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Friday, November 11, 2016

A Voice Among Many

I've been trying to take some time to get my thoughts together after the results of this Presidential election. Those who know me or read any of my writings know where I stand politically. I try to stay away from politics on this blog, but it would be inauthentic of me to ignore what's going on. I am a writer, so my actions start with the written word.

Photo by author, 2015 
This whole election process has been anxiety-producing. The results, for me and for many people, are devastating. I want to take the high road, as Michelle Obama has always so eloquently suggested, but first I will be blunt. This man Trump is not my President. He who spews hatred, division, bigotry, fear, and aggression; who lacks respect for women, minorities, people of color, people with disabilities, people who disagree with him, people who report the truth, nature, science, humanity, education, and the future of our planet. He who loves only money and power and truly only cares about himself, who bullies others and carries on like a spoiled, rich toddler--he does not represent me. I will not "unite" with those who tell me to "get over it" and to "not take it so seriously." I will not compromise my beliefs to "make nice" to those who choose to ignore or even rejoice in this man's message of hatred and fear. I do not align myself with people who hate others for the color of their skin or their sexuality or gender. I do not approve of "locker-room talk" which is simply a mask for sexual aggression against women. I will never be okay with sexual assault of any kind. To expect me to ignore the lies and promises of this President-"elect," for the "good of our country" is an insult to my sense of decency. 

Many of my friends and acquaintances and most of my family voted for Trump. To know this is especially difficult for me to reconcile. I understand that most people in this country are fed up with the hypocrisy of the political system. I understand that people who have lost jobs because they believe some politician sent them to China. I understand that blue collar workers and middle class people are struggling in this economy. I agree that there needed to be a shake up in Washington. But I will never understand how anyone with any conscience, with any care for the future of our country, for any concern for others at all could vote for a man who is a bigot, a sexual predator, a regressionist, and a narcissist who promotes himself on the concepts of hating people of different religions, hating people from other countries who look to our country to escape war and poverty, encouraging violence against LGBT people and any person who might say anything against him; who mocks people's disabilities and mocks the parents of a hero who died fighting for our country--I could go on, but I suspect it still doesn't matter to you. I will not unite with those who hate. Period.

Instead, I will look for the healers. I will learn from the teachers, the scientists, the philosophers, the caring, the helping, the just, the wise. I reject Trump and his followers' idea that education is bad. In fact, it is ridiculous to promote the dumbing down of America for that is exactly how someone like Trump can have power over us. I will unite with those who believe in giving and sharing. With those who work hard and try to do what's right for all and not for just themselves. I will fight for our natural areas. I will defend and protect those who have no voice; those who need help; those who are strong enough to stand against those who hate. I will lend my voice and give my support to those fighting for the rights of ALL the people in this country. I am destroyed by the realization that many of my fellow Americans hate so much. I am grieving now, but I will survive. Humanity will rise again, but we will have to fight for it. If you care, get involved. Write letters, join organizations that promote civil rights, women's rights, immigration rights, speak out against sexual assault and indignity of anyone, protect the environment--whatever you care deeply about. Act now. Act often. Be diligent. All is not yet lost.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Photo by author May 2016
I decided to split from my publisher and get my rights back to my novel since I was doing all the work and reaping none of the rewards. We'll see how it all plays out when I self publish my renamed novel, but I am going to take some time to regroup and continue writing my other projects first.

It's been a difficult journey in some ways. Self-doubt and frustration of how much work it takes to make a few cents. Yet, writing is something I have to do whether I feel like doing it or not. It's nudged me from the darkest corners of my life. It screams at me in my dreams. It wheedles its way into my everyday. It's a parasite clamped onto my limbic brain.

Writing is hard work. Everybody thinks they could write a novel, but few of us actually do it. It's a long process for most of us. At it's essential best, writing for me is the world. The cosmos. A supernova of experience. The Holy Grail. At it's worst, it is Death itself. The Devil. Armageddon. Sometimes all those things at the same time.

