If the World Were About to End

Grounds of a Sculpture Park

If my husband learned the world was about to end, or that he only had a short time to live, he’d stuff some chocolate in his mouth. Then he’d assemble all the sweets we have in the house and go out and stock up on some more.

Under similar circumstances, though, I’d hasten to get my hot (and I do mean “hot”) hands on just one little item: a prescription. I’d march into my HMO and accost the first person I came across, and demand to to see my grim primary care doctor.

“I want a prescription.”
“For what?”
“Prempro.”
“Prempro? But . . .”
“Prempro. Now.”

For you fortunate ones who have no idea what Prempro is or does, and no need to know, it’s the drug that offers miracle relief to women like me. It makes us cool. And comfortable. It eliminates hot flashes and night sweats. It eliminates the need to adjust the thermostat in my husband’s car every few minutes, depending on whether or not the sun is shining through the windows on me, or don or remove a sweater each time I move from room to room in our 80-year-old, unevenly-heated house.

Prempro says to my faulty temperature-regulating hypothalamus, “Everything’s fine. There’s no need to flood her with perspiration to cool her, when she’s standing outside in 30 degree weather in a tank top. No need to soak her short, sleeveless cotton night gown when it’s 60 degrees inside. Turn off the body heat.”

So, if you hear the world’s about to end, run to the candy store with my husband, if you want. Just please don’t get in my way. I wouldn’t want to step on you on my way to get that big, fat dose of delicious Prempro.

If you have hot flashes, or know someone who does, you might enjoy “What Keeps Me From Writing? The Fire Within.” Part 1 and Part 2.

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What Keeps Me From Writing? The Fire Within, Part 1

That's me—on a cool day

Sitting across from each other in her large, disordered office and wearing almost matching sleeveless dresses, the library director and I ignore the fact that my dress is clinging to my chest and my skin is glazed with perspiration. It’s a breezeless August day, and the air conditioning is on the fritz.

Moisture emerges from my hairline and meanders across my upper lip. The skin on my face is prickly, as if covered by a strange damp stubble. But I continue asking questions and the director answers them, for an article I’m writing for the local newspaper. We both act as if nothing untoward is happening. Actually, for me, this is not remarkable. By my calculations, I’m experiencing my fifteen thousandth hot flash.

Years earlier, when I first reported these steamy soakings to my doctor, she had peered over her glasses at me, then squinted at her computer.

“I promise they won’t remain beyond a few months,” she said in her slightly Slavic accent.

But my almost hourly drenchings persisted for four years, as I became increasingly frustrated by my body’s refusal to conform to the medical timetable.

Should I Take Drugs?
I held off requesting the medication that had freed so many women from this awful upper body heat because it seemed absurd to need drugs to regulate something as ordinary as body temperature.

But, my hot flashes had no intention of leaving without a fight. Eventually, sick of removing and donning my clothes a dozen times a day to cool off, I began hormone replacement therapy—“HRT” to those in the know.

Then medical researchers with nothing better to do than dash the hopes of middle-aged women discovered that the miracle drug could have dangerous effects. So, I stopped taking the meds two and a half years ago. My hot flashes returned, as frequent and intense as they were before I went on HRT.

“Dress in layers,” my husband said.

The difference between the perceived ambient temperature when I’m having a hot flash can feel like 40 or 50 degrees. I have stood hatless in blizzards, snow stinging my face, my down coat wide open, reveling in relief. I have lingered on my back porch in a thin tank top, when the thermostat beside me read 26 degrees. I’d probably be famous by now had I not had to interrupt my writing to strip off my clothes a dozen times a day.

If you’re a hot flash sufferer (or the husband of one), see What Keeps Me From Writing? The Fire Within, Part 2. Feel free to complain about your hot flashes.

