All posts by Janet Coburn

My Personal Writer’s Retreat

I am on a writer’s retreat. It’s not an official one, but I don’t care!

What is a writer’s retreat? There are actually several kinds: the writer’s residency, the writers’ workshop, the writers’ conference, and the writer’s retreat. All of them are designed to provide writers (and prospective writers) with space and time to pursue their craft, and perhaps inspiration and instruction. Some of these categories overlap a bit, but let’s tackle them one by one.

Writer’s Residency

Writer’s residencies are perhaps the classiest of all these kinds of retreats. You go to a location like a large house, which you share with other writers-in-residence. Each of you has a separate room and are free to work on your writing as you please. The residency lasts for anywhere from a week to a month or two. The one catch is that, because residencies are so sought-after, you have to apply to get one, and the competition is fierce. So it’s not the kind of thing you can plan on and, as we’ll see, planning is one of the primary prerequisites of getting the most from your desk-away-from-desk.

Writers’ Workshop

A writers’ workshop is the place to go if you already have a work-in-progress, but are stalled. These are a combination of critiques and feedback on your work and some writing classes to help you improve it. These are typically held over a long weekend and may take place at a college or university. They’re a particularly good deal if you live in the same town. Otherwise, you’ll likely be put up in a student dorm, which is why they’re usually held during school breaks.

Writers’ Conference

Like workshops, these are often held over a long weekend. Unlike workshops, though, there are usually industry professionals like agents and publishers in attendance. Frequently, there are professional writers there too. The pros give little mini-seminars on various aspects of writing or getting published. If you’re really lucky, you may be able to sign up for one of the spots on a speed-dating sort of consultation with one or more of them and pitch your idea or get feedback on what you should do next. There could also be interactive writing sessions, in which, for example, you have half an hour to write to a prompt then share your work with the others in your group.

Writers’ Retreat

Writers’ retreats can last for a week or a weekend. They provide a secluded location, often very scenic, where you can write for hours without distractions, other than going out to stroll about the aforementioned scenery to get inspiration. These can be solo affairs or be open to several writers, who generally write all day (or night) and gather for meals and perhaps sharing sessions. Writers’ retreats are sometimes held in really classy locations – in another country or overlooking a fantastic beach, for example. Hence, they can be quite pricey.

DIY Writer’s Retreat

The DIY writer’s retreat is when a writer retreats (duh!) to a secluded location near their home – a local hotel, for instance, and holes up writing for however long they can afford to stay. There are also stay-at-home versions which require that you have at least a room with a door, no children, and no phone (or your cell turned off).

There are several ways a writer can sabotage their own writer’s retreat, though. Sitting staring at the computer (or legal pad, if you’re a poet or merely old-fashioned) is one. Giving in to distractions is another. It’s best if you have a plan in place – a certain number of hours to write every day, an outline to show you where you’re going, or other way to organize your time and work. A DIY retreat doesn’t work for everyone, needless to say, but it’s by far the cheapest way to retreat, unless you run up a whopping hotel bill (which is still cheaper than the kind held in exotic places). And there is no feedback from other writers unless you have a regular writers’ group that meets during or afterward.

I’ve had my own personal 10-day writer’s retreat this past week-and-a-fraction. I did have one distraction – three cats who were pests when it came to getting their noms on time. It’s a pet-sitting gig for friends in another state who have gone on a cruise and didn’t feel comfortable boarding their little darlings. I had a plan – one writing session in the morning and another in the afternoon, with evenings free for research and relaxing and practicing my catspeak (meow, meh, ma-aa, aa-aa). I’m writing this during a morning session. That’s my plan and I have stuck to it, except for a long lunch with a nearby friend that spilled over into the afternoon.

And I have had specific projects to work on. I’m doing ghostwriting right now and have two overlapping projects. Mornings were for working on the book about pets and the afternoons for the self-help book. (I’ve finished the pet book, so I’m writing this during a morning session.) And the outlines were largely laid out for me, so I could just write away. The only phone calls were from my husband.

Fortunately, when I get back home, I do have a study with a door I can close, and our cats, while annoyed about not being able to get to their favorite window perch, have other perches and other windows available to them. It’s a bit noisier when my husband gets home from work, but hey, you can’t have everything. I’ve enjoyed this break enormously, though I don’t expect to have the opportunity to do it again soon. It’s even harder to get pet-sitting gigs than ghostwriting gigs!

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Show Me the Money!

You see a lot of pass-alongs on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet that ask if you would live alone somewhere or perform a socially unacceptable act for $250,000, $500,000, $1,000,000, or even more. The place can be a haunted house, a remote island or a cabin, or another isolated location. Often conditions are specified, such as no phone, cable TV, or internet. Or the poster will ask if you would streak through a crowded mall for a large sum of money.

