Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Ultimate Letting Go

Yesterday, as I was driving to drop off pictures, it hit me. Last year, I had visited my brother and his wife while they were camping at a place that had been the childhood home of my mother’s family. Should we have scattered Ma's and Margaret's ashes? I started to cry thinking about it and tears are flowing now as I write this. That would really be finally letting them go, letting my mother go. Can I do that?

Both my mother and her twin talked often of Butler’s Toothpick, a landmark on the river where they grew up. They had fond memories and as they got old, they’d often talk about their childhood saying they’d like to see the area one last time before they died. It never happened. I never found the time to take them. Margaret passed in 2010 and my mother on Christmas Day 2011.

They would be so happy to have that childhood area be their final resting place. I know they'd be pleased that we would do that for them?  But can I? Can I let her go?

I do have guilt because we never had a memorial service for my mother. My aunt had had her wish of a military service although I kept some of her ashes in a little urn in my mother’s room because she also wanted to be with her twin. My mother never wanted a wake or anything. I couldn't put one together although my son had planned a speech. Emotionally, I couldn't do it and I don't think my brother could have. I had told my sons we would do something in warmer weather, but of course, I never did. I couldn't. I couldn’t and not fall totally apart. So, she, too, is in a box on special shelf I set up.

Am I stupid for hanging on to them? Am I being selfish keeping them here? This place meant nothing to them whereas their hearts were in Salisbury where they grew up. My original plans had me planting them in the flower garden when I get a new “forever home,” but that's stupid, too, because that wouldn't be THEIR home. And then when something happens to me, then what? They would be stuck in some place that meant nothing to them. It's selfish of me to want that. I have memories and pictures. I don't need to keep their ashes and at this moment, it feels wrong to do so.

And what about my phenomenal cat Freyja, whom I lost this past summer? She was part of the lives of the three of us and she is also in a box on that special shelf unit in the back room. I think she is with them in spirit, so can I let her go physically with them?

So now, I am wondering if we should do this for them. Should we make their final resting place one which gave them wonderful memories? It would be most difficult for me, but I think it's selfish of me to be hanging onto them like this. I need to let them go.

BUT, this would be the ultimate of letting her go!

Sometimes doing the right thing hurts really bad. My heart bleeds… 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Progress with "Too Cold for Alligators"

I am really trying to buckle down and get the book finished. I keep thinking of things needing to be checked which means I return to Day 1 and go through again. It’s tedious and time consuming. The original manuscript was with color photos and I’m afraid the printing will be too expensive with the number of photos I want to include. Therefore, I am converting photos to grayscale and some do not do well in black and white. I have to do away with the ones that don’t work and either replace with another photo or make sure I have an appropriate written description in the text.

I have been working with two formats, one with text only and one with photos. That means that every change I make in one copy, I have to make sure is done to the other. No matter how, where I publish or print, whether I use a template or not, the text copy is the one that will be submitted. Photos need to be separate submission. Even if I copy and paste to a template, photos need to be inserted separately. That also means that I have to make notations in the text only copy where to insert the photos. The copy with the photos already inserted is just so I can see how they will look. (Sometimes I feel I make too much extra work for myself.)

Doing the final editing and proofreading is tough as I’ve read through the text over and over. In my work with the newspaper, I am always told a writer should not do their own proofreading. My mind starts to blank out after awhile. I find things to delete to “tighten up” the story and I also add more descriptions. It’s been hard to describe things, scenes, and situations when I don’t have the correct terminology. It’s not easy to edit your own work. I want to tell everything, but there may be sections that are not interesting enough for readers. Self-doubt doesn’t help and can be a roadblock.
For instance, I still can’t make up my mind to print in 7 x 10 or 6 x 9. The first would be nice as I plan on doing a color picture book as a companion to “Too Cold for Alligators.” On the other hand, most reading books are printed in a 6 x 9 size. Would the size make a difference in a sale?
Yesterday was a full day of working on this one project getting me from Day 9 through Day 12 and starting Day 13. (Only 20 more days to go.) One challenge is that I sometimes edit a photo, save it to a folder then when I got to insert it into the chapter, the photo isn’t in the folder. I go back and re-edit and when I go to save, I’m told it’s already in the folder. I can re-save and it will show up… sometimes. Sometimes I have to shut down and re-open the programs. There’s one photo that I’ve re-edited four times and it still won’t show up in the folder. Where does it go? I finally took it as a sign not to use that photo in the book… unless it’s in the folder this morning.

The question I am asked the most is “How many pages is your book?” I don’t know. I’ve written each section as its own Word document. As I am working in Word, I am working at a size of 8 ½ x 11. When I copy and paste to a smaller template, the page numbers will change. Also, until I finish, I don’t know how many pages the Table of Contents or List of Photographs will take up.

