Brief Fibromyalgia Health Update

Some of you know that I have fibromyalgia. It’s not a disease, but a syndrome of problems that results in, among other things, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and poor sleep. Towards the end of the last year, I began seeing an integrative medicine doctor in the city who prescribed me some supplements.

When I saw him in March, I said I did not think a few supplements were helping so I was stopping them. A month later, I was exhausted again and went back on. Lo and behold, my energy level rebounded in days. I had a follow up recently and told him about this. I also said that what I really wanted to see was an improvement in this chronic pain that I live with.

The pain is both chronic and changes little. Since summer began in earnest with high humidity and heat, I have been feeling worse. Warm and drier is good; hot and humid not so much, unless I’m at the beach. Bitter cold is no good, either. Being warm dressed on a semi-cold day feels nice. And what I mean by nice is a type of weather pattern that doesn’t somehow make my pain worse.

About 10 days ago, I bought a new powder multivitamin that an online integrative doctor sells. My real life integrative doc is friends with online doctor, and I have bought supplements from online doctor’s web site before. I had just finished a packet of multivitamins, but didn’t want to continue doing that. So I bought this powder that tastes very much like Tang.

And ever since I have been taking this multivitamin in my water every morning, I have had a lot more energy throughout the day. Even better than that, I have been able to tackle tasks around the house with ease. When I say ease, I mean that I simply do them after I decide to do them. When you live with pain and fatigue, sometimes the things you want to do don’t get any farther than ricocheting around your brain. After a while, you feel guilty because there are things you should be doing without an ounce of motivation to do them. The vitamins have brought me energy and removed the procrastination. Somehow.

Now the bigger mountain is the one built on pain. My doc suggested I increase one of my supplements called Ribose, which he has claimed has worked to help eliminate persist pain in his other fibromyalgia patients. I will let you know one way or the other. I can tell you know that, if the Ribose does work to eventually eliminate my pain, you will most likely found out when you hear my cry for joy instead of on this blog.

Here’s to hoping!

Book Spotlight: Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison

As part of my memoir writing diet, I have been reading memoirs about medical and mental illness. However, I saw that Holly Madison had written a memoir about her time living at the Playboy Mansion with Hugh Hefner. I figured it would be a fascinating read, even though not strictly related to the type of memoir I was writing. When my library request came in, I ran to get it and devoured it in two days, staying up past my bedtime to finish it.

I found Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny by Holly Madison to be fascinating and boring. Part of the reasons why it was fascinated me are inextricably linked to the reasons why I simultaneously found it boring until it became fascinating again, but for altogether entirely different reasons. Let me explain. As I have never been interested in either fame or being a Playboy bunny, I felt a deep interest in wanting to know what would make a person want those things that are foreign to my way of thinking. What would drive a person to want those things? I was hoping that I would find out, but I was disappointed.

What makes a story gripping is getting to know how a person’s life drives them to do what they do. Holly glosses over her childhood and fails to explain why her need for fame is so deep. She wants fame because she wants it, as if that is enough a compelling enough basis for a story. I don’t think it’s too much to ask of a writer, even when that writer is a former Playboy bunny. If you want me as a reader to care about your story, then I need to know how life has shaped you into needing fame to the degree that you do, especially when faced with adversity in the pursuit of that goal/need. I’m not sure that I got that. I think the phrase “lack of depth in the main character” applies here. As a result, I kept feeling bored even as I had to keep reading it. Even though it’s two days later, I am still annoyed by this. I also did a bit of eye rolling near the end when she exclaimed, more than once, about how they wanted “me!” for a show or a part. I mean, that’s all great for Holly as it is personally meaningful for her, but not necessarily for me, the reader.

Initially, the fascinating parts of the story are what you might expect in a tell-all biography and memoir: the he said, she said; the gossip; the name dropping; the partying; the inter-girlfriend fighting; the backstabbing; the inside peek to life at the Playboy Mansion as one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends; the clothing; the clubbing; the alliances made, then broken, and remade; the jockeying among girlfriends for status; the publicity and the fame. Even so, I kept yearning for more. Eventually, I do get it.

