Happy Thanksgiving and a Black Friday rant

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 crying baby

As I write this, stores in the Pacific Northwest are scheduled to open in a matter of a few hours. While for some of us, it is Thanksgiving, for others it is already Black Friday. What an appropriate label to identify the feelings some people are experiencing as they leave their families and loved ones to facilitate others’ indulging their shopping addiction. While the picture of the baby crying clearly was not meant to be attributable to Black Friday, who knows — perhaps his (her?) mother just left to go shopping. (Or maybe, the baby is angry because his wishlist is still on the table.) Is our society so consumed with making money and conspicuous consumption, we no longer are able to take one day out to give thanks for what we already have?

Those of you who are going to participate in Black Friday sales may have already left to get in line. Certainly on the East Coast, stores have probably already opened. This rant, then, is not directed at you. If you feel the need to shop, if you believe there are actually bargains to be had in exchange for sleep and family time, go for it. And I know there is little I can do to divert this marketing juggernaut. Nor do I really have any desire to do so. People have to make a living; corporations have to make a profit for their shareholders (or so the economists would have us believe.) So what if “family values,” as the GOP hypocritically termed mores they neither believed in nor politically supported, are subsidiary to bottom line maximization.

Saturday is Small Business Saturday, as American Express reminds us. (gotta love commercialism!) If we have to shop and buy things we neither need nor want, or gifts for people who will most likely neither need nor want them either, let’s do it in our own neighborhoods, supporting those mom-and-pop stores that are the backbone of our economy and society. Better still, stay home. Read a book. Play with your kids. Take a walk. This year, give contributions in your gift recipients’ names as presents. It is more keeping with the spirit of the holidays than almost anything else we can do.

And in the meantime, give thanks for who you are, for what you have, even for the opportunity to go shopping Thanksgiving evening. That too is a gift.

Learning to Float

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Learning to Float

Years ago, I ran into a friend eating lunch at a restaurant. He looked as sad as I had ever seen him. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I just lived out my last sexual fantasy,” he replied. The sense of loss and uncertainty about what was next clearly visible on his face.

I’m not sure why I shared that story except I was so stunned by the incident when it happened and still find it rather amusing. I too have just had a dream actualized although the story is nowhere near as titillating. (That word is so much more fun to say than to write!) Rather, my first book is about to be published! So, it’s a dream I am happy about rather than feeling empty because all fantasies have been realized.

When I was in college more years ago than I can easily remember, I knew I wanted to write, and publish a book. Something non-academic, although I had no idea whether it would be fiction or non-fiction. Over the years, I have written a lot, and and had a few things published. Mostly, it has been non-fiction — business letters, proposals, academic papers, legal briefs. (OK, so maybe it wasn’t all non-fiction!) I did not consider myself to be a writer. That was my wife, Deloris —an award-winning journalist and creative writer. Yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, buried under years of other fantasies and unachieved dreams, a book remained to be written and published. I just had no idea what it would be about.

A little over nine years ago, Deloris suffered a stroke and I became her caregiver. For several years, I sent emails to an ever-extending distribution list (I didn’t know about blogs,) relating her progress, or lack there of, and eventually discussing my emotional responses. Part of me was observing what was going on about me while the other part was participating in the action. At night I would sit at my computer and write about it, both as a way to stay in touch with others and as a means of integrating what was happening. The writing helped me make sense of it all. Friends encouraged me to put the emails together into a book, saying they could be a great help to others, especially men, who found themselves in similar situations.

Now, Deloris has progressed to where I have time to pursue endeavors in addition to my caregiving and I have written the book. While the motivational circumstances were certainly not what I wanted, I feel lucky to have been able to transform the pain and challenges into something positive. Publication of Learning to Float: Memoir of a Caregiver-Husband is imminent.

