Several of my more recent posts have been about moving, because, well, we’re moving. Specifically, we’re moving to Tucson, AZ, in a little over a week. As I write this post, I am surrounded by boxes, and my sinuses are irritated by all the dust I’ve stirred up while packing and cleaning. I’m excited about this move and my new job (which I start on Monday–yikes!), but even though I see this move as a big positive, it’s still stressful. There are a thousand little details to keep track of and so, so much work to do.
This will be our third big move in a little over a decade, and one of the lessons we’ve learned is to plan a break before the last big push to get everything done. We took that break last week–a road trip north to Bryce Canyon in Utah. The trip was short, only two nights, but it was the refresher we needed.
The Grand Staircase Inn in Cannonville, base camp for our adventures:
I spent each morning sitting outside the door of our room, journaling and contemplating a sequel to Vanishing, Inc. And eating Frosted Mini-Wheats straight out of the box with my bare hands (because I’m a classy broad) and washing them down with Diet Coke and befriending an adorable kitty who had perfected the art of scamming food off tourists (I might or might not have given the little dude the remains of my pulled pork lunch. I please the 5th.) And for those who are worried about a pitiful stray, this guy was fixed and looked perfectly healthy–lovely fur, a healthy weight, etc. I suspect he lived at the Air BnB across the street but had learned that motel denizens are suckers good food sources.
After driving all afternoon, evening and staying the night, we spent last Friday exploring Bryce Canyon. My husband is recovering from knee surgery, so we mostly explored by car.
View from Sunset Point:
I think this one may have been taken from Bryce Point. Not sure – should have kept better notes.
Overly friendly raven at Agua Canyon:
And the view from the Agua Canyon viewpoint:
Hoodoos, caves, and a soaring raven at Rainbow Point:
We took one short hike up to Mossy Cave. It provides a great view looking up rather than down at hoodoos.
And here’s Mossy Cave:
It’s hard to find words to describe Bryce Canyon, but “otherworldly” probably comes closest. It’s a landscape that would seem more at home in a sci-fi movie than here in our everyday world. It also reminds me a bit of an outdoor version of cave formations. So, so lovely.
Stay tuned for the next (and probably last) installment of my Utah adventures, in which we will visit Red Canyon and Cedar Breaks National Monument. For now, I have to get back to packing. 9 more days…
Happy IWSG Day! For those who are new here, I participate in the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. This month’s optional question is: When you think of the term working writer, what does that look like to you? What do you think it is supposed to look like? Do you see yourself as a working writer or aspiring or hobbyist, and if latter two, what does that look like?
First, sorry for missing September, y’all. Please don’t kick me out of the IWSG club. There’s a lot going on in my life right now (see my last few posts if you’re interested–but, spoiler alert, I’m moving), and I couldn’t get it together last month.
Now for this month’s question. I’ve noticed that a lot of us in the writing community get hung up on our identity as it relates to writing. So, pop quiz:
I am a writer if I:
Am traditionally published
Write for fun, but I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a rusty soup spoon than let anyone see what I write.
All of the above
The correct answer is, 5. Here’s a more concise version of the pop quiz:
Do you write?
Yes. Congratulations–you are a writer.
I spoke with a writer friend a couple of days ago. This woman’s poetry has won awards in our statewide literary contest, but she assured me that she is not a writer. She’s a finalist in this year’s contest. She’s working on a memoir. But she isn’t a writer. She just dabbles. I should have recommended she join the IWSG. Like the rest of us, she’s mastered the insecurity part as well as the writer part, even if she doesn’t know it.
So, fellow insecure writers, here’s your daily affirmation. Strike your favorite power pose and repeat after me:
I. Am. A. Writer.
One more time, with feeling:
I. Am. A. Writer.
C’mon, you in the back row with the sunglasses and backwards ball cap. This ain’t the back seat of the school bus. Get on your feet and shout!
