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

 

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10 Things

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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.

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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!

 

 

My Life with Paige

One of the books on my TBR list is My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, by Pamela Paul. Paul is the editor of the New York Times Book Review, and she’s kept a list of all the books she’s ever read for the past 28 years. She calls this running list Bob (Book of Books).

bob

This is a book I must absolutely read, because I, too, have kept a list of books that I’ve read, for a period of at least 15 years. In 2000, I bought a beautiful hardcover notebook with the tiny handwriting of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre on the cover. For each entry, I wrote the title and author, the copyright year, the number of pages, the dates I read the book, whether or not I owned it or if it was a library book, whether it was a new read or a re-read, paperback or hardcover. And then I’d write a few pages summing up the plot, what I thought of the book, anything and everything about how it made me feel. Sometimes I’d start a book and never finish, and I’d explain why I didn’t, or what I didn’t like about it. I wasn’t writing formal book reviews; it was purely subjective, a stream of reactions and thoughts at gut level.

The first book I recorded in that journal was The Innkeeper’s Song, by Peter S. Beagle, in 2000. The last book was Across the Nightingale Floor, by Lian Hearn, in 2004. On the last page I listed the total number of books read (64) and a list of the authors. On the inside covers, I recorded quotes about books and reading by various luminaries. If I saw a picture of the cover of the book, I’d cut it out and tape it into the entry. It truly is a detailed picture of my reading life, a scrapbook of literary experiences.

I have four of these beautiful hardcover notebooks, and they cover my reading from 2000 until 2011. The last one is a larger purple hardcover that covers 2011 to 2015; it’s only one third filled in, and I was getting lazier with my entries–I had begun to photcopy the cover of the book and tape it in, and jot down a few words about it. It was about this time I began the blog, and all the books I’ve read since then have been informally reviewed here. For a list of them, go here. To read the reviews, go to “Books” under Categories on my Home page.

With the inevitable transition from handwritten entries to digital posts, I’ve traded in a personal and private relationship to books for a slightly more formal, public one. I can share my love of books with others here and talk about my reading habit with other book lovers, which is wonderful; but I’m also sad that the hardcover book journals have come to an end.

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My book journals

I’d love to take the time to read through them all and perhaps match book choices to life events. I have personal journals stowed away somewhere from this time; it might be interesting to match the dates between the book journals and the personal journals, and maybe see what might have influenced my reading choices. In 2000 I was 29 and two years married; my daughter was nine years away. I worked at the accounting office for most of that time, and I scribbled away privately on various stories. Nothing too exciting outwardly; but my inner life was always working away, churning, evolving, planning, dreaming.

Could I write a book about my reading habits, as Pamela Paul has? Maybe with some thought, but I doubt it would be very interesting to other readers. It’s more of a personal thing, this choosing of stories, of deciding who I’m going to spend the next 15 hours of my reading life with.

I never named my book journals, but if I did, I suppose I would name them, collectively, Paige (get it?).

I really miss Paige. She was an old friend that was always there for me, during the good times and the bad, but I can always revisit her and reminisce. In the meantime, I’ll read My Life with Bob and add it to my list of books read, a continual, never-ending thread sewn into the fabric of my life.

Let’s talk about my hair

(Since everyone else seems to want to).

So I’ve been getting gray hairs since my late twenties. Back then, it was a few hairs here and there, something to joke about, oftentimes plucked out, only to be replaced virtually overnight. Not a big deal, though.

It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that they grew numerous enough for me to feel compelled to cover it up with hair dye. But I wasn’t consistent about it–I’d do it three times a year, maybe. Part of it was laziness–who wants to deal with that stinky muck?–and another part of it was, Oh, who cares?

Well, it turns out quite a few people have some fairly strong opinions about it.

I’m in my mid-forties now, and I made the conscious decision about a year ago to never dye my hair again. That slow and steady turning of a few grays a year has accelerated rapidly in the last few years, and I have just as much gray as light brown. Again, the decision was part laziness, part rebellion against the societal pressure for women to preserve their youth and beauty no matter what the cost. Fuck that, right? Yet I was still a little nervous and chose to keep that last box of hair dye in the bathroom closet. You know, just in case.

The reactions I’ve gotten over the past year have been interesting and various, depending on age group. Younger people (35 and under) invariably don’t give a shit. Why should they? To them, I’m already “old” anyway. It’s beyond their noticing.

The only exception to this was some youngish person asking me one day if my gray was natural or if I dyed it gray.

Excuse me? Why on earth would anyone dye their hair gray on purpose? Oh yes, I was informed. Apparently it’s a trend now among the younger set. Lucky me. I’m “trendy” without even trying. And yet I found myself a little miffed, too. Sorry, kid, but you gotta earn those grays. How dare you youngsters try to usurp that privilege! Stick to pink and blue and green, will ya?

Those older than me (50 and up), men and women both, seem to adore it. I can’t get through a single shift at my cashier job without some customer commenting on my hair:

“Wow, your hair is beautiful!”

“Is that your real hair color? It’s gorgeous!”

Gratification ensues. Finally, after a lifetime of hating my limp, mousy hair, it decides to become my friend in midlife.

One older man waxed rhapsodic about my hair–and other women in general who let their gray out naturally–for a solid five minutes. He praised the natural look and criticized that “horrible pharmacy red” that women of a certain age tend to dye their hair. This man has become my champion.

