When It Got Better – Grieving the Loss of a Spouse

If you’re grieving the loss of a spouse, I’m so sorry. There is no grief, no emptiness, no pain I have ever felt like it. All through the grieving process, I was looking for some relief, something to make it better. What I learned was, for me, the only way out of it was through it. While everyone does this differently, I’m going to relate the process where I turned the corner and finally started living again, with the hope that it may offer you some insight, or hope, or a sense of not being alone. I’m not saying this is the way you should do it – it’s just what I did.

It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that Lynn was gone and was never coming back. She lost her fight with cancer on March 6, 2020. For months after that, I was overcome with grief and depression that left me incapacitated and barely able to function. I was surrounded by constant reminders that she was gone.

I don’t believe in an afterlife –heaven or hell or anything in-between, but I don’t know that for a fact. No one does. That’s why religion can get away with proposing these things exist – no one can say for sure, and those that believe it do so on faith. What I do know is that if there is an afterlife, and Lynn is in that place, I don’t want her hanging around because she thinks she needs to look after me, or worse, wants to be with me but can’t. That would be profoundly sad. If she is in some unlikely afterlife, I sincerely want her to move on with her new existence, knowing that I loved her dearly. And I need to do the same. So, that was a strange conversation I had with a dark, empty room one weird, inebriated night, but it gave me peace when I was done.

Then, about six months after Lynn died, I got an offer from my Sister-in-Law and her husband to help me clear out Lynn’s belongings. This is something I had not been able to face alone. It was three months before I could even pick up her shoes left beside the bed, much less clean out drawers or closets. I gratefully accepted the offer, and as it turned out, they did all the real work, and I just pointed at things that needed to go, and they took care of it. Still, I was reduced to tears several times a day during the process, and it was emotionally exhausting. I felt like I was throwing away what I had left of Lynn, but then I would remind myself, rightly, that these are just things, and Lynn is already gone. I can’t throw away what is already gone.

When it was over, the closet, bedroom, and bathroom had been cleaned out, and most of Lynn’s belongings were gone. It was a huge load lifted from my shoulders, and it felt good not to have this unpleasant task hanging over my head, waiting for me to address it. I couldn’t do it alone, and I’m very grateful to Joe and Karla for the help.

For me, cleaning out Lynn’s belongings was a seminal event. It was when I began to accept what was. I even started looking forward to what might be, and this was when I began to regain my love of life again. I could relish the memories rather than mourn the loss, and for the first time in a very long time, I could see the possibilities for my future.

Over the next month or so, the loneliness began to take hold. I had emotionally released myself from my previous marriage, but I missed having someone special to share life’s moments. That’s when life is the richest – when it is shared. So I began actively seeking someone, but it turned out that I was not quite ready, and I backed off. I let myself grow into being single for a while. That was when I really found myself and became determined to enjoy my life again.

When I was ready, I began dating. In the age of Covid, that meant lots of phone and video calls. It was pretty surreal at times, not only the virtual aspect of meeting new people, but dating at my age was just odd. Eventually, I met Kathy, fell in love, and I am going to marry her. We’re really good together.

So that’s where I am, now, over ten months later. It may take you more or less time. It just takes as long as it takes. Your seminal moment may be from something completely different. Whatever it is, whenever it is, whatever it takes, just get through it and hang on until you do. That’s the tough part. Just get there.

KFG.

Kindness vs. 2020

Is there anyone who would disagree that 2020 has been one of the worst years of their life, if not the worst year? I don’t think so. Here’s the thing – while we’re all going through 2020 and the constant hell it pitches at us, it’s not the same for us all.

It’s like we’re all in the same storm, but some of us have yachts, some have canoes, and some are just trying to tread water. Yes, and you know which one you are. I certainly know which one I am, and I would have gone down if it was not for others’ love and kindness.

Sometimes, this empathy came from close friends and family. My sister-in-law and her family were fantastic support during Lynn’s illness and treatment. A friend threw me a line when I looked down a long dark tunnel that was my lonely future without Lynn, and I saw no light at the end, whatsoever. I’m so glad I have people like this in my life. But I was helped by other people. People that may not even know they helped me.

I have Facebook friends that continued to bolster me through bad days with a few words of encouragement. I belong to a closed Facebook group for those who have lost loved ones to cancer, and we help each other through the horrible days and nights as we transition into being widows and widowers, sharing experiences and sympathizing in ways no one else could.

I bet when these kind folks wrote the replies, they thought nothing of it, but it helped me. When you are drowning, you will grasp at anything that floats.

That’s what I want to emphasize here: In such shitty times, being kind where and when you can will make a difference in someone’s life. You may not know what or how much, but it helps. I know your life is probably no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise (a nod to Freddie), which makes your effort to be kind all the more thoughtful.

Even as I was barely keeping my head above water, I would see someone else floundering as I was, and I’d reach out to them, and somehow, we were able to help buoy each other, comfort each other, if for only a little bit.

Now, I have personally come through the worst 2020 could hurl at me, and I’m still standing, but that is thanks to others’ kindness and support. I couldn’t have done it alone. But this pandemic will extend into the next year until most of us get vaccinated. The political divisiveness and hatred that troubles America now will continue beyond the current administration, possibly for a long time. The unemployment and businesses that didn’t make it and will take a long time to recover. And people we love will continue to die. None of that stops because of the year incrementing. We must keep being kind to each other.

People, 2020 was no good for any of us. It was worse for some, and still much worse for others, and for that, I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to be entirely overwhelmed by daily responsibilities. I know what it’s like to wake up and not be able to think of a single reason to get out of bed. I know what it’s like to look into the future and see nothing but pain and loneliness. If this is you, I say this specifically for you:

Keep Fucking Going.

You won’t see why you should, and that’s okay. Just keep fucking going.

You won’t think it matters, and that’s okay. Just keep fucking going.

You might think the pain is too much or the love in the world is too little, and it’s not worth it, and that’s okay. Just keep fucking going.

Just keep fucking going, because one day, when it’s time, you’ll turn a corner, and you will see things differently. You don’t have to believe me; just keep fucking going. Just hang on. Please.

