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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Going Back to School

Photo by Laura Bear
I haven't had a computer for two weeks, so this is an overdue blog post. Thankfully, Red Barn Computers gave me a loaner so I can look forward to the beginning of the editorial process for my upcoming novel WHERE THE HEART LANDS without fear and trepidation (at least as far as tools are concerned).

Today we are cooking down the mountain of tomatoes from the garden into tomato jam (abnormally intoxicating with goat cheese on crackers--thank you, Amy, for the recipe!). This infusion of tomato, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, lime and red pepper is weaving an olfactory sensation throughout the house. The weather is cooler and cloudier than predicted--perfect for canning! Why is it not called "jarring?" We will be jarring the tomatoes today. Okay, not nearly as appealing). I can't show you a before-photo of the tomatoes because some photo files are missing from the loaner computer (of course!). Instead, here's a shot of the upper pond at Oakley Corners State Forest from about this time last year.

I am excited about beginning the "real work" on my novel for publication (any writing is real work in my book, she says with a wink). It's fitting that my calendar begins with the new school year. I've always felt like fall is a time for transformation, new beginnings, and NEW BOOKS. As a person who has gone back to school probably too many times, I always have that sense of adventure and anticipation when September rolls around. I was one of those people that loved to buy the more expensive, brand-new books for college courses, because they were unmarked and smelled like fresh glue. I did get smarter about buying used books later in my back-to-school career and even learned to love to read other people's notes in the margins (still hated to have other people's highlighting--I'll mark up my own books, thank you very much!). In any event, new books (books that may be old, but are new to you) are the equivalent of chocolate, wine, a cherished gift, a surprising award, a new bicycle, a new guitar, or, yes, good sex.

Speaking of such, if you like romance, especially unusual, historical romance with strong female protagonists, or you just like to read about the writing process, check out my friend Elena Greene's article Writing Process-No Chasing Trends at riskyregencies.com. She even gives me a nod. I didn't even have to ply her with desserts or alcoholic beverages. Thank you, Elena! I will be writing about my process there, too, in the near future.

So, it was a wonderful summer, but autumn has its own rewards. May you also find yours.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Thoughts of the Week: Depression

Photo by Laura Bear
The Chris Thater Bicycle race is coming up in a couple weeks. It's a big deal around here because it brings in the pros as well as gives the amateurs a spotlight. There's a running race first then the bikes go. Here's a photo from last year to give you the sense of break-neck speed the pro-men achieve hitting the tight corners of the course. They changed to venue to a different location this year. It used to be based in a park. The course circled the park so spectators could hang out in the middle or on their front porches on the outside, and watch as cyclists completed each lap. This year, it is supposed to be held in downtown Binghamton. Not sure how this will work, but I'll let you know later.

Some sad things happened in the past week. I was struck the deepest by Robin Williams' death at his own hand. Robin Williams was a bicycle fan, which wins points for me, as well as a seemingly good and kind person and a jaw-dropping, cyclone-speed, sharp-witted comedian and talented dramatic actor. You don't have to search far on the internet to find examples of his kindness and his wit, as well as his work. This only makes the circumstances of his death all the more difficult for us to understand. Here was a man who had it all, right? Fame, fortune, a loving family, a beloved public personality. Yet, he suffered from depression. Watching him interact with Koko the gorilla on a recently shared you-tube video displayed a compassion and sensitivity that one rarely sees from public figures of late. I am pretty sure that Robin Williams understood the beauty of life, so why would he take his own?

Of course, I cannot begin to answer that question for Robin Williams, because I didn't know him. But, depression is a disease with a tremendous outreach. Being or living with a depressed person can be extremely difficult. Because depression is not rational. Depression is more than feeling "down." Depression is not a lack of being able to keep your chin up when things go bad. It is a chemical imbalance, a physical change in the brain that causes irrational thoughts and feelings and physical symptoms, such as fatigue and insomnia and irritability and crying or laughing or feeling suicidal or extremely, gravely hopeless for no specific reason. Yet, depressed people can still laugh. They may even seem okay most of the time. Perhaps people who are more sensitive to life's beauty and life's horrors are more vulnerable than most, but I would argue that anyone with a brain has the potential to get the disease. I have read that depression is anger turned inward. Maybe this is partially true, but this makes it sound like one can simply decide to express anger more outwardly and all will be well. As someone who has struggled with depression, I can tell you that this is not the case, although talking about it with someone who is trained to respond appropriately, or just someone who will simply listen, can help, at least for a little while. If only treatment were so simple.There are many triggers: a tragic event, a death in the family, divorce or any other loss, stroke, surviving a life-threatening illness, brain injury. But, sometimes there is no trigger. Sometimes, no matter how well we take care of ourselves, our brains betray us and we are left bewildered and shaken. We are alone in a crowd. No one truly understands. We want to stop feeling this way, but nothing we try seems to work. How does one stop that feeling of drowning over and over again, despite the life jackets floating just out of reach on the water? And then we reach one, but a rogue wave overtakes us anyway and we lose the life preserver. And then we get tired. Get the picture?

So, what can we do for someone who suffers this disease? What can the people who love them do for themselves? Don't be afraid to talk about it, would be a good start. Recognize it for what it is. Try not to place blame on anyone. Get help, this may include meds, so what? You take meds for other diseases, don't you? Give support. Accept support. Take care of your needs. Seek the company of others. Express your inner beauty. Acknowledge your vulnerabilities. Educate yourself. Get help. Get help. Get help. Find something that gives you reprieve that doesn't cause more damage. Physical activity, writing, meditation and medication work for me. For those who care, don't blame yourself if you can't save that person. Sometimes the disease wins.

