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Five on Friday: Mind Miasma

My brain is like a boggy swamp.

My brain is like a boggy swamp.

How I’m Feeling: The title of this post. I’m in a mind miasma.  I finished the rough draft of my novel, which was such a non-event it barely even registered. No glowing feeling of satisfaction or bragging to family and friends. I just quietly wrote the last word, fell on my office floor and cried “Thank you, God!” as I genuflected. Not really, but I am glad to be done with it.  I just know the rewrite is a huge job and I’m putting it on the back burner for the moment.

I have projects galore that I’m excited about. The whole time I worked on the novel all I could think about was how I wanted to be done so I could move onto the new things. And then I finished–and suddenly the new things aren’t so shiny any more.  Mind miasma. Does that ever happen to you? It does to me all the time when I finish something.  It means I just need to take some time off and give my brain a rest.

What I’m Excited About:  We’ve had a couple more people sign up for the France retreat and that’s made me think about it anew and get excited. If you are at all interested, now is the time to raise your hand because slots are filling fast.  You can reply to this email if you’ve got a yen to write in the south of France come September.

But maybe you don’t want to go so far? How about three days at the Oregon coast? Registration for my Sitka workshop is open, and several wonderful people have already committed. The workshop is called Mapping the Novel and it is going to be a ton of fun.  Here’s the link.

What I’m Disappointed In: My knitting. I went to Knit Night on Wednesday with only one project which was a big mistake because I ended up ripping it out and then I didn’t have anything to knit so I had to go home early. Ever since then, my knitting has been kind of like my writing: all my fun, shiny projects seem dull and boring.  Maybe I’m in a creative slump. Nah. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the eons and eons I’ve been a writer, its that creativity is a process. And part of that process is ebbs and flows. Right now I just have to be in an ebb.

What I’m Obsessing About: Organization.  Not macro-wise, but mini-wise. As in, should I put those notes I want to take about that book on index cards, the computer, or a min-binder? The issue is ease of retrieval, as in, where will I be able to find them again? (This is my the desktop of my computer is covered with icons–out of sight, out of mind.) Yeah, such are the things I worry about when I’m not writing.  Which is why it is VERY GOOD that most times I am writing. Because I drive myself bat shit crazy when I’m not.

What the Weather is Like: It is full-on spring here, sunny, a light breeze, 70 degrees, everything that blooms or has ever thought of blooming is abloom. There is no place better on the planet than Oregon in the springtime. But whatever you do, don’t move here.  We can’t take many more people! The population is expected to increase by another 50% by 2020 and already our housing prices have increased higher than anywhere else in the country. Trying to buy a house in Portland these days is about as easy as training a cat or selling a book.

What’s up with you?

Photo from freerangestock.

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Five on Friday: Happy Easter

So, yeah, Happy Easter, if you celebrate. (And as I mentioned in my last post, even the non-religious types among us can surely celebrate Easter as the coming of spring.  AmIright?)  It’s a busy weekend for many and here’s what’s going on around here:easter_candy_chocolat_242057_l

What I’m fussing about: Apostrophes, freaking apostrophes. The overuse of them is a pox upon the land. I’ve written about this before, but apparently I need to write about it every day for forever to stop this scourge. A story: Wednesday night is pie night at Shari’s, which for those of you who do not live in the Pacific Northwest is a restaurant sort of like Denny’s, only better. Not the least because every Wednesday night they offer a free slice of pie with every entree. Num. So my sister and her husband invited me and my husband to go with them to pie night, and we said yes, because, pie night.  (And because usually my Wednesday nights are taken up with my writing group or knitting, both of which were canceled due to Spring Break.)

We were not disappointed, especially because we had the most entertaining waitress of all time. Ronda did a “Ta-da!” with every armload of food she brought to every table and engaged in hysterical waitress-ly banter.  So it was all good.  Except for the blackboard by the front desk which announced specials and MISUSED APOSTROPHES. I was in such a state of shock to see this happen again (I had just read a blogger who should have known better do the same thing) that I forgot the particulars but it doesn’t matter.

Here’s the deal: an apostrophe denotes possession. So: my sister’s pie. My cat’s food. Etc.  But when you have a regular, good old-fashioned plural, as in when you want to describe a group of objects or more than one thing, YOU DO NOT NEED AN APOSTROPHE.  It is actually easier not to use an apostrophe so I can’t figure out why people persist in adding them in.

Okay, I’m breathing again. We shall carry on.