Keep fucking going, and be kind to yourself.

Novel Excerpt: Find My Baby (Meeting the Dewdey Doctors)

This is an excerpt from a novel I have been working on for some time, Find My Baby.  it is a story about Zachary and Lucy Foxborne, an American couple attempting to adopt a little boy in Ukraine, but being menaced by ingenious and cruel Russian hackers who want something from Zachary.

This scene is from Chapter 2, early in the first act, while the Zachary and Lucy are still attempting pregnancy.

If you enjoy it, please share.

 

Excerpt from Find My Baby
by Mitch Lavender

 

Dark Find my baby cover-4They enjoyed the first eight years of marriage and eventually both took different jobs, Zachary working for Sentia Solutions and Lucy working in the safety consulting field. They travelled and enjoyed being together.

Each time Lucy would start talking about having a baby, Zachary would come home with a new kitten or puppy. This seemed to sate her maternal instincts for a while. Now with four pets, getting another started to look a bit like a zoo. So, after five years of marriage, Zachary and Lucy were seriously discussing the prospect of bringing a child into the world. After all, the trying was fun! Lucy stopped taking the pill and they  bought pregnancy tests at the supermarket.

She did get pregnant, but they lost the baby in a miscarriage after five months. They were devastated, but through the loss, they grew even closer, soldered by their sorrow, and slowly they healed. It wasn’t until three years later that they started trying again.

The first two negative results were dismissed with a, ‘Back to the drawing board’ and a roll in bed. Then, Lucy started feeling like there was something wrong. After the sixth pale blue minus sign, Lucy decided they should have this checked out.

At first, Zachary thought he was going to get away without having to do this, but he was wrong.  A semen sample was needed, and Lucy wasn’t there to help collect it. Still, he managed, leaving the sealed cup with the receptionist and hurrying back out the door, face blushing.

Tests came back and his sperm count was fine. Nothing was wrong with Lucy either, but at thirty-five, she knew the sand in her biological hourglass was running out. This meant stepping up to the next level. Enter: Dr. Dewdy. Or to be accurate, the Dewdy Doctors, as they were a husband-wife team.

The Dewdy Doctors were well respected and ran a fertility clinic, advising would-be parents and assisting couples with pregnancies. Dr. Benjamin Dewdy was a peculiar looking man, like a shaved ferret that had too many facelifts. That’s what he reminded Zachary of – a perpetually surprised, shaved ferret.

Dr. Heloise Dewdy was a kind enough woman with an empathic but firm demeanor. Women just naturally warmed to her maternal aptitude and men found her interesting and charismatic. She was in her early forties and had an elegant, sensual air about her. Zachary thought she was alright for an older woman, but all the same, he kept thinking that she sleeps with the surprised, shaved ferret-man. Those sort of things perplexed Zachary. He would see a beautiful girl, model material, really – model material. She would be with some dirty, redneck biker that lives in a trailer and smacks her around when he gets drunk, which was often. How does that happen? How was it that a woman of Lucy’s beauty was with him?

The surprised, shaved ferret was a successful doctor and judging from the different Italian sports cars he drove, he had money as well. The Dewdy Clinic was a sprawling complex of building laid out on a beautiful landscape, located in Valley Ranch, an upscale part of a Dallas suburb, known because many of the Dallas Cowboys lived there. Heloise Dewdy was successful too, also being a Ph.D., so she wasn’t attracted to his success. And wow… she took his name: Mrs. Heloise (Surprised, Shaved Ferret) Dewdy.

Zachary and Lucy Foxborne’s first visit was a seminar, and Zachary and Lucy sat in a nice presentation room with about eight other couples. All the couples were in their late thirties, early forties, Zachary guessed.

A screen lowered and the Dewdys came out and introduced themselves. They took turns talking through a well-rehearsed, methodical speech that they have given many times before, no doubt. Dr. Heloise Dewdy began:

“Conceiving a baby seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world– but for many couples this is not the case. Having difficulty getting pregnant is more common than you might think, especially among women over the age of 35. We, at Dewdy Fertility Clinic, offer advanced fertility treatment that is one of the most affordable in the Dallas Fort Worth Metropolitan Area and can do so because of our outstanding pregnancy success rates.”

Dr. Surprised, Shaved Ferret took over. “Patients seek treatment at Dewdy Fertility because of our outstanding record of success and experience in treating some of the most resistant cases of infertility including those that have failed at other IVF centers. Our patients continue to be our best advertising as to our commitment to helping them achieve a pregnancy. This information we are about to present is designed to help those who are just beginning the process of starting a family or those who have discovered that having a second child does not come along as planned.”

With a professional smile, Dr. Heloise Dewdy added, “We’ve prepared a short video to familiarize you with the options that are available and how The Dewdy Fertility Clinic can help you fulfill your family needs.”

The room lights went down and a video started up on the projector. A pleasant picture of a lush meadow, mountains in the background. Words superimposed over this read, “Infertility. Why Me?”

“Oh brother,” Zachary sighed, but Lucy ignored him. She did say it would be a short video.

“At The Dewdy Fertility Clinic of Texas, Dr. Benjamin Dewdy, Dr. Heloise Dewdy and their staff feel privileged to help patients achieve their dreams.”

The presentation continued, a professional announcer’s voice read the PowerPoint slide. Pictures of a handsome couple, holding hands and looking pensively into each other’s eyes, obviously worried about the prospect of infertility.

“Often times you can have a complete fertility evaluation and all the test come back normal. This is very frustrating, but does not mean that there is not a problem. It simply means that at this time, medical means are not able to find a specific issue that is keeping you from getting pregnant. By increasing the number of eggs available at the time of ovulation, we are able to increase the success rate of pregnancy occurring.”

Zachary heard a woman’s voice from behind me whisper to her husband, “That’s just like us!”

“Today’s couples experiencing infertility should both be evaluated. We should not underestimate problems that can occur in the male. The initial test for a male is a semen analysis which is performed in our lab. A semen analysis allows determination of the volume as well as the number of sperm present, their ability to swim and morphology or shape of the sperm.”