So, here is my advice to my fellow creatives (for what it's worth): blossom anyway. That's right, we're all just buds waiting for the right temperature, the right amount of moisture, the receptiveness of the environment, the right amount of sun, the best soil--there's never a perfect time. There's no way to read the trends. There's no magic formula. It's still just one word at a time. One paint stroke. One caress of the clay. The first cut to the wood. One musical note. One (maybe three chords). Do it your way. Get some outside opinions from people you trust to tell you whether it's crap or not, but do what's in your heart. Take critiques for what they're worth and consider the source. Learn. Grow, but don't give up. Yes, even the most beautiful flowers die. The great thing is, they blossom again. Why should we be any different? Bloom on.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Health Scare

Photo of author by Kevin Tomasello c. 2015
I need to write about something I don't usually write about. I was challenged by an online writing group to write about something on my blog that I am afraid to write about. Since there is a long list of things that I fear, I will start with something I deal with every day: healthcare.

I have had careers as a registered nurse and a speech language pathologist (still currently working in this field). I have worked in three different states for several different types of facilities: hospitals, nursing homes, home health, a university setting, rehabilitation, and transitional care. I take my job very seriously and care deeply for the people in my care.  The political climate makes me ill, but no matter who you want for President, our health care system still needs an overhaul. We talk of "patient-centered care," but very few health care systems are set up  to actually take care of the patient's needs. People enter the hospital with a given diagnosis and if they have a problem that isn't part of that diagnosis, they are discharged and told to follow up with their doctor for whom they won't get an appointment for weeks or months, depending on what the problem is. Patients are pushed out of the hospital earlier and earlier, unless they have the right type of insurance, then they may stay longer than necessary. A patient came in with a huge tumor on his tongue and one protruding from his jaw and cheek. A chest x-ray revealed more tumors in his lungs, showing that the cancer had spread to other parts of his body. The man was deaf, used sign language, and had trouble speaking because of the tumor on his tongue. The doctor decided that the patient was "mentally retarded based on conversation." She did not order a CT scan of his brain. Instead, she ordered speech pathology to see him for a "cognitive evaluation" to determine if he has capacity to make decisions about his care. This is not even in my scope of practice. I could write about many more disturbing examples I have witnessed, but my aim is to keep this post at a reasonable length.  It seems that far too often our healthcare system still can't see the whole picture when it comes to taking care of sick people.

I am a big proponent of palliative care for those who desire it or for families making decisions for loved ones who can no longer decide for themselves. For those who are suffering and have little hope of recovery or for whom continued treatment will offer only more suffering in order to live a few months longer. I have found, though, that palliative care, at least in New York State, is greatly lacking. A friend with metastatic lung cancer to his brain had fought a brave battle and had some success with gene therapy that extended his life and quality of life for two years. When the treatments stopped working and he became very weak and ill, he and his wife decided on comfort/palliative care measures through a home hospice program. When I went to visit him, he could barely speak more than a word or two at a time in a whisper due to his weakened state. He kept asking if he could go back to the hospital. When I asked him why, he didn't say that he was afraid of the pain or that he was afraid of dying. He wanted to lift the burden of care off his wife. His wife explained that my friend was upset because he didn't want her to have to wash him, change him, feed him, and stay up half the night with him when he was restless. He couldn't understand why the hospice people didn't help and why he couldn't go to a facility to receive more care. Aides came in a few times a week for an hour or two at a time to bathe him, but no one came overnight or to take care of anything else, and much of the stress was placed on Joe's (not his real name) wife to take care of his daily needs. This caused him more distress than anything the cancer threw at him. Because they had no children and no family locally, the entire load was placed on Joe and his wife to manage his own hospice care. Joe's wife is a strong lady, but she jeopardized her own health taking care of him. She was pale and thin, chronically fatigued, had to take a leave from her job to care for Joe and she was the one who had to run out to get more supplies, leaving Joe alone in the house each time.

