Thoughts from a sleepless night

People say you can’t tell when someone is going through hell. I say that those people aren’t really looking. The signs are perfectly obvious.

Someone who has been beaten down by life is often the person who greets you with the warmest smile. Someone who has been broken into pieces by circumstance asks how you are doing and then truly pays attention to your answer. It is the person who always offers a word of encouragement at just the right moment when your confidence is failing. It is the person who steps forward to offer the most heartfelt congratulations in your time of accomplishment even when their world is falling apart. It is the person who appears to be the calm port in every vicious storm. That person will do their absolute best to support you in your time of need because they know exactly how it feels to be without a bolster of their own to lean on. That person cannot stand the thought of anyone else experiencing the mental, emotional, or physical suffering they experience every day of their lives.

When you see this person, look at them. Not just a casual glance, not just for a second. But, take the time to look at them. Their pain, though carefully concealed under the cosmetic veneer of a smile, is there. The look of anguish haunts their eyes. They will probably never tell you about their troubles, of course. You may never find out exactly what they are going through. That is, until the weight becomes far too much for one human spirit to bear and that spirit breaks like glass against concrete.  They shatter into a million fragments, spilling their pent-up sadness for all to see. And it can happen to even the strongest.

When you recognize this person, remember to offer them a smile or a kind word. No grand gestures or lavish displays are needed for those things often make this type of person uncomfortable. It is the little things that give them the strength to continue. It is the little things they treasure so much. And you never know, you might just be the only bright spot of their day.

Note: This post is dedicated to a friend of mine who has both faced a great deal of hardship in her own life and has offered me kindness during my own difficult times. I thank you many times over.


Fear and Courage

“Fear is a reaction . Courage is a decision.” This quotation is often attributed to Winston Churchill. I’ve tried to verify its authenticity to no avail. Whether true or not, these are two of the most powerful statements I have ever heard. They make the reader address the fact that while fear is autonomic and beyond our control, we have the ability to make a conscious choice to rise above it and be courageous.

Fear is a sneaky creature. It strikes without warning. It produces terrible effects on our minds. We are fearful about the situation at hand and we get scared of what might happen. Our brains imagine horrible scenarios that end in the worst possible outcomes. These thoughts can run through our heads all day and all night, creating an enormous amount of stress. When that stress level gets too high,  we begin to make mistakes as we struggle through our days. If there is no break in the stress, the mistakes mount up in our memory, a mental pile of rocks weighing us down. And we get more fearful and the awful scenarios multiply and the stress increases and, unfortunately, so do the mistakes. The term “vicious circle” can be an understatement.

Courage, unlike fear, doesn’t strike us with heavy emotional blows. It doesn’t just happen. We have to make a decision to step forward. We have to decide not to focus on terrible what-if ideas that may or may not come to pass. Breaking free of the hold that those ideas can have over us can be the first step to escaping the vicious circle. It may seem useless to say to ourselves, “Thoughts are only thoughts. They don’t necessarily reflect reality and, until they do, they don’t mean much.” Fear is the devil on our shoulder, trying to maintain control over our soul, and those words are poison to him. They give us a chance to take back that control and turn things around.

This week I have had a large dose of fear brought on by the stress common to life in the twenty-first century. It has been my reaction to the problems of having too much to do and too little time to do it.

I’m a big believer in taking some sort of action to break that cycle of fear. That’s where the decision of courage comes in. And that’s what I’ve done. I didn’t spend hours analyzing what step would be best. Should I go right or should I go left? Top to bottom? Or bottom to top? I just picked a point in my list of items to handle and jumped right in. It wasn’t even a big task that I chose, just a random to-do. The result was exhilarating. Feelings of fear, of being trapped, of being helpless subsided and my mental equilibrium returned. I actually felt those feelings being replaced with courage. It was courage to stand up to that overwhelming stress and say, “No more.” And it all happened when I made one small decision.

It’s the “write” time…

“Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice.” — Margaret Atwood

Hi! Welcome to my blog.  As its title suggests, this is indeed my time (and my space) for writing. I have considered writing a blog for many years, but haven’t done anything about it until now.

I love writing. I wanted to have a career doing some sort of writing for many years. I finally got the chance this past year after being laid off from my long-time position in office administration. In my off-hours, I had been pursuing continuing education in technical writing and a job offer appeared in my email within weeks of the day I completed my certificate. Now, I write technical manuals in my day job.

I also write historical fiction when I have free time. History (early twentieth-century Europe, in particular) has been a passion since I found the wonderful adaptations presented on Masterpiece Theatre. My current projects revolve around stories in Austria and England during World War II.

My goal in creating this blog is to practice my writing to improve it, echoing the theme set out in the quotation at the beginning of this entry. I will be blogging about my journey into the writing life, exploring subjects like where my inspiration for subjects originates and how my projects develop.

