Housecleaning Find Marks the Beginnings of a Poet

Little Boy Blue
By Mother Goose

Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn;
The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn.
Where’s the boy that looks after the sheep?
He’s under the haystack, fast asleep.”
Will you wake him? “No, Not I!
For if I do, he’s sure to cry.”

How did I become a poet? What made me scribble singsong verse as early as third grade? Cleaning out some drawers I rarely open, I found at least part of the answer. Buried among the hair ornaments I no longer have enough hair to use, I found a stack of books from way back in my childhood. Most are pretty beat up from frequent fondling by children. Among them were:

I also found a collection of nature books for kids and Writer’s Digest magazines from the 1960s when Grandma Rachel was grooming me to be a writer. A poet herself, she kept feeding me poetry books, among them the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Browning, Marianne Moore and The Viking Book of Poetry of the English-Speaking World. Being the odd teenager that I was, I read them all and wrote poems of my own. Sixty years later, I’m still at it. 

Tucked inside One Hundred Best Poems for Boys and Girls, I found a poem of my own. Written in pencil, the words are barely visible. Great art? Lord no, although I might have had a successful career writing greeting cards. 

Don’t Forget to Think of Me

Summer is coming very fast.
Soon it will be here at last.

It’s a time to your hobbies pursue,
A time to find the real you.

A time to let your thoughts go free,
A time, I hope, to think of me.

Summer is a time of fun.
I wish no sadness to anyone,

A time to go to brand new places,
A time to see old and new faces.

I’m wishing now, a lot of fun
And joy and peace to everyone.

When summer days are gay and free,
Don’t forget to think of me. 

It’s doggerel, yes, but this is what some of us were reading in the 1950s and early 1960s. We shared Ogden Nash’s humorous verses, Rod McKuen’s sentimental offerings, and the plain-spoken poems of Robert Frost. Poetry progressed from rhyme and rhythm into free verse, rap, and slam poetry. We might roll our eyes as the singsong verse of my childhood, but it got me started.

From One Hundred Best Poems:

Barefoot Days
By Rachel Field

In the morning, very early,
  That’s the time I love to go
Barefoot where the fern grows curly
  And grass is cool between each toe,
     On a summer morning-O!
     On a summer morning!

That is when the birds go by
  Up the sunny slopes of air,
And each rose has a butterfly
  Or a golden bee to wear;
And I am glad in every toe–
       Such a summer morning-O!
       Such a summer morning!

The stuff I grew up on, that my mother read to my brother and me every night, and Grandma Rachel bestowed for every Christmas and birthday, exposed me to the joys of playing with words and sharing them out loud. It was a valuable gift that resonates today as I sit down to write a new poem on my laptop in Google docs. We no longer use fountain pens or fat pencils, but the goal is still the same: to capture what we see and experience in a compact collection of words using imagery, rhythm, word play, and yes, sometimes rhyme. 

When I meet people who don’t read, it saddens me. My brother and I were lucky that our mother read to us, and she took us to the library every two weeks to pick up another stack of books. If parents don’t read to their kids and set an example of reading for pleasure, how will their children pick up the habit? Will they ever be exposed to poems and stories that don’t appear on a screen? 

When they hear “hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock” or “Jack and Jill went up the hill,” will they know the lines that come next or shrug and go back to their phones? 

We have an obligation to pass our poems and stories to the next generation. That’s how writers and readers are born. This Christmas, buy a child a book. They’re easy to wrap, easy to mail, and might stay with them all their lives.  

PS: You can find my adult poems in my chapbooks Gravel Road Ahead and The Widow at the Piano: Poems by a Distracted Catholic

PPS: Oregon Poetry Association is hosting a “Holiday/Anti-Holiday” poetry open mic on Zoom on Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. PST. You don’t have to live in Oregon to join in. Click here to register. (Click to December on the calendar, click on the event, and you’ll see the registration screen).

Big Brother Rides Again in Celeste Ng’s New Novel

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng, Penguin Press, 2022

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read—and one of the most frightening. In this dystopian novel, which takes place sometime after The Crisis, which made the Great Depression look like nothing, the country is ruled by PACT, the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act. If you say anything against the government, the country, or the American culture, you are deemed a criminal. Books are banned and destroyed, mail is censored, and people’s children are taken away because of unpatriotic things their parents are rumored to have said or done.

