Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Slowly But Surely

Last night I wrote pages and pages about Charlie in my journal. I remembered some of the funny things he did, the sounds he made when he heard thunder, the way he would put his head on my bed when he wanted attention, the time I petted him so much that he fell asleep...and I smiled. Yes, there was a tightness in my throat when I wrote it, but that's ok.

Writing has been very therapeutic for me throughout this entire process. Thank goodness I've had that outlet. Now I'd like to jump back into my novel, but there is a resistance there. And here's the reason.

When everything happened with Charlie, I was working on my novel. I was in my bedroom with my laptop, Charlie was laying beside the bed, and I was having trouble with a particular scene. Then Charlie collapsed, we went to the vet, and well, we all know the rest. For those first few days, I couldn't even think of working on the novel. I know I'm not alone. When Dean Koontz's beloved Golden Retriever, Trixie, passed on, he couldn't write for a month.

Everyone is different, though, and for me, I need that outlet of diving into my characters' lives and immersing myself in my writing. But I'm scared. Why? Because the last time I worked on it, Charlie was there. And now I fear I will associate the novel, and that particular scene, with what happened.

I think I know the solution. I just have to do it. That's what I did last night when I had to go to the grocery store. The last time I went, Charlie went with me - it was his last ride in the Jeep. When I drove that same route, tears welled in my eyes. But I knew I had to go - the kids needed milk and cereal for their breakfast, after all, and I can't just hide from life right now. So I successfully made that little journey and I felt Charlie's spirit with me all the way.

So today, I hope to open up that file again and just get through it. I love this story. I love my characters. I love how everything comes together. I can't abandon it. And last night, I made a decision.

My main character in my novel owns a dog. And I have decided to change his name to Charlie.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Grief

The grieving process is strange. Today, I found some videos I'd taken of Charlie and managed not to cry when I watched them. But then later, his loss hit me again and I just sobbed.

A part of me is gone. It's hard to explain this feeling to non-pet owners. But I feel like a tiny part of my heart is missing.

It will take me awhile to work through this and I'm sure there will be more tears. I can't believe how painful this whole thing is. That dog was with me everywhere. Even now, I catch a glimpse of a black shadow and I think it's him. I hear my other dog's tags jingle and I immediately think it's Charlie. I reach down beside my bed at night and can almost feel him there. That's where he always slept - right beside me. That's where he always wanted to be - right beside me.

It's hard to define such loyalty and devotion. It's unconditional. That's what Charlie's love was for me. Unconditional. There were so many times that I needed him and he was there. So many times when I wasn't feeling good and my husband would let Charlie into the house to come sit beside me and I would immediately feel better because Charlie was there.

I've lost that and I can never get it back. That hurts. Incredibly bad.

Still, life must go on. Our other dog, Tiny, is sitting underneath my desk right now, in the spot where Charlie always used to sit. He knows something is amiss and I don't mind his company. It's not the same, never will be, but that's ok.

I know this will take some time. I don't know how much time. And that's ok, too. I need to allow myself to have all the time in the world I need.

Thanks again for all your good thoughts and wishes and prayers. It all helps, believe me.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Charlie Brown 1999-2008

My heart is screaming in pain. My beloved dog, Charlie Brown, had to be put to sleep this afternoon. I had noticed that he wasn't his normal self the last few days, was acting a bit more lethargic than usual. I took him on a ride in my Jeep yesterday and he just didn't have the spirit that he usually had. But he still stuck his head out the window and enjoyed the wind blowing in his face. He always loved that.

Today, though, after I brought him inside and gave him a bowl of water, I began to worry. When I called him to go outside, he didn't come. I found him beside my bed panting heavily, his eyes watering. He couldn't get up. I had to lift him to his feet and then he staggered around, then collapsed. I panicked, started crying, had my stepson carry him outside to the Jeep. My daughter and I rushed him to the emergency vet.

By the time I got there, I was in hysterics and Charlie was breathing even heavier than before, his chest rising and falling in the effort. My carseat was soaked with his saliva. They put him on a tray and rushed him inside, my daughter and I following.

