Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Hours

Over this past weekend, I read the Michael Cunningham novel, The Hours. This was an exquisite story, a many faceted jewel that still glows in my mind 24 hours after I turned the last page. Cunningham weaves a cunning tapestry with the threads of three separate days as lived by three individual women separated by decades but not by spirit. Three separate stories interwoven chapter by alternating chapter, centered and strengthened and given their meaning by a fourth thread--that of the novel, Mrs. Dalloway. There is the day in the early twenties on which Virginia Woolf began writing Mrs. Dalloway, and the day in 1949 when a suburban housewife and mother began reading Mrs. Dalloway, and a day near the end of the millennium when a woman named Clarissa plans a party for a beloved friend who many years before had bestowed on her the nickname, Mrs. Dalloway because she had the same first name as the character and, he claimed, the same qualities of mind and spirit. Each woman lives the hours of her day in contemplation of the character of Mrs. Dalloway and of the world which she inhabits and each woman’s day is enlarged, impacted and particularized by this contemplation. It seems at times that the very spirits of the four women are in communion across the decades and across the divide between ‘real’ and fiction. I have encountered few stories that go so directly to the heart of story itself; exemplifying the truth that story is the very heart of life; that story is the very way of life; that the stories we tell to ourselves and those we tell one another co-create the stories we live within the hours of our lives. This novel was well deserving of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Just a Reminder to Remember


Memorial Day is not about gas-guzzling vacations, blow-out sales, or block-buster summer movie releases. Memorial Day was meant to be time set aside to honor the lives, service and sacrifice of the men and women in the armed services, of our loved ones gone on before us, of every one who came before and wove their thread into the tapestry of life, culture, and community that supports, nurtures and sustains each of us today. The same tapestry into which we are, moment by moment, weaving our own threads, co-creating with past and present threads the tapestry that will be ours and our children’s future. Memorial Day is a day for remembering that every thread, no matter its length, strength, color or place is essential to the whole.

Today I remember and honor my father, Richard Wayne Coon, whose life was the embodiment of love, generosity and service for his family, community, country and God. His thread began in 1931 and ended in 2005. It mattered to many.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

We Return to Previously Scheduled Programming In Progress

The musing, analyzing and reappraisal of priorities has been ongoing form the moment I began writing the previous post nearly two weeks ago. But I’ve done more than think and stew. I have targeted several issues as high priority and devised possible solutions and implemented them. They are still in the experimental stage but have generated good results already. The highest priority was sleep as only chaos and confusion is generated by a sleep-deprived mind. Giving in to the greed for sleep the latter part of last week meant the loss of most of my late-night work sessions. But the payoff came when I arrived at Grandma’s last Saturday afternoon feeling rested after sleeping for most of eight hours. Something clicked as I compared the way I was feeling that afternoon to the previous weekends. I realized that attempting to flip my hours back and forth was not working and no amount of will power or self-chiding was going to make it work. I needed to choose one schedule that would work for both the weekend and the rest of the week. I grabbed a piece of scratch paper and, using my coffee mug, drew two fat circles on it. I turned these into AM and PM clocks. I started by shading off the non-negotiable hours--the 6PM to 7PM dinner and dishes hour. Then over the next several hours I experimented with various mutations of 24/7 day schedules and 24/7 night schedules. I eventually settled on the graveyard shift as fulfilling more of the non-negotiable criteria while continuing to give me the largest blocks of time for uninterrupted thinking and writing, the most access to the internet and the best fit for my natural night-owl bent.

This meant that I had to stay on the graveyard shift Saturday night while staying with Grandma. Having the laptop meant that I had access to all that I needed to have a productive work session. All I lacked was access to the internet but that could actually be a blessing as I don’t get much actual writing done while online. I am too busy chasing down web pages. There were several additional adjustments to make but they were easy to figure out once I had settled on a foundation. In order to work the graveyard shift Saturday night, all I was giving up was a few hours of crappy, anxiety ridden sleep anyway. But in order to make it work I had to come prepared by a solid seven hour sleep that ended no earlier than noon. This meant that I had to give up Saturday morning as laundry day. It also meant that I had to lay down no later than six. No more retreating to the bedroom when my mother-in-law got up at five to bide my time with reading or writing until she left at six and then zipping back out to the living room to get back online--sometimes to stay there until just before her expected return at noon.