Things are especially difficult if you happen to be a PAO, person of Asian origin. Our hero Bird’s father is white, but his mother is Chinese. Bird looks Chinese. The other kids pick on him, and adults don’t trust him. Worse, his mom, Margaret Miu, is a poet and one of her lines, “our missing hearts,” has been taken up as a slogan for the resistance movement. In this time of patriotism gone berserk, Bird’s family is in danger and his mother disappears. He is told that his name is now Noah and he should say he knows nothing about his mother. But he can’t let her go. He has to find her. The story that follows is mind-blowing and heart-breaking. It is a poem in itself and a lesson about what could happen. This book should be required reading for everyone.

In the world of PACT, Our Missing Hearts would be one of the many books destroyed as unpatriotic. In that world, the library shelves are half empty. Anything that might fill people’s minds with anti-PACT ideas has been removed. In 2022 America, we have not reached that point, but some books are already banned as inappropriate for young minds. See the Pen America list below. How big a leap is it to the book-burnings of George Orwell’s 1984? Not so big, I’m afraid. I suspect there are ways to take away all of our electronic books, too.

Like so many poets, fictional poet Margaret Miu just wanted to write her poems. She didn’t expect to sell many copies of her book, and she wouldn’t have if the protestors hadn’t taken up that one line, printing it on posters, painting it on streets and buildings, and hanging it on trees. Fearing for her family’s safety, Margaret’s family is torn apart. All because of a line in a poem that was not intended to be a political statement.

Think about it. Even in our society today, one statement can get people in hot water. People get fired, their reputations are ruined, they are shunned. It’s illegal to kill people or take away their children just because of what their parents say or write, but it’s not impossible. Add to that bias against certain ethnic groups, in this case Chinese or anyone who looks Chinese, and it could happen.

Ng notes in her Afterward that children have been taken from their parents in the US before. Slave children were separated from their parents and sold. Native American youth were sent off to boarding schools to be Americanized. Not long ago, children were taken from their parents at the US-Mexico border. Look at the Japanese internment camps. It has happened, and it could happen again. That’s what’s makes this book so frightening, especially if the person reading it is a poet or any kind of writer. What if our words come to be used against us? What if these words I’m typing right now are seen as disloyal to my country? It’s a chilling thought.

Beyond that, Our Missing Hearts is a fabulous book, suspenseful, beautifully written, and so original in the nonviolent ways the resistors find to fight the national brainwashing. We all need to tell our stories, whether everyone agrees with them or not.

Have you read Our Missing Hearts? I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Pen America’s list of most frequently banned books:

  • Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (41 districts)
  • All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson (29 districts)
  • Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez (24 districts)
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (22 districts)
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (17 districts)
  • Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison (17 districts)
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (16 districts)
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews (14 districts)
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins (12 districts)
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (12 districts)
  • l8r, g8r by Lauren Myracle (12 districts)
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (12 districts)
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison (11 districts)
  • Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin (11 districts)
  • Drama: A Graphic Novel by Raina Telgemeier (11 districts)
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green (11 districts)
  • Melissa by Alex Gino (11 districts)
  • This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson (11 districts)
  • This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (11 districts)

A Tale of Two Beds or Goldilocks Doesn’t Know Where to Sleep

I’ve been bed-hopping a lot lately. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. I’m in there all by myself.

I have been switching from master bedroom to guest room and back, trying to get comfortable with my broken rib. When you live alone in a four-bedroom house, all the rooms are yours to sleep in. I have slept on the couch, too. Also the hot tub, but you can’t do that for eight hours.

If you don’t remember the story, which I told in detail last week, a board in my deck collapsed under my foot, my leg plunged in and the rest of me went backwards. I wound up with a severely bruised leg and a broken rib. It could have been so much worse.

Back to bed-hopping. The master bedroom is probably the nicest room in the house. It’s pretty, color-coordinated in pinks and blues, with my stuffed bear collection there to keep me company and my shrine to my late husband next to his side of the bed. Everything I need is close by. But the queen-sized pillowtop mattress my husband talked me into years ago is more firm than soft. There is a school of thought that a firm mattress is better for your health, but when you’re nursing a broken rib, it’s like sleeping on a slab of wood, and no position feels good.

