Let’s Take a Moment to Overthink This

If the palm reader was right I’d better get busy – let me think…

When I was around 15, a palm reader at a renaissance fair told me that I’d live to be 63.

In other words, she told me I would die when I am 63.

Which is something no reputable palm reader or fortune teller (HA! oh, ha ha ha ha ha ha HA! Reputable palm reader!) is ever supposed to tell anyone, I suppose on the grounds that if they’re wrong, their pronouncement could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, or, if they’re right, who’d want to know? Just keep it vague and positive, right?

I don’t know why I remembered that recently. Maybe I felt like I was wasting time, dragging my feet, failing in my quest to really live every moment of whatever time I may have left as fully as possible – and with love and laughter.

But if we assume for the sake of argument the palm reader was right – that gives me only a few years, with an awful lot left to do.

Like getting a move on the query letter for my book, and deciding who to send it to.

(“Mr. Churchill, don’t you know you are never to end a sentence with a preposition?” Churchill to presumptuous twit: “Sir, that is a presumption up with which I will not put.” But I digress.)

I’ve been composing the letter in my head, reading the blogs and websites about form and what kind of letters are effective, and which agents represent what kind of books, and looking for agents who will look at memoirs, and somewhere in all that, I read that  memoir agents are sick of books involving cancer, particularly survival stories.

Well, mine isn’t a cancer survival story, because Mike didn’t survive.

It’s a love survival story.

But it has “cancer”  in the title.

So I changed the name of my book from “Detour in Cancerland, in which a Ridiculous Woman Attempts to Defer Widowhood through Remodeling (and Lust) to “Love, Death and Carpentry, in which a Ridiculous Woman etc….”

And then I started to think, well, if they don’t like the word “cancer” in the title, they’re not going to like the word “death,” exactly, either, are they?

But the point isn’t the title: it’s to write a query letter that catches an agent’s attention enough for them to want to see the entire book. If it ever gets published the publisher will probably change the title anyway.

I’ve heard back from both my friends to whom I gave the book because I knew they’d be honest with me if they thought it was awful, and they both loved it and said I should move ahead with it.

Which led me to think that maybe I should have a few more “beta” readers to be sure I’ve gotten broad enough response to it. Every woman within 20 years of my age, when I’ve told them what it’s about, or just told them the original title, has said, “oh, man, I’d read that!” OK, so maybe I shouldn’t change the title.

The only other people I’ve given the book to are my brothers, one of whom read it and returned the thumb drive it was on to me, with no comment.

He’s the hypersensitive one, though, and there were things in there that I knew would upset him, and I told him in advance I wasn’t really looking for his comments, I only wanted him to read it so he wouldn’t be surprised, in case a miracle happens and the book actually gets published. I just hope he isn’t too upset. We’re having Thanksgiving together.

My other brother, the older one who is very free with his opinions (solicited or not) on pretty much everything, has started to read it.

Started 7 weeks ago.

He says he’s on page 90, but he too has offered no comment, which is very unusual.  My friends read it in less than two weeks. When I heard back from them I just told my brothers that I was going ahead with it anyway.  If he got to page 90 he’s pretty much read anything that would have mentioned him, anyway. So nuts to him.

Being irritated with my brother caused me to remember that I may have living brothers and sisters-in-law, with whom my late husband refused to associate, and who are not mentioned at all in the book (except for one fleeting mention of the smoking  habit of one of them), which sent me into another round of paralyzed anxiety.

Both of my parents are gone, as are my late husband’s. So do I really need to worry about what other unmentioned “family” members might think about the story, which is true anyway, when they aren’t even mentioned in it?

Isn’t that supposed to be something the publisher, if there is ever to be one, will worry about?

Which brings me back to the query letter.

And dying at 63.

And thinking about all the things I haven’t accomplished yet and how little time I have left if that damn, bored, mean-spirited palm reader (really, who would do that to a 15 year old kid?) was right.

