Alison Armstrong and the Independent Creators Alliance FB group

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Roger Howarth, Alison Armstrong and Michael Easton last summer.

Alison Armstrong is a gifted author I met through online fan groups for Michael Easton, the General Hospital actor who inspired my vampire soap opera thriller Hope Dawns Eternal. Alison and I met in person at a GH fan event in New Jersey in 2014. This morning she’ll be meeting Michael and his GH buddy Roger Howarth at another event in New Jersey. Since I couldn’t afford the trip this time around, I sent Alison a copy of Hope Dawns Eternal in hopes that she can hand it to him directly, along with a letter and a couple of poems I hope he’ll enjoy.

Back on October 8, 2016, Alison and I both participated at an Indie Authors Day held at libraries nationwide. Soon after, at my request, she sent me the following post about the event:

Having attended an Indie Book Fair recently as an author, I learned some valuable information regarding marketing and distribution; however, the overall message of the advice left me feeling disheartened regarding the arbitrary standardization of the publishing industry and upset about the commoditization of the arts in general.  Instead of focusing on creativity and literary talent, the speakers at the book event emphasized orthodoxy in page design (justified text, avoidance of stylistic content-driven page and paragraph breaks, etc.) .

Although I support the importance of proper grammar and punctuation and feel that these aspects, along with originality in content, expression, and style, are essential in quality writing, I do not believe that standardization of font, margins, and other traditional publishing practices should be given such a high priority.  Nevertheless, despite the increasing numbers of indie authors, the publishing industry persists in perpetuating typographic conventions that are usually not used in Word or other common writing programs.  In so doing, the publishing industry imposes an arbitrary standard to differentiate between traditionally published and print-on-demand authors so that the “indie” writers may feel pressured into purchasing services to make their work appear more like traditional published materials, thereby making their work less independent, more restricted by financial concerns.   Along with the standardization of text format , book publishers seem to be promoting an increasingly conventional approach to cover design, resulting in a glut of covers featuring monotonously similar figurative clichés associated with the book’s genre,  such as the faceless torsos displayed like slabs of cosmetically enhanced meat on the covers of lurid romance novels.

The arts in general, especially in the United States, are generally viewed in a similar way as those hunky yet generic slabs of flesh, something to readily consume as entertainment or profit from.  Favoring the familiar, the already established, the tried and true moneymakers,  publishing companies, recording companies, and movie studios sign fewer new authors, musicians, and filmmakers.  The newbies and the “indies,” therefore, seek new ways of gaining exposure for their work.  However, as with the “indie” book fair example, even some resources and organizations presuming to work on behalf of the independent artists devalue certain aspects of individualistic expression.

Independent authors, musicians, artists and filmmakers represent a challenge to the financially-driven industries that struggle to maintain a monopoly on the arts by propagating lookalike, superficially pleasing but often substanceless clones. The literary renegades, such as William Burroughs and J. G. Ballard, the ravaged voices of Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith, these muses of rebellion and individuality epitomize the freedom, intensity, and expressive potential of the independent, creative spirit.  

Inspired by artists such as these, I have created the Independent Creators Alliance group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/269464480120915/ ). I invite creators in any of the arts to join in solidarity, supporting each other and the ideal of artistic freedom. I envision this group as a place to express our ideas regarding the arts and integrity to our vision while connecting with other creative people. It can be a place to network, brainstorm ideas, share sources of inspiration, and collaborate perhaps on projects. In these rather depressing times, we need the arts more than ever to heal the soul.

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Alison Armstrong at Indie Book Fair last October.

Alison makes some provocative points that are deserving of further discussion. I’ve joined her Independent Creators Alliance group on Facebook, and I hope you will too. And by all means check out her books Revenance and Toxicosis, both available on Amazon. But don’t confuse her with the other Alison Armstrong, who writes books about how women can please and communicate better with men. That’s definitely the wrong Alison!