The mattress in the guest room is soft. It feels like sinking into a marshmallow. Too soft, some might say, but after a couple nights of pain, I decided to try it. My bones liked it. That room is not as pretty. Goodwill dresser, random art, needs new paint. Plus there’s too much light. Despite the blinds and curtains, the new hyper-white street light pours in. Blue and green lights shine from my Internet and cable TV boxes. I prefer a dark room. But the bed is so soft.

I spent the last week and a half sleeping in the guest room. Now the rib is better. I still feel some soreness, but I can sneeze without dying, and I don’t need pain medication anymore. I moved across the hall again. Last night, I slept in the master bedroom. I dreamed my brother won the Olympics. At age 69. What sport? I think it was speed walking, which I’m not sure is a real event, but it was a fun dream, and our parents were still alive in it.

Now I wonder if maybe I have lived with the harder bed long enough and should switch beds or buy a new one. The queen-sized bed won’t fit in the guest room, so . . . I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just keep the neighbors confused with different lights in different rooms. Does she have company? There are no cars in the driveway . . .

Like Goldilocks, I’m still seeking the bed that feels just right. And no, I’m not buying a “Sleep Number” bed. I have tried them. That much technology keeps me awake.

How about you? Are you a fan of soft beds, firm beds, or something in the middle? Does your partner feel the same way? Where was the best bed you ever slept in?

Some sleepy reading:

https://www.mattressclarity.com/blog/firm-vs-soft-mattress/  “Firm vs. Soft Mattress: Which is Best for You?”

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mattress-information/firm-vs-soft-mattress  Sleep Foundation: “Do I Need a Firm or Soft Mattress?”

https://www.sleepjunkie.com/firm-vs-soft-mattress/ Sleep Junkie: “Firm vs. Soft Mattress”

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Beware of Rotting Boards Underfoot

The weather on the Oregon coast is . . . wet. The wetness eats wood. The carpenter ants probably don’t help.

On Oct. 6, when I walked out on my deck to take some pictures of the trees looking kind of romantic in the fog, a rotting board collapsed underneath my foot. My leg went through, and I fell backwards across the edge of the deck onto the wet lawn with my leg still stuck between the boards.

I live alone. There were no neighbors within shouting distance, the young ones at work and the older ones too far away to hear me. I had been holding my phone, but it flew out of my hand and onto the grass when I fell. I had no choice but to push myself up and pull my leg out. If I couldn’t push myself out, I don’t know what I would have done.

Thank God the leg was not broken, but it hurt, and I had this weird pain in my back. I told myself I’d go to Urgent Care the next day if it wasn’t better. I had work to do.

I was watching TV that night when I turned slightly and something in my side popped. Uh-oh. A minute later, I sneezed, felt agonizing pain, and couldn’t catch my breath. I have to go to the hospital, I thought. Something is really wrong. Carefully I put on my shoes.

Unlike the time when I drove to the ER at midnight with chest pains, which was stupid, I knew I should not drive myself. I was shaking all over and couldn’t stand up straight. I called a neighbor. She was out of town and so sorry she couldn’t help. Screw it, I thought, and dialed 911. After my first-ever ambulance ride to the hospital, X-rays showed a broken rib and contusions from hip to ankle. All they could really offer was painkillers. Everything will heal in time.

“Do you have anyone to be with you?” the nurse asked as I lay on the hospital bed in my green gown and yellow Covid mask.

“No,” I said, holding back tears.

“Do you have anyone to drive you home?”

“I thought I’d take a taxi,” I said.

She shook her head. “Since Covid, taxis are hard to get around here.” We live in a small town with no Ubers and sparse bus runs. “You’d better try to find a friend or family member to come get you.” She handed me my phone.

I wanted to cry so hard, but I held it in. I had to find a ride. It was midnight. Most people I knew were asleep. I called a church friend who stays up late. It was a bit of drive, but she said she was happy to do it. I waited by the door in a wheelchair. I was so glad to see her.

Then I was alone with my dog again. I couldn’t sleep, my brain reliving the fall, thinking about what could have happened. I couldn’t find a comfortable position in the bed. I’m not a fan of recliner chairs, but I wished I had one. I wished I had someone to bring me my pills. I wondered how I would change the Lidocaine patch over my ribs by myself (turns out it’s not that difficult).

The next couple days brought me a lot of attention as the word spread. Friends brought medicine, dog food, flowers and dinner. They prayed over me and assured me I am not alone, that they care. My family lives too far away to be of any immediate help, but I am blessed with great friends.

