Category Archives: Me

So That’s What Was Hiding Under The Snow Drifts

Every year this strikes me as something of a miracle.

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A scientifically explained miracle, true, but that robs it of none of the thrill.

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This year has been such a hard winter, and my borders have been crushed under so much snow, that I wasn’t sure I was going to see Green for quite some time.

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But here we are, March 20, and the plants know what they have to do.

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If it had been up to me,
I’d have given up hope and thought “maybe I’ll have color next year…”

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I’m so glad I’m not in charge.

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Everybody Needs A Garrett

I’m working in my garrett today.

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I highly recommend seeking out some cheap co-working office space to rent if you are trying to take your writing seriously and have the means. I also recommend biting the bullet and taking as little stuff with you as you can get away with. There have been days when I haven’t come here because I’d “need” all the notes I’ve been gathering for four years about the novel-in-progress, or because I think I *might* want to work on admin tasks that really call for the big computer, or, or or…

What happens, when I actually get here, is that I pick a task (a short story or a blog post series or the novel or some outreach to potential interview subjects) and I work on that thing. Until it’s done. Or until I run out of time.

Can you imagine?

I focus on one task.

And can you guess what happens next?

Stuff.

Stuff happens. I achieve things. Word counts grow. Ideas are put into practice. Progress is made.

#HeadsDesk

So the family might not get a lovingly slow-cooked dinner tonight (“Oh, squirrel! I could make keema in the slow-cooker. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about dinner later, only I don’t have beef, so I’ll just run to the shop and buy that and mix all the spices and put the keema on before I start writing and oh! ‘Nother Squirrel! I could whip all the sheets off the beds and put them in the washer before I go, so that they’ll be ready to go in the dryer when I get back. Look at me! I’m so efficient! That’ll leave me lots of guilt-free time to write. But before I do any of that, let me email the tax lady, find the tax documents and call the doctor, just to clear those things off my to-do list so that I can have a guilt-free time to write. And squirrel! Wait, how did it get to be 2:44pm and why are my children coming home soon?”)

Instead I am at my paid-for-and-potentially-peopled-by-other-working-folks garrett, thinking about how much I pay per minute to be here (not really) and how I should really be thinking about doing something writing related if only so that, should someone else ask me what I’m working on, I can smile and be honest.

And yes, this blog counts. It’s my warm-up writing, my Morning Pages.

Now, back to the long-overdue novel-in-progress.

Buttering the Sky

This is a quarter of a pound of butter.

Since August, I have managed to shed the equivalent of 40 of these (42 actually, if this morning’s weight is to be believed).

It’s only 10lbs. It doesn’t sound like that much when you consider that a, my weight had spiked up a few pounds in August and b, I have a lot more to lose.

But 10.2lb (or 163 ounces) of blubber is gone, baby. And I’m stronger than I’ve possibly ever been, too.

Just pausing to note it and celebrate.

Onward and downward!

P.S. The answer to your question? Sadly: diet and exercise. And consistency. And accountability. And patience. Gah!

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I’m making some changes. Good changes. Commitments to things. Goals. Stuff that’s hard but good for me. And guess what? It’s hard. But good.

First I worked on my work. I’ve been trying to work to a set schedule; get my most important/creative work done each day while my energy levels are high and before I get distracted. Surprise, surprise, I’m churning out a lot of stories that way. And I’m excited about them.

(I’m working on an ebook of a series of Christmas stories. Don’t forget you can sign up to find out whenever I release new fiction.

I’m also working with other people, to give and receive feedback on writing projects. It makes me accountable (not just to do my own work, but to take time to read and think about theirs). It takes time management and means I can’t spend 14 hours a day checking social media and pretending it’s work. It’s tiring, but rewarding. I get a lot out of giving critiques as well as receiving them.

And now I’m working on my health. This is one more thing to shoe-horn into my schedule but I’ve finally realised that I’m getting older and things are going to stop working if I don’t do some routine maintenance on them. So I’m seeing a trainer, and following a meal plan and my calendar is full of little red appointments for this and for things I don’t want to forget that are related to other people in my life (including the big behemoth: school).

