Right Now. Coronavirus Lockdown Day 12

I’ve never been very good at being “in the moment.” My brain is always making forays into other times and places, so “right now” has always been rather hard for me. I sometimes wonder if that’s why my memory is not as strong as I think it should be—I don’t absorb enough from being there in the moment because my brain isn’t paying close enough attention.

Being in coronavirus lockdown is all about being in the “right now.” Because of the uncertainty of how long this might last, we are in a perpetual right now. Our world has become smaller as we draw inside our shells and time has changed its flow. It’s a series of right nows, rather than a timeline.

Right now my daughter needs to finish her homework.

Right now we should go for a walk outside because it stopped raining.

Right now I’ll make a meal.

Right now my blog post needs to be written.

There is no end in sight, so it all becomes an extended right now. And in an odd way, even though “normalcy” was only 12 days ago, it seems like another lifetime. A parallel universe.

The anxiety can overwhelm me without warning. My temper can spark for no real reason. The enforced 24/7 with the people I love can grate on my introvert nerves—and the forced distance from other people I love leaves a hole in my heart.

Right now is surreal. It is fear and peace and disruption and normalcy all wrapped up in one moment. Multiple levels of consciousness felt all at once. Looking out the window as if it’s a TV screen, with the outside as unreal as a Hollywood set. And when outside, almost—almost—being able to forget the invisible enemy that stalks us all.

We are struggling to find our footing still, find our balance on this new tightrope between life and death. Between living and hiding. When it gets too much, I just hang on to the fact that we are all together, we have the things we need, and we are healthy.

Right now.

Coronavirus Lockdown – Day 5

We got the call Friday—schools in our county would be closing until April 20th. More than a month away. The mad scramble began for all our families. Granted, since I work at home anyway, I was in a better position to handle my child’s sudden homebound state than many. And I give many kudos to the teachers and administration of our particular school who made this transition appear almost flawless. The children have work to do online and/or at home, and the children who relied on free or reduced meals are still getting fed. I cannot thank our school’s staff enough for everything they have done in this trying time.

Let me just say that I am not cut out to be a teacher. There is a reason I never homeschooled. However, we are beginning to adjust to the new reality. We have to do it quietly, though, as my husband is also suddenly working from home and is often on teleconferences.

This is a very strange existence, hiding from a germ. When your enemy is invisible and indiscriminant, it is very hard to combat. It puts us into a war-time mentality, and an odd dichotomy where our neighbors are simultaneously our allies and enemies. We are all in this together, helping each other out, but at the same time any person can be carrying the virus and not be aware.

I went grocery shopping today. I think I now understand what cavemen felt when they went hunting. Danger everywhere. The unknown around every corner. I have never been so stressed getting milk. Stayed as far from other shoppers as possible. Luckily, it was not crowded. Some shelves were pretty empty (mostly the meats and Club Size items), but I got everything I needed, and hopefully I can stay home the next 2 weeks. I got home and felt like I had bugs crawling all over me, even after I scrubbed my hands.

Uncertainty is a killer for me—for most people, really. We as a species do not handle the unknown well at all. I have an anxiety disorder, and the uncertainty has inflamed it greatly. I have parents who are in the high-risk age group, and I cannot be with them through this, as we live in different states. My child and husband are home all day, and although we are forming a routine, it is not there yet. And every time one of us ventures out into a public space (like the store), the 14-day waiting period resets.

I am trying to reign in my anxiety and carry on. I get outside (not public places, just outdoors) every day it’s not raining, usually with my daughter because she needs to get out of the house, too. I try not to stress-eat, but that’s hard. I stay in touch with my family and friends so we can help each other through this. But the fear still nibbles at the edges all the time, laying heavy on my heart.

The only time it lifts is at night, when I cuddle up with my daughter while she falls asleep. In that moment, she is safe, I am safe, we are safe. I listen to her breathe, as I used to when she was an infant, a lullaby that calms every mother’s heart.

Find your peace. Stay safe. Be well.

