Archive for April, 2013

When Life Annoys the Writer

If a writer is going to produce results, i.e. finished, readable work, he or she must set aside time and energy for the task. The writer develops strategies to manage time and energy. A writer:

  1. Writes every day
  2. Sets aside a specific time, and treats that time slot as he/she would any other obligation
  3. Avoids distractions during writing time
  4. Adjusts mind to approach work in a calm, confident, optimistic manner.

The key thing is to give one’s work priority over anything that will keep for an extra hour or two. This includes all housework, and all bills that aren’t already past due. This includes requests for volunteer work. This includes suddenly needing to go to Costco for more paper towels. If one’s regular time to write is compromised, one needs to reschedule, to find another slot in the day to make it up. Socializing, exercise, and relaxation are essential to health, but need to be scheduled around writing. It’s not always easy, no one is perfect, but a writer can maximize available time with the single act of giving it priority.

But sometimes, life intervenes in one’s schemes. Illness, paying work, serious life crises of oneself, family, or close friends, and natural disasters all lay waste to our writing time. And sometimes, life just gets annoying. Sometimes:

  1. Telemarketers, having long since decided to ignore the NO CALL list, ring our land line up to 15 times a day. I screen all calls, but the ringing ricochets around my brain. It is astounding how often the phone will ring the moment I have sat down, picked up my pencil or laptop, and adjusted my mind, and formed half an idea.
  2. A friend or family member will call with a perfectly reasonable, legitimate request (not idle chit-chat) and I will have to go do something for them, feeling guilty for feeling annoyed, because I know they would interrupt their stuff to take care of me on occasion.
  3. My husband will call, wondering if he left a) his briefcase in the family room, b) wallet on the dresser, or c) guitar in the hallway. Yes, yes, and yes.
  4. Stuff breaks. Cars break. Electrical stuff breaks. Plumbing leaks. Cable systems break. Everything is broken. No one wants to help me fix this stuff on my schedule. Things even pretend to break, as a plot to do in my head. This week, my dishwasher pretended to break. Turned out there was a loose spoon that had fallen out of the basket. Once put back, everything worked again. A happy result, but not until about half an hour had been wasted.
  5. People come to the door with packages, religious material, and requests for money. If it’s a package, I have to see what it is. If it’s one of the other two, I have to hide until they go away. This takes time.
  6. It’s tax time, or house re-fi time, or family-member-buys-a-new-car time. Car dealer calls to welcome us to the name of car family.

All of these are normal things in life, and most of the time I’m not bothered by them, but during the last couple weeks, they have piled up on me. An unusual number of things have broken, or pretended to break, since the first of the year. The phone calls have been out of control. For the most part, these annoyances can be traced to the problem of abundance. Having a bunch of stuff, like cable TV and a house. Living with people who also have stuff. Having friends. I could get rid of the land-line phone (thinking about it), get rid of time-consuming luxuries like a house (but love my garden), cable TV (no, no, no!!!), leave my family, reject my friends, and be poor, isolated, and lonely.

Sound like a plan?

Living in a garret would pose its own set of challenges.

Living in a garret would pose its own set of challenges. I would have uninterrupted time, but no inspiration, and no fun. It seems that from the chaos, comes the joy.

Photo: Ben Husmann

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How Do You Spend the Time You Have?

The previous couple weeks have been dominated by news of death and mayhem. Roger Ebert died less than two days after announcing a “leave of presence.” A writer I respect and like, Iain M. Banks, announced recently he is suffering from terminal cancer and has an unknown but very short time to live. Then, Margaret Thatcher died, and Annette Funicello. Jonathan Winters. Then, the horror in Boston. Last night, the explosion in Texas.

Over the years, I have had friends and family members die in their thirties, forties, fifties, and older. No matter the age, no matter the cause, no matter if the person was accepting of death, I always wished they could have had more years.

Science fiction and fantasy push back at death; immortal (or very long-lived) protagonists abound, and I, the reader, happily go along for the ride. I, too, want to live forever, or at least for another fifty years. Diseases have been conquered. Only the brain needs to survive an accident…the rest of the body can be regrown. Better yet, keep a backup of yourself in storage for handy downloading, in the case of total physical annihilation.

Why not?