But we just had a fantastic vacation and all this planning and organizing doesn’t seem as bad as it does when you haven’t had a break for a while. (Note to self.) It was nice to come back to an empty refrigerator and go out and refill it with only healthy foods. Expensive but nice. It was nice to take a day today to go through all the stuff I’ve been ignoring for over a week, and put things on the calendar, delete other things, and view the upcoming months as the start of something, rather than the unending middle of things.

And all these things are hard for me, who resists plans and likes to feel spontaneous. But I have finally realised that making everything up as you go along is so much harder than having some essentials in place. So I’m trying to learn to plan. It’s a big change. One among many changes. And it’s hard. Hard but good.

And now I have to go and let someone torture my muscles.

Happy happy.

Perfect Day

My boys rolled out of bed on the right side this morning, cheerful and compliant and ready to go before it was even close to time to start screaming at them that they were late.

K was cheery and well-rested — shades of the dreaded morning-whistling-K I remember from our early years together (shudder).

I, instead of faffing about, showered and dressed and set out for my writing garret before the clock struck 9.

When I stepped out the front door, the sky was a lovely dull gray, the light not too bright for my weak blue eyes, not so dark as to be ominous. The temperature was hovering somewhere around a cool 52 F and, oh joy of joys, it was spitting. Not a miserable kind of drizzle that soaks you without even trying, but a sort of cheerful plinky rain that a light jacket can ward off and that serves mostly to keep you cool on your walk and to make the fallen oak leaves smell amazing.

My town is dull and cool and full of the smells of autumn. I stomped along the street with a big stupid grin on my face and arrived at my garret pink-of-cheek and crazy-of-fringe.
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I really never should have left Scotland.

Government Shut Down

Got an interesting letter from my Congressman today. (I say ‘my Congressman’. I didn’t vote for him. I enjoy getting his emails though.)

He says isn’t interested in shutting down the government because of budget squabbles and he is fully seized of the fact that shutting down the government does nothing about the Affordable Care Act. So far, so reasonable.

But here’s the interesting part. Last weekend he sent out an email survey, to which I responded. This email contains the results. They speak pretty clearly. And yet, somehow he can’t hear what they’re saying. He says:

The constituents I have heard from don’t want the federal government shut down and they don’t want the glitch-filled, job-crushing health care law known as ObamaCare.

Then he quotes two sets of statistics. The first is from people who contacted his offices. The second from an email survey he sent out last weekend (to which I responded).

Of those who contacted our office:
1,134 — or 85.7 percent — expressed strong opposition to keeping the federal government shut down
188 — or 14.3 percent — expressed support for staying the course and keeping the federal government shut down if it means “defunding ObamaCare”

A measly 14.3% of people want to stay the course and keep federal government shut down ‘if it means defunding Obamacare’, which Gerlach has already stated it will not.

2,584 (52%) — Continue funding government operations, including funding for ObamaCare
1,917 (39%) — Shut down the government if the CR does not defund or delay ObamaCare
398 (8%) — Selected Other

I’m going to make a leap and assume that the 8% are in some kind of opposition to ObamaCare, which would mean that 47% of his constituents might feel strongly anti-Affordable Healthcare. However, that 8% was not willing to go so far as to say government should shut down over this fight. That means something like 60% of Pennsylvanians think Congress is a big tub of squawking crybabies who need a few remedial Kindergarten lessons on getting along together.

I am remarkably heartened by that.

But saddened that Congressman Gerlach still chose to open with

The constituents I have heard from … don’t want the glitch-filled, job-crushing health care law known as ObamaCare.

I’d like to see his statistic on that, since these stats don’t support it and that’s his opening salvo. (He may have those statistics somewhere.)

I’m glad he’s not afraid to criticize his party leaders. I’m not glad he…

…did not vote in favor of the law and have voted more than 40 times to repeal, de-fund, delay and replace it.

or that (buried near the bottom of the letter)

I have joined my colleagues in the House six times during the last two weeks to pass bills that keep the federal government open AND defund or delay ObamaCare.

