Writing Here, There and Everywhere

I’m back. Back home and back from my NaNoWriMo blog sabbatical in which I endeavored to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The annual National Novel Writing Month competition draws hundreds of thousands to compete in this madness, and many succeed.  https://www.cartridgepeople.com/info/blog/nanowrimo-statistics

I wrote 55,000 words. I’m not getting all the NaNoWriMo prizes because I divided my words between two different projects, a nonfiction book that’s still in its early days—17,023 words–and a sequel to my novel Up Beaver Creek—38,130. Add them together, and I’ve got 55,153. That does not count all the other stuff I wrote during the month, including journal entries, new poems, and posts at my Childless by Marriage blog. This word factory produces many products.

I don’t know why the competition takes place in November. It’s such a busy month. Why not pick January when we’re all revved up with New Year’s resolutions, there’s not much else happening (okay, yes, the Superbowl), and there are 31 days instead of 30?

This November was extra crazy. Of the 30 days, I spent 15 away from home. I drove approximately 2,000 miles, bringing my Honda Element up to 130,000 miles. My travels took me to the Portland Book Festival, Ellen Bass’s Fire and Ice poetry workshop in Scott’s Valley, California, a night in Santa Cruz and a day at Seacliff Beach where I spent much of my childhood.

I followed that with three days in Santa Clara writing, catching up with family, and saying goodbye to my childhood home, which has been cleaned out and sold. From Santa Clara, I drove to the outskirts of Yosemite for Thanksgiving with my brother’s family. When I left there on Saturday, because I-5 was blocked with snow, I had to take the long way home, extending my usual California-Oregon drive from 13 hours to 18, much of it in the rain.

Between trips, I prepared for installation of a gas fireplace and a propane tank at my house. I sold copies of my recently published chapbook Gravel Road Ahead and read the final proofs for the next chapbook, Widow at the Piano, which is coming out in March, took Annie to the vet and started giving her four different medicines every day for arthritis and an ear infection, and said goodbye to my job at Sacred Heart Church.

Through it all, I wrote. I had treated myself to a new laptop, a small ASUS with super-long battery life, so I could write wherever I was. I wrote on motel room beds and desks, in coffee shops, on my brother’s sofa in front of the TV, and in the commons at Oregon Coast Community College. I wrote sitting, standing and lying down. I wrote when I knew what I was going to say and when I didn’t, nudged by the counter at the NaNaWriMo website to reach my daily goal and keep the line on the graph going up.

I joined two of the NaNoWriMo write-ins at a new local cafe (Wolf Tree, near the college). I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write with other people around, but it was great. We all focused on our own stories, taking bathroom and snack breaks as needed, and the words poured out.

But for the need to get dressed, I might do all of my writing in coffee shops. Or bars, depending on my mood.

As the end of the month neared, other writers started reporting on Facebook that they had “won” NaNoWriMo, reaching their 50,000-word goal. A week ago, I knew I wouldn’t meet that goal on my novel, although I would make it with both my projects combined. That’s okay. My 38,000 words is a lot of words. It’s 152 double-spaced pages, halfway to a completed novel. My protagonist PD and her friends have already gone through a lot, with more to come. I will keep going, although maybe not at the same breakneck pace. I will go back to taking Sundays off. I will let myself read fiction again. But this novel that was only a maybe, possibly, I’m-not-sure kind of thing is real now. And my other project has a good start.

I plan to do NaNoWriMo again. It’s exciting to write so much so quickly and with such great camaraderie as writers all over the world do the same thing. Not every novel written during NaNoWriMo gets published or even finished, but it’s fun to go into an imaginary world and let the words fly.

Anyone who writes fiction knows all the writing does not take place on the keyboard or the page. Your mind keeps working on story problems. Yesterday, while I was driving through the rain between Eureka and Crescent City, California, I suddenly had such a great idea I was shouting and banging the steering wheel. Yes! That’s perfect! That’s how PD is going to ID the bad guy. Of course! Other drivers might have suspected I drank more than orange juice and green tea with my breakfast.

