Christmas morning we put our beloved, 14yr old family dog to sleep, so–a heartbreaking day. We arrived home from the vet’s in pelting rain, immediately noticing the gap in our house. We lit a fire and cocooned around it, sharing: how Tucker didn’t have a mean bone in his constantly shedding, gorgeous golden lab bod, how full of love he was for us and life in general–walks, patiently letting the cats rub their faces on his, naptime on the (fortunately king size) bed with his pack leader–my husband–trips to the beach (his favorite place in the world). We had many heart-lightening conversations, all of them crucial.
I’m glad it rained. It kept us close, helped us begin to process a deeply shared sorrow.
Mine was interspersed with vaccinations (see previous post for shingles vax info if you’re thinking about going for it). And, right before Thanksgiving, a family reunion in redwood forests near Santa Cruz, CA.
I might not be able to write when recovering from the side effects of certain vaccines, but I can write in the redwoods–in between (or inspired by): strolls through churchy forests and along the San Lorenzo river, chatting or participating in games nights with my lively people, soothing my teen horrified by a lack of solid internet connection.
First draft? No. However, I’ve made huge progress on breathing life into a piece that’s been knocking around in my head for the last two years. And discovered it’s a middle grade story I want to tell. All 50+ thousand words of it.
Yours in December’s unofficial nowrimo-ing (with egg nog and homemade pumpkin custards),
Because I got my shingles vaccine and had no idea it would slay me.
“Just a sore arm,” I was told. “Like the flu shot. Arm soreness! That’s all.”
3am following the vaccination I was frantically Googling ‘SHINGLES VACCINE SIDE EFFECTS” on my iphone as I shivered and ached and wondered if it was food poisoning from the Romanescu Shrimp I cooked for dinner.
Luckily, the CDC site calmed me. Side effects from the shingles vaccine are, in fact, common, the very effects I was experiencing, and may last 2-3 days.
“CINZANO!” I sobbed with relief, waking my husband, who rasped, “What’s wrong!”, and, when I told him, stumbled downstairs to get me Tylenol and another bottle of sparkling water as I staggered to the bathroom and dry heaved for a while.
So listen, when it’s your turn for a shingles vaccine? Maybe do it on a Friday. Stock your pantry with your fav soups. Fluff your pillows. Move your bottle of Tylenol from the downstairs PETS CUPBOARD to your bedside table. Drink. Water.
Maybe try saying CINZANO instead of WTF so your radar-ears teen doesn’t immediately think it’s fine for him to F-bomb his way around the house because you are F-bombing from your sickbed.
CINZANO-ON-ICE also works, for me. But just CINZANO, like you might shout SHAZAM, replaces WTF quite easily. For me.
If I ever tried Cinzano? Would have been decades ago in college. I don’t know why CINZANO popped into my head as an automatic F-bomb replacement?
But I’ll take it.
Setting Nanowrimo timer for 60 minutes–as soon as swallow Tylenol.
Yours in Nanowrimo joy and remembering that actually getting shingles is far, horrifically worse than getting the vaccine, than feeling like crap for a day because you pulled up your Big Girl Pants and got vaccinated vs. being hospitalized with a virus that can attack your eyes and drive you insane as it swarms the rest of your body for weeks and/or months,
This Halloween week, my son’s English teacher is having her students read the short story, THE MONKEY’S PAW, by W.W. Jacobs. Have you read it lately? Or, ever?
I just did.
First published in 1902, THE MONKEY’S PAW is so riveting I wish I, in my 2021 of Covid-induced-writers-block, could follow W.W. Jacobs on Twitter, showing him my support of his writing with repeated red heart ‘likes’. I will make do with reading/studying the story. Repeatedly.
W.W. Jacobs’ knack for concise scenes conveying EVERYTHING moving/relatable about his characters, setting, his–I’ll just go deep into cliche and state ‘the author’s keen regard’ for foreshadowing’–is so very 21stc! He would be snapped up by a literary agent immediately. Rightly so. I jumped from the story’s opening of a cozy family idyll into a horror that stressed me out because I didn’t want anyone to die (hence that aforementioned foreshadowing inherent in the story from title through to everything getting pretty heated up).
Mr. Jacobs and his editor, if he had one, and if not, then just Mr. Jacobs, nailed tragedy with a precision I admire and hate (because his writing works so well, it can cause physical discomfort and audible cries of NOOOOOOO).
