Iggly Wigglies

My mind is blurry today. Sometimes I think the mucus from a cold gets in between the neural spaces and inhibits transmission. Yeah – I paid more attention in Neurophys than that. Still, that’s how it feels.

I’m trying to embrace the mistiness of it. I do believe the teaching that conscious thought is only the tip of the iceberg of our thinking processes. I like to have precise, clear thoughts, but I’m letting go of the idea that it’s so very important.

Still – mist is, by nature, a nebulous thing.

I love the look and feel of it, but when I try to capture it, it never seems quite right. Like the fog rolling off the Jimez mountains in the pic above. So spectacular in reality. Kind of meh in this photo.

I notice when my mind is less focused, that I tend to substitute words in odd ways. Usually it’s a sound-based substitution. For example, I once typed “actually” instead of “accidentally.” This is clearly not a spelling error or me not knowing the difference between the words. Somehow the cadence of the words are matched in my brain. My right brain, with all her lovely impulsive mistiness grabbed for a close-enough word and it took a moment for the left-brain monitor to catch up and correct the error. I did catch it, before I finished the sentence, but the bizarre substitution amused me. Sometimes I even type “know” instead of “no,” which is just more work to make the mistake.

One of my writer friends does this, especially when she’s struggling with a migraine. She wrote a blog post that mentioned “an arbiter of things to come.” I gently suggested she meant “harbinger.” She was chagrined, but I could see it’s exactly the same kind of substitution I make – based on sound and cadence. She knows the meaning of both words perfectly well, but they’re twinsies enough to switch with each other.

In my family, we call this an Iggly Wiggly. This is taken from the internally famous incident when my grandmother told me she’d been to the movies. I asked what she’d seen and she said “Iggly Wigglies.” Without a pause, I asked how she liked Legal Eagles. (For the record, she thought it was silly, which is probably a fair assessment.) Some of this is knowing my grandmother. A large chunk, though, is affinity for words and language sounds. I understood perfectly well what my grandmother meant, what my blogging friend meant, even what I meant.

It reminds me of that game where they take the vowels out of all the words in a sentence, to see if you can still understand it. Which we all can. As much as we cling to precision in writing, with proper spelling and punctuation, the actual communication usually makes its way through.

Or the accidental communication. I forget which.

Writer’s Life

This weekend wasn’t about writing, so neither is today’s blog.

I’m still tagging it as writer’s life, because this is life, too. When we returned from our whirlwind party weekend last night, I caught up on blog reading. I noticed several people bemoaning that they weren’t recovering from the holidays fast enough. Here we are, ove two weeks into 2011 and they haven’t ramped up like they thought they would. People have flus and colds. It’s dark and cold. Day jobs have no trouble ramping up.

It’s easy to think that only actual typing away is writing. Of course, the big trap for writers is only talking and thinking about writing and not doing it. We’ve all encountered people who say they always thought they’d like to write a book. Many of them never will.

We know that. We used to be those people. Until we finally got our acts together and starting WRITING instead of talking about it.

So the fear eternally chases us, that we’ll revert. That we’ll lose the oomph to stick it out in the chair.

But there’s also life.

We celebrated belated Christmas in Denver on Friday night, with our 2 1/2 year old grandson, Tobiah (that’s powdered sugar from Donettes on his mouth), and our new 2 1/2 month old granddaughter, Aerro.

She looks like an Anne Geddes baby. Alas that I am no Anne Geddes.

Saturday was my colleague Val’s wedding. Our widely scattered work team flew in from New Hampshire, Florida and Nebraska, to stay at my mom’s house in Denver. We went out for brunch on Saturday morning (there, Laurie, it’s documented!) and met up with another colleague who lives in Castle Rock. With six of us, brunch took a long time. We had a few hours to kill and they wanted to see some sights.

