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IWSG – July 2019

-The soundtrack for today’s writing session provided by the Beach Boys

Welcome to the monthly IWSG blog hop. Check us out HERE, sign up and play along with the best bunch of writers out there.

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For any who are wondering about my ongoing heath saga (see last months post), I’m improving, figuring out how to exercise, eat, function with the side effects of my medicine and my illness. My mental health is improving, and I’m starting to feel that writing urge. The blank pages still scare me, but I was able to hand write a few journal entries recently. Getting words on paper helps.

The optional question for the month of July is-  What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?

Looking back at the history of my writing, almost every character/protagonist I created when I was in my late teens and early 20’s was a mash up of my good and bad traits. I don’t think I was ready or able to write outside of myself or at least what I thought about myself. These characters were idealized versions of me (both positive and negatively), and they were also heavy with hyperbole. Looking back, reading the stories makes me a little uncomfortable. The protagonists all shared my political ideology and world view. They looked like me, talked like me, desired the same things out of life. Every love affair was the most important love affair. Each conflict, the ultimate conflict. Any emotional crisis…

Well, you get the point.

I’ve gotten less pretentious, I hope, less judgmental, and hopefully that means better able to write authentic characters. They may still be infused with my personality traits, ones I find interesting or complicated, but I hope I’ve grown enough as a writer to add elements outside of my little world.

 

 

 

 

 

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IWSG – June 2019

After missing a month (story to follow), I’m back in the game and ready for the IWSG monthly blog hop. Haven’t heard of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group? That seems very strange if you’ve been reading this little blog of mine for any period of time, but I guess it’s possible. Check us out HERE and sign up.

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An insane story-

About 4 months ago, my wife and I planned and booked a vacation to New York City. It is our favorite city and our favorite place to vacation. We try to travel there at least every other year.

One thing about NYC- You walk a lot. And I was not in great shape for walking. I’ll blame winter, but really I’m just lazy. In order to enjoy my trip to the fullest, I began walking on the treadmill, uphill, about 45 minutes a day.

Sometime in the middle of April, during one of my workouts, I experienced a strange numbness in my left elbow. I immediately thought heart attack, but when I got off the treadmill, the numbness went away and I felt fine. Not wanting to overreact, I decided against going to the doctor.

From time to time, and only when my heart rate was elevated, the numbness would return. Each time, when I stopped and rested, things returned to normal. I knew something wasn’t right, but my trip to NYC was coming up (first part of May), and I really didn’t want something to get in the way of 8 days in my favorite place.

The first few days in the city, things were fine. I was tired, but the numbness stayed away. Over the next few days however, whenever I was exerting myself, the numbness returned. I was forced to stop several times each day and rest for longer and longer periods before I felt normal. It was starting to really freak me out. Rather than enjoying my visit, all I wanted to do was survive the week, get on the plane, go home.

Wednesday the 8th was the worst. I had several events, and spent most of the day resting in the hotel. After meeting a friend for dinner that evening, Sheryl and I stopped at Whole Foods to get some things for breakfast the next few days. On the five hundred yard walk back to the hotel, I was forced to stop twice, both times requiring 10 minutes of sitting before I could begin to walk again. Back in the hotel, I flopped on the bed and fell asleep very quickly.

I woke with a start just after midnight. For the first time since the numbness began, it manifested during a resting state. It passed in seconds, and my exhausted body fell back asleep. Forty minutes later, I was awake again, numb from my elbow to my shoulder and this time, my chest hurt, as if someone was pushing down on my sternum with tremendous force. I was out of excuses and rationalizations. I woke Sheryl, and at 1:00 AM Thursday morning, we found ourselves on the way to an emergency room.

24 hours of tests revealed the culprit. I had at least one, maybe more blockages in at least one artery. I had been suffering angina from lack of blood flow. Luckily, I did not experience cardiac arrest, but if I’d continued to ignore the warning signs, the chances of a fatal event were very high.

I spent a very stressful 36 hours worrying, wondering, thinking. I’d always considered myself an optimistic person, but most of those hours were lost in depression, the strangest and most intense sadness. All the medical personnel were certain I was a stent or two away from feeling better. Their confidence, and the continual presence of my amazing spouse kept me going.

On the 10th of May, I had an echo-cardiogram which revealed two blockages (one at 95+%) in the LAD artery. Angioplasty was performed. Two stents were implanted, and after 95 minutes awake on the table, I was back in the recovery room. After 24 hours of observation, they released me from the hospital, back to the city, the subway, my life.

