Take Me With You

A genius raised, a shroud of mist –
A muse amazed, a writer kissed –
From blue veined structures, lyrics flow.
Into a bloodlet cistern go
The drippings of a mind possessed –
Such humors best to have confessed
Onto the page where readers drink
Transfusions of vampiric ink.
They get their fill; they breath the words,
And bits of meaning flit like birds.
Into their daily highs and lows
A writer’s rhythmic weather goes.

By Jeff Kubina from Columbia, Maryland (Typewriter) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A Writer – After-the-Fact

I am a writer after-the-fact.  My favorite class in middle school was a literature class where our teacher (oh, how I wish I could remember that heroine’s name) encouraged some of the best poetry I’ve ever written, and taught us how to write persuasively through the most horrible song ever made up.  Seriously – it “REECed.”  Specifically – it was a labored rhythmic chant to the acronym she created – “ASPIREEREEREEC,” and if you write persuasive anythings, I’m sure you can fill in the words.  My favorite high school class was Mrs. Amy Leeson’s Literature class where we combined neuvo-geek with drama-chic with half the academic bowl team that she ran also active members of the school’s drama club (Ms. Leeson directing).  I still have the T-shirts – one with a puffy brain on it and the other with a shield that warned our opponents we were either coming home, “With our shields or on them!”  I can still sing all the lyrics to “Guys and Dolls,” and I still remember my first awareness of a transgender person in the form of 20th century artist, Wendy Walter.  Enlightenment.  That’s what the written word meant in my formative years.

But Dollar_sign_(reflective_metallic)only dreamers, those who are impractical from their youth with no good parenting or influence to set them right about financial security, responsibility, and avoidance of embarrassment, only those people would ever pursue a writing career out of high school.  Duh.  So I joined the Army Reserve, went to college for nearly eleven years before settling on a major and finishing it, and had two successful careers into my nearly middle age.  As a woman who observed typical corporate gender roles without question in my twenties, and later became a member of executive leadership in a tax-funded organization, I saw why feminism is still so relevant today.  I experienced proof, in my own journey, that the “American Dream” where your hard work and perseverance leads to success. can be true.  True, that is, if you are okay with the concept that success means upper-middle class but probably not Mercedes or Rolls Royce type of success.

I am a writer after-the-fact, because after a winding path to a place where I recognize the importance of balance, the ability to pay bills and have a roof over my head and still be home spending quality time with loved ones, still reaching out to friends from time to time and enjoying a latte, or hilarious conversation with wit flying at breakneck speeds – after coming to that conclusion, I am taking advantage of a tiny crack in reality that has opened up.  I am walking away from an 18 year career that I love, a great paycheck too, and returning to the land of “hand to mouth,” in order to write.  I find it fascinating that it took me 22 years to lift myself up by my bootstraps from poverty to the “upper-middle class” I mentioned, yet in just 42 days I will be immediately demoted to a level just slightly above that $17,000 annual salary I made in 1997.  I’m sure I’ll enjoy writing about that one day.

For now, suffice to say that my wife will be paying our bills and bringing home the bacon (in the form of the healthiest food we can afford for meals).  Instead of the “shotgun-style” three room house (in “Crackville”) I rented back then, we’ll be comfortable and happy in our lovely home with a gorgeous view of the Olympic mountains.  Granted – we’ll be paying on two mortgages: this one and the one we rent (thankfully) to a dutiful family in the South.  Granted – we’ll be biting our nails, hoping the skylights in the roof don’t spring a leak in one of the rainiest areas of the U.S., or the septic tank holds up, or the already warping wooden deck in the back doesn’t fall apart.  But we’ll have each other, and friends, and I’ll be writing anywhere from 3000 – 6000 words a day, and isn’t that what dreams are all about?

Amazing too, that it only took 22 years to ponder how it might have been if I’d ignored the corporate plantation owners’ offers to rack up credit card debt, the government subsidized bank offers to accumulate massive student loans and spend the next years of my life in servitude to those debts.  To consider the possibility of being happy with what can come from me instead of how hard I need to work to get things to come to me.  Perhaps the real lesson to be explored is how much I would even be able to write effectively if not for the trip down Al-Anon pain, debt-stress, heartaches, and coming out among the hundreds of other ingredients into the who I have become.  But again, that’s for another day.
256px-Bookstack.svg
If I had it all to do over, I’d take more classes on writing.  And literature.  I remember thinking how I could cut down on my amount of required reading in college by limiting the Lit classes I took.  Messed up thinking.  At 41 years old, I find myself doing nerdy things like picking up a college literature text for a bargain at a Salvation Army Store and drooling over its variety of content once home.  I pour over the tiny text (and cringing, I admit to keeping a magnifying glass handy whilst reading it) and recall why I fell in love with Twain, Woolf, Poe, and others.

