Ups and downs

Here we are again, another new year.

The whole of last year was spent writing two more books that I self-published, plus a mini-series. It was good to keep to a strict schedule, to write purposefully every day. It got so I was even able to photoshop my own covers and stop worrying about someone else meeting my deadline. I have to thank dreamstime.com for providing a very affordable means of finding beautiful images to play with in photoshop as well. They are awesome and easy to use, and the copyright info is cut and paste. Simplicity itself.

Summer came and went, sliding out of consciousness too easily…maybe because my kids are so much older now. We didn’t have many of the usual squabbles. But also because I was sooooooo tired all the time. And it got to be the usual. Fight through each day, and go to sleep immediately upon hitting the pillow at night. My doctor (a PA from Australia, actually) told me in November that I had a B12 deficiency, following my yearly well visit. That certainly explained a few things.

But here we are, months into taking supplements, and not a huge improvement. Don’t get me wrong, I still hoist myself out the door three days a week to run. It has to happen, or I go cuckoo. But the little things, like the overall tiredness, dropping things all the time…not better yet. Have to hope that it will get there…believe it will.

Between that and a multitude of other concerns that have kept me busy, I have not written a blessed thing. The desire is there, the ideas are there. The rest will have to come in its own time, just like the other stuff.

In the meantime, please consider signing the petition to free Neli Latson, a young autistic man in Virginia who has been imprisoned since 2010 in a terrible miscarriage of justice. His story is the stuff that parents’ nightmares are made of – I know, because he could be my son.

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All you need is love

When I think of this song, I think of Love Actually. And while the Beatles were undoubtedly chemically enhanced at that stage of their writing and recording career, they had the truth of it. Love lights up the darkest places in life.

It gets challenged. All the time. Every day. And sometimes it isn’t easy to look at.

Love is brave enough to dress in balaclava ski masks and perform punk rock protest in the streets. Love is bold enough to stick it out when the person you love is horribly changed in the blink of an eye. Love is tough enough to trust others to hold you and keep you at your most vulnerable, like how a friend of mine helps photograph stillborn babies with their grieving parents.

Love is standing up and speaking for the voiceless, even when it means you may be personally attacked.

It requires a great deal of inner dialogue, examination of the issues, and emotional durability. I’m not great at that last one, because it is HARD not to take feedback personally. The alternative is to stay silent. It’s not in my nature to do that, either. But our social landscape is shifting, and becoming a place that most people little recognize.

What are we to do in this society, I wonder, when everyone can vomit their anger and rage so effectively – so lethally – online? When it results in young kids committing suicide? Has normally reasonable people “screaming” in caps at one another? Allows perfect strangers to pass judgment over other perfect strangers? Send mass numbers of death threats in the matter of minutes?

Is this the fabric of society these days? We have no way of predicting for sure – just as we have no way of knowing what this landscape will look like in ten or twenty years. I think it bears each of us asking ourselves certain questions as we interact, probably. And that’s best left up to the individual, but for the ability to exert the control to go away from the computer for several minutes, step outside, breathe, and let go of reaction in favor of reason. By the time anyone might find their way back to what we were about to click “send” or “publish” on, our thoughts might have already shifted.

This brings us back to the idea of love, and what it means as we move into a brave new world. Love is never perfect, but it is forgiving. It might mean that you delete that response that had your blood boiling a moment before. Filtering your feed you don’t see the annoying political views from someone you otherwise like a lot. Not worrying when someone misinterprets your use of a phrase because you forgot to emphasize a particular word. Love lets it go.

Love certainly means speaking up when something is not right, but it also has a lot to do with accepting that mistakes and misunderstandings are more common than anything else we do in this life. And I begin to think that, instead of getting mad and commenting or posting, speaking up in favor of what you believe might be more effective if you get into the root of things – go and give your time to the causes you believe in, instead of yelling about them, and some of those troubling things might begin to get solved. Whatever it might be, if you approach it with love and compassion, there’s no chance it won’t be a good thing.

