WORKING THROUGH THE TOUGH PARTS

The occupational therapist spread a cold gel over my forearm’s achy muscles. While she glided the ultrasound wand from my wrist to my elbow, we chatted…about how she became an OT, why I retired from teaching, and the fact that both of us write…she professionally, me because I like to.

The occupational therapist spread a cold gel over my forearm’s achy muscles. While she glided the ultrasound wand from my wrist to my elbow, we chatted…about how she became an OT, why I retired from teaching, and the fact that both of us write…she professionally, me because I like to.

I asked her what she found to be the biggest writing challenge. I thought for sure that I’d hear something about the disciplines inherent in writing for medical and professional journals, maybe the demands of writing on a deadline. But without hesitation, she answered, “Getting started. Ideas, even full paragraphs, get written in my head. But sitting at the keyboard? Uh uh; don’t want to go there. And the more I write, the tougher it becomes.”

I raised my eyebrows in surprise.

“That was my biggest challenge when I was painting,” I said, “and it’s still a hurdle when I write. What do you suppose is going on here?”

She took a couple of moments to towel dry the gel from my arm before she answered.

“I think it’s because we know from experience just how much work the writing will be. It’s like exercising. Getting to the gym is the challenge; once I’m there, I’m all in.”

I’ve read a lot about procrastination, but this conversation resonated with me in ways no other bit of advice has.

So yes, the trick…at least for me…is to face the fact that while I really do hate hard work, it’s the idea of it more than the work itself.

Now if I can only conquer the problem of why my iPad won’t recognize my remote keyboard….

THE (INEVITABLE?) BRAIN DRAIN

Brain drain? That’ll NEVER happen to me!

I’m half a year past my 70th birthday. Seventy used to signal ‘old’ to me and while it no longer holds that concept of being over the hill, I’m well aware of the growing degeneration that age means.

I now travel with a tote bag of meds whereas my birth control pills used to be all I needed. Joints ache–not enough to be debilitating but certainly enough to make me aware of my age. Knuckles grow by the month, the waist thickens. It seems like only a short while ago when my adolescent self would look with pity upon my oh-so-old aunts and smugly think, “That’ll NEVER happen to me!”

But most disconcerting of all is my inability to retrieve words within nanoseconds. Today’s challenges: bath mat, car fob, inuksuk. I used to pride myself on my vocabulary. Now I pride myself on my ability to use my on-line thesaurus.

(If I ever lose my ability to spell, I’ll be sunk.)

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Two very elderly ladies were enjoying the sunshine on a park bench in Miami. They had been meeting in that park every sunny day, for over 12 years, chatting and enjoying each others friendship. One day, the younger of the two ladies, turns to the other and says, “Please don’t be angry with me dear, but I am embarrassed. After all these years, what is your name? I am trying to remember, but I just can’t. “The older friend stares at her, looking very distressed, says nothing for two full minutes, and finally with tearful eyes, says…”How soon do you have to know?”

IF A FLY CAN DO IT, SO CAN I

The writing prompt suggested that I sit for 30 minutes. Settle. Write when I’m ready. So here I sit quietly. Trying to settle. Trying to hear that voice. But it’s the annual appearance of a February housefly on the north window of my studio that demands my attention.

The writing prompt in issue 58 of “Creative Nonfiction” said, “…Sit. No phone, no laptop. Nothing but you and you. For about thirty minutes or so sit and do nothing. And when you’ve been there long enough to settle into yourself, to feel the voice that’s deepest inside you, the one that only you know, the one that only you hear, go and take up the page or turn on the screen. Listen. Start an essay from that hidden voice. Let the words flow.”

So here I sit quietly. Trying to settle. Trying to hear that voice. But it’s the annual appearance of a February housefly on the north window of my studio that demands my attention.

Where does he spend the winter? How is it that one solitary fly shows up every year?

He climbs that vertical space on sticky feet. It’s not the dedicated, confident trek I’ve noticed in summer’s flies. No, this fellow wobbles a bit, first veering to the left, then a bit to the right, wings shuddering. He gets three-quarters of the way up and turns around. Is he uncertain of his destination or are his wings weakened from month of inactivity? Then another turn and another struggle upwards. He stops. Maybe he’s lost.

Whatever the reason, he’s now at the window’s lower edge. Again he begins that determined climb.

The writing prompt above encouraged me to once again try to develop a writing habit. I’ve promised myself at least 30 minutes a day. This is nothing new; it’s a promise I’ve made many times over. Maybe I’ll find inspiration in that fly.

THE HIGH DIVIDE by Lin Enger: one fine novel

I can’t recall the last time I read a western. But Lin Enger’s engaging, well-crafted tale of Ulysses Pope and his quest for redemption from the Cheyenne he slaughtered as part of the carnage that George Custer led against the Cheyenne, is a hard tale to put down.

I couldn’t say it better than James Scott: “Lin Enger sets out from the conventional Western and brings the reader into  new emotional territory.”

Scott nailed the appeal of this book. Enger’s characters–Ulysses, his Dutch wife Gretta, and his two young boys–are so well drawn that you feel you know them. Their speech, their actions, their inner conflicts are believable and compelling, the kind of writing that makes you want to talk about the book with a friend over a cup of coffee and a cheese Danish: “What did you think when Ulysses left Gretta with no note, no warning, no letter home? What must Gretta have felt when she discovered her two young sons had gone after their dad?” And mostly, “What is the dark sin that drives Ulysses to seek redemption?”

Enger’s elegant syntax and spot-on descriptions made me wish I were still teaching. “(Danny) was settled in his window seat, sunlight covering his face and sparkling in his long, sandy lashes. His hands were pressed together palm to palm and squeezed between his patched knees. His eyes were clearer than Eli remembered ever seeing them. He looked stronger, too, despite the pallor of his skin and the leftover pain wrinkles in his forehead and lips.” (page 207, Kindle editionShort, descriptive sentences, but they carry a whopping lot of information, don’t you think?

This is a novel for those of us who have struggled with moral conflicts, but it’s also a tale that’s likely to grab a teenager, reluctant reader or otherwise. It’s a book for word lovers. It’s a book for writers. But mostly, it’s a darned good story by a gifted story teller.

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