Rainy Days and Saturdays

Wrong day, I know. (I saw the Carpenters with my mother and grandmother in 1975. It was my first concert. I wore a green maxi dress, which have come back into style just this year, with an orange sash that I can see vividly in my head as I type this.) And wrong lyrics, really, because I’m not frowning or sad or letting the rain or the day particularly get me down. But I am particularly procrastinating.

Are there any songs about procrastination? Seems like it’d be something a songwriter would put off doing, preventing the song from ever actually being written. Songwriter. That would be a fun job. Sort of like being a comedy writer. Sitting around a table throwing out lines and seeing what lands. And lots of procrastinating. Maybe I’ll google about that. I could use a career change. Career. That’s a funny word. Wonder what the origin....

As you can probably already tell, it’s book proposal weekend, and I’m apparently doing all I can to avoid the final work on it. I’m 95% done. I know, right? You can be impressed for about another…okay, time’s up. I haven’t worked on that last 5% since March. And 95% doesn’t really mean much in the scheme of being done.

There is no justification for this, because it’s not particularly difficult or involved. And I actually want to do it!! In fact, I love it. I love the work, the organization, the puzzle, and especially the accomplishment of it.

So, why? Why have I cleaned the house? Changed the sheets? Done my laundry? Cleaned the dog bowls? Been to the trainer? Made turkey chili? Watched a Netflix flick? Played squeaky ball with the dog? Twice? Talked on the phone? Googled way over my quota for the day? And why am I writing here letting my little Interwebs corner of the world know I’ve failed instead of doing what I want to do and should be doing?

Maybe because if I send it out, it’s sure to be a big hit with every publisher (ha!), and then I’d have nothing to complain about. There’s no comfort in that. But 2011 is the year of my doing things out of my comfort zone and to get this book out there in the Universe. So, I think I need to ask for help. Maybe a volunteer to come over and give me the evil stink eye until it’s done. Or to lock me in an unwired room with my laptop and no Diet Coke until it’s done. Or to come up with exactly the right thing to say and put it on a constant loop in my head until it’s done.

I’ll wait to hear back from you. No hurry, though. I’ve a whole list of stuff I can do to burn daylight avoiding this thing.

Christmas 1970. Again.

It's a nostalgic time of year, so here's another holiday-themed repost from 2004. It's probably my most favorite memory of my father.  

=================

I was seven years old and at the age when, way back then in simpler and slower times, most children just begin to seriously contemplate the logistics of Santa Claus’ annual visit. I had asked a million questions that Christmas season, but no explanation made sense.

I announced at the dinner table that Christmas Eve that I would be staying awake all night. I intended to prove once and for all that there was no Santa. After all, I was too grown up for this nonsense. With whom did they think they were dealing - a 5-year-old?

My parents agreed to the plan, but insisted that I still go to bed on time, explaining, for yet another year, that Santa only visited sleeping children and thinking, of course, that I wouldn’t last too long anyway once my head hit the pillow.

I reluctantly participated in their charade but I was confident that I would prove how silly this whole concept was. I knew there would be no signs of Santa that night.

I lay in my bed with the drapes open, staring out my window. I watched. I listened. And I waited. And waited. I refused to give in. I would not fall asleep! I was sure hours had gone by.

All of a sudden, I saw a tiny red light moving slowly across the sky. I jumped out of the bed and ran to the window for a closer look. Then I heard the bells. I saw the red light travel to the top of our neighbor’s roof and stop. The jingling stopped too. It was dark and I couldn’t see much, but there was no mistaking that light.

After a bit, the light took off again for the sky and the sound of jingling bells got louder. I couldn’t tell where Rudolph was going next, but I was positive that he was headed for my roof. I ran back under the covers and pretended to be fast asleep. I sure did hope that Santa didn’t see me watching him from my window!

Needless to say, I was a firm believer in Santa Claus for two more years.