Never Travel with Alec Ramsey

Recently, in a purely escapist mood, I have re-read all the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. This also includes the Island Stallion books and the stand-alone The Horse Tamer. I have never read them all in such a compressed timeframe and I realized something rather terrifying: you should never travel with Alec Ramsey.

Alec is the owner of the Black Stallion, and of course they have many adventures together. Unfortunately for anyone traveling with them, many of these adventures include transportation or natural disasters. I’m going to go through them below, so if you don’t want to know, stop here!

***mild spoilers***

I am only doing books that center on Alec, as he is not in all the series books.

Black Stallion

1. The Black Stallion (1941) – shipwreck and months on a deserted island
2. The Black Stallion Returns (1945) – abandoned by his caravan in the middle of the Arabian desert during a sandstorm
3. Son of the Black Stallion (1947) – no transport issues, although he does nearly die
5. The Black Stallion and Satan (1949) – forest fire
8. The Black Stallion’s Filly (1952) – no issues
9. The Black Stallion Revolts (1953) – falls out of an airplane, which subsequently crashes
10. The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt (1954) – no issues
12. The Black Stallion’s Courage (1956) – no issues
13. The Black Stallion Mystery (1957) – abandoned at night in the Balkan mountains
15. The Black Stallion and Flame (1960) – plane crash into the Caribbean during a hurricane
16. The Black Stallion Challenged (1964) – no issues
17. The Black Stallion’s Ghost (1969) – lost in the Everglades. At night. With a madman.
18. The Black Stallion and the Girl (1971) – no issues
19. The Black Stallion Legend (1983) – meteor strike and cataclysmic earthquakes and eruptions

If you travel with Alec Ramsey, you have a 57% chance of being in a transportation or natural disaster. Those are not good odds!

What fictional character would you NEVER travel with? Alternately, are there any you’d LOVE to travel with?

Stay safe out there.

Practice social distancing.

Wash your hands.

When a Story Refuses to Work

I’ve been working on my science fiction YA story Veritas for a long time. Maybe 5 years. Which isn’t as long as some people have worked on books, but it’s long for me. Finally, about a year ago I felt like I had gotten it to a good place, and sent it to my editor.

She and I both felt it was the best thing I had ever written, and after I fixed a few flaws she’d pointed out, I sent it around to agents.

No one wanted it.

I finally found one agent who loved the writing but was less enamored of the story as told. Gave me some feedback and said she would be happy to look at it if I revised it. I hemmed and hawed for a long while—I wasn’t a fan of some of the changes she wanted, and it took me a while to find a way forward. So I sliced and diced and added and pretty much rewrote the whole thing. It came out very different.

But was it actually any better?

I knew something wasn’t right, but I had worked on Veritas so long and hard that I had lost objectivity. So I sent it back to my editor, hoping the edits needed would become clear and not be too onerous.

The result was not good.

My feeling that something wasn’t right was correct. In fact, most of the story wasn’t correct. And before you think I am just accepting the editor’s notes at face value, I agree with what she’s saying. I’d just been too close to see it—but I knew it somewhere inside. I’d done a lot of work and gone backward. I had been left with a disaster wrapped in a catastrophe.

So now what? I think I finally figured out why I am struggling so much with the story. My protagonist’s goals aren’t clear enough. So I need to think about that. But I also need to think about whether I want to invest more time and emotion into this story.

If I do go forward (and I likely will, because I am nothing if not stubborn), I may go back to my original manuscript and start over from there with the new perspectives of the agent and this misfired rewrite. Just because version one was the best thing I had written to date doesn’t mean it couldn’t be improved. I’m not vain enough to think anything I write is perfect.

I will likely put Veritas aside for a bit, though. Let my subconscious chew on everything. I have a first draft of a manuscript I want to work on, so will probably jump to that and get that moving.

Have you ever had a story that was SO CLOSE but you just couldn’t get right? How did you overcome that?

Professional Development

This weekend I went to training for my Board of Education position. It was intense. Classes from 6 PM – 10 PM Friday and 8:30 AM – 10 PM Saturday, then 9 AM – noon on Sunday.

