The Dog Days of Summer (and The Book of JOY)

That old phrase certainly rings true this summer! Here in AZ we started having “triple digit” temps in May. For those who live further north, that means 110° and above. It used to mean 100° and above but those days are gone. We hit 123° in late May and I headed to Mexico to cool down. Now we’re into monsoon season. Average temp 105° with 60% humidity and higher. Still feels like 123° in the shade.

I remember now what ‘dog days’ means. I run errands between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. depending on which stores I have to hit. I check the yard and my burning up plants even earlier – between 5 and 6. Lately I’ve been falling asleep on the couch at 8:00 p.m. or taking a nap around 2:00 in order to stay up till 9:00. I have no appetite and have started fixing a meal at noon and eating cold cereal or fruit in the evening. You’d think I’d be losing weight but I fill in with chocolate snacks and loads of ice cream.

There is nothing better on a hot summer evening than to sit and eat a gallon of Tillamook Marionberry Pie ice cream or plain vanilla covered with chocolate sauce. Yum.

Like everyone else in the Valley of the Sun, I’m irritable. I yell at other drivers. I curse at each red light. I toss the remote across the room when there’s nothing on but reruns. I scream with frustration when I try to write and my brain is so fried I can’t think a single creative thought.

I find myself playing solitaire on my cell phone for hours. Find I can hardly stay attentive as I read a novel or try to watch a movie.

I’m hot, cranky, exhausted and back on antihistamines to counteract the humidity, sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, plugged ears and irritable colon. The other day I yelled via text at my daughter, “So now I have spring and fall and summer allergies? When don’t I have allergies and remind me why in the h e double hockey sticks we live here?” “Because you dragged us here 30 years ago, mother,” she reminds me. “Oh,” I write back – ugly face with crossed eyes and tongue sticking out at her.

I remind myself that I have some upcoming trips to Oregon and Minnesota. Oklahoma in Sept. and the Albuquerque Balloon Festival in Oct. And come Halloween night the temps will drop 60 degrees and we’ll be into winter. Somehow today that doesn’t seem quite enough and I’m cursing myself for not renting up north again this year.

Meanwhile I’m going back to my current read – The Book of Joy – an interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I remind myself – focus on joy and thank God for AC.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice

I just finished reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love. For anyone who enjoys living a creative life, it is a must read. You don’t have to be an artist, writer, musician — think seeing the world anew — think being in touch with your own gifts whatever they may be.

The conversation she has with her own fear is hysterically funny. I want to tape it to the refrigerator so I can use it daily with my own fear. The chapter is called The Road Trip. I won’t give away her wonderfully descriptive trip with fear.

I also enjoyed the section on multiple discovery as I’ve experienced this so often in life. Who hasn’t? Have you ever dreamed up a great new idea or product only to find it on the third page of the newspaper the following day? Her point for authors is: don’t wait for an idea that has never been dreamed before – it doesn’t exist.

Is creativity work or magic? I quote from her chapter Enchantment. “Most of my writing life consists of nothing more than unglamorous, disciplined labor. I sit at my desk and I work like a farmer, and that’s how it gets done. Most of it is not fairy dust in the least. But –sometimes it is fairy dust; it’s rare but it’s the most magnificent sensation imaginable when it arrives. I’ll bet most of us have enjoyed that feeling, and it is like fairy dust being sprinkled on us.

Let it come and go, says Elizabeth. For that’s how creativity works and we need to let it happen. In the meantime, do something else as it will show it’s lovely head again soon.

Done is better than good. No reason to explain that any further than what it says. Just finish it. Just get the job done. Good will come later.

Passion vs. curiosity. Passion is wonderful. Everyone preaches ‘find your passion.’ Just write your passion. What works best, she says, is to be curious about life. Once you find something you’re interested in, something to research, something new to learn, stories begin to unfold.

That happened for me in the two books I spent years researching. As I read about the Tulsa race riots, a young woman cowered in her bedroom just appeared. All my characters simply appear. Not once have I decided .. I’m going to write a novel about a tall, thin woman who is a teacher and she falls in love with a man. No … they appear with their own personalities, their own features, their own names – from fairy dust, as Elizabeth Gilbert describes it.

I loved this book and I hope you’ll check it out. It’s lighthearted, an easy read, and it gives us permission to lead the most interesting, creative lives we can while we’re here.

 

 

Blast from the Past

book photoWhat is the old saying? Nothing new under the sun. I was in Cost Plus World Market yesterday and as I turned the corner from wall décor to cards and gifts, I spotted a circular stand of children’s books. I felt like I’d been tossed back to the 1950’s. In my garage are battered and torn versions of the same books. It brought back a wave of nostalgia and I thought about purchasing one or two until I noticed that my ten cent cardboard covered books were priced at $5.99.

So I just stood and opened the pages of several of my favorites. Luckily, not a word has been changed. The pictures are the same as are the covers. Nurse Nancy was always one of my favorites. Bambi, Scuffy the tugboat, The Little Red Hen and many others lined the display.

I did take note that the same publisher has re-released them, but I couldn’t help but wonder if these were for people over 65 or their grandkids? It pleased me either way. A nice reminder of a simpler time and place. I may have to go back and buy Nurse Nancy as I think she got lost along the way.

