Letting Go Of Normal

 Last week my 13-year-old cat, Angel, was diagnosed with cancer.  Her veterinarian/acupuncturist told me the tumors had spread, there was nothing that could be done, and that I had the option of euthanizing her that day.  I said no:  Angel didn’t seem to be in any pain, she was still running around the yard, leaping onto high window sills and purring.  What Angel isn’t doing is eating much.  She is getting noticeably weaker.

 After receiving this news, my mind raced ahead to practical matters:  is there a spot in the yard where I might bury her?  Would it be easier to cremate?  Yes, but what if she dies at an inconvenient time, like a weekend.  In this valley heat I’ll need to put her body in the fridge till Monday, and she’s a big-boned cat, probably part Maine Coon.  Will she fit?

 Some of you may be thinking, It’s a cat; get over it.  And if you’re thinking this, I hope you don’t have any pets of your own.  But that’s another subject.  One reason I’m writing this is because it is easier to write about these thoughts when they’re about a pet.  So many of my friends are caring for (or have just finished caring for) elderly parents and/or spouses.  It’s hard to talk about.  But I can say these things because my cat won’t read this.  She won’t feel bad if I’m sad because she’s sick.  I don’t have to put on a brave face for her the way I did for my Mom.

 I find there’s a part of me that wants this time of waiting and watching to be over with.  And yet of course I’m dreading it too.  I don’t want my cat to die.  But when she’s gone, I can get back to normal.  Normal.  I realized recently that I seem to be living under a fallacy that life has a default setting of “normal.”  After the funeral or the surgery or allergy season or “when the kids get over these darn colds,” then things will be back to normal and we can get stuff done.  We’ll be happy.

 We do this with happy events too:  after the wedding, after the baby’s born, when we get back from vacation, then things will be back to normal.

 I just finished reading Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs with my dear soul sisters in the Sacred Conversations group at Sister Margie Will’s Franciscan Living Center in midtown Sacramento.  Rohr says we “idolize normalcy.”  Imagine that!  He cautions against this, saying, “Instead, we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality.  All transformation takes place there. We have to move out of ‘business as usual’ and remain on the ‘threshold’ (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between. . . . Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It’s the realm where God can best get at us because we are out of the way.  In sacred space the old world is able to fall apart, and the new world is able to be revealed.”

 So here I am in liminal space with my cat.  When I look at her I feel sad, but I feel grateful she is still here right now.  And when I remember, I say a prayer for all care givers who are sad and angry and impatient to return to “normal” and feeling guilty as hell about it.  It’s not easy, but it’s a good place to be.

Post script—please don’t send me advice about pet burial, cremation, or cold storage.  I’ll figure it out when the time comes.  This can’t be fixed.  Just say a prayer for all care givers and all those who are grieving.  Thank you.

 

Are you making a resolution to write?

Since I published my first novel, several people have told me they’d also like to publish a novel or memoir.  I think this is great, but in some cases it’s surprised me because I didn’t know these folks were interested in writing.  Maybe–in some cases–they didn’t know it either.

            If there’s anybody out there who is inspired by my example to pick up a pen, I say, Yes!  Go for it!  But now here comes the unsolicited advice.

            If you haven’t been doing a lot of writing, but now you’re wondering “Shall I write a novel or a memoir?”–well, I have to say I think you’re asking the wrong question.  Here’s the right question:  Do you like to write?—because if you want to write a novel, it helps if you like to write.

            Try this:  set aside some time to write.  I suggest 30 to 60 minutes, three to five days a week.  I think it’s best to aim for the same time every day (e.g. right after breakfast, during your lunch hour), but I’ve heard some people schedule blocks of time in their calendars every week, wherever it fits.

            The idea is to develop a Writing Practice.  You’re like a musician practicing scales or an athlete doing warm-up drills.  Writing every day helps you develop a habit so when you sit down to write, the words spill out and you actually write, rather than thinking about writing.

