What’s Next?

One thing I’ve learned about being a writer is that my ideas all seem to hit at the same time, usually when I’m buried in one project and struggling toward the finish line. I may be in the middle of a romance novel, flying toward the final chapter, when all of a sudden — BOOM! I get an idea for a great short story. My brain goes, “Hey, what if you wrote about this?”

I could blame it on having ADHD, or I could try to psychoanalyze myself and say it’s a self-destructive urge to distract myself from completing my current project. Or I could whine about it, sort of like I’m doing right now.

But when my project is done and I’m ready to start on something new, I tend to find myself in a completely different situation. I fix a nice hot cup of coffee, put on some comfy clothes, and sit down at the keyboard with every intention of diving headlong into my next idea. I am a writer, I tell myself, and I’m gonna kick some literary butt with this next one!

And then . . . nothing happens.

Nothing.

All of those great ideas that swarmed me a few days or weeks ago? Nowhere to be found. Even though I jotted down notes to remind myself of the fabulousness of everything zooming around inside my head, nothing really grabs me.

Nothing.

That’s where I’ve been for the past several weeks, since I finished Their Love Rekindled. I’ve been floundering along with Love & Destiny, but I’m having a hard time hitting my stride. Just not feeling it.

So I took some time off and did some reading. No writing. I read a lot of romance, of course, because that’s my favorite. Besides, it’s always a good idea to check out the writers in my field. I discovered (and loved!) the works of Cindy Kirk, Staci Stallings, and Gail Gaymer Martin. But I also decided it was time to step out of my comfort zone and read things in genres I don’t usually explore.

I finally read the rest of the “Grace” series by M. Lauryl Lewis (and didn’t sleep well for a week afterward). I fell in love with the “Ruby Danger” series by Rickie Blair. I snickered all the way through Essa Alroc’s The Apology, and I got a whole new outlook on historical fiction from Old Fashioned Values by Margaret Brazear. I read One Silent Voice: The Jeannie Singleton Story by Nicole Du Shane, which is a fascinating and disturbing true story despite some really disappointing editing and formatting issues with the book itself.

And the strangest thing happened: my ideas started flowing again. Just not in the direction I had planned.

I didn’t think I was ready to start the fourth book in my Beach Haven series just yet, but apparently I was wrong because it is basically writing itself. I’ve finished almost half of it in less than two weeks. Those of you who have read the series might be surprised to learn that the hero of this one is attorney Ben Jacobs, who is sort of the anti-romance hero. He’s balding, not traditionally handsome, and a classic “nice guy.” I think you’ll all be stunned when you find out who he’s falling in love with!

I know I was.

I’ve never really tried to work on more than one book at a time, and I’m sure it’s not the wisest decision I’ve ever made. But I’ve got another project in the works right now, one that’s not a romance novel. It’s a lot more personal, and I am having perhaps a little bit too much fun with it. I’m calling it Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal.

I’ve thought about subtitling it: I Have No Filters.

It’s all about staring down the spectre of my upcoming fiftieth birthday and finding humor in the fact that I am not where I thought I would be at this point in life. It’s about dealing with hot flashes and saggy boobs and dating after fifty, with a little bit of empty nest anxiety thrown in. I am hoping to reach an audience of women at a similar point in their lives, and give them a reason to laugh even on the days when things seem the darkest.

As some of you know, I am coming out of a very dark period in my own life, and I’m not sure I would have survived these past few years without a sense of humor. Blogging has helped me discover my “voice” and a sense of humor that I never knew I had, so I’m trying to put that experience to good use in this new book.

In the next few months, I’ll share some excerpts from Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal with you all. I’m also working with an artist who is creating some amazing original art for the cover, and I plan on sharing a few sneak peeks at the progress as it all comes together. This is huge for me, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

So that’s where I’m at right now as I face the first “snow day” of the new year. It’s finally a little chilly in my overheated apartment (until the next hot flash, anyway), and my kids are snowed in at their dad’s house. It’s just me, the coffeepot, and my beat-up laptop with the missing keys.

If you’re a writer, how do you handle it when your muse disappears?  Or better yet, when your muse dumps a truckload of ideas on you all at the same time?  I’d love to hear from some of you!

Flash

I’m getting old, guys.