So we tooled around my old neighborhood. I showed them my favorite art and architecture around the Denver Tech Center, like Harlequin Plaza, where I’d hang with my very first love. Places even David had never seen, because we never seem to have time to burn when we’re visiting. We drove around Cherry Creek State Park and over the top of the reservoir, to prove to them there really is a big lake there. I told them how, when I was a kid, the only road across was that little two-lane along the top of the dam. My mom used to hate driving it, with so much traffic on such a narrow road. Now six to eight lanes of I-225 bustle below.

No one else was on the reservoir road.

We hung by the fire a bit, then piled into the car to head to Loveland for Val’s wedding. There was a baby, there, too.

We stayed up late, drank a lot of wine and laughed until our sides were splitting.

Sunday morning we bustled everyone out for pick-ups and airport appointments.

David and I drove back to Santa Fe and I reflected on how fun it was to have a weekend party with my friends in my mom’s house. Those who’ve followed this blog for a while know that my mom has been prepping the house to sell it, after nearly 40 years. Our last couple of visits have been melancholy, full of sorting through things and memories. Lots of letting go.

So there’s a synchronicity to how this happened. I revisited some places I wouldn’t have thought to. I have memories full of joy, babies and friends.

The writer’s life doesn’t get better than this.

Believe You Me

I’m off this weekend to attend a wedding and have a bit of belated Christmas with my stepdaughter, son-in-law and grandbabies. So this is a post with a bit of fun. Something to lift the end of this sad week.

I haven’t mentioned, because everywhere you look there’s something about it, but the shooting in Tucson was just a few blocks from my mom’s house. A florist in that Safeway shopping center is where I bought her wedding flowers. My mom and stepdad voted for Gabby Giffords. My stepsister worked on her campaign. My mom first heard the news of the shooting because my older nephew called her in tears. My younger nephew will turn 9 in a few months – the same age as Christina Greene.

So close to home. And yet, as President Obama pointed out, this was close to home for all of us.

I hung onto this email my mom sent me back in November because I thought it would be interesting to share here. The first in this collection of old advertisements is great just for the stomach-turning sexism. Let me show you a workout with that feather-duster, buddy.

I remember seeing this series of Camel ads.

But then, you already knew how old I am.

What was great about this campaign was all the rationalizing about how Camels were the healthiest cigarette. This is like saying crack cocaine is less addictive than heroine.

Um, okay.

Actually, the yeast in beer is supposed to be good for milk production. But look how far the mindset on drinking during pregnancy has migrated.

Okay, you all know about the tapeworms in the diet pills, right? Tapeworms, an intestinal parasite that is still the scourge of many 3rd World countries, were distributed as diet pills. Little tapeworms eggs you could swallow so they’d take root in your digestive system and absorb all the nutrients while you waste away.

Note that these were Sanitized, however.

Makes all the difference.

This one has got to be my favorite. I just love how this growing teen needs SUGAR for energy.

Sugar swings!

Sugar’s got what it takes.

Serve some.

Serve it now.

And they say things don’t change.

What strikes me about all this most, however, is that all this made perfect sense at the time. Yes, it was a Mad Men kind of world, but people believed this stuff, argued for it, defended it.

They weren’t stupid. There was evidence for all of it. Strong beliefs that made it all seem true.

Just seems to me like this should be a reminder that everything we know to be so true right now? In fifty years, it might look seriously ridiculous.

Always keep in mind what they’re selling.

Home Is Where the Office Is

In comments the other day, Kelly Breakey asked me for tips on working from home.

Okay, this is something I know about.

I’ve been working from home for seven or eight years now. I know it’s the Dream for many people, but at the time I really didn’t want it. I worked in a two-person office. We were the Wyoming branch of a Boston environmental consulting firm. My “commute” was about ten blocks. I always liked the discipline of getting up and going to work, particularly since it was so low stress. People who worked for small consulting businesses in the building provided opportunities to chat.

