Monday, December 11, 2017

A Modern Grapes of Wrath?


I recently finished reading Nomadland by Jessica Bruder. This book was recommended to me because I'm planning on hitting the road on a continuous writing and book tour when I retire.

I highly recommend Nomadland, but not for the reasons you might think.

This book did not chronicle the life I expect to live in a well appointment and fancy camper van. Instead, Nomandland tells the story of a modern exodus and shrinking middle class, something on the minds of most of us who follow the news and worry about the future.

Author Jessica Bruder meets, follows, and interviews people who, for the most part, once lived in nice homes and had good jobs, who found themselves broke and homeless due to the economy, health care costs, and layoffs. They could no longer afford to keep a home or an apartment and job prospects were slim, so they gathered up what money they had left and hit the road in a variety of wheeled domiciles. Some moved into RVs, trailers and vans, also known as wheel-estate. Others lived out of their SUVs and cars with no facilities.  Most of the people she met during her research were over 60 years of age, living off meager Social Security, sometimes as little as $400-$500 a month, after losing everything in the economy crash of a decade ago.

For work, many of these modern nomads go from job to job. They have become itinerant workers driving from seasonal job to seasonal job, like the Amazon Camperforce, during which these workers walk as much as 15-20 miles in 12 hour days on concrete floors filling orders for the holiday season, while living in their homes on wheels in freezing temperatures. Others migrate to the sugar beet crops or take on camp hosting positions. These are not glamorous jobs. They are physically demanding, low paying, and have zero benefits. But it is all most of these people have to supply food and shelter. More than once during the book, I was reminded of Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

This book hit close to home. You see, when I was in my late forties I was laid off from a job due to a merger. I did find another fairly quickly, but a couple of years later found myself unemployed again when that company was sold. That time I wasn't so lucky. I was out of work six months, taking on part-time short-term gigs when I could while I looked for full-time work. By the time I landed a job, my savings was gone and my credit cards were maxed out. My new job was in a truly awful and abusive law firm for about half of what I was making before, but it was enough to keep the wolves from the door, barely. A year later I got another job in another law firm for a bit more money. It was another awful job, but more stable and I moved to Los Angeles from the suburbs to cut down my commute. Three years later I got another job offer and gave notice, but that new job fell through and I was left with nothing again. For six months I took low paying temp jobs. I cleaned apartments for people. I was just starting to get published when this happened, so while I wasn't making any royalties yet, I was, at least, getting some meager advance money. I hadn't quite recovered from the layoffs of earlier, so when this hit, I had no choice but to declare bankruptcy.

But all was not bleak. I wrote, worked hard at anything that could pay the rent, and held myself together. Some friends knew of my hardship and loaned me money.  Finally, I landed the job I have now and have held for over twelve years. It's a great job in a great firm. It has allowed me to rebuild my paralegal career and become financially stable again. Loans were all paid and now I'm looking forward to retirement. I won't be flush with cash when I retire, but I won't be in the same boat as the people in Nomadland. And thanks to my writing career, I won't have to work itinerant, physically difficult jobs.  But I have felt their desperation.

While often pretty bleak, Nomadland also reflects on the strength and strong spirit of this wandering population. Long lasting friendships are built on the road and fluid communities come together. Many see it as a means to eventually re-establish themselves in the mainstream population. Others come to enjoy and thrive on the freedom and independence that comes with having few encumbrances. Some never manage to shake off hopelessness and despair. None consider themselves homeless.

After reading this book, I wondered,  had I known living on the road was a possibility when I was going through my hardships, would I have chosen such a life? I'm choosing it now as a fun adventure after retirement, but could I have tackled such an undertaking twelve-fifteen years ago when I hit bottom? I'm not sure I had the fortitude then to do it, so I take my hat off to these brave people.

As the middle-class continues to be squeezed out by government policies and an unfriendly economy, I predict we'll see more and more of these modern nomads on the road. It has become the new reality for many.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving is Da Bomb!

Growing up, I wasn't that fond of holidays. The idea of holidays, yes, but not the actual getting together stuff. You see, my family fought a lot. When we were kids, Mom and Dad would mix it up pretty good. As we got older, my bother and I were thrown into the mix. Before my mid to late twenties, I honestly can't remember that many enjoyable Thanksgivings, Christmases, Easters, even Fourth of July cookouts, that didn't involve yelling, swearing, and people getting pissed off at each other. Holidays meant drama, and not the good kind. And we were not alone. Holidays seem to bring out the worst in a lot of families. The stress of having a big gathering, perfect food, and pretending to be happy, cracks many foundations several times a year.

I really enjoy holidays now. Some I spend with friends; some I'm prefer to be alone; during some I travel. I even have my own holiday traditions for each.  I keep them simple and as stress-free as possible.  I celebrate them as I wish, and do not allow other people's expectations to interfere.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year, hands down. It doesn't matter if I spend it alone or with friends or on a beach or in a mountain cabin. Thanksgiving is da bomb!

Why?

1. It takes place in my favorite season - fall.
2. There's no direct religious or political connection.
3. There's no gift-giving, unless you bring a hostess gift when you're a guest.
4. It involves good food - a single hearty meal and, if you're lucky, leftovers.
5. No one is setting off fireworks that scare the crap out of my cat.

Thanksgiving has one purpose: to give thanks.
 
It's a day of giving thanks for the good things in your life - your family, friends, good health, love, food, and shelter. And it's a day to remember that not everyone has these basic needs.
 
It's a day of putting greed, differences, and sense of entitlement aside, and being humble in the face of your good fortunes and blessings.
 
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Committing Murder For The Sake of My Craft

I commit murder on the page quite often. Sometimes multiple murders. As a crime writer, it's what I do. An old boyfriend used to ask me: Is this book a LBC or HBC? Meaning, does this book have a low body count or a high body count.

Today I committed a different type of murder. It wasn't on the page as much as the page or pages themselves. Basically, I killed an entire short story in progress. Why? Because it wasn't living up to its potential.

Yeah, I'm a bad ass in that way.

I've been working on this particular short story for months. Longer than it often takes me to write a novel. It's a departure from what I normally write and I found it laborious and dull. Usually writing comes easy to me. I'm a fast writer, often speeding through words with ease as the story flows from my head and out my fingers. But this story was like lugging a bag of rocks up Mt. Everest. So today, I had to really take a good long look at the work. Was the drudgery of it trying to tell me something? Was it the story line itself? Was it the main character?

What? What? What?

Over the past few months, I've sat in front of the computer screen staring at the page, begging it to tell me what was wrong. When I got no answer, I'd push ahead, putting words to the page in the hope it would spring to life. But no. It was as flat a cardboard and just as compelling. Finally, out of desperation, this morning, armed with strong coffee, I thought long and hard about it. I didn't think about what was wrong with the story itself, but whether or not the story deserved to live at all.

I was contemplating killing off my darling.