Continuing to work backward thru the days to find the sticking points, I realized that the same held true for Friday mornings in which I had long had the habit of going without sleep in order to get a couple more hours of time online and then begin the involved process of preparing myself and the books for the weekly trek to the library--this was described in excruciating detail in the previous post. This had usually meant that I lost much if not all of Friday night’s work session and those rare times I had a full session work was compromised by sleep deprivation. So I spent a great deal of time contemplating the elements of library day, looking for ways to carve up the time that gave priority to the sleep that was necessary as a foundation for quality work. I knew that I needed to have the same standard for Friday morning that I had just set for Saturday morning or it would be difficult to maintain it for Saturday morning. It was like a falling dominos game. The practice of going sleepless on Friday morning had been workable before racing season’s Saturday’s with Grandma had been added to the picture because I had the freedom to make up that sleep Saturday afternoon. Then it seemed to be OK because it helped me flip my hours from graveyard to days for the weekend. And this gave me Saturday mornings for laundry, hanging with my husband and packing for the overnight stay. Giving that time back to sleep meant shifting or losing those tasks or benefits.

The same went for Friday mornings. Staying awake had seemed the best option because I do not return to the waking world easily and I needed to be alert for the walk. That was a matter of life and death for me. I must keep my mind on every step I take while walking among moving vehicles and other pedestrians. Most of the tasks associated with library day required an alert and focused mind. Just about the only one that didn’t was the shower and shampoo. And even that took much less time if I wasn’t groggy.

So, I began to look for tasks from Friday and Saturday mornings that could be shifted elsewhere. It occurred to me that I could shift showers to the previous evenings in order to free up a good chunk of time--nearly an hour. Establishing an evening shower made sense in other ways. It could be a symbolic gesture of respect toward my graveyard work session--getting ready for work like someone with a traditional ‘job’ could set a tone of respect for it. I shaded off the 7PM to 8PM hour for this. That was a little more time than I actually needed so it occurred to me that I could combine laundry into that hour and possibly into the post dinner hour--start a load before I start the dishes after dinner. I couldn’t do a weeks worth of laundry in a single day with this time slot but I could spread out the loads among two or three or more days. It was at this point that the chaos began to shape itself into an order that I began to feel good about. The concept of shifting the tasks backward applied elsewhere. Like preparing the returning books. Most of them could be prepared on Thursday evening while I waited for access to the living room. Those books that I knew had used up their two renewals and those I knew had a queue of requests behind me could be stripped of their bookmarks and packed. The movies and books that I or my husband finished with during the week could be packed instead of stacked.

One of the major priorities I had set out to work into this new schedule was the reinstitution of a fifteen to fifty minute free-write time immediately upon waking each day. This habit, recommended by a number of writers, had paid handsome premiums in the past and I wanted to bring it back. It was the habit of returning to the internet after six each morning that made waking up in time for this problematic. This exercise serves to prime the pump so that words and ideas and original thought flow freely throughout the day. But it only works if it is the very first thing you do upon waking--before engagement with words from any other source I.e. TV, conversation, reading, even the analytical thought involved in planning your day or accomplishing involved tasks like preparing a meal getting dressed. I hope to go into more detail about this another time. For now, suffice it to say that of all the elements of the new schedule I developed last Saturday, this is the one I have remained most faithful to.