But that’s just politics. I can cast my vote against him next time. (And I will).

It is interesting, however, to be kept informed and to hear that not everyone out there is a crazy wing nut.

On the other hand: FFS it’s the law of the land, let’s give it a chance and see how it shakes out, eh?

ENTIRE TEXT OF JIM GERLACH’S EMAIL

Capitol Update October 3, 2013
Putting government back to work for you while working to shut down ObamaCare
In the weeks leading up to the Oct. 1 deadline for passing a budget measure that would fund the federal government, I received lots of questions from people in the District about whether I would be willing to shut down the federal government to “de-fund ObamaCare.”

My answer has always been the same. Shutting down the government would not “de-fund ObamaCare.” Mandatory funding for implementing ObamaCare was authorized when the health care law was passed in 2010 by a Congress, which at the time was controlled by Democrats and President Obama. As this Washington Post article notes, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service found that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that Health and Human Services could rely on “sources of funding other than annual discretionary appropriations” to implement ObamaCare. You can read more about the CRS report from July 2013 here.

I did not vote in favor of the law and have voted more than 40 times to repeal, de-fund, delay and replace it. Very simply, I told everyone who asked that I was not in favor of a government shutdown solely for the purpose of grandstanding on ObamaCare.

As you all know, the federal government shut down just after midnight on Tuesday for the first time in 17 years. And ObamaCare is still being implemented in full force by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Meanwhile, taxpayers wondering when they’ll receive overdue tax refunds can’t get answers from the IRS and federal workers are sitting at home instead of answering phones and responding to mail from seniors with questions about Social Security and Medicare.

I think it’s time for government to get back to work for the taxpayers. I have let House leadership know that I am in favor of passing a budget measure that will re-open government and keeps spending flat for the next 6 months. There would be no caving in on spending. The budget I’m calling for builds on the hard-earned success House Republicans have had restoring fiscal discipline and ending out of control spending so we can rejuvenate job growth and prosperity.

The constituents I have heard from don’t want the federal government shut down and they don’t want the glitch-filled, job-crushing health care law known as ObamaCare. But at this moment, middle-class families, employers and communities of all sizes are coping with the devastating effects of both. It is time for Congress to vote on a budget bill that gets the government back to work providing all of the services already paid for by the hard-working taxpayers in my District and across the country.

Reopening the federal government absolutely does not mean shutting down efforts to repeal and replace a health care law that’s driving premiums higher for too many families, cutting hours for too many workers and giving the federal government unprecedented control over medical choices for too many patients.

I have joined my colleagues in the House six times during the last two weeks to pass bills that keep the federal government open AND defund or delay ObamaCare. Each attempt to eliminate funding for the law, repeal the $30 billion medical device tax driving jobs overseas or treat all Americans equally by giving them the same one-year reprieve from the law’s mandates that the President gave big businesses has been rejected by the President and Senate Democrat leaders. A bill to eliminate subsidies to help Members of Congress and their staff pay for health insurance was also sent to the Senate where it died. I supported that bill.

The President and Senate Democrat Leader Harry Reid seem perfectly content keeping the “Closed” sign on the Liberty Bell, Valley Forge National Park and Gettysburg National Battlefield. I am not, and I look forward to voting to put government back to work serving the taxpayers very soon.

Offices are open
All of my offices will remain open and staff will be available to help constituents throughout the federal government shutdown.

I take very seriously my responsibility to serve and assist all the people I have the privilege of representing in this District. My constituents will still have questions and concerns, and they deserve to have someone answer their phone calls and correspondence — even when Washington shuts down.

While staff in Washington and District Offices in Berks, Chester, Lebanon and Montgomery counties will be available to provide information and initiate inquiries with federal agencies, responses from federal agencies may be delayed and it may take longer for those agencies to process new applications due to anticipated furloughs of non-essential federal employees.

I also have tried to mitigate the effects a government shutdown will have on our nation’s military. I recently helped the House pass H.R. 3210, the Pay Our Military Act, which guarantees that the men and women serving our country in the military will be paid during this shutdown. The U.S. Senate passed the bill and the President has signed the measure into law.

