01 April 2015

5 Ways to Inexpensively Create a Standing Computer Station—and Add Years to Your Life

Long before I heard “sitting is the new smoking,” I knew I was killing myself. As a fiction writer, I’d sit for hours, immersed in a story with no sense of time. When I did take breaks (to make a cup of tea or hit the bathroom), I’d stretch and do breath work, but I still had to go to a massage therapist to work out the kinks. But as time went on and the computer became even more of a shackle with the internet, webinars, and research, I found my muscles not as easy to use in dance class and my ability to stretch shortening.

When I started having trouble rising from a sitting position, I knew I had to change my habits, so I looked online where I found a number of great tables that converted to standing, but were too expensive.

The solution came when I started writing in a Barnes & Noble cafe and moved from the short tables to the tall. I found I could stand, on and off, for the five hours I was there. That gave me ideas, and now I stand and work more than I sit. Standing also reminds me to stretch and breath and move. An added benefit is I don't hunch over.

Here are five ways you, too, can create standing stations or find places to write with standing capability.

I often write in cafes as it takes me away from phones, laundry, dog, husband, etc. The first photo is of me standing at one of the B&N tables. The second photo is at Cafe Vero, an old Victorian house, where Sonny the owner put in a shelf along a hallway and included a strip of plugins. The chairs are high, the counter just right for standing.

At B&N
Cafe Vero
Tip: start out standing for a short, comfortable time period and increase as you get used to it.

Everyone has a regular table at home. 

I often attend writers retreats at Oregon Writers Colony’s Colonyhouse. Because I was desperate to stand while working, I first stacked oversized books from their library on the dining table for a pedestal effect, but the books were cumbersome and not sturdy.

Then I remembered my mom’s lap desk we’d stored at the house. This is the easiest conversion as it’s portable, folds up, and goes with me to Colonyhouse. Bed Bath & Beyond carry them for around $12-15. An additional feature of this lap desk is that the top adjusts for a slanted surface, perfect for writing with pen and paper, say for example, when you’re editing hard copy or writing in a journal. Also works when reading a magazine or book.

Tip: to make standing easier on your feet and back, buy a gel pad for the floor. You can find these in the kitchen section of many stores as they are usually used on tile floors in front of a sink or food prep area. Mine is a GelPro.

I fortunately have a shelf in my writing room that’s perfect for standing and gives me a beautiful view out the window of our front yard. I use this when I’m working on my laptop and don’t need two monitors. Almost any shelf can be used like this if one is available. 

A shelf under a window can easily be constructed out of shelf brackets and a board. At your neighborhood home improvement store, they may even have something already available. Look for, say for example, a shelf that normally holds potted plants. Or ask for help on something that could easily be anchored to the wall.

If you’re working at a regular computer table, one that has a back shelf for an external monitor and a pull out extension for a keyboard, you’re in luck. This type of computer table is usually  inexpensive to buy or can be found at second hand stores like St. Vincent dePaul. I often need to use both my laptop and an external monitor when creating a blog, doing research on my novel, or watching a webinar while taking notes.

When I'm sitting

When I'm standing

I was at a loss, at first, as to how to convert this area for standing. But then I thought that, if I had a way to raise my laptop on the pullout shelf, I could stand. Unfortunately, the lap desk was too big for the keyboard-size pullout, and piling books would be too heavy, BUT if I had a smaller version of the lap desk that would fit the pullout shelf, I could make it work.

With my husband’s help, I drew up dimensions for what looks like a little footstool, and my husband made it in his shop. It’s even a bit fancier than what I’d asked for, but if you have a handyman or woman around who can cut out plain shapes and screw them together, you can do this, too.

As you can see in the photo, I use my laptop on the pullout with the mini-table, and I change the external monitor’s slant so it slants upward. Now I can see both monitors while standing, although I have to use my laptop keyboard instead of the ergonomic.