Other aspects have been harder to adjust to or needed refinements. And in the case of the library trek, yesterday was the first of three Friday’s the Phoenix branch is on hiatus and by having the returning items packed before I lay down Friday morning, my husband was able to return them on the way to work so I didn’t have to make the trek at all. That allowed me to get a solid sleep Friday which in turn allowed me to have a full Friday night work session. Which has set me up to carry the same schedule thru the weekend. If I don’t blow it now. I am breaking one of the cardinal rules of the new schedule to get this posted--returning to the internet after six. But I have a bit of leeway this weekend as the races were canceled due to weather. I am still going to be spending the night with Grandma tonight so my father-in-law can have a break, but I won’t be leaving as early.

Last Saturday night after Grandma went to bed and I was holed up in the other bedroom, I watched two DVDs: Under the Tuscan Sun and Being There. They took priority over reading or writing as they had been due on Friday and had to be in the drop box by Monday morning and Sunday afternoon was already assigned to watching Dreamkeeper, a three hour movie also due Friday, with my husband. And Sunday night was the season finale of Desperate Housewives. I am in the same boat this weekend with two movies due Friday and held over the weekend. This time it is Blackboard Jungle and A Lesson Before Dying. Speaking of season finales--Lost was the last of my prime-time stories to have its season finale this past week. This is going to free up a lot of time and make transitioning into my work session much easier. Sometimes I really miss having a working VCR to record shows that infringe on the sacred hours after 9PM when the living room and thus the internet become available. Before the VCR in our room decided to stop spitting out the tapes, I never let a TV show commandeer one hour of that precious night-shift.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Dreaming Awake

(The following was written over a week ago with intentions to post but when I began to prepare it for posting and discovered it was over 3000 words, I postponed in order to edit it down. Then when I began to edit I started having second thoughts about having revealed more than I should. This caused me to choke up with self-censoring induced writer‘s block.

I am tired of feeling gagged by all this second guessing of my words based on attempts at guessing what someone else might think or prefer. This is my blog and its very title implies that it is my story. I have the right to tell it my way and sometimes I tell long stories. The impetus of this story was musings about why my writing and web work was stalling. It was an attempt to get onto the screen in a format that could be referred back to all of the ramblings of my mind as I attempt to reassess my priorities and identify the clutter both literal and metaphorical that is preventing me from doing that which I say is my passion: writing.

Since I wrote this, I have begun to implement potential solutions to some of the problems identified and I want to write about those but they would be out of context without much of the material in this rambling backstory. So, for what it’s worth…)

What happened to my famous intractable insomnia? Where is it when I need it? I’ve been having a incredibly hard time adjusting to the new realities of my weekly schedule which commenced in early April. The first weekend of April I spent five days sitting with my husband’s Grandmother while his parents went on vacation. It took me nearly the full of the following week to recover my equilibrium and get back on a graveyard schedule for my online sessions. That following weekend was supposed to be the beginning of dirt track racing and thus I expected to be sitting with grandma again that Saturday so I adjusted my schedule back to days in the twenty-four hours preceding. But the races were rained out. The same thing happened the weekend after that. But every weekend since I’ve been spending Saturday afternoon thru Sunday afternoon at Grandma’s. And there have been other days when I sat with her for an hour or two or several--usually on a Friday and or Monday--while my in-laws shop and run errands for the two households. I used to be able to flip my hours around without unbearable repercussions. Not anymore, apparently. Every time I open my eyes I am so disoriented that I’m not sure who I am let alone where I am or even when I am. I seem to have lost my ability to tell by the ambient light in the room what time of day it is. When the light is dim is it dawn or dusk or just cloudy?

Friday afternoons are also my weekly walk to the library which is a major investment in time and energy. I calculated that it takes upwards of five hours beginning with the hour plus I spend on the library catalog online in the wee hours tending to renewing and requesting books and searching the catalog. Followed by an hour plus preparing books and movies going back by removing bookmarks and notes, noting down page numbers on each book’s bibliography slip and packing them. Followed by an hour to prepare myself to go out in public. Followed by an hour plus to make the walk each way and tend to business at the library--I rarely do this in under ninety minutes but when I leave the house too late and absolutely have to get back by three for Dr. Phil, I can push myself to get there and back in under an hour--just. This isn’t wise in warmer weather tho and that is now upon us.

