Artists and Old Age

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My brother and I just spent a few days touring our parents through senior housing. At one point, he leaned in, and whispered, “Growing old is tough.” I agreed, though “tough” is probably too mild a word, the reality deserving something more visceral, definitely more chilling. As my parent’s generation enters what I would generalize as “old age,” they’re struggling with what seems an endless list of losses—family, friends, careers, driver’s licenses, vision, independence, stamina, health, dreams, and the myths about who they are.

I mention myths because so much of who we are is perception, our firmly-gripped beliefs about ourselves. One of the more painful losses, from my observations, is the loss of a sense of identity. Who are we when we’re no longer recognizable to ourselves, when the myths of our lives no longer apply?

Even on the upward arc of life, there are losses, many painful, some liberating, and most irreversible. Through loss, we gain maturity, a broader perspective, and deeper wisdom about life. If we are blessed, we parse the enduring from the ephemeral, the meaningful from the inconsequential, and end our days as a sojourner with an appreciation for the profound gift of this one delicate life.

As more losses loom in the nearing future of my life, I take stock of the person I am and peer into the future for a vision of the person I will become. Will loss peel away my identity? Will I mourn the fading myth of myself?

Not a chance. In that future I will revel in my art … my writing.

I remember the day I realized that writing could sustain me beyond the exuberance of youth into the foreign frontier of old age. It was a marvelously glorious day when I understood my myth wouldn’t go flat or seize up on the highway of life. I can write until I’m old and silver-haired, wrinkled and whiskered, complaining of warts and aching bones. I can write until I’m shrunken and bent, sagging and frizzy, home-bound and bed-bound. A lovely image, isn’t it?

Yes, I declare.

True beauty dwells in the soul. Imagination isn’t bound by age. The creative spirit that breathes life into art never grows old. As long as I can write, I will be me.

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A tangled mess of a tale – The Sorcerer’s Garden.

Sorcerer's Garden 2At some point between serving my visiting parents popcorn and ice cream, chauffeuring them to the nearest casino, shooing our resident bat from their bedroom, potty-training the Overlord, and tracking down my hiding husband, The Sorcerer’s Garden went live.  I almost missed it!

So a bit of promotion is in order…In the life of an author, it’s an exciting day.

The Blurb:

Recently fired and residing with her sweetly overbearing mother, Madlyn needs a job—bad. In a moment of desperation, she accepts a part-time position reading at the bedside of adventurer and amateur writer Cody Lofton. A near-drowning accident left the young man in a vegetative state, and his chances of recovery wane with each passing day.

Cody’s older brother, Dustin, and eccentric grandmother aren’t prepared to give up on the youngest son of Portland, Oregon’s royalty.

Dustin’s a personable guy, bordering on naïve, and overwhelmed by familial corporate duties and cutthroat partners. Grandmother Lillian’s a meddler with an eye for the esoteric, dabbling in Dustin’s life and dealing out wisdom like a card shark. One innocent conversation at a time, she sucks Madlyn into the Lofton story, dubbing her the princess and bestowing on her the responsibility of both grandsons’ destinies.

And all Madlyn wanted was a simple reading job.

Uninspired by her self-imposed stack of literary selections, Madlyn opts for Cody’s work-in-progress. Fantasy isn’t her favorite, but with only four chapters completed, reading The Sorcerer’s Garden should be no sweat, right?

Little does she realize, the story will begin writing itself and, by the hand of destiny, become her own.

A collision of urban and medieval fantasy 

The Urban:

Portland, Oregon

“You’ve started reading Cody’s book?” Lillian asked as she poured tea.

“Um…yes.” Madlyn glanced at the crystal ball. Either Tristan spied at the door, which she doubted, or the woman dabbled in the dark arts. “I thought he’d prefer it over my mother’s recommendation.”

“I’m not sure he minds either way.” Lillian shared a wistful smile. “Undeniably, the book is key to completing his story, but it’s your presence and voice that will preserve him as much as the content.”

