Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Fine

Today marks the third anniversary of my mother's passing. I wrote this piece long ago but didn't post it to my blog. I suppose there was some part of me that worried about being too morose. Too sad. Too melancholy.

Now, with three years hindsight, I suppose I know better. With time, the sharpness of grief softens. It doesn't stab at you, or ambush you, or even keep you up at night.

But it does not pass.

Here's the piece.

Fine

“I’m fine,” I’d say.
Over and over, again and again. They would ask and I would answer.
A pat on the back, figurative or literal. And then the sympathy, well intended but unwanted.
“How are you, Kathleen? I know you and your mother were so close.” I’d watch their heads, their mouths. Were they shaking their heads or nodding? Smiling or frowning? Later, I’d see it as a sad sort of smile. The kind we use when something inevitable happens, despite our damnedest efforts.
Most of them knew I’d gone straight back to school after Mom died. Days after her funeral, I sat in my final semester of classes, five in all. I discussed economic game theory, Nash equilibrium, and the financial banking crisis of 2008.  I told everyone it was good to be busy. It got my mind off Mom and those horrible, painful last days of taking care of her.
Of course, I lied.
The truth was I didn’t need anything to take my mind off her. In the months following my mother’s death, I hardly missed her at all.  Don’t misunderstand; my mother and I were exceptionally close. Not during my childhood, as she didn’t raise me. She relinquished all custodial rights a year following her divorce from my father.  Dad and my grandmother raised me.
But we became close later, like soul mates, she’d say. We felt linked, emotionally, regardless of our prior estrangement. We’d talk, daily. She’d visit frequently. And to nearly the day she died, she was my compass. She would gently direct me when I was lost, point me back to my true north when I didn’t know which way to go.
I should have missed her.
I told myself it was because I was not a person equipped for grief. I’d lost my grandmother, the strongest woman I ever knew and loved, years ago. I’d been thirty, months away from marriage and a big move. Too busy to grieve.
Three years later, I lost my father. He’d been sick his entire life yet managed to surprise us by dying. We’d had a tough few years. The guilt was breathtaking, enormous. And there just wasn’t enough room for guilt and grief. I deserved the guilt.
So, when Mom died, I thought it was the same. Maybe there was something superficial about me. Or something was missing in me. Sure, I was sad. But life went on. I was simply not built to sustain grief.
Besides, her loss felt more like an absence.
It was as if there was a blank where she’d been. I didn’t have the impulse to call her, like some people say they do. She was gone, like she hadn’t been. And I guess a part of me thought, maybe, that I’d reset to those days when she wasn’t part of my life. Maybe that was the ‘normal’ and the years since had really been the ‘exception’.
So when she was gone, she didn’t leave some throbbing, gaping hole of pain filled sorrow. Instead, there was a void. Just like the one she’d left when I was a child, she was there and then she was gone. And just like the way I adjusted as a child, I defaulted back to our ‘normal’. I was used to her being gone. I hadn’t missed her as a child and I didn’t miss her when she died.
Like I said, I was fine.
After graduation, I became a writer rather than pursuing a career in economics. If possible, people became more concerned. I suppose it made sense.
My mother, who everyone knew I’d been close to, had died.
I’d quit my job.
And now I was going to be a writer.
Sure.
Here they came again.
“Are you sure you’re fine?”
“It’s okay to talk to someone. In fact, sometimes it’s stronger to say you need help.”
I’d joke. Laugh. Tell them I was fine. Over and over, again and again. Because I was.
But there was one thing, actually.
I was having these dreams. Vivid, remarkable dreams.
A friend had told me that I might dream of my mother. He’d dreamed of his father after he’d died, Technicolor fantasies that had been so real he’d felt he could touch him. They’d faded over time, but he’d enjoyed them while they lasted. They’d been so real and he’d felt close to his dad, even in sleep.
I also started having them. Dreams of my mother, in acute detail. She was beautiful and vibrant. Always animated and energetic, healthy and alive. I still remember the first. She was laughing and talking as she skipped and ran beside me. I woke myself up laughing along with her. I was disoriented, confused as my husband asked what I was chuckling about. Later he laughed about it, saying I was cranky with him. I told him to go away so I could go back to sleep.
I started sleeping a little later. My husband and I have a routine where we share espressos in the morning. Then he goes to work and so do I. But I would often dream just before waking time.  He would come in, his voice snatching me away from my unconscious state, breaking into another conversation or visit with her.
I’d turn over. Another ten minutes, maybe. Try to recapture it. Or have a new and different dream. Always, always, they were these beautiful, colorful dreams of my mom.
People still asked how I was doing.
I was fine.
Which was true, goddammit.
I was feeling cranky even though I was getting more sleep. I’d taken to lying down in the afternoon for a nap, but thought that might be interfering with my morning sleep. Of course, I’d started taking naps because my morning sleep wasn’t as deep. After awhile, I tried taking some over the counter sleeping pills, but they didn’t help, really.
The dreams had started fading, as my friend had said they would.
Until one morning, I woke up crying.
My husband asked me, “Are you okay?”
Knowing I wasn’t fully awake, he thumbed away a tear to show me. “You’re crying.”
I turned into him and cried for everyone I’d lost. I cried for myself and thinking that if I never let myself go, I wouldn’t have to let them go either.
I cried because I finally knew what grief was. I’d tried so hard to run from pain. But my mother, always my compass, had led me back to my true north.
I still don’t remember the dream from that morning. But I think it must have been goodbye.