I am incredibly excited and proud of my achievement, in spite of how long it took to realize this fantasy (and how I would willingly give up the book to reverse the situation which gave rise to it.) I also wonder if anyone other than family and a few friends will read it or find it of any value or quality. I know I can’t spend time worrying about that; all I can do is whatever I can to generate interest in it and awareness of stroke. And, given that November is National Caregiver Month, it seems appropriate I do so.

In the coming weeks and months, I will excerpt parts of the book in this blog and, maybe, share some stories that didn’t make it through the final edit. I welcome comments, critiques, the sharing of your stories, and suggestions for how to learn to float through difficult, life-changing situations. And, of course, I will let you know when and where you can buy your own copy. In the meantime, enjoy the cover.

Think F-A-S-T

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October 29 was National Stroke Awareness Day; it also marked 9 years and two months since my wife, Deloris, suffered a stroke. On that day, in 2005, I joined the hundreds of thousands of family members, mostly women, who are unpaid caregivers. I assumed this new role with no hesitation, and truth be told, no thought about what it entailed. My wife needed me and I was able arrange my other responsibilities to be there for her.

Dee -- closeup

Deloris the year before her stroke

While these nine years were not easy, we were among the lucky ones. Deloris never lost the ability to speak or swallow. Although her mobility and endurance are impaired, she is not paralyzed. The stroke impacted her decision-making processes, ability to focus and follow through on a task. Her sense of humor is intact, if a bit more edgy than before. She remains extremely curious about all sorts of things, and capable of holding her own in conversation.

We are, however, no longer the equal partners in our marriage we were before. All major decisions fall to me, although I do what I can to bring Deloris into the process. I do all the cooking, housework, and laundry. I am her driver, her appointments secretary, her medical advocate. When she needs help for anything from getting up off the floor if she fell to reheating a cup of coffee, I am there. For years, I helped her dress, assisted in her toileting, her bathing. I provided support when she stood and an arm when she moved. I made sure she had both clean clothes and a clean body. I was/am on-call 24/7/365. It was as if I was raising another child, albeit an adult one. Before her stroke, we led busy professional and personal lives, committed to each other while often traveling close, parallel, but separate, paths. We talked about needing to find ways to spend more time together. Well, we found the way; it was just not what we had in mind.

Strokes devastate those who suffer them as well as their family and friends. While the specific impact and the resultant debilitation varies person to person, a stroke survivor is seldom, if ever, the same afterwards. Deloris has been forever changed. I have lost the woman I married, and I grieve that loss.

At the same time, I feel incredibly blessed by what I have experienced as my wife’s caregiver, I have learned about love, compassion, the importance of family and community, and what is truly meaningful in life. Since our families live thousands of miles away, they have not been available to help with Deloris’s care except sporadically. I have had to rely on the resources in and the members of the wonderfully supportive community in which we live, as well as some committed and compassionate professional caregivers. Deloris and I are luckier than many in that we have sufficient financial resources that allow us to live a relatively comfortable lifestyle, including hiring others to help with chores I can’t or don’t want to do (I joke that our financial solvency is in part the result saved a bunch of money by Deloris being unable to travel.)

We’ve developed a “new normal,” finding new ways to maximize our time together in ways that are both enjoyable and recognize her disabilities. Many times I wished my life were different from it is; at the same time, I recognize the futility in such thinking, and prefer to focus on the blessings and the love we are both experiencing.

Writing has provided me with a means to maintain social connections, as well as a creative vehicle through which I can process and integrate this experience. I have attempted to gather what I have learned through my experience in a soon-to-be-published book, Learning to Float: Memoirs of a Caregiver-Husband. More about this in future posts.

For today, I encourage us all to:

  • Learn the warning signs of a stroke: Face dropping; Arms drooping; Speech slurring = Time to call 9-1-1. Early intervention by medical professionals can alleviate long-term repercussions.
  • Write instructions for medical personnel; complete durable powers of attorney forms; update your wills.
  • Take control of your life while you can.

Equally important, love your spouse, your partner, your family members, your friends, yourself. Let them know how you feel and how important they are to you. Don’t wait. Do it now. It’s the right time.

