Monday, June 30, 2008

Neither Rain nor Snow - Carrying the mail 101

Writing for most of us is not the most dependable way to make a living, or even spare change it seems until you get some sales and get going. So most of us have at least one other job or work at home caring for their children.

I work as a Rural Carrier for the United States Postal Service.

Sometimes people think, like I used to, that mail carriers have it easy. They just show up at the post office. Someone loads their mail for their route in order into their vehicle. They then proceed to just amble along and poke the mail into the mail boxes. This couldn't be further from the truth!

Rural Carrier delivering from the passenger seat. Many of us drive and deliver from the middle of the front seat or straddled on the console.

The truck arrives in our small town from the distribution center around 6 am. The mail handlers and clerks unload racks of mail - presorted letters, letters that weren't able to be presorted, tubs of presorted flats and huge bins of flats (magazines, oversize envelopes, newspapers, advertisements) that must be sorted within the next two hours so that the arriving carriers can 'case' them for delivery and leave the PO by around 9:30 or 10:00.

All of this activity has time, volume and accuracy factors. The carriers arrive an hour or so after the delivery truck and begin casing the presorted letters. Though the letters are presorted, each piece must be verified to make sure it isn't out of sequence and delivered to the wrong box.

Mail Carrier casing mail.

Then each carrier must collect the 35lb totes of flats that must also be cased around the letters in order of the route. Once the mail is cased and packages sorted by customer and marked, it must be 'pulled down' into smaller bundles and transferred to large tubs which can hold several hundred pounds of mail and packages.

The tub is rolled out to the carrier's truck or SUV or car. Each carrier loads the contents of the tub into their vehicle making provisions for bad weather. Most routes require the carrier to be finished by mid afternoon.

In the case of Rural Carriers these are their personal vehicles and at today's gas prices most carriers don't make enough off their gas and maintenance allowance to cover anything but gas.

Add to that wasps, snakes, birds in mailboxes, dogs, irate customers and highway hazards and you wonder why mail carriers don't get hazardous duty pay.

A recent web article reported that during National Dog Bite Awareness week a customer sicked their pitt bull on the carrier for trying to deliver a certified letter! Recent statistics pegged the number of dog bites nationally at 4.7 million, with letter carriers comprising the third-highest number of victims.

That's why when someone says to me - Oh, it's okay, he won't bite - I stay in my truck.

Mail carriers really don't want recognition though it's nice to receive appreciative comments from customers who realize how tough the job is. But next time you see a mail carrier driving along the shoulder, maybe you could move over and allow them onto the highway. Or maybe you could clean the wasps and birds nests out of your mailbox.

Next time you hear about national security, think about the mail carriers who keep your mail safe.

But even if you don't, we'll still keep doing what we do, because we believe we provide an invaluable service, especially in these days of high gas prices.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lions for Lambs

CFM and I were watching the movie Wednesday night and I made the comment to my CP, Leah, that I loved his movies and tought he should have won a best actor award by now.

She said she thought no matter what movie he was in, he's still Tom Cruise.

OKAY, I have to admit. She's right. I sat through the rest of the movie thinking Tom Cruise just doesn't seem like a senator. He just seems like Tom Cruise.

I DID LOVE HIM in Top Gun though. I've watched that movie 50 times - everybody at my house used to run when it came on.

Who are your favorite actors?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Weekly Quote

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

Virginia Woolf

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

High Speed Access

Welcome to my world. For the last six years or so the phone company has been giving us the same old line. "I'm sorry. DSL is not yet available in your area but it may be in six months. Which leaves us with only two options, dialup (one dialup server handles all the small ISPs in the area - the standard connection is 19,000bps) or satellite.

Satellite is like fast dialup only with interruptions for storms in our area (Central Louisiana) and our gateway (Duluth - you got it, Minnesota)

Imagine you sit down to your browser and click a bookmark from your list, then you count. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleve.. okay it's up. Instead of nearly immediate access to pages like real high speed internet, satellite users wait for 8-25 seconds for pages to load.

There are a few issues with that: First, I don't have the time to wait on page after page to load, to follow other links, to input, to update. True high speed would save me a couple of hours a day.

The service is only 'good' in perfect weather. If a thick white cloud shows up to the south, the speed slows down to a crawl.

And the cost of satellite, the medium plan is $70 a month! This is a prime source of irritation to me when the bulk of satellite users are in rural areas without other options and yet the government has yet to do what they've promised for years - make fast access to internet available for everyone.