Now I’m taking care of myself. Some things are difficult, but I’m managing. The pain is easing. I am so grateful that this was not the event that would send me out of my independent life and into a nursing home.

My handyman has already replaced the rotting boards in my deck and assures me it should be secure for a few more years. When I do replace it, I will not use wood. There are new products that can handle the moisture much better.

I have been looking into those emergency-alert devices, even though I hate the whole idea of wearing one. Boy, do they do the hard sell. Pushy! I’m not ready to wear a device around my neck. I am considering a “smart watch” that includes an emergency call function. For now, I’ll keep my phone handy.

Meanwhile, this incident has shown me that I need a better emergency plan. I need a team of friends who are ready to go if I need help. The people are there. We just need to make it more formal, so I have names and numbers ready for me—and the hospital—if/when this happens again. In return, I will do the same for them.

Did you know that 27 percent of American households are occupied by people living alone? Some have family nearby; some don’t. We all need a plan for when things go wrong.

We also need to watch out for rotten boards. I never dreamed the deck would break under me. It must have been the weight of that extra chocolate chip cookie I ate the night before.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Don’t Shoot! Oh Wait, I Need Photos

Some cultures are said to believe that when a photographer takes your picture, he is stealing your soul. I think my dog might believe that, too.

It was time for new author photos. I had been using the same ones for years. My hair is grayer now. I have a new book, Seal Rock Sound, to sell, and I didn’t want people looking at my photo and saying, “Is that you? You look different.” I hired local photographer Chris Graamans because he does terrific work. We did the deed last week.

For me, getting author photos taken is on a par with getting my teeth cleaned. I’m going to have to live with these pictures for years. They’ll show up online, on the back of my books, in articles about me. They have to be good, and I’m all too aware of my imperfections. When I asked Chris if he could shave off 20 years and 30 pounds, I wasn’t kidding. He just smiled.

As Chris brought in his light stands and umbrellas, backdrop and camera and commenced to take pictures, Annie acted very strangely. She usually says hello to visitors then lies down, but she kept walking around him and brushing against me. I don’t know if she was trying to protect me or begging for attention, but it was strange.

I wonder. Humans (and some monkeys and apes) are the only animals who bare their teeth when they’re happy. For most critters, it’s a sign of aggression when they’re getting ready to attack. Again and again, even though it felt strange, I forced that smile, showed off my massive choppers. I have seen myself not smiling and don’t like the way I look.

We all want to show up with perfect skin, perfect hair, a slim figure, a perky nose and maybe some dimples. I’m going for “friendly.” Or maybe “interesting.”

We don’t see ourselves the way other people see us. I know that. Other people may not even notice things that look terrible to me. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I’m horrified. Do other people see that? How can I show my face in public? Of course, it could be the other way around, too. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

You can’t photograph a soul, a spirit, the essence of who you are, and no, the camera does not kidnap one’s spirit. It only captures the outside shell that holds it.

But if you’re going to be a writer, you have to have photos.

As a reader, I always look for the author’s photo. I want to know what the person who wrote this thing looks like. Frankly, if they’re too attractive, I don’t trust them. So maybe this will work out all right for me.

People are drawn or repelled by pictures. Sitting at my table Saturday at the Florence Festival of Books, I saw very clearly that the front and back covers are the most important things when people are strolling around with a few dollars to spend on books. If the front cover doesn’t grab their attention and the description on the back cover doesn’t make them want to read more, they’re moving on. They’ve got 40 more booths to visit.

If they pause long enough to talk to you, you need to be able to tell them what kind of books you write and what they’re about in just a few words. Do not make people stand and listen to the whole story when they didn’t even ask for it. The man at the next table was great at this. He writes “Humorous murder mysteries” about a professional wrestler turned private detective who runs into Big Foot in the woods while on a case. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

One author said her books are like Clan of the Cave Bear but rated PG. Another said he writes “biker poetry.” Another offers “inspirational nature photo books”.

With my many different kinds of books, I’m still working on how to sum it all up in a few words: true and fictional stories and poetry about childless women living alone on the Oregon coast? No, that’s still too long. Suggestions?

Have you had your picture taken lately? How did it go? Feel free to share your stories in the comments.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Let’s Sing Some Songs About Hair

What songs would PD play? That’s the question I kept coming up against in my novels Up Beaver Creek and Seal Rock Sound, featuring piano player-singer PD Soares. Recently widowed, she has left her home in Montana and headed west, determined to be more than a church choir singer.

