It’s gray and overcast this morning. I couldn’t be more pleased.
I don’t know if the sun was so strong when I was young, but these days I find myself holding my hand over my head in protection when I go out without a hat. My hair is warm to the touch and I worry about my scalp. Anyone else?
It’s also possible I am just plain content right now. Today marks four months exactly since my mother died. The new fence along one side of my yard was finished up just yesterday. The second draft of my novel is polished, and out and about in the world. Everyone else in the house is asleep and it feels so peaceful. Big things, little things, big things.
I would never have guessed that life at 62 might be turbulent. Some of the dips and leaps have been my doing, nobody made me write a dang novel. But also I didn’t know that an inevitable loss isn’t always simple or easy. And let us not forget my gut biome, or brain chemistry, or past life as a masked torturer–what do we believe is responsible for our temperament these days?
I am grateful for the gray sky and the one bird crying “Kee, kee, kee,” from a suburban tree I cannot see. I am glad that I insisted on pinning a flower to my dress for my mother’s memorial, that my husband texted me photos from the Whole Foods flower array from which to choose, that I picked statice. That I then put the leftover statice on top of the basket on my hearth that also holds lavender bunches I had tied up with lavender ribbon, when, I can’t remember. I’m even happy about the television cables, a sturdy antidote to sentiment.
I hope the house stays quiet a little longer but the birds should feel free to make a lot of noise.
I’ll be off next week to sit around blinking for a little while. Have a wonderful weekend.
After ten years of blogging, 54 years of writing (yes I still have my 3rd grade storybook), and 57 years of nigh-on obsessive reading, here’s what I discovered about writing a novel. There are requirements. I thought I’d deconstruct a few for those who feel that the endeavor must be impossible. It’s not.
Some aspects of this process have been OK. For example:
Self-discipline. The process seems to work best, as the greats say, if you set up a time and place to write and do it every day. High WASPs win gold medals in self-discipline, every morning early I sit with laptop and tea, every morning later I rise with words of one sort or another having been laid down. Tiling a mosaic.
Musical language. Ten years of blogging etc. has made me comfortable with my ability to write a nice enough sentence, to balance those sentences in a paragraph, and wedge those paragraphs together into 200-1000 words. This is by no means to say I think my writing is consistently spectacular, only that I’ve developed a voice.
Some parts of writing a novel have been trickier.
It’s fiction. Ha. Duh. By which I mean you have to invent and imagine an entire world. Even if that world reflects your lived experience, you still have to reinvent it on the pages.
Which means you need a plot. The series of events have to hang together, and they need to flow in such a way as to support the emotional rhythm a reader requires. You can’t bore people, but nor can you jerk them around too much. Like life, except, as above, you gotta imagine it.
Which means you need characters to live your plot. Ha. Duh. The characters, like the plot, have to exhibit some kind of structural integrity, and, like the plot, they need some kind of authentic movement through your story. Which, again, imagined.
So, as you can see, all that imagination also has to Make Sense. Ha. No duh.
And, as you will have guessed from my rising cadence, some parts of writing a novel have been very hard for me.
Not knowing whether it’s any good but writing anyway.
How to hold an entire book–all that story and characters and language–in your mind at once, when you yourself wrote it? When reading it feels like crawling around the floor of a totally dark room covered in toys, a room you’ve seen in the daytime a million times but is wholly different without light? And yes, that’s the best I can do to describe the experience. Familiar but monstrous.
Note to myself. I created this problem by for the large part asking people I know and love to be my readers. They have all said they liked it, I struggle to believe them because they love me back.
The one stranger who read it told me it needed to get more exciting more quickly. To be fair, I’d told her it is a thriller which I have come to realize is not the primary genre. But also to be fair, and to always, always, learn, she was right and I am working on it. But what I really need is feedback from someone who doesn’t love me, whose judgment I trust.
Some of the stuff I have to do to try and sell the thing.
Short pitches. 240 characters? 50 words? Three paragraphs? Brutal.
