To Leave or Not to Leave

Home is my personal “land of the fairies,” where I lose track of time, and even of what

Needs a few cats...

Needs a few cats…

day it is. I’ll often wake up and think, “I’m not sure whether it’s Saturday or Sunday. How lovely! But I still have 147 pages of revisions to do for Tremaine and Nita, and when did I become so addicted to the verb ‘to sport?’ I should do a global search. Lordy, I hope it’s Saturday, because the manuscript is due Monday…”

Happy thoughts. I can hear Winnie the Pooh singing, “Rum Tum Tiddle Dum, Rum Tum Tiddle Deeeee” as I pother around in my writing world.

Winnie-the-Pooh-HumBut I’ve learned that I need to get out, to drop in on my readers via social media, to write this blog, to occasionally meet a real, live, human friend in person for a bowl of soup, or a hot chocolate. In the land of Today is Tuesday, I am refueled in a way that home, with all its wonders, can’t do for me.

grow tubbyI’ve also learned that I need to move, physically, to GET OUT OF THE CHAIR, though everything in me rebels at the very notion. I’m happy when I sit in my writing chair, rum-tum-tiddle-dumming away. Happy, do you hear me? I’m also significantly overweight, and at risk for early Alzheimers.

So I get out of the chair, even if it’s only to toddle for a bit at the treadmill desk. I hate every minute of that exercise, but I will hate more being unable to recall my daughter’s name.

day without a friendAnother lesson that I know, though I must relearn it often, is that I have a tendency to hang on too long to relationships that aren’t working. I suspect the day job falls into this category–twenty years of child abuse law is enough. I’ve kept other jobs too long, kept relationships too long, and kept congregational affiliations for too long. “Too long,” means I’m spending way too much of myself on a situation that’s not giving enough, and I’m the only person to whom this imbalance matters.

Me, at Glencoe in Scotland, proving that I do Get Out occasionally...

Me, at Glencoe in Scotland, proving that I do Get Out occasionally…

I’m getting better about this, though, and what has helped is an uncomfortable insight: I want to be loved tenaciously. I want to be worthy of other people’s committed devotion, even when I’m lost in the land of Rum Tum Tiddle Dum, even when I’m obsessing over the verb ‘to sport,’ as if that really matters. I want what I’m giving away.

In my reluctance to cut loose what’s not working, I have my priorities inside out. I think it was Maya Angelou who said, “weak people give up and stay, strong people give up and move on.” I need to move on more readily than I do, not because I’m strong, but because that’s the way to be the most honorable in my regard for myself.

What lessons or decision points seem to circle your life? Do the upcoming holidays present any quizzes or tests that you intend to face differently this year? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amex gift card.

The Lusty Month of November

blog bear in bedThe days are getting shorter, cold weather has made its first appearance in many parts of the country, travel can become more difficult…. but last night’s extra hour of sleep reminded me that I LOVE much about this time of year. I’ll limit myself to ten things:

1) That extra hour of sleep. LOVE IT, and really needed it this week.

blog autumn leaves2) My dad turns 94 today. He’s living at home with his bride of 69 years (and some help). In some ways, he’s contributed more to my welfare in his great old age than he did when he was going full bore as a scientist and university professor. LOVE that guy!

3) The sound of leaves underfoot, the scent of fall.

4) Planting bulbs. This is my niche as a gardener, and on my property, there’s no bad place for a daffodil or tulip to come up.

blog pumpkin pie5) Pumpkin spice everything, the quintessential flavor of late autumn.

6) Amaryllis and poinsettias. They make me HAPPY, and I love sending them to others.

7) The baking, or lord, the baking.

8) Heating with wood. It’s renewable, healthier from a respiratory perspective, and very centering.

blog amaryllis9) The long, dark evenings mean more time for reading and writing.

10) The holidays and snow days mean more time for reading and writing.

I could go on–more time to see family, a chance to rest from the yard work, Christmas cards for those of us who do them… all good things. What do you enjoy about the coming time of year? To TWO commenters, I’ll send a $25 American Express gift card.

The One Who Got Away

jan flat tireFive years ago, I was broke, had no publication contract, and spent my days playing emotional whack-a-mole with challenges like the well pump dying, the state being late with my check, the kid losing her job, the truck’s spare going flat…

My consolation and coping mechanism was horses. I rode regularly, which kept me in great shape, and I had horses in my back yard, an enormous Belgian draft horse rescue and my daughter’s geriatric mare.

