Sunday, February 19, 2017

Moving Forward

The past few days have been pretty good. Yesterday I woke up before 8 a.m., a very rare occurrence for a Saturday, and managed to get a LOT of stuff done including taking the dog for a walk! And today, I'm planning to write and go out with a friend this evening for appetizers and good conversation.

It's amazing to me how my emotions tend to be all over the map. Yesterday was beautiful outside - temps in the 70s - and as I ran my errands around town, I had the windows down and the music blaring, and I felt optimistic and happy. But by that evening, after I'd enjoyed dinner with my family, I came home and felt...lost and a little empty.

Par for the course, I'm sure. There are times I desperately miss my husband and times where I'm content being by myself. My pets keep me occupied, as does taking care of the house, and I'm looking forward to really diving into my manuscript and losing myself in its world.

I have to keep moving forward. That's the key to surviving this.

I'm making progress, though. For the first week, I barely left my bedroom. I laid in bed and watched TV, staring blankly at the screen merely so I could occupy my mind and keep myself from bursting into tears. My heart was raw and painful.

Maybe I should measure my recovery in terms of tears shed a day. Ha! If that's the case, I haven't cried in four days. Perhaps a new record!

One day at a time...

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Letting Go

This is going to be a pretty personal post. So turn back now if you're not in the mood for such.

My husband and I are divorcing. I take no pleasure in writing that. But it is what it is. I'm a bundle of mixed emotions right now, all tangled and snarled, like a box of Christmas lights. Part of me feels relief. Part of me grieves. Part of me has hope for the future. The urge to cry catches me off guard and can strike at home or at work or when I'm out getting groceries by myself. Likewise, there are moments of peace and serenity where I know that no longer will I have to endure certain behaviors from him, or deal with issues that just tore me apart.

We fought the good fight. We tried. And tried some more. I didn't want it to end this way. In fact, I didn't want it to end at all. But it has. I've accepted that.

At one point during these past two weeks, we barely spoke and communicated only through text messages. When he came over to our house one day, though, that changed. And what changed it? A plea from my daughter.

She said, "Mom, please don't hate Dad."

It was like I'd been struck by lightning. I had an epiphany. We can change this, I thought. We can change how we're going to do this and how we're going to behave.

My husband and I talked. We agreed to let the relationship go, but more importantly, we agreed to do it with no bitterness or animosity. We did it as much for our daughter's sake as our own. My husband is my best friend, and part of my grief in this break-up came from my terror at losing him completely. We've been together for 18 years. How could I simply walk away and never speak to him again except for those occasions where I was forced to? I couldn't do it. I could not look at him in such a way. He is the father of my child and the man I've turned to in every aspect of life. I've seen so many (including my own parents) who, years after their divorce, still only speak a few sentences to each other and avoid each other at all costs. I don't want that to be us.

After we talked, a great sense of peace settled over me. I knew we'd made the right decision.

To stop hurting each other.

To forgive.

To not descend into bitterness.

To treat each other with respect.

And in the week since we had that discussion, that's exactly what we've done. In fact, we're getting along better now than before. Perhaps it is because we know we will no longer be hurting each other, arguing, and butting heads, but I think it's more than that. We are not losing each other. We are losing the relationship, yes, but not the bond we share.

I am hopeful we can keep it. We will inevitably move on to other relationships (which will also be hard to deal with), but our goal is to remain good friends with the ability to call each other up or meet for coffee when one of us is going through a rough patch, or even just go catch up on life.

As yesterday was Valentine's Day, I had no hopes of getting flowers or a romantic card. But my husband asked me out for dinner, and we had a very nice time. We were at ease as we talked about the past and the future. We will always love each other. Always.

What did I learn through all this? That holding on to anger and bitterness takes monumental energy. That it creates division where there doesn't need to be. That not only does it affect the two people involved, but everyone around us - especially our daughter.

We are amicably parting. I know that is rarely the case, and even rarer still that ex-spouses stay connected and friends afterwards. Sometimes, it's not possible. Sometimes, it's not even smart (especially in the case of abusive relationships).

But we will try.

And in the end, that's what matters.

I think this quote from C.S. Lewis is appropriate:
The road ahead is long and most certainly filled with curves and hills and perhaps even a mountain pass or two. But my faith, my family, and my friends will be there for me. They've been with me since this is all started, and I don't know how I would have made it without them.


Friday, February 03, 2017

How to Rock a Friday Night

I won't go into the awful week I've had. Marriage problems haven't gotten much better, but I'm not here to talk about that.