I always respond, “Show me the money first and I’ll consider it.” This is a facetious reply, but honestly, no one is going to actually pay you money to do any of these things. They only want a response of yes or no. While this is probably relatively harmless, it could also be a form of like-farming or an attempt to make the post go viral.

Like-farming is an attempt to build up the statistics for a particular company, group, or organization in order to demonstrate their popularity. Why is this important? Radio stations, for example, often post memes to entice people to respond so that they can tell prospective advertisers how vast their audience is. I prefer not to encourage them, even if I have a strong opinion on the bogus offer or other pass-along. I see these sorts of offers all the time, so they must draw a lot of likes and comments.

The opposite of this are memes that show a product or service, usually an unusual or unlikely one. The response to this is often “Shut up and take my money,” sometimes abbreviated SUATMM or SUTFUATMM (for added emphasis). Elaborate Lego sets featuring popular media figures and locations like Babylon Five or the Space Shuttle (with astronaut Lego-people) are examples of this.

Of course, there are also online scams that want you to say SUATMM, but give you nothing in return. Or they may offer a product that looks fabulous in the photo but proves disappointing or worse in real life. (I’ve fallen for a couple of these, where the product was the wrong size or of inferior quality. They said they allowed exchanges or refunds, but I would have had to ship the item back to China or somewhere. But I digress.)

The exemplar of this kind of scam is not an ad for a product, but an email, IM, or other solicitation for a too-good-to-be-true opportunity – a never-fail investment opportunity or the notorious Nigerian prince lure of easy money, if only you transfer a sum of money from your bank account as some sort of fee. (Does anyone still fall for this one?)

One email scam that I encountered was the one where you get an apparently sincere plea from a friend who is stranded in some foreign country and needs you to transfer money so he or she can get home. In my case, it was remotely possible because the friend was said to be stranded in Germany, and his daughter was living there. A quick call to the friend’s wife exposed the fraud.

(One time, I was the one actually stranded abroad and had to appeal for help. When I made the request, I included a sentence that proved I knew a really obscure detail about the person so they could verify my identity. The person came through with the loan, for which I was intensely grateful. But I digress again.)

There are also telephone scams that can catch the unwary. A relative of mine fell for the one where he got a phone call purporting to be from a large computer company, saying that his machine was infected with a virus and he had to pay them to get it removed. He actually fell for it. Another person I know got the same kind of call and didn’t. Another version has the caller pretending to be the IRS. The IRS doesn’t call anyone. They send threatening letters.

It’s sometimes fun to toy with phone scammers. Once you realize it’s a bogus offer or other trap, you can say, “Does your mother know what you do?” or whisper, “It’s okay. I moved the body, but there’s blood everywhere.” They hang up right away. A guy I knew would tell phone solicitors that the person they were asking for was dead or in jail. Once he even told someone who was selling dance lessons that he was paraplegic. If you can actually start sobbing while you tell the story, you get bonus points. Extra bonus points if you can make the person on the other end cry or add you to a prayer chain.

Actually, I would live in a haunted house or a remote location. I would probably want a phone in case of emergencies, but as long as I had electricity so I could charge my e-reader, I would be fine. And presumably, the place would have to be accessible via Amazon or UPS so I could order supplies. Or, if it’s a remote island, a boat that comes once a month with supplies and a delivery person that I could shanghai for a cup of coffee and a chat. And conjugal visits from my husband.

But I don’t think I’d streak. I have that dream all the time where I’m naked in public. The depressing (and vaguely insulting) thing is that no one notices.

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What YOLO Means

Much as I hate acronyms, one that has wedged its way into common parlance is YOLO. It stands for You Only Live Once. What it means is open to interpretation – by me at least.

Is YOLO a mindset, a lifestyle, or a philosophy? It’s a slippery concept, one that can mean many things to many people. I can think of at least four different ways it is used, some of which I can see as being good.

The first group of YOLO-ers are those who hear You Only Live Once and take it as a dare. These are the adrenaline junkies. They pursue extreme sports, pushing the boundaries of what is sport and what is a death wish. Base-jumping, for example – parachuting from a high cliff or mesa, or even a building. There is no reserve parachute, probably because there isn’t time to use one before making that hard landing. Some people don’t even bother with the parachute, relying instead on a “wingsuit,” something that makes the jumper look like a flying squirrel. Injury or death is a very real possibility. In fact, it is considered the world’s most dangerous sport.

(People who engage in pursuits such as base-jumping and heli-skiing – jumping from a helicopter to begin a back-country ski run – are a bit different from the people who receive Darwin Awards for accidentally removing themselves from the gene pool by causing their own deaths in spectacularly stupid ways. One, for example, was a man who took literally his martial arts instructor’s statement about being able to fight lions. But I digress.)