I am a writer after-the-fact, but I do wonder what I might have been if I’d been one of the irresponsible dreamers and become a writer before it all.  Would my children be those books I blush at, and shake my head about the travesty that anyone could make a killing off such base and carnal fruits – so simple and formulaic they don’t require a spellchecker or a care for unique plot design?  Was that a low blow?  The difference is: I don’t care at 41 years of triumph.  Have I read them?  Would I be able to speak with such clarity as to their contents if I hadn’t?  But I wouldn’t pay my hard earned money for them.  I know, I know.  I digress.

Ernest_Hemingway_at_the_Finca_Vigia,_Cuba_1946_-_NARA_-_192660     Would I be a writer of clarity and intelligence, or a rambling idiot who thinks twerking is something worth writing about?  Would I seek to write something with literary value, or be forced to the debt plantations anyway, striving toward a publishing contract that would pay my growing bills?  I will never know.
Kafka
I used to detest the upper classes.  I used to writhe in hatred for the entitled oblivious, the self-interested pundits, and shake my fist at the unfairness of it all.  I looked at writers like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and all the others and thought, “Of course she/he can write something deep and meaningful – they can sit around in their ‘writing bungalow’ comforted by their inherited money and just spill words of virtue whenever the mood strikes them, no fiscal or leadership care in the world.”  I connected with the Kafka’s and those others who wrote from poverty or while struggling with the realities of 99 percent of humanity.  Yet, here I am.  In just 42 days I will be able to say – I am a writer, after-the-fact, who can write with limited care, surrounded by friends and family who don’t need me to supervise anything or make any crucial decisions.  I am a writer with stories and time.


 

Featured Image by Jeff Kubina from Columbia, Maryland (Typewriter) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
L. Frank Baum, 1899

Writing & Blogging: Lessons Learned in NaNoWriMo2014

If you are a writer, an author, a novelist, or interested at all in the literary world, you know that November marked the popular National Novel Writing Month, or as it is more affectionately (or vehemently) known – NaNoWriMo.  This was my third year participating in the event where writers from all over the world commit to a monthly word count goal of fifty thousand words.  This was the first time I won; I wrote over 50K words and am still going.  But more importantly, I learn a few things from the experience.

1. Keeping a daily writing habit is essential. 

Doesn’t matter if the material is not my best, or even crappy.  Putting my body and mind in the habit of writing something, anything, everyday knocks the idea of writer’s block off its rocker a little.  It means I don’t worry about quality so much as quantity for this exercise.  If you wrap that whole philosophy up into a little stocking stuffer – it means you tend to be looser, more limber, and can step into the ring looking like a buff, energetic writing monster.  It means quality will come easier.

2. Setting a daily minimum keeps me honest. 

Otherwise, I can subscribe to the idea of daily writing and then cheat out a sentence or two and call it a day.  Maybe you don’t have this problem.  I do.  So even if I set a low 500 word count minimum, I can do the math on how much content that gets me in a year and be happy that I’m on board.  With the day job, I think 500 – 1K is reasonable depending on your genre.  I intend on upping that to 3K – 4K when I go full bathrobe writer in 45 days.

3. First draft writing is important for building confidence.

Before my first 50K on one project, I always wrote as if doing a term paper the night before its due.  I wrote, edited, rewrote, wrote some more, polished that, etc.  By the time I got to the ending, I had lovely content leading up to it and the “grand finale” of finishing and being done at the same time was wonderful.  But facing such a large project, I had trouble.  My first two NaNo years were hell because I couldn’t let go and just type.  I made it to about 3K the first time, and only 8K the second.  I knew that I needed to prove to myself that I could tackle a project as large as a novel before resigning and becoming (for all intents and purposes) unemployed.

So this time (and as many of my blog posts display for all to see) I just threw caution to the wind and made myself ignore aspects I wanted to go back and change after a few paragraphs.  It required discipline to stay committed to that plan.  It also required that I let go of the control I relish in the creative process for the time being and just vomit the ideas and ramblings that came to me onto the page.  The experience was a watershed moment in my writing practice and I encourage anyone who hasn’t tried it to give it a go.

I intend to finish the content of the book this way (probably another 50 – 100K) and then revise for the next two months.  Then I will follow the seasoned advice of many successful and published writers and toss the whole thing in a drawer for a few months.  In June or July (right around the time of Camp NaNoWriMo) I will pull it out and begin learning how to edit and develop a third and fourth draft.  Who knows?  Maybe it will be ready for an agent shortly after that.

