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Dancing with Jessica

(Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

D and I are enjoying our drive-about through the Western U.S.  So far, we’ve visited friends and family in Northern and Southern California, Las Vegas, and now Salt Lake City. Four of the five G brothers are converging here in the town where they grow up for a day of talk, food, drink and guitars. I’ll do my best to keep up with my little ukulele. I’m lucky to have married into such a musical family, and such a welcoming one.

The chance to travel like this is one of the prime blessings of retirement. Of course, a little just-us time between visits is an important component of a successful road trip. On our way through Nevada, D and I spent the night at the Virgin River Casino/”Resort” in Mesquite, on the Arizona border.

Everything you’d imagine, good and bad, about a budget casino-hotel was on offer. Lots of lumpy, sad-looking old folks with various infirmities, staring glumly at their slot machines. Chatty, cheerful waitresses who call you Hon as they bring your bargain plate of prime rib. A cloud of cigarette smoke that permeates everything and clings to your clothing. Squealing kids splashing in the pool. Passers-through staring in wonder at the blinking lights, ringing bells, electronic music, and weird, wonderful artwork on the gambling machines. Jaded-looking croupiers and dealers in polyester vests, awaiting the next bunch of suckers—er, gamblers. Cocktail waitresses squashed into tight mini-skirts, trudging through the rows to deliver cheap alcohol. Just watching them made my feet hurt in sympathy.

I must say, though, that the food was tasty, the hotel room clean, and the bed comfortable. At the bar, a very competent quartet played rock standards and country tunes from the 80s to the present. The dance floor was filled with white people in their sixties and seventies doing the same complicated line dance to every tune and clearly having a good time.
And behind them, doing her own funky thing, was Jessica. I learned her name during the band’s break, when she staggered out to shout greetings to the gamblers. Many called her by name, and someone said, “She’s gonna get her ass thrown out of here again.”

Probably fortyish, Jessica wore a red ribbed tank top but no bra. She was short and thick, and her mussed blond hair hung loose around her stocky shoulders. The length of her white pants suggested that she’d been wearing heels earlier but had discarded them somewhere along the way—perfectly understandable while dancing, though probably not the best idea while trailing across the casino floor.

On the one hand, I felt sorry for her. She was making a spectacle of herself and, judging from the way the waitresses rolled their eyes as she passed, this was not her first time doing so. She gyrated and spun and tottered across the dance floor, throwing her arms wide at the band, and then at the crowd, and then shooting leering grins at the few lone guys in the bar. Every few minutes she’d plop down onto the edge of the stage and strike a pose, probably to catch her breath. The line dancers ignored her, as did the band.

On the other hand, she seemed so joyful, so determined to wring every last drop of fun from the occasion. When the line dancers left, Jessica kept dancing. Her swirling, zig-zag path across the dance floor reminded me of a little girl dancing at a concert or wedding. Her infectious grin was adorable, and I so wanted someone to get up and dance with her. Or maybe take her home—which was probably what she was hoping for. Who knows?

D consented to one dance with me, and afterward I contented myself with wiggling in my chair. Of course, the movement caught Jessica’s eye, and she trotted over like a happy puppy and held out her hand.

And so we danced, Jessica and I. I twirled her across the dance floor, nearly dumping her on her behind—not deliberately, mind you. It’s just that she was pretty unsteady on her feet. But it was fun, and I was glad to share her energy for a few minutes.

There’s something to be said for exuberance, and a lot to be said for dancing. And I wonder—how big of a change in my circumstances would it take to make a Jessica of me? After all, I love to dance, and I like my wine. If I were all alone, could I resist drinking too much and tearing up the dance floor?

Here’s to Jessica. I hope she finds a dance partner.

On Minimalism, Adding Value, and Ten Thousand Steps

During this dark, drizzly, cold time of year,  walking at least 10 K steps per day can be a challenge. Picture, if you will, a middle-aged woman in gym clothes, pacing from front door to back door while listening to podcasts. That’s me. Just 1000 steps to go. Those recorded conversations really help pass the time while I walk.

