I had been awake for an hour, but still lay in bed, enjoying the way my body completely relaxed against the flannel sheets, knowing it would be cold outside of the bed and plantar fasciitis would make my feet scream when I put my weight on them. There was a lot to do, but nothing that motivated me to get up. I was satisfied with last night’s late writing jag.
I watched the sky turn from black to pink to blue.
The phone rang. Oh no. Too many times that old red princess phone with no caller ID had brought bad news in the wee hours. My mother about to die. My uncle dead. My husband gone. My father on his way to the hospital . . .
Yesterday a friend’s doctor told him he was dying, that he didn’t have long.
The adrenaline surge ended my relaxation.
“Hello, Susan, this is Lance Deleon from xxxx. Is this a good time to talk?”
He had called before. I had fobbed him off. I still did not know what company he was with or what he wanted. I suspect he wants to help me advertise my books, improve my website, or improve my Google ratings. I know I’m not interested.
“No,” I said. “I’m still in bed.”
He said some stuff I didn’t quite understand because he talked so fast.
“Okay,” I said.
More bla bla.
“When can I call you?”
“What time is good?”
I hung up and turned on NPR news. Biden, elected Saturday, is forming his transition team. Trump refuses to concede, tweets about fraud. Pfizer has a promising vaccine for the coronavirus, but it will be months . . . stocks are up, the temperature is down in the 30s . . .
The sky had turned gray. I took my morning pills, slid my feet into my fuzzy slippers, and got up. On my office phone, caller ID showed one of those fake numbers from familiar places that I would not have answered if I had seen it. Modesto, California. Yeah, right. “They” know I have family in that area code.
Thank God it wasn’t bad news.
Lance DeLeon would be a wonderful name for a character. Handsome but devious. Hmmm . . .
My shower and breakfast will have to wait. I’ve got writing to do.
Later . . . There was a spider in the shower. While I was eating breakfast, the dog went into full guard dog mode. I jumped up to look out the window and spilled my Red Zinger tea all down the front of me. No one was there. Welcome to Monday.
What do you do all day? People keep asking me that. Apparently, there are folks my age who have nothing to do but look for ways to entertain themselves, especially in these odd coronavirus days. My late mother-in-law used to work out her schedule with the TV guide, circling the shows she had to see, stuff like “Jeopardy,” “Wheel of Fortune” and “Matlock” reruns. In her 80s, widowed, she took care of whatever chores needed doing and settled at her table with the TV Guide and the New York Times crossword puzzle. COVID-19 wouldn’t have changed her schedule any more than it has changed mine.
Doing my accounting, I see that I have fewer restaurant and gas receipts and more online shopping receipts—I gave in to temptation and ordered a “mouth violin,” aka ocarina, yesterday. If you hear odd sounds emanating from the neighborhood just south of the Newport airport, you’ll know it arrived. As if I needed another instrument.
But things haven’t changed that much. What do I do all day? This, what I’m doing now. I work on writing and writing-related tasks most of the day. I write poems, blog posts, essays, book chapters, reviews, etc. I send my work out to publishers. I publicize things I have already written and published. I try—and fail—to read all of my email. I check Facebook a lot.
COVID has actually given me more to do because I’m attending Zoom meetings, workshops and readings several days a week. (Billy Collins, Facebook Live, 2:30 pdt weekdays!) I have a creative nonfiction class and an Alzheimer’s webinar tomorrow, another creative nonfiction class on Wednesday, a reading on Thursday, a committee meeting for Willamette Writers on Friday . . . and on Saturday, I go to St Anthony’s to record music for Sunday’s online Mass. I’m zooming so much I’m dizzy.
Not bored, no way.
I’ve also got all those instruments to practice so that when we come out of isolation, I’ll have a new and improved repertoire. And the dog needs her walk every day, we both need to eat, clothes need washing, floors need sweeping, etc. I am more than halfway through a big garage cleanup, which will probably lead to an extra trip to the chiropractor. After that, I’ll work on the pantry and then the closets and then . . .