Interestingly, it’s women around my own age who are visibly distressed by my decision. A particular family member seems almost angry: “You’re too young to have gray hair!” Others have commented how “brave” I am to show my true colors. I find both of these reactions a little sad, and yet I’ll still defend the notion with my dying breath that a woman (and men as well) should do what makes her feel comfortable in her own skin. Hair, make-up, liposuction, even plastic surgery. As long as she’s doing it for herself, and not for some one else or “society”.

But that’s where it gets sticky.

The truth is, if I didn’t get any favorable responses, if my gray hair came out in uneven patches or was yellowy and ugly, rather than the lovely silver I inherited from my mother, if I had an unfortunate face, I’d probably dye it. Hell yes, I would!

So that last box of hair dye still sits in the closet, dusty and waiting. You know, just in case.

gray hairs

 

 

 

Fifty by Fifty

It’s been a weird couple of weeks, as I’ve dealt with some personal funks that’s caused some highly philosophical musings, such as: what’s the f***ing point, anyway? I couldn’t focus on writing, so I decided to take some time and just do whatever the hell I wanted to do. Important things like long walks, napping in the middle of the day, and listening to music I love. Reading books, as always. Some not-so-important things, like aimless TV watching, and tooling around on Facebook, Pinterest, and You Tube. It felt good to indulge in a little bit of time-wasting.

But it’s time I pulled myself together, because the truth is I’m not happy unless I have some concrete writing goal. Since I suspect the source of my funk has been Time itself, as in, the swift passage of it, my youth in the dust, and my perception of having nothing to show for it, I devised a goal that would help me look forward to the arrival of the next decade. Namely, the big 5-0, less than 5 impossible years away.

hourglass

I love writing short stories. Why not try to write 50 stories by the time I’m 50? If I let myself count the 16 stories I’ve already written (some here on the blog, the rest on my hard drive), that leaves 34 to be written. That’s roughly 7 stories a year.

I can do that.

Here are my parameters: they have to be completed stories, not sketches or fleshed out ideas. They can be flash fiction, or short stories of any length. They don’t have to be submitted for publication anywhere, or posted on the blog (unless I feel they’re good enough to do so). They just have to be written. They don’t have to be perfect, but they have to be the best that I can achieve. They can be about anything, in any genre. They have to please me.

If I do this, I think hitting fifty won’t be so formidable and depressing, but rather, an achievement, a culmination of a creative goal I’ve set for myself. If I don’t quite make it, that’s okay. The point is to keep writing as if I will. It’s the act of writing itself that’s always gotten me through the tough times, no matter what it is.

Time flies, as I can attest, so I better get going!

 

White Elephant

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Let’s address the red, white and blue elephant in my digital room, shall we?

I’ve made it a point not to write about politics on this blog, for various reasons. Blogs can certainly be a podium for one’s opinions on just about anything, and I applaud those who use their digital space to make their (thoughtful) voices heard, no matter what side of the fence they’re on. But apart from re-blogging an article some time ago that rang true for me, I’ve decided not to use this space in that way.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have definite opinions or strong emotions concerning the current state of politics. I’ve spent my fair share of time watching, reading, and discussing current events from various sources (NOT the internet), with various people, and in various states of rationality. But one thing I will not do is rant on social media, no matter how angry, fearful, or frustrated I become. For one thing, I don’t think it will do one iota of good; for another, it would waste a lot of energy I’d rather be spending on creative pursuits.

What I have been doing is reading with interest how my writing and blogging peers have been dealing with their volatile emotions since the election, and for the most part, they’re pursuing constructive, empowering actions rather than ranting or crying in their beer (which, let’s face it, sounds tempting).

One writer listed dozens of untrustworthy websites that possibly reported “fake news”; another writer is re-evaluating her entire writing life and learning all she can about the government, the political process, and the law, after a lifetime of basically being “asleep” to politics (guilty here, too). Others are using their writing to affect change and spread awareness, in whatever way they can.

All of these are useful ways to channel the concern and passion we all feel toward people and events that seem so beyond our control. And I suppose that’s what I’m getting at: we can’t control everything that goes on “out there”. What we can control is how we conduct ourselves and our reactions to stressful events. I know people who are so upset and on fire about what’s happening in Washington, I’m afraid they’re going to develop an ulcer. Ulcers, people.

So what have been doing differently in response to all this? Well, nothing really. Nothing different, anyway. I’ve never been an activist. I would have loved to attend the Women’s March on Washington, or even the smaller gathering of over 1,000 people here in my hometown on the same day, but alas, I needed money and was at work. I get up in the morning and get my daughter ready for school. I wrote two short stories in the past month that have nothing to do with politics. I’m planning my daughter’s 8th birthday party. I do the laundry, help my husband cut vegetables for dinner, wash the dishes. I don’t feel that I’m ignoring anything or hiding my head in the sand (though again, that sounds tempting); rather, I’m focusing on the things I can control, things I never want to take for granted and would fight to protect. In other words, I’m getting on with it.

Please note, I said I’m “getting on with it”, not “getting over it”. I don’t think, for me, there’s any getting over what happened in November. What I’m suggesting is, please don’t make yourself sick. Don’t let outrage take over your life. Focus on the things that have personal meaning, and work productively on the things that can be changed.

I’ve been reading in my town’s newspaper that the League of Women Voters is becoming more active in my area in response to the upheaval that’s taking place. Dare I say I’m tempted to join? It would be wildly out of character for me, and yet, these are wildly out of character times. One of the more positive things I see coming out of this whole thing is that people are paying more attention, becoming more involved in their communities, and banding together to protect the things they hold dear.

And that, my friends, is a good thing.