Thursday, May 21, 2015

Oh, and Wear Sunscreen

Let us toast the graduates.

Tomas and I have lots of nieces and nephews. A couple of the nephews have long since passed their high school graduations and grown into remarkable men. They'll both be getting married this year and while my heart pangs a little, it's not with sadness. There's pride in knowing we're gaining two more women in our family, each lovely and funny in their own right.

One niece is finishing college in a few days, becoming a nurse. She's made her own way, something she's always done, showing serious grit even as a small girl. Now she's a woman, caring and compassionate with people and a small brood of animals she's adopted on a farm. We're so happy for her, knowing she deserves all the best life has to give.

And then there's another niece, the eldest of our southern faction. She's graduating from high school today, ready to step into the hectic world of university life this fall. She'll leave the beautiful noise of her family home for the chaos of the dormitory and all its new experiences.

I must confess to a little nostalgia.

For leaving high school and one's family home is the first big step to self-discovery, in my opinion. Gone are the safety nets and preconceived notions of who you are, what you might be.

But before I get carried away, I need a name for our high school graduate. Remember, everyone gets a name here. I shall call her Maia.

Maia will be hearing a lot of words today. It's graduation. Commencement. What's the difference?

The Oxford Dictionary states that graduation is the receiving of an academic diploma, or the ceremony at which it is conferred. Commencement is a beginning or start.

As Maia listens to all the words coming her way (and reads a few too), I hope she considers which definition might have driven each message. I think she'll be able to tell the difference if she thinks about it. Do they come from a place of beginnings or endings? The birth of a new start or the recognition of something finished?

Either scenario can be reason for celebration. But one person might fill you with hopeful optimism, eager to propel you on your path with starry ideals and gilded dreams. The other will surely congratulate you, but may caution your giddy sense of achievement. They might say the world is large, life is unfair, and while it's good you've done this, it's only a beginning. A prerequisite really, if you're to succeed in this world.

They're probably right.

But I say to hell with that. What if they're not?

Selfishly, I decided to give my own words of wisdom, such as they are, to my dearest niece. So without further ado:


To Maia,

1. Consider the source.  Not just for research papers. Consider, as you move through life and listen to other people, who they are. Read, watch, and listen with a critical eye. Not a cynical one, but do be aware. Consult the experts.  Then make your own decisions. And always, always trust yourself.

2. It's better to be happy than right. There will come a day when you're arguing with someone, likely someone you care about a great deal or you wouldn't be arguing. Stop and ask yourself if you'd rather be happy or right. More importantly, ask yourself if you prefer being right more than their happiness.

3. Say yes to joy. When something brings you joy, especially in its purest form, always welcome it. Don't let anyone make you feel self-conscious or embarrassed by it. Revel in it. Steep yourself in it. Never apologize for it. Don't deny what delights you.

