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Living with Grief

When did you first meet grief? Were you a child or adult? Or somewhere in between?

My family introduced me to grief in a dull funeral home in Ohio, somewhere near Columbus not far from Springfield. Grief didn’t touch me that day. There was no way for it through the stoic ritual containing everyone’s best manners. Everyone was appropriately sad but not too sad. No room for a wondering mind to question because there was no one talking about it; grief that is. We went to the wake, then the funeral and finally a family reunion. So in a matter of 24 hours, I was introduced to grief and then pushed outside to play with distant cousins.

Grief reached out again in the death of my brother’s friend, Justin. The story was told to me as an misbegotten allegory; a reason not to wear a seat belt. The three other boys in the car with him were thrown and survived. The seatbelt pinned him in place crushing him against the telephone pole. I never met Justin. Granny thought of him as part of the family. I only knew him the stories of a young high school football star who was genuine and kind.

Grief then was something to observe and mimic, not an personal experience.

Time would fix that oversight. After all someone had to die. No one gets out of life alive.

Death in America is so often sanitized that when you get to adulthood, death is a horrible stranger. You see it but you don’t know it.

My granny died when I was 18. She had been my world; the one who took care of me when the nuclear family I was born into disintegrated. As I grew up and she grew frail, I started taking care of her. I spent every school break and long weekend with her. My world was expanding at that time, like many eighteen year olds. That summer I took an internship at the law firm my sister worked at. It was a good job for someone with no experience in anything except for living in the protective shell of family; not that I would have admitted it.

None of us were with her when she died. I am not sure who was. I never thought about that until now. Was her death a good death? Was it peaceful? What is a good death? As her granddaughter and part time caretaker, we never talked about it.

When my aunt died two years later, I was again unprepared. The shock of her death thrust me back into the realm of my birth family who take passive hostility to a suffocating level. I remember getting ready for the service staring out on to the dam on which my grandparents built their house and my oldest sister telling me to put heels so we would both be taller than our biological sister. It felt off; like she forcing herself make it joke due to the occasion rather than her usual direct attack. K was good at those direct attacks.

I never saw my aunt’s body. My eldest brother returned me to my college life covered in grief and I stumbled through life trying to be ok and failing. I remember as we made our way out of the mountains of central Pennsylvania how he lectured me on how our father’s grief was greater than mine. Had I been too emotional at the service? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

Death came again and again. Sanitized for the public comfort and profit. If you didn’t know it already, the funeral industry makes millions upon millions every year exploding our collective grief.

Then came Shannon. Oh Shannon, you never knew the power you held. I never knew her when she wasn’t dying. When I first started dating Stew told me about Shannon and being with the family through her first cancer treatment. He also told me that the cancer had come back. The first time I met Shannon, she surrounded me in her arms. The warmth was amazing.

Months later, I visited her with him, It was the first time, I saw people gathered around someone before they died. We visited often but not enough. You can never visit the dying enough to relieve post-mortem grief.

I stood in the room with her fresh death and told the nurse what I was going to do. The nurse nodded when I had expected her to protest. I washed her body and recited a prayer honoring the vessel that had carried her through life. There is a stillness to death that you can feel in you in your bones. It wasn’t scary, it simply was.

When Papa died that stillness slid over his body as I held his hand. I knew death was there before Momma and my brother did. My gratitude for the nurse who came and told them, sparing me the task is immense.

Grief flows in and out of our lives until we get to the point where we are used to the ebb and flow of it like the tide . We adjust to our new realities thinking it can’t get any worse and then it does. Megan Devine opens her book It’s ok that you’re not ok with this statement “Here’s what I want you to know: this really is as bad as you think.” Raw grief is overwhelming like being caught in a tsunami. One that can return at a moments notice.

On May 1st, the tsunami hit me again. It knocked me out at first and then sent me through the city of memories and regrets you build in two decades of love and friendship while I fought to keep breathing. I didn’t tell anyone until the afternoon, I wasn’t sure how to handle it. Even then, I only told one person. At family dinner, it came out and the look of shock hit everyone so hard that I immediately apologized. The latest wave brought anxiety with it. My heart is threatening to pound its way out of my chest. I don’t know how to exist in this new reality where he is gone.

I’m not being melodramatic, I really don’t know how to exist in this reality without him. I look over the text messages we passed back and forth daily and his voice is fading. The voice that gave me advice, that missed me and loved me.

I know it will not always be like this. I know there will be better days, but I also know that there be days where the grief washes over me and I don’t know which way is up.

All of this sounds very bleak. Grief doesn’t end but it does transform you (or at least to others), because when you do surface you are different. When the water recedes, a memories that you had passed over is uncovered. And you remember the love, you had for them. After all, “But what is grief, if not love persevering?”