Besides, that parameter is going to change after this coming weekend as the library is moving shop a block away into temporary quarters while they construct a new building about four blocks further than that. The new building is slated to open in a year and if we are still living here at that time, I will have to allow for two hours just for the walk to and from sandwiching the visit itself. But on the other hand, when that time comes I may choose to make that walk every weekday to hang out at the new facilities which will have air-conditioning and WIFI!!! I could say goodbye to the graveyard shift altogether.

Anyway, the fifth hour plus spent on the Friday library run is spent on putting bookmarks in all the non-fiction books, referring to the bib slip of the repeaters for the page number where I left off, making new bib slips for first timers, making room for the books on the makeshift shelves--mostly cardboard boxes of various sizes from shoe boxes on up to large produce boxes--and finally taking stock of which books and movies are coming due the following Friday whether they have used up their two renewals or are high demand and unlikely to renew. Some of this latter I do while renewing online and while pulling items from the shelves for return.

After all of that, I get to read very little if at all before Monday! This is very frustrating. Often I have not slept Friday morning and thus am unlikely to have a Friday night session online. Which means I lose three nights in a row as my attempts at napping Sunday afternoon, after returning from Grandma’s, to prepare for a late night work session have not worked out. Either I am too wound up, have too much caffeine in my system or the nap does nothing but make me crave more sleep.

So it is Monday night before I get swung back around. And then what do I do? I spend most of the next four nights, chasing down my favorite blogs and websites to catch up on them! And there are so many of them that I don’t have time to actually read them while online, I use the magic of synchronizing and saving to disk for some but mostly just rush from one to another opening them as fast as I can using three different browsers with multiple tabs and windows. Some will only remain available while offline if the window it is in remains open to it. Others will open again to the last refresh when I am ‘working offline’. The major downside to this practice is that any time I spend reading stuff saved on my laptop is time I don’t have for reading library books or watching DVDs. So more and more books and movies are going back untouched. I get further and further behind on current events. Worst of all from a writer’s perspective, I am squeezing out the time available for my own original writing. This has got to change!

So I am setting myself the task of adjusting my priorities over the next three or four weeks. After this Friday (May 19), the Phoenix branch of the library is on a three week hiatus so I won’t be making the library run, books and movies will be going back as they come due but none will be coming home. I will have to spend the time on the online catalog to manage the renewals and requests but the other four hours plus will be available for other tasks. I intend to make one of those tasks Writing! And not just on Friday.

My fingers are fairly itching for the keyboard every minute I am awake. I am writing in my head constantly. I don’t know why it is that it is at those times when circumstances curtail the availability of writing time that I get the most interesting ideas. Whether I am washing dishes, at a family gathering, attempting to sleep, waking from a dream, doing laundry, in the shower, riding in a car, reading a book, watching a TV show or movie, watching pages download, the ideas and the words are flowing through my mind but I keep on putting them on hold. Whatever I am doing always seems more pressing. Often it is. As when I am woken from that dream by the sound of Grandma’s labored breathing over the baby monitor, or I am at the dinner table or performing a task others are depending on me to complete, or I’m washing my hair.

When I was dreaming of having my own laptop last spring and summer, I dreamed of being able to take it outside with me to write from a lawn chair next to the rose bushes with my cats on their leashes just far enough away they can’t quite reach me. But to my dismay, when I tried this the first time the weather permitted, I discovered that I can’t read my screen outside in daylight. It is also difficult when there is too much daylight in a room. This completely bamboozled me. I have seen laptops featured in photos, commercials and in TV shows being used in daylight outside and beside windows indoors. I don’t know whether it is something to do with a setting on my computer or just one more thing I can thank my RP for.

