Chasing the Valentine: Love and Inspiration

February 14. It’s only one day, after all, but expectations run high. Candy, flowers, candlelight. Music, movies, sex. A ride on love’s express, arms outstretched, waiting to capture the golden ring. One day in winter’s dark month to wish and hope and celebrate. So swiftly here and gone, which makes me wonder about the nature of expectations and the truth that underscores love.

Media campaigns convince us that heart-shaped valentines spell that truth, that a Hallmark card and an expensive bottle of wine equal the forever-love we all seek. I don’t believe it. Love, the kind we aspire to possess, lies deep below the superficial. It is mined from disappointment and grief, displayed in defeat and disaster, exposed when despair is replaced by hope.

I’m as romantic as the next person, some might say more. Last year I planned a special dinner, bought the perfect card, hoped that roses might appear by my plate. But life has a way of changing the most carefully laid plans. Right, Robert Burns? As Sunday morning rolled us toward delight, my mother-in-law struggled to breathe. By early afternoon, we were called to transport her to the emergency room. And that is where I spent my Valentine’s Day, interpreting the nurses’ comments (MIL is very hard of hearing), texting family members as the lab results came back, planning the week around the order to hospitalize. Romance took a back seat to familial love. Sitting beside her, watching her struggle to oxygenate, I thought about real love. Real love doesn’t flutter in and out, a naked baby with a bow seeking a tender soul to dazzle. Real love resides in the nitty gritty, down and dirty everyday actions that make up our lives. It fills the wrinkles in our lives, the creases in our souls.

Now, a year later, both my MIL and my own mother (in their 90s, God bless them) are approaching that end point of this earthly life, and I am wallowing in paperwork associated with their various needs, financial, legal, spiritual. Is it love that drives me on? Is it love that sustains me during the long hours, the Internet searches, the endless pieces of their lives spelled out in forms and documents? Even as I write this, I’m thinking about those cards we used to write for classmates: Be true. Be Mine. Kiss me. I think I’ll compose a special valentine letter for each of them, a tribute to their longevity and the contribution each has made to my love of life.

Twang! The arrow lifts free from the string and wings toward a target. I follow the arc, leaping from the practical problems of my very real life to the crafted lives of my characters, I search for incidents and events that reveal genuine love, the kind that holds us afloat, lights our personal darkness, shines brightest when the lights go out. There, that’s a forever Valentine we can believe in.

MARCHing: a writer’s rebirth

The peepers are back, those invisible frog beings that fill the evening air and the morning stillness with their lilting advertisements for a mate. ..nature’s early edition of the personals. The red wing blackbirds have also returned. Their raucous call is not the most lyrical, but I am enamored of their feisty announcements…here I am, they proclaim, here I stay. Each bird picks the tallest of last year’s grasses, perches on the very top and sways through the serenade. Life returns to the pond. It is a siren call impossible to deny. Tugging on my boots, walking stick in hand, I join the torrent of life spooling up from the panting earth.

My manuscript has a siren call all its own. The challenge of the pages sways before me. March on, it whispers. Answer my call. The peeping of plot and theme and character refuses to rest. As spring marches on the wind outside my door, story soldiers on inside my head.

The drafting of a work mirrors the winter storm, packing a punch, piling up drifts, covering the roads. A wild, white, enchanting mess. Immersed in the rush of inspiration, I sweep ahead, unmindful of the chaos in my wake. My writing, like the land, slumbers, marking time until I and Nature begin to craft again. Marching along, rebirth, symbolic and actual, occurs. In revising, the story becomes clearer, stronger, more beautiful. Just as the first violets of spring signal the seismic changes in the land, the early blossoms of my writing voice give way to new growth.

The marriage of nature and creativity is heady stuff. As I walk the trail, I strain out all extraneous noise and listen to the trees stretching their limbs, to the breeze sifting the woods, to the urgent laughter of the creek. In the mystery of spring there is, for me, always more than a whisper of the divine, and in that moment I find inspiration and resolution. Watching the world come alive again, I renew my belief in the world I am creating.