Will it be ok, again? A lot of people will try and tell you that it will be. That grief is something to move through and there will be something better around the corner. But that is a lie. It may never been ok again. The world is shaped by grief in ways that can not be explain to others that have not gone through it or who have chosen to ignore it. The world will never be the same without my Papa. Nor will it be the same without the man I loved for nearly two decades.

Ignoring pain doesn’t heal it. Time doesn’t always lessen it. What has worked for me and allowed me to live with and in grief is not trying to be ok. Thank you again to Megan Devine for her work on grief. I let myself grieve, cry and exist with this new reality. There are times like the last two weeks when I have poured myself into work to distract my mind from the loss. And there will be days like today when my body says enough and I let the grief turn into words.

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Vague Death Post



What do you do when the person you’ve been in a toxic relationship for 16 years dies and you find out a day later? What do you do when for the last ten years that person has kept you as a secret?

You cry.  The tears seeping out rather than pouring.  You tell yourself to get up but you lay in bed for a few moments more and cry.  So you click on his Facebook page, scroll the first couple of posts and click to make your own.  You try to say your goodbyes but you can’t. It is too fresh, too raw and you are a secret. You fear that your words will be deemed disrespectful, an insult to the woman who was by his side when he died. The woman who called him the love of her life and rightfully so.  He made a life with her.  Her grief more legitimate than yours.

Then you hear the words of a beautiful friend whom you heard say if you are afraid to write about it then write about it.

So you lay in bed and cry some more.  Then you get up.  Find your way to the kitchen, make coffee and eat raw cookie dough from the fridge while your real breakfast warms. You say morning to your family and let your dog out.  You say nothing about what has happened.  The kitchen caught in the twilight of morning does not give you away.

And then you climb the stairs and begin.


Do I begin with the fact that even though I broke away from you more than once and you broke me a dozen times that I thought about you everyday? Dreamt about you?  No, then where?

Because now, you are lying cold in the morgue a thousand miles away and I will never get to say goodbye or hello as I dreamed about?  There will be no trips to the big city to see you. No waking up with you and exploring your city? Because no matter where you lived, you were a New Yorker through and through.   No trips to see that cabin, the one you inherited from your mom.   Now there is nothing but your shell, memories and a thousand things unsaid and done.

No, I will begin with this.

I love you. Not loved, because I acknowledge that no matter how far apart we were, you always lived in my heart and mind and will continue to do so.  My heart held that loving you close to it.  She remembered how your voice wrapped me in seduction and coils around all the happy memories.  The day that you first kissed me. You directed it like a play, setting the stage and moving me into place.  I said my lines without even knowing it.  My heart, and lower places, remember the passion and excitement that never dulled. My mind, she clings with claws of steel to the harsher things; your long absences when we were officially a couple, the phone calls accusing me of cheating, and the text messages accusing me of not understanding your pain. My mind holds on to those like I bitterly held on to all of our text messages as records of the truth.

The truth that you loved me. The truth that you hurt me. And the truth that I allowed it all to continue.

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I’m Not Positive, I Am Trying to be Pragmatic

I am not positive, I am pragmatic.  Or at least that is what I strive to be much of the time. It may seem like my attitude toward problem solving is positive, but the reality is that it is rooted in pragmatism.  Pragmatism is more concerned with matters of fact than of what could or should be.

It is one of the reason, I make lists. It is too easy to get caught up in what the day should be and forget what needs to be done. Or more to the point, it is how to keep myself focused so that I can write and maintain a job, all the while living with depression, anxiety and chronic pain.

There is no use in panicking. Panic doesn’t solve problems. It tends to add fuel to the fire or worse starts the fire. And if I let myself, I will panic. I will freak out. And with that wave of chaos comes the threat of a complete shut down which I can ill afford.

I am also not negative, well at least not overly so. I tend to look at things thought the eyes of experience. Sometimes, this means that I am not outwardly shocked when bad things happen. It means while I don’t want or wish them to happen, I don’t let them crush me at least not for long.

Isn’t there a saying about if you are going through Hell don’t slow down because you might get out before the devil even knows you are there. Some times the best thing to do is to keep moving.

Do I get mad? Hell, yes. And do I sometimes panic? Yes, but overtime I have been learning to let myself feel things instead of fighting it and then release what doesn’t serve me. It isn’t easy and I have failed at it more times than I can count. I have learned to that it is ok not to fix everything that the day needs to end so the dawn will come again. Sometimes with that light comes more than just mere illumination, sometimes there is a new perspective.

Two weeks ago, I started tutoring a young man in math and English. Mostly math, it vexes him. I adore math and all of the things it gives us. A couple of times in our tutoring sessions, I’ve said something about how math is all around us and if it we like those things why not like math. He will think for a second and say he never thought of it like that.

