On the Mend…

At least, I hope so. Being ill is never much fun. Especially when one’s workmates can’t live without one. One drags oneself to the computer (damn and blast the e-mail!) and thinks with a few keystrokes the duty will be done. But no, there is more to say and do, and one finds oneself chained to the computer at home, as if in one’s very office! And one hacks and snuffles one’s way through the day, unable to take one’s medicine which would put one blissfully to sleep or at least stop the postnasal drip, because one must needs get on with helping the poor folk in the office. One feels guilty for having had the nerve to become ill, for having had the bad grace to take in the wrong germs and catch cold, and one gets the distinct feeling that one’s officemates think one is shirking one’s duty by not making one’s appearance in the workplace.

Alas! It is all true — I have been ill, I have been working from home, I have not been shirking much, and I have been coughing and sneezing all over my keyboard. Alas for my children, who have now suffered at least three nights of freezer food — French fries! Chicken patties! Frozen burritos! My mother has driven my children to school. My children have done my chores. Only the cat has fared well, having had me to sleep upon instead of the cold armchair. And the Kleenex company, they have done well, as I shred my way through my third box of tissues in as many days.

Illness does not do the body any good. One sees oneself in the mirror and thinks, ick. What a tired old sack I have become in just three days. But there is hope, because the sinuses begin to drain and the sniffles begin to subside, and I should be well in time for the weekend, or at the latest, Monday, when another jolly round of newspaper awaits me at the office.

Can’t help but be grateful when health returns. I’m hoping in the next few days — if I feel up to it — to organize my office at long last, and to get going on a number of tasks. I hope to get started on some bigger writing projects — some chapters for the memoir that this blog is purported to become. Ah, well, we shall see.

Note to Aspiring Writers and anyone who has a cold: Read lots of good books while you can. The real world intrudes again soon enough.

Adult Children…

I am way too young for this, and yet, here it is: my eldest, who fled the nest last August for her own cottage in the hills and a new life attending college, has returned. This is my eldest girl, the product of my wicked youth, the one about whom people always say, “You’re too young to have an 18-year-old.” Well, yes, but nevertheless, I do. I always laughed about the empty-nesters whose adult children had returned, but I never thought it would happen to me.

A few days before Christmas, she was in a car accident, from which she escaped virtually unscathed. This was every parent’s nightmare, and it still makes me ill to remember it. She was driving to work early one morning down a wet, curving country lane, when she began to fishtail. She lost control of the car as the steering went out and the car went off the road, toward a telephone pole. The witnesses, a kindly man and his young son, told me later that the car flipped over the height of the rural mailboxes, then went into a ditch and rolled over twice. It came to a rest on its roof, and he told me he expected to pull a dead body out. Instead, my very shaken daughter crawled out of the passenger window (in an obscenely short skirt and gigantic chunky shoes) and started crying. The car, on its crushed roof, lay there until the tow truck flipped it and hauled it away. I got there just before it left and, after seeing the car, can’t believe that instead of Christmas we didn’t have a funeral. My daughter, who had but a tiny scratch on her elbow and knee despite the outfit, and not even a mild case of whiplash, was scared but otherwise intact.

What a Christmas gift that was, and let’s not forget to thank our guardian angels, either. A few days later, still in the throes of deepest gratitude, I asked her if she would like to move back in and live at home again. Without hesitation, she said yes.

The next thing I know, I don’t have a sewing room anymore. Man, I really wanted that sewing room, too. My youngest two, who have spent years waiting for Eldest to leave so they could have their own bedrooms, were not willing to consider going back to the old arrangement. In this house, the one I moved to in November to be closer to my aging parents and my college girl, there are three bedrooms and a small entryway that is just wide enough to work as an office or hobby room — my sewing room. I haven’t been here long enough to set it up, but never mind that; now it’s occupied by a double bed and so much girlie stuff that I no longer even venture in. Same as it ever was.

But she’s an adult now. So she comes and goes at any hour, she sleeps in late while we hasten out the door to work and school, and she does her own thing. I’m so glad to have her back; I love her to bits. I was happy to have my own bathroom in this house, but now I’m sharing it with a variety of curling irons and cosmetics — my bathroom! I came home from work the other night and not only was my parking space taken by her friends, but the other extra space, and I had to park out on the street! In the rain! As the entryway/sewing room space has no storage, she has moved clothes into my closet, and her brand-new towels and sheets are crowding in with my linens, also in my closet. Her vast horde of snack foods is overflowing in my kitchen. My laundry baskets runneth over.

With her newfound college sophistication, she says, “Oh, hella, dude,” for “yes,” and “For %^*$’s sake,” apropos of nothing. She brought her cat back with her, the kitten who was once such a terror, and has the temerity to tell him (the cat!) to call me grandma. OK, I can deal with the strangely foul language and the curling iron collection and even the smart answers I get for every single exchange, but I will tell you something right now, missy. I am not the cat’s grandma.