Although she does have a day job, PD’s music career is moving along. She’s singing and playing with a band called Seal Rock Sound that includes her roommate Janie and several other friends. Their repertoire includes everything from Chuck Berry to Bob Dylan to Willie Nelson, with a little Grateful Dead thrown in. At a rehearsal in Chapter 5, they go from “Ripple” to “Blue Skies” to “Peaceful Easy Feelin.’ ” Plus some songs that I had to find online because I am not PD. I am considerably older and tend toward country, bluegrass, gospel, and some new age piano stuff. That’s not going to work for PD and her band. She likes jazz, blues and rock. Her audiences are not going to go for “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

When a friend throwing herself a pre-chemo party demands “hair” songs, PD and Janie come up with a list. Who knew there were so many songs about hair?

“I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair”

“Hair” (from the musical)

“Hair” (Lady Gaga)

“I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” (South Pacific)

“That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine”

“I am Not My Hair”

“Farrah Fawcett Hair”

“Hairspray” (the musical)

Do you know any others? Let’s add to the list.  

I had a blast writing the hair party chapter. If you want to know what happened, pick up a copy of Seal Rock Sound at Amazon.com or order it from your favorite bookseller.  

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Spending the night with Charles T. Pap (CPAP)

Stuff white toy bear is shown wearing a CPAP mask with straps around his head and a hose coming out the top of his head to demonstrate how it looks.

I call him Charlie. Charles T. Pap for formal occasions. No, it’s not a boyfriend, dog, turtle, car, or a character in one of my novels. It’s my CPAP machine. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. People wear these machines to keep them breathing steadily during the night when they would otherwise intermittently stop breathing due to sleep apnea. This is hard on the heart and other organs. It also robs sufferers of good sleep so, like me, they keep falling asleep during the day.

You might have slept with someone who has it. They snore and snore and then . . . silence. Then maybe a snort and more snoring. They may even snore so loudly they wake themselves up. I have done that. I have also recorded myself snoring. My husband, who did not snore, was a saint to put up with that. I’m pretty sure my mother had it. She snored like crazy and fell asleep often during the day, just like me.

Ironically, my brother and I brought home our brand new identical CPAP machines on the same day in June, so we compare notes. He tried another model before and gave up after a few days, but he’s sticking with this one because he has heart trouble and isn’t ready to die in his sleep. Me, I’m just tired of being tired.

You can’t get a prescription for a CPAP machine without having a sleep study. I wrote about that here in May, complete with embarrassing photo. You can read it here. The study showed that I stopped breathing about every 30 seconds when I slept on my back, less often when I lay on my side. Not terrible, but concerning. Just sleep on your side, you say? I thought I did, but it turns out I spend a good portion of the night on my back.

I will not be posting a photo of me wearing Charlie strapped around my face. It looks ridiculous. You have a hose running from the machine to a nozzle on the top of your head, another strap behind your head, and more straps holding a rubber nosepiece that looks alarmingly like a hospital intubation tube. In the model I have, my mouth is free, but many older CPAPs cover both nose and mouth. Nope, nope, nope, not for me.

The sleep doc gave me three months to try out the CPAP and see if it helped. If it didn’t, I could give it back and be done with it. Oh, how I wish that were the case, but I know I sleep more soundly with it on, with Charlie breathing moist air into my nose all night. Dang it.

Charlie takes almost as much maintenance as my old dog, who is catching some extra z’s beside me as I type. Clean these parts every day, these other parts once a week, refill the humidifier tub with distilled water daily, replace the filter, the nosepiece, the mask, and the hose at different times and the whole thing every few years . . .

My brother is more meticulous than I am. Every morning he puts a little baby shampoo on his finger and washes out his facemask and humidifier tub. I do it about once a week. I’m still trying to figure out how to get it dry by bedtime. It’s damp here on the Oregon coast. Last night near midnight I was standing in the bathroom in my nightgown blow-drying the padding on the sides of the nosepiece. When I put it on, water dripped onto my lips and chin for the first hour. Combine that with restless legs and a brain full of too many TV shows, and I didn’t fall asleep till the wee hours. To entertain myself, I watched videos on my phone on how to clean my CPAP.

At my telemed appointment tomorrow with the sleep doc, we will discuss my experience with the CPAP. Charlie is connected to the internet, and the doc will have a print-out of my numbers, hours of usage, oxygen saturation, etc. They know what I’m doing in bed! Well, at least with Charlie. They don’t know why it’s so off and on some nights and a steady seven or eight hours on other nights.