The guy who’d hired me though, became increasingly obsolete after 9/11. He did a lot of consulting on environmental issues for private industry and that almost completely dried up after the terrorist attacks. Make of that what you will. One day I got a call that they were letting him go, closing the office and I could continue to work from home.

At that time I had become involved in very different work and everyone else on my team already worked from home, scattered across the country. So they gave me advice on the transition.

The company pays for my internet, phone and office supplies. They don’t kick in for utilities, but I get to deduct for a home office, so that makes it up. (The rule is that if your company in some way requires you to work from home, you can deduct.) The corollary to this is: have a dedicated office area. Not your bed, not a corner of the couch. Make yourself a desk, even if you can’t have a whole room.

My boss, who lives in New Hampshire, told me the best piece of advice she ever received, from another home-worker is never to wear elastic waistbands.

Grazing is a major issue at first.

On the one hand, you’re not exposed to the relentless onslaught of office treats. But you have to keep yourself out of the kitchen. It’s very easy to wander off on “breaks” and get a little something something out of the pantry.

I don’t have a rigid schedule. Some home-workers have to be at their desks during the same hours as another office. For my work, what’s most important is I get it done on time and do a good job, so I can set that up pretty much how I like. I’ve discovered, though, that when you work from home, people tend to assume you’re screwing around. To counter this, I make sure I’m available all the time. I answer my office phone at six in the morning because I know someone from the east coast is calling. I respond to emails on my Blackberry if I’ve turned off my work computer.

For myself, I delineate the work time. I take a shower, put on work-type clothes and sit at my desk. People talk about wanting to work in their pajamas, but it’s demoralizing after a while. Save the PJs for down time.

Resist the urge to do household chores during work hours. People working in offices don’t break what they’re doing to load the dishwasher or change over the laundry. During work hours, the job is what deserves your attention.

Also, people will tend to assume that, because you’re home, you’re available. Tell them no, you’re done working at six or whenever. I use Instant Messenger to communicate with colleagues – signing in and out of that helps define my work day.

I think all of this applies to any kind of work from home – including writing. I’ve never been privileged to be a full-time writer, but I’d try to run it the same way. I think I’d try to follow a schedule of writing for a couple of hours, then checking email, etc. There’s lots of business to take care of with writing, too, so that needs time. Drafting time might be separated from editing time.

The point, though, is to dedicate time appropriately. It can be a slippery bugger and lends itself to frittering.

So, now I’ll throw this open – any other advice on working from home?

Private Rejections

Why are winter sunsets so much more dramatic? Must have to do with layers of air and lots of moisture.

The fabulous and funny Tawna Fenske has a post up today about stretching her, um, horizons by reading Petals and Thorns. I’m so pleased she enjoyed the story. Quite a few people now have read Petals and Thorns as their first real foray into erotica. I feel like the wild friend who convinces everyone to do tequila shots and enter the wet t-shirt contest.

I can live with that.

Yesterday another writing friend told me that, when her first book was published, her own mother gave it three stars on Amazon. That’s three out of five, for those not glued to Amazon stats. My friend said her mother had wanted to be a writer when she was younger, but gave up. She suspected jealousy was at work and she’s likely right.

Still, it gives lie to the idea that we can run around shouting that our mother loved the book so it must be a best-seller.

Rejection is part of a writer’s life as much as sitting down and assembling words. It’s the nature of the business, from newbie to best-seller. Joyce Carol Oates even mentioned this in her incredibly moving essay Personal History, published in the December 13 issue of the New Yorker. (Here’s the link to the online edition, but you have to subscribe or purchase the issue to read it, which is well-worth it, I think.) The essay describes her husband’s death after nearly 46 years of marriage. This bit was an aside, just a descriptor of their relationship, but it struck me:

In our marriage, it was our practice not to share anything that was upsetting, demoralizing, or tedious, unless it was unavoidable. Because so much in a writer’s life can be distressing – negative reviews; rejections; difficulties with editors, publishers, book designers; disappointment with one’s own work, on a daily or hourly basis – it seemed to me a good idea to shield Ray from this side of my life as much as I could. For what is the purpose of sharing your misery with another person, except to make that person miserable, too?

