Tag Archives: writer

Relinquishing Control

Relinquishing control is hard. With the 4th of July festivities and the welcome invasion of family (this year 31 of us, 15 kids—not all in my house thankfully!) I am more or less forbidden to take charge of the food preparation and entertaining. That honor after many years of being my domain has been passed to the next generation. It’s hard to sit back and watch my daughters and nieces prepare the salad and heat up the beans while I am forced to lounge on the couch with my sister-in-law. (Turns out they took pleasure in their view from the sink of the two mothers doing nothing but chatting with each other!)

My form of relaxation until now has been to be busy, busy, busy, making sure that people have full glasses of wine, that the meat comes off the grill at the exact moment that the sides are lined up on the counter ready to go, that everyone has a plate, napkin, and a place to sit. It doesn’t mean I’m not proud that they are more than capable of doing as good a job, if not better, than I would have done. To see them work together is gratifying. It’s just that I expected this transition to happen in the somewhat distant future.

Now I am expected to take a nap in the afternoon, to look out for myself. To control my well-being instead of my guests’. Not only am I having a hard time accepting this, I actually resent having to think of myself before I think of anyone else. But one benefit is that my sister-in-law and I, both aspiring authors, have more time to talk about our writing–or rather our lack of writing. She will be here for a while after everyone leaves and that will give us even more time to continue this conversation!

Since November I’ve had to turn over control of my life to my cancer. It’s decided how I feel. What I can eat. What I can do. And especially when I can do it. There’s been a lot that I can’t do but I’m gradually getting back into things, like Pilates and yoga. And walking with Judy on her lunch break. My lunch break? Whenever I want it to be.

Turkey Dreams

Last night my first eight “testing the waters” blog entries were critiqued by my writing group. Their comments were encouraging but I can’t help wondering if it is sympathy due to my cancer… self-doubt always trumps being able to graciously accept compliments. John distributed samples of blog postings, which I read when I got home. Some were truly atrocious. I am confident I can produce something worth reading yet will my blog become my focus, taking time away from my “real” writing? I feel (hope?) that the blog will more likely prime the pump, dragging me to my laptop, away from my beloved HGTV. Yet this morning I am struggling with this post and only CNN is on with the volume down to 1.

thanksgivingdinner

I awoke this morning to a dream of a turkey dinner being prepared for me, Thanksgiving I think, and the cook was heating up the package of squash that I have kept secured in my freezer for months, not for a turkey dinner but in case I wanted to make squash soup.

 

Who am I kidding?

I have prepared so few meals since my surgery that it is more likely the squash will be heated up as is and eaten with a grinder from Village Pizza than that it will be transformed into an appetizing soup. I am certain the dream arose from our discussion last night about my post pitying my family for having to eat Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital cafeteria. It’s too early in the morning to be talking turkey—I haven’t had my raisin toast yet or my yummy mitotane/hydrocortisone/ondansetron/metoprolol/pantoprazole/loratidine dessert! Remember, magic resides in those pills.

Dow has dropped 353 points over the past two days. Ouch. Now that I am retired this means a heck of a lot more than it did when I was still working.

James Gandolfini dropped dead in Italy yesterday. Apparent heart attack. I, at least, am forewarned. A young woman on the ACC Compassion site has died. She was forewarned. I hope she was able to take advantage of her remaining time to squeeze in a full life, albeit condensed. Not likely if she was undergoing treatment.

Quality of life and all that.

Deadlines

It’s three in the morning and I’m awake and on the couch.

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, I’m my mother after all.”

Yet I’m too young to be my mother. She takes sleeping pills to sleep through the night. I’m not ready to add another pill to my daily regimen. Yet think of all the writing that I can get done if I get up at three.  Isn’t early morning supposed to be the most creative time for true authors?

