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.

Writing: Everyone, Everywhere, Everyday

I close friend told me that her husband wants a divorce. He told her yesterday, when they were on an outing with their three young children. He said it in front of them. It made me realise that while I’m going through my own hardship and tough time, everyone, everywhere, everyday is dealing with something of their own.

I felt horrible for my friend. To have to explain to three kids what’s happening and to have to deal with the fact that her relationship is potentially over is a lot to deal with. I think she knew that things were heading this way, or at least, that there were issues for a long time, but she chose not to tell me. She was afraid of worrying me while I was dealing with my illness. In truth, if that was the case, I would have preferred to know, so that we could get through it together. I’m still holoding out hope that they’ll get through this.

This whole period of my life is making me wonder, what other issues are my friends dealing with that I don’t know about? I admit, I am a bit self-cerntered at the best of times, but for the past three months, I’ve been completely absorbed in the day to day fight to get healthy and to my shame and embarrassment, I’ve hardly asked anyone how they’re doing. at least, not with my conviction to hear them out. It begs the question, illness and medication, or just plain selfishness? Do I sincerely ever listen to people or am I just waiting to talk?

This is going to take more thinking about, so for now, think about some of the people in your life. What are they going through? When was the last time you asked someone how they were doing and really listened? Write about what you would like to say to your friends and family to let them know you care. Try this, think about a time when someone shared their troubles with you. Then, write a letter to them (not to send, just as an exercise) telling them what their confining in you means to you and how you feel about what they have shared with you. Another exercise you could try is to think about a difficult time or incident in your life and describe it in the 3rd person.

Good luck, in writing and everything else…

 

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