Hating math doesn’t make it any easier so why not embrace it or at the very least not actively hate it. Just one of the many gives that adopting a pragmatic philosophy has given me.

 

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Night Stalker Too Graphic?

The Netflix docuseries “Night Stalker” has been criticized as being too much for viewers. If it is then we have sanitized the real horror of Richard Ramirez’s crimes to the point that we expect no longer to be uncomfortable when dealing them.

Richard Ramirez was a monster. He was rapist, a child molester and a murder among other things.

This morning, I finished the series. It wasn’t too much. Or maybe I am far more twisted than I thought. But I think the reality of the situation is a little more complex. True crime has become a genre where people expect a certain level of fear and revulsion, but only a enough to be entertained. We want horror to be a fun sort of fright. It is ok for a horror movie to be gory, but not a documentary about a serial killer?

Now, before I go any further, I am also a lover of most things spooky and creepy so my level of gory may be different from others.

Still, I don’t think I am off base when I say that maybe if we understood more about the horrors of men and women like Ramirez that maybe we would fetishize these killers. When Richard Ramirez was being taking to jail, a woman climbed up on the top of a fan and flash him. That’s right, a man who killed thirteen people had groupies upon his arrest.

We focus so much on the killers and their motivations that we forget about the victims including the communities that they terrorized.

So, no, in my opinion the series didn’t go too far. It talked more about the victims and the effects of the investigation on the men and women hunting the Ramirez than it showed gore. Yes, there are crime scene photos. There are also the voices of Ramirez’s victims defiant; some alive, some speaking through their surviving family members. Their humanity is brought forth in this documentary.

The documentary does take advantage of the material it had available, including crime scene photos, interviews and mood music. Some attention needs to be paid to the score. It is ominous and atmospheric tone was composed by Brooke and Will Blair. The brothers have been working since the mid-2000’s and have composed over 50 scores.

Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno were the detectives who worked on catching Ramirez.

This is less a documentary about Ramirez and more a documentary about the people that hunted him and the people that survived him.

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Meds are not a Failure

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

A little over year ago, I went back on medication for anxiety and depression. It wasn’t a hard decision. I was crying in my office, seeing a therapist and trying not to break down pretty much daily.

There was a lie I had committed myself to that I could no longer stomach. It was simple. I was coping with mental illness through diet and exercise only.

Here is what I wrote about it at the time.

I am in a good place.  There is a roof over my head. My relationships both familiar and romantic are going well. I have a steady day job.  There is food in my fridge.  I have health insurance.  There are even nights of the week where I am free to write.

I am in a bad place.  My steady day job has become a nightmare over the last couple months.  Dreading going to work has lead to anxiety attacks both at home and at work.  A couple of weeks ago, I closed my office door to cry.  I stopped wearing make-up to work because there was no point when tears were going to ruin at some point in the day.   Nights when I would have time to write are spend dealing with the aftermath of the day or going to bed early because I don't have the strength to anything else.

 I feel worn and mostly dead.

Looking back on it, I know that the biggest thing keeping me from medication was the mistaken believe that if I went back on it, I was failing. I didn’t put those thoughts into words until after I walked out of the building with a friend. She talked about her medication into a down to earth fashion. It wasn’t big deal to her. It was like taking medication for a cold. The conversation led to a lot of reflection.

Then my co-workers started talking about their own medication and how it was helping them handle things better along with therapy. Why was I denying myself another tool in my fight? Hadn’t I recommended medication to others? If I was physical ill, wouldn’t I be working with my doctor to find the proper treatment?

Because for years, I boosted to other (foolish so) of how I was control my mental health issues without medication. The problem was there were days that I was terrified to leave the house. Or drinking way too much from time to time to chase the blues way. Theses were acceptable to me: parts of everyday life.

I told myself there was nothing I could do about my crippling anxiety when it came to making even necessary and important phone calls. And I continued to tell myself that even after I missed an invitation to the White House in 2015 because I couldn’t get myself to listen to my messages.

Cascades -Pembrooke, VA – Now that my anxiety is being managed, I am able to go hiking again, Photo credit: Lucinda Rose

I lied to myself for years because the hassle of staying on medication along with the cost were the real reasons I stopped taking them.

I am not saying that medication is for everyone. Some people have a hard time finding what works for them or it doesn’t work.

Human beings are complex organisms. Our bodies react to everything from flowers to food differently. Some people do really well with therapy alone. Others do well with a combination of both. Therapy has really helped me break some of toxic patterns.

What I am saying is that medication can be helpful and if you need it then there is no shame in taking it.