I don’t understand these people. They only live once, and maybe not very long at that.

Then there are people who believe that You Only Live Once, so they try to cram as many experiences as possible into that one life. These are the people with dozens of pursuits and hobbies, who try out new ones so quickly that their friends can’t keep up with them all. They may shift from computer games to hot air ballooning to scuba diving to photography to whatever comes next. Or the ones who dabble in poetry, astronomy, musical instruments, martial arts, and horseback riding.

They may not become experts at any of these pursuits, but that’s not the point. The point is to try out a lot of different sorts of activities. They may be adrenaline afficiandos, but stop short of being junkies. Activities that could become extreme like bungee jumping are done with supervision and safety equipment.

I like people like this. They have the best stories and the best conversation. They only live once, but they live it with variety and gusto.

There are also people who believe that You Only Live Once and want to make sure that that one life lasts as long as possible. They eat right and exercise. They believe in moderation. They walk or jog five miles a day. They live by various diet philosophies and take lots of vitamins.

I do admire these people. They have dedication, stamina, and determination that I simply don’t. They do the things a person should do. Many of them even enjoy it, rather than viewing it as self-denial and a chore. They can, of course, be thwarted in their quest for longevity by genetics, accidents not of their own making, the eventual onset of old age (though perhaps later than the rest of us experience it), or diseases like various cancers that have no respect for how healthy you’ve been in the past.

But the kind of YOLO-ers I find most interesting and laudable are those who believe that, because they have only one life to live, want to do as much as they can to affect the lives of others.

Teachers, firefighters, and those in the helping professions. Blood donors, librarians, and philanthropists of every stripe. Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, good neighbors. Those who care. Those who listen. Those who contribute. Those who share life, make it better, and keep it going. Even people who sacrifice their lives for the sake of others.

These are the people who really know what it means to only live once, and to make the most of it.

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Adventures in Ireland, Part Two: The Good Parts

Last week I wrote about our trials and tribulations getting to and from Ireland. This week, I’m going into the more enjoyable parts of the vacation. And there were many.

Newgrange. We saw the outside, but not the inside.

In the Boyne Valley, we wanted to see Newgrange and Knowth, two ancient stone tombs. We had booked a tour in advance. Unfortunately, we got lost on the way there and missed our appointed time. Dan was able to get a picture of the Newgrange monument from the road. When we go back to Ireland (whenever that may be), we want to spend several days just in the Boyne Valley so we can see everything at our leisure. We could also take a bus into Dublin to see the Book of Kells and other historic sights and sites.

Here’s a picture of the Giant’s Causeway, which we didn’t actually get to see. This is a stock photo.

(We also never made it to the Giant’s Causeway for the same reason. We had a drive into Northern Ireland, though, where they take pounds and pence instead of euros. Someone told us it wasn’t all that great or interesting anyway. I would have liked to see for myself. The pictures of it are pretty spectacular. But I digress.)

After the Boyne Valley, we stayed at Brook Lodge in Donegal, probably my favorite of the hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that we were booked into by our travel company. It was a very homey place, where we could sit at the dining table and watch the host make us an Irish breakfast while she and Dan discussed gardening.

Off to Arranmore Island.

One of our excursions while we were staying in Donegal was to Arranmore Island. We drove to Burtonport and took the ferry over. Once we were on the island, I wanted to find a pub and get lunch, but Dan insisted that he wanted to see something, such as the lighthouse on the island. We got thoroughly lost again. What we saw were sheep, one of which ran ahead of our car down a one-lane, rocky road. (In addition to sheep and lambs, many of them apparently newborn, we saw cows and some horses in fields throughout the country. We also saw a lot of wind farms, which makes sense because Ireland is usually windy and rainy, though we had excellent weather for the first six days or so of our trip. Even the locals remarked on it. But I digress again.)

In a welcoming pub on Arranmore Island.

We never did find the lighthouse that allegedly existed on Arranmore Island, but we did find our way back to the landing in time to have a drink and a snack in a pub and catch the last ferry back to the mainland. I considered the jaunt a success for those reasons, lighthouse or no.

Our next stop, on the way to Galway, was in the small town of Cong. You may never have heard of it, but it was the place where the John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara movie The Quiet Man was filmed. That’s one of my husband’s favorite movies, so I made sure we would have time to see the place, and on his birthday too. Dan tramped around the town and took pictures of the commemorative statue. While I checked out a local inn, he went shopping. He had sworn that while in Ireland he was going to buy a walking stick and a clock.

Scene from The Quiet Man, immortalized.

(Dan has a history of buying clocks while abroad and managing to pack them well enough in dirty clothes to get them safely back to the States. He brought a clock back from England once. But I digress some more.) He found his walking stick in Cong, and a nice tweed Irish cap. (Getting the walking stick out of the country was another matter. It had to be inspected for insect life at the airport and stowed in the overhead compartments on the planes, which was a challenge. But I digress yet again.)

