Saturday, April 14, 2018

Work in Progress

The elementary school I attended down the street is now a middle school, which is fine, but also a shambles, which is a shock. Last summer (late-ish, delaying the start of school) modifications began to the gym, front entrance and offices. Work was expected to be wrapped up by late fall but dragged through the winter and now spring.

West Shore Middle in progress, April 2018
(Kay Avenue when I went, way-back-then )
This school and I have a lot in common. Unanticipated setbacks, small disasters and finally a sense of "I'll get there when I do" led not only to a blog hiatus but a series of adventures, missteps and faith leaps that have changed what and how I'm writing. 

The second year after losing my father was harder. While the first year had been a series of painful realizations about his loss--he'll never share this, do this, know this--this past year has more of a personal wrestling match with mortality. Dramatic bits aside, I needed to find some work and the job that fell into my lap involved working in nursing home, caring for patients' mental health. 

Take home points:
1. Nursing homes are difficult places to live and work.
2. Elderly patients with health conditions necessitating full-time nursing care have one thing on their mind: finances. This is true ;). But after we move past money issues we face their fears about dying. 

Pretty much everyone should spend some time in nursing homes, and as it turns out most of us do. First visiting, sometimes working, and most of the time for at least a short stay when we're too well for a hospital too ill to be alone at home. It helps you to see how graceful some people can be under adversity, but also how desperate. You can use valuable time to figure out to handle, or avoid the situation, or help.

I have a vast interior landscape where nursing homes transmogrify into magical shires of bustling nurse hobbits cheerfully feeding shortbread and tea to whimsically ailing folks who knit and curse while playing cards and who, when they've decided their time has come, close their eyes like Yoda and disappear with a tinkle of music unique to each person's eternal soul. 

Shire home image via West Stow Pods
Outside this fantasy, however, I grapple alongside my patients with whatever beast life has tossed them. I get weary despite the work being part-time, and have turned my schedule upside down and sideways trying to find enough time for my patients, paperwork, writing and family. 
Same struggles as everyone else, of course. I still have challenges that led to my leaving another tough work environment, and though I now can rejoin any complaining-about-my-job conversation if I choose, and rattle off the pleasurable jobs that wouldn't feel like work (pretty much all involve bakeries or bookstores), it seems to me I'll always choose difficult work. That's how I'm built. Raising my own and foster kids puts out the scale, front and center--so you can weigh both the agonies and joys. Taking good care of people--love--is always worth it. 

A "Love Justice" locket on Etsy
But all this digging into my own heart has really screwed up my writing. For escapism (see shire above) I've written a lot of love stories with fanciful plots. Since the characters were more realistic I figured they should do some crazy, far-out-there stuff to be interesting enough for a book. But the combination is unbalanced, and the mismatch throws readers off. People who like grounded, complex characters also like a more genuine plot. 

Years of feedback on my wild plots suddenly makes a whole lot more sense. Other people can get away with flights of zaniness--sure--but my job is to make real life more interesting, since making characters less real isn't the point, damn it.

Sweeping realizations can be such a nuisance, though this one solves an intractable problem. So as a writer I remain a work in progress, revising and writing my butt off, submitting and learning and unsure what's next. For awhile I thought I might work out the answer, publication felt within reach. That would have been a nice way to resume blogging, providing a range of new topics and zippy little announcements. 

But, you know, life. Never that simple. So I'll just blog today and go from there. 

It's nice to be back. 

Love, Lisa