Donald, the cock of the walk: inside a twisted mind

Bashing Donald Trump is a popular pastime among the writers I know, especially the poets. Wondering what I could add to the flurry of fiery condemnations, I decided to try writing from the point of view of The Donald himself. As the author of mysteries and suspense novels, I love getting into the heads of my villains, including vampires and serial killers. But who knows what lurks deep in Donald’s twisted mind? What in his gene pool or his family history has made him the scary monster he is today? I have absolutely no idea, but here’s one possible take on the subject.

Donald the Bantam Rooster speaks his mind

It’s the Year of the Rooster—chinese-year-of-the-rooster

Melania just told me.

The Chinese New Year fell on January 28,

Just eight days after my coronation.

What’s that you say? Inauguration?

Big deal—what’s the difference?

Either way, I’m finally Emperor.

I’m cock of the walk—

I’ve got a lot to crow about.

This can’t be mere coincidence.

New Year, New America—

See, even the Chinese are bowing down to worship me.

They named the New Year after my sign.

Me, the Sun God. I like the sound of that.louis_xiv_of_france-by-rigaud

What’s that you say? Louis XIV used it first?

Wasn’t he the guy who built all those palaces

And filled them with gilded furniture?

I learned about him from Ivana

When we were furnishing Trump Tower

And Mar a Lago. Hey, that’s a good comparison,

Me and Louis, but my buildings are much bigger.

Besides, wasn’t he a scrawny little wimp?

I watched the Netflix series. Sad.

What’s that you say, Jared?

The Rooster’s not my sign? What is it then?

The Dog? You’re kidding, right?chinese-zodiac-dog-year-of-the-dog

Intelligent, honest, obedient, loyal?

No way! How dare the Chinese Zodiac slander me?

Maybe we should nuke them, whaddaya think?

Go ahead, make my day. Bomb them to oblivion.

No more “Made in China” clothes.

A trade bonanza!

What’s that you say? The Fire Dog,

Because of my Birth Year, 1946?

Same as Bill Clinton? Even worse.

That filthy horn dog, screwing all those

Tasty bitches while lying Hillary looks the other way.

Compared to mine, those bitches were skanky.

Remember Monica, that pathetic porker?

A five, and the others were eights or nines at most,

While mine are always tens.

Just look at my daughter Ivanka—donald-ivanka-trump

No, don’t, on second thought.

If Jared could read my mind, he’d kill me.

What’s that you say, Jared?

I’m only kidding. Can’t you take a joke?

What’s that you say?

The Year of the Rooster is especially bad luck

For those born in the Year of the Dog?  

What utter crap! I don’t believe a word you say.

The truth is always lies.

Matter of fact, you’re fired!

I wrote this poem three hours before last Monday’s Poets Speak Loud, the monthly open mic at McGeary’s Tavern in Albany. Thanks to Mary Panza, Dan Wilcox, and Thom Job of Albany Poets, who have kept this event going over the past ten years. The deadline is always a powerful incentive, especially since I know my work will be met with applause and (when appropriate) laughter.

The poem went over well, so I read it again last night at a private party for poets and their significant others. Once again it met with hilarity. Afterwards, people told me it was refreshing to hear something about Trump that was actually more funny than terrifying. One woman told me I’d be great on television. Hmmm…is YouTube in my future? Maybe, if it will help me sell more books.

Paranoid schizophrenics I’ve known

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Esteban Santiago in custody

Esteban Santiago, the lone gunman who killed five innocent strangers and wounded six more at the Fort Lauderdale airport on January 6th, had sought help from the government in November. He walked into an FBI office in Anchorage, Alaska, claiming that the U.S. government was controlling his mind and forcing him to watch Islamic State videos. Agents called police and he was taken for a mental health evaluation, but he didn’t appear intent on harming anyone, so he slipped through the cracks in the system. Two months later, he officially became a murderer.

