Author: sub524

Photos and Poetry from a College Senior

Photos and Poetry from a College Senior

I’m proud of my soon-to-be college graduate son, Spencer. He’s doing a great job navigating this odd spring of 2020. He’s currently living alone in his apartment finishing up his last semester at George Washington University without roomates, without celebration, his graduation ceremony cancelled. He’s travelled the globe these past four years as an International Business major and will be graduating summa cum laude. He’s passionate about philosophy (his minor), music and film. I think he’s a wonderful writer too.  Here are his images and reflections from the past two months in Washington DC.

**The featured image above is the Washington Monument taken from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Its usually packed with people. Below is outside Whole Foods on GWU campus — in the distance you can see the arch of the Foggy Bottom metro station.

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Days
Days,
Days like today
Where time slips like coins
Through cracks in the hours.
Ten minutes here, five there.
Never the hours,
No such thing as a sixty-cent coin.
No,
It’s nickels, dimes, quarters through a hole
In an old wooden porch.
Peeling white paint and rusted nails 
Too vivid for days like today.
There goes another
Little silver sliver,
I thought I was saving it for something.

Days,
Days like yesterday
Where it all makes sense.
A train on the tracks,
Going somewhere nice.
Hills roll by, 
Overgrown with the smell of summer.
Yeah,
Slowly pacing- chugging along.
And you, shoveling coal--
Firing the engine.
Getting where you’re going.
It makes it easier,
As it pieces together,
You roll along on your little adventure.

Days,
Who knows what the day is tomorrow. 
Coins through porches or coals in trains?
Maybe both, maybe neither.
Maybe the time won’t be fumbled.
Maybe not thrown to embers.
Maybe it won’t go anywhere at all.
Sitting in a field.
The day will be that:
Shining sun,
Green grass, and a breezy wind.
The day won’t have to be anything,
Except an old quilt and a turkey sandwich.
Ah,
Days like tomorrow.
2/21/20
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Attention
Due to recent
Coronavirus related worries
Your ambitions have been cancelled.

Please note,
This is a difficult situation
And the nervous center
Of your brain
Finds it hard to make this decision.

The administration believes
That due to the lack of restaurants
Open,
The absence of friends
Around,
The majority of rent
Due,

That it is totally ok
To just give up,
For like a few days.

We have laid out
Guidelines as follows
For acceptable behavior
During the course
Of this banal and slow
Moving car crash:

Sleeping until two is encouraged,
As is staying up until three.

Almost doing the dishes
But then sitting down and 
Inevitably staying there for hours
Instead is recommended.

Wandering aimlessly throughout
The rooms in your house.

Frequent and pointless facetimes,
Fun tip: this can be combined with any
Of the previous tips.

Ordering too much food

In other words,
Do what you normally do,
But feel more trapped doing it.

Thank you,
And we hope you have
A hazy and timeless day.

 03/23/20
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Your Hand-Held Hourglass

Today,
Time goes
Nowhere.

Moments are grains
Piled in the palm.

The wind
Will blow away
Your hand-held hourglass.

04.03.20

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These last two photos are of the main square in the heart of GWU campus, and a street off Du Pont circle.

Poetry and photography by Spencer W. Bracey

Spencer and his friend Max at the Great Wall of China, BC (before Corona).

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On Acceptance and Pear Trees

On Acceptance and Pear Trees

For the past 33 years or so, I’ve been guided by the Serenity Prayer when baffled or confused. So, you know, daily. I often use the short version of the prayer when pressed. I’ll share it with you. It’s handy to have when someone’s been snippy, or if an asshat cuts you off in traffic. In those times of little patience or time to speed talk your way through:

God Grant me the Serenity to

Accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And the Wisdom to know the difference.

You can use the short version, and just say “Oh, well.” And that covers it.

