“The long and winding road”

Great Wall from top

long and winding road from Great Wall

By now everyone on the planet must have heard the cliché, “It’s the journey that’s most important, not the destination.”

A friend who writes a travel blog (see story here)  and who traveled with her husband to Greece to buy a house only to have the deal they thought was firm fall through, buys into this idea wholeheartedly for this and other reasons. But I hadn’t thought about it much until recently.

I’ve had to slow down this summer, thanks to a spooked pony who caused a fender-bender of sorts involving my lower back and tailbone.  I can’t write when I hurt. It hasn’t been all bad. I’ve enjoyed many lazy afternoons napping on the patio in the company of my always-sleepy cat.  But slowing down wasn’t enough to force me to ask why I’ve put such pressure on myself to get published in a short time.  That came after hearing the stories of writers who had gone before me.

I attended the annual Pacific Northwest Writers’ Conference, primarily to pitch my story to agents and editors. I’d been working on a novel for three years and never once did I ask myself why I kept setting the goal of publication ASAP. Age I guess. It engenders a sense of urgency.

While at the conference I talked to a writing instructor whose first book was published in 2013. I’m paraphrasing what he said: “I wrote for two years before an agent told me I needed to start over. I listened and began researching my story from a different angle. It took me twelve years, but I did it.”

Twelve years?  I’m comforted by having a ninety-three-year-old friend who’s working hard to get her memoir in shape for publication.  If she can hang on so can I.

One morning I sat next to a woman who handed out bookmarks with testimonials about her latest novel. She asked what stage of the process I was in.

“I’m on my third draft.”

“I wrote fourteen,” she said.

Fourteen? I should have started sooner, maybe in kindergarten.

Nearly all the speakers, including many of the agents and editors, repeated the same mantra.  Having a first book published isn’t magical. It doesn’t change your life, except that now you have to spend time marketing it as you work on a second.

Darn. I was expecting magic.

Do it because you love it, the experts said. Write because you are passionate about writing. Good writing always sells.

The moral of the story is that I haven’t given up wanting to be published, but I have let go of the pressure I’ve been putting on myself to work fast.  A huge weight has lifted.  I am now focused on the writing itself. I guess it’s the journey after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confused? There must be an app for that

My lady bug timer

My lady bug timer

In the past week I read about three free apps that help people who want to stay focused on one project for an hour or two, and avoid checking email or Facebook or Twitter or their bank account or “breaking news” every few minutes.

I’ve been thinking about apps in general and the desire of many people to carry out more actions faster and better. Of the zillion apps out there how many address this need? In checking out the App Store, under the subject of “productivity” I found a few that could save seconds in a day and others that require extensive record-keeping. No thanks. Under “health and fitness,” I found one in which you could log daily walking time, pace and distance. The app converts your data into a bar graph and identifies your top walks. Useful? You be the judge. I count the minutes I exercise weekly. Once I’ve hit 150 I’m happy. No bar graph needed. Under “lifestyle” I found horoscopes, recipes and a way to keep track of goals in eight different categories. I have one goal: finish the third draft of my novel. By not purchasing that app, I save $19.99.

I limit my social media apps to email and Facebook. I subscribe to half a dozen blogs, but even those can distract.

A few years back, I had to close my Twitter account, partly because I couldn’t think of anything to say, but also because what other people were saying wasn’t that compelling. I reached my limit after someone talked me into installing Tweet Deck on my desktop computer. This app made a bird sound every time someone I was following posted a tweet. Since I followed large organizations with full-time tweeters, such as “The Huntington Post,” if I didn’t turn off the volume on my computer my study sounded like an aviary.

As I age I have to face that there is a limit to my time on earth and there are things I have yet to accomplish, and balance this with the wish to slow down, take my time and enjoy my surroundings, my friends, my life. I don’t think any app is going to help me here. It’s something I’ll have to figure out on my own.

 

 

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Wanted: Electric Cart “Drivers’ Ed.”

shopping carts courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

shopping carts courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This is the story of how an injury pushed me into a new adventure and a study of human nature.

Ever since mid-June, when a horse — okay, a large pony — dumped me without ceremony onto hard soil, walking hurts. The pain is lessening now, but when it was at its worst, I couldn’t cover any distance without my hip screaming.

The day before the Independence Day holiday, my husband and I needed to make a run to Costco. He offered to go alone, but, despite the pain, I insisted on going with him. How else could I keep a dozen watermelons, fourteen chickens, and a crate of bananas from jockeying for space in my refrigerator?

Accompanying him seemed like a good idea, until I walked into the cavernous box and realized I could never cover the distance on foot.

“May I use one of those carts?” I asked the woman who checked ID at the entrance.

She nodded. I settled down into the seat of one and tested the knob in front of me. Twist it one way and I moved forward, twist it another and I moved backward, forget which was which and I crashed into the wall behind me.

“You’ve got to unplug it from the wall,” said the ID checker as I tried to move forward.