I've killed darlings before. It's a term used for deleting scenes and phrases in your writing that you're particularly pleased with, but that don't move the story along or don't work at all, no matter how well written. In this case it was fourteen pages of worthlessness. A trophy to wasted time and a wrong vision.

But here's the thing... once I decided that, yes, it was time to murder this travesty of fiction, a new story started peeking out from behind the naked bones of the story I'd been writing.  A different story with a totally different feel, but with some similarities. For example, while the main protagonist had to go, another character could stay and even thrive. The setting stayed, too. Intrigued by this new idea, I started a new short story.

Guess what? YES! out of the remains of the old story emerged a wonderfully funny and entertaining story. I've only written a few paragraphs so far, but those words are singing loud and clear. I can't wait to see where it leads.

So, dear ones, don't be afraid to kill your darlings. On the page, that is.  Because behind that carcass might be a beautiful new life just waiting to spring forth and take its place. A fabulous phoenix rising from the ashes.

November is National Novel Writing Month. I figure if people can complete a novel in a month, I sure can finish this new short story!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Food and Drink - Hawaiian Style

I love trying new foods. I watch a lot of cooking shows and always make mental notes of things to be on the lookout for in my travels or even at the market.

I just got back from a wonderful 5-day trip to Hawaii where I tried several new foods and drinks:

Food

  • Portuguese sausage - I really liked this, even though I generally don't eat much meat. I had it a few mornings with eggs and found the mildly spicy flavor a nice change from the usual sausage.
  • Korean Bibimbap - a rice bowl with a lot of veggies topped with a fried egg and served with different sauces. The veggies were all familiar to me except for the sea asparagus. This was a nice light dinner my first night at my hotel, the Moana Surfrider.
  • Sea Asparagus - although in the Bibimbap, this also came as a side salad at dinner one evening with my fish. They had blanched it and added it to thin sliced onion and halved cherry tomatoes tossed with a very light dressing. It was fresh and tasty.
  • Watermelon radishes - I see these a lot on cooking shows, so when faced with them on a salad bar, just had to go for it. They were a lot less intense than a regular radish and wonderful on my salad.
  • Onaga - which is a Hawaiian red snapper. This was one of my favorite meals on the island, which I had at The House Without A Key restaurant, named for the Charlie Chan mystery of the same name. It was steamed with bok choy and shiitake mushrooms in a very light sesame sauce. It came with white rice, which I used to soak up the sauce. Excellent food and restaurant. 
  • Moonfish - my other very memorable meal, had at Duke's Waikiki. This was sauteed with a macadamia crust and served with the sea asparagus salad mentioned above and a lovely bastmati wheatberry rice.
  • Mango ranch dressing - This came on one of the best salads I've tasted anywhere. I had it at my hotel in the Beach Bar. It was a chopped salad with beautiful big grilled shrimp. There was nothing unusual about the salad veggie-wise, but it was exceptionally fresh and served with mango ranch dressing. I'm not a big ranch dressing fan, but I'm so glad I didn't ask them to hold the dressing this time. Mango ranch dressing is much lighter and tastier than regular ranch and brought the salad together.  I could eat that salad every day!

I'm sure there are some of you thinking: Wait, you didn't try Spam? No, I didn't, for two reasons: 1) We ate a lot of Spam growing up, so it wasn't new to me; 2) I hate Spam!

Coconut Mojito!
Drinks

I'm not much of a drinker in my daily life, but I do LOVE my vacation tropical drinks, my favorite being a mai tai, and I had several during this vacation at different locations. My favorite of those I tried was that made at my hotel. It was heavy on the rum and not too sweet. But I tried a couple of other drinks during the week too:

  • Spiked sangria - this was at my hotel.  Normally I enjoy a nicely done sangria, but this was on the sour side from the hard alcohol in it.
  • Cucumber ginger cooler - this was an interesting concoction of cucumber vodka, sake and ginger ale. At first it was really yummy and refreshing, but about halfway through it wore out its welcome and became kind of odd tasting with an unpleasant finish. It might have been the sake that caused this. Hard to tell.
  • Coconut mojito - OMG, this is now my favorite tropical drink, although I wonder if I could get one outside of Duke's. I enjoyed it so much at dinner, that instead of dessert, I ordered another. It was refreshing and tasty and the mint wasn't overpowering.
  • Duke's Signature Mimosa - enjoyed on my last day in Hawaii at breakfast, this was a super tasty twist to the normal mimosa.  In fact, I liked it much better than the usual champagne and orange juice because it was more refreshing and less sweet. It was champagne with lilikoi (passion fruit) juice. 

Dessert Tree
Desserts

I didn't indulge much in desserts since I was sucking down calorie-laden sweet tropical drinks, but I did try the signature coconut cake at The House Without A Key and it rocked.  My first day at my hotel, I couldn't make up my mind on a desert with lunch, but knew I wanted one. The Veranda restaurant is known for their afternoon teas, and one of the desserts on their regular menu was a tree of miniature desserts, which is part of the tea service. It seemed silly and indulgent to order it since I was dining alone, but did anyway. It consisted of eight different dessert bites and each was amazing. My favorite was the mango mousse on top of a sponge cake square. I ate a couple at lunch and they boxed up the others for me to take back to my room. So except for the coconut cake, these took care of my sweet tooth.

So now I'm back home and on the wagon, both drink and food-wise. Back to eating mostly vegan, and watching the calories. But I sure had fun tossing all that aside in Hawaii!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Minimize Me!

It's time to officially start downsizing my apartment to fit into an RV. All my book contracts are behind me. I'm on the verge of buying the van. It's time.

I leave for vacation in 2 days, but except for packing my duds and a little writing, I have this weekend free. So why not start the downsizing of my stuff by tossing out things I know belong in the trash. Getting rid of a lot of that will leave behind the items I need to donate and sell.

I began last night by getting a good size box and tossing stuff into it that I know needs to go and would be of no use to anyone. As each item went into the box, I wondered why I'd even hung on to it at all. This morning I took the box down to the dumpster and emptied it, bringing it back upstairs to repeat the process.

Over the last few months I've also started downsizing my clothing.  I have this large walk-in closet jam-packed with clothes, of which I probably only wear 20-25%. If something hasn't been worn in the past year or two, it's going to Goodwill or some other charity. I mean, I have almost a dozen pairs of pants that I haven't been able to get into for almost twenty years.  Seriously! That's carrying wishful thinking to ridiculous! Let's not even discuss the clothing I bought thinking it was perfect for me when it was anything but. After a few wearings, they too ended up in the back of the closet.  And then there's the forgotten items. A few weeks ago I wore something to work I had forgotten I owned. Someone asked me if it was new. Ha! No, I just found it in the closet smooshed between the stuff I can't wear.