4. Say no to those that try to make you less. Sometimes people will try to make you feel embarrassed or self-conscious about yourself (or things you love). They may make fun of you or be mean to you. They may even attempt to degrade you. Do not compete to find their level. Walk away from them. They too have their story, so have compassion in your heart. But do not make time for someone that tries to push you down in order to pull themselves up.

5. See the world in shades of gray.  Be kind. Not much is as it first appears. Withhold your judgments. Meet new and different people from yourself; talk with them. We are all so much alike, even in our diversity. Teach your heart true compassion. Through knowledge and experience, learn the power of empathy. Always expect the best of people. It is better to be disappointed occasionally than to underestimate somebody. You never know when someone needs just one other person to have faith in them.

6. See yourself in black and white.  Hold yourself to the highest standards. Be proud of who you are and how you conduct yourself. Don't compartmentalize. Don't think something is okay when it's not. Don't justify or rationalize things that are wrong. When you're confused, ask yourself, "What's the right thing to do?" Or, "What's the path of least regret?" Often, the answer is easier than we make it.

7. Learn how to forgive.  Not just others, but yourself too. Because you won't always make the right decisions. In fact, you may fail at something really important. But you must forgive yourself and the sooner you do so, the better. Then, move forward. Despite predictions of doom and disaster, most things simply do not kill us. Learn the lesson. Forgive yourself. Do better.

8. Be a little morbid.  Some things can kill us, so forgive me but I must issue my standard warning here. Keep yourself alive. Try to keep the people around you alive. Don't do anything that a split second of thought wouldn't change from a lifetime of regret for you and everyone else. We can fix anything, anything but death.

9. Have no fear.  Otherwise, be fearless. Nothing good is born of fear. It cripples and steals from us. If fear had its way, life would be struck down, stunted into some misshapen, grotesque parody of itself. It would crawl along, scared to look up into the wonder of what might have been.  Don't make decisions based on fear. Instead, make yourself uncomfortable. Be brave. When you're scared, practice telling the stories of your magnificent, bold life.

10. Don't worry. It's true what they say: most things we worry about never happen. The things that do never give us any warning, they simply strike us when we're least expecting it. It's a waste of energy to worry. If you're focusing on other people, what they have or don't, what they did or didn't and you're comparing it all to yourself and calling it worry; well, don't do that either. You can tell yourself you're worried about fairness, karma, or some such thing. But you're really worried someone might get something you won't.

11. There is enough. Someone else's success doesn't prevent yours. If they make money, it doesn't mean you won't. If they get a great job, you can too. Because there is enough to go around. There is a sea of love, money, success and opportunity out there. Go get it. You will have to work your ass off. Don't waste your time thinking how hard everyone else is working, or not working. It doesn't matter. Be square with who you are, how you live. Everyone else is on their own. And remember, they have their own story, their own reasons.

12. Success is many things. Don't handicap yourself by using one yardstick, like money. Fulfill yourself, every part of you. Even though you're young, think big. What will your legacy be? What do you want people to say about you? How do you want people to see you, describe you? Be that, live that, starting now.

13. Know yourself.  Don't be afraid to be alone. You are never alone; you have yourself. Get familiar with who you are, your likes and dislikes. Know yourself as well as you'd know any friend or lover. While your beliefs and concerns will flex with the rhythms of your life,  take this time to learn who you are, inside. Don't just stand against things; make sure you know what you stand for. These truths will give you an unshakable confidence as you move forward into your future.

14. Dream big now, dream bigger later. You have no concept of your untapped potential. It's hard to imagine what's out there for you. For now, it's enough to find your legs. Go out into the world and breathe deeply. Inhale possibility. Look around, go to your boundaries, venture forth. And when you're comfortable with what you find, go further. Never stop learning. Listen to new music. Talk to people. Always have a new dream for yourself, no matter how small it may seem. After all, as my mother used to say to me, what else is there to do?

15. Be a builder.  Choose to build people up rather than tear them down. Be that person. Yes, life is hard, Maia. Those people, the ones that say so, are right. But I suggest everyone finds this out all on their own. Painfully. Don't be the person that feels the need to say it. Instead, choose to build people up. You might find that doing so helps them far more than any warning could. Besides, taking away another person's hope or happiness only serves to chip away yours, too.

And with that, I've come to the end of my words. Or nearly so.