Madlyn squirmed in her seat and sipped her coffee as the conversation wandered off into the ozone again. She understood Dustin’s caution and hope regarding Cody’s level of awareness, but this business about the book “completing his story” lay beyond her comprehension. For a woman who didn’t make mistakes, Lillian was three tines short of a fork.

“Well, fantasy isn’t really my thing.” Madlyn shrugged, hoping to move on. “But he only wrote a few chapters. I’m happy to read it to him.”

“What is your ‘thing,’ Madlyn?”

“Aside from reading material?” She met the old woman’s eyes. Why am I having this conversation? “I don’t know, Lillian. Maybe getting by, day by day, true love, a fabulous career, two angelic children, a self-cleaning house, a cat without fleas.”

“Ah,” Lillian chuckled, “fantasy after all.”

“Probably.” Madlyn sighed, the list depressing. “But I’ve learned that it’s a waste of time to wish for what isn’t real. I don’t believe in fairy tales. There aren’t any dragons or ogres. There isn’t a magical life waiting for me in your crystal ball. Terrible things happen to us, Lillian. Magic would be helpful, but it’s not any more real than Cody’s book.”

“How do you define what’s real?”

The question unanswerable, Madlyn said nothing. The temptation to scrub her face in her hands and groan was unbearable. She didn’t know. Science and matter? What she perceived with her senses? Could the experience of cool to her, be warm to another? What about feelings and intuition? Was the fear that her father abandoned her real because she felt it, even though, in fact, it may not be fact? Were her dreams and wishes real if she could name them or only when they came true? Was her mother a cracked nut and Lillian a fruitcake, simply because she believed they were?

“I have no idea,” she admitted, her brain numb. She sipped her coffee, reduced to the intelligence of a slug. “As far as I know, coffee is real. I’m not sure of much beyond that.”

“It’s all perception, Madlyn, yes? Layers and filters and veils shape the paradigms of our lives. Our beliefs create our reality; that’s where all possibility lies, where magic finds its spark.”

The Medieval:

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image by amazingpict.com

A bat-webbed wing scraped over the boulders, hooks gouging the rough stone. A vast wave of fire engulfed the air. Cody curled into a ball behind the huge slab, buried his head in his arms, and held his breath, his body over the bow. When the inferno’s roar receded, he raised his head, caught a whiff of sizzled hair, and heard Dustin bellowing at the dragon, attempting to draw it away.

Every inch of his skin screamed as he scrambled to his feet, yanked the rope pull, and loaded his last bolt. With a laugh at the absurdity of his situation, he staggered out from between the boulders, slightly rear of the beast’s flank. No need to aim, he raised the bow and pulled the trigger. The bolt flew, dragging the second rope. Cody’s ankle tangled in the twisting coil. It flipped him from his feet to his back, his breath punched from his lungs.

The bolt’s barbed point nicked the dragon’s rear leg, skidded beneath the scale, and plunged into the tender belly up to its steel fletching. The beast roared, flung its horned head, and streamed fire toward the boulders where Cody would have stood if not for the tangled rope. His crossbow, pitched to the ground when he fell, flashed into blackened char.

There, the requisite promotion is done.

Click HERE for the fateful Amazon Link.

It’s lovely to be back. 

thankyou

Choosing a Break

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brainstuck.com

This Adventure in Blogging requires time. A year ago, I remember thinking a once-per-month post was daunting…now I spend at least 4 hours a day blogging – reading and commenting, writing posts and replying to comments. It’s carved out of my writing time, so my books are traveling by horse and buggy versus high-speed rail.

But it’s my choice.

I’m grateful to have choices, to recognize that there are few things in my middle-aged years I MUST do. Long ago, when my life was harder, when my options seemed fewer, I still had them. Maybe working grueling hours while single parenting didn’t feel like a choice. Yet, even then, my attitude was within my control.

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Life fluxes. Kids grow up and move out, and sometimes move back in. Grandchildren appear and suddenly I’m the lifesaver for stressed out new parents. The Overlord is two years old and Grammy is a hot commodity. Now my parents are reaching their mid-eighties and my time is stretching in another direction. Time passes and new choices roll out as they always do.