Another, related frustration, is that when I am working in the dark which is when the screen is easiest to read, I can’t read my keyboard. I had anticipated this when shopping for my laptop and had hoped to get a light colored case but when the time came it would have added several hundred dollars to the price tag to insist on a white or gray case. Just today I spent over an hour going thru my fun sticker collection looking for cute stickers in light reflective colors and small enough to stick to some of the more crucial keys in an attempt to solve this time wasting frustration. Now I have a tiny furry white cloud on the delete key, a left-leaping neon blue dolphin on the backspace key, a right-swimming dolphin on the tab key, a multicolored heart on the left control key, a rainbow arising out of clouds on the space bar, metallic-red ladybug between the right control key and the up arrow and a metallic aqua and silver Tao on the return key. After I got them all stuck on, I put a jacket over my head and screen to make it dark enough to test it and it seems to work to make those key visible by the light of the screen even when it isn’t mostly white. A secondary benefit had shown itself as I type this. It is helping me find those keys and more by touch without looking down at the keyboard. The one I’m finding most helpful is the fuzzy cloud on the delete key as I have never before been able to use it without looking and when the light is dim or non-existent I have to get about two inches from the keyboard to read the less familiar keys. Of course I’ve been typing since I was ten or eleven so I have no trouble with the alphabet and number keys once I have my fingers positioned on the F and J. But nearly every other key on this keyboard is in a different location from the last three keyboards I have used. I hope this is going to save me a lot of time and frustration. I had the idea for it several months ago but I never took the time to do it. Now I wish I had. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve lost a thought because I was looking for a key in the dark. I had been using my little book light to light up my keyboard but its batteries are dying.

All of this barely scratches the surface of those things competing for my time and attention. One of the most egregious, making all of the above simple irritants in comparison, are a culmination of events in my personal life that I don’t feel free to share in public because of those elements of the story that intersect with other’s stories. I don’t mind confessing to my own mistakes, errors in judgment or any other thing tending to embarrass or shame me but I don’t think I have the right to include those aspects of my story that might tend to embarrass or shame someone else. The story of the last thirty years of my life has all the material for a compelling roman a clef--a novelization of real life events with thinly disguised characters and true and fictional events and characters stirred together. Those of you who have been reading regularly since the debut of Joystory will have encountered a number of those elements of great stories, any one of which would make for a great story on their own--but imagine them all combined into one story! And then imagine that is barely scratching the surface of my life: coming out of fundamentalism and learning to think for myself; living with severe visual impairment; living with Panic/Anxiety Disorder; surviving several episodes of severe depression; living with infertility; living for years in extreme poverty and then finding ourselves on the edge of becoming another high-tech millionaire family after my husband got hired onto a pre IPO in the Silicon Valley only to find ourselves homeless on the streets of Santa Clara County, California after the tech bubble burst and subsequently losing all the belongings we left in storage when we left the state on a bus--among them twenty years worth of my manuscripts and notes and what remained of my personal library after selling several hundred books in an attempt to hang onto the roof over our head; taking in a special needs nephew for three years and three years after seeing him out on his own sitting vigil beside his hospital bed after his surgery for colon cancer, then two years later two rooms down, sitting beside my Dad’s hospital bed following his surgery for the same thing and sixteen months after that sitting beside my father’s bed in my parent’s bedroom moments after he stopped breathing and two months after attending his funeral, attending my Mom’s twin sister’s funeral and that same weekend learning that the building in which I attended church and Sunday school and eventually was married in had been donated to the fire department for practice and had been burned to the ground while my Mom and sister were out of town for the funeral. I swear, life itself has a sense of story at least as good as the best storyteller ever known. Or is that just the experienced storyteller in me framing the episodes of my life as story?