Mane Man 003Hay burners need hay, right? The guys at the feed store suggested a farmer up the road had exactly what I wanted–good stuff, but not too good, and reasonably priced. It took me a few weeks to get up my courage–I am shy, by the way–but one fine day my truck turned up the lane of the hay guy’s farm.

The hay guy was not shy. He was friendly, whipcord lean, about six foot four, with blue, blue eyes, and a merry, naughty smile. He was poetry on a hay truck, too, tough as nails, beastly strong, and could do anything with his hands. And my goodness, could he tell a fine story.

At the time I had been contentedly divorced for more than ten years, and in those ten years, I had not looked at a man. I wasn’t lonely, I wasn’t looking, I wasn’t even thinking about looking.

jan wall of hayI looked at this guy, I talked to him, I listened to him. He could toss hay bales with the precision of a major league pitcher and back a wagon to an inch with his eyes closed. He was a good listener, had a kind and open heart, and a great sense of humor. We casually mentioned getting together for lunch at the diner–I get together with various riding buddies at the diner–but I never nailed him down. Though I enjoyed every minute I spent in his company, when I moved my horses from the back yard to a stable nearby, I did not stay in touch with my hay guy.

In the intervening years, I’ve wondered: Why did I, a woman of notable particulars, turn my back on somebody who’s company I enjoy? Why didn’t I occasionally say hi as a friend? Why didn’t I drop in on one of my many trips past the farm, and explain that the horses had moved, but I’d like to stay in touch? Anything?

Cowboy silhouetteI’m not sure why I let the line go quiet. Maybe my intuition was working overtime, or my defense mechanisms. In any case, I let him get away, though in my mind, I owe that guy. He was a shot of happy over something as silly as buying a load of hay, he’d talked with me as old friends talk. I liked him a lot, and I’m pretty sure he liked me at a time when I was without many allies or resources.

And you know where this is heading. I recently learned that my hay guy lost the fight with cancer a few months back. Now there’s no dropping in on him, ever. No thanking him for being a bright spot in some tough years, no getting together at the diner. I’m endlessly sad for him, because he was as socialable and physically robust as a man can be, brilliant at what he did, a devoted dad and a gentleman. He should have had so many more years.

And he should have had lunch with me at the diner.

Who was the one who got away from you–friend, neighbor, coworker? Why’d you let them go? Is there somebody you should be meeting at the diner for lunch? To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card or a signed copy of The Captive, your choice.

On the Road YET Again…

travel jetMore travel has been added to my summer schedule, because the Aged P’s need the company. As most of you will recall, the Aged P’s live in San Diego, while my home is in Western Maryland. This is not a summer camp I’m jumping up and down to attend, because before I even board the plane, I’m homesick. What will I miss?

travel marylandMy property. This is a big one, because it encompasses memories of walks with my daughter when she was small, the sight of my horses munching grass across the stream, many hours of planting flowers, and a lot of cups of tea on the porch while the country breezes blew my cares away and the trees and mountains assured me, “This too shall pass.”

I love this place. I raised my kid here, wrote dozens of books here, baked a lot of bread, burned a lot of wood. This is home, and I will miss it.

travel stargazersMy cats. They each have a story, a personality, a way to add something to my life that’s unique. Most of them have been with me for more than ten years, and their company is dear to me. I also love the wildlife here. In the past week, in my yard, I’ve seen a fox, skunks, raccoons, possums, rabbits, squirrels, lightning bugs, and much more.

The greenery, not only in my yard, but this part of the country. Things grow here, they have room to grow and all the sunlight, water and nutrients they need to grow. I get a sense of safety from that. This environment is well suited to supporting human life. Southern California has been overburdened with human life. It has not enough water, for starters, and without water… how can any sane person feel safe?

travel foxMy friends. I lack a wide circle of friends, but the few I have are wonderful. We get together as often as busy schedules allow, and a couple hours at Panera or the sandwich shop is enough to get my mental and emotional engines retuned and full of compression. Yes, new sights and new faces can have a salutary impact, but I’ll miss these faces, and these hugs.

My treadmill desk—silly, right? Not to me. I put that sucker together, and it sits in my line of sight while I write, an invitation to beat the sitting disease that afflicts too many writers. I can “exercise” in my jammies, while playing free cell, and swilling tea. How captive_295w-274x450cool is that? No threat of melanoma, no cars, no fumes, no strangers who expect me to step off the curb because they’re jogging and I’m only toddling. I will miss a rare opportunity to exercise that suited me.

Change is good for us. We meet new challenges, make new connections, learn and grow when we’re dropped into new environments. I’m glad to HAVE parents to visit, but I will be really, really glad when I can once again turn my sights for home.

