Seeking Quiet and Invisibility

"It's time to fall back in love with your artand practice invisibility."
~ Don McAllister of Linchpin Bloggers

Not too long ago I wrote a series of posts on time management.  Wondering how in the writing world I could or would find time to build a platform, find my tribe and keep up with social media AND write my memoir.  Sadly, I have found the answer.  The source of the answer has been a huge cost to my family and me in two ways.

First, a vicious and devastating illness trapped my husband's brother in a rapid cognitive and physical decline.  We spent many miles and hours traveling to help with his care beginning in January 2012 until his passing on November 19th.  And then we spent about three weeks after that assisting his wife with details of a service, the estate, and much more.

About the same time, we learned that the oldest of our three children, a son aged 41, has cancer.  A highly treatable form, testicular cancer, and yet the word "cancer" itself is unsettling, unnerving, unwanted.  Our emotions are still tied in bundles as we await a visit with an oncologist.

During the weeks since November 19th, I've had lots of time to think. While away from home at that time, our schedule didn't allow for computers.  It meant a forced stepping away from blogging, emails, social networking, writing. Upon returning home, sadness has kept me away from all this during the last month. It's amazing when forced to give up all these cyber-tools how comfortable we can become without them.

I'm not certain just yet what God is trying to tell me, and if you know me at all, you know my faith is in Him and His Word.  What I do know is the season of my life is changing.  I can feel it, but I can't yet wrap my arms around it.  One thing is for certain -- God wants more of me than I have given.

There are things in our family order that need to be tended to and I need to be there for those who need me.  Simply said, I need to be the wife and mother I signed on to be long ago.

In order to listen more closely to God's guidance in this part of my life, I have decided to grant myself a season of retreat.  For the next three months -- January 1, 2013 - March 31, 2013 -- this blog will, for the most part, be inactive.  Starting now, I'm turning off comments.  I am eliminating such distractions as social media and blog comments from my days.

My season of grief and sorrow is fading but I am uncertain about my future as a blogger.  During the time that I am not here, I hope to continue work on two projects:

  • Drafting my memoir
  • Research into the orphanage system of this country during the late 19th and early 20th century in preparation for a book about my father's life as an orphan

In addition, I have registered for a writing workshop, Beachside Writers 2013, in Yachats, Oregon (March 1-3, 2013).  A place to learn from experienced writers, a place to meet new writing friends, and a quiet place by the Pacific to reflect.

For the time being, I hope that some of the friendships I have made through my writing interests will continue.  You my contact me via email, or find me on this blog's Facebook page, but otherwise I need to retreat into a quiet space and time with My Master and listen for His Words to direct my next steps.

No Place Like Home

noplacelikehome Judy Garland, as Dorothy in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, uttered these words to her dog, TotoAnd she clicked her ruby-red slippers together in hopes of returning home.

I had no ruby-red slippers today, but returning home felt oh so good.  We've been away for almost three weeks due to a family member's illness and death.  Coming home was comforting.

I have missed writing and blogging, and over the course of the next few days I hope to get back up to speed.  Processing our grief and returning to our normal pace will take a while yet.

But please hang in there with me -- I've missed being among my writing friends.

Leaving the Hall Light On by Madeline Sharples (A Review)

What parent can imagine living through the horrors of a child’s battle with bipolar disorder ending in suicide several years after diagnosis and attempted treatment?  Likely no one’s imagination works at this level.

Madeline Sharples, author of Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, has lived this nightmare.  And amazingly, she and her family survived this traumatic period.

Sharples’ memoir chronicles her elder son, Paul’s descent into the terrors of bipolar disorder and his eventual suicide.

In writing her story, Sharples addresses issues faced not only by her family but also by many other families.  In so doing, she offers insight into her own experience and provides a frank and open discussion of some of her most painful moments.  In her own words, she tells us:

My goal in writing this book is to tell my story in the most truthful and real terms possible.  Otherwise it won’t be of any use to anyone – including me.

Sharples has done exactly that by sharing an account which includes a mix of advice, education about bipolar disorder, a desire to remove the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder and similar mental illnesses, and hope for families living with similar tragedies.  She digs deep into her own story to share her belief that each victim in such a tragedy has choices:  a choice to move on, a choice to take care of him- or herself, and a choice to be the best husband, wife, father, mother, child possible.

