All posts by Elizabeth Bent

And… the cat came back

Hello, readers!

Yesterday was my father’s memorial service. I’ve been struggling this past month with his death as well as my own illness, which after a lull in February has come back full force. On top of all this, I’m trying to teach myself more about the Linux operating system and basic commands, as well as learn about structural equation modelling.  I need to know this kind of stuff to stay competive in my line of work.

I am aware that I’m not really making enough time for my creative writing, and this bothers me. I realize the problem with putting off writing projects forever is that life spans are finite- my writing projects may never finish at this rate. I have a lot of newish ideas bubbling in my brain for how to improve Anagama (the major criticism was poor pacing and too many cliches) and for new things to write as well, but when I sit down to write I’m distracted by the ideas coming forward for my paid work, or I don’t do the best job I can do because I’m rushing to finish a chapter or a scene.  I’ve started to realize the futility of making myself stick to a writing schedule when I have so many other things in my life which, as they pay my bills,  must take priority. Unfortunately, I have to take things slowly and not push myself too much, so when I do write, I write as well as I can. Lesson learned.

I’ve had commentary on the first draft of Anagama for three months now. I had thought I could polish up and have a good manuscript ready by Easter, and of course that seems ridiculous in hindsight! I simply haven’t had both creative energy and heart to really delve into it. That orange cat of life I wrote of last year has come back and is sitting on my chest this time, breathing in my face, preventing me from doing too much.

Today’s a lovely day, sunny and while there’s snow on the ground, it isn’t too cold. After some time outside I plan to spend time on Igor, my bioinformatics computer, analyzing some important data for a cancer-fighting gut bacterium project I started in 2014. This will probably occupy my spare time for a week. Next weekend I’ll be alone still (my husband is in Ohio, for work), so I hope by then I’ve gotten my head back on straight and can spend a solid day becoming familiar with my manuscript again and making cuts/edits to it. It’s been pointed out to me that editing a finished manuscript is easier than writing a new one- this is true to an extent. We will see how this process goes with a manuscript written in various stages, like Anagama.

If I manage a vacation this year, I will certainly spend time relaxing and, hopefully, create something that’s worth reading, even if only a short piece.

A bit of a ghost story

I’ve had an interesting week. Difficult at times, especially Thursday, but interesting, and I’ll explain why.
My Dad died on Saturday morning (March 5). Monday morning, just after 6 am, I was at Mom’s house with my husband Seth asleep on the couch (behind me) and Mom asleep in her bedroom nearby. I had insomnia. I was chatting with a friend of mine (and actually, I did mention that I’d never seen a ghost and wanted to see one) via IM. I thought I heard Seth talking on the phone to someone: I heard a middle-aged man’s voice (not my father’s voice) say, “Over here, I’m here by the table” and I wondered why Seth would say such a thing. I looked around and there was no one. The voice said something else and I don’t remember, I just was typing and said aloud, “if you’re going to talk on the phone, go downstairs so you don’t wake Mom up, she’s sleeping.” I kept typing and next thing I know, the TV reciever switched on. When it had been turned off, it was tuned to Comedy Central. When it turned on again, it was playing CBC News. It was loud- I thought it was some sort of clock radio alarm and sprang up to try to figure out how to turn it off before it woke up Mom. I couldn’t figure it out so I called to Seth, whom I thought had been just awake and on the phone, to help- and when I went to see where he was, he was fast asleep. Deeply asleep- he hadn’t just been awake. He sleepily got up and turned off the TV reciever. I was kind of confused- hadn’t he just been talking on the phone?
I sat down at my computer and looked at the IM chat box. In the window on my end, not sent yet, I seemed to have typed “I’m OK take care”, though I didn’t remember doing that. I kind of shook my head and cleared the window, then typed a different message to my friend. I was sleepy and I thought maybe I had typed “I’m OK take care” myself though no one had asked me how I felt and I wasn’t ready to sign off.
I heard my Mom say, “Fred, is that you?” and apparently she woke up, then thought she felt my Dad’s hand holding hers.
Thursday, at 11 am, it was the viewing for my Dad. We went, and my Mom thought that when she first touched him, he was warm. She wondered how they had been able to do that. Then he felt cold again.
At 1 pm I had coffee with a friend. I told her my story, about Monday. She looked kind of startled. When I asked why, she told me a story: a psychic had once told her that her dead father and grandmother sort of hung out by her left shoulder, and if there was something really important and true she needed to pay attention to, they would cause kind of a cold prickling sensation on her left side. It didn’t happen very often. She said that as I told my story, she felt the cold prickling sensation.
We both kind of looked around at that! It was most eerie.
So I might have gone from being an atheist to being an agnostic Thursday afternoon. My mother has seen my dead brother periodically ever since he died, and I’ve always wished I could have these experiences. This all might just be our imaginations, except- how did the TV turn on and change channels? No cats were around the remote, it had definitely been off, and then it definitely was on. It wasn’t connected to a clock or timer that was set to turn on. It woke everyone up in the house, it wasn’t me imagining that.
I feel like I need a blanket fort and flashlight!