We had to stay in the city an extra week, but the difference between the first 7 days and the second were night and day. I was able to walk without pain or numbness, sleep without being awakened.

Physically I wasn’t limited, but mentally, I had and still have some difficulty.

Every twinge of pain or discomfort and I’m sure it’s my heart again. I feel alright, but the side effects of the blood thinner are kicking my ass. I get tired easily, dizzy. Sometimes my breathing is labored (another lovely side effect of the meds). I hope as my body gets used to the medicine, things will balance out.

Writing has become difficult as I’m not sure how to process the strangeness of the past two months. I feel relieved to be alive and mending, but absolutely undeserving. I’ve sat at my desk a dozen times since returning home, hoping to write something, anything, but I don’t think I’m ready. I need more time to think, and while writing would certainly expedite things, there are very few sentences willing to come out and play.

If I’m honest, I’m afraid. Absolutely insecure. And right now, that fear wins out every time. Getting this blog written down has taken me several hours, and I’ve left out a great deal. Most of it is more instances of me ignoring obvious signs of distress. Some of it is the emotional stress of worrying each night that I might not wake up the next morning.

I’m going to get some help, talk with a professional. That seems like a really good idea. Maybe the best one I’ve had in a while.

Also, I really want to go back to NYC. All this craziness hasn’t diminished my love of that place.

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And I would be very ungrateful if I didn’t mention how outstanding my cardiologist in NYC was. He saved my life. Angioplasty is a modern miracle. A little hole in the wrist is the only wound required. And that has already faded away.

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IWSG-March 2019

I’m sitting at my lovely desk, typing on my super groovy laptop, listening to New Order as a spring rain drizzles outside. I’m warm and comfortable. I have a mug of coffee. I have Girl Scout cookies and three bars of fine chocolate. It is hard to ask for anything more.

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Also, it’s the first Wednesday of the month, which is Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop day (and apparently the only time I ever blog anymore. Do better, Ryan). Check us out HERE. Sign up and play along.

This morning, before the rains fell, I took the Athena to the dog park. The place was empty. Apparently, most owners feared the water and decided to stay home rather than embrace the wonderfulness that is the dog park in sketchy weather. My German shepherd was full of energy and with no dogs to play with, made the best of it by running ahead of me as I walked laps around the three acres that make up the park.

Usually, we both prefer the place to be filled with happy, looking for fun, dogs, but I have to admit, I quite enjoyed having the place to ourselves this morning. The cool wind made my cheeks numb, and the occasional moments of light rain stained my glasses, but being outdoors with my dog is among my favorite things in the world. She is always joyful, often mischievous,  and infinitely curious. Her sadness is always temporary. Chasing a leaf, or scrap of paper thrills her. The very prospect of going anywhere causes her body to shake with anticipation. She reminds me to pay attention to the little things, and I needed that today.

I’ve been ungrateful and wasteful lately .

I have so many opportunities to write and create that I allow to slip into empty unused hours. I spend way too much time consumed with the dull and the mundane. I make millions of excuses. I’m letting my life stagnate and that should be unacceptable. Days like this one, when I actually do write, when I share and communicate with others should be the norm, not the exception. It’s time to carry today’s momentum into tomorrow.

Dogs are awesome, aren’t they.

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IWSG – January 2019

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Hey gang! It’s the first Insecure Writer’s Support Group post of the year. Check us out HERE and start 2019 by joining the best writer’s group there is.

Happy New Year!

I hope your holiday season was as filled with love and happiness as mine. I was fortunate to spend a great deal of time with my family, and I have to admit, I feel a bit spoiled. Today is the first day since before Christmas where I am pretty much alone in the house and I am feeling the heaviness. It was difficult watching Sheryl head back to work, and seeing my son heading back for college. The other son is working today, then will spend the rest of his time hanging with friends. This leaves me and the dog. I love the dog. The dog is excellent company, but I had become accustomed to the noise of a full house. I’m sure soon enough the routine will feel normal again and I’ll settle right in to things.

I’ve been pondering my writing goals for 2019, and while I refuse to set numbers as far as stories or works completed, contests entered, items submitted, I do want to spend more time creating new things, taking more risks, finding some much needed confidence in what I write. I’d really like to see something published this year, maybe several things. Funny enough (and maybe I say this every January), I feel ready to work hard and make that happen. I’m sure the usual insecurities will rear up, making me question every decision, but with the support of family, friends, and my IWSG blogging buddies, I will persevere.

