Monthly Archives: June 2010

Stress & Anxiety

Two Sundays ago, I went to bed at 11:15. In less than an hour, I awoke from a sound sleep and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I felt my pulse racing, my body was covered with sweat, and I had a bad case of the shakes. 

Trying not to disturb my wife, I got up, went into the living room, and tried to settle down. I sat on the sofa and inhaled deep breaths, wrestling with the idea of taking my blood pressure. My anxiety was such that whatever my BP level, it would likely be elevated by my condition. 

Against my better judgment, I strapped the BP cuff to my arm and did my best to relax. I learned from past experience that the longer it took for the cuff to inflate, the higher my BP reading. Well, it took forever for it to inflate, and I knew right then, sitting there with my eyes closed, that the read-out would not be good. 

When the cuff hissed and released my bicep, I kept my eyes closed, hoping that my suspicions were unfounded. Then I peeked at the display on the monitor. 218/110. Pulse rate: 108. Now bear in mind that I take BP medication that lowers my heart rate, and a normal, at rest reading is usually 50 to 55 beats a minute. So, 108 might not be significant for someone whose normal rate was in the mid-seventies, but for me, it doubled. 

I went back into the bedroom and woke up my wife. As usual, her gentle voice and breathing instructions helped me to gradually lower my BP. Now fearful of going back to sleep, I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning. 

Over the last three years, this is the sixth time this middle-of-the-night phenomenon has happened. No one, including my primary care physician and cardiologist, can offer an explanation except to say that I’m high strung and it’s stress related. It seems rather convenient to me that whenever a physician cannot accurately diagnose a medical issue, stress and anxiety become the default answer. I’m not questioning the competency of doctors in general, but why do they blame just about every mysterious condition on stress? Just thinking about this situation stresses me out.

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Making Progress

The last time I posted to my blog, a chronic case of writer’s block had a hold of me. Well, I’m happy to say that chronic has turned into slight. The creative juices are flowing but not as much as I’d like. When I retired on April 1st, I thought the whole writing gig would be a breeze. Well, I have to admit that it’s often more difficult than working a “real job”.   

I don’t have to cope with traditional corporate politics, incompetent bosses, or pain-in-the-ass colleagues, but I do have to deal with the politics of publishing. I still have to deal with an agent, editors, publishers, and of course, my readers. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I’m merely trying to point out that there is some truth the adage: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” 

Another issue with working independently as opposed to a traditional job is the amount of discipline it requires. Think it’s tough sitting in an office and looking outside at the bright blue sky, knowing that you can’t just leave and go to the beach or cycle to your favorite park? Well, how do you think it feels to know that the only thing stopping you from shutting down the computer and heading for the Pacific Ocean is self discipline?

I generally write four or five hours a day. Sometimes I can write nearly 2,000 words in this timeframe; other times I can barely put two sentences together. A writer cannot predict if the creative juices will flow on any particular day, until he or she is sitting in front of the computer screen. It’s just you and a stark white page. You hope that what’s in your head can find its way to your fingers. 

So, thus far I’ve written over 41,000 words in Resuscitation, the sequel to They Never Die Quietly, which is likely the halfway point. I sent the first half of the novel to my agent for his evaluation. He could say that he loves it and that I should continue writing in the same way, or he could say it’s food for the local recycling bin. Either way, I’ve got lots of work to do. I already told my wife that when this book is finished, I’m going to veg-out for two months, park my butt in front of the TV, watch soap operas, and munch chocolate bon-bons.  I’m ready to live the life of a couch potato.

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Stuck

Since I retired from my “day job” on April 1st, I’ve been working feverishly on Resuscitation, the sequel to They Never Die Quietly. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the creative juices have been pouring out of me and thus far I’ve written about 39,000 words. No writer’s block here; just idea after idea. 

Unfortunately, I’ve now reached a point in the writing where I’m stuck. I know where the story is going, what the villain has planned, the challenges the protagonist faces, and I know how the story will end. What I don’t know is how to make these things happen in a logical, believable way. 

Like most writers, I’m a bit superstitious. I don’t want anyone to read even a sentence of this book until it’s completed and I am at the point where I need some objective feedback so I can work on the final edit. Letting anyone read the first draft at the halfway point—except for my agent, of course—borders on criminal. 

But if I’m stuck, I have to get “unstuck”, and the only logical way for that to happen is for me to sit down with a few of my creative friends/associates, give them an overview of where I want the story to go, and brainstorm ideas.   