Dan busking at the Cliffs of Moher. (The real busker is observing him.)

The Cliffs of Moher, about an hour from our b-n-b in Galway, was one of the scenic locations we didn’t get too lost to see. It’s a spectacular set of cliffs with a great view of the Atlantic Ocean. (It was a foggy day, so we didn’t get good pics. We bought t-shirts and mugs instead.) Being somewhat mobility-challenged, we were able to get a ride to the viewing area in a golf cart type of vehicle, cunningly called “The Lift of Moher.” Our guide told us that scenes from one of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movies were filmed at a cave at the base of the Cliffs and that the Cliffs themselves were featured as the “Cliffs of Insanity” in The Princess Bride.

Next we stopped in Shannon, about half a mile from Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. We had booked the Medieval Banquet at the castle and saw part of the park while on our way to that. It featured replicas of thatched-roof cottages and other relics of Irish ways of life in the olden days.

At Bunratty.

I knew the banquet was sort of hokey and definitely touristy, but I had been to it on a previous trip to Ireland and also knew that it was a lot of fun. They welcome you with a cup of mead (honey wine) and present you with a lavish dinner that you have to eat with only a knife and your fingers. And one of the dishes was ribs. (They did let us have actual utensils for the dessert, but it was apple cobbler, so they kind of had to.)

Dingle’s harbor.

Our visit to Ireland wouldn’t have been complete without a stay in Dingle, thought by many to be the most beautiful place in Ireland, or maybe in the world, according to National Geographic Traveler. Dingle is another seaside town and had some of the best seafood we had in Ireland. There was a little hole-in-the-wall looking place across from the plaza in this photo, but I had an enormous bowl of amazing mussels there. Actually, the seafood was terrific all through Ireland, which makes sense given that it’s an island. Fish and chips were served at nearly every restaurant and you could have smoked salmon every morning for breakfast if you wanted to (which we sometimes did).

Uragh Stone Circle on a misty day.

We also went to see the Uragh Stone Circle, which we had high hopes for. But it turned out to be not nearly as impressive as Stonehenge, which we saw on our trip to England a number of years back. The stone circle was only eight feet in diameter and the standing stone only ten feet tall. Still, we had an enjoyable day tooling around the countryside and chatting with a couple who were collecting stones and shells in Dingle. We didn’t do the entire Ring of Kerry because it takes five hours, plus stops for photos, and by that time we weren’t enthusiastic about driving for five more hours, no matter how scenic the trip.

The view from the window of our last swanky hotel room in Athlone.

Then it was on to Athlone, not a well-known city, but one I remembered from a previous trip. We were put up there in another swanky hotel. The view out our window of Lough Ree was spectacular. There was a small island that contained a stone said to mark the exact center of Ireland. Athlone gave us access to some of the most beautiful ruins, one of my must-see stops, and one of the most historic establishments in all Ireland. It was a perfect way to round out our trip.

Graveyard at Clonmacnoise.

Clonmacnoise is one of those sites where churches, monasteries, and other sacred buildings were erected, attacked, destroyed, rebuilt, raided, destroyed again (and again). Because of that, there are a number of impressive ruins. There is also a great museum with examples of imposing Celtic crosses and stone carvings, and the history of Clonmacnoise. I waited there while Dan tramped around the site because the day was very cold and windy and I hadn’t worn enough warm or waterproof clothes. We also toured Athlone Castle, another historic site.

Near Athlone was one of the destinations I most wanted to visit – the town of Tullamore. It has historic connections with a canal that linked the town to the rest of Ireland in the 1700s. It was also the site of perhaps the first aviation disaster, when a hot air balloon crashed and started a fire that resulted in 130 houses burning down.

The distillery where my favorite whiskey is made. We took the tasting tour. (Of course we did!)

But what really made me want to go to Tullamore was the fact that it’s the location of the distillery of my favorite whiskey – Tullamore Dew. (Sorry, Jack Daniels. For some reason, Tully is the preferred spirit of many attendees at science fiction conventions, which is where I learned to appreciate it. Yet another digression.)

Of course we took the tasting tour. They welcomed us with an Irish coffee made with the local tipple, and then it was on to view the fermentation tanks and the aging barrels. Along the way, there were more tasting sessions, including one of the various styles of the whiskey that I never even knew existed. The gift shop was also impressive. I now have a Tullamore Dew t-shirt and a Tully shot glass. Dan bought a ceramic crock of Tully, which he also managed to pack and transport safely to the US, and which we’re saving for a special occasion, or maybe another science fiction convention.

Sean’s Bar and the antiques shop. You can tell which one impressed Dan the most.