Magnified pictures of squiggling sperm filled the screen.

“All of these factors are important in preventing a missed opportunity for a cause of infertility and will allow the couple to develop the most timely and cost efficient pathway to start or expand a family.”

The image shifted to an attractive woman’s face, worried and contemplative. Across her forehead appeared the words ‘Polycystic ovary syndrome’. The announcer continued, “Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may well be the most common endocrine disorder affecting women of reproductive age. For some women, the disorder is easy to identify, with the classic signs of irregular menses, increased facial hair growth and infertility. For others, the signs are more subtle, making the diagnosis difficult.”

The words changed to ‘Blocked Tubes’ and the announcer continued, “Any patient, who has had a history of tubal disease, symptomatic or just on testing, should be sure that there are no residual blocked fallopian tubes that fill up with fluid and are called a hydrosalpinx. If a hydrosalpinx is present, your chances of success with IVF will be decreased by fifty percent. It is possible to clip or remove one or two hydrosalpinges thereby reversing this fifty percent decrease completely.”

Back to the image of the couple looking imploringly at the camera. “What treatments are available?”

Alright, maybe there will be a car chase, Zachary thought sarcastically.

“Clomid is an oral medication and is often used as the first line treatment for ovulatory disorders or unexplained infertility. Injectable gonadotropins therapy involves the use of medications that stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple oocytes each month. Patients who do not respond to clomid often find greater success with gonadotropin therapy.”

Alright, so when we can’t explain why you aren’t getting pregnant, we give you a pill or a shot. Western medicine at its finest, Zachary thought.

“Intrauterine inseminations recommended for couples that have ovulation problems and are undergoing ovulation induction as well as having failed other treatments such as clomid.”

Bring out the turkey basters.

“In Vitro Fertilization involves stimulating the woman’s ovaries with fertility medications to produce many oocytes; or eggs, that mature and ripen, at which point they are retrieved while she is under anesthesia, and fertilized with her husband’s sperm in the laboratory. This creates embryos which are carefully monitored by an embryologist for three-five days, and then one or more are placed into her uterus with the hope that implantation will occur and establish a pregnancy.”

The announcer continued on, speaking in a helpful, hopeful tone:

“We at The Dewdy Fertility Center are proud of the pregnancy success we have achieved through our fertility treatments and want to share with you the wide range of state-of-the art techniques that have enabled so many patients to fulfill their dreams of having a baby.

When you are a patient at Dewdy Fertility Center, you can rest assured we will maximize your chances of pregnancy by providing fertility treatment under the safest and most professional conditions.”

The music swelled as the video ended and the room lights went up. Hazel the Surprised Shaved Ferret came back out and with his hands clasped in front of him, said, “We try to make your experience as easy and comfortable as possible. You can schedule a consultation with the receptionist on your way out. We completely understand that fertility care may involve weekend procedures or office visits. Therefore, we schedule care seven days a week and a physician can be reached twenty-four hours a day.”

Dr. Heloise Dewdy came out and took his hand. Turning to the audience of infertile potential paying patients, she said, “My husband and look forward to meeting with you and together, we will realize your dreams of adding to your family!”

And with that, they both departed the stage and exited through a door. If you want to talk to them, you really do have to schedule an appointment. Nice.

“Well, that’s that then,” Zachary said with a sigh. “Pretty sure we could have gotten this kind of info on PBS or something.” This earned Zachary a scathing look from Lucy.

“I like them.” And with that, she was up and getting in the line that quickly formed at the receptionist’s desk in the waiting room. It took a while to schedule the appointment and it was four weeks out, not at all what Lucy had hoped for.

The four weeks went fast for Zachary but  dragged by for Lucy. When the day finally came, she was beside herself. She expected more… much more… than what the first visit turned out to be. This was just a planning session, and she did get a prescription for Clomid.

The Clomid made her emotional and sensitive. The least little thing would set her off. There are the jokes about fighting over the cap on the toothpaste or the toilet seat left up. These became a reality around the house. Zachary wasn’t used to this. Lucy has always been very centered, very much in control and level-headed. It was the hormones talking, he knew, but it didn’t make it make sense.

Lucy also became much more regimented about sex. Not just when, but how. She wouldn’t be on top, which Zachary loved. She would only do missionary, and she would stick her legs up in the air afterwards to let gravity help things along. She started buying boxer shorts for Zachary because she heard it was good for increasing sperm count. She took various herbs and drank horrible smelling mixtures that were designed to increase fertility. A book was always on the nightstand, “Getting Knocked-Up!”

*****

This was not fun anymore. They attempted In Utero fertilization two times with the Dewdys. Both times, it was unsuccessful. At this point, they had depleted the $7000 covered by insurance and they had a decision to make. Do they continue throwing money into the wishing well, hoping for a pregnancy, or do they consider alternatives.

Zachary had brought up adoption one time earlier. It was after meeting the Dewdys and Lucy was on the Clomid. She was… emotional. Saying that, “maybe adoption was something they should consider” sounded to her like “YOU ARE BROKEN! YOU ARE INCAPABLE OF CONCIEVING A CHILD! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT.” The suggestion escalated into a full-blown argument that somehow tied into Zachary not putting the garden hose away. He didn’t give the dogs fresh water. The trash in the kitchen was full. He left his dirty shirt on the floor.

The rule Zachary and Lucy lived by was ‘do not go to sleep angry with each other’, and both had a deep respect for this rule. On this night, it meant neither of them slept. They fought into the early morning. Each time it would start to wind down, one or the other would say something wrong or in the wrong way and the argument was started again.

Finally, Zachary agreed to never bring it up again. He apologized for implying she was not capable of child-bearing, even though that’s not what he meant at all. He took a big plate of “I am completely wrong” and ate it with gusto. Sometimes, this is the cost of harmony and he hated it, but he hated arguing with Lucy even more. He told himself that in the scheme of what is important, being right didn’t factor in this case. It wasn’t even about being right, it was about being understood. It was clear Lucy didn’t have an ear to hear it the way he meant it, and that was all there was to that. He reminded himself that Lucy has done the same thing for him on other occasions.