Attention, Mystery Readers: Here’s a list of recommended books to gift to yourself or to others on your list…Happy Reading!

Editor’s Holiday Picks Ranges From 
Mystery to Romance
Hollis George Lists His (And Your) Favorites
Readers look forward to the Reading List of Hollis George, the celebrated anthologist and editorial director of Absolutely Amazing eBooks and The New Atlantian Library.
While not exactly as influential as Oprah’s Book Club, Hollis George has been picking favorites since the mid ’60s when he was a book editor with a major newspaper. Over the years, he has moved to the other side of the desk, choosing books to be published, but his Reading List remains popular among those who have received it on an ongoing basis.
While Hollis usually does his picks in the Spring, we’ve encouraged him to tear a few months off his calendar and suggest some books you might want to read now.
We admit his picks are eclectic, the product of a wide-reaching and broad-thinking mind. Nonetheless, we never fail to find a book or two that appeals to our own reading tastes.
Herewith are the AAeB titles that are stacked on Hollis George’s bedside table. The comments are his:

1. Coyle’s Folly

by Ben Kelley. Not since early John Grisham have I enjoyed a legal thriller so much. Can’t wait for the next book in this new courtroom series. Here a determined attorney named Tim Coyle and his paralegal assistant (his wife Moira) take on a big automotive company hiding crash test results. Even if you see the ending coming, it has some unexpected surprises.

2. The Dark End of the Rainbow by J.E, Irvin. How could any whodunit fan pass up this First Place Winner in the annual Jeremiah Healy Mystery Writing Competition? Detective Joe Zetts must solve the puzzle when a teenage druggie disappears with the high school principal’s newborn baby. This book deserves its Jerry bobble-head statuette.

3. Square Grouper by Lewis C. Haskell. This was a runner up in the Jerry Awards, a tight mystery by a new talent. Here you’ll meet Ernesto ‘Finn’ Pilar, a former Navy SEAL who has packed it in to kick back in Key West. That is, until a run-in with drug smugglers (“square grouper” is the name for bales of marijuana floated ashore) requires his special training to clean up the mess.


4. A Footnote to History by William R. Burkett, Jr. This sci-fi master returns with a time travel tale that yo-yo the reader on from a newlywed’s death to his life as a clone in a battle between future and past.  Burkett delivers the irony of “the rule of unintended consequences.”

5. The Karma Chronicles: The Coming and The Second Coming by C.J. Daniels. A new science fiction voice, Daniels proves he’s a fan of classic sci-fi with this two-book introduction to a boy with the ability to avoid death by reincarnating himself and his spirit-guide dog. Yes, they must save the world.


6. Lost Planets and Rediscovered Science Fiction Manuscripts edited by Shirrel Rhoades. While we’re talking sci-fi, let’s not overlook this important anthology, a collection of all-but-lost or forgotten short stories by such writers as Ray Bradbury, John W. Campbell, Philip K. Dick, C.J. Daniels, and William R. Burkett, Jr. Even a once-anonymous scientification story by Edgar Allan Poe.

7. Zoo in a Book edited by George Davidson. Okay, I’m a sucker for animal pictures and this first title in the new Look-See series has animals a-plenty! But much more important is the subtle message that this is a better way to view exotic animals than keeping them caged in a zoo.


8. Chandler: Circle City Slam by Bill Craig. One of Craig’s bestselling mysteries is always on my nightstand. Usually it’s one of his Marlow books, but I have to admit I’m becoming a fan of his new Chandler series, a hardboiled dick working in Circle City (that’s Indianapolis to you).

9. Bad Tidings by Robert Coburn. To think, only a couple of years ago, Coburn was a retired adman dividing his time between traveling and playing the saxophone. Now he’s a hot new mystery writer with two series going — the Jack Hunter stories and this one, tales of Sheriff JT Wainscot of St. Julian Parrish, in the backwaters of Louisiana. Here he tackles a murder at Raquelle Harbor’s annual Pirates Festival.

