Part 1

I sometimes think I’m like Elizabeth Bennet. I’m paraphrasing, but I never feel like I can write or say anything unless I’m going to utter something that will astonish the whole room. Therein lies my mistake. I think I have nothing to say that is deep and worthwhile, but how can that be? How can I have lived through all of my adventures and have no comment? As it turns out, I have plenty to say, I just have to stop censoring myself.

Of course, like most aspiring writers, there’s a fear of revealing too much, fear of insult or need to justify opinion. So, why bother? Why live in fear if you can not be honest and bold in your writing? Are we (I) so afraid of embarrassment and misunderstanding that I’m prepared to go to my grave without saying what I think? No, It’s not worth it. I have no kids, no legacy except my family who will also someday shuffle of this mortal coil and then what? I would be as if I hadn’t existed at all. Some might think that is no great tragedy, but for my part, I begin to find it terrifying. I must exist. I must be remembered and imagined and something of my life must linger. Egotistical, perhaps, but there it is.

I believe the easiest thing to do is to begin with the basics and start from there. Here are the vitals, the things you write on a job application or a census sheet. My name is Eliza Dashwood nay, Ruvalcaba. My parents, probably sensing that I would have a hard enough time with my other two names, chose not to provide a second option in the form of a middle name. My brother got one, but unfortunately, it wasn’t one that would be useful as an alternative to his given first name if he didn’t like it. So, there we were, two kids with “Z”s in their names. I have one excellent sibling, but more on that later.

I’m from California. If people ask, I usually say I’m from “near Palm Springs” since it’s a place most people have heard of. In truth, I was raised in San Bernardino . When I was small, we lived in a nice neighbourhood where all the houses were single story and what a Brit would call a bungalow. There were little strip malls with shops and a single supermarket. My mother bought our clothes at a boutique called “Baby News” and as we became pre-teens, Miller’s Outpost was the height of hip. The shopping mall was “downtown” and all the local cinemas were single screen. The “Pussycat theatre” still existed and my innocent mind could’ve conceive of what “XXX” meant. Across the main road at the end of our park was Parris Hill park and to me, the hill seemed steep and unclimbable. I can now see that it was probable no more than 100 metres to the top. I learned to swim, if my splashing in despair can be called that, at the local YMCA and my mother, sitting a few feet from the edge of the pool, threw her car keys into the pool for me to retrieve. What she probably doesn’t know even to this day, is the while I held my nose and dipped my head under water, I felt for them with my toes and transferred them to my failing fist with my eyes firmly squinted shut. I hated water in my face and that is something that has never really changed. So, thanks Mom, but I now swim just enough to keep myself from drowning in a paddling pool, but I think I need a vest or rubber arm bands in open water.

* * * * *

One of my earliest memories of childhood has me standing, leaning against my father’s knee trying to articulate what I know now was the abstract concept of imagination. He sat there, in a big upholstered chair one evening, a rare time when he wasn’t working on his model planes in the garage after dinner, with me the sole focus of his attention. It was probably circa 1979, when the greatest movie ever made was Star Wars and its paraphernalia littered every child’s bedroom. Model toys and lunchboxes cluttered my brother’s half of the closet floor and I wanted nothing more than to watch it again and again.

As he put his arm around me and leaned in to listen to me, my baby six year old voice squeaked in his ear, “TaTa, when I close my eyes and think hard, I can see pictures!” He smiled at me and said “Si, como, que miras?”

I tried to contain my excitement as I tried to explain what I saw. “You know, if I close my eyes, I can see R2D2! Just like if he’s right there.” I said pointing at nothing but air across our living room. “Can you see him?” I asked, still pointing. I can still see my father smiling as he closed his eyes nodding, “Oh yeah…yeah, si lo miro.”

I was excited that my Dad shared my vision of my imaginary droid. I can still remember with perfect clarity how he humoured his tiny girl, with her questionable straight black fringe and pink corduroy jeans, clinging to him before he sent her off to bed. It was past bedtime, but in my excitement to share my discovery, he listened to me. That’s how I discovered what that word was, that creation of a perfectly formed picture in my mind’s eye; imagination. I went to my little twin bed across from the room I shared with my brother happy that night.