Lately I’ve been gobbling podcasts about voluntary simplicity, “minimalism” being the more popular term these days. Of course I read Thoreau as an undergrad, and have been known to mutter “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity” while searching my overstuffed closet for something to wear to work. The book that really opened my eyes to the beauty and wisdom of simplicity was Elaine St. James’ 1994 volume Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter.

Trends run in 20-year cycles, don’t they? It seems voluntary simplicity is in again. So far, my favorite podcast so far on this subject is The Minimalists, in which Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, both thirty-five, discuss how they came to and maintain a simpler lifestyle. They also have a documentary out, and a website, http://www.theminimalists.com/, in which they explore and celebrate an alternative to our destructive, mindless consumerism.

A phrase these two young minimalists frequently use is “Adding value to your life.” What a great guiding question to keep in mind as I weed through superfluous belongings or contemplate a purchase. Does this object add value to my life? Does this pastime? This habit?

During these dark days of the year, here are a few things that are adding value to my life:

  • Blogs by writers, for writers
  • Upbeat novels with a much-needed HEA ending, like Ann Garvin’s I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around.
  • Remembering to turn on the music while I cook, clean, or bathe. It’s harder to gnaw on that worry bone while dancing.
  • Rose-scented perfume
  • Trevor Noah’s commentary on our crazy times
  • My favorite fuzzy sweaters
  • Playing my ukulele
  • Singing with children. I don’t sing all that well, but they don’t care.

What’s adding value to your life these days?

What’s on Your Thanksgiving Table?

thanksgiving

Thanks to Ronna Benjamin of the Better After 50 blog for this writing prompt. Visit her here: http://betterafter50.com/

In 2016, I bring to my Thanksgiving table:

  • Our decidedly un-Thanksgiving-ish Provençal tablecloth, which we bought in Spain, because why not? It’s mostly orange, and that feels like Thanksgiving to me.
  • Memories of the twenty-seven Thanksgivings I celebrated in in Europe, mostly in Germany. Frohes Fest, ihr lieben, und guten Appetit!
  • A relaxed attitude. I’m not trying any ambitious new recipes this year. I don’t have a bin full of November decorations—that’s just not my style, and that’s OK. Our home is welcoming, comfortable, and clean, and that’s good enough.
  • Stretchy pants. It has not been a good year for my waistline, but Thanksgiving is not the time to worry about that.
  • Joy at being able to spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s side of the family and Christmas with mine. No more melancholy Christmases for two, missing our loved ones across the ocean.
  • A spiny knot of worry about the state of our dear country, which I will try to soothe with pie and laughter.
  • A new song for our family guitar circle: John Lennon’s Imagine.
  • Gratitude for our good fortune, comfortable circumstances, and opportunities.
  • Freshly-sharpened determination to make new connections in my community, to do my part to hold back the wave of hate that threatens to drown our democracy. I only have my one little bucket to bail out the ship of state, but if we all bail together, we can stay afloat.

ISWG October: Slogging through the Jungle

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The first Wednesday of the month is Insecure Writers Support Group blog-hop day. According to their website, the purpose of ISWG is

To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Learn more about ISWG here: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

This month’s question: When do you know your story is ready?

There's a story in here somewhere.

There’s a story in here somewhere.

I actually suffer from premature story ejaculation. It’s an embarrassing condition. The heady excitement of typing “the end,” the tickle of positive feedback, it all gets me so excited that shoot my story out into query-land, only to have it sent back with a polite “No, thanks.” Or maybe silence.

Like many novices, I’ve thought my work was ready before it was. After running my WIP through a few self-edits and then a trip through my face-to-face critique group (only 40 pages per month!), the “finished” story was a funny, episodic ramble through a pivotal month in Lola’s life. Whee! My group liked it, especially the ending. Out went the queries. Back they came: “No, thanks.”