Also in Athlone is Sean’s Bar, which bears the title of the oldest continuously operating pub in all of Ireland. I had a pint of lager while Dan went to the antiques shop next door. There he purchased his clock for the trip, a really lovely Art Deco piece which also made it home safely. (I was dragged over to the shop to see it and to help Dan bargain down the price.)

That was our last real stop in Ireland if you don’t count the Dublin airport and a Dublin airport hotel, which I don’t.

We’re already talking about saving up to go back.

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Adventures in Ireland, Part One: There and Back Again

No. This wasn’t us. Not hardly.

Our recent trip to Ireland was a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. Ireland is a marvelous country and our time there was sublime. But getting there and back was ridiculous.

It all started (or didn’t, actually) when we got to the airport in the evening to discover no one was behind the airline counter. A few phone calls later, we discovered that the airline had changed the flight time – back in December – and we never got so much as an email from them about it. So we missed the flight to Ireland by approximately four hours.

There were no other flights out that evening, though they had one the next day. Unfortunately, since we were officially no-shows, we had to rebook and pay more money. I spent considerable time on the phone with our bank and credit card company too, trying to shift money around so we could still go.

We had already stowed our car in the non-airport long-term parking and didn’t feel inclined to retrieve it and go back home. So we had to get a hotel room and spend the night. Even that was a trial. None of the hotels that had vacancies had shuttle service to the airport and one of them didn’t even have hot water. So it was Uber for us both that evening and in the morning. At last we got on our way, but we had missed one day of our vacation, spent it in a Best Western instead of an Irish bed-and-breakfast, and already cut into our less-than-extravagant budget.

When we finally arrived in Dublin, we rented a car and set off to our first hotel. The vacation company had booked us into swanky hotels for the first and last stops, presumably on the theory that we’d be exhausted at those points. We didn’t stay in Dublin, because I was dubious about driving on the left in a big city the first day we got there. Instead, we went to the Dunboyne Castle Hotel, which is a little bit away from the city and just as impressive as it sounds.

Our first real b-n-b was in Donegal, and it was in many ways my favorite of the places we stayed. Brook Lodge was a regular house with a comfy bedroom (and en suite bathroom, which all our accommodations had) and a lovely woman who cooked us breakfasts while we watched and Dan chatted with her about gardening.

Our first real stop was a ditch on the way to Brook Lodge. It was 11:00 p.m., we were spent, and we ended up on a one-lane road that stopped at a cattle gate. We managed to get turned around, but went off the side of the road. Fortunately, we had a small flashlight with us (Girl Scout training came in handy there) and Dan took off down the road to find some help. I waited with the car.

Within half an hour, Dan was back with a great couple who drove us and our luggage to Brook Lodge, then came back the next day to pull the Toyota out of the ditch and magically remove the dent so that Hertz wouldn’t make us buy a whole new car when we turned it in.

(The Tom-Tom GPS that came with our rental car was useless and for most of the trip we used Google Maps on my phone. Dan did the driving as I was too nervous to do it, and I did the navigating as he wasn’t able to do both at once. But I digress.)

It was another ridiculous story when it was time to return to Ohio. When we went to catch our plane (after far too long driving around the airport trying to figure out where to leave our rental car), we arrived at the counter only to find that we couldn’t board the plane. Naively, we had thought that our COVID triple-vax cards would be sufficient for travel to the US as they had been going to Ireland. But no. We needed an antigen test. Since the testing site was in another part of the airport and our plane boarded in 30 minutes, there was no way we could get the test in time. There were no other flights that weren’t booked solid for four more days.

I got on the phone with the airline and spent a good hour and a half with them trying to figure out a solution. Eventually, we achieved one. There would be a plane that we could take – from Dublin to Newark and Newark to Chicago and thence to Ohio. And it wouldn’t take a four-day wait. Only two.

Again, we had no choice but to find a hotel room. And just as the flights were booked, so were most of the hotel rooms. We found one that had two rooms left and quickly snagged one. (It was an accessible room, with all kinds of extra equipment in the bathroom. We didn’t need the pull cord for the nurse, but some of the other accommodations proved handy because my husband and I are somewhat mobility-challenged. But I digress again.)

So we spent two days in a Dublin airport hotel, except for taking the hotel shuttle to the COVID testing site at the airport. (Need I say that we both tested negative?) I suppose we could have taken buses to explore the city, but by that time we were both beyond fatigued and demoralized, not to mention out of money. We spent the time playing Mille Bornes, which we had for some reason brought with us, and reading and playing solitaire on our Nook e-readers. And trying to get a charging cable for my phone in case I needed another marathon session with the airline. The hotel provided one. They kept the cables people had left behind for six months, then handed them out to anyone who needed them.