Tip: To make up for not being able to use my ergonomic keyboard, I found a great accessory that helps with my hand position and keeps my laptop from overheating. Made by Road Tools, the Podium CoolPad goes with me everywhere. It adjusts in height and swivels, letting you use it slanted up or down. At the B&N tables, which are high, I use it slanted down so I don’t crimp my hands.

Search websites for "standing computer stations." Im not familiar with this site, BizChair, but they offer this inexpensive laptop table thats portable and moves. My only concern would be the rollers causing it to move, something that I wouldnt want, but might be OK if the rollers locked or the table was on carpet.

If you like your standing station solid and made of wood, podiums, like the type used in classes or for presentations or even churches, are often the right height for a laptop. They also usually have a nook for storing small things, something I need when working as I usually need pen and paper and my cellphone. (I use my cellphone for a timer as it keeps me aware of how long Ive been writing and standing.) If you frequent second hand shops, ask the owner to keep an eye out for a podium or computer desk and to call you if one comes in.

Drafting tables or graphic design tables, although large, can be adjusted to a standing height. I don't think theyre as popular as they used to be because most drafting and design are done on computers, so its possible there are a number of them out there no longer in use. Maybe a school or college would be worth checking out?

Dont forget your friends and family. Let them know what you're looking for, either via Facebook or email. Check sites like Craigslist. If you have a friend who works in wood, maybe a swap is in order.
A panorama of my writing room

Tip:  I bought my Mac ergonomic split keyboard from the folks at The Human Solution and their service is beyond compare. They sell amazing desks and chairs, too. Even for my simple questions about a keyboard, they responded quickly and checked on me after they responded. Someday, when my ship comes in, Ill buy a set-up from them.

Keep moving! I love to dance and my body loves me for it. I keep a few YouTube videos for taking a break. Since Im already standing, its easy to play one and move for ten minutes. My feet always say thank you!

I Love Zumba: One of my Favorite YouTube Channels

If you
re wondering what all the fuss is about sitting, this article explains the research behind the perils of sitting for long stretches of time.

7 Ways a Sedentary Lifestyle is Killing You

Sitting will kill you isn't exactly a happy message. But just as with the days when we used to smoke, ignorance is not bliss. So I leave you with this.

Keep dancing, keep writing!

Whats next on Gobsmacked? A peek at my writing life and a giveaway, with an emphasis on Paris.

05 January 2015

Different New Year Resolution & Why Writing Makes You Healthier

Did you know that of those who make resolutions (45% of us) only 8% successfully achieve them. For more fun facts and statistics click on this link:

New Year Resolution Statistics and Fun Facts


This year, I found a different way to approach resolutions. In my Christmas stocking, Santa left my annual  Marilyn Monroe calendar. (Isn't he a sweetie to remember what I want?) When I saw January's photo of the great MM, I knew how I would use the image.

Look at that expression! All joy and hopefulness. I'm using that image for my 2015 emotional rudder. She’s lit up and gorgeous, isn’t she?


Ok, some of you feel compelled to make resolutions. I understand. If so, read this post. I think it will help. Oh, and btw, it's ok to change your resolutions, refine them, ditch them, or even map them out over time. Whatever works. Just remember: be good to yourself, be kind, be reasonable. Ask yourself, would you want your son or daughter or mother or father to make resolutions like yours? Can you really achieve that? Or do you need to break that massive resolution (Publish a novel!) down into doable parts (write a chapter a month).

Resolutions Best Served with Humor


For those of you who don’t consider yourselves writers, I have news for you. Maybe you should try it. Not for publication, heaven help you, but to increase your life span and improve mental health.
In a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, researchers found that just 15-20 minutes of writing three to five times over the course of the four-month study was enough to make a difference.