Two of those queries stood out. Both said they found my story premise and writing appealing. One said the story needed to focus on the main conflict. The other said it suffered from too many subplots and characters.

They were right. It hurt a little to admin that, but hey—I never expected novel-writing to be an instant win. The more I meet other writers, the more that point is hammered home: the path to publication is a long slog. And hearing that from (finally) published writers helps a lot.

Three craft classes later, I’m whittling the story down to a central conflict—well, two: one inner and one outer, but they’re closely connected. Just yesterday I realized I could slice away yet another subplot. You know what helped? On my running synopsis, I color-coded each of the conflicts using the highlight feature of Microsoft Word, and I realized I was running out of colors.

My online critique group from the Women’s Fiction Writers Association has also helped me to see the weeds in my plot’s garden. This time it’s 50 pages per month, but it’s worth it to get the feedback I need. I suspect this story will be ready for another round of queries in six months or so—but if it takes longer, that’s OK.

How do I know when it’s done? I’ll let you know when I get there.

 

 

 

 

Writer Heaven with Margaritas: The Women’s Fiction Writers Association Retreat 2016

Two days after returning from the WFWA retreat, my inner music track is still playing the Partridge Family’s “Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque.” Go ahead, children of the ’70s, give a listen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swjLglCwflE

Wasn’t David Cassidy dreamy?

Albuquerque is where the WFWA held its second annual Writers’ Retreat last week. What a lovely town! We stayed in the Hotel Albuquerque, two short blocks from the historic city center.

Here I am in front the San Felipe de Neri church, built in 1793, on the Old Town Plaza

Here I am in front the San Felipe de Neri church, built in 1793, on the Old Town Plaza. 1793!

Adobe shops in Albuquerque's Old Town

Adobe shops in Albuquerque’s Old Town

Albuquerque’s Old Town is charming, as is the Hotel Albuquerque. There was ample room on the patio where writers hung out, spun tales, and sipped margaritas. I didn’t spend much time on the patio, though; I came for the workshops and discussions. Orly Konig Lopez, author of The Memory of Hoofbeats, and the rest of the WFWA board and helpers created a brain-busting, notebook filling learn-a-palooza for writers of women’s fiction, and then scheduled three group dinners where we blew off steam—did I mention the margaritas?

This was the largest writers’ workshop I’ve attended, and easily the most welcoming. I didn’t know a soul before my arrival, and am at heart a quivering introvert who requires a lot of psychic energy to approach strangers. The eighty women and one guy could not have been more welcoming. Many of the writers in attendance had already published novels, some independently, some traditionally, but an atmosphere of “we’re all in this together” pervaded the 3 ½ day event.

Margie-fied pages

Margie-fied pages

A highlight was Margie Lawson’s workshop on her Deep Editing techniques. I’ve read dozens of books on the craft of writing, but nothing has provided as much immediate practical benefit as this workshop, where we turned our printed chapters into rainbows of highlights, circles, underlines and margin notes. I’ll definitely continue exploring her courses as I polish up this and future manuscripts. And Margie’s long list of rhetorical devices, from alliteration to zeugma, put a grin on the face of this former English teacher. Here’s where you can learn more about Margie’s courses:

http://www.margielawson.com/

Another highlight was connecting with so many writers who “get it,” IT being the joys and frustrations of the writer’s journey to publication. There were sessions on diversity in fiction, queries, log lines, reaching out to readers, modalities of publishing, social media, agents and how/whether to find them, along with editors and publicists, how to stage a coming-out party for your debut book, and navigating the social media jungle.

I got to spend time with some fascinating women from across the US and Canada, along with one adorable guy, Scott Wilbanks, winner of the WFWA Star Award for The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster. I met businesswomen, professors, attorneys, stay-at-home mothers, yoginis, teachers, journalists–all of them passionate about spinning stories. And you’ve never heard such raving about each other’s books! I have a long reading list of women’s fiction to warm the cold winter months.