Things like finding a new relationship, getting one more really good job, getting my daughter situated happily and safely out on her own with support provided by someone who isn’t me (because she’ll have to get used to that so we have to get started) and learning to sail and seeing Alaska before it melts completely and making the crossing of the Atlantic even though climate change is causing more and more huge rogue waves and the crews of cruise ships seem increasingly inept in their seamanship and skiing again and being able to buy a summer house in Maine and tracing some of the routes and visiting some of the (milder Mediterranean) ports of call described in the Patrick O’Brian books  and taking a screenwriting class and learning Latin and taking some kind of luxury rail travel and a steamboat trip on the Mississippi if climate change hasn’t caused prolonged drought and it is deep enough for that and getting paid singing and speaking gigs and publishing a series of Ridiculous woman books based on my continuing misadventures.

Which brings me back to that query letter…

Trying to conquer my fears and quell my OCD induced anxiety, but fully intending to be writing still on my 64th, nay, even my 84th birthday  (take that, bored, mean palm reader lady), I remain,

Your quaking, querulous, query-less, but still questing,

Ridiculouswoman

On, Wisconsin

Beer-cheese soup. Followed by apple cider. Spiked.

I thought “beer cake” took it. The cake, I mean.

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But then came “beer cheese soup,” served with a warm pretzel.

Heretic that I am, I skipped the mustard. But still.

Pumpkins, gourds, hay bale and obligatory (too sugary, but what the hell, it’s October) apple cider obtained, rustic roads driven, stables located for Fall Excursion Three: Trail Ride version, planned for tomorrow. Weather scheduled to cooperate. I’ll keep you posted.

And oh, by the way, trusted friend two has submitted a second positive review with a few minor and constructive editorial suggestions and a vote for pursuing publication (no idea how to do that, but I intend the first step to be an effort to obtain representation by a literary agent. Which I also have no idea how to do. Advice welcome.) Activate Plan A.

And bonus, here’s something I learned from getting a good review from a trusted friend right after returning from Fall Excursion Two: fresh apple cider tastes pretty good when mixed with champagne. And mild terror. Just sayin’.

Gathering courage for the next step (which also may include hearing from brothers, who are much slower than trusted friends in reading the book), I remain,

Your nervous, jumpy, over-caffeinated and energized by the crisp fall weather,

Ridiculouswoman

Frost, Flannel, Fall Excursion

October’s bright blue weather has come at last. Time for flannel shirts and Fall Excursion(s).

Fall excursions were among the first things I wrote about on this blog, which caused it dawn on me that sometime in the past two weeks, this blog had its first anniversary.

I guess I’m supposed to mark that milestone, in some way.

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What have I accomplished in that year?

What’ s this blog got to do with it?

Well, I wrote a book, and wrote about writing the book on the blog.

I “met” some wonderful new people who kindly and generously have liked and followed this blog, and offered support and commiseration.

I rediscovered my love of writing for writing’s sake, and found solace, inspiration, an outlet, and the beginnings of a new and very different kind of life without Mike. Writing has helped me try to turn that life from a life reduced, a life lived with absence,  a piece missing, to a life deepened, enriched and more appreciated, moment by moment.

I forgot to empty the bird bath despite freeze warnings – I hope the crack in it doesn’t expand – but now I know that if it does, if that symbol of my past life with Mike comes apart, I’ll survive it, revive it, somehow, with a new way of keeping a symbol of Mike in my heart with a new symbol of his love for birdwatching in the yard.

I think today is finally the day I’ll give away his fall coat, and his winter boots. I got them as far as the car a few weeks ago, when it was hot and humid. But today, someone is really going to need those.

I’m getting over the panic attacks, even though I’m giving myself a lot of reasons to panic, mainly having to do with money. The burn rate has gone off the charts and the market’s behavior this week was, erm, unhelpful, to say the least.

But something about getting through two years without Mike, and writing about it, and reading about other women’s experience of widowhood and aging, has made me, not so much stronger, as more willing to let go of worry, have faith in God and the universe, keep things in perspective and believe, truly believe, that whatever happens, everything will be ok.

