New Venture

key-with-keyboard
Enter a caption

If you’re at all familiar with this blog, you’ll know that I LOVE books, movies, and television. Enjoying other people’s stories is a big part of my life, almost as much as, if not more than, my own writing. I’ve written quite a few book, film and TV reviews for this blog (you can find them under the appropriate categories to the right), and I love doing them.

The problem is, I’ve read in several different places that writing reviews does absolutely nothing for strengthening your writer platform. I get it: you may be drawing readers who also love books and film, but you’re not necessarily drawing in readers for your fiction. The proof is in the numbers: after nearly three years of fairly regular blogging, I’ve snagged a paltry 160 followers. I never dared hope for thousands, but I did hope to get a few more than that. I know it takes time and perseverance for a blog to grow, but I do think there’s room for improvement.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and feel that perhaps the problem is that the blog is too broad–I dump everything in it. Reviews, personal stuff, essays on whatever, as well as my own fiction. I’ve already created another blog for my personal musings on my experiences raising a child with spina bifida (Beautiful Detour )–but I feel I probably need to focus further.

I’ve read various quotes from several different sources claiming that if you want to write, you someday have to stop reading other people’s stories (at least for a time) and write your own. It makes sense. Here’s the thing: I don’t think I can. I’m a bit obsessive about reading books and watching movies and TV. It’s a big part of who I am. I’ve often felt conflicted between the two and pulled in different directions. Am I a writer, or mostly a lover of writing? At this point in my life, with only so much time, I feel I need to choose, and be done with it. The truth is, I can’t.

So I finally come to the point of this post, which is that I’ve created yet another blog, called Page and Screen. In it, I will exclusively write book, film, and TV reviews to my heart’s content, simply because I love to do it. If you care to do so, and are at all interested in my opinions on other people’s stories, please click the link and follow it. If not, that’s okay, too.

Don’t worry, I’ll still write my own stories. I’m far less organized and have no clear plan concerning my fiction, but I can’t imagine giving it up completely. My Writing Journey will remain the home for my musings on the writing life, as well as the occasional personal essay, story or snippet, and other things (things I haven’t quite figured out yet) to increase my fiction writing platform.

So, three blogs? Call me crazy, but yes, I love it, and I’m so grateful for this unique way of exploring my interests and passions.

 

 

Advertisements

Tasty Toxin

sugar

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you may know about my addiction to dark chocolate, and to sugar in general. It was something I just assumed I’d never be able to give up (having tried many, many times), and figured I’d just have to learn to live with the consequences. Said consequences encompassing fatigue, aches and pains, headaches, menstrual cycles from hell, and vicious mood swings.

For awhile I chalked it up to getting older. It was just natural that these things were happening to me. Wasn’t it? In one of my earlier attempts at quitting sugar, I’d read a book (Lick the Sugar Habit, by Nancy Appleton), which had gone into incredible detail about what sugar does to the human body. So I knew it probably wasn’t just about getting older. But there was a part of me (the addict) that didn’t want to accept it. Despite the fact that it was affecting my quality of life, I didn’t want to let go, at least not completely. I’d cut down. That’s reasonable. But that “just one piece of chocolate after dinner” turned into just one candy bar, and then that turned into one after dinner and one before bed, and then that turned into…

But after nearly 47 years of ingesting this sweet poison, I’d come to a place I decided I simply couldn’t tolerate anymore. One of the signs was an increase in headache intensity. My life has been a constant battle with headaches, but the past few months have seen instances of hellish new levels where I’ve felt nauseous and had to lie down in the dark without moving. Was this what a migraine felt like? I had a sneaking suspicion it was.

There’s a long list of physical ailments that make me miserable, but it’s the mood swings that convinced me something needed to be done. Some days I felt so depressed I seriously wondered what the point of getting out of bed was. If my daughter didn’t need me to get her ready for school, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Other days, I seethed with rage for no particular reason. Or rather, everything was a reason to get angry. I hated everyone and everything, but mostly I hated myself, and this monster inside me. Other days, every errand and chore seemed insurmountable, my list of responsibilities endless, and though I wasn’t having complete panic attacks, a low-level anxiety ran through me almost constantly. I couldn’t cope. It was seriously affecting my life, making it difficult for me to take care of my family and my writing.

Perimenopause? Maybe. But could it be lessened somehow? Was something making it a lot, lot worse than it needs to be? I’m pretty sure the answer is yes, and I’m also pretty sure the culprit is sugar.

