Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Do you notice the passage of time? Do you have little signposts along the way that you look to, that mark the progression of the days of the calendar?

I never understood how thoroughly and in what particular fashion I marked the passing of time and the changing seasons, nor how ingrained that little system of mine had become until just this past week.

I rarely have to rise early to drive my husband to work anymore, and only have to be the one to pick him up at the end of his day one day a week, if that often.

No longer having that regular, daily long commute before dawn and then later again in the afternoon has deprived me of keeping touch with my guideposts for the progression of the seasons. When you travel the same route every day, at about the same time, you tend to notice the changes. Or at least, I do.

You become aware of the sunrise, and how that is a few seconds earlier or later each morning—well, until the clock gets changed, anyway. For example, I would measure the advance of daylight in the spring by where, exactly, I no longer needed to use my car’s high beams on my drive home.

You measure the progression of the changing leaves by noticing certain trees along the journey, and the slowly increasing ratio of red, gold and brown to green.

You also notice the temperature in the morning when you step out of the house before dawn, and mark the day in the fall when you had to wear that jacket for the first time.

This year, I’ve done none of the above and it’s more than a little disconcerting. Because suddenly here we are, in autumn, and I don’t remember getting here.

I had to pick my beloved up just yesterday, and rather than either focusing on the music playing on the radio, or my own thoughts, I paid attention to my rolling environment. I had this strange sense that I’d missed something, for a lot of the leaves have already turned and I don’t know when that started.

I’d already felt as if I’d missed a great deal of the summer, because we’ve been away a lot. We came back from Texas, and I was just settling in to enjoy—or at least pay attention to—our summer, only to realize it had begun to wane.

I always pride myself on being one who stops to smell the roses, or the coffee, and the fact that I haven’t this year gives me pause.

Life happens, sometimes at an astounding pace. Days can come and go and weeks turn to months in the blink of an eye. This is a familiar concept and one I’d had my own little system of besting.

Now I realize, I need to find a new way to stay connected to the world around me, and to pay attention to the days, and the passage of time.

Using deadlines and upcoming conferences doesn’t have the same pleasant side effect of lifting my attention outside of myself. I need to do that, to focus on the world around me, on nature, because that gives me a kind of grounding I haven’t found anywhere else.

Inevitably, when I focus on the trees and the fields, the skies and the clouds, the streams I pass and the forests along the way, I experience a sense of wonder.

I need that sense of wonder. I need that reminder that life is more than my little domain, and in fact consists of things that are both awesome, and awe inspiring.

Without the wonder, without the awe, the magic of life is so much harder to find.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I don’t believe that the basic rules of civilized society have really changed. In fact, I know they haven’t.

Having said that, I must acknowledge that there seems to be a growing number of people who act as if they have. Which particular basics, you may ask, am I referring to?

I’m talking about one of the most fundamental principles of “right”, as opposed to “wrong” behavior.

I realize that I am about to step in it again, and I offer an apology—not for what I am about to say, but for anyone who might be offended by the following words. Okay, here goes.

The line between right and wrong has not wavered. Honesty still matters. The truth is still the truth no matter what kind of spin you try to put on things. The Golden Rule is still an important guideline for how to behave outside of your own bathroom.

And doing the thing that is right is still the same right thing to do as ever it was.

There seems to be an attitude lately that I have to tell you baffles the hell out of me. That attitude, stated simply is, “everyone lies, so what does it matter if I lie, too?”

Really? Everyone lies? I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with that assertion.

This attitude I have heard expressed in those exact words by more people I’d never think would say such a thing than you could possibly imagine.

Or maybe you can imagine it because you’ve noticed the same thing, too.

It’s not just kids in defense of bad behavior spouting this maxim. It’s those you would consider to be pillars of the community. Those you used to be able to count on to be an example for others to follow.

And it’s not just that everyone lies, they will tell you. They will tell you that everyone lies all the time.

When someone says that to me, my response is automatic: I don’t. I don’t lie as a matter of course, and I don’t lie all the time. In fact, I don’t lie, period. And by lying, I’m not talking about being diplomatic to save the tender feelings of others. I’m talking about all-out, bald-faced lies. I’m talking about saying that which is not the truth—saying things as fact which actually are not facts at all.

Looking back on the way I was raised, this attitude is enough to make my parents roll over in their graves.

Lying is the one trend in our society that worries me more than any other. When we let go of the truth, it’s as if we cut the bindings that hold us together as a society. When we let go of the truth, we open ourselves up to that which is untrue, that which is said or espoused for a purpose that is unclear, in the shadows—dark.

“You’re being naïve again,” I’ve been told. “People lie to prove their points, to win friends, debates, and elections. People lie because otherwise, they wouldn’t win.”

Really? Imagine that! Guess what, cupcake? Not only can you not always win, sometimes you don’t deserve to.

The one thing about accomplished liars is that they`re not particularly wedded to any one specific lie; they can change their lies to suit the needs of the moment, and because they can and because they do, those needs are often and can be found to be complete reversals of previous lies.

I don’t know where this trend is going to take us, in the end. The greatest accomplishments of our history have been predicated on the truth, not on lies. Despite the fact that I am Canadian, the one line that comes to mind when I think of that is, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

Wow! There are not only “truths” but there are “self-evident” truths.

Let me state that again, in case you missed it: The greatest accomplishments of our history have been predicated on the truth, not on lies. As long as we cling to the latter, we abandon the forward momentum humanity has enjoyed since it first came upon this earth.

And let me say just one more thing, if I may. When you tell a lie, you are not just “telling a lie”, or “fibbing”, or “bending the truth” or putting “spin” on something.

When you tell a lie, you are bearing false witness against your neighbor.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I would like to announce that hell has now completely frozen over. How do I know this to be true? Because this past week I took delivery of another new cell phone. This one is an iPhone, or, more specifically, the iPhone 4S.