So, here is the start. I’ll add a little more every day, and who knows, maybe I’ll learn something about myself in the telling. X

Self Isolation: Day number, who the Hell knows?

I’ve been i the house for about three months now. I ventured out for 1 day to have a scan and a blood test. I have another one tomorrow, so I get the treat of venturing out in the car into London to visit my oncologist’s Harley Street office for another blood test. Drive, in, wait, blood taken, out, drive home. It’s tragic when I look forward to a drive that leads to something tedious, but there it is, we live in a new reality.

In my last post, I said it wasn’t the end of days and although I still believe this is merely a bad patch, it does feel like we’re on the verge of something. Apart from the awful business of Covid-19, there are riots and protests globally in support of Black Lives Matter and a stand against racial inequality and against police brutality. I’m in total support of that movement and it’s about time, but I worry that for everyone’s good and noble intentions, we might be seeing a resurgence of the virus with everyone packed together on the streets. These are strange times we’re living in. Still, I try to do m part. I sign petitions and I sew masks and scrubs for the the NHS and i keep my head down and try not to make a fuss. I don’t complain that I can’t get a haircut, though some people see that as a serious infringement on their liberties. Sad. What spoilt and fickle creatures we are. What little discomfort we can tolerate!

So, now I write, sew and tend the garden, something I never thought I would do. I’m going to be up to my ears in home grown courgettes, tomatoes, spinach, peppers and onions. I see myself harvesting everything and putting vegetables out on the end of the drive for my neighbours to scavenge before too long.

I have been reading a great deal, as my Book List page will indicate, but I haven’t written much. This, I intend to change. Starting today.

For now, I will lay down a challenge: In this three months of madness, what have you learned? It can be something about yourself, a new skill or an observation on human beings in crisis. Try writing about a character stuck in isolation and give them a crisis to be overcome while they’re alone in the house. How do they cope and what do they do? How does being completely alone when one is in trouble affect one mentally, physically, morally?

Enjoy.

Emergency! It’s the end if days! (just kidding, it’s not)

I went to the supermarket this morning and it was like something out of a horror film. The big brand stuff was all there, but the basics, like toilet paper, dried pasta, rice and long life milk were all nearly gone. I saw a man pushing a trolley with bottled water, booze and about five 9-roll packs of loo roll. Really? Yes, this virus is something to be cautious about, but the way people are stock piling, you’d think we were gearing up for a real life version of 28-days later…

It made me think, it you had to self quarantine (including no internet, deliveries, etc) what would you eat and what would you do? Have a look in the pantry and describe what’s there. Imagine being totally alone with  only what you have right now and no internet connection. Write about the idea of being alone for two weeks and what that means for you. Is it daunting or an opportunity?

Sick Day

The cats nestle at my feet and there’s a mug of hot lemon squash and honey, my fifth, on the bedside table. The home shopping channels have been on the TV in the background all day and there’s a pile of books on the bed beside me.

The books are of different genres and lengths and today, I spent as much time reading their back covers and flipping through them as I have reading their contents. My brain is caught in a squash game, the ball, my concentration. It flies against the wall of reading and bounces back to the TV, finally settling on the intense activity that requires the utmost dedication and attention, petting the cats.

This is how I spend my time when I’m stuffed full of cold and my nose-breathing is laboured. Sudafed is my friend, productivity,the enemy. I feel guilty because I want to spend each day doing something useful, but I can’t. So I sit then lie against the pillows, then sit up again. Back and forth in a constant effort to get comfortable.

The shopping channel is something I never watch, but today, it’s a comfort. It reminds me of my Mom, who spent her extra money on shiny objects, gold chains and silver earrings, bangles and zirconia rings when I was young. Never looking after herself in terms of wardrobe, but constantly on the lookout for bling, she reminds me when I see her that her jewellery box holds my inheritance. I laugh and tell her I’d rather have her than her hoard. Still, QVC reminds me of her and the times she looked after me when I was ill. Constant boxes of grape juice,orange juice, apple juice and any other fluids she could force down me so that I felt like I was peeing away my fever. Thanks Mom, the lesson stuck and I’m on litre 3 of water and tea.