So, I decided that beginning on March 1 of this year, I’d quit sugar. For good this time, and I mean it. Now, I need to explain just what I mean by “sugar”, because it can get confusing. For now, at least for a few months, I mean mainly desserts–chocolate, yes, but any other kind of candy, pastry, ice cream or sweet confection that I’ve routinely eaten in the course of my life. That seems to be the obvious place to start, because I eat a lot of it (But you’re not fat! people say. Hey, I walk. A lot. But inside, I’m a mess.) I’ll worry later about the hidden sugar in other (processed) foods–it’s there, folks– but mostly I’m trying to incorporate more whole foods: fruits and veggies, nuts, fish and lean meat. You get the idea.

I bought a book called  “Year of No Sugar” by Eve O. Shaub. It’s a memoir chronicling her family’s project of avoiding all added sugar (fructose) for an entire year. There are two young children in this family, so you can imagine the challenge of avoiding not only desserts (it’s amazing how we equate love with offering sugar), but all the insidious sugar added to the American diet that we don’t even think about. I’m not going that far–yet–but I was inspired and got a lot of ideas for reducing sugar in my family’s diet.

year of no sugar

For instance, Lilly has decided she wants to be a baker. A serious baker–forget the box cake and cookies, she wants to get the flour and sugar and baking soda out and make desserts from scratch (thanks, Food Network). Unfortunately for her, her mom is NOT a baker, nor has she ever wanted to be a baker. But I feel, as a mom, I should encourage her in her ambitions and hobbies, and so bake we must. What to do about the enormous amounts of sugar we’ll be making and presumably ingesting? In the book above, the writer discovered a palatable sugar substitute called dextrose, which can be swapped with sugar in most recipes. Dextrose is glucose, a form of energy the body can actually use without harming it in the process. And she pinky swears it tastes pretty good, too. Problem solved!

So it’s Day 14 with no desserts, and I can honestly say I feel better already. Like a sticky, sugary film has been removed and I can see a little more clearly now. I wake up in the morning and feel rested, rather than like a truck hit me. My moods have been fairly stable (the fantasy of beating something with a metal bat hasn’t even entered my head!). Of course, this is my  “good week”. The real test will be in the next couple of weeks, when I usually feel the worst during my cycle. I’m tentatively confident it will at least be less torturous.

Sure, I miss those little brown squares of chocolate. But it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be. Now, whenever I eat something slightly sweet, like yams, it tastes like candy. A bowl of cinnamon Life cereal is a sugar blast that tastes like dessert (and I do save it for that dessert-y before bed snack).

So the sugar party is over, but that’s okay. Like with any addict, there will always be challenges ahead (our sugar-infested culture being just one of them), but I’m confident I can overcome them. Feeling good is just too sweet to give up.

What are your thoughts on sugar? Is your sweet tooth out of control? Avoid it like the poison it is? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

Fire and Fury

No, this isn’t in reference to the political tell-all that’s been in the news lately, and thank God for that.

Let me begin here: I was sitting at the computer the other day, casting around for an idea for a blog post. Nothing was forthcoming. I literally stared at a blank screen for I don’t know how long.

Inevitably, I started goofing off out of sheer boredom. Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube. I suddenly had an idea. No, not for a blog post. But I could listen to the new U2 album on Youtube. Does anyone even listen to “albums” anymore? U2 fans of a certain age do. And used to be, I had to save up my pennies to buy that new CD. Now I can listen to an entire album for free on my computer. Ah, progress!

Anyway, as I listened to “Songs of Experience”, I started to get a sinking feeling. I didn’t like it. Usually, it takes a few listenings for me to get the feel of an album, but I have to at least recognize some kind of affinity for me to listen a second time, and a third, etc. It was like that for their previous album, “Songs of Innocence”, and I ended up loving that album. But “Songs of Experience”, the “companion” album to Innocence, left me definitely unimpressed.

This isn’t a review of that album. I didn’t like it; let’s leave it at that. It’s been hit or miss for me with this band for several years now, maybe decades, and I was left wondering: what happened to the band of my youth?

U2 young
Then: angry young men.

Well, Tina, they got older, just like you.

Okay, but what does that mean? Does it mean they should hang it up? That Bono should just concentrate on his activism, which is a worthy and noble undertaking? Because it pains me to see this group put out mediocre work (Yes, I have very high standards. Don’t blame me, they set the bar).