Writing a plot synopsis of 1000 words. Less brutal, still difficult.
Finally, and along comes the High WASP with her stingalingaling, engaging in group pitch events and the resultant profound embarrassment of failure. Oof. I don’t mind failing, so much, but I sure mind being seen to fail. I sure as heck mind having people know how much this matters to me. And by people, I also mean you guys. Here I’ve mostly written about what I know, style, gardening, career, etc., or about those things no one can know and all that matters is writing with a little beauty. This is different.
Maybe I’m turning on the light in that afore-mentioned dark room, only I don’t get to now stand up and pick my way carefully to the door. Just gotta crawl around with small pieces of primary-colored plastic digging into my knees until I make progress.
Which brings us back to what else I can do because I’ve done it before. I can set goals. I can persevere. I can take feedback. I haven’t yet done any direct queries to agents – where if I fail it’s private. I can keep excitening (just made up a word) my first chapter.
And, as an optimistic soul, I can find the personal good here. I can tell myself I’m lucky to be old enough to see my own defenses and justifications, to able to talk myself through them to learning.
Which I’m doing as we speak. Have a wonderful weekend.
So this is just a little outfit I wore up to San Francisco yesterday. Nothing particularly special.
But it had some virtues.
First, the colors. Navy and cadet blue, layered in with cognac shoes, a black, white and taupe scarf, gold dangling earrings Three neutrals, plus a metal, to my mind, gets interesting. Especially if one of them is your best-ever color, as cadet blue is for me. It might be rust, or neon yellow, or lavender for you.
Second, the silhouette/geometry. High-waisted pants cuffed at the ankle, platform sandals, a semi-cropped jacket, a high-wrapped scarf. Oh, and I usually fold back the cuffs of the jacket but when I drive I unroll them for sun protection. Anyway, made a grab-and-go outfit, even one that’s comfortable for my still healing Achilles tendon, look intentional. You can see the high waist, right? And also the dust on the mirror? Hadn’t been up to SF in a while. Oops;).
Finally, everything except my necklace and those Mephistos was reasonably priced. The trousers and ribbed tank were a recent purchase from COS, the jacket from UNIQLO several years ago, the earrings from Blue Nile, back when.
I imagine you all have had similar experiences, one in which you find yourself satisfied with something simple solely because it suits you. Or, maybe, also because it’s an indicator you’ve learned from practice.
Blogging is episodic; life continues. Let us revisit some issues.
Slippers. I considered them here, I bought the Glerups as recommended by Mater, Saga and Dani, I am deeply in love. Seriously, they’re better than barefoot. Buy at least a size smaller than usual, maybe two, the wool stretches and conforms to your dimensions. Feels like someone’s kissing my feet. Huh. That’s a nice image.
Pajamas. We scoffed at expensive sweatpants here, I bought a cohort of colorful flannel pajamas like these instead. They are now all gone I’ve moved on to neutral UNIQLO sweatpants and matching tees. I feel chic and minimalist because, apparently, I satisfy very easily.
Swimming. I did it! Twice, two weeks ago. Not at all last week–too much other stuff. Next week, I plan to go again. The truth is, I liked it. No one is as surprised as I. BTW the J. Crew suit didn’t work for me, I need more structure around the bust, and also I need sleeves as the pool is outside. However, those are but purchases, the experience is on its way.
My father’s health. He’s been in the hospital again, a recurrence of Guillain-Barre he had last fall. The good news is that they caught it earlier this time, due in no small part to Dad’s understanding of his own symptomatology. He came home today. I feel so lucky in my parents. My father at 88 is one of the most curious people I know, always learning, always thinking, always open to growth. I have something to learn from the way he considers knowledge for each piece unto itself, not just for the skein of thoughts provoked.
Which brings us oddly to my hair. It has gotten even longer, and more white/silver. When I visited the hospital last week one of his nurses thought I was his sister. While I am OK about looking 62, I am not happy to be taken for 80. Thinking again about a haircut, and, possibly, color. Although egads I hate, hate, hate that process.
