Winter is Coming…

Cynthia Ray

Morning Fog Rolls In at North Beach C. Ray

Fall is a pensive time of year.  A time of endings, of retrospection, of turning inward.  Here in the Northwest, days of brilliant sunshine are interspersed with spells of gloomy gray rain or fog, a reminder of the coming long months of exile from the sun, urging one to soak up all the warmth possible as a ward against the pending dark.  My son used to love this funny old childrens song about Autumn that perfectly captures the urgency of preparing for winter.

Hurry, Hurry!

Rabbit twitched his twitchety ears on a twinkling autumn day, He could hear the North Wind whistle and he scampered off to say: Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry, we must all get fat and furry, Not a moment to be lost, I can hear bold Jackie Frost.

Groundhog sniffed her sniffety nose on a snappy autumn day
She could smell the winter coming, and she waddled off to say:
Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry, we must all get fat and furry,
Not a moment to be lost, I can smell bold Jackie Frost.

Squirrel shivered a shivery shiver on a shiv’ry autumn day
He could feel the North Wind’s fingers, and he scurried off to say:
Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry, we must all get fat and furry,
Not a moment to be lost, I can feel bold Jackie Frost.

Black Bear blinked her blinkety eyes on a blust’ry autumn day
She could see the snow clouds gather, and she lumbered off to say:
Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry, we must all get fat and furry,
Not a moment to be lost, I can see bold Jackie Frost. 

Since hibernation for three months is not an option, I am preparing for winter by adding a bushel of books to my library (both kindle and paperbacks).  I will lock the door against the pelting rain, tune out the drumbeat of social media, turn on some classical music, choose from my eclectic pile of books, and snuggle down into my favorite reading spot.

Another important element of preparation for the impending gloom is ensuring that there is an adequate supply of comfort food on hand. How else does one get fat and furry?  Cookies, mulled cider, hot chocolate, gingerbread, and pumpkin spice mochas, of course.   What could be more comforting than cozying up in your favorite arm chair or couch, with a mug of your favorite brew, and a snack? 

I will bake now, while I still have the motivation and energy to scurry about, and freeze everything.  It will be ready for the time when the relentless gray and early darkness has sapped all the will to live from me.  In January, when it is pitch black in the morning when I wake, and the sun sets at 3 pm, a time when I can barely lift a hand to open the refrigerator door, then, just like the squirrel who digs up a buried walnut, I will retrieve that gingerbread slice from deep in the freezer and toast it. 

Stay warm, my furry friends.

My Secret Writing Life

By Lisa Alber

Since May, I’ve had a secret writing life. My ever-present work-in-progress, The Shadow Maiden, was in a seemingly permanent hold pattern. The day after tomorrow I’ll hit the one-year anniversary of a nasty car accident that affected my head and my back with post-concussive stuff, excruciating pain, and some disability. I have a new normal that I don’t much like on top of our pandemic new normal.

I was still heavy into the medical stuff when I got laid off in February, and then COVID hit in March. 2020 was not off to a great start. It was way too much. However, given my new free time, maybe I could return to fiction for the first time in months since the accident. My head might be able to handle it since I wasn’t also working the day job.

Given how dark the world was on all levels — from my body to my finances, national politics, and the global pandemic — and given my difficulties in the coping department … (see previous post here, inspired by all of this) … Well, I needed a NEW coping mechanism, something to take me out of my life. The Shadow Maiden is a dark and gothic-tinged murder tale and the opposite of comforting.

I realized that I wanted to try something different. There’s nothing wrong with that, I told myself. It’s not like my financial health depends on a writing brand. As a creative, I’m probably doomed to need day-job income for the rest of my life. So, why not try something different? Something lighter and happier.

Hello, contemporary romance! It’s been slow, to be sure, but what a blast its been to write a love story with a happily-ever-after ending. It’s a completely different experience from mystery, and maybe I needed that as part of my recuperation. Also, I craved something more basic for my poor head. Romance is simpler, plot-wise, than mystery. 

I bought a funny little book called Romancing the Beat, Story Structure for Romance Novels, by Gwen Hayes. Surprisingly, the pre-formulated romance arc hasn’t inhibited my creativity. There’s something liberating about having a structure. I suspect this is especially true because my brain doesn’t do outlining. What a relief to not be struggling with overall plot structure.

But, of course, I put my own stamp on the structure with a few subplots. The story has suspense elements; someone does die; there is a villain. Once a shadow spinner, always a shadow spinner!

The story takes place on a billionaire’s private tropical island that has nothing to do with reality. Reality is over-rated these days. Even the research is great. Rather than researching, oh, I don’t know, blood spatter patterns or ways people can die, I’m checking out haute couture fashion trends, Middle Eastern food, and rich-people etiquette lessons.

We’ll see what happens. This is a weird time, and it called for a fictional shake-up. The Shadow Maiden still beckons, and I’ll finish it. Meanwhile, I get to sink into a happily-ever-world where hardship doesn’t last long and nothing gets in the way of love.