I know why I am awake. Two reasons. My nighttime cold medicine has worn off—I got five hours out of it, which is just about right for me. The other is I am stressed over how to arrange the bedrooms for family that is coming for the holiday. Wouldn’t you think that because they are family and grew up in this house they would just know where the beds are and organize themselves accordingly? But no, I had to paint the bedrooms, buy new bedding, and even buy a new bed, for the few weeks–even days for one daughter and family–that they are going to be here. When you have an open concept house the bedrooms off the living area is very important. But only when we have guests. Otherwise I am not concerned with how they look, how clean they are. I just close the doors and only I know that they are receptacles for all of the detritus of daily living that lacks a home.

We have always used family gatherings as excuses to get things done on the house: baby showers, rehearsal dinners, weddings, anniversary parties, even Christmas dinners. If it wasn’t for these events, I don’t think we would have ever done any updating to the house. But the Fourth of July? Does that really qualify as an event worthy of a remodel, even a minor one?

People said that they were concerned that I would be bored when I retired yet I am finding myself saying what all the other early retirees before me have said:

I’m so busy I don’t know how I found time to work.

Yet busy doesn’t mean productive, nor does it mean living a meaningful life, something that should be of the upmost importance to me. I have to remind myself that it’s only been six weeks now since I retired and I am still getting used to not having to go to work, to now having nine hours of free time stretch in front of me each day that normally would be committed to work. At a paying job. If I could turn those nine hours into writing hours, or at least hours focused on writing, researching, reading about writing, just think how much progress I could make on my projects. I have a deadline, however arbitrary, and unknown, at this point.

Maybe if it were a concrete one I would be motivated. And then again, maybe not.

Deluding Myself with a New Trick

Been sick for over two days, one of them flat on my back with a temperature. Is this just another excuse to not write? Whatever happened to my commitment with Eleanor to write four pages a day, five days a week? Family is arriving from Arizona and Virginia and the bedrooms had to get painted and the office moved then the new shelves stained and polyurethaned. Did I bring this illness upon myself as a way to get out of painting or as a way to get out of writing?

behind the scenes book image

Just read a book that I actually want to reread. Soon or maybe even next. Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson’s debut novel. So many characters, plots, subplots, flashbacks, and backstory yet it all seems to work. I didn’t think it was going to at first. And now I need to return to the beginning and dissect the book. There’s so much to learn from her techniques. I guess from most any published author.

And I just came up with a new one of my own. Using my laptop in the dark, it’s hard to find the backspace and delete keys (ones that I use frequently when I am writing), and being too lazy to turn on the lamp, I activated the flashlight app on my cell phone. Works well until I need to type and use the flashlight at the same time.

I’m only deluding myself into believing that this even remotely has anything to do with writing.

Excuses

Managed to get through the worst part of the day—taking my morning medicine, all 13 pills. I know there are those who take more pills than that but I used to take only three: one for my acid reflux, one for my high blood pressure, and one for my seasonal allergies. Still, those extra ten are magic and I try not to forget that.

It’s Father’s Day and Steve has gone golfing, his usual game at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday. It’s supposed to be my time to write. So far I have watched CNN, some HGTV, and back to CNN for Sonjay Gupta, then read the HGTV magazine, taken my medicine, texted Jesse, and now DIY is playing in the background as I finally sit down to write.

Are you getting tired of my excuses yet?

I am.

While I was painting the guest bedroom yesterday, I had some great ideas about my book (“Anne”). Unfortunately I couldn’t just put down the paint brush and dash to the laptop to get them recorded but that is exactly what I should have done as today they are just sort of vague but there’s enough of them left to work with. Except I just got another text from Jesse and she and the kids are on their way over so we can go to breakfast….Interesting that we are going out to a Father’s Day breakfast without either of the fathers…oh, and that I have already eaten a glazed donut and two pieces of raisin toast.

Buckle Down and Write

My writing group met last night and today two of us are having lunch and a writing session at my house. The women of the group have been doing Friday lunches for a while now—we’ve found that one hour just hasn’t been enough time together so we’ve added the writing session. Last week was our first one and although we didn’t accomplish any writing, we did make it a motivational session—for Eleanor. We committed to four pages a day for five days a week, whether original writing or revision. Not only did Eleanor stick to this for the week, she also managed to whittle an existing story down to 4000 words so she could submit it to a writing contest. She is motivated. Why aren’t I?

