Friday, September 28, 2012

Yes, There's More

Last week, I got hit with what I thought was the flu. Though I didn't have a fever, I was extremely tired and my entire body ached. I missed two days of work because of it. When I began to feel a bit better, I realized that my joints weren't. My hands, fingers, wrists, neck, back, and ankles were aching. I dismissed it for a few days and figured it was just a remnant of some kind of virus that I had.

When the aching did not subside, I began to grow worried. I had experienced a similar episode a few months ago and again chalked it up to some sort of flu. But two such episodes?

Since I have a strong family history of auto immune disease on both sides of my family - diabetes, arthritis, MS, etc. - I made an appointment with a rheumatologist on Wednesday.

After bloodwork and x-rays and an extensive exam, he diagnosed me with arthritis.

However, I believe the diagnosis may soon change to rheumatoid arthritis. I had my RF (rheumatoid factor) checked in my blood and it is above normal. While this does not make it a given that I have rheumatoid arthritis, combine that with my symptoms and my family history and it is strongly possible. I have to wait to speak to my doctor about it all at my next appointment. (The lab work results came to me after my initial appointment and as my doctor is on vacation, I will have to wait for the official diagnosis if this is indeed what it is).

I sometimes wonder if one person can really have so many health issues. But I guess not only is it possible, it's a fact. (If you're new here and interested in all my health problems...well, let's just say I've had several surgeries in the past few years!).

Strangely, I am not getting overly worked up about all of this. As I research the symptoms and the reality of rheumatoid arthritis, I can begin to see why I had so many times where I felt great, then got hit with illness. These are called "flare ups." If I am fortunate, I will continue to have long periods of time where I feel good. If medication is necessary, then I hope it helps, as well.
I'm not sure if Snoopy really said this, but I like it anyway.

However, niggling at the back of my brain is this harsh reality: I write, which means I use my fingers to type, and if my fingers are stiff (like they are at this very moment), that is going to make typing harder, which will make writing harder.

That scares the crap out of me.

During the time I was struck with the overwhelming fatigue, I couldn't concentrate. I couldn't write and barely had the energy to even read. All I really wanted to do was sleep and mindlessly surf the internet.

This isn't good. If I'm going to be battling this for the rest of my life, I need to learn coping strategies - emotionally and physically. I don't want to to eschew life just because I'm down and out. I refuse to be an invalid. I refuse to allow a disease to define who I am.

In the end, as I am a Christian, I am just giving it to God. That is really all I can do.

If you're wondering why I am putting something so personal on my blog, it's for several reasons. One, my blog is about the writing life - and this is most certainly going to affect that. Two, I want other writers suffering from chronic illnesses to know they're not alone (I've added some great links to my sidebar about living with chronic illness if you're interested). Three, there are some things that I feel I should share. This is one of them.

I don't want sympathy or pity - it's not needed. I don't want to be treated as an invalid because I'm not. I'm going to keep doing what I love. I'll keep smiling. There will be days I want to crawl under the covers and not move (because it hurts to!), but I will deal with it when it comes.

Onward!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Same Old, Same Old?

While I was at Curves exercising the other night, two ladies were talking about their day.

"How was work?" one asked.

"Same old, same old," the other replied, her voice tinged with boredom.

"Yep, I know how that is," the first one sighed. "Same old, same old."

It hit me at that moment how I do not want to say that about my job or my life: same old, same old.

There are some people in this world who work at the same job for 30, 40, even 50 years. They get up at the same time every day. They go to work at the same office. They do the same tasks. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year. They have a routine, and they have security in this routine. Some people love their jobs. Some do not. Yet they stay, perhaps looking forward to that time when they retire and life can finally begin.

And they are perfectly fine with that. I admire them.

But I am not fine with my life taking that route at all.

Why?

Because I do not want the "same old, same old" to be my career.

I do not want to be an office drone the rest of my life. I do not want to just "put in my time" until I retire. I do not want to continue doing something I do not love for years on end. I do not want to start living life solely on vacations or weekends before returning to the drudgery of the day job.

Many people say that writers should not quit their day jobs. For financial reasons and some other, compelling reasons (the sense of camaraderie you get with your co-workers, health insurance and other benefits, etc.), I agree that keeping the day job is a necessity.

For me, it is a necessity at this point in my life.

And yes, I, too, am caught up in the same old, same old. For now.
A little tongue in cheek humor...