We waited in the examination room, the white walls devoid of any pictures of dogs or cats, just white. White. White. White. There was an exam table, a bench to sit on. And in the corner, a box of Kleenex. My daughter reassured me that Charlie would be ok, gave me a Kleenex, tried to calm me down by showing me pictures of the kittens and dogs in the magazines. I tried to take deep breaths, but I knew something was terribly wrong.

The vet came back several times, told me they were doing this test, then this one, then wanted my permission to take X-rays. They showed me how much it would cost, I blanched, but didn't care. This was my dog, my Charlie, my best friend.

Then the news came. The vet showed me the blood work, said that Charlie basically had no red blood cells left. The x-rays appeared to show that he had mastisis, a tumor somewhere in his body that had ruptured or turned into a blood vessel, or something. I didn't really understand. He was being poisoned from the tumor and had collapsed. All I knew was that the diagnosis was grave. And there was really no decision to make but one.

My heart nearly broke. I sobbed and sobbed. I called hubby, he rushed over from where he was at work. While I waited for him to appear, I went to Charlie. He was on a ventilator, struggling for breath. I carressed his cheek, kissed him, told him I loved him, over and over again. I hope he heard me. I hope, I hope, I hope.

They asked me if I wanted to be with him when they gave the injection. I couldn't stand the thought of feeling the life drain from him. When my husband arrived, he saw the X-rays, heard the diagnosis, and tears leaked from his eyes. He said he would be with Charlie.

My daughter and I went back to the room and cried and cried, holding each other. After a few minutes, my husband came back into the room and we all held each other, more tears flowed. Great, hiccuping sobs wracked my body. I wanted to curl into a ball right there on the floor. But I couldn't. I had to move, had to comfort my daughter, had to get her home, had to get myself home.

When I finally walked in the door, I collapsed on the couch and wailed. I miss him so badly. Just this morning, he was right there in front of the couch, laying there like he always did.

The pain is absolutely awful. He has been there with me through everything. I would hold him sometimes and cry and he would sit there and be so strong for me. He followed me everywhere. He would follow me to the bathroom, sit there in front of the door, until I came out. He would go wherever I was. And now, I feel like part of my soul has been wrenched from me.

Oh, how he loved to play fetch. He would scramble after the ball, then bring it back, drop it at my feet, eager to play again. And we went on so many walks. He'd stop and sniff at trees and bushes and flowers, and then we'd keep on going. But then there were those times when he could barely make it and I thought, well, maybe he's just getting old because the next day, he'd be his usual peppy self.

I can't go into the whole "If I only would have done this..." game because then I would truly go insane. I can't do it. I just can't.

I can't stand that he's not here. I cannot stand it. And why am I writing this, you might ask? Because that's what I do. I write when I'm in pain, when I'm happy, when I'm grieving, when I'm ecstastic...when I am devastated.

I am devastated. Completely and totally. Charlie came into my life as a small puppy in 1999 and has been with me throughout my entire marriage. He was such a good dog - he loved to have people pet him, strangers, children, anyone. He listened to me. He came when I called. He would sit under my desk when I wrote, take rides in the car with me, his face sticking out the window, his hair blowing and making his eyes slant. He loved it. He loved it so much.

And he loved me. I know he loved me. And oh, how I loved him.

My dear, darling, wonderful Charlie, I miss you. Oh, how I miss you. Please visit me in my dreams. I love you.




Thursday, July 24, 2008

Home Sweet Home!

My beautiful grandmother with my beautiful daughter.



My beautiful mother with my beautiful daughter.

Grandma and granddaughter playing slapjack.

Maria cooking a true Italian feast!

The feast!


Dad making his famous homemade ice cream. YUM.

Prairie peace...

Nebraska evening...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Getting Into the Story


I'm trying to wrap my head around my novel again. While I was on my mini-vacation over the weekend, I didn't think about it at all - and that's ok, really, since I was with my family and didn't need to be thinking about it.
Last night, however, I tried to dive back into it and wasn't doing so hot. Granted, I tried to write after I had cleaned house and hung up the clothes to dry since the dryer was on the fritz (thankfully, hubby fixed it later that evening) and I was tired. Maybe not the best way to jump back into writing.
So I need your help. What are your tips for getting back into your story after you've let it sit for awhile?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Home...