To Tweet or not to Tweet, that is the question

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Spent yesterday at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference, interacting with writers and book marketers extolling the virtues of social media. I know. I have heard it from too many people at too many times. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and the rest of the social media world are how new authors develop “platforms,” become known, and attract readers. I don’t mind blogging; in fact, I think I like it, even though I don’t do very much of it. It’s like public journaling, verbal public masturbation, if you will. While I like writing about myself and what is happening in my life, I can’t imagine why people, especially those I don’t personally know, want to read about it. It’s not like I am famous, or even if I was like I am doing anything more fascinating than my readers (hopefully there are some) are doing.

Before I go any further, some disclosure is necessary. I am a 71 (soon to be 72) year old geezer, although people have told me I have the body of a 70 year old. I do have the attitude, and often the mouth, of a 15 year old boy. I am somewhat computer savvy — I taught online for over a decade, write and edit papers online, can do minor computer repairs, and after becoming totally frustrated with Vista, drank the Apple kool-aid (or was it cider?) I have a MacBookPro, an iPod, an iPad, an iPhone, and a Kindle. I use Dropbox, at times watch tv shows on my computer; I read books and newspapers on my Kindle and my iPad. I research things online and work crossword puzzles online. And I have accounts with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Before blogs were popular, I lived my life relatively publicly through a several-times-a-week basis couple of hundred email distribution list. I am Facebook a lot, but mainly to stay in contact with old friends, ex-girlfriends and one ex-wife, friends in other parts of the country. I am setting up a Facebook page for a book of mine that is about to be published.

So, I am not totally computer-illiterate. Blogging is understandable, at least if the person has something intelligent to say or has life experiences relevant to my own. The mind-set that believes one can be intelligent and relevant in 140 characters totally escapes me. Why am I interested in a picture of what people are eating, much less where they are and what they happen to be doing that moment. If you are tweeting about something that is happening that moment, you are not paying attention to the experience you are tweeting about. One cannot multi-task; it is physiologically impossible. This is true even of our politicians (for whom a strong argument can be made they cannot even single-task!) Immediate responses to an event or a speech are not thought out; they can’t be. They are emotional sound-bites, good for a 15 second TV spot, some image-building for one’s constituency, but hardly sufficient for sound, rational governing.

And, what’s with selfies? The seem to be the epitome of narcissism. I fully grok a desire to commemorate an experience with a photograph. But why inflict it on other people, especially strangers. Do the pictures serve any purpose other than make others jealous or falsely build up the poster’s self-esteem?

Sure, some people post links to intriguing and thought-provoking pieces which originally appeared elsewhere. There are some informative and valuable conversations in the special interest groups on LinkedIn and other sites. Facebook has lots of fun ways to procrastinate. All the sites have some value to them, if you look deep enough.

But seriously, folks. Is immediate gratification that important? Can we really solve serious problems in 140 characters? Is it necessary for the world to know what you are eating? The music you listen to, the TV shows you watch? Sorry. None of us are that interesting, nor that important. There is no need to share every minute of your life. No one cares. Live it, don’t just talk about it.

Just some thoughts from an old geezer. Now I have to post this to my blog and put the link on my Facebook page and my Twitter feed.

To Smart Phone or Not to Smart Phone. That is the Question.