But I am actively working to make sure it is not going to be the same old, same old in the future.

Here is why.

I have two consuming passions that work rather well together: writing and history. I am defined by those passions in so many ways that it is probably impossible to document them all. In short, they compose a major part of who I am.

Which means that I want to live my passions. I want to live through my writing and my love of history. Achieving this goal remains of paramount importance to me.

I want the opposite of same old, same old. I want to be able to write and publish my novels. Go on a few book tours. Have enough money in my bank account to take a trip once a year. Volunteer at a museum. Go on research trips. Write, write, write. Break out of the routine.

But! I also want to be home when my daughter gets out of school in the afternoon. Enjoy my cozy house and my pets. Take walks in the morning when it's crisp and cool outside instead of being locked in rush-hour traffic. Look at the clock and think, "Oh! It's that time already? I've been enjoying myself so much that I didn't even notice time passing!" Connect with readers and writers. Take my time browsing through an old bookstore instead of hurrying through it on my lunch hour. And lots and lots of other things. ( I also know that there will undoubtedly be plenty of times where I will not be positive, happy, and cheerful. I am well aware of the flip side of the coin.)

Perhaps you think I am an idealist. This would not be the case. I am a realist, if anything. I know that I need to pay my bills, which means I need an income, which means I need a job. I need health insurance. I need to pay rent. Those things cannot be done on passion alone. They require income, and at present, the day job is filling that need. I am immensely grateful for it. Truly, I am. In this time of economic misery, I feel incredibly blessed.

That is why I am taking baby steps to achieve my goal.

But identifying what I don't want out of life is the first step.

And I don't want same old, same old.



Monday, September 17, 2012

The Return of Downton Abbey

In some aspects of life, I am not a patient person. I usually can't wait for a chocolate chip cookie fresh out of the oven to cool completely before I devour it (besides, a warm homemade cookies is THE. BEST.). Getting to work in the morning behind a line of slow-moving cars tests me each and every day. And let's not even go to that dark place when I have no chocolate. No chocolate = no patience.

I am also not patient when it comes to watching my very favorite show of all time, Downton Abbey.

Season 3 has begun in the U.K., but sadly, it will not be available on Masterpiece Theatre here in the United States until January.

If you thought I was going to wait until January to watch it, you'd be wrong.

However, short of moving to England for three months (not that I'd be averse to that), I wondered if I'd be able to watch it without violating my morals - i.e. watching a pirated version.

Turns out that I can have my cake and eat it, too.

I found a wonderful program called Tunnelbear. It is a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that allows you to access videos from other countries that would otherwise be unavailable simply because of your location. Thus, if you visit the website of ITV, the British television channel that airs Downton Abbey, you would not be able to watch the videos because of your location. With Tunnelbear, however, you can. ITV, much like other television stations, puts complete shows on their website after they have aired on t.v.

It works brilliantly. And yes, it's perfectly legal.

So! I am happy to announce that I have watched the first episode of Season Three's Downton Abbey and am thrilled with how wonderful it was. Even better? I can satisfy my desire for all things British t.v.!


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Historical Tangent

I recently finished a superb historical novel about Catherine the Great called The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak. It is set in Russia during the time Princess Sophie (who later was renamed Catherine) traveled from a small German principality to the Russian court to become the wife of Empress Elizabeth's heir, Peter. It's told from the point of view of a palace "tongue" - i.e. a spy who reports all that she hears - gossip, scandal, etc. - to Empress Elizabeth as well as Catherine. The historical details are quite wonderful, and more than once I would rouse myself from reading only to be reminded that I was living in 2012 and not 1760.

Young Catherine the Great soon after her arrival in Russia
My fascination with Catherine the Great began in high school (1991) when I watched a TNT movie called Young Catherine that starred newcomer Julia Ormond as Catherine and a very handsome (and sadly now deceased) Mark Frankel as Catherine's lover, Gregory Orlov. No, it wasn't historically accurate in many ways, but the story intrigued me, as did the romance between Catherine and Gregory. Ever since, I've had an interest in this monarch, though not one that has caused me to do a great deal of research.

However, reading The Winter Palace once again sparked my desire to learn more about Catherine. This fascination is further fueled by the fact that my grandmother's parents were Germans from Russia. Their ancestors originally lived in Germany, but when Catherine the Great sent out an invitation for Europeans to come and settle Russian lands, my ancestors decided to make the trek to this foreign land.