10. The Mortician’s Road Trip by James D. Loy. If you like picaresque mysteries with a touch of lunacy, you’ll want to read this tale about a funeral home director who makes spare change by selling human skulls. They make great candleholders!

11. A Book of Facts: a novel by G.R. Alexander. Not your typical storytelling approach, this novel is told A to Z. As I said in an early review, “You’ll have a hard time pigeonholing this book. But you’ll be talking about this innovative work for weeks after you finish reading it.” Try it.


12. Season of Revenge by Renee Kumor. Being that it’s almost Christmas, I have to toss in a holiday offering. This is the seventh book in the River Bend Chronicles and to my surprise I’m getting involved in the lives of Lynn Powers and her friends and neighbors. At first I thought this series was simply going to be a tale of romance for woman, but after a few murders, betrayals, and heartwarming surprises I was hooked.

Thanks, Hollis. Nice to know what keeps your Kindle Fire blazing at night.
Twelve titles, twelve days of Christmas.
Twelve quick Christmas or Hanukah presents for your friends … or yourself!
All of these titles, of course, can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboBooks, Apple iTunes, or go to the Absolutely Amazing eBooks online bookstore . . . (or simply click All of these ebooks are priced at only $3.99 each. And paperback editions are available too.
– Shirrel Rhoad

Tea and grAttitude – 2015

My internal clock ticks off the last minute of sleep and, bingo, I’m awake. Others in my birth family share this early-riser phenomenon. No matter how late we stay up, the need to rise at dawn is overpowering. Padding through the silent house, I try a little socks slide on the hardwood, channel my inner child and greet Eos with joy. Then the ritual takes over.

Several actions must occur before I can move on with the day. Graycie, the cat who adopted us, follows me to the pantry. When I give the command, she sits, favors me with a nose-bump kiss and receives her treats for the day. If I forget (trust me – I try never to forget), she  torments me with leg rubs until I give her just enough cheezy tidbits to meet her requirements. Then, unless I have demanding or pre-emptive chores or appointments, I fill her water dish, consider my breakfast options (should I eat pre-writing or post?) and sprint upstairs to my writing space. Surrounded by the approving stares of authors young and old, I run my hand along the spines of my books. I pause to give a mental fistbump to my Jeremiah Healy bobblehead – part of the prize for winning the mystery contest named after him. Receiving his ghostly thumbs-up, I perch on the edge of my chair and put in my words for the day. No part of me complains. I am lighter than air and twice as exuberant. This is my passion. This is my joy.

When light fills the sky and the story takes a break, I return to the kitchen for tea and gratitude. Mine. For the gift of a new day, the grace of a fresh twenty-four, the chance to make the moment count. Many of my friends keep journals, recording faithfully the emotions and events of their days. I’ve tried to be a journaler. This endeavor always begins well but ends badly. I misplace the notebook. I forget to make an entry. I lose track of the date. Not that I don’t have a shelf of said volumes, most half-filled, bulging with notes or ticket stubs or cards attesting to my statement that I really did attend an Eagles’ concert, did once have a drink at Senor Frog’s, did meet Elizabeth Strout the year before she won the Pulitzer for Olive Kittredge. Now, see, I’m digressing, distracted by memories and thoroughly unable to maintain that intense journal frown.

Instead, I plug in my internal memory bank, still my restless muscles and listen for the voice of a character to tell me where we’re going this morning. I eat, and drink and return to that special internal place that calls me to account. Perhaps your space needs music or movement, but my writing thrives best in the quiet nest of dusk and tea and words, accompanied by the grateful beating of my writer’s heart.

Of Carnage and Compassion and Common Sense

Tis the holiday season. Amid all the preparations, we reel from the ongoing attacks by people intent upon forcing their way of worship onto the greater mass of humanity. The awful events from around the globe – Beirut, Paris, Afghanistan, California – regale us with images that haunt our dreams and create fear in our hearts. Reacting to that fear, some among us advocate for policies that will throw us back into history, force us to retreat from our empathy and understanding into bigotry and hate. I am reminded of the story of the First Christmas, when a Jewish couple, Mary and Joseph, sought shelter, and the promise of the coming birth of their son evoked a similar response.