If you had to leave home right now, with no assurances about when you’d return, what or who would you miss most? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed ARC of The Captive.


There’s No Place Like HOME

dog in car windowFor much of the past eight weeks, I’ve been traveling. First, I drove out to San Diego to see the Aged P’s, then I dropped in on a brother near Santa Fe, and paid a call on Beloved Offspring in Colorado.

Got home, did a load of wash, lassoed a cyclone of paperwork at the office, then took off for what I thought would be a jaunt in Italy. Within a week, I was flying back to Georgia with my sister (family stuff flared up), and I just returned from there yesterday.

UK Spring of 2011 006I have not finished unpacking–I’m too busy blissing over the pleasures of being home. My house doesn’t get a lot of attention from me. I often say it’s more of a camp site than a home, but I’m wrong. Home is my favorite place to be, for more reasons than I realized.

My computer screen sits at exactly the proper height for me, and my chair is a fancy ergonomic extravagance given to me by a friend on my birthday. LORDY, have I missed my computer set up!

My house is quiet. If a car goes by, the dogs and cats and I all look up. If there’s no traffic (which is for hours at a time), we can hear the stream that cuts through the property.

irisesOnce I get it aired out, my house smells good (to me, provided nobody’s visited the litter boxes lately). I can smell the new mown hay from across the lane and the enormous German irises in the vase by the door.

My books are here. My keepers, my references, the books I’m reading that are too large to tote around (The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I, weighs more than four pounds).

dog chestnut log wallMy favorite things to eat are here, and nobody’s fussing about When Will We Eat, or What Will We Eat, or Where Will We Eat. I eat when I’m hungry, I don’t eat when I’m not, and I like to eat mostly raw food (except for good cheese and Ghiradelli dark chocolate squares) that’s light on wheat and sugar. This is not what’s offered at most restaurants, and holy Ned, does it make me grouchy to eat stuff I’m not jonesing for.

captive_295w-274x450Home is the thick chestnut logs that form the wall I stare at when the words are fighting me, but it’s also the control I have over this space, and over myself when I’m in it. I love my home, and I’m so very grateful to have a home.

What have you done with the place where you live to make it YOUR home? Is there a part of home you take with you everywhere (I bring my favorite tea, for example). To two commenters, I’ll send signed copies of “The Captive.”

The Best Vacation

Many of us are in that stretch of the year when we’re waiting, waiting, waiting for school denver snowto be out so we can shift into summer break mode. Maybe we’re waiting for the weather to get a clue–my daughter sent me pictures of Denver covered in snow last week. Maybe we’re holding off to go on vacation until we’ve built up more leave or more savings.

I made plans last fall to travel for italian coastseveral weeks in Italy this spring, and then to end my journey with ten days in Scotland. I browsed websites, I googled destinations, I looked at pictures and read catalogs. I talked to people about their travels and where they’d stayed. I racked up the credit card expenses for tickets and got them paid off before my departure date–a particularly nice accomplishment.

italian cookongI had great fun anticipating good food, new faces, new scenery, and some new vocabulary. Italian is a wonderful language, one usually spoken with energy and rhythm, and Italy itself boasts so much beautiful coastline, it’s a wonder there’s any population in the interior of the country.

All of this was new to me, and as it turns out, the fun of an experience, be it a vacation, a rock climb, a wedding, is only partly in the event itself. Much of the pleasure we derive from recreation lies in anticipating the fun. When you ask people who’ve tuscanyplanned a vacation how much they enjoyed it, and compare their answers with results from people who made a spontaneous or short-notice outing to the same destination, the planners will report having more fun.

eilean_donan_castle_scotland_0303This is true even if you give those people the exact same vacation itinerary, put them up in the same hotels at the same time of year. There really is a lot to be said for anticipation–ask any romance heroine long about page 178.

So what small or large pleasure awaits you later this year? What could you put on the calendar that you’d enjoy doing, and enjoy looking forward to? If I were to plan an author’s retreat in Scotland, what would you say I absolutely had to include to make the trip worthwhile?

To three commenters, I’ll send a signed copy of The Captive.




The Unlovable Triangle

Last week’s discussion of triangles put me in mind of another concept, one I came across in mediation training. The topic is usually referred to as Ahab, Brutus, and Charlie, or The Three Smugglers, and it goes like this:

desert islandIn the middle of a terrible storm, three smugglers wash up on the shore of a desert island, the survivors of three different shipwrecks. Ahab and Brutus are big fish in the smuggling pond, with lots of influence and connections and considerable brawn. Charlie is small fry. He doesn’t run a big smuggling operation, is fairly new to the game, and isn’t overly endowed with muscle.

custody battleThe island is a hostile environment, with wild animals lurking in the brush, and nobody sure where fresh water might be, or how much of it, much less how much food might be available. How does the balance of power shake out under these circumstances?