Another study proved that wounds healed faster and cancer patients improved the quality of their life. Here’s a link to one article about the studies:

Science Shows Writers Have a Serious Advantage Over the Rest of Us

Grab one of those lovely journals or, if you hate messing up a lovely journal, a pad of lined paper. Dabble, scribble, pen your thoughts, your dreams, the ideas that you never want anyone else to see. You’ll be amazed when you let go of that perfectionist streak that keeps you from being messy. Face it! Thoughts are messy.

When you’re not worrying about what other people think about your writing, you don’t have to contain, perfect, or edit what you write. Just gloriously stream-of-consciousness get it down on paper. Or in the sand, on a wall (yours preferably), or across a roll of brown wrapping paper. I’ve written on napkins. (No to phones or laptops. You have to connect directly with pen, crayon, or pencil with any other surface.)

Wow. Doesn’t that feel good?


Congrats to Tonya Rice who won the Nadine Gordimer collection Life Times  and to Judith Watt who won the detective collection that includes PD James. What a great way to start the new year!

Hugs to you all,

Coming Up! 
Sitting is the New Smoking: How to convert your writing space for a healthier you

15 December 2014

The Concert VIP Experience with Fleetwood Mac—What It’s Really Like

Rocking Out with The Mac—Back Together Again

Fleetwood Mac is my all-time favorite rock band.
Through their early years, especially the Rumours album years, I’d fallen in love and out of love and in love again. I’d made a mistake with a married man, spent a lonely and scared winter in a wild land far from home, had forsaken love and grown cynical, and then ended up with the love of my life. 

No, not him!

Him! Dan's the love of my life.
No better soundtrack fit my life then. Fleetwood Mac’s music also echoed the life I wanted to live, a life with creativity at its core.
When the band announced that Christine McVie was back after a sixteen year absence and they were going on tour, I knew I had to see them again. I’ve always sat in upper sections for their concerts, having to see them through binoculars or on giant screens, their bodies but miniatures moving around on stage.

When VIP tickets went on sale, I thought how lucky those people were who bought them.


But why couldn’t I be one of those people? This could be the last time they played together. If I had a bucket list, this would be at the top. Could I push past my Scottish freak-out no-impulse-buying self, and then overcome a scarcity consciousness guilt trip? (What about the homeless, the old kitchen sink that needs replacing, my 92-year-old mother in Florida?)
I went online. I filled in the necessary information. I put in my credit card info.
I went to click on the BUY button.

I closed the tab instead.


Here’s the deal on VIP tickets for concerts. Most people buying these tickets know only the essentials, the info given online. The online info for this VIP ticket promised a seat in one of the first five rows and a meeting onstage with Mick Fleetwood who would talk and answer questions. I would also have a photo taken with him and be given tour mementos. 

But what I wanted more than anything was a front row seat with standing access to the stage during the concert. Would the cost be worth it?

A little info about VIP tickets in general:  VIP tickets can include 1) meeting the whole band, 2) only meeting one member as this one did, or 3) just front row seats and some trinkets. VIP tickets sell for as much as or more than $1500; the lowest I heard was $350. A regular ticket on the floor at this Fleetwood Mac concert cost $179. Add on another $500 for the VIP privilege.
I’d be paying a whopping, heart-stopping $700.

So I did what I do when faced with a decision like this. I pictured myself sitting in the nose bleed section again. I pictured myself after the concert. I tapped into how I would feel. I cried.When I got home, I bought the ticket.
Front row. Seat 8.
I had a moment of panic. Then I jumped up and down, let out a yelp, and cried in relief.

Jump to the Saturday morning of the concert.
Dan and I had overnight reservations for the Marilyn Monroe room at the Jupiter Hotel. We packed the car—suitcase, pillows, drinks, concert clothes. When I couldn’t find the paperwork for the reservation, I called the Jupiter.
Didn't happen
I’d screwed up. The reservation was for Friday night. We not only had no room, we now had to pay for a night as a “no show.”
That no show flipped me out. Was this a bad sign? Dan said not to worry, we’d drive home after the show and get in around 2:00 a.m. No big deal. We headed to Portland without unpacking.