And while you’re stocking your bookshelves, check out The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes, WFWA Star Award Winner for Outstanding Debut.

 

 

Summer Visits and Visitors

San Francisco

One of the main reasons D. and I chose to retire when we did was to spend more time with family, and this summer was rich with visits and travel, though we haven’t gone far from home. We’ve lived in Tacoma, Washington, for over two years now, and I’ve barely begun to explore the interesting places this area offers. Having guests helps. Have you noticed how often we neglect the tourist attractions in our own home territory until there’s a visitor to share them with?

Our summer actually began in late May, when I popped over to the Bay Area to visit with my mom and daughter. The three of us spent lots of time walking about, and found a path behind the ruins of Sutro Baths that led us to the view above. There’s something soothing about walks in Golden Gate Park, especially when the afternoon fog rolls in a patters my face with tiny kisses. The smell of the pines and eucalyptus trees sings to my heart of home.

Next we gathered with the G. clan near Phoenix for D’s son’s graduation from medical school. We were able to rent a house big enough for the lot of us, and there are a lot of us. The heat was fierce, but spirits were high as we celebrated a new beginning in the lives of M. and his marvelous girlfriend.

View of Lake Chelan from a hiking trail on the south shore.

View of Lake Chelan from a hiking trail on the south shore.

Back in Washington, D. and I celebrated our second anniversary at Lake Chelan in central Washington. It was bloody hot, but the views are gorgeous. We’d hoped to rent a canoe or small boat and putter about on the lake, but all we found were Jet Skis and speed boats–not at all conducive to leisurely rides. (There were kayaks too, but I’m allergic to any craft that’s hard to exit in an emergency. The point of a boat is to stay on top of the water, right?) To soothe our disappointment, we visited wineries. Nice.

USS Turner Joy

Back at home, D. and I visited Bremerton and toured the USS Turner Joy, a destroyer-class ship that played an important role in the Vietnam War. We had the great good fortune to meet John F. Keift, author of The Saltiest Ship in the Fleet, who gave us an extensive tour. Keift showed us the control room where the men who controlled the big guns watched radar blips that represented heavily armed Vietnamese fishing vessels zooming toward the ship. He spoke with gravity about pushing the buttons that erased those blips from the radar screen, knowing that each blip represented many lives.

In July, my mother came to Tacoma, where she and I explored every quilt shop we could find. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the art quilt exhibit in the Washington State History Museum, alas. I was expecting quaint bedspreads; instead, we were amazed by the depth, detail, and texture of the artwork on display. There was even a 3-D forest scene sculpted from cloth and fibers.

We also braved the hellish traffic to visit Seattle’s Museum of Asian Art in Volunteer Park. Lovely spot, and Capitol Hill is a lovely neighborhood, with beautifully restored historic homes and mature trees. In fact, a huge branch crashed to the street just outside the Volunteer Cafe, where Mom and I were eating lunch. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but what a shock to come home and find that a third of your tree has fallen into the street, blocking traffic. Anyway, the exhibit was entitled Mood Indigo and featured textiles and clothing from around the world colored with this precious blue.

Modern clothing is so boring compared to this.

Modern clothing is so boring compared to this.

Shorty after Mom left, my daughter came with her boyfriend. Nerds to the core, they enjoyed the Pokemon hunt at the fairgrounds in Puyallup. The state fair doesn’t open until Labor Day weekend, but the grounds were crawling with people intently staring at their phones–very funny to watch.

Hunting Pokemon at the Fairgrounds

A highlight of their visit was Seattle’s Experience Music Project Museum, where we saw sacred relics at the Star Trek exhibit,

Model used in filming the original Star Trek TV series

Model used in filming the original Star Trek TV series

wearable art,

Wearable art at EMP

and a tower of guitars that plays music for visitors.

Tower of Guitars at EMP

You haven’t really experienced Michael Jackson’s Thriller until you see it on the EMP’s ginormous screen. Why was I the only person dancing? The horror movie display is also not to be missed–delightfully creepy.