Last December, I needed it. And now that I have it, I am able to see more clearly how the believe that medication was a failure kept me from being happy or working my way in that direction for way too long.

Be Well, Be Safe and Stay Spooky,

Lu

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No More Resolutions

Let’s stop pretending that they work for everyone. Or that they are a great idea to change our bad habits. Let’s start getting smart about the things we want to change or need to accomplish.

2020 threw everyone for a loop. Over 1.78 million people have died worldwide. The plans that we had for the year or even the spring were evaporated in a matter of days. As a society, we are processing grief not only over those we have lost, but for routines and traditions that had to be changed or were cancelled.

The world slowed down and sped up at the same time. We learned new ways to hold meeting and the importance of mental health for everyone.

The Death of Resolutions.

Somewhere in my office, there is a list of last year’s resolutions. They were practical and January that I believed I could accomplish. Things were going to get done. Even as the news of the pandemic spread, I felt confident that it would all be over by midsummer. It wasn’t. Still isn’t.

So the list and the idea that I had to wait for things to be just so to work on this or that disappeared. The list maybe in the trash to be honest. Looking back, while I felt they were practical, there were too many things to accomplish all at the same time.

The idea of setting resolutions for 2021 seems absurd. While a vaccine gives me hope that I will be able to visit my mother in Florida sooner rather than later; I am not sure that now is the time for long term planning.

What are you waiting to do? And how are you preparing to do it? Is it realistic?

The last two are questions that we tend to ignore when making resolutions. We make resolutions like we made birthday wishes when we were five. We close our eyes tight and press all of our imagination into the wish. The results are about the same.

So no more resolutions. No more annual pass or fail tests. Let’s start planning, really planning and get things going.

Smart Planning

Start with one thing not a list of things. Something you really want to do. If it is going to the gym, look at your schedule and find a couple of times a week you can go. If you live in a rural area like I do, your choices may be slim and the hours not great.

Next anticipate roadblocks to your plan. My biggest road blocks are work meetings and sunset. While the first is understandable especially if you work in education or know a teacher the second might seem odd. So why sunset? Our daily dog walk is an important part of my family’s life. We do it together nearly everyday and if I am not home before the sunset I miss it. This also means that someone is going to have to walk two dogs instead of one. Not a huge deal but if I can help it, I would rather be there. It is also

Now let’s circle back to the thing you want to do. The gym example is perfect. The goal of going to the gym more is really about getting healthier. So what do you need to be healthier? Eat right, drink less and excerise more. Since we started with the gym, exercise is the thing that you want to increase so what can you do without the gym. Make a plan and do it.

But, what if I…..

I think the word you are looking for is fail. What is you fail? What if on the day you start your new plan, things go off to heck in a handbasket? Then it is time to regroup.

If you get off track you haven’t failed, this isn’t an all or nothing game, get right back on track. Maybe look at what caused you to veer off course and work to avoid it. For example, I don’t plan to go to the gym on Mondays because those tend to be crazy days. Fridays are another day that I avoid because after a week of teaching, I am exhausted.

Visualize it.

Not only should you think about what it will look like when you accomplish your goal. You should also picture what it is going to look like doing it. It might also be helpful to write out what the day is going to look like with your new habit mixed in.

My gym workout plan looks something like this:

  • Wake up at 5:30
  • Stretch, take a shower and make the bed
  • Breakfast by 6:30
  • Morning walk at sunrise
  • Pack Lunch
  • Leave for work at 7:45
  • Leave work by 4:00 for gym
  • Finish workout by 5:00
  • Walk dogs when I get home.
  • Cook dinner
  • Writing time
  • Stretch before bed / sleep by 9:30

Weekends are a little different and this plan is for Tuesday and Thursdays for when I have arranged to leave work early. On the other days, I would come home and do a workout at home. Do I work out everyday? Yes, sometimes it is only a dog walk but everyday unless I am sick I do something for my physical health.

Start Small

Pick one thing and begin to work on that. Once you develop your new habit, choose something else and make it a continual cycle of renewal and improvement. You might be surprised at how much you accomplish in a year.

And above all, give yourself a break. We are living through a global pandemic.

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Three Lessons for the New Year

The End of 2020

The days and hours of 2020 are coming to an end. But, before you get on your knees to welcome 2021, remember it isn’t over. The horrors of this year aren’t going to evaporate at the stroke of midnight. The virus will still be with us even while the vaccine gives us hope. Fake news profiteers and science deniers will still be among us. Racism and its kin will still be lurking in the shadows seizing on the opportunities to raise their heads and tiki-torches.

But we know better and it is time that we start doing better.

Seriously, if you learned something in 2020 carry that knowledge into the New Year and act on it. Here are a few things, I learned.