One piece of feedback I have heard as a writer is that your heroine must take action. She can’t just sit back and do nothing. Holly repeatedly describes herself as timid and meek and, throughout, seems to take a lot of verbal and emotional abuse from Hefner as well as the other girls, abuse that I am not sure I could have taken on the way to my dreams. In one jaw-dropping scene, Holly describes Hefner screams that at her that she is a cunt. She lets it slide, but my anger would have gotten the best of me. I could not imagine myself giving any other response, but to tell him “Fuck you, Hugh”, to pack my things, and to walk out the door. I have too much a sense of pride, a quick temper, and an arrogance of belief that I deserve to be treated well by others, just as I ought to treat others.

To me, the most exhilarating part (and the real story) of the memoir begins when Holly begins to say NO. She finally says NO to staying on as Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend; NO to attempts by others to capitalize on her fame as Hefner’s ex-girlfriend after she leaves the mansion; NO to letting her boyfriends’ attempts to control her; and NO to turning over Peepshow to another Playboy ex-girlfriend simply because of their shared past. She also says YES to being treated with respect, YES to a boyfriend who is shares her goals and dreams,  and YES to motherhood. Her daughter Rainbow is adorable.

If you’re a lover of entertainment and gossip and Hollywood, then you will likely find Holly Madison’s memoir less boring than I did, notwithstanding the writing itself, which is quite good. If you want a memoir where you need the heroine’s internal life and character to be a meaningful driving force in the unfolding of her life, then maybe you should put this one down and pick up another one.

4 Reasons I Hate Shopping for Clothes

I finally dragged myself out into a couple of retail outlets to shop for summer shirts, and I found myself quickly reminded why I hate shopping for clothes. The reasons are numerous, but here are some of the ones that tumbled out of my head without me thinking about it too hard.

#1: Everything is made of polyester

I thumbed through three rack lengths of medium sized short sleeved shirts. Almost all were made of rayon or polyester. I put my hand on one fully cotton item, but that turned out to be a dress.

All I could think of was: Some of us don’t wear summer shirts to the office, ya know! I want to be able to walk around the great outdoors without instantly sweating when the humidity goes above 50%, which, in the summer, is nearly every day. And when you sweat in polyester, you smell no matter that you’ve showered, shaved, and used deoderant.

And there are very few cotton blends! When every single item is largely or entirely polyester, my selection options became infintesimal because I refuse to buy polyester in summer. If I could get away with it, I would never buy any clothing item with any amount of polyester or even rayon in it.

Now if only I could get sock manufacturers on board.

#2: Everything is made in China

Or India. Or Pakistan. Or… You choose the country. By and large, American clothing is made in China, and that is just so wrong! How many Americans are not finding jobs because the manufacturing is on the other side of the world?

It’s cheap because it’s made on the other side of the world for appallingly low wages with cheap materials. Stuff can be trendy because you’re not spending a lot so it can afford to wear out cuz you’re just gonna buy more.

And the cycle of life continues. But imagine if you could buy a classic shirt made well that cost more but would last longer. I would love it if we had the options to do both, and not just from designer labels.

America, I want to buy your stuff!

#3: Undressing and Dressing

Right now, this is not too bad. I made sure I wore a skirt, a short sleeve top, and my Chacos. Easy off, easy on. I might have to dress to go back out and look for more clothes, but at least it’s quicker and easier.

In winter? Clothing shopping is downright hassle! I am not about to leave my coat in the car, so it comes with me. Sometimes, I wear layers. And sneakers whose laces I have to double tie because they are constantly coming undone.

Going shopping in winter is like the movie Groundhog Day: you dress yourself so many times it’s like you forget where you even started. What was I doing again? Oh, yeah. Shopping. For clothes. Bleh.

#4: You have to shop regularly

Because of the cheap nature of many clothes, you’re not going to get long term use out of it. You might get a couple of years out of it, unless your like me who clings to clothing until they start to shred. Only the possibility of coming across like I have not enough money to buy a new T-shirt do I cave and dare to go out shopping again.