Kudos to our regional NaNoWriMo leader Nikki Atkins, who finished her 50,000 way early while acting in two different plays at the local theater. For years, she has kept local writers inspired with her enthusiasm and support. How could anyone not succeed with Nikki cheering them on?

So I’m home. Back with Annie. Back at my desk. Back with a pile of receipts for all the money I spent. Back with 163 emails to read. Back facing the six pounds I gained this month eating at restaurants. Back hoping that today, finally, the work on my new gas fireplace and the propane tank outside will be completed, and we will have real heat.

But also back with the glow that comes from setting forth to write something good and succeeding.

I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was satisfying. Christmas is only three weeks from Wednesday! I’m not ready. Are you? Here’s a thought. Buy everyone on your gift list copies of Up Beaver Creek so they can be ready when the sequel comes out. Have a great week.

 

 

 

Shall I Tell You About My Weekend?

IMG_20191027_113156516[1]Shall I tell you about my mammogram on Friday, which I followed by overeating—salmon wrap and fries–at Georgie’s and then going home and staining my upper deck till my back cried “uncle.” And then, despite the radio and the newspaper predicting sunshine, it rained and turned all the “Mountain Ash” stain to mud-colored soup?

Shall I tell you about the play I went to Friday night at the PAC, “Tiny Beautiful Things,” based on Cheryl Strayed’s book? So good. Four brilliant actors playing many parts. I’d recommend you go, but the show closed Sunday. Read the book; you’ll like it.

Shall I tell you how I only made it to Friday before I started eating the “thumbprint” cookies from Market of Choice that I had put in the freezer to save for an upcoming meeting? They just kept calling to me, like the haunted cello in the book I just finished reading—Everything You Are, by Kerry Anne King. Read that one, too.

Shall I tell you about how Saturday, after a little writer work, I went to the KYAQ Electric Blues Jam with my folk guitar, checked out the collection of mostly men playing electric guitars, each with their own amps, and decided I had better just listen while I ate pizza? Or how I watched the piano player, wishing I could play like that?

Shall I tell you about doing the music for yet another Saturday Mass at Sacred Heart all by myself—and fluffing some of the words and notes—because my choir was banished for holding hands during The Lord’s Prayer (the weekend after my father’s funeral) or how I have given notice because this priest who preaches forgiveness cannot seem to forgive them and let them sing?

Shall I tell you about how I cried during Mass on Sunday—where I had just two lovely singers left—because I don’t really want to leave, but I can’t stay either? Should I brag that I didn’t miss a note as I mopped at my tears?

IMG_20191027_142534933[1]Shall I tell you how my neighbor pressure-washed my house and deck for free so I could do the staining? In the process, a porch light, outdoor thermometer, and the covering on my back door, all old and weathered, fell apart, so I bought a new porch light which he installed yesterday, and a new indoor-outdoor thermometer, which works great. I’m still trying to figure out what to do about the door.

Shall I tell you I bought more stain yesterday so I could start over, and, after the neighbor finished with the porch light, I redid the whole thing, praying there was still enough daylight for it to dry when I finished at 5:30? There was not. Some of the stain was wet last night at bedtime, and all of it was iced over this morning. It looks like it might be all right, but next year, I’m starting early enough to find a pro to take care of the deck.

Shall I tell you about how the neighbor’s new motion-detector light (for bears and burglars) shines directly into my bedroom or how it was so cold in the house that neither Annie nor I could sleep? Should I tell you how after cleaning out a ton of burnt pellets that remind me of burnt popcorn and listening to the pellet stove wheeze like a dying human while offering no fire, I declared it dead (again) and dragged in the plug-in heater that makes it only slightly warmer while my new thermometer tells me it’s 37 degrees outside and 57 inside?

Shall I tell you that I’m seeing flashing lights that might be a migraine, or perhaps I’m going blind? But it’s Monday, the eye doctor is in Eugene, and I have to write anyway.  At least the sun is out, and Annie loves me. Dad is in heaven and not hurting anymore, and if my mammogram results are okay, I’m alive and healthy, so what am I whining about?

