Category Archives: On Writing

Simulacrum of a Thing

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I am reading Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, and she has a chapter about index cards and their usefulness. Until I came to that chapter, I hadn’t realized what an addiction I have to those little 4 x 6 cards. Like a certain credit card, I never leave home without at least one. Usually, I keep a bunch in my purse to capture any stray thoughts I might have as I travel around town. But never fear, I don’t write and drive; I wait for the traffic light to turn red.

We all know that if we don’t jot something down as soon as possible after it hits our brain, most likely it will be gone forever. Only the thought doesn’t go away completely. Part of it stays in the back of your mind, on the tip of your tongue, a simulacrum of a thing that will neither fade away nor come back in full force. It remains there to torture you while you berate yourself. Why didn’t I write that brilliant thought down?

I’m reminded of how, for several days, I turned the house upside down looking for the left over index cards from my youngest daughter’s high school years. I knew I had them somewhere. I could literally visualize them, all that neat white space waiting to be filled. But they eluded me. It was like looking for that last bottle of liquor in the movie The Lost Weekend. Only I didn’t have to steal my cleaning lady’s money to go out and buy a fix. Mainly because I don’t have a cleaning lady.

This incident occurred a couple of years ago when I finally started writing seriously or seriously writing. After I bought a new packet of index cards, I found the lost ones lying neatly on a bookshelf. Now, I am never without those trusty little cards. Like reading glasses, I have some in practically every room of the house. Besides my purse, they live in my bedside drawer. As sometimes happens, I’ll come to in the middle of the night with passages going through my head. Quickly, I snap on the light, grab a pen and lash the thought down before it floats away. Or at the very least, the essence of it.

Index cards make my favorite bookmarks. Not only do they hold the place in the books I’m reading, but they afford me the space to write down any thoughts or ideas my reading conjures up. And when I come across something profound or motivational, or both, I copy it onto a card and tape it to my desk, so that it’s right in front of me as I work.

They serve me in my other work as well, as quilting aids. Once I decide what a quilt will look like, I record on separate cards how many pieces of each fabric I need to cut and in what dimensions. I then tape the cards to the wall alongside my sewing table, a ready reference as I construct a quilt puzzle comprised of hundreds of pieces.

Once while in the lab chair waiting for the vampire to strike, I noticed they had new wall art. It was a piece constructed of luminous metal squares in browns and greens. As my blood flowed into the lab tubes, the image of it as a quilt flowed into my brain. Holding my left arm bent at the elbow, I rushed out of the lab to my car where I sat sketching it out. It will make a great quilt. Someday.

One fun thing I use the cards for is to write my granddaughter’s name in great big letters. “I want paper,” she says to me when she sees me at my desk, “I want to make an A.” At three, she is ready to learn how to write her name and I pronounce each letter slowly as I write it all in caps across the top of a card, A-L-Y-S-S-A. Her face lights up as pen in hand she sits down to her task, forming the A with care.  When she goes home she leaves me the gift of her scribbles. Maybe one day she’ll be a writer, too.

The cards are also handy to make myself notes about foods to try, their benefits and nutritional value, especially those with anti-inflammatory aspects. I am always on the lookout for foods that will help me combat RA and keep my weight at tolerable levels. I figure if I write them down, I might remember to buy these foods when I go grocery shopping. Because of course, making a grocery list is the one thing I don’t ever use my cards for!

To Blog or Not To Blog

I follow Kristen Lamb’s Blog and a while back, she wrote a post titled “Would Hemingway Blog?” When I went back to refer to it for this entry, I was surprised to learn it was written back in September. Which means I read it back in September. I swear it feels like it was just yesterday, but obviously her words had staying power because that post remains in my subconscious.

Her answer to the question was a resounding yes, followed by three exclamation points. I admit my first reaction to the question was, no, Papa would not waste his time pursuing such activities when he had earth-shattering novels waiting to burst from him. But, she went on to explain how he did, in a way, by using his journalistic muscles to write “clean, strong prose.”

It made sense to me, yet I still can’t imagine Papa tweeting. Maybe it’s because I’ve yet to join the tweet bandwagon. I wanted to get the blogging thing down first.