You might think Ahab and Brutus throw Charlie to the sharks, but in a lot of replicated, controlled studies, that’s not what happens. Instead of cooperating with each pampered catother, Ahab and Brutus direct their energy into making an ally of Charlie. If they can win Charlie’s cooperation, they’ll have an ally who gives them the strength to keep the other big smuggler in line, without taking on a partner who could turn into a threat.

As a family law attorney, this is frequently the dynamic behind a custody battle. Mom and Dad fight endlessly to win Junior’s vote, leaving the outcome of a serious and complicated legal issue in the hands of a child. Mediators use this concept to direct the process whereby embattled parties can resolve their differences.

love triangleElders have been known to manipulate or exploit their children using a Three Smugglers approach–dear granny keeps a family riot in progress from her room at the assisted living facility by doling out approval, inheritances, family history, or some other precious commodity in a manner guaranteed to divide the younger generations.

captive_295w-274x450Romance authors put Ahab, Brutus, and Charlie to use in love triangles, with the heroine pursued by two fellows (or the hero by two ladies), and result is virtually NEVER that the two pursuers join forces or ride off into the sunset. The trick is to put all three characters on some sort of desert island, where emotional, financial, or logistical resources are scare enough that even a relatively weak character can tip the balance of power.

Have you seen this dynamic in action? Where a relatively “weak” individual can keep a circus going because his or her influence could tip a balance of power between others?

To one commenter, I’ll send an ARC of The Captive, my July release, and the first book in the Captive Hearts trilogy.



The Terrible Triangle

triangleI enjoy this blog tremendously, not so much because I get to post each week, but because the comments make me think. Last week, Kassia’s comment about nursing prodded me to mention the Triangle of Abuse. I forget where I came across this, but it’s a simple graphic of a triangle, with Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer at its vertices.

We’ve all been in, or witnessed, an abusive relationship. If we’re the Victim, we use up much of our energy simply enduring bad treatment, and thus have few resources left over to bring about any change. If we’re the Persecutor (assuming we’re not the psychopathic variety), we’re at the end of our rope, bellowing and blowing a gasket because nothing else seems to get anybody’s attention. If we’re the Rescuer, we’re so upset by what’s going, we jump in to try to help, because clearly, the other parties need help badly.

kids parents fightingThis triangle has two interesting aspects. First, everybody on that triangle can be trying to use their strengths: The Victim has endurance, patience, forgiveness, and maybe even hope going for him. The Persecutor is passionately attached to certain goals, can’t be pushed around, and doesn’t sit on her backside, waiting for solutions to come to her. The Rescuer has an ability to spot a problem and a willingness to help.

kids-fighting-over-toyAnd yet, they’re all acting from weakness. The Victim is passive, the Persecutor is aggressive, the Rescuer can be either, or is often simply meddling in other people’s problems to distract himself from his own.

The other interesting aspect of an abusive triangle is that the positions can flip around, or at least feel like they’re flipping around. The Victim can turn into a bellowing, ranting, sulking, histrionic, manipulative virago. The Persecutor can feel so invisible, so uncared for and demonized, that her emotional landscape resembles that of a Victim. The Rescuer can start lecturing everybody about what they should, ought, must, always, never… blah, blah, and when those Judgments–I Mean, Insights–from Starfleet aren’t greeted with applause and instant compliance, the Rescuer feels ignored and taken advantage of.

These unhappy and unhealthy roles can ricochet around for years, binding families, work environments, neighbors, or church groups in an ongoing drama of misery. Sometimes the whole business is a sideshow, distracting everybody from a larger problem, but sometimes, all that’s needed to shatter the triangle is a source of empowerment. Empowerment is about managing your own needs, not manipulating others into meeting them. Honesty is a big help in this undertaking, as is courage, resilience, creativity, and clear communication.

empowermentI’ve seen situations where an unhealthy group dynamic started to turn around just because somebody consistently modeled those positive qualities. In books, the hero and heroine often empower each other rather than solve each others’ problems.

This triangle is a fascinating dynamic. The part of that jumped out at me most is how the rescuer can turn into a bully, or at least develop a controlling agenda, and then feel victimized when efforts to help seem wasted. Don’t suppose any of you have ever brushed up against this infernal triangle?

To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift certificate.