As the weeks pass, we are settling in and getting used to one another again. I’ve even come home once or twice to find all the dishes done or laundry folded. I like it! We’re back to having our late-night chats, till 1 a.m. sometimes, which pains me in the morning. (Not her; she gets to sleep in.) It’s more like having a roommate than a daughter these days; most of the time it’s pretty good.

Despite those few minor details like having to buy her another car and deal with the insurance and squeezing four of us into a too-small house and her nonstop barrage of smackable one-liners, having her here — alive, thank God — is fine. As long as the cat doesn’t call me Grandma.

The Writer’s Life…

…is never done. Want to be a writer? First, find something to write about. Then write it. Get published. Get famous. Voila! Oops. I forgot the part about getting rich.

I recently went to see a financial consultant, a local guy who was pleasant to chat with and very easy on the eyes. It was kind of funny because I am the word gal, or word nerd, as I sometimes call it, and he was the numbers guy. And I could not get the numbers straight, no matter what. The idea is that I get some money (I’m selling my old house — yeah, to live off the proceeds) and Smart Guy helps me decide what to do with it. I kept making mathematical errors, like when he said I could save $25 a month in a retirement fund, and I enthusiastically agreed, saying, “Yeah, and after a year I’d have $500.” He chuckled and said, “Well, actually you’d have $300.” And so on. I even wrote the wrong date on the forms.

But the funny part was when he asked me about retirement. “When do you think you’ll retire?” he says. “What do you mean by retire?” I say. “Stop working and live off your savings,” he says. “Well, I’m a writer. I’ll always write, as long as I can hold a pencil,” I say. “And as for living off my savings, well, I’m doing that now!” He looks completely aghast. “Hey,” I say. “I must be retired!”

Needless to say, he was only slightly amused.

So here’s the thing. About money, I mean. I am the editor of a weekly newspaper, circulation 19,600 per week (www.alamedasun.com). I am also the author of a novel, published by a very small press, same company as the paper (check out the novel at www.amazon.com). I have also published myriad other freelance feature stories, short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, newsletters, PR, advertorial, menus, not to mention academic work. My work has been reviewed in the press and online and I have been featured as a writer in several articles. I have read my academic work at a university conference on literature in England, read my poetry in a pub in Glasgow, done a small book tour, taught writing classes for adults, taught poetry to children from kindergarten through high school, and am getting ready to start a literary zine.

Is this the writer’s life or what? And there is so much more to come. I am more excited about it every day. Would you, O Fledgling Writer, consider that a writing success? But the grisly fact is that little to none of this has garnered me the filthy lucre that I need to survive.

Poetry: my life earnings on this, from free verse to haiku to anthologies, is about $10, plus a stack of contributor’s copies.

Academic work: zero, but I did get to travel, and part of that was picked up by Cal State Hayward. Can’t complain there.

Freelance: Never got a lot for this. Usually in the range of $25 to $75 for stories. As a stay-at-home mom this made for some great Christmas money or mad money, and it even made enough to take that trip to Scotland. But enough to live on? Nope. At the top of my freelancing (albeit with three kids at home) I was making about $6,000 per year.

Reviews/Essays: Ah-ha. This is where the big bux is. Reviews start in the $100 range and go up (or down, depending on the publication). And essays can make the really big dough: $500 per at some sites. But writing essays is not like writing a grocery list. A well-written essay can take some time to do, and if at the end you’ve made even $100 an hour, you still can’t just crank them out. They cost the soul something, too. One needs time to recuperate, I think, after gut-spilling in an essay. Still, the money is out there.

The novel? Well, I did not get an advance, and so far have earned about $200 in royalties over six months. I have also made about that much in out-of-my-trunk book sales. On the other hand, several places where I placed the book on consignment actually lost me money (I got the books at a 45% discount and only earned 30% back, so it cost me a buck or two per book sold — nice, huh?). Then there is the cost of printing the publicity postcards, buying the mailing labels and materials for press kits (I am my own publicist), postage (ouch), and travel expenses for publicity. Those expenses have run into the $2,500 range so far. So you can see how far ahead financially becoming an author has taken me.

Editor of the newspaper? Hey, this year we earned an average of $1,000 per month, an improvement over the $8K I earned at it last year. So for the plush job of Editrix, I have just broken $20K over two years. How’s that for dream job? How did I afford it? Part-time jobs, including teaching at the adult school at night, freelancing a newsletter, becoming a human guinea pig for a research project at a local hospital, cashing in life insurance policies, a retirement account, some stock that I’d bought a while back, and child support. The teaching and workshops earned me maybe another thousand over the past year. The research project wasn’t bad — that was a good $1,800 to have needles stuck into me, having to sleep overnight while being monitored and videotaped, and taking nasty horse pills for three months. I recently passed on the same option again because I couldn’t bear it. No more needles, please.

So in other words, it doesn’t exactly pay to be a writer.

But give up all this for some slag job in some mindless corporation? Been there, done that, and sorry, but the endless meetings run by illiterate morons and the lackeys, flunkies and monkeys who ran the rest of the show were just not enough to tempt me — not even for health benefits and a 401k plan.

