Monthly Archives: January 2012

Woo-Woo Juju

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I’m not an overly superstitious person.  When a black cat crosses my path, I chase after it so I can say hello.  Walking under a ladder doesn’t have me looking over my shoulder all day and Friday the 13th is just another blessed Friday.

However, when crazy, weird, or bad stuff happens repeatedlyeven I will stop and wonder.  And right now, I’m wondering if it might be necessary to call in someone to say a few words over our car, sprinkle a little chicken dust or unicorn glitter over it to banish its bad juju.

We’ve only had it five months and we’ve been rear-ended twice (once at considerable speed causing thousands of dollars worth of damage) and as I type, two men are replacing its cracked windshield.  Mind you, the car is a tank, a trooper, and utterly sturdy.  We have no complaints (other than the weird gearing and the slightly squirrely turn signals); overall, it’s a great car.  But, I’m a touch nervous now.  Might not drive it in a lightning storm…

Some cars are lemons, their mechanical demons making themselves known the minute the car drives off the dealership lot.  Others, it seems, are just a tad unlucky.  A friend of mine had a vehicle that attracted so much trouble the body shop repairman (a tattooed, swarthy veteran not given to superstition) advised her to ditch it with all due haste.  That was after a random car left the nearby highway, became airborne and landed on top of her car as it waited to be repaired in the body shop parking lot.  She followed his advice.

I don’t want to be a twitchy, nervous driver – such behaviour will only make me a danger on the road.  I wish it weren’t winter – the icy roads and bad drivers make for ideal crash-bang conditions.  Does my car have bad juju or am I falling prey to woo-woo nonsense?  Well, now that it has a pretty, pristine windshield and a brand new rear end, I think I’ll…buy some subway tokens.  I can save on gas by not driving while I settle my nerves.

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Inspiration, All Around

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It has been said many times that inspiration crops up in unexpected places; however, it also springs from places where one hopes it might, a place not unexpected but a place often taken for granted – like not seeing the forest for the trees.

I often read other blogs – either here on WordPress or when I’m trolling around on other sites – mostly about writing and the writing life.  On WordPress, Freshly Pressed gives me an opportunity to “window shop” – with titles and/or photos that intrigue, I often find gems worth reading.  When other bloggers take the time to read my posts and press the “like” button, I always try to return the favour.

Yesterday a fellow blogger , Lesley Carter liked one of my posts – by the way, thank you Lesley for reading and liking – so I promptly checked out her blog too.  What a bonanza!  I want to BE Lesley Carter when I grow up.  She made me want to hop on the next plane for anywhere and she inspired me to make improvements to blogs about my own travels.  Her blog is a treasure trove for anyone who loves travel and for those who just like to read about it.  Her enthusiasm shines on every word. 

When I read excellent posts from other bloggers – either like Lesley’s or my friend in France, who is sharing his expat adventures as a “trailing spouse” – I am inspired to write more and inspired to try to write better.  I don’t write just to exercise my fingers – I want people to read my posts, chuckle, cry, agree, disagree, think.  And keep reading.  Having said that, it’s also great fun to live vicariously through other bloggers.

You never know where inspiration will pop up but chances are it is all around you.

Costa Concordia

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The Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster might well go down in history as one of the most senseless, preventable wrecks ever.  While Captain Schettino is telling anyone who will listen how he “fell” into a lifeboat before all his passengers were evacuated and how he “was ordered” to sail close to that island, I’ve been ruminating on the cruise we took in July 2011.

Re-reading my blogs from our Mediterranean cruise, certain memories now make me shudder.  Our ship, Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas was smaller than the Costa Concordia.  Still, I remember my first sight of it and thinking it truly was a floating highrise hotel, an unwieldy behemoth.  A Ferrari (or any sports car) it was not. 

Our ship was so big and yet, when the seas were rough, it got bounced around a fair amount.  I remember lying in bed the first night and feeling as though I was going down a toboggan hill head first every time the ship rolled.  I remember looking up at the life boats strung above the decks and and being comforted by their size and sturdiness. It never occurred to me that they couldn’t be deployed if the ship were listing badly.  Thinking back to the courteous and helpful crew on board, it never occurred to me that they might not be there for us in an emergency.

In retrospect, we were quite careless on board.  We let the kids run free all over the ship.  They ran from our cabin to the pool, to the arcade, and the various restaurants.  I confess we didn’t always know exactly where they were; twice, we ate dinner at separate times in separate places.  Had we hit a rock at the dinner hour, how could we have ever reached our children?