I discussed the tragic elements of the story over dinner w/my teen, asking, basically: were you as disturbed/thrilled as I was with regards to who/what was knocking at the front door and who/what might the son have looked like if he’d been allowed to enter, asking did the goofy dad save or hurt his entire family, and, further, ultimately, and answers to my questions are a another blog post,if ever–NO ELBOWS ON THE DINNER TABLE, I said to my son, receiving this respose: Your elbows are on the table, Mom.
The current issue of SCBWI Insight has an article with NanoWriMo tips. Succinct, logical tips for writing 1,667 words a day. And while I probably won’t follow all tips, I have been nudged (shoved?) by said article to participate this November.
There’s a middle grade book I’ve been doing research for (supposedly a possible Pterodactyl-type creature tormented ranchers in my area back in the 1850’s)–but I’m starting to believe a year of research is actually: floundering in the red zone of procrastination.
Tip: Write first, edit later
My mantra in November. As well as: coffee, powerwalk, feed mini-zoo, sit down, write first, edit, shower, Trader Joe’s-it, watch the finale of Ted Lasso S2 later.
NanoWriMo–for the first time ever–I’m in. And the cats are coming with me.
Ever since the SCBWI Big Five-Oh summer conference, I have been the Madwoman of Revision. Lots of adhering to red ink exclamation points. Filtering critique. On not just my manuscripts, but synopses, loglines… You, too?
Whenever I’m convinced my writing is goodtogo I set it aside for a minimum of 24hrs, then revisit.
I wasn’t always like this–patient with my work, exercising/cultivating my critical 3rd eye (she is multicolored and progressively laser-ish). I used to shout, DONE, and submit. Heh heh……
Also recently cultivated? A passion for Tulsi Sweet Rose tea.
A main event for me yesterday was class with one of my revered middle grade authors, Gary D. Schmidt, reminding/pointing out to writers the perhaps subtle, yet concrete importance of your novel’s minor character(s). His examples ranged from David and Goliath, to Dickens, to contemporary fiction. I only wish the presentation had been several hours instead of 30 mins., and contained absolutely everything Mr. Schmidt knows about writing novels.
I attended all sessions with, of course, Digory. Bless his sweet soul. His enduring love of kidlit Zoom presentations is unwavering and inspiring.
Yours in conference attendance during which we transform into human sponges for cats and wonder madly where we’ve stashed the lint roller,
How odd to be out in the world. We aren’t venturing drastically far, but enough for a first substantial get-away since—-at least 3 years.
The teen has been across the GG bridge, but he was just a boy then, shorter than his mom and dad vs. the giant, moods-plagued, uber-sensitive young fellow he is now. This is his first time exploring the city. I was hoping to see his eyes widen over his mask as he rode a cable car, but they won’t be running again until August. The enigma of rock and crumbling buildings that is Alcatraz impressed him, though. Also, viewing the bridge’s girded underskirts from a boat…
I didn’t say ‘girded underskirts’ to the teen, I’m not that clueless a parent. Then again, I did try to buy him a t-shirt that said MEMBER ALCATRAZ PSYCHO WARD, and when I hastily backtracked and held the shirt up to myself with a laugh, it was too late, he’d moved on with a disappointed shake of his head. Doh.
Today we leave the city and head up Hwy 1 until it checks back in with the 101 and leads us to the Cali/Oregon border. Beaches, redwoods, river time, books on the Kindle, 20 printed pages of kidlit to leisurely edit while reclining before inspiring views. Sweaters!
Revisiting favorite way-to-tell-a-story inspirations. Encouraged that my Novelist-Dames (like my Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco Songstress-Dames) stand the test of my personal decades. IMO, the tell vs. show offered by these novelists (contrary to contemporary insistence on show vs. tell) is: gratifying. I’m reminded there is an art to telling, and an art to leaving room in all that telling for exciting reveals, AND room for well crafted action. Also, the editors of these books never reigned in their writers’ exceptional powers of description. Lovely to be fully immersed in their worlds.
Even if I do skim some of the telling here and there. Just a little.
My Twitter feed has (once again) switched from an obsession with What Is Your Favorite Movie, to What Is Your Favorite Song.