I have worked with a couple of different templates. One was from Amazon’s Createspace, but when MS Word slowed down and kept (and keeps) going into Auto Recovery making me wait and wait before I can move on, it was suggested I switch to Open Office. Open Office is similar, but there was still a learning curve. I made progress. I was trying to finalize editing, make adjustments, and copy and paste the sections into the template. I had to adjust margins because they were not the same as in Word. I inserted photos and had to work with text wrapping. The progress was very slow.

Back in July when I finished the first draft, I thought I was close to finishing. I thought I was ahead of schedule. I thought all I had to do was a final edit and copy and paste to a template. Then I ran into issues with the templates, there was a major life upset, and other projects needing to be done. I took a break from the book for a few of months. I even worked on another book.

With the new year, I was determined to get back to “Too Cold for Alligators.” It’s imperative that I finish this book. It’s important for my… soul… to get this accomplished. A couple of weeks ago, it dawned on me that I need to finish the manuscript itself, that I need the finished product. It’s taking too much time to work with a template. The finished manuscript will give me a better handle on where I am and that feeling of accomplishment. Then I can just go and copy and paste to the template without having to worry about editing.

So, this is where I am. I’m doing that final edit, making sure headings are consistent, and the photos and maps are chosen and saved to the specific folders. Of course, this morning I realized that I had been using the photo title in the “insert photo___” in the text only copy and the photos are listed in the folder under a number. Now I have to go back through the previous chapters and change the photo title to the image number and add a caption.

I’m getting there.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Self Publishing

A year ago today I was having my first day of really feeling lonely and down in the dumps in my travels. So much so, that I drove straight through Georgia. It didn’t help seeing signs for Hospice which reminded me of my mother and how she didn’t live long enough to need Hospice. It’d only been a little over a year since her passing and I was really missing her. It was a day of tears and in my state of mind I chose not to stop in Savannah and drove on to St. Augustine, Fla.

I’m making the push to get the book finished. There are still many questions. Sometimes I hate making decisions. I don’t like taking the time to research details. All I want to do is write the book and get it printed. These self publishing options that are out there make it all sound so easy and in some aspects they are… if all you’re interested in is printing a few copies to give out to family and friends.

The thing to always remember is that you have to spend money to make money. The first book, My Life Isn’t Flowers, that I did online was through www.lulu.com which came out very nice, but I wasn’t totally happy. The cost seemed a little expensive for what it was and there wasn’t any way I could sell copies and make a profit. I was lucky if I could get my money back. I eventually took it to a local printer, Town and Country Reprographics in Concord, and the finished book was better, but it’s one of those deals where you have to have an excess number of copies printed to be able to save money and be able to sell at a reasonable price. It’s hard to have that initial big cost to save money in the long run.

I next printed a little picture book Through the Window using www.blurb.com. Blurb was very easy to work with. I like the templates and the ease to drag and drop pictures. The most difficult part of this kind of publishing is the marketing if you want to sell. The author is the one who really has to do all the work. This is not my strong suit. I want to be writing and working with photos, not pounding the pavement. (Yes, I know, that’s what you have to do to sell your work.)

With Too Cold for Alligators, I decided to try a new route and looked into www.amazon.com. That company’s publishing is through their createspace. Again, there is talk about the east of going this route and how Amazon promotes the book. Templates are provided and with all of these places, there are extra costs if you need help with design, set up, editing, etc.

This sounded the like the best route for me. I chose a book size that I thought would work well with pictures and downloaded the template. These things never go as easy as they proclaim. The issue for me is the type of book I want to produce. I want pictures and pictures make it more expensive. I had issues with the template and working with Microsoft Word as the template filled and the book got bigger.

I had the story itself written and was down to the adding photos, maps, and final editing when MS Word kept freezing up on me. I purchased a book from one of the guys with whom I’d been chatting on the createspace chat room about these issues. The book was a great help in understanding this self publishing business. I was advised to work in Open Office which required downloading templates for that. Open Office is similar to Word, but there are enough differences that again, it wasn’t a simple copy and paste. I could only copy and paste the text then had to make sure it copied correctly. Sometimes it didn’t. The first paragraph indents are different. Then I had to re-insert the photos. Sometimes I could get text wrap to work and other times it wouldn’t.

The months dragged and I got hung up on one issue or another. Other projects got in the way. By fall, I was working on another book. And I didn’t even have the first one finished! Now I have been put in contact with authorhouse who are telling me that pdf (which I always have issues with) does not work well if you want to do e-books. They are going to send me a package. I might just bite the bullet and give up trying to do it all myself… I’ll see what they say and what that package looks like.

While my hopes are not high with the choice of printing options yet, I do plan on finishing Too Cold for Alligator within the next four months. In Word, I am doing a final edit and making all the photos and maps black and white. When I talked to the guy at authorhouse the other day, he stressed telling my story in words and not to rely on the photos. That means I am also re-looking at my descriptions and in the final edit, choosing moments to go more into the written detail of what I experienced. At the moment, I’m not playing around with the templates. I also need to decide if I should stay with the book at 7 x 10 or go to a more common 6 x 9. This is where I am. I am NOT giving up!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The State of Mind of Artists and Writers

A year ago today I went to Cypress Gardens in South Carolina. The temperature was only 54 degrees. I walked trails around the swamp and took a boat ride through water so black that the mirrored surface reflected everything. It was beautiful. I also saw my first alligator after being told it was “too cold for alligators.” The guide explained that the water looked black because of the tannin from the trees settling in the mud. The alligators, normally gray, actually turn black from it.