No? That’s what I thought.

***

I’m planning to participate in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month in November. That’s where crazy people try to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, which comes out to about 1,600 words a day. I plan to take a vacation from the blog so I can focus on my NaNo book. After reading this, you might agree that I need a vacation.

Bundle up, and don’t forget to reset your clocks on Sunday or you’ll be an hour early to church.

 

Piano from the 1800s needs a new home

img_20190824_0814447681.jpgWhat do you want to do about the piano at your father’s house? Everyone asks me because I’m the only one who plays piano. I taught myself to play on that piano. It ought to be mine, right? But wait. I already have a piano.

The piano is a Kranich & Bach cabinet grand, patented 1886. Take the baby grands we’re used to seeing on concert stages, turn them sideways, and that’s what this is. It’s a beautiful thing, and if it weren’t so God-awful out of tune, it would offer a big, rich sound. The keys are ivory and intact, the pedals are sturdy, and there is a delightful round stool that you spin to adjust the height. As kids, my brother Mike and I had a good time spinning on it at Grandpa Fagalde’s house until some grownup made us stop.

But we’re not children now. Grandpa is long gone, and now our parents are gone. We’re cleaning out the house they bought in 1950. As I understand it, Grandpa got the piano from his boss, Jack Dorrance, when he was the foreman on the Dorrance ranch in San Jose. Jack had show business aspirations. His family had more than one piano. At some point, this one may have provided music in the little theater he built on the ranch. I suppose my parents brought it home when Grandpa retired to the beach.

I didn’t have piano lessons. I envy people who did. My father apparently thought Mom, who did have lessons, could teach us. But taking lessons doesn’t necessarily mean you can teach. She showed my brother Mike and me where Middle C was and gave us her old books to teach ourselves the rest. Mike lost interest, but I started a lifelong obsession with pianos, really anything with keys. I learned the notes. I played through the one-hand exercises, moved on to two, three, and more notes at a time. I practiced counting four-four, three-four, six-eight.

Not having lessons means I never learned proper fingering, and I can’t do scales worth beans, but I can make music. I even get paid for it these days as a music minister at Sacred Heart Church.

As an adult, I didn’t have a piano for a long time. I sneaked into the practice rooms at San Jose State. I grabbed time on my parents’ piano when they weren’t around. For a while between marriages, I rented a piano, feeling bad for the guys who had to get it up the stairs. Mostly I played guitar instead because it was cheaper and more portable. Also, it was the ‘60s and everybody was playing guitar.

My late husband’s wedding present to me was a piano, a Wurlitzer spinet, not as fancy as the old cabinet grand, but mine, and I could play it whenever I wanted. Fred knew the way to my heart. That instrument is scarred now from our many moves and three decades of hard use, but it sounds good, and it’s my piano. Do I want to replace it with the old Kranich & Bach, forgetting for the moment the cost of fixing it up and shipping it to Oregon?

After my father died, I came home, looked at my piano and knew that’s the one I want to keep, not the antique that was never really mine. But somebody needs to keep it and love it. My brother and I have asked around about the value of such an old, elegant piano. It seems it’s not worth much money in this digital world. It was not a deluxe model, plus musicians are going for electronic pianos these days. I play one at church, and I love all its many features, but there’s nothing like the feel and sound of a real piano.

That old Kranich & Bach is a beautiful piece of furniture, mostly used as a rack for family photographs in recent times. Is there someone lurking in the family who secretly wants to play piano? Does anyone remember how Grandpa used to bang out songs honky-tonk style with no training at all?

Grandpa Fagalde was always buying and trading musical instruments. Remember the pump organ in the garage? In his day, pre-TV, pre-Internet, everybody played music. Families would bring out their instruments after dinner and jam. And every house had a piano. Tune it? Not in the years since I’ve been around. I have friends who won’t perform on a piano that has not been tuned THAT DAY. I guess folks weren’t so picky a hundred years ago.

