Why You Need to Work at Rest

tropical-relaxation

I know, I know. “I don’t have time to rest or schedule any down time” you insist. “I’ve got too much to do!” You are TOO BUSY to take a break. Type A Attila the Hun personalities can raise your hands now. You know who you are. And you need to change. If not for your own sake, then for the sake of those who have to live and work with you. Here’s why, first for the writer and then for everyone else (you know, normal people who aren’t busily cranking out the next Great American Novel):

For the writer, overwork or a stressed-out mind often manifests itself in The Dreaded Writer’s Block. So listen up. Hitting the block wall may be your mind’s way of saying, “Give it a rest. Take a break. Recharge. Disconnect. Let the creative juices have a chance to rejuvenate.” They will return if you resist the urge to run them ragged. Promise.

For non-writers in a culture that worships workaholics and Attila the Hun types and doles out brownie points based on exhaustion and 24/7 work skeds, lighten up. That’s right. Get a grip. That old adage about, “I’d rather burn out than rust out”? Well, whoop-de-doo. Because you know what? Either way, you’re out. So listen up again.

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The Fridge List

Ever notice how summer seems to slip through your fingers, as mercurial as quicksilver? One Friday in June and it’s the Last Day of School. You blink. And it’s September. 

We usually wind up scratching our heads, trying to figure out what in the world happened to summer? How’d it fade so fast? Where did the time go? How Good it all was.

No more.

A few weeks back I decided this summer will be different. So I set some goals. Sat down and wrote out a list. Checked it twice. And clipped it to the fridge.

I listed several hikes I want to take before the snows fly. Destinations and places I want to visit before the Northwest turns soggy again. I included people I want to touch base with – folks I haven’t seen or heard from in awhile.

And I set a summer reading goal in tandem with the local library’s Adult Summer Reading Program: 100 books/audio books in 12 weeks. (Yeah, I know. It’s a pretty lofty goal. That’s why I want to pursue it. That, and I find that reading widely and often makes me a better writer.)

Per the summer reading program, books have to be read in a wide variety of pre-designated categories. Non-fiction. Sci Fi/Fantasy. Young Adult. First book in a new series. A book by an author using a pseudonym. A cookbook or food memoir. A book by a local author. A favorite children’s book (I have like a million or so.) A re-read (another million). And so on.

It’s been a challenge, especially since some of the genres are outside those which I typically gravitate toward. But what fun!! I’m learning a lot. Meeting tons of new friends. Getting fresh inspiration and new ideas. Woo-hoo!

Some favorites so far, in no particular order: The Ember in the Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor, and just about anything by Walt Morey.

It’s taken some creative juggling and rearranging, but I’m almost half way to my goal. And summer is yet young. And promising.

How ’bout you? What’s on your “fridge list” this summer?

So I Did

They came out of the woodwork. Friends. Romans. Fellow countrymen and women.

Following the publication of the most popular post on my blog about the loss of our good dog, Eve, the inevitable question was, “When are you going to write more about Eve? We want to know more about you and your dog. You should write a book!”

So I did:

From the back cover:

Nobody told Eve she was a “cast off” dog nobody wanted. Or that she was headed for the pound. But when a family of six took her in, they never imagined the unbreakable bond of love and loyalty that would develop. Or how deeply a “palomino sirocco’ on four legs would touch their hearts.

What readers are saying:

What a beautiful story. The author strikes a balance between tragedy and loss and joy as she describes the special bond between humans and their canine companions. I highly recommend “Forever, Eve” to very dog lover and to everyone who’s ever loved. This brief poignant book touched my heart. Treat yourself to a great read.

Reduced price for a limited time!

Grab your copy here.

 

Are You Doing The One Thing A Writer Can NEVER Do?

Public domain

Public domain

I visited a favorite haunt the other day, the local library.  Prowling the stacks, I noticed that an author I enjoyed immensely a couple summers ago has cranked out several new titles, sequels in a series.  I selected one. Opened it. Started reading.  Talk about painful. That puppy made my teeth ache.  I couldn’t believe the author I so admired had slid so far down the readability-o-meter.

I thought, “Maybe it’s me.  Maybe I don’t get it.  Maybe I’m missing something here?”

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How To Make the Most of a Writing Contest

Snow-draped treesOkay writer, raise your hand if this has ever happened to you.  (It’s okay.  Nobody’s lookin’.):

You’re cruising the internet, local bookstore or writer’s group and come across an announcement for a writing contest.  It may be fiction or non.  Short story, humor, poetry.  Whatever.  You’re intrigued.  You check out the guidelines.  Polish your best material to a solar sheen, submit, and cross your fingers.