I went to my son’s Halloween party at school, and one of the other second graders gave me a very sweet smile before asking me, “So, whose grandma are you?”

During my job as a high school lunchlady, I recently offended a teenager who proceeded to call me something in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish, but my friend Rosa does, and I went to her for translation. When she finally stopped laughing, she told me that the girl was calling me a “mean little old lady.”

Well, at least she said “little.”

I recently ran into a friend from my days as a hairdresser, a friend I hadn’t seen since before my car accident. I have changed a lot since then, and I was expecting her to say something about my posture, my weight gain, or perhaps  the way my right foot drags a bit when I walk. I was ready for anything.  Anything, that is, but “why have you decided not to color your gray?”

The real kicker for me happened this weekend, when I was complaining about the ridiculous heat in my apartment, which I have begun referring to as “the bowels of hell.” I have  yet to turn the heat on in this place, but it’s November in Michigan, and I was sitting in front of a wide-open window, gasping for air as the sweat rolled down my back.

Finally, my seventeen year-old gave me a dirty look and an irritated sigh. “It’s not the apartment, Mom,” he told me. “It’s you.”

Oh . . . .so this is what they mean.

Caution - Hot Flashes Ahead

I understand.

Unfortunately.

If there are any men reading this, ya’ll might as well just go make yourself a sandwich or something. Otherwise, things are about to get uncomfortable around here.

Holy hell, when I heard people talk about hot flashes, I thought I knew what they were talking about. Turns out I had no idea. No idea whatsoever.

I’m suddenly remembering all those articles my seventh grade science teacher made us read about spontaneous human combustion.

hot2

How in the bloody hell did I get old enough for hot flashes? I’m still getting acne, for God’s sake. Acne. Zits, wrinkles, periods, and hot flashes, all in the same body.

I am so confused.

Can’t I outgrow one stage before I plunge headlong into the next? Hell, I’m still waiting for the last adolescent growth spurt. I’m hoping for 5’7″.

hot3

 

My body parts have conversations with each other. My knees creak at my ankles, my toes crackle, and my spine tells them all to shut up. I make these awful grunty noises when I bend over, and every so often my right hip snaps so loudly that people around me start looking for gunmen on grassy knolls.

I’ve reached the age at which naps are a lovely thing. Ten minutes here, twenty minutes there, basically any\where that I can sit down and close my eyes. Of course, thanks to my spinal fusion I can no longer lay my head back against the back of the couch, so my head tends to loll around and fall forward when I  doze off, which totally freaks my kids out.

Okay, that part of getting older is fun.

I think my next romance novel is going to be about a menopausal woman falling in love with an air-conditioner salesman. Instead of writing sex scenes where everything heats up, I’ll describe scenes in which he turns her on by cooling her off.

Why not? At this point, I’d marry any man who showed up with a fan and a large bag of ice.

 

 

Which One Are You?

I can’t believe it took me so long to realize that my Aunt Marian actually knew what she was talking about once in a while.

She dished out advice all the time, in any situation, and she usually had no idea what she was talking about. She loved to toss around words of wisdom that really weren’t even close to being wise. She spoke in cliches, rhymes, and quotations that quite often had no bearing whatsoever on the problem she was trying to solve.

My sisters and I became experts at the hidden eye-roll. There was an art to rolling one’s eyes behind Aunt Marian’s back because she was only one of our four aunts who lived together and did everything else together. If one aunt took up cross-country skiing, all four took up cross-country skiing. If one took up Bridge, all four took up Bridge. If one took a swimming class — well, only two passed the swimming class.  Aunt Noni sank like a stone and Aunt Verna stood on the sideline taking bets as to whether Noni would drown or not.

In other words, if one aunt got an eye-roll and look of disgust from a niece, all four aunts took it personally. If we wanted to show our opinion of some ridiculous piece of advice that Marian spouted, we had to do so in such a way that none of the other three caught us.

At any rate, most of Marian’s advice was pretty worthless.  But as I get older, one of her frequently-used bits of wisdom is really starting to make sense to me.

It  became a standard on a particularly memorable Fourth of July when I was about six years old. It poured that day. I’m not talking about a simple thunderstorm. I’m talking about one of those all-day gullywashers that bring thoughts of Noah to mind. A steady, heavy downpour that showed no signs of stopping as the time for the parade drew near. There was another family staying with us that week, and we argued back and forth over whether to walk to town for the parade or just stay home and stay dry.