_______

My father told me when I was a teenager that he and his best friend who lived next door had done all this from his friend’s deck. We were positioned on a corner lot and the back of our house faced the side of theirs. I had a perfect view of their roof and deck from my room. They had actually lain down on the deck so I couldn’t see them and shone a flashlight with red bulbs across the sky and onto the roof. My mother always insisted on a ridiculous amount of Christmas decorations, so they had no problem finding loud bells to jingle.

Today, I am the same age that my father was in 1970. As a parent, I can appreciate the desire to preserve our children’s innocence. And, as a middle-aged adult, I understand the power of Crown Royal on a winter night and the intense need for something fun, silly, and different to do.

A Fond Look Back at the Welty Symposium

As I write this, the Mississippi University for Women's annual Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium is in full swing. The event honors one of the MUW's most famous alumnae by offering a slew of Southern writers to read from their works and tell a little about themselves. I've attended twice - in 2001 and again in 2007, but my experience in 2001 was one that I can still feel today.

In 2001, I was an Application Developer for MCI Worldcom, which was a good job that supported me and my son. I was also attending school to finish a Bachelor's degree (my first attempt in the 1980s was interrupted by a boy - well, me and a boy). To put it lightly, I was a horrible Developer and an even worse CS student. I am still friends with folks who will attest to this fact. And I was miserable.

My first loves have always been writing and reading and studying and researching. These are the things that jazz me. So, when I stumbled across an event that combined all that with a college steeped in Southern history and writers who write about all things Southern in a place that I could get to without too much maneuvering around babysitters, I signed up.

It was held in Poindexter Hall. To get to Poindexter, I had to walk and walk through the campus.  October. Fall. 120-year-old campus. I could barely breathe. Inside, I found a seat I liked, away from the collections of college kids who were sitting together like fish in a school (ha) probably mandated to attend for class credit, and readied myself for the program to begin.

Poindexter is over 100 years old and three stories tall and round inside, with huge floor to ceiling windows and a beautiful stage and wonderful acoustics. It is the musical heart of the school - and the town of Columbus, for that matter. The building has been maintained meticulously and perfectly. Looking around, I thought of the years and years of performances and audiences and...and then?

Of course, I spontaneously burst into tears. A writer hadn't even spoken yet. But it happened and would happen again during the program, despite all the logic I threw at myself. (Kleenex has unprotected sex in my purse and I was almost alone on my row, so I was able to be fairly quiet and inconspicuous.)

The writers read from their books and told stories about their paths to their writing lives. Each one better than the next. Then? She spoke. Elizabeth Strout (who is in no way Southern, but could be). At the time, her first novel, Amy and Isabelle (one of my absolute favorite books - I still miss the characters), had just been published. She read a few excerpts and then talked about her windy path of a writing life. She was unassuming, shy, self-deprecating, and funny when she recounted her disastrous 6-month law career. She said that even though she had loved writing since high school, she went to law school to avoid failing as a writer only to end up failing as a lawyer. (She went on to win the Pulitzer in 2009 for Olive Kitteridge. That says so many wonderful things about me, doesn't it?)

To this day, I swear she was reading my mind and talking just to me. The theme of the conference was “A Kindred Soul to Laugh With”, and I could not have felt more connected to her. I wanted to tell her about me, about my life, about how bad I was at my job and my schoolwork, about how much I wanted to sit at her kitchen table and listen to her stories about her life and her characters. But rather than stalk the poor woman, I came home and wrote her a fan letter. I had never done that and haven't felt the need since. She's the one for me. Well, there's Tom Jones, but that's a different kind of connection entirely.

In formulating what I wanted to say to her, I came to the conclusion that this day at the Symposium was divinely orchestrated to show me how far I had veered from my meaning of life - that interdependence of authenticity, spirituality, and nurturing of one's soul. I realized that I was ignoring it and dishonoring God at the same time and had for most of my life. I still had a pretty expensive child to raise, but I knew what I must do. I had this picture framed to remind me. I take a small version of it to every cubicle gig I've had since. And will until. And I look at it and look at it, and I write in the meantime.