3:00 We arrived at the Moda’s box office lobby early. Following the email instructions that arrived three days earlier, we waited at the box office for the VIP guide who would arrive at 4:30 with our tickets. A crowd of forty people slowly amassed and I talked to a few. One couple our age took Rock Legends cruises; a young woman, Stephanie, had been to a Fleetwood Mac VIP meet and greet and told us a little about what to expect; a woman in a Stevie Nicks ensemble came over, gave me a hug, and told me she loved my outfit. Justin, our guide, showed  up at exactly 4:30, had us line up for our tickets at the box office, handed out lanyards with Mick Fleetwood’s photo and with good humor and a scripted intro proceeded to tell us how the VIP tour would go. Dan waited with me. I had bought him a ticket on the floor, but he wouldn’t be able to go in with us. I’d text him when the VIP tour was done. I needed to change for the concert and figured I had enough time between the VIP event and the 8:00 concert to dash out to the car to change. 

Justine said to follow him and we headed to the entrance, where he informed us once in the Moda Center, we will not be able to re-enter if we left. Great. Now I wouldn't be able to change into my new concert jacket. Also, at that point, I didn’t want to let go of Dan. Seeing other couples go in together, excited and talking, made me wish I’d bought him a front row ticket, too. At least we could be together just before the show. We kissed good-bye.

Inside, Justin gave us a bathroom stop. Then we followed him down to the front rows, took seats in the middle section, and were told that we would go onstage to meet Mick Fleetwood.

“Some of the instruments onstage,” he said, “are older than the band members, so please don’t touch anything and stay together in a cluster at stage left. Leave your coats and purses, all cameras and phones, on your seat. You cannot use audio or video during the meet and greet. Ready?”

I took off my coat and shoulder purse, and left them on the seat. We climbed metal stairs and stood on Lindsey’s side of the stage, stage left. I was on a mission to get a good photo of him for my fourteen year old granddaughter Maddi, who called him her “older man.” She sent me videos of her rocking out to Fleetwood Mac. The whole family would be there tonight, but up in the nosebleed section. I wouldn’t see them, but I knew they were there.
I stood next to Mick’s 18 carat gold coated drums. Blindingly gorgeous. So was the inlaid Koa wood kit. More like jewelry than drums. In an interview I had read in "The Sunday Express," Mick said he’d probably be a crazy old man busy melting down all the gold drum stands, as he had a warehouse of them. He called it “the new rock ’n’roll retirement plan.”

Mick Fleetwood's interview on the Express 

Then he appeared, tall, still skinny, wearing a sapphire blue jacket that looks vintage and a scarf with colors of the Hawaiian Islands (gold, blue, orange). He was accompanied by Robert who I called a “handler”and who Mick called his assistant.

Mick said hello with a big smile. He was laid back. His white hair was messily pulled back in a ponytail. Because we weren’t allowed recording devices, I have to paraphrase. Most of what he said has to do with the excitement and rejuvenation of the band with Christine being back. Mick was generous with his energy. He told us about
his drums, said one of our VIP members was a friend from Maui who had designed the inlay for the wood drums. We applauded. Mick made us laugh when he said John McVie wouldn’t do a meet and greet if his life depended on it, that John didn’t even like a light on him while he played during the concert.
Mick’s assistant brought out shiny black leather loafers. Mick explained that he was wearing his red drumming shoes and if he stayed standing in those for very long they’d cripple him. At Robert’s prodding, Mick sat down on the drum platform. He was three feet from me. The loafers were so close, I could see their high arch supports.

“This is a first,” he says, as he changed shoes in front of us.
Then photos with Mick began. Justin with a professional digital camera called people up to stand next to Mick. Photos would be posted online. Our instructions had given us a link where they could be downloaded. Stephanie, the girl I met earlier, asked Mick if she could have a hug for her picture and he said, “Yes, of course!”