One specific goal I’ve set, and I think it is an important one, is to compose more things by hand this year. I’ve a journal of sorts, something I’ve worked on since 1997 (I’ve three volumes completed so far) but the more I use digital software, the less I’ve used paper. I’m committed to 2 entries each week, and man, I hope writing this here helps me keep that commitment. I enjoy each revisit to those journals and every time I wish there were more to read. It’s time to make more a reality.

So tell me about your plans, goals, writing stuff for 2019. Let’s pretend this whole new year thing isn’t just an arbitrary time to make empty promises and really try to improve.

IWSG- October 2018

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is a mighty fine group of people. If you haven’t already signed up, joined in the fun, I’m not sure I can do much to help you anymore.

Check us out and sign up here– 

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This months optional question is-

How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?
Major life events can affect my writing in many different ways. When I was younger, I often didn’t understand my own reactions to events until I wrote about them, which I tended to do during any big live change. Even then it would often take months for me to make sense of what I was writing about and how it related to whatever life event had taken place. I was always grateful for the moment of understanding that came after I was ready, when the writing finally made sense to me.
As I’ve grown (in age and as a writer) I’ve found that when I am in the middle of an event, I really can’t sit down and write about it, or even write about other things besides that event. If the event is a catastrophic one, it might be months until I am ready to sit down and write anything again.
Writing has been very helpful in getting me through unexpected things. The untimely death of a friend for instance pushed me into a different kind of writing. I wanted to leave behind a lot of the more abstract stuff I’d been working on and really get at something concrete, bare and bold. A few months after this friends passing, I started trying to define the experience through poetry, and had to resist the temptation to be vague. I no longer wanted to dance around hard issues or sugar coat them. I missed my friend a great deal and wanted everyone who read my work to have little doubt about that emotion, where it came from, what this friend meant to me.
On another topic, I’m extremely unsatisfied with the direction of this blog and am in the process of evaluating new and different directions. Hopefully I’ll have this figured out soon and my weekly post will return better than the recent stretch of fairly uninteresting entries.
Love and light to you all.

 

Grateful

My wedding anniversary was Monday. Twenty-five years, which is a shocking number to me. I remember the first time I realized I’d had a friend for that long, or that an album I’d purchased with my own money reached that age. It isn’t new knowledge that the older you get, the faster time goes, but sometimes the realization hits home and staggers you a bit.

Sheryl worked on Monday, so we spent most of last Saturday out and about, celebrating by purchasing new books at our favorite bookstore (The Printed Garden), eating lunch at a delicious Chinese restaurant, and looking for new flooring (puppy claws and hardwood floors do not like one another).

It was a pleasant day, and I was feeling pretty good about things as we drove home. At the intersection of a major highway, I waited for an opportunity to turn right. Traffic on this road travels between 55-70 MPH depending on the time of day. It is wise to wait for a very clear lane before turning as to avoid misjudging the speed of oncoming vehicles. In my old age (wink), I’ve learned some patience behind the wheel, so I waited.

A minivan in the far right lane slowed to a stop, and I concluded the light was turning red. In the moment before I decided to turn, I noticed a white Jeep approaching the minivan at high speed. It wasn’t slowing, wasn’t going to stop.

The impact launched the stationary minivan through the intersection (which was luckily still empty), and I watched in fascination as the crumpled car wobbled past me. I marveled at the damage (the rear end was obliterated), amazed to see the driver still conscious, attempting to maneuver off the road.

I heard my wife next, shouting something like “Use your brakes. Stop.” and I looked to my left.

The Jeep was bearing down on us, rolling at around 20-30 MPH. There was little I could do but wait for the inevitable. The Jeep crushed my driver side door, nearly bending it off the hinges. I may have let loose a swear or two.

With some help from kind people we were able to move all the vehicles off the road. Before I was able to exit my Toyota (through the passenger side door), paramedics were already on scene and the police arrived two minutes later.

Fortunately no one was hurt.

Unfortunately, the driver of the Jeep was very drunk. He spectacularly failed every sobriety test, and a search of his vehicle uncovered an empty pint of vodka. He was arrested and taken away before the first tow-truck arrived.

I spent the next hour stewing about my damaged SUV, angry about what had happened, how it had unfolded, and how unnecessary it all felt. Driving home, most of the adrenaline was slipping away, and my thoughts turned to the absolute luck of it all. Things could have been so much worse. Someone could have been injured or killed. If children had been in the van, they would have certainly been hurt. If the van had not been there and the Jeep had continued through the red light, he would have impacted cross traffic and maybe an unsuspecting Ryan turning right.