Because the cruise ship was massive – with multiple storeys, elevators, and other amenities – we forgot that we were far from land (thank you, Captain) in a sizeable body of deep, often rough, probably cold water.  Sure there was one lifeboat drill, after which waiters came around and offered everyone free rum punch. The tedium of the drill was soon a distant memory.

Our captain seemed to be the antithesis to Captain Schettino – cautious, prudent, and very communicative with his passengers.  We were given detailed weather and wave reports every day, twice a day.  We didn’t go to Nice, France because the water was too rough to anchor.  Still, if the boat were sinking, I cannot imagine what a difficult task it would be to account for and safely evacuate every passenger.  At least on an airplane, the flight attendants can look down the aisles and see everyone they’re responsible for.  Almost every day I got lost trying to find my cabin – how could anyone find me?

 I cannot even imagine the anguish, the terror, and the confusion the Costa Concordia passengers felt two weeks ago.  It’s an accident that never should have happened.  Will it spell choppy waters for the cruise industry?  One would hope not – this appears to be the reckless actions of one egotistical, reckless captain.  Still, I’m kind of glad our cruise is behind us and not in front of us.

Is Focus the Thing?

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I lack focus.  Someone I know who might be reading this is falling off his chair laughing right now (or crying and shaking his head).  I jump from one project to the next leaving everything half-finished when I realize I’m bored with them all.  I’m a prolific writer but knuckling down and writing about one thing, finishing one project has proven to be quite a challenge.  I feel adrift.

In an effort to practice focus, I’ve started a new blog exclusively about a cat.  It can be found under www.frannamac.wordpress.com under the title, The Cat’s Handmaiden.”  Just an amusing chronicle about life with a precocious kitten named Alyss.  I run the risk of being slapped with the derisive moniker of “Cat Lady”  but I don’t care.  It’s a writing exercise.  Luckily the subject matter is both entertaining and adorable.  I promise, she will not “talk,” I don’t dress her up in human clothes…I am merely an observer.  At first I thought this could be a niche but now I’m unsure – I’m not an expert on cats, I simply own one.  Does one need to be an expert?

 I understand the concept…sort of.  For example, specialists make great bloggers – nutritionists, life coaches, dog psychologists – they have specialized knowledge in their respective fields thus lending credibility to their posts.  I have no specialty.  What I do have is a long resume, fourteen years of parenting, and an obsession with home renovations that I cannot afford.  Oh, and a psychotic kitten.  There are many “experts” who say writers should specialize and then build a portfolio around that specialization.  But what of me (and I know I’m not alone) – wearer of many hats, owner of none, so to speak?

Is it so simple as writing what you know?  Or is it acceptable to write about what interests you – with no expertise, only curiosity driving you?  I know so much and yet so little.  I am intensely curious – about everything from quantum physics to the domestication of cats. I could write about parenting two teenagers but God, how many thousands of people write about that?  I was a Realtor once and I love the idea of real estate but I cannot claim to be a specialist.  I love travel but can’t afford to do it.  Most of my journeys come courtesy of the “little yellow man” on Google Maps.  Hey don’t knock it – I drove through the Highlands of Scotland the other day and it was very entertaining and much safer than the real thing.

In any event, The Cat’s Handmaiden is out there – have a read.  Now, back to The Novel…or, maybe a snack…

My Novel, The Phoenix

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Usually in the depths of winter, my energy level falls to near zero as my blood turns to icy slush; this year appears to be different – at least with regard to writing.  Perhaps it’s just desperation or panic that sends me onward but I think it is something else – something I’ve previously not experienced.  DriveAmbition.  Oh, crap I’ve probably jinxed myself…

Right around the time of my latest full-blown anxiety attack, I started writing as if the world would end if I didn’t.  Something deep inside me knows that writing is the only way out for me – it’s what always draws me back from the edge of the abyss.  When I have what I like to call “Elizabeth Gilbert moments,” when I’m face down on the bathroom floor at 3 a.m. sobbing, my inner voice says, “Just write”  instead of “go back to bed.”

After returning from the doctor’s a week ago, I sat at my computer and resurrected “The Novel,” a project I’ve had a love/hate relationship with for years.  I laid down something like 58 pages in three days.  The story is old – it’s been rattling around in my head for at least ten years. This past autumn, at 270 pages, it burst into flames and destroyed itself.  Ok, so I tossed it into the firepit and set it alight. I know it sounds insane to ditch something after getting so far, but I’m still convinced it had to be done.