The problem is not technology or distance from the local station because in Mississippi my friend who lives 30 miles from the closest station has received high speed access a year ago through fiber-optics.

So, give me a little feedback. I know I'll just be even more irritated but I'd like to know what's the average length of time it takes for your pages to load.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Patting myself on the back

Okay, a couple days ago I mentioned my being 120 lbs. Ha! You should not take that to mean my current weight.

ALTHOOOOOUGH, the change of eating habits I started with the Six Week Body Makeover two? months ago is still going very well. I'm going to actually admit to how much I weighed when I started. And then I'll include - gasp, I can't believe I'm going to do this - a picture of then and now. Hey, the picture I saw a couple weeks ago of me just before I started that diet convinced me that I do NOT want to look like that again. I don't want to eat like that. I don't want to FEEL like that.

I'm not trim and in shape by any means but I fit into a reasonable size, and don't look like my mother. I'm also eating MUCH healthier and considerably smaller portions. Basically this diet, after you determine the types of foods for your body type, is eating 5-6 very small portions of food at regular intervals.

I used to be proud of keeping up with the men at the all you can eat buffet. Typical American glutton. And that mentality got me into a lifestyle of bulimia from my teens. Once I quit, my weight gradually began increasing because I couldn't control my calorie intake.

My aunt sat next to me one time and said, "Ok, now put your fork down and chew. I couldn't. I felt like I was imprisoned. I literally couldn't take my hand away from the fork.

Something has to change for you to be ready. Some catalyst - a bad doctor's visit, needing a new wardrobe, feeling awful - something. In my case, I had always said I wouldn't allow myself to get as out of shape and overweight as my mother. Now, I'm five-two and wear a size 3!!! wedding ring so I figured FAT for me would be 150.

Three months ago I stepped on the scale and I weighed 155! I must have made an unconscious decision because two days later, the Six Week Body Makeover DVD arrived. And I haven't looked back. It's very inconvenient when you're away from home, or even at home, to have small meals prepared so that you can eat breakfast, midmorning, lunch, mid afternoon, dinner and then late evening. It's even harder to find the foods you need on the run unless you live in a big city where the grocery stores have healthy salad bars. So I broil my chicken and beef and vegetables for the week on Sunday. I make up a batch of rice noodles, get a can of seasoned mustard greens and snack through the day on my little pre-portioned meals.

I thought about Nutrisystem. But frankly, I didn't want to spend that much and once the Nutrisystem meals stop coming you have to learn to do it on your own. This plan appealed to me because of the educational aspect. I understand more about the incorrect foods I was eating. For instance, rice is complex, natural carb which sustains energy when you're exercising even. But pasta is pounds of flour, worked and compressed into a form that is not as good for you. An orange is better than orange juice because - duh - how many oranges does it take to make a glass of orange juice? So much common sense but also some good information.

WELL, here it is - OMG - I can't believe it's only been seven weeks! And I'm down to 135. It feels so good not to be quite so overweight. But I'm going to keep eating like this and get down to what they used to call a 'set point', a natural place for your weight to rest. And I must get back to that treadmill at my target heart rate.

Yeh, me! For once I didn't do it for anyone BUT me. That's probably why I was successful.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Honey, Hold That Tree

This week I read a couple blog posts, one by Robin Rotham from April 27 and Danielle Baer's that reminded me about the differences in the way men and women think. I thought of an experience that gets a new life everytime my husband wants help doing some task that's a little out of his league. His adventures would have made a great TV series like the one with Tim Allen.

He was cutting down some small pine trees near the house. He...misjudged the direction it would fall. Hint: NOT away from the house. So his solution was to put a rope around the tree and hand it to me, all 5'2" 120 lbs of me, and say, "Here, hold that tree!"

It doesn't take a very astute person to know what would happen next. And he has returned to this methodology many times. The reason?

Ever tried to interrupt a man while he's working on a household project? I get, "I can't talk to you right now" or "What! I'm busy." Guys are TOTALLY in the moment.

Next time you hear a meditation guru say something like 'be present' or 'be in the moment' just think like your man. They have it down pat.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Today was my parents' wedding anniversary. The Washington Post had a huge picture of my mother and her twin and their double wedding at a large church in D.C.

Here's one of my favorite pictures of them.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Word Meter

I spent some time doing maintenance yesterday since I had gotten my manuscript off. I've been avoiding cleaning and everything else for weeks. Well, months. I also had some blog and website stuff that needed to be done.