She goes on to explore the ways she needed him as a wife, not as a writer. I remembered this when my friend told me about her mother giving her three stars. The people in our lives don’t always understand the pain of rejection – even the moderate pain of a meh review from someone who should be blindly enthusiastic.

I’ve stopped talking about my rejections and set-backs with anyone but my close writing friends. To them, I can say “100 pages!” or “full request!” and they know my excitement. I can tell them I got a pass and they ask if it was a good one, a bad one or stock. They know how to console me and kick me to keep going.

People not involved in this arcane world, much as they might sympathize, can’t really get into how it all works. And I’ve come to think they shouldn’t have to. They come back to us with suggestions like maybe we should write another book or, hey! self-publish. They reassure us that getting published is really hard and maybe not for us. One friend’s husband suggested that she should add in more about what people are wearing and make it sexy.

We know they mean well. We do. We love them for it even as we’re choking back the explanations about the many ramifications of self-publishing or which genres discuss fashion and which don’t.

It’s just better not to go there in the first place because the thing that is fundamentally difficult to explain is that rejection is part of our Opportunity Cost.

You didn’t know I knew fancy economics terms, did you?

Okay, it’s a fake-out. This the only one I know, besides supply & demand, and I just learned it yesterday. A writer was talking about how she was multi-published and didn’t want to brag, but had received very few rejections. A glance at her pub list shows her work is with e-presses, and not the top tier. I’m not saying they’re not selective. All reputable e-presses have a selection process. I’m saying they’re not as selective as the Big Six. They’re not a selective as 99% of the agents out there. When you’re going for bigger stakes, the opportunity cost is higher. That means you get more than a few rejections.

It might mean you get a trainload of rejections.

That’s the part I find hard to explain. I have a healthy helping of ego and I want the brass ring. I’m willing to keep tossing my work into the ring with NYC’s hungriest lions, even if it means watching them slice it into shivering bits. I’m willing to pay that price.

The people who love me can’t stand to watch the show. I don’t blame them a bit.

And that’s okay. I can keep the misery to myself. It’ll make sharing the triumphs even better.

Murky Is as Murky Does

A while back, I took a class in play-directing.

Okay, this was almost twenty years ago. So a titch more than a while.

At any rate, I had several reasons for doing it. I was in grad school getting a PhD in neurophysiology and all the science was making me feel like a left-brain cripple. Some of my best times in college had been running with the theater crowd. I took enough acting classes and performed in enough shows that I could have added a theater minor to my biology major, had it occurred to me. In grad school, I found myself lonely among the science-heads. I auditioned for a play, but I’m really not a very good actress. Where they didn’t know me, they didn’t even toss me the bit parts I’d had before.

(Yeah – the role I played in Equus? I totally got it because the director called me when the actress he’d cast was so offended at the role’s minor nature. Ask Jeffe – she’ll do it! It was fun, too.)

So, I thought I could break into the scene and make some little friends in the bargain, by taking a class. Finally, I was noodling about creative writing and I recalled how the Assistant Director of Equus had been an MFA student in playwriting and his adviser suggested he learn how to direct, to better understand how a script comes alive on stage.

(He also might have been a handsome blond from New Orleans with whom I had a little love affair, but that’s beside the point.)

It didn’t work out so well. I remained an outsider in the theater clique. Plus, because I was an outsider, I had a great deal of trouble casting my scenes – all the best people got snapped up by their friends.

However, I did learn something very interesting that serves me still today.

Though I seem to need to relearn the lesson, over and over.

