You Can’t Always Get What You Want, But …”


Sandra Neily here:

If I had to pick a time to avoid open heart surgery like the plague (oops; useless expression these days), I would avoid it now when Maine Medical Center is packed with more Covid patients than any time since the start of the pandemic.

But, as Mick Jagger says, “you can’t always get what you want.” Sigh. (I sang that to my very young daughter when she was asking for the impossible. We always ended up  dancing around the kitchen, so it worked.)

The song goes on to say that sometimes, “you get what you need.” I needed a new aortic valve. My cardiologist has been watching it for years as it went from a mild thing, to a moderate thing, to a severe times up thing when climbing stairs left me breathless.

When my brain was fogged during the early part of my hospital stay, I appreciated the advice of my good friend Sally and listened to Harry Potter on my iPad. I only took off the huge wireless headphones my husband gave me when I went to bed or when my vitals got taken.

I know I’ve recommended Jim Dale’s reading of this series to all my adult friends and Maine Crime Writers’ readers before, but there’s nothing like his talent at making another world come alive. I thought I could use transport to another world beyond my hospital roommate’s speaker phone conversations with her family (who all sounded lovely, but … honestly).

It worked. Chock up another win for us story tellers!

I was spared endless recipe comparisons and tales of dog output performance from the other side of the curtain when I was with Harry and friends.

Jim Dale has won every audio book award multiple times! See why, here. Age or skepticism or snobbery is no barrier to enjoying it, but he’s so good, please, if driving, turn it off when you get to traffic, lights, and civilization. Harry’s world is that distracting.

After a few more days, I thought I could read through the first chapters of my next book. I’d emailed them to myself, thinking I could at least visit my writing brain and get myself ready to type more chapters when I got home.


I don’t remember much about that effort except re-reading (many times) the lines about my narrator Patton as she completes a tough medical adventure.

“And no tears,” Liz said, pulling down her jacket cuff to wipe mine away. “I know how much you hate the entire fragile idea—even hate the word fragile—but that’s what you are. Probably not forever, but in the near future, please dial it back and just heal. Please. Just heal. Make that lovely but lawless canine run circles around you while you walk slower than clams.”

“Clams don’t walk,” I said, settling Pock on his car sleeping bag.

“My point, exactly,” Liz said, wiping her own tears.

Boris Karloff, 1935 “Bride of Frankenstein.” Grateful my significant stiches are…elsewhere.

I am now, however, walking a mile or more a day (faster than clams), impressing my health care team, inspecting my chest to see if the Frankenstein stitches are fading, and reading the newly released (and best-selling) Eleanor. This hefty biography technically pushes the limit about how much weight I’m supposed to lift, but I could not have ordered up a more engrossing story about a woman overcoming great odds.

A woman we thought we knew a bit, but not really. A woman who achieves her fullness later in life. I didn’t intend it, but this biography seems to be a recovery infusion of grit and hope.

“Squirrel! I can hold this pose for a long time while my human catches up to me.”

For a while now, the things that lift me up and onward have not been available: the outdoors and physical activity, reading, and writing. All are back now. And just in time for the first flirtation of snow as it decorated the balsams leaning over my woods walks.

I think by January I’ll be cleared to snowshoe on the lake when it freezes. Or ski on flat trails. By then, maybe I’ll have most of Deadly Disease, or Deadly Invasion, or Deadly Loss (the title is illusive) … written. At least the first draft.

I’ll need to reread the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. (Reviews below.) In it she says, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. … the first draft is the down draft–you just get it down. The second draft is the updraft–you fix it up. … And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”

ps: Many thanks to the Maine Crime Writers team for all the great posts I’ve enjoyed this past month or so while I took a break. What a diverse coterie of authors, united by talent but each sharing diverse and quite unexpected advice, stories, recipes, family updates, travels, and of course, the passion for storytelling.

ppss: Wondering why adults are drawn to the Harry Potter series? Here’s Harry’s headmaster: “Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign… to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”

Oh my …

(Boomers and those feeling creaky take note: I suggest you watch that entire video of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” for impressive senior energy and the magic cigarette.)

Sandy’s debut novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” was published in 2021. Her third “Deadly” is due out in 2022. Find her novels at all Shermans Books (Maine) and on Amazon. She lives in a camp on Moosehead Lake. Find more info on Sandy’s website. 


Reviews for Bird by Bird: “Superb writing advice. . . . Hilarious, helpful, and provocative.”
The New York Times Book Review ** “A warm, generous, and hilarious guide through the writer’s world and its treacherous swamps.” Los Angeles Times ** “One of the funniest books on writing ever published.” The Christian Science Monitor ** “A gift to all of us mortals who write or ever wanted to write. . . . Sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise and alternately cranky and kind—a reveille to get off our duffs and start writing now, while we still can.” Seattle Times

About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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18 Responses to You Can’t Always Get What You Want, But …”

  1. jbettany2013 says:

    Glad to hear you’re on the mend. Great post. I think that is my favourite Rolling Stones song.

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Thanks, jbettany! Finding that video to put in the post made my week. Think my husband is tired of hearing it, though.. Must locate my huge earphones again. Thanks!

  2. Maureen Harrington says:

    What you wrote here was great. Very moving. Made me cry and smile at the same time. And think of my mother. And her strength.

  3. I needed your post today and I am so glad you are doing well. At just 65 with a lazy valve I will be less scared and for sure more prepared when it is my time, headphones and all.

  4. David Hipschman says:

    So glad you’re healing. I’ve been flirting with Afib so have some conception. Stay well.

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Ahhhh, thanks David. Thinking Afib would be no fun as my heart is often all over the place until it settles down sometime….they say. Think we get kind of hyper-vigilant when we feel the different beats. Thanks for reaching out! Good luck with the Afib; have many tall men friends with this challenge.

  5. John Clark says:

    Glad you’re on the mend…And you’re dead on about Jim Dale narrating the Harry Potter books. He took them to a new level and made the evil aura the kids were dealing with so real.

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Thanks, John, agreed! His evil Snape voice was amazing. Think Jim also made the friendship real too. Think that was just the best message
      from the stories. Nice to know you also have been listening.

  6. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    So happy for you and your positive spirit! Enjoy the winter ahead.

  7. susanvaughan says:

    What an ordeal! I’m happy you are mending and haven’t lost your sense of humor. When I taught 7th grade English, I used that Stones song when needed. I even had those lyrics as a poster.

  8. I didn’t know about this and would have been beaming you good energy during your surgery if I had. I will content myself with sending you good, healing vibes now, with best wishes for continued steady recuperation. Enjoy your walks as the woods take on their winter mien. Sending a hug!

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