 

Quick post

I’m very busy scrambling to change cover art (and make sure the right ones are properly attached to books – just had a mixup that needed to be fixed, ugh!), and get things loaded onto my new snazzy (hoping I get accepted into the catalog)….

SMASHWORDS

Please go take a look – the first book in the RSI series is free to read!

The second book is available there as well, as will be the first book in the Sleep trilogy soon (as soon as I can get the file fixed up and transferred to the website).

Sometimes

There’s a sense of being tired all the time during the winter. I think the folks who live in the Arctic region must have come up with ways to cope…or maybe all the fish consumption has something to do with it. If you ever watched Northern Exposure, though, you might recall the episode with Ruth Ann and Walt using the SAD light therapy visors – and Walt gets completely addicted.

It’s human nature to look for the simplest solution – with sometimes unintended results.

Personally, I woke up a few years ago and realized that winter was not my friend as far as mood is concerned. Maybe you feel the same way. Childhood memories were colored somewhat, and it never made a lot of sense, but fall was just brown, for instance. Not crisp, or leafy, but muddy and redolent of the unpleasant sensation that everything was dying.

Winter was grey, bleak…there are no specific memories that I can recall to even distinguish one year from the next. Most of my memories reside in summer. Perhaps it’s that way for everyone. I’m a little terrified that my kids will end up feeling the same way. This time of year finds them crying about Monday mornings. Even the adults are having trouble getting out of bed without a lot of drama…I won’t mention any names.

The trouble is, you can only try to keep a firm grip on your own sanity. No matter how hard you try to get everyone else into a better mood, it never works. And then your mood takes a hit.

I’m thinking about smile therapy…? Laughter yoga? What else is out there?

For me, a big part of the battle was adding omega 3 and vitamin D into my life. (Fish is just not a part of my diet, no matter how much I wish I liked it.) Forcing myself to exercise is another piece of the strategy. I say “force”, because this time of year means that I’m still outside running, and it’s a HUGE mindgame to get out there and deal with cold.

What do we do about our loved ones, though? How do we help them get through the darker (seriously!) times of the year? Aside from visiting our relatives in Mexico or California, that is….

On reading topics (writing as well), I’ve been reading Johnny B. Truant & Sean Platt’s Write, Publish, Repeat, and feeling the sense of new ideas leading to better *strategy* – plans and writing all making a little more spark. Older son and I are into Laurie Halse Anderson’s Forge (the sequel to Chains), and it’s just into the denouement of the Battle of Saratoga. She’s an excellent writer, and you ought to check her out.

I don’t know what to hope for from the groundhog, but that’s months away anyhow. Just a glimmer of hope, the light in the darkness, anything that might help. It just seems a little weird that I’m the only girl round these parts, and am the most even keel….

New year, new things

The mercury has been zipping up and down in our part of the country. A few days ago, it was -13, and here we are today with the high at 55. It feels mildly schizo. And it’s rough on the motivational side of staying sane. I had to beg for new, warmer running gear for the rest of the winter, for instance. One recent run ended with purple toes. Not like, lavender, or bluish, no. Deep dark purple. Hadn’t even noticed they were completely numb until I jumped in the shower (because it was right before Christmas and there was NO TIME for cooling down), and then an ear-piercing yell later, realized what was up. I’d post a picture, but that kind of thing is icky, let’s be honest.

Big kid and I finished Breaking Stalin’s Nose, which is a pretty swift and completely unsettling story. It’s like reading 50’s sci-fi, until you realize, no, this sort of thing actually went on. In the 50’s. On and on. Then my husband and I started watching the Aldritch Ames mini-series, as well as the remake of House of Cards, which is really excellent, by the way. The original, with Ian Richardson playing the role Kevin Spacey now so ably occupies, was just as unsettling.

I wonder what it is about those sorts of stories that draw us in so well? Is it the act of drawing back the curtain to view the inner workings? Perhaps. All at once, we know it is true, and yet it isn’t. By that, I mean there are small pockets of people who function in such bubbles of reality, but that they cannot exist outside their small realms. That’s why I tend to read dystopian or utopian setups with a certain amount of salt dashed across. There is push and pull from extreme to extreme, but we (perhaps being 70% water?) tend to follow gravity and established routes.

