ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

Traveling With Difficulty

Those of you who’ve known me for a while know that I’ve sometimes had a difficult relationship with my mom.

To be fair: she sometimes had a difficult relationship with me.

It doesn’t really matter why. But the gist of it is that when I was young, I didn’t understand that relationships are something you work at. Even the ones with your family. I was expecting to be understood and liked and given unconditional support when I was making choices that my mom didn’t understand.

For her part: my mom can be uncompromising. She likes to rewrite my life and tell me all about what I did and what it meant when she doesn’t actually know those things. She does not understand the concept that some things are none of her business, or that she shouldn’t tell everyone in the world every single thing that she knows. She just doesn’t understand the concept of TMI.

And does she get on my nerves? You bet. Like the time she walked up to some innocent bystanders at the Holocaust Memorial in Portland and told them that she was shocked, SHOCKED, that there was no mention of Denmark’s rescuing of their Jews.

(That would be because it’s a memorial. For the people who died. Not for the people who didn’t die.)

Do I get on her nerves? I must. I talk fast and change directions rapidly. I complain about things that I’m not willing to do anything about. And I’m sometimes consciously, emphatically different just for the sake of being different.

But there are a couple of things my mom and I get right.

Mom and I never take each other for granted. I suppose that’s the gift of grace you get with a difficult relationship–and the realization you come to when you’ve seen family members go years without talking to each other rather than apologize or accept the idea that stuff isn’t as important as people. I might snap at Mom because she talks to me before I’ve been awake for half an hour. She might get annoyed at me because I have once again forgotten to bring any money when we’ve gone somewhere.

(I’m kind of noted for that, these days. All those years of being the lady who remembered the diapers, change of clothes, snacks, drinks, and the Big Bag of Good Things To Do. I couldn’t be responsible for everything.)

But after we snap at each other, after we disagree or she thinks I’m lecturing her (I am) and I think she’s rewriting history (she is), we apologize. We make it up to each other. Sometimes we explain ourselves. And after that, we’re friendly again.

She tells me that she never imagined that I would one day be the kid she got along with the best. And I overlook the implied insult and take it in the spirit she means it in.

In a few months, I’m taking her on a trip she’s wanted to go on her entire life. She wants to see the place in Norway that her grandmother was from. And she wants to see Scotland because, well, why not?

I’m not just taking her because she wants to go. I want to go too. I always thought I’d travel more than I have in my life, and of course, I still can. But I’m not the adventurer I was when I was young. I’ve never been to Europe without my husband. I haven’t visited South America. Or Hawaii.

And mom? Well, not getting any younger or healthier. She has a couple of long-term conditions and she’s survived cancer. Twice.

And I make no predictions about this, but someday one of us is going to have to learn to live without the other. One day one of us will reach for the phone for one of those ten minute conversations we have about nothing and the other won’t be there. But you know what we will have?

Memories.

Whatever else I bring back from this trip, food or clothes or a million pictures of sunset over Dafjord, the most important thing will be memories. Like of me learning to drive on the left and my mom yelling, “Keep to the left! Keep to the left!” Or of us standing and looking down at the ocean. Or meals, or great places to drink beer, or just hanging out and watching it rain.

What? I hear they do that a lot in Scotland.

I hope that we’ll have a great time. I hope that every day of the trip is an adventure, and that we have nice weather and don’t hit any livestock or have to visit a chemist. But if we do? My mom will be there with me to help me learn the ropes. Just like she was when I had kids, or when I was graduating from college, or when I was learning to drive standard. She might not know any more than I will, but she’ll be supportive when I’m figuring it out.

And maybe that’s all you need.

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Why We Separate Church and State

Source: Why We Separate Church and State

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My Year In Review

I debated whether to put this up, but the blog is about the writing life. I had a bunch of steps forward. And some back, it’s true.

High points:

  1. Drafted the Polish Boy Scouts project.
  2. Got 23 pages of it ready for a critique group.
  3. Beta readers. I love them!
  4. Big edits on What You Stand For. And yet another new opening. But I’m overall pleased with the progress and I think I’ll be done after this batch of Beta reads.
  5. Draft and outline of What You Settle For.

