Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A Widow for One Year

Just over a year ago, on December 3, 2016, I said "goodbye" to my WunderGuy.

I can't believe how quickly the time has gone. In addition to all the stuff that goes along with losing someone: planning a memorial service, spending interminable hours waiting at Social Security, and getting one's financial ducks in some sort of row, the year included a whole cycle of Normal Stuff. Christmas. New Year's. C's fourteenth birthday. Eighth grade graduation. Spring. Dad's birthday. Summer vacation. C started high school. Fall. My birthday. Thanksgiving. And here we are. Full circle.

The year included some memorably good things:

*  Thanks to the marvels of modern medical technology, and the blessing of the Affordable Care Act which allows me to have decent insurance, a routine test that showed some abnormalities turned out *not* to be cancer or anything else majorly devastating. *Whew.*

*  I finally signed with an amazing agent who gets what I write, who likes what I write, and who thinks we will be mutually good for each other's business. (The moral of that story: sometimes you've got to be bull-headed enough to plod forward, even in crisis. You can't get to "yes" if you quit.)

*  I spent a wonderful, carefree day in Chicago with some of my very favorite people, including my lovely daughter who is literally growing up in front of my eyes. We saw "Hamilton," which every single person should do at least once in the next 12 months, if you ask me.

*  My mother, who suffers from severe dementia and other physical and neurological issues, went on Hospice after dealing with pervasive pressure sores. Then -- in a move that stunned everyone -- she rallied! Her wounds healed, in direct contradiction to everything the medical pros expected. She even had a few good days where she knew my Dad and was able to communicate with him. We all know she is not long for this world. But her good days are a blessing.

Each of these events, in addition to other, smaller ones throughout the year, made me wish I could share them with Robert. For me, it's not the high holidays when I miss him most. It's lazy Sunday mornings, or hearing our daughter's handbell choir play his favorite song, or seeing something that references a family in-joke, or laughing at the antics of our dogs -- I miss him in all the little things that add up to make life richer, fuller.

Yet, I'm grateful. For friends. For family. For my daughter who graces me with drive-by "I love you's." For blue skies and orange leaves and fuzzy horses and fresh pumpkin pie and homemade sushi and YouTube videos of silly birds and political pundits. I'm grateful for the years we had together: though our time together was cut short, we had far more good years than many people do.

So, I marked the anniversary of losing Robert by doing the things I normally do. I directed the church choir. I wrote a little bit. Did some laundry. Made dinner. Watched a video with my kid. I was never one of those people who is defined by being married. Guess there's no point in being defined by what I've lost.

In case you needed it, here's your daily reminder to let the ones you love know it. Love may last forever, but people don't.

Friday, November 24, 2017

I'm Thankful For...

Happy Day After Thanksgiving!
Me: "I'm going to take a picture."
Dogs: "You're gonna kick us off the couch, aren't you?"

This was Cassandra’s and my first Thanksgiving without Robert. And even though it’s been nearly a year since he passed, every new day only underscores the importance of making the most of the moments we’re given.

Our Thanksgiving was a small, quiet one with just Dad, Cassandra, and me. We had several wonderful friends who invited us to share the day with them, but instead opted to stay home. I spent the greater part of the day hanging out with my dogs on the couch, watching videos when I should have been writing.

One of those videos included the great Thanksgiving PSA earworm of William Shatner “singing” about the dangers of deep frying turkeys. "Dingle dangle." You’re welcome...

Some things for which I am especially grateful this year:

  • My family. Dad lives just down the road and eats dinner with us every night. The other day he said, “I just realized how lucky we are that we all like each other. Not every family can say that.” True. True.
  • Caregivers. My mother is an elder care facility in the strange, gray purgatory of debilitation and dementia that requires Hospice care. She is surrounded by amazing people who make sure she gets three home-cooked meals a day and all the medical care she needs. Dad visits her every day for several hours. I am eternally thankful for those dear souls who are with her 24 / 7.
    Major: the Earred Wonder
  • Friends. After Robert passed away last December, my friends stepped up to the plate and did their best to fill the gaping hole in my life. We’re not guaranteed tomorrow. Today is all we’re given. Today, I am grateful for those who count me as their friend.
  • The animals that make up my extended furry family. This especially includes Major, of the tiny body and enormous ears, who was abandoned at Animal Control at the end of last year, and who came into our home in January for the sole purpose, I believe, of making me laugh.
  • Coffee. Pecan pie. Freshly laundered sheets. Thunderstorms. A hot fire on a cold day. And so much more...
Click to download the full-page .pdf file.
Last year, I had the amazing Karina Dale design a color-it-yourself mandala that I could share with my readers. It was such a huge hit, here it is again -- just click to download the full .pdf file. Enjoy!

