Taking the Hit

In training for sparring and self-defense, we learn techniques and redundancies to avoid being hit.

In living real life—the work, the play, the relationships, the expectations—emotional hits can’t be avoided.

I had big plans on many fronts for this year.  I’m an ambitious and enthusiastic person, and it seemed many things were falling into place.  Prospects were rich.  Opportunities were within reach.  Time was available, energy was high, and all things seemed possible.

Then came the spring, and the incredible swift decline and death of my best friend and my son’s godmother.  Then came all the stirred-up loss from the death of my late husband two years before.  (It was our second Memorial Weekend spent at a personal memorial service in two years.)   Then came the grieving of others, the struggles of my son, the changes in business relationships, the moving away of all my other family members, a score of other crises…  The year thus far has been a pattern of long periods that drive me to exhaustion, then a short period of recovery followed by a build-up to the next challenge.

Writing fiction requires a state of empathy.  The writer must be open to exploring and understanding emotions.  Over the last year, my own emotions have been so strong and erratic that attempts to write often ended in melancholy that had nothing to do with the project and everything to do with life events and their consequences–and the future those events and consequences had set before me.  Writing was not at all enjoyable.  It became uncomfortable.

Bit by bit, it’s been turning around.  Bit by bit, writing has lost its discomfort.  Bit by bit, it has become a blessing again.

But it has left me with a huge pile of unfinished projects.  Thank goodness the publishing schedule is mine to decide.  Certainly I’ve lost over half a year of writing production.  But I’ve gained experience, was able to be present for family and friends, and learned a great deal about who I truly am and who I want to be.

Today, I’m closing in on the end of revisions for Sand of Bone.  I’ll be jumping into NaNoWriMo in a few days to complete something entirely different.  There is again joy in the creative process, and happy anticipation over the projects on the horizon.

In life, we take the hits.  We fall down.  We bruise and bleed and mourn.  But we also get up.  We heal and we deal, and we take our scars along when we create new possibilities and memories.  Writing is no different.

I’m ready to jump back in to the process of creation.

NaNoWriMo

And I have signed up.  It’ll be my first time.

Now to choose the project.

The contemporary romance novel?  The upside is the idea barreled into my thoughts, nicely formed.  The downside is I’ve never written romance before, and I must keep reminding myself that—unlike my previous projects—the fate of the world/country/etc. need not hang in the balance for there to be tension.  When writing the outline, I kept trying to drop in fantastical or paranormal elements, but none of them worked.  And again–I’ve never written romance.

What about the urban fantasy I’ve been kicking around in my head for years?  Once upon a time, I had a chapter written, but it has been lost in the multiple moves and computer changes over the last few years.  The upside here is I’m jazzed about the ideas, characters and setting the story in Indianapolis.  The downside is the reason it’s been kicking around in my head is that I’ve never managed to successfully connect the opening plot points with the climax.  NaNo could be the pressure the project needs, or I could end up with little pile of wasted word count.  I’d dearly love to have this project work, since I already have ideas and notes for three sequels.

Then there are other projects that wouldn’t fall under Official NaNo because they’re partials or major revisions—The Drunkard, The Slaughterer, Breath of Stone…  I thought of giving myself the goal to finish Sand of Bone revisions, but despite a few recent potholes, those seem to be ticking along just fine now.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Anyone else tossing about project ideas for NaNo?

Links o’ Miscellany and MHO On Them

First: I am in love with this article by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown.  As I mentioned in comments at Sherwood’s LJ, a female character cannot be confident, competent, and likeable without being deemed a Mary Sue.  (That doesn’t even touch upon appearance, which is a whole ‘nother target of spite and vitriol.)  I remember a beta reader once telling me a character was a Mary Sue because of those three factors.  It didn’t matter that the character had been show to earn those traits; the three in combination simply Could Not Be Done is the character was to be “realistic.”

Think about that for a moment.  A character with competence, natural and practiced talents, who was liked because of the way she actually treated others was not realistic.  She simply wasn’t insecure enough, tormented enough, or outcast enough to be realistic.

That’s a fucking sad commentary on what “real women” are supposed to be.

And I should note that the majority of folks I read throwing about the Mary Sue accusation to other writers are women.  That’s double-fucking sad, in my opinion.

(Yes, I know the original definition of Mary Sue.  Alas, linguistic drift has bestowed a slightly different definition now, and that’s the one we’re stuck with, and I don’t deem it interesting, necessary, or productive to insist everyone use the phrase in its “proper” fashion.)

Second:  This post by John Wiswell–now a fellow graduate of Viable Paradise–made me cheer first (because hooray! more VP grads!), then made me grumble to learn some self-publishers thought it was a waste of his time.  *sigh*  I know there is a subset of self-publishers who cannot fathom the worth of critique prior to publication, nor the bliss of spending days among writers who care about storytelling.  My suspicion is it’s the same subset who would have, in the pre- self-publishing days, written long diatribes to agents and editors in response to rejections.

Me, I see nothing incongruent between attending Viable Paradise and self-publishing.  One is for craft and fellowship.  One is a business decision.  Anyone with shoulder-chips might indeed have good information about their side of the argument, but not the best judgment on which path is best for others.