I. Am. A. Writer.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the phrase, “working writer.” I’ll admit, that has a slightly different connotation to me. It includes the (other) dreaded W word, “work.” So, what does it mean to be a *working* writer?
Well, I dunno about you, but writing is definitely work for me. Dang hard word. Some of the hardest work I do. Even harder than packing up everything I own for my upcoming move.
But of course “work” has another meaning–the thing we do for money, our career. So which definition do we want to use? (Yes, I’m a writer–I love to play with words and their meanings.) I’ll give you my personal definition of a working writer, but I want to be very clear that it is just that: my personal definition. I am not the self-appointed gatekeeper of the writing world. My definition applies to me–and only me. You get to decide for yourself what being a working writer means to you.
So, here’s my definition:
A working writer is a writer who aspires to share their writing with others and is taking concrete steps toward that goal.
Notice: I didn’t say a word about getting paid. I didn’t say a word about getting published. I didn’t say a word about being “good.” And I for sure didn’t say a word about being self-supporting as a writer (my understanding is that most midlist published writers can’t make it without an additional source of income).
My definition implies a degree of “seriousness,” if you will. Some intent. A goal. A purpose beyond self-entertainment. And as you might guess, that ties in with my definition of, “work.” Something doesn’t magically become, “work,” just because it earns money, and something doesn’t magically become “not work” if it doesn’t earn money. Same for earning external recognition (e.g. getting published). Work, to me, means some kind of focused effort to create something for others as well as yourself. I’ll admit I haven’t carefully analyzed all possible implications of that definition, but it seems to match my view of work pretty well. Work as service, I suppose.
Work is a loaded word in US culture. We were founded in part by Puritans, who, as I understand it, seemed to divide everything into two categories: work (which was godly, had value, and demonstrated that you were one of the elect, predestined to go to heaven) and everything else (which was frivolous, ungodly, and likely to indicate you were buddying up with Bon Scott on the Highway to Hell).
Diversion alert! Play this video and crank it up. It may be frivolous and ungodly, but it’s worth it.
Sadly, these ideas persist today. We are taught to value “work” above everything else and to sacrifice everything else for “work.” And “work” is usually defined as something we get paid to do and that is valuable primarily because someone will pay us to do it. If we enjoy it, and/or if we can’t assign a market value to it, it isn’t “work”–and therefore it’s frivolous and a waste of time and we might as well ask Bon Scott for a piggyback ride.
This idea is toxic. (Though if Bon Scott weren’t dead, I’d probably ask him for a piggyback ride, and he’d probably drop me, because he’d be drunk. But I digress.)
It’s toxic to the arts, certainly, and it’s also toxic to the human soul. It robs people of the ability to do something for the pure joy of it without feeling guilty–and that guilt pollutes the experience, so that it is no longer one of pure joy.
Diversion alert: I am now blasting Highway to Hell loud enough to rattle the walls of my spare bedroom. For the pure joy of it.
OK, back to work–literally and figuratively (but AC/DC is still blasting away, because who said work can’t be fun? Oh, yeah, the Puritans. But they’re dead, so screw them.) It’s hard to avoid value judgments when talking about work, and I know my definition includes an implicit value judgment straight out of the Puritan handbook: it mentions goals and doing something for others. Feel free to argue with that definition. You might convince me to change it. I am, after all, a product of the same Puritan-based culture I’m complaining about.
But I do think work involves some kind of effort that goes beyond the self, not because the self is bad, but because I believe we can find a higher purpose in getting outside of ourselves and touching the lives of others. And it takes effort to do that–in other words, work. See? I can’t escape the Puritans no matter how hard I try.
And, to bring our discussion back to writing, when we write for others, we have to dig deeper to make sure we are communicating what we intend to communicate. We have to tap into age-old methods of storytelling that resonate with other humans, create characters our readers can identify with, and choose our words carefully so they carry the meaning we want to convey. And all of that is, you guessed it, work. But it also deepens and enriches our own experience of writing–or at least it does for me.