RIP, Mr. Williams.
Photo by Laura Bear

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Taking the Scenic Route to Writing Success

Photo by Laura Bear
Bought a new bicycle last week! A touring bike. Yep, not too easy to find any more, but they had one in my size at Babcock's Bicycles. Got an old- school leather saddle for it and everything. Isn't it pretty? (See below). I've been having fun breaking it in. No, I didn't have it when we rode around Schoodic Point in Maine (see right), but I would love to take it up there next time we go.

I like the touring bike because it forces me to ride differently. It's not really built for speed, although it rolls very nicely. It's built for comfort--and for hauling gear. Just right for an all day ride in the Finger Lakes or on the packed gravel of the Pine Creek Gorge trail or some such thing. I can carry my lunch. Real lunch, not Cliff bars. I can carry the SLR camera (or my spouse can). I can carry camping gear or just some clothes to change into so we can stay overnight somewhere. I can enjoy the scenery. I can ride all day. I can go places I would never go on my fast, light road bike with skinny tires. It's all about the journey on a touring bike.

Speaking of journeys, as you may or may not know, I have been on a writing journey. Ever since I was old enough to write a sentence, I have been writing for--well, if not fun--then for the overwhelming desire to do so. I wrote "books" on the connected computer paper my father brought home from work when I was in grade school. The paper was enormous, but made great books because the pages were already "bound" by little perforated lines holding all the pages together. One side was all white with no lines (great for adding illustrations), the other was lined in light green and white and you could open the whole thing up, accordion-style, to make one long banner. I think I was in third or fourth grade when I wrote my first "novel" on regular notebook paper (I must not have had access to a typewriter). Maybe I was a little older, but I remember handing it to my best friend Emily to read. I even made a cover for it, hand-drawn with embellished curly-cues around the title: Death Around the Corner. It was a murder-mystery. I was pretty dramatic then and liked to read scary stories and Nancy Drew. It was terrible, but Emily said she liked it (best friend, remember?).

I wrote poems to get me through high school and early college. I even started a degree in English and Journalism, but got sidetracked by fear and other things. Writing was scary. What if I wasn't good enough? What if I couldn't make a living? Maybe I should get a "real" job. So, I went to nursing school, got married, had a baby, worked as a nurse for many years, got divorced, went back to school to get a graduate degree in speech language pathology/communication disorders. That's what I do now. I wrote a few articles, even had one published. I piled words into journals, but I didn't have the courage to really work at it, until...well, let's just say there were too many serendipitous events happening that shouted, scolded, and swore at me--you are a writer. Like it or not, published or not, that's what I am. I can call myself a writer now without fear. And I have a book coming out next year. My first published novel. (Please allow me to introduce my publisher again: www.unsolicitedpress.com).

I can't wait for the editing to begin next month. I am working on my next book. It's been a long journey, but I'm ready for it now. I have my touring bike.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Spirit Ritual

Photo by Laura Bear
I have been re-reading a wonderful book by Marianne Williamson called Everyday Grace. Any trip along the Maine coast always brings spirit very close to the surface for me and I want to carry that sense of communion with me in my daily life.

In Everyday Grace, Williamson talks about the importance of ritual. Not empty ritual, devoid of conscious awareness (that paying attention thing again), but, as Williamson writes, "a commitment of the heart" during ceremony. She writes that "marriage, when placed in a sacred context, is not just a 'piece of paper'" and going to a funeral and saying prayers for the dead and for their loved ones creates a sort of blanket of caring. Or as Williamson calls it, "a field of blessings." Graduations, milestone birthdays, anniversaries, the birth of a child: these are all events that rely on ritual to express great emotion and to mark the importance of the relationships they represent. You don't need to be religious to recognize the importance of spirit in our lives. Even if you don't believe in God, you can't really deny that human beings are designed to be stirred by beauty and to desire love and connection with other people.

Although not all my writing is inspired, I try to approach writing as a spiritual experience. Maybe just with myself, but also, hopefully, with a reader. Many writers have their own rituals for getting ready to write. Granted, sometimes you can get lost in the process and not get to the writing! Some of us get up before sunrise and brew a cup of coffee to drink while writing before work (not me!). Some of us wait until the drama of the day has settled and write in the evening before bed with a cup of tea. Some of us need a stretch of days with few interruptions to get into the meat of the writing. Some of us don't have that luxury and write in quick bursts whenever we have a spare ten minutes. But, most of us have a preferred way to begin: the right spot, certain lighting, visible mementos to decorate our writing space, a special pen or keyboard, a short meditation or a review of notes just before we begin, etc. I always seem to have a cat on my desk, so it's become a part of my process, with the dog at my feet. The ritual, the certain things we do to get us in the right frame of mind, are essential to the process.

Ritual is essential to spiritual awareness. Whether you do it for yourself, or most often, for someone else, the action symbolizes the importance of connection. Back to Williamson again, who says, " a sacred ritual--even something as simple as lighting a prayer candle every morning--can make a tremendous difference in the quality of our lives".

How do you take care of your spirit? I hope very well. Thank you for stopping in.