They made up and then made love, but it was disconnected; not the usual, gentle caressing. It was a good lay but when they were done, Zachary rolled over and went to sleep. They always cuddled afterwards, but not this time.

Lucy felt rejected. She felt inferior and insecure. She felt unworthy and broken. As Zachary began to snore, she cried.

 

© 2013, Mitch Lavender

Shrinking Women by Lilly Meyers

Sometimes an author writes a story, poem or prose in a  genre, but the work is so powerful it breaks boundaries and evokes feelings in those who ordinarily would not read that genre.

I don’t usually read poetry, much less pro-feminist poetry that makes me feel ashamed for men everywhere.  I think this short piece is in that category: “Shrinking Women,” written and read by Lily Meyers (Wesleyan University).

It isn’t how she read it, and she appears to do this from memory – though the timing and delivery is perfect.

It isn’t that the content was important – though it is.

It isn’t that the statements weren’t true – though they are and at times,  hit like a sledgehammer.

For me, it’s the impressive images she conjures with so few words.  It’s her masterful command of the language and alliteration – the full effect of words brought to bear and the exposing of stupid expectations and inequality our society has (or does not have) based entirely on gender.  It’s the clarity.

Simply, I appreciated this on many levels.  I hope you do too. 

Watch:

Shrinking Women

 

If this was moving for you, tell me what you thought.

Short Story: Sans Commentary, Please

This story appeared in Untrue Stories, Volume One by Pantoum Press in 2012.    If you enjoy it, please share.

 

Sans Commentary, Please
by Mitch Lavender

 

“Start the movie already!” the guy screamed at the screen. We had sat through two commercials and four movie previews, with another just starting. I don’t know when It became OK to show 25 minutes of commercials before a movie, but we acquiesced and sat quietly, waiting for the feature to begin. We always did. Still, I silently had to agree with the guy – Start the movie!

talking in theater“Woooooop!” the guy shouted as aliens and humans fought it out in the preview. “Woooooop!” he repeated when an alien lost a showdown with Daniel Craig, taking a laser blast between its bugged eyes. “Dead!”

The theater was dark and crowded, opening night of a blockbuster; no one would have expected less than a full house. I leaned forward to see the guy yelling at the screen. He was three rows in front, four seats down; a young guy, maybe twenty, sitting with two friends. Great. Three punks at the theater. It’s bad enough that I pay $12 a ticket, have to wear cheesy Wayfarer-like 3D glasses and go into hock to buy popcorn and a drink, now I must tolerate the Woop-Boy commentary track as well. The truth is, I’m like the cranky old man yelling at the kids to get off of his lawn. I get testy when I’m up past my bedtime.

Woop-Boy continued to jack his commentary as the movie progressed. Thank goodness there were a lot of explosions that helped drowned out some of his crude, nonsensical comments. I grew more and more infuriated and fixated on his interruptions. I was all about him, not even watching the movie anymore.

Into the third act, after over an hour, I couldn’t take it anymore, got up and moved to Woop-Boy’s row in front, side-stepping past people, excuse me, pardon, sorry, excuse. Finally, I am in front of Woop-Boy. I see my reflection in his 3D glasses as an explosion goes off on the screen behind me. His jaw slackened, his teeth glistening in the ambient glow. I grabbed the collar of his shirt, pulling him up as I lean down, wanting him to hear me.

“Shut up,” I growled, cold and firm. When did I become Batman? His face was close to mine and I didn’t blink, but realized he wouldn’t know – I was still wearing those dorky 3D glasses.

“Screw you, Monkey-Man!” he shouted during a quiet moment in the movie, loud enough for the entire theater to hear.

My free hand balled into a fist, seconds away from punching him in the face.

theater

“He’s got Tourette Syndrome,” the boy sitting next to him shouted, shoving me so hard I nearly tumbled over the row behind me. I scrambled, clutching Woop-Boy’s shirt as an anchor to regain my balance.

“I’m… S…sss…sssssorry,” Woop-Boy said, and then added, “dickhead!”

I stared at him for what had to be two or three seconds, but seemed much longer. Realizing I was still clutching his shirt, I let go and with a final look to his friends, I side-stepped back down the aisle, excuse me, pardon, sorry, excuse. When I got to the end, I walked out of the theater into the lobby, and waited for my wife, who joined me a few minutes later. We were both silent on the drive home.

As I climbed into bed that night, I confessed to my wife, “I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done anything.”

“You weren’t wrong. He ruined the movie for everyone. Everyone in the place wanted to do what you did.” She paused and gave me a wan smile. “I think the reason you feel badly is you didn’t finish what you started. You stepped in a mess and didn’t wipe it off.”

“Are you saying I should have punched him?”

“I’m saying that if a person has a disease where they can’t shut up, they shouldn’t go to a theater and annoy everyone else. He is no different than the new parents who bring their baby to a theater and expect everyone to just ignore the crying throughout the movie.”

“That’s not very sensitive to the person’s disability.” While I wasn’t sure I disagreed, I played Devil’s Advocate.

“People who can’t be quiet should not be in a place that requires they be quiet. It’s not you being insensitive to them. It is them being insensitive to everyone else.”

“I’m not sure. I mean, should a person in a wheelchair not go out because they slow down everyone behind them? Does it make them insensitive to others?”

“That’s different, don’t you think?” I recognized the tone in my wife’s voice and she was ready for a debate. “Once situated, the person in a wheelchair won’t bother anyone.”

While I saw her point, it was terrain I had not yet found my balance. “I don’t know.” The conversation ended there and I eventually drifted off to sleep.

