Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October 28, 2015

In the beginning, all I have is an idea.

Sometimes it’s a complete idea, and sometimes, it’s just the trace of one. Sometimes a scene appears in my mind, full blown, down to the words that are being said. One single scene and nothing more. Sometimes, all I know in that first instant are the characters’ names, and maybe a hint about what their back story might be.

Once I’ve had a taste of that idea, the fun begins. Often, I get those ideas when I’m already hip deep in another story. I usually stop and make a very fast note—and then carry on.

That’s when the magic happens. You see, for me, a story germinates like a four-day relish on the back burner of the kitchen stove. There’s just enough heat to keep it to a barely-there simmer. Like the relish, once in a while I might catch a whiff of it, but otherwise I forget about it. And all the while those characters are whispering to my subconscious, and their story is forming in the creative vault in my mind.

Then the day comes when it’s time for me to begin that story. I’m a little anal in some things, and a scatterbrain when it comes to others. I like to think that over all, I’m kind of cute. The first thing I always do is begin a new word document in the new word file that bears the title of the new project. This first document is called “Basic Concept” and could be likened to a sketch-artist’s doodle pad. I write. I write about who these characters are, what is unique about them, where they grew up, and what the influences were that helped shape them. I might even write about the time they were caught throwing spit-balls in class. If I imagined them in a scene, I write that scene, briefly, just the bare bones.

I write and write and write some more, a rambling document that admittedly would be hard for any reader to follow. And I keep writing until I know the opening line of the story. And as soon as I know that first line, I stop my rambling, go to the first page of the manuscript, and begin.

It’s not all easy sailing from there. Sometimes I get stuck. I either get stuck because I began to write too soon and don’t have a clear idea of where I’m going, or I get stuck trying to make my characters do something they’re not meant to do. Often, as I’m writing, my story shifts away from what I thought it was going to be about. That means there are moments when, if you could see me, all you would see would be me with a somewhat vacant look on my face, staring off into space, as my mind tries to plot a new course—with the input of the characters, of course.

Being a writer isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am. These stories I write are more than just words. They’re a part of me. Every single novel I’ve written has a theme. My characters are facing challenges that are realistic, taken from the annals of everyday life. They’ve survived abusive marriages, or abusive childhoods, they’ve gotten over heartache and the pain of loss. They’re dealing with emotional baggage that would be heavy for anyone to bear.

Some of these stories contain instances from my own experiences, and some from the experiences of others. But they are far more than words or even the sum total of those words, they’re a part of me.

The relationship between an author and their work is a deeply intimate one. Although I love what I do, writing is not easy. It can be painful, sometimes more painful than tearing a bandage off a particularly raw and sensitive wound.

This is why I get very upset when people steal my books, which they do when they download my work from a file sharing site for “free”. That’s money I’ll never see, although I’ve earned it. And no, I’m not rich, and yes, it does matter.

Pirating an author’s hard work is bad enough. I don’t even want to think about how I’d feel if some hack decided to steal my words by plagiarizing them. Apparently that’s been happening to others lately. Someone has taken the novel of other authors, changed a few things like names and places, and then slapped their own name on it, published it, and taken their ill gotten gains to the bank.

To the author whose heart and soul are in their work, that kind of pillaging is beyond devastating. It is, in fact, a form of rape.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

October 21, 2015

It’s time for my seasonal lapse into denial. You may (or may not) be surprised to learn that there are some things I like to pretend don’t exist. This is why, on this past Sunday, I told my beloved—and my street team—that I had awakened to discover a fine dusting of pollen on my car.

For the record, I know it was snow. I was just determined not to make that admission. Winter. Ugh, we all know it’s coming. For some, the knowledge that another winter will soon be here must be news they don’t want to hear, either. There are parts of the United States that have been hit almost constantly since last winter with devastating weather conditions. Some of you haven’t been able to catch a break.

No doubt about it, Mother Nature is definitely menopausal.

I know there are some things we can prepare for in life. We can have little survival “kits” stashed in the pantry with candles and the like, in case the power goes out. We can live frugally and prepare financially for life’s inevitable emergencies like sickness, unemployment, and car repairs.

But I don’t really know how one prepares for the horrific circumstance of losing everything.