What I’m fussing about #2: Unnecessary changes.  Okay, so this necessitates another story. Last night, a group of us, eight to be exact, partook of Portland Restaurant Month.  That might not be its exact name, but the gist of it is that a number of restaurants offer three-course meals (fixed menu) for the price of $29.  One of the spots offering this deal happens to be right up the street from us, and it also happens to serve prime rib. Not only that, it is wonderfully old school, with fake red leather booths in the bar, fabulous cocktails, and the prime rib served from a trundling silver cart and carved right at your table.

Recently, Clyde’s was sold to one of the many hip and upcoming restaurateurs that dot this city, who promised to keep all the old-school elements of the place intact.  Except he didn’t. Because, no trundling old cart to serve meat from.  Every piece of prime rib cooked exactly the same, no matter how it was ordered. And, you used to be able to get a container of their delicious salad dressing to take home for a small fee. But, you guessed it, no more.  Sigh.  It was fun anyway, with one of our party celebrating the fact that he had just quit his job because his small Etsy business has taken off. (If I knew the link, I’d post it, but I don’t, alas.)

Surely there is a lesson for writers in all this. Don’t fix what isn’t broken? (Except it probably was, a little bit.) I dunno. You tell me.

Lieutenant, draped on my arm as I write.

Lieutenant, draped on my arm as I write.

What I’m reading: Starlight on Willow Lake, by Susan Wiggs. This is, and I quote her website, “a stunning tale of the delicate ties that bind a family together….and the secrets that tear them apart.”  I’m fascinated with novels that form parts of series, and this one is just that, another title in the Lakeshore Chronicles.  The plot follows a conventional women’s fiction arc, but the author throws in some good surprised. It’s a quick and satisfying read.

Who is helping me: My cat, Lieutenant, as always. He climbs up onto my desk and drapes himself over my arm, then snuggles as close to me as he possibly can. Within minutes my arm is aching with his dead weight on top of it as I try to write.

Why I’m writing such a long post today: Because I have one scene to write to finish the rough draft of my novel. So, of course, it is imperative to write a blog post of great length instead.

That’s it for me. I guess I better go finish that damn novel. What’s up for you these days?

Photos: The candy bunny is by Zela, and the cat photo is by me.  It may or may not appear upside down, because WordPress does this funny thing where on the backend the photo shows as upside down or backwards but when I preview it, it is right side up.

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Five Things on Friday: July 10, 2015

CaptainwithLieutenant

The tub wads, back when they were young, thin, and innocent

This series (we'll see how long it lasts) is my summertime whimsy.   I started it last week, with the inaugural Five Things on Friday post.  Here's this week's obsessions passions:

What I'm Reading.  Just yesterday, I started Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, who is a New York Times best-selling writer.  I'll be honest, I've tried to read her books before and not been impressed.  But I was intrigued by the subject matter of this one, elephants, and put it on hold at the library.  After a long wait, it finally came.  It's been sitting in a stack for a week or so, and finally I started it.  Have to say, I'm hooked.  

I'm also reading Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Alexandra Fuller's second terrific Africa memoir.  I liked the first one (Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight) better, I must say.  This one is quite episodic and is mostly based on conversations with her mother, who is quoted heavily throughout, which makes for an odd flow.  But I'm still enjoying it.  

Brief aside: can I just vent for a minute?  Because I consulted the Google for her website to link to, and all she has is a listing of her agent for speaking requests.  I'm sure she's a lovely woman, but honestly, could she not deign to have a website?  (The link I provided above is Wikipedia.) 

What I'm Thinking About.  Structure.  As in, novel structure.  It looms large at the moment for a couple of reasons.  One, because I'm embarking on writing my next novel and so far totally at sea about how the plot is going to come together.  And two, because structure is the topic of my upcoming France retreat.  I swear I've at least glanced at every book and website ever written on the topic.  But if you have a favorite one, please share it.

What I'm Listening To.  This goofy track from Tom Bird.  It is free to download and it supposedly has subliminal messages embedded in it, urging one to write.  In some weird way I don't understand, I swear it works.  Of course, those messages could be convincing me to do something unrelated to writing…excuse me, I must now go dance naked in the park.

What I'm Complaining About.  Besides authors who don't have websites, cats.  Two fat tabbies, to be exact.  My tub wads have taken to doing their business in inappropriate places, like the bathroom and kitchen.  We have no idea why.  Their kitty litter is pristine.  Maybe they are mad about the heat?  If anybody has any suggestions as to what their little feline brains might be thinking, please share.

What I'm Loving.  Qi Gong.  I've started practicing this ancient Chinese form off and on through the years.  Lately I've been doing the Spring Forest Qi Gong from Chunyi Lin and it is amazing. Soothing, energizing, focusing and I swear it is also helping all my stupid aches and pains heal.