4. Truth – “Find a niche for your blog and stick to it.” 

In posting my blog since I moved to Idaho for work in 2013, I’ve watched how interested readers/followers are in what I post.  My original idea was to have a daily snippet of writing, just a morsel, that readers could enjoy in less than a couple of minutes with their coffee. I discovered that I don’t do that well.  (Someone who does that really well is – http://myothervoices.wordpress.com/ although the content is not daily.)   I tried serials, but learned writing them “on-the-spot” daily is embarrassing since I didn’t edit them much prior to posting and later wanted to change the storyline or bury my head from all the typos.

I hadn’t learned that lesson until NaNoWriMo2014.  I posted unedited tidbits from my daily word count climb for all to laugh at and/or find amusing.  But since I slid around in the plot arc so frequently, and since there was no character development provided for a backdrop, it was hard to follow any story or stay hooked.  This was the valuable criticism from my lovely beta-reader and wife.  I agree.

Overarching all of this was the countdown theme.  My wife and I have set a goal for my return home once bills are paid and finances in tune for losing my income.  I thought sharing the experience of the countdown would interest some because, who doesn’t dream of quitting their job and writing full-time?!  I learned that to leverage that, I needed much more focus and time than I could provide to the blog.

My point?  The most popular articles on my blog since starting it are the ones dealing with the writing practice, habit, journey, and frustrations.  I love to write about those things almost as much as I like creating fiction.  So I believe I have found my niche.  Expect blog modifications to follow.

Evanovich-Like Description

Chocolate Ice Cream Sundae (5076304681)

 

 

A plethora of greens tumbled down the mountainous hill. Evergreens and bushes scattered amongst other assorted outcroppings. Additional amber, auburn, oranges and browns – sprinkles of brush –  dotted the clay drizzled hills. She knew that she should marvel at its beauty, that deep thoughts should come to her. But for some reason it reminded her of a mint chocolate chip ice cream sundae drizzled with carmel syrup. If it had been a cloudy day she would have counted it for whipped cream and put a cherry on top.

Unreliable Third

Blood stain
It was late.  Kinsey was irritable and frankly, downright angry.  Here it was, close to seven o’clock when she wanted to be watching the season finale of Runway, and she was at Target.  Her two best friends hadn’t done their part for the science fair project they’d been assigned.  “Why do I always have to be the reliable one?”  She directed this question to a rather large shopper who was blocking the isle, his cart full of cereal boxes and gasoline.  “What the hell is he doing?” she thought, as she maneuvered around his pockmarked and ridiculous expression.  She ignored his attempt to tell her a knock-knock joke and hurried past the hypodermic needle display.

A cold sweat broke on Kinsey’s forehead and traveled down her chest and back.  Her arms became weak and shaky and she pushed her cart to one side to take stock of her situation.  Tinsey and Cheryl had reluctantly turned over the list of supplies when she’d exploded about the impending deadline, pointing out the ten page paper she’d finished – her end of the deal.  She had become impatient, waiting for them to mess with their makeup, and finally left them at the house.

She slid her purse around her shoulder and propped it in the child’s seat of the cart.  Reaching for the zipper, she noticed a large clump of hair and grime that had converged where her wrist met the back of her hand, the sweat of her body carrying it all there, as if to a faucet.  In a single exasperated motion, she flung it at the fat man as he emerged from the isle she’d just left.  Dodging the monstrosity (that had now grown teeth), the man shook his head and continued around to the next isle.

Alone again, Kinsey focused on remaining calm.  “Runway will just be finishing when I get home,” she thought, “I’ll be able to start the DVR and skip the commercials.”  Now, back to the task at hand.  Opening her purse, she felt the hair on the back of her neck come to life.  Was the fat man back, demanding a “Who’s there?”  She glanced quickly around, surveying the ends of each isle.  No.  She was alone.  Still, she felt the undeniable sensation of someone watching her. “Cameras,” she thought, and reached into the purse for the list.

Swirling her hand around like she was mixing a salad, she grazed her checkbook, the calculator, and some keys.  A grinding noise, very low and steady, began tickling her ears.  “Someone got a bad cart,” she supposed, “with a wheel that needs fixing.”  She pulled out her cell phone without a glance, and tucked it into her jeans pocket.  She knew there would be messages from her friends, wondering where she was, but she refused to pay heed.  They had disrespected her time with their lack of follow-through.  They could make an appointment to apologize as far as she was concerned.

The grinding sound had intensified, only now it had a different quality.  She could swear it was repeating words, or rather, a familiar phrase of non-words she recognized from her childhood, “Wacka ferantun, butos santin, oorat dirty perkin shertafata bunkin philaportin, perkaluma bertin dirtin, burstin agin enata …”  It sounded like a robot, with a much lower voice, cursing like her favorite cartoon character – Yosemite Sam.  Only it wasn’t changing its tone; it just forced the sounds out like a mantra, the curse becoming louder and louder.  Was it possible, she wondered, that a busted wheel could make such sounds?