I also have two chest of drawers to clean out. My trick for these is to pull out a drawer and drag it into the living room.  While watching TV, I sort the drawer contents into keep, donate, and toss piles. Do I really need forty scarves? Forty-two to be exact! I got that whittled down to ten and might even re-think those. And bras! So many bought only to be so uncomfortable they were never worn more than a couple of times. I must have a dozen of those too, along with three dozen pairs of socks I never wear.  I have two drawers of tee shirts. That drawer is next on my hit list, along with the drawers in my bathroom vanity.

And books... let's talk about books. Over the years I had already pared down the number of my physical books because of space limitations, and now only read e-books or listen to audio books. In the van, there will be no room for books, except for the inventory of my books that I'll keep on hand to sell at events. And a couple of cookbooks. I don't like using cookbooks on my Kindle. The rest of my books will be donated to my local library, with a few special ones going to my great nephew and nieces.

Once I get back from vacation, I'll be on hardcore downsize mode. The kitchen will be next, and that's going to be the biggest job. I might just put all my nice things I once used for entertaining in boxes and tell people it's theirs if they just come get it. My goal is to be almost completely finished with this project by Christmas. I want to get to the point where all that's left is basic furniture and the things I'll need in retirement, not a stitch or stick more.

A friend recently asked me if getting rid of my things saddens me. Honestly, except for a couple of items, no. I'm actually starting to feel a sense of freedom and lightness as the process continues.

It's shedding the past to face my future.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Patient, Heal Thyself

This week I had my annual physical, which is really a misnomer since my doctor reminded me that I hadn't had an annual physical since early 2015.  Anywhoooo, this physical was prompted by a couple of things:

1) I've been feeling like crap most of this year. Nothing earth shattering, just generally yucky, mixed with body aches, dizziness, nausea and headaches, all of which I pinned on stress.

2) The doctor noticed I hadn't had a physical in over two years when I went in two weeks ago to finally complain about all of the above, and promptly squeezed me in for one.

In the first visit the doctor diagnosed me with vertigo and recommended I take Bonine, an over-the-counter motion sickness medication, for a while and see if it would go away.  I'm pleased to say the Bonine worked. I take a half tablet in the morning and half at night, and after next week may stop it and see if all is good again, or just take it as needed.  I gotta say, going through the day without being dizzy and nauseous is life changing.

In the second visit, the doctor examined me head to toe, drew blood, and made me pee in a cup. He also scheduled a couple of routine tests I still need to take, like a mammogram. At the end of my visit, he told me I have high blood pressure and prescribed medication.

Now here's the thing. When I fussed over the medication, because I hate taking drugs, my very sweet doctor looked me in the eye and said something like this:

If you manage your stress, eat healthy, and get regular exercise, you might be able to go off the meds.

Huh? My eyebrows shot up in disbelief, and he caught the gesture, following up with this gem:

Barring anything that crops up in the tests, there is nothing wrong with you that you can't fix yourself.

Hmmmm. Nothing I can't fix myself.

I'm not exactly a do-it-yourselfer, but I know a personal challenge when I hear one. We've all read about people who were sick, some near dying, and then recovered when they changed their lifestyle. Now I was faced with that forked path: do nothing and continue to gain weight and feel yucky, or get back to regular exercise and a healthy diet. Not that I do recreational drugs or drink much alcohol, but I sure could exercise more, lose weight, and stop binge eating under pressure.

Like he said, barring test results, I'm pretty healthy, and feel very lucky about that at my age. And blood pressure can be managed. He wants me to take my meds, and monitor my blood pressure three times a week and journal it. When I go back around the end of the year for a follow-up, he'll decide if I'm on the right path for being medication-free again.

I have about 500 days until I retire and hit the road in an RV. I certainly don't want to be sick when I do it, or have a health issue that prevents it.

And I love a good challenge...

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Finishing Strong!


2017 has been a hard year for me so far, physically and emotionally. Basically, it's felt like I've been stuck on a Tilt-a-Whirl for the past nine months.

I overextended myself with obligations, all of which I met, but it about killed me with stress to hit them all and do it well. But this past Monday I turned in the final edits of my final book under contract, so I no longer have any hard publishing deadlines. I also completed my last big time commitment for the year, and the extra work they piled on at the day job will be lessening.

Physically, my body is getting back to normal. Aches and pains, including those scary chest pains from June, caused from too much stress have diminished and hopefully will stop altogether. I was diagnosed with vertigo and am taking medication for it, which has stopped the dizziness and nausea I've had for the past several months. Even the pounds I gained from stress eating junk food are beginning to leave the building. Everything is looking up.

As for my retirement plans, I had a monkey-wrench thrown into those too this year. I'm still on track, but have learned I must be patient about getting my RV, and have put that off until I'm much closer to my actually retirement date. All in it's proper time.

There are three months left in 2017 and I intend to finish the year strong.

On the agenda:

Finishing two short stories, one of which I've been working on forever!
Finishing up a non-mystery novel which is almost finished.
Launching The Novel RV imprint for future self-published work.
Re-releasing The Ghost In The Polka Dot Bikini.
Get back to regular exercising and better eating - already in progress.
A lovely and well-earned vacation in Hawaii around the end of October.
Getting the tattoo I've wanted ... it's my 65th birthday gift to myself.
Saying NO to requests that suck up my time and energy needlessly.

That last one is a biggie.

2017, at the end of this year, one of us will still be standing, and I'm betting it will be me!


Saturday, September 09, 2017

A Beautiful Cliche

Curtis McDaniel
What do Michael Jackson and I have in common, besides liking to hang out in our jammies?  We both had/have vitiligo.

Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease that causes pigment-producing cells to die or stop producing melanin, causing patches of the skin to become white or lighter. It is thought to be caused from stress, trauma to the skin, other underlying disease, or even be hereditary.  It's not painful or infectious, just unattractive. My brother had it on his hands and arms. I have it on my neck and in small patches on my arms. Mine could have been caused by stress-induced hives on my neck, which damaged the skin, but we're not sure.  It started about six years ago, and it's not a bad case, and because I'm white, it's not immediately noticeable.

Winnie Harlow
A few days ago I read about a young male model named Curtis McDaniel who has vitiligo and is out there becoming a successful model. In the article he talked of being bullied in school. Now he's strutting his stuff with confidence. And why shouldn't he?

Another model with vitiligo making big waves is Winnie Harlow.

But this blog isn't about vitiligo. It's about things that make us different, that defy the normal definition of beauty, and challenge us to overcome such challenges and strut our stuff because we are beautiful.

We are all beautiful.

Kevin Bull
If you are an American Ninja Warrior fan, as I am, then you know that Kevin Bull is one of the premiere American Ninja athletes. Kevin also has alopecia, another autoimmune disease, but this one attacks hair follicles rendering a person partially, or often entirely, bald. Kevin Bull uses his disease to bring awareness to alopecia and to build confidence in children suffering with the disease.

Then there's Kechi, a contestant on this season's America's Got Talent. Kechi was only one of two survivors of a plane crash in 2005 in Nigeria and sustained third-degree burns over most of her body. By the way, she sings like an angel and is in the finals of this season's competition.

