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  1. How to Acclimate Yourself to a New City

    January 21, 2018 by Diane

    Dear Digby,

    I am trying to start over and make a new life in a new city.  Any tips for getting acclimated?

    Lost in Little Rock

    Dear Lost,

    While officially I’ve “gone fishing” to rewrite my novel, I’ve paddled to shore to answer your question, although it took me three weeks to paddle. My apologies. I got stuck in a plot flaw.

    Are you still lost?

    If so, here are my tips.

    1. Get a map.

    Preferably, a map of Little Rock. This will give you directions on where to go and how to get back to where you started. Provided you don’t wander off the map. This I did, driving home from a family gathering. I had driven beyond the boundaries of the map and was so horribly lost, I didn’t know how to find my way back. When I called Dave to guide me home, he said: “I don’t know where you are!” Which made two of us. So stick to the boundaries of the map.

    2.  Go outside.

    Preferably, on foot. The more you walk your neighborhood, the more it will feel like it’s yours. If you see a senior citizen shuffling down his driveway to pick up the newspaper, invite yourself in for a game of dominoes. You’ll be rewarded with candy. That’s the equation I learned when I was a kid living in the mountains. Senior citizens = candy + dominoes + great stories about the good ‘ol days. You’ll learn about the history of Little Rock back when it was orchards. Or whatever it was in Little Rock before civilization encroached. And you’ll make a friend.

    3. Pick up a local newspaper.

    Preferably, in English. Check out the events page. Find something interesting, and attend. Just for fun, I attended a Portuguese dance at the local Moose Lodge. It turned out to be a square dance shindig, and since I didn’t understand the language, I didn’t know if I was being instructed to promenade or allemande or what either of those terms meant anyway, and made a mess of the whole thing. I may have been unnerved by the moose head mounted on the wall.

    4. Ask for recommendations.

    Preferably, not from a tourist. Best pizza joint? Coffee house? Dentist? Haircut? Ask the locals. It worked for me, when I lived in a town in the Sierra Nevada’s for three months. By following the recommendation from a bank teller, I got a great haircut at a decent price. Unfortunately, this trick didn’t work when I moved to the city. For the cost of a haircut, I could buy a small farm.

    So, to acclimate yourself to your new home, remember:

    Stick to the map, latch onto a senior citizen, avoid Portuguese dances in Moose Lodges, and steer clear of advice from people who look as lost as you.

    And now, I’m off to navigate that plot flaw.


  2. Rewriting: My non-advice

    August 13, 2017 by Diane

    Remember way back when, before the dinosaurs, I told you I was rewriting my novel? I scattered bread crumbs so you’d know which direction I was heading, secretly hoping you’d join me on the journey.

    I got as far as step 4.

    Then I stopped posting updates.

    The truth is, I got lost. I tried following the expert’s maps, but managed to wind up in a thick, dark forest, bumping from tree to tree, unable to find my way.

    I came to the painful realization: I need to take off the blinders. I need to forge my own path. I need to rewrite my novel the only way I know how: through draft after draft. It’s what I do well, drafting. Hopefully I’ll need fewer drafts to see the story take shape. But with each draft, I’ll get closer to discovering my unique craft as a writer.

    I can’t write about rewriting, because it’s a path that may lead me to places that aren’t on your agenda. It may lead us both astray, at a dead end gazing at each other, saying, “What now?” My map might not be your map. Where I take the scenic route, you might want to zip down the highway. Where I meander like a snail, you might want to soar like an eagle.

    So my advice is to give no advice.

    Instead, I’ll rewrite my novel.

    I thought I’d send you postcards of my  journey as I go, not with the purpose of getting you to join me, but more like, “Hey, this is where I am. What’s the view where you are?”

    But then I wouldn’t be rewriting my novel.

    I could distract myself by posting squirrelly escapades for your amusement.

    But then I wouldn’t be rewriting my novel.

    I could make up questions for Dear Digby since NO ONE is submitting any, and then post my squirrelly answers.

    But then I wouldn’t be rewriting my novel.

    What I’m saying, in a roundabout way, is that I’m going fishing (again). This time, to catch the big one.

    The novel.

    I’ve got a writing buddy to keep me accountable. I’ve got two short stories in the pipeline to submit to journals, to start building a writer’s platform and attract an agent’s attention.

    I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.

    But you’ll know when I’m back.

    Until then, (so you don’t think I’m being a lazybones), here is a taste of the first scene of the first chapter of my novel. Subject to change, mind you.

    Until next time,

    Happy Trails!