I. Was. Fried.

Despite being tired (but not hungry—they fed us well!), I learned a lot. And there is so much more to learn. It will take years to become truly knowledgeable.

A writing career is no different–it takes years of continuous professional development to even approach mastery. You work on one craft element, then another, then another, constantly learning as each element intersects and influences the others. David King calls this the “web of writing” and it’s one of the trickiest parts of writing. No element exists in a vacuum.

So we learn about each element separately (because it’s the only way to stay sane), but then have to integrate it into the whole. Which can lead to your story feeling lopsided as you excel at some elements but not at others. Continuing professional development will eventually smooth it out as you bring all the elements up to par.

But even after mastering the basics, the learning never stops. Writing is a craft of infinite depth, and I am not sure there is an actual bottom. Creativity has no boundary, the horizon is ever just out of reach.

One time, a friend asked me why I continued to come to the same writer’s conference every year. I replied that I learned something new every year, because I was in a different place as a writer than last year. Things I could not grasp the year before, I could this year. Learning is a constant process of building on what you already know. It never ends.

And that is one reason I love writing so much.

A New Chapter

So last week was a lost and confusing week because my daughter was home sick for much of it. This week is shaping up to be a lost week because I am sick!

Yes, my generous daughter shared her cold with me. I am not as sick as she was, but still not up to par. A bit fuzzy-headed, and just tired. Drained.

I’ve been sleeping a lot, trying to knock this cold out quicker. Of all the medicines I have tried in my life, nothing works as well for me as simply sleeping. So I’ve been catching naps while my daughter is at school.

A major reason I want to get over this cold quickly is because I have a weekend long training for my Board of Education position starting on Friday. Not only do I want to be alert for the very intense schedule, but I don’t want to be that annoying person hacking their way through the workshops. My plan is to sit near a door and bring a pocket full of cough drops.

I look forward to this new chapter continuing to unfold. Even if this bit of it smells like menthol.

Sick Days February 2020

It’s funny how much we rely on routines to define time. Here it is Wednesday, and I feel like it’s the weekend. Why? Because my daughter is home sick from school for the third day in a row. She’s home, so my brain tells me it is still the weekend.

It’s hard to get work done when she’s home. Not so much because I am nursing her a lot—she’s old enough that she can take pretty good care of herself. But she needs little things, like water and food and sometimes just a cuddle because she feels awful. Things that individually do not take a long time, but add up. And the constant interruptions splinter the work flow and make it harder to complete a task efficiently.

I did still get some things done this week. This blog post, for one. And the weekly one I do over on The Author Chronicles. I also finished my last go-through of my YA sci-fi manuscript Veritas and sent it over to my editor. I went to a cyber-bullying presentation one evening at the school. I went food shopping. And I somehow managed to clean out the hall closet.

Still, it was hard with my daughter laying on the couch—especially when she was napping. I don’t know what it is, but when someone else is sleeping, I want to conk out. Maybe it’s a throwback to the old advice, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” She’s not a baby anymore, but she still exhausts me.

Of course, I am tired, too. She had rough nights the past two nights, which means so did I. Helping her get changed 3 times in one night because she fever was breaking and she would wake up drenched in sweat. Cuddling with her at 4:30 in the morning because she was too congested to sleep. She is sleeping as I write this, and I hope she sleeps all night.

I hope I do, too—so I am heading up to try.

How about you? Do you get completely lost when your routines are messed up?

3 Ways Writing is Like Swimming

My daughter likes to swim. She started swimming at age 3, was on her first swim team at 6. She has been on a swim team every summer for 4 years.

In order to compete in swimming, you need 3 skills: form, speed, and stamina.

Turns out, you need those same 3 skills if you want to compete in writing, too.

FORM

In swimming, getting your body to form the right patterns in the water is vital. If you perform the strokes correctly, if your body parts all work in perfect sync, you go faster with less effort.