King Herod, fooled by the magi regarding the birth of the child long prophesied, “ordered the massacre of all the boys two years old and under in Bethlehem and its environs, making his calculations on the basis of the date he had learned from the astrologers.” (Matt. 16, The New American Bible) And so it came to pass that slaughter of the innocents marked the flight of that family into Egypt. Our Christian history, intimately connected to that of the Jewish people, acknowledged in the ongoing history of Islam, presents us with a Christmas horror story that is echoed in the awful events we witness today. Fear, it seems, is always with us. What, then, can we do with this tendency to act upon that fear, this knee-jerk response that sees us flinging away our belief in the fundamental rights of others and espousing actions that we have vowed never to repeat: internment, religious testing, torture, war?

The three great western religions have, at their core, very similar tenets: do good works, care for others, atone for your sins, worship. Especially during this holiday season, those things which we have in common ought to be stronger than the differences that separate us. Think of the use of food as a gesture of hospitality and respect, light as a beacon in the darkness, gifts as a tangible way to show how we care for others. Compassion for others is a hallmark of God/Jehovah/Allah’s presence in our hearts and in our lives. Whatever explanation you choose to follow on your own spiritual path, the similarities are so much stronger than the differences.

As a mother and a grandmother, an educator and a writer, I long for one clear explanation for the horror of a massacre like the one in San Bernardino. There is no place in my heart to explain how a mother and father abandon their six-month old child to a grandmother’s care while they murder co-workers, friends, fellow inhabitants of this fragile earth we share. I cannot understand strapping a bomb to my chest and blowing myself up to harm innocents shopping or eating or simply living their common, solid lives. I cannot imagine stabbing a starnger on the street as a way to draw attention to my hatred. No God I seek, no prophet or messiah, would promote carnage for its own sake. Somewhere in this vast mine field of conflicting fanaticisms there must be a moment when even the most radical of warriors sees the light, when the blood already spilled becomes enough, when the spark of wonder and curiosity that informs the human soul prevails over destruction and death. This is my prayer…that the carnage stop, that compassion rule and that common sense reassert itself as we work together to bring this current crusade to an end. For it is a crusade – of light against darkness, of good against evil, of truth against deceit.

As the season unwinds, I wish for all of you peace, as I wish it for myself and my family and for the world. Can we not start now, today, to make such a wish reality?

Of Coyotes and Creativity: Nurturing Your Wild Side

The howls erupt around 9:30 p.m., shattering the quiet, moon-dark night. At first only a rumor, they swiftly crescendo, filling Beck Park with primal music. Drawn by the increasing urgency of the calls, I step onto the porch and listen, shaking with my own primitive knowledge that what sings out there is wild and dangerous and poses a threat. Then, abruptly, like a spigot turned off, the song ceases. In the ensuing stillness, my heart resumes a normal beat.

What ritual have I just observed? Perhaps this was an autumnal call to worship, a nature song acknowledging their kind. Maybe they were sharing the wild night rhythms of their pack. Or maybe they had just brought down a deer and the feast required a celebratory howl. Whatever drew them to the frenzy, the resulting chorus reminds me that the wild is only a heartbeat away.

Each artist finds her own path to that deep well of creative howling. For me, it is proximity to the natural world that draws out the elements of story. Daily walks through the very fields where the coyotes rampaged last night allow me to touch the beating heart of our earth. As I wander past the undergrowth beside the stream, my boots slipping over dew-drenched grasses or crunching leaves, I imagine those feral eyes following my path, evaluating my food quotient, judging me as dangerous or fair game. The unknown scurries among the tangles of underbrush, the caws from the treetops, the occasional leap of a deer from the brush warn me of the wildness lying in wait among the hills.