Because tonight, I am having the best time ever. I'm writing, editing, and critiquing to my heart's content. I've got classic movies playing on the TV, my dog lying at my feet, and a cold Diet Pepsi by my side.

And the best part? I don't have to worry about a hangover in the morning.

Here's the immersing yourself in the world of your own making!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hanging On

The year started off well. I felt positive, ready to tackle my health challenges, ready to finish my novel, ready to start eating right and losing weight. I put several reminders into my phone: to pray, to stay focused on my eating/exercise, to offer encouragement. They've helped tremendously.

But life with a chronic illness is a constant stop and start rollercoaster. During the good days, I exercise, have little pain or fatigue, am in a terrific mood, and feel accomplished. During the bad days, I lay in bed, fight depression, keep myself occupied so I don't focus on pain/discomfort, and literally try to make it through the hours until I can go to sleep.

It's all so disappointing and frustrating.

But when you add marriage and job problems on top of all that, well, it just makes everything worse.

Marriage is hard. But adding chronic illness to the mix makes it harder. Your spouse is forced to make adjustments in his own life and can often feel helpless (as does my husband) because they cannot fix you. Plans are often canceled, romantic interludes postponed, and the spouse becomes not only a partner in life, but a partner in battling illness. So far, my husband has been doing splendid in supporting me. But that doesn't mean he is free from his own battles. And when you put all that together, well....Let's just say you're suddenly faced with what looks like an insurmountable challenge. Before you know it, the tiny space between you becomes a large distance. Minor nuisances become major fights. Communication flies out the window. And when the dust settles, you begin to wonder if it was all worth it.

We're having our own struggles right now. It adds to the stress of living with this stupid disease (rheumatoid arthritis) and I'll be honest: I feel completely worn out and unable to tackle much of anything right now. I have to fall back on my mantra: One day at a time.

I'm trying to stay positive, trying not to despair. But it's hard.

So right now I'm going to list what I'm thankful for.

I'm thankful for a community (online) of those battling chronic illness. It helps me to understand that I'm not alone.

I'm thankful for this cozy house I live in.

I'm thankful for my friends and family who are understanding and supportive.

I'm thankful for my beautiful daughter.

I'm thankful for the gift of writing.

I'm thankful for my fur babies - three cats and one dog.

I'm thankful for chocolate.

But most of all, I'm thankful for my Lord who carries me, loves me, and will never leave me.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Darkness and Light

Post-inauguration thoughts...

I'm tired of worrying about my country. I'm tired of seeing my fellow Americans take bites out of each other. I'm tired of seeing such vitriol and hatred on social media. It wears on a person, all the negativity, all the ugliness. I'm going to back away from it all for awhile for my own sanity.

I tried writing tonight, tried to get my mind to focus on other, more positive things.

It didn't work.

So I'm sitting in bed, watching a classic noir movie, Fallen Angel, with one of my very favorite classic movie actors, Dana Andrews.

And I'm hoping tomorrow will be better.

But I fear it won't. I fear that this anger and divisiveness from every side of the political spectrum will continue. I fear all those who said that spreading kindness is the only way forward will forget those words the minute they disagree with a person. I've already witnessed it. And it grieves my heart.

Humanity can be so very ugly. So very dark.

But humanity can also shine so brightly that the light drives out the darkness.

I want to be the light. But there are times I don't have the strength to shine. The darkness is too heavy and I would rather hide.

Like tonight.

There will be days ahead where we will all need to fight the darkness and be the light, no matter who we voted for, no matter what we believe.

We are all human beings, made up of darkness and light.

May my light shine brighter tomorrow and may the darkness recede into the shadows.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lassoing Life

I think we can all agree that 2016 was an incredibly difficult year. Too many things happened locally, nationally, and internationally: beloved celebrities passed away, the Syrian civil war and terrorism took far too many lives, and the US presidential election strained relationships and us as a nation. On a personal level, I had my share of struggles: my husband ended up in the hospital for another staph infection (on the week we closed on our new house) and ended up in the ER later that year for a work-related accident; my father had a stroke and I flew to Denver to be with him; my stepson had overwhelming challenges that required our assistance; and my health took a nosedive.

Of course, no year is free from challenges. But some years are simply harder than others. Now that the year is nearly gone, I'm trying to regroup and find my way back to better health, better time-management skills, better coping mechanisms, and yes, better ways to find motivation to write. Thankfully, I've had some time to relax and regroup. I work at a university and every year we have a nice holiday break where everything is shut down from Christmas through New Year's. I love it (though I wonder if I'd like a bonus more!).

