Falling Into NaNoWriMo

Falling Into NaNoWriMo

30 October 2018

For some bizarre reason, I missed fall. I missed the leaves changing colors and only now notice how bright they are as they fall off trees. The most vibrant colors are the maple leaves back home (New York), and I do miss that part of fall.

Weather-wise, it feels like we’ve gone from warm to cold temperatures, without a slight hint of a morning chill warranting a light jacket. I have a blue and brown field coat that I absolutely love to dig out on such mornings, but seemed to miss that opportunity this year. As the weather gets colder, I also enjoy curling upon the couch with a good book and let the time pass away in another world. If only I could give myself such a day. Maybe in December.

This all makes me wonder: where have I been all fall? Answer: vacationing out of the country and out of the state. Did I sleep through anything? Possibly. My mind has been preoccupied with various personal concerns. What happened to October?!? I cannot answer this. I could potentially be in some kind of a new time warp. Or it can simply be that I have too many writing projects. And I’m also prepping for NaNoWriMo.

National Novel Writing Month. November. The month when writers plan to achieve the goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Last year, I wrote 50,000 words in 21 days, and that was in between being constantly sick (most of 2017) and traveling to California for The Night of Writing Dangerously. I finished the month with 56,412 words. November begins to wind down when we become distracted by Black Friday, Cyber Monday and trying to buy some good gifts at stellar prices before we have to park our butts back in our chairs to hammer out 1,667 words a day to reach the goal.

50,000 words does not make a novel. Especially not these days. However, it’s more about the challenge. I had so many outside challenges last year that NaNoWriMo gives me another reason to focus on something that means a great deal to me: writing every day.

50,000 words might make a series of short stories. This was my original idea. Then my muse appeared and shook it all up. She told me to take all of my research and write a novel instead. Then she left before I could ask more questions.

I spent days thinking about this idea. How could it all work? I’ve spent time thinking about the novel and how each piece of research I might incorporate can become part of the bigger picture.

Then I met a dear friend for coffee. We were talking about our ambitious NaNo projects and she brought up Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House.” She was up until 2am binge-watching and recommended it would be a great series for me to watch to get an idea of story structure and the characters that intertwine.

I’ve written stories like this before, but this NaNo beast is something different for me. It’s a complicated puzzle.

So, I took her advice and binge-watched up through most of episode 8 until my new-old male friend came over Saturday. After finishing the series Monday night, I am thankful I waited to finish the movie. I prefer to read books before movies. She prefers not to. I wish I had read the story before finishing because I could have steeled myself for the ending. Bravo, I say! It’s a great tribute to Shirley Jackson and her writing, but goddamn! A family of seven unravels to four after several tragedies. Too much of a parallel, and I spoke of ghosts in my previous blog that also parallels the movie. I may be revisiting the idea once again later this week; it’s a small nudge in my mind, and Halloween is one day away.

Then my muse reappeared Monday morning. Told me to change the title of my story before she disappeared once again. Of course it happened in the shower so I could only finish with several thoughts about what it could be changed to. An hour later it came to me and changed it on my NaNo profile.

I have a blank wall in front of my desktop at home. My landlord doesn’t want nails in the walls or repairs need to be done before I move out. Personally, I don’t feel like it. I’m already battling an infestation of cockroaches, which is not good for my allergies (dust mites, cockroaches, etc. are high on my allergens list). I’ll bug-bomb the house when I go on my next business trip. In the meantime, Raid and I have become good friends.

The wall, right. With my horde of sticky notes of various sizes, colors, blank and lined, colored sharpies, pens and this large blank wall, I found someone posted about a sticky wall from the NaNo boards. My wall has become the tapestry for more story ideas. In fact, in the middle of watching “The Haunting…” I had to pause the movie to spend an hour writing my ideas down that flooded me. The story has large elements of flashback. However, I am taking the idea of memory triggers to use through the progression of the protagonist’s story when the inquisitive, young college intern is assigned as her care giver.

This just might work.

Last year, I merely had writing time on my calendar with reminders popping up 10 minutes before. This year I’m taking a more aggressive approach. I have written a “life schedule” (because life does change intermittently) that includes time at the gym, time writing, time for football; the time I need to spend writing when I’m on travel for work; what I’ll have for dinner. I firmly believe every writer should invest in an Instant Pot.

What I don’t have scheduled are “distractions.” By this I mean my social life, although my writing time ends at 9pm every day, and I don’t have plans to write all day over the weekend. Of course, if inspiration strikes and I have nothing else planned, sure. I’ll turn it into a writing marathon. But I need the evening before bed to unwind. Two hours should be ample enough. Still, sometimes my social life includes spending extra time with my male friend. It’s been nearly three months, but we have a common understanding. While we’re in this town for whatever strange reason, there’s a reason we spend time together. I do like that it’s dwindled down to weekends and not the week. However, I must be clear about my writing time on the weekends for November.

I have healthy snacks ready and gummy bears for those moments when I need the extra sugar boost. I have enough tea and I say this because I was so sick last year I lived off green chile chicken stew and various teas. No alcohol. I plan to go with this route again. Plus, I haven’t been in the mood to have even one drink. NaNo prep is well underway and not a minute too soon!

Then I can use December to return to life, in between holiday baking and parties, and finish the last 25-40,000 words before revising other works.

Being a writer for NaNoWriMo is an insane task, but is a challenge I need at this point in my life. It also keeps me at home with a close eye on Duke; he hasn’t been feeling well all weekend and had another bloody nose recently.