At first it seemed like I was reaching. Could I do it? Could I write something worth reading? By others, I mean. Would anyone care about what I had to say? And what exactly did I want to say?

I chose to focus on my health, mainly as a therapeutic practice exercise. I figured it couldn’t hurt, and the audience would be small. I wouldn’t make too big a fool of myself!

At first, I looked forward to posting and then life sort of got in the way and I let this blog languish for a long while. Which, ironically, defeated the therapeutic intent I meant it to have, at least on myself.

Now, the more I think about Kristen’s words, the more convinced I am she is right. Blogging is a good thing. If only to strengthen your writing muscles or to instill some writing discipline. And then, there is also the icing on the cake: the connections you make and the people you hear back from. Sometimes weeks after you’ve posted a piece. The fact that someone will take the time to hunt back into your archives is definitely priceless. (Thank you, Alice)

I gave myself the task of posting every day this month in honor of my upcoming birthday. But, I’m beginning to think it may turn out to be a far more valuable gift than I intended. As I relearned today, time waits for no man, or woman. If I want to be a better writer, I better get to it.

This is supposedly how Hemingway's studio was, down to his Royal typewriter. I find it hard to believe he would leave it behind. I can't imagine being without my computer. Would Papa let go of his typewriter? Inquiring minds want to know.

This is supposedly how Hemingway’s studio was when he lived in Key West, down to his Royal typewriter. I find it hard to believe he would leave it behind. I can’t imagine being without my laptop. Would Papa let go of his typewriter? Inquiring minds want to know.

Ego System

For most of the year I’ve been toying with the idea of updating this blog. I’ve thought about changing the name, changing the perspective, changing the format. Many ideas have popped into my head, but none that clicked, none that made me feel this one is “it.”

I’ve vacillated between reading up on how to do it and paying for a class to teach me how to do it. Whether to take a blogging class from a blogger or at my local college. I’ve collected articles telling me how to increase traffic and interest in the blog. They are lined up in my inbox waiting to be read. Maybe I should just make myself pick up one of the two ‘blogging for dummies’ books that sit next to my desk and study them. A little more thoroughly.

One of the changes I considered was adding an “About Me” page. At first it sounded like a reasonable thing to do, but then I thought, isn’t that redundant? I mean, isn’t this whole blog an extended about me page? Granted a dynamic one versus a static one.

Ultimately I decided that until I had a firm idea of where I wanted to go with it, there was no sense in starting that journey. I set up this blog as a place to share and a place to connect from. It started out as an RA outreach platform, but I want it to be more than that. For we are more than our ailments.

I appreciate all my readers, all who stop by. And instead of reading up so much on blogging itself, I think I will spend more time reading and connecting with my blogging companions. I can learn more that way.

Needing a Fix

While in the midst of bonding with my new granddaughter, I find myself going through withdrawals.  It is a painful process, I assure you. The frustration builds day by day, the raw need claws at you with a razor-sharp edge. You don’t realize how much you depend on something until it is no longer there. Or, as in my case, intermittently there.

As a writer, I have been rightly spoiled. By my high-speed internet access. I got used to being able to log on anytime, anywhere, anyplace that had Wi-Fi available.  No matter when or where inspiration hit, there was my trusty laptop, drowsing, waiting for me to wake it up.

Or whenever I felt the overwhelming urge to interact with friend and foe alike, there was nothing to stop me. Nothing to prevent me from running off at the mouth, or should I say, at the fingers. Now there are trees, millions of them, surrounding the home I’m in. Green silent sentinels forming a protective barrier, holding me in and my signal out. (I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ve decided to blame the trees.)

And then one day, there was the weather. Apparently it got too cold for the satellite. It even sent me a message; it was experiencing weather related problems it said. At least it didn’t leave me in the dark about that, but if my Miami blood can handle the near freezing temperatures, why can’t this man-made piece of metal?

I didn’t know how good I had it. I thought walking the length of my house to plug in was the greatest inconvenience. No, I thought carrying the cord across the house from my bedroom to my office was the greatest inconvenience. Ha! What would I give to have that “problem” now.