We will emerge. Not submerge.

In the meantime, we will head off into the pumpkin fields, drive the rustic roads and enjoy the loveliness of the October sky, a loveliness all too brief and fleeting, like our “little life…rounded with a sleep.”

And that keeping things in perspective thing? While I wring all I can out of the few gorgeous October days granted this year, I know that it is springtime for followers down under – and through all the little losses and the major catastrophes blasting us everywhere in a daily barrage, rebirth and rebuilding happens, grief can be carried, and assimilated into a new life that is both heavier and lighter, simultaneously more profound and more ethereal, fleeting, yet eternal.

May you find your perfect pumpkin (or spring bloom, depending on your hemisphere), and find comfort that its inevitable decay portends its sure and certain return. Sic transit gloria, world without end.

Glad that my daughter is finally getting enough sleep, but anxious for her to arise so we can get on the road,

I remain,

Your humble, hopeful, dare I say? happy?

Ridiculouswoman

Displacement Activity, or, How Not to Paint a Room, Part Two

Waiting for reviews…what to do? Let’s paint…and ruin the irreplaceable carpet….

“Let’s think of something to do while we’re waiting, while we’re waiting…”

-Fred Rogers

One vote on the book  is in from a trusted friend, who said she loved it and votes for moving ahead with it. Encouraged, but waiting for further opinions.

What to do?

Let’s paint.

Brimming with overconfidence, having learned from experience, proceed to hardware store. Because saturated color looked great in the small bedroom-turned-computer-lounge, boldly select three additional saturated colors – pink for her room, silvery-grey for mine, sunny ivory for the living room, plus two gallons of that color-changing ceiling paint that seemed to work so well. Also purchase every roll of two-inch “frog tape” in stock, along with six additional rollers, two more brushes (despite the others being washable, wanting to start fresh), another tray, a pack of a dozen tray liners and sixty feet of “hallway” plastic tarp.

Confidently cover beds and side tables with plastic tarp. Fail to cover carpet, on the assumption it is already old and worn and must be replaced with something very similar.

Begin painting ceilings.

Notice areas of peeling paint. Determine these should be scraped.  Don mask left over from chicken-coop cleaning days. Begin scraping.

Under peeling paint, discover a substance that does not appear to be either plaster or drywall. It is smoother and harder.

Despite tarps and face mask, panic.

This is an old house.

Cease scraping. Don’t create dust. Let sleeping dogs lie. Paint over scraped areas and sleeping-dog areas of still-peeling paint, sticking them back on ceiling. Sort of.

Look up in premature satisfaction.

Notice that areas that had been scraped look stupid. This is not a Tuscan villa, where patches of missing paint or plaster add a patina of old-world charm.

Determine to spackle over already painted scraped places, thereby sealing undetermined ceiling substance in place. Spackle over remaining unscraped peeling paint, thereby sticking them more firmly back to the ceiling.

Spackle used in computer lounge to plug now-empty screw-anchor holes is thick and lumpy. Attempt to smooth. Create additional lumps and visible tracks of spackling knife.

Sigh.

Proceed to carefully peel and spackle hallway ceiling. Run out of lumpy spackling stuff.

Return to hardware store.

Select a lightweight spackling named something that suggests a “one and done” kind of application. Ok, that.

Resume spackling with whipped lightweight stuff. Works great! Applies more smoothly than other lumpy stuff. Like icing on a cake!

Use lightweight fluffy spackling over old, thicker lumpy spackling. Looks smoother but still a little like an elementary school ceiling where children of yore tossed soaking wet wads of toilet paper upward, sticking them to the ceiling in white lumps.

Decide that ceiling paint will minimize appearance of lumpiness, and paint anyway.

Complete walls.

Realize you failed to tape the white trim around windows, which now have streaks of strawberry-ice-cream pink  or grey on them.

Return to hardware store. Buy white paint for trim.