And I finally had to turn off AC/DC, because I couldn’t concentrate on crafting this post while bouncing around in my chair to the bass line from “Thunderstruck.” Maybe the Puritans were right about having to choose between work and fun. Dammit.
Old house, new house, old job, new job, old place, new place. This weeks’ prompt is timely. As I’ve written in my last two posts, I’m in the process of relocating from Flagstaff, AZ to Tucson, AZ for a job at the University of Arizona. This week I became more seriously focused on wrapping things up at my old job. My office walls are nearly bare, my desk is nearly clean (truly a shocking sight), and my email inbox is nearly empty. I have about 3 more days. People have started saying goodbye, an oddly impersonal experience in the age of COVID. There’s that moment after everything has been said, when we would normally hug but instead stand there awkwardly before giving a small wave and going our separate ways. It reminds me a little of middle school dances, with boys on one side of the gym and girls on the other, awkwardly approaching each other but not too close. My wonderful colleagues are planning a farewell party for me next week–in person with masks and distancing and also on Zoom. Maybe if I pull my mask up high enough, my co-workers won’t see me cry.
My email is set up at my new job, and I’m starting to think more about it, about what I want to accomplish in my first day, first week, first month. I’m excited and nervous as I always am when I start a new job. In some ways, it’s like the first day at a new school: Will they like me? Will I make a good first impression? Will I make it through my first day without saying something stupid? (answer to that last one: almost certainly not).
This weekend we need to pack like fiends, because I start my new job in 2 weeks, and we move in 3 1/2 weeks. It seems like every part of packing takes longer than I think it will. Find the right sized box, find the tape, figure out the perfect tetris challenge of fitting everything into a box that’s just slightly too small… rinse, repeat. We’re also sorting through 6+ years of accumulation to figure out what will fit in the new house, where it will go, whether or not we need it in this new chapter of our lives.
We’re having a run of spectacular fall weather here, warm days, crisp nights, aspens turning golden, cottonwood leaves crackling in the breeze. We walk each day, drinking in as much as we can of our beautiful rural neighborhood, our view of the San Francisco Peaks, a night sky that puts a planetarium show to shame, the scent of ponderosa pine with undertones of skunk. In less than a month, we will be city dwellers again. Our new neighborhood is cute and conveniently located, but it isn’t 2.5 acres at the foot of the highest mountains in Arizona. On the other hand, trips to the grocery store won’t require nearly an hour of round-trip travel time. And winter will be sunny and 75F, not windy and 15F. We’ll trade snow-flocked pine trees for a saguaro strung with Christmas lights–if I can figure out how to put Christmas lights on a cactus without skewering myself. I expect I’ll be a human pincushion by the time I’m through. So, tradeoffs.
But, to close on a philosophical note, all of life is a series of tradeoffs. Tradeoffs that shift as our priorities change, as our bodies age, as our interests become more focused. Out with (some of) the old to make room for the new, for the things that are a better fit for who we have become.
And now I need to sign off, so I can pack some of the old into boxes that are just slightly too small.
I almost didn’t do a Stream of Consciousness Saturday post today, because I am super-busy. Then I looked at the prompt and had to write, because the prompt connects nicely to why I’m super-busy: I’m moving, and I’m supposed to be putting stuff in boxes. And, duh, boxes are containers.
I could wax metaphorical about how moving makes you put your whole life in containers or how going to a new place frees you from the metaphorical box you’ve built for yourself in the old place, but I don’t have the bandwidth to pull any of that off effectively. I will say, though, that I enjoy moving to new places, because relocating provides an opportunity for me to hit the reset button on my life. New place, new job, new house, new friends, new activities… I can rethink what I want in my life at this time and design my life in the new place accordingly. This move in particular feels like the beginning of a new chapter for my husband and me. Our son will live in a guest house on our new property, so he (and we) will have more independence. We won’t quite be empty-nesters, but it’s a step toward that. I’ll have less land to cultivate and take care of, which will be a challenge for an obsessive gardener like me but will also be liberating. No more finding someone to water while we’re on vacation (new yard will be small enough to put everything on drip irrigation with a timer). No more spending hours on weeding and watering and tidying up. I’ll still get to garden, but it can be more about fun and less about being a slave to outdoor chores 9 months out of the year.