This week as we finally (finally!) stop being in the month of March and proceed into April (which surely won’t be as long, right?) I realized that during this pandemic I’ve been forcing myself to adhere to one part of that prayer, the changing things I can section. Granted, it’s my default position. Coming from a long line of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstrappers whose mindset of “make it happen” is practically a religion, it’s hard not to try and muscle my way through things. The far side of that behavior is intense manipulation of others to get what you want, which isn’t pleasant for anyone. It also leads to never being good enough. A sticky wicket, in other words. (Have you also been watching way too much Brit Box during quarantine?)

Three weeks into this thing, and never once achieving all the things on the daily to-do list, I’ve realized that gripping onto the “changing things I can” portion of the serenity prayer isn’t working. It’s forced me into using my short version of the Serenity Prayer multiple times per day. I can’t change other people’s behavior; they will still congregate and have “quarantine parties.” Oh, well. My son’s college graduation will be postponed until next year. Oh, well. I can’t even get my 85 and 90-year-old parents to stay in their house. They’ve nicknamed me “The Warden,” and while they say it with a half-smile on their face, they resent the hell out of me, and sneak out and do inconsequential errands anyway. Oh, well. I can only change my own behavior.

Accepting things I cannot change feels unnatural, a lesser choice, the coward’s way out. The thought that if I tried harder something could be done gnaws like a rat behind the wall. It’s a struggle to accept things as they are and not try and fix them. It feels like losing. Yet its where peace is found. Accepting things is to see them clearly, and that’s when a path forward is revealed. It’s a gentler path than I’m used to walking. It includes fuzzy thinking, and naps in the afternoon, and not getting everything on my to-do list done. Very few of us currently alive on this planet have navigated a global pandemic before, so perhaps we can accept that and then move forward instead of making ourselves crazy with what could’ve been done, or what we should be doing.

I think that’s what is meant by giving yourself grace. Being in acceptance is understanding that going for strolls in your neighborhood is enough, I don’t need to jog the whole time. My dog loves those walks. No need to rearrange all the closets today. Maybe just the one shelf. Acceptance means I stop comparing myself to others, too. I love seeing clever people on Facebook making up new pandemic words to Disney songs and dressing up, so we all can laugh. It’s okay to just laugh and appreciate the gift of it, I don’t need to do one too. Besides, you for sure don’t want to hear me sing. I accepted that one back in 2nd grade.

On my long ambles through the neighborhood I see all sorts of gardens. There are apartments with cheery little window pots all the way up to huge 12,000 square foot homes that have immaculate gardens and clipped hedges formed into mazes. My personal garden consists of two small pear sprouts and another little plant on the floor of my living room. The baby pear trees have a good story behind them. They’re from a single pear produced by a long-suffering tree that sat in a pot for at least two years too long at our old rental house in Johnson City. It made a few hopeful green leaves each spring but no fruit. It endured the winters huddled against the side of the house. It’d lost most of its upper branches to some sort of black rot. But it was hanging in there, and as I’m sentimental about living things, we tossed it on the back of the truck last-minute when we moved to Dallas.

We dropped it off at my parent’s house before taking the rest of our things to the apartment, so it survived The Fire. They planted it in their yard. It sat in its new home doing very little for a year, not dejected exactly, just tired from the move and the strangeness of having its roots unencumbered by pot sides. Perhaps learning to accept its new place. Last year the little tree rallied and with a massive effort produced a single, perfect pear. My mom and I shared it when it got ripe, before the birds got it, and to the little tree’s credit, it was sweet and delicious.

I saved the two viable seeds from it, and stored them in a baggie filled with dirt in my fridge for four months like I saw on a YouTube video. The two seeds had just started sprouting when I planted them at the end of January in the pots in my living room and watered and sunned them regularly. Now we have two baby pear trees making leaves and growing very slowly. But growing they are. I talk to them daily and tell them they are the very best pear trees in my living room, and they seem to like that. Just having them there makes me happy, and reminds me one more time that we are indeed human beings, not human doings, and that accepting things I cannot change just might be okay for today.