Leahposted about the new blog list on Monday. It's such a cool feature! I love it.

I was tired of my word meters so I changed them out. Take a look. This was a different Zokutou word meter than I'd seen before.

I used red, bronze and blue in the classic style.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Another one bites the dust

Another goal, that is. I mailed my partial manuscript of OTHR yesterday and what a chore that was! It was much much easier and quicker to email my submission the day before to the agent.

My goal was to submit OTHR, formerly MOL, by June 17th to beat the RWA rush into the agents and publishers in August. I should have considered that mailing it to Canada was going to be a bit different than mailing within the US. I had read the guidelines on HQ's website but once I started thinking about the details I had all sorts of questions:

1. They don't use the same stamps do they, so how am I going to send a SASE?
2. It's going to be more expensive to mail internationally - MUCH!
3. Tracking wasn't going to be easy since the postal clerks were telling me that I couldn't track it past the border of the US unless I sent it Global International Guaranteed 1-3 days for get this - $43.75.
4. What were my options on getting the manuscript or a response returned?

My CP, Leah, found something in the FAQ on HQ's site which said you could simply mail a check for the return postage. Thank God for Leah. She's so patient when I'm obsessing over the details (but it was my first child to leave the nest). Thanks, Leah, for not sending the Canuck Incredible Hulk after me.

Well, I thought that was the simple solution, I had the return postage taken care of. But once I decided to spring for the $43.75 to get it there in three days or less, i.e., by the end of the week, they couldn't find any Global Express envelopes! Our clerk at the PO couldn't remember ever sending anything that way. (Remember we're not in the BIG CITY.)

Finally, I settled on Express Mail International which ended up costing $23.75 and 'should' get there in five days which would put it at HQ in Ontario by Tuesday! That was acceptable.

But next time I set goals depending on the destination, I'll allow for more transit time. Though I'd still probably send it via some tracking enabled method.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Solitary occupation

Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.

Jessica West

Can you relate?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Revising and looking back

I was reading in Maisel's, A Writer's Paris, where a woman had been writing for a long time and finally she got a major advance of $15,000. Her husband said to her - "Let's see. If my calculations are correct, that means you made about 22 cents an hour." (Sounds like CFMan.)

When I pitched MOL in Shreveport it was at 82k. FIMB was a nearly complete novella at 14k. I returned from Nola Stars with a request from an editor and an agent for a partial on MOL and FIMB, and finished them. Then, I started slashing some indepth sub plots and a couple love scenes out of MOL to see if it would work as a 65k novel. That put me into early April.

It is now the second week in June, and I'm just completing revisions on the partial manuscript to submit next week. Amazing how much I've accomplished since the close of crawfish season. The good news is that I set June 15th as an achievable goal a couple months ago and it looks like I'm on target.

Now, I know that getting a first novel ready for submission takes longer because of the learning curve, applying the craft you've learned in the process, working out critiquing relationships and conventions with writing partners. I also had to work around the job and Joe's seasonal crawfish business.

But it's daunting when you look back at three months work and you didn't start anything new. My CP's been busy, submitting two and starting two. Of course one of mine was full length and you might as well say that now I have two versions, 65k and 90k. I also have partial wips of some connected stories that can be developed fairly quickly and I've been collecting characters and situations for RCM.

The thing is I'm happy with the product that's been produced and I'm doing it for a lot less than 22 cents an hour right now. And I know now that if I never sell - great racking shiver...

I'd do it anyway.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Here's your sign

I purchased one of those gag signs with CFMan in mind. It said:

Please observe the following rules:
1. If you open it, shut it.
2. If you turn it on, turn it off.
3. If it's trash, throw it out.
4. If you take it out, put it back.
5. If you make a mess, clean it up.
...that's the gist of it.

CFman took one look at it and said, "That's a great sign. I need one of those to put up at the CF trailer. It says it all in a nutshell." (This from the man who leaves used paper towels lying on the counter, the air conditioner running, the refrigerator door open, and on...)

I just laughed and said, "Happy Father's Day!"

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Age of Inspiration

A friend of mine told me yesterday that her son who is 8 is writing a series of books. When they are complete he wants them to be sold together like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc. He killed the main character off in the second book and his son took over.

His mom said, "Honey, that might be kind of violent for a children's book." He said, "Then I'll sell it to teens." Whew. Smart kid. No doubt an author in the making.