I can see this piano in an Old West saloon, the kind with swinging doors, floozies entertaining cowboys, and the stranger leaning on the bar, saying, “Whiskey!”

Where do I find that saloon?

The piano is in San Jose. If anyone has a yen to adopt it for their home, a museum, a school, a senior center, or anywhere it would be played and loved, let me know at sufalick@yahoo.com. I would be willing to pay the cost of making it sound its best again if somebody wants to give it a good home.

 

Are you afraid to do things alone?

Ingall, Christine. Solo Success! You Can Do Things on Your Own. St. Albans, UK: Panoma Press, 2017.

I find this book annoying. Who ever said I couldn’t do things on my own? The author begins with the assumption that the aging female reader is suddenly alone via divorce, death, or an empty nest and has no clue how to do things on her own. She assumes the reader is terrified to go out for coffee, see a show, or even take a walk by herself.

Seriously? Okay, I do know women who whine, “I have nobody to go with,” but I don’t think most of us are that helpless. Nor do I think we need page after page about how to make a list of things we’d like to do and more pages of congratulations after we do them. The few pages offering practical tips for various activities are helpful. Don’t carry a handbag on your walk, for example. Do carry a leash, even if you don’t have a dog, so people will think you do. Bring a book to read when you’re dining alone. Overall, the book is shallow, extremely British, and makes assumptions that are not true for most of us.

Or are they? I have been doing things on my own since college. My work as a newspaper reporter required that I venture out with just my notebook and camera for company. But I never thought “I can’t go because I have no one to go with.” Sometimes I would rather not go alone, and sometimes the lack of a companion expecting me to show up has led to me deciding at the last minute to stay home. But I can venture out on my own and I do. I don’t have a husband, children, or nearby family, and my friends are married and busy, so off I go.

Movies? (The very British Ingall calls it “cinema.”) My first husband was never around. I got in the habit of going to movie matinees alone. Remember the Century Theaters in San Jose? Cinerama? There might be a dozen people in the theater for an afternoon show. It’s easier to immerse yourself in the movie when you’re not competing for popcorn or the armrest with the person beside you. Sure, there’s nobody to talk to about it later, but at least you get to see the movie on the big screen.

Live theater is less comfortable, especially before the show and during intermission when you’re alone and everyone around you is in a couple or group. Read the program and relax. They’re really too busy talking to each other to pay you any attention.

As for dining out, some places are more solo-friendly than others. Feel free to reject the tiny table in the corner and ask for a better spot where you have room to read or check your email while you’re waiting for your food. If you sense you’re getting poor service because there’s only one of you, go somewhere else next time.

Walk alone? I do it, but I avoid walking in the dark. I keep my hands free and my eyes open. I have my phone ready to dial 911. Usually Annie is enough discouragement for human predators, but when she’s not with me, I know I have to stay alert. Have I had any bad experiences? Yes.

  • I was grabbed at night at an ATM in San Jose (don’t go after dark!). I cursed, punched the guy, and ran. Luckily he seemed to be too stoned to follow me.
  • One night after an assignment in downtown San Jose, a guy followed me several blocks as I headed toward my car. I made a quick change of direction and scooted into the newspaper office, where there were lights and other people. My mistake that night was carrying so much camera gear I couldn’t run or defend myself.
  • A guy in San Francisco came up behind me asking for sex. I told him to F— off and merged into the crowd crossing the street.

Stuff happens. As with a mountain lion, make yourself as big as you can and yell. A good “Fuck off! can be quite effective. But again, use common sense about where you walk alone and have a plan to get help if you need it.

Last week I wrote about joining the Newport Recreation Center and swimming alone. I am used to swimming alone in motel and hotel pools. Often I’m the only swimmer and keep expecting the “pool police” to kick me out. But what am I supposed to do, go knocking on doors asking people if they want to swim with me? No. I just swim.