Mom’s service. Mom died in March, her ashes are here in my house, we’ll hold her memorial next Saturday. It may feel strange to read about ashes in a list that also considers pajamas, but such is life. My mother’s death has become an ordinary part of my consciousness, even as I am finding it plays out in extraordinary ways through my self and being. I have let my subconscious buy a navy blue dress and a pair of ridiculously comfortable black pumps to wear to the service. Probably, also, pearls.
My book. Still editing. If anyone’s curious I’m happy to expound another day.
Flowers in pots. That persistent flamboyant gardenia bloomed last night. I do not deserve my vegetation. And this morning I saw a Western swallowtail, 4 inches across, pale yellow, four black stripes on each wing, nectaring in my fuchsia. I realize that my life would not have been complete without that sight; not that it is now, but at this age to see something so regular and yet feels so remarkable, what great good fortune.
9. As previously, have a wonderful weekend.
Some links may generate commissions. But not the clothes I’m wearing to my mother’s service because I have flaws but am not a monster.
My best friend’s daughter is having her wedding party, up in South Lake Tahoe. I’m looking forward to the wedding today–she let me help her customize her wedding dress, and I’ll do her makeup. A very fun privilege.
My son and I drove up yesterday. Actually, technically, he drove, I sat there. One of the many benefits of adult children. You notice you’re ascending especially when pines suddenly take over from oaks. There was still snow by the side of the road, here and there.
And you can smell it in the air, that mineral scent of frozen water.
The rehearsal dinner overlooked a row of boats. It was beautiful. We left in the near dark.
My husband’s work kept him in the Bay Area. So this morning I’m on my own for a little while, to sit on the deck,
look at the mountains,
and think about going for a cup of tea. Have a wonderful weekend everyone.
It has come to my attention that I have spent far too much time sitting on the sofa.
Don’t get me wrong. I like where I sit, I can see my garden. But I like it much better when I can return after long spells of walking very, very fast. Walking is off the list as my Achilles tendon heals. So, and I shudder even to think of it (but I must tend to my cardiovascular capacity because I do love to breathe), I am going to try lap swimming.
Oh dear, oh dear.
You guys I grew up swimming. Let’s talk about the good sort. Ducking under waves and closing one’s eyes against ocean salt. Jumping off boats into deep clear seas even if scary fish may lurk below. Or a casual lap up and down my father’s pool, midafternoon, on a California day when temperatures rise above 80.
But laps? Long cold rectangles of chlorinated water? And to be perfectly honest the huffing and puffing which even I need it I don’t like? Swimming is very hard work. But I have to try.
I’ll go to the neighborhood pool. Fine. I own flip flops. Fine. Other than that, I will need a new bathing suit, goggles, and maybe a cap? I do not want to spend much, it’s quite possible I won’t be able to force myself into this habit in the long run.
So I’m thinking about this, below. I know serious lappers wear Speedos and the like but I am decidedly non-serious so far. I like the simplicity, and the straight straps that widen to the shoulder look to provide just enough style for the purpose. J. Crew is often the malltailer I rely on for staples.
I’d want the aqua I believe. I’ve always wanted a pale blue suit. (Why do I need a new one? I have this already; the ruching is great for my vanity (on sale now BTW) but too much fabric for lap swimming, and I have this one, which, lace? Love it in Hawaii on a beach with my husband and pretty much nowhere else.)
You who have swum and will continue to do so – what if anything do I need to know about goggles and caps? For example, what about my long braid? Where will it go? How do I know which goggles to buy? Details please!
My cardiovascular system thanks you in advance for your help.
I tend to resist easy praise. When I gave my manuscript (I’ve learned this is what to call it, not yet a book) to a couple of people to read, I asked them to tell me every possible bad thing. Almost as though I can’t trust encouragement until I’ve dug around for every possible criticism, and lived it first.