Most of all, have fun, Maia. Your time here, this messy, glorious life, is the miracle.

Know you are loved.

You always have someone you can call, no matter what.

You always have someone you can come to, or who will come for you.

You have someone in your corner, rooting you on.


Now go forth. I can't wait to see what happens.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Roads Not Taken

We get to make a lot of choices in life.

Just as Robert Frost penned so eloquently, so long ago, roads diverge.

We get to choose which ones we take and which we leave behind. Perhaps we double-back to pick up the path, see what we missed the first time. And maybe we never do, leaving those tracks to different travelers, never knowing what future they held.

I've coasted at times, letting myself fly along, full speed down the hills and highways of youth. I didn't so much choose my road; I just let momentum and luck carry me, always trusting that I'd land on my feet should my trail stutter or slow to a stop.

As I've gotten older, I've taken more time to notice the forks and bends, turns and junctions. Each represents a choice, another path to take, a different journey. Maybe some get us to the same place. But surely some do not.

Awhile back, I took a major exit. After quitting my job and finishing my degree, I decided to write. Neither my experience nor education suited that decision but my heart chose it anyway.

I thought I was writing for a major publishing house, one practically synonymous with romance. I entered one of their contests, got my ass kicked, rewrote my book, and then something happened.

I decided not to submit it to them.

This new life, the one I'd chosen with my heart, had set me on a path that was a leafy overgrown jungle trail. I was hacking my way, not able to see where I was let alone what might be ahead. And in the midst of that rutted mess, I glimpsed another crossroad. It was just as bad, maybe worse. Potholed and pocked. Riddled with ruts.

So naturally, I took it.

I've decided to be an indie author. I will be self-publishing my work. I am a business woman now, an entrepreneur. I will make my own decisions about what I write, what goes in, what stays in, what comes back out.

I will hire my own team of editors, cover artists, formatters.

And I will fire them, if necessary.

I am in charge.

My success or failure is squarely in my own hands.  Already, I've learned some hard lessons. I just got my first round of edits back from the first book. And they were harsh.

Now I can say the last five years of my corporate life trained me very well to deal with negative feedback. Granted, it's not quite the same as someone telling you your little baby is ugly as hell itself.

But still. I can handle the truth, if Jack Nicholson should ever ask.

I knew I had some problems with my characters. I knew going in I had homework to do with their goals, motivations, conflicts. I hadn't ironed all that out in the beginning, so it was weak in the end.

Fair enough.

But then we got into stylistic choices. I 'head-hop' as they say. I like to draw my characters from different viewpoints and I change those viewpoints without changing a scene or a chapter. I like to think it's a clear transition, one that doesn't confuse the reader. I could be wrong. But some really don't like it. They see it as a rule being broken.

Thou shalt not head-hop.

Or,

Thou shalt alert the reader with asterisks (scene changes) or numbers (chapter changes) that the Point Of View has changed.

Because.

Because why?

I hate rules. I always have. There are a lot of rules in the corporate world, along with a lot of trite sayings. Things like, "Think outside the box."

I often wondered if the people who said such things ever knew what was first "inside" the box.

I've never looked back since walking away from that corporate highway. But I realize when I hired my editorial staff that I went for the traditional publishing background. By God, I wanted that experience. I thought, as an indie, that I needed the credibility and respectability that type of editor would lend to my work.

I was wrong.

Because I am an indie author. More importantly, I am an indie. I have the indie personality; it is ingrained in me. I'm a rebel, an individualist. I don't want to be bound by rules, most especially ones that seem arbitrary.

Most especially ones that are not reflected in the industry today.

It was my error. I own it. I stood over on my path, that lovely, rough tributary I'd taken off my chosen jungle trail, ankle deep in mud. And I yelled over to the unseen, the path not taken. Unknown to me, I hadn't quite let it go, that traditional road.

I guess I wanted them to like me.

I can hear my voice now, echoing. Do you like me? Won't you like me too?

Perhaps not. Certainly not in this case.

So, I've fired my first editor. Not because she judged my work harshly or critically. Not even because she stuck to old rules, trite ones that I choose to break, not because I don't understand what they are.

No, I fired her because she didn't hear me. Not in my writing, not in my story. She couldn't see through to hear my voice. It's what I paid her to do, but she wasn't able, for whatever reasons.