There’s a faux leather skirt on the home shopping channel. I’m tempted, then look at my open wardrobe that’s bulging. I don’t really have many shined objects, but I can go a year without wearing the same thing twice. I’ve added another “to do” on my list. Clear out, up-cycle, donate…

There’s something both comforting and lonely about being alone under the covers when you’re ill. I feel the need for quiet to allow myself to recover and yet, I wonder what the rest of the world is up to.

What is it you do to feel better when you’re ill? What memories does illness conjure up for you?

Hope you’re feeling fine, happy writing.

Ghost story

Maggie turned her head away and chanted, “You’re not real. You’re not real. Not real. Not real!”

She could feel the cold air in the room and when she glanced back, the form stood over her bed, deathly still and staring down.

The thing was perfect. It wore her mother’s form and expression. The same one her mother had always worn when she wanted to tell Maggie something serious. The same one she wore when she lectured her about coming in late or when she brought home a boy she didn’t like or when she broke the news of her father’s departure and finally, when she told Maggie she was ill.

Maggie closed her eyes again and sobbed into her pillow. “Mama.” She whimpered and shook her head. “Why are you here now!?”

A flash of their life together passed like photographs across Maggie’s mind’s eye. Her mother lifting her from the tub after a warm bath, rubbing her down with a huge, green, fluffy towel, her mother at the stove making pancakes on a bright Sunday morning, mother storming into the principal’s office to defend Maggie from a bullying teacher, her joy at Maggie’s acceptance into university and countless Christmases and Birthday presents to each other.

Maggie turned over again and slowly opened her eyes and stared back at the thing by the bed. “Are you real?” Maggie said and with an acute awareness of every shift in her movement beneath the covers, slowly sat up.

The thing by the bed nodded gently. Though no sound came out, it mouthed the words, “I love you.”

Maggie reached out and turned on the lamp. When light flooded the room, the apparition was gone and with it, Maggie’s joy. “I love you too, Mom.” She said and with a sob, turned off the light and wishing for another visit in her dreams, fell back to sleep.

Unpack

A friend of mine suggested an exercise. The idea is to take a setup, main characters and a statement and unpack the scene. Rather than telling the reader how a character is feeling, convey their feelings by unpacking the scene.

Example: Kevin hated Nick. Brothers, told from Kevin’s point of view. 

Kevin leaned against the door frame and watched his brother play on the swing set. Their Dad worked on their car on the driveway with the occasional glance towards Nick to make sure he was safe.

Fall, Kevin thought. He focused his eyes on Nick, following his movement back and forth on the swing. Fall, fall, fall, break your neck, Nick, he chanted in his head. As though someone had heard his secret prayer, Nick tried to slow down to jump off the swing, but he miscalculated the distance, and came crashing down, missing the grass the landing instead on the edge of the paved path to the house. He yelled out, “Daddy!”

Kevin hoped their Dad wouldn’t hear him or better still, would ignore Nick’s cries and leave him to bleed from his scratched knees on the pavement.

Their Dad dropped the hood of the car down and upon seeing Nick on the ground, came running and within seconds had Nick in his arms, cooing into his ear. “You’re all right Buddy, you’re fine.”

As Kevin watched them, the blood rushed to his cheeks and they burned as he watched their father cuddling Nick. It struck Kevin at the moment how much Nick looked their mother. He thought of his Mommy, who came to his rescue when he fell, who read him a bed time story each night, who called him her little buddy. As he watched his brother cradled in their father’s arms, Kevin thought, I lost my Mommy and this is what I got in her place. With that, he turned away, went up the stairs and into Nick’s room, where he located Nick’s teddy and introduced it to a pair of sheers.

 

Have a go. Here’s one to get you going:

Emma misses Ted. He’s her son. Told from Emma’s POV.

Have fun! Happy writing.

 

 

 

Insomnia

I fell asleep at 5am or thereabouts last night, or, this morning, if you want to be specific. My dreams lately have been anxious. There are worries hiding in there that I can remember and talk myself out of when I’m awake, but in my dreams, I behave logically in relation to the situation I’m in. Example, I dream my cat is ill. Response, I take her to the hospital where she escapes, I panic, she’s found and upon waking, I remember that she’s young and in perfect health and sitting on the living room sofa. There is no animal hospital and everything is fine.