Finally, Marian let fly with her particular brand of wisdom. “There are doers in this world, and there are watchers,” she announced. “I’m a doer. Which one are you?”

Of course, we girls were all young enough to draw inspiration from her words. “I’m a watcher!” we all piped up, and off we went.

It was a mile to town, and we were all soaked to the skin by the time we got there. Back in those days, there was a hill leading up to the main street where the parade went through. Now that hill is covered with shops and condominiums and restaurants, but back then, it was delightfully muddy and slippery. We climbed and skidded and rolled and slid up and down that hill for what seemed like forever, and to this day I have no clue if we ever actually saw a parade or not.

We were doers that day, not watchers, and that became one of Marian’s favorite speeches. In her mind, she was some kind of great, fearless adventurer. She later amended her doers vs. watchers speech to include the phrase, “If you want to hang with us, Kid, you’ve gotta learn to sleep on the bench, under the bench, or hanging from the bench!”

In truth, she was a homebody. She talked a big talk about being a doer, not a watcher, but there came a point when she stopped doing. She developed Rheumatoid Arthritis, COPD, and a non-union fracture of her left leg, among other conditions. She was sick; she was sedentary. She rarely left the house except for doctor appointments. But still, she saw herself as a doer, not a watcher, and my sisters and I never quite had the heart to tell her otherwise.

I think of her quite often now, especially as I develop more and more issues with my body since my accident four years ago. I hurt. I hurt all the time. Last week, I turned down a chance to go to the flea market with a friend because I didn’t think I could handle it. This past weekend, I chose to skip our local Octoberfest; I was hurting from the extra hours I’ve been working, and I didn’t think I could walk around the festival all day. Then, yesterday, I almost stayed in the car in the elementary school parking lot at pickup time and trusted my older son to bring his little brother safely out to the car.

For just a moment, it felt like Marian was sitting right there with me in the car. I swear to God I heard her voice speaking right out loud. “There are doers in this world, and there are watchers. Which one are you?”

I am not a watcher, Marian. I am still a doer.

It’s been so easy to give up on things, one at a time. Bit by bit, without even realizing that I had stopped doing.  I didn’t make it to the beach this year because I didn’t know if I could walk in the sand. I never took the boys to Full Blast for a day at the water park. I didn’t even make the trip to the flea market in Shipshewana.

Yesterday was kind of a turning point for me. I’m trying to keep my spirits up and stay positive, but life isn’t always cooperating. The changing weather and extra hours on my feet at work are catching up with me, and I have days when even a simple task like showering is almost more than I can physically handle. I want to give up. I want to sit at home and put my feet up and pop some pain pills and tell everyone to go ahead without me; I’ll be fine with a good book while they’re gone.

Some days, I just don’t want to prove to anyone that I can still do my work even though I’m so much slower now. I don’t want to work twice as hard to do half as much, apologizing all the while to those who might resent having to pick up the slack.

But Aunt Marian was right. There are doers in this world and there are watchers, and I refuse to be a watcher.

I’m a doer. Which one are you?

This post has been part of Finish the Sentence Friday, with the sentence starter “I can’t believe it took me so long to realize that. . . ” hosted by Kristi at Finding Ninee and co-hosted by Ivy at Uncharted and Roshni from Indian American Mom.

Want to stay on top of the topics and join us? Join our Facebook group!

Reunited

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I am freaking out.

It snuck up on me, I swear.  I knew it was coming; it shouldn’t be a surprise.  I’ve had plenty of time to prepare, to wrap my mind around it, psych myself up for it.

So how the hell am I so unprepared?

My class reunion is less than two weeks away.  My thirtieth class reunion.  A reunion that was supposed to be really really special for me, because I was going to show up all slim and successful and in-your-face about how great my life is going.  Instead, I’m fat, unemployed, newly divorced, and scrounging returnable pop bottles for the gas money to make it to Kalamazoo for the big event.

Well, shit.

Some of you may be doing some quick math in your heads.  Yes, I am 48 years old.  I’ve been coy and evasive about my age up until now in my blog, but what the hell.  I am 48.  Things are sagging, creaking, and sprouting hair in places and ways I never would have believed if it weren’t happening to me.