Most all of those things I listed have been covered to some extent here in Joystory. There are many other things I haven’t brought up. Among them my struggle with weight since it seems so cliché, other health issues because they are just a jumble of symptoms without attached diagnosis and it makes me sound like a whiner to inject them in every time they crop up. Some I have touched on occasionally: joint pain, dangerously high blood pressure, allergies to just about everything under the sun and sometimes it seems the sun itself for every exposure to the sun beyond twenty minutes is invariably followed by a fever later that day, evidence of OCD and ADD, a mouthful of bad teeth, migraine headaches….. Like I said, whining! I need one of those photos of a wailing baby to insert here.

You know what? I am going to drop a hint about the situation obsessing me lately since it is as much my story as anyone else’s and I am sick and tired of tip-toeing around all of the peripheral issues: I believe my husband and I are candidates for Dr. Phil’s Mooch Squad as I no longer believe, and haven’t for at least three years, that our continuing imposition on my husband’s family is justified by lack of sufficient income. Mismanagement of that income is the decisive factor now and it fills me with shame and a sense of helplessness. I want to be clear that I do not absolve myself of blame but I have control over only my own behaviors and am struggling to figure out what my response to certain events should be and how to coordinate all of my personal difficulties so as to figure out how to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. With that caveat I must confess that every time I watch my husband light up a cigarette I feel my whole being fuming along with the tobacco. A cartoon image reflecting my mood at that moment would show a grim-lipped, clench-jawed face with smoke flowing out the nose and ears. As the cigarette burns down I see the dollar bills I had saved toward my business plan that had to be redirected, the pages of the books I had to sell, my lost manuscripts, family photos lost in two different forced moves, the bus ticket back to Longview to attend at least the free walk around Lake Sacagawea that is part of our thirtieth high-school reunion this July, and hope itself. I fear I am succumbing to the sin of bitterness.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sunsetting Democracy


Following is a collection of articles that I’ve come across in the last month which were disturbing individually but taken collectively tempt me to despair for American democracy especially considering the undermining of the vote in the last three elections. Often as I read, my mind juxtaposes the oddest things from previous reading, television and movie viewing and personal experience across the spectrum from novels to news and I’m never sure whether I’m having a profound insight or need to be committed to a psyche ward and hooked up to a Thorazine drip.

Un-elected Panel Could Guide Federal Budget Ax--Congress could be voting on the creation of a panel whose members are appointed by the president who are charged with analyzing the effectiveness of federal agencies and programs and recommending whether they should continue to exist or continue to be funded. Such recommendations would then be submitted to the legislators in a single package for an up or down vote without debate. Thus dozens of agencies and programs created by Congress--in many cases after years of public pressure--could be de-funded, truncated, or sunsetted without any opportunity for debate among legislators or those they represent. How would this not be the very sunsetting of representative government? By voting for such a panel Congress would be voting for their own irrelevance.

How Bush Sidesteps Intent of Congress--with presidential signing statements submitted at the time of signing bills into law, the president presents his interpretation of the law he is signing, including in many cases his contention that he as executive is bound by the law only to the extent that it does not infringe on his constitutional prerogatives as executive and commander-in-chief according to his interpretation of said prerogatives. So…according to this theory the Executive is rewriting the laws and interpreting them as well as executing them. Add to this the untold number of executive orders. Many of them classified! How is this not the subsuming of all three branches under the executive branch and thus the demise of our three branch system of government and our constitution? If the Judiciary and Legislative branches continue to sit still for this they might as well submit to wearing ceremonial dog collars.

Homeland Security contracts for vast new detention camps--This is especially chilling in light of the reports that Federal aid for Louisiana following Katrina was being withheld because Governor Blanco would not declare martial law and hand the state National Guard command over to the President. But this article pulls together several more obscure actions at the executive level going back to the seventies, tracking the steady accretion of power into the executive and their hankering after martial law and the suspension of the Constitution. Many of those advocating over the last thirty years for such a response to every disruption of order from civil unrest to natural disasters work in some capacity for this administration. One of their contentions is that 9/11 has made America itself--from sea to shining sea--a war zone and thus we should implement the same command structure here as any other theater of war.

Is it time to hold a coast to coast candlelight vigil in memorial of democracy?

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