Writing is similar. Our craft is our form, and the sooner we master the elements, the smoother our writing process becomes. As we get the myriad craft elements from structure to grammar to work in sync, the stories flow faster and with less effort.

SPEED

Efficiency of form helps you cut through the water faster, so you increase your speed. You can’t win if you are slow. However, swimming is not just about beating the other people.  It’s also about personal bests, competing with yourself and trying to lower your times every time you compete.

Writing efficiency will help you compete in the publishing trenches, because you can put more work out more quickly. This does not mean you need to be a speed demon in writing. I am not, and other successful writers are not. Some are. But you can’t focus on other people’s speed. All you can do is hone your process so you can write efficiently without losing quality in your work. You are always looking for a personal best.

STAMINA

Competitive swimming requires endurance. When my daughter started swimming, her first races were more a matter if she would make it the full 25 meters without having to stop. Now, at age 10, the freestyle is 50 meters and the other strokes are still 25. But next year they all go up to 50 meters. That will require building stamina (and mastering how to turn).

A writing career is a long-haul career. Success usually does not come early or quickly. And if you write novel-length books, each project can be a marathon in itself. We need to cultivate creative and emotional stamina to get us through. There are many paths to success, so we need to master turning when one route is blocked. Sometimes our muscles hurt and we can barely catch our breath, but if we persevere we will eventually touch the wall.

Whether we write for fun or for profit, all writers share the joy and passion for writing. But for those who do want to publish, we also need to develop form, speed, and stamina.

Once we do, we can swim with the best of them.

The Persistence of Pain

As I mentioned before, I have done a major revision to my YA scifi Veritas, and am now in the middle of a final read through before handing it off to my editor, the wonderful Kathryn Craft.

One thing I definitely need to address in my manuscript is the persistence of pain. When a character gets physically injured and then seems unfazed by it in the very next scene. The pain needs to carry through. It’s something I would immediately notice in other people’s writing, yet I missed it in my own until this reading.

My character breaks his wrist and is knocked unconscious in one scene. He feels the effects properly at the beginning of the next scene, but then the effects fade away. I mention in passing that his wrist was later set and splinted, but by the next day he is running around the forest with no ill effects.

Come on, Kerry, you know better than that.

I have never had either a concussion or a broken bone. My brother has had a concussion, so I know the effects can last for days. And I understand from research how painful a dislocated bone break can be. From my own experience, my C-section scar gave me pain for about a year, and even now, 10 years later, it can feel sore if too much pressure is applied.

Pain is persistent, and I need to carry that through the necessary scenes.

Perhaps my noting this in the present read through means I have fixed the larger issues with the manuscript. I guess I will find out after Kathryn gets through with it!

Holding Pattern

At certain times of my life, I have felt like something was just around the corner. Like a big change was coming. Sort of like the atmosphere just before a thunderstorm breaks, when things are calm but there’s an electricity in the air.

I feel a bit like that now, except that I shouldn’t. I have, in fact, already had changes in my life recently, the largest being the loss of my aunt and my taking on my position on the Board of Education. Yet I still feel this sense of waiting.

Perhaps what I am waiting for is a feeling within myself that something profound has happened. For it all to sink in, as it were. There is a line from Glenn Frey’s song You Belong to the City that I always liked, “So much has happened, but nothing has changed.”

Because isn’t that how it often is? The minutia of life continues without heeding your internal changes, or the changes in your external life. When my best friend died, I so clearly remember feeling detached from everything, looking around me wondering how people could be going about their lives like nothing had happened. Marveling that the deepest shift in my life to that date left most of the world completely unmarked.

Now it’s the opposite. I am the one moving through my life as if nothing is different, yet things have changed. I suppose it is part of the process, of finding a new balance. I imagine I will look back in 6 months and see the changes clearly. But for now the changes are incremental, so I don’t see them. Like how you don’t notice how tall your kid has gotten until someone else says it, because you see them every day.

So even though I feel like I am in a holding pattern, things are shifting. It will be interesting to see where the changing course takes me.

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