His delusional claims brought back memories of my years working on locked wards with seriously ill patients at Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie. With my hard-earned master’s degree in art therapy from New York University, I was embarking on my first full-time job in mental health, and I was especially fascinated by the elaborate delusions of those diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. The men on Ward 604 ranged in age from their late teens to early middle age and they were on the maximum-security ward because they were considered a danger to themselves or others. Some were assaultive, others had prison records, and there were a couple of murderers.

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Abandoned Rehab Center at HRPC. I led an evening Creative Arts Club here for those allowed to leave the wards.

This was the 1980’s, and like many state mental hospitals across the country, Hudson River was rapidly being downsized as patients were discharged into the community, presumably to be managed through outpatient services and medication. But some were deemed too dangerous for discharge, and others cycled in and out through the system’s revolving doors.

Some of the paranoid schizophrenics believed they took their orders from God or the government, while a few believed they actually were God or at least Jesus. One young man believed he had turned into a woman and had sex with John Lennon. (This was in early 1980, before John was brutally murdered.) I couldn’t resist replying, in my best nonjudgmental therapeutic manner, “Oh, do you want to tell me about that? What was it like?” Unfortunately I can’t recall his reply.

I encouraged the patients to get their visions down on paper, with pencils or paint, and to talk or write about what the images meant to them. As an art therapist, I’d been trained not to impose my own interpretations aloud, but I’d learned to analyze the pathologies revealed by their artwork, to record them in progress notes and to report disturbing content to their shrinks and treatment teams. Often the imagery was violent, replete with swords, guns, blood and dismemberment. Yet not once did a patient assault me or even verbally threaten me. I was their ally, there to foster their creativity and self-expression, not to impose controls on them.

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Abandoned day room, Cheney Building, HRPC–much like the one where I held art therapy sessions

Hudson River closed years ago, and I’ve often wondered what became of those patients who were incapable of adjusting to life in the community. Like thousands of others, many probably ended up in prison, homeless or dead. Deinstitutionalization hasn’t been the panacea it was touted as being, and there aren’t enough affordable community mental health services to go around.

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Esteban Santiago in Iraq

Esteban Santiago was receiving psychological treatment in Alaska, but his family wasn’t privy to the details. Clearly it wasn’t enough, but maybe nothing could have stopped his deadly rampage. Since he surrendered and survived, maybe he’ll be able to shed some light on his actions.

Two days after the shooting, I began this blog post as a potential op ed piece for the Albany Times Union, but then I realized that my viewpoint wasn’t sufficiently clear, so I put it aside. A day after that, the TU introduced a new, reduced format, with certain features shortened or omitted. The two Perspective pages, with their generous space for columns, both national and local, went on the chopping block. Now they might not have space for my essay in any event, so I decided to post it here. Since I’m no longer limited to 600 words, I can be a bit more freewheeling—if I were aiming for publication in the TU, I wouldn’t have mentioned the patient who believed he’d fucked John Lennon.

I have mixed emotions about hospitalization for the mentally ill, especially those who are truly a danger to themselves or others. Deinstitutionalization was supposed to be a good thing, and those enormous old hospitals were portrayed in the public eye as hideous snake pits. But Hudson River Psychiatric Center was a fairly benign and yes, therapeutic environment. If it weren’t, I could never have worked there for 13 years, enough to get me vested in the New York State retirement system that helps sustain me now.

The patients at Hudson River inspired me to embark on my first novel, then titled The Flip Side. It was good enough to win me some personalized and encouraging rejection letters, and eventually a good agent in Manhattan, but alas, she never sold it. It remains unpublished, but who knows, I may resurrect it one of these days.

Meanwhile, I sometimes wonder what became of those fascinating guys on Ward 604. Did they eventually get discharged and adjust to life in the community? More likely they died young or landed in prison.

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Main building at HRPC burning in May, 2007

David Bowie memories a year after his death

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Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

I published this tribute to David Bowie on January 19, 2016. Now, on the first anniversary of his death on January 10, I feel it’s appropriate to print it again. Now more than ever, we need his otherworldly vision for our planet and for America in particular.