We can't always help what happens to us. Sometimes disease and accidents leave us looking different. Maybe it's not the skin. Maybe it's the loss of a limb or limbs, or any number of things. These are not the things that define us. These are the things that challenge us to rise above our situation with strength and grace.

And, honestly, I'm not talking about myself here. My vitiligo started late in life and by the time it became noticeable, my give-a-damn was already broken. But what if it had happened when I was young? Would I be as accepting of it?  I doubt it.

But maybe the real challenge here isn't with those with noticeable differences. Maybe the real challenge is with those without such hurdles. Those who look at these people and see freaks. Those who are frightened that such things may happen to them, as if they are catching. Over the years I've had two different women approach me and suggest that I get laser or bleaching treatments for my vitiligo. One knew me. One didn't. When I said it didn't bother me, both pressed the matter until I finally told them that if it bothered them, then don't look at me.  I can only imagine what they would say to someone like Winnie Harlow.

Nope, it's all just part of life. Everyone faces different experiences and challenges. A physical difference doesn't make anyone less beautiful. Because real beauty is within. The outside is just the packaging.  I know that sounds like a cliche your mother said to you when you were in high school crying over a few pimples, but it's true. Real and genuine beauty comes from within and shines out like a beacon.

Now if we could just get the whole world to understand that, we might be able to cure a lot of mankind's problems.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Declaring My Independence

I've written about this before, but now the day has finally come.

As soon as I turned in TOO BIG TO DIE, the 12th book in my Odelia Grey series, I was no longer under any obligations or deadlines from any publisher.

I am officially an INDEPENDENT AUTHOR!

TOO BIG TO DIE, which comes out December 2018, is my 25th novel, the 23rd contracted by a traditional publisher. That's not to say that I will never ever again contract with a traditional publisher, but I will never again contract for multiple books.

In the words of the great Danny Glover: I'm getting too old for this shit.

I turned in the last contracted book two weeks ago today, and followed that up with a two week hiatus from writing. I wrote here and there during that time, but not much, and I didn't have a set schedule, which is important, whether you are an independent author or working through traditional publishing channels.  When I'm asked about how I'm able to produce so many books in such a short time, my answer is always the same: I have a writing schedule and stick to it about 90% of the time. Without setting a writing time, and sticking to it, many authors tend to meander off course and produce little. 

Bottom line: I treat my writing like a job. A job with regular hours. Weekdays, my hours are generally 6:00 am until about 8:00 am.  Weekends are about 4 hours a day, mostly done in the morning, but I'm more flexible about the exact times. I always have treated it like a job, a job I love most of the time. But now it's even more important to maintain that mindset.

Today I sat down at my computer at 6:00 am, after feeding the cat and cleaning the litter box, and armed with my morning coffee, began my life as an independent author. 

Wow, no deadlines, except my own.

Wow, I don't need to be to my day job until 10:00 am, so i could go back to bed for another hour or two.

Wow!

It's both exhilarating and scary, like a tall winding roller coaster.

One of the things I did during my two weeks off from writing was to prepare a writing project list. This is a list of novels and short stories I want to work on, along with target dates for completion. This will be my road map so I don't wander lost and unfocused without structure. It's long list of book ideas I want to bring to the page, along with maintaining my long-standing series. Right now, I have ideas scheduled through 2019. 

I guess you could say I still have deadlines, but these are gooey deadlines that can be manipulated if the need arises.

Between now and the end of the year, I plan on finishing two short stories and a non-mystery novel titled FINDING ZELDA. I've been working on FINDING ZELDA for several years, here and there, as I had the time. The first draft is nearly done, and my plan is to get it done and published sometime in 2018.

To celebrate my new freedom, I'm giving away two character names in FINDING ZELDA. To enter, simply send an e-mail before 9 pm PT, August 27th, to contest@sueannjaffarian.com with ZELDA in the subject line. Winners will be drawn at random and announced on August 28th. 

NOTE: You must be a member of the Sue Ann Jaffarian Fan Club to enter, but come on, you always wanted to be a member, didn't you? Fess up.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

On Vacation, Kind Of

In exactly 76 days, count 'em 76, I will be in Hawaii on vacation for 5 days.  I can't wait. That's a real vacation, which I generally take in the fall after most families have returned to their usual school-year activities.  Last year in October I rented an RV and joined my family at Fisherman's Memorial Campground in Rhode Island, which was a lot of fun.

But Hawaii and Rhode Island aside, I'm currently on another type of vacation. A vacation from writing.

On July 31st I turned in my 12th Odelia Grey novel to my publisher. It was also my last book under contract, which means I currently have no deadlines sucking my brain and my soul dry. As soon as that book was turned it, I gave myself permission to take a week off from writing. And except for a burst of creativity on Saturday night, which lasted until 2 am, I did take the week off from putting words to the page.

But here I am into the 2nd week and I'm still not ready to get back to the grind.  For one thing, on my usual writing schedule, I get up around 5 am on week days to write before going to my day job as a paralegal. Since the last book was turned in, I am sleeping in until 6 or 6:30, much to the chagrin of my cat, who is used to being fed at 5:30. And believe me, B is being quite vocal about the change in her feeding schedule. But I've been determined, and eventually she gives up and not so patiently waits until my feet hit the floor at the later hour.  On weekends I'm sleeping in much later, but do get up around 6 to feed the poor starving kitty.

Friends, sleep is NOT overrated. I used to say it was. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I may never get up at 5 am again, except to catch a flight.

But even with the extra sleep, I am not ready to return to punching a keyboard. I was very productive that late Saturday night, and managed to flesh out an idea for a new short story, but since then my brain has been stubborn and my muse silent. They want a vacation too and until they return, I admit, I'm a bit understaffed.

I'm hoping everybody is back to work on my latest project by this coming Monday.  If not, that's okay, as long as we're all back soon. I've got stories and books to write and without my brain and my muse, I'm kind of writing blind!


Thursday, July 20, 2017

From the Mail Bag... A Veiled Threat

Once again I have received a communication from a reader complaining about my vocal opinions about Trump, and suggesting it could impact the sales of my books.

Here's what I received:

Hi Sue, I love your books, and that will not change my opinion of your writing. But I am very tired of people, such as yourself, who are in the public eye denigrating our president. I view authors as celebrities, and I feel they should walk a fine line. I know you have another job, not just writing. But there are a lot of people, I know that love your books, but would not hesitate buying something else. If you were making your living just by writing, could you afford to alienate people who voted for the person they thought is best? The joke was cute, your comment was not. Everybody needs to laugh at themselves. I never make it a habit to make jokes about others, you know "glass houses" and all.
 