After research into my digital playlists (making me wonder if I’m missing a gene as everyone on Twitter seems to know their fav song like they know their fav ice cream flavor), I came up with multiple favorites, starting with the song that always gets me going if I’m insisting I have writer’s block:
Ray of Light, Madonna (William Orbit produced some of her best, most creative work, IMO) Dilate (Ani DiFranco, pictured) The Take Off And Landing Of Everything Good (Elbow) Some Bjork magic that never leaves me, won’t say which–but whales and hunters and magical orchestras and a squeezebox are involved Drops Of Jupiter (Train) Better Days (Eddie Vedder) California (Led Zeppelin) She’s A Rainbow (Rolling Stones) Brian Eno’s ‘Discreet’ and airport compositions Amelia, Joni Mitchell (actually difficult song to bear when I’m writing as lyrics freeze me like a deer in headlights)
To be honest, if I was ever ordered to come up with just one favorite song, or be killed, I would be killed.
Same with movies. Although, here, the list is shorter: Sense & Sensibility, Ghandi, ET and Jurassic Park, Hitchcock’s ’39 Steps’, The Black Stallion and Fly Away Home (Carroll Ballard is a genius, right?), LOTR, Sound of Music, oh dear–list is carrying on, probably ad nauseum, yes, I would be killed.
Always love to know what I might be missing in music and movies.
My Covid-Recovery-Brain has suggested that my leaning back against bed-pillows and Zoom-ing into conference keynotes and panels and workshops might be especially beneficial for igniting synapses previously Covid-numbed.
Especially since Gary D. Schmidt is participating this year.
I was hoping that by now we’d have had more rain vs. thimblefuls, but we experienced a brushfire instead. Way too early in the year, too close to home. Friends texted me: ALREADY? and EXCORCISM RE; SUPER LA NINA. And so on.
Our literal fire drill taught my family that we’re not in bad shape timewise as far as crating animals, throwing suitcases and the box filled with vital files into the back of the minivan and getting the hell out via one of several escape routes we mapped out last year. So–that’s good.
Our firefighters were heroes–the burn line came directly to property fences, but not a house was lost. Grateful. And grateful our firehouse is only 2 miles up the road.
My advice: If you’re told a fire is 10 miles from your hood, don’t let helicopters sucking up water at your local HOA pond distract you from realizing it’s best to hurry home and start loading the car, because: the swiftness of fires.
Yours in staying safe this sure-to-be scorching summer,
Oh, crap–missed it. Didn’t realize until 11:30pm last night and checked my Twitter feed. I’m used to ED falling on Saturdays. Aren’t I?
Speaking of Earth, we are having a Super La Nina in my part of the world. No rain. No green spring hills/mountains this year. Browns galore. It’s going to be an interesting summer. Escape boxes already packed in case of fire. Escape routes charted. Hoping for the best. Hoping this year the rain will come early. August would be nice.
My contribution to Earth Day is weeding out all of my plastic containers, recycling them and replacing them with Earth friendly containers. This has been going on since lockdown. Amazon has many positive choices. I also like LIFE WITHOUT PLASTIC.
Writing a middle grade trilogy having everything to do with climate change makes every day Earth Day for me.
And here is an Earth Day photo. The pond I walk to. Very green there–hoping this is due to recycled watering and conservationism…The ducks and turtles love it.
Reading Lily King’s EUPHORIA and watching Ken Burn’s ‘Hemingway’ feels like my brain has been emptied into the large silver strainer I use for washing strawberries, jiggling organic matter beneath faucet spray, jiggling, jiggling some more.
For me, the theme of survival dominates both pieces. In EUPHORIA: New Guinea, surviving its brutal infections (basically just riding them out) and aggressive tribe vs. tribe action, and heartbreaking tribe within tribe customs. In ‘Hemingway’, I marvel over the dramatic passages Ken Burns throws us from the short stories and novels, and over the fact that Papa survived as long as he did. Stubborness as Life’s elixir?
Lily King writes the way some singers (Stevie Wonder, Diana Krall) make singing sound effortless. Her powers create sink-into-skin stories that haunt for days +.
And during this weird, stress-inducing time of Covid19, so much of EUPHORIA and the Hemingway doc is, to me, relevant and terrifying and riveting and I’ve got to go now as the next Hemingway episode has dropped and I don’t want to be late to this party–or later than usual.
I notice myself doing little things I haven’t in 3 weeks.
Moving my hips to my Echo Show playlist, “PB’s Groove”, as I transfer dishes from the dishwasher to their homes.
Throwing cat toys for the 3 beasts, up and down the hallway–and back again.
Springs in my feet when I go up the stairs.
I continue to drink hot lemon water every morning, something I never drank before contracting Covid19. But I would like to boost my immune system as much as possible and detoxify my liver. I mean: who wouldn’t?
Still no desire for my greatest vice before Covid19: coffee. Seeing my coffemaker every morning, hearing the name ‘Starbucks’ makes me grimace. For a good few seconds.