But I really really really really really really really try to put it off as long as possible. Which is where I was today. And still am because, instead of summer shirts, I bought two boxes, a notepad, and Turkish delight which, turned out, not to be as such.

And don’t even get me started on the hell that is shoe shopping. I have gotten to the point where I only care about my outfit from the ankles up, but that’s a whole other story.

 

The Joy of Animal Rescue and Care

“I meant,” said Ipslore bitterly, “what is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?”
Death thought about it.
CATS, he said eventually. CATS ARE NICE.”
― Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

This weekend I had the pleasure of volunteering at a shelter and tending to  a tiny four-week old kitten who, while waiting to go to foster today, was screaming his head off. He was no bigger than the size of my hand, but had the vocal strength of a fully grown cat.

I have often said that I am a sucker for kittens, and this was no exception. His black coat was roughly salted with strands of white fur, and he had a thin, white strip down the side of his nose. I immediately thought of him as Stripe. He alternated between begging at the cage door and hissing at me. The begging quickly won out when I opened the cage door. I moved slowly and spoke softly, and he responded right away with sniffs and with head bops.

I wanted just to scoop him up in my arms, but he had wreaked havoc on himself as well as the cage. His water bowl was empty. The litter was totally soaked, as was his blanket, teddy bear, the floor of the cage, and his entire body. Litter tracked on the cage floor. A quarter of the dry food was spread in his cage and another quarter on the tile floor.

I proceeded to take things out of his cage cautiously so as not to scare him. I slowly wiped down the cage as I took out items to clean or replace. I layered a blanket on a thin bed and made sure to include a few small, stuffed toys for company. I gave him a clean litter box and new food, but food was the last thing on his mind.

I had to get some paper towels to soak up the water from his paws and body before I could hold him, but it was a largely futile exercise. My shirt got filthy anyway. Well worth it. He climbed up and down off my shoulder as I leaned into the cage. Stripe pressed his tiny head hard against my chin and pressed his little body against mine. As I pet him, he tried to lay down against me and then would flop over for more petting.

I pet him as long as I could, but eventually I had to go and help with other kitties. Before I left, I peeked into the room to see him sitting comfortably on his new bed. All morning, I had been mentally calculated the logistics of bringing him home with me. I eventually decided against it due to logistics  and the fact that I literally cannot take home every cute kitten that I fall in love with. Believe me when I tell you there have been a lot of them.

During my itty bitty kitty petting session, I started to realize that I had endorphins coursing through my body. I was actually beginning to feel high and loopy from the baby kitten love fest. I think that’s what happens when you provide physical love to a helpless, loving, and lovable baby: the pleasure center in your brain lights up like fireworks to reward you for your altruistic attention and physical affection for another being. Every time this happens, you want it to happen again as soon as possible. I have no kids, but I can only imagine the degree to which this happens to parents. It is addiction in its highest and best possible form.

When I am down or angry, all it takes is for one of my kitties to give me some unsolicited attention and love. Suddenly, I forget what was going through my mind and smile, returning the love that is so willingly given to me.

Mistakes Were Made

Well, I can only tell you about the one big mistake I made today: I mixed myself a Manhattan to go with dinner before I sat down to writing. I was going to write a thoughtful post about the nuances to bravery, but then I realized that doing so would involve the ability to focus. I don’t really have that ability, at the mo.

Waking up at 5am and not being able to fall asleep again doesn’t help. I feel like I have been awake for two days instead of less than one. My mind was racing with thoughts almost from the moment I woke up. After a little while of trying to relax, I realized it wasn’t going to happen and got up.

I had a small breakfast, then wasted time before running an errand and going to the gym. Gym was followed by shower and lunch and packing and getting my nails done and more packing and dinner and more packing and screwing around online. I kept putting off the sitting down to write until it became much more difficult.

Washing dishes and doing the litter and throwing the garbage out and getting ready for bed all ranked higher than writing. If you are a writer, don’t do this!