I will always regret missing the 2002 Symposium. That year, Jeanne Braselton, Rome, Georgia, author of A False Sense of Well Being, read and spoke about her life. She killed herself the following Spring after losing her husband the previous year. Life and logistics kept me away until 2007. By then, they had moved the event to Cochran Hall, which is no Poindexter (it's new and attached to a dormitory), believe me. But Nan Graham spoke and told the most hilarious story of her trip to the Symposium, and Ellen Douglas read and said, "Thank ya'll for being so proud of me," and I felt like a member of this special little MUW club again.

I hope Dr. Dunkelberg knows what a gift he's given us and that he is able to keep this Symposium going for years to come. I swear I'm going next year. I'm long overdue for a slow, warm, enveloping, Southern hug.

If a writer falls in the forest, does anyone hear her dog making fun of her?

If Thoreau fell at Walden Pond, would he have found further inspiration or just assumed the mangled position and enjoyed the silence? I know he wrote about dogs, but I'm not sure he had one faithful companion in particular to call his own and accompany him on his many walks. If he did and had he fell, I bet HIS dog would have immediately gone into protector mode and barked and barked and run for some sort of help without a moment's complaint.

My dog? Not so much.

I couldn't sleep the other morning, and I've had a gnawing frustration about not being able to complete a particular writing/visualization exercise, so I took Sabrina, the 14-year-old crank of a beagle mix, and headed to the forest. Well, the woods.

My condo community is nestled in a little patch of nature and is very nice to be amidst. It's never far from civilization, though. In fact, you're always just a stone's throw from seeing a bit of house or deck from most directions. (Hey, Thoreau wasn't exactly in the wilderness himself, truth be told.) But there are trees and slopes, and a creek, and lots of little critters to ask about life. And now that bug season has subsided, I'm really good outside.

Anyway, I'm a firm believer in the manifestation and "write it down, make it happen" schools of thought, and the exercise I've been working on for well over a month now is this: "What would you like? Visualize your ideal situation one year from now. Know where you're going and take the straightest way there."

I can't count the hours I have stared at this. Every once in a while, I have started writing only to realize at some point into it, that I really don't want what I'm writing at all and return to the proverbial mocking blank page. I don't know what's thrown me off so, but I'm pretty sure it's the whole thing. "What would I like?" Sayyy whaaa? Having been a single mom for so long, that question hasn't even entered my mind, and to be honest, it still throws me for a bit of a loop.

Anyway again, I took the dog and my little notebook to nature in hopes of some transcendental inspiration. Half-way up the second hill, about 20 minutes into things, it was bound to happen. In my own defense, it is acorn-falling season, which makes it even harder to keep ones footing.

I landed on my shoulder. I think. It hurts today in a way that makes me think I may have to give up my shot-putting dreams. My arm and leg are pretty scraped up, so there was sliding, too, I guess.

But while on the ground holding my arm cursing the heavens through the pain, I looked over at Sabrina. She sat down and doggy-sighed and, had she had opposable thumbs, would have started filing her nails. We should be walking, after all, not sitting down. This is how the conversation went as I remember it:

"Seriously? I got my leash on for this? We haven't even been gone 20 minutes."

"Sabrina. I am in pain. Can you not see that or doggy-sense it or something?"

"Um, no, not really. Just get the hell up. You look ridiculous."

"Maybe something's broken and I need help."

"I've lived through two wars and numerous lost squeaky balls. I'm too old to get help."

"Fine. Let me try."

"Yea, you do that. I'll be over here. Sniffing things more interesting."

I'm writing this, so obviously I got up, admitted defeat, and walked home to clean up. Today, I'm still sore and still staring at a blank page. Although, I do have a temporary handle on what I really want: a dog who still gives a shit and, in the words of one of my favorites, grace, eventually. Besides that? A full page. Maybe tomorrow.