The author of this book makes a big deal about being afraid of being “visibly alone.” Is that an issue? Do people look down on folks, especially women, traveling through life alone? I guess I have felt that sometimes. But I’d rather travel alone than not at all.

How about you? Do you feel free to do things on your own? Not just grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments, but fun things like going to shows, eating out, traveling, or going for a walk? What would you not be comfortable doing alone? Why?

Do you have any advice for people flying solo?

The Water is Wide: Relearning to Swim

Pug in Pool

“The water is wide, I cannot cross o’er, and neither have I wings to fly . . .”

Thus goes the old song that’s playing in my head as I swim at the Newport Aquatic Center Pool for the first time Friday night.

The blue water stretches out forever, and I know the lifeguard pacing around the edge of the pool can tell I’m a lousy swimmer. Two other swimmers, a teacher instructing a kid who already swims better than I can, have gone to the showers, so he has no one else to watch.

“Go away!” I think. But of course he is doing his job.

Swimming was always a rare treat in my family, mostly limited to our annual vacations to Lake Tahoe or Donner Lake. We didn’t have lessons, except for the required swimming unit in high school, most of which I managed to miss by being sick or on my period. I can get across a pool, and I can stay alive in the water, but I admit my strokes are wonky and I never mastered the breathing part.

I feel fairly competent in a motel pool, but this 25-yard pool, the kind of pool where serious swimmers compete, is a lot bigger and I keep running into the rubber lane dividers. Any second, I expect the lifeguard to blow a whistle and tell me to get out of the pool

In my quest in the wake of my father’s death to try new things and fill the hours no longer filled with caregiving and nightly phone calls, I have not only pierced my ears, but I have finally joined the rec center. Now I have access to a full gym, a variety of classes, the lap pool, an activity pool, and a hot tub.

It took me a few days to get here. I didn’t feel well. I just did my hair, I didn’t want to drive all the way into town. I needed a buddy to say, “Let’s go!” Finally on Friday night, with nothing else to do, I decided: I can go swimming.

I’m a worrier. Will the pool be crowded? Will I get in people’s way with my slow swimming? Will my new lock not unlock so I’m stuck wet with no dry clothes and no car keys? I said a prayer and went.

The pool is nearly empty. Having left my glasses in my locker, everything looks blurry. First decision: How will I get in? I sit on the edge and drop into the pool. Oops, not as deep as I expected. Stub my big toe. Shake it off. Swim. What stroke? Okay, okay, pretend this is a motel pool. Breast stroke. I know my face should be going into the water, but I’m not sure how to do that. It’s going to take a million strokes to get across this pool. I need to stop for a minute. Where did the floor go? How deep is it? Swim! Still swimming. God, it’s a long ways. Made it. Cling to the side and breathe.

How do people swim like machines, lap after lap after lap?

Switch to . . . side stroke. Does anybody do sidestroke? Never mind. Maybe an eighth of the way, I’m tired, switch to the other side, switch again to my back, make like a frog, float—can I float in the lap pool? Where is the end? Okay, okay. Back stroke. I can do back stroke.

I keep looking for the end of the pool, and it keeps not being there. I pass under blue and white flags, white ceiling, more flags, on and on. Bang. Ouch. There’s the end.

Okay, I have to try freestyle. That’s the one I see people doing lap after lap, so smooth, so fast. Stroke, stroke. Head out, head in, blow bubbles, glug, come up choking. I never really learned this right. I try it with my head out of the water. My back and neck protest. Back to breast stroke.

Stop watching me!

The water is wide . . .

I can’t do any more. I haul myself out of the lap pool and stagger to the hot pool. My left knee hurts. Pretend it doesn’t hurt. He’s watching you go down the steps. Ahh, the warm water feels good. Just let me sit here for a day or two.

This is a beautiful facility, replacing the funky old pool where the schedule was so filled with lessons and swim team practices that you could only swim laps at like 6 a.m. But this one is different. Opened in 2017, financed by a bond, it’s big, bright and modern. There’s room for everyone. The activity pool includes a meandering river with a current you can ride or fight. I try that, can’t figure out how to swim, but it’s fun.