Unfortunately, when it was my turn, he was distracted by his friend from Hawaii and I didn’t get to ask for a hug. But that was fine. When I left the stage and descended the metal stairs, I said hi to the cute little girl, Mick’s granddaughter Isidora, and asked how she was doing. She rolled her eyes like, “Oh, god, this is so boring.”
Instead of sitting down, I stood with a couple I’d talked with earlier. They were dancing in the aisle. “Warming up,” they said.

When photos were done, Mick joined us off stage to answer questions. He was asked about his “balls.” For those who don’t know, Mick had always gone onstage with a set of wooden balls about the size of golf balls, attached to and hanging from his belt. They were his good luck totem.

He told the story about the early days with Peter Green while playing the blues in small joints in Europe and hope the band made the Sex Pistols look tame. I thought he said that Peter Green actually let his balls, his real ones, hang out of his pants while playing. One day Mick had gone into the men’s toilet and taken down two of the chains with wood balls at the end that were pulled to flush the toilet. That had been the first time he wore them on stage. He lost that pair, but he kept others in a safe backstage. He wouldn't go onstage without them.

Mick talked about Christine being back with the band, technical drum stuff that I’m not educated enough to pass on, the blues influence on their music, and, with self-deprecation, his drumming accolades. (This interview with the CBC Q program covers most of what he talked about onstage.)

When he finished and went backstage, most of us headed to

concessions to buy food, cocktails and water. I met Dan when they let the rest of the ticket holders in around 6:30 and we grabbed something to eat. I also had to fork out $45 for a t-shirt because our VIP mementos, given to us earlier, were a drum cover with Mick Fleetwood’s initials and an autographed photo of him. Our meet-and-greet lasted about an hour and a half.


This is what you pay the big bucks for.
Around 7:40 Dan and I headed into the arena where we kissed good-bye again. When I joined the other VIPs, I put my jacket and mementos under my seat and looked around. I wanted to be in front of Stevie who had always been an icon in my life for so many reasons (poetess, goddess, mystical, mythical, Gemini, tough survivor), but a number of unexpected things happened.

When I tried to move over toward where Stevie would be, one of the security guards stopped me. “Where’s your seat?” I pointed. He told me to stay at a spot at the stage near my seat. Then he forced everyone standing who didn’t have a front row seat to return to their seats. These people had paid the same amount of money as I had. Stephanie, the young woman I'd met earlier and who told me what to expect, was forced to take her second row seat. They weren’t polite.
Then two beautiful young women moved in next to me. They were squealing, hugging each other and saying, “Oh, my god, I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!” Justin our VIP guide was “beautifying the pit” as the guy next to me called it. “What the fuck!” As the two young women moved up to the stage, I leaned on the stage and took up as much room as possible. This was bullshit. More young, attractive, mostly blonde women moved into our midst. I was pissed until the the opening notes of “The Chain” signaled the concert had started.
Screw it. I turned to the stage and the magic began.

How do you describe an experience that is so personal and electric that you just want to keep it to yourself and relive it every so often by playing the music and dancing in your living room?
I can tell you this:
“The Chain” is the only way to start a Fleetwood Mac concert. It starts slowly and builds. The words perfectly describe the group and its members’ connections.
Even though Christine was back and the crowd demonstrated its excitement for her, Lindsey and Stevie owned the stage. Lindsey played like he was never going to play again. Phenomenal guitar.

Stevie wasn’t going to let
Christine steal   her spotlight and rocked it for “Gypsy” and “Gold Dust Woman.” She moved more than I’d ever seen her move. Even on those six inch heeled boots. The setlist showed all the individual members' strengths. The music made me forget the young shrieking women next to me. The music made us all one and if Lindsey needs young blondes to spur him on, so be it. He was sweating buckets and rippin’ it. I honestly don’t know how musicians do it night after night.