How was I supposed to know that?

Despite my barely having a learners’ permit, I zipped around everyone with aplomb. And ‘everyone’ the day before a holiday meant more than a few.

No one looked down at me with terror in their eyes. In fact, no one noticed me at all.  They weren’t just oblivious to me, but to all the other shoppers they passed. I witnessed a herd of zombies pushing their carts in single file down each aisle, staring unseeing at the people and merchandise around them.

In large stores, shopping malls, casino, factors such as size of the space, lighting, and crowds come together to overwhelm the senses and turn most everyone into a robot.

Unlike those on foot, I had to stay alert to avoid maiming any of my fellow shoppers. I did have one accident. As I wheeled around a corner, I rammed an empty cart, which somehow knocked a bunch of clothing items off a table. From my low vantage point I couldn’t tell what I’d sent flying, only that I couldn’t imagine one little jolt causing so many objects to slide off a table.

A witness to the accident, laughed and shouted, “Now you’ve done it.” For a moment, I felt pride knowing I’d brought life into one of the robots around me. This helped compensate for my face turning red at getting caught.

 

 

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Almost like “Waiting for Godot”

pillbottlesI’ve been to the hospital Emergency Room (ER) twice lately, which is why I was drawn to a blog on the NPR web page called, “Heart of the Matter: Treating the Disease Instead of the Person,” by Dr. Leana Wen. Wen describes a situation in which a wife drives her husband to the ER for chest pains.  He finds himself naked from the waist up in a hospital hallway, surrounded by strangers and sounds of beeping and ringing pagers. He signs paperwork, gets moved into an elevator, and later awakens hooked up to machines.

Two days later the couple learns that the man has had a heart attack and they file a complaint against the hospital. The hospital’s story is very different. Within three minutes after the man’s arrival he is given an electrocardiogram and twenty-two minutes later doctors have cleared the blockage. Within two weeks he’s able to return to work.  A success story if ever there was one. So why was anyone complaining?

The blog received tons of comments, usually representing one of two points of view: Who cares if doctors talk to you as long as they do their jobs well? Why didn’t they tell the couple what was happening?

Dr. Wen concluded that better communication might have the hospital experience. What if the doctors had introduced themselves, told the patient and his wife what they were doing? What if the patient had asked questions?

My own visits to the ER after being thrown from a horse were less eventful.  I received x-rays to determine if I’d broken any bones, and pain medication. Doctors and nurses and technicians seemed competent. So how was their communication?

In both cases I spent three to four hours at the hospital but never knew why so much time.  The hours moved slowly and so did the staff.  If only someone had come in and said, “Things are hopping tonight. We’ll be with you as soon as we can.” But in fact, things never seemed hopping. I just wanted to someone to tell me about how long I’d have to wait…for the x-rays to be taken… for the doctor to interpret the x-rays.. for the doctor to talk to me after he or she interpreted the x-rays…for medicine…for my discharge. Staff meted out one bit of information at a time when I wanted to hear the big picture.

This takes me to the experience of a friend undergoing chemo therapy and radiation. She, too, has become accustomed to long waits. Very long waits.

My ER experience was fine. I received good care even if it was wrapped in mystery. Perhaps my small complaint stems from my impatience. If only someone had warned me to bring a copy of “Gone With the Wind” or “War and Peace,” everything would have been fine.

 

 

 

 

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As easy as falling off a horse

Before my riding lesson

Before my riding lesson

Doing research is one of the most exciting parts of writing a novel, though this week some people– including me — might say my research went too far.

I needed to give my protagonist a scar. What better way than have her ride a horse that spooks and sends her flying onto a sharp rock? Two horse-owning friends reviewed my first and second drafts and made suggestions. After reading my scene, my writing coach suggested I go a step further and take a ride myself.

I started by touring one friend’s stable and meeting its denizens. I had such a good time that she invited me to take a ride on one of her ponies. After we set the date for my ride, she asked for my goal. I wrote: My goal is to learn to steer and walk and go a little faster than a walk and not end up on my butt in the mud.

“We’ll start out in the arena,” she said.  “I’ll hold the reins and walk you around in a circle.  If you’re comfortable, after that we’ll take a ride on the trails.”

Up to this point, I’d researched situations I was never going to experience personally via interviews. How thrilling to move beyond collecting secondhand information and explore the sounds of the saddle creaking, the horse whinnying, my body rocking from side to side, the texture of the horse’s mane and dozens of other sensory details.  I anticipated a great scene developing out of this adventure, and came ready with my iPhone for photos, a pen and notebook to record everything.

The first lesson was to sit up straight and look over the horse’s ears.  I passed that test easily. From there we moved to pulling on the reins to stop, loosening them to move forward, and using legs and reins to change direction.  Large block letters were nailed to the fenced enclosure and my task was to move the pony from B to E, D to A and so on. So far so good.

after my riding lesson

As we headed toward B something unexpected happened. My horse jumped. I screamed. I hung on by one stirrup, then flew off. My lower back whumped onto the gravel and dirt surface below me and I said, “I really, really hurt” several times.  Forty-five minutes later, I was wheeled into an examining room, x-rayed, given pain killers and sent home.