The results are announced.  You didn’t win.  Your work of genius not only didn’t win, it didn’t place or show.  The runners-up and honorable mention categories didn’t thaw your tree, either.

When Your Dog Could’ve Done Better

Disheartening, isn’t it?  Especially when the piece that snagged “winner” laurels is as dull as a spoon. As dry as the Atacama in August.  As imaginative as last week’s headlines.

Your dog could’ve done better.

A twinge – or maybe a truckload – of professional envy tugs at your sleeve.  You shake your head and mutter, “If that is a ‘winning entry’, then I’m the tooth fairy.”  Doubt and disappointment grapple with disbelief and discouragement.  You know your work is good.  But you just can’t break into the winner’s circle of a writing contest.

Maybe…

Maybe you need to read the contest rules more closely next time, making sure your submission is a good fit?  A review of past winners can be instructive, too, letting you know what judges (who are these people?) are looking for and why? Maybe you ought to hike into the nearest Himalayan hillside and become a hermit?

Been there, done that.  I’ve won writing contests – usually the type that specialize in smart-alecky – and haven’t even made the first cut in others. So, what’s a writer to do when your best crashes and burns?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t take it personally.  This may be the most obvious, but it’s also the hardest.  Rejection hurts.  Especially when you’ve worked hard to win, maybe for weeks or months, and the trophy goes to some barely literate peasant who’s been at the craft for twenty whole minutes.  Realize that losing may be the result of factors beyond your control: bribery, cronyism, nepotism, lack of name recognition, judicial vapidity, blindness, a shortage of tea in China…
  • Resist the temptation to pillory the judges.  This may be easier said than done. But realize that not all of these folks are residents of Mars or sport red tails and pitchforks.  They may have misjudged your abilities, but blasting back only makes you look small, petty, and amateurish.  It’s also a sure-fire way to get yourself banned from future contests.  Don’t go there.
  • Share your disappointment with a sympathetic ear, like a literary friend, colleague or relative.  I’m not suggesting spending the next twelve years wallowing in a pity party.  But rejection hurts.  Be honest about it with someone you can trust.  Get it out of your system.  Then make plans to move on.
  • When you have your legs back under you, ask a seasoned writer with a successful track record for some honest feedback.  Most will be gracious (notice I said most).  We all have blind spots.  Some honest feedback and tips could open your eyes and improve your chances next time.

Was Going to Say…

Snowy road, sunThis is the part where I’m supposed to say, “Try again.”  I was going to say that. Maybe hum a few bars of “the sun will come out tomorrow, but your bottom dollar….”  But if you’ve gathered your courage, worked hard, polished and submitted your very best to a contest with less than stellar results, the Pollyanna thing rings a bit hollow, doesn’t it?

Not to mention trite.

So rather than sugarcoat disappointment, I’m going to tell you the truth: Writing contests aren’t for everyone.  Only you can decide whether or not they’re for you.  Whether or not you want to risk it.  Whether your confidence as a writer can withstand repeated losses.  If losing a contest or two or three or more is going to make you fade and fold as a writer, you may want to forego that route.  If your confidence in your skills is enough to brush off the disappointment and keep plugging, have at it.  Just choose wisely.

Not the Sum Total

Also, realize that winning or losing writing contests shouldn’t be considered the sole, sum total of your writing abilities.  Contest results may be little more than a contrived compilation of ignorance or lack of imagination.  Sometimes both.  It’s easy to think that contest winners are somehow better writers.  Have achieved a stamp of approval you’re still longing for.  Or that you stink as a writer.  Maybe you have some learning and growing to do, but don’t let that loss rip the wind out of your sails forever.

‘See Spot Run’

I’ve seen clever, beautifully crafted Hemingway-esque entries thrown under the bus because they were four words over the word limit.  Meanwhile, the “winner” was akin to See Spot.  See Spot run.  See Spot run fast, but came in under the magic number.  What does that tell you?

Sometimes there’s just no accounting for taste.  Or the lack of it.

So again, if writing contests aren’t getting you where you want to be, let ’em go.  Take a break.  Plug into other venues.  Maybe polish that entry and submit it to a magazine, an ezine, or a non-profit that fits.  Offer it as a guest post to another blogger.

Keep writing, practicing, polishing and perfecting.  You’ve got something to say.  A story to share.  Keep at it and your audience will find you – with or without that blue ribbon.

Have you entered a writing contest and were disappointed in the results?  How did you respond?