I think that’s why dictatorships are successful mostly in small pockets as well. Without going into some dissertation-style talk, I’ll just theorize that the sheer volume of the USSR was what “doomed” their particular experiment. People will be oppressed and led by the nose, sure, but not everyone – so with the inertia in the middle, the oppressors on one side, and the resistance on the other, eventually the push and pull will set everything back into the middle territory, even with a lot of war, strife, and instability in the meantime.

So yes, I discount the notion of a global dictatorship. One such as in, V for Vendetta, now that might work for a bit longer, except you can’t count on previously stalwart, fiercely independent, somewhat volatile people to suddenly settle down and be docile because they’re scared. Here in the US, there’s a lot of factionalizing and partisanship over who’s really a “patriot”, what constitutes being a True American (say that in your head however you like, it still doesn’t carry gravitas)…well the list of who’s better than whom could go on a long time.

Realistically, we’re a nation founded on restlessness, low attention span, impulsivity, and willingness to chuck aside our Sunday papers in outrage when Something Bad Happens…by golly, we’ll go make it right. As long as it’s in a place where there’s a good reason to be. But that’s another discussion. The official line when we go overseas to bring truth, justice, and democracy to those who need it (whether they want it or not) – is that we are winning hearts and minds. Depressing, but true.

But here, in the homeland, in spite of our pioneering ways, our desire to pull up stakes and move around every five years, and our insatiable desire to read headlines instead of knowledge…people are pretty much ok. Not great, not terrible, but ok. I have a feeling I’m pretty much ok, because frankly, I don’t have a ton of energy left over from trying to turn my kids into something better. On one hand, there is a long list of what I’d like to eventually do, if I ever have any time or mind for it…on the other is the desire to lie around and eat chocolate. Admit it, we’re all pretty much the same. And it’s ok, because once in a while, we manage to actually cross something off the list…and then we go and have a piece of chocolate for a reward.

The difference lies in what you do when the pressure is on. The distillation process, if you will. We all know, deep down, what we would do if push came to shove – some of us would do as the neighbors in Eugene Yelchin’s tale do, rat out the guy next door, because then we can have his apartment. Even though I am a bit of a cynic, and I know that those people are out there, and I watch for them as I would an approaching hyena…I believe that they are the minority, and that we’d get the pull back to moderation from the opposing force on the other side. It just depends on how big the inertia mass is, I guess. How many of us would do absolutely nothing?

I’m one of those impatient, distractable, passionate American types…I know what I believe I’d do, where I’d be, and it wouldn’t be sitting around, but it’s a large unknown, isn’t it? The US is a varied, enormous patchwork quilt of people who often forget about the rest of the country (I live in a state that some parts of the country believe is a myth) – much less the rest of the world – but we aren’t (all) bad people, any more than anyone else is (I’m pinching my fingers to keep from listing any dissenting examples). The Soviet people weren’t all bad. North Koreans certainly aren’t…just their strange dictator is.

Obviously this is just my meandering brain going down the route illuminated by the books and tv we’ve had around here (my husband binge-watched the Tudors over the holidays, while I gnashed teeth over the state of womanhood in those days) – life is so uncertain and weird at times…we can’t help but sit and have little philosophical discussions to try and sort it out. That said, opinions welcome….

Santa’s watching….

I bet he trained the NSA on techniques….

We did the Santa video with our kids last week, and I put in parameters for our younger kid to be “on the fence” of naughty/nice. Our older one as well, since I knew doing otherwise would blow up in my face like an overfertilized watermelon. But child the younger was so distraught and worked up over it. Panic ensued, and we had to talk him down off the ledge, because I could see the temptation to just say, “Screw it, I’m goin’ down in flames!!!” written all over his tongue. Actually, he may have truly said something to that effect.

Instead, we promised to check back in, and went over a list of stuff he could work on. His teacher last year did that on a monthly basis – let each kid pick something to work on, like handwriting, patience, raising hand before talking – and they’d get a reward if they managed to do it the whole month. Think about it – that’s about 20 days – the period experts claim it takes for new habits to get established. Pretty smart, that teacher.