I’m done with vacations until 2019, so the story of Emily in, what is now, Fractured Seams is going to be one hell of a project.  My final prep work before November 1 includes: making this week’s meal, making breakfast before the weekend (everything should be microwavable for the week), creating my music playlist, and read 246 pages of The Haunting of Hill House because I am familiar with Jackson’s other works and recognized some of her writing from parts of the movie; I want to get in to read how she wrote. There are some new rock albums (since May) that have touched upon subjects I’ll be exploring, and it can only add inspiration. Lastly, I need to quickly tuck away my summer clothes and haul out my fall and winter clothes. Sweatshirts are going to be my favorite after work wear for writing.

I definitely missed fall, but you can be certain I won’t be missing NaNoWriMo and the huge community of writers working towards one goal: writing a novel (or short story collection) about something we want to say.

To anyone else who plans to write in November, best of luck! Use the community to seek out answers, ask your friends and family to support you during the frenzy writing, but most of all: take care of yourself, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of liquids, get in some exercise, make a schedule and leave some down time in your schedule. Set your cell phone aside in a different room during your writing time. Share conversations and talk about writing. Lastly, know that things in life can happen and some days you might not get those 1,667 words written, but there will be another day for you to catch up; just be flexible.

I’ll follow up with NaNoWriMo at the halfway point on November 15.

NaNo-2018-Writer-Badge

 

 

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All Ghost Matters

All Ghost Matters

21 October 2018

It’s hard to believe October is already here, more than halfway through. Time is moving far too fast. With October comes Breast Cancer Awareness Month. October 10 was Mental Health Awareness Day and there are days when I feel like I need to be part of whatever it takes to remove the stigma. For myself, for others and for the (slow) movement. Mental health is becoming a bigger topic. It’s taken forever for women to speak out against sexual assault. It’s taken the medical field an extremely long time to finally address endometriosis; something I’ve suffered with from the age of 17 (or possibly earlier), hospitalized at 19, and a thousand procedures through 31.  This has been my biggest ghost; a possible genetic predisposition.  I am not without a couple more ghosts, but they don’t belong here. They became a long poem and soon to be a story.

There’s a new term out amongst the dating world today: ghosting. Those who silent drop off from all communication. I’ve been ghosted a few times. But since I’m not taking dating seriously, I only shrug it off to say next!

And then we have the other classic ghost types: real, imagined, literary. Let’s discuss the ghosts of literature. One of the most famous ghosts are the ones Danny sees in The Shining (Stephen King). While I have yet to read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, I can’t help but think about a Stephen King miniseries, Rose Red. That house certainly took on its own identity and there’s one specific scene that makes the hair on your arms and back of the neck stand straight up.

We know about the ghosts in A Christmas Carol, but they seem to be written more for a pause in life to reflect. It’s hard to think of them as scary, but this is from an adult perspective. Then we have Catherine’s ghost in Wuthering Heights, and what she represents. The Victorian age certainly produced some great ghost stories. That might be a good research paper topic to write at some point.

The literature list goes on. Ghosts in stories take on a life of their own and have many purposes: to terrify, to teach; are lost, waiting to be found, to keep us awake during the witching hour, to be an entity of belief and disbelief, and more.

There are the believers in the existence of ghosts. I was once married to a research scientist. Oddly enough, he didn’t believe in ghosts until we were staying at my parents house (my mother was still alive at the time) one year after my father’s untimely death. That witching hour that some believe doesn’t exist? Well, there was a sudden chill that woke me from my sleep. Next to me, he asked, “Did you feel that, too?” He was wide awake and a bit startled. Even my stepson claimed he saw a ghost and ran from the house, not even getting through the front door completely. At that time, he was about 8 years, and had no idea my father had died in the house. Ten years later, my mother died in the same house. The week following her death some of the most bizarre events took place, including another chilling episode in the middle of the night. That house is definitely haunted. People will believe what they want, but for someone who never believed, my ex stepped back from all things logical in science to accept something a bit paranormal.

Then again, maybe it’s our minds playing tricks on us.

I wrote a short ghost story back in the day when I was finishing my undergrad degree as a nontraditional student. With the spookiness that is October, I am inclined to retrieve it from my files and see what I can do for revisions. For another ghost story? I don’t have anything in the library file of my mind to write at this time, but now that the idea is planted anything is possible.

I do enjoy a good story where the author uses words effectively for us to paint a visual tapestry of the story as read along. For some stories, they can be simply terrifying, causing us to become paranoid when the sun goes down. And I certainly won’t watch anything scary, at night or in daylight, without having someone close by, so I choose to avoid scary movies altogether.

Ghosts are the easier spooks to write. They are intangible and ethereal, in my opinion. But whatever you believe, or don’t believe, the world is full of more terrifying things than ghosts. Ghosts will continue to exist in stories, movies, tv shows, and perhaps our minds.

May your October be full of ghosts that are only wearing a plain white bed sheet.

Finding a New Life

Finding a New Life

3 October 2018

I was recently away for a week for a meeting and time with friends, as well as taking time to write and exercise. Even though this trip was shorter, I feel like something has changed in me again. There seems to be something more concrete, as if my footing is a bit more solid.

Yet there’s something strange also happening at the same time. I am not so sure I want to explore certain elements, but there is some unexplained force regarding my OCD in listening to Persian music as of late…and I don’t know a single word of Persian.