I want to wear something that makes me look spectacular, but I just don’t think there is enough Spandex in the world to squeeze all of the saggy, creaky, hairy stuff into the kind of outfit I envisioned myself wearing for this event.  No, there is definitely no Little Black Dress on the agenda.  Oh, it’s black and it’s a dress, but it’s not so little.  I’m wearing it because it makes my boobs look great, provided I can secure the proper permits and heavy equipment necessary to lift them into the special “cleavage bra” that I reserve for just such an emergency.

I’m hoping that some spectacular cleavage will blind everyone to the enormity of my ass.

In truth, I have to worry about three perfect outfits, because I am attending three events that weekend.  Maybe four.  That’s right; we are making up for thirty years of apathy in one big weekend.   It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that we haven’t stayed in touch over the years, considering that our unofficial class slogan was “Out the door in ’84.”  In reality, it was “Dream and explore in ’84,” but I don’t think anyone really took that seriously.

It bothers me that I don’t know who my class president was.  I think it’s the very tall man whose locker was next to mine for six years, but who never learned that my name wasn’t “Heidi.”  Six years of side-by-side lockers, often standing or sitting next to each other because no names where going to come between “H-Y” and “I-A,” and he never figured out that my parents didn’t name me “Heidi Hyde.”  Seriously, Dude.

I had a crush on another boy, from ninth grade on.   At our graduation ceremony, I finally worked up the courage to approach him and tell him about it.  Now, keep in mind that we were backstage at Miller Auditorium, wearing matching caps and gowns.  I said, “I just want to tell you that I have had a crush on you since ninth grade.”

He said, “Really, what school do you go to?”

I think I may have dodged a bullet.  However, one of my reunion goals is to get a kiss on the cheek from him.  Or at least a hug.  Fine, a handshake will do.  Okay, I’ll be ecstatic if he remembers my name.

I may cry if he thinks it’s Heidi, too.

I wasn’t exactly invisible in school, but pretty close.  I didn’t play sports, didn’t date, didn’t get nominated for homecoming court.   I didn’t even go to homecoming games other than my Sophomore year, when the football team went undefeated and it was easy to get swept up in the excitement.  Even though I was a theater nerd, I didn’t do school plays because they were always Musicals and my last attempt at singing and dancing at the same time has been ranked among Michigan’s Top Ten Worst Natural Disasters.

A few days ago, I whined to a friend about feeling like a failure as I face the upcoming reunion.  She laughed at me.

“Dude,” she said; “you wrote a book.  You survived a tree falling on your head.  Lighten up, Dude.”

Did I mention that this friend holds a PhD?  Back in school, she used to call everyone Dude, and high-fived my face on more than one occasion when we’d had too much to drink and she forgot how short I am.

God, I miss her.

But she’s right.  I’m alive to go to my reunion.  My best, dearest friends from ‘way back then are alive.  And Dude, ain’t none of us where we thought we’d be by now.   I’m not the only one to gain weight or lose a job or get a divorce.  I’m not the only one struggling with insecurities.

I may be the only one packing myself into the super-bra.

Christy and Lori beat breast cancer.  Dee didn’t.  Tosha and Holly married the perfect men and lived happily ever after.  Inger and I didn’t.  Anita became a nurse and somehow became even more beautiful at 48 than she was at 18.  Most of us didn’t manage that.

But the point is that we’re all human.   We’ve all failed at some things, and we’ve all succeeded at others, and somehow we’ve all muddled through and grown to become exactly who we are supposed to be at this point in our lives.  We grew up, despite our best efforts to the contrary.

I’m nervous about the reunion.  If there was a diet plan that could make me drop 80-plus pounds by August 1, I’d be all over it.  But I refuse to be ashamed of the way I look.  I am going to go, and I am going to have a great time, and I am not going to hide every time a camera comes out.  After a few drinks, I may even start bitch-slapping anyone who calls me Heidi.

Afterward, I may end up calling 9-1-1 if I can’t get the bra off by myself.  But I’ll make sure there are no small children or breakable object anywhere in the vicinity so there are no damages when the boobs are finally released back into the wild at the end of the night.