The carelessness, the selfishness of one individual angered me.

But something else pushed through- Compassion

I felt (and still do feel) so much sympathy for this young man who had made a terrible choice. I doubt this was his first time driving drunk, but the repercussions of this particular decision will certainly be many- The hefty fine for DUI, the arrest record, loss of employment (maybe), loss of insurance (and the likelihood his insurance company sues him), the driver of the minivan will likely sue; the inevitable guilt.

I don’t know what events in this guys life, what decisions or outside influences put him in the position where he concluded getting behind the wheel was a smart choice, but I feel so sorry for him.

I might feel differently if I’d been injured, or if someone else had been hurt, but I hope my compassion would remain intact. I’m not naive and certainly believe there should be consequences for actions, especially those that adversely impact others, but I really hope this kid gets his life together, and that this one bad choice doesn’t ruin his life completely.

Hope is a good thing, right?

Also, these events have caused me a great deal of introspection, made me reevaluate every time I’ve been out with friends, had a few drinks.

But that is what life is supposed to be about, learning not only from our own mistakes, but from the errors of others.

As of today, I’m still feeling grateful, thoughtful, careful. I hope that continues.

 

 

Impermanence

The idea occurred to me several times before, but I’d never had the courage. And honestly, this was the first time an opportunity presented itself when I was actually in a relationship, when any initials I carved wouldn’t have been and exercise in imagination. Cowardice disguised as confidence. One day, RSC hearts KEC or ABC or HIJ will mean something more than a long list of letters inferring a long list of never been lovers. 

Which is exactly as pathetic as it sounds.

But she was different. Or I was different around her, which might be saying the same thing.

She liked winter rains, the sort that iced your eyebrows and lashes, made walking dangerous, filled with ankle twisting, bottom bruising obstacles. And she preferred silence when given the choice, her feet up on the sofa, across my lap while I read a book, no words shared for hours.

I also liked the rain, but preferred the October variety. As for silence, well, I didn’t believe it existed. There was always some little noise, a scratching in the back of my brain, which I trusted, if only because it helped me feel substantial, genuinely present.

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One warm afternoon late in September, we hiked into the woods along a favorite trail for almost an hour (autumn leaves scattered across the ground, reds, browns, and my favorite yellows piling up, begging to be stomped or kicked about), rarely speaking, until we came upon a massive oak, somehow left unmarked among the aspens and elms lining the path, all etched with layer after layer of scribbles that stood out like scars on skin.

We stood in front of the tree, marveling at its unlikeliness.

“I can’t help but think,” she started, then paused. “No, you’ll think I’m being silly.”

I shook my head, somehow stopping myself from adding phrases which would only detract from the moment. I adore words, but I often say the wrong ones at the wrong times.

“I feel like this tree appeared out of nowhere, in this moment, in this place, just for us.”

I pulled my knife from its leather sheath, then walked forward, keeping my eyes on the tree, convinced she was right and if I looked away for even a moment it would disappear. With my free hand, I touched the bark. Deep, rough grooves touched back, and for an instant I thought the tree quivered beneath my fingers. I pulled away, looking up at the branches far above my head, swaying gently in the light breeze. A pale blue sky seemed impossibly far away. I tightened my grip on the handle of the knife, turned my attention back to the trunk, and selected the location to make my first cut.

In my head, I imagined the task already complete. I could see each letter already formed, rising out from the wood, tangible evidence of our connection, hers and mine, our shared adoration and affection. I wanted to say one word out loud, shout it, but it came as a whisper- love- because I did love her, and I believed she loved me.

I imagined other outings we’d take, coming back to this tree, staring up at the crudely carved initials somehow meant to represent us, hoping our love would last as long as the tree itself. Someday, we would bring our children, spread a blanket on the ground, share a picnic lunch and stories about the inevitability of our meeting, the permanence of our devotion. Our timeless love.

I wanted to cling to this image, but before I could lock it away in my head, store it like a memory my heart sunk and I knew.

What a ludicrous notion. I suddenly wanted to be anywhere but here, in front of the magnificent tree.

Before I could compose my thoughts, she stepped up beside me and put her hand on my shoulder.

“I don’t want you to do it either,” she whispered.

I slid the knife back into the sheath, put both hands upon the oak and wished it well.

Without looking back, we headed down the trail together,  towards the parking lot where we’d left her car. A cooler in the back seat held cold water and some good chocolate.

Fifteen steps down the trail, she slid her hand into mine.