Please note: the comments below are not meant that I think ALL artistic people are this way.

This week I am reading a biography on Anne Sexton. Why is it I seem to pick up the books on writers and creative people who end up committing suicide? There is that – belief – that writers are a bit unstable and insane. Many creative people have the reputation of being addicted to sex, drugs, and alcohol.

I certainly understand the bit about being somewhat crazy. I often fall into the melancholy, too but what I notice is that most of these people are usually fighting against what society and family would have of them. This is especially true of women who had something inside that drove them away from the norms of motherhood and being a “good wife.” How hard it was for them feeling there was something wrong with them because they didn’t want what other women wanted and harder when society turned on them for not conforming. Grace Metalious of Peyton Place fame specifically comes to mind. She followed her heart and people admired and hated her. That and her insecurities drove her to drink herself to death.

However, men, too have fallen victim to their own minds. Van Gogh particularly comes to mind as does Edgar Allan Poe. (I personally think Picasso was an absolute nut job.) Of course, they say, “It takes one to know one,” so who am I to judge.  It’s certainly an intriguing subject. That driving force to create can be all-consuming and if it is buried, it definitely can cause one to go “crazy” and cause artists to act outrageously.

The most important thing for creative people is to get involved with other artists. We spend so much time alone doing our crafts that we need that balance of socializing. And for a lot of us, we often feel that others (normal people) don’t understand us. We are driven by what we love to do and yet, too much alone time is not healthy. Also, for some artists, their art, their muse, is the love of their life. The muse can be very jealous and for spouses and other family members who are not artistic, this has been the downfall of many relationships.

To read biographies of those who eventually gained recognition is helpful in understanding the psyche of artists. Maybe there has to be that borderline insanity to make a successful artist. There’s the drive to create that is so encompassing that the creative fire inside feels like it will consume you if you don’t let it out. Then there is the roller coaster of loving what you’ve created and the fear that no one will like it or understand. What is accomplished is your baby and negative criticism can be devastating.

I do understand. I understand how that desire inside can eat you alive if you try to squash it. I understand that creativity is like fire. It has to be fed and given air to be healthy or it will turn on you and burn you to ugly ashes. (I believe that people turn to atrocities because they’ve never learned how to let their creative fires burn clean.) I understand how one negative comment can crush an artist.

Love can tear an artist apart. You love your family. You love your art. You have to support a family. Some artists can do both, but many can’t. The flames of creative desire can be so overwhelming that it’s hard to make decisions. What IS the right decision? There are no easy answers. It’s easy to say, “Follow your heart,” but what then the consequences? If you spend all your time in creating and you are not a successful salesman, how are the bills paid?

A “real” job takes you away from creativity and so many jobs out there require conformity and kill creative spirit, what happens then? The creativity is bottled up until something eventually explodes… inside, in the mind, or in acts of violence. For some, these decisions are heartbreaking. What happens to a creative when the flames are dampened? It’s heartbreaking, soul-crushing and there you are torn between doing what’s right for family and following the muse.

Oh yes, there are many dilemmas to being an artist, but there are many joys, too. I love my life and yet, I can also understand that if things were different… What is one willing to do to be creative? What will a highly creative person do when the fires go out?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Back to the Book

A year ago today I visited Drayton Hall in South Carolina. There are three old plantations within six miles of one another. Drayton Hall is known for its preservation of 17th century architecture. There’s no plumbing or electricity. The only repairs made are only those absolutely necessary to keep the plantation house in good condition. The architecture and woodwork is amazing with some of the original paint and textures on walls, ceilings, and moldings.

In my morning journaling, it was going through my head how publishers push writers to tell the story through words and not rely on pictures. Sometimes, though, I have difficulty describing what I see, especially when driving on highways. Sometimes I don’t know the technical terms of what I am seeing when I am passing areas that are unfamiliar. Sometimes in my hurry to SEE things I let the excitement overwhelm logical thought. Powerful emotions wash through me covering all else. I’m a little kid jumping up and down in uncontrollable excitement. My mind really does babble incoherently! Later, when I slow down and try to recall description, I struggle with the words. How can I describe these “things” when I can’t find the right words?

I want the book to be about both – story and photos! Why does that have to be wrong? I don’t want to trust my words to tell you what I actually saw. I want you to see, too. I want you to go on the journey with me, to experience what I experienced, and love the discoveries.

And so, I sit down at the computer ready to go back to day one (again) and attempt to put in more written description. But alas, my day is being taken over by other things needing to be done. I’ve lost the moment of inspiration.