Be a Better Friend

Earlier this month, I learned that one of my best friends was in the hospital on a ventilator. Not from COVID, but pneumonia which isn’t much better. Since moving to Virginia, we haven’t been in contact and truthfully, that started before the move.

One of my worst habits is failing to keep in touch with people that I love; friends and family included. This habit has meant finding out about the loss of someone months after they passed away and not spending precious time with them. It has meant people not knowing how much I love them and disappearing from my life.

In October, a week before my birthday I fell ill with COVID-19. My friends and family made sure that my needs were taken care of and that I didn’t feel alone. Cards and care packages, phones calls and instant messages, there was a lot of love directed my way.

So finding out that S. was in the hospital and I couldn’t get in my car and go see her; broke something deep inside. I couldn’t be there to hold her hand or support her family. All I could do was wait, pray and hope that she would recover. As of today, she is off the ventilator.

I started my efforts to be a better friend through the sending of Yule cards this because I knew before hearing about S that I wanted to be a better friend. I made a few ornaments for people and have tried to be better, which in the end is all you can do. How can you be a better friend?

Health before Work

I come from a long line of workaholics who have passed along a host of bad habits. You might recognize some of your own habits here as well. Over the summer, I planned for the upcoming school year, attended professional development and attended meetings. Most of this time was unpaid or as one of my former admins called it “volunteering”. Many teachers will tell you that it is often easier to come to work sick that write sub plans and I can tell you this is true. I have been my own sub many times.

The only day I was planning to take off was my birthday and that I was told the week of that I couldn’t take off because the sub had cancelled. Strangely, since I had COVID at the time, they graciously let me have that day. They did however call me every couple of days to see when I would be returning. Not to check on my health, but to when I could come back to work.

Did I meant that I worked with pneumonia in Florida because it was the end of the school year and I was out of sick leave? To be fair, I didn’t know it was pneumonia until after the school year was over. The first two weeks of that summer were spending confined to the sofa where I tried not to die and lived in a semi-lucid state thanks to codeine.

What did all of that pulling off my own needs for the needs of my employer? Pretty much nothing except higher medical bills.

One way, I’m fixing this is by making doctors appointments sooner than later, not waiting until the summer when it is convenient for the school and leaving work on time twice a week to go to the gym. (If you have ever known a teacher, leaving work on time is a big deal.) What do you need to do take better care of yourself? People are like cars, we don’t work so good when we avoid regular maintenance.

Don’t Wait for the Perfect Time

Because there is no such time. Waiting for the perfect time is a waste of time. If you want to go to Italy, which I do, then go to Italy. If you want to write a book, get typing. Want to start a You-tube channel, do it. Do it sooner than later or better yet now.

I keep waiting to do things like visit friends and work on photography. Then came 2020 and I couldn’t see friends and family. I could work on photography but I was stopped from going places much of the time. I told myself that I need to get a better camera or take a class. All of which produced no art on my end and only increase my anxiety.

Even before 2020’s series of foreseen catastrophes (every since one was predictable including the pandemic), I had been working on ridding myself of the perfect time excuse. 2020 just added some more fuel to its pyre. And while you’re at it, add the need to be perfect to the fire as well. Perfection is an ideal and when it does occur it doesn’t happen without a whole lot of practice.

What lesson did you learn this year? How are you going to do better in the coming year?

The State of Things April

Oh goodness, where am I now?

Physically, I am sitting on a broken chair at my writing desk. My knees aren’t aching, but my hip hurts. Don’t know why, but it is. Getting older when you have lived an interesting life isn’t easy. It is hard to get old. It is hard to deal with a body that doesn’t work the way it once did or the way you hope it would. The doctor is happy that my knees haven’t worsen and so am I. This means that the big knee surgery has been pushed down the road and into my mid-fifties. It is also incredibly wonderful to have a doctor that believes me and works to get help instead of ignoring what is going on.

Mentally, exhaustion is taxing my brain. It is hard to keep on top of everything that I need to get done for work and home; let alone work on my writing. One thing that it hard for people who don’t deal with chronic pain to understand is that managing your pain doesn’t mean you aren’t in pain. The pain means that everything takes more energy. Managing pain doesn’t mean that the pain goes away. It is always there. It is like the difference between swimming in a calm lake versus the ocean. The water’s current is always there pushing against your body. In the lake, you feel it and work with it. In the ocean, you fight it and there is a greater chance it will knock you down or out. In short, it is your constant companion.

Adding to that companion, it appears that I am a COVID long-hauler. The brain fog is real as is the on going dizziness. Yesterday, I stayed home from work because the dizziness didn’t stop all day.