What do I do all day? I want to echo my dad who, even in his 90s, would get angry when asked that question. “I work!” he’d shout. Officially retired, he spent his days working on the house and yard. He never did approve of people who didn’t mow their own lawns. I guess I take after him. But I don’t get angry when people ask what I do all day. I know I’m an odd duck, that thing called a writer, and most people are not writers. They know I’m home in my bathrobe and don’t understand why I’m always “busy.” They don’t feel driven to produce words every day and shape them into publishable form. Post-retirement, they look at their days as blank slates. Not me.
I hesitate to call it work, not only because I don’t get paid for most of it, but because it’s fun. I always envisioned myself making quilts in my retirement. For a while, I felt guilty because I wasn’t quilting. I used to quilt. My walls are covered with my strange fabric art, but now I quilt with words. This blog is one square, the poem I wrote yesterday is another, and the book I’m working on is a big old comforter which is mostly done, just needs some work around the edges.
So that’s what I do all day. I write, Zoom, play music, walk the dog, read, and eat. How do you fill your days? How is it different from before COVID turned the world upside down? Please share in the comments.
In the first 17 days of this year, 12 different publishers rejected my poems and essays. That’s a lot, more than I have ever received in a bunch before. I belong to an online group that tries to get 100 rejections a year, reasoning that the more we send out, the better our chances of getting published. So far, I’m winning, but it’s a dubious honor, a contest I’d rather lose. Last year, I made it to 68 rejections, but I also had several individual poems, two essays, and two chapbooks accepted for publication. I thought I was on a roll.
Twelve rejections. After number 10, I prayed to God to not send anymore. Number 11 arrived that day. The next day looked like it would be rejection-free, but when I checked my email at bedtime, there was number 12. I cried.
In the olden days, rejections came in the mail. The “rejection slips” came in all different sizes and colors, and writers told each other that if the editor added a handwritten note, that meant they were on the verge of success. Now, most rejections come by email and they look pretty much the same. Thank you for letting us see your work. We regret to inform you that we will not be able to use it. Good luck with your writing. The chart on Submittable, the online app that most publishers use for submissions these days, changes the listing for your piece from “in progress” to “declined.” There’s nothing to hang on the wall and no break from rejection between mail deliveries.
It’s hard not to doubt your ability in the face of so much rejection. About half of my current rejections came from contests in which I did not win or place, including one I thought was a sure thing. I was a finalist in that one twice before. Ah, humility, one of the virtues. Practically speaking, I’m aware that the editors have just come back from the holidays and are clearing their desks for new rounds of submissions. It’s just a matter of timing.
It’s tempting to say my writing sucks and give up, in spite of the people who have told me they like my writing. My essay in Creative Nonfiction last year was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. My writing does not suck, and I am not quitting. I know all the reasons for rejections, including the sheer volume of submissions that make the odds very tough. Sometimes it’s just not the right flavor. They want lemon and I sent strawberry. Sometimes they just have way too much strawberry already. Sometimes they prefer rhubarb.
We like to think of our stories and poems as art, but once we start submitting them to editors, they become products. We know from our own shopping experiences that we don’t buy everything presented to us. I once published an article comparing this writing biz to shoe shopping. Sometimes the customer doesn’t really need shoes; they’re just looking. Sometimes they want shoes but not that style or that color or that size. The shoe salesman doesn’t take it personally when they walk out without buying anything. Thus it is with our writing. If one customer says no, we try another.
Think about selling vacuum cleaners door to door. If the first person says no, we knock on another door. Sometimes we have to knock on an awful lot of doors before someone says yes. But sometimes that one person who says yes tells all her friends, who also want to buy what you’re selling. Suddenly you’re selling lots and lots of vacuum cleaners. That’s what we want.