The course culminated in two nights of One-Act Plays open to the public. Five of us put together about half an hour long plays. Mine was this creepy one (I forget the name) about a cold marriage where the wife kills the husband’s cat – either deliberately or through negligence. The husband then channels the cat (either becomes the cat or just flips out), stalks and attacks the wife.

It was a cool play.

And people liked it. They really liked it! (That’s me channeling Sally Fields.) I loved people telling me how they enjoyed it, with their faces lit up. You don’t get that in science. Then they’d say, “except I didn’t get if she killed the cat on purpose or not.” Or they’d say “I didn’t really understand if he was crazy or if it was the cat’s spirit.” This wasn’t in a contemplative, I’ll have to mull over the implications way. They were genuinely confused.

I realized that, in every spot of this little 30 to 45 minutes, where I hadn’t been crystal clear on what was going on, the audience hadn’t known either.

I thought I could leave some bits murky, but I lost them in every place I did.

Yeah, you know where this is going. I’ve completed the storyboard for The Body Gift. You can see it in all its Post-It glory above. I’m eliminating an entire POV, because its murky and I have a choice of de-murking (yes, that’s a word) or nuking it. I’m not sure I can de-murk, so off it goes.

The pink and dark blue notes? Those are places where I’m not crystal clear on why the characters are doing and saying what they do and say. See, my particular curse as a writer is I follow the characters and write the story as it happens to them. This means that I have to find out things about their world that they don’t tell me straight out. It doesn’t feel to me like I get to make it up.

The writers who plot out ahead of time call us Pantsers, because they see us as flying by the seat of our pants. I prefer the term Mister. That’s how it feels to me – like I sink into the mist and things come to me out of it.

It’s just not always easy to get the exact right thing to come out when I want it.

But, it’s clear I have to. Where I was murky on this story, the readers were confused.

Lesson learned.

And remind me next time.

Smiles and Staycations

David mentioned last week that I’ve been smiling more lately.

This is one of those things people say to you that can be more worrisome than happy-making. At least, it is for me. If I were more Zen, I could likely embrace the current smiling trend and be pleased about it.

Instead I started thinking about why I hadn’t been smiling as much before.

Last week, if I didn’t mention, I was on vacation. The way our company works, our contracts all end on December 31, if not sooner. They can’t go past December 31. Instead, a new contract must be created. Even though we start reminding our clients in October and November to get the new paperwork in, a lot of them wait until January to do it. After all, nobody really does any work after Thanksgiving, right? Then, even when the paper work is submitted, it can take weeks to wend its way through the approval process.

The upshot is, we ending up working pretty hard and frantic to get everything required delivered with a 12/31 date and then we have nothing, or barely anything, for sometimes several weeks. This is one of the feast and famine cycles of consulting. Also, because we work on client billing, like lawyers, if there’s no client to bill to, there’s no working.

So, I’ve gotten in the habit of saving vacation and holiday for early January. Last week I took totally off. David was off school still, so we both hung out at home all week. We slept in until 7 or 7:30 every morning and went for a leisurely work-out. I wrote and worked on two different books all week. We went out to lunch, did some shopping, read a lot.

It was really my perfect calendar.

If I could work my life to follow that schedule all the time, I think I’d be very pleased.

Thus the smiling more.

What I think gets me about that is, I think I’m pretty happy with my life as is. I’m privileged to work from home, with generous pay and benefits, for a company I like with terrific colleagues. The job is flexible enough to allow me time to write. I have possibly the best boss in the world.

It should be enough for me.

I suppose that’s the nature of wanting something in particular, following a dream, chasing an ideal. You’re never quite satisfied with less than that. If you were, you’d stop trying. Dissatisfaction is the spur that drives us on, that goads us to want more than what we have.

And smiling when we have it? That tells us we’re going the right direction.

Piecing It Together

I used to sew a lot. My grandmother was a great seamstress, so I suppose I come by it naturally. In my twenties, I really got into quilting. Some of them turned out pretty fabulous, too, including a King-Size Wedding-Ring quilt I made for a college roomie.