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What Keeps Me From Writing? The Fire Within, Part 2

Feeble Counter-Measures

I have tried all the known methods for minimizing hot flashes. I take deep breaths to calm myself while grasping an icy beverage when a hot flash threatens. I eat tofu, lentils, and garbanzo beans, drizzle flaxseed on my food, and drink one cup of coffee in the morning. I never drink alcohol, since a mere sip makes me feel as if I’ve been on a 3-day bender.

I sleep in skimpy nightgowns with the bedroom window open all winter long. In the summer, an air conditioner and a fan blow all night.

Each of my fifteen thousand hot flashes has its own characteristics.

There are those that alert me to their slow, mild arrival, so that just moving into a cooler part of the house prevents them from developing into full-fledged heat events.

Then there are those that show up by stealth. When I notice them, my upper body is already saturated in sweat.

My quality of life has been so thoroughly compromised over these past two+ years that I made a desperate call to a menopause counselor for advice. But, what she could possibly offer that I hadn’t already tried? Hold my nose while executing a moonwalk? Stand on my head while swallowing a live fish?

The menopause counselor (flaunting her normal body temperature by wearing a thick mohair sweater and a wool turtleneck) didn’t have new tactics. But I did learn 3 important things from her.

It’s not my imagination that I have a very narrow comfortable temperature range—from around 69 to 71 degrees.

Second, since going off HRT is the equivalent of just entering menopause, I could expect it to take two years for the hot flashes to cease. (I’m now well past the 2-year mark now, and nothing’s changed. I expect to be sticking to the sheets when I’m on my deathbed.)

Third, I can take an epilepsy drug to counter night sweats.

What About All My Other Chronic Conditions?
If I had a choice of which of my many menopause-induced chronic conditions to give up, it wouldn’t be the freezing index finger, nor the unexpected allergy to wool, nor the intense muscle pain I feel after working out 3-4 times a week.

I would give up the inexplicable, irritating, unpredictable, embarrassing (imagine the impression made by sweating one’s way through a professional presentation) hot flashes.

Ah, Screw It
I don’t want to go back on medication, but on days when hot flashes slam me a couple of times an hour I know that if this condition doesn’t disappear soon, I wonder if I should resort once again to medical measures.

Or, maybe I’ll learn to view this as one of those nasty things—like insomnia—that people suffer from for no reason at all, and quit complaining about it.

If you’re a hot flash sufferer, I hope you’ll read What Keeps Me From Writing? The Fire Within, Part 1.

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What Keeps Me From Writing? False Starts

Not in my writing projects. Although I have changed the opening of my memoir, My Mother’s Money—or Almost an Heiress—6 times. (I’m still shuffling the pages back and forth between two sections, weighing which one has the stronger hook.)

I’m talking about the many times in the past two and a half years that I’ve changed direction.

My false starts are the results of exploring how I want to spend my time, earn money, and fulfill my creative urges and talents. If a  project doesn’t work out, I have to file away the remnants of my failure, grieve and regroup, then start all over on something else. These wasted efforts cost time, money, and patience—besides the fact that they’re pretty exhausting.

When I left my full-time job as a marketing communications director in 2008, I took on freelance work related to that profession. But I quickly realized it didn’t interest me anymore.

I love and collect art, so I decided to teach others how they could own affordable original art. I visited museums and galleries, and contacted artists to feature their work on the blog I began on the subject. I put out money, but couldn’t figure out how to bring in money at this work. (I considered becoming an art consultant, but realized I wouldn’t relish working with indecisive clients nervous about spending money on art, and on my services.)

There might have been another effort after that, but fortunately for my self-esteem, I can’t remember what it was.

Then, I had an idea. I would teach writing. I would write a book on writing. I did both, and then began coaching other writers and editing their work. This all feels right, thank goodness, because I couldn’t stomach the need to start all over again.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like What Keeps Me From Writing? My Furniture, and What Keeps Me From Writing? Gourmet Food.

Leave a comment about what interferes with your writing—or about your false starts—to win a free download of Polish and Publish: The Indispensable Toolkit for Creative Writers.

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What Keeps Me From Writing? Gourmet Food

Blog Photo

Writer, editor, writing coach, Lynette Benton

This time last week I was arguing with a salmon. The Whole Foods butcher had boned it nicely, but left some unappealing tan flesh attached to its underside. I was struggling to scrape that off before chopping the fish into chunks for a soup I was making.

I had already cleaned the sand from between the layers of the leeks. Fresh spinach was draining in a colander before being cut into strips to add to the soup at the last minute.

Once that was all simmering nicely, I started on the Spanish—or was it Cuban?—pork stew.

My husband, a vegetarian, mashed up a few of those delicious Garnet sweet potatoes, ladled sauteed mushrooms over them, then topped them with crispy oven “fried” kale. Somewhere along the line, he also peeled steaming yellow beets, a job I dislike.

We are accidental members of the “slow food” movement. Never having had fast food while growing up, neither my husband nor I eat it now. Since we eat almost no processed foods, dislike banal food, and eat many times in the course of each day, we’re driven to cook a lot.

This time of year, my landscaper husband (who used to be a professional cook), is available to do good deal of meal preparation, so cooking interferes with my writing less than during warm weather. When I’m on my own again from April through half of December my writing time will contract accordingly.

I just finished making a roux for a root vegetable “mac ‘n cheese” casserole, a whole lot better than last week’s fight with the fish. So, I’m out of excuses . . . gotta get back to working on my memoir.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “What Keeps Me From Writing? My Furniture.”

Twitter: @lynettebenton

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

What Keeps Me From Writing? My Furniture

My Furniture

Dining Rm Table w/ Back of Morris Chair

No, not my home office furniture. That would keep me from writing, but my dear friend Ava just gave me her husband’s ergonomic office chair.

It was a conversation with Ava that made me aware that, although I’m not a “neat freak” by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, housecleaning takes up a lot of my (writing) time. It was just before Christmas when we spoke, and I was deep into the kind of cleaning you only undertake before company’s coming and you think everyone will be judging you. It wasn’t the once or twice a week type of cleaning you do just to prevent a gradual slide into squalor.

My problem is that my husband and I own antiques and heirlooms. Here’s a mere sample of their demands.

Our lamps incorporate complicated curlicues and fretwork (which, in some cases are hidden by the shades). To dust them, I have to painstakingly slip the point of a rag through each tiny opening and make sawing motions. The early 20th century dining room chandelier from my childhood home in New York is too fragile to swipe with the vacuum cleaner. Preventing dust from hanging from it like fuzzy grey icicles requires my mounting a wobbly, 100-year-old oak chair and executing a precarious balletic stretch over the dining room table, duster gently flailing.

We use an old-fashioned Duncan Fyfe affair as our kitchen table. That wonderful reference book, What’s What, describes it as supported by swinging gates, turnings, stretchers, and even knees. Those knees are attached to as many legs as a spider has and I take trips to the floor on my hands and knees to clean them. The dining room table has only two legs, but they are giant pedestals that can only be reached by easing myself under the table, stretching my arms, and waving my cloth around, hoping it hits dust.

A friend was moving to London and offered his antiques for sale. For $35, we bought an authentic Morris chair with slender balusters on the sides and horizontal spindles in back; a Victorian “lady’s” chair with wooden thingies I won’t even try to describe, but which, like the lamps, have to have a rag poked through them, and an old library lamp with green glass shades mounted in the fragile brass necks. Caught up in a rare bargain hunter’s euphoria, I didn’t consider what all these would take to maintain.

Unlike modern furniture that has the sense to be manufactured to look polished, our blond oak chest with designs etched on its doors, the large Victorian bishop’s chair, and all the rest of the stuff has to be occasionally, but actually, polished.

Leave a comment about what interferes with your writing.

And check back for the next in this series of excuses, I mean reasons, for what interferes with my writing.

Twitter: @lynettebenton

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!