Once again, there was a frostiness between Stevie and Lindsey, and he was all charming and sweet to Christine. Maybe I’m reading into the body language, but when Christine, Lindsey and Stevie came out together for the first encore, Christine broke away and Lindsey and Stevie walked onto the mid-stage holding hands, but it wasn’t warm and he turned away from her way too soon.

My one small experience:
When Lindsey first approached his mic, he looked exhausted. For a moment, he looked around, caught my eye, and I lifted the corners of my mouth with my index fingers in a smile. He smiled back and then laughed.
I’m always helpful.

Since all the videos I shot are larger than the limit I can post here, I will put them on my Facebook page periodically.

And here's to you making a dream come true.

Bring water. You’ll be hours near the stage and in the arena.
VIP lanyards, even with Mick’s photo on them, will not give you entry to anything. Keep your ticket handy at all times. You’ll be checked constantly, especially in and out of the VIP area.
Don’t assume that cell phones will connect you with anyone you’re meeting. It’s sometimes impossible to hear your phone over the din and roar.
Do NOT put your things under your seat. Mine were almost ruined. People put plastic cups of beer on the floor and then kick them over. My jacket was almost ruined.

Thanks for reliving the concert with me.

All photos Copyright Valerie J. Brooks

30 November 2014

A THREESOME: Much Gratitude, Random Literary Fun, and Giveaways

Welcome back, Posse!

A massive, heart-felt thank you for hanging in there with me. I so love you and appreciate you. To celebrate the return of my blog, I’m making this post about you and dishing up a three-count fun adventure.

First, a flashback:  I left off blogging in order to concentrate on writing my novel. I did finish, and I’m into the next phase of working toward publication. I’ve also taken on writer clients, am working on novel two in the STEALING PARIS series, and am writing a memoir. More about all that in a later post.

For now, however, let’s start with you. Call it an antidote to fear-inducing news and relief from holiday shopping, daily pressures, and technology's over-stimulation.

Fun Fact—Hilary Mantel on Morphine

Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, recently admitted to writing her latest, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, on morphine. No, it wasn’t an experiment. She was in the hospital receiving treatment for endometriosis. She must have liked the morphine, however. Click on THIS LINK for the whole story.

A little Hilary Mantel advice I love:

Who are You?

You may have already taken this personality test, but for those who haven’t, find out which classic literary character you are by clicking on THIS LINK.

This is my classic literary character. I'm honored!

— Two Giveaways —

P. D. James

Nadine Gordimer

To celebrate the lives and works of two of my favorite writers, Nadine Gordimer & P. D. James, who both passed away this year, I’m giving away 1) Nadine Gordimer’s Life Times: stories, 1952-2007 and 2) The Detection Collection, an anthology of British mystery writers that includes P. D. James.

To enter to win:

1) leave a comment on this post with a suggestion of what you’d like to see on my blog. More about my writing projects? My dreams and nightmares? (My husband says, “Don’t go there!”) Jokes? (No, I’m English and French; we’re not known for our humor.) Observations about life in general? Recommended reads? Photos that have something to do with my new novel? Places where I write? Places I set my novels? Interesting, obscure, fascinating, crazy facts about writers, artists and musicians I love? Memoir pieces?

2) at the end of your comment, put NG for Gordimer’s book or PD for James’ collection.

I will randomly select a name from the posts that are left on this blog and post the winners in the comments and on my next blog post.

Again, thanks for sticking with me. You’re the best!

In the meantime:
Let yourself breathe. Listen to music. Laugh.

Upcoming post:

The Concert VIP Experience—What It’s Really Like
Rocking Out with Fleetwood Mac

Me and Mick Fleetwood, FM's amazing drummer
If for some reason your comment won't post, email me at ValinParis@earthlink.net

29 January 2013

My Disappearance

I have always disappeared in one way or another. The history’s there; I just had to write this blog to discover it and understand why. 