Closer to home, we finally visited Tacoma’s Union Station, now converted to a courthouse, which houses several works of Dale Chihuly’s blown-glass art. He’s a Tacoma native, and has richly decorated his home town.

Tacoma's Union Station

Summer’s winding down, despite our current heat wave, and I’m getting ready for a few mini-jobs in the local schools, plus the writing I’ve put on the back burner during all these visits.

I hope you’ve spent a restful summer with your nearest and dearest. What was your highlight?

 

 

Book Review: Meet Me in Paris, by Juliette Sobanet

Meet Me In Paris

First of all, let me thank Ms. Sobanet for the free copy of Meet Me in Paris that she sent me in exchange for an honest review. Let me also disclose that I am not a fan of most romance fiction, finding it too formulaic, unrealistic and predictable. But I do love France, especially Paris, and I also love well-written memoirs of audacious women. I swallowed this romance writer’s memoir in one big, juicy gulp and can recommend in heartily to my romance-loving friends.

Any woman who’s been divorced, or who has contemplated divorce, will relate to Sobanet’s painful process of choosing between two men—and beyond that, between two potential lives. Throw her lifelong love for France into the mix and you have a big, messy dilemma. I was immediately drawn in, as if I were listening to a drama-prone friend pour her heart out. I was frustrated by this process; throughout her narrative, Sobanet is so buffeted by her emotions that she makes many self-destructive decisions–again and again, she finds herself sobbing on the bathroom floor. At times, it became tiresome, but something about her writing kept me turning pages.

Perhaps it was her bravery: she doesn’t spare us the details that made her look foolish or weak, and she doesn’t sugar-coat her bad decisions. Certainly, her love of Paris and Lyon shines through in her descriptions and reactions. I enjoyed meeting her fascinating friends, both in France and in the U.S. She also handles her sex scenes gracefully—I never cringed. While she has a tendency to repeat herself, she does finally come to a satisfying conclusion that has more to do with understanding herself than with finding the right guy.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read, and I may even try one of her Paris romances next.

 

Book Review: This Chair Rocks, by Ashton Applewhite

This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against AgeismThis Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book I’ll read again and again in order to counter the stupid things people (both youngers and olders, Applewhite’s terms) say to justify mistreatment and disregard of people who are no longer young. This is basically a sociological/psychological study of our fear of aging and of the ageism that results. Don’t worry, though–it’s not a dry tome; Applewhite provides plenty of interesting anecdotes to personalize the issues she examines.

As an old person in training (also her term), I’m determined not to allow others’ ideas of what an older person should be/do/think limit my possibilities, and I’m becoming more and more aware of what a battle that will be. Just as we women sometimes try to keep other women down in order to avoid examining our own choices and assumptions, so do olders sometimes try to keep their fellow olders down in order to justify their own inertia. Reading this book was truly a consciousness-raising experience.

View all my reviews

Blogging from A-Z Challenge 2016

A2Z-BADGE [2016]

Oh my stars and garters–it’s almost April! How can that be? It seems the older I get, the more I find my self exclaiming about time’s swift passing. Tempus fugit all over the place!

Here in Tacoma, WA, April brings clear skies (occasionally), blossoming rhododendrons, the constant sound of gardening machines (Shut up, already!), and for us, a total kitchen remodel. Starting on the fourth, workers will be traipsing in and out, tearing out the 1956 kitchen down to the studs and then rebuilding. The whole process will take seven weeks if we’re very lucky. If you’ve ever landed on this blog before, you’ll  notice that I enjoy cooking. In the archives under “The Leftover Project” you’ll find several original recipes to help you re-purpose your leftovers, as well as other seasonal treats.

But seven weeks without a kitchen! I know, first-world problem, right? Trader Joe is about to become my new best friend, as I work my way through their ready-to-heat meals.