We took a flying trip home this weekend - left after work on Friday and drove the 400 miles home across the flat state of Nebraska and got back Sunday night. For 325 of those miles, you don't make a single turn! Just a straight line. Gets to be boring. I tried to write on my AlphaSmart, thinking I would give it one more chance, but nope, the relationship between it and I is broken. I can't write on that thing. Weird.

We had to split up to see both of our families, so my husband and my stepsons went to his mom's house and my daughter and I went to my mom's and grandma's and dad's. I tried to cram in as much time as possible with everyone, but it's always so hard when you have a limited amount of time like that. And let's not even go into how much we spent on gas. GAH. My checking account is weeping!

But it was worth it to see everyone. I always feel more grounded when I return from a trip home - more positive about life and eager to get some stuff accomplished.

So other than the botched writing attempt on the drive there, I didn't even attempt to write, and I think that's a good thing. I feel eager to dive back into the manuscript now.

If you're bored, you can check out the mini makeover I gave my World War II blog - very easy to do, and I like how it turned out.

Pictures to come later this week of our trip...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sentimental Journey

Yesterday I had the unique opportunity to go see an original B-17 bomber. I had to drive a few miles to get there, but it was completely worth it. I had a dual purpose for visiting. One, I'm a World War II buff, of course, and I've always loved the movie Memphis Belle. I'm currently reading the memoir of the pilot who flew the real Memphis Belle. Two, my main character in the novel I'm currently working on is a B-17 pilot. I thank God I was able to get some honest-to-goodness primary research done.

The name of this plane is Sentimental Journey. Built in late 1944, she was too late to see action in Europe, and instead was sent to the Pacific Theater for the duration of the war. Now, she is a flying museum and part of an awesome project by the Arizona Wing CAF Aircraft Museum. You can read about the museum's history and how this plane was restored to its original glory here.

Without further ado, here she is:



And of course, the pin-up girl is the famous Betty Grable. Here's a little interesting tidbit. Betty was pregnant when she had this picture taken, thus the reason why she's peeking over her shoulder!


Look at those engines.


Now this position would have left me in a cold sweat - the ball turret gunner. This guy had to get into this tiny ball underneath the plane. One thing is for sure - he had a great view of the action.

Here's the cockpit where the pilot and co-pilot were. It's cramped.

The radio operator sat here - look at that swell radio!


This is where the bombs are stored - the doors are open and you only have this tiny walkway to get from one end of the plane to the next. If you've ever watched the movie Memphis Belle, you can see one of the characters making this treacherous walk mid-air.


Here's another view of the plane - you can see how cramped it was. I didn't have a chance to get a lot of good pictures of the inside because 1) I ran out of memory in my digital camera and 2) there were other people taking the tour at the same time. If I could have had an hour to myself in there, boy...I would have really been able to look at everything to my heart's content.


This is one of the waist gunner's machine guns. There were two men in this position. Look at those bullets.



This is the nose of the plane where the bombardier and navigator sat. It's pretty cramped, too.

And of course, here is the tail gunner's position. I couldn't get back there to take a picture - we weren't allowed - but it is another cramped spot, too.

I got to see the plane take off and land since, if you were lucky enough to have $425, you could actually take a ride in it. Unfortunately, I didn't have $425 on me (ha!).



Definitely a worthwhile experience, and it only cost me $5. The gas to get there was more! But I wouldn't have missed this opportunity to see a part of history and try to get a sense of what the crews of these amazing planes went through.

For a schedule of where the Sentimental Journey will be headed next, click here.



Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It's My Anniversary


Hubby and I have a running joke about our wedding anniversary.

"Is it the 16th or the 17th of July?"

One year, we actually forgot our anniversary.

It's been nine years since we hopped a plane to Vegas, got married in a tiny Vegas chapel, and had dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant.

It hasn't been easy - what marriage is? - but our love for each other has got us through some very rough patches.