We were enormously relieved to get home and retrieve the kitties from the vet where we had boarded them. We immediately started saving to go back to Ireland, though with a few lessons learned.

There’s lots more to tell and show, but I’ll leave the more sublime parts of the story – and the photos – for next week’s blog, when I’ll no doubt digress again and again. More sublimity and more ridiculosity to come…

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Still More Travel Tales, or Why I’m Somewhere Else

I hope when you see this post, I’ll be out of the country, in Ireland. (I say I hope because I’m not altogether convinced that the WordPress schedule-your-post-for-later function will work the way I want it to.)

I’ve traveled to Ireland twice before, once with my mother and once with a group of Catholic writers and editors. (Why? The company that sponsored our tour wanted us to round up our readers for a tour of our own.) They were both epic tours in different ways.

Now I am going back to Ireland with my husband, who has never been there. It’s kind of a second honeymoon for us. Our first one was when we were rather poor. (We paid for our wedding cake with food stamps and our reception was a potluck. But I digress.) Our honeymoon was spent camping and whitewater rafting and sleeping in a treehouse, which is another story.

Since then we have traveled a lot together, including to England, Croatia, and Benson, AZ. (That last trip was inspired by a song of the same name which was the theme song (about special relativity) for a low-budget science fiction movie, Dark Star, that practically no one has ever seen. But I digress. Again.)

We scheduled our Ireland trip last fall when we could lock in plane fares. My husband’s nephew is a travel agent and he made all the arrangements for us, up to and including getting the airlines to send one of those beepy cart things to our gate so we could make our connection without having to run while carrying luggage. He also took care of renting us a car in Ireland and making B-n-B reservations in places we wanted to stay. We’re going to be driving around and visiting lots of scenic and historical places, which his nephew was also kind enough to send us notes on and how far each is from where we’re staying. The nephew’s name is Michael Reily and he’s on Facebook, if any of this inspires you to book a trip.

Since then I have been planning like a madwoman. I’ve written about this before in my post “Preparing for the Normandy Invasion.” And that was about a three-day trip. This time I looked up directions for getting to every town, castle, or spot we want to see, plus a scenic tour by boat. I even emailed a pub to ask if we needed to reserve a table. (No.) I booked reservations for eight different sites and events and printed out confirmations. I even paid for them beforehand, never knowing how much I paid because I can’t (yet) convert dollars to Euros in my head. And I got compression stockings for the overseas flights, as they give me cankles.

One of the things I made sure to tell Dan’s nephew about was that we wanted to go to the town where the movie The Quiet Man, one of Dan’s all-time favorite movies, was filmed. His nephew even arranged it so we could visit the town on Dan’s birthday. I may stake out a seat in a pub while he explores, since that isn’t one of my favorite movies. (I wonder if I can get a map of the area so he doesn’t miss anything.) We’ve even booked a very touristy but entertaining Medieval Banquet that I enjoyed on one of my earlier trips. For culture’s sake, we’ve also booked the local Folk Park as well, which has replicas of thatched-roof cottages as well as gardens. It sounds like a great place to take pictures.

Speaking of pictures, I found out that my iPod and my phone will post them directly to Facebook, so you may have already seen some of them by now. (I wasn’t afraid to give away this little bit of information about us being away from my home, since none of my Facebook friends are burglars, and most live in some other state. But I digress. Again.) The photo included here is not one I took. It’s of the Giant’s Causeway, which I hope we will have seen by now.

So far, the most difficult part of the trip was getting both our cats to the vet for boarding. We have one that escaped from his carrier when tried to take them for their shots. So it’s buy another, sturdier carrier or ferry the cats in two trips.

The only thing I wasn’t able to overthink was how to practice driving on the left side of the road. I hope I’m doing it right – I mean left.

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Why Write?

I write something every week – this blog and my other one are proof of that. Altogether, I have posted over 800 times in my blogs. But why do I write? What motivates me to keep up this weekly grind? Why do I write?

First of all, it isn’t really a grind. Usually, I enjoy it. Then there’s the fact that I’ve written since I was a kid. I started writing poetry in grade school and continued through my early college years. That was when my poetry started sounding more like nonfiction, so I let my muse lead me in that direction. There I have stayed (mostly) ever since, with only occasional forays into fiction or back into poetry.

I’ve examined my motives and come up with a couple of theories about why I write, or at least why I write what I write. Here’s what I’ve learned so far – along with a few examples of each.

I write to inform.

Most of this kind of writing takes place in my Bipolar Me blog (bipolarme.blog). I have bipolar disorder. Sharing my experiences and perceptions of it are one of the main reasons I write. I hope that my blog readers learn something about bipolar and how it affects them and their friends or family. In fact, I write about bipolar to inform myself about bipolar disorder and about myself. Sometimes I have to do research on topics such as mental illness and homeless or substance use disorders. I’ve done interviews and reviewed books on mental illness topics. Other times I rely on my own feelings, my own accounts of medication and therapy, my own relationships.