Is Rock’n’Roll dead? Yes, in a world now dominated by pop, rap, and whatever the hell else they’re calling music these days, I fear it’s true. (Do I sound ornery? I sound ornery.) And that breaks this Gen Xer’s heart to the very core. All we can do is look back, because no one can seem to capture the magic anymore. Even those acts that did work the magic back in the day. They’ve lost something. What is it?

Well, youth, obviously. But also the main ingredient that comes with it (besides freshness and intensity and raw urgency): anger. Fire and fury. And the energy to scream (sing) about it at the top of their lungs. I’m thinking about Boy and October. I’m thinking about War and Unforgettable Fire, and Joshua Tree.

Remember Alannis Morissette? That was one pissed off bitch. Where is she now? If I had to guess, she’s baking cookies for the PTO.

Not that we (people over 40, just so we’re clear) don’t still get angry. I can honestly say that I’ve felt more rage in the last decade of my life than I ever felt in the first three put together. But it’s a different sort of rage. It’s more of an internal thing than at the wider world (though there’s that, too, especially now).

Or maybe the anger is the same, but we’re different. We simply don’t have the time to indulge in unadulterated rage. Because there’s runny noses to wipe, and bills to pay, and doctor appointments to get to, and aging parents to take care of, and marriages to tend. Anger has to be set aside, because there’s shit to get done. It’s not about you and your disaffected anger anymore.

Yeah, growing up sucks. It can be boring.

And honestly, you get tired. You can’t sustain anger over a long period of time; you’ll burn out. In youth, the flame energizes and inspires you, because that’s all you have. In the later years, it simply burns you. It might even kill you.

U2 now
Now: it’s complicated.

Bono understood that he couldn’t just sing about injustice. He had to take action. Walk the walk. And you can’t meet with world leaders and start yelling about how unfair everything is. You have to cultivate patience, and understanding, and perseverance. You have to be willing to compromise, to choose between the lesser of two evils, sometimes. In youth, there was no gray areas, only black and white, and compromise meant you gave up. Evil was evil, period. But after life runs you over a couple of times (or a couple dozen), the fire gets stamped out. Hopefully humbleness replaces the anger. If you’re lucky, gratefulness replaces the fury. At least enough to balance out the cynicism.

One of the things I loved about U2 was that underneath all that youthful discontent, they held onto hope. Their faith had a lot to do with that, and I admired it. I think it’s sustained them for 30-plus years. Is it better to burn out than to fade away? I’m not so sure. Let’s ask the 27-Club: Jimi, Jim, Janis, Curt, Amy. Oh yeah, we can’t. They died before they got old.

Maybe maturity makes for boring music. But not always. I find it interesting that I loved “Songs of Innocence”, when U2 wrote about growing up in Ireland, but “Songs of Experience”, presumably about their older selves, left me cold.

Tell me about when you burned, when life was a flame that set you on fire. That’s where the energy is. That’s where the magic is.

Keep Stabbing

Reassurance can come in some strange ways, sometimes.

Lilly  has been struggling with urinary tract infections (UTIs) for some time now. Every time it seems we have a handle on it, it comes back, like some monster that won’t die. I’m starting to suspect that the bacteria has begun to build a resistance to antibiotics. She just finished her latest round of cephalexin a few days ago; now she’s complaining of pain in her lower abdomen again, and pain with cathing.

Fed up with going to the doctor only to have more antibiotics prescribed, I’ve decided to try a different route: D-mannose. It’s a concentrate of the active ingredient in cranberries that helps with UTI’s. It’s better than drinking gallons of cranberry juice (which Lilly doesn’t like) with all the sugar in it that can cause more problems. I asked for advice on the spina bifida support group that I’m part of, and many people have recommended this natural product, along with some probiotics. I did a bit of research, and feel it’s a viable route for Lilly at this point.

d mannose

I couldn’t get my hands on any D-mannose at any of the three pharmacies here in our town, so I had to order it online (and pay an exorbitant amount of shipping to have it get here today). I’m going to try it for a several days, but if she doesn’t seem to get better, I’ll certainly get her to the doctor.

Lilly woke up this morning at 4:00 am needing to be cathed. Afterward, she was in such pain it brought her to tears. I gave her some generic AZO, and waited an interminable 10 or so minutes for it to kick in and her pain to subside. It finally did, but while my daughter was lying beside me in bed, writhing in pain and crying, the old meaningless questions roiled through my head again: Why does she have to go through this? Why my child? How are we going to deal with this over and over and over? Where am I going to find the strength to keep soldiering on with this? (Not just the UTI’s, but everything involved with SB).