Happy Anniversary to that man of mine!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Dog Days of Summer




Yeah. We're being pretty productive at my house during these hot summer days. How about you? Enjoying the summer?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Blogging Excellence Award


Wow! Tess nominated me for a Blogging Excellence Award. I am very humbled. Thanks, Tess!

So here are the blogs that I nominate for Blogging Excellence.
Travis Erwin's One Word, One Rung, One Day. Travis never fails to entertain me. He's got wit and wisdom in spades about his writing and life in general.
Christine Fletcher's Piccalilli. Christine is a published author in YA fiction and is an awesome gal!
Lisa's Eudaemonia. Wow. Lisa is as heartfelt as they come. Her honest look at the writing life will inspire you.
Suzanne McMinn's Chickens in the Road. Whenever I need a smile to boost my day, I head on over to Suzanne's blog. She is an absolute inspiration, building a farm in West Virginia from the ground up. I love her pictures and her commentary. Check her out!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fighting Depression with Creativity

Apologies for not delving into Bruce Holland Rogers' book, Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer, (which I highly recommend) yesterday. But I will now! Rogers offers a few ideas to help you with feelings of depression and melancholy, or just writing burn-out.

Take your writing muse on a vacation. As Rogers states, "Doing the same thing in the same place in the same way all the time gets monotonous even if you love what you're doing. And monotony is draining."

And depressing. I know that there have been times when I can't stand the thought of sitting down at my computer to write after I've already sat at a computer all day at the day job. But if I do something simple like getting out my laptop and going to the front porch, it helps.

Here are ten "vacations" that Rogers suggests:

1. Monastic retreat (writing colony)
2. Busman's holiday (get paid to write in a different location)
3. Staff retreat (get together with other writers)
4. Hermitage (go by yourself!)
5. Break in expectations
6. Road trip
7. Artist date
8. Sabbatical
9. Coffee break
10. Nap

All of us can do at least one or two of these with absolutely zero expense!

Let's dig deeper into a few of them. Right now, I'm really craving a writing retreat with some other writers. Ever since I quit my local RWA chapter and dropped my RWA membership more than a year ago, I haven't really been able to network with other local writers. But going on a writing retreat with a few of my writing friends is just what I need right now. Writing is such a solitary endeavor that socializing with other writers (and the world) is a must. I usually get my social fix from the day job - but I don't get my writing fix!

Another one that I think is an excellent idea is an artist date. Julia Cameron espoused this idea in her book, The Artist's Way. As Rogers states, "The conventional artist date is just what it sounds like: a date. You dress up and go to the art museum, the museum of natural history, a poetry reading, a movie. You go for a walk in the arboretum. You get out your telescope and hunt comets."

A few weeks ago, I went and visited the Museum of Nebraska History in Lincoln. It has an amazing World War II exhibit - and I'd never been there. I've lived here for six years! I instantly regretted not coming sooner. As I wandered around and looked at all the wonderful things on display, I became more inspired than ever to work on my non-fiction book on the German POW camp at Fort Robinson (I wrote my master's thesis on this and always wanted to turn it into a book) and of course, it also fueled my fiction-writing muse since I write World War II-era fiction.

This is what an artist date is. It's a chance to, as Rogers states so perfectly, "feed your heart."

Will doing any of these things cure your depression? Probably not. But it will most certainly help. Our brains are such a wondrous machine that you never know what might trigger those "feel good" juices to start flowing again.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Let's Talk About Depression and Creativity

I've talked about depression and creativity before. More than once, in fact. Why? Because it's a very real part of my life.

I've battled depression since high school. I remember long summer vacations from school when I would struggle to find any enthusiasm for much of anything. I still remember those feelings. People who have depression say that when they are in the midst of an episode, the world looks grey - it lacks color and life. That's absolutely accurate. And that's how I felt for many of those summer days.

In college, I decided to seek therapy for my depression, and my doctor prescribed me antidepressants. I wasn't keen on the idea. After all, who wants to take a drug to make them feel better? But I knew I had to do something - living in a black hole is not a way to live. So after I started on my antidepressants and gave them time to work, I was absolutely amazed at the change.