As I age, I find my interests changing and want to prioritize my time differently. I’d like more time for writing and travel, which means I need to cut back on other, lower-priority tasks. I hope the new place will help me do that. I hope it will be the right container for the life I hope to build.
One of my first thoughts when seeing this week’s prompt was that a collar is a form of restraint. We put collars on dogs to restrain and control them. Police collar suspects. I suspect my mind went immediately to the idea of restraint, because I’m entering a new chapter of my life, and I want to be less restrained.
I’ve accepted a new position in a new city (Tucson, Arizona), and we’re in the process of selling our house, buying another, packing, and clearing out clutter. Moving to a new place and taking a new job are always opportunities to rethink what you want in life, to design a new life that meets your current needs. That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.
We want our new place to have a separate space for our son, so he can continue transitioning to independent adulthood. I’m planning to—horrors—downsize my gardening so it’ll be easier for me to travel, and I can spend more time writing and relaxing instead of watering and weeding. And we’re going to downsize on the home front—at least a little bit—so we can spend less on a mortgage and more on travel and other experiences. In other words, we want to be less restrained.
I feel like I’ve spent most of my life with various restraints—family obligations, mostly, but also budget, pets, garden, too much stuff… you know, just like everybody else. But as I get older, I want less of that. I want to be untethered—or at least less tethered—so I can do more of what I want to do and less of what I have to do. This old dog wants to loosen her collar a little, maybe trade it for a lighter, less-restraining model. This old dog wants to be free.
Some of you may know that I’m revising my first novel, a time travel romance called Vanishing, Inc. It’s about a young teacher who flees across the country to escape an abusive husband and lands in a tiny mountain town in Arizona. She finds what she thinks is the perfect home, a turn-of-the-last-century stone cottage. It comes with an overly-friendly landlady–and a visitor from another time.
So, since time travel has been on my mind lately, let’s explore its pros and cons:
Time travel: the pros
It makes for entertaining reading and story possibilities, especially fish-out-of-water stories. There’s a whole Wikipedia page devoted to time travel in fiction. Maybe one day Vanishing, Inc. will be listed there. Maybe I have delusions of grandeur.
It would be fascinating to visit another time and see how people really lived, rather than filtering what we know of the past through modern sensibilities–or the sensibilities and biases of the people who wrote history (and the people whose stories are recorded–hardly a representative sample of everyone).
You could undo mistakes and correct for your biggest regrets. I really wish I’d started writing fiction when I was young. I could go back to the mid-80s and fix that. (Which would be great, as long as I resisted the urge to layer my hair again. Ugh.)
You could try to change history, though that generally didn’t work out well for the cast of Outlander.
You could get rich “inventing” things before the actual inventor was born. This is my husband’s retirement plan.
You could hide from your present-day enemies. This is a temptation for Alex Collins, the main character in Vanishing, Inc.
Travel is always educational, mostly because it broadens our perspectives. Time travel would amplify that experience. Imagine the different perspective you would have on history, on human nature even, if you could visit the past. Just as travel to other places helps us better understand our own place, travel to other times would help us better understand our own time and how we got to where we are.
Time travel: the cons
Let’s start with the biggest con: it hasn’t been invented yet, so we’re all stuck with 2020. Sorry ’bout that. Now where did I leave my mask and hand sanitizer?
If we could travel back in time, we humans would find a way to screw up the world even more than we already have.