Sleeping hooked up to a machine, with a mask on your face and a hose coming out of the top of your head is weird and unnatural. Having Googled CPAPs online, I’m receiving lots of ads for less invasive machines and alternatives to CPAPs. I am not uninterested, but I am still hoping my relationship with Charlie will work out.

I got used to wearing curlers in my hair every night and sleeping with a headgear attached to my buck teeth in my teens. I can do this. Maybe. Experts say one-third to one-half of people prescribed CPAP machines quit or never bother to start. I know I never wanted this, but Charlie is here, and I’m hoping we can get along.

Have you or a loved one used a CPAP machine? How did it go? Were you able to stick with it? Why or why not? Any advice for this CPAP rookie?

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Where Can an Old Lady Get a Safe Non-Sexual Hug?

Did that question make you laugh? I get it, but I’m serious. For those of us who live alone, hugs are few and far between. Covid didn’t help. Now when I meet up with a hugger, they tend to ask first. “Do you do hugs?” What am I going to say? No! Don’t touch me? We wrap our arms around each other and hope our vaccines and immune systems are working.

Have you heard that people need hugs like they need food and air? No matter how old we are, we still need to be touched, to be held, just like we did when we were babies. In fact, I have read that we need at least four hugs a day. Some experts say we need 12. Show of hands: How many of us have had zero hugs today?

A Psychology Today article on the benefits of hugging says that hugging reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, boosts immune systems, and releases a pleasure hormone called oxytocin.

It’s no wonder so many of us long for a real hug, the kind where you both hold each other, no one holding back, no hurry to end it. You hug long enough to smell a hint of deodorant, soap or sweat, the mint on their breath. Even if their belt buckle is pushing into your stomach and your breasts feel squashed, you hold on because it feels so good.

Or at least that’s how I remember it.

People are suspicious of hugs these days. With Covid, it makes sense. But even before Covid, full-out hugs were outlawed in the workplace, between teachers and students, or in any situation where someone might cry, “Sexual abuse!” That’s a valid concern, even if the teacher just wants to cheer up a little kid who’s crying because his turtle died. Nope, at best, all they can give is a quick sideways squeeze. Or a fist bump, like a priest I used to know. We can’t blame any priest for wanting to avoid any suspicious touching after all the clergy abuse that has happened in the past.

But we need hugs. While being hugged, you feel held, loved, safe. It feels like home. My late husband Fred was famous for his hugs. When he hugged you, you knew you’d been truly hugged. My friend Terry does that, too. But Fred is gone, and I don’t see Terry very often.

So where is a girl supposed to get a hug? A Scoopwhoop.com post suggests that we find the the people who embrace with abandon and ask for hugs. We can also offer hugs to people who seem to need them, asking, “May I hug you?” But yes, these days, it’s not a simple question, and is a hug as good if you have to ask for it?

Wikihow has a post on how to hug in various situations. Do we really need instructions? Maybe after all this pandemic time, we do.

There are some hug substitutes one can try, such as weighted blankets, stuffed animals, and body pillows. You can wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze, but it’s not the same.

In some locations, you can hire a professional hugger. Read about it here: https://www.eatthis.com/professional-hugger/ And here: https://cuddlist.com/ and here: https://www.cuddlecomfort.com/ Is that weird? Would you ever hire a pro? Isn’t this a little like prostitution?

Check out this video of a little boy hugging residents at a nursing home. “Boy offers hugs to lonely senior citizens.” It will make you cry. You know those old people don’t get a lot of hugs.

Maybe the best way to get hugs is to give them. To a human. I hug my dog Annie all the time. She looks at me like what are you doing? She does not hug back.

In this time when Covid is still happening, we need to be careful. If you are blessed with a romantic partner, you have a built-in hug dispenser. Likewise with your children, except maybe for their teenage years. But if you live alone? All I can recommend is to hug where you feel comfortable. Offer a hug and you will usually get one back. It’s okay to say, “I need a hug.” We never outgrow the need to be touched.

Where do you get your hugs these days? Are you someone who initiates hugs or do you shy away from hugs? Who is the best hugger you know?

Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels.com

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

New Novel, Seal Rock Sound, is Here!