Next, I’m at university, about to attend a lecture and I haven’t studied and I’ve missed a few classes. It’s unclear whether or not they’re going to let me continue, but it’s the fear of being called upon in class to discuss reading I haven’t done. Can I blag? Can I pretend to be ill and sneak out before the Q&A starts? I then wake up and realise that I’m not in formal study at the moment and no one is going to catch me out for anything. This dream is the one I have the most often.

Finally, I dream that I’m at work and there’s nothing for me to do, so I study, I write letters and browse the internet. My boss catches me and we have to discuss the fact that they don’t have enough work for me to do, so we need to agree my terms of redundancy. At the same time, I receive a job offer that is below my skill level, but insanely well paid in Portugal. Portugal? I’ve never even been there. This dream is not so hard to understand. I’ve been off work for over a year because of this wretched disease and now I’m afraid to go back to a business that doesn’t need me anymore, or that I wont be able to go back and perform to my previous level because my energy is shot to pieces.

So, I was up half the night playing with the thermostat (why do people insist on sleeping in an inferno?) and drinking water. I listened to soothing sounds of the ocean and tried meditative breathing. Still, despite my efforts, all I could do was notice the heat running through my body and reflect on my anxiety dreams. Why is it that night time is when your mind chooses to mess with you and ponder the fears we have hidden the rest of the day? I’m sure many have pondered this question, but when you can’t sleep, all you want is for the voices in your head to shut the Hell up.

I’ve had breakfast, prepped dinner for my brother and me (I’m his house guest) and now I’m looking at the LA skyline and trying to enjoy a few hours of peace. The sun is out and the sky is clear over the city. I can see Santa Monica and a thin strip of blue that I imagine is the Pacific. Beyond the balcony I can see cars zipping along what I think is the 5 Freeway. Culver City is in the distance and if I look across the rooftops, I can see Brad Pitt’s house (sans Angelina), I hear she bought Cecil B De Mille’s place.

OK, now that I got that all out of my system, back to writing. As I’ve been sitting in the house in silence, I’ve still been able to pick out some unfamiliar sounds and tried to identify them. I noticed that sound is one of the senses we don’t often describe in writing. We are visual creatures by nature and I believe that that is were we tend to focus on our attention, and our writing is ironically less colourful for it.

Try this, sit perfectly still and try describe the sounds this make around you. For inanimate objects that are inherently quiet, give them sound, like a chair, silent until it’s dragged across a stone floor, or until someone sits on it. The leather sinks and makes a squeaking sound from the person’s weight. The decorative throw pillows, rustle as he or she pulls them out from beneath their backs and are tossed on the nearby rug.

In the lower range of my hearing, I detect the sound of the clock in the kitchen ticking. My stomach makes a little gurgle as my breakfast, makes it’s way through and it does its work. There’s a hum from the air conditioner, struggling through contradictory instructions. He says keep it toasty, I say, send me a cool breeze. There’s some steam building up in the pressure cooker in the kitchen, where some chicken chilli my brother is fond of is simmering away. I can imagine the chicken, beans and corn cooking through and later, my hands shredding the breast meat with two handy forks in each palm.

I can almost hear the traffic down below, but that’s just my imagination. The balcony doors are shut and no sound come in. I’m alone with the appliances and limitless coffee. Not a bad way to spend the remainder of the day. Now, if I can just keep from worrying about how I’ll sleep tonight….

Happy writing. (write sounds)

Happy New Decade

We’re now in the 20’s. I have a hard time believing that the decade is gone and 20 years have passed since the Millennium. Remember how all Hell was going to break loose at Y2K? Computers were going to melt down across the globe and we were going to be hurled into another dark age. Instead, technology got more sophisticated, the rich got richer, we had some questionable fashion trends, music took a downward trajectory and by the end of the next 20 years, we all went bonkers, frighteningly right wing and we rolled back rights and attitudes back to the 80’s. Ok, I exaggerate. It’s not all bad, but we haven’t progressed nearly as much as I though we would by now,

Let start with the positives, or at least mine in any case. So far, I’ve beat cancer. I’ve been married nearly 25 years to a guy that really should be nominated for a sainthood of some kind for devoted and patient husbands and everyone I love is doing ok. I’ve reached the peak of my career, I’ve picked up a few skills and have seen a lot of the world in the last decade. So, what’s next you ask? WRITING!