            Now when you first start this practice, don’t try to write your novel or memoir out of the gate.  At this point just write.  Write fast.  Write whatever comes into your head.  You’re practicing.  You’re learning how to get into a flow, a rhythm.  Write silly stuff, write angry stuff, doesn’t matter, just write.

            DO NOT spend three or four hours writing everything you’ve been holding inside for years and years in one giant cathartic rush that you just can’t wait to get onto the page, and wow, it feels so good to finally do this, yes, yes, I can write and I can write a lot for a long time, all right, and now I’m done.  You read it over, it sounds brilliant!! You feel great about it–but you don’t pick up a pen or sit down at the keyboard again for four months, because you’re waiting to feel inspired like that again.

            Yeah, sure, you can do that if you want, and probably somewhere there’s a successful novelist or two who writes books this way.  But I’m here to tell you that most people who write novels sit down and work on it day after day after day.

            So when you want to develop a practice, on Monday you write for an hour and it’s trash.  On Tuesday, you write for an hour and it’s trash.  On Wednesday you start to write a cool story about your Mom leading the Girl Scout troop in fourth grade, and the hour is up but you’re not done.  That’s great.  You stop anyway and the unfinished story rides around with you for the next 23 hours and when you start on Thursday you waste no time. You get right into it, and the story is richer in detail and complexity because it’s been cooking in your subconscious.  Maybe you don’t finish it till Friday, or maybe not even till a week from Friday.  That’s fine.  But the day after you finish that story, you come back and start again.  And maybe it’s trash again.  That’s okay, it’s all part of the process.  But now you know that, because the practice gives you the confidence that you can stay with it for the long haul.

            I suggest you try this for a month or so, just to see how it goes.  I know it’s not easy to stick to a schedule.  If you need to skip a day now and then, that’s okay, just start up again the next day.  The main thing you want to find out is this:  is it fun?  When you’re actually writing, is it fun?  Is it satisfying?  Are you enjoying putting the words on the page?  If the answer is yes, then you’re going to write that novel.  You will.  You’ll figure out when and what and how.  But if you don’t enjoy it, well, maybe you’ll want to re-think this novel-writing goal.  But if you’re determined to write even if it’s not so fun, I do have another idea.  Join a writing group.  Not a critiquing group—that’s for later.  No, join a group of people who actually writes together.  Because we writers are so much fun, we’ll guarantee you a good time.

            Here’s a link to an earlier post about books I’ve loved that have helped me with my writing:

 https://nancyschoellkopf.com/2013/06/09/my-writing-life/

  And here’s a link to a post about writing groups:

 https://nancyschoellkopf.com/2013/06/09/writing-the-amherst-way/

Good luck, have fun, and drop me a line if you’ve got any questions!  Happy New Year!

Yellow-Billed Magpie Goes on Tour!

Now that the Yellow-Billed Magpie Launch Party is successfully behind me, my new novel is going on a virtual tour! Laura Fabiani, the wonderful tour coordinator at iRead Book Tours, has arranged for Yellow-Billed Magpie to make appearances on seventeen blogs in three different countries during the month of October. Fourteen bloggers will post reviews (I’m holding my breath!) On other blogs I will do guest posts or Q&A interviews. Check out the schedule here:

http://www.ireadbooktours.com/blog—current-tours/book-tour-yellow-billed-magpie-by-nancy-schoellkopf

The tour will also include opportunities to enter a free raffle to win copies of my book as well as Amazon gift cards. The grand prize will be a turquoise-colored ceramic Fiesta pie plate along with some decorative paper napkins in honor of take-charge businesswoman Anna Victoria who runs an expanding chain of popular pie shops in the novel. Stay tuned: details to follow.

I am very excited but also a little nervous about this tour, but I trust that these fellow bloggers, who are also avid readers and writers, will be kind to my debut novel.

I don’t write because I have a message to impart. I write because I’m a writer: it’s what I love to do. I only hope my story touches your heart.

Thank you for all your good wishes and support!