The world wasn't grey anymore. I didn't wake up in the morning with a sense of hopelessness, of "why am I even here?" I don't think I was ever suicidal when I was at my worst with my depression, but it was more along the lines of, "I want to stay in bed all day and sleep." There was no joy in the world. No sense of anticipation. No fun.

I wish I could tell you that not a day has gone by since I started taking my medication that I haven't experienced depression. But that's not true. Sure, we all experience life's up's and down's - you can't really appreciate the good things in life until you go through the bad. And I've gone through a few rough patches where I've teetered over that black hole again.

Lately, though, I've been researching the link between creativity and depression because I've noticed a decided shift in my mood. When I am in the midst of creating, I feel absolutely blissful - almost to the verge of tears that I am doing what I love and that I love what I'm doing! But there are other times when I can't manage the energy or the passion or the drive to sit down and write. It's not laziness - I want to write. But I can't make myself.

Is this depression? Or is this just my creative DNA? It is quite rare for me - lately, anyway - to have more than two or three good days in a row. Those good days are VERY good days - I'm pumped to write, can't wait to sit down and get to work, am bursting with ideas, and I feel very positive about everything. And then maybe the next day, I am completely down. No motivation. No energy. And it's not like I'm doing anything different! (And it's not lack of exercise or proper nutrition - I've been doing both.)

Since this has been happening more and more, I decided to do some research on this subject. Turns out that there are some very interesting facets to a creative person's personality. Psychology Today has an article entitled "The Creative Personality: Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I found myself nodding my head at several of them. For instance:

"This does not mean that creative people are hyperactive, always "on." In
fact, they rest often and sleep a lot. The important thing is that they control
their energy; it's not ruled by the calendar, the dock, an external schedule.
When necessary, they can focus it like a laser beam; when not, creative types
immediately recharge their batteries. They consider the rhythm of activity
followed by idleness or reflection very important for the success of their work.
This is not a bio-rhythm inherited with their genes; it was learned by trial and
error as a strategy for achieving their goals."

The problem with me is that if I do let myself be idle after a period of creativity, I feel intensely guilty for it. I should be working, darn it! Maybe that's contributing to the overall feeling of depression? Am I not allowing myself downtime when my creative personality demands that I do so? Food for thought.

But of course, creativity and depression often go hand in hand - and writers are no exception. I'm eager to dive into Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression and see how other writers have dealt with depression in its various stages.

I guess the ultimate goal, in the end, is to understand my behavior and try to figure out how my own creative process works. Perhaps it's a simple thing of just working two or three days in a row, and then taking a day off. Maybe that's how I work. Maybe I'm not one of those people that must write every day, even though there are many that say you must do this. Maybe that is more detrimental to my creative process and thus contributes to my feelings of guilt and depression.

More food for thought.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts, as well.

Tomorrow, I want to share some insights on writing and depression from a wonderful writing book called Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer by Bruce Holland Rogers.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Around the Web

Call me giddy with excitement, but I just found a terrific new website for research. It's called The Homefront: World War II-Era Beauty and Fashion. This gal has scanned in tons of advertisements for soap, shoes, make-up, etc., and has also scanned in period magazine articles on women at war, beauty, fashion, and other great topics.




The site is a labor of love, and it shows. I know I can spend many happy hours rummaging through it - and it will remain at the top of my research links!

Another great site I've found that has really got me thinking about my writing and creativity is Jurgen Wolff's site, Time to Write. He has some offbeat tips for getting your creativity into full swing, and he's also just come out with a book called Your Writing Coach that may just be what you need to get your novel done.

I'm also very interested in Jurgen's new website, The Power of Targeted Thinking. I know I sure could use some focus in my life on a lot of things - weight loss, diet, exercise, parenting, marriage, and of course, writing.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Boys and Their Toys

This is my husband's latest acquisition. If I tried to tell you how many vehicles he's owned and sold in the nine years we've been married, I would fail miserably. I can't keep track!