 

On “Jogging” and Gold Stars

On “Jogging” and Gold Stars

March 3rd marked the third anniversary of a condo fire that burned up every last thing we ever owned. It was made worse because we’d just moved to Dallas ten days prior to The Fire and didn’t know where anything was or how to get there. Being upended was disconcerting and weird, and time was distorted into feeling endless (why is it still March?) and evaporative (how is it 4pm already?) at the same time. Most of us have this feeling in our current Coronavirus lockdown. I wrote a book about dealing with being upended and uncomfortable. It might help you, as it’s often funny, a guideline to getting to the other side of a bad bit. Plus yum comfort food recipes, so you really can’t go wrong.*

Being isolated and having people-oriented activities curtailed isn’t particularly hard for me yet, except for one thing which I’ll get to in a minute. I like being by myself. In fancy-shmancy terms, I’d raise my hand and qualify as an extroverted introvert. I like people on average, and can handle large crowds if necessary, but must return to solitude to recharge. Recharge in this example means that if I don’t get peace and quiet, I may rip your head off after first removing your arms and legs as you lie pinned like a hapless butterfly, thanks. I chalk these violent tendencies that crop up when too long in the company of others to being both an only child and cats-eye-glasses-wearing/teacher’s pet unpopular for my first 16 years or so on the planet.

The one thing I truly miss in these self-insulating times is swimming. It’s my exercise of choice, the one that helps my mind as much as my fitness level. All the pools I use are in public buildings, so that option is closed. Faced with becoming chronically cranky and doughy, I’m forced to take the only option open: “jogging.” It’s in parentheses because what I do barely qualifies as real jogging. It’s more like a shuffle where my feet barely clear the road, and involves a lot of heavy breathing. I haven’t “jogged” for a long time and was never very good at it. Plus I despise sweating. That’s probably why I like the pool, you can’t tell you’re sweating in there, you just feel all glow-y and happy when you’re done. Wet, but a different type of wet.

My first runs that weren’t part of some dumb gym class happened at the tail end of college. I worked as a server** at La Tour, a ritzy restaurant in the Park Hyatt hotel opposite the old Water Tower in Chicago. Every other Saturday we’d get a whippet-thin man in for breakfast who was a bit of an anomaly at the time – he was an ultra-distance marathoner. He’d order up sixteen large pancakes (4 regular orders), no syrup, just butter and steadily work his way through the entire stack, leaving nary a crumb. He was carb-loading, which a thing back then. I wouldn’t think it is now, but that’s what he was doing prior to the long 80 to 100-mile runs he did every other Sunday. He confided in me that he always just ate one meal a day, but at that meal he ate anything he wanted. Of course this idea inspired me. Not the running forever part, but the eat anything I want bit. I learned three core things after a steady running effort for a few months: a. 6 miles was far enough for me, b. clearly my body would never ever take on whippet-form, and c. that eating just once a day is no fun at all.

Since that time, I’ve periodically gone back to lacing up my sneakers and heading out to “jog.” It’s not pretty. While my efforts aren’t as awkward as that of a turtle upside down on its back, waving its little reptilian legs in a futile manner to right itself, hoping one of its turtle friends will hustle over and help it flip back over again, it’s close. I don’t like being sweaty either, and you have to do it early in the day, so three strikes against “jogging.” Luckily, there are more upsides to it than down.

I like being out in nature. I don’t wear headphones, so I can hear the birds singing, although there seem to be less of them than there were a few years ago. I also don’t wear my glasses, as they slip down my nose in a most annoying fashion because, you know, that sweating thing. With no glasses, everything is pleasantly indistinct, with blobs of color like an Impressionist painting. I wonder if all of them were nearsighted. It’s like having my own living blurry art gallery that I am moving ever-so-slowly through. I also like saying hello to everyone else out there slogging along, it gives me a sense of community, and I feel like I’m doing everyone a good deed being the worst one out there, and everyone can feel good about themselves in comparison.