She finally went back to sleep, and so did I. I dreamed Lilly and I were together in some big building. The building was filled with zombies (stick with me here). I had to protect her. I couldn’t carry her, she’s too big and heavy. She can’t run fast. The zombies were everywhere, endless, overwhelming. I picked up some meager but sharp weapons I found on the floor, one in each hand. I didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to be here, but here I was. As we hustled down hallways and zombies came near, I stabbed them in the chest. Over and over, I stabbed those monsters. Then I realized I’d done it wrong; you have to stab them in the head for them to die, or they’ll only come back. I doubled back and stabbed them again, this time in the head. Every time, I waited for that scratch or bite that would doom me, but it never happened. Stab, run, hide. Stab, run, hide. It went on and on; it seemed I had never known anything else.

zombies
E.coli’s coming! Again…and again…and again.

The mission never changed: keep her safe, keep her alive. We finally ended up in some small room or closet. I was trying to bar the door when I woke up as my husband came into the bedroom to get ready for work. I was never so happy for him to wake me up in the morning.

My first thought was: thank god, there’s no zombie apocalypse. My next thought was, yeah, okay, I get it. I can do this. I’m a warrior. I’ll do whatever I have to, and we’ll somehow get through it. Tools will be provided. Help will arrive.

You may not know why there’s a zombie apocalypse, but you still have to deal with it. There’s no time to ask why; you just have to keep stabbing.

(This was supposed to go on my other blog Beautiful Detour, about Lilly and spina bifida, but my scatterbrain put it here instead. Enjoy!)

 

 

Dear Internet

Dear Internet,

I love you. You must know this, considering all the hours I while away in your company. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: Facebook, I could scroll through your memes, family photos and videos forever. Pinterest, my fandoms knows no rest with you. YouTube, music old and new sends me into ecstasies. WordPress, I blog to my heart’s content, and convince myself I’m “writing”. As an introvert, I can make connections and feel a part of something in a way I never could before. You coddle and console me. I’m grateful, I really am.

But afterward, I feel kind of empty. Cheap. Guilty. I long for a more satisfying relationship, one that makes me feel more grounded and authentic, one that doesn’t leave me feeling as if I’m wasting my time. In truth, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about another media: pen and paper. I can’t help it. We used to have something real, and then I drifted away, lured by your flashy entertainment and empty calories. I can actually feel my brain shrinking, the cells atrophying from lack of use. I grew up with pen and paper; we’re old friends. What I’m saying is, I’d like to see more of pen and paper in my life and less of you.

notebook-writing

Am I dumping you completely? I’m not saying that. I just think we need to separate for a while. It won’t be easy. God, you’re alluring. It will be hard to resist you. But I must, at least for my own sake.  Love has turned to obsession. I knew a line was being crossed when I began to feel anxious when I was away from you for too long. When I couldn’t check my useless emails, when I couldn’t see how many likes and comments my Facebook or WordPress posts accumulated. As if any of that matters. You made me think all that stuff was important, while what’s really important is the relationship between pen and paper and my own mind.

And really, there’s an ugly side of you I don’t like at all. I’m not just talking about trolls and fake news, although that’s a part of it. There’s a certain lack of both accountability and civility that repulses me. But I won’t get into that; what’s important is that I’m saying goodbye. But not forever. For better or for worse, you’re a part of everyone’s life now, and you have your uses. I just need to get some space to breathe, and figure out what that use is.

I’ll miss you. But I miss more the words and stories in my head that want to come out, but are unable to; they’re stopped up by your dominance over my time and mind. So I’m letting you go for the time being. I’ll come back to you when I feel stronger, more able to assert control over your addicting tendencies.