I don’t quite understand where this romanticized idea of Persia came from, has existed for a very long time, but reading some of the lyrics of the songs I have grown to love (and begun to sing along to…in Persian to my best ability) demonstrates a poetic language. My first exposure was to “Dooset Daram” by Arash featuring Helena. It has a haunting melody that truly haunts my mind, body and spirit. It has also found its way into my core to give me the freedom to write some strong poetry. Dooset Daram means I love you.

I think I found my second favorite song on my own. Not from taking screenshots of songs played through a vehicle, or listed in Shazam’s massive song listing, or from frantically typing down names and song titles, hoping I would get them right (there were a few I didn’t, but Google does a good job helping me find what I need…as long as maps aren’t involved!). “Behet Ghol Midam” by Mohsen Yeganeh is one that I know half of the lyrics now in Persian. I have the song and have watched the live version of the YouTube so many times, I have even surprised myself (and feel like inserting <facepalm> because I keep watching a particular guitarist/band member I find myself attracted to; maybe it’s the smile? A smile is universal. I’m just going to roll with things and call it a fantasy. HAH!). There are other songs that are beginning to fill my new playlist.

A year ago, I found myself attracted to a Persian man. For various reasons, I squashed the attraction. Recently I’ve spoken of a new friend; one I’ve sort of been attracted to since a weird night in June. It took me two months to take the initiative to speak to this man, and at a moment he spilled his beer as I “swooped” in to scold him about alcohol abuse, followed by introducing myself to him right away. He is also Persian. And has a beard. I’ve never been a beard person! He has his own poetic language, and I still haven’t forgotten the night he said, “Anyone who meets you can find a way to fall in love with you in less than three seconds.” There are other things he has said, that still makes me smile and appreciate the moments we’ve had, but they are now written into a poem that has been polished and, on its way, to being accepted for publication…somewhere at some time.

We’ve spent the last month, in between the three weeks I’ve been away, hanging out watching movies, talking for the longest time, and he’s been watching football (NFL, specifically NYG) with me. I’ve been having fun. Of course, it was not destined to last. For additional reasons, some out of my control, I believe the time has come for time spent together to come to a halt. That’s okay. He has some things going on in his own life and I have more writing to do. I am hoping some freelance work falls into my lap to help bring in some extra income; I am feeling the super tight squeeze of a divorce and being paid a horrible salary for my qualifications (that’s the problem with living in Socorro…along with working at a university). However, I won’t discount the fact that I do/did like him. My heart simply isn’t there, but we had respect and kindness for each other. That was refreshing.

During my time away, I realized something needs to change once again by May 2019. The numbers don’t lie: women of divorce lose 37% of their income, watch their credit scores plummet (for the most part) and takes them longer to find a job where they’re making a decent salary close to what the income was during their marriage.

Of my marriage salary (utterly pitiful), I was “allowed” $80 a month. My inheritance was taken from me, with broken promises of paying me back, and that never happened because of a dirty game called community property. I don’t get to enjoy the house that I was forced to spend my inheritance on (I wanted to be smart and invest…the Opposing Party most likely felt threatened with me having so much at one time). Yet, looking at this in a different light, I don’t want to live in a place of two past wives, and a friend thinks the house has bad mojo anyways. Several friends knew the best thing for me was to get the hell out. I did just that and more.

I fell in love with myself in Paris. This is powerful. I also think this is the reason why I want to be done writing The Downfall. It needs to be finished so that I can move on. The ending was written some time ago and I’ve been filling in the gap (middle), but I felt like I was dragging my feet through sludge. It was only after returning from Europe, then taking a small breather while in Dallas and before my meetings kept me super busy with stupidly late nights and early mornings, that the a-ha! moment and I found the voice to finally draw the reader in to feel invested in a relationship my protagonist (Kiki) wasn’t sure she really wanted to have, but was critical to the story. Now I’m on the calendar and clock to finish.

It has taken me ten months to feel semi-comfortable working in my office on my desktop again. I find it’s becoming difficult to write around the house and it’s so much easier to type on a regular keyboard. I really think signs are pointing to new beginnings. Maybe I’ll also make time to learn Persian…or Farsi…or Russian. I’m building new dreams and goals. I’m adding to my European travel for 2019. I have no clue what I’m doing the remainder of 2018, but you can be sure that I’m doing whatever I want because a) I can and b) I’m going to do what makes me happy. Men, or rather dating, really aren’t in the equation until sometime 2019, but writing─well, writing is what makes me happy and I can’t quit now. I couldn’t quit when I was in the last six months of grad school and that was at the deepest and darkest moments of my life, so declaring I want to quit after rising from the ashes goes against everything I’ve worked so hard for, and everything I’m still fighting for.

I’m putting in 38 hours in 4 days with my new job because of the subject matter I’m studying and observing. After an afternoon coffee, which I rarely have, I still took a nap tonight which explains why I’m still up. It actually started with adding more Persian music to my playlist when inspiration struck to write this next post around 10pm while reading posts on tips beyond divorce (of which several I have done or am doing). Instead of sleeping, I’m still writing.

Puppy Duke, who is really not doing well although he still doesn’t appear to be in any pain as he wags his tail and wants to cuddle up to me, has had enough thinking that I should have been in bed eons ago, as time is different for a canine than a human. He’s most likely correct, but I write when inspiration strikes and sometimes sleep needs to be sacrificed to get things written down to have a clear mind. Or it’s my insomnia.