As individuals, we’d find a way to screw up our lives even more than we already have–which would be easy to do if we could change the past. One of the more well-known examples of this idea is the grandfather paradox, in which a hapless time-traveling human creates inconsistencies by, say, killing their own grandfather. I also imagine that if I could travel back in time, I would try to undo something I regretted, not realizing that action had unforeseen consequences, and end up undoing something precious. Like, for example, if I decided to go back and not date my first boyfriend, I wouldn’t have gotten dumped the day before Valentine’s Day in 1986, and I probably wouldn’t have been alone and sad in my hometown on the night after Valentine’s Day when a cute guy I met the previous summer heard I’d gotten dumped and called me and asked me to meet him at Chuck E. Cheese (yes, really) and we’ve been married for almost 29 years. You know, little things like that.
No birth control. That’s a deal-breaker right there.
No antibiotics. Another deal-breaker. And don’t even get me started on anesthesia. No romantic view of the past can compensate for the lack of modern medicine. That idea plays a part in my novel.
Here’s another one that plays a part in my novel: women’s rights, or the lack thereof. I’m not sure I would want to travel back to a time in which I would be property or, at best, a second-class citizen. Same issue for people of color or LGBT folks. The past was no picnic for those who weren’t straight, white males.
And finally, it would be incredibly frustrating to know things the people around you did not–and to know you couldn’t tell them without them locking you up in an asylum or burning you at the stake. I have a big mouth. I’d probably get burned at the stake in my first month.
How about y’all? Would you travel back in time (or, what the heck, forward in time) if you could? Why/why not? What time would you like to visit?
Happy IWSG Day! For those who are new here, I participate in the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. This month’s optional question is: Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn’t planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?
Before I get to this month’s question, I have a question for anyone reading this post: Would you be interested in a series of posts loosely related to self-help for writers? I’m not talking about over-the-top, Stewart Smalley style self-help but rather some practical ideas from self-help literature, applied specifically to writing. I’ve been looking for a focus for this blog, besides my own self-indulgence, and I’m interested in helping other writers find time to write, build positive habits, set goals, and make progress. What do y’all think? Has that topic been done to death, or is there room for more?
OK, now for this month’s IWSG question. My first novel, Vanishing, Inc., started out as a murder mystery/ghost story and morphed into a time travel romance. Both paranormal, but other than that, pretty different. I woke up one morning with the idea of a terminally-ill woman in a 19th century cottage built on a thin place. The closer she got to death, the thinner the veil would become between this world and the next, and the more she would be able to interact with the house’s spectral residents. I imagined that the ghosts would somehow reveal that a murder was committed there, and our unfortunate protagonist would have to identify the murderer before she died.
Somewhere in the early planning, my idea shifted. My protagonist became a battered wife hiding from her abusive ex in a small Arizona town. She rents a cottage built on a thin place–a fact she discovers when a man from 1910 materializes in her living room. Once I landed on that concept, the various plot pieces more or less fell into place, which is a lucky thing, because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
It’s now about six years later, and Vanishing, Inc. is in what I sincerely hope is the final round of revision before I hire a professional editor. Then there will be another round of revisions, and then I’ll enter query hell. I still hope to write the ghost story, but I see it being more of a novella. Someday…
Like a lot of us still in quarantine, I’ve been trying to get out for walks throughout the day. I walk early in the morning, which is a great time to snap pictures of some of our local wildflowers. Today’s post is the second in what I’m going to optimistically call a series for Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge, featuring some of the native flora in my rural Flagstaff neighborhood. Today’s entry is our native cleome, Cleome serrulata, also called Rocky Mountain Bee Plant. Like the sacred datura (Datura wrightii) I featured in my last #FOTD post, this plant is both beautiful and kinda ugly. The plant itself is scraggly, but up close or massed in a field, it’s stunning. They sprout in random places in my garden, and I usually let them stay, because they’re low maintenance, the flowers are lovely, and the bees love ’em (Hey, it says so right in the name. Do you think they’d call it Rocky Mountain BEE Plant if the bees hated it? Would plant people lie to you?).
This year I have a few growing in my pumpkin patch. They look wonderfully rustic alongside the pumpkin vines and sunflowers. Some years they form huge masses in open fields around here. I’ve been thinking about gathering seed and sowing it in my pasture, so I can have my own pink and purple field.