An article in the current issue of Poets and Writers magazine suggests that rejection is a good thing. It forces us to present our very best work and to keep trying harder. And I do. After decades of writing and publishing, I know the drill. Record the rejection and find somewhere else to send the work. Take another look to make sure it’s still as good as you thought it was. Tweak as needed to fit the new market, and send it out again. Meanwhile, keep the word factory going because the writing is more important than the selling.
There will be days you wish you took up a different trade. Plumbing, for example. Who would reject a plumber?
I talk to myself. All the time. Sometimes I direct my words to Annie the dog, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit she’s not paying attention. She tunes in for certain key words—eat, cookie, walk, snuggle, beach. The rest is just bla bla bla, a continuous hum like the refrigerator. If she needs to pay attention, she’ll hear one of those special words or detect the jingle of her leash. Besides, she’s busy listening for cats, squirrels, bears and other invaders.
So, I talk to myself. People always say it’s okay as long as you don’t answer yourself. Well, I do answer myself. Right? Right.
I live alone. Maybe that’s part of it. In public, I usually keep my mouth shut. But sometimes, I forget, which causes people to stare at me.
What do I talk about? Everything. Why did my French toast turn out so badly Saturday night? Should have used better bread. What am I going to wear to church this morning? I don’t know. Black pants? Probably.
It’s a constant running commentary. Am I really addressing it to myself though? I wonder about this, just like when I write in my journal and wonder who I’m writing it for? Am I writing to myself? To God? To an invisible confidante?
I do talk to God sometimes. I pray, I chat. But it’s different. I stop and call His name and say what I’ve got to say, then return to regular programming.
I also talk a lot to people who aren’t actually here. Uh-oh, you’re thinking, she’s completely lost it. No, no. I think I’m okay, but I tell people things I wish I could tell them in person if they were here, if they would listen, or if I had the courage.
I’m a writer. I write down my thoughts all the time. I usually speak them as I write, which is a good reason not to write at Starbucks or the library. I’m just constantly verbalizing. Is this nuts? Or is this a good way to work things out in my head?
I found some discussion of the matter online.
In this NBC news report, the experts insist talking to oneself is not only normal but good for us—if we do it correctly. Who knew there was a right and a wrong way to talk to oneself?
Let’s get back to Annie for a minute. Do you think she talks to herself? Sometimes in the backyard, she barks and barks. I assume she’s either warning off marauding squirrels or trying to connect with the other dogs in the neighborhood, but what if she’s just talking to herself? Or barking because she likes the sound of her own voice? Annie, who are you talking to?
Right now, I’m talking to you, dear reader. Do you talk to yourself? Is it really yourself you’re addressing or someone else? Who? Or should it be whom? Either way, do you think this is a problem? Please comment.
Dad update: Thank you all for your continuing concern about my father. He has made it through a whole week at the skilled nursing facility without a trip to the hospital. Fingers crossed. I’m back in Oregon and he’s still in the Bay Area, so our only contact is by phone—which kills me—but he sounds better than he has in ages. He still can’t get out of bed on his own, but he’s feeling better, which is something. He could use more visitors. Email or send me a private message on Facebook for details on where he is.
I took the old laptop out of its nifty leather case and stared. Was it always that clunky looking? So square? Like an old Volvo. Instead of a mouse, it has a marble-sized trackball. The screen is about the size of my Kindle screen. And what’s with the giant box with a little plug sticking out of it?
This thing doesn’t have a USB port, but it does have a place to plug in a telephone line for the modem. Suddenly the old backup computer has become an historic artifact. But it’s my only hope to find out what happened to Roberta and Frank.
I’ve been reading through short stories I wrote back in the late ‘90s. Some are so awful I’m relieved no one wanted to publish them. But some are still good, especially this one about Roberta and Frank, who run into trouble while traveling in their motorhome. I was thinking I should polish it and send it out. It’s not too out of date. Look, Roberta, even has a cell phone. She doesn’t know how to use it, but I can fix that. I got to the end of page 5. The ambulance is coming and–where’s page 6? Where’s the rest of the story? I have a vague memory that Roberta stops being such a wuss and saves the day, but I don’t know the details anymore.