I write to amuse.

I used to feel that comedy was dead because people just retold the same jokes they heard on Saturday Night Live. I still feel a little that way when I see people on Facebook passing along the same memes (though I am guilty of it too). But I have so many friends that add their own content – jokes and puns, humorous songs – that I no longer have that fear. I tell my husband the jokes I read online (mostly awful puns) and he tells them to people at work, so at least they are being released into the world IRL, as they say.

The world is funny. I like to write essays about the goofy things my husband or my cats do. They amuse me, so I like to pass on the amusement. This is why I end up sharing some of my writing on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Attendees Facebook group.

I write to release my inner demons.

This is why I still write poetry and fiction from time to time. I wrote a novel full of inner demons, but they were never released into the world because the novel was never published. The demons are now circling around, just waiting to be resurrected into another novel.

(The poetry I write is no longer free verse (aka “playing tennis without a net”). I’ve been experimenting with more structured forms such as haiku, sonnets, and villanelles. They haven’t been terribly successful yet. At least I’m trying (sometimes very trying, my husband notes). But I digress.)

I write to vent.

Sometimes I just can’t help it. There are so many things going on in the world that are high-blood-pressure events that I am forced to let off some of those arterial constrictions with rants. Among the topics that get me going are politics (of course), education (which I love, but not how it’s practiced in the US right now), and inequities of all stripes (including mental health treatment). I try to avoid the most contentious of topics, but sometimes just can’t help myself. I sound like a cranky old fart telling kids to get off my lawn or yelling at clouds.

I write to explore.

I love reading books about exploration – climbing Mt. Everest (which I now know is also called Chomolungma, thanks to reading about it), shipwrecks, and Antarctic expeditions, for example. I know I will never experience any of these things personally, but I can’t help but be curious about them anyway.

I also love to explore the world of books themselves – writing them, improving them, reading them, dipping into young adult or children’s books, or following trends in publishing. It’s my passion and I have to share that.

Anyway, here are some of the things I’ve written in the various categories.

To inform

Regarding language: https://butidigress.blog/2016/12/02/lets-talk-policing-womens-voices/

About early childhood : https://butidigress.blog/2018/09/16/early-childhood-education-then-and-now/

About bipolar disorder: https://butidigress.blog/2015/12/13/the-other-bipolar-disorder/

To amuse

Here’s a true holiday story: https://butidigress.blog/2016/11/20/the-great-thanksgiving-ratatouille/

Of cats and men: https://butidigress.blog/2020/08/02/magical-magnetic-noses/

Universal laws: https://butidigress.blog/2020/07/19/gravity-is-not-my-friend/

To release inner demons

Poetry: https://butidigress.blog/2015/12/11/poetry-keeps-knocking/

Poetry about bipolar disorder: https://bipolarme.blog/2015/05/24/haiku-cycle/

To vent

Children and politics: https://butidigress.blog/2016/08/28/hungry-children-a-one-act-play/ (also https://butidigress.blog/2018/06/10/satanic-panic-and-politics-in-america/)

Education: https://butidigress.blog/2018/05/27/why-a-national-curriculum-makes-sense/

Societal change: https://butidigress.blog/2018/02/25/school-shootings-and-the-tipping-point/

To explore

Romance novels: https://butidigress.blog/2017/03/26/romancing-the-body/

Food: https://butidigress.blog/2021/05/23/bacon-eggs-and-salt/

Language: https://butidigress.blog/2015/02/18/language-police-and-the-grammar-nazis-2/

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We All Need a Little Help. Pets Do Too.

Lately, advertisements have featured individuals of more diverse types: blind, Down’s Syndrome, wheelchair users, persons with autism, and so forth. There are plus-size fashion models and those who have Down’s Syndrome or prosthetic limbs that they don’t try to hide when doing photoshoots or runway modeling. One model received particular praise for allowing her insulin pump to show beneath her designer clothes.

Now even disabled pets are used in advertising. You may not have noticed it, but every year those Cadbury TV commercials include not just the lion wearing bunny ears, but one pet chosen in some sort of contest in which fans nominate their own pets to appear. This year it’s Betty, a frog that beat out over 12,000 other submissions. Last year it was Lieutenant Dan, a dog who had only two legs and used a prosthetic/wheel-type device to allow it to get around better. It was hard to notice at first, but as the commercial was repeated (endlessly), it became easier to see. (The frog has no obvious disabilities. It sure looks weird with bunny ears, though.)