Yesterday, I accomplished quite a bit. I made a list of things I'd like to get done on our house in 2017, went through the huge stack of paperwork that had accumulated on my desk, paid bills, got in a work-out on my treadmill, and found recipes that fit my healthy eating plan. In other words, I felt like I'd lassoed the bull that has been running rampant in the corral, bashing into the fence and kicking up manure everywhere. Yes, that's how life has felt for the past year.

When you have a chronic illness, a set schedule is almost impossible. Waking up with a horrible rheumatoid arthritis flare means I miss work, miss my workout, usually make poor eating choices (though I'm hoping to change that), and miss writing. I end up in bed and take long naps, watch movies, surf the 'Net, and just try to ignore that I feel awful. My schedule ends up in shambles and every day I have to regroup. It becomes utterly exhausting physically and emotionally to go through this on a weekly basis (sometimes I'll make it two weeks without getting sick, but that's becoming rare).

And yes, this affects my writing life. It also feeds the horrible beast known as Resistance. It takes mental energy to write. After every flare, I'm drained and writing is the last thing I want to do. This saddens me considering writing is my fuel. But with Resistance tackling me at the one yard line every single time I try to work on the novel, I either 1) go down before hitting the goal line or 2) push through and make a touchdown (i.e. write all the words!). Unfortunately, #2 is becoming the exception rather than the norm.

How to change this? I'm trying to figure it out and come up with some strategies to help. But I've come to the conclusion that, as a person of faith, none of my solutions will work unless I put God first. Praying for guidance and strength is a must. Yet I constantly forget to do this. Whether it's the brain fog inherent to rheumatoid arthritis or my brain crowded with too many thoughts, I tend to misplace my best intentions.

We all try to make New Year's Resolutions, yet by March, most of them are gone by the wayside. I'd rather not do that. Instead, I'd like to create coping strategies I can use for the rest of my life. I'm tired of flailing in the ocean with my head barely above water and the current trying mightily to push me under. I can't do it anymore. I need to find a strong ledge so that the water can rush around me, but I can stand firm.

What does this ledge look like? I'm not sure. Bullet journals? Lists? Meditation? A reminder on my phone to stop and pray? A blocking device so I can't access social media after 5 p.m.? Maybe a combination of all?  All I know is that I can't keep walking down my current path. Something needs to change.

And isn't that the beauty of life? We can stop and say, "No more" no matter what day or month it is. We don't need to wait for New Year's to press the reset button.

For me, I'm looking forward to taking each day as it comes. As the song by Merle Haggard says,

"One day at a time sweet Jesus that's all I'm asking from you
Give me the strength to do everyday what I have to do
Yesterday's gone sweet Jesus and tomorrow may never be mine
So for my sake teach me to take one day at a time."

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Why I Write World War II Historical Fiction

I’m an emotional person. It doesn’t take much to make me cry. A poignant commercial about a father and a daughter on her wedding day? Tears. A movie scene where the hero confesses his love to his girl? Tears. My cat tenderly cradling the kitten while he licks its head? Tears. (Yeah, I’m hopeless).

What does all of this have to do with writing World War II fiction? A lot, actually.

I’ve tried to uncover why I love studying this time period and why I continue to gravitate toward it when other eras have tried to compete for my attention (in my previous teenage life, I was a devout historian of the American Civil War). It’s not the military aspect – the battle tactics and uniforms and planes, tanks, and guns. Though I love the music and the clothes of the era, that’s still not what holds my attention. Neither is it “good triumphing over evil,” though that's certainly part of it. And goodness knows I hold no excitement for learning about the massive casualties and horrific deaths of millions upon millions of people.

What keeps me interested, fascinated, and altogether obsessed with World War II is this: emotion.

There is an absolute plethora of human emotion contained within this global war. There’s fear and horror and joy and laughter; there’s sympathy and empathy, courage and cowardice. There’s anger and guilt; forgiveness and redemption. And exploring those emotions within my fictional world is not only challenging, it’s crucial to understanding the human side of World War II.

Here's an example. It’s easy to think of the boys who stormed the beaches at Normandy as just a group of nameless soldiers: but the fact is, each one was an individual with their own story. Each one. Can you imagine what was going through their minds as they rode in the Higgins boat and watched the French coastline grow closer?

I hope Mom got my last letter. I hope she knows I love her.

