AMW Retreat: January 2017

What is it with writers and retreats?

I don’t know, but that doesn’t keep me from retreating.

Last weekend, Austin Mystery Writers withdrew to Lake Buchanan.

AMW retreat on Lake Buchanan, January 2017.
AMW retreat on Lake Buchanan, January 2017

The house where we stayed is way out there–waaaaaaaaaaaay out there–and I had trouble finding it. It was one more instance of leaving the address tucked away safely in my email inbox.

img_0481-2When I reached the end of the road–literally–I turned around, retraced the route to the nearest post office and, fingers crossed, asked for directions to the nearest establishment offering free wi-fi. The postmaster directed me to her best guess, then said, “But it’s a bar.” I didn’t care. I can’t stand the smell of beer, but I’d have been glad to buy a six-pack for the privilege of Internet access.

I was on my way out when she said, “Wait. You can use my computer.” When the United States Postal Service declined to connect to gmail, she pulled out her mobile phone, accessed my account, and said, “You should change your password, of course, when you get home.” I wrote down the address, she gave me further directions, and in less than five minutes, I was where I should have been a half-hour before. Or maybe a full hour.*

img_0482In his essay “El Dorado,” Robert Louis Stevenson writes, “Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”

I agree. I always travel hopefully and, most of the time, enjoy winding around, wondering whether I’ve passed the point of no return. There comes a time, however, when I’m relieved to finally arrive.

And so ends the obligatory account of my most recent episode of winding around. Now to get on with the retreat.

Come to think of it, there’s not a lot to get on with. We sat outside and watched birds flying and sticks floating; and discussed whether one stick, which stayed in the same place for a long time, wasn’t a stick but instead something that might crawl out of the lake and bite somebody, namely us; and monitored current events by periodically glancing at the television, sound off; and, when the spirit moved, ate.

Evidence of writing. AMW retreat on Lake Buchanan, January 2017
Evidence of writing. AMW retreat on Lake Buchanan, January 2017

But most of the time, we wrote. I slapped down over 1900 words in one day. It’s been ages since I did that. Many of them won’t end up in the final version of the story, and those that do will be shifted from page to page before settling. But, to quote novelist Nancy Peacock, in A Broom of One’s Own, “if I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love.”**

I expected to take pictures but was too relaxed/lazy to get out my camera until Sunday. A cold front had come in overnight, and that morning the lake was choppy. I wish my photos had picked up the whitecaps. I also wish they could show the tranquility of our surroundings.

The other photos are wretched, but I include them to prove that on our writing retreat we actually wrote.

So what is it with writers and retreats? Getting away from routine, from everyday-ness and common distractions, refreshing the mind and the soul, opening new vistas, viewing life from new perspectives…

All of the above. None of the above. It doesn’t matter.

To paraphrase Rhett Butler, I don’t give a hoot.


*Small-town postmasters are some of the kindest, most helpful people there are anywhere in the world.

**Read my 4-sentence review of A Broom of One’s Own. The review begins about halfway down the page, below the ********************.

William and Me: Annual Report

For several months, William has been taking insulin injections.

William, 2016. Up and at 'em.
William, 2016. Up and at ’em.

The good news is that he cooperates, mostly. If he’s downstairs when shot time comes around, David grabs him and puts him on his lap; I give the shot. If he’s upstairs on the bed, that’s different.

David goes up first and pets him. I follow a minute later. When he sees me, he starts to get up. David positions him so I can scruff him. Sometimes before I get hold of him, he lunges, and David has to redouble his efforts. Then I give him the shot and we pet him and tell him he’s a good kitty, something he already knows, and that’s that. In short, he doesn’t mind the shot, just the temporary loss of free will.

The most difficult part is scruffing him. There’s not much to scruff. Sometimes I have to try several times to pull up enough skin so the needle doesn’t go too deep. The veterinarian has trouble, too.

The other good news is that in all the time I’ve been sticking a needle into him, I’ve stuck it into myself only three times.

The second other good news is that have I never injected myself with insulin.

The really, really good news is that I always stuck myself before, or instead of, sticking him.

Ernest, 2012. Probably the day he chewed a cable in two.
Ernest, 2012. Probably the day he chewed a cable in two.

Except for once last week when the needle went through his skin and into my thumb. As I said, there isn’t much up there to scruff. Since them, I’ve aimed more carefully.

The best news is that his blood sugar is down and he’s back to his old self, wrestling with Ernest (William starts it); staying downstairs more; playing with the Filthy Pink Mouse; grabbing my hand, holding on (claws), and biting my fingers. Sometimes he just licks my hand. That’s icky, worse than the biting.


It’s been a calendar year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

My good news is that I finished chemo (the evil drug) at the end of May and now am much stronger. I said many times during chemotherapy that the side effects were mild. Now I realize that during that time, I felt pretty rotten. I was weak. The feel of water on my skin was unpleasant. I couldn’t walk more than five or ten steps without stopping to rest. I lived on Benadryl to keep my hands and arms from itching. But I still believe I had it easy.