Things that are happening at this time cannot be explained. I’m not exactly looking for explanations, but I am accepting that footing I spoke of at first, along with some type of a clarity, that is allowing me to keep moving forward in life and in writing.

 

An American in Literary Europe

An American in Literary Europe

A Phlog
(Photo Blog-photos by Jade Bookends, LCC and Zach Ruslan are copyrighted and acknowledged throughout)
9-22 September 2018

In a short, while seemingly long, two week time period, I ventured out on vacation. I proved to myself that I was ready to begin life as a solo traveler…and one who has many stories from the places and people over the course of two weeks.

And writing! So much writing! I was writing story notes and ideas, and poems on my phone when I wasn’t near my Surface, big notebook or smaller notebook. So much writing.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I began my trip exploring the places that sparked literary stories from writers like Ernest Hemingway; he spent time in Madrid. Only after I was done in Spain, leaving the airport, and looking at the hills in the background from my seat window, did I now fully understand Hills Like White Elephants. I previously mentioned I’ve never been a Hemingway fan, yet it was in Madrid that began my literary tour.  It was in Madrid where I stood at the top of a staircase, Escalerilla De Piedra, clearly marked by a balcony, leading down to Sobrino de Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world. It was at the top of these stairs where Napoleon stood. History lines the streets, stairs, buildings, and architecture.  Hemingway ate at Botín. He did not eat at a small restaurant just a few doors down and above the doorway hangs a sign-their claim to fame. Walking past Botín, further down the sidewalk, then taking a right to walk down a narrow street, my tour guide spoke of authors who walked in the same spot.

 

Madrid, Spain. Copyright 2018 Jade Bookends, LLC

I spent 5 hours in Madrid’s city centre, ate tapas with a cervaces (beer), enjoyed a chocolate (hot) and churro at Chocolatería San Ginés, and took the Metro back to the airport to continue my trip to Paris. My day of speaking Spanish would have to wait until I reached Barcelona later in the trip.

In Paris, there was Victor Hugo, and I could hear the music score of Les Misérables in the backdrop of my mind, taking me back to the root of my exposure to the story and music; signing a solo part of “On My Own,” scored for Eponine; going to NYC to see the show on Broadway. The Paris Opera House, inspiration for Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, in its sparkling evening glow light. I remember walking along the Pont des Arts bridge in 2014, and, somewhere, there are photos of the bridge railings lined with locks of love; those locks were removed a year later (2015) because they were too heavy and the weight threatened the structure. I was on the same bridge during this trip and the view of the Seine is now what accents the city of romance.

 

Notre Dame and Paris Opera House. Copyright 2018 Jade Bookends, LLC

Standing in front of Notre Dame, surrounded by a lot of people sitting, standing in line to enter the cathedral, and taking selfies, our personal guide asked our group how we heard about Notre Dame: the animated Disney movie was the most popular reason. For me, I have a more personal connection with the cathedral from my visit four years ago. I’ve never read the books, and this Disney buff vaguely remembers the movie. And it was Victor Hugo who wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

In my writing, Notre Dame is the setting for my short story, Lost in the City of Lights. When I wrote the story in October/November 2016, I did not have any clue that my life was beginning to unravel. I wrote the story for a class; when I read it at a much later date, there was an “Oh my!” moment, followed by “I had absolutely no idea I was predicting a future life not that far off.” The story is filled with hope, discovery, searching, and love of many levels. Writers love to talk about their stories, but this one seemed to be the pinnacle of one of the best stories I’ve ever written. Paris did that to me when I first visited in 2014. Notre Dame was my first sightseeing stop and it obviously made an impression.

On the Seine River, during a dinner cruise, a dear friend asked me to be his model for his new camera that worked well in low light; I readily agreed, and this was before I was sporting a beautiful Mediterranean tan. As the boat glided by, I said, “Notre Dame! It’s the setting for my short story.” And he took a few more pictures. My friends were really great during the cruise and one scolded me for taking selfies when he and his wife could easily take my picture, and he instructed I give them my phone. It really warmed my heart, and brought even bigger smiles to my face, being surrounded by such good friends. “You’re always smiling,” one friend said, as he lightly pinched my dimple. I think my energy and spirit was infectious. How could I not smile…I was in Paris!!!!  I was going back to Italy and Spain was a new country for me.

DSC_9851

Notre Dame from the Seine. Photo Copyright @Zach Ruslan

I got lost in Paris.  Physically got lost. Google maps did not help between the hours of 11pm and 1am. This blondie’s compass is already broken, and I remember standing some place, looking at my location on the map that put me smack-dab in the middle of the Seine, and I began to panic: I was lost, I was alone, and I was a female, lost and alone in a foreign place. The moment I felt these feelings rush into tears, I stopped walking, cursed my phone and Google maps, and gave myself a pep talk. I had been in worse situations, and with someone standing right next to me. After drawing in a deep breath, I told myself to regroup, back track, and find my way. “You can do this. You got this.” It was just me-I had no choice…and taxis sleep at night,

When I was telling this story to my friend, K, recently, she said, “Sometimes you have to get lost to find your way.” Paris was my getting lost, and I certainly stumbled in Madrid, but it was a bit easier to navigate because of a more structured street system; I understood the public transportation system (wish I had used it from Disneyland into the city-would have been a huge money saver!), and my knowledge of Spanish. (I can actually read French, German, Spanish, and Italian very well…German is my strongest speaking language, followed by: Spanish, Italian, French, and a few phrases in Mandarin.) My stumbles in Europe weren’t of the knee-scraping kind, but more of moments I braced myself to prevent a fall; my knees never really touched the ground this time.