Maybe if I turn off HGTV/DIY, maybe once I get the painting and minor remodeling projects done, maybe when I’m done with physical therapy, maybe after the Fourth of July and family has come and gone, maybe, maybe, maybe…. maybe I just need to stop coming up with excuses and buckle down and write. Time is not on my side.

So do I want to fulfill my dream or don’t I?  Or am I just in love with the idea of being a writer, unable, unwilling, to invest the effort to realize it?

                     

Magic Pills

It’s 5:30 in the morning and I’m rolling out of bed so that I can join my husband on the couch for coffee, CNN, and the weather before he heads off to work at 6:30. When I was working it was all I could do to get out of bed with enough time to perform my morning rituals and arrive at work by 8.That included eating breakfast in the car during my eight minute commute to my job!

You’d suppose that as soon as he heads out the door I would be firing up my laptop and start pounding away on my novel, the one that I have committed to finishing before I, well you know….

This is the novel I started back in 1986, a mere 27 years ago, definitely a lifetime ago. The one that my mother has asked repeatedly if she will be able to read it before she dies and now that is no longer the question we ask. So now, almost seven months after my surgery and a month following my retirement I am doing just that.

It’s so true what “they” say, those seasoned writers like Stephen King, you need to write every day as once you get out of the habit of writing it is nearly impossible to force yourself back into it. My daughter, the yoga instructor with a successful blog, allows herself fifteen minutes to tackle any project. If that is all that she can manage, she has at least achieved her goal. If she gets so wrapped up in it that she works on it until she absolutely has to stop, she has the satisfaction of knowing that she has far exceeded her expectations. It makes sense when you apply it to writing because once you’re fifteen minutes into your project ,you’ll probably not be able to stop. But still. Isn’t the hard part sitting down and starting, committing to those first fifteen minutes?

In addition to firing up my laptop, the hardest part of my morning is opening the refrigerator and taking out the milk container without looking at or smelling the food then extracting from the kitchen cupboard the pills that now sustain me. It’s hard because I feel fine before I’ve taken my pills after I’ve eaten my breakfast. Because I’ve decided that they are magic, the actual act of swallowing them doesn’t seem to cause any problems.

HGTV Addict

Now that I am retired, I should have plenty of time to write, right?

Instead I find myself in the same situation as some of my retiree friends—not enough time to squeeze writing into my day! I used to get more writing done before my cancer diagnosis when I was working a full-time job than I do now that I don’t have to leave the house to go to work. Not sure how that happens but I am sure there is a scientific explanation. Or more likely a psychological one. I will admit that I am more interested in what I can do to fix up the house than I am in writing. You can’t imagine how many painting projects I could be working on. I blame this on the nesting instinct, fueled by HGTV. Unfortunately I am constrained by my physical and energy limits, by my intermittent nausea, by the pain in my right arm resulting somehow from my surgery, as well as in my side where my 14 inch incision is a reminder of the cancer.

As if I needed one.

But when I am honest with myself I know it is more than that. It’s something about being able and willing to share my feelings, to commit to paper the emotions lurking inside my mind and my heart. For even though I am writing fiction, I can’t avoid incorporating who I am—don’t I need to do that for my writing to be worth the reader’s time?–and right now that person is focused on her mortality. I just can’t bring myself to let those feelings out of seclusion.

Which leads me back to my question–if I am a writer, and I mean a real writer, shouldn’t I want/need/crave to do just that?

Crying at Wal-Mart

Buying greeting cards used to be just a chore. Inevitably I would be rushing to the store at the last minute to get the cards that needed to go in the mail to Arizona or Virginia and coordinating so that Steve would be able to sign his name and add his smiley face for the grandkids. Now it’s that as well as an embarrassment.

You don’t see too many people in the card aisle at Wal-Mart with tears running down their cheeks. But I’m once again the exception. I never—or hardly ever—buy the humorous cards. Over the years Steve has learned not to buy them for me even though he started our married life thinking that the funny cards were preferable.