Those I choose to help me with this project will have to sign their names in blood and agree not to share one single written word with anyone in the universe. And if they do violate this pledge, my Uncle Nunzio, a man who specializes in designing custom-made concrete shoes, will pay them a little visit. So, if you get a call from me, think twice before you say, “Yes”.

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Drill Baby, Drill

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Sarah Palin underscored her bid for the vice-presidency by repeatedly chanting the phrase, “Drill baby, drill”. This catchphrase galvanized her support for offshore drilling in the waters bordering American soil. 

According to Baker Hughes, an organization that tracks oil platforms, there are over 600 offshore oil rigs in the United States. When you consider that these 600 rigs account for only 4% of America’s consumption, one must ask—considering the risk for disaster—why even consider it? 96% of our crude oil still comes from foreign countries, mostly Arab nations. 

I watched a news conference yesterday hosted by Coastguard Admiral Thad Allen. He’s assigned to lead America’s effort to monitor the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and to partner with British Petroleum to ultimately harness the massive oil leak. I listened with great interest as Admiral Allen waltzed around the tough questions posed by the media. 49 days into this disaster and it’s nowhere near containment. In fact, it will take years and billions of dollars to clean up the mess. 

What really put me over the edge were the videos of pelicans and other sea animals saturated with crude oil. A friend of mine told me that Sea World has repeatedly offered to send volunteers to the Gulf Coast to rescue these animals, but neither our government nor BP would allow it. 

I am so pissed off I can hardly articulate my feelings. Over 30 years ago, when the oil embargo created a tremendous shortage of gasoline, our government and American citizens as well, swore that we would find ways to reduce, if not completely eliminate our dependence on crude oil. And where are we today? Our addiction to oil is out of control. Take a look around at freeways and expressways; note the number of 4-door pickup trucks, SUV’s, and gas-guzzling Hummers. I ask you, why in the name of God would anyone with a grain of common sense buy a Hummer? 

Until he was caught in the squeeze and laid off from General Motors, my son worked as an engineer at a facility tasked with the responsibility to develop the hydrogen fuel cell. It’s quite a remarkable invention and the technology cutting edge. If we truly wanted to end our dependence on crude oil, the hydrogen fuel cell could be the answer.

But here’s the problem: our government thinks nothing about coughing up 800 billion dollars to bail out failed financial organizations, nor do they skip a beat spending nearly a trillion dollars on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to mention the hundreds of worthless government programs taxpayers support, and the billions of dollars we dole out in foreign aid. Yet as crucial as it is for us to end forever our dependence on oil, our government does nothing. 

If we were serious about ending our oil addiction forever, our lawmakers would pass legislation to partner with the major automobile manufacturers to develop the hydrogen fuel cell, electric cars and solar power. If we allocated 100 billion dollars for this joint venture, which in the scheme of things is merely a drop in the bucket, in less than 10 years we could all be driving vehicles powered by hydrogen, electric and the sun. But don’t hold your breath. As long as the oil producing companies are in bed with politicians, it’s merely a pipedream.

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Constructive Criticism

When I read the first negative reader review of my novel, I felt totally devastated. It wasn’t so much the criticism as much as the malicious nature of the review and the harsh words. Aren’t there more diplomatic ways to tell an artist—whether it is a writer, painter or musician—that their work sucks? 

It took a long while for me to get past these seething reviews, but then one day I figured out a way to turn them around and make them productive. Instead of licking my wounds and wallowing, I read the reviews a second and third time and replaced the mean-spirited words with less offensive ones, without compromising or altering the crux of the criticism. 

Instantly, I turned a personal attack into a writing workshop. Instead of trying to debate with the reviewers and dispute their claims, I took them at face value and embraced them. During this process, it occurred to me that an artist gains much more from negative reviews than he or she gains from positive ones. Don’t get me wrong. I cherish every kind and complimentary review. However, as a writer, I don’t learn from these glowing reviews. 

As I write the sequel to They Never Die Quietly, I never lose sight of the criticisms I received. Each one in its own way has placed a spotlight on every word I write. I am more careful with language, characterization, plot structure and continuity. The proof, of course, won’t be known until Resuscitation is published. 

So, to all of you out there who grabbed me by the throat and slammed me up against the wall, thank you. And for all you folks who wrote a positive review, you made my day. The negative reviews help me to improve my writing; the positive ones keep me sane.

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