Beginning in January of 2018, in addition to the blog, I’m going to send out a short monthly note.

(I don’t want to call it a “newsletter.” That sounds so... stuffy. I’m envisioning it as something more fluid, that shares some of the cool things I’ve run across, helping us stay better connected.)

If you'd like to join me in my monthly "Muse"letter, freshly delivered at no charge in your in-box, please fill in your information in the form provided. Let's stay in touch!

I'm especially thankful that there are things still unexplained and undiscovered. To illustrate: here’s my most recent favorite thing that makes me go “huh?”

May you find something every day to be thankful for.

(Updated 11/26/17: The newsletter sign-up is on the MuseInks blog homepage. If you have blog updates delivered via email, please click link at the bottom that says "You are subscribed to email updates from MuseInks." It will take you to the main page, with the aforementioned form. Thank you!)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Of "Characters," Composition, and Fierce Creativity

Lately, I've been bemoaning the loss of pre-political social media, when my feed was full of creativity and art rather than outrage. However, something happened recently that made me realize the creative community hasn't vanished.

Stan Stewart (), one of the creatives I connected with on Twitter, is a gifted improv musician.

A few years ago, I tried something new with my writing and created a blog in which I serialized a young adult novel, releasing it in pieces online throughout a school year. I didn't know if anyone would end up reading it.

Well, Stan did, and he liked it. He'd weigh in in the Comments sections from time to time and tell me how much he was enjoying the read. He even recommended the book blog to others.

He wasn't my target audience. I didn't care.

I eventually took the book offline and revised it. An editor for a new publisher read it, liked it, and offered to publish it. I contacted Stan shortly after signing the contract to ask if he'd be willing to do some improv pieces as a cross-promotional thing.

He agreed, then promptly *composed an entire freaking album* as a companion piece to my book. I was thrilled!

The pub date loomed. We planned promos. Then--


The publisher went through growing pains. My acquiring editor left. My book endured four editors, with each edit growing further removed from my original story.

Eventually, the publisher and I parted ways. It was 2015. We didn't yet know that Robert was terminally ill, but we knew he was having serious health issues. So I took care of him and shelved the YA project, which was in pieces.

I felt awful, because Stan got left in the lurch. Time passed. So did my husband. Then, earlier this year, Stan said he'd like to release the album.

In the meantime, I had signed with Agent Awesome. I toyed with self-publishing the YA novel to coincide with the album, but AA seems to think the book may have a future in traditional publishing. So we waits.

In the interim, "Characters," Stan's beautiful, haunting album inspired by my book, is now available. Thirteen gorgeous tracks, each providing the score for a particular character or scene in "Dear Alderone."

Thanks to Stan, I am reminded anew how much I love the vibrant, creative people I meet online. Their generosity, their talent, and their fierce creativity never cease to inspire me.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Kudos to an Early Childhood Heroine: Sesame Street's Joan Ganz Cooney

A note from Ami: My friend, Denise Fournier, is getting her certification in Early Childhood Education. One of her class requirements was to write about one of her heroes in early childhood education. She chose Joan Ganz Cooney. 

Today, as Sesame Street celebrates its 48th birthday, I got Denise's permission to post her paper here:

My early childhood heroine is Joan Ganz Cooney.  She is the primary founder of Sesame Street and is a true early childhood heroine in my eyes.

Joan was born in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1929. She was the youngest of three siblings and was born in an upper middle class family. Her parents were Sylvan, a banker, and Pauline, a homemaker.  She attended Dominican College before transferring to University of Arizona.  She wanted to major in acting but her father did not think this was an acceptable major so instead she studied education because being a teacher was considered an acceptable career for women in those days. She graduated in 1951 and began working as a typist for the state department.

She worked here for a few years before taking a job as a reporter and later a job as a publicist.  While doing this she became involved with educational television.  This topic really interested her and she was surprised to learn it existed.  She later became a producer and produced a number of educational programs.  In the winter of 1966 while hosting a dinner party, Joan and some friends discussed the possibility of creating an educational television program for preschool aged children.