Blog Post Titles are Hard

I don't know how the real bloggers do it. I am hard pressed most days to find anything to talk about in real life, much less write about here. I had no idea my last post was in April. Oh well, not much has changed. (Don't worry, THAT is a good thing.)

But today is a writing day. On a specific project I'm working on. So, here I am. Writing on this silly thing. And washing bath mats. And my ring and watch are soaking in the jewelry cleaner as we speak. My umbrella has rain spots, so that's gnawing at me, too.

And I'm a little sleepy. Sabrina, the dog, is always a problem this time of year. She hates storms, has allergies that make her gasp and cough and snort, and is just cranky (almost 14). So, if she wants to jump off the bed at 2am for a little drink of water, then holler and cry when she's good and damn well ready to get back on the bed again, you better oblige. And toot suite. (She can jump off, but can't quite make it back up at this age. Or maybe she can, and it's a test. Bitch.)

Last weekend, we had stress over a lightning bug stuck between the window and the screen. It must've looked like the lightning of the previous umpteen nights and she wasn't having it. Up, down, up, down. Finally, down. And a pit-stop for a TYlenol PM for mama. I was over it. It was a fucking lightning bug. I explained until I was blue in the face, but no sale.

I was rewarded once again, though. The last time I took T-PM, I hung out with Craig Ferguson. I have mentioned this before. This time...........Tom Jones. No, I'm serious. I've never been happier. I have mentioned my obsession before and since.

We were in his homeland of Wales. He had a castle or something. Beautiful green countryside. He had a few days off between shows or something. Why was I there? I'm not sure. He liked to cook, he liked to lay around and watch movies, he liked to eat, he liked to go for walks, and he liked to talk. So much in common, except, I like to listen, not talk. Sympatico. There was a "thang" goin' on, but I'm a lady and not going into details. He was the age he is now - not the young Tom. So, he was slower, more philosophical, calmer, deeper, and too tired for the Wilt Chamberlain numbers of the past. I must have liked him an awful lot because I was leaving too and I was very sad. Clingy, almost. He wasn't. He was kind and seemed to like me, too, but not in a clingy way. He just wanted to eat dinner, really.

Maybe I'll take a T-PM late this afternoon and hook up with Colin Firth. I am overdue for a visit, he has complained. Now, wasn't this fun? A whole lot of nothing after 2 months of nothing.

Maybe I'll dust the baseboards now. Or organize my desk drawers. I'll close with this: Jorge Cruise is a horrible, horrible man, and I'm pretty sure I could take him in a fight over a piece of sheet cake.

A Salute to Hugh MacLeod

Sometimes, I find it pretentious when bloggers post things they recommend, because it can sound all I-know-so-much-and-am-so-cool-and-have-everything-under-control-and-you-can-only-wish-to-be-as-fancy-as-me. But this is different, I swear. Firstly, I’m not really a blogger. I mean, I have a blog, but am I a blogger? gapingvoid.com daily cartoon 3/24/2010 I get the definition connection, but….oh dammit, back on topic. Second, I get distracted. A LOT. How I fit that into my already packed schedule of negative self-talk and procrastination, I’ll never know.

Hugh MacLeod of gapingvoid.com knows me. In fact, he reads my mind every day and takes time to send me a brilliant little cartoon accompanied by some magical words every morning. Thanks, Hugh. Marry me immediately, if not sooner. Even if you do live in an adobe in the middle of nowhere. We can work through all that.

Thing is - and this hurts a little to type out loud - he will speak to you, too. I get a lot – okay, a fair number - of hits and emails related to freelance writing and building portfolios and an online presence, so I hope you might find this to be a fun pick-me-up and addition to your daily creative process, too. He’s all over that procrastination, negative self-talk, and distraction stuff.

Now, where’s my dog’s squeaky ball? I know she’ll want to play ball with me.

Who Me?

I turned in a freelance assignment that I thought was pretty good. I added a little pizzazz, a little TGIF flair, if you will. Hip, happening, now kind of stuff. Just the right amount of (subtle) cuteness.