Old Hopes, Gold Stars, and Daily Lights

Old Hopes, Gold Stars, and Daily Lights

Eric Witchey

In my kindergarten, Mrs. Lingo’s Happy Time Kindergarten in Shelby, Ohio, every student had a cardboard cutout soldier about eight inches tall. Tacked to a cork strip above the blackboard, the soldiers seemed to march around the room, each wearing the name of their respective child. The worst fate every student could imagine was having their soldier “taken down.” Behavior unbecoming resulted in this horror. However, a kindness, a cleverness, a moment of creativity, or a clear demonstration of intelligence would win us a gold star, licked and affixed to our soldiers.

Some students, like my childhood neighbor Jean Ann Lorentz, had soldiers covered in gold stars. They glistened in the fluorescent lights. Others, like me, had a soldier with only a smattering of stars, each of which had been hard won and required me to sit through a lecture on living up to my potential.

Oh, how I wanted more stars. I wanted them with all my heart and all my body, but it was not to be. We didn’t know what ADHD, OCD, and Dysthymia were back then, but I knew what envy was, desire, hope, and ambition. I knew that I wanted those gold stars and that only the thin barrier of my behavior in a moment separated me from them.

Alas, it was not to be.

Fifty-odd years later, I have many metaphoric gold stars affixed to the soldier of my life. I also have some perspective on how to get them, and of late I have been fascinated by the connection between what was important to me as a child and what is easy for me as an aging adult.

As a child, walking in the woods and fields brought me bliss and peace. Now, my desire to seek relief from the stresses of living often takes me to the woods and fields. Reading as a child opened magical doors and gave me safety and joy exploring worlds, and it does no less now. The Scholastic Book contests, with their long, meandering roads of incremental marks on a classroom wall were a place where I shone. I easily filled in step after step on the road to reading success. Those classroom moments replaced my star envy with pride in accomplishment for something my need for excitement combined with my OCD would have given me anyway.

Today, I have come to the conclusion that those earliest memories, those moments burned into the heart and mind by emotions of desire, peace, and pride, are often at the core of all the layers of experience since. Anything I do that touches on those early life elements has a much greater chance of success.

A couple years ago, a YouTuber I follow launched a Kickstarter campaign. Simone Giertz, the Queen of Shitty Robots, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In the process of treatment, which included brain surgery, she took up meditation to manage her fear and anxiety. I cannot imagine what she went through, but I was struck by her need to give herself a gold star for every day she meditated. I was also impressed that she put her maker skills to work creating a tactile and visual feedback system to track her progress. She built a box that has a golden light to turn on for every day she meditated. She recorded her progress for a year and only missed two days.

All those orderly columns of gold stars! All those Scholastic Book Boxes colored in! So pretty! So . . .

MUST HAVE!

It triggered my OCD and my deeply seated gold star envy. I already meditate, but I could use it for other stuff. It’s better than the spreadsheet I use—I mean, GOLD STARS! Okay, I can keep the spreadsheet and have GOLD STARS! Let’s not get too crazy.

I contributed. When the boxes were productized, I’d get one!

Problems on top of problems kept the boxes in development for a long time, but mine finally arrived in August. Who could have known that all the frustrating delays would bring the box to me in the middle of a pandemic, a political crisis, and wildfires that surrounded my house in smoke and threatened the homes of friends?

My anxiety was high. My fear and doubt were high. My productivity as a writer, reader, and teacher were threatened. Depression rode me like a jockey in the Derby.

And my box arrived!

A lifetime of living in my skin told me to step back and think carefully about what I wanted to track.

Meditation? No. Got that covered.

Reading? No. Can’t stop anyway.

Writing page count? Maybe, but not really an issue.

What are the things, I wondered, that I want most and are hardest for me to achieve?

The things I want to do every day. Instead of doing them every day, I binge. I push hard for two or three days, then I crash. Sure, I achieve a result, but I’d rather develop a comfortable habit of starting those activities every day—just starting. I can still binge. There’s no cap on what I do, but I crave the feeling that, like Jean Ann Lorentz, I can choose to be consistent from day to day to day.

I want my soldier filled with gold stars.

Eventually, I decided that every day I started to exercise and started to write, I’d get a gold star. I made the rule that I had to do both for at least five minutes, else no star.

I know that sounds trivial to some people, but it is not trivial for me. Five days in a row of ten hours a day? No problem. Then, two weeks off, then a day or two of four hours… Yup, that I can do, but that means no stars for two weeks. It also means my soldier would likely be taken down for a couple days during that two weeks.

Five minutes of two activities I want to make a habit every day of my life is doable, I decided.

So, I began on August 24th. So far, I have not missed a single day. My soldier is filling with stars!

Looking back, I see in this and many other successful behaviors in my life, that the more the nature of, and behavior around, an activity in my adult life matches a desire, joy, or habit of my earliest memories, the more likely I am to succeed.

Jean Ann, my old friend, if you’re out there, my soldier is finally marching in synch. I got me some gold stars!