I also want to improve my skills in reading. I want to read more critically than I do right now. I want to expand my appreciation of literature.  You will see book reviews as I work on this area.

So here goes…setting the clock for my time for writing.

My Own Independence

Here in the United States, we have just celebrated Independence Day.  It’s a fun day typically filled with backyard barbecues with friends and family, where everyone eats far too much and then settles down to watch fireworks that dot the summer sky. It’s a time when the nation pauses to remember how we became a nation and what it means to live here.

I celebrated the day as I have done so many years before.  I went to a barbecue at the neighbors’ house. I indulged in the wonderful chicken that came off the grill in crispy perfection. I drank a little more wine than I usually do in the course of one evening (as I was not driving anywhere). It was a wonderful 4th of July.

As I woke up this morning, though, I had a different feeling than I had on any other 5th of July.  No, it wasn’t just the sangria haunting me. It was the feeling of intellectual freedom that delving into creative writing has given me. I have wanted to write for so many years but have always felt constrained by many factors.

At times, I have felt that I would never be “good enough” to be considered a writer. As a result, I figured I shouldn’t even waste my time bothering to try. But being a writer is accomplished simply by the act of writing.  The evaluation of “good enough” is something completely different. I could be a writer just by writing. Other times, I have felt that I don’t have anything worthwhile to say or that everyone else has already said it. So again, I wondered why I should bother. But then I gave myself a good talking-to. I’m a reasonably intelligent person with thoughts and opinions. Why would I not have something to say?

But finally, earlier this year, I put both of my fears aside and took the plunge. I have started to put my thoughts and opinions into writing. I’ve done more writing in the past two months than I think I have done in the past two years. And the feeling of personal achievement is wonderful.  From years of insecurity and fear to a feeling of having my own space to express myself, I declare my own independence.

Day 4…

It’s day 4 of this “100 days of writing” challenge. I have zero ideas on what to write about because I am absolutely exhausted from a full of day of work and other menial tasks that occupy so much of day-to-day living. But, I said I would write something every day for 100 days… straight.  What was I thinking?

So here I am typing a random blog post.  I’m really acting on a piece of writing advice that I’ve heard before. Just start writing and see what happens. Let the words go where they want to go. Maybe it will turn into something unexpected and wonderful. Maybe not. Either way is OK. Some days are like that.

Well, I can say that I wrote something. I fulfilled my obligation to the challenge. Now, where’s that pillow?

Somewhere Between Then and Now

So, now that I sort of have this “writing” thing off the ground and more people get to know about it, one question that they like to ask me is, “Where do you go to write?”

At first, it seems like such a simple, straight-forward inquiry. And I know that they are expecting a simple, straight-forward answer. They figure it is something like:

“I go to the library.” (There’s a great one less than a 10-minute drive away.) Or maybe, “I go to a coffee shop.” (See the post on writing about writings and you’ll understand why this could happen.) Or,”I have a writing area at home.”

My answer is always the last one. I do have a room that I loosely refer to as an office, although it looks more like the aftermath of a paper mill run amok. The reality is that I am most productive in my own surroundings however messy they may be. It is the simple response that satisfies their moment of curiosity.

However, the best answer to me is, “I go somewhere between then and now.”

You see, I write historical fiction and I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with early twentieth-century history. I can drill down a little further and say that I’m obsessed with British history between the start of World War I in 1914 and the end of World War II in 1945. I have been ever since I was in grade school. While other kids were tuning into lighter fare, I watched Masterpiece Theatre on PBS. There I found a series called To Serve Them All My Days. It opens in England in 1917 as the main character is returning from fighting in World War I and traces his life through the beginning of World War II. I devoured every minute of it and a love affair was born. I found the book that was the basis for the series, a lengthy tome by  R.F. Delderfield, and devoured that also.

My interest in this area of history has not waned in the years since then. I love it as much as I ever did. And after a few failed attempts at writing contemporary fiction, I told myself to try writing about the very subject that has captivated me for most of my life. My writing life has taken off since that day. I am motivated and inspired to stick with it. I am writing more now and more consistently than I ever have.

And when I do, my mind and my spirit are not sitting in a messy office somewhere in American suburbia. Instead, I am walking the streets of London, dodging rubble left by last night’s air raid and wondering if there will be another one tonight. I am counting the coupons in my ration book to see if I have enough to last the month. I am repeating the phrase, “Make do and mend.” I may even utter a “bloody hell” every so often. Physically, I am in the “now,” but mentally I am in the “then.”

So, that is where I go to write.

Doing as the posters say…keeping calm and carrying on.