Check them out if you have a store near you. Always fun to remember good times …..

don’t do this … a word of warning…

Only in Arizona would my bottle of Biotin supplements arrive melted into one large ball of white goo. My own fault I guess. I should have known ordering off Amazon in the summer might have been a risk. But I swear it said 2 day shipping with Prime. Instead, it took 4 days and then they sat in the mailbox for a few hours this afternoon. You’d think if a box said pharmaceuticals, the postman might have thought to deliver it to the door?? Just saying ….  If I put them in the refrigerator to get cold, am I just congealing them? Or will they separate? I have no other option but to try it I suppose. Buyer beware. In 105 degree temps don’t order anything that might melt during delivery. Ugh.

 

let freedom ring

With 4th of July a week from today, I am remembering all the research I did on WWII and Vietnam while writing my first book three years ago. I was amazed at what I didn’t know. History text books tell us so little. I read personal accounts of pilots who lived through those horrendous air campaigns. Many scenes in my WWII story are taken from those memories shared by the men who lived them. I was alive and protesting during the Vietnam War. Lived on an army base in Oklahoma for two years and waited and prayed for pilot friends to return. I thought I knew a lot until two years ago when I watched videos and read versions I’d either ignored or knew nothing about.

What do I know of taking another man’s life, standing rifle to rifle against the enemy, washing up on a shore as you watch hundreds of your friends dying in front of you? What do I know of carrying back the dead and injured? What do I know about flying high over your target, British spitfires flying alongside for protection?

I know nothing – that’s what I know. Two years ago I went to Normandy and the Caen Memorial Center. During the tour you walk from lightness into dark and you gradually descend — the design meant to increase your awareness of the beginning of Hitler’s siege, through the French resistance to the American landings. You become more and more emotional with each step down and through. By the end, we were all visibly distraught. As a reprieve we wandered into the gift shop and back to real life. Low and behold as I rounded a corner I saw a display of items with my dad’s last name. Poole. I bought a ration book and felt my dad leading me through this experience.

We visited four beaches, walked through German bunkers, and looked out to sea. Visualized men leaping from boats under fire, dying one after another until the last group could manage to reach land. And that one day was only a piece of the war. My dad was not on the beaches. He served further into the forested German countryside. Watching them lower the American flag while they played taps at the American Cemetery topped off an emotional gut wrenching day.

In my book, I describe a young man who accidentally kills an innocent child on a weekend leave where he believes he has escaped the horrors of the war in Cambodia. And a young father returning from war who, like my own father, comes home to a life of nightmares. I hope these stories ring true.

To those young men who have fought in war after war, battle after battle, we salute you on this 4th of July as we did on Memorial Day. It doesn’t matter how many “days” we put aside, we’ll never really understand the horrors they lived through and the many who continue in their war-hell even today.

 

Three excerpts from my latest novel, We’ll Find a Way. Hope you’ll find them enticing and order it today.

For those who wondered if Karen’s father would appear again:

Karen Johnston stood at the double French doors of the bedroom and looked out over the wood deck of her two-story Denver home. The barren trees beyond were black skeletons against the silvered sky. A thin layer of ice from the last snow storm still clung to the capped-rail fence that outlined their large wooded lot, but sunshine was predicted to melt it tomorrow. She pulled her cashmere cardigan tighter. It had been a harsh winter, and it was only February.

When her cell phone rang, she grabbed for it from the near-by nightstand and glanced at the screen before answering. “Hi, Mark,” she said, a slight lilt in her voice. She was pleased to hear from him. It had been a couple of months. The first few minutes of their conversations were always stilted. To be expected, she guessed, since her biological father had only recently come into her life. Mark lived in Kansas City, Missouri—a fact she had discovered last July.

“Good to hear you voice, “Mark said.

And months later:

She (Karen) rose gingerly onto her knees and stretched her back for a minute; then pulled open his bottom drawer. Golf shirts and casual tees. Just fold them she cautioned herself. Don’t throw anything out he might get upset about. As she pulled out a navy crew-neck to refold it, a piece of paper fluttered to the floor. It must have been inside the pocket. One glance and her limbs went rigid.

And from one of the historical stories that takes place in Tulsa:

She was waiting at the front door when James arrived at 5:30. She had locked all the doors and windows, and James took note immediately.

”Why do you have the house closed up, Abby? My God, it’s 90 degrees in here.” He moved toward one of the living room windows and turned the metal lock to open it.

She hesitated. He would laugh at her silliness. She was a tough German woman and was seldom afraid of anything. “You won’t believe what I saw earlier when I pushed Thomas in the pram. K.K.K. James, I’m sure of it.”

He walked to the tattered tweed sofa and patted the cushion for her to sit beside him. “Where’s Thomas?” he asked.

“Finally sleeping. He wore himself out crying all afternoon. Teething probably.” She turned to face him. “But James I saw them. About six of them coming out of a warehouse over on 2nd street. They were carrying their robes and hats. I know that’s what they were.”

James looked skeptical. “Here? That close by?”

She nodded. “I was concerned because one of the men saw me and knew that I saw him.”

”What?”

“They left in cars, all at once. Headed off south somewhere. I don’t like it, James. They must be up to something. Have you heard any rumors?”

“No, but just stay close to home for a few days, Abby.”

A few weeks later:

Around 11:00 p.m., though their bedroom curtains remained closed, she saw the sky light up and heard distant screams. She (Abby) could only imagine what was happening in Greenwood. It was a city under siege.