I embrace the danger. My mind clears itself of clutter, returning to a purer state where there is only me and the natural world. Following this, my own ritual path on the way to that deepest portion of my soul, I look, listen and open myself to the creative mood.

Your writing path may not follow this wilderness walk. Perhaps your ideas arrive best surrounded by the comfort of coffee, the chatter of the masses, the industrial grinding of mechanical gears. So be it. But if you have not yet discovered a way to turn on your own spigot of creativity, I recommend the solitary path through forest and field. Find your own space where the wild awaits, ready to draw us into an embrace, and the creative juice is waiting to be imbibed. You may find your own howling chorus needs only the nudge of nature to unleash its fury.

Why I Decided To Like Chamber Music

I’m not a musician. Wish I were, but the truth is that particular talent eludes me. However, I do love music, all kinds of music: classical and country, rock and jazz, folk and church and norteño. While I may not be able to play the notes, I can appreciate the complexity of a composition, the talent required to create and arrange. I attend philharmonic  concerts, when time and finances permit. This past year I’ve gone to hear Emmy Lou Harris and Rodney Crowell and Madelyn Peyroux and Boz Scaggs and the Eagles. But I never choose chamber music as a preferred musical experience. At least, I didn’t…until Charleston’s Spoleto Festival.

My first attempt to become a musician began with, you guessed it, the flutophone. When I was in grade school, an elementary education required one to learn notes and the scale and to play this plastic wind instrument that resembles a clarinet. The nuns demanded daily practice. My fingers, inexperienced and inept, struggled until I mastered the damn thing. In retrospect, I probably drove the entire family (I come from a large one) half insane with my stumblings. After months of preparation, our teacher judged us proficient. Donning our school uniforms and a short cape bearing our school colors, I and my classmates rode buses to a large auditorium where all the fifth graders in the entire Youngstown area played a concert for parents. Oh, the humanity! as Newman would say.

In seventh grade, my father handed me his old saxophone and announced that I would be taking lessons. Learning to exhale enough air to power the instrument strained my abilities. The effort occupied several months, and once again I subjected the family to painful aural stimulation. My lungs quiver remembering it. Then the dentist said I needed braces and my saxophone days came to an end. No swinging jazz band for me.

Since my husband brought a piano to our marriage, I dabbled with playing. But the children were small and soon I returned to teaching. The time just wasn’t right. After the kids grew up, I bought a guitar and took lessons, intending to play for my students and fulfill a long-held fantasy of making music. But that experiment, too, fell by the way when I returned to graduate school. My bright and soaring desire to master an instrument dashed itself to pieces on the rocks of my crazy life. And my non-talent. Sigh. I drowned my disappointment in the albums of my favorite musicians. Then, an amazing thing happened. I discovered Spoleto.


For twenty-one days every May and the first week in June, Charleston, South Carolina, transforms itself into an arts haven, presenting dance, theater, art and music in many venues throughout the city. The chamber music concerts take place at the Dock Theater. Tickets to the concerts are affordable, the presentations are only an hour or so and the presenters demonstrate the most amazing level of personality and technical skill. Inclined to take advantage of as much art as possible and striving to be kind to the budget, the first year we attended the Festival, we chose to attend one of these presentations. Oh, glory!

The chamber concerts  introduce attendees like me to new music, explain in detail the compositions and the composers, and entertain the audience.  This past year we elected to attend two different chamber programs, and we weren’t disappointed. I fell in love with Mozart’s “Sonata in G Major,” not only for the music, but also for the explanation given by the director as he explained the three parts of the sonata in a moving and passionate address.The piece begins, the maestro explained, on a lighter, happier note but turns a little melancholy before ascending again into cheer. At least, that’s what I understood him to say. To be honest, I was swept away by the work itself, finding reflections of my own life in the composition. Music that reveals the heart…oh, my!