The “Unofficial” Holiday that Should be Official

This past Wednesday was National Chocolate Ice Cream Day in the United States. (Pausing for a celebratory horn playing in my imagination.) It’s an homage to a treat that delights people of all ages everywhere. And why wouldn’t it? First, it’s cold and a perfect way to take the edge off a sultry summer day. Second, its creamy and, as I’m dealing with a lingering sore throat due to a sinus infection, I am particularly grateful for the stuff right now. Finally, it’s chocolate and that just speaks volumes in a single word. Based on those criteria, I would vote for a day of recognition.

Even though I might have been all for chocolate ice cream’s day in the spotlight, I did get a little chuckle thinking about someone actually taking the time to select a day on the calendar to honor one single flavor of ice cream. In this fast-paced, tense world we live in today, I wondered what would it matter. I wondered how many would care. But apparently it does matter and apparently people do care as evidenced by the number of tweets that bounced around Twitter. (Yes, if you dig around there, you will find mine.)

Seeing people all over the country chiming about ice cream made me pause for thought and then smile. I’m not the only one out there who dips a spoon into the bowl and pulls out a glob far too big to take in one bite. I’m not the only one who savors that glob slowly, enjoying every morsel as it morphs from from a frozen solid to a cold liquid, sweet and viscous. I’m not the only one who feels transported from the fast-paced tense world of modern adulthood to a simpler time when I was a child and a bowl of chocolate ice cream could brighten any day.

Maybe the world could benefit from more attention on appreciating the simple things in life. Maybe if we members of the human race devoted more of our bandwidth to spreading happy thoughts rather than engaging in verbal sparring matches often riddled with insults, prejudices, and other venomous rhetoric, the tension that permeates our society would decrease. A bowl of ice cream seems like a fine place to start.

And maybe a day in June is the perfect time for this celebration. The school year is over (or soon will be). Families all over are planning summer vacations, picnics, and backyard barbecues. It is the beginning of a time filled with opportunities for taking a step out of the rat race and enjoying simple pleasures.

I, for one, will be raising my spoon as often as I can. Cheers!


The Long Weekend

It is a holiday weekend and, for me, it means four days without having to go to my day job. Not that I can slough off all responsibilities (referring back to that “livable house”   thing I mentioned in the previous post). But I have managed to find some precious extra hours that don’t seem to exist in typical weeks.

So each of the past three mornings have started off the same way as thousands that came before them: a hot, steamy shower and lots of coffee with plenty of french vanilla creamer in my favorite mug. (It’s enormous, keeps coffee hot for a long time, and has strawberries painted on it.) Following that, a little bit of time tending to just enough household tasks so that I don’t feel like a complete lay-about. But afterward, I have indulged in writing: journaling, blogging, and even getting back to the work-in-progress novel that I have sadly neglected for the past few weeks.

This morning, the last one before returning to reality, is no different, I am sitting in front of the keyboard with the coffee and creamer in the afore-mentioned mug to the right side. I am typing away and relishing every moment of my final day of freedom. I’ll finish up this post and the coffee at the same time. I’ll head off down the hallway and take care of the laundry that is waiting to be done. Maybe I’ll even go so far as to do the dusting…or maybe not. Then I will spend a few hours back at the keyboard where I will return to a world of words, imagined conversations between fictional characters who are struggling with the battles that I choose for them, and a place far away in space and time from where I sit.

I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Writing about…well..writings

As part of this blog, my intention is to post book reviews on a reasonably regular basis. The exact frequency has not been defined and it could vary widely depending on a number of factors such as:

  • Availability of reading selections (Most will be 20th century historical fiction because that’s just how I roll.)
  • Amount of hours left in the week after I tend to mundane things. (Going to my real-life paying job and keeping my house in a somewhat livable condition come to mind as good examples.)
  • Amount of coffee I can safely drink to keep pace with the tasks listed in the second bullet point. (Because I tend to perform better with a mug at hand.)
  • Amount of chocolate I can consume when the amount of coffee in the third bullet point cannot keep up with the tasks in the second bullet point. (I don’t actually know what may happen if I max out on the chocolate.)
  • And, finally, the number of games of computer mahjongg I play before I actually win one. (I get a little competitive with those taunting little tiles.)

So there’s a few things that may make holding to this plan somewhat difficult. That’s why I am not promising a definite schedule, just a statement of my intention.

There are a few things I can promise about these book reviews, though.

  • I can promise that the first ones will be rough around the edges. I have to go all the way back to my undergraduate days to remember the last time I wrote a book review. That is more years than I care to tally.
  • I can promise that I will keep working at it until I get better at writing reviews and the awkwardness falls away.
  • I can promise that I will do my best to encourage the good points and provide polite suggestions if I see things I would change. (Being a technical writer by profession, my work gets critiqued all the time. I understand the value of encouragement and positive suggestion to keep motivation up.)
  • I can promise to follow the FTC guidelines for blogging disclosure to the best of my ability.

So there you have it. My intention and my plan. Now I just need to pick a book to start with. Not as easy as it may sound…