As a writer, I am amazed at the high quality of some of the verses in the Hallmark cards and I generally find one that expresses my sentiment accurately. Guess that means that I don’t really have discerning taste as millions of others must also buy the same cards that I do and find them exactly what they were looking for! Ever since my diagnosis I’m reminded by Hallmark that I am going to die, that at some point I will be leaving behind the people that I love, and that I need to let them know how much I love them while I still have the time.

It’s no different than before my diagnosis, after all, I am a mere mortal the same as everyone else in this world. Except it’s real now. I know that I am going to die and so every word that I share with my loved ones needs to ring true.

What if I never have another birthday or Father’s Day or anniversary to tell them how I truly feel? And if that is what I am trying to do, why don’t I take a blank piece of paper or a blank card and write down my feelings without relying on Hallmark to do it for me? I guess if the tears flow easily in the middle of a store what would it be like if I were to create my own greeting card in the privacy of my home?

One In A Million

photo (1)

That’s me.

No, I didn’t win the lottery.

I have Stage 2 adrenal cortical carcinoma (ACC), an ultra rare, aggressive cancer with a grim prognosis that strikes .5 to two people out of a million annually. This is one time when you don’t want to feel special. I had surgery the day before Thanksgiving 2012 to remove my right adrenal gland, kidney, a piece of my liver, and resected my inferior vena cava (what in the world is that, I wondered. It’s the artery that returns the blood from my legs to my heart. Who knew?)

Not only did I miss Thanksgiving dinner, which I would normally have hosted at my house, but a Thanksgiving day trip to Atlantis in the Bahamas with my middle daughter and her family. We did make it there the end of March 2013 and it was a wonderful trip. Funny how when I was recuperated and able to eat normal food I craved turkey dinners, whether at a local restaurant or in frozen dinners due I am certain to being deprived of a real Thanksgiving dinner. I am not certain what I did eat for Thanksgiving dinner on the day following my surgery as the day of and most of the day after have disappeared from my memory. A good thing, I am told by my family who were unlucky enough to be there with me and forced to endure their Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital cafeteria. I no longer crave the turkey dinners as my cravings change constantly—what I absolutely had to eat a short while ago I no longer desire.

Except for carbs.

For the last few years my husband and I have tried to follow the South Beach diet principles and now all I want to eat are things off limits on South Beach: all carbs, including bagels, cinnamon raisin bread, pumpernickel, pasta, even the occasional toaster streudel.

Vegetables? No thank you.

It sounds as though all that ACC has done is impacted my eating habits. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am lucky in that my cancer is stage 2, even though the prognosis is that I have a 51% chance of living five years. I had several options for treatment, one of which was to do nothing, just wait for the results of my CT scans every three months. That didn’t really thrill me.

I am used to taking action, to being in control.

A remote second opinion from the University of Michigan recommended Mitotane, a DDT derivative, taken in pill form daily for three years. Although my oncologist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center did not support my decision, I went with the U of M recommendation. Rumor has it that only 20-30% of ACC patients benefit from Mitotane—how am I to know if I am one of those? Clean CT scans only prove that the cancer has not returned, not that the Mitotane has kept it from returning. Mitotane has extreme side effects, which prevents many patients (are there really many people making this decision?) from taking the drug. Because it also kills your other adrenal gland, you need to take hydrocortisone, which I have difficulty tolerating even though it does fuel my appetite and apparently my energy level.

The biggest decision of my life was to retire at the age of 58. (Sorry, Steve, marrying you wasn’t really a decision, it was a given.)

On the day I returned to work from medical leave after my surgery I gave my notice. That wasn’t part of our plan, just like cancer wasn’t. Steve was supposed to retire this year at 63 and I was to continue working until I was old enough to draw Social Security. So much for plans. But who wants to keep working, no matter how rewarding, when death looms on the horizon? Sure, we’re all going to die at some point but by the time you reach my age you assume you’ve got another 30 years ahead of you, especially when your mother is still alive and kicking—and I do mean kicking—at the age of 85. And I thought I could produce a lot of novels in those 30 years.

Now I am hoping just to finish the writings that I’ve already started.

Yes, writing is my dream and what better time to try to realize your dreams than when death is no longer just a concept but a very real possibility?

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