Here is my response:

[Y]ou are certainly entitled to your opinion (and I will fight for your right to it), but I couldn't disagree with you more. As an individual, a writer, a paralegal, a citizen, etc., I am entitled to air my opinion out in public. There is no fine line I should be walking, nor will I. I feel it's my duty to be vocal about things I think are wrong and Trump is near the top of my list. I totally respect the office of the presidency, but I do not, nor will I ever, respect him and what he is doing to this country. If people want to not buy my books because of that, then they are free to not buy them. And I would feel this way even if I were earning my living 100% from them. A lot of authors keep their opinions to themselves out of fear of not selling a book or two. That's their decision. But many authors don't - check out Stephen King, Chuck Wendig, Jeri Westerson, Tim Hallinan, Margaret Atwood, Jan Burke, just to name a couple, and there are more, many more who do not let that fear rule their opinons. If you want to chide a "celebrity", use your energy to go after those abusing animals, beating on women, getting off scott-free after drunk driving. Those folks need to be walking not a "fine line" but a "moral line. "

(Yes, I know there are typos, but this is how it was sent, so deal with it.)
 
Then this arrived:
 
I think your response to me was harsh. I do not like celebrities, I do not watch Television, nor do I go to concerts, or movies. We, the hard working, middle class pay their salaries. They are pariah, for the most part. I do go after people abusing any animals and children, people that cannot take care of themselves. I do not support women who let themselves be a victim.
 
Side note: I find it interesting  that this person is willing to stand up against abuse, except that against women. At least this is how that reads to me. It reads as if this person, a woman BTW, thinks abused women are allowing themselves to be a victim, therefore are not worthy of support or protection. Talk about "harsh."
 
On the heels of the above message, came this:
 
I am not going to read anymore of your books, I am unfriendliness you now, and our libraries don't carry your books neither does our Barnes and Noble. So I guess you are not that important after all.
 
She must think she hit my jugular here. Sorry to disappoint, because she missed it entirely. And she did "unfriendliness" me. I checked later.
 
My final reply:
 
You just proved that you are an intolerant individual. I always welcome opinions opposite mine. You, apparently, do not. Still I will keep my mouth open in defense of your freedoms. You're welcome.
 
When I participated in the Women's March, I had people unfriending me and vowing not to buy my books any longer. That didn't faze me and neither will this.

I have lots of friends who hold opinions opposite mine, and who even voted for Trump. We are still friends because I believe they are entitled to their opinion. On my Facebook page, I never block anyone making comments in opposition to one of my posts. What will get someone blocked is being nasty or picking a fight. And I have blocked people who agree with me on things, as well some who disagree with me, for those reasons.

But a word to anyone reading this who thinks sending a message like this to an author, an actor, or even the pastor down the street, will make them change their mind: It won't.  And if it will, then their convictions are truly soggy and worthless.

Minds are changed by facts and truth, not by threats.

 
 


Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Great Outdoors Is Calling My Name... Sort Of

Due to all kinds of things happening in my life, I'm back to Plan A when it comes to buying my RV. That means I will buy it closer to when I retire in early 2019, meaning I will buy it closer to the time I can actually use it.  I had wanted it NOW. NOW. NOW. But when things didn't work out the way I wanted them, I took a step back and assessed the situation. I'm now looking at this set back as the Universe telling me my timing for the RV was off. Way off.

Ok, I'm listening. Don't have to hit me in the face twice!

But here's the thing, while I'm waiting (somewhat) patiently for my new RV buying date to roll around, I've been bitten by the urge to spend more time outdoors. Yes, outdoors. In nature, surrounded by trees, babbling brooks, sunny skies, and clean air. And ticks, mosquitoes, spiders, and possibly even bears. Yeah, that outdoors.

As I confessed in my last blog about camping, I'm about as outdoorsy as chintz curtains. To me, RVing in a lovely camper van with all the amenities of my apartment (and some much nicer), is my idea of camping.  But lately I've been hanging out online with some hardcore campers and hikers and I'm starting to see things through their eyes and their gorgeous photos.  Now I want to get out there, with or without an RV, and hike.

Holy shit, did I just say I want to go hiking?

Nah, must be the Los Angeles street fumes I'm sniffing as I write this.

But, yes, it's true, I want to start spending more time outdoors, even before I travel in my future RV. So I'm thinking shortly after I finish the book I'm working on, I'll tackle a few easy local trails to get me started, then branch out from there. I have the shoes and hiking poles and proper clothes. I even have a tick key. (Yes, that's a thing.) When I was training for the Camp Pendleton Mud Run eight years ago, I would hike 4-6 miles most weekends.  And walk 3 miles a day at least 2-3 times a week.Then again, I was younger and pounds lighter.

Still, I know I can do this.

And I want to do this. I really do!

I'm tired of being a couch potato. Or should I say a computer potato?

I also have reservations at a hotel in Cayucos around Christmas to celebrate my 65th birthday, and plan on hiking there and around Morro Bay during those days.

Oh, and BTW, just because I'm ready to hike, it doesn't mean I'm going to eventually sleep on the ground in a tent. I have to draw a line against this craziness somewhere! But the truth is, I'm afraid once I'm down on the ground, I wouldn't be able to get up!

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

A Summer Reading Challenge

Today is the 4th of July. Our nation's birthday. A time for celebration, cookouts, fireworks, parades and gathering with friends and family. But I'm thinking about something else today. I'm thinking about my summer reading.

Never in my life has the 4th of July meant more to me than it does this year. Why? Because I genuinely feel that our rights as American citizens are in peril by what is going on in our current government.  We are facing a serious crisis in this country. We are under siege, both as a people and as individuals. Our rights are being threatened. The environment is being threatened. The future of those coming after us is being threatened. We have people in power hell-bent on stripping us down to our skivvies while they make millions in profit.

But none of this is news. And you've certainly heard me rant about this before. But today I'm not here to rant and rave about our federal government. Today I'm posing a challenge... to YOU.

When was the last time you read the U.S. Constitution?  Seriously!  Have you ever read it? Can you remember the last time? It was probably in school.

Until today, the last time I read it was 24 years ago. I was visiting D.C. and seeing all the usual tourist spots: Smithsonian Museum, the Treasury, the Holocaust Museum, the Capitol, etc.  It was a wonderful trip, saturating me with history and government institutions. I love that stuff. It brings out my inner nerd.

One of my stops was the National Archive Museum, specifically the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. This permanent exhibit houses The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights. You can't touch them, of course, but you can read them. I didn't expect to spend much time there (think Chevy Chase checking out the Grand Canyon in National Lampoon's Vacation), but as I started looking at these documents, drafted and signed so many years ago, I found myself moved to the point of tears.  I ended up going back to the beginning of the exhibit and reading every word.

I can honestly say, it changed how I felt about my country and my role in it, spurring me to go from bystander to active participant.

So my summer challenge to you is to read the Constitution. And I'll even make it easy on you.