She hurriedly dove back into her bag, striving for the feel of a piece of paper that may have drifted to the bottom.  Using her forearm to widen the opening as her hand still explored, she positioned the purse to get more light, and looked into the gaping hole.  A shrill scream left her before her optical nerve cooperated with the full story.

A row of jagged, greasy teeth had her arm in a vice-grip.  Insane eyes peered at her from the sides of the beast that was once her purse.  Emblazoned with a self-righteous fury, they pierced her with looks of hatred and disgust.  Her arm a bloody mess with bone starting to show, Kinsey panicked and began waving her arm, monster attached, in wide arcs away from the shopping cart.

Contents of the monster’s stomach began flying.  In the store around her, she noticed a crowd of strange creatures, half human – half shopping card, moving toward her.  Surrounded and outnumbered, she charged past the smallest of the pack, desperate for escape.  The central isle opened in front of her and she searched for the best place to hide.  Her wild antics had sent the purse monster, teeth still clamped on her arm and hand, sailing in another direction.

What remained of her arm now hung from her shoulder, limp and immobile.  She stared in awkward fascination at the hemorrhaging stump, and thought how lucky she was to catch a break.  The blood flowing from the wound soaked into her clothes and painted the pristine white surroundings as she tucked herself onto a lower shelf next to the flower pots.  She was certain she blended into the color scheme of the store now; this would help her camouflage.

“Kinsey!  Hey, Kinsey!  It’s okay.  Calm down; it’s okay.”  She knew that voice.  “Don’t be afraid.  We’re here; we found you.  We’re going to get you help.”

“Cheryl?  Cheryl – be quiet or they’ll find us.  Quick – get in here.  I’ll make room!”  Kinsey’s whisper was laced with fear and frustration.  Her friend was going to get her killed.

“Kinsey – it’s not real.  You’re okay.  You took some of those LSD stickers.  You – it’s not real, honey.  I’m sorry.  We went to get batteries for the camera and you were gone.  I’m so glad we found you.”  Cheryl knelt in front of Kinsey and looked over her shoulder at what looked like Tinsey next to a blue blob with shiny, silver spots.  “It was our science project for school, officer.  We just wanted to do something different.  We didn’t think it would be like this.”

The blob spoke in Mandarin, Kinsey could not make out what it was saying.  But Tinsey and Cheryl seemed to comprehend.  Kinsey withdrew further into her hiding place.  Her body had begun to shake and she was suddenly very thirsty.

“Cheryl?” Tinsey’s voice traced the ledge of shock and fear, “Where … is all that blood coming from?”

Reaching for her best friend, Cheryl was slow and deliberate, stroking her friend’s hair with one hand and reaching for her hand with the other.  “C’mon girl.  Let’s get you to a hospital.”  She froze.  “Oh my God!  You guys, her arm … she’s missing …” Cheryl fell backward as instinct jerked her hands back.  She braced herself, leaving a bloody hand print on the tile, as she slid herself as far away as she could get.  Her eyes glazed over in shock; she whispered, “She’s missing half her arm.”


This piece is inspired by the exercise called “Unreliable Third,” in Brian Kiteley’s book The 3 A.M. Epiphany.  I highly recommend it to aspiring writers with day jobs.

Neighborhood

Snowy frozen bush night

January 20, 2014 – Today I fought with a snow bank. The damn trash can was frozen to the side of the house by the snow dropped from the roof. It was trash day and I haven’t put the trash out for a couple weeks so that thing is full. But now I guess I can’t because it won’t move and the closest thing I have to a shovel is a broom. I tried attaching with the broom but ended up getting the broom stuck in the snow and I felt like the entire neighborhood was laughing behind their curtains. The car started and the defroster worked. So that’s good at least.

 

January 25, 2014 – I bought a box of big trash bags. Since I can’t get the stupid trash can out of the snow, I figure I’ll stock pile my trash in the bag until next trash day and just set the bag out there. I’ve seen other people do it and haven’t noticed any bears or wild things roaming around. There are some dogs around here because I hear them bark sometimes at night when I come home. But I think it’ll be okay.

 

January 27, 2014 – Set the trash bag out for pick up as planned. Left for work around ten and it was gone when I got home at nine. Also, it looks like the snow plow person plowed my driveway. That’s kind of nice. I got out of my car and looked around like I should find him or her and say thanks. Tired from working I guess. Silly. It was quiet as a mouse except for those barking dogs. I guess they hear my car at night.