I’ve neglected by writing disgracefully and its time to fix that. So, from now on, writing comes first, everything non-essential comes second. By non-essential, i mean work and family, but by work, I mean “doing my best to make money to afford the mortgage and a few trips each year”. What I don’t mean is the level of workaholism that I made my life’s work up till now. ~Rambling, yes, do I care, not really…

So, here I am, day 1 of the new decade and I’m home visiting the folks. I’m sitting in my PJs on my bed in the room `I spent my teenage years in and in the next room, hubby is watching a documentary with my Dad on the subject of serial killers. Nice to see them bonding.

So, my resolutions? Just one, write every day and don’t apologise for it.

Happy 2020 people.

Puzzles

For a few months now, I’ve had trouble concentrating. It’s the drugs. The paracetamol, Tramedol, Paclitaxel, Carboplatin, Domperidome, Ibuprofen, Buscopan, Dexamethasone, Morphine Sulfate and the myriad of unknown drugs I’ve had coursing through my system for the past three months.

Every morning, I wake up groggy and hear “breakfast is here” in a whisper. I turn to one side and see a yoghurt pot, a latte and two slices of whole wheat toast heaped with crunchy peanut butter and strawberry jam on the bedside table. By the time I have my breakfast, have taken my medication, put in my contact lenses and brushed my teeth, it’s nearly 11am. Half the daylight gone.

I have made lists of what I want to accomplish each day and never manage to get everything on it, even if it’s only three or four tasks. When I heard I would be out of action for a few months, I though of what I could accomplish in my forced convalescence. I have hundreds of books in my library, at least ten times more than I have listed in my 2019 reading list and I hoped that I would plough through a great many of them. However, illness also has a sick sense of humour and not only am I fighting a shitty disease that it trying to kill me, I’ve been also unable to take my mind off things through reading. I’ve found myself re-reading the same sentence several times without absorbing anything and after a month of this, I gave up.

However, I wasn’t ready to go down without a fight. How can you keep your brain stimulated without reading? Easy, challenge it with puzzles. So, I’ve cleared out all of the local charity shops of their best puzzles and have set to work. I have to say, there is something quite satisfying in seeing an image come to life. The brain is given something to work on, I’m still creating something and I’m taking myself away from mind-numbing TV for a few hours a day.

This has been working and now that I’m off most of the drugs, I’ve found that my attention span has come back. I’m starting to read again and the puzzles are still providing stimulus and entertainment.

So, this post is just a thought. If you ever find yourself unable to concentrate on anything serious but still want to give the old noodle a workout, try a puzzle.

More on this later…

Writing: Fantasy vs Reality

I’ve been reading children’s fantasy and teen sci-fi books of late in order to have something to discuss with my 11 year old god-daughter and my teen nieces and nephews. Oddly enough, I’m finding it quite enjoyable. I’ve started “Skulduggery Pleasant” by Derek Landy and it makes me wonder how someone can create a fantasy world that blends with our own that is both entertaining and written in a way that doesn’t talk down to its young audience. I’ve always admired sci-fi and fantasy writers, perhaps more so than traditional fiction writers. I imagine its harder to create a whole universe with its own mythology that can make readers believe. I’ve always strugled with that. I tend to go straight for the realistic and modern when I write. I sometimes think that writing the real world is easier in some ways (you can write from life) but harder in others. When you write from real life, it’s harder to disguise yourself and others.

 

Anyway, the point i’m Trying to make (very badly from reading this), is that its worth trying both. For this exercise, I’m going to write a short piece about something real and contemporary and then write 500 words that are pure fantasy and see what comes of it. I might dream up a whole new world. Who knows?

Have a go, have fun.

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