Just stay alive. Just duck and cover, but don’t run. Don’t be a coward. Don’t abandon your post. Do your duty.

She said it wasn’t my fault, that it was just “this stupid war.” Now I’ll never get a chance to make it right. I’m not going to see her again. I feel it in my gut. This is it. So long, pal.

When you think of all the human drama created by this war, there are millions of stories, and emotion is at the heart of them all. I cannot help but explore these numerous facets. I want to somehow understand, as best I can, what the war was like through their eyes. Whether it be a soldier, a German immigrant, a Jewish survivor, a Red Cross nurse, a mother waiting at home, a factory worker, a Resistance fighter, or just an average citizen trying to live life day to day, I want to experience it.

As a writer, that’s my job. I’ll never get it completely right because I wasn’t there. But it makes the war more real to me. It’s too easy to read facts in a book and skip over notable dates, battles, leaders, etc. Yet that is, in my view, dangerous. The men, women, and children of World War II were flesh and blood, and deserve more than to be remembered as just words and numbers.  They felt. They hoped. They dreamed. They loved, they lived, and many of them died. They were real in every sense of the word.

So that, in a relatively large nutshell, is why I study World War II history, and why I write World War II historical fiction. I have a desperate need to connect with the past and to feel the emotions of those that experienced it. Because, to paraphrase a famous quote, those who do not understand the people of the past are condemned to forget them.

I refuse to forget.

And I’ll gladly shed as many tears as it takes to remember them.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Just Eat the M&Ms

Ahh, life. How you vex me. One day I feel normal and have the motivation of Cookie Monster at the Keebler Elves' cookie factory, and the next, I stay in bed all day and watch old movies.

Yin and yang, I suppose, but it would be nice if if weren't so frequent. Give me a month of solid motivation, good health, and a vibrant outlook on life and imagine what I could accomplish! Instead, it's one day of feeling fantastic, the next not so much, and maybe the day after that is sort of blah, too.

But since it's almost Thanksgiving, I'm going to focus on the good things in life. And there are many! Christmas is coming and I've decided to forego my usual Christmas decorations (with their traditional. Victorian slant) and go all-out vintage: 40s, 50s, and 60s stuff. There's a Christmas Vintage Market in my city on Friday and I can't wait to see all those gorgeous treasures waiting for me to pluck them from obscurity and take them to my home.

What's that, you say? Vintage items in a house run by three cats and one very rambunctious dog? Have I forgotten the annual Christmas Tree War with General Slick?

Yes, you have a point. I may not have thought this through very well. But! Since Blitz, who has grown up very fast and has such a sweet mentality, loves to chase Slick, I am thinking I can train Blitz to guard my Christmas tree from Slick's attacks. *rubs hands together and laughs*

Yeah. We'll see how that goes. But I've got to try, right? I cannot fully secede my house to the animals, can I?

On Writing

Well. I will say it. This has been the hardest novel I've ever written. I don't know if it's because I've changed the plot approximately 4,923 times or if it's because I've had two years of unbelievable stress both with my health and with other family matters, or if I'm losing my ability to tell a story or what, but it's been excruciating.

I still keep charging ahead, though, as one must. Last night, I made a promise to myself to write, but I wanted to start a new book and get lost in a story first. So, I picked up Kate Furnivall's The Italian Wife (set in Italy in 1932) and after reading the first chapter, I was itching to work on my novel. Her novels are so beautifully written and so well plotted that it gave me the necessary oomph to get over that hill of Resistance and get to work. It. Was. Glorious.

On the Upcoming Four-Day Weekend

So. I'm stuck at work today and tomorrow. Most everyone has already gone home or has plans to leave tomorrow, and thus, work is pretty s-l-o-w. I needed an extra burst to get me through this morning, so I ate a bunch of M&Ms. This flies in the face of my resolve to cut more sugar out of my diet and lose this *&$# weight I've gained back after menopause and my stupid rheumatoid arthritis have had their say.

But I ate them, justifying it with the knowledge that I am getting my treadmill out of storage tonight, so I will just burn all those M&M calories.

Ha. Now I actually have to get on the treadmill tonight.

We're staying in town for the holiday and will be having a simple meal with my mother at her place. There's a football game to watch on Friday, the vintage sale to attend, and those important naps to fit in, after all. Though to be honest, I am missing my family gathering at home at my grandmother's. She is 91 and I miss her, but taking that long drive by myself is almost out of the question with my ridiculous health. Hopefully I can talk my hubby into going home for Christmas.