I see cat tracks in the snow on my porch that look like whatever it is hangs out until I come around the corner and then takes off. I mean they are fresh tracks so it must leave right before I park or something. Listen to me – like I’m Davy Crockett or something.

Work was long and busy. Same as always. Came home; turned on the heat; cooked some ramen noodles for dinner. Will probably stay up too late reading; fall asleep on the couch and hit the pillow around two like always.

 

January 30, 2014 – The snow really makes things seem super quiet. It’s actually driving me a little batty. Today I took the day off and slept in. Woke up around eleven and rushed to turn the heat in the living room back up. Damn blinds by that window are warped and I forgot to put my housecoat on. Didn’t seem like anyone saw me but I rarely see anyone outside, just feel them. Weird. Goose bumps and all that.

Scrambled some eggs and actually opened the blinds and stared out into the clear white lot next to me. I bet the landlord is going to be pissed about those tire tracks. Someone must have been driving drunk, or maybe some kids were being stupid. There’s a huge three-sixty carved in the lot and then it looks like they drove straight at my rent house and past my back window, through the side yard to the other street next to me. Can’t believe I didn’t hear that. Must have been really deep in sleep. Plus the electric heater in the bedroom is pretty loud. Still. Creepy.

 

February 2, 2014 – Landlord called me at work today and asked about the tire tracks. I told him I had noticed them after the fact, but had no clue who it was. He said he’d called the police to investigate and they’d asked around at various houses. No one knew who it was.

Damn dogs are barking. They usually stop by now. Hope they shut up before I got to bed.


 

This piece is roughly edited and nowhere near complete.  It originates from the writing exercise called, “Journalism,” in Brian Kiteley’s book, The 3 A.M. Epiphany.  It’s supposed to tell a story without telling it through a narrator journal, where the narrator might not see the underlying story either.

Inperitive Eyes

Dark manticora eyes
The damn toaster is set at two.  That won’t do.  Turn it to three at least.  Not five – unless burnt toast is the goal for starting the day?  Some day it will be, either way.  Coffee’s done.

It snowed just twelve miles away yesterday.  Snowed.  In April.  Nearly May.  Probably need to wear a thin layer under a button down again today.  Leave the window blind up; the sunshine is looking mighty nice right now.  Remember to get creamer at the store on the way in.  They’ll be closed by the time you get off.  Um – toast should basically be a boat for butter; keep going.  There’s some Apricot marmalade in the fridge – use that too.

Take the empty egg cartons to the farm people today.  May not need more eggs, but they look messy piled up there on top of the fridge.  Floor could really use a good mop in here too.  Not now.  Only two hours before the first meeting.  Better get busy scarfing that toast and coffee down.  Take the eye vitamins and immune system supplements after you finish the first piece.

No, there’s no time to read that chapter.  It’s an eat and run morning.  Should have thought about that last night when sleep wasn’t intriguing enough to cajole.  A little effort wouldn’t hurt on those nights.  Four hours rest isn’t what those degenerate eyes need.  And a ten o’clock wake-up (in order to get them an hour and a half more) lacks style.  Really.  Could have hit the 4000 word count with a decent night’s sleep this morning.

Leave the heat down.  Save on the power bill.  Speaking of bills – open that one from yesterday and text the amount to M so she can pay it.  After that NSF from the local bank last week, it might be a good idea to close that account today or tomorrow.  Lady tried to say the online transaction records are updated daily.  So not true.  Best close it and just work with cash for the small amount every month.  And check both post offices on the way too.  Otherwise that Walmart package will get sent back.

Hit the shower.  Use the shower cap.  Hair looks serviceable (smells fine too).  No point in wasting time messing with that plain-Jane cut.  Tomorrow’s the bigger meeting, so save those pants for that.  Wear the greenerish-brown pair.  Otherwise it’s the same black pair worn yesterday.  Bad enough only three or four pairs fit, but do try and keep an appearance of variety.  Thank goodness for all these shirts.  They need to be rearranged again to hang in ROYGBV order.  Too much hurry whenever coming or going.  There are probably still clothes in the dryer crowding wrinkles into each other.

Just a hint of blush.  No age spots to cover up yet – small blessings.  Wow! What was that dream last night?!  Someone with makeup done sparkly?  And a hubbub of argument about “being out of uniform?”  How fun to still be at work during the scant hours of sleep managed.  Seriously.

Leave the books.  No time to read them at work anyway.  Lunch consists of a can of fruit at the overflowing desk or while standing in the front office.  Stop kidding yourself.  They’ll still be here when the day is done.  You have time.  Belt.  Don’t forget the belt.  Brown one would work with this.  Maybe ice the eyes before leaving.  The cold would feel good, and it wouldn’t hurt the bags under them either.  Stop worrying.  “could be twenty or thirty years,” he said.  There’s time.