The discovery of beauty is, as Kahlil Gibran suggests, the reason we live. Art speaks to that anticipation, that moment of joy when we find meaning in the medium. To encounter this anew by opening myself up to a new form magnifies the experience. Which is how I came to appreciate, embrace and applaud chamber music and musicians. Bravo!

A Hole in My Head, Part 2: Of Risks and Rewards

Sometimes I think I already have a hole in my head. That’s old-fashioned slang that refers to something that nobody needs or wants…and some days, when I must sit down and write my stories, I think I have  a hole in my head. After all, who cares? Who cares that I closet myself with my books and my computer and the hours fly by while I’m polishing paragraphs or etching essays or streamlining stories. If I journey into memoir, I risk exposing the tender flesh of memory, the raw dark corners of my soul. If I stick with fiction, I risk crafting a work no one will ever see. Rejection, you see, lurks like Dora’s foxy Swiper, behind every bush and tree. Do I need this grief?

I’m not comfortable being a gambler. Las Vegas exerts no hold on me. Casinos don’t compete for my hard-earned dollars. The most I’m willing to risk is a scratch-off in the Christmas stocking or a lottery ticket shared with friends when the jackpot reaches seductive heights. So what compels me to spend hours, days, months, years creating and crafting a piece that may or may not achieve publication? Risk there is, more than enough to carve out a queasy space in the pit of my stomach. Reward, not so much. An occasional journal will pay for my work. They might send me a few offer author copies. If an agent takes me on, I’ll be looking at an extended revision period with no promise an editor will spring for the novel at the end of that time. So, what gives? In an attempt to answer that question, I’ve made a list. Of course you have, my friends chortle. Isn’t that what you always do? Sigh. I acknowledge that, indeed, all those little pieces of paper with columns of ideas, wisps of conversation and acres of chapter changes do belong to me. Thus, the list.

Intrinsic Rewards:

#1. Joy. One of my friends who is attempting to write about her own life experiences asked me, in the midst of her struggle to stay focused, how I return day after day to the writing. I do it, I say, because the anticipation of sitting at my computer and ‘wording’ it lights a small fire inside me. I burn with the warmth of that fire, anxious to immerse myself in the words. That is not to discount the moments when the writing itself brings pain and discomfort. That, too, is a property of fire.

#2. Possibility. In the act of creation, of bringing characters and situations to life, I experience a profound belief in the possible, in the magical, in the power of words to make us fully alive. And I imagine success for my work. Which acquires, after it leaves my hands, a life journey of its own. Fly, little story, fly, fly, fly!

#3. Satisfaction. Whether the story remains in my folder of unpublished works or soars into its own orbit, I have completed the race. Each piece is polished and labeled and waiting, not for Godot, but for some lesser god to claim it as his or her own. If only one person finds pleasure in the reading, I am content.

#4. The Paradox of Pleasure/Pain. In the moment of creating, revising, editing, submitting, I am torn between the contentment of completion and the fear of failure. And in that moment I feel most keenly alive, aware of all the paths the story may take, acutely attuned to the risks I am taking.

I may not place my money on the table or slip a coin into a slot. I’m not betting the farm or losing the house. I’m gambling with the only coin I have to lose. I’m venturing my words, my stories, my self-esteem, my belief in my own ability. Risky business, this writing game. When it comes to publication, the odds are stacked against me. The house wins most of the time. But, oh those sweet rewards when acceptance rides the email and my story finds a home.

So, I plug the hole in my head where fear resides, stifle the inner censor, banish the boo bird who insists I’m a loser. I type away, betting that this story will be the big winner. That the reward is worth the risk. That pain and pleasure and satisfaction and possibility and joy make the ride worth it.

A Hole in My Head: Musing about Brain Surgery

Two and a half months from today, I will allow Dr. Raymond Sekula, world-renowned neurosurgeon, to make an incision behind my left ear, drill out a quarter-size piece of my skull, open the lining of my brain and insert a microscopic teflon sponge between a blood vessel and the nerve it impinges. Then he’ll glue, paste and tape me up. All this to cure my rather rare hemifacial spasms and release me from the trimonthly injections of botox around my eye used to control the spasms for the past thirteen years. With luck, I’ll be up and walking the same day and ready to return home the next…or I could suffer hearing loss, swallowing difficulties, a stroke or death. Surgery is NOT for sissies. Boorah!