Here is the full text of the Constitution of the United States. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Big Reveal Isn't Really

I've seen firsthand that being president doesn't change who you are. It reveals who you are.
- Michelle Obama

I was reminded of this quote by the former First Lady this week after Donald Trump tweeted those nasty things about the Morning Joe hosts, particularly Mika Brzezinski. I only occasionally watch Morning Joe because it comes on during my prime writing time. But after Trump tweeted those attacks against Joe and Mika, I made sure I was in front of my TV the morning after, coffee in hand, to see what they had to say about it.

One of the things that struck me odd was how they were semi-defending Trump. Not the things he said or how he said them, but him, the person. They were recalling with several guests past encounters with Trump, back when they were all friends, and citing how different he was then and even up until a year or so ago. The conversation then went on to discuss whether or not Trump was suffering from declining mental capacity.  A very scary thought when you consider he has nuclear codes.

When Trump married Melania, both Rosie O'Donnell and the Clintons attended the wedding. Yet Trump has viciously attacked these people in the past couple of years. VICIOUSLY!

Most of us are well aware that Trump suffers from paranoia and run-away narcissism, and maybe he is suffering from dementia and a diminished mental capacity too, but, frankly, I've always thought he was a major asshole. I mean for decades I've thought this. Maybe he's only charming and fun when he's at parties. I don't know, because I doubt I'll ever be allowed within 10 miles of Mar-a-lago. I think they have an age and weight limit for women that I'll never meet. And I've always boycotted anything that has the Trump name on it, long before he turned to politics.

But the thing is, Trump has always been an egotistical ass. He has always screwed people over. He has always played fast and loose with other people's money, even ruining others as he's made millions. He has a long, long, long history of frivolous litigation and bullying. None of this started in the past two years. 

This is who he is.
This is who he has always been.
The presidency is just revealing his true nature.

The real question here is why were so many well-known and highly regarded people kissing his ass over the years knowing that he was willfully driving small businesses into the ground, suing at will, and bilking na├»ve dreamers with Trump University. Not to mention being a known misogynist. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. It makes you wonder about their moral compasses, doesn't it?

So, Mika and Joe, while I sympathize with you being targeted, and don't support bullying of any kind, I have to ask: Why are you surprised that Donald Trump finally attacked you? You saw what he did to Rosie O'Donnell. And what he's done to the Clintons? And to everyone else in his path. And after hearing from you on your show about his threats to publish a trash piece about you, which included intimidating your families, I'm even more puzzled why you still think this is just a recent development in his personality. Behavior like this doesn't sprout overnight. It was always there. Always.

Did you not see it because you where charmed by his money and fame? If so, you're piss-poor journalists.

SAD.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Book Me, Danno!

All I can say is WOW!

My retirement target date is in 569 days... um 568 days... no, make that 567 days... oh hell, make that early 2019.

Yet, I've had three solid requests already for speaking engagements in 2019, none of which are in California. 2019 will be the first year I'll be free to wander the country to say hi and howdy to my many readers.

Over the years, one of the most frequent complaints I've gotten is that I don't do book tours. Not many authors do. It's a financial thing. In 2012 I wrote a blog about it. Everything in that blog still holds true today. (Read: It's All About The Math)

Enter retirement and an RV.

Once I am retired from my day job, I'll be able to wander the country visiting cool places, talking to readers, and selling signed copies of my books. I'll be able to set up speaking engagements, attend book festivals, and visit libraries and book clubs.  All the things I've wanted to do for years and could not.

Slowly the word is getting out about my plans, and the inquiries are starting to trickle in. I can't give anyone an exact date, of course, but I can put them on my calendar for 2019 with a note to contact them to set a firm date later. It's exciting!

One of the logistics of traveling like this is to try and lump events in certain areas during a set time. If I'm setting up an event in Texas one week, I cannot set one up in Maine a few days later. I won't be flying. I'll be driving. And I'll want to stop along the way in to see friends and visit state and federal parks. And I'll be writing. So besides a calendar, I'll be keeping a map close at hand.

If you would like me to visit your organization, fund raiser, library, etc. any time beyond spring 2019, please contact me via my website. I'll put you on the list and we'll work out details as the time for my Grand Adventure gets nearer.  All I'll need is a place to park my van for the night. And I won't even need hookups!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Taking My Life Back

Last week something happened that made me take stock of my life good and hard. On Tuesday morning I wound up in the ER with chest pains. They had occurred before, in fact almost daily for the past few weeks, but not nearly as intense. I pushed through them because I had so much to do and people were depending on me. But on Tuesday the pain was severe and after two hours did not go away. I called my doctor and was told to call 9-1-1. I didn't. Instead, I hopped into an Uber and went to the ER at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center, where they immediately hooked me up to an EKG and slapped me into a bed. There was even more concern when they learned that my mother had died at 52 from heart disease. (Yes, I know I should have dialed 9-1-1 instead of taking Uber. I have been lectured about that, believe me.)

Nine hours later, after several EKG's, blood tests, a CT, and some meds, it was declared that my heart was fine, great, in fact. There was no sign of a heart attack, or heart disease, blockage, or heart damage of any kind. My lungs, another possible cause of chest pains, were also fine. So was my blood pressure. In the end, the pain was declared caused by stress.

Stresssssssssss

Stress is a killer, the doctors informed me. Stress can lead to heart attacks and strokes, I was told. It can affect your immune system, leading to other illnesses. It was the same song my GP had been singing to me for years. I needed to manage the stress in my life before it caused permanent damage. BTW, I already have vitiligo, an autoimmune disease that attacks pigmentation of the skin, which in my case is believed to be triggered by numerous bouts of stress-caused hives on my neck and throat.

For over fifteen years I've been juggling a full-time job, writing 2-3 novels a year, and many other responsibilities and concerns that go back even before then. The only responsibility I didn't have was a family. Year after year, the signs of stress were there: depression, binge eating, aches and pains. I managed them all as best I could and met every obligation. Come to think of it, I can barely remember a time in my life without a lot of stress.

Well that shit's over.

Generally, I have a great attitude about life, and it has helped me immensely in tough times. But now it needs a boost from these other things I can do to make the quality of my life better. I've always been a glass half full person. Now I need to be a glass FULL person.

In about 30 or so days, I will be turning in my last contracted manuscript. I won't be giving up writing, but I will be writing on my timeline, not a publisher's. That should help my stress level considerably, as well as not having to deal with the politics and BS of publishers, and working LONG-ASS HOURS for almost no money.  I will be commander of my own ship. I may do better. I may do worse. But no one will have control over my time and efforts but me.

The day job must continue, and in the past year they have given me more responsibilities. The job can be stressful, but I work for nice people who understand.  I can also lighten my load elsewhere so that what stress I have at my job can be managed better. And in under two years I will be retiring.

Learning to say NO. I love volunteering for good causes. And I will continue doing that, but on a smaller scale. I'm currently on the board of a writers group and enjoy it very much. But all other requests for my time are being turned away and some are being let go.