Of course, like any insecure writer would, I kept checking the site to see if he had posted it. Finally, around 9pm, there it was. But it didn’t sound like my piece. Truth be told, I didn’t even recognize it.

I was a little discouraged, because he must have edited the heck out of my work. And, if I’m honest, it was a whole lot better his way.

And then……

I opened up my original and he had only changed two words! Combined a couple of sentences with an “and”, but only changed two words.

So, two things: (1) I don’t even recognize my own writing and (2) Either he was that tired or I was that good. You can imagine the conclusion I have to draw here.

Doomed: Technical Writing

Yesterday, someone knocked on my cubicle’s imaginary door (done by saying, “knock knock” as you stand in the opening) and asked, “Can I ask you a technical writing question?” We chuckled, like it would be rocket science. “I have an assignment in my writing class at school and I’m not sure. Do you spell out enclosures at the bottom of a business letter?”

Huh?

Come to find out, this teacher of hers – first semester teaching at her school since transferring from Ivy Tech ( need I say more) – is lumping all non-creative writing into one and calling it technical writing.

Bloody fantastic. Way to go, teach. Way to bring an entire field’s rates down. Thanks.

I’ve never written a business letter, but I want to now. I wonder: do you spell out YAY-HOO or is there an abbreviation?

Again, not that technical writing is rocket science. It’s not. But, the few of us who actually have serious and lengthy technical backgrounds should be offended by what’s happening to the field. We should speak up every time someone lumps us in with secretaries. If not, we’ll all be fighting for $20/hour jobs soon. That’s when I start handing out straws and asking for folks' side item choices. 

Technical Writer Rates

Even though I’ve been doing this for a while, I’m still learning about the project “get”. Marketing is my most worrisome process due to some personality flaws, but, in these trying economic times, I’ve had to completely rethink contract rate negotiation.

Freelancing negotiation is fairly simple. Rate is always in the initial conversation and average rates have typically been researched by the company before contact. As long as both of you are in tune with the market, discussion can quickly focus on the project and how you fit.

When a contract agency calls, it can feel a little more like applying for a job. I’ve learned, though, that it’s best to throw out everything I’ve been taught about not discussing salary during a “real job” interview and talk rates right after both of us agree that I’m qualified, interested and available for the project. Details about the project and what I can bring to the table should come after the rate is negotiated. It’s been a fairly fast process, because rates have been competitive, limiting negotiation to just a few dollars.

But, throw in a recession and all bets are off. Contract jobs are less plentiful. As any business, contract companies depend on profit margins that, in turn, depend on volume. Less volume means more profit needs to come from fewer contractors.

Result: Contractor rates dive.

I didn’t think this through during a recent negotiation. I’m in the market for a new project, and I know opportunities aren’t coming my way as fast as they have in the past. So, I “interviewed” for something I was qualified for and would have enjoyed. A lot. And I never talked money.

When I was selected (yay!), I was told that their maximum 1099 hourly rate was $20 less than my minimum. They, of course, can depend on other, more unemployed, younger candidates, who will or can work for less. But what could I do?

How can we mid-career folks, who have responsibilities, who have worked every day for more than twenty years, who have struggled to make the middle-class money we make today, compete? The first answer that comes to mind is experience, of course. But, in contracting anyway, experience has little to no value in a recession. It’s a numbers game based on somebody else’s profit.

Lesson learned: More freelancing. More marketing. Less fear. Less whining.

Right. I’ll update this in July from the soup line all because of my ghastly fear of rejection.

A Fling and a Choice

I have two stepbrothers (not the Fling part of the title - ew). It’s weird to refer to them as that, though, because not only did my father remarry when I was in my early twenties – long past the “step” situation, but I haven’t seen the younger one in over 10 years nor the older in even more years.

The younger one, Allen, was eight years old when his parents divorced and a year younger when his mother snagged my father. They married by the time he was nine, I believe.