What's on your mind this Friday?

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Why a Writer Needs a Cat

CaptainandLieutenant

Cats are good at crossword puzzles, too!

I have decided that there's one VERY IMPORTANT piece of writing advice that often goes unmentioned.  It is sort of a secret writer thing, but I am dedicated to bringing such things out in the open, because I'm dedicated to helping you find success as a writer.  (You can thank me from your yacht in the Riviera, where you are celebrating your most recent bestseller.)  Here goes:

Get a cat.

Why?  I shall tell you why.

1.  Because a cat anchors a room.  There's something so grounding about walking into a room with a cat sleeping in it.  Writers need to be grounded.  We need to be in our bodies as we work.  Otherwise we'll be wafting about the room with no sense of where we are–and so will our characters.  If you don't have a cat to help you with this, try some other ways, like meditation, yoga, or Qi Gong, my current favorite.  Or take a walk.

2. Because you can talk about plot points with your cat.   One of my cats, Captain, is in training to be a human in his next life.  As such, he listens carefully to everything humans talk about and pays close attention to what we do.  This makes him the perfect writer's companion.  He listens to every word I say about my WIP.  Writers need to brainstorm.  Maybe you don't, but I do.  I do a lot of brainstorming, with my clients, other writers, my agent.  And I do a ton of it on the page, in my journal.  If you're stuck, find a cat (or human, or piece of paper) to brainstorm with.

3. Because cats are cozy, soft and warm to cuddle up next to.   And they often purr when they sleep on you.  Few things are better in this world than taking a nap on a lazy Sunday afternoon with a cat snoozing away on top of you.  But my larger point is: writers need rest.  Throw that old image of writers burning the midnight oil, and creating for long stretches of time without food, water or drink out the window.  That kind of schedule does not foster creativity.  More and more science is coming out to support the idea that we need a consistent amount of sleep–like eight hours a night–to perform our best.  This means you, too.  And if part of that sleep comes through curling up next to your cat for a nap, so be it.  

4. Because they will get hungry and wake you up at the crack of dawn or earlier.  Chop chop.  Rise and shine.  You've got words to get on the page!  If your cats are anything like ours, they will meow at their first sign of hunger, which will likely be early.  Very early.  My two felines have my husband well trained to rise and feed them, but I follow soon thereafter, grab coffee and hit the page.  You will make yourself very happy if you get the most important thing in your life–your writing–done first.  There's nothing better than the satisfying feeling you'll have all day if you've accomplished your most important goal first.

5.  Because a cat will keep you humble.  Cats are the original and best arrogant pets. Sometimes the afore-mentioned Captain stares at me while I'm discussing my novel with him, and then shakes his head as if I've said the stupidest thing ever.  Other times, he breaks out in a giant yawn.  I'm telling you, its humbling. And don't even get me started on the antics of his goofy brother, Lieutenant.  (For the record, they were rescues from our local Humane Society and we did not name them.) Writers need a dash of humility.  This is a topic not often discussed, but I've seen good writers ruined by their ego.  I've seen them get all puffed up and ruin book deals. I've seen them let their ego convince them a manuscript is ready when it isn't, and thus ruin a good potential contact by sending too soon.  Enough said.  Get a cat.

What's that you say?  You don't like cats? Excuse me while I cover the ears of my two tubwads.  Such shocking words coming out of your mouth.  Heavy sigh.  I suppose if you absolutely cannot see your way to get a cat, you could pay attention to the writing tips that are highlighted in bold above.  

But I still think there's nothing like a cat to keep you company throughout the day.  Unless its a pug. But that's a story for another day.

Which do you prefer–dog or cat?

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A Wednesday List

Punkins

Punkins, ready for the big night

So, I've had this idea lately. 

What might that idea be, you ask?

I shall tell you.  It's that maybe, once in awhile, more often than a blue moon, maybe even weekly, I'm not sure yet, it likely depends on you all react, I shall write a post that is more personal in nature.  In case you hadn't noticed, I just about always find a way to relate my posts to writing. 

Like, always.

Mostly because it is my firm belief that when you are a writer, everything does relate back to writing. But, still.  There are other aspects of my life that might be fun to comment on once in awhile.  

Thus beginneth the idea of the Wednesday List, with today's post being the first one.  Consider it a glimpse into my world beyond writing. Are you ready? Here we go.