Financially, things are moving where they need to be. Debts are going down and thanks to tutoring and book sales, I’m bring in more than I spend. Two months ago, I went to see a Financial advisor. A step further into adulthood and moving my life to a place where I have choices. The kind of choices that a better credit score and savings can give me.

Dayjob Workwise, things are crazy and it is hard not perseverate on all the things that can and are going wrong. We are entering into the days of standardized testing where elementary kids are put through a ringer in order to gain data for the State. I don’t get why are the students are being made to take a test that doesn’t really test their knowledge. The State says it is only for data but come on there have to be ways to get the data without stressing kids out. On top of that, the COVID numbers among staff have decrease but each week more students are contracting the virus.

Side-gig. Tutoring has dropped to once a week. Good on one hand because it gives me more time to do my regular stuff. Bad because the money I earned goes towards my debt. I enjoy the gig and am grateful for the opportunity to work on mathematics again. Once upon a time, I was a math major so it is great to revive those skills.

Travel Plan: Now that I am fully vaccinated, I have those again. A trip to Florida is in my future. I’m overdue to see my family. Beyond that a trip to Richmond to see my beloved friends and give a few attack hugs as well as my favorite Virginia cemetery. One of my favorite humans has a new house in Maryland that I would love to see as well. Lots of ideas of where to go but no firm plans of yet.

Writing/Project-wise. Things have slowed down. They haven’t however stopped. The ideas keep coming and I am doing my best to stay on track with everything. The Devil’s Due is on its second draft. The non-fiction projects remain in research and outline mode. Time has been short supply, energy has been in even shorter supply. The ideas come and find there way into existence but they don’t feel right. There was no rhythm to them. They were my words but they feel flat and awkward like a ball without air.

Garden: The garden moved and expanded this year. We’ve spent three Sunday’s stripping turf. If we don’t get rain, we will finish this weekend. The weather has turned cold so it will be another two or three weeks before the plants can go in the ground. I am excited and nervous. There are a lot of seedlings in my dinning room. They are all going to need homes in the coming month.

Luke: My furry son turned 10 this year. We have been doing more off-lease time which has been great. He follows me when I go to the barn to work on things. As soon as I turned to go back to the house, he comes running like Momma don’t leave me. There is joy to his galloping that lightens my heart.

So that’s where I am right now? Where you are my friends?

Love,

Lu

Only Human

I am only human, although I have gone by nickname of Dragon for years. My flesh is mortal and although I have dry skin, no scales adorn my body.

COVID-19 took me out for 3 weeks.

In the midst of these unpresideneted (only unpresidenet because we don’t really study history) times, I have faltered from my writing routine.

I know why it happen and I could list the reason/excuses for it, but they all boil down to the fact that I am human. I can only do so much and in order to maintain the silver of sanity I hold close to my chest, something had to give.

And it was my writing routine.

I started a second job tutoring, twice a week. I’ve worked through the pandemic and all of the ups, downs, twists and turns around. I wrote and I plotted new projects and then came the night when I couldn’t.

The Writer in Happier and Healthier times.

Couldn’t sit and write after work. I couldn’t write because I was asleep. Night after night, I crashed on my bed. The mornings were a blur of things I needed, wanted and could to get were all mixed together. In the evenings, the only thing that kept me moving was the routine of my family life. It anchored and has let me weather the continuous storm that these days have brought.

Writing and the routine of it has returned. I am writing for at least a half-n-hour a day; more when I can. Vaccines have brought hope and some freedom, but the end isn’t insight. There will be a lot more days and nights of this pandemic. And my routines might falter again, as long as I survive this, I am ok with that bargain.

Why We Hate Math

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Math is logical and our brains are not. Our brains make leaps while math takes a steady and careful path to its destination. It follows rules and its paths are well chartered. Our minds not so much.

For the record, I don’t hate math. I love it. I became a history major at a point in my life where the emotional side of my life wasn’t adding up. The rules of math can not be applied to the heart. My mind didn’t know to reconcile with the focus need for calculation when it was exploding exponentially with the chaos causes with loss, heart break and uncertainty.

Back in the day (which if you ask my students is anytime between when man discovered first fire to the day their parents were married), math was been a subject which vexed mankind. It remains so to this day.

In other words, math is hard.

We seek meaning and understanding, but you can’t apply formulas to your emotions. The heart resists all such logic.

Take my first college boyfriend (no, we aren’t going back to my first boyfriend, cause that jerk pour a coke on my mom’s white jacket that I had borrowed for some now forgotten offense) I loved him and he loved me. Or at least, we loved the idea of each other. But when it came down to it, the drama that flowed in both our lives was too much. The love equaling love didn’t work out. There were too many unseen variables.