I was busy with my own life, so I barely knew him, but when we did see each other as adults, I thought he was hilarious. He could particularly tell the funniest stories about his mother (she was a little, how...do...we...say...this...delicately - COLD). I think about this one often:

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Writing Encouragement

I have had the worst time getting back into the swing of my personal writing projects. In casual email with a writer friend who was also part of The Writer’s Success Group last fall, she encouraged me to sign up for the Free Write Fling that starts May 1st. And, today, she so kindly emailed with a link to the Vibration Magazine Blog for Using Flower Essences to Enhance Writing Projects.

I haven’t used flower essences for a few years now. A former college roommate and friend introduced me to them in 2003, and I wasn’t quite convinced. Funny, though, because I recall a good number of journal entries about feeling better about things in general.

So, my new creative, confident, fluid attitude should begin in 3-5 delivery days. The Fling starts on Friday, so I may struggle until I get my dosage right.

*There’s nothing in this world like a supportive writing group or friend. If you’re in Indianapolis, you may have to look outside the borders for this, but once you find one, hang on for dear life! 

Elizabeth Strout Wins the 2009 Pulitzer for Fiction

Frankly, THIS just says so much about ME (ha). Elizabeth Strout has been my personal favorite since I heard her read from her first novel, Amy and Isabelle, at the Mississippi University for Women's Eudora Welty Symposium in 2001. It was a life-changing event, and I even wrote her a thank-you note.

I only hope Oprah doesn't ask her to be a guest, because we can't let just anyone into the exclusive fan club. Ms. Strout is charmingly unaware of how inspirational she is, and all this world needs is another worked-up Oprah audience.

Technical Writer Torture

Situation: There are gobs of flowcharts. So many that people roll their eyes at the mere mention of them. At first, I thought they reproduced at night when all the lights were off. Sort of like cockroaches. Despite folks’ pleas to management to stop producing them, they are continuously created.
Goal:
Because management thinks people are merely confused by the flowcharts, they want to develop a process document that explains at a high level what they do. From there, they can add support documentation on “work practices” (don’t say procedures in the office, it’s comparable to saying bomb in the airport). Everything would be in easy-to-find, connected, textual presentations to alleviate the reliance on people grasping a bunch of willy-nilly flowcharts.
Nine months later and the umpteenth dance around the goal:
Manager sends my first draft of process doc to Director for opinion.
Result: Director sends reply email to Manager:
----------
From: Director
To: Manager
Cc: Senior Manager
RE: Processes_All_Phases.doc

I did a quick read, looks pretty good. One thought: Might be easy to get lost in the process. I wonder if a high level flowchart (with brief descriptions of what the process is and why it’s done) would help?
------------

Employee of the Month

The original e-mail is actual correspondence. However, the names have been changed to protect the ignorant. The reply is, of course, completely made up.

-----Original Message-----

From: HR Manager
Sent: Friday, July 16th,  2:49 PM
To: Corporate Employees
Subject: Employee of the Month announcement

We are excited about our new Employee of the Month program. Recognition for our accomplishments is way overdue! The program will officially begin on August 1st. All employees (with the exception of our VPs) are eligible.

At the end of each month, Misty Puckett, our HR clerk, will randomly draw a name from the list of corporate employees. The lucky winner will be our Employee of the Month and have exclusive parking privileges to the best spot on the lot for the following month.

In an effort to “equalize” the chance to win, we will limit the opportunity to win to once per calendar year. Our first drawing will be Friday, July 30th in the cafeteria. See you there!!

------Reply Message-------

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National Procrastination Week

I live with a quandary every day. I suffer from blank-page-a-phobia, yet I seem to be striving for excellence in procrastination. The combination is a vicious circle: my procrastination produces my blank page and my blank page perpetuates my procrastination.

From what I’ve learned about other writers, I’m not alone.

Most people think procrastinators are just poor time managers. But I don’t think it’s about time. It’s about distraction. And most of the time it’s distraction, I, for one, seek out!