It's okay. You can't please everyone. Not everyone likes this blog because they can't stand me or they can't stand my writing. I'm actually okay with that. So, I'm okay with an editor, especially a traditional one, not liking my book.

There are nuggets to take away, things I can use to make my book better. But overall, she is not my reader. And now she's not my editor.

I'll continue walking this road. I see now that it is not so overgrown. It doesn't seem so rough and rutted. It's still leafy and new, a lot like Spring.  And maybe I overhear other voices, murmuring somewhere nearby on a road that I didn't take, one that others have. I could yell over if I wanted.

But I won't. Not again. I know where I am now and why.

As Robert Frost penned so eloquently, so long ago,

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Happy Endings

"Never complain.  Never explain."

I think it's good advice so I've been trying to follow it.  God knows the first half is easy for me, publicly at least.  For years, it was my job to listen and follow through on complaints of patients and families.  It was rewarding and legitimate work.

It also changed something in me that has taken more than a year to get back.  Or perhaps get around.  You see, that constant negativity gets on you.  And then it gets in you.  And eventually it starts to become you.

Or at least it did for me.

So I don't complain, at least in public.  And I avoid hearing other people complain if I can.

Privately? I'm still working on that.

But the second half is a real struggle.  I'm constantly explaining myself.  Justifying myself.  Apologizing for myself.  That's a residual from the job, where I spent my days saying I was sorry, so sorry.  So very, very sorry.

It became a habit.

Tomas hates it.  He reminds me that it makes me sound weak, unsure, unconfident.  Things he reminds me I am not.

Of course, I apologize.

I don't mean to misrepresent myself, I explain.  And so it has gone.  Explaining, justifying, apologizing.

Needless to say, the second half of that advice has been harder.  Especially when I decided to write a book.

And did I mention that I finished?

I did.  I've been cradling that news for three days.  I knew if I started telling people, I'd start saying that it needed to be edited, proofed.  It's my first book, so it's probably pretty shitty.

Explaining, you see.

And then there's the part about it being a romance.

Now, let me interrupt to say I have two confirmed readers of this blog.  One is my brother, who I love as much as any person or thing in this world or the next.  He helped make me what I am.  He taught me to read.  He embedded words and worlds of books with love.

 I write for many reasons.  One of those is my brother.

So it's naturally difficult for me knowing that I just exploded his rectum.

He hates romances.

And it turns out he's not alone.  But first let's take a moment to recap.

After mom died, I quit my job.  I finished school. I looked for a job, disconsolately. And then I sat down to write.  But I've blogged about all that.  I refer you to those posts.  I mean, feel free to read them.

Please.

In the meantime, I would occasionally see past co-workers, past fellow students.  I would update them.  Yes, I quit.  Yes, Mom died.  Yes, I graduated.  No, I wasn't currently searching for a job.

I was writing.

Obviously, people thought I'd had a complete nervous breakdown.

After the initial shock, the gentle pats on the arm, the question would come, it would always come, no matter how dreaded.

"And what are you writing?"

At first, I was naively honest.

"Romance."

And if you've never seen the exact expression someone might have if you were to throw a big bag of shit in their face, then I invite you to try this game at your next dinner party.

No, apparently not everyone likes romance.

But, many do!  And so the explaining began.  It's the highest grossing genre in book sales.  It's surprisingly open to new authors with many publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts.  Writers join a community with support and transparency.  Education is abundant and accessible!  Oh, and I read it!  Yes, I do.

Blah, blah, blah.

Most of the time, the expressions just went from outright revulsion to patronizing condescension.

"I prefer literary fiction."

Well, fuck.

So, I started to become coy.  "I write about love."  That's advice I took from an Iowa Writer's Workshop video on how to write fiction.  You know, it worked.  It shuts down the whole conversation.

Oddly, no one tries to talk you out of writing about love.  Just romance.

In the meantime, I was writing that romance.  And it was hard, much harder than I'd ever imagined it would be.  I suppose, if I'm honest, I was as guilty as the next person thinking it would be easy to write one.  It wasn't.  I doubt it will be any easier selling it.  Or writing the next one.  But that's what I'll be doing.