The story has emerged from the ashes.  I’m now up to page 90, seven days later.  Of course, the story isn’t perfect.  The characters have issues.  At times I know there is shit flying from my fingertips but the story feels better.  This bird has to fly; once it takes off,  I’ll figure out where we’re going.

The Many Faces of Fear

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Very recently, I went to bed afraid that I would not wake up.  The problem wasn’t too many Tylenol P.M.s nor fear that the Russian space trash was going to fall on my head in the middle of the night.  I had chest pains, my head felt like it was about to explode, and it felt like someone had placed a vice around my neck. 

At the doctor’s office the next day, after listening to all  vital organs and hooking me up to various electrodes, the doctor declared my heart perfectly fine.  I filed away Worry #1 (certain heart failure) and promptly pulled out Worry #2 – what the hell was wrong with me?  One question from the doctor had all kinds of light bulbs going off in my head:  “Are you prone to anxiety?”  Oh, honey.  If you only knew…

I think I was six or seven years old when I had my first anxiety attack.  I was playing with friends in our neighbourhood and a cloud passed over the sun.  As a child I was pants-wetting terrified of thunderstorms.  As the sky filled with clouds in the late afternoon (as it often did in summer), I ran home screaming and crying and yes, probably needed to change my pants.  I don’t jump with glee as a storm approaches now but I’ve stopped screaming and do not need Depends when the barometer falls.

Fear of tangible things –  thunderstorms, gunshot-like noises, and donkeys – are easier to explain than the intangible fears.  Nameless fears – anxieties that have no root anywhere but in my imagination -creep in make themselves at home in my brain like unwelcome squatters.     

Is fear different from anxiety?  Yes.  It would seem that fear is a response to a known threat while anxiety is the response to a possible or imagined threat.  If I arrive at the airport late, my fear that I will miss my flight is a real possibility.  If I lie in bed the night before my flight and worry that I might miss it, that is an imagined possibility which will lead to anxiety.   I am most unpleasant before a flight, arrive sometimes 3 or 4 hours beforehand, and still pace the concourse in front of my gate, watching everyone and everything for signs of something amiss.

There are probably thousands of articles and studies on anxiety based disorders and syndromes. Lucky us, we’re the only species that worries, that projects those worries onto future events, and obsesses about events in the past.  General anxiety disorder is commonly linked to depression.  Women suffer from it more than men.  It can lead to serious physical ailments later in life (hypertension, coronary disease, some studies suggest links to Alzheimer’s). Yay, more to worry about! 

Luckily, we clever humans have come up with ways to cope such as biofeedback, yoga, meditation, and meds.  So, now at the stage in my life when the anxiety might do me serious harm, I need to choose a coping method and face down my nemesis, before it’s too late.

“All of us are born with a set of indistinct fears – of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, or speaking before a Rotary Club, and or the words “Some Assembly Required.” – Dave Barry

“Worrying is like a rocking chair – it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.” – Glenn Turner

“Grief has limits whereas apprehension has none.  For we grieve only for what we know has happened, but we fear all that possibly may happen.” – Pliny the Younger  (whether he wrote this before Vesuvius erupted or not I don’t know).

Writing & Crying

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I read something interesting the other day about writing that connects emotionally with readers.  Because of my menopause brain I can’t remember where I read it, who wrote it, or what it said specifically (helpful, I know) but the gist of it was if a writer doesn’t have an emotional connection to what they are writing, readers likely won’t either.  Or, something like that.

Although I lost all the details, the general tenor of the article resonated with me.  I am sometimes moved to tears when I write.  Something about a turn of phrase, a subject matter, or the response of a character strikes an emotional chord in me.  The article said this is a good thing.  I’d always thought I was just overly emotional, irrational, and/or hungry when it happened to me.

The emotional connection cannot be forced- the result can be melodramatic, sappy drivel; the readers will see through this and be moved only to throw the book across the room or into the trash,which is not the hoped-for response.  I’m not saying tears must flow in order to write heartfelt prose but if they do, don’t try to stem them.  Grab a Kleenex and let the river run.  If you are tempted to stop and analyze “Why is this making me cry?”  – don’t overthink it – just go with it.

Of course, if you’re writing a comedy, tears might be a bad sign unless they are the result of laughing very hard. Generally speaking, you know what you’re writing about and if your emotional responses to it are appropriate.  The only time this isn’t true is if you think your writing is crap.  Writers are notoriously hard on themselves and thus not capable of rational judgment.  If your second pair of eyes turns green and runs for the toilet, then perhaps it is crap.  If they put the manuscript down, dab their eyes and heave a big sigh, chances are you’re onto something good.  And real.   Keep it and pass the Kleenex.