I can tell you that my beloved and I didn’t prepare for it or expect it. We lost our home—twice, two different homes—to fire. And while in the end we recovered, in the midst of the situation, I remember thinking the same thing, both times: that at least none of us was hurt, or worst, killed. And I think that is how most people handle this sort of devastation. When horrific circumstances hit we look for that ray of sunshine, for something to focus on that’s good. It’s human nature, I believe, tied to the survival instinct. After all, it’s not just our bodies that need to survive, but our spirits as well.

Lives have been lost during the recent spate of flooding in the south. That’s hard, very hard to deal with for the families and the friends of the dead. For those whose loved ones were safe but who lost all they had, that they had survived was a blessing to cling to. They could at least rejoice in the safety of their family.

We’re in a period of climatic upheaval. Who can deny it? Whether you believe that we’re on a path to previously unknown perils due to climate change brought about by human hubris, or you’re a hold out, believing that this is just a cycle like many others in our planet’s history, the truth is right now, our weather is unpredictable and nasty.

I’m thinking back to what life must have been like in ages past, when people began to explore and settle this continent, when they pushed westward into the unknown, seeking only the opportunity to carve out a life for themselves and their families. Uncertainty would have been a constant companion. There were no guarantees in life at all in those times.

We, in this age, have gotten “soft”. It is only in the last century that we’ve begun to expect fairness and prosperity; that we’ve begun to expect guarantees in life.

But the truth is we are human beings, and while we have learned to manipulate much of our immediate environment—not just the natural kind, but our circumstances in a socio-economic sense—we must remember one thing.

In the end, none of us can live forever—and none of us can control Mother Nature.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

 October 14, 2015

With this issue, Wednesday’s Words turns 9 years old. I know what you’re thinking: does this woman not know when to shut up? No. No, I don’t. That said, here’s this week’s essay.

This past weekend here in Canada, was our Thanksgiving weekend. In the U.S. Thanksgiving is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November; here in Canada it’s the second Monday in October.

In years past, the family gathered here at our house. I’ve always loved to cook—I still do—and it was never a chore for me to prepare a feast for anywhere from five to fifteen people. But those days are no more. It takes almost more stamina than I can manage to pull off a huge production like that. So for the last two years, we’ve had our Thanksgiving at my daughter’s house.

It was a big enough gathering—10 of us including our two great-grandchildren. I must say Jenny did a wonderful job. The turkey was moist, the stuffing had just the right about of spice. There were veggies—squash, a broccoli/cauliflower combo with cheese sauce, and candied yams. She even had coleslaw and a tossed salad. Dessert was pie—apple and pumpkin—with ice cream.

My daughter is a woman I truly admire. She was a single mom, who raised her son mostly on her own—she never went on welfare. She always worked and did the best she could.

Her son, his fiancĂ©e and their two babies live with her. She works full time as a PSW—personal support worker (the equivalent of a Nurse’s Aid). While she does see some clients in the long term care facility here in town, most of her clients are in the community. Some are young, dealing with disability or disease. Some are elderly. Some are short term clients—assigned a worker because they’ve had recent surgery or are recovering from an accident and aren’t yet able to care for themselves when it comes to meals or bathing, or even getting dressed.

Some of her clients are hers until the end of their lives. I hear her speak of these people, always in a kindly way. She forms relationships with them, and I know she often does more for them than is required.

One time, when she was coming for supper on a night when we were having a special dinner, she asked for a plate of food for one of her clients she knew didn’t have family coming by. She said, “Mrs. X doesn’t eat as much as she should, she just picks. But if I take her a plate and tell her you made it and sent it along, she will eat every bite.” Of course, she got the plate of food.

Another time, a client she had for several years was complaining of a cramp in one foot. She’d tried using a heating pad, but she couldn’t get it wrapped around properly—and she likely shouldn’t have been trying that, anyway. This woman was reasonably active, still driving, and not that old. Jenny came and asked me if I had one of those bean-bag hot packs for feet. I laughed and told her I didn’t think they made them for feet, but I had one for hands and she was welcome to take them to the woman.

She came to me one time, and asked me if I had any nightgowns in good condition that I would like to give away. There was a woman in the facility with only one, and her family never came by to see her, or cared to see to her needs. I had a couple, and was happy to help—and proud that she’d thought to help the lady.

She buys Christmas presents for her long term clients, and I know that for some of them, those presents mean much more than the few dollars she’s spent on them.