My family lived in New Hampshire in a small ranch house across the street from Lake Winnisquam. I shared a bedroom with my sister who is six years younger. My brother, two years younger had his own room. The walls were thin, the commotion pretty constant, and finding privacy almost impossible. Dad used to tease me about spending so much time in the bathroom, the only room where no one barged in or bothered me unless it was an emergency.

I first disappeared into a typical pre-teen refuge, burrowing down after bedtime under my blanket where I would read or write in my diary by penlight with one ear bud plugged into my transistor radio. Even though I had school the next day I would stay up until one or two in the morning, leaving my parents dumbfounded as to why, when in the morning, I was so miserable to get out of bed. Sometimes my dad resorted to pulling the pillow out from under my head and yanking back the covers. One time he sprinkled my face with cold water. My escape was discovered one night when I fell asleep, the transistor radio cord unplugged, and rock-‘n’-roll woke my parents.

That was around the time the Beatles took over my life and I soon disappeared into a fantasy world with three other friends. We formed a secret club, each of us becoming “the bird” of our favorite Beatle and writing stories about our “luv” and then exchanging them. That only lasted until one of the parents caught Ringo’s bird passing a rather risqué story to John’s bird. We had to disband. After that, I didn’t dare write stories.

Next, I disappeared into my diary, filling it with a teenage angst pot of longing for love and someone to understand me, a place to help me figure out what to do with classmate troubles and old-fashioned, strict parents.

Then the summer after turning fourteen, I wrote in my diary that I’d fallen in love.

Because we lived on the opposite side of the road from the lake, we had to use the right-of-way at the west end to go swimming. That summer I met and fell for a boy from Boston who was there with his family vacationing in one of the summer cabins. His name was Bruce, but his cousin called him “Punk,” as I would. To my astonishment this handsome lad liked me. I kept him a secret as my dad thought all boys from Boston were “bad seeds.” Punk and I would meet and hang out at the right-of-way during the day and a few times we met in the evening to be alone. I wore peddle-pushers and a mod satin shirt with puff sleeves and twenty-five tiny buttons down the front. I wasn’t ready for the heavy petting. I only wanted to kiss him, and those buttons kept me safe.

After Punk returned to Boston without conquering that blouse, a few letters followed, but soon my first love faded away. My parents never saw the letters as I brought in the mail every day, so I was safe from discovery, or so I thought.

One night at dinner, Dad asked about the boy from Boston.

I can’t remember what I said, but I must have asked him how he knew, and he said, “You shouldn’t leave your diary out and open on your desk.”

I waited for some kind of punishment while I went from fear of discovery (Oh, my god, what had I written? What had he read?) to anger at this breach of my privacy. (What gave him the right to read my diary? And how could it have been open on my desk? I always lock it and hide it away.)

I don’t know what happened to that diary. I wish I had it now. After that, I only wrote notes to my girlfriends, poems, and school reports. For my escape, I started drawing and painting instead.

When the fights with my dad increased, I would retreat to the right-of-way and sit under the old tree where Punk and I made out. The roots that protruded above ground held me between them and I would lose myself in the cry of loons, the twinkle of lights from cabins across the lake, the smell of bar-b-ques, and the accompanying laughter and voices of other families that drifted to me over the water’s dark surface. I often took a book and could stay there for hours.

The day after my father committed suicide, I disappeared to the right-of-way, scaring my mother. But that house was too chaotic and filled with confusion, shame and grief. I needed to be alone, to cry, to settle my head, body and soul so I could return and carry on, although my heart would be damaged for a long time.

Life continued and changed many times, and so did my reason for and avenue of disappearing. Whenever life became too noisy and stressful, whenever I needed to escape trying times—the fear of moving to a new land three-thousand miles from home, the loneliness of being that far away with a three year old, divorcing an abusive first husband, the craziness of an out-of-control seventies and drug culture—I would lock the door of my house, hang up a do not disturb sign and paint or draw while listening to music. For days, I would do this, often having to tell those who stopped by, “Yes, sorry, that sign does mean you,” even when it was a new friend.