Now I just have to follow my own advice.

 

How (Not) To Employ Betrayal in A Story

SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE MAZE RUNNER TRILOGY OR THE DIVERGENT TRILOGY, YOU MIGHT WANT TO SKIP THIS.

Betrayal as a thematic element in YA post-apocalyptic novels has an important place. Your hero has to fight his or her way through the ridiculous battles and obstacles that are placed in their path because us readers need to cheer them on until the glorious end where the obstacles are vanquished and our hero wins. The betrayal of one or more of those who are closest to the hero is one of those obstacles.

If you’re an author like James Dashner, author of The Maze Runner trilogy, then you understand how to use the element of betrayal to great effect. Currently, as I am zipping through The Maze Runner books, I am heartily enjoying the use of the betrayal element in the story. It is up front and center, in your face, and carries the second book, The Scorch Trials. The characters themselves became aware of a betrayal that was coming, but that did not make the effect any less potent. Dashner uses the betrayal theme to great effect.

And then you have authors like Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series. Roth is one of those authors that also uses betrayal as an important element of the story. However, the betrayal is not between the characters.

The first two books were told from Tris’ point of view, while the third book flopped between Tris’ and Tobias’ point of view. The change in perspectives annoyed me. Why did she decide to change the perspective for this last book? As the end neared and it became cleared that Tris’ would not live to the end of the series, I realized this and only this was the reason for the change. How can a story continue if your main character is dead? The answer is you cannot.

I had been very much into Tris’ perspective and felt disconnected from the story with the perspective change. Something outside the story itself was now grabbing and diverting my attention from the story. My suspension of disbelief abruptly ended. I kept feeling discomfited and wnodered why the change occurred. When I realized what was going to happen, I felt cheated and betrayed by the author.

And this, my friends, is how you should not employ the use of betrayal in your story. I was an am still highly annoyed at this. I can no longer trust Veronica Roth as an author, and I am not sure that I will be reading any more of her stories because I cannot be sure she won’t try to pull a dirty trick like this again.

Let your characters trick each other all they want. It makes a story more interesting. But neverever trick your readers.

Writing Methods and Progress

As I have been reading YA dystopian trilogies lately, my mind boggles at the amount of work that must have gone into each one of those books. Especially now that I am a writer, I see my experiences devouring works with my speedy reading from the author’s point of view – so much time and effort for a reader to blow through a book in a day.

After each series is finished, I hear thoughts in my head saying, “You’ll never be able to write a book like that.” In the past several months, I have learned better than to listen to those negative thoughts any more. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I have been trying to work out a way of writing a complex story that would work for me.

I tend to be big-picture oriented. Looking at high amounts of detail or data to begin with always confuses and intimidates me. It’s hard for me to get a big handle on lots of little bits. So I thought: Why not start by outlining one big story arc from a character’s point of view? Then, keep layering on character arcs until you have an idea of what characters are together when. Then you can break it down into scenes or chapters. The last steps would be to go in and fill in all the details – the dialog, the descriptions, etc. After I thought of it that way, I felt a heaviness lift in my chest. Yes, I thought, that would work for me.

As I said to a friend today, I have read a lot about time management and getting into some kind of artistic practice. I haven’t found a way to make it work for me until now. The accountability calendar I have been using that allows me to check off that I have written at least one page of journal writing a day, two blog posts a week, and three days of writing for a total of 2,500 words a week really got me going. I must not have understood myself well enough to know that I love to check off a list of things I have completed, that checking off that list makes me feel productive, and that it helps me to stay committed. Now, with my idea about writing big and then working my way into the details, I feel like another thing has clicked into place for me.

What I have learned through my writing practice this year is that each person really does have to find out for themselves what will work. You can read all you want about how other people do it. It helps if you understand what makes you feel upbeat and productive and then work that into your life. That will help you along. But no one else can really tell you what methods will work for you.

It’s just you, your understanding of yourself, and your ability to work with tools that work with you that will let you take that next small step towards your goals.