The pain is real, I tell you. Especially for this political junkie. How can I keep up with the state of the world if I have to wait 30 minutes for a page to load? Staring at the screen does not help; I know, I’ve tried it. I guess a watched pot doesn’t boil.

It is so bad that I even have time to read, entire chapters, while I wait. And to add insult to injury, I can’t watch clips, can’t run video. If I’m lucky, I can read the text of an article, but streaming, fuggedaboutit. Thank God for YouTube. What I missed will be waiting for me when I get home; I will get my fill, gorge, overdose.

I know I should be happy and appreciative. When I hear the baby cry, my heart twists, I will miss that sound. I will miss seeing her grow up on a daily basis. But, she is surrounded by people who love her dearly, for within the trees are the hidden homes of extended family. I am extremely glad I had these first few weeks with her. She is a joy.

And I am appreciative, but Lord, I do miss my reliable internet. I need to write, I need to research, I need to stay in contact, I need to find a beta reader, or two or three. And by God, I need to gossip!!!

Because There’s So Much More To Life

Earlier this year when RA claimed my hand for a few months. I got it back!

I was indulging in wishful thinking a few days ago, wishing there was a way to make the day longer than twenty-four hours. The main reason I felt this way is because RA can be so selfish and unpredictable and voracious that you never know when it’s going to eat up a big chunk of your precious hours. As Alice commented on my previous post, you have to plan activities around your RA. If you don’t give it the attention it feels it is due, it hits back, robbing you of even more time.

I set up this blog to help me cope with this disease. Maybe subconsciously I thought that if I gave it some special attention it would ease off on me. And for a year my sporadic writings pretty much focused on the disease. And then a few days ago, I had an epiphany. This blog should not be about RA and its effects on me. It should be about me and my effects on it.

What partly triggered this change of focus was my visit to www.rheumatoidarthritisguy.com. I was looking for kindred spirits and I found pictures of so many. Pictures of their hands, hands doing all sorts of things: resting, gardening, playing musical instruments, typing. Hands not deterred by their particular inflammatory process. It made a profound impression on me and as more pictures were being requested, I submitted the one above to www.showusyourhands.org. I tagged it “a quilter’s hand,” but I could easily have called it a writer’s hand.

So this is a sort of sendoff to RA. I’m pushing it into the background. It may frame my life and I know it will creep into what I write, but it’s not my life. I’m busy. Busy with my quilting, busy with my writing, busy with an intense self-study on writing fiction. I have five books to study and tonight I’m cuddling up with On Writing, a book by one of my favorite authors, Stephen King.

And kudos to RA Guy, a true super hero!

I have RA, but RA doesn’t have me

Fingers

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I woke up this morning, thinking. I do that a lot. Both wake up  and think! I consider myself lucky; I have the ability to do both. My hands are the first things that enter my consciousness. Can I move them without pain, can I flex my fingers normally? I hold hands with myself. I exercise and manipulate my fingers, get them to loosen up. It takes a few minutes, sometimes more than a few minutes.

This is a daily ritual for me and I’m sure for many RA sufferers, but this morning my hands took second place. I had something more compelling on my mind. Writing. Words. Lots of words. 15, 000 glorious words.

Tapping on my keyboard is a good workout for my fingers, but more importantly it is a good workout for my brain. Writing is therapy for me. It is a creative outlet. Writing about my illness helps. I find that if I personify it, it is easier to deal with. I can face my enemy and laugh in its face. I am the Black Knight who, though armless, refuses to give up the fight, “It’s just a flesh wound!” (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975)

Yes, RA, you are just a flesh wound to me. You may stalk me while I sleep, but you cannot hold me captive for long. I slither from your insidious grasp with morning’s first light. And I hold you at bay all through the day. You cannot keep me from doing what I want to do.

And what I want to do is write those 15,000 words, complete my work in progress. I will concentrate on exercising my vocabulary as well as my fingers. I will throw myself into my work and let it suffuse my mind and spirit. I will go where you can’t reach me, RA, for my novella is not about you.

I may have you, but you don’t have me!