The men and women who sacrifice everything serving our country are the most essential federal employees we have. The paychecks they have earned should not stop just because Congress and the President cannot agree on a budget.

Additional information about how federal agencies will be affected by this shutdown is available at http://www.usa.gov/shutdown.shtml.

Constituents speak out on shutdown
Feedback from constituents is important to helping me understand how issues before Congress affect the families, businesses and communities in this District and help me get your voice heard in Washington.

Since the shut down went into effect early Tuesday, we have received more than 1,300 messages in our offices — and more keep coming in every day.

Of those who contacted our office:
1,134 — or 85.7 percent — expressed strong opposition to keeping the federal government shut down
188 — or 14.3 percent — expressed support for staying the course and keeping the federal government shut down if it means “defunding ObamaCare”
In addition, our office conducted an e-mail survey the weekend prior to the shutdown. Anyone who is a constituent AND has provided an email address to my office receives these surveys. Please make sure to check your email spam filter for a “Message From Congressman Jim Gerlach” to ensure you aren’t missing opportunities to participate in these surveys.

The results from that weekend survey were:
2,584 (52%) — Continue funding government operations, including funding for ObamaCare
1,917 (39%) — Shut down the government if the CR does not defund or delay ObamaCare
398 (8%) — Selected Other
If you are a constituent and did not receive an email survey question and would like to, please contact my Washington, DC office at 202-225-4315 to provide me with your contact information and email address and we’ll make sure you receive the next one. E-mail surveys are just an additional way to interact with the people I represent.

Constituents can always send me their thoughts 24/7 through my website (www.gerlach.house.gov) or via phone/snail mail to any of my offices. I value greatly the opinions of all of my constituents and hope you’ll keep contacting me on these important issues.

Analogue


1
As I posted earlier, I was having a really hard time writing a story I’ve been working on for a week.
Some of it was external (or rather, internal: physical fatigue and mental fog caused by things I can point at), but that doesn’t matter. I still have to work. When my kids were small I didn’t get to not feed them just because I felt crappy. When I had a paying job and I was bored, I couldn’t just sit there and stare into space.
Now I work for myself. So I had to find a way to, um, work.
I had spent far too long looking for distraction in the food cupboards and on news sites and the dreaded Facebook. I was starting to feel sick. So I broke out my e-edition of Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
I got as far as the part where the author talks about stepping away from the computer screen when it hit me: that was exactly what I needed to do today.
I copied out, by hand, in my nice fountain pen, the opening 359 words of the story I was working on. I consulted my handwritten notes. I dragged some loose leaf lined paper on to my desk and wrote like I was sitting in the exam hall during my Higher English exam 2. Before I started to write, I blocked out some things I knew I wanted my heroine to do (and why) and then I began to write. I wrote until I was starting to get stale (around 1000 words later). And then I typed it up.
And tomorrow I know what comes next. I have notes about why she’s doing all this, and a sense of how long I can let her roam the page before I have to bring things to a head.
I think I’ll walk down to my shared office space early tomorrow morning, with my notebooks, my ipad and my new bluetooth headphones, and see how far I can move things on.
I’m fighting back. Because what else am I going to do? Give up? Been there, done that., learned that it doesn’t help.
Seriously, read the book,read the book though. It’s full of good stuff.

  1. Yes, I’m betraying my British origins. Analogue and catalogue will never look right to me without the ‘ue’. Deal.
  2. I don’t remember any teacher ever teaching us about creative writing while at school. We studied Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas and John Steinbeck and bloody bloody Keats — the same one poem two years in a row — but no-one ever talked to us about composition. And yet it was in every exam. Luckily I loved it, but since moving to the States, where they are teaching my kids about story structure in elementary school, I do find it odd that I never heard a thing in school about ‘rising action’ vs. ‘the middle’ or ‘climax’ vs. ‘the end’. Maybe it was a good thing. Maybe the fact that I only ever learned from masters (i.e. those writers I enjoyed reading) has affected my writing more than the pronouncements of a provincial teacher in their 20s every could have. Still odd, though.