The best bit as a recovering mean-to-myself critical person is that my self-talk through the process is unwaveringly positive. I don’t expect anything of myself other than finishing. I talk my way through each jog. “Okay now just get to the mailbox, now to that set of trees, you can do it. You can get to that crack in the sidewalk for sure! You did it! Whoo!  Okay now just to that curve in the road. You made the stop sign! Great job, I’m so proud of you.” It’s my verbal version of those gold and blue and red stars we used to get on our papers in grade school. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember these. They used to come in the licking version, and then later switched to self-sticking. I loved getting those gold stars as an affirmation of a job well done. Also the endorphin rush after you’re done lasts all day. There’s a sense of accomplishment in doing something hard, even if it was done ungracefully. I hope you’re finding ways to get yourself gold stars, perhaps trying something new or hard you’re willing to do awkwardly for a while. If you are, let me know, I find that so inspiring. Or if you need a little push to get yourself righted, I’m happy to come do that for you too.

*My book, “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything” is available on Amazon in kindle or paperback form. Half of all proceeds go to support animal shelters and rescues.

**you know it’s a fancy restaurant when you’re termed a “server” instead of a plain old waitress, or hash-slinger.

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My first book cover!
On Being Susceptible and Plant Based Diets

On Being Susceptible and Plant Based Diets

I’ve become susceptible to marketing strategies. This disappoints me. Either I’m becoming a softie as I glide past the middle part of middle age or companies have gotten better at tugging my heartstrings/breaking down my walls/making me think I need stuff. I used to be made of sterner stuff, and staved off their tricks. I’d smile knowingly when an ad declared “#1 choice of Moms” for example. Really? Which moms? Did you ask a lot of moms, or just five moms and three of them when pushed to answer said it was kind of maybe better? Or when ads proclaimed things using words like bigger or better. Better or bigger than WHAT, I’d ask myself. What is the actual comparison?

Those days are gone. The other night I made the mistake of watching “The Gamechangers” on Netflix with my husband. We’d finished binging “The Crown” and needed something new. It had been recommended by several work colleagues. “The Gamechangers” is a well-made documentary that does a good job of exploring a myriad of reasons to go Vegan, and speaks from an athlete/recovery point of view. Recovery from sports injury (or any injury really) as I age holds my attention. My heating pad is becoming my new best friend and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with our relationship.

This documentary uses athletes, and environmentally minded folks, and some famous manly men, along with science to make the case for going Vegan. Oh, my apologies. It’s not called that anymore. You “go plant-based” now. Which does sound more fun than being Vegan. Vegan conjures up visions of waifs in saffron robes living on lotus roots and air, which isn’t necessarily inviting, or you know, athletic. Going on a plant-based diet on the other hand, sounds sustainable and cool. Like overnight my muscles would gain definition and I’d be described as willowy. I could then  pull off wearing hemp clothing, and using charcoal toothpaste wouldn’t weird me out.

I’ve been Vegan on and off before, once for a solid three years in my early 30s. I joke that all the chopping got to me, so I stopped. I do have a vivid memory of standing at the counter, knife in hand ready to chop yet another carrot, and not being able to do it for one more minute. What is more truthful is that one day I wanted a real cheese pizza more than a vegan its-trying-hard-to-be-cheese-but-failing pizza, and began the slide down the slippery slope. I have issues with vegan cheese, as it melts and looks like cheese but then utterly (udderly!) never tastes like it at all.

So I watched the documentary, got roped in, and have been on a plant-based diet for a week and a half. I’m facing fake cheese again. While I admit that I’m making the unhealthy choice of guac and chips and salsa as a perfectly acceptable vegan meal, I’m balancing that out with vegan recipes. I made a cashew cheese sauce (colored with chopped cooked carrots – it was probably what I was making when I threw in the towel last time) with the terribly-named Nutritional Yeast as the cheese imposter that actually does do a fair imitation of cheese sauce if you are craving comfort food. I also made a lentil-oatmeal “meatloaf” that tastes good if you put enough ketchup on it. Both of those recipes came from the “Gamechangers” website.