This 1974 Dodge truck, however, will never leave. It is his project truck, and I anticipate he will spend many, many hours in his garage tinkering on it. What makes this truck even sweeter is that he used to own one like it when he was in high school. This truck has sat in our neighbor's yard ever since we moved here, and my husband, of course, has had his eye on it ever since. To me, it was just a matter of time before it ended up in my backyard. It only took five years. *grin*

Boys and their toys. I'm not quite sure I'll ever understand it.

Weekend Update

We had a nice, quiet 4th of July until that evening when we shot off fireworks and watched our city's firework display. It was quite nice - we could see it from our house, so we didn't have to fight traffic or deal with the crowds.

I also got quite a bit of writing done on Saturday and Sunday. I'm in a difficult part of the novel, so I think the "slow and steady" method needs to apply instead of the "I'm going to write 3000 words today!" Some people would argue that I just need to get it down and then fix it later, but at this stage of the novel, I need to really focus on my characters' emotions and my pacing.

And since I'm a firm believer that there is no one way to write, I'm going to do what works for me.

It's the last week of quiet around our house until my two stepsons come home. My daughter is excited to see her brothers, but I confess, the peace and quiet has been nice! Still, it will be good to have them home.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

New James Bond: Quantum of Solace

You will find me at the movie theater on November 1, 2008, right when the doors open to watch the newest James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. It looks amazing.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th of July!


Exactly 232 years ago, America celebrated its very first 4th of July with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Yet America was far from being an independent nation - the Continental Army still had many battles to fight and many sacrifices to make. Remember those first patriots today!


Happy 4th of July!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

An Ode to Tiny Bear

Y'know all those products featuring the dogs with the big noses? I don't need 'em. I got my own.


This is Tiny Bear. He's just a slightly big dog. So big, in fact, that wherever we take him, people literally slow down in their cars to look at him. I had one guy actually lean out the window of his car and say, "That's a big (expletive here) dog!"

Tiny Bear came to us when I was pregnant with my daughter. He was a rambuctious puppy. His mother was a St. Bernard, his father a mixture between wolf (yes, wolf!) and malamute. So he was never really, well, tiny.


This picture above is him at about six months. And he wasn't done growing! He just kept growing and growing, his paws getting bigger and bigger, until they resembled lion paws. The wolf comes out in him only when there are sirens blaring or when he's feeling rather melancholy. Then he'll howl. And it's a long, mournful howl. But he is a beautiful dog, full of spirit and love.



He is, however, a bit of a wuss. When we have thunder storms, he barges his way into the house, runs downstairs, and cowers. Yes, cowers. He does the same thing during the 4th of July. He hates loud noises. So tomorrow night, I'm sure he'll be hiding in some corner of the basement.

But we love 'em anyway.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Ultimate Summer Vacation

Wow. Is it just me or has the blogworld been a little, well...quiet lately? Or maybe it's just my blog. Ha!

I suppose the dog days of summer could have something to do with it. Heaven knows I haven't been my usual motivated self lately. I blame the heat. First day of July and we had the temperatures to go along with it. We haven't hit 100 yet, but I'm sure it's coming.

Lots of people are probably on vacation, as well. Not me. My vacation, as you all know, isn't until this fall. Not that I don't want to take a vacation now, but I have no paid-time left until September. Gah. Oh well. I shall have to survive!

But if someone told me tomorrow that they would pay for me to leave for two weeks vacation, anywhere in the world, I wouldn't turn them down. And where would I go? Someplace cool. Not cool as in, "whoa, dude, that is cool" (ha!) but cool as in anything below 75 degrees cool. Alaska? Well, I do have friends that live there, so I know I could always drop in and visit. England? Seeing as how I'm going there in the fall, I wouldn't want to spoil that particular vacation.

Ah. I've got it. Scotland. And Ireland. Since I won't be going to either of those places on my England trip, I'd have to say that those two places would be my first and second choices.

How about you? What is your ultimate summer vacation? Some place warm and tropical or cool and historical? ;-)

One Day at a Time

I've always tried to live with this mentality: One day at a time. Unfortunately, when I implement it, I fail spectacularly. But for this...