Living the Dream

Hello, friends, family and friendly folks whom I have never met outside this virtual plane! I’m here to tell you that

My Debut Novel

Yellow-Billed Magpie

Is now available for purchase

On Amazon and Kindle!!

 Cue the balloons and fire works! Yes! It has been my dream to be a published novelist for nearly four decades. Well, actually first it was my dream just to write a novel, but once I figured out how to do that then the dream became finding a way to share the novels. Today the dream is coming into fruition!

So how come I feel like a nervous wreak? I guess because now I need to learn to market the novel. Please allow me a few moments of shameless promotion: Please buy my novel. Please read my novel. Please love my novel and then write a 5-star review on my Amazon page.

The commercial continues: Yellow-Billed Magpie is reasonably priced. The cover is absolutely beautiful. It was designed by Karen Phillips who has done an amazing job for an amazing price. (Check out her site here: http://www.phillipscovers.com/what.html ) This books look so beautiful that it naturally follows that they would make beautiful Christmas gifts.

My book comes with this guarantee: I will never ask you if you’ve read my novel. I will never ask you if you like my novel. Of course I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it—and tell me so—but I won’t ask. I won’t put you on the spot. No worries, no need to avoid me. No risk, so give it a try.

If you live nearby, please drop in at my Launch Party this coming Thursday evening, October 1st at Hoppy’s Brewing Company, 6300 Folsom Blvd., in Sacramento, Ca. I’ll be there with big boxes of books from 5:30 to 8:30. We’ll be serving wonderful appetizers. No host bar.

I’ll be selling copies of Yellow-Billed Magpie for the low introductory price of $5 each on October 1st only. Come and buy multiple copies. Give them to your friends. Of course I’ll sign them. Maybe they’ll be rare collectables someday. Or maybe you can get 50 cents for them at your next garage sale. I don’t know yet, but I hope the story touches your heart. That is my sincere wish.

Okay, that was my first attempt at marketing. More later. I have an interesting promotional story that I’m saving for later in the week, so stay tuned. Here’s the link to my Amazon page. Please check it out.

http://www.amazon.com/Yellow-Billed-Magpie-Nancy-Schoellkopf-ebook/dp/B015NH58R4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1443302784&sr=8-1&keywords=yellow+billed+magpie

Love to you all!

Okay I read it! Here’s what I think of Go Set a Watchman

If Go Set A Watchman hadn’t been written by Harper Lee, I don’t guess I would recommend it because it isn’t all that good a read. But it was written by Harper Lee, and we know that if she had chosen to revise and edit it, she was capable of producing a brilliant snapshot of the south in the years immediately following the historic Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, Supreme Court decision.

It’s been widely reported that Atticus Finch displays a racist side in this novel, but less has been made of the fact that Jean Louise herself agrees with her father on many, though not all of his opinions. There are several long, rambling conversations that escalate into arguments, and in most of these scenes no one’s point is explained very well. That’s okay, this was apparently an early draft. But I was appalled at the final confrontation between Jean Louise and her uncle, Dr. Jack Finch. Gee whiz, were there no present-day editors? Did they really think that (SPOILER ALERT) a pompous older man striking a young woman across the mouth would play well with a 21st century audience? I know that in the 50s and 60s jokes about domestic abuse were common, but it can’t be tolerated today.

The scene that touched me the most was the one between Scout and Calpurnia, the now-retired domestic worker who served the Finch family for so many decades. Lee implies that the advent of the civil rights era has created a chasm between the white gentry of Maycombe County, Alabama, and their “Negro” servants and “neighbors.” Of course there is little acknowledgement that from the servants’ point of view that chasm always existed. Nonetheless in this meting with Cal, Scout feels this separation from the woman she considers her surrogate mother, and it wounds her in a way more poignant that the intellectual arguments she has with her father, uncle, aunt and boyfriend. (Yes, lots of people and lots of talk, talk, talk!)