It made me wonder when I first began writing fictional stories. I was so steeped in reality and mom rules when I was growing up that I didn't allow myself to write fiction. I read facts about the human body and astronomy. I journaled from the time I could read. I observed, kept track, but didn't comment - that wasn't allowed.

My first time was ten years ago at a creative writing class at the local college when I wrote about our alcoholic home during my teenage years.

When did you start writing fictional stories or to achieve a goal?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Out til Friday

I have training in Jackson this week so I won't be posting til Friday. Please come back! and have an awesome week.

Friday, June 6, 2008

For Feliz and Spider

I was touched to read Jordan Dane's tribute to Feliz, her 16yr old pet who passed away recently on the Avon blog.

I, too, lost a very special baby.

Ironically, I found my tribute to Spider the same day I read Jordan's blog so I'll share it because the wound is as fresh today as it was then, nearly three years ago.

'I awoke early this morning crying.

I have accepted that our precious little loveball, Spider, may not be with us long.

She came to us after much abuse - her previous owner once put her in a drawer to keep her quiet. And she suffers from congestive heart failure and liver complications. We are walking a fine line with her medications between keeping her well and happy and doing her in!

She has given me such tremendous joy. I don't believe anyone has ever loved me as she has. Oh, I know my husband loves me, but he doesn't greet me with a waddling spider walk, funny grins and entreat me to love on him til I just can't do it anymore.

When I find him outside he doesn't flip over and raise his arms and legs to me, kicking like an excited newborn until I reach for him.

And there's something precious about a companion that races across the bed and buries her nose in his neck to cuddle aggressively - I don't do that for him either!

Maybe that's why God allowed this little love angel into our lives - so that we could experience that special all-out love that we should show each other.

Thank you, my little love, we will never forget you. Now Cleo can enjoy your special companionship in Heaven's garden.'

Even with the pain and grief, we would not have traded a second with Spider for a different healthier pup.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Noisy Mind

Do you get so twisted up with life's vagaries, family problems, insecurities that you have trouble writing?

Eric Maisel gives 7 principles in his book Deep Writing that we should learn in order to make our writing MORE. He is a therapist and creative coach who will be at the RWA conference in San Francisco this year.

'Human beings are psychological creatures. This may seem self-evident, yet the writer who does not write, or who writes but does not write deeply, rarely turns to herself to ask, "What's my nature, and what in my nature is the problem?

A writer is much more inclined to take a hundred workshops than to stop and say, "My parents did a terrific job of controlling me and maybe I've turned into a control freak myself. That's a real problem? If I'm spending all my energy trying to control things, there's no chance I can write deeply."

...we can get twisted up early on and never get untwisted.'

WHOA! Did that hit you like it hit me? I could quit there. He's hooked me.

The seven principles:
1. Hush the mind.
2. Holding the intention
2. Making choices
4. Honoring the process
5. Befriending the work
6. Evaluating the work
7. Doing what's required

NUMBER ONE - My mind stays noisy. I figure if he can help me 'hush' it so that I can focus on the creative process, his advice will be priceless.

The point is to write deeply - actually , I gather the point is to delve deeply (is that a sign!) into our experiences, our brain, loves, losses, trace memories, to a 'quiet state of readiness, empty your mind, activate your mind', your being and your heart empty fully into the process.

He ends the intro with this profound statement.

'Our psychological issues really do prevent us from holding ideas, starting projects, maintaining momentum, and respecting ourselves and our efforts. We need to get well, or at least better, because we deserve relief from the pain and we need emotional freedom.

That sense of (healthy) wholeness and well-being must be a wonderful place to make art from.'

I'm sure you can relate. I wish I was going to be a RWA to meet this guy!

Important stuff!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

MOL update

FINALLY!!! I got my revisions done on MOL to a point where I'm satisfied with it enough to send to my CP for final look. Of course she might disagree once she sees the changes I made.

I was only going to go in and fix the love scene but I started at the beginning and saw many sentences that needed restructuring, a few punctuation changes for better flow, just a lot of little things. But I felt good about most of the changes.

I know, it's late to be re-re-re-vising, but I felt it added to the MS. We'll see what Leah thinks.

Anyway, now I get to move on to the synopsis and I'm actually looking forward to it. But have to clean out my office, hang clothes, straighten the house and do wash before I can think clearly about it. Kind of clear the canvas.

My June 17th deadline should still be achievable for submission.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


For Leah -

To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also - believe.

Anatole France