It’s good that pets with disabilities are finally getting some representation in the media. There are a lot of animals that need special care. There’s a no-kill cat shelter near me that has a whole room of special needs cats. Most of them have conditions that need medication, but some are vision- or hearing-impaired or have other sorts of disabilities. I once cat-sat for a week for a friend’s pets, one of whom needed insulin injections. He was really chill about it and never gave me a bit of trouble. He would just lie there and let me get on with it. Our cats were a little less chill when we had to give them subcutaneous fluid injections for failing kidneys, but they got used to it. (Our vet taught us how to do it. My husband would never be the one to stick the needle in. The extra fluid made the cat look lumpy until the body absorbed it. But I digress.) Other cats and dogs may be blind or mobility-challenged and simply need help going up and down stairs.

Shelters have a hard time placing animals that aren’t perfect and perky. The animals most often adopted are puppies and kittens, which are, after all, adorable. But there are plenty of other animals that need “forever” homes too. Not all of them have physical disabilities, either. Some dogs suffer from PTSD, especially if they were working dogs during the war in Afghanistan.

Others are elderly, well beyond the puppy/kitten stage. That’s not really a disability, except when it comes to being adopted. Dan and I have adopted senior cats fairly often. For one thing, they have the advantage of already knowing how to use a litter box, and they don’t climb the drapes the way kittens do. Many of them are already neutered.

It’s a shame when someone gives up a pet because it’s no longer perfect. But there are other reasons senior and disabled pets are considered unadoptable. For example, the pet might belong to a senior person who is no longer able to care for it anymore. Those reasons are understandable, but they may leave non-cute non-kittens and puppies stranded in shelters, sometimes for the rest of their lives – or have their lives cut short when no one adopts them.

What I’m saying is open your heart to a different sort of pet. Adopt the “unadoptable.” Consider that dog that needs a set of wheels or that cat that needs daily medication. If you provide a loving home, I guarantee that you will get that love back many times over. We owe it to pets to give a little help when they need it.

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Humor Is the Cure

This week I posted a quote from the book The Cat Who Saved Books: A Novel, which is by Sosuke Natsukawa, not Lillian Jackson Braun as one might think. The “Quote of the Day” (a feature that my Nook e-reader will post to Facebook for me) was “Our best weapon for fighting all the pain and trouble in the world isn’t logic or violence. It’s humor.” In the book, the quote was spoken by the titular cat. The cat was right. Humor has the power to change the world, or at least our perception of it.

I was writing recently in my other blog (bipolarme.blog) about a time when laughter temporarily lifted me out of my depression. Here’s what happened:

My husband and I were sitting on the couch, watching TV. I was not enjoying it. Then a commercial came on about “man-boosting” pills that increase testosterone. It promised everything: strength, leanness, stamina, and outstanding performance in the bedroom.

Dan turned to me and said, “Hey, honey. Maybe I should try some of that. Improve my performance in bed-woo-woo-woo!

I turned and looked him straight in the eyes. I said, in a solemn, deadpan voice, without a trace of a snicker: Woo. Woo. I never got to the third Woo because we both dissolved in giggles. And it felt good – not only that I could laugh, but that I could make him laugh. Just thinking about it made us laugh all over again.

It didn’t cure my depression, of course, but it helped me that day. I can’t say, as the quote goes, that laughter is the best medicine. (Although I did write a humorous essay about the flu (https://butidigress.blog/2022/01/09/when-you-have-the-flu-some-unsolicited-advice/).) But occasionally it is good for what ails you.

I once described books as being like mashed potatoes – comfort food for the mind. I read a lot of books that aren’t humorous at all, such as ones about people dying on Everest or dystopian science fiction novels. But there are comic novels that I return to again and again. One of these is a sci-fi book (though not dystopian), A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold. If, as has been said, that writing a novel is the process of creating a character and then throwing rocks at him (or her), then this novel was the epitome of that philosophy.

Subtitled A Comedy of Biology and Manners, the novel takes the main character (who previously appeared in a number of extremely serious novels) and throws massive rocks at him. Bujold loads the rocks in the first section of the book but withholds the trebuchet that lobs them at our hero till halfway through. Then the reader gets comic disaster, a memorable dinner party scene where that building tension is released. The rest of the novel involves the hero trying to clean up the repercussions. Then all the various subplots come together in a magnificent tour de force (or farce, really) that really satisfies.

Two of my favorite writers, James Thurber and Erma Bombeck, took a gentler approach to humor. In their stories and essays, they explored the foibles of personalities and life itself. The past and the present, the fictional and nonfictional, the wry and the absurd were their tools. (Both writers were from Ohio, a coincidence that gives me hope when I try to write something humorous. But I digress.)

A Supreme Court Justice once said that he couldn’t define pornography, but he knew it when he saw it. Humor is therefore the same as pornography, at least in that respect. I can’t really define what makes a piece of writing humorous, but I know it when I see it. And I laugh. That makes the world a better place for me to be.

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