 

This piece is the result of following Brian Kiteley’s second writing exercise in his book, The 3 A.M. Epiphany.  If you can get past the introduction, I highly recommend this to any writer with a day job.

 

Series – Characters

JJ

 

Ain’t nobody can tell me they know me.  I din play no game of truth or dare with none of ’em an not one is up in my head.  I come from the streets and don’t act otherwise.  If I say I need the money from that place, you better believe dat.  I may be low; I may be worse than thug.  But I got respect for where I come up from, and don’t think I take it light when I bust a place out for some C-notes.  I’m takin’ care of me and mine.  I do that, then maybe I take care of the hood.

If I end up in jail and leave ’em hungry at’s jus a chance we gotta take.  You try feed a baby and two grown folk on minimum wage without the lights and heat don’t go out cuz you cain’t make bills and rent.  What I got is no options.  Have a newborn get sick and all ribs ain’t an option.

Think you know.  You don’t know this.  Ceeli work before the baby, and started back this laz month.  Back when I was tryin’ to stay straight we got a plan to work opposites.  She work days and I work nights.  Then people wanna bitch when we yell and scream the off chance we be home together.  Like that typa’ shit don’t take its toll.  Junior need sum different.  Ain’t havin’ him raised wit angry all around like we was.

You wanna judge?  Judge dat.  I go to jail, he got no daddy … maybe he still grow up mean.  Still.  Least this way he got a chance.  You wanna judge this?  Tell me what gives you dat right?

one writer morning

the wideness of my headspace
yawns the hunger open
the coffee slides
fatigue presides

sly glances of bright outside
push into my groggy
cold whispers my skin
where to begin

a magic show swallowed my genius
disappeared my idea bodies
scratching inward i dig for the prisoners
dreaded yearnings seek
for letters ... words ... 
a string of story
to explain my empty.

Neighborhood Watch (series) 9

9

Grady had always known me, even though she hadn’t known all the things I’d done. She knew my heart better than I did, as cliche at that sounds. It was Grady that taught me that we aren’t the sum of our actions, or even the sum of our intentions. “We are greater than what we wish we are, and less than what we think we are.” When she said it, I must have made a face. She walked up to me so fast and deliberate, I braced for the inevitable slap to the face I anticipated. Instead, she grabbed me so intensely and kissed me with a passion I’d never felt from her before. “We’ll never fully understand or define God’s love in this lifetime, honey. Don’t knock it. Miracles can’t be explained. He gave me you. He forgives and heals all things. He pumps your heart and breaths life into you every second. Put that in your brain and mull it over until you go crazy. Then give in and let go, my darling.”

I had accepted that Grady was a ferocious Christian about five minutes into our first meeting. It surprised and confused me that such a gorgeous package of anomalies, walking around on two sexy legs and taking an interest in a friendship with me, could exist in the world … could survive in Fingerbone. I would come to understand that she defined the place. Opinionated, self-reliant, bad-asses lived in Fingerbone. Sure, there were a handful of socialite-wannabes, crotchety old coots, rednecks, and a few even fit the description “dregs of society.” But for the most part, townsfolk had two things you could always count on: curiosity and friendliness. Pretty harmless features, attractive even, if you have nothing to hide.

It wasn’t until Grady leaned into me one day at the river, whispered the punchline to a joke she was telling me, and then caressed the laugh-lines she’d created with her hands that I realized. I didn’t have to hide from her. She was one of only two in town that had managed to make me laugh since I’d been there. I enjoyed her company, her smell, her mannerisms, her eyes. But I believed her interest in me strictly sisterly, and had self-talked myself batty not to screw up this great friendship by scaring her. I tried to tame my attraction to her and made no inappropriate advances. So when her adoring fingers silenced my giggle, and her lips traveled to my fading smile, my confusion and cautiousness departed, and I fell.

I fell first in love, and then literally into the river. If you know my past, neither makes any sense. I’m not usually at a loss for grace and balance. It was a huge part of my profession at one point. As for love, you have to understand. What I used to do … it would have been like a librarian who couldn’t read, or a mechanic allergic to grease. But Grady and I, we were clumsy like two new colts loping about on spindly legs. She opened the door to all we could have, and we suddenly figured out we had brought a teacup to a well the size of the ocean. That splash helped connect us for eternity though. Eternity minus a bullet.

Later in her living room, as we were warming up next to her wood burning stove, I asked her what she was thinking when she kissed me. I expected her to say, “I wasn’t,” or something that meant there was still some pondering happening. Instead, she’d reminded me of our first conversation.