There are four good things that have happened since I got suckered have embraced a plant-based diet one more time. The first is that I discovered there’s a gadget that goes into my blender that chops up nuts in a jiffy. It’s fun to use. The second is that I’ve been to three parties (‘tis the season) and have had no difficulties enjoying myself or finding food to eat. Granted, I did bring along a salad (wild greens with raspberries, walnuts and pomegranates with a raspberry vinaigrette) just in case, but I was fine.

The third good thing is the smugness I feel walking into Sprouts and filling my reusable bags from large bins containing lentils and nuts and other Healthy Items. (I’ve also been cutting back on my plastic use. Single-use plastic was the thing I gave up for Lent this year. I’m not Catholic, but it always seems like a good idea.) The final good thing that has happened is that I dropped over two pounds and three inches in my first week of plant-based eating, and I wasn’t exercising. I know, it’s so horribly vain. Sure is a nice side effect though. I’ll keep you posted on how it all goes, I’m committing to doing this for six months straight. There, I’ve said it. No going back now.

VEGAN OAT AND LENTIL “MEATLOAF”
15 minutes assembly, 55 minutes to cook, serves 6

Chop: 2 stalks celery, ½ onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Sautee in a little water until soft and set aside to cool.
Cook up some brown or green lentils (not red, they get mushy) in your instant pot – 2 parts water to 1 part lentils, 15 minutes on high and let it vent on its own. You’ll use about a cup cooked lentils.
Mush together: 10 oz of firm tofu drained, the lentils and sautéed veggies, and 1 ½ cups quick cooking oatmeal in a bowl.
Add 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons ketchup, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, some chopped parsley, and a ½ teaspoon each of thyme, rosemary and sage (I didn’t have rosemary or sage, and it was fine) and mush together some more.
Pat firmly into a parchment-lined loaf pan or 8×8 square pan and top with a layer of ketchup. Bake at 375 for about 55 minutes or until a toothpick in center comes out clean.
#eatlikeagamechanger

On the Eating Season and Tootsie Pops

On the Eating Season and Tootsie Pops

The eating season is upon us. Eating season creates conundrums; pimento cheese balls coated with walnuts sound like a good idea. You want to try one of those newly fashionable “messy tables” where you just throw stuff out without plating it, artfully arranged in serpentine meat and cheese extravaganzas. I hear it’s actually a job people have now, coming to your house to create your messy table. I imagine pets love it too, so much easier to nip things off the table.

Eating season creates slippery slope for me every year. Despite sturdy mental preparation and “not this year” intentions, it always starts when I (thoughtfully) make sure the Halloween candy for the trick or treaters is “good.” I always get candy, despite the low odds of getting small children knocking on our 2nd floor apartment door. “Always be prepared” is one of the few things that stuck from my years as a Girl Scout. And a love of Thin Mints and Savannah cookies, but that’s material for another day.

We all know I was buying that bag of Tootsie Pops for myself. It generally takes about two weeks to get through the bag. No, I’m not throwing it away. Goodness gracious perish the thought. When you’re raised by depression-era parents, you get the message that throwing food away is right up there with adultery. As a member of the clean plate club it’s nigh on impossible for me to throw food out or “let it go to waste.” Instead I let it go to my waist. Oh dear, a pun.

From that gateway bag of sugary Tootsie Pops, the door is opened for “oh, I’ll just have one slice/taste/bite” eating that eventually crescendos into “oh, what the hell” debauchery. Thanksgiving brings on the pie. Because pie must be had at Thanksgiving. It is known. The eating season gains momentum as we slide into December and parties. This was particularly bad when we lived in Tennessee, because those folks can cook. Its culmination is a leftovers-heavy extravaganza that will likely feature that cheese ball on New Year’s Day before we slam into the day after and the reality of “Must Begin That Diet” January.

Despite the fact that the slide has already begun, there’s a bit of hope that the damage won’t be quite as bad this year, as we’ve introduced lifestyle changes that may be sticking. A vegan protein shake for breakfast, drinking lemon water upon rising, and using digestive enzymes. Different choices on our shopping trips. My husband emerged from the kitchen the other day, cereal bowl in hand. He paused for a moment, staring down into the bowl, a look of pure bemusement on his face.