Woooop! echoed in my restless dreams.

~~~~~

New and Improved

This first appeared in Death Zone and Other Stories by Pantoum Press in 2011.  If you enjoy it, please share.

 

My hand soap advertises itself as being antibacterial. That’s amusing to me, because a property of soap is that it removes bacteria, germs and dirt. All soaps are antibacterial, so putting that on the label is like advertising that a bottle of water is wet.

We fall for this stuff though. Oh hey, this soap says it is antibacterial. This one doesn’t. Better get the one that says it is. That really is the thought process in my head when I buy stuff. I’m a well-trained consumer, I am.

This morning, I had one of those horrible tasting energy drinks. Read this as caffeine, and lots of it. But this one said it had Electrolytes. What the hell is an electrolyte? I looked it up, and apparently it means there is salt in it that causes ionization. Electrolytes help hydration, but sodium is not really a good thing for most of us, so do I want this in my drink?

Now I’m on a tirade and I’m looking at the list of ingredients on other things I eat: Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Titanium Dioxide, Silicon Dioxide. These are all ingredients listed on a package of corn chips. Do I want to be consuming these things? Isn’t Silicon Dioxide the chemical in those moisture-absorbing little packets that say “DO NOT EAT” on them? They make glass out of Silica… I’m pretty sure I don’t want to eat that. Titanium… that’s a metal, new-and-improvedright?

But I do eat this stuff, knowingly or not, and have all my life. No telling how much Yellow #5 I have ingested during my lifetime. It hasn’t killed me so, yay. But is any of it good for me?

Tonight, I’m having a salad. I just want a break from ingesting the chemicals I don’t understand and can’t even pronounce. I’m no chemist and really am happier not knowing. Looking at the label on my salad dressing, it has Disodium Phosphate, Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Benzoate in it. I just can’t win.

Oh! But the label says it is ‘New and Improved!’ Well that’s all right, then.

 

~~~~~

Simulating Happiness

First of all, if you do not follow the TEDTalks, you should. TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in under 30 minutes. I watch a couple of these every week, and I usually learn something and sometimes have my perceptions challenged.

This particular talk by Dan Gilbert (author of Stumbling on Happiness)  on the science of happiness was profound. The entire thing is just over 21 minutes long but it starts out slowly. If you jump to the 5-minute mark, he discusses “simulating happiness,” and this is where it gets interesting.  In essence, you have more control over your happiness than you may think.

Here is the full clip:

 

 

Related Links:

TedTalks – Ideas Worth Spreading

About Dan Gilbert

Stumbling on Happiness

TedTalks: Chip Conley – Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile

TedTalks: Steve Jobs – How toLive Before You Die

Unplugged Update: Day 23 – My Brain Has All The Wrong Things Cached

I hate that I know who Honey Boo Boo is.

Somehow, through peripheral exposure to TV\radio\internet\osmosis, I do, even though I have never intentionally watched a show about her or her mother.  The cache of my brain has limited capacity for things I can remember, and Honey Boo Boo probably FIFOed something fundamental that I haven’t used in a while, like how to tie a tie or where I put the title to my house or car. 

But things can not be unseen once they have been seen, no matter how inane they are, and trying to avoid stupid things is  a useless endeavor.  To avoid them means excluding all media and never leaving home. 

Even then, you won’t completely escape advertising’s reach.  For example, I learned about the movie, Epic, from the wrapper on my loaf of bread.   Advertising and unworthy “news” is everywhere, and the stink sticks to citizens of first-world countries like the grease from a Quarter-Pounder sticks to our arteries.

Still, I do my best to avoid conversations about dumb things.   By dumb things, I mean things that are controversial but inconsequential to… anything, i.e., dumb.

Is it still chili if it has beans in it?  What’s Lindsey Lohan’s latest legal violation and will she get away with it again?  Kirk or Piccard?  I don’t always succeed in dodging such conversations, but I try.

Just last week, I found myself in a heated debate about why Aqua-Man was the lamest superhero ever, and why Namor, The Submariner was much better.  So yes, I fail, and most often, I fail over the geekiest things.

Earlier this month, I decided to go three months without Facebook, Twitter, Pintrist, Reddit or Goodreads  to see if removing these obvious distractions from my routine helps me focus and be more productive.  It was a surgical attempt at improving the product that is me.  I’m 23 days in and have over two months to go, but an initial observation is – it’s been good and bad.

I get encouragement and ideas from the interactions with people on the sites I’ve excluded.  That’s bad, because I’m missing out on the creative fuel and insight those interactions provide.  On the other hand, I do have less distractions from my writing, despite the emails I get from Facebook telling me how many notifications I have pending and how many conversations I am not participating in.

I’m in it for the full 90-day duration, despite the upside or downside.  I just hope three months is long enough to make a clear determination. I think that the truth will be as most of you already suspect it is – balance and moderation in all things is the best approach.

And now, the Unplugged meme of the week:

Images Futurama FrySystem.Random.jpg

Unplugging from the Internet for Three Months (sort of)

 

May 3, 2013 marks the first day of three months without Facebook, Twitter, Pintrist, Reddit or Goodreads. I’m quitting the popular social media sites for a while.

Grumpy Cat- no FBLast weekend, I started noticing – really noticing – how much time I spend on the internet. I’m talking about the time after work, when I’m in the home office, working on my novel (yea, right).

Most evenings, between 8-10, I’m at my computer. I sit down with noble intentions to be productive. I’ll do some work from the office so my next day will go a little smoother. I’ll write or edit. Maybe I’ll blog, which I consider different from writing. I don’t know why.

What really happens is – I check my email. I catch up with what’s on Facebook. I check Twitter. Maybe I hit Pintrist and see what pictures friends posted, or I’ll go check what updates have been made on Goodreads or Reddit. Mind you, each one of these sites has links that send me all over the place, and if a link sends me to Writers Digest, The Verge or Engadget, don’t wait up. I may not be coming to bed.

Eventually, I get around to getting some work done, but even in the middle of writing or working at home, I continue to check for updates.

I estimate that I lose 40%-60% a night to this sort of thing. Rather than being productive, I’m randomized by cute cat videos, tech news and reading articles about writing, rather than – you know – writing.

Then, I saw this article by Paul Miller, a tech writer for The Verge, who quit the internet for a full year:  I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet

Paul Miller’s experience inspired me. I can’t quit the internet without quitting my job, which also means I quit having a house to live in and quit having food to eat. But what I can do is quit the main sites on the internet that randomize me. Correction: That I allow to randomize me.