“I was thinking about what you said when we first met. ‘People aren’t always what they seem, Ma’am.’ Poetic and ironic. I was looking at the scars on your neck after you asked me about Fred Tanner. When you said that, I looked into your eyes and those words stirred my heart more about you than Fred. I wanted to know what made you tick.”

“I thought you just wanted to preach to me.” This made her laugh and give me a little shove.

“I wanted you to know what make me tick.”

You know the rest. The warmth, the light flickering in her eyes, the words and how they purred softly into my emotional wounds … we didn’t make love that night. We held each other, snuggled while fully clothed, and felt the power we had to heal and protect one another, even in our sleep.

 

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Alter-me

Open bags of chocolate mock my gurgling stomach.  The heater, a cheap little job that the landlord anchored right next to an uninsulated glass patio door, does its best to keep it’s little corner warm while the warped plastic blinds usher the cold toward its thermostat.  Another cheap addition to this little rent house, the blinds provide privacy for approximately one square foot  in this room.  Otherwise, they sprinkle the cold tile floor with light during the day, and reveal murky shadows and distant headlights at night.

I turn off the Margaret Atwood collection I’m listening to as I surf the net.  I think I have an idea of her style now, but still not sure I like it.  The one about the duchess poem is interesting but somehow, unfulfilling.  What a letdown this day has been.  In an hour I’ll need to start packing, but of course, I won’t.  Instead, I’ll be up most the night doing laundry I should have done earlier, reading things I can’t put down, and drumming up story ideas in my mind that I’ll fail to write, and eventually forget.  I suppose a story idea is like a fish of keeping-size to a writer, and should never be let off the hook.  I’m not sure if I’m lazy or just resigned to the futility I feel about it all.

I’m not completely fatalistic.  I have been taking steps, you know.  I’m reading “in bulk” now.  Restricted myself to only two nights a week with my old pal, Netflix.  Took an online course on “Advanced Fiction Writing,” and actually learned a few things.  Learned a few tricks, more like.  And I have experienced the satisfaction of another “final exam” victory.  Didn’t think I’d have that fun ever again.  Today I actually signed up for another class – “The Craft of Magazine Writing.”  It hasn’t even started and I learned that I can write an article  about something without being an expert on it.  Funny how I knew that already from reading articles, but didn’t spell it out in my head until I read it in the course introduction.

So what’s the big damn deal?  It’s this nagging alter-ego – “alter-me” I call it, that keeps whimpering around my shoulders that I’m already getting old.  “Note the frequent heartburn and faster pacing to the bathroom.” it taunts, “You can’t even remember ‘its’ versus ‘it’s’ without checking every other week.”  I wish this menace were corporeal so I could just reach around and strangle it.  But alas, it’s a fragment of me.  Only not me.  I’m going to make this writing lifestyle work.  I have skills; I’m brilliant; and I have a partner who reminds me of this (in different words) all the time.  I’m at a time and place, in my life and geographically, that appears to be primed to make this happen.

So why am I letting this bitch – “self-doubt” get to me?  It’s just a matter of time.  And it suddenly becomes clear.  There’s the rub.  It IS just a matter of time.  I’ve never been good with time.  Waiting for it frustrates me and missing it depresses me.  “The moment” is not my forte.  I write best in present tense, but I sure don’t live it well.  My transformation from a workaholic in the youth work world to a freelance writer with a novel in my back pocket isn’t scheduled to happen until January 2015 at the earliest … March 2015 at the latest.  All efforts to make progress toward being published, even just “token” published, are slow-going.  I don’t like slow.  Visions of cancer, or heart issues, or some other crazy thing popping up and preventing this dream, niggle at my subconscious.  In turn, my alter-me is generated and promotes the negativity campaign on a regular basis.

I feed it chocolate and keep writing.

New Series – Characters

This series will occasionally introduce characters as they are born.  Some will be basic walk-ons and others will be underdeveloped protagonists or antagonists.   First up is Chung Najera.

 

Chung Najera is a careful young man.  As a boy he saved his allowance money weekly until he had enough for the bicycle he had wanted for two years.  When the store manager confirmed that the model was no longer made Chung was coerced into buying what the scrawny, pock-faced man said was the upgraded version.  The end result of this transaction was a broken bike (by Chung’s own disgusted hand) and a permanent adherence to a fiscal code that was to stay with him into manhood.  Chung never set his heart or mind on anything he didn’t already have the money to own.

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It can probably be said that the deep impression this left on his development poured also into his spirit in other, non-fiscal matters.  A prime example is his response to his fiance’s remark that they should not worry about the change their union would bring to their respective lives, or the upset it might cause their feuding families.  The unknowns, she had said, were just that.  No amount of planning or waiting would give clarity about what might be in five, ten, or twenty years – all that mattered was their love.  Chung quickly ended the wedding with a solitary statement to his forlorn darling.  It sounded too much like buying on credit and without a warranty.  Chung very rarely invested without insurance.  And he never bought on credit.