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I don’t have a smart phone. In fact, I haven’t ever wanted one. I have nothing against them — other than price and the need for a commitment to a service provider. I have other electronics including a laptop, an ipad, an ipod, to which I am attached and enjoy. Unfortunately, the ipod I bought to replace the one I left on an airplane does not have a camera — an omission I didn’t realize when I bought it from a friend. I have a cell phone that has a camera, although not one that is easy to use or that takes good pictures. (One reason I haven’t started posting pix.) It is a pre-paid phone, allowing me to avoid monthly contracts. While it supposedly has web access, I have not found it convenient or easy to use, as it does not have a touch screen. Also the lack of a qwerty keyboard makes texting difficult. Is it possible to find a functional smart phone without mortgaging my future to Verizon or AT&T? (Don’t even mention T-Mobile; reception is spotty enough on Whidbey Island where I live with the two majors.) If I decide to go that route, do I stay loyal to Apple and get an iphone, or will an older generation Android phone, considerably less expensive and available from my pre-paid service provider, suffice? I will soon have a book published after which, hopefully, I will need to make sales wherever I happen to be. Can I justify the smart phone as a business expense? Maybe. And maybe there will be income against which to take the deduction. We live in hope.  

 

 

 

Aside from the publication of my book, none of this warms my 71 year old heart. Since I am retired from my fulltime work, and do much of my present activity from home or nearby coffee shops, So, I am usually near an accessible Wi-Fi hub. My ipad allows me to be online whenever and wherever I want, and it takes good pictures. I don’t think I can text from it though. My pockets are not large enough to hold the ipad, and I have no desire to wear pants with bigger pockets or get an ipad mini. It’s not like I have anything against the Mini; I just don’t want to spend the money.

 

 

 

I was at a conference last week with thousands of attendees. While the ages of the participants ranged from being in utero to a decade or two post-Social Security, a large number of those I saw seemed to be of graduate students age or younger. All were constantly on their cell phones, thumbs flying as text messages soared and Tweets posted. Selfies and other cell-phone photos documented meals, booth presentations, speakers, attendees, and a myriad of other subjects. It wasn’t as if I felt out of it; it was more like part of me sorta wanted access to those capabilities, to that world. At the same time, I was grateful for the lack of connection, for the solitude amidst the masses my phone’s technological non-capabilities provided.  An creative writing instructor speaking at a panel on using humor in memoir, a subject near and dear to my heart, told of an undergraduate student who wrote a paper describing various public restrooms on the campus of their school.  Included in the description was the nature of cell phone reception in the various stalls and urinals (the writer was male.) While this information made for some humorous reading, I was a tad disturbed by thinking some of his readers considered that information to be relevant if not extremely important. I tend to choose public bathrooms on other criteria, usually proximity and standard of cleanliness (that bar moves up and down depending on the urgency of my need and their proximity.)

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know whether I will break down and get a smart phone, or should I say, when I do so.  At a minimum, I will replace my present phone with one from which it will be easier to text.  Given the hassles my wife’s new pre-paid phone has caused this past weekend, I could give her mine, thus justifying my purchase of a new phone. Again, it is not the initial cost that is of concern. It is the continuing expense. It’s the old “give ‘em the hardware, sell them the software” business model, successful since it was first utilized.

 

 

 

Another possibility I have considered is to sell her my ipod, recouping a bit of my investment, and buy a smart phone. (Had I not just bought the one I lost, I would probably just give it to her, as I offered with my old Nano.) I could load all my music onto the phone, have a camera, and be able to text, all with one less piece of equipment.

 

 

I know at some level I have already made the decision, merely by seriously considering the question, and this is all intellectual masturbation. Well, physical masturbation is often fun, so why not the intellectual kind as well? 

A bit more ramblings about armor

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In my last post, I wrote about growing up in Kentucky, and wearing Bass Moccasins. I even found a picture of them which I incorporated, none too professionally. They were definitely part of the armor/uniform I and my friends wore.