The good news is that I suffered no broken bones, just bruises to my lower back. The happy pills the doctor gave me were enough to make me forget the pain and laugh when my friend returned my horseback riding goals to me with the message: “Well, mission accomplished– no mud!”

 

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Losing a friend

ana ruizI lost a friend this week. Ana is her name. She moved here from Spain three years ago, because of her husband’s company’s involvement in a local engineering project.

Our first encounter was serendipitous. A woman I had heard of but had never met, emailed me to ask if I knew of an advanced English class to which she could refer a newcomer from Spain.  Hmm.  I really couldn’t recommend a class until I knew Ana’s level of English. And my Spanish could use a workout. Surely I could help someone who spoke English at an advanced level. All these thoughts went through my mind as I emailed Ana and asked if she’d like to meet for coffee.

We met first at Starbucks. Her English was excellent. She only wanted help in pronunciation.  We decided to meet often and devote half our conversation to each language. That didn’t last long. Obviously she’d figured out that my Spanish needed more work than her English, so at some point all our conversations were in her first language.

We became friends over the two years we sat in coffee shops and talked. Mostly we shared our everyday comings and goings, our opinions on everything, a little gossip, and laughter. I marveled at her confidence and the ease with which she adjusted to life in a foreign environment.

When I first met Ana she was researching private schools for one son. They chose a school in the City of Kirkland a few miles away.  She pronounced it something like “Keerklan,” and I couldn’t understand what she was saying. Recently the family had to find a new house to rent and she located one in Kirkland. I told her she couldn’t move there until she learned to pronounce it.  She laughed and told me there was another word she needed to practice: milk. In Starbucks she had ordered coffee with milk on the side.  The person who took her order kept asking, What?” and Ana kept saying, “Meelk.” When the coffee arrived, Ana couldn’t understand why the barista had set a sprig of mint beside it and no milk.

A week ago Ana died. Heart attack? Stroke? Something that took her fast.  She was fifty-three. I was glad I had seen her a few days before, but that doesn’t keep me from missing her. Without her help I will lose my Spanish fluency. But that can always come back. She can’t and that is the problem.

 

 

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Origami has gone beyond paper cranes

paper cranes, Hiroshima, Japan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

paper cranes, Hiroshima, Japan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Origami is the art of paper-folding; it shares something in common with paper cutting, namely, that both look simpler to do than they are. Ever tried to fold a crane? How about a thousand cranes? According to one Japanese legend, a thousand folded cranes will result in a real crane making your wishes come true. So much for wishes. By the time I would have tried fifteen and successfully folded one, I’d wish I’d never started.

Paper folding has come into its own as an international art form.  I went to an origami exhibit last week. That same day a friend in Indiana emailed a link to a related exhibit in Indianapolis. I find the rise in the stature of paper-folding comforting. It means I no longer have to try. People used to say that “anyone, even children, can do origami.” Based on the pieces I saw, almost no one could do it.

origami3BAMHowever, I do have firsthand evidence that children fold paper better than I. On an educators’ visit to Japan in 2000, my two traveling companions and I toured a middle school where the teachers and students thought it would be fun for us to create a few origami animals while they watched. Fun for them, that is. The kids, especially, couldn’t hold back their giggles as we attempted to turn wispy sheets of colored paper into frogs, but, instead, ended up turning them into colorful, crumpled wads of paper.

I had a similar experience touring a Chinese preschool. Children there were using sharp, pointed scissors to cut animals, flowers and other designs out of paper.

(In our elementary schools we give kids round, dull ones. Even then I remember the time a principal called to tell me that one of her kindergartners had cut off most of a classmate’s hair with one of these innocent looking tools and no one had noticed until it was too late.)

When our Chinese hosts weren’t looking I gave the four-year-old sitting next to me a helpless look, and handed her my scissors and paper. As a result, I came home with a fine, souvenir paper cut. Should I claim that I made it? No. None of my friends would believe me.

Gift from Japanese middle school teacher who folded it

Gift from Japanese middle school teacher who folded it

Paper folding has practical applications. Some elementary teachers use it to show symmetry, help children understand two-dimensional objects vs. three-dimensional ones, and prepare kids for geometry in later grades.

One Chinese elite paper artist told me paper cutting helped kids develop fine motor skills. Whatever the reasons, children in Japan and China seem to be good at these crafts…and at math.

illustration of lines to fold

illustration of lines to fold

This photo shows the folds necessary to create something. Judging from the number required, I’d say something complex. Akira Yoshizawa, also known as the “father” or “grandmaster” of origami, devised a system of folding instructions using dotted and dashed lines. I can’t tell from this how to locate the starting point, but the number of folds is way more than you’d need to make a paper crane.

 

 

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