“When did it come to this?” he asked. “I’m eating quinoa cereal with oat milk.”

We are not alone in our enforced shift. A similar conversation turned up in the locker room of the pool. My friend Phyllis who is of retirement age said, “I’ve grown to like kale.” The rest of us stared at her, surprised. She grinned, and then continued, “If it’s chopped up small, and with lots of fatty blue cheese dressing on it.” We all agreed that sometime in the past few years some forward-thinking heads of kale bonded together and got themselves a publicist. Because you do have to do quite a bit to it to make it palatable.

My personal problem with shifting my diet to healthier options is that I hate most vegetables. I know I am supposed to like them. I just don’t. I particularly dislike the very-good-for-you ones like brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. Luckily for me there are ways to disguise vegetables, like putting baby spinach in my morning shakes, where they blend up and you don’t taste it. Its great unless you put it in a shake with strawberries, then you get a dirt-colored shake, due to the opposites on the color wheel thing we learned about in art class, when we had such things in school. Brown shakes still taste fine, but are visually unappealing. Can’t put those in an Insta post.

The saving grace for this is vegetable soup, which I do like, especially when I pair it with home-made cornbread. And a cheese ball.

***

A note on a word I used last week. My pal Jeff from Wichita, KS caught it. I used “defenestration” for what a squirrel did to one of our squashes by pushing it off our 2nd story porch. Jeff is right I was stretching the usage a bit — it’s a word that has a very specific definition and a colorful starting point, which Wikipedia puts rather delicately thus: Defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of a window. The term was coined around the time of an incident in Prague Castle in the year 1618 which became the spark that started the Thirty Year’s War.

I’m pretty sure it was a person that got chucked out of that window – and am reminded that Mel Gibson stole this and put it to good use in “Braveheart.” At any rate, it really should be limited to something falling or being tossed out of a window, not the edge of a balcony.

 

On Acorns and Tornadoes

On Acorns and Tornadoes

It’s finally Fall here in Dallas. The trees were green one day, and the next they were not. A few stalwart sweetgum trees changed colors, but most just went yellow then brown, their leaves fluttering down as if the trees couldn’t wait to be shed of them. The live oaks are a different story. They keep their leaves but aggressively hurl their nuts to the ground. They land like miniature grenades with great POWS, slamming earthward in a final statement of intention. These are not the adorable little acorns that come off of regular oak trees, with cunning little caps and round cheeks. No, the live oaks mean business. They sport huge, pointy lethal weapons meant to carry on the line. They are survivalist trees that endure scorching hot summers, no rain, and then bitterly cold winters. They have no reservations about bombing you with their fusillade of ground-penetrating nuts. The squirrels busily dodge about collecting them and then bury them to eat later. It occurs to me that whole forests have been grown by squirrels forgetting where they buried their nuts. At any rate, if squirrel activity is anything to go by, it’s going to be a cold winter this year.

In East Tennessee where we lived for 10 years, you could ostensibly tell if it was going to be a cold winter by looking at wooly caterpillars. The wider the band in the middle of the “wooly bear” – not to be confused with the actual bears that live in the forested mountains nearby – the harsher the winter. Texas is altogether different state, and doesn’t seem to have any decent animal prognosticators, four-legged or no-legged, squirrel activity notwithstanding. We rely on the weatherman. I don’t envy him his job. It’s just brutally hot for months on end, then you get to mid-November and its blazing hot one day and then cold for the next three months, with perhaps two nice fall days as a placeholder between.

The squirrels don’t want to be bothered as they stock in their winter food supply. They taunt my dog as we walk, letting her get thisclose before scurrying up a tree. They’ve been going the extra mile this year. One intrepid squirrel took advantage of my October squash display outside our door which I’d left out for another month since they are equally good as Thanksgiving decorations. The squirrel latched onto an ugly, nobby squash and dragged it to the edge of our porch and allowed it to defenestrate itself to the sidewalk below and, well, squash open. It left a tell-tail trail of weeping squashy insides to the bushes where the little rodent had its feast. I don’t mind actually. I like creatures in general, even if they are rats in disguise just squirrels, and can certainly share my porch decorations.