1.  I'm cooking a lot.  Ha, news flash!  To some of you, this might not seem like much, but I am a Lazy Ass Cook Extraordinaire.  As in, buying something to throw on the grill and a prepared salad at Whole Foods.  Or even better, convincing my husband we need to go out.  (This generally does not take much work.)  But in France, I appreciated sun eggs (that's what they called them) so fresh they didn't need to be refrigerated, and tomatoes that tasted like they used to, back in the dark ages.  And so I vowed to cook more when I returned, and I have.  Mostly soups and quick breads so far, but still. And I have purchased two pieces of cooking equipment–a gigantic crock pot and a Madeleine pan. Haven't actually baked any Madeleines yet, but I will.  Maybe this weekend.  I shall report.

2. A story about how knitting saved my writing.  I am a knitter from way back, like birth, even. And yet I don't have much to show for myself, because I, um, tend not to finish things.  It's the idea of the finished object I like, apparently, and the process.  I am trying to change this, but in the meantime, I was recently reminded of how beneficial a knitting project can be.  Because I am trying diligently to finish my projects, I had my most recent one, a sweater made from lovely heathery blue/purple yarn sitting out within easy reach.  Thinking I was procrastinating, I sat down to knit.  I was procrastinating because I was stuck in the writing of my novel, trying to figure out how to fit in a couple of new scenes.  I shall think, I told myself, in order to justify the procrastination.  And guess what?  It worked! Within minutes, I had it all set in my mind.  So then, of course, I didn't get much done on the sweater.  Julia Cameron advocates repetitive activity as a creativity booster in the Artist's Way but I hadn't experienced its benefits in quite some time.

3.  My crazy Tub Wad cats.  They are two tabby brothers we rescued from the Humane Society

TubWad

Lieutenant, the fattest Tub Wad, in his favorite position

several years ago and they are fat.  I mean fat. (See photo for proof.) I used to tell people they were just big-boned, and they are, but I have to admit that even factoring that in, they are fat. And they love to eat.  Their evening feeding time is 5 PM, and long about 2, they start complaining that they are hungry.  But the other day, they were both happily asleep on the couch at that hour and I couldn't figure out what was going on.  Then I remembered the strange noises coming from the room we grandiosely call the library (if you could see it now you would laugh because it is serving as a storage and junk room) where their food was stored in a gigantic plasticized bag.  (We have to buy special food from the vet for them.)  I had secured the top of the bag with a clip, but Captain and Lieutenant made quick work of that.  Turns out they were helping themselves to food at all hours of the day and night. I'm pretty sure it was Captain who figured it out.  He's the smart one.  I always say he's studying to be a human in his next incarnation because he's constantly observing, with his ears perked up so you know he's listening to every word.

4.  Halloween.  I love it.  And its this Friday.  Yay.  But I'm not even sure why I like it so much.  I don't eat the candy, preferring dark chocolate or something more dessert-ish.  And I loathe dressing up in costume.  I think it is the fall color that I like, and the feeling of the crisp air, and all that (though this year our color here in Portland is the worst I've seen in years).  I even like–wait for it–the time change, so that it gets dark early.  Blame it on my Danish heritage, but the dark days of late fall are my favorite time of year.  This year, as always, I'll make my famous chili with the secret ingredient that makes it the best chili you've ever eaten, and my family will come over and the grandbabies will go out trick or treating (maybe–they are still a bit young) and there will also be wine, and beer for the men.  And fat Tub Wad cats lying in the middle of everything.

5.  Overwhelm.  I've been in it since I returned from France.  And I realize I do not handle it well. When I'm overwhelmed, I procrastinate.  Since I'm having problems getting things done, why not make it worse by not doing anything?  Yeah, it works real well, let me tell you.  I'm starting to climb out of it, with only two manuscripts left to read this week (and don't get me wrong, I love reading my client's work) and some forward progress on the rewrite of my novel.  Part of the reason I get overwhelmed is that I have a busy social life, with obligations to family and friends.  Obligations, ha! It's pure pleasure and I know it.  But every once in awhile I have to call enough and quit saying yes to things.

Owlies6.  I got a tattoo.  You can see by the accompanying photo that is it the best thing ever.  Owls are the family symbol because my Mom collected them for years, long before they enjoyed their current moment.  My daughter got a huge, complicated tattoo on her upper arm featuring an owl, and my sister is getting one in December (she had to get an old tattoo removed first). My tattoo is in honor of my grandchildren, with the symbols of their astrological signs in the body of each owl.  And guess what?  It didn't hurt much at all.  I was lying on the table squeezing my eyes shut, telling the tattoo artist to be sure and warn me when he was going to start, certain I was going to flinch and ruin it all. And then when he began I said, "Is that all there is to it?"  Now I'm ready to get another one.