Taking better care of myself. In the past six months I've been neglecting my diet and exercise routine, saying I didn't have time. I've started that up again and I've declared war on binge eating and junk food. Exercise is one of the best stress reducers, but for me it's the first thing to get pushed aside. And one weekend a month I'm setting aside everything for a few hours and going hiking ... outside ... in the sunshine ... in fresh air. Something I used to do and haven't done for years. I even bought some hiking poles to help my fat ass. And I've booked a couple of real vacations.

Sleep is a wondrous thing. When I'm on book deadlines, I usually only get about five hours of sleep a night. Sometimes less. I'm now committed to seven a night minimum. It's amazing what that extra sleep has done for me already.

Readjusting my future goals. In May I was disappointed when I was turned down for financing for my RV van. I had pushed up my timeline to get the van because I'd gotten a great deal and thought maybe the van would help me de-stress. In all honesty, pushing up my deadline only added more stress. Being turned down last month helped me in the long run, like cosmic brakes. So now I'm looking to order the van in 2018, closer to my retirement date. In the meantime, I can downsize my belongings and acquire the things I need for my retirement at a slower pace.

Years ago my doctor offered me anti-depressants to manage my stress. He didn't push them, as some doctors do, but let me know that they were available if I wanted to go that route. I chose not to. I still choose not to go down that path. I believe I can handle this if I'm smart and committed to my own well-being.

We live in stressful times. Everything moves faster. People expect more of us. People are fired up in negative ways and acting out against their fellow human beings. I can't change the world, but I can change my little patch of it. I can be a better me.

As most of you know, I have an elderly cat named B. I adore that animal. I care for her best I can, giving her all the love and support she needs to have a quality life.  Maybe it's time I took care of myself as well as I do my cat.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Mai Tais

Yes, I'm well aware that a mai tai doesn't contain lemons, but let's say for the sake of argument, it does.

Late on the Friday afternoon before Memorial weekend  I did something big: I placed an order for a Winnebago Travato, my dream retirement RV. Then I spent Saturday and Sunday worrying about it, as I knew I would. This was the biggest purchase I have ever made. I've never bought a home or a fancy car. What if my financing doesn't go through? Although the dealer was pretty sure it would, it still gave me worry. I bought the RV much earlier than planned because I got a great deal for exactly what I wanted. And because I was obsessed with getting the thing. And I mean OBSESSED, like a serial killer.

The Tuesday after the long holiday, I got the news that my funding did not go through. It seems most of the reason was I didn't have a long enough credit history with large purchases. In fact, I had never made a large purchase, such as a home, in my life and had mostly paid cash in the last several years. My car is 10 years old and long paid for. I looked into other lenders, but wasn't happy with what I found.

What to do? What to do?

I was disappointed, of course. I really wanted that van! But after taking a LONG step back and reviewing the facts, I realized my timing was off. Way off.  I could have forced the funding issue by throwing down an even larger down payment or signing up with less than favorable terms, but decided not to do that. I'm not retiring for ... wait for it ... 587 days from today. I have plenty of time to purchase the van and get ready for my grand adventure. Maybe the funding turn down was the universe's way of saying, "Hold your horses, Sue Ann!"

So I put on my big girl panties and reset my buying timeline for mid-2018, less than a year before I retire.  Maybe then the financing gods will smile upon me.

Then I booked a week's vacation in Hawaii.

Now do you see where mai tais come in?

BTW, the Hawaii countdown is 138 days.


Monday, May 22, 2017

No One's Gonna Die

Recently I was working with one of my bosses and she was getting very frazzled over an event we were organizing (which is not like her). The poor thing was working herself into a tizzy over tiny, insignificant details. Finally, I said to her, "Calm down. No one is going to die if this isn't perfect."

She paused, then replied, "You're right. Our clients deal with life and death issues every day, and this is hardly life or death." (We work in health care law.)

The event went off just fine, BTW.

I had the occasion last week to tell someone else who was sweating bullets over tiny silly things, "No one is going to die." Like my boss, she paused, let the words sink in, then calmed down.

Sometimes we worry over stuff that, in the big scheme of things, are smaller than gnats, while letting big stuff slide. I'm sure psychologically this is a coping or even an avoidance mechanism, but I'm not writing this to delve into the human mind.

Yesterday I was telling a friend about two things that may stand in the way of ordering my RV next month. These aren't necessarily small things, but they are things out of my control. When I was done complaining, my friend threw my favorite new words back at me, "No one is going to die. This is just a delay, nothing more."

It's true.  These two things may mess with the timing of my goal to own a camping van, but will not be an obstacle to ultimately getting my hands on one. And the delay may only be six months, not years. Six months is nothing.  And I won't die because of it. I might die during those six months, who knows, but certainly not from waiting.

There are lots of things that can cause a person to die, such as illness or an accident, but I'm not going to die because something I want is put out of my reach for a few  months.  Even more stupid, is that it's not confirmed yet that this will even happen. I'm worrying over something that may not even occur.  Silly me!

This is why we should have contingency plans. Contingency plans are our safety nets, our emergency kits. When life throws obstacles in our path, especially something out of our control, we shouldn't waste energy worrying. Just dust off Plan B and have it in your pocket, like an understudy in a play or a touchstone that brings you comfort.

So I'm letting go of this worry. I'll know in a few weeks if my plans are delayed, but in the meantime, I've got my backup plan primed and ready.

And no one is gonna die!

Monday, May 08, 2017

Good Morning to Possibilities

I'm on a campaign to spread cheer, one person at a time. Especially during this time of discord and of people taking sides on everything.

I live in Los Angeles, a thriving, massive city, both in population and size. I work in a two-tower high rise. I come in contact with hundreds of people every day, some for a fleeting instant, some for longer. I've noticed that people in stores, or on the streets, or in elevators seldom look each other in the eye.

There was one man in our building on our floor, an older man probably in his seventies, who was always scowling. One day I mentioned to a co-worker how crabby the man always seemed, and was told that he is in constant pain from a serious back injury. I had no idea.

One day after that I was in the elevator alone with this man. I turned to him and said, "good morning" and gave him a smile. He gave me a tight smile back. After that, every time we saw each other I greeted him, or made a small talk comment about the weather, etc. Now every time he sees me, the scowl is gone, replaced by a smile, and often he'll even start the conversation.

We really never know what's going on in people's lives. Someone may seem like a crab apple, but really be in pain from an unseen injury. Or maybe a co-worker snapped at you or is in a bad mood because she had a fight that morning with her husband, or one of her kids, or maybe her mother is in the hospital. People shouldn't need to wave banners announcing their physical or emotion pain, for us not to judge them or to be civil to them.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone, but I'm trying to be better about it.

Every morning when I go out to the parking area where I live, there are people walking along the sidewalk in front of my apartment building. Some are exercising. Some are walking dogs. Some are simply moving from one place to another. I now make a point of meeting them eye to eye and saying good morning. A lot just nod in response and look away, some grunt, but many look at me, smile, and say it back. Over time, like the man in the elevator, they're smiling before we reach each other. And so far no one has pulled a knife or sworn at me.