 

I now live on a semi-rural island in Puget Sound, about thirty-five miles from Seattle. Since my wife and I moved here about 11 years ago, I have had little reason to go to Seattle except to see friends, go to doctor appointments (for specialties not represented among our local health care providers,) and make side trips to Costco and Trader Joe’s.  Daily commuting is in my past, as is wearing professional clothes.  I don’t remember the last time I wore a tie or a dress shirt. Hell, I don’t remember the last time I bought new clothes, although I bought a pair of pants at a thrift shop earlier today. We have a number of thrift shops, each supporting local non-profits. There seems to be an unstated contest among those in my social circles as to who can find the greatest bargains at these stores.  Women usually win as there are more women’s clothes than men’s available. There is no need to dress up, or sometimes even get dressed, when one’s day is spent in front of a computer screen or sitting in a chair reading a book. One does not put on a suit to work in the garden, walk on the beach, or have coffee or lunch with a friend. We live a casual, laid back life. Our armor consists of hybrid cars, old clothes, gardening gloves, casual shoes. A person in a business suit or even a coat and tie is immediately assumed, for no reason other than his/her external dress, to be (a) an outside salesperson, probably for insurance; (b) a lawyer on the way to or from court; (c) a mis-dressed tourist; (d) a religious missionary.  Whatever the actuality is, the person is assumed to be “other,” not from “around here.”  They are still treated with friendly and courteous hospitality, but also with just a smidgeon of pity for having to wear such uncomfortable clothes.

 

Perhaps I live where I do because I have never really liked spending money on clothes. It’s not that I didn’t like to dress well, although I was always more interested in personal style rather than trends set by others. Perhaps my clothing choices reflected my general distrust of authority and tendency toward (mild) rebellion. And now that I am older, and retired, I don’t care as much about what other people think when they see me than I did when I was working and attempting to establish a professional persona. People still judge, we all do, but now the clues they have tend to be non-visual — words on a page or computer screen, actions at a meeting or as a volunteer, Skype calls. My main work is being a caregiver for my wife, writing, and volunteering. None require any particular form of dress, although there are times I think I use my computer the same way many people use a camera or a smart phone — to put a degree of distance between whatever is happening and myself.  I am still there, still participating to a degree, but as an observer and perhaps recorder than an actor. I am there, but I have no responsibility for what is going on or the results. It’s often a comforting and comfortable position to be in.

 

I do have academic robes for graduation ceremonies in I participate as either an instructor or an administrator. I have been both. The robes are also a form of armor, in that they separate me from others in the room, with the hood and tam identifying rank. Image

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and social media are also forms of armor, in the metaphoric sense of a protective covering. If I am engaging with social media, displaying vulnerability through my openness in sharing my life and thoughts I am identifying with those who read my posts, who share their lives, who are active in social media. The content of our sharing may be important or mundane. That is of less importance than the fact we are sharing. Our armor in this arena, this context, is our involvement, our vulnerability.

 

Last month I was watching a football game – yes, I am a sports fan. A commercial came on showing various women, all extremely attractive, in different situations – a businesswoman, a mother holding a child, a student. All had intense looks on their faces and were wearing clothes not usually seen on women — football jerseys complete with shoulder pads. It was a commercial for NFL clothes for women. A way to combine sports armor, marketing, and retail sales.  I am not sure why I was surprised by it, other than wondering why it took so long for the marketing gurus to come up with the sales pitch. I did, however, find the whole idea a bit repugnant and depressing, but then I feel that about a lot of things I see being sold on TV, and other forms of mass media. My thoughts on the consumer society, however, is a topic for another time.

 

Why Traditional Publishers Should Surrender To Self Publishing

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A fascinating perspective, and some useful facts, about an issue facing every writer.

Eoin Purcell's Blog

I had a fascinating conversation with Porter Anderson as part of The Booksellers #PorterMeets on Twitter on Monday. The topic was Hugh Howey’s AuthorEarnings project (after they released the original 7,000 report but before they released the 50,000 report) which has been raising hackles and causing ruckus in publishing the last few weeks. The conversation fired up loads of thoughts about self publishing and I wanted, following that discussion, to write a post that encapsulates the discussion and the reality of self publishing now.

The problem has been presented as an oppositional one, almost a battle between self publishing and traditional publishing. I think looking at it that way is useful in many ways but also obscures other issues too. Even so, in order to make sense of the current situation I’m going to explore self publishing from three perspectives in sequence, first authors, then publishers and finally readers.

 Authors

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