I have to leave for church in five minutes. I tear through my files. I sent it to literary journals back in the days before we submitted everything online. I have to have more paper copies of “Runaway Dream.”
I find maybe 50 short stories. Lord, I was prolific. But not that one.
Okay, look through the pile of CDs. Nope, too new. Where are those old 3.5-inch floppies? The only computer with a floppy drive that I still have would be that laptop I bought in 1993. There it is back behind the unsold books.
Epson ActionNote 700 CX. I plug it in. The poor thing is beat up, the F7 key coming off, the screen part separating from the keyboard part (unlike a lot of today’s laptops, it’s not supposed to). It turns on. Gray screen, words and numbers. DOS. Oh crap. Does anybody remember the DOS operating systems that preceded Windows?
Press F1. Okay. Setup failed. Press F12 for setup utility. I get a screen full of choices and no idea what button to push. The date shows Jan. 1, 1990. Memories of Y2K. Remember how we thought the world would fall apart because all our computers couldn’t make the leap to a new millennium? Most of them did but maybe not this one.
I decide to take pictures so I can show you all this historic computer. I close the top to shoot the outside. When I reopen it, all the words and numbers are gone. The computer doen’t even hum. When I push the power button, nothing happens. Old ActionNote seems to have passed away while I was trying to take its picture. But how does Roberta get off that deserted road? Does her husband get to the hospital in time?
Wait. Do I have another laptop, an interim between the Volvo and my current HP, a Honda maybe? Can’t find it, but I find some 5.25-inch floppy disks. Short Stories 1 and 2. Great! Oh. I have nothing that can read them. I have always backed up my files, carried copies in my car, and put them in the safe deposit box at the bank. It’s all useless nonrecyclable plastic now.
But wait, the Volvo didn’t die. The plug got super hot and the computer turned itself off. After it cools, I plug it in again. Green light. Must act quickly. Setup. Change the date. OMG. Windows 3.1. Insert disk. Horrible wailing noise. It can’t read the disk, can’t read any of my old disks, but hey, here on the hard drive is the old version of my novel Azorean Dreams. Hello, old friend.
“When the alarm shrilled at 7 a.m., Chelsea groaned and
covered her eyes against the light pouring in the bedroom windows.” The whole
book is there. Wow.
What else is on this thing? There’s the unfinished novel about a quadriplegic named Daniel. And something called deaderma.wps. Oh, I love that story. Reporter goes to do an interview and finds the subject dead in the rose bushes. Being a reporter, she gets nosy . . .
No Roberta and Frank. I created these people. I need to find
out what happened to them, even if I have to retype every blinking word into
the new (ish) computer.
I’m still looking. And no, I do not want to write a new ending. The moral of this tale. Print everything out. I still have poems, stories and essays I wrote on manual typewriters 50 years ago, but I can’t read what I entrusted to my computers in 1997. Even 2007 is iffy. Paper lasts longer than modern technology. We’re putting all of our information into machines that will be obsolete before I pay off my Visa bill. Is anybody thinking about that?
Do you have antique computers and antique media hanging
around? Ever try to use them? What is going to happen to everything we have
entrusted to our computers in five, 10, 20 or 30 years? Are writers the only
ones who care?
I could tell you a whole other story about the days I spent last week sticking slides into the old slide projector. I thought I would get them digitized, but then I thought, why? Even my own slides bore me now. It’s been a dusty time in the Lick household lately as I try to sort things down to manageable levels. Within reason. Marie Kondo, queen of throwing away everything that doesn’t give you joy, can’t take my stories away. She’s not even getting the old laptop. Not yet.
Here are some interesting links to read about the history of laptops and the history of data storage.