While wandering, and getting lost, I read The Real Midnight in Paris by Paul Brody. The Lost Generation, as I mentioned, is my forte literature period. I’m beginning to think 18th and 19th century French literature might be my next hobby for studies.

I can’t seem to read enough into The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), and have read a few more of his works. I’ve read a few books about Zelda, including an autobiography, and I must say while those two were free-spirited in their own unique ways, they were also toxic to each other. From reading about their lives from both sides, there is no one side to choose (Scott vs Zelda) in their marriage. Both parties were to blame. It’s one of those slippery-slope conversations, because I do defend Zelda at times. Scott certainly could have provided more support, but this leads into the testing waters of the Fitzgerald’s’ marriage-that slippery-slope.

That was such a different generation and the whole reason expatriates ended up in Europe: they were (to put it bluntly) pissed off at the previous generation. And the US entered WWI late. I studied literature through war at SNHU, and it covered just about everything from WWI all the way through to the Civil Rights and Women’s Movement, and not stopping there. We began to study literature around the Afghanistan war.

“I’m going through my own war; how can I possibly survive this?” was a question I asked several times throughout the 10 weeks of class, often in tears because I couldn’t be the A student I strived to be; it was hard to take literature and apply it through the lens of life (in this case, war). I struggled. I struggled with my own personal war the last six months of grad school, and I struggled with the class because it didn’t focus on any one generation.  It didn’t focus on a specific type of literature and seemed like it was an all over the place progression; kind of like my life during that time. It was the worst literature class.

After using Europe as my literary excursion, a few things make sense now.

Literature changed because of the Lost Generation. The freedoms that the U.S. didn’t allow were part of a different tapestry in Europe. Writers could be exactly who they chose to be; who they wanted, and needed, to be.

Perhaps that’s my correlation to Europe: France and, now, Spain. There appeared to be more of an US presence in Europe than in our home country during various stages of wars and everything in between.

Europe certainly gave me more of a chance to experience the food, culture; delve deeper into literature terrains, and a good way to lose myself (Thanks, K. That was the perfect explanation.). It also reminded me that: I still love Paris. There’s something about the City of Lights that acts likes a spatula, folding me into layers to mold something dynamic.

I didn’t discuss my trip around the Mediterranean Sea and the stops in ports. I will touch on it briefly.  Alexander Dumas was prominent in Malta, where you could take a boat ride to Comino to see St. Mary’s Tower, a setting in The Count of Monte Cristo film).

In Naples (Napoli), our cab driver got us past the long queue into the restaurant where Julie Roberts ate during Eat, Pray, Love. While I still haven’t had my EPL moment, or I did in some other fashion, the pizza and beer was so good, my friend and I split the pizza. In our cab, we zipped around side streets.  Once back on the boat, I grabbed a glass of wine and my Surface to write with Mt. Vesuvius in the backdrop.

In Genoa (Genova), I ate gelato after our excursion allowed free time. Nothing beats gelato, cannolis, wine, and the food overall in Italy…and France…and the Sisk beer in Malta is the best.

In Sicily (Sicilia), Mt. Etna was smoking and I amply used beach time to get some rest, before walking into the Sea to feel the cool water quench my body.  I still have Milan, Venice, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and Verona on my next to visit Italy list. I’ve been to Rome, Florence, Lido, Pisa, and the Vatican City.

In Barcelona, it was more about Gaudi’s architecture that is extremely prominent around the city.  Our city tour excursion, mostly on the bus, took us past Casa Batlló and we had time to walk around La Sagrada Familia, forever under construction. I had paella and sangria for lunch when were given free time to explore the city.

 

Casa Batlló, Barcelona, Spain.  Below La Sagrada Familiar. Gaudi Architecture. Copyright 2018 Jade Bookends, LLC

 

I got to see the rare tiger dolphins from my cabin balcony one morning and loved the way the Mediterranean sun bronzed my skin, without much effort; I only had 2-3 hours on the beach, didn’t really sit on the pool deck of the ship, and spent most of my time walking around. I am truly of a Mediterranean (and European) descent; I am the only one in my family with an olive complexion and green eyes.

bronze blondie

The Mediterranean Sea. Copyright 2018 Jade Bookends, LLC

But, Italy…ah, Italy. I fell in love with Italy in 2010, and that love is even greater after this trip. I threatened to pack my suitcase and get off the boat to stay. It could have become my own Under the Tuscan Sun.  I’ve had numerous people tell me I need an Italian man. I don’t need any man, but when/if the time comes, it will have to be someone who appreciates me, won’t hold me back from any dreams I continue to pursue, nor oppress me or suppress me. If that man is Italian, then bonus! And this is getting off topic quickly. I’ll keep dreaming of spending significant time in Italy.

I’m always happier when I’m away from “home.” These two vacations (Paris and the Mediterranean cruise around France, Italy, Malta and Spain) was exactly the type of vacation I needed to get completely away. I was exactly the person I know I am with a few surprises and did the one thing I’ve become really good at: doing anything that makes me happy…and it shows. In Paris, the City of Lights, the city known fro romance, I was able to learn what it means to truly love yourself. I needed that kind of love back and found it within. It took quite a while, and it started with being kind to myself, as JDF told me from the very beginning. I worked my way through kindness to find love. It’s been a long journey.