Okay, so a whole novel later, that's what's going on in my life at the moment.  What's up with you, writing or otherwise?  Please leave a comment!

 

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New Writing Companions: Captain and Lieutenant

 
  Captain Lieutenant

I have two new writing companions: Captain (above) and Lieutenant.  Yesterday I was seized by the notion that I absolutely, positively had to get me a cat for Christmas.  After delicately breaking the news to some family members who were, um, shall we say, a bit resistant (a glass of wine helped)we headed out to the Oregon Humane Society first thing this morning.

We walked into a mob scene, a line at the info desk and all kinds of people sitting and standing in the lobby, waiting, I later found out, for their adoption counseling sessions.

My daughter and I had well and thoroughly scoped out the online listings from the Humane Society and had fallen in love with these two bruisers, brothers who had been brought in together, a "bonded pair."  I, however, was willing to be open-minded, on the off chance we didn't like these guys in person, or that another cat captured our attention first.  But when I told the volunteer which cats we were interested in and she said, "Wonderful!" I knew I was a goner.  And I was.  We sat in a little meeting room and waited for the brothers to be brought out to us. 

Let me just say, these meet-ups are every bit as awkward between cats and humans as they are between people, but still and all we could tell that they were great cats.  Handsome, big, strapping boys who are 1 year, 7 months old, in great health and well cared for in their previous home.  After we said we wanted to adopt them both, there was such a crowd there that we waited for an hour for our exit counseling.  Conveniently, there's a retail store there, so that one can stock up on supplies while waiting.

I tell ya, I've already had my Christmas.  It was so wonderful to be at the Humane Society and see so many happy, excited people taking home dogs and cats.  I was so excited to be getting pets again that I was nearly in tears.  This house has been without pets for too long, ever since the beloved pug died in August.

The cats' true personalities surfaced on the way home, with Captain so desperate to get out of his cardboard cat carrier that he headbutted a hole in its side.  He has since declared himself King of the house, lolling about on the couch, rolling back and forth on the floor, sitting on laps, imperiously staring at all who enter.  Lieutenant, however, is in hiding.  First we found him in the closet, then beneath a chair in my office.  I hear this is much more common behavior for the first days at home.

So that's the story of my new writing companions–because writing is always better with a cat or dog at your side.  What kind of writing companions do you guys have? 

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She’s In a Better Place, I Hope

My mother's cat, Emma, came to live with us about a month ago, when it became apparent that Mom was going to be in the nursing home a good long time, like forever.

Emma was as old in cat years as Mom in human years (92), if not older.  By our best estimates, she was probably 17 or 18, and she was a decrepit, skinny thing who clearly was not in the greatest of health.  Also not the happiest cat you've ever met.  I think she was charming and kitty-like when first we got her for Mom, but that was so long ago its hard to remember.

For the past month, she spent all of her time in our kitchen, either on the little rug I put out for her, or in front of the heating vent.  Every time the Big Scary Beast (the blind Pug, also getting on in years) came snarfling into the kitchen she either fled (in a slow, awkward way) or hissed and growled at him.

I should have known something was up when in recent days she no longer hissed at Igor the Pug, but seemed to tolerate him.  I thought she was mellowing and that maybe someday Emma and Igor would even be friends.  I also thought she would live forever, because she was that kind of cat.

Alas, such was not to be.  On Friday night we went to a party to celebrate the recent nuptials and when we got home Emma was acting strangely.  Still, she always acted strangely and so I petted her and went to bed. 

The next morning, at 6 AM, I found her dead, stiff as can be in her litter box (don't ask–I think it was a nice soft spot for her).  After the initial surprise and sadness, I felt guilt.  Guilt that I hadn't done more, guilt that I'd never really bonded with her, guilt, guilt, guilt.  But, come to think of it, guilt is a pretty selfish reaction–it makes the situation all about me when really it isn't. 

As a wise friend said, Emma realized that her job–taking care of my Mom–was finished. We did the best we could for her in the short time we had together, but clearly the enterprise was doomed from the start.  And so she went on to a better place.  The kitchen feels strangely empty and the Pug is wandering around wondering what happened to that nummy wet cat food he could once in awhile nab when nobody was looking.  We took her poor little body, with bits and pieces of kitty litter still clinging to it, to my Mom's backyard and buried her beneath a tree where many other pets have gone to their reward over the years.

Ah, life.  So many changes already this year, personally and globally.  All one can do is hang on tight and hope for the best.  And keep loving each other, or the feeble demon cat, or whatever happens to pass into your care.  Because, when all is said and done, the secret of life is to love one another.  It is just that simple.

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