Also to squeeze in this weekend: decorating the house for Christmas and working on the novel.

Of course, all of this may go belly-up if my health decides to derail me again. Hoping and praying that does not happen.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends! May your day be plentiful with food, laughter, and blessings.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

When It's Worth It

My daughter is a huge fan of the Marvel superhero films. The Captain America series is her favorite, and the character she loves the most is Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. the Winter Soldier (Cap's best friend) who is played by Sebastian Stan. For the past two years, she's accumulated approximately 5 million photos of him on her Pinterest board, has photos of him printed out and hanging above her bed, has comic books and t-shirts and just about everything else she can find that is Winter Soldier/Sebastian Stan. She even wanted a birthday cake this year with him, and of course she got it!

Since Sebastian Stan goes to comic cons, I told her that if there was ever a comic con within driving distance of us, I would take her. Well, that opportunity came when we found out he would be Tulsa, Oklahoma, approximately a six and a half hour drive from us. That's about the same amount of time it takes us to go home to western Nebraska, so the drive didn't bother us.

After weeks of waiting, the time finally came last Friday. Because my health is crappy and travel only exacerbates it, my husband did the driving, and we ended up in Tulsa late Friday night. We were up early on Saturday and headed to downtown Tulsa for the event.

This was my first ever comic con, so I didn't know what to expect. But it was quite the adventure. Lots of people love to cosplay for these things and this one was no exception. I saw lots of Captain Americas and Harley Quinns and Jokers and Star Wars characters and on and on. My daughter and I didn't dress up (but we've decided that if we go again, I'm going as Agent Carter and she's going as the Winter Soldier), but that was ok - we had a blast anyway.

When my daughter was in line to meet Sebastian Stan and get his autograph, she nearly fainted, but we managed to get through it ok. Later, she was able to get a photo of the two of them together - and she still has a hard time believing she got a hug from her celebrity crush!

But after being at the event all day Saturday, waiting in line, not eating well, and being on my feet most of the time, I was in a lot of pain by the time we made it back to the hotel room. My knees ached, my body felt like it had been tackled by a football player, and I was so tired all I wanted to do was sleep.

This is the crappy part of chronic illness. I've had to learn to prepare for the inevitable pain and discomfort that attending events or going places will bring. In fact, I took Monday off from work because I knew I'd need the day to recover. As it turns out, I needed more than one day - I'm still in a lot of pain today and have spent most of the day in bed.

Was it worth going through that pain to see my daughter's dream come true? You bet. I don't regret it for a second. To see her smile, to see her meet her favorite celebrity and actually get to hug him? Totally worth it!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Tips for Pushing Through

I am one of those writers who struggles to get the first draft written. It's always been this way. There are days when the words flow and I write with a feeling of giddiness. Other times, it's a slog, like trying to get through a foot of oozing mud in the spring. Or like my joints are in the morning: stiff and painful. Actually, just writing this post feels like that!

But there are times when I must force myself to get the words down. I can fix them later. Thank God I can fix them later. For me, the editing process is where I enjoy writing the most. I get to play! I don't have to get it right the first time! It reminds me of this quote:

That being said, what are some ways to push through and write on those hard days?

A few tips:

1. Silence the Inner Editor
This is one of my major hang-ups. That little devil inside my head constantly tells me that the words I'm putting on the page are pure crap, and that I should just give up already. Putting a muzzle on my inner editor is the only way to get words on the page.

2. Accept that you're writing crap
During last night's writing session, I knew very well that I was writing crap. And you know what I did? I embraced the heck out of it. The result? I kept writing crap, but I was still writing.

3. Do a round of freewriting
As alluded to in my previous post, freewriting can be, well, freeing! Before you start working on your novel/article/short story, open a blank document on Word and just start writing. Don't worry about grammar or punctuation or even if your ideas make any sense. Just write. Put words on the page. Get the gunk out. And if you still sit down to your project and write crap? That's ok. Just see #2!

4. Take a walk. Listen to music. Draw a picture. Bake a cake! Color!
There have been times when getting out of the house and immersing myself in nature or putting on a good big band CD have lifted me out of my writing funk. Creativity begets creativity. I'm a big believer in the new coloring craze that has seized the world, especially when I don't care if I color outside the lines or if I make my grass blue instead of green. Go wild! Then go back to your work-in-progress and use that same mentality.

Remember Nora Robert's famous line: "I can fix a bad page. I can't fix a blank page."