It’s late. The lifeguard is impatient. Time to quit. To the showers! Like an actual jock. As if. I should have brought shampoo, soap and a brush. Wrapped in my towel, I hold my breath and turn the dial on my combination lock. 38 . . . please . . . it opens.

I dry and dress quickly. My arms and legs feel like overcooked pasta. But my new blue earrings, which I have to wear for two and a half more months to make the piercings permanent, look gorgeous.

Some of my friends take the water exercise class at noon. I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to swim. But now I have learned several things: I’m not as young as I used to be, not in as good a shape as I thought I was, and I need to learn to swim properly. I should probably sign up for lessons. Meanwhile, maybe I’ll try that water aerobics class. Or yoga.

I walk out of the locker room with my wet hair going in all directions. The guy at the desk nods. I nod back, so cool, hoping my spaghetti legs will get me to the car.

Did it!

It’s a start. As with my pierced ears, it’s late, but not too late.

For info on the Aquatic Center, visit https://newportoregon.gov/dept/par/ac/newschedule.asp

photo copyright Teerachat Aebwanawong – Thailand, courtesy 123rf.com stock photos
Text copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2019

 

 

 

The old house is packed with memories

IMG_20190822_173002965_HDR[1]In the wake of our father’s death, it’s time to clean out his house in preparation for selling it. It’s the house where my brother and I grew up, not changed much since our parents bought it in 1950. Since neither of us wants to move back to San Jose, the place we have always known as home has to go. On top of losing Dad, this hurts, too.

As it became clear that Dad was not going to live in that house anymore, I brought home keepsakes, knick-knacks, books and usable items, such as oatmeal, crochet hooks, and cookie cutters. I bubble-wrapped my grandmother’s blue tea set that my mother always said would be mine someday. It’s bittersweet.

Over the 23 years I have lived in Oregon, I have made many trips back to San Jose, sleeping in my old bedroom, waking up to the chirping of squirrels on the fence. During my father’s injuries and illnesses, I spent long periods of time there, right up to when he died. Now sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, I think I’m still there. I bang into walls searching for the bathroom before I realize I’m in South Beach now. THIS is my home.

IMG_20190824_081431250_HDR[1]Last weekend, while I was working here in Oregon, my brother and his family did the big clean-out, filling a giant dumpster and packing up things to keep or give away. There’s a memory in every item, but we can’t keep much. We have enough of our own stuff. We have to move on.

Mom and Dad bought the house the year after they were married. Located in a west-side housing tract where half the houses hadn’t been built yet, it contained the family’s history: our baby crib, Dad’s fishing poles, Mom’s needlework, the table on which we ate, and the flowered lamp in the living room that was on when my angry father would greet me in the wee hours after dates and parties, asking, “Do you know what time it is?”

IMG_20190824_081400085[1]There’s the floor heater that collected our errant marbles and jacks, the fold-down ironing board, the pink tile counter where Mom hammered walnuts into bits for cookies and brownies. There’s the circular clothesline that my grandfather built, the patio our father built, and the orange tree that was only a foot tall when I gave it to Dad one Father’s Day. Now it’s massive and full of fruit.

The house is old. It needs extensive repairs. It’s quite possible the new owners will tear it down and start over as others in that neighborhood have done, replacing the vintage three-bedroom one-bath homes with mini-mansions valued at well over a million dollars. That’s what happened to the house on the next block that my late husband Fred and I were renting when we got married. The new owners changed it so dramatically the only thing I recognize is the address.

Our parents’ story in their house is finished. My brother and I have our own homes and our own stories. The house may be filled with renters, or it may be torn down. Maybe it will be lovingly renovated and the garden brought back to its former glory. I hope a young family can use it as a blank canvas to paint the story of their lives for the next 70 years or longer. It’s a good place.

How about you? Is your childhood home long gone or do you still spend time there? What would you keep if you could walk through and take just a few things? I welcome your comments.