 

Low points:

  1. I wanted to have What You Reach for drafted, and I don’t.
  2. I’m not reading enough. Not enough research, not enough fiction, not enough “help me I don’t know how to write a book” books.
  3. One definition of stalking includes using the internet to get information about someone you used to have a relationship with, but don’t any longer. So, awesome. I have a stalker. But it’s my name and my life and I’m sorry this person didn’t think of that when it mattered. I’m not going to run away, change my online name and all the things I’ve worked hard on, because I am not the coward.
  4. I’m not blogging enough either.

 

So, resolutions? I don’t really have any. Other than being sick for the past few days, I’ve been working and doing all the stuff I’m supposed to do. I rearranged my kitchen again and have found a use for the narrow cabinets I got.

Here’s hoping for a fabulous year for all of us!

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Here’s to All the Beta Readers!

I love Beta readers. Love, love, love them.

I’ve scrambled to get the book posted today. Now it’s up and ready to be read, critiqued, loved, hated. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that three people have agreed to read it and give me their honest opinions and feedback on what’s working, what doesn’t, and how the whole thing fits together.

So, I’m happy!

And I get to read their books too! It’s exciting to help people this way!

I’ve considered hiring myself out as a developmental editor. So many of the ideas I have for books I critique are for things that could happen or how to fit it into a plot structure.

Hope everyone is having a great week! It’s the longest night of the year and I feel obligated to sit up all night and celebrate it. But then, I was always a night person.

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Saving to Read

It’s been a stressful month! It’s still a challenge, handling all the young people and animals and all the fun, exciting activities!

I’m considering exploring mental illness in my next book. Those of you who know me in person know that I’ve had to deal with narcissists in my life. I’m thinking about adding this as a theme, especially as undiagnosed. And are addicts generally narcissists? It certainly seems to be true that if there’s an addict in a house, the entire family’s life revolves around the addiction.

Here are a few articles I’m hoping to get around to reading.

http://parrishmiller.com/narcissists.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/6-ways-to-know-you-were-raised-by-narcissists_us_5616b091e4b0082030a18f72

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/communication-success/201602/10-signs-narcissistic-parent

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love/201105/the-narcissistic-family-tree

http://www.drcraigmalkin.com/blog/the-link-between-narcissism-and-drug-addiction

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Still pushing on the draft…

Well, it’s going OK. Like many people I got behind on my word count due to the election and the stress that brought. And it brought up a lot of questions.

It’s a good thing I’m only in the first draft. I think putting parallels between then and now in the book would be overwhelming.

Like many of us, I’m taking comfort in how close the election really was. And I’ve been thinking about the Electoral College, as many of us have. It had two purposes: 1) to make sure the slave states’ interests were considered in choosing a president and 2) to make sure that an unqualified person wasn’t elected. We don’t have slaves in America anymore, and we’ve elected an unqualified person that the Electors are going to vote into office. So why do we have it if it doesn’t serve any purpose?

But I digress.

Friends’ posts the past several days have brought up some questions I’m not sure I know the answers to. So I’m going to put them here for the moment so that I can remember that I want to know what they are.

  1. What is fascism? How does it differ from other totalitarian movements? Does it have to be totalitarian?
  2. What is a state? Do nations have to have borders? What makes people part of one country and not another?
  3. Is nonlinear time going to work for this story? Everyone knows how World War II ends, but if I have fictional characters don’t I have to tell it in sequence?

All right; I’m about a thousand words behind. The current goal is to write a little extra every day, so I’m hoping to get caught up by the weekend. I’m not having any trouble thinking of things to write (I have a list of 11 main events on my bulletin board) and each girl seems to have a distinct voice. I’ve had a couple of historical characters stop by and it doesn’t feel shoe-horned to me. I will say that it feels a bit weird to say things like “the Scouts’ guns were kept in the basement” and things like that. I might just start referring to them as the Harcerki instead.