I’m not that smart. I keep forgetting that there is a way to establish new routes and to extract the bad. Otherwise, I would have “called” on Santa a month ago. But maybe we’ll try that heading into the new year. Younger the kid is a very persistent and passionate child – note that I’m trying to use the positive outlook on those traits (we all know what their negatives look like). But I keep at him, trying to shape and polish him, as I tell him in the words of Louis CK, “I’m not raising you to be a kid the rest of your life.” It’s true.

We don’t want to have them grow up to behave as they do when they are 2, 6, or 13. We pound them into molds of our shaping to form them into adults. We screw up along the way, as do they, but the determination is to see them be happy, successful in whatever shape that takes, and to have a sense of doing right, as opposed to wrong. One need only watch a handful of episodes of Intervention to see what can go so horribly wrong. It isn’t a mistake that half the families involved end up doing some kind of therapy/rehab so that they can STOP the destructive patterns.

But let’s face it. Parenting is terrifying. You can do all the best things for your kid, and he’ll still grow up into whatever kind of person he is determined to be. You can be neglectful and hateful and produce a caring prodigy (though it’s obviously not the majority of the outcome for those cases). You can lavish attention and find your child moving across the planet to get away from you. It’s hard. Really hard.

But I’ll tell you what not to do, because I’ve seen it, and it’s ugly

– humiliate your kid in front of others, even family

– fail to respect that there is a sentient human brain in that small head that is fully capable of judging you and your actions

– fail to respect your child, period

– be completely erratic in behavior and discipline

– not tell your child that you love him/her

Just plain ugly. Had a massive example of that whole thing play out in front of us this weekend, and I’m still having trouble with it.

On the other end of parenting, I’m reading Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan – and I really admire her parents who, divorced and not precisely on speaking terms, managed to cobble together a truce in order to fight for their daughter’s life. In addition to that, there’s a textbook-style volume waiting for me to pierce the mysteries of Rapid Prompting Method , in order to see whether I can make sense of it and start to help my son get another handle on a way to communicate to us. It feels like I’m waiting for a semester to start with that one, but there’s no prof, just online forums. We can’t swing the course yet, so I’m hoping that the book will click and make sense….

Anyone have any big reading plans or projects for the holiday break?

The caprice of December

You think to yourself, “I’ll just get some stuff done,” and then find yourself alphabetizing the dvd collection. You need to wrap presents or mail stuff from the post office (which is a mile away, but really hard to get in and out of), but end up scouring the internet for the best prices on anything from Hiwa Kai Hawaiian black salt to books or chia pets, I don’t even know anymore. You might even be 12 windows deep into looking at all the videos on Upworthy.com

The weather is fickle, 50 degrees one day, 13 the next. Germs are running rampant because we’ve all finally had to close up, crank the heat, and sit stewing together in our crockpot living spaces. My friends talk on facebook about the latest plague to descend on their families, and I find myself wanting to wear a germ mask, gloves, and wipe down the computer. I think one might actually be able to trendspot and track illnesses just by paying attention to those things…not that I have…yet.

My kids and I have started Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin. The 8 year-old wants to read out loud too, so I have to keep reminding him to speak clearly, or his brother won’t understand what he’s saying. And they only seem to want to be indoors right now (can’t blame them too much), unless snow is falling…and then they want to be out there long enough to get completely soaked, possibly filthy, and come storming back inside, while I’m yelling, “Stop!!! Stay right there, stay in the kitchen and take everything off!”

Then they want hot chocolate or cider that usually ends up not getting drunk. Then movies. Or video games. Can friends come over? Not unless the house gets tidied, which is boooooring. But I can’t deal with someone else’s kids coming in, only to go home and casually inform on us that the sink is full, or there’s evidence that none of the males in our house have very good aim (AHEM), or possibly that the sheets don’t seem to be different from the last visit. I know, I know, I’m being paranoid and (probably) giving 8 year-old boys too much credit.

