Monday, May 29, 2017

In Memoriam: Ronnie Young

It was the 1960s.  I was in high school.  The boy next door was handsome, kind, friendly.  Three years my senior, Ronnie was a casual friend of my brother and I doubt he ever knew of the giant crush I had on him.

His parents had died young and he was being raised by his ancient grandmother, a dour woman I did not know well.  He had no siblings.  After finishing high school, Ronnie joined the Marines and the last time I saw him he was in uniform, heading for his first deployment in Vietnam. He died there and his grandmother died shortly after.

Every year on Memorial Day I think of Ronnie because there is no one left to honor his memory.  Every year his death reminds me of the cost of war and ultimately, the cost of freedom.  Though I believed that war to be wrong, the sacrifices there were no less noble.

Ronnie never saw his 20th birthday.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

How to have a happy retirement

We've all seen the commercials, people are challenged to save, save, save for retirement.  There are dire warnings about the failure to do so.  I get it.  Really I do.

I actually did that.  I saved my little heart out.  Late to the saving and investing party, due largely to poverty wages until my middle years, I managed a tidy nest egg.  I even figured I could retire early, at 59 1/2 because my good job would provide a pension at age 62 and my two IRAs could support me until then.  I'd be OK, I thought.

Then the recession hit. I lost my job and much of my savings. What I didn't lose outright I had to live on - and pay taxes and penalties on.  Five long years later, well past my 59 1/2 target I was still working but at a job that paid half what I had made.  The future looked dim.  No pension, low wages, not even any health insurance.  How could I retire?

So I settled for "partial" retirement.  I became a consultant, working part time from home.  It wasn't great but it was a middle ground and kept me afloat.  Then the hours petered out and I began living on less and less.

Now I find myself on the brink of full retirement.  No, I still don't have a pension but what I do have is a measure of contentment.  I have launched two fully successful, independent children into adulthood.  Each has her own family now.  My house is nearly paid off and while I would love to do some renovations, I am happy enough with it as it is.  It is home.

I can sleep in if I want to in the morning, take a bath mid-day if I like. I can run to the store when it's not busy and read a book in the afternoon.  I may not be able to tour the country, go on cruises, or do some of the other things retirees are supposed to do but I can do as I like, within reason.

I've finally written a book and gotten it published.  It was hard work but I did it on my own schedule. Maybe I'll write another. Though I can no longer make pottery on the wheel, I can do a limited amount of hand-building.  I have the option of trying surgery to regain function in my arms but I may be content to leave things as they are.

I make a practice of noting things that make me happy: spending time with my family, accomplishing long-term goals like my book, indulging in reading or a favorite show, curling up inside during bad weather or taking my sandwich to the porch when a cool breeze blows.

I highly recommend starting early and saving that extra 1% but money truly isn't everything. And you can't buy contentment.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

In Defense of Stuff

Ok. I've had it with minimalism. It seems everyone is talking about getting rid of stuff, downsizing, giving away clothes and appliances and toys until they have only "what they love."  I call BS.

My old waterbed turned into a hall shelf,
filled with pots I made and other stuff
I like.

I love small kitchen appliances.  If it slices and dices, cooks or cleans, mixes or toasts, if I bought it, I want it.  I can juice a bag of oranges in five minutes, prepare a frozen pizza without heating up my kitchen, and make my own salsa without losing a finger chopping.

Like many women, I have a variety of sizes in my closet as well as some sentimental items.  I'm keeping 'em.  I'm entitled.  Someday one of my granddaughters might like to wear or make something from my old wedding dress or cuddle up to my mother's old faux fur coat.

My office has an enormous selection of pencils, pens, clips, and other stationary items.  They make me feel rich.  I love that I have filled three cubbies with things I have written.  I love my old typewriter though my electronics have replaced it functionally.  My old typing stand was given to me by an old friend, now long dead. Pry it from my cold, dead hands!

My pottery, made in the days before nerve issues disabled my arms, is the tactile evidence of a lifelong dream.  I'm keeping those pots and my tools.  I don't expect a miracle but I invested more than money in this.  I invested time and love and competence.  All things clay, stay.

I live alone in a three-bedroom house that can sleep seven.  When my daughter's young family was out on the street due to a fire, they lived with me.  My elderly mother lived here in her last years.  One daughter moved home to get another degree on the cheap.  This house has provided a roof to two homeless women in desperate need and to numerous cats and dogs - not all mine - who needed shelter.  Why would I get a tiny house after all that?

I wear the cast-off shirts from old friends and lovers and feel at home in them.  My grandchildren bring their toys here when they are no longer welcome at home. You can get rid of anything you want, but I like my stuff and I'm keeping it!

Friday, May 19, 2017

A few thoughts on traditional publishing

Now that I have turned in my page proofs for my first traditionally published book, I thought I would share with all of you some of the good and bad things I've learned.

I know most authors are self-publishing, largely due to the competitive nature of traditional publishing. I considered that for my nonfiction book as well, but because I want to get it in the hands of medical professionals, I knew it needed the gravitas of being traditionally published, preferably by a science or medical publisher. Amazingly, the second publisher I queried accepted the book and for the last couple of months, I have been immersed in the finalization of my book for publication.

When one self-publishes, one controls everything, which means one does everything from the writing to arranging for editing, to laying the book out and uploading it to wherever one has chosen. Marketing is all on the author as well. With the traditional route, some of this does not apply.

I probably spent at least one month reformatting my book. I had assumed the publisher would do that, and to some extent, they did, but I had to follow their very specific format for final submission. I hated doing it but I do believe it made my book better - with one exception. I had wanted sidebars in the first part of my book. They don't do sidebars. Oh, well.

Another assumption I made was that the publisher would take care of any illustrations needed. Wrong. That was on me, too. I had to purchase the rights as well as provide the illustrations. And then, I further assumed that limited color illustrations would be done. Wrong again. If I wanted color, I would have to foot the bill. Ditto for editing. Fortunately I had already had my book professionally edited.

I also thought there might be some back-and-forth on the content of my book. Perhaps some questions about my conclusions, etc. but there were none. It might be because I did such a superlative job of citing my sources, but I don't know that for sure.

I also had to provide a bio and pages of marketing leads. I expected this. My contract included signing away almost all rights with the exception of those to my first-born. It was a typical first contract, I believe, with royalties kicking in well after the cost of publication is covered and a percentage of future sales abroad. That said, I expect to make next to nothing on the book.

I spent hundreds of dollars and a year and a half of my life producing the book. I wore out a computer, a printer, several reams of paper, dozens of ink cartridges, and traveled to attend a conference related to my topic to conduct interviews all to the tune of another $1,000 or so. Thanks to my co-author, I did not have to pay for the academic papers I consulted. Otherwise, at $40 a pop, I'd have gone broke.

I didn't write the book for fame or fortune. I wrote it because I believe it needed to exist. I believe it will meet a critical need and serve people well. I do regret that the price - at $82 - is so high, but again, as the author, I had no input on that.

Now the key question: Would I do this again? I probably won't get the chance, but yes, if all the circumstances remain the same, I would still elect to publish traditionally. However, if my next book is a novel or something like a self-help book, I will go the self-published route. I think I might actually see some of the money from sales and now that I've gotten one book under my belt, I feel more confident in the formatting.

I don't think either way is always superior to the other. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. Traditional comes with greater status and perhaps, in some circumstances, greater promise for future endeavors, but self-publishing offers more control, autonomy, and potentially faster returns.

So, pick your poison and publish!