No coffee, even though my sense of smell and especially taste is returning. I was able to savor the slow cooker salmon I made last night, the chocolate/vanilla pudding dessert.
I’m cooking again.
Noticing these little things is my confidence-building proof I’m healing after days of fatigue, body aches, loads of agony. To put it lightly.
And: I can read books again, focus. You’ve probably already read ‘Euphoria’. I am often late to the party (because of my own writing), but reading about characters surviving in life-threatening environs in the name of science (in brief) is just what I need right now.
Yes, but I’m the one who wears a mask to walk the dogs, herding them across the street to avoid oncoming pedestrians (who are never masked); the one who won’t powerwalk with mom friends (who are never masked); who will meet at a park, masked, as long as you are masked too and 10 feet away from my body; who wipes down door handles and grocery bags and grocery items; who will never be a hand model because of all the sanitizer gel and soapings 100 times a day; who turns the car around if husband or son has forgotten their mask and we’re on our way to hike fairly deserted trails, or the beach at 7am when only pelicans and gulls frequent the shore. I’M THAT ONE.
And I have Covid. As does my teenager. And my spouse.
So close to getting vaccinated, an entire year of staying safe, an impressive collection of masks, an arsenal of sanitizers in house and cars, and we have it.
So far, it is like having a heavy flu. Every. Single. Day. Today, Day 5, feels worse than Day 4. Which felt better than days 2 and 3. I don’t remember Day 1.
TBH, we need for Days 7 and 10 to hurry up and get here. I’m told if we make it without respiratory issues through those days, which can be prone to the Covid breathing issues and possible hospitalization, then we’re going to be fine.
Fine, fine, fine.
Mainly, don’t let anyone ever tell you cats don’t help when you’re Covid-ridden. Or the giant TV you invested in before Covid began killing Americans. Or the pictures on your walls. Or the speedy book delivery from your favorite independent bookstores. Or that lemongrass/peppermint body scrub your sister gave you for your birthday. Or the old Reilly Ace Of Spies PBS series starring Sam Neill. Or hot water with fresh lemon squeezed in it. Or thermometers that don’t have to go under your tongue, armpits, or swipe across your forehead, but inform you via a trained soft light and gentle beep. Or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Or having Alexa play windchimes.
Yours in healing ASAP, PB UPDATE: 3/31 If you, too, have Covid, then you’re not alone in feeling like you are living in a perpetual state of trying to complete a cartwheel. Slooooooowly. Last night was scary for husband (thus all of us), who is in perhaps 9th-11th day of sickness. Family dr. prescribed a cough RX and husband was able to sleep. Cough sounded like very old contraption dredging Suez Canal. Yes. Nightmare material. Have canceled son’s school for rest of week. Why didn’t I do that at once? He doesn’t need school stress. He needs to sleep. Rest. Play video games with friends ALL DAY LONG IF NECESSARY. We are grateful our son has no fever, but a huge appetite. My 7th day of Covid–I am basically better than everyone else. I am feeding family/pets. I loaded dishwasher. I submitted my writing to a thing I was supposed to. I showered. And now I’m going to schedule dinner delivery. GET THIS: The oximeter from CVS. 49,99. Cheaper versions on Amazon. Get. It. Stay healthy. Stay safe. I thought we were doing just that. I effing wipe down everything in this house. We don’t go to restaurants. Malls. We stayhome/staysafe. I don’t know how we got it. PB
A bright light in #stayhomestaysafe is being made aware (thanks to my SCBWI regional newsletter) of SCBWI regional events around the USA.
Here are a couple I’m registered for:
Austin, TX Webinar: To Plot or Not? , Tuesday 3/16 with Veera Hiranandani. For extra $, Veera will give a critique of your writing. I’m in. Her novel THE NIGHT DIARIES , Newbery Honor, chronicles a Hindu/Pakistani family’s struggle in 1947, when India splits in 2.
2 In April, I will Zoom to Virginia for: Mid Atlantic (DC/Virginia): Writing Exciting Fact-Filled Books!, Jennifer Swanson, 4/13. Jennifer knows how to breathe life into facts. My middle grade trilogy is filled with facts on the ocean and I’m constantly trying to find ways of upping the vibration and resonance when explaining why a nudibranch is a mollusk, even though it doesn’t have a shell–for instance.