Note to Aspiring Writers: Are you sure this is what you want to do?


Why, O, why do I…is it…why the hell…argh. It’s getting late, it’s raining, I am having one of those moments (hours) where I am questioning everything and not quite hating everyone but building up a head of steam to get there. I’ll get there, too.

Life has a way of kicking one’s ass when one is feeling smug or trying to sit in one’s space of gratitude, and I’m suddenly feeling kicked. But I’ll get over it. How? Write it out, of course. Poet Adrienne Rich said, “Press what hurts,” and it’s a mantra I intend to follow when I get to work on the memoir. But I digress (a familiar affliction).

Ass-kicking? Nah, more like ass-taps. But let’s tap into those, shall we, and see where they lead. It’s raining and I don’t have the best of posture (isn’t slouching sexy?) and when I get stressed/busy I don’t think about things like sitting up straight and spinal health and all that, so I start getting the carpal tunnel thing again. Only it’s not carpal tunnel, but bad posture, knots in my shoulders pressing on nerves down my shoulder, arm, wrist, and it makes my fingers tingle and my wrists hurt. Cure? Rest, ice, massage, chiropractic, self-pity, whining, See’s bridge mix and ice-cold Pepsi. Mostly whining, though. And better posture, and a few weeks of possible wrist-brace wearing (such a fashion statement! These elastic and Velcro numbers are soooo stylin’ and see how well they match my bifocals and orthopedic shoes? Wait till I put my neck brace on and y’all can call Vogue). Not all that tragic in the grander scheme of the world, is it?

But what it feels like to me is a rising sense of panic: I am losing the feeling in my fingertips. I have pain in my wrists. It hurts when I hold the steering wheel or a pen or try to carry a grocery sack, and I have to ask for paper, not plastic, because I can’t pick up the bag by its handles, and maybe the nice grocery boy will carry the bags for me and here’s a nickel, sonny. Like this is how it feels to become disabled a bit at a time, or all of a sudden. It feels like I am grown stiff with age; I have been cheating my age all along with my youthful appearance and my Oil of Olay, my teenager’s borrowed clothing and my hip turn of phrase. Age is catching up with me with its sticky net and its needle-like claws. A tight squeeze on the shoulder from behind, and it’s got me, it’s got me, I can’t feel my fingers anymore and I am afraid, petrified, I have seen the Gorgon head and know it — I will lose my ability to write. Because writing isn’t just about the words in my brain and the empty paper I’ve just poured my passion on. It’s the process — the long, slow simmer and then the actual writing. I’ve tried the cassette recorder, and I’ve tried the voice-activated software, and A) I sound moronic and I’m sorry to all of you who have to hear my voice on a daily basis, and B) the voice activated software does not satisfy; I can’t write like that. Do you think I sit here and say this stuff? No, it comes out of my fingers. Like maybe my brain is in my fingertips — a tactile, kinesthetic experience from brain through flesh to paper. The hands must be involved somehow. And if the hands don’t work, not enough to grip a pen or type a few (thousand) words a day, then what? Dictation? Or — god — just don’t write at all?

It feels like I am losing my grip. I am. Or am I?

There’s other stuff swirling out there. My fear of driving in the rain. The scary sight of bills in the mailbox when the paychecks aren’t enough, and the child support check is a tantalizing prize that may or may not come, and there just isn’t time or juice left in me to take on a second job after the commute. The things the kids need and the things the kids want. The things I think we should have (like food — like the $3 whole wheat bread instead of the 99-cent loaf that is made of sugar and air, like organic veggies instead of dented cans of peas and corn, like the stupid gummy sharks that my daughter asks for and I have to say no, how about raisins or some nice carrot sticks? And the look on her face, and the guilt like a frying pan to the back of the head on just about every living detail of the day: Catholic, mother, daughter, member of the human race, eating and polluting and overpopulating and driving and choosing paper instead of plastic, or plastic instead of paper, and printing a newspaper every week, nay, 20,000 of them that murders trees and pollutes and rots and wastes.

You see how it descends. Right down into the Black Pit of Despair. My former friends, of my dearly departed writers’ group, called it “pit sitting.” It’s lovely down here, friends. Come on in, there’s plenty of room.

The funny thing (not funny ha-ha, but peculiar) is that when you’re in the BPOD, the only place to go is up, and often, when I take a look up instead of down, I see blue sky. In today’s e-mail I heard from a long-missed friend from Scotland, and from a high-school friend who just discovered that she’s pregnant. She’s ecstatic. And in the mailbox, that giver of good news and bad, my welcome packet from the Petaluma Women’s Club and a list of all their events for the year. Welcome, Julia! Welcome to the club!

It’s hard to pit-sit in the face of that kind of cheer. New babies in the world. Old friends. What can I do but crawl out and let the rain wash off the muck, do a bit of yoga, get over my bad self and move on. It’s deadline day tomorrow. How bad can it be?