Au revoir for now,

Me

 

10 Things

cash-register-576159_960_720

Ten things to remind me why I like working as a cashier in a grocery store:

  1. It’s my little contribution to the household income (and boy, we need it).
  2. It gets me out of the house, away from worries about Lilly and bills and writing and the state of the world.
  3. It’s my stand-in for a social life. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t see or talk to too many other souls. Not that I talk a lot; I listen more.
  4. 10% discount on groceries! It helps.
  5. Counting back change keeps my basic math skills sharp.
  6. Ringing up groceries can be like meditation or a good time for daydreaming. If I’m careful (and I’m not always), I can let my mind wander over the beeps and think about the book I’m reading (see #7), or what I’m writing, or pretty much anything I want to think about.
  7. I can get a lot of reading done. Really. I bring my Kindle, and in between customers or during slow times, I can get a few paragraphs in. It’s no worse than the young ones getting on their phones (which they do).
  8. Speaking of young ones, it’s a great opportunity for me to pick the minds of the younger generation (for when they turn up in my fiction), which I realized quite a while ago I know nothing about, except that they teethed on keyboards. What makes them tick? Turns out, there’s a lot of talk about college requirements, who’s dating who, and intense discussion of The Bachelor (females, anyway). Huh. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.
  9. I don’t take my job home with me. This is extremely important to me, and always has been. Once I leave the work place, my time is my own. Period.
  10. People-watching. Half the town makes their way through here on any given day, and there’s no end of interesting people (annoying or not) that have found their way into my Purple Notebook. 

Bonus #11. It’s a pretty easy job. Really, it’s so easy, a caveman can do it.

caveman

Whoa, easy there, caveman. Just kidding. I still screw up a lot, and there’s still plenty left to learn.

If you’re a writer (or any kind of artist), what’s your day job? Do you like it? Does it support your art, or stifle you? Leave a comment, and we’ll talk about it!

Slow and Steady

I’ve got a birthday coming up this month, and let’s just say I’ll be on the other side of forty-five. This has led to all sorts of interesting reactions in me, the usual, predictable ones, but the one I want to talk about here is my altered sense of time and how it has affected my writing.

In my twenties, and even throughout most of my thirties, my life seemed like a long road stretching out before me, with the destination nowhere in sight.  I felt like I didn’t have my shit together, but that was okay, because there was plenty of time (and road) to figure it all out. If I wrote, it was whenever I felt like it, and it was mostly complaining in my journal about not writing and not having enough time to write (??!!–this was before I had my daughter, mind you. I had no idea what “no time” meant).

Then suddenly (yes, it seemed quite suddenly) I was forty, and the road became decidedly shorter–terminal, in fact. The destination came into sight; it was still a long way ahead, but the fact that I could see it disturbed me. Okay, I thought. If I want to write, I better get the hell going, because sooner or later this road is going to stop.

hourglass

Slightly panicked, I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. Short stories, long stories, even a couple of  novels. Blog posts. Time was running out. Hurry, hurry, my mind kept badgering me. You’re going to die someday, idiot, get it all out! So I did. Piles of writing accumulated around me. I sent some pieces out on submission. A couple of small successes followed. Not much else since then.

That’s okay, but I do know what the ultimate problem is: I’m going too fast. I’m dashing down these stories (in the small pockets of time allowed me–I think ruefully back on the oceans of time I had before motherhood, and how I squandered that time), and making cursory revision attempts, but I’m not slowing down and really taking the time to make these stories the best they can be. I was so hell-bent on getting a finished product out, they turned out a little shoddy. Decent, but not good enough to be published.

It’s been a big learning curve, and it still is (that’s why I call this blog My Writing Journey-there will always be something to learn along this writing road). And the lesson that’s become clear to me is to slow down, be patient. Slow and steady. Quality over quantity. I don’t have to prove that I’m a writer by pumping out a slew of stories that aren’t quite ready.

typewriter

I’ve mentioned that I’m working on a story based on a poet that lived in my area in the mid-nineteenth century. I’ve also mentioned that I don’t really know much about poetry, or how people lived in the mid-nineteenth century in New England. So I’m going to have to do a lot of research. That’s going to slow me down. Not a bad thing. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on character sketches for the four main characters, really digging into their personalities, their history, their passions and baggage. This is all after getting down a first draft of the main events in the story, a draft that will be expanded on and reworked. This summer when Lilly is on vacation, I’ll plod away on a workable outline. Maybe NaNoWriMo this November will be spent fleshing out this outline into a novel. And then the real work will begin.

I love these characters, and I must tell their story. But I want to do it right. So I’m not rushing. Slow and steady. I’m not planning on dying in the interim. (I still want to work toward my Fifty by Fifty plan, so I’ve got a lot of work to do!)

As I’ve been pondering these things, I came across this articleabout a Japanese painter who felt he didn’t paint anything of worth until he was 70 years old, that the older he got, the better he got. There’s hope for me yet!