I pause here to whisper a prayer and gather in all those that my friends and family will send my way. Courage works best when infused with a huge dose of faith.

It began with a twitch. After intense concentration, such as grading eighty essays in one night or reading for four hours, the lower lid of my left eye would tremble. Not to worry. Eye strain, I rationalized. Not a big deal. But the twitch became a tremor became a clenching so bad I couldn’t see the page in front of me. I continued to soldier on, convinced that stress and the grading overload of a high school teacher were causing my problems. But when a student in the first row felt compelled to ask, “Mrs. Irvin, do you know your eye’s twitching?” I realized that my condition had grown beyond my control. I’d been outed.

The spasms moved down my cheek to my lip, then covered the left side of my scalp. I began to avoid social situations, since the focus on faces required for such interaction caused major flareups. I made an appointment with a local neurologist and waited to see if any of the drugs he prescribed would work. They didn’t. Next step: botox.

“Botulinum toxin (BTX),” Wikipedia proclaims, “is a neurotoxic protein produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.” Now, Wiki might not be the most academic of sites, but this definition is spot on.Botox is a poison, and the side effects can be brutal. As the years passed, my response to the medication became more pronounced: lid droop severe enough to close my eye,  conjunctivitis, facial weakness. The most problematic was the double vision. Imagine this. You’re driving down the highway and suddenly the headlights approaching you have doubled from two to four, one set canted above to the left, the other below to the right. Guess right and you avoid an accident. Guess wrong and you’re road kill. Yeah, not exactly an optimum way to navigate our roads. I tried driving with one eye closed, switching from right to left. The maneuver left me nauseous and slightly out of control. I do not adapt well to single vision. Several doctors recommended an eye patch. Aargh!

I decided I didn’t want to be a pirate for the rest of my life.

This far away from the procedure, I still feel comfortable and confident. The array of tests I just completed prove I do indeed have hemifacial spasms. (Apparently there are other conditions that could cause my symptoms.) The blood vessel that rubs against the nerve, causing a continual flow of impulses to the muscles in my eye, face and head, is quite clear on the MRI. A lateral spread and a hearing test provide a base line which can be evaluated during the surgery itself. I did my research. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is the leader in this particular condition and its treatment, so I’m in good hands. No, this is NOT an Allstate commercial, although my husband did work for them for thirty years.

So, here I am, on the cusp of a new adventure. The success rate of this surgical procedure is above 90%. Some people have instant relief. For others, the condition goes away in six to twelve months. I’m holding out for the immediate cure.

Don’t misunderstand me. This is not cancer or heart disease. Many people suffer from far more serious conditions. But it is a quality-of-life issue and I am most anxious to reclaim my ability to socialize and drive and read with facility. I keep hearing that song by the Dixie Chicks: “I need a boy like you like a hole in my head…” and thinking, well, I’ll have a hole in my head for a while. But the bone will grow over the plug, my hair will grow back, the fierce headache will subside and, God willing, the spasms will be gone. Sounds like a fair trade.

P.S. Don’t tell my mom. She’ll freak out. Actually, she already knows, but she’s ninety-one and doesn’t remember everything. I’ve got airline tickets to Minneapolis in late August, a canoe trip planned for the fall, a workshop to present October 3 and reservations for Magna Cum Murder in Indianapolis and I don’t plan to miss a thing!

PSS. Prayers, positive vibes and hugs are graciously and gratefully accepted!

