Forced to Write

I haven’t written in a while, having spent some time querying and some time prepping for classes and some time traveling the past two weeks. But I’m here at Starbucks, waiting for my husband to show up for lunch. It’s only 10:45 and I expect him here at 11:30. Or noon. And I have to do something.

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So I’m forced to write, starting with this blog. The words are flowing out after feeling blocked for the longest time. From here, I’m going to look at Maker’s Seeds and see what might have inspired me in the hiatus and tweak, then find new purchase in the story.

Maybe I should trap myself into writing more often. That should be a good way of forcing me to write.

Rituals (again?)

The semester is approaching, and I’m sitting in the neighborhood Starbucks. Two days until my freedom (such as it was) ends, and my fall semester begins.

Rituals and the new school year

Fall semester, for faculty, begins with an all-faculty and staff picnic at the Pavilion on campus. It’s a ritual, one of many that start the school year. The Friday meetings (I’m booked from 8-4 and expect my eyes to glaze over by then), fireworks, even cleaning my office and buying office supplies I don’t need are my beginning of semester rituals. (I tried to convince my husband that a new iPhone fit the category of something I didn’t need but he didn’t jump on it.)

Rituals as a part of my life

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I am a great fan of rituals. Perhaps this comes from my childhood as a marginal Roman Catholic that helped me spot rituals in the least likely places (like a Quaker meeting) and caused me to make my own. Rituals help me focus, help me change my direction or rededicate myself to my intentions.

For example, let’s take the shopping for office equipment. Even though I do almost all my work on computers, I still associate pencils and pens with cognitive work and scissors and markers with creativity. Hence my ritual of buying those for the new school year. To be honest, I do use them (although with the markers, not as often as I should.)

Applying this to writing

I’ve been struggling with writing lately, focusing instead on marketing and this blog and TikTok. I wonder if rituals would help me in writing as much as they help me at the beginning of the semester. A new start, a refocus — I need this in my writing because I have drifted away from writing again.

What would be a good ritual to start me writing again? I asked my husband, whose response was “I don’t know”. Guess I’m on my own for this.

I don’t think I need new pens for motivation. I might need to do something in the office to make it feel more mine and less like some place my husband has sentenced me to. I used to work in the living room, and I felt more motivated because I wasn’t alone. The office is small and cluttered, and there is little to be done about it because much of it is items needing to be filed with no room to file them.

A ritual … I’m going to have to think about it.

A Conversation with my Family

I spent time with my family for the first time in over two years (longer in a couple of cases). COVID and distance kept me away from them; time passed faster than I noticed. But here I am in my hometown, catching up with my family.

My family, for the most part, talks a lot. Much of our communication manifests itself in storytelling. Seldom does someone ask a leading question like “How was your hotel?”, although those happen, particularly from the men in the family (outnumbered by females.) We tell our business through stories, we relate to each other through stories.

My older niece Robyn pointed out that the meaning and context of words is very important to our family. She’s right; we pay attention to these things and pride ourselves on the use of words. It would be understandable to think we’re a college-educated family, yet I am the only one who has gone to college.

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As an illustration, Robyn launched into a discussion of swear words and what they mean in context. In a church-run coffee shop, with judicious use of the F-word. (I thought we would get thrown out of the place because the owners didn’t understand that F*ck meant different things in different contexts.) My niece Rachel expressed her preference for non-swearing creative phrases. As she is an artist, this is not surprising. Nor is it surprising that Robyn, who plays on a co-ed hockey team, dropped an approximate 18 F-bombs. My F-bomb use was limited to six or eight.

The introverts in the family (my dad and sister) ask questions and impart information. I suspect they despair at getting a word in edgewise. My husband is also an introvert, and he sits in the corner and interjects things so that nobody can hear him over the loud conversation. I thought I’d become an introvert in my old age, but if I can hold my own in my family, I figure I must be an extrovert still.

I find myself tired after a conversation with my family. Stretching back into our histories, slipping into challenge, playing with words, putting forth ideas — all that invigoration takes a toll on me. But I’m spoiled with conversation like this, so I have to get it when I can.

The Trip to New York Hope

(Strange things are happening to my font and typeface size here. I’ll try to work with it.)

I just returned from a road trip from far Northwest Missouri to Oriskany, New York (near Utica) and back. My husband and I, five youngsters (college age), and two fellow faculty members, piled into a 15-person university van and drove cross-country to arrive at New York Hope, a disaster training exercise. (I have written earlier about my responsibilities for the exercise, making people look like disaster victims.)

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And it was a trip. Highlights of the trip included:

  • The buddy show in the front seat. The retired Brigadier General and the younger modern historian bond over a couple thousand miles in close quarters. Hilarity ensues.
  • The first night’s stopover. We arrive at a church camp after some twenty miles of gravel in the middle of the dark to this rustic modern-in-the-80’s main office, the place where one registers. Only nobody is there. After 20 minutes, someone comes in to inform us we were not on the register. As we had registered (or so we thought), much tense discussion ensued. We produce an email trail that proves that we had started the process but that it had not been completed. The camp gives in and assigns us to the Retreat House.
  • Ah, yes. The Retreat House. A fine example of a shingled 1920s home renovated in the 1970s and painfully neglected since then. The place smelled of disuse and wood rot. I was not expecting ornate, and in fact have spent enough time in church camps that I expected primitive. I did not expect a miasma of trapped wood rot. Bonus: The odd accumulation of kitchen appliances which included an avocado range next to an old commercial oven.
  • Moulage duty. Four of our role-players were high schooler/middle schoolers who were an absolute riot to work with. We got to give them various bruises, bumps, lacerations, broken bones, and gunshot wounds. The adults were fun, too, but we bonded with the younger ones over cat pictures and stories.
  • Stewarts’ ice cream. We wanted dessert, and I introduced the crowd to Stewarts’, a New York gas station chain with ice cream. I’ve never seen people as mad about ice cream as New Yorkers. I won bonus points for that suggestion.
  • The flat tire pulling into Cleveland. Luckily, it was a slow flat, so we didn’t get stranded in the middle of the interstate. We ate lunch, got the tire fixed, and went on our merry way back to the Retreat House.
  • Arriving back home, finally. Blissfully, incredibly. Only to get a message from one of our younger passengers that he had a positive COVID test. Yay. So far I’m negative.