While discussing the weather here in Dallas, I cannot leave out the sudden arrival of not one but ten tornadoes here one evening a few weeks ago. The largest of them skipped along quite close to us, about a half mile north, leaving behind a swath of destruction. It came on quite suddenly, which seems to be a theme with the weather here in Texas. Fifteen minutes prior to the tornado warning sirens going off, the dog and I had been enjoying a balmy evening walk. There was a bit of sheet lightning way off to the east, but nothing that said a tornado was coming, let alone ten of them. Having grown up in Kansas, which is a whole ‘nuther kind of weather place that has notable and dramatic storms, I’m knowledgeable about what to do when a tornado siren goes off. I’m also the generation that learned how to hide under our desks with our arms over our heads to protect us from the nuclear bombs about to drop when these same sirens sound, so, you know, I respond with alacrity when one goes off.

My alacrity in this case was in the form of dragging my college-aged son outside to prove to him that, yes the sky does turn green when there is a tornado nearby. This no doubt earns me a nomination to the Darwin Awards of parenting (however I shall lose to the man who put honey on his child’s hand so the bear would come closer for the photograph. There are degrees of dumb). In my defense, I’d been politely eye-rolled and mmm-hmmm’d about this green-sky thing for years, and the ability to prove myself right was irresistible. I carpe diem’d and grabbed a teachable moment. We stood outside on our balcony as the wind gathered steam with enthusiastic whirling gusts. A good burst of lightning revealed an emerald green sky laced with towering black clouds. Truly emerald green, not just the muddy bruised green the sky turns when there is still time to get to the cellar. This was an alarming green, a this-sucker-is-right-on-top-of-us sort of green. We dashed inside and hustled into the bathroom (no basements in Texas) to ride out the storm with my husband and our dog.

Later, seeing the damage the storm had inflicted, I felt chastened. It’s dumb to go outside during a tornado warning, as the things are so unpredictable and can level buildings in just moments. The whirl could have easily sucked us up into the vortex like Dorothy or chucked a roof at us. Acorns slammed down like good poetry are dangerous, but nothing to the full-on unpredictable rage of a tornado. Maybe I should re-think my idea that fall is my favorite time of year. Or invest in a helmet.

 

Photo by me shows the lovely little capped acorn surrounded by the lethal ones.

 

On Self-Publishing a Book and Gigging on Fiverr

On Self-Publishing a Book and Gigging on Fiverr

Being able to claim “published author” feels great. I’m over the moon about having my book up on Kindle and in a “real” paperback version. I keep going into Amazon and staring at the page they’re on. I even bought a copy to put on my own Kindle and am burbly (yes I know that isn’t a word, but it describes exactly what it feels like: half bubbly, half incomprehensible babbling) when flipping to it and reading my very own words in justified Garamond font flowing along.

Choosing to self-publish came with the understanding that there’s a certain amount of accompanying tarnish. That perhaps it’s a lesser  form of publishing. After all, there was no querying or submitting to agents and publishing houses involved. Amazon is happy to publish anything you want to write, as long as you meet their guidelines. They even give you a sixteen-page manual about how to format your book so it can become a paperback as well as an eBook. More about that terrifying manual in a bit.

I thought long and hard about how I wanted to publish my book. The rule-follower part of me wanted to go the old-fashioned traditional way of being rejected 47 times and use up three years of my life to perhaps find a publisher willing to take a chance on an unconventional author starting their authoring career at the ripe (some might even say stinky) old age of nearly-58. I even imagined boxing up manuscripts with string and brown wrappers the really old-fashioned way. No one does it like that anymore. You could make the case that I was making this choice even harder to justify my eventual course of action.