Sesame Street premiered on November 10, 1969 and took the nation by storm.  Children’s television existed at this time but never before had their been a show like this that not only entertained children but also set out to educate them and to help children be prepared for school.  Studies done over the last 35 plus years have shown that children ages 3-5 who watch Sesame Street come to school ready to learn and already knowing many skills that they had not previously knew before Sesame Street premiered.  Teachers have actually had to change how they approach teaching young children due to Sesame Street.
I really feel that Joan Ganz Cooney is an early childhood heroine.  She pioneered something that didn’t exist at her time during a time when women were often not taken seriously.  She saw a need and was not afraid to speak up and point out that need to people who were in control of television and its programs. She revolutionized the way young children view television. Sesame Street prepares children, especially low-income children, for school in a way that no show ever had before. Of course we have educational programs galore now but nothing will ever compare to Sesame Street.
Sesame Street is a show that recognizes that the world is full of all sorts of types of people and these people are featured on the show at any given time.  There are people with special needs, people with various different ethnicities and cultures and families of all different kinds on Sesame Street. Children can always find someone that they can relate to.  When children feel they can relate they are more likely to be receptive to the lessons that are being presented to them.  This and many other things makes Sesame Street an awesome show and makes Joan Ganz Cooney a true early childhood education heroine.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Musings on a Movie Biz 'Do at the French Consulate in Beverly Hills

Last night I attended
What those in the movie business
Call a "party"
At the French Consulate in Beverly Hills.
I, and the other clients of my agency,
Which is hosting a writer's retreat at the Beverly Hilton,
Were invited so that empty seats might be filled
While major French publishers
Touted their wares --
Often in labored English --
To Hollywood, hoping for a movie deal.
Or at least a TV series.

Mingle, we were told.
This is a golden opportunity to meet people.

So --
Though what I really wanted to do
Was return to the hotel
(Hosting its own limo-encrusted extravaganza)
And hole up in my overpriced room,
Lacking both coffeemaker and refrigerator,
And maybe soak my tired feet
In the thimble of a tub
In its pocket-sized bathroom --
I mingled.

I sipped Perrier,
Listening for those fluent enough in English
To be able to strike up a conversation
Without making things more awkward
Than they already were.
I spoke with one producer who was happy to chat with me
Until someone more famous happened along.
But I always ended up being drawn like iron
Back to the magnet of the people I already knew --
Friends of a few hours:
Fellow agency clients.

And then,
Standing around a table,
Backlit by the glow of the swimming pool that
Vainly beckoned for someone --
Anyone --
To make a splash by falling in,
I met a wonderful woman,
Charming. Graceful. Authentic. And real.
She owns a flower shop --
Has owned a flower shop in Beverly Hills
For decades.
We fell into conversation and instantly felt
As if we had known each other

She wore earrings of silver angels
Which had been made in Oxaca
And bestowed upon her by a dear friend,
Now long gone.
We paid homage to loved ones who have left us too soon,
Sang the praises of children we loved who loved to read,
And sampled delicate pastries presented on silver platters.

The world, with its forced minglings, fell away
As she captivated me with photos of the floral art she creates
For clients, well-known and unknown, who love her designs.
And for the first time in all my visits to this part of the country,
I thought, "I love it here."
Because of this lovely soul
Who beautifies the world every day
And who agrees with me that the strawberry-topped lemon cookie wedges
Are just divine.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Writer's Armory: In Praise of the FitDesk!

For the past few weeks, I've been spilling the beans about some tools that I've recently begun using that have revved up my writing and tripled my productivity.

The first was the "MSD," an amazing low-tech boon for under $5, that helps me keep every project fresh, in front of me, organized, and on-track.

Last week, I confessed my love for Leo, my Neo2 Alphasmart old-school wordprocessor. Using Leo keeps me from the distractions of being online and helps me produce usable first drafts in record time.

The final tool that has been a real writing revolution is my FitDesk. A bit pricier than the other two tools I told you about -- but I'd rather spend money on something like the FitDesk than an HDTV. This was my to-me / from-me birthday gift this year, and I couldn't be happier with how it's working out.

The FitDesk is a combination desk and stationary bike. Yes, I know it sounds rather Rube Goldberg-esque. Well, don't laugh till you've tried it. As you probably know, writing has two major drawbacks:

One is in the lifestyle choice of sitting on a couch or in a chair for long quantities of time (often stuffing one's pie-hole without much thought to actual nutritional content).

The other is the creative's dilemma of having the exact answer to your plot problem drop in the moment you leave the couch and decide to get some exercise -- with nowhere to record your brainstorm.

I got the FitDesk 3.0, though there are other brands of desk / bikes out there. I strongly suggest that if you're interested, you shop around and see what features you like the most.