Because as I finished, I realized something.  I was my own worst detractor. I mean, I'm still not sure how my brother is going to take it. But I figure he has some time to adjust to the idea while he figures out how to get that rectum fixed.

(I love you, Bub.  Forgive me.)

Wait, did I mention I wrote a book?  I wrote a fucking book.

I'm proud of that.  I'm proud of the discipline I had to learn and practice to finish.  It turns out I'm even proud of the fact that it's a romance.

You see, right after I stopped being embarrassed and ashamed, I realized I was the only real obstacle.    What's love but man's greatest emotion?  Those lucky enough are bred and birthed into it.  We can be driven to the greatest highs or plunged into the deepest lows by it. Worse, we can become numbed without it.   We can be redeemed or betrayed by it.

I chose to be healed by it.

It turns out I was the one that needed a happy ending, so I wrote one.  And I think that's really the only explanation I ever needed to give.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Back to the Beginning

I started this blog anonymously.

It was partly by necessity, as I had a job that was sensitive in a town that was small for an employer that was paranoid.  Internal social media rules intersected with federal privacy laws to create a collision that restricted outward creative freedom.  This was absolutely okay with me as I had no intention of writing about my work, but just to be careful, I wouldn't write as myself.

What I didn't realize was how completely freeing that process would be.

Sure, I only had four readers.  Okay, maybe two readers.  But I could write how I wanted and when.  There were no restrictions, rules or constraints.

I could write about anything.

I could write about anyone.

But then a terrible thing happened.  I became weak and in my weakness, I became needy.  I became a writer that wanted readers.  And if I'm honest, I suppose I wanted readers that would like my work, say nice things, and generally boost my poor writer's ego.

Well, as they say, pride goeth before a fall.

Because what did I do? I posted my unspoiled, pristine, anonymous blog to Facebook.  A blog set up intentionally with no comments so as not to be influenced, positively or negatively, by any thoughts or opinions other than my own was now on social media.

Outed.  Exposed. Vulnerable.

At first, it was glorious.  I basked in the positive feedback, ignored anything that might seem trite.  I felt validated.  Euphoric.  Suddenly, someone out there was reading what I wrote.  They liked it.  They thought I could actually write.

It was later, much later that I noticed the change.  Something had crept in, something insidious that hadn't been there before.  At first I thought I was just stymied because of grief.  This year has been loaded with emotion and change.  It's been an evolution for me as an individual, but also as a writer.  I'm trying to write other things, not just this blog anymore.

But that wasn't it.  Those internal revolutions, though sometimes painful and almost always unwieldy, are still positive things.  This was not.  Even after the praise, something malignant had taken root and was blocking me.

It was censorship.  And I couldn't write.

Don't get me wrong.  Every writer, if they are to be published and paid, will someday deal with this.  People they know will read what they've written.  They might see themselves, directly or indirectly.  Shadows and ghosts.  Mirrors and likenesses.

As writers, we have to be fearless.  And maybe we have to be willing to adamantly, bravely, even belligerently, defend our work.  Our observations.  The written manifestations of how we notice and interpret our world and the people in it.

But this blog was anonymous.  It was my playground, a fun place for me to romp, revel, and risk.  I forgot that in my vanity, my neediness.  And in doing so, I skinned my knees.

I've got a couple of scabs, but I've learned the key is not to pick at them.  Even now, the temptation whispers softly for me to post this one, this last one, so people will know it won't be there anymore.  Not after this one.  This last one.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I never appreciated that philosophical question until now.

If words are written but never read, are the stories still told?

I think so.  I hope so.

Regardless, this blog is anonymous.

I can write about anyone.  And anything.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Unsaid Words

Happy Father's Day.

I say that to all the Dads out there even though Father's Day is now three days past.  My words are late, but what you don't know is that they always are.

Late.

I have a flexible relationship with punctuality.  There are some occasions for which I would never, ever turn up late.  Others can sit in the warming drawer for five or even fifteen minutes until I arrive.  Maybe more. Unfortunately, the logic that applies to the prioritization of these events sometimes escapes those around me.

You know, I would hate to be late to a movie.  Even the part where they play the trailers is part of the experience for me.  Nope.  I need to be there for when the theater darkens.  It's important.