My cousin has done extensive genealogy of our Germans from Russia ancestors, and my grandmother even has the exact date that my relatives arrived in Russia: June 15, 1765. They went to the Volga River region of Russia and stayed there for generations until they came to America in the early 1900s.

I went to the library today and snagged the most recent biography of Catherine available. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie is a heavy, thick book, but I'm looking forward to diving into its pages. Catherine also wrote her memoirs and thankfully, they've been translated from the original French so that I can read them, as well.

I tend to place my love of history into two distinct periods: the Eighteenth Century and World War II. I've studied the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars (which, granted, went into the early nineteenth century and include the Regency period, which I also love.) I used to be quite a historian of the American Civil War in junior high and high school, but now I find I can't muster much enthusiasm for it anymore. I have dabbled in other historical time periods - the Russian Revolution, World War I, and the late nineteenth century. In fact, I didn't really start having an interest in World War II until my mid-20s. It gained further traction when I went to graduate school, and after studying it for quite a few years now, I can safely say it's the number one time period I enjoy researching and reading about.

However, every few months I long to dive into the Eighteenth Century. I have ideas for novels that take place during the American Revolution and Eighteenth Century England that I'd like to explore one day. I have a few half-written novels about the French Revolution, too, that sadly will never see the light of day.

But now, thanks to the transportive nature of historical fiction and my own family history, I have an idea budding for a novel set in Catherine the Great's Russia. The main character will, of course, be a German who makes the trek from his native country to try his luck in Russia, and ends up in the court of Catherine the Great.

Ahh, how my mind whirls and skips and dances with delight when I think of writing his tale!

But here I face a conundrum. There are only so many hours in the day (and most of them are eaten up by the day job) and taking on a story of that time period would require a lot of research. I tend to devote most of my research time to World War II since the novels I'm writing now take place during this war.

I am of the mind, however, that certain novels call to us at certain times of our lives. I have abandoned fully-formed ideas in the past because I knew that it simply wasn't time for me to write them yet. Whether that means I didn't have the experience or the wisdom, I don't know. I only know that I must bow to the inner voice and let these projects wait until I am ready.

So it will be for this new story idea. I will let it simmer, jot down notes when needed, and do research when I  feel the urge. At some point, if the idea is meant to become a fully-fledged novel, I will be seized with the undeniable longing to write it.

I eagerly await that day.



Thursday, September 06, 2012

All That They Desire...


I saw this picture on Pinterest today, and it made me stop and think about my own characters. Do I give them all that they desire at the end of the book?

Yes, Jane Austen's books have happy endings. Yes, I tend to write happy endings, too. But I don't know that I give my characters "all that they desire." Why? Because that would be too easy. And, well, too unrealistic.

Life is made up of challenges. That's what makes it interesting. Sometimes, it's what makes it unbearable. But I am a firm believer in the saying, "One cannot know joy without first knowing sorrow."

I wonder if Miss Austen perhaps meant that they would have "most" of what they desired. I could live with that. Of course, it doesn't make for nearly as 'neat' of a quote.

Do you give your characters all that they desire, or do you deliberately keep them from having what they want the most?

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Finally

The last time I was able to come back to my hometown and see my family was in March. My hysterectomy surgery made it impossible for a few months, and then the lack of paid vacation time put a further cramp in those plans.

But I'm happy to say that I've spent the last few days firmly within the arms of my family. It's been glorious.

Helping my mom bake when I was little.
I made chocolate chip cookies with my grandma, watched my nephew's high school football game, had a rousing discussion on politics with my dad, wandered around my brother's farm and pet cute little farm kitties, and reminisced with everyone about the good old days while sitting in my grandma's living room. Today I went to church with my mom and we just finished putting a cake in the oven. We're making jello cake, one of my favorite recipes from my childhood.

I've pretty much stayed off-line and I really haven't missed it at all. I've been far too busy enjoying the company of my family.

I've loved every minute of it.

This is exactly what I've needed for the past few months. The summer heat, the drought we're in (it's even worse in western Nebraska, where I'm at now), and the battles with my health have taken their toll. I needed a change of scenery, and coming back home has been a wonderful antidote to my less than stellar emotional mood.

As it's Labor Day tomorrow, I don't have to work - hurrah! - though I do have a six hour drive ahead of me. That's ok. It's been worth it.

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...