What did you do over your summer vacation?

Moulage, or How to Make Volunteers into Victims.

Sorry I haven’t written lately, but I spent the last two days riding cross-country in a van in order to spend three days making volunteers into victims. It’s New York Hope time again, and my skill set in moulage gets a workout at a disaster training center nicknamed “Disaster Disneyland”.

I don’t have any pictures to post because they’re just too gory. For example, a long gash down one’s arm with plenty of blood. Or a broken leg with the bone sticking out. A crush injury with lots of bruising. That kind of thing. No burns on this round, but those are fun to make too. We make the injuries with wax and paints and gel and prop impalements.

Not a real burn.

What do we do with the made-up victims? We train them to emulate victims in a big exercise where emergency and disaster management students work in teams to search and rescue in various habitats, triage, and provide basic first aid. We want to make this as believable as possible, so we have the volunteer role-players.

I do two major exercises a year, this one here in upstate New York, and one in Maryville where I live. I also do some smaller exercises like the docudrama in Savannah this year.

This is something I live for, a hobby that means something, and appeals to my creative side.

Wouldn’t you like being made up as an injury victim?

Feeling the Tension

I’m once again querying, sending out a manuscript and all the trimmings to agents looking to see if any of them want to represent my book.

It’s a nerve-wracking proposition, especially as I have had no luck so far with getting agents to look. It’s difficult putting one’s best work out there, not knowing if this time it will get some traction. Face it, rejection is difficult to face, and no, I am not used to it.

I’ve sent ten queries out today and I don’t expect to hear from any of them today, as it’s Sunday. Tomorrow, the early rejectors will reply, and I will wait on the others as I send out more queries. I’ve done this before.

I have made some important changes to this version, some having to do with grammar throughout and the more important ones having to do with something I should never have attempted with the story.

Wish me luck!

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As the End of the Summer Approaches …

I can feel the end of the summer. The County Fair is over, the weather is boiling, and I’ve done all my digital setup for the fall semester. I always do it early, according to my Facebook posts from years past, mostly to prepare myself for the fact that my days will be fuller and more carefree, and there will not be nearly as much free time to write.

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School starts August 17, less than a month from now. Meetings start a week before that, and there will (hopefully) be a beginning-of-semester cookout for faculty and staff which represents the beginning of the semester more than any ritual could.

What have I accomplished? I’m a quarter of the way through one book, an eighth of the way through another, and I don’t know which one to write. I have finalized It Takes Two to Kringle, which is waiting only for some last minute putting together before I submit it to Kindle. I have edited an old but (in my opinion) outstanding book called Prodigies, which I hope to send off to agents soon. I neglected my garden again. I relaxed.

Life is good and I passed through the summer doldrums without much damage. Soon I will go through the beginning of semester highs (If this sounds like bipolar, it is, sort of). But it’s my cycle of the year and I will do my best to meet it.

Blessings in Disguise

I have a tendency to feel rejections keenly, thinking that they are a personal judgment of me. But what if they’re blessings? What if they’re there to keep me from really embarrassing myself with a mediocre (or worse) submission?

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I’ve been going over old works I have written. I’ve written so many half-developed character sketches that aren’t stories, so many poems of the same, with no hook. Novels with plot twists that became deal-breakers.

I’m not a poor writer, but I want to be a better one. I want to be accepted for publication more often. Someday I want to have a novel professionally published. This won’t start happening unless I see these rejections as blessings in disguise. (Or even if I do, I suppose, but I’d like to be optimistic.)

Some Days We’re Not So Lucky

This errand trip is zero for three so far.

First errand: Get the car bra replaced on our ’09 Honda Fit. I don’t know why the car needs a bra, having no breasts, but there you go. We’re waiting for the dealership to call back. The dealership hasn’t called back.

Second errand: Get a digital picture for online application for passports. Walgreens takes passport pictures. They do not take digital passport pictures because there’s no such thing. So much for experimental government programs and red tape.

Third errand (current): Go to coffee and write. The atmosphere is fine, with its rough brick and floor tile and surplus of wood. The coffee is too acidic for me, as is every coffee I get here, which tells me their brewing parameters are off. For me to reject a coffee is strange; in consolation, I ate half a honey lavender bar. So there’s writing, but no coffee.

Fourth errand: I hope this errand goes better. There’s now an Asian food market in town. That might go well, if by well one means purchasing half the store. I cook Thai food enthusiastically, Indian vegetarian food casually, and Chinese food lackadaisically. I have a goal of picking up a package of frozen durian to make a durian custard over sticky rice, and some cans of curry paste, and some seaweed, and maybe some vegetarian chow mein, and some Thai eggplants, and … good news! They’re open today!

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So I guess 1 out of 4 isn’t bad.