But I can be late with birthday calls, Christmas gifts, baby congratulations, and the rest.  And I often am.

Including Father's Day wishes.

During childhood, the three of us kids had our grandmother to keep us in line and on time.  Let me tell you, she was exceptional.  But after striking out on my own and being independent, I found these rules to be stifling.  What was the big deal? What did it matter if we called one day or the other?

My parents could be so damn uptight.

There were other times when I simply didn't want to call.  I didn't want to send a damn card.  You see,  Dad and I had a rocky relationship.  On the one hand, I was his girl.  His only daughter.  His youngest of three.  His baby.

When I think of him that way, I can only smile.  No one could hug like Dad.  My Dad would just pick me up and sit me down with him and I knew it was going to be okay.  I can still feel him rocking me when I would get so upset and cry, heaving into his shoulder.

"Shh.  Stop it now.  You'll make yourself sick."  He would rub my back over and over, until I was calm and cried out.

The thing was, it was Dad that usually caused the crying.  He was an angry man.  A violent man.  And the demons that drove him would sometimes erupt outside of him onto the walls, the furniture, and ultimately the children he loved.

But then there would be fun.  Colorful homemade costumes at Halloween for us, and the same for him every Friday night at the local wrestling matches.  Until he was arrested, that is.  For harassing one of the wrestling managers while he was dressed as the Pink Panther.  Or maybe the Nutty Professor.  I can't remember which now.

There were the crafts.  And the home decorating projects.  Is country blue in style this season?  Well, hold on to your asses because every single thing in the house is about to be painted country blue.  My brother and I once joked that it was a good thing we didn't stand still too long during that weekend.

Weekend?  Yes.  These things would take place in the span of a few days or a weekend.  I grew up thinking that people redecorated or painted their houses in one or two days.  Sold their furniture.  Got new stuff.  All at garage sales.  All accomplished within days.

The good news is that it gave me a really indomitable sense of what can be done in very short periods of time, especially if you're willing to sacrifice sleep.  The bad news is that I'm 100% certain as a former longtime healthcare worker that my dad was an undiagnosed bipolar.

Although I wonder if it wasn't so bad.  When he shined, he shined so bright.

That wasn't the tragedy.  The tragedy was that he just couldn't be who he was.  He was a gay man.
A gay man born in 1941 in St. Joseph, Missouri.  It was the home of Stetson. Where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended.  Some might say that even in 1941, it was still the west.

I think he tried very hard to be what the world wanted him to be.

I know he loved his kids.  And he was complicated.

My brother spoke at his memorial years later and described him as a bright kaleidoscope of colors.  Someone that blinded you when he walked into a room, drawing everyone to him.  Such charisma.

Like a rainbow.

I wish I'd been able to speak at that memorial.  My words were locked tight in my chest.  They kept company with the tears that day, knowing there would be no hand at my back, rubbing to soothe them away.

I remember the year I lost him.  Everyone does as we lost so many that year.  It was 2001.

In April, I had bought him a birthday card a few days after his birthday.  I promised myself I would send it.

In June, I had bought a Father's Day card that same day but didn't mail it.  I would like to think I called.

I called my brother in July, tired from a late day at work.  "Do you think it would be okay if I just called him tomorrow sometime? I'm tired and just want to relax."  My brother thought it would be fine as Dad was actually getting out of the hospital in the morning, doing better.  We'd been raised in hospitals, so used to his many medical problems, numb from the process.  I'm not sure when it became such a burden to call him.  But it had.  It was.  Especially when he was sick.  He was always sick.

*****

I still have those cards.  I keep them to remind myself that sometimes you can be too late.  Sometimes it does matter.





Saturday, May 24, 2014

Kill Your Darlings

I had no idea that when I decided to become a writer that I would become a cold-blooded killer as well.

Now, don't get me wrong.  This is justifiable homicide.

Allow me to plead my case.

Since we last spoke, I've been busy trying to establish some routines.  It's not enough to figure out what to write.  A person has to decide where to write, what time to write, how much to write, all while deciding when to do other stuff too.

Like shower.  And maybe fix dinner.

Now, it does not help that I decided to enter a fitness challenge and managed to wrangle a community garden plot.  I have obligations.  I don't want anyone to get the idea that I might be inefficient.  Or ineffective.