The one good thing about this new phone, as opposed to the last new phone, the BlackBerry which it replaces, is that as far as I can see there are only 5 buttons: on/off, volume up, volume down, mute – and the little indentation button that you press to return to the menu on the “touch screen”.

The bad thing about this phone isn’t really about the phone, it’s about me. I have to learn a whole new “doo-hickey” that’s different from any other “doo-hickey” I’ve ever owned.

Did I ever happen to mention to y’all that I am kicking at the gate of 60 and that my first computer was an abacas?

Not to be too immodest, but I am proud of my accomplishments and my attitude, specifically that I am willing to at least try new things. My daughter likes to chide me that I don’t do well with change, but I think she’s wrong. As I said, I’m closing in on 60 years of age, and yet I earn my living on the Internet, do all my banking online, and have been taking on new pieces of technology as the need has arisen.

Yes, it takes me a bit longer than someone half my age to learn a new piece of equipment. But I do, eventually, learn it.

More or less.

Just before we left for our trip to Texas, I bought myself a new digital camera—something my son has told me, for a long time, that I’ve needed. This will likely be the last one I buy, not because I think I’m too old to ever get another new one. No, it’s because it appears that digital cameras are going to become passé. With all the things they can put into these new cell phones, most people already use them as cameras—and also as alarm clocks.

I have to tell you that I’ve used my last two cell phones as alarm clocks, and taking a time-limited nap has never been easier.

Mr. Ashbury was quite taken with my new camera. Or perhaps I should more properly say, the camera was quite taken by him. Once again, (as he had in Anaheim with the old one that is outdated), he absconded with my camera to the point that I didn’t get to use it for more than a moment or two—and I had to ask for it first.

In case you think I should solve this problem by getting him his own picture taking device, let me assure you I did! I gave him a new video camera for Christmas last year, a camera that takes videos or still pictures and that he loves.

Yes, Mr. Ashbury was walking around in Texas with a camera in each hand, and I do believe his biggest dilemma was which one to use at any given moment.

I can only be grateful that so far he has shown no desire to put his hands on my iPhone.

As with my previous new phone, I was able to install FaceBook and twitter all by myself. My daughter grabbed my iPhone first, of course, and made sure to install a game app on it, which she seems to feel ranks as a necessary installation. This was when she came over to “teach” me how to use the phone.

My second daughter came over the next day, also to show me how to use this new phone. One piece of vital information she gave me was concerning the black hole of data-suck. Rest assured, I know how to turn off the data, so that my various and varied “apps” only work when wifi is available.

If I need something otherwise, I can turn it on, use it, then turn it off.

Beyond that, I’ve had demonstrated for me many of the nifty functions this phone has to offer—said instructions being offered, of course, at the speed of light.

I’ve danced to this particular tune before. I smiled, and I nodded and I thanked the girls for helping me.

And I resolved that in a week or two, when I am familiar enough with this new piece of technology, and the girls are no longer paying attention, I’m going to do what any rational person would do.

I’m going to take myself to the nearest Apple Store and ask for help.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

This past week I’ve been a little frustrated in my goal to keep my butt in the chair, and my fingers on the keyboard, and write. Life keeps interfering with my attempts to return to normal and it’s starting to really stress me out.

Before the trips we undertook at the end of July and in mid August, I was on a roll, writing wise. I was able to stick to a pretty good daily routine, and produce words at a very satisfying rate.

When I say this to people who are not writers, they’d don’t quite get it. How can they? Now, it isn’t that I think that, as a writer, I’m any better than anyone else. I don’t, and I’m certainly not; however, I am different.

My non-writing family and friend will say, well, just sit down and do it! And they have a point, to a degree. But in reality it is a bit more complicated than that.

Facebook is resplendent with funny little cartoons and posts about writers and their peculiar proclivities. I can tell you that most of those “stereotypes” – the ones that say we writers are somewhat neurotic, annoyingly myopic (focus-wise) and daydreaming hermits – these all apply to me.

I’m happiest when I’m at home, at my keyboard, working on my current “work in progress”. That is never more true than when am able to I slip into the “zone” and become as one with my characters.

What that means is that as I write, my mind becomes filled with the characters and their journey, and if I’ve done my homework right, and if I’m lucky, in a sense I become my characters: so that, as I “live” the plot I’m creating, my words – the characters’ words – are theirs, and not mine.

And you thought authors were sane!

On my latest edit, my wonderful editor had a comment that I really want to have framed. To paraphrase, with each new installment of my series that I create, my characters’ interaction becomes richer, the banter becomes livelier, and the heart of the town I’ve imagined really shines through.

This is what I love about my job. Readers read to escape for a little while. It’s like grown-up recess, isn’t it? You pick up a book, and for a little bit of time you leave your own reality behind, and live in someone else’s world. While you’re reading your mind and heart and soul get a break from the stress, from the handling and the living. That part of you breathes.

It’s all of that and more, being an author.

You’ll hear us talking about things like character arcs and plot points, and you might think that writing is for the most part an exercise in logic and elements combined to tell a story and again, you’d be partly right.

Everyone’s process is different, and every one of us who writes approaches what we do with a completely different mind-set—although there are levels where we can connect to each other with near-perfect synchronicity.

When I’m working on a novel, I don’t get very far if I don’t know the heart of these character’s story. What past events in their lives do they need to overcome? What lessons do they have to learn now? How are they like you and me, but different, and what can we do together—my characters and I—that will somehow touch you, our readers?

Some of those things I really don’t know when I begin my first draft. They are the lampposts of discovery I make as I embark on the journey of writing each individual story.

And more often than not, where I end up when I’m finished is not where I’d thought I would be when I started out.