Above all else, the capacity to write is just not there, when there’s far too much else to be done this time of year. Lacking focus for that, I’ll just satisfy myself with reading and keeping up with this, I suppose. Shopping is pretty well done, we’re skipping some of the previous years’ falderal to keep things calmer and simpler – I just need to get soy-free things for my sister’s stocking, gluten free for me, and salmon jerky for my husband 🙂 Except….

I’ve got to print a load of scanned letters to make my mother’s gift – going to put them into portfolio books, rather than get a book printed – they’re her dad’s letters to his parents during WWII, and her mom’s letters to her dad…mysteriously, all his to her didn’t survive the passing of the years…though one of the ones she wrote perhaps illuminated why…I rather think he was very bold in the things he said to her. Ahem. The wording was different, and it’s one of the few letters I will omit, as I’m sure nobody wants to think of their parents that way, but as they were my grandparents, and they’ve both passed…I found it both shocking and amusing.

We need to think of some family traditions to have every year. More and more, holidays and occasions sneak up, and I feel no inspiration or creativity to do fun, or figure out how to make memories. It’s the only frustration hanging around this year. We let Halloween slip by with no pumpkin carving…hopefully we’ll do better this year.

My husband’s company party is this weekend, and while I have a dress, there’s nothing else…nothing but a snowstorm headed our way. No, really. It’s supposed to start around the same time as the party…at least the thing will be at a hotel this year. And, in that light, maybe I don’t need shoes? Hmmm?

This weekend will also mark the year anniversary of a pretty dark day in our state. Sandy Hook. The families just did a memorial project – and they’re asking everyone to stay away (that they had to ask is indicative of our far too intrusive and judgey society). I think it won’t be a problem for most of us not to have a ton of rehash over it. I’m glad there will be a storm and a party to distract, because the whole thing was just…awful.

My dad is an Episcopal priest – his assistant is a state police chaplain, who went down to do family notifications, and then found himself counseling first responders. Things like Sandy Hook send out ripples and keep extending far beyond those who survived, witnessed, responded, counseled…I saw him right after he got back from Newtown. He looked like he’d been through a storm, and had no words to express what he’d just experienced. My dad and he sat and talked through it, though. They do that; counsel one another, through loss and grief and…I know it’s a little strange, but that’s what they do.

And I remember, how a week after, the following Friday, it was raining. I’d just read that one of the children was a little girl named Joey, and she’d been autistic, like my son. I was overwhelmed with emotion, thinking about how a child like that would have felt with the screaming and chaos, praying that she hadn’t been frightened or suffered (that none of them had) – and went out to run five miles in the rain, yelling and crying the whole way.

And when my then 7 year-old told me that he’d heard the gunman was still alive and might come get them – a normal kid fear – I had to be honest and tell him that the shooter was dead. He wanted to know more, like whether this person, still practically a child himself, was in heaven or not (because everyone we know who has died is In Heaven) – I decided to say something different than Hell, which is where many people have probably put that troubled youth – I told him that God had put this boy in a quiet place, to be there for a long time where God would talk to him about the Really Bad Thing he’d done.

You may disagree with that notion, but it had a desired effect – my worry-wart of a kid stopped worrying about a boy with a gun, didn’t worry about where he was, and merely moved on to say that he thought his great-grandfather (soon to be joined by the other one two weeks later) had become a boy again in heaven and was playing with all the children who had died, to make them happy again, and keep them company until their families joined them someday.

And that’s what I still know about things, a year later. As I read the posts from the few families who have chosen to consistently share their children with us – like Daniel Barden’s family – I’m still sure that I made the right call for talking to my kid, that grief may ease…but it still feels strange to know that my grandparents all lived (only one left now) into their late 80’s or early 90’s, lost their memories and enjoyment of life (which is to say, modern medicine keeps them alive), and were ready to welcome death as a friend. Not everybody gets that. So, yes, I do hope that my grandfathers and grandma are keeping kids like those company. Any kids who have been lost in violence, really.

Light up your hopes and prayers along with your trees, people, it’s a crazy, dark world out there.