Hospice may work better if you have a large family who can take shifts to help, but this is not the case with many families. Those with the right insurance may go to a nursing home, but there is no guarantee that you will receive more or better care there. Skilled nursing facilities are overcrowded and understaffed. It costs approximately $6,000 a month or more to stay in a Medicare-approved nursing home in New York State. If your hospice care in an nursing home includes procedures that help pain, like radiation to shrink tumors that are impinging on nerves, the cost if greatly increased. Home hospice is less expensive, but you receive much less care and if you enter into any hospice program and you live longer than six months, you have to pay back any money paid by Medicare. Many other insurances don't even cover hospice care. In addition to the burden of watching their loved ones die, families also suffer an often catastrophic financial burden from which they cannot fully recover.

I'm sorry that the United States is not the leader in healthcare it claims to be. People get incredibly worked up when anyone wants to change the system and perhaps those people have been fortunate not to need healthcare to any great degree, but your life can change in an instant. All it takes is one bad accident, one cancer diagnosis, one neurological event to change your life forever. No one is immune and if we can't figure out how to help each other better in this country, I am afraid for its future.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Don't Let the Devils Diminish Your Drive

The view from our wedding 2001
At right is a photo of the view from the fishing boat-turned-nature-cruise-vessel where my spouse and I tied the legal knot almost 15 years ago. This is my second marriage, and it is fraught with more turmoil, but better results than my first. In other words, marriage takes work, just like anything else in life worth doing. The clouds make for a spectacular sunset.

Our marriage has weathered a few storms well, but sadly, our little wedding boat was destroyed in a storm just a couple years after we were married. We cherish the memories and few photos of that day: content that our union is stronger than any storm.

What does this mean for my writing?

A fellow writer on a welll-known writing site expressed his worries that maybe he should give up writing all together after his beta reader (one person) told him his project of more than ten years was flat and lifeless. I understand this thinking, believe me. Skepticism usually wins out over optimism in my brain. Any little cheerleaders are skewered by the talons of the diminutive devils that grace my psyche on a daily basis. Indeed, it is far easier to give up in this writing world than to plow ahead. I have limited time to write and even less time to submit completed works, so each rejection packs a double fisted punch. My inner voice is my worst critic, often urging me to give up because it's all useless anyway--or so the little demons would have me believe. People, whom I considered close friends, failed to buy my book and the woman whom I thought was my soul sister and strongest supporter, emailed me a rambling clinical opinion devoid of any praise or encouragement. This is when you realize that your friends don't necessarily care about your writing as much as you. When you get over the shock of this discovery, you understand that you are the only one who really cares that you wrote anything at all. Reality can suck the life right out of a writer.

Fortunately, you will also receive heartfelt comments about your work. Someone takes the time to comment on my blog or tells me they loved my book or they thought my short story reading was spectacular and I admit, I am renewed. I don't believe writers who say they write only for themselves. If I only wanted to write for myself, I would stick to the journal and not try to publish anything. I write to connect to others, to communicate ideas, to share a story, and yes--to receive feedback. It's a big ol' unsympathetic world out there most of the time, but that doesn't mean I, or anyone else, should give up what they feel they are meant to do. I intend to keep writing and working on my craft to improve. There's always room for improvement, but if you must write, no matter how hard or discouraging it may be at times. Take the criticisms for what they are: opinions. Use them as a springboard for writing it better or if it's only one opinion, remember it's only one person's opinion. It's not the end of the world, I promise, even if it sometimes feels like that. Have a good cry or a strong drink or a hard run or whatever you need to do to slay the dragon then get back at it. No one decides that you fail except you. Be a clever devil, turn your back on the the darkness and face the sun.

Cheers! Now get to work.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Forward Movement

Sunset over sand bar to Bar Island at low tide by Laura J. Bear
A review and a plan:

2015 was a big year for good things. It witnessed the launch of my first novel: WHERE THE HEART LANDS in March. I turned a half century old. My son got married. I had the good fortune of participating in two writing retreats: the Cayuga Lake retreat with my writing sisters and the New Hampshire Berlin Writers Retreat at Coppertoppe Inn in Hebron, NH where I was reunited with the extraordinary writer Greg Norris and met several wonderful new friends in person after hearing about them for so long.