David Bowie was the star at the center of my musical universe in the early ‘70’s, in his Ziggy Stardust heyday. Alas, I never met him, but we were within one degree of separation when Cherry Vanilla and others in his inner circle came to see my Bowie painting inside my geodesic dome in the Erotic Garden show at the Women’s Interart Center in Manhattan. But more on that later.

The morning after he died, when I cranked up my car after leaving my Nia class at the YMCA, the radio was tuned to WEXT, the alternative rock station. They were playing “Rebel Rebel,” and I happily sang along. When the announcer KTG came on, she talked about how she’d loved Bowie’s music as a young child, and how her mother played it to help her learn to dance.  “I wish I could play his music all day,” she said in her typically pert, cheery voice. Then she said “We’ve lost a brilliant, innovative artist.”

Bowie Aladdin Sane cover

Lost? The word sounded ominous. I drove straight home, booted up my computer and brought up the Drudge Report. A photo of David in his Aladdin Sane makeup topped the page, with the stark black headline BOWIE DEAD. He had died Sunday, January 10th, after an 18-month struggle with cancer, which he’d concealed from all but his closest family and friends. He’d turned 69 only two days before, and had released his new album Black Star the same day. In December, his new musical Lazarus opened off-Broadway. Both the album and the musical garnered rave reviews.

I was eerily reminded of the morning I learned of John Lennon’s death in 1980. I pulled out of my driveway in New Paltz, headed to work at Hudson River Psychiatric Center, and heard John’s music on Woodstock’s alternative rock station, WDST. They played one cut, then another, and I sang along, but then the announcer came on to announce John had been murdered the night before. I’ll always remember exactly where I was when I heard the news, just as I’ll remember where I was when I learned of the assassinations of JFK and RFK, and I’m sure the news of Bowie’s death will imbed itself in my brain along with the memories of those other fallen heroes.

But Bowie’s death was different. Tragic, yes, but he’d given us nearly five decades of brilliantly innovative music. His 25th studio album, Blackstar, was released on his birthday, just two days before he died, along with two videos. The jazz musicians he recorded with had no idea he was terminally ill, according to his long-time producer Tony Visconti, who was one of the few he confided in. Last night I watched the videos for “Black Star” and “Lazarus.” They were both fantastically imaginative but deeply disquieting. “Lazarus” is a brilliant piece of performance art, where he repeatedly rises from his hospital bed and moves his body spasmodically, like an avant garde dancer.

After that I segued into videos from his Ziggy Stardust period, and the memories came flooding back. I was at Radio City Music Hall on Valentine’s Day, 1973, when he performed as Ziggy, and I made it down the aisle and snapped photos with my Pentax. Available light, no flash, black and white, and when I developed them in the photography studio down the street from my Prince Street loft, they were fuzzy but good enough to use as source material for the paintings inside the geodesic dome I showed that spring in the Erotic Garden exhibit that featured a dozen feminist artists.

Lomoe-WombDome

I phoned Mainman, Bowie’s management company, to invite them—and hopefully David himself—to the show, and a couple of them actually came, including Cherry Vanilla, who casually bragged “I’ve had him.” They loved my Womb Dome and said they’d encourage him to come see it. Maybe he actually did—I never knew.

When the Erotic Garden show was over, I reassembled the dome in my Prince Street loft for a guest room, complete with a double-size mattress. That same fall, when I met my husband-to-be at Max’s Kansas City, I was wearing the same pink and pastel outfit I’d worn for the Erotic Garden opening six months before, with the same Pentax camera slung around my neck. “I see you’ve got a Pentax,” he said. “I’m writing a book about Pentax.”

Bowie Iggy & Lou Reed 1972 London

David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed in London, 1972

A month later, we were living together, both ready to leave the wild lifestyle of the early 70’s behind. But it’s highly likely our daughter was conceived in that dome, under my paintings of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and Iggy Pop crouching in broken glass, singing “I want to be your dog.” Perhaps that’s one reason she and my granddaughters are such avid fans of the Starman. Another is the final time I heard David Bowie live, in 1997, when I brought Stacey, then 21, to the GQ awards, where he did an entire set following the presentations. The venue once again was Radio City Music Hall.