In June, I had lumpectomies (I didn’t know you could have surgery twice within one week). In September, I went through radiation, twenty consecutive days, weekends and Labor Day excluded, smiled cheerily at the technicians, let them admire my cute socks, lay perfectly still for a few minutes while they zapped me, and drove home.

The hardest part was getting the gown tied correctly.

On the last day, in the hallway outside the radiation room, one of the techs asked if I wanted to celebrate. I said, “Sure.” He brought out a small cardboard box and the three of them threw confetti at me.

If I seem to be making light of the experience, I suppose I am. In part, that’s because it’s what I do. It makes better copy. In part, it’s because I didn’t go through the hell others go through. In part, it’s because I have to.

Within days after the last radiation treatment, I slid into depression. The radiation oncologist said she’d seen it before, and I needed a goal: travel (just did); creative activity (got one story with an editor, working on another one); gardening (no place to plant and I kill everything anyway); talk to a therapist (already do); exercise? (oh d*mn). 

Before it ended, I heard myself thinking, I’ll buy the package of 300 stars instead of the one with 1000. I might not be around long enough to use 1000. Every time, I immediately countered that with, Stop it, you can’t think that way, buy the 1000. 

Radiation might have caused the downhill slide, but I believe it stemmed from the feeling that I wasn’t doing anything to help myself heal. Three months without the chemo drug, I felt all right. I no longer had to report at 8:00 a.m. for radiation. There were no technicians to impress with my brave, cheery attitude; nurses didn’t seem impressed. Taking a pill every morning took no effort. Periodical infusions to boost the immune system had weeks ago lost their luster. I wasn’t working at it.

Hearing, or telling myself, Cheer up! didn’t help. As all depressives will tell you, it never does. It makes us want to cuss or, better yet, to kick the sunshiny idiot adviser in the knee.

My other good news is that by Christmas I was on the mental mend, thank goodness. Because the scariest part was that depression and big T-cell boosting smiles don’t coexist.

My second other good news is that my latest CT scan, done in early December, shows the lesion in each lung and the two lymph nodes that were radiated in September have decreased in size so much that they wouldn’t show up on a PET scan. The radiation oncologist’s pronouncement: “Awesome.” Indeed. The oncologist is pleased and said he hopes I am, too. Yes, I’d say I’m pleased. The next scan is scheduled for March.

I continue to juggle a positive attitude and uncertainty. The next scan may be clear. The lesions and lymph nodes may show metabolic activity again. Problems may show up elsewhere. I’ve been having pre-cancerous tissue removed here and there for the past fifteen years. Cancer is the Curse of the Wallers. It’s in the other side of my family, too.

But I’m here, and I had an excellent report, and I keep on keeping on.

Which makes everything I’ve written here not just good news, but the best.


Buzz. February 2016. Not how it looks January 2017. © MKW I have a picture taken in June 2016 but I don't pass it around.
Buzz. February 2016. Not how it looks January 2017. © MKW. I have a picture taken June 2016 but I don’t show it around.

P. S. I have hair again. Shirley Temple and then some. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it.


Asking for more

I’m posting today at Writing Wranglers and Warriors…

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

mow-book-launch-003-4Posted by Kathy Waller


When the January schedule for Writing Wranglers and Warriors came out, I was pleased to find I would post on Friday the 13th. Last month–I’ve spent the past three hours writing about exactly what happened last month, but the result was so deadly dull it could have been used as a substitute for Ambien, so I’ll summarize–

Anyway, I got the dates mixed up, tried to post a day ahead of schedule, ended up posting a day behind schedule, took the post down–

In short, Friday the 13th seemed a good idea. You can’t forget Friday the 13th. Unless you forget to look at the calendar until 10:00 p.m. on the 12th.

So I spent three hours banging away at the keyboard only to find that the result read more like typing than writing. I hate it when that happens. Fortunately, I’ve been blogging long enough to have…

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Doodle #99. Silence

Doodle #99.
Doodle silence.

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curvéd point, — what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented ? Think. In mounting higher,
The angels would press on us, and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay
Rather on earth, Belovèd, — where the unfit
Contrarious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning Rome, 1858
Elizabeth Barrett Browning Rome, 1858 (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By From a chalk drawing by Mrs. E. F. Bridell Fox [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Back to doodling. I gave myself permission to skip days–as long as I doodle on all 365 pages, I’m meeting my goal; I don’t have to fill the book in a calendar year or to doodle in order. In other words, I’m also back to eschewing perfectionism.

My image of silence comes from one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. She imagines two lovers, their souls standing “erect and strong, / Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,” contented to be on earth. “Think,” she says.

In mounting higher,
The angels would press on us and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence.

The doodle is of song, not silence. Sometimes it’s easier to depict a thing as what it’s not instead of what it is.

That’s what Barrett Browning did.


 The doodle prompt appears in 365 Days of Doodling by Carin Channing.