 

The Politics of Esteem

Havre Train Station - Amtrak

On a 20 hour train ride from Spokane to Minot I overheard a conversation that resulted in my sadness and poor outlook on the human race – myself a member.  Somewhere around Havre, MT two women got on board with a wealth of other new passengers.  Those of us who had treasured our two-seat comfort were disappointed, but it was to be expected sooner or later.

These two women were fascinating to watch because, although they shared a common language (accent) and geography, they were the epitome of night and day.  Julie was thin, fit, and of average stature.  Janice was shorter and rotund, and her shirt revealed her backside whenever she bent over to get anything out of her bag.  Julie was stylish in her stone washed jeans, layered fashion t-shirts, and textured Justin boots.  Apparently Janice and her husband used to live across from Julie and her husband years ago.  And today they had met at the Havre train depot, both of them headed back to Minnesota.

In listening to their conversation, I learned that Julie is a cancer survivor.  Janice sent her a card after she learned about her former neighbor’s plight months ago.  She asked if Julie got it.  She did.  She had just decided not to respond.  Who knows?  Maybe surviving a near death experience like cancer makes you simplify and you worry less about social expectations like returning a correspondence.

During their initial exchange, Janice made several attempts to reconnect.  She even settled for getting their husbands (who apparently used to be good friends) back in touch.  Julie’s husband was up in Canada on his Harley enjoying a ride so that he wouldn’t miss Julie as much while she was gone.  I got the feeling that Janice’s husband still works.

Growing up, my parents were never really the social butterflies you see on those sitcoms where neighbors talk to neighbors over the fence and have the occasional barbecues.  And even today, when I move to a new place, its very difficult for me to be neighborly.  But Julie and Janice, from the clues in their conversation, had been the kind of neighbors that take baked goods to each other and collect each other’s mail when they’re out of town.  I was having trouble liking Julie as this went on.

Julie said words that were to be expected when Janice spoke.  She replied at the appropriate times and even came and leaned on the empty seat in front of us near the end of the conversation to face her “friend” and engage fully.  But Julie spoke a different kind of language with her body language, the words she chose, and her tone.  In Julie-language she quite obviously said, “I’m so far past you … so much better than you … this won’t go anywhere after we get off the train.”  Her replies near the end said, “I’ve been there, done that,” or “Oh, I can do you one better.”

Julie has beaten cancer and she is happy to talk about it to anyone that wants to hear.  She likes the way they look at her after she tells them.  As soon as a fellow passenger (a rather artsy looking Seattleite with long, well kempt hair and Birkenstocks) heard a name he recognized, he joined in the conversation.  Visually comparing the two, Julie quickly dropped Janice like a hot potato.  Janice may not have noticed, but I did and for some deep seeded reason I felt pissed.

Doug and Julie realized they had several relatives in common and began talking about what a small world it was and how uncanny it was to discover each other.  Julie got the attention she’d been seeking, in the package she preferred.  I know the label is used more commonly on men, but I have to say that Julie was a tool.  I watched as Janice slowly settled herself in for a long train ride next to a total stranger (me) who didn’t like to talk much.  Was I projecting some underlying sadness of my own in this social defeat of Janice’s?  Perhaps.

But with each conversation, each one so unlike me to instigate or perpetuate, I was speaking to Janice in Julie-language.  “We’re real, dammit.  We matter.  We GET that everything in life doesn’t work out perfect and fit in neat little designer Justin’s or Birkenstocks.  Our joys are just as important as anyone else’s.  Our pains are just as relevant.  We may not have been to the chemical warfront and returned to tell our stories over scars and glasses of fine wine.  But cancer comes in many forms.  Self-serving social cancer can hurt people too.  We will pray for Julie’s condition.”

Time to Write

To open my mac now, with the sounds of playing children and laughing families mingling with the smells of barbecue and wood burning stoves … all of it wafting through my window, well it feels so weird.  “Time to write” – what a foreign concept.

Continue reading

Vantage Point 2

Carting around the catch all day was bad enough; it seemed the smell never left her nostrils fully after there were no more buyers in the streets.  This was only intensified by the oils and other fluids that remained after the fish were sold or returned to the market.  Molly used the lye soap and tried lemon juice, wincing at the sting as it seeped into the cuts and cracks.  Her hands smelled so badly of fish, she sometimes soaked them in vanilla liquor or wood alcohol, other times in pickle vinegar, in an attempt to get rid of the stench. Continue reading