Stacey said it best in a recent Facebook exchange: David Bowie has had a transformational impact on three generations of Lomoe women. Long may his legacy live.

David Bowie performs as Ziggy Stardust

Emily Hanlon’s Ten New Year’s Resolutions for the Fiction Writer

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Emily Hanlon

Emily Hanlon posted these New Year’s resolutions for fiction writers, and she’s given me permission to reprint them here. I first encountered Emily through the International Women’s Writing Guild years ago, when they were holding their annual summer conferences at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. I gained a lot from her five-day workshop, and I’m delighted to be back in touch with her. She gives workshops both live and online as well as mentoring individual fiction writers.

Reading Emily’s bio, I just learned that like me, she’s a graduate of Barnard.

Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Fiction Writers!

Forged in Fire: Creativity and the Writer’s Journey!

  1. When I begin a new piece, I write without thinking or planning.
  2. I welcome the unexpected in my writing.
  3. My best writing comes from my heart and the fire in my belly.
  4. I become my characters, they do not become me. I go where my characters take me.
  5. I love my first draft writing for its chaos, fertility, and uncovered gems.
  6. I do not think about being published until the piece is finished.
  7. I set up a writing schedule that supports, not defeats, my writing. I will not use failure to keep to my schedule as a reason to give up.
  8. I write the story that is gestating within me—even if it scares me or makes me think I am losing my mind.
  9. Writing is a craft. Craft supports writing, it does not define it.
  10. I am a fierce warrior for my writing and creativity!

Excellent advice for all writers, fiction or nonfiction. It’s especially applicable to “pantsers,” who write by the seat of their pants without outlines or preconceived ideas. Planners who like to know where they’re going before they embark on their creative journeys may find some of the ideas intimidating, even downright scary, but you can take what you need and leave the rest.

car-night-road

Personally, I’m a pantser. My novels are character-driven, and the plots evolve chapter by chapter. I like E.L. Doctorow’s quote: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” But I’m not gutsy enough to carry that method to the extreme. I prefer having at least a rudimentary map, though not a GPS; I don’t like taking directions from anyone else.

Of the ten resolutions above, I have the most trouble with #6: I do not think about being published until the piece is finished. For me, it’s impossible not to think about publishing; it’s the omnipresent elephant in the room. But when the writing is going well and I’m in a state of flow, I forget about publishing. It’s only in the before and after times, or when my inner critic kicks in, that publishing becomes an issue.

My favorite may be #7: I set up a writing schedule that supports, not defeats, my writing. I will not use failure to keep to my schedule as a reason to give up. Schedules are a major nemesis for me, one I’ll discuss in a future post. Even in retirement, with few fixed obligations, I have trouble maintaining a regular writing schedule, and that danged inner critic makes me miserable when I let distractions lure me away from my desk.

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Edvard Munch

Much of Emily’s coaching focuses on getting in touch with our shadow sides. Lately she’s been giving hour-long online workshops where students from throughout the country and abroad can participate free of charge. You can learn more about Emily Hanlon, her coaching and workshops, by visiting her website: www.thefictionwritersjourney.com.

What do you think of these ten resolutions? Which ones inspire you, and which ones scare you? I’d love to hear from you, so please leave comments. And subscribe to my blog by leaving your email address in the column to the right. Creatively speaking, I feel 2017 will be a great year, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

A new year, a new book project

At yesterday’s New Year’s service at church, we sat in a circle, passed around a talking stick, and shared our goals and resolutions for the year ahead. I announced two:

  • Work on creating a serene, organized home environment
  • Complete the presentation for my new book project on creativity, then find an agent and publisher
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Emerson Hall at FUUSA

The church in question is the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, and our minister, Sam Trumbore, had chosen the topic “Begin again in love.” Usually we sit with the chairs arranged in conventional rows, and there’s less opportunity for individual participation, but this being New Year’s morning, Sam expected a smaller turnout. But there were several dozen of us, and we formed three concentric circles. As we passed the South American rain stick, many people chose not to speak, and others spoke of modest, everyday goals—spending more time with family or in nature, being more mindful of health concerns, learning more about social media or, conversely giving it up entirely.