Because of Sharples’ gift of descriptive detail, her reader learns a great deal about Paul from infancy.  The reader meets a precocious, piano playing, curly-headed and happy toddler, and several photographs underscoring this part of Paul’s life are included.  Later photos share a Paul who is happily smiling whether alone or with a relative.  These photos connect the reader to Paul in a visual way, allowing you to watch Paul grow and thrive.

Growing into adolescence, Paul showed an innate ability to connect with children, experienced continued successes with the piano, and developed a knack for repairing computers.  All the goodness of this son shines through. If not for these details about Paul highlighting the goodness in him, Leaving the Hall Light On could only be classified as an angry and furious assault by a distraught mother who is not only heartbroken but also confused and hurt by Paul’s choices.

Madeline Sharples began writing her journey with Paul through poetry.  Not always a fan of poetry, this reviewer became intrigued by the author’s poems and appreciated an exposure to poetry that actually spoke to the heart.  Perhaps that is because the reviewer is a mother.  Yet one realizes in her poetry as well as her memoir narrative Sharples has shared her journey using raw, intense emotion coupled with truth and love.  Her story is alive and beats with a heart torn asunder and yet healing.

Although difficult to read at times, I found myself unable to put this book down.  Others have mentioned needing to step away and come back.  I felt drawn into a relationship with Paul, his parents and his younger brother Ben, as if I were a good friend standing in the shadows as this nightmare played out.  This is due in part to Sharples’ unique style of writing – comfortable, conversational, and filled with truth and emotion.  I wanted to be there for them all.  I needed to know where this journey took them.

As the stepmother of a young woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder and complicated by attention deficit hyperactive disorder, perhaps my fascination was also rooted in the continuing search by our family for answers.  Madeline Sharples provided some answers for us, and for this reason alone I highly recommend this book to families in similar situations.

Because of her unique use of narrative and poetry and her treatment in this family's story of not only her own emotional trauma but also that of her husband and their son Ben, I recommend this as a memoir worth reading as a unique example of superior memoir writing.

Madeline Sharples has shown those of us writing memoir the way to successful story telling based in truth written from the heart.

* * *

Madeline Sharples studied journalism in high school and college and wrote for the high school newspaper, but only started to fulfill her dream to work as a creative writer and journalist late in life. Her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicidewas released in a hardback edition in 2011 and has just been released in paperback and eBook editions by Dream of Things. It tells the steps she took in living with the loss of her oldest son, first and foremost that she chose to live and take care of herself as a woman, wife, mother, and writer. She hopes that her story will inspire others to find ways to survive their own tragic experiences.

She also co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994), co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1 and 2, and wrote the poems for two photography books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer). Her poems have also appeared online and in print magazines.

Madeline’s articles appear regularly in the Naturally Savvy, PsychAlive, Aging Bodies, and Open to Hope. She also posts at her blogs, Choices and at Red Room and is currently writing a novel.  Madeline’s mission since the death of her son is to raise awareness, educate, and erase the stigma of mental illness and suicide in hopes of saving lives.

Madeline and her husband of forty plus years live in Manhattan Beach, California, a small beach community south of Los Angeles. Her younger son Ben lives in Santa Monica, California with his wife Marissa.

Drawing the Line in Memoir Writing

Likely we've all done it -- drawn a line in the sand, or in the dirt, maybe through the grass, or just in the air.

That line drew boundaries in some dispute or dare or discussion.

In memoir writing, we, the tellers of our stories, need to be cautious about drawing a line in our story telling.  Just how far do we go with the truth?  What actually forms a lie?  Who might we hurt in the process?

When writing your memoir,
the truth of your story is what you know. 

For example, I have two brothers, one older by 14 years and the other younger by 8 years.  All raised by the same mother.  All experiencing her temperament and discipline.  Yet, when I write my story it may read entirely differently from their stories.  After all, we each knew our mother at different stages of her life.

Does that mean I don't write my story as I know it?  In my opinion, absolutely not.  What it does mean is that I write what I know, my truth, my story.  If my story involves close family or friends, I must exercise honesty and kindness in my writing.  I am careful not to be judgmental in my writing.