Truth is, I just wanted to have the book out there in the world. Since I’m donating half my proceeds to animal rescue and no-kill shelters, the hope is that it sells jillions of copies. I also hope to get to go do a book signing tour and hug people and let them know they too can get through the thing they are going through and no you don’t have to be graceful or smart to do it, you just have to keep trying and after a while the tries end up looking something like forward movement. So hey, book me. (Ha, no pun intended.)

There are some things I recommend you do if you’re thinking about self-publishing. First is that yes, you need an editor who can point out not only grammar errors and where commas don’t belong, but will also ask you things like, “Will your readers want to keep going after they read this part?” Pam my wonderful editor asked me that one, and my initial toad-like response was to puff out my cheeks and think, “well of course they will, don’t you know who I am?” Not out loud of course, I kept my snarky to myself. Irritated, I put the manuscript with the offending question in a drawer and stewed about it for a month. My excuse was that it was the holidays and I had to focus on baking and having my kids home. Pam was right – your editor is nearly always going to be right. In January I did a re-write specifically with the reader in mind. That was great advice. The other great thing about booking Pam was she had only a narrow editing slot she could fit me into, so it gave me deadlines. I recommend deadlines too.

Once you’ve written “The End,” the fun part begins for a self-publisher. You go to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and stare at their exuberant “how to” content for a week or so. Uploading the manuscript for the eBook was simple, even though I had lots of photos to insert. The paperback version was much harder. Lots of steps and requirements. If you’ve ever put together a serious piece of Ikea furniture with lots of fiddly bits and instructions that seem simple until you try to do them, you’ll know what prepping a manuscript for paperback publication is like. It took me 7 hours. I did it wrong three and a half times and nearly erased my whole document once. Word backups are key. You can’t fix a PDF, so be sure you have your trusty malleable Word .doc version so you can go back and try again. And again.

During the process, I learned that my Word program does all sorts of things besides be a glorified typewriter. That Styles scroll does a lot and ends up giving you a TOC (Table of Contents) automatically. That was cool. Layout and Inserting are very handy. Still, making sure my ‘front material” was correctly formatted was tough, as was figuring out page mirroring and how big my gutter should be. (I know, I’m chucking around all these terms, it may be just a teeny bit of showing off. I’ll stop now.) I wanted to get fancy and put in “drop caps” where the first letter of each chapter is bigger than the rest of them, but it eluded me. At 2am I pushed the glorious “Publish” button. And so, just shy of two years post-trauma, “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything” became a real book.

The other fun thing I’ve been doing on the sly besides finishing the book is gigging on Fiverr. I love that word, gigging. Makes me feel all Millennial with aspirations of hip-ness. What’s Fiverr, you ask? It’s an online clearing house for getting things done by freelancers. You can find people to do graphic design, build your website, do illustrations, edit your paper, heck even do research for you. The term “Fiverr” comes from the idea that most of these gigs are offered at prices starting as low as $5. The site is the safe connector between buyer and seller. I have a seller “gig.” I will read and do coverage and/or coverage and notes for your screenplay. It’s been up since November, and it’s fun. The writers I’ve helped have been creative and passionate. I love being of service, and consider the gig to be a way to give back. No, I don’t make anywhere near the $$ I made doing the same work in Hollywood, but I get to help people develop their dreams, and that feels really good. Part of my healing process.

I had my book cover done by another seller on Fiverr. I’m happy with the result that arrived about 48 hours after I asked for it, and made sure to give the designer full credit in my “thank you” section. Now to be fair, there is a valid “Fiverr is bad” argument. That people on there are usually undervaluing their work (true). That there is a cut-throat atmosphere of low-balling offers to get people to buy (not that I’ve noticed, but then I’m doing an odd service). The site does take 20% as its cut, which is steep. Up side is that if you want to make a little extra money, don’t mind waiting a couple of weeks to get paid, and are good at something, you can earn a bit of cash and maybe help someone too. And you get to sound hip because you are gigging.

You can find my eBook or Paperback here

For coverage/notes on script click here