Yeah, I know, that probably sounded really ungrateful, but hear me out. My life is very full right now–full of good things and difficult things and mundane things, the things that make a life. But it’s one of those times when there’s just too much. I volunteered for an activity that, while enjoyable and of service to my fellow writers, is going to take a big chunk of time. My husband is having major surgery in 3 weeks, so I have to prepare to take leave from work and stock up on groceries and make meals ahead and, and, and… We’re waiting for my son’s COVID test results, meanwhile we’ve all had mild symptoms, so we’re trying to do everything we need to do before surgery without leaving the house. I’m revising my second novel. I’m considering hiring an editor for my first novel. I’m finalizing a short story. I’m trying to find a publisher for another story. I’m contemplating some other life changes. I’m in peri-menopause. I’m cleaning and decluttering. I’m cooking every meal at home because, you know, we might have COVID, so we aren’t going out. And I’m overwhelmed. And, oh, yeah, I’m working full time. Wheee….
Whew. Now that all that is out of the way, I want to emphasize that I’m grateful. So grateful. If we do have COVID, our symptoms are mild. Mine are already gone. Husband can’t taste his food, but otherwise, he’s fine. Son is almost back to normal, though he can’t taste his food either. Me? I can taste my food just fine. Too fine. All I want to do is eat. If this is COVID, then we are truly fortunate to come through it so easily.
My life is full of new opportunities and excitement and joy.
It’s high summer, and the weather and the garden are beautiful. I live a half mile from the Coconino National Forest, so I can hike amid the ponderosa pines every day if I want.
I’m gainfully employed–unlike so many–with a job I enjoy.
I’m healthy, and I’m happy.
So yeah, I’d like a bit less–fewer commitments, some time to lollygag and lounge and read and play–but my life is beautifully full. I have more. And it is wonderful.
I’ve been snapping photos for Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge for the last two weeks or so, but I keep forgetting about a key step in the process: posting them. D’oh! On the upside: that means I have a backlog that should net me at least a few days of quick and easy posts, which is a good thing, because life is a little, um, *full* right now.
Today’s flower is a wildflower/weed (depends on your perspective) here in Flagstaff. Datura wrightii or sacred datura is a member of the nightshade family, quite poisonous, drought tolerant, a hallucinogenic, almost impossible to kill–and both beautiful and ugly. As I’ve gotten older, and as I’ve struggled every year to keep a garden alive in the middle of a volcano field at 7000′ elevation, I’ve learned to appreciate plants that grow and bring a little beauty without much fuss and without becoming Purina Grasshopper Chow (don’t get me started on the grasshoppers up here in my little mountain paradise. Seriously, don’t. I’m trying to cut down on my use of profanity.).
Grasshoppers don’t bother datura. Nothing bothers datura–except maybe the occasional genius who decides they want a free hallucinogen and instead gets a taxpayer-funded slab at the county morgue. That hasn’t been an issue around here–at least not as far as I know, and I’d probably notice a corpse in my flower garden. Knowing me, I’d probably trip over it and land face-first in the datura.
Pro tip of the day: don’t eat the datura.
Anyway, I’ve developed quite a fondness for this plant. The leaves are ugly as heck, but the flowers… oh, the flowers. They bloom at night and are still open in the early morning, which is when I snapped this picture. Pollinators love them too, typically sphinx/hummingbird moths but also bees during the few hours when the bees are out and the flowers are open. Look in the top blossom, and you’ll see a happy little honeybee. Here’s another picture of him. Isn’t he cute?
Those of you who are gardeners will know that sphinx moth larvae have another name: tomato hornworm. Plant some datura, and you’ll have a great solution to your hornworm problem. First, the hornworms seem to prefer datura to tomatoes, so it’s a good trap crop. Second, if you find a hornworm pillaging your future marinara, you can relocate him to your datura. He survives to become a super cool sphinx moth, and your tomatoes survive to decorate your pasta. Everybody wins!