If any part of that story mentions either of my brothers or both, it is right for me to mention to them what I'm writing so they are not blindsided when my work is published.  In fact, at some point, their memories could be helpful in fleshing out certain details about dates and places.  Facts about other family members.  If willing, they could become a great resource for my story.

Write your story just as you want to write it.

It will take many drafts and many months of effort to reach that final draft.  To begin worrying about reactions and fallout from family and friends as you begin writing is time spent needlessly.  By the time you reach the final draft, these people may no longer be a part of your story.

Be fair -- share your writing with those
mentioned in your story
.

This is especially important if family members or friends are main characters.  Sharing with others encourages their acceptance and support of your work.  And, as in a law firm when negotiating a major transaction, due diligence is important.

However, share only your final draft.  After all, more revisions and drafts may exclude something that would be upsetting to someone.  Why upset someone unnecessarily.  Likewise, your reader might really like something you've written that is taken out as you progress toward the final draft.

Being open to editing and/or making minor changes if a family member or close friend is troubled by something is a kind and gracious act.  However, don't let these changes alter the course of your story.  The question to ask when making such edits is:  Is this really necessary or crucial to the story?  After all, relationships with family and friends should rank higher than the words you have written.

Find your comfort zone and
reach a level of 100% in that zone
.

If you write a paragraph, a passage or a sentence, and something about the words leave you feeling somewhat uneasy, take it out.  Uneasy feelings are a sure sign that something is wrong.  That's the last thing you want to haunt you.

* * *

There is no guarantee that if follow these guidelines or someone else's that everything is completed without some difficulty.  Writing about real people complicates your work and can be dangerous.  My best advice:  Make sure you find and follow the best process available.

My Love Affair with Writing Tools

The following post appears concurrently on Philadelphia Writing Examiner.  I want to thank Cheryl Butler Stahl, author of Slices of Life: Memoir Writing, freelance writer and founder of Your Best Writing Group, for inviting me to contribute to her column.  Connect with Cheryl on Facebook and Twitter.

* * *

Writers love their tools -- pens, paper, pencils, journals, notepads.  So it must follow that with advances in technology there are electronic tools and toys beneficial to writers.

Here I confess -- I'm easy prey for innovative software, especially when it comes to writing.  Recently, I've acquired some items I want to share with you.  You may have heard about them elsewhere, but here's my take on them.

It isn't that I don't love a moleskin journal, or a tiny leather-covered note pad in my purse along with a favorite pen for jotting quick notes.  What I have discovered is that there are many wonderful, time-saving items out there, and it's tempting to try them out.

My problem is:  I try them out, I love them, and then I want to tell someone else just how great they are!  So, here goes . . .

My first find and the one I've been using the longest, Scrivener.  Scrivener is similar to a word processing program, and it took a long time and lots of consideration to convince me it could be better than Microsoft Word, which I've used for decades now.  Not too long ago, my friend and fellow writer and blogger, Joe Bunting at The Write Practice dot com, shared his thoughts on Scrivener.  Joe's overview convinced me to give Scrivener a try.

Three things that stand out for my purposes in Scrivener are:  (1) ability to pull together ideas in one place; (2) organizing the manuscript; and (3) Scrivener motivates.  Let’s take a look at each of these in brief:

  • Gathering your ideas in one place is a time saver.  Previously, I would find snippets of information for a project and place them in a folder.  Next, I’d come across photos I might want to reference later and into another folder they would go.  And what about my research?  Yes, another folder.  Before long, I’d have so many folders storing project materials that it would take some time to locate something on occasion.  With Scrivener, this problem is solved.Scrivener allows you to store all these bits and pieces in one document – the configuration of the material doesn’t matter.  It can be a photo, text, links to research, whatever you need to be able to find quickly.
  • Do you end up with a Word document for each chapter?  With Scrivener, you no longer have to worry about separate documents.  Scrivener allows the writer to keep those chapters and subchapters separate but easily accessible.  If your book project is large, this is a time saver.
  • Lastly, do you struggle with staying motivatedBelieve it or not, Scrivener has helped me with that battle.  Scrivener has a tool that lets you set a word count goal for each section so that you have an ongoing tally of just how much you’ve accomplished.