My parents are arriving in Oregon today and staying for a week to look at senior housing. I’ve done the legwork and pulled together appointments. The Overlord and his parents will be tenting in the front yard with the coyotes and my brother is flying in from the Alaska to “camp” in my writing room.

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tomperwomper.deviantart.com

My mom is blind and loves to talk. My dad is losing his hearing (and too young for hearing aids) so we all talk VERY LOUD. I’m a terrible cook, which means meals are more like science experiments. We’ll all go for walks, drive to our little town for lunch, show my folks the area, and stay up late with the TV blaring.

I’m making the choice to breathe deeply, to relax, to laugh, to dedicate my energy to a gathering of loved ones that may not come again.

Needless to say, I’m making a choice not to stress about blogging for a week. I’ll miss you all. I’ll miss some great posts, lots of laughs, poignant stories, magical poems, stunning photography, and heartfelt connections. I will, of course, be back.

Have a great week. Wish me luck!

Date A Girl Who Reads

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I saved this the first time I heard it – a fun piece by Rosemarie Urquico. Enjoy!

Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

e2badb5c7d44a30216872af88bb9601eShe’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

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Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

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You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.

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The Word Police

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Your WIP is looking respectable. It kicks off with a barbed hook and wraps up with a big fish. You’ve plugged up the plot holes, got the dialog flowing, the pace humming, and planted Chekov’s gun on the mantel. The characters are consistent, motivated, and true to life. The structure can withstand a windstorm.

The time has arrived for a visit from the Word Police,
and they’re a humorless bunch.

This is Step 3 in my editing process, the epitome of tediousness, a procrastinator’s nightmare. This is when writing is unadulterated, grueling toil. It’s time for me to weed out all those lame words, wimpy verbs, and crutch words that add no value to my prose. They’re plain old polyester when I strive for silk.

We all tap ordinary words. This post brims with them. Sometimes they’re the perfect choice, and sometimes there’s no wriggling around them.  In dialog, where characterization drives dialect and word choice, an attempt to police your words could prove foolhardy.

Yet, on the whole, if we explore more colorful options, delete the meaningless fillers, and zero in on those “telling” indicators, our writing will grow richer and more compelling.

In my case, the Word Police handcuff me to my recliner for two weeks straight, inject me with caffeine, and force me to use the “Find” function in Word until my eyeballs dry out and my brain shrivels. They know my lazy words well, those I’m oblivious to as they tiptoe into my WIP. For starters the Crutch-word Cops make me look up 561 “that’s.”

I look at thousands of words, one at a time. When I can, I switch them out, thin them, delete them, or rewrite them away…depending.

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Here’s the full list (except for the ones I missed). Get to know your favorites and feel free to add a few!

Wimpy Verbs: was/were, has/had, have, be, been, could, got, did, put, needed, wanted, gave, took, saw, walked, ran, sat, liked, moved, looked, appeared, seemed, made, turned, came, went, became…

Crutch Words – fillers:  that, then, next, well, OK, just, actually, really, only, still, yet, since, perhaps, maybe, so, even, tried, began, started…

Vague Words:  very, quite, rather, more, almost, about, around, often, some, somehow, somewhat…

Lame Words: really, awesome, amazing, great, better, dark, sad/happy, cold/hot, fast/slow, old/new, big/small, bad/good, nice, fine, interesting, beautiful, wonderful, sexy, for a moment, a bit, a few, lots, someone, something …

Telling Words – thinking/explaining: knew, thought, suspected, remembered, believed, understood, imagined, doubted, supposed, realized, wondered, guessed, hoped, wished, because…

Telling Words – sensing: Watched, saw, observed, felt, smelled, tasted, heard…

Telling Words – adverbs: Hopefully, quickly, slowly, slightly, sincerely, personally, possibly, certainly, exactly, finally, suddenly… (search by “ly”).

Any others I should add?

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