After walls are dry, tape around windows. Paint trim. Step back in premature satisfaction.

Realize that the slanty part of the wall above the closets in the half-story upstairs of our story-and-a-half Cape-Cod was supposed to be painted like the walls, not the ceiling.

Sigh.

Retrieve paint from basement. Paint slanty part of wall.

Step back in premature satisfaction.

Realize you forgot to tape ceiling above slanty part.

Retrieve ceiling paint from basement. Determined to minimize repeated rounds of touching up ceiling, then wall, then ceiling ad infinitum, tape slanty part of wall. Paint over splotches on ceiling.

Engage in three additional rounds of touching up ceiling, then walls, then ceiling anyway.

Remove tape, which removes additional chunks of peeling paint from ceiling.

Return to hardware store. Purchase larger tub of fluffy spackling. Spackle new patches of peeled paint on ceilings and under windows. In fit of exhaustion, paint over spackling before it is dry, smearing white spackling across larger patches of already painted walls.

Sigh.

Slather saturated color paint over white patches and decide it looks good enough.

Realize that careful taping of ceiling has left a thick line of previous lighter wall exposed at top. Use brush to paint along intersection of wall and ceiling. Decide that quarter inch of dark color on ceilings is OK if it occurs on entire perimeter of room.

Shower, rest.

Revived, carefully remove tarps from furniture avoiding , attempting to avoid sprinkling ceiling substances and old paint chips on ruined carpet. Paint chips and dust land on carpet anyway.

Vacuum. Repeatedly. Excessively.

Shop for new, smaller bedside table that will hold lamp while not interfering with closet. Fits great. Plug in lamp. Lamp will not light.

Realize that in the course of slathering on very thick layer of paint hoping to avoid doing a second coat, you painted over the only available electrical outlet for lamp.  For reasons unknown, that outlet, which is nowhere near any source of water, has a reset button on it, which it now hopelessly stuck. (See, “painted over outlet with very thick layer of paint,” above).

Sigh. Call electrician.

Having decided not to worry about paint on carpet, which is to be replaced with something very similar, proceed to carpet store. Carpet store has every kind of carpet under the sun, but inexplicably doesn’t have anything close to that beloved, pretty old carpet. Pattern has apparently ceased to exist.

Return home. Stuck with ruined carpet indefinitely, vacuum excessively, again (is there any such thing as vacuuming excessively)? Rest until morning.

Next day, displace lingering frustration about carpet by moving desk, file cabinets and former-bedside-table-now-to-be-printer-pedestal out of bedroom, to area of kitchen that is to become new “command center,” when absurdly expensive new desk, which was ordered when allegedly “in stock,” in mid-September, is finally shipped and delivered sometime between now and the end of recorded time. Or early November, whichever comes first.

Commend self for having gained sufficient maturity to wait.

Lie down. Notice that new bedside table smells funny.  Decide that I’m so old I’ve probably already been exposed to a lot of  whatever is causing the smell anyway. Disguise smell by spraying perfume all over new bedside table.

Plan trip to department store to buy more perfume.

Attempt to rest.

While “resting,” plan how to paint living room without ruining beloved rug. Decide to roll up and stow rug for the duration. Realize I will have to buy more plastic to protect maple floor under rug…and more tape…and more paint for trim…ad infinitum….

Hoping to hear from brothers and other trusted friend about book (STOP ME BEFORE I PAINT AGAIN), I remain,

Your paint-splattered, carpet-ruining, running-out-of-money-for-the-love-of-God-what-the-hell-am-I-doing,

Ridiculouswoman

While You Wait….

The book is out of my hands, being read (I hope) by family and friends…so I wait…

The waiting is the hardest part…

-Tom Petty

Waiting is nerve wracking and breeds paranoia. It means that something you care about is out of your hands and in someone else’s and that turns on the fear faucet.