It’s true that the flashbacks to childhood and teen years were the most engaging in the book. It makes sense that Lee’s editors back in the 50s urged her to focus on those. But I also have to wonder if her publisher’s real motivation was to steer Lee to a safer, less controversial subject that the fears of white southerners now the their servants were attempting to exercise their right to vote. Of course I’m happy Harper Lee wrote the heroic and beautiful To Kill a Mockingbird, but a well thought-out, polished novel on the fears of the 50s might well have been a gift to us too. As it is, it’s rather confusing and sad.

SPOILER ALERT: I miss Jem something awful.

Here are a few articles on the book I found interesting, even though they contradict each other:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/25/opinion/joe-nocera-the-watchman-fraud.html?_r=0

http://theconcourse.deadspin.com/go-set-a-watchman-isnt-a-good-book-but-it-is-an-import-1718471112

And to my writer friends: write a will. Write it now. Be sure your wishes are known. Don’t even get me started on whomever is handling Theodor Geisel’s estate.

What To Think About Watchman?

First I have to say that I have not yet read Go Set a Watchman. I do intend to read it though; my copy arrived from Amazon yesterday. But the early reviews of Harper Lee’s second novel have been playing on my mind and I feel a need to set my thoughts down now.

As I said in a previous post, I was concerned that this “new” book would expose writing that wasn’t ready for publication, that maybe it just wouldn’t be very good. It never occurred to me that the beloved Atticus Finch could ever be anything but the paragon of handsome virtue Gregory Peck portrayed him to be. But is the racist, segregation-supporting Atticus of Watchman a first draft character that Lee totally discarded when she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird? Or was this darker man always there in her thoughts as she wrote the story from a child’s point of view? Was she intending to write a sequel where the adult Jean Louise would be disillusioned to discover the true nature of the father she had idolized?

Perhaps I’ll have a clearer answer after I read the book, but I want to believe that the former is true. I want to believe that Lee never released this book because the Atticus Finch of Watchman no longer existed. Maybe she’d thrown him out and invented a whole new guy for Mockingbird. Of course this is a very idealistic wish, and the fact is none of us will ever know what the answer is. Harper Lee is unwilling or—more likely—unable to tell us what she was thinking back then.

It’s occurred to me this past week that Atticus Finch has been a perfect, pure, unadulterated hero for all of us white progressives. At the risk of his reputation, his safety—and most importantly the safety of his children—he did the right thing, he stood up to the bigots in his town and defended an African American man unjustly accused of a crime. We all like to think we could perform as well, you know, if we were ever tested. And yet most of us design our lives so we won’t be tested, so we won’t have to confront our own bigotry. This is especially easy here out west where there are no Civil War battlefields or memorials to fallen Freedom Riders.

So here I will present a small test for my literary minded friends: how many books have you read lately by African American writers? How may books have you ever read by authors of color? I have to admit for myself, it’s not many. I will say that when I was first out of college, as a fledgling feminist and aspiring writer, I deliberately chose to mainly read books by women. I was looking for role models. Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver are now favorites, and I wouldn’t miss one of their novels as soon as they hit the shelves. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Toni Morrison’s work, but I’m sorry to say I can’t tell you what her last novel was called. And oh—I just remembered—I used to read each new book by Alice Walker, but at some point decades ago she fell off my radar too.

What’s really embarrassing is I don’t even know where to begin. Who are the up and coming young writers of color?

We can speculate forever about Harper Lee’s state of mind back when she was writing Watchman and Mockingbird, and about her cognitive health now. We’ll never know for sure. So let’s take the discussion in a new direction. It turns out Atticus Finch was a closet racist. Well, guess what, he’s not alone. Let’s expand our reading lists to include more ethnic diversity. I challenge you to help me out, to give me the names of novels to read and writers to watch for.

Join the Discussion!

Let’s celebrate the upcoming publication of Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchman by reading (or re-reading) her only other published novel, the incomparable To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m hosting a discussion group right here on my website! For details click on the Mockingbird link above. It will take you to a special page devoted to one of my favorite books of all time.

ps–if you don’t have the time or the desire to read (or re-read) the book, go ahead and rent the movie. You won’t regret it!