And yet, there is a nagging sense that an extremely extended life would not be good at all. There is a strong suspicion that death is good. Death is necessary. I see it in the decaying matter I spread around my plants to make them grow. I see it on the owl cam (http://owlsmatter.com) as Father Owl brings back a succession of carcasses to feed his children, which Mother and Owlets then rip apart and enjoy. (The biggest of the owlets doesn’t bother with ripping; it seems to be able to swallow a mouse whole.)

Life needs to be fed, and life feeds upon other life. Life is change. Conception, growth, weakening, and death. To ignore the cycle is to enter a realm that is somehow shallow and unsatisfying. Aside from all the practical problems or overpopulating and demographic disruption, if everyone lives forever, what does life mean?

I cannot come up with a satisfactory answer to that question. I read science fiction when I feel like pondering it.

We all feel the wrongness of death resulting from needless, stupid violence. The death of a child in such a fashion is unspeakably horrible. But death, in general, someday…I can’t imagine being human without it, but I never want it to happen to me or anyone I like, even a little.

The only meaningful question I’m left with is the title of this post. I can possibly influence, but cannot control, the length of my life. How death is doled out is inherently unfair. The only thing I can do is be mindful of how I spend my time.

Although I’ve worked diligently through my life, through various jobs, volunteer gigs, and around the house, I have wasted time as well. I have volunteered for stuff I should not have, I have fussed around the house at things I should not have bothered with. I have often, too often, put my writing behind activities which should have had lower priority. As a result, I am still trying to finish my first novel at the tender age of sixty-something.

Why I have wasted my writing time does not matter. I’m sure anyone reading this can guess why. Writer’s Block is way up there. And yes, I did have other things I wanted and needed to do. Things that were important. Nonetheless, I should have tried harder.

The last couple years have brought changes. I now do give my writing time priority, occasionally in socially awkward fashion. It doesn’t matter. It is something I need to do.

Recent deaths–those from old age, from disease, from accident, or from senseless tragedy–they all remind me that none of us have forever.

Appreciate life. And if you’re a writer, write.

Some roses from my back yard to enjoy for a brief while...

Some roses from my back yard to enjoy for a brief while…

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What I Have Learned This Week

One of the pleasures of one’s life work, be it writing, parenting, domestic engineering, or that eight-to-five job, is what a person is forced to learn, and how that forced education enhances one’s life. Parenting has given me a lot–how to be a line ref in soccer, how to treat the feather plume in a shako (marching band hat), and how to care for cockatiels. From domestic engineering, I learned (and am learning still) about plumbing, TV cabling, termites, how to cook, and so forth. From the old job, I learned how to read an insurance policy.

From being a writer, I’ve learned how to use a computer. The word processor was the first “killer app” for me, and led me to be a relatively early adopter of the technology. Writing has led me to be an enthusiastic consumer of non-fiction, and of documentaries, and of educational programming.

This past week, as every week, I learned a lot.

Last Sunday, I learned my 20-something daughter did not know who Arlo Guthrie was. Nor had she heard of Woody Guthrie. She had heard of Bob Dylan, and she did know the song, “This Land Is Your Land,” but thought it was older than it is. I realized how much cultural lore is lost from each generation–a name known by everyone in my generation becomes obscure in subsequent ones. I might not know who Woody Guthrie was, but for Bob Dylan, and the folk revival of the early 60s.

On Monday, I learned what a marcona almond tastes like. The ingredient had popped up in a couple recipes I wanted to try. They are expensive, and not sold everywhere. I found them, bought some, and used them in a recipe. They’re good, more like macadamia nuts in both texture and flavor, than they are like regular almonds. The recipe, by the way, was Moroccan Chicken with Carrots.

On Tuesday, I learned that a significant theme in my novel is Information Uncertainty. No matter how much information we have, it is never enough, and as for the information we do have, we can’t trust it, not really. And yet, there are still a ton of people walking around, acting as if they have all the answers, telling the rest of us what to do. How can they believe their own voices?

Wednesday was busy. I’m sure I learned a lot, but I haven’t had time to isolate any particular lesson.

Yesterday, I learned that everyone, of all ages, knows who Roger Ebert was: 20-somthings, 40-somethings, and 60-somethings all liked and respected him. What a life, well and gracefully lived.

Today is too new to know what I will learn, but I will keep my eyes and ears open.

They don't taste like almonds, but they look like them.

They don’t taste like almonds, but they look like them.

Photo: http://www.thetapaslunchcompany.co.uk/spanish-food/appetisers-olives-pates/Roasted-Marcona-Almonds-130g

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