We were not immune to sad and tragic things in 2015. We lost our dear friend Mike. The news brought ugly events into our home: racism, torture, death, general inhumanity, and a more and more divided nation with crazier political ridiculousness every day. My fifty-year-old body was suddenly less able to deal with chronic pain issues and stress. With sorrow and age comes renewed appreciation for everything I take for granted every other day: the warm sun on my face, the rain pinging on the rooftop; the kiss of wind on my skin; my family; my health,; my friends; trees, water, birds, animals, nature; quiet; laughter; a bicycle ride; live music; writing; my ability to read; the fragility of life; the capacity to love someone more than yourself; the simple sharing of my day with my spouse; the touch of his hand; the knowing that someone else cares about where I am at any given time.

Each new year offers a fresh page to my story and  I am setting some goals for 2016:

1) Choose kindness over being right, especially in my own house!
2) Write something every day, and don't sweat the word count.
3) Submit a short story every two weeks.
4) Write at least one nonfiction article a month.
5) Finish the draft of novel #2.
6) Play my mandolin or guitar at least every other day.
7) Think before I speak, and listen more than I talk.
8) Cook on the weekends and  freeze dinners for the work week.
9) Laugh more.
10) Go for it: I'm not getting any younger. Quit striving for perfection and jump in.
11) Learn from my mistakes and move on.
12) Get outside every chance I get.

May your new year be your best one yet.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Be Golden

Golden reflection at World's End State Park photo by author Laura J. Bear, October 2015
Since we are having such an unusually warm December so far, I decided that a snowy picture just wouldn't work. Besides, I thought it it might be a good time to talk about some things that have been on my mind, if you'll indulge me for a moment.

The news lately has been distressing: senseless mass killings; discrimination of any number of people; fear so widespread that people are willing to cling to their weapons and their insular slice of the continent at the expense of their humanity; bickering, blaming, name-calling, and general ridicuous behavior of most of our politicians; the rampant materialism and increasing division of our nation. It's enough to make me want to scream...or lash out...or cry...or throw up my hands..or just throw up. Not to mention that this season of supposed good cheer and altruism can be a depressing hell for people who have lost loved ones because their pain is amplified by the fact that everyone else seems so damn happy. I truly can't stand it sometimes.

Yet, I am instantly lifted from the sucking power of this dark mind-muck by the tiniest hint of sweetness--a sparkle of humanity. When I am at my absolute lowest--when my heart is raw and bleeding and open in my chest, vulnerable to the jagged blade of hate--that's when I am most sensitive to the smallest kindness, the quietest act of love. A stranger holds the door open, makes eye contact, and smiles. Someone stands up with you when you speak out against the harming of an animal or some other wrong. Last week, someone told me how much they enjoyed my novel, that they loved my characters and related to them. I can think of no greater praise for a writer, and  I was deeply moved. As silly as people may believe social media to be and as easy an avenue it can be to spread lies and hatred, social media can help people join together: to learn, to grow, and to share the good things that humans do for each other. We can lift each other up, just as easily as we can tear someone down. Why not search for the gold? Caring about others doesn't subtract from your soul, it adds to your happiness bank. The more you care, the more you care. The more open you are to the experience of other human beings, the more open other people are to you.

It doesn't matter what we look like or what religion we follow or don't follow. It doesn't matter where we live or how screwed up our families are. Politics aren't people and shouldn't be treated as such. It doesn't matter what you wear or how big your house is or how much money you make or what the hell the Kardashians are doing. We're all people, damn it, help each other. Take care of each other. Take care of the Earth--our only home. The only thing worse than hate is apathy. The only cure for hatred and apathy is that four-letter word: LOVE. Can we please stop being assholes to each other? A divided nation or region or neighborhood is the breeding ground for terrorism. Hate feeds terrorism. Terrorists win every time we act out of fear and hate. So, just stop. No matter how much it bugs you, be golden instead. You want to lighten your own load? Lift someone else up. Notice how the water in the photo above looks like spun gold? Water is not inherently golden, it reflects everything around it. Be the gold and see how it reflects back to you.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Company We Keep