Things I love about my FitDesk:

It has a small footprint. My house isn't big, so I couldn't have some enormous piece of machinery taking up a ton of space. My FitDesk fits perfectly in a sort of dead-end hallway that has always been a place to throw laundry baskets and accumulate cat fur. If I wanted to, I could close up the FitDesk -- it folds up to roughly the size of a large upright vacuum cleaner. But I leave it set up so it's ready to use when I want it.

It's comfortable. My FitDesk has an ergonomic seat with a back, comfortable pedals (if I pedal in my slippers, rather than putting on shoes, as one does), and nifty, nubbly roller things for me to rest my forearms on while I type. At first, I thought the roller-deals were the dumbest things ever. But it didn't take me long to see the error of my ways. Anyone who spends a lot of time typing knows about repetitive stress. Voila! Nubbly rollers help keep that stress to a minimum.

I use it. Ok -- this might sound stupid, but it's true. I dithered about getting the thing because I didn't want to be one of Those People who acquire a piece of fitness equipment and the only exercise they get from it is when they dust it. But, for some reason, that is not the case. I have my notes, my coffee, and my computer or Leo (see last week's post) -- and I'm off! My FitDesk is positioned in front of a window, so I can look outside and see what's going on. I just sit at my desk and start writing. The pedaling comes naturally; I never miss my couch.

So that's what works for me at the moment. Thanks to my MSD, Leo, and FitDesk, I have streamlined my writing process, getting far more done now than I did before I used them as part of my daily routine.

Now it's your turn. What writing tools would you be lost without? Do tell!

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Writer's Armory, Part II: Long Live the AlphaSmart!

In my last post, I mentioned that I'd recently begun to use three tools that have revolutionized my writing and tripled my productivity. The first tool was the cheap, charming, and utterly indispensable Mini Smiley Diary.

My Neo2. I have named him Leo.
This week, I shall share the secret of how I broke my internet addiction, which was actively corroding my ability to stay focused and eating into my writing time. It was simple. Instantaneous. And inexpensive. I bought a NEO2.

(Though the Neo2 was made by Renaissance Learning, the original company that Renaissance Learning bought was named AlphaSmart. Hence, many writers who use these puppies call them "AlphaSmarts." Whatevs. I have named mine "Leo.")

The Neo2 is a word processor that is literally old school. Back in the 90's and early 2000's, school districts used to use them to teach keyboarding at a time when it became obvious that computers -- not typewriters -- were the wave of the future, yet schools didn't have the tech or the funds to bring in a computer lab. Enter the AlphaSmart, a self-contained word processor that (and this is key) does not get online.

Leo is a simple little powerhouse. Whatever you type is stored directly into its RAM. It stores up to 200 pages of text in up to 8 separate files. To download a file I connect the AlphaSmart to my computer via a common USB cable and hit send. Beginning wherever my cursor is, in whatever program I happen to be running (Microsoft Word, Final Draft, even Blogger -- it's all the same to Leo), the device from yesteryear downloads the draft of my file onto my tablet or computer.

Things I love about Leo:

1.) It is a WORKHORSE. It's tough. It's built to handle (::shudder::) schoolchildren, so it's very forgiving of the occasional danish crumb. With a full-sized keyboard and decent feel to the keys, it feels much like my computer. Yet because I'm not online, there are no distractions. I sits and I types. And, because of the old-school display, I'm not inclined to begin micro-editing. Instead, I simply focus on getting the words out of my head.

2.) It has a simple screen. What some might see as a drawback, I consider immensely useful. Leo's "screen" is simple, unformated, block text. I can see what I've typed -- and scrolling through a lengthy file is simply a matter of using the arrow keys -- but I'm not obsessed by it. I use Leo for drafting, which, for me, is the longest, most tedious part of writing a book. I do my editing on my computer; it's better suited for the task.

3.) It has no glaring backlight. When I write on Leo at night, or in the wee hours of the morning, when I'm done, I simply turn it off and go to sleep, with no residual "screen burn" flickering on my retinas. Aaaaahhhhhh.

4.) It has a battery that, after two months of regular use -- sometimes up to 5 hours a day -- shows no sign of weakening. I've heard some AlphaSmart users say their batteries last nearly a year. I'd be OK with three months. When batteries need replacing, all I need to do is provide 3 AAs.

5.) It's cute as anything. Seriously: it's adorable. Though my productivity has tripled since I've begun using Leo, every time I use him in a public place, people come and ask me What The Heck Is That?

I purchased Leo for around $30 on ebay. Am seriously thinking of getting another one and putting it aside... just in case Leo ever wears out.