Okay, everybody…back to work!

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As I Go To Bed on Election Night

I’m okay.

I’m disappointed, but I’m okay.

It looks like Heydrich is going to have all the votes he needs, and the Congress. The Supreme Court is next. So the tea partiers will finally have that mandate they’ve been pretending to have all along. Also, it will scare the crap out of them.

(For those who don’t know: my theory is that Heydrich is the linchpin in Amazon’s excellent series, The Man in the High Castle. In real life Heydrich was killed in 1943; in the series, he’s alive in 1962. So I think his survival is where the timeline split. And the unreality of this election is such that I feel like our timeline split today).

So, here are my predictions for the next four years:

  1. Heydrich will lose all interest now that he’s won. Mike Pence will be the real president.
  2. Abortion rights will continue to be chipped away, but not gotten rid of entirely. Republican congressmen’s daughters get pregnant, too.
  3. Obamacare is over. But the way it will go–pre-existing conditions won’t be covered; Heydrich really will introduce death panels; gynecologists will be terrified to practice–will piss off a nation.
  4. It will become embarrassingly clear that the administration has no plans and the clothes have no emperor.
  5. There will be some huge scandal, like clemency-for-cash. America will shrug.
  6. I still think there will be major upheavals in both political parties.
  7. I think the alt-left will be founded, from sheer frustration that the truth didn’t set us free. It didn’t do anything except make people even less likely to use logic and reason. We’ll start posting lies that we KNOW are lies, because America will get stupider by the minute. I’m ashamed that Heydrich will sit in the same chair that Ronald Reagan sat it. And I hated Ronald Reagan.
  8. I will still be the same person. I won’t hate people because they’re gay, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, African-American, trans, etc. I will still be writing this book, but with more impetus than ever. Because the deeper I go, the more I can see that Heydrich is the most dangerous of them all.

I’ll be watching you, Heydrich. I will never call you leader of our country. When you come for my neighbors, I’ll speak up right away. And you can start your dumb Twitter war with me any time you like. And when you turn my country over to Putin, I’ll remember that I knew who you were.

Also, I want to point out that it being Heydrich’s turn fits the pattern of American presidential politics. We get eight years, they get eight years. Poor people? Too bad you let your desperation change who you are. Heydrich isn’t going to help you. He’s going to help himself, at your expense. Your kids are still going to get crappy educations and you still aren’t getting your jobs back. So the joke’s on you. Except that it isn’t funny.

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NaNo, again!

I have some news to report, other than that I’m participating this year.

I’m drafting the Polish Scouts project, tentatively called Shooting Diamonds at the Enemy. The full quote is, “We belong to a nation whose fate is to shoot at the enemy with diamonds.” Stanislaw Pigon, an eminent Polish professor of literature, said this on learning that Kryzstof Kamil Baczynski, a talented young poet, had joined the Szare Szeregi. Baczynski was killed in the Warsaw Uprising at the age of 23. Because all history has sad endings.

I think that’s going to be a theme in this work: you don’t save something or someone forever, you save it for today. Also, it’s fiction: the endings aren’t all sad. Everybody doesn’t have to die in the end.

I’m also committed to writing this story in non-linear time. I think. Maybe. If I’m smart enough. Everybody knows how World War II ends; and if you’re like me and you see some unfamiliar character, don’t you Google them to find out who they are? And what happened to them?

Anyway, I have started with the story of the German family. I’ve had to have two fictional characters (Sophie and Hannah) who are sisters; Hannah is much older so she’s going to have more things happen to her leading up to the war. It’s a way to tell about eugenics, and the bride schools, and various other pre-war stuff, and still be able to leave Sophie, Emily and Daria for the part of the story that happens during the war.

And it also looks like it’s going to be a set of three or four books.

I’ve been quite pleased though that the voice is coming fairly naturally, at least for Sophie. Now, how to make this girl a True Believer? And for her to come back again?

I guess that’s what the first draft is for. Last year’s NaNo book surprised me, too.

 

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Yeah, Twice a Week. Really!