Photo of view of Newfound Lake from Coppertoppe Inn,  Hebron, NH by Laura J. Bear
I just returned from a wonderful wrtier's retreat at a magical place called Coppertoppe Inn in the foothills of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Not only was the scenery breathtaking, with views from every room, but the company was stellar. Ten writers converged upon the Inn (including me) to share their work, refresh their spirits, and, well...write! It was my great fortune to be invited by a champion of writers: the extraordinary Gregory Norris, author of The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse, the screenplay for Brutal Colors, and Tales from the Robot Graveyard, among many hundreds of other titles. Greg is the quintessential writer: prolific with a seemingly infinite arsenal of ideas; organized with beautifully decorated files, notecards, and notebooks; and incredibly supportive and encouraging to other writers. Check out his blog: Through him, I was able to meet members of the delightful Berlin Writers group--all talented writers and lovely people in their own right.

I had been greatly needing a retreat with like-minded people. An all-consuming day job coupled with the urgent prodding of my latest project, my second novel and all the necessary daily routine stuff, not to mention the daunting task of continuing to promote my first recently hatched novel without being a bother, had depleted my soul. The desire was still there, but I had run out of fuel. I needed to recharge--a creative jump start. I found that in New Hampshire over Halloween weekend.

I arrived a day early, as my drive was the longest: six and a half hours through eastern New York, Vermont, and part of New Hampshire. One of my hosts, Sheila, of Coppertoppe Inn, greeted me on her way out to prepare for the arrival of the group the next day. Her husband Bill took over with charming and interesting conversation and recommendations for dinner in town. I had a luxioroius room with private bath and the breathtaking view above. I began to unwind and settle in for a night of writing after dinner, anticipating the arrival of the infamous Berlin Writers group the next day.

I decided to begin my morning with a  hike down the road from the Inn on the trails of a bird santuary and nature center with views of the lake. As I emerged with some confusion from one of the more overgrown trails,  a car crept down the steep dirt road to the park entrance. Peter Estabrooks and his wife, the poet Esther Lieber-Estabrooks surpised me with a warm greeting and to let me know that I should be receiving a package from them at the Inn today. This confirmed what would be an extraordinary weekend.

The rest of the group trickled in over the morning in small carloads until we were all assembled into our accomodations and had been introduced. The vibe was electric and inviting. Some of us set right to work, while others took some time to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Murder mystery writer Irene G. and I instantly connected on another walk to get the kinks out before sitting to write. The talented writer and artist Judi C. quickly became a soul sister. Heaven is in the kindred spirits you meet along the journey.

On Friday evening, we agreed to read from one of our new works. I had been playing around with a short story about one of the central characters in my new novel. The reading forced me to dig deeper into it. The group consisted of writings from all different genres. Each person read with passion, and the group gave constructive criticism: honest, but never mean. Each fellow writer contributed something with genuine care. On Saturday, it was determined that we must write a short story  of 1,000 words or less with Halloween as our writing prompt. As someone who struggles with finishng anything in one month, much less in one day, this was a daunting task for certain, but I was up for the challenge.

As the newbie to the group, I somehow missed that I was supposed to have a Halloween costume for Saturday night. Sheila came to the rescue with a chic vintage hat, black fitted blouse with gold details, and a wild black skirt for my transfromation into Dorothy Parker. Each reading was a new joy and my heart grew full. The aptly named Newfound Lake was the backdrop for this retreat, and indeed, I cherish my newfound group of writer friends: Irene, Esther, Judi, Bernie, June, Natalie, Jonathan, Tina, and, of course, dear Gregory; and my inspirational hosts: Sheila and Bill, who extended the warmest hospitality one can imagine. Words are inadequate to express my gratitude for the gift of that long weekend, but words are all I know, so I hope they will suffice. Thank you all.