Scrivener, and vitamin B12

Dear readers, allow me to share a bit of news with you.

First of all, I’ve managed to snag a coupon and download Scrivener at a discount. I’m going to try it and see if  it helps me keep track of details and continuity better than I seem to have been doing just by typing into Word. It wasn’t expensive, so I don’t mind spending a bit of money on an experiment.

Secondly, I’ve been diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency. I had a real problem with fatigue, and trying to write while fatigued- I would push myself to produce and write something to stay on schedule. Often I’d get tired and end the scene quickly, or fail to describe it well, or choose plot elements or characters that were kindly described as “bordering on stock”, just because I was exhausted and while I was enjoying writing, I also wanted to finish the chapter and move on. I’ve been intentionally spending time since I read over the commentary on my first draft of Anagama marshaling my energy, thinking over how I could improve the book, and trying to schedule a long block of time I could devote to working on the book without interruption. I think this May I will ask for two weeks off work, but that depends on finances and what is going on at work at the time.

I’m so pleased to report that, since taking sublingual B12 supplements, my energy levels have increased spectacularly. I don’t find myself swaying with fatigue while I fold laundry, or on the couch holding a book, unable to read the page in front of me because I’m that tired. And while I’m still holding off starting back on the edits to Anagama, I am optimistic that soon I’ll have enough energy at night that I’ll not only be able to write more often, but that the writing will be more fresh, lyrical, and original than what I managed last year.

I suppose time will tell, but I remain hopeful.

Maybe Ray Bradbury was right

I did something foolish the other day- Neil Gaiman’s ebook Trigger Warning was on sale for a fraction of its ordinary price, and I purchased it- but using my Amazon.com account. This is a problem because my Kindle is registered to the Amazon.ca site. It created all sorts of problems, not the least of which is the loss of the ebook (I had to return it, after all sorts of mucking  about with “Kindle Specialists”). I managed to fix the problems on my own,  and to test my newly-fixed Kindle, I decided to download the free sample of Neil Gamian’s Trigger Warning .

The sample contained the Introduction to the book- perhaps the entirety of it, perhaps simply a fraction. In this Introduction, Neil talked about the origins of each story in the book, and one of these stories he had written for Ray Bradbury. He talked about Ray and Ray’s advice to writers: “Write every day!”

I’ve heard this advice from many sources. Get your butt in the chair and write. Write each day. Read voraciously. Immerse yourself in your craft. I did this in high school- I read everything, I wrote every day- in summers sometimes I wrote six hours a day, and by summer’s end I not only had written novels, I had written them easily, almost effortlessly. I don’t have those novels any more- I threw them away, thinking they were terrible, in a fit of self-critcism- but the key thing, the main thing, is that I wrote. A lot. Every day.

When I was in college, studying microbiology, I stopped being able to read and write fiction every day, and I only had time for fiction on weekends at first- then maybe once or twice a month, then maybe less often than that. Writing became something I did for technical reports- a different kind of writing, using different parts of my brain (or so it seems to me). I went to graduate school and it was the same thing, though toward the end of it I managed to write fiction again- arguably not very amazing fiction, but it was something.

I graduated and worked, and I spent many years where I would hardly write any fiction at all- maybe a few poems here or there, or a short humorous sketch to make a friend laugh. I would occasionally dust off manuscripts and try to write, but I never had enough energy for them when I had time- and I rarely had extra time.

In the past couple of years I’ve tried making fiction writing a more routine thing, putting aside one, maybe two days a week where I knew I had blocks of time free to work on fiction. This has worked to an extent, but I’m out of touch with the side of my brain that is really good at writing fiction- all day every workday I spend time writing technical reports or computer programs, or conducting numerical analyses with complicated data. It’s a different kind of thinking, and when I get home I find I no longer can find the energy and drive I had as a high school student for fiction reading and fiction writing.

I have managed to put together a manuscript for my second novel, and I still plan to try to fix the structural problems and edit and polish as much as I can (which, alas, may take another few years, at my pace). I keep telling myself that I’m not in a race, but I can’t help missing the side of me that felt compelled to write fiction and that found writing fiction to be both freeing and effortless. The time I spend switching mental gears from how I think in my daily life to how I must think as a fiction writer exhausts me, and tonight I am having a bit of a crisis of faith. What if the part of me that was able to write well has died, or atrophied to the point where it can’t be resucitated? What if I will never be a writer- that is, a good writer, a productive writer whose work is read and enjoyed by many?

I will still work on my novel- or rather, novels, since I’ve got ideas for many floating about in my head. It’s a harmless pastime and it actually does give me enjoyment when I manage to put words to paper and they aren’t entirely terrible, or I come up with an idea that I think is new and interesting. I just wonder how much I’ve cost myself- how much time, how many works of fiction that could have been written and will now never exist- because I wasn’t able to follow Ray Bradbury’s advice to write every day.