A quick look at what Scrivener looks like on screen:

Scrivener is available as a download for PCs and MACs at Literature & Latte dot com.  Currently, Scrivener is relatively inexpensive ($45 for Mac, $40 for Windows).  And it comes with a great manual and tutorial.

Second in my lineup of new tools, EvernoteEvernote replaces all the documents where I save quotations, the folder in my email for blog items I want to read later or reference again, a stack of paper copies printed for reading later.  The beauty of this software is that it captures all those things for me in one place, and it does it all for FREE via my browser!  I refer to it as my online filing cabinet. A search feature is included and the use of tags makes it easy to categorize things for searching.  Folders (or notebooks) can be set up to further categorize  your materials.  I've not yet been disappointed with Evernote, the tutorials or finding help.  And I love the elephant!

Here are a couple of images showing how Evernote appears on your screen, depending on your operating system and personal setup:

Windows version

Windows version

Mac version

Mac version

And for those of you interested, Evernote has a phone app as well.  At Evernote dot com you will find all the other tools available for organizing your writing life.

Third and last, and my newest find, Mind42, a web-based mind mapping tool that I'm in love with.  Not artistically inclined, the thought of drawing a mind map has left me feeling awkward and somewhat faulty in my efforts.  Mind24 has taken all that away.  And it's free!

For me, the clarity of the design of the mappingin Mind42 was what won me over as I compared a variety of offerings:

Additionally, Mind42 is user friendly and an intuitive program to use.  So far, it hasn't disappointed me.

I checked out several other free mind mapping software, including:

  • FreeMind (I didn't find this user friendly and not well supported);
  • Bubbl.us (navigation seemed awkward); and
  • Mindomo (here again the process seemed awkward); and
  • Cayra (as nodes are added, images move around on the screen).

Don't hesitate to check out several as one that doesn't work for one individual may work expertly for another.

I realize there is lots of information packed into this article.  My hope is, if you’re interested in writing, that you’ll find something helpful highlighted here that enhances your writing life.

Happy writing!

Disclosure:  I am not an affiliate of any of the companies mentioned herein, nor was I asked by any of them to give a review of their product.  This is purely based on my own experiences and the desire to share them with you.  However, the FTC (yes, part of our government told me I must) requires me to let you know that I'm in no way being paid for anything written here nor do I receive anything if you buy any of the products above.  So long!

Images were taken from the web sites referenced for each piece of software discussed.

Written Acts of Kindness Award -- Linda Thomas

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile,
a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment,
or the smallest act of caring, all of which have
the potential to turn a life around.
~ Leo Buscaglia

Who doesn't like surprises and gifts?

It was Friday morning, November 2nd.  Friday means a busy morning.  It's my morning to mentor with a group of young moms of preschoolers.  I stole just a minute to check my inbox.

And there it was -- just what I needed to make my morning go ever so well.  WordPress had left me a notice of a new post on Kathy Pooler's blog, Memoir Writer's Journey.  Kathy has honored me with a "Written Acts of Kindess Award".

First, Kathy, thank you so much!  I am delighted to be the recipient you chose to pass on this award to.

Second, what is this award all about?

Cate Russell-Cole is a trainer, editor, social worker and author with an understanding of both the psychological and technical aspects of writing. She currently writes and coaches online. Her website communiCATE is filled with resources for writers.

Cate recently decided to develop an award to recognize people who inspire her. Her explanation follows here:

Success never comes solely from your own efforts. There are always others along the way who give you a hand up; encourage you; or give you that resource, or piece of advice you never could have done without.

From today onwards, when someone inspires me, or if I see someone who is using their writing gift to help others, I am going to take the time to thank them publicly. To do that, I have created this award. I also want to make it open to anyone to use, so they can say thank you for making a difference in the writing community and/or in your life.

"This is not meant to be just another blogger award, with time-consuming requirements for passing it on. This is an award which is meant to be passed on with sincerity. You don’t have to receive it in order to be able to give it. You can take the details and images off this post now and use it to encourage another writer.

"I feel so honored. Life is good. And now I get to pass this award on to someone who has inspired me. Since I have so many wonderful virtual blogger friends who have inspired me, I may be passing this on to others along the way.

Today it's my chance to surprise someone else with this award, and I'm sharing this post on both of my blogs because of the recipients gifts in both writing memoir and sharing her faith.

Read more here . . .