Underneath, I know I still have some work to do. Underneath, I know my anxiety and depression hasn’t disappeared, but to continue down the path I’m going between working out, writing, talking to my therapist, asking friends for help when I need it, I know these mental health issues are only temporary in the grand scheme. And that’s okay.

More than anything, my vacations inspired me to keep writing, to begin new stories, to make my current stories and poems even better, and to remember the writing path I dream of traveling. Tying in the literary components of the trip also made me realize it’s everywhere. With some effortless research, we can go anywhere in the world and will find literature and history seeping up from the stones, dirt, and even water to remind us of an imagination that can transform the writer and reader to some of the most fantastic places in this world and in other worlds.

Writing with Genova, Italia in the background from the cruise ship. *Sheer bliss* Copyright 2018 Jade Bookends, LLC

Genova writing

A special thanks goes to my good friend, Zach Ruslan, for the fabulous photos he provided…and it was tempting to use them all, but didn’t.

Stepping Stone

Stepping Stone

7 September 2018

I previously mentioned a life list, not bucket list, and discussed the reason I call it a life list. In the past week and a half, I have crossed a few more items off my list while adding more.

  • Disneyland Paris-had a blast. I stood in lines reading a book. Effective use of time; if I’m not writing, I’m reading.
  • Return to Paris. I still haven’t taken the stairs up the Eiffel Tower; have walked around it and seen it from a boat. A good reason to return. That, and I would love to go back up to the Bell Tower of Notre Dame and spend more time with the gargoyles.
  • It’s been eight years, and I am smiling because I have returned. What’s not to love…the wine, the gelato; the beautiful scenery, the architecture, rolling hills and the placement of the buildings, the culture, and I simply love the language. I fell in love with Italy at first sight in 2010 and that love has not waivered.

    Our excursion was cancelled so my girlfriend and I slept in (for some much needed rest; again, we don’t get much sleep during committee work), then ventured out, deciding to hire a taxi driver to take us around Napoli (Naples) on Monday (Labor Day in the U.S.). He took us to La Pizzeria da Michele, where the line is at least 40 minutes long. He knew someone on the inside and got us seated immediately. We had no choice but to sit with two other people (four at a table), and eventually struck up a conversation with two young women from Kuwait, working in the oil industry, Of course, with my friend and I being involved with SPE, we plugged the organization while speaking a little bit about some of the people they may have met from around the industry.

    The neat thing about this pizza place was that a signed photo, of/by Julia Roberts, hung on the wall. She ate in the same place during Eat, Pray, Love. I can almost see this trip as part of my EPL, while tossing in a bit of Under the Tuscan Sun. There are pieces missing, but it’s what we make of it, and I’m still on the World Tour of Karen.

Our driver took us to other places that we would have not been able to see on foot. My friend has bad knees (she’s in her 60’s) but is a good sport. Hell, I injured my hip the week before leaving for Paris and tweaked it again in Paris; a minor, yet annoying, setback.

  • Madrid was my first stop. Barcelona will be my second.
  • Swam in the Mediterranean Sea.

As I mentioned before, it’s a new life, new memories and a new passport. I still find myself writing everywhere. Being away from home, I discovered I am writing even more. While I want to say it’s crazy that it happens this way, it simply means I’m less distracted. I can write anywhere.

The balcony is closed off to washing (Tuesday), so I left my friend to retire early, and I am sitting in a sports bar (say it isn’t so!) writing this blog and working on my novel. I’m tucked away in a corner where I can also people watch.

Again, this is the smoothest sailing cruise I’ve ever been on. Ms. Foodie would absolutely love this cruise for not only the smooth seas, but also for the ethnic food around the cities and on the boat. This isn’t the geriatric cruise I was last on, but things do close down early and open after 7am; I can’t go to the gym at 6am because they’re not open! Welcome to the lifestyle of Europe.

Lastly, this certainly isn’t a cruise for single people. There aren’t any singles events and my damn hip is killing me too much to even think about dancing. Despite everything, my friend has been a really good person to have in my life for so many years (12, I think), and she is grateful she had someone of equal fun to cruise with. If we get to meet in Germany next fall, we’re talking of a Rhine cruise, and I’ve already alerted some people to join in on the fun. Life is too damn short to sit at home, and I had zero intentions of letting someone ruin my chance at a future of happiness. Ever since June 2, 2017, I have done nothing but enjoy activities that makes me happy.

I wrote in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius during a sunset on Monday. Tuesday, I watched smoke trickle upward out of Mount Etna. I missed a Pompeii excursion, but it gives me a reason to return. I got some serious beach time, and this blondie is darker than bronze now. I have at least two more days of sun I can enjoy, so I can return home to be the envy of everyone and decide if now’s the time to move into size 10 clothes, shed more of my closet and continue to downsize. Then again, I am traveling most of September, so it may become an October to-do list.

(Uh oh. Side note. Tuesday was karaoke night in the Sports Bar and I was talked into singing. For any friends back home-go ahead and laugh. It’s the only bar that has an IPA, and the bartenders know me by name.)

…Sherill…where on Earth are you???????  You belong on this cruise!!!!!

What does all of this have to do with writing? Everything. Writing is about life. Life is about experiences. Writing is about experiences. Writing is my life. The karaoke-hecklers (fun group of guys/staff from the Dominican Republic and South Africa) were asking me if I was working. “Yes. My work is writing.” These are the questions that spark conversations. These are the conversations I’m passionate about.