So, for the next three months – from May 3rd to August3rd – I’m off of Facebook, Twitter, Pintrist, Goodreads and Reddit.  It’s a 90-day social media fast.

I know, it’s not as significant as quitting the internet for a year, but then I’m not trying to make a big statement about isolation of modern society invoked by technology, evils of social media or the fragility of my sanity. All of those things are certainly suspect – but I’m doing this to see if removing obvious distractions helps me focus and be more productive.

Will it really help me be productive? Will I find other distractions to fill the time  – maybe basket weaving or racing earthworms? Will I have a nervous breakdown without the outlet of social media sites?

I have no idea how this will go, but I’ll be blogging about it right here.

You don’t need all of the advice you think you need

There are many books about writing and all have advice about how to write better, create engaging characters, develop plot, build suspense, hook the reader, sell your novel to an agent, publisher or sell it independently. It goes on and on.

I’m going to boil down the list of mandatory books about writing to a solitary, thin volume, and two optional books; one “must have,” and two that are “nice to have.”

I am of the belief that every writer should own and reference Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

This small tome is the yard stick which all other books on the subject compare and come up short. Own it, use it, love it, hate it, need it. You handicap your writing by ignoring the instruction on the pages of EoS.

3booksonwriting

An optional book I recommend is because it helped me. It may not help you at all, but I’ll tell you about it anyway: Stephen King’s On Writing offers succinct, grounded guidance for the struggling writer. The first part of the book is an autobiography – a good read but not necessary. If you only want the nuts and bolts on writing, skip ahead to the chapter, What Writing Is and start there. Even if you don’t like Stephen King’s books, I think you can benefit from his advice on the art and business of writing, and liked or not, he has genuine experience. Papal, almost.

The second optional book I recommend is How Literature Works, 50 Key Concepts by John Sutherland. This bluntly-worded volume will pound you over the head with writing concepts you think you understand. It has helped me appreciate why I enjoy some stories and not others. It’s ostentatious, but move past that and you’ll find the guidance is academic and well-founded.

Please don’t misunderstand me about this – every person who aspires to write should also read. They should read a lot – more than the average person, and I think it’s good to read books that are outside of the genre you write, as well as everything you can in your genre. Read, even when the writing or story is bad. By seeing how it is done is the best way to learn, and I learn more from the badly written books than from the good ones.

I think it is an affliction to have the desire to write, and I am sick to the marrow. The likelihood of success in the field is on par with winning the lottery, and talent is essential but having talent is far from a guarantee of anything but obscurity. If you have this Writing Disease, and it exists in your bones to the point that you cannot separate yourself from it, the very best we can make of it is: try to do it well.

These three books may help ease your suffering.

© 2013, Mitch Lavender

It’s The End of The World as We Don’t Know It

Congratulations to us all!  Buy a round and celebrate the world not ending on December 21, 2012!  Hoorah!  Doomsday averted.

Let’s take a step back and be clear about the 2012 Doomsday Debacle – the Mayan calendar just stopped at the year 2012, it didn’t say that everything ended then. Professional Mayanist scholars had stated that predictions of impending doom were not found in any of the extant classic Maya accounts, and that the idea that the Long Count calendar ends in 2012 misrepresented Maya history and culture. So it was just some paranoid jackwads winding everyone else up.

It’s always some jackwad(s) winding everyone up with obsessed ranting about the horrible fate awaiting us on a specific date.

I was born in 1964, and that means a lot of crap has happened in my lifetime. Here are some of the doomsday prophecies that have occurred in my lifetime, and yeah. We are still here.

Heaven’s Gate (1997)

Comet Hale-Bopp and Williams ObservatoryIn 1997, with the appearance of comet Hale-Bopp, there were unfounded rumors that an alien ship was following this comet. Heaven’s Gate, a UFO religion, based on these rumors, concluded that the world would end, due to some universal recycling project that would wipe the earth clean, and the only way to avoid dying was to leave the planet via the aforementioned yet unverified spaceship following the comet.  The world ended only for 39 of the cult members on March 26, 1997, when they committed suicide in hope of surviving recycling. The earth is still here, as non-recycled as ever.

Nostradamus Revisited (1999)

For hundreds of years, people have found the metaphorical writings of Nostradamus intriguing. One of his most famous predictions of Nostradamus read as, “The year 1999, seventh month: From the sky will come a great king of terror.” Devotees were concerned that this was the vision of Armageddon.

It wasn’t. Some academic sources maintain that the associations made between world events and Nostradamus’s quatrains are largely the result of misinterpretations or mistranslations (sometimes deliberate) or else are so tenuous as to render them useless as evidence of any genuine predictive power. Still, people fall for it, over and over.

Y2K Bug (2000)

English: The Logo Created by The President's C...As the year 2000 approached, people began speculating that computers will trigger doomsday. This is not unfounded, as many of the software programs responsible for financial records were recording the date as the final two figures of the year only, and thus, might reflect ‘00’ as 1900, sending investments and such back a hundred years. Electrical grids would go down en masse and computers would stop working.

To correct this, many, many resources were allocated to help fix such problems in software and as the calendar flipped from 1999 to 2000, I sat in a cubicle, waiting for my phone to ring. I worked for Microsoft Corporation and I was prepared to help anyone with any computer problem that might have occurred due to the Y2K problem. The phone never rang, but I played a near-perfect game of Age of Empires.

God’s Church Ministry (2008)

God’s Church minister, Ronald Weinland, predicted in 2006 that there will be death of millions of people by the end of 2006, and the world will face the worst times in human history within two years after that.  One of his predictions also said that the United States would no longer be the world’s most powerful nation. This was all based on his interpretation of the Christian Bible.

Weinland continued his nuttiness and now proclaims that the prophesied return date for Jesus Chris is May 19, 2013, with great tribulation to proceed. Mark your calendars.