And So It Barks…

If you’ve been reading along for any length of time – say, 20 minutes or so – you probably know I’ve always felt that the world should be divided into two main camps: Dog Lovers and Other. (If you’re a feline fan, sorry. Naw. Not really.) You may also know that I wrote a book about our good dog, Eve, who passed away around Christmas 2013. And that our house has been dog-less ever since.

In the finale of my recent blog post Christmas, Eve, I told you I’d have an update for you on the dog front. Well. Here she is:

Her name is Kimber.  About six months old. Isn’t she a beauty?

Kimber was quite the li’l nipper when she joined us in late August. She’s calmed down quite a bit since then. But she’s a puppy and excitable. If you come visit, I can pretty much guarantee she’ll think the sun rises and sets on you. And greet you accordingly. (I’d bring treats ‘fize you.)

Part Golden Retriever. Part Lab. Part Border Collie. All heart. Way smarter than me. I’m thinking of re-naming her. How does “Einstein” sound? Also in the running: “Cicero.” Or “Typhoon.”

wp-image-2116531908jpg.jpegIn the past few months since Kimber came to us via the local dog rescue outfit, she’s learned “Sit,” “Stay,” “Come,” and “Down.” How to navigate 13 steps by herself. Let herself out. Open doors. Walk on a leash. NOT to eat Dad’s slippers. How to play football (sort of). Lie down while I write (most of the time. Nobody’s perfect.) And jitterbug.

Told you she’s way smarter than me.

I’ve called her “Eve” more than once. Call it a “Freudian slip.” They don’t even look alike. I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to have a dog in the house.  After getting Kimber, however, I can’t imagine having a dog-less house again.

I may even have to write about it. Again. 🙂

Best wishes for a happy, healthy 2017 to your and yours, dear readers!

What are your writing goals for the new year?

Forever, Eve

Forever, Eve

A Dog’s Story

Christmas, EVE

J and E

A half full bag of Purina One dog chow sits in a corner of my kitchen. I should pass it on.

But I can’t.

Friends and family say, “Our dog is expecting puppies soon. You can have the pick of the litter.”

But I can’t.

Selecting a Christmas ham the other day, I thought about which tidbits I’d tidy to the dog dish, saving them for Evie.

And then I remembered.

A boon companion of fourteen-plus years, Eve passed away on December 19. The Eve-less days that followed gimped along with the alacrity of crippled snails on crutches.  Emotions rose and fell like the tide. The traditional merriment suggested by the calendar mingled with bereavement, stirring up a cocktail both sweet and tart, like strawberry-rhubarb pie. I didn’t know which flavor to bite in to. And finally chose neither.

“I’ve decided,” I said to husband Chris three days before Christmas. “I want to scatter Eve’s ashes at the Mountain.”

Sam and Josiah, eve and blankets

Chris didn’t ask which one. In Washington State, there’s only one.

The Mountain

Our yellow Lab knew Mount Rainier well. Even though she wasn’t allowed on the trails or in any building, Eve loved camping trips to the Mountain. In fact, Evie didn’t seem to care where she was – as long as she was with us.

The first time we took her camping at Ohanapecosh on the southeast hip of Mount Rainier National Park, Eve was uber-miffed about being left outside the tent for the night. As in, “What’s the deal with this, family? How come you’re in there and I’m out here?!”  After making her consternation clear, Eve wound up inside, where she promptly plopped onto my feet and drifted into a contented sleep.

And so Mount Rainier was a natural choice for our final goodbye to Eve.

DSCN6456

Cramming a last-minute trip to the Mountain into Christmas Eve meant a long, glacial, and exhausting day. But I couldn’t stand the thought of waiting until spring. Chris agreed, which is how we wound up heading to Mount Rainier the morning of December 24.

Seclusion on the Southwest Flank

The car was quiet as we churned out the miles to Ashford and a secluded glen near the Mountain’s southwest flank. Because it requires a steady uphill climb and good land navigation skills to find, the quiet meadow sees few visitors. We discovered it on a previous hike and were dazzled by its September beauty, bursting with blueberries and late wildflowers, hemmed by a laughing creek and soaring evergreens.

The three of us – me, Chris and youngest son Josiah (14) – stopped, parked, and took our time, breath exhaling in frosty plumes as we wordlessly crunched over virgin snow to a corner of the meadow. The Mountain towered overhead in ermine mantle and white-satin snow skirts. An achingly blue sky hung out wood smoke in rungs.

Chris retrieved the urn of Eve’s ashes from his back pack and handed it to me. Clumsy in thick winter gloves, my fingers fumbled with the lid. Maybe it wasn’t just the gloves. I handed the urn back to Chris. He opened it and handed it back.

I knew the protocol. Last words. A final goodbye. Toss.