And here in the writing of this blog is where a memory brought an epiphany.

Kippy, a blue and green parakeet, was my first pet. I think I was around ten or eleven. He’d ride on my shoulder, poop on my cousin’s blonde flattop, repeat a whistle I taught him, and generally make everyone laugh. I fed him regularly, cleaned out his cage, did my best, which I admit, being a kid, probably wasn’t up to adult standards.

One day, after school, either my mom or dad forgot to bring home birdseed. Knowing that kids often don’t give their parents enough heads-up time about these things, I probably waited until the last minute to tell them I needed birdseed.

I walked to the local market and bought wild birdseed, the only kind they had. Just before dinner, as mom was cooking and dad was reading the paper at the kitchen table, Kippy started to choke. I took him from his cage. A sunflower seed was caught in his throat. I yelled for my mom and dad, raced to the kitchen with him in my hands, crying, as I watched my bird struggling and falling down. Mom continued to cook, dad read his paper. They looked over, but by the time they responded, Kippy was dead. I think I remember someone saying, "It was only a bird." Maybe not, but I heard it in my heart.

Something lodged in me that day, something that equates with how it feels to have something dying in me. I tried to feed my parakeet so it wouldn't starve, and I had the wrong food, so Kippy died. No one from the outside helped. And that’s what brought me to this conclusion as to why I disappear.

I believe that when creative people are threatened with the outcome of being a “starving artist,” it’s a way to discourage us from taking hold of our creative life. (My dad: “You are not going to be a starving artist; you will go to college to be a teacher, nurse or secretary.”) If you’re not being productive in the traditional sense, when you’re seen as selfish or self indulgent because you want to follow your art, your passion, then you're gifted a sense of guilt.

The real threat, however, is being starved of time, freedom and the opportunity to create. The real threat is not taking care of our true selves. The real threat is listening to that inner “guilt pusher” that says you should be doing something else.

In the past six months I have cracked a rib, had oral surgery, helped plan a big party for my mom’s 90th birthday, gone to that party in Florida, returned home to the worst sinus infection I’d ever had, and during this time I had to make a decision: while I healed from these various health issues, I could concentrate on writing my novel or continue to take time from that writing and blog.

I took care of myself. I met with a few friends, but stayed home most of the time and was as quiet as I could be as I worked on my novel. I had breakthroughs. I had a-ha moments. I held myself in my hands and removed that sunflower seed. I fed myself the right food.

And the irony was, when I tried to blog in November, the universe slapped me silly. My blog feed would not work. No matter what I did, I could not get Feedburner to send to my email recipients. I didn't need a clearer message. I went back to work on my novel.

Since then, life has allowed a little time, and I switched my blog email feed to a reliable one. 

Hopefully, for those of you out there who have had a rough time lately—and I’ve read and heard many of your stories—I hope this brings some kind of epiphany for you, too. Even if you are not an artist or writer, you have a creative soul. We all do. 

Last year in January, astrologer Johanna Mitchell said about 2012, “It's a great year if you’re going to change. It’s not such a good year if you can’t find inspiration in chaos.”

My discovery makes me wonder if others out there have found themselves “disappearing,” or retreating, or whatever name you put on it. I wonder if you found your creative soul or true north in all that chaos and if you took the time to feed what was starving.

So much of our time is spent in trying to figure out what to do when we really know all along what we need; for some reason it seems counter-intuitive to care for ourselves. That’s when I go back to the context of “starving artist.” It all depends on who you’re listening to.

Hugs to all,


Other blog posts that you might enjoy:

Kristen Lamb's Blog

"Author Blogging: You're Doing It Wrong"
I think blogging is a wast of time.
"Get Rid of "Should" Once and for All"

"They Call Me the Wanderer"

If your comment won't post, email me at ValinParis (at) earthlink (dot) net. I'll post it for you.