Book cover for Seal Rock Sound shows a rocky shoreline, dark clouds reflecting on blue water at sunset.

Seal Rock Sound, the sequel to Up Beaver Creek, has officially been published. PD is back.

PD Soares survived the death of her husband, relocation to Oregon, and the disasters that occurred shortly after her arrival at her new home up Beaver Creek Road. Now she can relax and pursue her music career and maybe even a little romance, right?

Wrong. New challenges are coming like sneaker waves. Can you love a man who doesn’t love himself? What is wrong with her mother? And how do you recover when the town that calls itself “the friendliest” proves not so friendly after all? Our red-haired, piano-playing heroine is tough, but is she tough enough?

Book cover for Up Beaver Creek shows a creek running through dense bushes and trees, all very green and blue.

Of course she is, but it won’t be easy.

I’m already making notes for the third book in the series because I just can’t let these people go.

This is my 12th book. Does it get easier to produce a book?

No.

That’s probably not what you want to hear. “Oh, sure I just pop them out like pancakes.” Maybe not pancakes. My pancakes are always burnt or half raw. Let’s say muffins. I’m good with muffins.

Here’s the thing. With each book, I am more aware of the mistakes I need to avoid, more conscious of the pitfalls of careless editing or shallow research. With a sequel, it’s even trickier because every detail has to be consistent with what I said in the previous book. Were Donovan’s eyes blue or green? Which one of Janey’s boyfriends helped her move? Did the house PD and Janey shared have a fireplace, wood stove or radiator? Conflicting details can destroy a good story.

My years of newspaper writing make me a faster writer than many. I don’t agonize over every word or spend an hour writing and rewriting one sentence. I spent too many years knowing I just had to get the story finished by deadline. There was no time for angst or perfection. Now I’m learning to break that habit.

I used Allison K. Williams’ book Seven Drafts this time, and I think I will use it with every prose project from now on. Because I did the seven drafts, this may be the best writing I have ever turned out.

Each draft asks the writer to look at ONE aspect in depth. For example, one draft is devoted to making sure the story makes sense in the order it is written. Does every chapter serve a purpose? Is something missing? Is this chapter too short or two long? Does this scene belong in this chapter or another one or do you need it at all? Do the beginnings and endings of each chapter grab the reader’s attention and make her read on?

Another draft is devoted to characters. Are they all necessary? Who are they? What do they want? What conflicts are they dealing with?

We move on to setting. Can a reader who has never been there see it clearly? Does the time and place play a role in the story? Oregon coast winters are wet and windy. How does that affect what happens to PD and her friends?

After dealing with the larger issues, the drafts get down to unnecessary words, vague language, and words we tend to overuse. This is where we make the writing sing.

All these drafts take a long time, but they pay off.

Once the writing and rewriting are done, production begins: formatting, layout, cover design, drafts, proofreading. It is amazing how the human eye works. Several people proofread this book, and we all found different typos.

Finally the moment comes when you click “publish” and order author copies. You pray this book baby has all its fingers and toes, that the pages aren’t upside down and the cover looks as good in person as it looks on the screen, that the page numbers are where they’re supposed to be, and you don’t see any big ugly mistakes. When your first copies arrive and you see that your book is all right, you hold it to your bosom and weep.

You’re done now, right? Wrong. Now you have to sell it. And that’s a whole other chapter.

Next time you pick up a book, whether it’s in a bookstore, at the library, or in a bin at the thrift shop, consider what it took to turn an idea into this product you hold in your hand. If you’re a writer, don’t let that stop you. Just take it one step at a time.

You can order both Up Beaver Creek and Seal Rock Sound in paperback at your favorite bookstore through Ingram, the distributor used by most booksellers, or in paperback or ebook formats at Amazon.com. I am available for readings and talks live or online. Tell your friends.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Is That You? You Look Different on Zoom

I parked at the community center in Keizer, Oregon last Sunday, climbed the stairs to the little theater where the Mid-Valley Poetry Society reading was happening and did a double-take. Is that T? And J? And  . . . ?

Oh my gosh. It was surreal. Many of the faces were familiar, but I had only seem them on my computer screen on Zoom. They towered over me or were smaller than I expected. They hugged or held back. They limped or bustled. It was like going into a blind date where you have only seen a photograph. In person, they look different. “John?” “Sue?” 