For example, I can come up with any reason why my environment isn’t right for my creativity. Right now, I don’t feel like I have the right chair next to my desk in my home office. I want to Google for chairs. I want to make a list of furniture places to visit this weekend. If the weather is good. I wonder what the weather will be next week for my trip. I could research and plan this for the next few hours. And by that time, Judge Judy will be on and I hate to miss her. Then I have to cook some dinner and feed the dog, then it’s not really work time anymore. Then it’s dark. Then I might yawn. Then, I should probably go to bed. Ooo, it sure would be nice to have fresh sheets. I should wash my sheets. Let me go start a load of laundry.

See? And my consciousness returns to a blank page, which starts the cycle all over again.

At least I recognize that I need help. First step, so I’ve heard. I wonder what the second step is. I, of course, turn to Google to search for procrastination solutions.

Did you know that the second week in March is National Procrastination Week? Wonder if that’s to celebrate it or overcome it? I should look into how that designation came to be. How does one declare a Week like that? Is there a Week wizard? Lord, help me.

There seems to be a consensus:

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Do-Over

Thanks to ingenious Web designer, Melody Watson, you’ll notice a new look here, and, hopefully, love it as much as I do.

I’m focusing more on my freelance business this year and wanted my site to reflect that. I also wanted it to be more reflective of me. I think she hit the nail on the head - even though she called the site ‘elegant’ once and well….while ever so close, it's not my exact aura :). For me, it has a northeastern, coastal, clean, crisp, beach-y, writer vibe and that’s me…in my dreams, anyway.

Anyway, I hope you’ll look around a while, come back often, and remember my name and this swanky new site whenever you have an itch for something wonderful to be written.

A Technical Writer's Dream

Some people think technical writing isn’t fun and exciting. To which I emphatically say, “Poppycock”. How often does this happen to you? 

Last night, I was awakened from what felt like one of those really deep sleep dreams. I was struggling with a Word table. I was rearranging columns. Inserting IP addresses. Typing in default values for things. Resizing screenshots. Centering. Bolding. Shading. 

Night before last, my alarm went off right in the middle of a masterful table of contents creation. I actually woke up and said “shit” out loud as I pushed the snooze button to try to get back to where I was so I could finish and save.

And, this weekend, I was indexing in my sleep. I know. It can’t get much better than subconscious indexing.

It was exactly what I’ve been doing lately. The kind of crazy fun that you just can't get enough of during the day and have to think about in your sleep! Night after night after night after night.

Ah, the enviable life of a technical writer. Now, you must try not to hate. This work and these dreams are reserved for special people. 

Note: Last night, I was also awakened by a second dream, though unrelated to tech writing and more scary than fun. My son’s father was moving my grandmother’s house to a small lot in a neighborhood very similar to my grandmother’s neighborhood. It was all very confusing, but I think I was moving there and I’m not 100%, but I think he was moving in, too! Writing this gives me the dry heaves. 

Apparently, Anyone Can Run a Writing Workshop

I have said it a hundred times: I will never, ever, ever go to another writer’s group in this city. Why, oh why, oh lord why don’t I listen to myself? I’m pretty smart; I don’t know why I’m so dumb. 

“For our first exercise, we’re going to pretend we’re kitchen implements. Pick an implement to be, and then write for ten minutes about being that implement. Then we’ll share.”

“Here’s an idea, you freak. You be a fuh-arking kitchen implement.”  (She must have read my mind. And she couldn’t wait to share her work with us (if you’ve ever been to a writer’s group, these are ALWAYS the writers to avoid). She was a tea bag and went on for at least a page about feeling like an unproductive ginger chai coconut blend until she was dipped in hot water.)

Anyway, this is as far as I got: “I’m an itchy ice pick.” 

I didn’t share.

I grabbed my coat and purse and left at the most polite moment I could find - when she got up to play a CD. Apparently, the next exercise after the kitchen stories was going to involve closing our eyes and listening to Indian music until something popped in our heads that we wanted to write about. 

I’m now a disappointed ice pick. But I’m one that writes, and I deserve better than listening to a ginger chai coconut tea bag. 