Summary

Yep, people bought-in to all this crazy ass nonsense every time. I even believed Y2K might have some effect, but it didn’t. Still, surviving past a portended Armageddon doesn’t mean we are out of the woods yet.

The future is uncertain. The world may end. But one can always hope that the best of what we are rises to the top and whatever comes our way, we will adapt and survive. Nay, we will conquer it. I choose to believe that, in myself and in you.

Just don’t call me a prophet for that, please.

© 2012, Mitch Lavender

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Not in The Mood To Write?

by Sue Morgan

Sue Morgan is a dear friend and writer, and I appreciate her thoughtful take on the subject of writer’s block.  I am proud to feature this piece on Life64. – ML

Not in the Mood to Write?

No, it doesn’t happen to me either. Only kidding, of course everyone comes across that dreaded block now and again…or even again and again and again and I have a few practices that help me to some degree.

Writer's BlockMy first line of action is just to get up and move around. A change of scene sometimes makes things shift enough in my brain to start the words flowing. This is usually just a walk to make coffee and raid the cookie jar, but if things are more serious a walk outside can really help. I live amongst rolling green hills with the view of mountains, within a hundred meters I am deep into an ancient copse of beech trees. It is difficult not to find some kind of inspiration here. This morning it was the ‘cute and cuddly’ spectacle of watching a mother squirrel show her youngster how to gather nuts.

A A longer term block needs a different approach. I find that turning to another art form can help me at times, listening to music (try something you don’t normally listen to) or I looking through a box of art postcards that I have collected over time. But, the failsafe option for me has to be reading, anything and everything I can get hold of, books, magazines, cereal boxes…

I write mainly poetry though and I can almost guarantee to find enough inspiration for the next move through reading someone else’s poetry. I go through phases of having a favorite poet and so I will generally turn to the current flavor of the month first. Inspiration can come to me through their subject matter, an unusual turn of phrase or even a word. Sometimes, following T.S. Eliot’s old adage about imitation I will try to ‘copy’ a poem, using my own substitutions for various parts of language…sometimes just taking a poem apart to see how it works can throw up the most curious of effects. But, In the direst of straights I turn to the Bloodaxe anthologies edited by Neil Astley, so far he has never failed me.

Wasp Alert!

by Sue Morgan

Yellow Jackets are in season and I’ve had to wipe out two small nests already.  Sue is a treasured friend and writer from Ireland, and I got a kick out of reading her ordeals with the “little yellow and black blighters.” – ML

The ‘Season of Bursting Beech Nuts’ aka ‘the Season of those Friggin’ Wasps’ is upon us again. Having been away for a week’s holiday, which didn’t tie in nicely with the council’s fortnightly schedule of bin collection, meant that I came back to a black bin swarming with the little yellow and black blighters.

I couldn’t get close to the bin without them sensing me and starting to get agitated, squirting their ‘angry’ pheromones and freaking me out with the idea of multiple stings and possible anaphylactic shock.

But, the bin was due out. It has to be put on the side of the road, handle side out ready for collection. This means dragging it about a hundred yards down a rutted lane to the gate. Normally this is a MAN’S job. It involves brute force strength and so in our house a mere woman wouldn’t be allowed to tackle it. Sure though, what do I care? I get out of bin duty. But, where are the men when you need them? When the wasps are in a frenzy of late summer hunger? They are up in the hills, bonding over canvas and fishing rods, that’s where, leaving me to deal with the wasps.

Well, what do I do? The first thought was to wimp out. Do nothing, pretend it didn’t happen. ‘Oh, bin day. Yes, when was that? I must have forgotten’. But, no, I’m a Mum, I couldn’t do that. I have enough guilt to be going on with, thank you.

Next, I googled the council offices to get the phone number to talk to someone with responsibilities for the bins. ‘sorry, I thought I should tell you about the wasps. Health and Safety and all. I wouldn’t want any of your men to be stung’. That’s it. Shove the responsibility onto some once else. But, no, I couldn’t do that, that would involve guilt and shirking. And then, guilt about shirking.

So, I looked up what to do when you have an infestation of wasps in your dustbin. Would you believe that there are whole websites devoted to such a thing? Well, there are. I read several, most of which revolved around getting the ‘men’ in to deal with the problem. I then noticed that they had brand names on their pages and phone numbers to call ‘for immediate, next day attention.’ My problem was that the bin men would be here at eight thirty sharp the next morning. So that was out of the equation too.

I am ashamed to say that my next action was to phone the ‘hills’ for advice. It came in the form of ‘ask the neighbour’, another version of passing the buck, letting a man do it, and the guilt of someone else being stung in the process. Definitely not my style at all. Back to the internet it was.

I found one helpful nugget of information though which led to a PLAN OF ACTION. Wasps go to sleep at night. Ah ha! I had them. I waited until it was dark. Or nearly dark – this is summer you know! I would move the bin whilst they were unawares! I had to prepare.

http://www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)Firstly, I had to don the correct clothing. I didn’t want there to be any flesh exposed to wasp attack. So, already being in my pjs, these formed the base layer. I tucked the bottoms into a pair of sports socks. I then put on a pair of good thick black jeans. I don’t know if wasps can see in the dark, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I pulled a hoody over my top half and then a long black coat with a tight funnel neck over the top. God, I was warm. To finish off the ensemble were the ‘mucking out’ boots, to confuse their sense of smell and a then, dish cloth over my head for good measure.

All went well enough in the general approach. The web site was right. The wasps did seem to be asleep. I gently taped the bin shut with two strips of ‘duck tape’ and grabbed the handle at the back. Now, if you ever see an Olympic sport in the future where a granny does the 100 metre sprint, in the dark, in fancy dress, think of me. It started here. I pounded down that rutted road like no-one’s business, with fears in my head of the swarm of wasps that was becoming more and more angry trussed up in the bin that was being jolted up and down.

Nevertheless, bravery and courage won out and I got right to the end of the lane. By now the sound from the bin was hysterical. I positioned the black buzzing nightmare with the handle correctly positioned facing into the road and high tailed it back up to the house. I texted the other half –‘job done’, then slept the sleep of the proud.