Relativity and the Writer: Managing the Space-Time Continuum

No. This is not a science post, although I do f…g love science (and the posters generated by that site – the ones to hang on the wall as well as the readers who comment about the ones hanging on the wall :)). Over the years I’ve devoted a fair amount of meditation time to Einstein’s formulations. Very scary when you’re a small child – the concept of infinity, the existence of worm holes, I’ve whiled away many an afternoon trying to wrap my head around warp speed and the science of a black hole. I even have that book – The Physics of Star Trek, by Lawrence M. Kraus. Introduced by Stephen Hawking, the slender volume evaluates which of Gene Roddenberry’s proposals would truly work in Einstein’s universe. I’m still edging my way through it, struggling to grasp each concept before it slips away. Sometimes I almost succeed. Well, let’s say I understand it in the moment, but as soon as I move my head from the page, the theory skitters down that darn worm hole. Hmmm…maybe that’s the point.

Anyway, this essay is about writers and writing and the peculiar need to find a space-time continuum in which to travel with words. This is not a one-size-fits-all recipe. I’ve considered most of the suggestions about ordering the day…when to write, how much to write, how long to write. I applaud each one, file it away with last year’s Christmas cards and seek the dimension that best reflects my reality.

I’m not a flat Stanley. I move in circles – of family, of friendship, of work, of play. I’m incapable of spending twelve hours a day at my desk. Honestly, it’s not going to happen. But I need that space, that dedicated star ship bridge from which to fly when I do have  time. And I fill that space with all the manuals to help me as I enter unknown territory. I consult opening paragraphs of favorite novels and study style books and examine the philosophies of successful writers. I read the classics and the noir, listen to the hearts of saints and sinners. To ‘make it so,’ my space is a bibliophile’s paradise, walls of shelves filled with books.

My patient, non-writer husband has now built libraries for me in three different homes. This task is no small undertaking. I have more than seven hundred books in my collection. While construction is underway, the tomes complain, the language texts babble, the writing advice manuals hum with indignation. They are, of course, unable to inspire when piled around my feet or stored in boxes. Once construction is complete, each one finds her spot in the collection and my world rights itself. The shelves sparkle with greatness. Not mine, but that of the masters whose books have found a home with me. Then we travel together into the dimension of time.

When I sit down to write, I move at a speed unbound by the clock. Often I worked for what I thought was only an hour to find the morning has passed me by. I will admit to carrying plots and characters around with me as I move in those other, outer circles. I scribble complications on bar napkins and conflicts on bank envelopes. In my head, I’m writing all the time, so my movement in the relativity of my writing space is constant. I carry it with me, this vast expanse of story, curving around my universe and bringing my discoveries back to that loft, that desk, that computer that serves as the vessel for my work.

Writing space. Daunting. Unsettling. Interstellar in nature. Vast and complex and, perhaps, ultimately, unconquerable. How, then, to encourage others to venture into this continuum? It begins with jettisoning guilt. A fitness instructor once told me not to worry if I couldn’t work out every day. “Work when you can, but make it count.” Good advice for writers too, no?

So, how do we conquer this space-time conundrum?

Rule #1: Find your own space. Basement, bedroom, garage, closet. Even a Starbucks. I couldn’t write in a busy coffee shop for anything. I’d be too busy people watching. But many successful writers have done just that. Whatever space you choose, make it your own. Put up post-it notes, hang a cork board, shove all those little pieces of paper in a manila envelope and keep them close. Okay, maybe that’s just me. Once you claim your spot, your soul will breathe easier.

Rule #2: Chart your own time. I work best in the early morning, when dawn is just knocking and my one- to three- thousand words are eager to be set free. I don’t eat until I’ve reach the required word count. I also make sure to stop when I know what’s going to happen next. This is not an original thought. I’m borrowing it from a famous writer whose identity has evaporated in the vacuum of my personal black hole. Mea culpa and mil gracias, famous writer! This advice really works. No moments of writer’s block when you know what’s going to happen to your characters in the next paragraph.

Here, now, in the infinite moment, I close my eyes and chart my course, accompanied by the image of my fellow writers setting forth in their small ships, motoring across the writing cosmos and typing, typing, typing as time rolls by. Wave as you pass my vessel. Send a message. Can’t wait to read what you all create!