As people venture out of their pandemic hideaways, suddenly we’re three-dimensional, without the flattering lighting, the carefully arranged backdrop, and the option to turn the camera off. Now they can see all of us. When they saw me, did they think she’s heavier than I thought, and I didn’t know she wore glasses? 

I have made wonderful friends on Zoom, including people from all over the world. I feel like I know them, but it’s not the same. It’s a snapshot, not a rounded picture. As I learned last month when I attended a poetry convention in Ohio, meeting on Zoom is not like eating breakfast with other poets, noting how they choose cereal and fruit or pile on the pancakes, whether they are chirpy or sullen in the mornings. It’s not like meeting in the hallways, elevators, or swimming pool. Sure, you still get the words of the speakers, but you don’t connect as people. Mostly you’re staring at your own stupid face wondering why your hair looks so bad. 

Zoom has its advantages. I have talked to people in the UK, Australia and Dubai, as well as across the US,  whom I could probably never meet in person. It’s COVID-safe, much cheaper and easier than traveling, and somewhat anonymous. But we’re becoming a nation of screen people. Even when someone is standing right in front of us, we’re staring at our screens. We’re raising a generation of young people who don’t know how to socialize, how to sit with someone, look at them, and converse. They only know how to Zoom, and that’s sad.

I also discovered that performing in real life as opposed to Zoom is a whole different thing. My two poetry chapbooks were born during the pandemic. I have done readings on Zoom to promote them but none offline. When you’re reading on Zoom, you’re more focused on the technology and your own face than the audience. Because they are muted, you can’t hear if they laugh or cheer or gasp.  Nor can you hear any applause, just maybe catch a glimpse of waving hands. 

You don’t even know whether they’re listening. If you look at all the people in their squares, many are moving around, playing with their pets, or checking their phones. You’re background noise. I’m one of the worst offenders. I can’t sit still when I’m at home with an endless to-do list. And who’s to know if I’m checking email or washing dishes while I listen to your poems? 

But in the theater, meeting room or living room, the audience has to sit and pay attention. The performer can look out at them and see them listening. When I read at the open mic last weekend, the applause was like a loud rain after a long drought. So beautiful. I had to deal with a tricky microphone and blinding stage lighting, but just to stand there and proclaim my poems and feel my words going into the air felt so good. You don’t get that on Zoom. Now I’m longing to get up there with my guitar and sing. Church has been my only gig since March 2020.

I attended a conference in Ohio last month. It was a hybrid, in person and on Zoom. Giant screens showed the people attending online. They could see where the camera was aimed, but they couldn’t see all of us. They didn’t taste the food. They didn’t sit at the tables while we did the cut-up poem exercise, fighting over the scissors and glue sticks and laughing at the mess we were making. I ended up with a poem I liked. Did they? And who was there to admire it?

Sitting in the courtyard drinking wine, lounging on soft chairs close together and really listening to each other’s poems was a whole different experience from hearing them online. 

We don’t even realize everything COVID has taken from us. We have lost loved ones in the pandemic, yes, but we also have lost a way of life. It’s not over. This may only be a temporary break before we go back into isolation. The news is full of rising case numbers and new variants. Some cities are reinstating mask mandates. We all want the pandemic to be over. It isn’t, but we’re pouring out of our houses. We’re traveling, we’re meeting, we’re hugging. Stop? It’s like trying to put ketchup back in the bottle.

On my trips to California and Ohio last month, I found myself surrounded by strangers, mostly without masks. I had no way of knowing whether they were vaccinated, whether they were infected, whether they had just been with someone who was sick. If we get COVID, we get COVID seems to be the philosophy now. 

I suppose there’s a limit to how long we can sequester ourselves in fear before we have to crawl out and see what’s left, see who is left. 

Meanwhile, what a gift to walk into a room, see someone you’ve grown to admire on Zoom and fall into a hug. Oh my, they’re so tall. They’re so real. They’re so three-dimensional, with arms, legs, clothing, and warm skin. It’s not the same. It’s wonderful. 

Are you meeting Zoom friends in real life? What is it like for you?

Read about it:

“The Rise of Deja Zoom: Meeting Your Virtual Friends IRL” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/12/deja-zoom-pandemic-friendships-virtual/620869/

“Dating Over Zoom? Don’t Be Surprised If Those Online Sparks Fizzle in Person” https://theconversation.com/dating-over-zoom-dont-be-surprised-if-those-online-sparks-fizzle-in-person-138899

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.
%d bloggers like this: