Ok. It was cute at first. Perhaps too cute, no matter which side of the political spectrum you land on (and in our country at the moment, it feels like there are spectrums on top of spectrums on top of, well, you get it).
Bernie in Mittens.
All over social media.
All up and down and through my Facebook feed.
After a bit, the memes saturated all the feeds and I began seeing the same ones over and over. Bernie in outer space. Bernie on the Friends couch. Bernie with the Beverly Hillbillies. Bernie on the bench with Forrest Gump.
And my favorite—if I were forced to pick one—Bernie with Julie Andrews, uh, excuse me, not-quite-a-nun-yet Maria, and all the Von Trapp children high up in the mountains singing “Raindrops on roses and Bernie in mittens.” I had to wonder for a moment which of those children lugged his folding chair up the foothills—or did they take turns? I’d have made him sit in the grass with the children.
Then it happened. Bernie, in his folding chair and cozy mittens, started creeping into the photos of family and friends. Apparently, Bernie gets around to our local high school basketball games. He’s traveled back to pre-pandemic world and accompanied some good friends of mine on their Walt Disney World vacation.
And he’s eaten at every restaurant on this side of the Mississippi with someone I know.
EVERYONE was photoshopping Bernie. I’d be reading along, thinking I was catching up on a family member’s recent adventure, and there he’d be.
Over and over again.
I’d reached Bernie Burnout. And this came about the same time as my “Enough” rant last week. Forever and always trying to avoid news and upheaval and then I had to contend with this old man in mittens clogging up the real family news with the photo-shopped/bombed family news.
But, alas, as with all things Internet, something else bumped Bernie memes for a run in the social media feed spotlight.
Enter the Lawyer Cat. Oh, my word, was I ever so glad this distraught kitten took the place of Bernie’s mittens—even if for a little bit.
If you’ve been under a rock (or have taken a much-needed social media fast), click here for the YouTube link.
And, even better, if you Google “Lawyer Cat Merchandise” you can order your very own t-shirt, mug, mouse pad, painted rocks, buttons, cross stitch, or magnet featuring the famous line: “I’m here live. I’m not a cat.”
And maybe even better, a piece of history blazed with “I’m prepared to go forward with it.”
Now, to be fair, there’s Bernie merchandise, too. And bless the teacher that knitted those mittens and did some good in her corner of the world. The funds from official merchandise (pushing 2 million, I believe) were donated to food banks in the Vermont area.
I can’t say the same thing for Mr. Lawyer Cat’s items. I don’t know if there’s official merchandise—to me it looks like independent creators cashing in on the mishap, but I’m seriously tempted to splurge on a shirt from an independent Etsy artist. I’ve not decided on a design yet, though.
(I did find a seller with a pack of two stickers—one Not-a-Cat and one Bernie in Mittens. I think I’ll pass on that deal, but you may want such souvenirs of this grand Internet Meme time we live in.)
At any rate, it gave a massive laugh and a cure for my grumpy current-event hatred and brown-mitten burnout.
And, in researching the links for this article, I came across another filter mishap from March of last year. I likely missed this one the first time around because I was obsessed with Darth Vader and Tom and Jerry memes of the coronavirus. Murder Hornets had their five-second fame somewhere in there, too. (Don’t judge me — you know you also caught a wave or two of relief from someone’s dark and twisted mind). This one, an Italian priest attempting a video of mass (I think, I don’t speak Italian).
Attorney Rod Ponton, thank you so much, sir, for that much-needed chuckle break. If only for an internet-meme moment. I’m printing out your phrase and putting it above my computer. Quite motivational if you think about it: “I’m prepared to go forward with it.”
Forward with what?
The work in progress (update on that soon).
The continued ban on the news cycle.
Planning for the next mental health break.
The next step in all the things I’ve been putting off.
And not a cat…
I remember spending the weeks at a time with my grandparents as I was growing up. There was a rhythm to their day, honed out over decades of domesticated life. Rise with the sun in the summer—or before first rays in the winter, coffee pot on. Gas cooktop lit. Something sizzling in the cast iron skillet.
Breakfast at the tiny table in their small eat-in kitchen.
Reading time—mostly the remnants of the prior day’s newspaper.
And then morning news, local and world.
Work, in the garden. Lunch. Clean. Visit neighbors.
Coffee pot percolating again. Something boiling on the stove.
Lunch at the tiny table in the small eat-in kitchen.
And then the news at noon with (insert the name of the middle-aged anchorman or woman here).
Back to the garden, tending yard. More neighbors. Start supper. The peeling, chopping, basting, what have you.
Something baking in the oven. Coffee pot on its last shift of the day, eager to be cleaned and reset for the morning.
Supper at the tiny table in the small eat-in kitchen.
Pie. Always pie in the evening. Mostly raspberry. Sometimes apple or peach. Sometimes sugar cream for a change with a perfectly toasted meringue topping. Sometimes chocolate pudding. Raspberry, hands-down, was my favorite.
Then dishes. Another reset for the next morning.
And the evening news. Which included an hour on the local station, then Grandpa rising from his special chair to “turn the antennae” to better pick up a station from the west (or it could have been the east or any other cardinal direction—I’m directionally dyslexic). And then another hour of world news from one of the national broadcast stations.
And then the newspaper for that day. As much as they could.
And then discussion of all things “going on in the world.”
All day. Each day. Every day.
As a young kid, it turned me off from current events, all but the “nutshell” versions at any rate. That grandmother was my main source of news headlines until she died at age 91. I didn’t have to turn on the broadcast stations for years.
That was nice.
And now 2021.
Enough. I can’t watch anymore. Just a rundown of the headlines gives me indigestion and 20-minute stretches of hiccups. Even “good news” stresses me out with questions like “will it last?” or “is this spun content?” Because my cynical answer to those questions is: No, it won’t last and yes, it’s probably not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
So, help us all, dear Lord…
I just can’t. And please don’t read that as I don’t care anymore. I like to be an informed citizen, I just don’t need to hook myself up to a steady diet of media cuisine.
On the Facebook feed, too much. I scroll to the writing groups and fly past the current-eventish type drama.
Email, too much. Any subject line there with a hint of world goings-on gets deleted without a second thought.
Casual conversation with the Walmart clerk. Too much. I hang tight behind my mask and just smile. No small talk. Small talk leads to, well, current-eventish type drama.
So, what to do?
Shut off the screens. No earbuds, either, lest my Pandora be interrupted with a public service announcement.
Go outside. Raining? That’s okay, I’m not made of sugar; I know I won’t melt. Snowing? No issues. I bought new gloves for my Christmas gift to me. And I have extra socks to wear down deep in my not-so-great boots. I won’t freeze to death.
I’m blessed to not live in a big city where the outdoors is much smaller than it is here. I’m blessed to have a quiet backyard. I’ll be making even more use of that as 2021 barrels on.
If a screen is to be on, it’ll be streaming writing classes, publishing podcasts, or ideally, the cursor will be dancing across the white page, barely enough time to blink, as Little Miss Muse flits and flaps over the monitor, directing me and my (or her) characters on their next adventure.
I’ll create worlds that are far, far worse than the one we’re living in—making our reality seem a cakewalk. I’ll create worlds that are far, far better. Characters that transport us to a place of escape and ease…
But at least it won’t be the here and now that gives me the hiccups. It’ll be the “somewhere out there” that gives me chills and hopes and dreams, and…
Well, you get the picture.
And because I’ve had enough, perhaps my word count for 2021 will blow the roof off my house.
Perhaps batches and snippets and chunks of those words will transport you away from the reality that we have into a different one. An escape from the chaos.
Because, perhaps, you’ve had enough, too.
Life Along the Way
The blog site was getting “heavy.” Or at least it felt like it. A few months back I was trying to link to a previous post and had to dig and dig through the Blog Archive in the menu. Lots and lots of blogs. Over 100 to be precise.
This entry makes 116, not counting all the free fiction pieces…
So Web Guy and I (well, mostly Web Guy because I’ve no clue…) decided to put the blog on a diet and purge those first 100 blogs.
Actually, I really was going to purge the blogs, then Web Guy said, “Hey, I think you should purge the blogs.” Right about the time that I was wrestling Life Along the Way through InDesign.
So it worked out well regardless.
Through this process, I went down memory lane from June of 2018 to September of the “year that shall not be named.” I reread all 100 blogs, made notes for myself on lessons learned. I laughed a little at some of my stupidity-ridden thinking. Cringed a lot at typos that slipped by. And cried some over the “in memory” posts.
I think the hardest part of the project was coming up with a title. I noticed a pattern throughout the blogs — one that pervades every step of the writing journey: Life. Getting in the way. Life along the side. Life. Life keeps happening no matter what goals or dreams or hopes or disasters dash in and out of our way.
The second-hardest part was watching Little Miss Muse gloat from the corner of the office and take credit for EVERY GOOD THING since the dawn of time.
But I digress…
In short, here’s the intro:
Ages ago, I wanted to be an author. Like ages and ages.
I remember sitting at that brown kidney-shaped table in hard orange plastic chairs with my fourth grade teacher tucked into the kidney’s bend, classmates sitting to my right and my left, ready for our reading group. She announced a contest that we’d be participating in. Lots of moans all around, including from me. I hated conflict of any kind (still do) even if it was meant to grow me as a human.
Then she announced the name of the contest: Young Authors.
And I was sold. I didn’t even know what it was, but at the word “author” I had to check the corners of my mouth lest drool were to slip out onto my reading book and I were to become the “bullied kid of the day/week/month” (holding that honorary position for however long it would take for some other poor child to screw up life).
The teacher held up a blank book, about eight by eight inches with a clean cardboard cover and bright white blank pages. She told us we’d write our stories, then carefully copy them into the “real” book and send them to the contest. I was, however, bummed that she was going to make us illustrate them. I’m about as talented with colored pencils and crayons as I am with spatulas and skillets, but I digress…
I can’t remember what I wrote. If I had to guess it was something sci-fi/fantasy—likely with unicorns or aliens. As I type this, I’m trying to visualize my little crayon pictures. I only remember the stress of the art, but the pages are smears of color on the top and penciled in words on the bottom…
I can’t for the life of me remember the “real author” who showed up to encourage our tiny school’s gymnasium of youngsters. I do remember the buzz in the gym from likeminded students who loved learning and the anti-buzz air of “let’s get this over with and go to recess” from those students who’d rather throw spitballs than learn sentence structure.
I do remember I was a finalist. I remember tiny little Beth from the countryside riding the bouncy bus all the way to the next county to meet with kids from other schools who also “won.” We walked from that school to that town’s McDonalds (we had no sidewalks in the country, and no one ever got to walk to McDonalds, so I was on overwhelm). I ate my Happy Meal with “fellow authors.” I remember being too shy to talk to those fellow authors, so I studied the cardboard Happy Meal Box as I ate until it was time to walk back to the school.
I remember reading out loud my story (and isn’t this something… I can’t remember what it was about. It’s killing me…).
I remember the thrill of someone else “getting” what I was trying to say and thinking it worthy of a ribbon.
It’s been a tick since fourth grade.
I don’t know what happened to my book—likely swallowed up by a basement flood along with so many other precious childhood mementos, the dried flower corsage I wore to my high school prom, and my dad’s death certificate.
Fast forward about three decades, give or take, and the explosion of the indie author revolution. The Kindle changed everything, and I heard “author contest” all over again.
Not that I’m competing, but that same drool response began afresh, and after greasing the creative gears with some more up-to-date learning, I started writing again.
Then along came a blog.
And along came this book.
What This Book Isn’t
Life Along the Way is not a how-to write book. It’s not a how-to blog book. It’s not a how-to anything.
As a matter of fact, if any of you are aspiring writers or fellow authors, it may very well be an exercise in counter examples and cautionary tales.
No marketing techniques here. The top ten trending hot-market genres are not mentioned. Eight Ways to Ignite Your Writing Passion have given over to Ten Ways to Become Distracted.
You get the point. It’s not a manual.
I’m not aiming to give advice to beginning writers. This is not a do this/don’t do that. Who am I to tell you what to do or not to do on your author journey?
That’s not what this book is.
What This Book Is
Life Along the Way is about the beginning of my author journey.
When I started the blog, I did so because some piece of advice somewhere said readers need social proof that you’re a real person and a way to connect, and proclaim, and market. (The very nature of marketing seems to involve some level of conflict and I’d rather not. But I digress…)
So I bought into that “new author” advice.
I found a Web Guy to help me because I’m about as good with tech-ish stuff as I am with colored pencils and spatulas. I found a quiet spot and wrote a few blogs. All very writing-life heavy.
And then I wondered how in the world I could keep that up week after week and provide something anyone would want to read. And still write fiction. And still have a day job. And still…
Blogging stretched me in ways I didn’t know I could—or needed to be—stretched. Through the last couple of years, the blog has allowed me to vent, plan, and dream.
And, yes, it’s given me a platform to announce publication dates, upcoming titles, and so on. To do that dreaded marketing routine.
But more than that…
It’s taught me how to be more transparent. To own what I love. To write with *somewhat* reckless abandon.
It’s allowed me to compose something and then release it for the world to see—if only to be read by dear friends and the occasional passerby. It’s out there. Free.
Doing its thing.
Maybe “start a blog” is good advice for authors. Maybe it’s bad advice. I don’t know. I only know my story and what blogging about the writing life has done for me.
Life Along the Way is a compilation of 100 blogs written from June 2018 through September 2020. The first ninety-nine of which will be taken down from the blog to “make room” for the next ninety-nine in cyberspace. So, by the time this book goes live, my blog will be a little more agile.
Any live links, websites, videos, etc., that appeared in the blog posts and that remain relevant are located in the back pages of the book so as not to clutter the text.
A list of B.A. Paul’s current titles is back there, too, because, well, you know. Marketing.
I’ve added a little update at the end of each original blog post, along with a “Lesson Learned.”
Those lessons are mine. The lessons aren’t meant to be taken as a do-this/not-that finger shake. They’re reminders to myself to pay attention or to change something. They can be your lessons too, if you wish. Your mileage may vary if you take any “advice” I dish out.
Many times, a blog title or idea would come to me as a direct result of scouring through stock photos, looking for ideas or cover art for one of my stories. If the content seems “out of the blue,” it’s likely that I found an image that tickled Little Miss Muse into action. When the image was of utmost importance to the blog content, I’ve described it in the update at the bottom of the original blog content.
Remember: I consider myself to be a newbie supreme compared to the long-haulers like Dean Koontz or even some independent authors who figured out their own lives along the way and made their dream a reality.
I find the publishing industry to be vast and ever-changing, and I’ll likely be a newbie ten years from now.
And if I’m not considered a newbie in ten years, I hope I’m still learning (so as not to become one of those spit-ball throwing knuckleheads).
Learning craft. Learning marketing. Learning life.
After rereading 100 of my posts, I saw a pattern.
I saw my excuses for procrastination light up like an airport runway at midnight.
I saw (and on one occasion relived) the pain and grief and tragedy from recent and childhood events—sometimes shared with my readers openly, sometimes kept to myself, but these events brewed in the back of my mind, either fueling the writing machine or clogging up the works…
I was also reminded of the blessings. Writing blessings. Friend blessings. Family. Critters. Lots of blessings.
This compilation reminded me that, above all, I am blessed.
So Life Along the Way is part writing life blog, part memoir, and part “Beth needs to work life out in black-and-white.”
My hope is that something tucked in these pages will make you giggle. Make you think. Make you roll your eyes and cringe.
And maybe inspire you to drool over your dreams just a little bit.
Life Along the Way, will be free for Kindle Unlimited readers in e-book form. Paperback is available, and I’ll run a free promotion every now and then as long as the book is exclusive to Amazon.
Thanks to all who have hung with me through this incredible ride so far. Thanks to those who are fairly new to the site. You are all appreciated!
P.S. The short story collections (Out There, Spice and Spunk, All the Feels, and Just a Tick of Whimsy volumes) will be going wide this spring. They’ll remain in Kindle Unlimited until 2/16, so hurry and download if you’ve not already.