Is it really that difficult to be civil to people? To get our heads out of our phones, or our asses, and acknowledge fellow travelers in this world?

Even if we're the ones in pain or having a bad day, sometimes greeting another human being can lift our spirits. People often feel isolated and alone, and a kind word letting them know you see them - really see them - and can change their attitude or yours.

There was a trend a short while ago where people in drive-thru lines would pay for the order or coffee of the people behind them. It was an unexpected and random act of kindness. I've done it myself. But how about being less stingy with our smiles and kind words. You don't have to become BFFs with these people, but when you see someone often, reach out and say hello. You might just make their day.  And it costs nothing.


Thursday, May 04, 2017

Keep Your Shit To Yourselves

I was talking on the phone with a friend, catching up with him on what has been going on in our lives. He has a new lady friend. I have my future plans for my books and my retirement.

Then he laughed.

Okay.

Then he said, "You're always working the angles." He laughed again.

I wasn't laughing.

Maybe I'm being too sensitive, but to me someone "working the angles" is someone who isn't quite trustworthy.  So I looked it up and found a couple of meanings. One said it meant to be "manipulative". Okay, that fits my perceived definition. But others defined it as: "leaving no stone unturned" or "exploring all possibilities."

Now those are definitions I can embrace with gusto, and ones to which I'm going to attribute my friend's comment, because he really is behind my plans. He thinks they are great and suitable for my personality, which according to him is "stubborn and fiercely independent." I also think the adjective "pig-headed" was tossed in there somewhere.

Did I mention we used to date?

Any who... he was not putting me down by any means, but it did get me to thinking about people who do regularly pee all over other people's dreams and ideas.  There's always someone who sees the negative angles, sharp and pointy. Sometimes they tell you directly that your glass is only half full. Other times they tell a friend who passes the message along to you. That, by the way, is passive-aggressive behavior, in case you didn't recognize it.

Since making my plans to retire and travel, most of the support I've received has been extremely positive. Even many of the early naysayers have changed their opinions once they saw how dedicated I was to my plan and how thoughtfully I was approaching it.

But a lot of people are not "pig-headed" like me. If I want to do something, I will keep at it. Whether I fail or make headway on each attempt, I will continue to beat my head against the wall until I either break the wall or end up with a life-threatening concussion.  That's who I am.

A lot of people told me to my face that I could not do the Camp Pendleton Mud Run 8 years ago. But I did it. Nearly ruined my knees, but I freaking did it.

People told me I would never be published. Ahem, I am currently finishing my 25th novel.

People tell me I'll never lose weight. Well, I'm still working on that. I have not given up by a long shot.

But what about those dreamers who don't have a bite me attitude?

What about the dreamers who take to heart the negativity thrown at them, leaving dents in their confidence and goals?

Should they give up because they don't have the right stuff, the hard shell to ward off arrows of doubt?

No.

Not everyone is pigheaded and fiercely focused. But think about those in history who were and what they accomplished, even in the midst of naysayers: Steve Jobs, Sally Ride, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King, the Wright brothers, Madam Curie - just to name a few. I'm sure they all heard their share of boos and hisses and faced people who hated them. The difference is, they kept going. And going. And going. And we are the better for their tenacity and vision.

If you are someone with a dream, don't give it up in the face of all the orangutans throwing their feces at you. Just wipe it off and keep going.

If you are an orangutan throwing shit, STOP IT! Give the dreamers in your life your support and help them explore all the angles. You will be the better for it.  And if that is beyond your abilities, then just keep your negative shit to yourself, because no one has time for that!

This has been a public service announcement.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Bleak, I Tell You! Freaking Bleak!

In a meeting not too long ago someone referenced the novel Bleak House. The twenty-something seated next to me looked to me for an explanation. I discretely informed her it was a book by Charles Dickens.

She asked, with wide-eyed innocence and so everyone could hear, "Who's Charles Dickens?"

Excuse me while my head explodes...

I didn't expect her to get the Bleak House reference, but I at least expected her to know who Charles Dickens was?

Or was I expecting too much?

I was mildly comforted by the fact that the few others in the room, all above 40 years of age, stared at her in shock too.

She's a high school graduate and currently attending college. No, not an English major, but still...

This is CHARLES FREAKING DICKENS!

What in the hell are they teaching in schools these days?! I was exposed to Dickens and his work in high school and again in college. I still haven't read everything he's written, but I've read most of it.

I leaned toward her again. "You know ... Charles Dickens. Oliver Twist?"

Crickets.

"Great Expectations?"

Crickets.

"A Christmas Carol?"

A glimmer of light. "I know that one," she said, beaming. "Didn't they make a movie out of that?"

At least she didn't reference the Muppet version.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ring-a-Ding-Dong!

Not too long ago someone posted this video to my Facebook page. I was instantly charmed and have viewed it many many many times. So have most people on the internet.


 

Huh, I thought. I wonder if I could teach B to do that?

For those of you not in the know, B is my Norwegian Forest Cat. She is 18+ years old and has a touch of feline dementia.  So basically, I'm wondering if a 90 year old woman, who is a tad off kilter, can learn new tricks.

Game on!

Bell? What bell?
I started with 20 minutes of training a day with a bell just like the one in the video and her favorite treats. By the end of day 1 of B's training, she'd figured out that the ring of the bell meant a treat was coming, but she didn't make the connection between her and the bell, that it was on the floor in case she wanted to ring it.

Day two was pretty much the same. As soon as I rang the bell, she perked up, waiting for a treat to be dispensed. I even took her paw several times, rang the bell with it, and gave her a treat.  At the end of the 2nd day, she at least was sniffing around the bell once I stopped distributing the treats, but no paw made it to the bell unless I put it there.

This was going to be tougher than I expected.  But I was undeterred.

Day 3 was more of the same.

Don't need no stinkin' bell!
For three days I'd been holding the training sessions around 8 pm. On Day 4, B came up to me around 8 pm demanding a treat. There was no bell prompting her. She just knew it was time for her treats. I was in the middle of dinner and not ready to do our training. Didn't matter to her. She was not to be deterred. It was 8 pm. Treat time. She climbed up on the arm of the sofa and started aggressively going after the treat canister. Seems I'd trained her well. At least to tell time.

The next few days it was more of the same. B demanded treats at 8 pm. I rang the bell and gave her one. I picked up her paw, rang the bell, and gave her one. Over and over and over. Not once did she make the connection that she needed to be the one ringing the bell. And why should she? She had me well trained to do it for her.

I left the bell out on the floor 24/7 over the weekend, hoping she'd have a kitty epiphany. I kept the treat can handy so if she did ring the bell at an odd hour, I'd be ready to reward her.

Nothing, except that she laid next to it and took a nap.

So what has this taught me?

1) I'm trainable.
2) My cat is smarter than I am.
3) Einstein was right.