Math has rules and once you understand those rules, problems become solutions that you can check. The heart isn’t such an easy equation to solve. The variables are too numerous for us to calculate any answer consistently and the rules seem to change at Cupid’s whim.

Math is really easy when compared to the calculations of the heart. Just follow math’s rules and you are set.

Not so in love or grammar. But that is another story.

Character Motivation

What makes you do the things that you do? What makes you reach for that cookie when you are on a diet? Or play that game when you should be sleeping? What really motivates us to act?

What motivates someone to murder?

Recently, I finished watching the Netflix docuseries “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez” which doesn’t come to a definite conclusion as to the motivation for committing the crimes of which Hernandez is accused or as to the reason behind his suicide. It begs the question of what does motivate someone to commit the heinous act of murder.

FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 10: Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots smiles from the sidelines in the fourth quarter during a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on December 10, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Acts of passion are some how understandable if murder can ever understood. The idea of loosing control and taking a life has been used a character’s motivation over and over again. A typically upright and thereby good being is over taken by passion or it’s darker sister rage. When they come back to their senses with blood on their hands, what do they do? If we are dealing with fiction, the story doesn’t go forward unless they try and hide their crime. In real life, do they call the police or hide the crime? All of which circles back to fictional scenario?

Revenge is another popular motive. Along with greed. These are text book motivations. Understandable to the point that the reader doesn’t give them a second thought.

In watching the docuseries about Aaron Hernández, we see the life of an American athlete on the cusp of greatness fall apart. First with his arrest for the murder of a friend and then more cracks in the foundation of this perfect life appeared. It turned out that there more cracks than anything else in the life of Aaron Hernandez.

He was a young man with a good heart and a bad brain. After his death in 2017, he was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopath, which may have effected his behavior in life. If you haven’t hear of the condition commonly referred to as CTE, it is sometimes called fistfighter’s dementia. A number of former football players have been diagnosed with it following their early deaths.

Watching the life of Aaron Hernandez unfold in three episodes. I see how the series unfolds his character artfully, sympathetically. You feel him and yet you never forget what he is accused of doing. You see how in attempting to avoid the consequence of one crime, he provide the police with all the evidence they would need to convict him of the another crime. It is somewhat like what happens in mythology when the hero tries to avoid his fate and only ends up running directly towards it.

Real life is often stranger than fiction. It is always more complex. When authors water down motivation they water down their plots. I think about this as I write. Am I dumbing down my own plots by not considering the bad guy’s motivation? My current bad guy or gal has killed at least two people and as I work on rewriting the current draft, I wonder about their motivation.

I wonder about the complexities of my villain’s life. What has led them to this point where the death of another is the preferred option? Maybe it is just the easier option?

Death as the easier option is somehow more unsettling? Yet if we look around us there are tons of examples of people choosing that option.

These are the thoughts rattling round my brain.

What’s bouncing round your head?

The Idea Machine

Where do you get your ideas?

Simple, I have a machine in my house built from spare parts found on the side of the road and at yard sales that I crank up whenever I am in need of an idea. The crank is the most important part. The ones from Victrola’s are the best.

Really?

Yes, it’s how I came up with this blog title. Ok, not really. Ideas don’t come from a machine or a store. Although a visit to the store or watching an intrici machine work might spark one. What gets me going on a story or even an essay is a thought that worms its way out of my head onto the page. I have to get it out.

Sometimes it is the beginning line. When I started writing Blood Child, I was standing on my front porch in Florida holding a glass of wine watching a car pulling in across the street. My ex-boyfriend was coming home with his new girlfriend. I said out loud to no one in particular “I am not drunk enough for this.” and that became “I am not drunk enough to talk about it now.” The first line of my novella.

The idea that there was something that needed to be done or dealt with and the person faced with choice reaches for liquid courage. My fascination with Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countness, and love of mysteries did the rest.

Other times, it is an image. When I started Shadow’s Tale, I had been looking over some old photos. Shadow was a real cat and finding his picture, I wondered what would happen if a cat came back as a ghost with unfinished business.

Cooking with the Dead, a work in progress came from talking with a friend about how I cook. Cooking for me invokes my grandmother and when I sat down to write that day I started to wonder what would happen if cooking called other loved ones the way a medium does.

I started one short story after I was annoyed at how I had been cut out of the retelling of a neighbor’s tragic accident. I wanted to tell what really happened. How when our neighbor Larry fell off the roof, it was myself and my boyfriend at the time who reached him first, not our landlord who was frozen by his car or others who heard the commotion. Really, it was LJ who sounded the alarm and directed people to call 911 as I tended to Larry. Of course, the story turned into something else by the time it was done.

This may sound like inspiration strikes often but it isn’t as mysterious as it may seem. For myself, it is really about uncovering the story once the idea get out. Something that Stephen King talked about his book On Writing.