In this season when people seemed to be obsessed with gifts and kids are encouraged to makes lists for Santa Claus demanding all the things they want, an event last weekend showed me the joy of giving and receiving in a whole other way.
The occasion was my friend and fellow author Dorothy Black Crow Mack’s 80th birthday party. She had what she called a peschelt, more commonly known to us white folk as a potlatch. Instead of receiving lots of gifts, the honoree gives gifts to her guests.
We gathered at the Newport Visual Arts Center. As I walked in, I saw Dorothy in a black sweater with a big red sun in the middle, a long black skirt and bright red socks. A red bandanna barely held back her waist-long hair. The guests, a mix of Native American friends, poets, artists, quilters, and family from all over Oregon and across the country, stood in line to hug Dorothy.
Chairs were arranged in a circle around the room. Framed William Stafford poems sat on the edges of the windows, which overlooked Nye Beach. The ocean was wild and frothy from recent storms.
Stretched across the room were blankets covered with brightly colored scarves, tablecloths, pillows, and more blankets. White candles flickered in the middle. Clearly Dorothy had been doing a lot of sewing.
Tables were laden with all kinds of food, including fry bread, dips, salmon, beef, salads, desserts, rice, puff pastry and more.
Spiritual leader Johnny Moses blessed the food and burst into song. Others joined him. They banged drums and rang bells. This first of many songs was repetitive and easy to catch the melody if not the words. It went on a while, sometimes very soft, sometimes surprisingly loud, with a hypnotic feeling. A woman across from me raised her hands up like they do in some Christian churches and rocked, eyes closed as she sang.
After we ate, the giveaway began. Dorothy and chosen people distributed the gifts to everyone. You could not refuse. Soon we were all sitting with stacks of pillows, tablecloths, scarves, oranges and chocolates.
When they got down to the blankets, Dorothy picked up one end of the first one and mutual friend Teresa Wisner picked up the other. Several people fell in line behind them. They paraded around the room three times before wrapping the blanket around a chosen person. Music played the whole time, the drums, the chanting, the bells. After each awarding of a blanket, the men roared in a low voice, and the women answered in a high yipping call. They did this many times, I’d guess 10, until the blankets were gone. I received the final blanket, gray, brown, and white striped. I felt honored with a connection that needed more than words to express.
Several people were chosen as “witnesses.” A $20 bill was pinned to their shirts. They got up and talked about Dorothy. Meanwhile, Dorothy held a basket. We all lined up and circled the room to drop money in the basket for Dorothy. I wish I had known to bring more cash.
It was a reverent, loving occasion that made my Mass at Sacred Heart afterward feel flat and mechanical. People sit in their pews and do nothing. At the peschelt, everyone was singing, dancing, and giving. No one was allowed to just watch. No one demanded what they wanted. They accepted what they were given with gratitude.
I never felt so white. Back in San Jose, I went to a lot of Mexican and Portuguese fiestas, but that was a whole different thing. I’m beginning to realize that my heritage may be Latina and Iberian, but I was raised fully in the Anglo culture. It takes more than knowing a few words of the language.
It occurred to me that I was descended from the people who took the Native Americans’ lands and lives. Yet here I was sitting with a pile of gifts on my lap. So much love.
Dorothy is a gringa by birth, but she married a Lakota medicine man and lived on a reservation for many years. She adopted the culture as her own. As a sister writer, she has been my teacher and critique partner for a long time. Her novel The Handless Maiden: A Lakota Mystery came out this year. It is so good, and there are more books to come. People like Dorothy are a gift to us all.
I feel like I already had my Christmas.
Dear readers, I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a new year full of blessings. As always, I welcome your comments.