Third: I have no link for it, but have been following various blog posts and Twitter comments from folks attending WFC in London.  From writers who have the “proper” credentials, who should without a doubt be treated to at least the crumbs of common courtesy.  And they are not.

That sort of disregard of writers–at what is supposed to be a celebration of such creativity–is a pretty good indication of what value such folks place on the writers’ creations.  And don’t sing the “But they’re all volunteers!” song my direction.  I’ve volunteered for numerous non-genre, professional conferences and conventions. I and other volunteers assumed courtesy and professionalism were standard expectations, not something guests received if they caught us a good time and were appropriately humble in their requests.

Fourth:  Check out David Gaughran on the tightening of Traditional Publishing/Author Solutions ties.  If you’re planning to go the traditional publishing route, it’s critical you read and understand it.  If you’re self-publishing, it’s equally important.  Alas, it’s becoming more difficult for new writers to avoid being shuttled into dead-end and horribly expensive self-publishing “services” that are endorsed by the same traditional publishers who sneered at Author Solutions and their ilk just a couple years ago.  “I know those other people say Author Solutions is a scam, and is being sued by their past customers,” says the new writer in search of validation, “but Big Respected Publisher says they’re awesome, so it must okay to give them thousands of dollars!”

And I was certain I had a fifth link, but it has vanished.

Edited 10-18-2013 for clarity.

Reviewing Reviews

After hanging around writers in various states of publish for the last twenty-plus years, you’d think I’d have internalized the “Don’t read your reviews!” advice.

After hanging around me for not too long, you’d see I can be quietly and subversively hardheaded about certain pieces of advice.

I do indeed read my reviews (a simple process these days, since I don’t get that many).  And I consider what they mean, individually and collectively, about how I’ve connected with readers.

That phrase—connected with readers—is the foundation of my review-reading mindset.  It isn’t about judging “quality;” it is about understanding if what I produced matched the readers’ expectations.

Continue reading Reviewing Reviews

Up At Dawn

June Sunrise

 

That’s the view from my back door, just before the sun slipped above the horizon.

I’m not a morning person. I’ve been saying so since my teenage years, when theater and parties and exciting books kept me busy until midnight and beyond.  My night owl ways were reinforced by parenthood, when I couldn’t possibly get up earlier than my “up with the sun” son but could manage to write in the dark hours after he’d gone to bed.

But over the last two years, I have somehow transitioned into a morning person.  Waking between five and six has become common, and sleeping past seven is the rarity.  Evidence of this change can be seen in the numerous sunrise photos I’ve taken since last spring.  As someone who usually saw the sun come up only if I’d stayed up all night, the novelty of awakening to rosy-gold light hasn’t yet waned.

 

Patricia, Celebrated

I’ve tried time and again to write about the weekend spent celebrating Patricia’s life, and it all falls flat.  Mark Booher, Artistic Director for PCPA, described the experience well when talking of how to explain the impact and reach of Patricia’s presence: You had to be there.*

One can’t tell stories about Patricia without also telling one’s own story, and I believe she did that on purpose.  She lived life as an artistic collaboration.  Everyone was her partner in creation.  She saw the future potential in people, and lovingly demanded that potential be set free in the present.  She believed in making art without hesitation because it was better to fail spectacularly than to try timidly.  She taught her actors that perfection wasn’t worth chasing because it was truth that mattered—and truth is a messy, painful, incredible imperfect thing.

These are the things she taught me.  These are the things I want to pass on to others.

The experience of the celebration of her life was beautiful, fulfilling, and warming.  Within half an hour of arriving, Dev and I found John—the man who I acted with for years, and who performed my wedding on the set of King Lear, the play Patricia was directing at the time.  I had a few moments of private conversation with him that quieted some of my worst fears of Patricia’s final days.

Just before the celebration in the outdoor theater began, I met up with three actors who’d been—along with me—in the first cast Patricia worked with in the area more than twenty years ago.  Then one of them pointed out Dev was less than three years younger than I had been that year!  And every one of them talked about how I’d huddle in some backstage corner between my scenes, frantically writing by the glow of stage lights that seeped around the sets.  Even as an actor, I was a writer.

It was yesterday, home less than twenty-four hours, that I realized one of the greater gifts Patricia had given me: fertile artistic ground.  I didn’t seek out conferences and conventions in those years because I was already surrounded by creative people doing creative things.  Creativity was the default, not the special exception.  Creativity was the valued expectation, not the little thing on the side.  Creativity was as breathing.

It was like living at Viable Paradise.

And I can hear her voice now: “If you want that back, love, decide now and make it happen.  All that’s stopping you is the silly notion that you can’t do it, and notions don’t get a vote in this.”

For Dev, the trip gave him the chance to learn so much more about Patricia, and about the past of his parents.  It’ll be the time I’ll look back on as the time when Dev began the shift to more adult than teenager.

I will always miss Patricia.  I’ll always want to share one more conversation, to see one more show, to hear one more laugh, to relax into one more embrace.  But I’m no longer painfully grieving.  She lived her life as she wished, and left a legacy of love, art, and passion.

May we all aspire so.

 

*Who is the Patricia person?  My dearest friend on nearly twenty-five years, and my son’s godmother.  Go here.