To finish what I am writing, I continually asking myself what happens next and repeating until the story is done. Sometimes, I play a game for ten minutes or take a walk before I sit back down to write. But that is a topic for another blog.

There are a couple of other things I do that have helped me generate ideas more consistently.

Read Constantly

A book or three go with me everywhere. When I went to France in 2019, I took three books with me. When I go to work, I have a book. Car rides and housework is perfect for audiobooks. If I am caught without a book, there is the Kindle app on my home.

In 2020, I read 72 books according to Goodreads. It was probably more, but somewhere along the way I gave up recording them and I read some books twice.

Reading feeds my brain. And as I write more I have begun to take note of how the authors I enjoy structure their work. The things they tells us and the things that leave out. Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot is one of my favorite vampire novels. Yet, he doesn’t use the word vampire until the last part of the book. He doesn’t need to for his reader to understand the horrors unfolding in the town of Jerusalem’s Lot.

Make time for Learning

Listen to or watch the news as painful as it these days is important for understanding how the world works. If you pay attention you will learn a lot more about human nature than you think. Listen to a podcast on a topic that interests you. Sign up for a distance learning class, study another language through an app. Watch a documentary. Right now, I am hooked on the MasterClass lessons specially those by Ru Paul and Neil Gaimen.

Learning in my opinion always adds to life and is rarely a waste of time.

Keep a Journal

Last year, I finished A Handbook for the Productive Writer by Bryan Collins. Several of his suggestions include keeping an idea file and/or journaling. He actually suggests keeping different journals for different things. Something I do and I don’t do.

I have a daily journal which I write in … you guessed it daily and take nearly everywhere with me. It goes to work with me. It went hiking last weekend and is tucked into my bag everyday when I go to work. And just in case, I forget I have a small emergency journal. Since February of last year, I’ve only missed a few days and those were due to illness (Thanks Covid).

My daily journal records ideas, lines from books that I like and other thoughts. I keep all of my journals once they are finished by my desk so I can refer to him.

An Idea book lives in the top right hand drawer of my desk which I use to record ideas for blogs and videos.

Another journal is my class notebook. When I take a course writing or otherwise, I keep notes in this journal. I learned the hard way to keep all of the journals handy for reference. Thanks to my sweetheart, I also have a fabulous Tarot planner from Writual planners that use for reflection as well as planning.

It really isn’t as much work as it sounds. Although one thing I am constantly doing besides reading is tidying my office so everything can be found when I need it.

Write Daily

Isn’t that the same as journaling? No, journaling is my writing warm up: a free write if you will. Typically, I journal while I am letting my first cup of coffee do its thing. On weekdays, I write after dinner and on weekends as soon as I can after the morning dog walk.

Do I miss days? Yes, when I am sick or traveling it happens. And when it does, I don’t beat myself up about it. Stephen King reports writing everyday but two; his birthday and Christmas. Right now, I have finished dinner and turned on the latest episode of the Watch on Amazon Prime. (I love Terry Pratchett!) When I get in the groove, I pause the show.

The more you write the easier it is to write. Developing a daily practice of writing takes work and I will admit some days I struggle with it still. Other times when I am trying to take a break I feel compelled to write because my body and mind know what time it is. I keep working on being a better writer because I know in my heart the stories aren’t going to stop coming so I might as well get better at telling them.

Making Space

All of the above couldn’t be done if I hadn’t started making space for writing and reading. My daily to-do list (something I know isn’t everyone’s cup of tea) always includes writing and reading as well as journaling as task items. Why, because if I write it everyday I know that everyday it is important to me to get these things done. It also helps with my depression and anxiety to see have a visual of these things even if it is something I know I am going to do, crossing it off feels good.

Rising earlier than I need to gives me time to read and journal with fewer interruptions. I don’t linger downstairs on weeknights after dinner so I have at least 45 minutes before heading to bed to write or edit.

It means planning ahead when I know I have a busy day to set aside the time to do these things. It also means being flexible. If I know that a hectic day is approaching, I tend to lower my writing expectations for that day.

My friend and fellow author, Marshall Stephen, has encouraged me so often on those days to just write a hundred words that now often hear his voice when I am struggling pushing me to write a few more words. And it works. Sometimes I write the hundred, sometimes it is more. Either way it is a victory because you guessed it, I wrote.

Last Thoughts

Writing is art. The act of writing is my chosen form of art; an expression of which I could not live without. Generating ideas for art is never as hard or as simple as it sounds. It has taken me several years to put together what works for me and I am still working on it. It is like most of life a learning process.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the creative process and how you come with ideas for your own art whatever that may be.

Be Well, Be Safe and Stay Spooky,

Lu