I awaken to rain pattering on the roof and gushing over gutters full of gunk. It’s 7 a.m. and still dark. I turn the radio on. Politics. Weather. Highs in the 40s, lows in the 30s. Rain continuing forever. I groan and burrow back under the covers. But I have to go to the bathroom. I see in the mirror that my eyelids are swollen and my hair barely resembles hair. It’s 59 degrees in the house because the pellet stove quit during the night. Christmas and music materials are scattered everywhere I look. The dog staggers in, stretching. She’s hungry. I cross yesterday off the calendar and declare today Saturday the Sequel. I need another day of weekend to catch up.
You see, I’ve been on a binge. No, not on booze or drugs, but on “Gilmore Girls.” It’s a TV show that ran from 2000 to 2007 about the lives of single mother Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory, who live in Stars Hollow, Connecticut. I never saw it the first time around. Thanks to Netflix, I have now watched all 153 episodes, inhaling the last 22 in the last week. It was my guilty pleasure. Almost harmless, compared to drinking, overeating, or online shopping. Or is it? The show is in my head all the time, and I find myself talking in Rory’s voice. I’m losing touch with reality.
It started innocently enough. Back before I had the streaming service, I ordered one DVD to see if I would like the show. I loved it. I ordered the rest of the first season. There was some control then. I could only have two DVDs at a time, plus there were decent new shows on TV to watch, instead of today’s reality shows, holiday specials, and dramas full of murders and monsters. But one day I decided I couldn’t wait and signed up for the streaming service.
Watching on my laptop was cumbersome. It took forever to boot up, the battery lasted about a minute, and my Wi-Fi at the time was flaky. Still, it was “Gilmore Girls.” A few months ago, I changed my Wi-Fi service. It became quick and reliable. And then, I bought myself a Kindle Fire HD. I could curl up on the loveseat with Annie, hold the tablet in my hand and watch one episode after another. The picture was clear, the sound brilliant, and Netflix didn’t allow much time to say no. An episode would end, then 5-4-3-2-1, the next one started. Oh well, I’ll watch another one, I’d tell myself, singing along with the theme song, Carole King’s“Where You Lead.”
Last night, I watched the finale. I had to know what was going to happen, and I had to get off the Gilmore binge. It’s like eating the last chocolate candy and swearing not to eat anymore. The show ended well. I cried. Afterward, I Googled everything I could find about the show and its cast. Netflix is planning to make a reunion show, four 90-minute episodes. But do I want that? All the actors will be older, and the magic won’t be there. Plus, I‘ll have to watch it all, every minute. It’s like somebody bringing me a cake the week I start my diet.
What is it about “Gilmore Girls” that attracts me? The same thing I found in previous binges with “Little House on the Prairie,”“Thirtysomething” and other shows. It’s a comforting substitute for real life. While I suspend all responsibilities, I move into a community where all the people are beautiful, no one is ever alone or without help, and you know there’s going to be a happy ending. It’s not raining day after day in Stars Hollow, Connecticut. There are no terrorists. Everybody who wants a job finds one. All babies are born healthy. Love is everywhere. Sure, there are misunderstandings, but they always get resolved. Who wouldn’t want to live there? There’s even a guitar-playing troubadour. That could be me. Or maybe I could work at the Dragonfly Inn with Sookie and Lorelai. Or on the Stars Hollow Gazette. Yes, I could be the editor.
Ah, but it’s over now. I can watch all the episodes again, but now I know what happens. Netflix suggested some other shows, but they would not be the same.
I could tell myself I’m studying these shows to help my writing. Sure. Just like eating that red velvet cake in my fridge helps my cooking.
What will I binge on next? Well, I played about 20 rounds of Spider Solitaire after I watched Lorelai and Rory ride into the sunset. Had to keep playing until I won. I’m a binge-y kind of woman.
But no. I’m done. The house is a shambles. When I wasn’t watching Gilmores, I was playing Advent and Christmas music at church and other places. I have songs to learn for this week at church, Christmas presents to wrap, cards to finish, clothes to wash, rooms to clean, bills to pay, and a dog to walk. I hereby declare it Saturday. Again.
What’s your guilty pleasure? What grabs hold of you and won’t let go?