But, you’ve guessed it! I went down this morning to collect the bin. There was a neatly written note from the council stuck to the top of the bin. ‘Sorry, we couldn’t empty your bin today. It was taped up’.

Back to the internet. I’m sure that someone has posted an article on what to do when….

*****

About Sue: Sue Morgan lives in Northern Ireland with her husband and two teenage boys. Her work has appeared in print in the Static Poetry Anthologies, the Belfast Poetry Map, the Best of Writing3All 2010 and online, at Every Day Poets, HaikuJ and Keep Her Lit. This summer she makes her debut in the Irish literary magazines, Southword Journal and Crannog.

Precious

Rachel Sutcliffe

I take a lot of the things in my life for granted, it’s true.  Rachel has a very down to earth grasp of what is precious and should be cherished, and I’m very happy she chose to share it on Life64 this week.  – ML

It sounds corny to start this with the cliché ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’, but it is so very true, as anyone with a bit of life experience behind them will know. Anyone like me that is.

I never realized how precious good health was until I lost mine in my early twenties. Ten years later, with ten years of chronic illness behind me, I think it’s fair to say I’ve had the time and experience to learn how very precious good health actually is. So what if you haven’t got it? Where does that leave me?

sunrise-in-AfricaLearning a very valuable, though hard, lesson that’s where. I’ve realized I have so many precious things in my life. Things I wouldn’t have given a second thought to at one time…..waking to sunshine on my face, feeling the spring breeze in my hair, watching the mother duck with her ducklings, exchanging morning greetings with a neighbor, sharing a sisterly hug, putting on my favorite PJs, savoring a frothy hot chocolate ……and the list goes on.

So I’ve just one thing left to say here and that’s thank you chronic illness, for teaching me the art of appreciation and with it the true meaning of precious, in so many more ways than one.

*****

About Rachel:  Rachel has always been obsessed by words and language. Writing is her therapy; when the going gets tough Rachel get writing! She’s had several stories and many poems published. Her blog can be found at http://projectwords11.wordpress.com/

Ow! My Toe

My big toe hurts.  Try as I might, the only complaint of discomfort I can think of that is sounds more frivolous is, My God!  I have a paper cut. Still, my big toe hurts a lot and has me limping around.  After a week without getting better, I took to using a cane.  Finally, I went to the doctor, thinking it was a sprain but I was wrong. When the blood tests were completed, I was diagnosed with gout.

Gout, or Podagra (when it involves the big toe) is characterized by a red, tender, hot swollen joint and commonly manifests at the base of the big toe.  It is caused by elevated levels of uric acid in the blood which causes crystalized deposits on joints, tendons and such.

So what causes high uric acid in the blood?  There are a number of reasons but really, only one applied to me – diet.  Above-moderate consumption of alcohol, fructose-sweetened drinks and meat can cause gout.  A lifetime of living like a typical American has caught up to me. 

gout-cartoonI thought gout was something that would only affect a seriously overweight person, and I was wrong again.  While I tipped the doctor’s scale at 205 lbs., that isn’t too much for someone 6’ 3”.  Still, it is more than I have ever weighed before and I do have this… belly.  I noticed that when I’m lying on my back and turn onto my side, my stomach follows about a second later.  It wasn’t a warm fuzzy feeling and it is a sign that, while I am not obese, I’ve got a lot of body fat that I don’t want.

So, what does one do when one has been diagnosed with gout in one’s foot and one’s stomach joins the rest of the torso a second later when one’s body is moved quickly?  How do you fix it?

  • Ignore it.  That would be my common response, but it hurts!  Wah!  Left untreated, it would spread to other joints and tissue and so, pain being what pain is, it won’t be ignored.
  • The common, American solution for any health problem  – there’s a pill for that.  I hate taking a lot of medication because it inevitably makes me feel bad in some way.  In a case like this, it would mean taking medication every day, probably for the rest of my life. 
  • There is another choice: Make changes to my diet and eat better. 

Never in my life have I had to diet.  I’ve always had a metabolism where I never got overweight and much of my young life, I was really skinny.  Now, in mid-40’s and limping around with a gouty toe and a bulging belly, the lesser of the two evils is that I need to make changes to my diet.  It wouldn’t hurt to get some exercise too, but let’s not go overboard.

After watching Forks over Knives, a documentary about the benefits of a whole-food diet, Lynn and I were motivated to make some changes in our eating habits and adopt a whole-foods diet or something resembling it, eating less processed food, dairy and meat.  We’ve been at it for two weeks and that is nothing in the scheme of diets, but overall, we’ve done really well. 

Here are our guidelines:

  • Eat more nuts and whole grain breads when possible.
  • Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables when you can. Avoid pastries and sweets and have a granola bar instead.
  • Eat lots of beans (we like black beans). They are a great source of plant protein, fiber, phytochemicals, and other nutrients.
  • Don’t eat convenience and processed foods.
  • Stick to sugar-free drinks such as water, green tea (iced or hot), fresh fruit juice, and soy milk.
  • No alcohol except an occasional glass of wine.
  • Avoid fish, chicken and red meat.
  • Avoid dairy – milk and cheese.

· We bought the Forks over Knives cookbook and are having fun trying the different, healthy recipes.  Cooking together is something we really enjoy.

Here are our exceptions:

  •  All bets are off if we are at the ballpark.  What’s the point of going to a baseball game if you can’t have a hotdog and beer?
  • 2 meals a week, we can have meat.  Try not to make it something fried.
  • 2 meals a week, we can have cheese.
  • 4 times a week, we can have a soda or other non-healthy drink.
  • 1 night a week, we can break the 1 glass of wine rule.

forks-over-knivesThe biggest problem I have found is that it’s not easy to eat out and eat healthy, not in Texas, anyway.  I have to be selective about where I go for lunch.   But that’s a small thing and just requires changing my habits.  Straight up, I don’t miss McDonald’s or Taco Bell.

We’ll see how it goes, but so far, I do feel better and the gout has not returned.  Granola bars aren’t bad.

© 2012, Mitch Lavender