But.

Well, okay, I missed my deadline.  Yes, it was an internally set deadline as God knows I have no editor, no agent, and no publisher.  Yet.

But still.

I took a hard look around.  I took a harder look inside.

I realized I was very, very distracted.  Very.  And my surroundings were distracting. I was cleaning up a whole lot of old e-mails and then reading the constant influx of new e-mails.  I subscribed to some new e-mails.  I read a bunch of news articles.  Blog articles.  I was even so kind as to post some of those to Facebook and Twitter so other people could read them.  You know, so they could be as enlightened as me.

After that, it was only polite to respond to the comments of those who responded to my articles.  Even if it was only a "like", that was surely better than ignoring the conversation, right?  And well, if they were going to read my stuff, shouldn't I stop and read what they were posting?

I became very informed.  Hell, I would have been very informed if I'd just stopped with reading the news articles and blogs.  But then I wouldn't have been able to see the videos of very important topics.  You know, we live in a video world.  Sometimes you have to watch rather than read to get the information you want.  The information you need.  But none of those things told me as much about myself as the surveys.

You know.  The surveys.  

What color is your aura?
What gem would you be?
What super power should you have?
What font are you?

Now, those are all well and good.  Useful even (although maybe nothing is as useful as the quiz telling you whether your cat should run for president).  But then I noticed some of them started to take a dark turn.

Who should you marry?
Are you living a lie?
Who should you kill?
How bad are your life choices?

Oh. Hell. No.

At this point I was feeling pretty shitty about myself.  Then I read the news article about how those surveys are really just being used for data mining.  To get your personal information.  So now some random asshole knows my font.  Man, I hate that.  Almost as much as I hate Comic Sans.

And this is how the slaughter began.

First, I started out easy.

I shut off the cable.  I tried to be as gentle as I could, since it required a fairly long and detailed conversation with a gentleman named John in customer service at the cable company.  I would compare it to a fairly uneventful smothering.  You know, like if you were to hold a pillow over someone's face, but they didn't struggle because they were sleeping soundly to begin with.

Nothing to it.

The next was the closest I came to a crime of passion.  It was that goddamn Candy Crush.  I'll admit that it wasn't thought out or discussed, but just executed.  Like a guillotine.

Gone.  Then I deleted every other time-sucking, life-wasting app that was pretty much just like it.

It still wasn't enough. Every time I struggled for a word, a thought, a continuous flow of consciousness in my writing, my mind would wander and I would think of something to 'look up' or someone to 'get back to'.  For the first time, I lacked serious focus when I needed it.

About that time, I received a text from my good friend Amy.  You remember her, the rapper.

Now I have something further to add about Amy.  Besides being able to rock heels, wrap dresses and quote rap, she has serious literary chops.  She loves to read.  She is highly creative.  If and when she tells me to check out an author, I do it.  She is also one of the most genuine, supportive and positive people I know without being irritating.  She's real.

So, when Amy asked me how my writing was going, I told her.  "For shit."  I told her about all my distractions.  Obstacles.  Blah, blah, blah.  And in typical Amy fashion, she listened (via text) and then just said, simply, and without a bunch of bullshit, "Oh.  You need Freedom."

What?

So that is how I came to download the app that I believe will save my productivity.  It's like decluttering your house, your attic, your basement and garage in one weekend.  No distractions.  It shuts down everything on your computer except the applications installed so you can just get your damn work done.  Poof.  And while it's very easy, it's the equivalent of passing out 1000 glasses of poisoned Kool-Aid to all the fun things on your computer.  Mass murder by keystroke.

As I stand amid the litter of my dead distractions, it occurs to me that some of the best advice given to writers is to "kill your darlings".  I believe William Faulkner said it.  Stephen King repeated it.  Others have certainly advised it.

Kill your darlings.

Of course, they meant to slash out the suffocating prose that can creep into your writing when you're not paying attention.  Kill it.  Murder it before your work becomes pompous, gratuitous shit.

I murdered the other things first.  The diversions. The preoccupations.  The things preventing me from writing my own pompous, gratuitous shit.  And if that isn't quite what Mr. Faulkner meant?

Well, he didn't have the internet to distract him.