The rheumatologist said my blood work is “perfect.” Nothing really showed up on the x-rays, either. I don’t have arthritis. There seems to be no explanation for why the ring finger on my left hand won’t bend. I’ve decided it must be Mike, hanging on, and peeved that I took my wedding ring off. Until he lets go, I’ve been prescribed an anti-inflammatory regime of tart cherry juice and turmeric. But the waiting to hear that it wasn’t something systemic and vaguely terrifying is over. So there’s that.

But I’m still waiting to hear what my brothers and my friends think of the book.

I’ve decided I’m going to use the time I’m waiting to to work on how I’ll react to whatever they say.
Plan A: listen attentively, ask questions, solicit suggestions and humbly make thoughtful decisions about which suggestions to accept and which to reject. Move forward with final revisions and a plan to submit to literary agents.
Plan B: listen attentively, ask questions, solicit suggestions and then curl up in a little fetal ball, whimpering and wondering how I will even come out from under the covers, ever again. Moan, sob, and wonder what to do next. Start applying for jobs for which I am wildly overqualified, because they involve standing for eight hours a day and lifting heavy things, where exhaustion replaces worry and, bonus! I lose weight. (I almost typed “wait.” Ha!)
Plan C: listen attentively, ask questions, solicit suggestions, and ignore them. It’s my damn book and I’ll write if I want to, write if I want to, write it I want to, you would write too if it happened to you. Ba-da-ba-DAT-DA.

But we’re trying to be classy here, a fine line with a story that could be perceived as the opposite: too confessional, too intimate, too much information, just too much.

Obviously, Plan A would be the classy plan in the face of this.

But as you know, I am the Ridiculouswoman, and I specialize in being “too much.”

Case in point: I never miss an opportunity to overdress, and I wore one of my 1950’s style dresses-with-a-crinoline, the one in a nice fall burgundy-rust color, to brunch with my friends yesterday, in an attempt to distract myself from my nerves about handing over the memory sticks with the book on them.

OK, so part of Plan A, the classy plan, would be to try to take good care of myself and look as fabulous as possible while waiting for the opinions to pour (ok, trickle) in.

I reread the book myself last night, and corrected a few typos, and only had one more moment of “oh, I should have put that in” but no more moments of “Jeez, I better take that out.” It’s as done as it can be without some outside perspectives to help me.

Displacement activity, then! Busy-bee stuff! My daughter and I took our first “fall excursion” Saturday morning, beating the crowds and catching the blue-sky fall weather before the clouds came back. We got the most expensive, touristy part of fall excursion month done right up front – breakfast, hayride (well, tractor-pulled-wagon-into-the-orchard-ride, anyway) and apple picking, followed by a visit to the pumpkin farm my daughter still wants to visit every fall because she visited it when she was in high school.

The apples we picked are really, really good, which (slightly) mitigates their being absurdly expensive.

And even though nothing says “Wisconsin” quite like “beer cake,” I resisted the temptation to buy any. Couldn’t resist the temptation to take a picture, though:

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The weather forecast for the next ten days stinks. Rain predicted every single day. Drat. Not much opportunity for fall excursion two.

OK, so now what? I know! Paint! I’ll paint the ceilings in her room, the upstairs hallway and my room – I’ll paint my bedrooms walls a gentle dove gray – more restful and calming than the sunny yellow they have been for the past nearly twenty years.

Then we’ll pick a color for the walls of her room, and new carpet for all of it, of course.

(This displacement activity thing gets expensive, fast).

Maybe I should dial back the caffeine a bit, head to the gym, start re-reading Patrick O’Brian again, go to chorus rehearsal, plan a the next fall excursion for when the good weather returns, and hope for the best.

Hoping for the best is about the best I can do right now.

I’ll keep you posted (about opinions on the book, if any, as they arrive).

Until then I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, nervous, twitchy, busy-bee-while-waiting-for-feedback,

Ridiculouswoman

Stage Fright – for Writers?

I never suffered from stage fright – but is there such a thing as “writer’s fright?”