Here’s the funny thing about writers. Most of us are approachable. Ask me why I’m sitting in a corner with my computer, a glass of wine and water. I may look alone, but I’m never alone. Sit down in my area and ask me where I’m from. “No, no family. No, no children.” Ask me what I write, maybe even why I write, and anything related to writing. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. I think the karaoke guys were rather impressed; they stopped by every now and then asking me if things are going okay. Yep. I listen to people sing and continue to write. I told JMP I was going to write until the battery died on my Surface.

As one single person, amongst 5,800 people, in the middle of the Mediterranean, I have tossed the last of an old life overboard (finally), tried speaking four languages I have been studying for long and short periods of time-and really confusing them since I am using 3 out of 4 on this trip; hopped back in a cruise boat, took my first steps alone in a new foreign country, and made a trip to Disneyland Paris.

Not too shabby. I keep telling my friend, “life is good, and I really can’t complain.” I keep writing. I strive to meet my writing goal every day, no matter where I am. I have the best support network who gives me the moments I need to quiet my thoughts through blogs and working on my novels, short stories and poetry. Despite everything: love, loss, trials and tribulations, the curveballs, and praying every day I get to wake up to have Duke with me just one day, I work really, really hard so that I can enjoy life…and have the material from experiences to keep writing.

Yes, this trip has been significant on so many levels. I can’t help but think what else is next. Where the next stepping stone will take me. What I’ll do. Where I’ll go. What I’ll write. The people I will meet. The adventures I will be part of, and how much of me I am more now than ever before. Only time will tell. Or perhaps it will be the next opportunity.

Overall, Tuesday was a good day; it’s been a good trip. This green-eyed blondie needs to keep moving forward in her new chapter.

Thank you, to all of my readers, for following me on this journey. Welcome to my newest readers.

Above: Street of Taormina. Below: Mt. Etna and sunset with view of Mt. Vesuvius (Italy). Copyright @2018 Jade Bookends, LLC

 

Doesn’t Belong Here

Doesn’t Belong Here

2 September 2018

“X doesn’t belong here” was a strong opinion, recently told to me as a bunch of friends and I were on a boat along the Seine River in Paris. I need to get past this. I can do this. I am on vacation and moving forward is only going to get better.

Ah, Paris. How I’ve missed you. Between the literary scene, and inspiration of Notre Dame, used a setting in my short story, Stuck in the City of Lights, I forgot how I missed the smells of fresh baked goods and cafés along the sidewalks. During this part of my trip, I have: gotten lost along the streets for nearly two hours, trying to find my way back to the hotel (this blondie’s compass has always been broken); got my luggage stuck in a subway turnstile <facepalm>, and not gotten much sleep, as it goes when doing work on a committee. I spent five days in Paris: two and a half days working. Prior to my meeting, my primary dinner was bread, wine and cheese. The bread is so good here, I honestly don’t need anything else. Plus, I’ve had two really good dinners and some good lunches. Because Parisians eat so late and take several hours for the meal (starter, entrée/plat, dessert), breakfast is even more sustainable for me: a pastry and cappuccino. And more cappuccino. I need espresso or straight-up coffee to truly get through mornings as a human.

The third part of my trip: a Mediterranean cruise. My girlfriend had me at “balcony” and “Italy” back in February when we had our final meeting date. She mentioned she was surprised how fast I answered her email (less than 5 minutes); she wanted to do this cruise, but really didn’t Mewant to travel alone. She thought of me, and I am thankful. I thanked her for asking me. She thanked me for coming along. So far, we’re having a great time. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring more bottled water, and drank from the tap last night. I will remember water is included with my drink package.

It’s 11:37pm in my time zone. After a day of travel, taking the TGV from Paris to Marseille, and boarding the ship, it’s been a full day. Yet, here I am: without another day at the gym or getting some serious walking time in and I’m feeling my anxiety build up a little. To unwind, I’m on the balcony, writing. Writing helps to clear my mind. It’s helping me to wind down, when my mind continues to whir at an exponential rate.

The humidity has done some great and bad things to my hair. It’s made my skin glow while creating a small minefield on my chin. I tried a new drink tonight, couldn’t figure out why my nose was running until I read the ingredients; gin, and I can’t drink gin. In fact, I asked my new friend to finish the gin I had in my house (back in the US). The sun is bronzing my skin, and this blondie will return ridiculously tan.

I see another cruise ship not far on the dark horizon. In the distance I notice a coastline with lights, faint, but a city is still there. I’m unplugged from my phone until I’m in ports, while remaining plugged in to my music. I can still hear the waves over the music currently playing. This is the calmest cruise ship I’ve been on. And the water, the water is a blue I’m still trying to find words to describe it.

And all day long I’ve been saying, “I can’t believe I’m on a boat again. I can’t believe I was in Paris again. I can’t believe I’m going to return to Italy.” This trip is my way of making new memories. Could I see myself on another cruise by myself?  Perhaps, but why…it’s safer to travel in numbers. I know I can do it; I’ve proven to myself I’m capable of doing anything; I am Wonder Woman. Someone else does not belong here at all!  The most important thing to remember is this is my life and how I want to live it. I still want to do the things I spoke about…it may just take me a little longer to get there. I’m not letting anyone stop me. For those who dare to criticize me, share negative opinions, I’m done-take what you think I should and shouldn’t be doing and shove it up your ass. I’m done!  I’m done with the negativity. I’m done with the criticisms. I’m done with the drama. All of this, too, doesn’t belong here. I’m done letting it enter the space I’ve created for myself. I have no shame in blocking out those once in my life who don’t mean well or are simply too toxic.