Feeling Sorry For Sysiphus

It has been very hard to write, this past week. (I think I managed 10 words yesterday. Seriously. Ten.)

I’ve been out of my Write First routine. It’s hard to Write First when you are tired, or under the weather and have to get kids out to school, and when the only exercise classes your gym offers are an hour after the kids leave for school and, and, and.

But none of that matters. I need to find a way to write, because I am such a better person when I do. I need to find a way because, ten years from now, I could still be sitting on a pile of unfinished stories, or I could be living my dreams.

So I shall revisit the Bradbury Method. I shall revisit my morning pages. I will look at my goals and log my word count and do all the things that, over time, result in my motivation coming back.

…right after I shower and go to this school thing that I said I would attend.

 
InsecureWritersSupportGroup

And I absolutely will not be spending time on the Insecure Writers Support Group list today. (Ahem). But you might want to:


 

Don’t Know Much About History*

Belle Boyd Home I’ve been reading about the American Civil War recently because…well, let’s see. Why AM I reading about it?

Oh, I know. Because it was the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 4th this year and I subscribe to Smithsonian Magazine, and there has been an ongoing series of Civil War articles.

In spite of having lived in Pennsylvania for 17 years (you know, down the road from Gettysburg) I have managed to learn surprisingly little about the Civil War in my time here. So, with all the anniversaries rolling around I decided to read. And of course, when I’m reading about historical events I keep getting caught up in the fascinating characters who get a passing mention in the big texts.

Like, Robert Gould Shaw, who was eventually celebrated in the movie Glory . Turns out that for a long time he was nothing but a footnote in the history books. I have an old, second-hand book that bemoans the fact that no-one knows about Shaw, even though he wrote tons of letters that were preserved and published and promptly forgotten about. 1 The thing that really caught me about Shaw though, was the throwaway line that he spent a couple of days on honeymoon before going off to assume his command of the free African American troops. And that the couple’s families had not approved of the marriage. Wha-huh?

That was pretty much all I could find.

So the cogs started turning. And I wrote this story.

But there is a ton of other stuff to learn, quite apart from names of Generals and dates of campaigns.

For example, did you know there were a whole slew of women spies — for both sides — some of whom went on to become famous and give speaking tours, some of whom died in penury and some — I’m looking at you, Harriet Tubman — were the first women in the nation’s history to lead actual military operations (albeit without a commission. The woman blew stuff up and led raids, and all before she was being pictured in demure dresses and being celebrated as a suffragist). Also: the government finally paid out upwards of $200,000 in back-pension benefits that they had promised her for her war work but never given her, in 2011.

So I’ve spend a happy day or so reading the memoirs of Belle Boyd, La Belle Rebelle, to get the lowdown on how a spirited lady of adventure would tell her own story. It was published in 1865 while she was living in London and trying to get her husband out of jail back in America. She was a piece of work. And I’m currently writing a short story that is going to be a great rollicking ride through Viriginia with a spirited lady spy who may owe a debt or two to Mrs Boyd-Hardinge.

I also pulled up an episode of the Ken Burns documentary on the civil war that I remember coming out when I was still living with my parents or going to university. I remember my older brother being absolutely addicted to it and finding myself drifting into the room and ending up sitting there with him for hours as this strange, bewitching mishmash of still photos and voice-overs unrolled history for us. This week I accidentally landed on the episode that covers the horrors of the Andersonville prison, complete with pictures of starved survivors that should have warned us about the horrors that 20th century warfare would bring — apparently we weren’t listening.

There are stories to be written there too, but I’m probably not the one to write them. I don’t think I could sink myself into that much sadness and still have the willpower to sit down and write every day.

So it’s back to my spunky heroine Rose and her quest to [REDACTED] in order to save her [REDACTED] in the face of [REDACTED]. It’s going to be fun and exciting and, I hope, spur you to find out more about this fascinating period of history.

[*. Actually I do know quite a lot about history. Oodles, in fact. I have a certificate that says so. I just don’t know much about certain areas of it. Like, as it turns out, the history of the Civil War]

  1. Until Matthew Broderick came along, obviously.