Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Not Out of the Woods Yet

I’ve not contacted the dating sites for old people that I thought might be the basis for my next novel, as I may have promised in the last blog. Last week I was hacked, that is, my computer was hacked, and I decided I didn’t care to share my interest in a new man with the Russians. The old one I have is adequate enough although not grist lately for my writing mill. Since I’ve heard no new stories of aging hands across the internet, my next inspiration came when I noticed that when one is driving along a road lined with second and third growth evergreen trees, all the same height like a field of corn because they were planted all in the same month, except that sometimes one tree many feet taller sticks up above  the rest.  My son, the woodsy guy, explained that when the first-growth trees were cut years ago, often one tree was left behind to mark the boundary of the plot. This tree is called a Witness Tree. It is probably over one hundred years old, still witnessing the world of second and third growths below it.

Think about this in terms of a novel:  a long-lived, tall old woman witnesses of the activity of younger ones living around her, their desires to grow, the havoc of natural disorders they endure, the destruction and scars left by mistakes and fate, and finally, the thinning out and weakening of that generation. When a new crop of seedlings is planted at her feet, our old woman settles back in her comfortable rocker and watches the third growth take over. 

I thought I had my next old lady novel. I could imagine my straight, tall Grandmother Gage, whom I knew only from a l930 photo, her gardening tools at her side, as my protagonist. She watches a second growth in her family, and I’m part of the third growth, my sons, already tall, are the fourth growth in this metaphor. I’d call the book Witness Tree, of course.

So, I Googled “witness tree” to get to make sure the facts in this nature-inspired story were mostly correct.  Lucky I did. I discovered that a book with my title, based on a woman’s fascination with a very old tree in New England, was published last year. That particular tree witnessed the Civil War and later historical events.  On the cover, the author sits at the base of the tree, patting its old bark. The book has very good reviews. Not only that, but other east coast Witness Trees were mentioned, mostly deciduous, none of them  a tall Doug fir.

When I told my son this disappointing news, he said I should consider other trees.  Had I ever heard of Nurse Trees, fallen old, old logs on top of which new, huge trees grow from the tiny seeds that have dropped on them? I Googled “Nurse tree,” saw photos. I remembered, then, I had seen them in the Hoh Valley of the Olympic National Park, roots tangling around the rotting trees that gave the new ones their start. They are intriguing, beautiful. I got excited for a minute or two. Maybe? But then I had trouble coming up with a plot involving a dead old woman with babies growing out of her body. I don’t write paranormal.  It scares me. Perhaps I’ll go back to old ladies placing ads on the Internet. 

Jo Barney Writes

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


I spent a sleepless night.  My midnight questions had to do with this blog. I’m already over two weeks overdue getting my monthly ponderings out.  So, what’s happening? Have I run out of blog gas? 

Probably.  I’ve written about my own misgivings about writing, my despair with being published, my dreams of a couple of new books which just won’t get written. Why no ideas now?

 I have looked at other writer’s blogs.  They describe the use of apostrophes, about the importance of the first sentence of a story, about building a platform, about buying their new books of advice.  I, for the past five years, have offered nothing of value to my readers ––o­­nly cries of frustration, anguish, a few visions of the tulips on my terrace, and maybe one or two dismal observations on being an old woman.  Advice, wisdom, words of value? NO.

It may be time to say goodbye to my readers, whoever they are, except for Steve, who always comments on my attempts to connect, and I am so glad for him, but how long can he keep jacking me up, making feel as if I’m connecting with someone?

I just read a free, unasked-for piece of advice about blogs that informed me that I should be having a conversation with my readers, asking them for help, for yesses and noes, for ideas, even.

I haven’t done any of that.  Only a few of my readers have felt it necessary to respond to my musings or my questions, or my deep thoughtliness. Last night I decided to try one more time to touch hands and minds with my readers.  I have had my evening white wine and I’m ready.

I write for older women, like myself.  My three books have done as well as can be expected, kind of like in a hospital for books. I have two more, also centering on older women and the new paths on which they hesitantly step. I haven’t found a publisher who wants to risk accepting them. I haven’t the energy to self-publish them. (I’m 82, now, as you know, if you have been following for a while.) For my sense of well-being, I need to get writing again and I need some advice—or inspiration—or a few new characters to inspire me–– from you, so here goes:

A friend calls, also “elderly” although the adjective makes us both sick to our stomachs. We start laughing as she tells about another friend, Mabel, who decided to find love somewhere, even in the over-fifty dating sites on the internet.  She has had several responses. Each leads her to believe that she may have to do this on her own: church choir, mah jon table, or a world-wide trip on a ship with lots of sea time and a few lonesome sailors. Or maybe, never, a loverless maybe where she and a few friends will drink white wine and stream TV shows.

 Mabel’s stories of searching for a man made us snort out loud. She turned down the thoughtful fellow who asked her if she minded if his erection lasted three hours.  “V, you know.”   And the one with the greasy forehead and nose hair who stiffed her for their wine and small plates, leaving her for the “boys” room, never to return.  And the shaky fellow who worried that if her children lived in her house, would there be any privacy?  “I live in a group home,” he added, not revealing what kind of group.  One nice, seventy-year-old, younger by a few years than Mabel, made it to her front hall, where he apologized for not heading directly to her bedroom because he’d masturbated an hour before and probably couldn’t function for a day or so. She hadn’t been thinking about bed at that point, only whether he drank decaf.

Okay, if you have read this far, I need your help.  Without names, tell me about other older folks who have tried to find love on the internet, because your stories will be in my next novel.  My 102-year-old mother unwittingly created the title when I asked how she was doing.  “Just plugging along,” she answered.