I was particularly impressed by birthday cards I received this year. Or maybe I’m particularly impressed every year and just forget how impressed I am, year after year…after year…But look:
Right??? And look:
Just the other day I was up on a patio chair reaching for one of the hummingbird feeders to take it down for servicing. Before I could unhook it, a hummer buzzed over to within maybe 2 inches of my face. Clearly he was telling me: NOT YET. He dipped his beak to the feeder’s fake flower, and drank. His purple head was like shimmering velvet. Pretty sure he was Anna’s Hummingbird. Will consult my Sibley’s. It was a thrilling experience. Luckily I’m not so old, yet, that I can’t hold my balance on a patio Adirondack. The hummer’s boldness, a good 10 seconds worth, was not lost on me.
Finally, who doesn’t love Parisian cats? No. One.
Bonne chance et surtout, bonne redaction!(accent on the ‘e’)
Not at all far from my new home in the Santa Clarita Valley are chunky ruins of the St. Francis Dam, once a major reservoir for Los Angeles.
March 12, 1928, the dam collapsed.
The sudden freedom of 12.4 billion gallons of water produced a roar that must have been beyond terrifying, punctuated by the Gods-Of-Thunder boom/crack of giant boulders carried along with the deluge, smashing together as easily kids pitting marbles against marbles. 7 minutes after the break, the reservoir the dam had supported was empty.
Over 400 people died, many bodies never recovered. The wall of water was 50 feet high (120 feet high when getting started), 2 miles wide. It gushed down San Francisquito Canyon and into the Santa Clara River, coursing west through Fillmore and Santa Paula (basically the route of today’s 126 FWY) to Ventura, emptying into the Pacific Ocean.
I first read about the dam break on a plaque in Harey Carey Sr.’s gardens, a brief powerwalk from my hood. I was so overwhelmed by the sad tale I plunked at a table in Mr. Carey’s front yard and thought about the disaster for a while. The table, now my new out-of-the-house writing spot, is near the wash down which the dam’s waters first surged, taking out Mr. Carey’s trading post and the couple who ran it.
Harry Carey Sr. and family weren’t home at the time of the break. Nor were the 40 or so Navajo Native Americans who tended Carey’s sprawling ranch and provided goods for the trading post. The Navajo had vacated the area on the advice of their shaman, who knew the flood was coming. The Navajo packed up, trekked all the way to Arizona to escape the horror.
Did the shaman warn the Careys? Or was it a coincidence they weren’t home?
Did the shaman warn the couple running the trading post? Or the dam keeper and his family, the flood’s first victims? Perhaps many locals were given the opportunity to save themselves. It seems Papa Dam Keeper was at the dam that evening, right before the break. Did he believe the shaman? Is that why he was out so late? In the dark? Was he hunting for cracks? His body, and that of his 6 year old son, were never found.
If a local shaman warned me my house was in the path of a deadly dam break, would I listen? If a stranger knocked on my door and told me, if a psychic from one of those TV infomercial ‘hotlines’ called me up with a dire warning, if a relative, a dear friend, or even my spouse sounded an alarm–would I listen?
Current newspaper headlines regarding the surge of COVID in my golden state are terrifying–yet our governor has us partially ‘reopening’…Who to listen to?
Some people are always worth listening to, aren’t they? Even if I don’t agree with them 100% of the time, or if I’ll never actually meet them in person. And some people are not (worth listening to).
As a mother, I heed my intuition as it relates to parenting, and isn’t intuition the birth of poetry, or all 9 muses in 1, or the wellspring of knowledge? And, as we’ve been told ad nauseum: knowledge is power. Isn’t it?
Fitting my mask in place and calling it quits for today, although I will return to Mr. Carey’s front yard with my laptop.
Yours in listening,
Dam photos: Stearns, H.T. USGS. “Chunk” photo: photographer unknown.
NYE we went around the dinner table, each of us (husband, teen, me) listing anything we’d like to accomplish in 2021. Our teen shocked the heck out of his parents by stating he’d like to learn how to cook things besides scrambled eggs. “Cooking will be a useful tool in life”–direct quote. I guess helping me make the maple glaze for the NYE salmon steaks resonated with him, big time. Right on.
It’s bittersweet dismantling Christmas–until this year, I didn’t truly comprehend just how REAL Christmas cheer is–but I’m looking forward to 2021, to our country improving, to seeing family, sharing meals with friends, all the way to decorating 12/21’s tree with extended family present. And I look forward to cooking with my son.
Also, finishing Bridgerton on Netflix will be fantastic as it’s distracting me from my writing.
Yours in hope over fear and wild bells ringing out (yearly gratitude for Tennyson),