Hi, out there!

I really am still here. But today my husband brought home my NEW LAPTOP. And so i’m sitting at my desk in my office wondering why the hell I didn’t have one of these before!

My old laptop, as you might recall, bit the dust. It’s still usable but only barely. So now here I am with the Dell Inspiron¬† 15, 7000 series. It has a 15″ touchscreen and you can flip it around so it’s in tablet mode.

I don’t honestly think I will ever use it in tablet mode, at least not without a big table to put it on. It’s pretty lightweight. And most importantly, the keyboard is the one they have on the 13″ screens.

Yes, I’m that woman.

When Bic came out with pens that were sized for women? Secretly happy. My hands are small; my wedding ring is a size 5 1/2. My son has a big 17″ laptop and I can’t type on it because the keys are so far apart. This one? Perfect.

I just wish a new laptop made the writing shinier.

I’ve spent the past hour or so…in deep research for the Polish Scouts? Which I’m going to start drafting on Tuesday? No, I’ve been looking for my passwords so I can put all my accounts on here. And I’d like to pretend that this was the first one, but it’s more like the fifteenth.

By the way, Dell hasn’t paid me for my input. But if they want to? I’m totally open to taking money.

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A Poem Happened Today

So, those of you who know me in person know that I don’t write poetry. At all. I don’t even really like to read it. Have something to say? Well, say it so we know what you’re talking about! Let’s all move on with our lives!

Maybe it’s because the Polish Scouts project has taken a sudden turn for the literary. It’s turning into the kind of thing I might need an MFA for it to be taken seriously. I have a really good idea that I’m still not sure I’m skilled enough to pull off. And earlier today, I finally got my first fragment of this story: the ending scene popped into my head, and I wrote it down.

Tonight I took my son to Santa Fe for orchestra and waited for him at Joe’s Pizza (WHICH IS AMAZING. Shout-out to my new buds there, who seated me near the bar and surrounded me with beautiful artworks). I was doing research–“Nazi Women,” which includes a lot of personal profiles. And I was still thinking about the structure of the book and what I’m going to have to do to it to make it readable and meaningful. And while I was thinking about that, this poem started stalking me.

In the five minutes between leaving Joe’s and arriving at Santa Fe High School, this poem started talking to me. I really can’t describe it better than that. I don’t feel like I wrote it. When I stopped the car I wrote it down, and here at home I spent some time cleaning it up. And here it is.

Evil is never fully-formed

arriving in precise jackboot strides

banging on the door in the middle of the night while we wait, breathless, on the other side

shoving you down the alley, impatient, hot demands into the side of your neck

wearing the burka or the swastika or the turban or the diamond cufflinks

running in the streams of blood, in our veins or at Babi Yar or the ravines and shadows of places even further away

fired from the big gun in the hands of the little man

Evil doesn’t announce itself.

Evil comes in small pieces.

In the relief that the knock is for the neighbor and before that, the casual lie that the neighbor is to be feared. Not like us,

we’re normal.

Calling me a bitch for not being afraid of you, not subservient enough, not decorated enough.

Creeps in the window left open just a crack for the night air to cool you, to soothe you to sleep

(it won’t hurt if it’s just a little bit)

(and it isn’t really bad)

(and no one saw, no one knows I’m meeting you here)

But I did.

Evil in small doses, like a live vaccine

And we think we’re immune

When it’s already living in us.

I’m not afraid of evil that marches in sloppy formation and shoots to kill.

The worst evil shoots to wound, to hurt on purpose.

Wounds heal, and we are not who we were.

Evil floats in on a breeze of not caring, the night air carrying the screams

and we pretend it’s just crickets.

It sees the streams of blood and says “Not mine. So what?”

Starts with a dry academic idea debated by men with voices like dead leaves

Reduces Them to ashes and shadows on the sidewalk.

“So what? It’s just Them.”

An easy lie, smooth words that you think are the truth or you don’t care that they aren’t the truth. “They deserve it.”

And then you help.

And the face of evil becomes your own.

 

 

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