But I’ve been reminded recently what a good thing real support is. (Verbal support, I mean, I never forget how great it is to have others share life’s tasks.) Recently, Frances, who is very frank about her bouts of depression, wrote about feeling blue on vacation. Her readers rallied. Another instance: Carmeon told Instagram she was having a hard time with marriage, right then. Her readers rallied.
I don’t mean Instapraise, if you will. Sometimes the online world veritably rings with “Oh You Are So Great!” Bad thing about that? It’s pretend and therefore meaningless. But real support, and even beyond that, honest-to-goodness praise, is lovely.
I’m talking about the kind of affirmation (I never did think I’d use that word, but thank goodness we are capable of change) that happens only when two requirements are met. First, the person to whom you’re telling good stuff has showed up in truth. Second, you, the praiser, have actually paid attention. Not always so easy. You will have listened, absorbed, spent time understanding and considering the person as something worth their weight in your consciousness. In my experience, because I’ve been on both sides of this, that moment feels like a gift. On both sides.
This isn’t a post in which I deconstruct, extract a principle or offer advice. I think I’m just reminding myself to both accept and give more real praise, and of the work it takes to be ready when the opportunity comes.
Have a lovely weekend everyone, I hope birds are chirping nearby.
Mine, as you can see, have worn out. They were a present from my son, Christmas of 2017 – lavender, because that’s the color that’s available by the end of December. They have reminded me happily of my family ever since.
But the time has come. On beyond sentiment to feet. For a well-considered choice, of course, we turn to Use Cases. Let us examine key parameters; when, where and how do I wear said slippers?
Walking around the house.
Out into the garden – I can see my rosebushes from my kitchen window, I am often seized with the desire to poke and snip hours before I actually get dressed.
At the end of an Achilles tendon that suffers when I curl my toes, hence, au revoir mules and slipons.
However, I also take said slippers off and on frequently, as I cross my legs on the sofa to write, rise when at my wit’s end, and sit again with a resigned sigh of self-discipline I imagine you’d recognize.
I could stick to suede and shearling. I confess I’m drawn to the black Uggs with trim, they look so like Belgian moccasins, a personal tribute to High WASP cousins and aunts of yore. And the Fitflops, because Elizabeth commented to say that despite the less-than-sublime name the brand makes extraordinarily comfortable shoes. They have extra heel cushioning.
But I also like the idea of wool. So Germanic, so Nordic, so cool girl these days. And why consume leather if there’s a good alternative? Seems these might be super cozy. I like my slippers to feel like friends.
Good part about buying slippers in May – lots on sale. But I am curious. What are your slipper Use Cases? Wait, do you even wear the things? I have to acknowledge that possibility in service of the slipper truth.
And I hope all of you, each and every one, have a good weekend.
My garden’s still kind of a mess. Somehow I’m not too bothered. It’s easy to find reasons for good cheer.
The front yard is worst off, it’s got two big bare spots. My Pieris Japonica up and died a couple of months ago (for no reason that I could determine), as did my pink Cecile Brunner (because very clearly I let it get overrun by aphids and fungus). I’m planning to replace Ms. Brunner this fall, meanwhile I’m splashing biological fungicides around like gin in a pub on a summer night. An imaginary pub, that is.
Also we had a hard rain just recently, very unusual for May in California. It left the red climber in disarray.
Close up, still gorgeous.
And we should always take advantage of the superpower of white roses; they glow at twilight. Nice work, girls!
The side yard meanwhile, the erstwhile butterfly garden, was absolutely jungled by weeds. Now that I’ve cleared I can see I got there just in time. Sorry buddy.
Ah well, Passiflora flourishes.
One day with 11 blooms at once. And did you know that butterflies quite like thistles?
The back yard is probably in the best shape of all. The fuchsia, in its pot, is budding out again.
We’re lucky the sun rewards the innocent.
Rainbows are so generous. I’ve gotten more comfortable with easy sentiment, sometimes it’s what we need.