Having come late to the service, as is unfortunately all too typical, I was the last in the row of the outermost circle, and impatiently awaited my turn to speak. When I did, I failed to mention the state of disarray my house is actually in, but I was more specific about my book project, announcing my working title and the fact that I’ve already registered it as a domain name. (I’ve blogged about the project before, but I’m still not ready to go officially public with the title, because I don’t want anyone stealing it. I figure the FUUSAns won’t remember.)

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John William Waterhouse

At 75, I sometimes wonder whether it’s overly ambitious to take on a major project like the book I have in mind. Granted, the goal I set is daunting, and realistically, I don’t know if I’ll manage to land a good agent and publisher within the next twelve months. But completing a nonfiction book proposal is well within my capabilities—I’ve done it three times before, although I abandoned all three projects before seriously seeking publication.

The first was a book based on my daughter’s first year of life. I’d done a project illustrating the minutiae of my daily life with her, I showed it in a SoHo gallery, and it was featured in New York magazine. An editor at a major publishing house saw the show, called me up, and I paid her a visit in her spectacular office high in a skyscraper with panoramic views of Manhattan. I’d brought my daughter along, and she peed on the editor’s couch. That wasn’t the reason I gave up on the project, but I’ll leave that story for another time, along with the reasons I abandoned my books on art therapy and gardening.

For now, let’s just say I’m confident in my ability to put together a book proposal. It draws right-brain-left-brainon the logical, left-brain side of my intellect, the side that won me my Phi Beta Kappa key at Barnard.* And as for being too old to take on a new project, I’m convinced I’m as sharp as I ever was. I could drop dead any day—far too many of my contemporaries are taking that trip—but in general, my health is disgustingly good. The only activity I’ve given up because of age is downhill skiing, and that’s primarily because I haven’t been working out regularly enough to maintain the strength in my legs, not to mention that snow conditions in the Northeast have been abominable for the past couple of years.**

But my major reason for embarking on an all-consuming project is that for my sanity’s sake, I know I have to. From past experience, I know that abandoning my dreams of creative achievement is likely to plunge me into a major depression, and that’s worth avoiding at all costs. When I hear my contemporaries rhapsodizing about their travels, their grandkids and their cats, I know those everyday pleasures and satisfactions, wonderful as they may be, will never be enough for me.

waterhouse-john-william_the_lady_of_shalott

What about you? Do you have any major new goals or resolutions for the New Year? I’d love to hear from you.

*My classmates at Barnard included Martha Stewart, Erika Jong and Twyla Tharp, but that’s another story too.

**In the back of my mind, there lurks the possibility that I may yet ski again. Many people ski into their 80’s and 90’s. Unfortunately, my old ski pants are a size or two too small, but when I told my husband I might buy a new pair, since they’re handy for snow shoveling, dog walking, and maybe a little cross-country skiing, he tried to dissuade me. Maybe I should try flannel-lined jeans, he said, or rain or wind pants. When I asked why not ski pants, he confessed that he was worried I might take to the slopes again. Hey, never say never.

Trashing the old year, welcoming the new

christmas_tree_chipping_ukTonight is New Year’s Eve, and I’ve barely finished trimming my Christmas tree. Don’t tell me, I know—other folks are already taking theirs down, and a couple of days ago, I spied one of our town’s yellow highway department trucks cruising the neighborhood with one of those giant vacuum and chipper combinations, the kind they use to suck up autumn leaves and pulverize stray branches that diligent homeowners drag out to the roadside in the fall. The sight of the truck reminded me of one of this year’s more grizzly local news stories: his first day on the job with a tree trimming service, a young man was pulled arm-first into the chipper, thereby meeting an instantaneous and gruesome end.