I couldn’t do it.

The three of us stood there, sniffling. None of us trusted our voices. After a few minutes Chris offered a brief prayer. We said nothing more, choosing to be alone with our separate thoughts of a gentle yellow Lab who came to us as a “cast off” but snuggled her way into our hearts as few have.

Standing in the snow in the winter shadow of the Mountain, we took turns scattering Eve’s ashes. Toes turned numb. Noses reddened. Cherry-cheeked winds scrubbed cyan skies.

Josiah and Eve

And we remembered.

“Good bye Evie” I finally whispered, holding a fine powder of ash in one gloved hand. “You were a good girl. We will never forget you.” I was the last to let her go, ashes floating on a galloping wind riding hard to Puget Sound.

We drove into the park, stopping at Evie’s favorite places. A water dog, Eve loved the Nisqually River. Ohanapecosh. Tipsoo Lake. Christine and Narada Falls. We stopped near Cougar Rock Campground to chain up. We camped there a few years back, the six of us and Eve. The campground is closed now, asleep under a thick quilt of snow.

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We made it to Paradise by early afternoon. The alpine aerie is usually smothered under thirty feet of snow – sometimes more – from October through May. Once thawed, Paradise hosts outrageous wildflower runs in July and August, when its world-famous meadows erupt in a glorious bouquet of Renoir pastels. If you’re quick, you can glimpse creamy white dollops of avalanche lilies, waxy-yellow petals of Suksdorf’s buttercup, clusters of fragrant Sitka Valerian, pink bistorts, red-spotted monkey flowers and purple lupine. These vast carpets of floral color brush an iridescent canvas, but their blossoms are as brief as they are dazzling.

Like life.

Afternoon faded and cotton-candy clouds fluttered over the Tatoosh Mountains like pennants over Yankee Stadium. Fog crept into valleys. Temperatures took a nose dive. We headed back to Longmire, the Nisqually entrance, and the three-hour return trip home. Just past Longmire, Josiah opted to remain in the car listening to Amy Grant croon about chestnuts and an open fire while Chris and I stopped at Tahoma Creek. We walked to the bridge and listened to the frigid waters rush to the Sound as a cirrus sunset draped the sky in peppermint, grape and tangerine.

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Remembering

Shivering in the deepening dusk, I remembered how Eve and I watched scores of Little League games together. I shivered in the bleachers until she apparently figured this out – and managed to maneuver her large self in front of me, using her thick fur coat as a wind break. I also remembered:

  • A gusty December morning in 2007, when Eve wasn’t herself. She seemed agitated, on edge. A few hours later the Storm of the Century hit, plunging us into three days without power and heat. Somehow she knew. And I learned to pay attention.
  • When son Nathan, then 14, returned from an eight-day hospital stay with a plate and seven screws in his leg, the result of a fractured femur. Eve was the first to greet him at the door. She never left his side during three long months of convalescence, crutches and rehab.
  • Eve-style fetch.  She’d plunk a “retrieving” stick down at my feet after half a dozen tosses, look up in her a matter-of-fact, clear-as-the-nose-on-my-face doggie way and say: “You want that thing? You go get it.”
  • How Eve  roamed the house when I was out of town for a few days. She reportedly checked every room over and over, looking for me. She bowled me over with joy when I returned home, tawny tail wagging in furious delight.
  • Tripping over Eve coming down ice-slicked stairs at the school. I nursed skinned hands and knees while she stood apologetically at my side, head cocked, tongue lolling, until I was able to hobble home, gripping her back for balance. …

And then I heard it. Probably from a passing vehicle. Or maybe I just imagined it: A dog bark. Just once. Then night swirled out of the sky, punctuated by the sigh of a Northwest wind.

“Christmas, Eve”

Christmas is a season when we give and receive tokens of love. Eve gave not tokens, but love itself. The Mountain gives reminders that winter doesn’t get the last word.

This season of bereavement will thaw.

Snow will retreat. Chinook winds will swim over Paradise meadows. Wildflowers will burst into Renoir bloom. Spring will come again to the Mountain, as it will to us. When it does, I will remember Eve’s last gift. It came not in physical form or tangible shape like those items found under trees on December 25th, but in the solitude of a snow-studded meadow, an achingly blue sky, soaring evergreens and the cool kindliness of memory.

Christmas, Eve. Indeed.*

Eve and snow, lick

***

Eve passed away on December 19, 2013. This post and its companion, Forever, Eve, were the highest rated posts of 2013. You can read more about our ‘best girl’ in my new book, Forever, Eve.

 

* Watch for an update on the dog front! Coming soon!