To keep my sanity during this chaotic time, I’ve taken on the A-Z blogging challenge. Starting April first, I’ll be blogging each day except Sunday, working my way through alphabetical topics, as well as visiting a plethora of bloggers who have also accepted the challenge.

And my topic is…(Please provide your own drum roll)…(very nice)…Making the most of early retirement. Tah daahhh! See you on April first.

A Writer Battles the Butt Bulge–or–Get Up Off of That Thang!

 

I really need all this space for writing!

I really need all this space for writing!

We’ve all read the stories: Sitting is the new trans-fat (or sugar, or gluten—name your favorite poison). According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “A recent study suggested that sitting for prolonged periods increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and death, even among people who exercise regularly.”¹

Well, y’all, guess what I do all day. It’s pretty hard to write fiction without spending several hours each day sitting. My mantra, posted on my wall, is BICFOKTAM:  Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard, Typing Away Madly. Plus, in order to improve at my chosen genres (blogging, women’s fiction, mystery) I have to read widely and voraciously in those genres, not to mention books, magazines and websites about the craft of writing.

I find that reading while pacing about the house is a good arm toner, especially if the book in question is heavy, but leads to stubbed toes and worse. I do have one piece of furniture at about the right height for reading in a standing position, and I can sometimes be found there, plugged into my ancient iPod, doing a little shuffling dance while reading. Somehow, though, I find it more difficult to concentrate when reading or writing in a standing position.

Research bears this out. According to a study by the Draugiem Group, “…for tasks which require a creative approach—for example, thinking about a possible coding solution, or writing a great article—then the urgency provided by standing is more of a hindrance. We found that for creative tasks, sitting and not paying attention to your corporal self was helpful in letting your mind wander and explore creative options.”²

And writing requires more surface area than my little sideboard offers; in addition to my little laptop, I need note cards, pens, coffee, snacks, pages of comments from my critique group, reference books…

I do go to the gym pretty often, but one hour of exercise doesn’t counteract spending the rest of the day in a chair—and I’ve got the butt to prove it.

My internet search for “workout for writers” and similar terms led mostly to writing tips and prompts—all very well, but that won’t get me out of my chair. I did find this one, good for improving blood flow and de-tensing muscles, but most of these exercises are performed while seated. http://hearwritenow.com/articles/health/exercises-for-writers/

In the meantime, I’m trying measures like these:

  • Set a timer at 30-minute intervals. When it rings, get up and clean something. I tend to ignore most housework until it reaches out and grabs me—say, my feet encounter a sticky spot on the floor. This technique could kill the proverbial two birds with one stone, if I can only force myself not to ignore the timer. Or,
  • If it’s not pouring down rain (I live in the Pacific Northwest), suit up and go for a walk around the block. Or,
  • When the timer rings, get up and dance vigorously to one song. Making a playlist for this exercise will be fun. I’m particularly fond of fast Latin music.
  • I could get up and talk to Hubs. He’s currently recovering from knee surgery, so he’s at home all the time, poor man, when he’s not in physical therapy. But once I get involved in a writing project, I tend to temporarily forget the existence of other humans. It’s good for me to switch focus for a ten minutes and go connect, preferably while standing.
  • At the end of a chapter, get up and do an online exercise video. You Tube is a rich source of these. My favorite there is a Lebanese belly dance workout that lasts twenty-seven minutes. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8j0htqi76g

Sparkpeople.com also offers a whole library of exercise videos. This twelve-minute Pilates abs     workout is tough: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/videos-detail.asp?video=96

So far, my results are spotty, but I’m making progress in getting my butt out of the chair more regularly. How about you? Do you work in a chair? What do you do to break up long spells of sitting?

¹ Prolonged Sitting Linked to Serious Health Risks, Death, AAFP

http://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20150127sitting.html

² We Tested Standing Desks—Here’s Proof They Make You More Productive, by Julia Gifford

http://readwrite.com/2013/09/26/standing-desks-productivity