I will continue this blog, and I’ll try to make it a two-way conversation. I’ll ask for inspiration and you, if you want to, can answer in the comment column—or call me. 

Jo Barney Writes

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Turning to Dust? Or Is It Just a Too Long Winter?

I just finished a wonderful, sad book called The Door, by Magda Szabo.  In the end, an old woman’s long-cached hoard of furniture disintegrates at a touch--worms had been eating at the wood for years.

So, when a week of negative events rolled out for me, all I could think was “Everything I touch is turning to dust.” I love the book. I do not feel the same way about this week. It began when I couldn’t make Word come up on my computer.  This was after I had tried to install an app and got the message that my computer was too old for what I was trying to do. I know about being too old, but I didn’t realize it also  happened to electronic devices like my Mac.

I called for help, and an accented, but understandable, young man listened and advised me to change to the most recent Mac version. “Free, Ma’am,” he said. I punched a few keys, and sat for many minutes while the new thing, Sierra Whatever, was being installed. The next day I sat for three hours while another young man in the Philippines wandered around with his cursor in my computer. Word came back but my desktop was a foreign territory. My folders looked as if I had thrown them across the computer, willy-nilly.  A list of “Help” items appeared for a short while, and somehow I erased it. I okayed a bill for $69.00 for something I cannot remember. I did not touch my Mac for a day, afraid what would crumble next.

In past weeks, in a spurt of creative energy, I had ordered four new pillows for our gray sofa, all patterned but all gray. I was going modern, mono-color, which was cheaper than buying a new sofa. They arrived separately, and I tore open the Fed Ex bags one at a time. Yes, they were all gray, but four different kinds of gray, none the right gray. “I guess maybe buyjng from catalogues is not the thing to do for pillows,” Don commented.  “T-shirts, maybe, but not gray pillows.” He said this as he walked out the door with the last bundle to be returned to the Fed Ex store down the street. He was trying to be kind. I was tearing up with frustration and he was close to laughing.

But he brought home a pizza, half-baked, and said he’d heat it up. When the ten minutes were up, he opened the oven door, tried to slip something under the pie, and swore.  The pizza had crumbled, like Szabos’ furniture, and was stuck onto three different very hot surfaces. This morning I tried using the cleaning button on the cheezy lumps in the oven, and fifteen minutes later the fire alarm beeped loudly and continuously until we opened windows and doors, which is not a good thing since we live in a condo with many neighbors within earshot and smellshot.

The smoke cleared. I went my revived computer, and two rejections for a novel I had hopes for waited for me. I don’t cry about rejections.  I swear, a habit I blame on the pizza destroyer.

The doors to the terrace were still open and I went to close them, the furnace going crazy trying to get to 70 degrees in the 40-degree sunless afternoon that had crept in under the smoke. My winter pots with their black, dissolving geraniums cringed at me from their posts along the metal railing. But in each pot, spikes and flops of green peeked out above dirt still wet from the latest rain storm. My bulbs, forgotten for a year, hiding under dead geraniums and the roots of fermenting annuals, greeted me, were telling me that I needed to take courage, stop swearing, smile. And to send out more queries, like hopeful green leaves.  “Spring is coming,” they assured me.

Jo Barney Writes

Monday, January 16, 2017


Well, I’ve done it again.  I believed I had finished the next book, even found a literary-sounding title for it:  The Hedge.  Even had a Manhattan to celebrate last night before my husband and I settled in to try to understand The Young Pope.  But that’s another story.

This morning I decided to look over the short list of words I had jotted down as I wrote.  I’m inclined to use the same word over and over again,. (It feels so right in the first draft) and I think this time the word will be “pull” as in “pull up a chair, pull out a hanky, pull up into a driveway.” Not “Pull out a gun,” like my last book.

I bring the 220 perfect pages (I have been revising for a week) to the screen and type  “pull” on the Search in Document function. The list that comes forward looks as if it is suffering from a plague, orange spots, fifty or more scattered on, seems like, every page. How many synonyms does “pull” have?  I try a few.  I can do this.  At about the tenth change, I realize I cannot just change all the “pulls” to another word.  Each has to be looked at in its verbal environment, individually assessed.  Okay.  I have time.  It’s snowing and icy outside.  I have two frozen meals in the fridge. 

About, maybe at “pull” # 40, I hit a wrong button or fill in the wrong space or something.  All of my “pulls” and any others that still linger in the next hundred pages have been transformed to “takes.” This change might make sense in some instances, does not in most others, and the result is definitely as bad too many “pulls.”

The plague has spread.

Now, four hours later, and not yet finished, I have gotten rid of sixty out of sixrt-five “takes.” (It seems that in the original draft, I had overused “take” as well as “pull”.)

The only thing, beside the glass of white wine I’ve finally poured, that makes me feel better about spending an entire day searching for two words is a memory I have of my first novel, Wednesday Club, a story of a counselor and her five counselees, as they all struggle through divorce, abuse, bullying, and really bad Teachers (and that’s only the counselor’s side of the story).  For some reason, I did the same search then as I did today, when one word that kept cropping up no matter what was happening on the page.  “Smile.”

One hundred and ten times in three hundred pages.  Little kids and their counselors smile a lot, if given the chance.  I left a lot of “smiles” in the manuscript (what other word fits?), and the book never got published, even by me. But it’s my favorite story.  Maybe when the ice and snow melts and I recover from today’s session, I can go out, get a little exercise, get the blood flowing once more, and I’ll look at and love Wednesday Club one more time.

Jo Barney Writes