     


  3. How to Change the Rules in the Game of Anxiety

    August 6, 2017 by Diane

    This week, I played the game of anxiety in the circus of my mind.

    It goes like this:

    Visualize the worst possible outcome for a future event and fixate on it, running the movie loop in your mind until your body reacts with sweaty palms and skipped heartbeats and a rise in blood pressure and a plethora of digestive issues, and then visualize the worst possible explanation for what’s happening with your body.

    This is considered round one.

    You may continue playing rounds, choosing different future events to obsessively worry about. You’ve won the game when you become a nervous wreck.

    I realized there’s a better game.

    It goes like this:

    Visualize the best possible outcome of events and fixate on them, running the loop in your mind until your body reacts with a smile and a bounce to your stride and a wide-open grateful heart, and then fixate on how wonderful you feel.

    You might have noticed it’s the same game.

    It just has different playing pieces.

    Since anxiety is a game manufactured in the mind, it occurred to me: why not set the mind to visualizing happy tidings rather than worrisome thoughts?

    Oh, you can’t fool the mind?

    That’s what I thought. Until I caught on to the fact: my mind isn’t all that bright.

    I’m sorry, but my mind doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s nothing more than whatever squirrelly thought I’m feeding it. Don’t believe me? Here’s a test:

    Imagine eating a lemon. Can you see the juices squirting as you cut into it? Can you smell it as the two halves fall away? Now, suck on one half of the lemon.

    I’ll bet your taste buds are tingling like crazy right now.

    See? Your mind was duped into thinking you were really eating a lemon, and sent that message to your taste buds.

    Granted, it’s not my mind’s fault that it’s none too bright. After all, it’s buried under a lot of grey matter without eyes to see or ears to hear. It relies on me to give it the real McCoy.

    It’s my fault for feeding it a bunch of malarky.

    Dave had surgery this week. I volunteered to be nurse for the day.  Had someone else volunteered me for the task, I would have questioned their sanity. Sending a hypochondriac to be a Florence Nightingale is a sure sign of Squirrels in the Doohickey.

    But I love the guy, so I stepped up to the plate.

    Here’s how:

    I worried endlessly, peppering my thoughts with “what if?” scenarios. What if the surgery goes badly? What if he gets sick from the anesthesia? What if he starts bleeding? What if he gets an infection and I have to take him back to the hospital? What if the surgery goes badly, he gets sick, he gets an infection, his incisions bleed, and I keel over? That was my real concern; that I wouldn’t remain upright through the whole ordeal. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle whatever happened, and Dave would end up taking ME to the hospital.

    I worked myself into a proper anxiety attack. I fretted. I ruminated. I lost three pounds.

    I WON THE ANXIETY GAME!

    Then the moment arrived: the changing of the guard.

    Carolyn, who drove him to and from the hospital (definitely not a job for a hypochondriac), brought him home, and I showed up, ready to take over.

    I took a deep breath.

    I cautiously called his name, and stepped inside.

    Dave was peeling off his shirt. He turned toward me.

    I avoided looking at his gauze bandages. I wondered about all that rusty-colored stuff on his skin. Blood? Antiseptic? Please be antiseptic.

    “Warning!” he said.

    I braced myself. This is it.

    “I saved my gallstones,” he said. “They’re in a bottle on the kitchen floor. Wanna see?”

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

    I almost cried in relief.

    “Um…maybe another time. How are you?”

    “Good! I don’t feel any worse than I do on Monday mornings getting up for work.”

    I gave him a sponge bath, a shoulder massage, and some energy treatments, opened a package of Saltines for him to eat, and hung around until he got into bed. Then I watched over him from the Jesus Chair.

    I was able to do this because, well, the visualization I had conjured up was much worse than the reality.

    And before arriving, on the verge of panic, I grasped the epiphany that anxiety is a mind game. The true winner games the system.

    Since my mind does an ace job reacting to my fearful images, why not choose images that tap into feel-good chemicals, instead of all that adrenaline and cortisol? I told myself I can just as easily visualize lying on my sky blue blanket on a vast green lawn, a cool breeze wafting by, the faint sound of a bi-plane motoring overhead, someone mowing their lawn in the distance, a father, perhaps—nice, safe, comforting, neighborhood sounds.

    Then, instead of worrying about whether I would be okay, I could focus on making sure he was okay.

    Game over.

    Now, about those gallstones…

    I did take a peak. Then I left Dave with a small bag of cherry pits from my lunch, so he could show them to the guys at the office. “Look how big my stones were!