To Retreat or Not to Retreat

Writers  dream of time to write without distractions, and some even pay to be left alone in a strange place, coming out only when they have written enough words or chapters to feel they can socialize without guilt. Even though I’m a social creature, I dreamed often of being alone. Then a dear, dear friend built a cabin in the mountains near Telluride, about two hours’ drive from my home. “It’s yours,” she said, “to use whenever you want.”

So I do. It’s off the grid on a driveway that winds for a mile from the nearest gravel road. No lights at night. Only the sounds of elk bugling or an occasional bear blundering through the brush. Cougars leave paw prints near the spring. Showering outdoors just as the sun illuminates the far peaks breaks my heart and mind open; some of my best phrases and ideas have been precipitated by steaming spring water flowing over me.

Journal and tea on the deck as the sun rises. Then the laptop booted up in the living room and hour upon hour of nothing to do but write. All the deliberate and overheard conversations find their way into my latest romance or mystery or article. Plot twists that crept out of midnight shadows and dark dreams creep into a chapter here and there. Characters who have been giving me the silent treatment suddenly won’t shut up and my fingers can barely keep up with their chatter.

The sun shortens shadows to puddles under the pines at noon. It’s time to recharge the laptop with solar power and myself with a stroll  to my friend’s cabin just down the hill, lunch, conversation on the patio, and then back to writing until cocktail time rolls around.

Would I want to do it every day? Don’t think so. I need other environments, other people, to flesh out my experience. Yet every month or so, between snow melt and the first blizzard I retreat and write because writing saves my sanity and my soul.

The Rudest Question

So I’m having lunch and the server brings my bill, which amounts to $10.75. I put $20 in the folder, with the money showing at the top. The server picks it up and says, “Do you want change?” I bite my tongue to keep from saying, “No, honey, I mean to tip you a hundred percent, even though you never filled my water, never checked to see if everything was all right, and spent time playing kissy-feely with the busboy.”

Gently I explained to her that money sticking out means the guest wants change. I also say gently, I hope, “That’s a really rude question. The only proper response when a person is ready to settle up is ‘I’ll be right back with your change.'”

I waited tables and tended bar for many years and never, ever would have dreamed of asking such a question. It’s like the server deciding how much I’m going to tip. And it sounds like that person should be “flying the sign” on the corner with the other panhandlers. It diminishes the dining experience and casts the staff member as greedy, lazy and/or clueless.

When I’ve called servers on their rudeness I’ve had some tell me, “The management trains us to say that.” Then I, maybe not so gently, ask for the manager and ‘splain to him/her, Lucy, that I won’t be back and will not recommend the establishment to others until it changes its training procedure. I get a lot of defensiveness, but I’ve also been thanked because they’ve had no idea how people resent the question.

I may be tilting at windmills with my campaign to bring civility back to social interactions but I don’t care. I’ll keep doing it, and Sancho Panza’s got my back, baby.

These Ones? Yikes!

For some bizarre reason, younger people have started to say “these ones here” and “those ones there” when asked where something is. Just writing those horrid constructions makes my teeth ache! Where the heck did they pick that up? I hope not from public school teachers, who should know better.

Which could lead to a rant about “when I was a kid…” but I’ve come to terms with the sorry state of education and give thanks every day that I don’t have to deal with Common Core, infinite testing, and other atrocities inflicted on pupils by a government that can’t even fix its own broken system. Oops! Sorry about that there almost rant.

So am I out of line when I kindly suggest that they don’t need to add “one” or “ones” as qualifiers when asked where one might find tee shirts or Trac phones? Or should this old lady toddle off into the sunset with aching teeth and let them continue mangling the language? So far I’m charging ahead and refuse to toddle anywhere for at least another 40 years. So there, youse ones.

“Where do you get your ideas?”

Every writer has fielded that question, probably more than once. My short answer: “You don’t want to live in my head!” Which can be a pretty scary place at times. Actually, ideas come from myriad sources: dreams; newspaper or magazine stories; spins on folk tales; a possible title that springs into my head; an event, large or small, that piques my imagination; an overheard comment or conversation.

But the one question a writer relies on most is “What if?” Walking my dogs on a trail just outside of Lead, South Dakota, I happened upon a clearing where a giant puffball mushroom was growing. On the way home, I asked, “What if that puffball mushroom turned out to be a skull? What if it belonged to a child? What if there was more than one?” These questions formed the basis of Season of Evil, Season of Dreams, my first Ben Logan mystery.

Many years and many revisions later, the book was published. I’ve completed the second in the series and am starting work on the third. All from asking “What if?”