Wonder Woman stands for strength, grace and love. She is a fighter, protecting without bias. I still have room in my heart for love, just not yet. This is my time to be selfish. This is my time to be myself or even more of myself than I thought I could become. I’m on a stepping stone (title and topic for my next blog) and only working my way up. I surround myself with people who are happy to see me smiling and laughing again; I know it’s been a long haul; I know where I came from and where I still need to go, but I’m stopping to enjoy life along the way. I’ve lost too many close to me at young ages. I need to take time out to remind myself life is short: here today, gone tomorrow.

Outside: I feel the boat turning. I see another cruise ship out on the water. The coastline lights dimly point the way to where we’re headed Sunday morning. The cool air is welcoming after a blistering NM heat. The calm sea gives me a rhythm to write along with it, slowly relaxing me so that I can sleep longer than 4-5 hours. I have a new friend whose kind, and I haven’t had that kind of kindness in a very long time. I am returning home to do more travel in September before I begin working on Plan B and C in October. The new friend won’t have a place in these plans.

Inside: I’ll sleep in a twin bed as I am sharing a room with my girlfriend; her husband didn’t want to be in Europe or on a cruise, and she has a bucket list, too. There are some attractive men on the cruise, but I don’t think there are many single ones. Maybe I can learn more in the sports bar. The food is spectacular. I was judged by a Frenchman for the amount of wine I was drinking at dinner.  Mr. Judgy Judgerson, you don’t know a thing about me…stuff it.  There are two couples at our table speaking French, not appreciating our efforts to speak the language. They claim they don’t speak English, but I’m calling out “bullshit.” Our waiter speaks Spanish…I cannot believe I came to France to speak Spanish so much!!

Removing myself from the daily life I have in New Mexico, I am really focused on enjoying a vacation I deserve and worked so hard for. I am not the same person I was in 2016 or even 2017.  There are things that don’t belong here with me, and I metaphorically just threw all of it overboard.

I am going to retreat to get, what I hope is, a good night’s rest. There’s more sun and fun to be had tomorrow and many days to follow. Even though I may be sleeping, the writing never stops. I’m writing in my mind, on my Surface, on my phone, in a special notebook and on napkins. Inspiration strikes every day. Bon soir!

Dinner Cruise along Seine River. Copyright 2018 Jade Bookends, LLC

Eiffel Tower Background

 

Choosing a Path

Choosing a Path

31 August 2018

The very first stamp in my passport was Madrid, Spain. Not France, not the United Kingdom, not The Netherlands, not the United Arab Emirates, not any country in Central or South America or any other country I’ve visited in the past, and a past that included a form of “we.” There is no we here.

With an eight hour layover in Madrid, on my way to Paris, I exhausted myself to try and sleep on the overnight flight, to be ready to explore a new city in a country that is my first as a single woman, but there is so much more meaning beyond this simple trip…and the remainder of my time in Europe.

Madrid was an interesting city. I went on a two-hour free tour, visiting some of the highlights, but not stopping to enter anything specific. I did the tour because I would learn something about a city I’ve never visited and could get some local tips. I did; hot chocolate and churros at ChocolaterÍa San GinÉs. Yum. The churros, unlike those we get in New Mexico (or anywhere else) had a tinge of salt in them, and I’m not a salt fan. For lunch I found a tapas bar for tapas and a cervaces (beer). I used my Spanish around the city and at the airport.

Then the language barrier went to hell. By the evening I was in Paris and couldn’t switch my gears fast enough to go from si to oui. We speak Spanish here and there around the state (NM), so it’s more or less ingrained. I really wanted to use my French; I didn’t study it for two years (three years, according to the state of New York) to not use it. I used it four years ago between Paris and Grenoble. It took me nearly two days, and a 14-hour marathon at Disneyland Paris, to get into the swing and begin using the language a little more.

That’s right. I took a small holiday, arriving in Europe early to “play” which meant finally going to Disneyland Paris…because I could. My original plan was to spend two days at the parks, but the weather on Wednesday was forecast to include rain, so I decided (at the last minute) to spend one very full day between both parks. I regret that I didn’t get to spend more time at Walt Disney Studios, but had the chance to immediately hop on Tower of Terror (the couple next to me thought I was crazy holding my arms up, cheering, and laughing) and Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Roller Coaster ride.  The Phantom Manor ride (Haunted Mansion in U.S.) was closed for refurbishment, which was a shame because it was another ride I was looking forward to experiencing, especially since there is a story attached. This is a great reason to return, but in a couple of years.

I was the last one to leave the park, and it was intentional. I wanted a picture of Main Street…empty, and it didn’t take a lot of effort or loss in sleep. I also have one from Disneyland (CA). At some point there is a plan to create some type of collage.

By the end of the day, I was ready to fall-no, crash, into sleep; the motto of my life. Into a world where the boundary lines between reality and another world are transparent.

The rain fell on Wednesday. Lightly, but enough to make me think it was a good day to transfer to the city; an hour’s ride away from the magic that steals my heart and captures my imagination. But my adventures in the City of Lights were only beginning and stories will continue as I write my way through Europe.

Disneyland Paris-Main Street. Copyright 2018 Jade Bookends, LLCIMG_1601