 There are times, inevitably, when her clients pass on. One was a young woman who’d had Cystic Fibrosis and Diabetes. Jenny had been seeing her nearly every day, several times a day, for several years.

I’ve asked her if it doesn’t just tear her up when that happens. I know myself, and I can tell you, I wouldn’t be able to handle that gracefully.

 But my daughter said no. She said she wouldn’t know them, except that they were clients. While they were hers, she did the best she could to take care of them, to be someone they could talk to and feel comfortable with. When she can, she attends their funerals.

Yesterday she got word that one of her clients of five years went into hospice. The woman actually left her a voicemail, thanking her for all she’d done, and saying goodbye.

I consider myself a capable woman, but I tell you truly, I would not be able to do my daughter’s job—and certainly not with the degree of compassion and professionalism she does.

I’m very proud of her.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

October 7, 2015

As I get older, I hear words come out of my mouth that I used to hear come out of the mouths of my mother, and later, my father-in-law.

I remember how I felt hearing those words too, words that began with the phrase spoken or intuited, “back in my day”. This would appear to be the same way those around me feel when I utter that same concept—if their eye rolls are any indication. There’s a tendency, I suppose, to dismiss out of hand some of the grumblings of the senior generation. I understand that, actually, because I do fully recognize and accept that the older I get the crankier I can be.

That said, I do believe, unrelated to the emergence of my inner curmudgeon, that it can generally be said that in this day and age, two very important—dare I say sacred?—qualities seem to be lacking in our society: common sense, and the art of compromise.

Lack of common sense, when I was a kid, used to get me a swat on the back of the head—or a more severe punishment, like being grounded. Lack of common sense used to be something most people avoided like the plague. To be accused of having no common sense was a stinging indictment, a horrible insult, or in other words, a really bad thing.

When, and why, did that change? Why did we kill common sense? I don’t have the answer for that, but I sure as hell see the results of it in the news nearly every single day. I’ve read stories of a kindergarten boy being suspended from school because he placed a kiss on the cheek of a female classmate. Georgie Porgie anyone? Actually, school administrators are the most bereft of common sense, if you ask me. The latest asinine school admin decision I’ve read about? A boy brought a clock he made to school to impress his teacher and ends up suspended and being considered for charges—hoaxing a bomb, wasn’t it? If you want to charge anyone with that, charge the dumbass teacher or principal who panicked and called the police.

Yes, I know. Perilous times and blah blah blah. People, do I have to say this? Yes, hold the line. Be vigilant. But if y’all are going to run around like chicken little, divorcing your common sense and, apparently, your intelligence, guess what? You’ve handed those terrorists a huge victory—a bigger one, in fact, than the one you’re trying to prevent.

I can just hear them over there now at terrorist central. “Ha! Over in North America they used to have freedom, they used to be caring and kind to one another, they used to have rational discourse between political factions. But we fixed all that!”

Just think about it for a few minutes. It might sink in.

Thinking of those political factions brings me back to the second virtue that’s been murdered: the art of compromise.

Didn’t our parents tell us that we could not have our own way all the time? Mine did and I am positive yours did too (you know, in the days of common sense).

Here’s how I will explain the art of compromise it in terms relevant to my husband’s and my life for those younger folk who don’t know what it is. We married young, and went from our parents’ homes to our own. We had but a weekend honeymoon. David grew up in a family with both parents, but more, a father who was the Commander In Chief. He’d say “jump” and everyone would ask, “how high, sir?”

I grew up in a house where my dad was the head of the family until he died when I was seven and a half. After that, my mom was in charge, and did everything from earning the money to cooking the meals, to fixing the toaster when it broke. She built window valances, and planed one of the plank floors upstairs to make it level.

David and I got home from our honeymoon and my dear new husband tried his hand at edict-issuing a la his dad. He said, “I’ll tell you right now, I eat roast beef, roast pork, mashed potatoes, cream corn and canned peas.” I looked at him and said, “I’m sorry. We don’t earn enough money to eat roast beef and roast pork every night. So you’ll have to eat what I put in front of you.”

We very quickly compromised: he would try everything once. What he didn’t like, I would not make again. In those days the only thing he didn’t like was liver. Now he’s older, and he even likes that too.

I hope we can all get back to common sense and the art of compromise. In my opinion, they can make the difference between living a good and meaningful life, and merely being alive.