Writer's Success Group

In September, I joined a Writer’s Success Group. It runs all year, four months at a time, and consists of monthly group phone calls and weekly check-ins about the participants’ writing projects. It’s purposefully small – typically four or five writers - and led by Cynthia Morris of Original Impulse and Journey Juju fame.

It ended a few Fridays ago. And I opted out of the next four-month run, thinking I’d just work consistently during January, February, March and April, then re-join in May for support during the editing process. At the time, I thought it was beneficial, but a little too frou-frou. I’m not one to delve easily into emotions or struggles with people I know, much less new folks. 

But now, I realize the invaluable benefit I got from the group: I wrote. I didn’t at first – I outlined and organized and thought things through – but once I started (about mid-point), I began to feel like a writer and it fueled me to write more and more. Another participant said she noticed a big change in me shifting from fear to confidence. What this group gave me was the confidence, despite the obvious vulnerability, to reach out to a dear friend who is now helping me with accountability and consistency.

My process now consists of saying a Writer’s Prayer a few times, procrastinating a little, saying it a few more times, procrastinating a little more….you get the picture. But it ends with the writing. I’ve even had a few breakthroughs and now understand what other writers are talking about. I’m still taking a break from the group, because I know what I have to/want to do until May. And only I can get it done (with aforementioned friend’s nudges).

I don’t know who I think I am, but if I were asked to recommend anything, it would be a group like this, asking a kind friend for what you need, and these two books: 

Stephen King’s On Writing. It is so matter-of-fact and unemotional about his writing process. He maintains a healthy distance from his writing now and I love that. I also loved hearing that, by the time he sends a manuscript off to the publisher, he’s so sick of that book he never wants to think about it again. He talks of the overuse of vocabulary and passive voice a lot, for which, as a reader, I can’t thank him enough. 

And SARK’s Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper. If you’re a person who doesn’t get a lot of encouragement and support and love about your project like I am, it is priceless. The front cover says it all: “Gifting the world with your words and stories”. It’s just cuteness and light and love and happy all over.

Not So Wily Wiley

Barbara has been married to Wiley for forty-four years. They live on their own road, in a modest house situated on about 20 acres in a part of Mississippi that still doesn’t get cable. She started working for the company the same year she graduated high school and married Wiley. She is now only four years from retirement. Wiley, who is seven years older than she, has been retired and collecting Social Security, his only retirement income, for a few years now. He doesn’t have a lot to do anymore, and Barbara is his whole life. Everyone in the office knows this, because she tells us every day. And because Wiley calls her almost every hour just to chat. He must be her light too, because he always makes her giggle incessantly. She hangs up after each conversation with a girlish, sheepish grin on her face. 

Wiley still pines for a big fancy tractor he saw at the John Deere store a few months back. He has wanted it something awful and has found a way to sneak it into every conversation with Barbara since he first laid eyes on it. She is firmly opposed to the idea because “the stupid thing” costs $75,000 and they don’t need it and they have agreed to save her salary for the next few years so she could retire on time. They have $100,000 in their retirement savings accounts and really need to save more. (Barbara could never be confused for a very private person.) 

One morning, Barbara sits down at her desk with her usual coffee but just doesn't seem like her usual self. We coax her into telling us what's wrong, and she gives in pretty quickly. The night before, she had been looking for her wheelbarrow to haul some fertilizer to her new flower bed when she caught a glimpse of something reflecting an odd light from behind the barn. She investigated and found it. “The thing” was just sitting there “damn near up against the barn, so it’d be good and hidden”. When she confronted Wiley, he said he had bought it and had it delivered a couple of weeks before and was waiting on a good time to tell her. 

“We’ve never fought, and I sure don’t want to start now. I guess I’ll just need to request some overtime.” When the phone rings, there's no question who is on the other end. By the time they hang up, she is giggling. 

It’s been six years, but I’m still confounded. I would’ve used “the thing” to bury ol’ Wiley on the back nine.