I never suffered from stage fright – not the debilitating, get-me-the-hell-out-of-here-you’ll-have-to-shove-me-out-there kind. Sure, I was excited and nervous before I went onstage, but once I was out there in front of an audience, I was fine.

I was home.

It was fun.

It was real.

I’ve been writing for as long as I had been dancing (from pink tutus to pink toe shoes, days long over) and have been singing (may my singing days end only with my last breath), but yesterday, for the first time, I experienced a kind of “writer’s fright.”

Because yesterday, I gave thumb drives containing the draft of my book to my brothers. I’m not seeking comments from them. I just thought family mentioned peripherally in the book should be among the first to read it.

I’m not sure they will, but at least I can say I gave them the chance. No surprises.

I offered the same opportunity to the Bulgarian. He demurred. But I tried. Then I promised him I would never contact him again.

Sunday, I’ll be giving the book-on-a-memory-stick my two best-friend-former-work-colleagues, and I am seeking their comments.

Which I know will be brutally honest.

Ranging, I imagine, from “are you out of your mind? Destroy all copies of this, now!” to “well, a really great editor might be able to make it tolerable.”

(Of course, I’m secretly hoping for, “this is a work of genius! It’s poignant, funny, gripping, heartrending – I couldn’t put it down! It made me laugh and cry – simultaneously!” or, “this must be published – I’m contacting every literary agent I know and telling them they have to read this immediately!” I can dream, can’t I?)

These friends have never hesitated to be straight with me, and even when we disagreed vehemently, we’d get over it.

So why the “writer’s fright?”

I’m not worried about criticism of the writing itself. I’m happy for constructive criticism that helps me fix that.

I am worried that the book will change the way my brothers and my friends see me. They will read things they didn’t know about before, that might shock them or make them cringe, or see me as weak (even though they already know that I’m ridiculous).

As I watched my book churn its way out of my aging printer (to have a hard copy, in case every other form of backup fails), and clipped into into a (quaint, retro?) three-ring binder,  I felt a kind of resignation.

My truest self is in that book. I don’t know why it is easier for me to reveal myself in a blog, and now a book, intended for large audiences of strangers, than it is for me to share my deepest self with the very limited audience of family and friends.

Is it a tabula rasa thing? Strangers haven’t known me before, so they’ll judge me only on what I put before them? Whereas family and friends know more?

I don’t think so. I think that writers have essentially the same deal with their audiences as actors and improvisers do.
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In the theater, we “suspend disbelief.” We “look through the fourth wall.” We make a deal: “for the duration of this show, we agree that the emotions, thoughts and reactions  elicited in us are not real, and as soon as the lights come back up, we may pretend they never existed.”

Whereas every actor and improviser worthy of being in front of a live audience knows damn well that what happens on stage is much more true and real than what we, outside the theater, agree is reality.

Because real reality is just too much for most of us, most of the time.

So we bury it in stories. Including true ones.

Humanities 101 teaches that artists (actors, dancers, musicians, composers, writers, poets, visual artists etc.) unearth reality for us – often embedded in metaphor, or draped in mystery, or flowing in a melodic line that will get you every time – but that one way or another unmasks something that we ordinarily need to keep veiled. They give us a “safe” way to experience the fullness of our humanity for the duration of the show, or the length of the book. Then we are allowed to go on about our everyday stuff, feeling somehow edified, unburdened or relieved.

(If unmasking reality that most humans would prefer to keep hidden most of the time is your job, is it any wonder so many artists are kind of nuts?)

But hey, all I’ve done is write a memoir (like everyone else in every coffee shop on the planet has done, or is doing right now.) I’m not claiming any great artistic mantle for myself. I just have a true story to tell that I hope has some universality to it, that will help anyone who reads it feel a bit of “real” reality, the reality we don’t talk about, but that we allow ourselves to safely visit in the pages of the books we love.

Wishing you the comfort and catharsis of a good story, a great show, or some beautiful music, I remain,

Your humble, devoted, nervous, wary, and waiting for reactions,

Ridiculouswoman