Baby Grace

training wheels oneSomewhere along the way, I came across the notion that learning proceeds in four stages.

First, you know very little, but you’re also unaware of the extent of your ignorance. Like a kid with a new toy, your rocket around, delighting in the two or three facts or abilities you’ve mastered. I played the C scale by the hour when I started piano lessons–it was magic to me, and I was only dimly aware that dozens of other scales (if you count all the different minor scales) were yet to be mastered.

Second, you become aware of those other scales, of the distance between that C scale and the Emperor Concerto, and that distance training wheels twomatters. Your reckless glee fades to something more humble, maybe even to a sense of failure, because you’re not as a good as you thought you were.

Third, if you don’t quit, you stagger beneath the realization that you don’t know jack, and you may never know jack. Your ignorance far outpaces your learning, and probably always will. This phase is where we decide to either double down and learn the daylights out of a subject, or we walk away, appreciative and somewhat skilled, but far short of passionate. In this phase, we’re often more competent than we perceive, but we can training wheels threelack confidence.

Fourth, your persistence and passion pay off. You’re extremely competent, and you know it. You’re so competent, everybody else pretty much knows it too, and probably pays you to exercise your skill or talent.

As a child welfare attorney, I’ve paid my dues. I’m no genius, but I know my craft. As a writer, I feel I’m hovering between stages two and three–I know some good stuff and I’m working hard, but I have a long way to go. As a mom, I’m not a novice, but does anybody ever master parenting?

With the release of Trenton: Lord of Loss, I’m a self-published writer, firmly back in stage training wheels fourone. I know very, very little, but my glee is boundless: Look Ma, no publishing house! (Though I’m still working with a traditional house on other projects and don’t foresee that relationship ending.)

Intellectually, I know I’ll hit bumps as a self-published author, maybe some really big, mean bumps. I’ll probably fall off my bike a time or two, but in my heart, the sheer joy of embarking on a new journey, of packing  my PBJ, clean socks, a canteen and a book and heading out the door is delightful. It has been decades since I’ve started a new adventure, and given myself permission to succeed, fail, or both, so long as I get moving in pursuit of a dream.

Freestyler Emma McFerran

Freestyler Emma McFerran

This is… what’s the word? It’s on the tip of my…. this is FUN!

If money were not an issue, if health were not an issue, if you could march out in pursuit of a dream, what would it be? And if one of your dreams is posting a blog on this site, then please email me. I’ll be traveling a lot in the next few months, and an occasional guest post would be a big help.

To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amazon gift card.


Queen of the Road

flagstaff AZI must tattle on myself: I am having the best time rolling across the country in my trusty truck. Wednesday, I was rhapsodizing about the forsythia and redbud in southern Virginia, today I delighted in the snow storm that hit Flagstaff, AZ. (I love that town. Seven Starbucks, moose crossings, a Barnes and Noble, and that terrific mountain…)

burnsMy truck looks like a couple hobos with their dogs have been living on the floor of the passenger’s side. An oil portrait of my dad occupies the seat next to me (long story). I’m listening to my Jim Malcolm CDs over and over, singing about “Robin was a rovin’ boy, rantin’, roooooovin’, rantin’, rooooooovin’, rantin’, roooooovin’ Robin!!!” (A poem Burns wrote about himself, but he’s dead so I can sing it any way I please, right?)

When I tire of caterwauling about Robert Burns, I’m listening to the Romance Writers of America national conference workshop CD, and hearing such gems as Jude Devereaux complaining that politically correct heroes (“May I please make love to you for an hour and half?”) are a deplorable development. If I tire of that, I can roll along in silence for a couple hundred miles and arm wrestle my imagination for some plots to go with novellas I’ve recently obligated myself to write.

grand canyonWhat FUN! And then there’s the scenery. I did not have time to visit my old friend the Grand Canyon, but I did stop in to see one of my brothers near Santa Fe. On the way home, I’ve booked a night at La Posada, the last of the grand railway inns of the Southwest, in Winslow, Arizona. (Might have to take a selfie standing on a corner, of course.)

La PosadaWhat I’m NOT doing is being a lawyer, racking up words as an author, or dealing with people who expect me to solve their problems. I wasn’t sure why I decided to drive cross country (again) rather than fly, but the decision has borne wonderful fruit so far.

Still don’t know what I’m going to do with Daniel Banks, though. Fortunately, I have the 2700 mile daniel day lewisdrive home to get that one figured out, right?

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Would you take anybody with you? Stay for a long time? A mere week? What would you do while you were there?

To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amazon gift card.