The newspaper and the TV crews refrained from describing the grisly details; they simply interviewed some of his coworkers, who said the accident was the worst thing they’d ever seen. I wondered what kind of on-the-job training and orientation he’d received, if any, and whether the company got sued, but legal issues aside, it was a tragedy that conjured up images I’d rather not contemplate. That’s why I tend to avoid horror movies and chain saws. Even so, I’m flashing back to an otherwise forgettable film that featured bloody red slush spewing from a snow blower.

trump-swearing-in-by-chan-lowLooking back on what in many ways was an abominable year, I can think of a certain individual I’d love to see to see fed through a wood chipper. Or perhaps that would be too speedy, too kind a fate. Enduring the final terrifying days and hours of a doomed steer headed for market might be more appropriate—the death train, the feedlot, the slaughter house. . .

But never fear, dear reader, I won’t take you there. True, I kill people off in my suspense novels, but even my murderers treat their victims with relative compassion—there’s no outright sadism or torture. And I wouldn’t wish such a ghastly end on any of my friends or acquaintances, not even on the few people I genuinely detest.

Over the past year, and especially since the election, it’s been all too easy to get swallowed up and sucked down into a cesspool of negativity. I’m far from blameless in this respect, as you can see by perusing the paragraphs above. By and large I try to focus on the positive, but lately that’s been hard to do without adopting the mentality of an ostrich and burying my head in the sand. I limit my daily ration of news, but my Facebook feed is full of dire predictions of impending doom and urgent pleas to support worthy causes. Move On, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club—those and so many other worthwhile organizations are in dire need of my financial support, but as a senior on a fixed income, I can’t afford to shell out the cash.

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American Museum of Natural History 2014

So add guilt to the witch’s brew of toxic emotions—anger, fear, frustration, despair over the fate of this country we’re bequeathing to our children and grandchildren. Mix with a generous helping of salty grey road sludge from the wimpy storm system that failed to deliver a satisfying blanket of the white stuff. Factor in the meagre hours of cloudy daylight, the frigid winds, the pressure of last-minute shopping and spending, and you have the perfect recipe for sickness—sickness of the mind, body and soul.

And that brings me back full-circle to the day before Christmas, and the reason the tree didn’t get trimmed in time. Obligations and priorities—some self-imposed, others imposed by others—conspired to keep me away from trimming the beautiful Frasier fir that had been sitting forlornly in the driveway for a week. All afternoon, I felt my tension and anger building, my blood pressure rocketing skyward, and lo and behold, by the time I’d finished singing in the choir for the Christmas Eve service, I’d pulled in a full-blown cold, maybe even flu. Once home, I festooned the tree with a couple of strings of lights, then fell into bed and let an enormous glass of eggnog with lots of brandy lull me to sleep.

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Albert Joseph Moore 1884

In the end, everything turned out fine. Christmas in Woodstock with my family was wonderful, and a couple of lazy days in bed have set me on the road to recovery. But the mind-body connection definitely laid me low. I’m a firm believer in the powerful impact negative emotions and over-the-top stress can have on the body. Research shows that heart attacks are more frequent on Monday mornings than any other time of the week, and the holidays show a spike in cardiac events as well.

So for the New Year, I resolve not to let negativity take control and jerk me around. I vow to keep those trusty old rules in mind:

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

2. It’s all small stuff.

I’ve been wondering whether to publish this post because of all the negativity, but what the hell, here goes. If nothing else, it’s a good example of the unfettered creative process—segueing from an untrimmed Christmas tree to a town truck trolling the neighborhood with a wood chipping machine to a gruesome local wood chipper fatality to the pleasure I’d take in pulverizing Donald Trump. If you’ve hung in there with me this far, dear reader, I congratulate you.

Believe it or not, I’m actually feeling happy and optimistic, and I hope you are too. Any resolutions or random thoughts you’d care to share? I’d love to hear them. Here’s wishing everyone the happiest of New Years. Let’s keep in touch!

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