Eventually I had to quit. I quilted more than I wrote, so I finally gave it up. Following a dream requires sacrifices and that was one of mine.

When we moved, I even gave away my sewing machine, along with bags and boxes and piles of fabric. It really kind of broke my heart to see it go. But it was one of those table sewing machines and I absolutely knew there would be no place for it in the new house. Plus I wasn’t sewing. I let it go with a pang, and a promise that if I did want to start sewing again, I’d get a snazzy portable machine.

I really hadn’t given sewing much thought lately, largely because my attention has been on novel-writing, as it should be. But I used the old family Christmas-tree skirt this year, the one my mom forced me to take when we cleaned out her house. That’s the skirt in the top picture. It used to be a white felt skirt, that my mom had everyone in the family sign. Then she embroidered the names in red yarn. We did that when I was about six or seven. Over the years, the white got dingy and stained from various pets and accidents. My mom asked me to cut it up, saving the embroidered names and make a new skirt that matched her living room. Which was *not* red and white.

So I pieced a skirt of mauve silk and burgundy velvet and appliqued the names with a bit of lace edging. I totally don’t remember doing this, just that I did. So this Christmas I used it, as I hadn’t thought I would. It took a bit of cleaning up and so I noticed what a good job I did on it. The seams are strong. It lays nicely, holding up well these twenty years later. I used beads from one of my grandmother’s necklaces as buttons, with satin loops to hook them. Most of the people who signed it are dead now, so I’m glad we saved it.

It’s funny to me to think that I probably could not do as good of a job on it today.

But I’m taking this class, with Alexandra Sokoloff, in an effort to learn her screenwriting tricks to better structure my novel. I needed to make a storyboard and, rather than run to the office supply store, I pulled out my grandmother’s cutting and measuring board.

It’s one of the few pieces of sewing equipment I kept, not only for sentiment, but because it’s a really useful tool that is nearly impossible to find these days.
And now I’m laying out The Body Gift events on it. I’ve only just completed Act I and already I see things I couldn’t before. Blue is the heroine’s POV (point of view, for the uninitiated) and yellow is the hero’s.

Yeah – I’m thinking I’m going to lose his POV altogether. A shocking move that may be exactly what the book needs. Then I’ll applique and embroider in what’s missing.

My grandmother loved to read, too.


No, this really isn’t about George Michael’s Freedom 90 anthem. That’s just the earworm that springs to mind when I think about Freedom.

That and “the Iraqi people don’t love freedom,” but that one irritates me.

I started using a program this week called Freedom. You can get it for Windows or Macs for $10. Basically it shuts down your internet access for as long as you designate – from 30 minutes to 8 hours. If you *have* to get to the internet, you can reboot.

I thought, oh, I don’t need this.

I read my emails, do my blog post, send the notice out on the social media waters, then shut everything down to write. That works.

Pretty much.

Until I pause to think. I get these impulses, not unlike the emotional eating ones I’ve talked about with fasting, where I think, oh, I’ll just see if anyone commented on my blog.

Or replied to my tweets.

Or sent me an email.

Or commented on my Facebook status.

Before I know it, I’ve lost 15 minutes.

Turns out, I really did need this.

Freedom gives me a level of relief. Maybe it’s like a heroine addict taking methadone, but whatever it takes to break the habit. Now I think, oh, I should check the weather forecast, but I can’t, so I keep writing. Or I think, I should Google that, but I can’t, so I keep writing.

I’ve even extended the time now, which is funny to me. The window pops up saying I’ve completed my session and do I want to quit or extend. Twice I’ve extended. As soon as I quit, the email icon pops up and I can’t not look. I extend and it’s like keeping the door shut.

It’s true: I’m weak and pitiful.

I’m Jeffe and I’m a webaholic.

Thank goodness I was granted the wisdom to get Freedom. Offline I go!