Friday, December 27, 2013

As Ever

We humans are a curious bunch. We want everything neat and orderly. We want a clear ending to follow an equally clear beginning. In short, we’re pretty doggone silly.

Yes, we’re silly. Because those kinds of requirements put a ridiculous amount of pressure on us. I've heard so many people lately saying things like, “God, but I’ll be glad when 2013 is done!” or “I can’t wait for 2014, it’s going to be my year, I swear! Either way, it has to be better than this one.” Um. No, no it doesn’t. I’m all for optimism, but I’m also savvy enough to recognize life as a magnet for crazy, sad, turbulent, unexpected, life-changing shit happening. I’m also savvy enough to know that all those "Shit Happening" things can be the best possible things to happen even though they happen in the worst possible ways.

I'm not anxious for 2013 to be done. It’s been a decent year, not entirely without hardship and heartache, but I've become aware enough that I almost immediately look to those moments as learning curves. I have no reason to be excited about 2014, not really. I have a couple of things planned, a few ideas in mind for what I'd like to do and the direction(s) I’d like to see my life move in. But, really, life is going to do what life is going to do. That may sound apathetic, but I assure you, it isn't at all. I'm excited to see what happens, I simply don't fall prey to the folly of planning for the future. If I make each day count, then each next day is going to be more about making that day count.

One of the reasons I don't make resolutions is because doing so is just asking for the Universe to throw a wrench into the works. About a decade ago, for three years running, I’d make the resolution to go to the gym and workout five days a week. I’d be absolutely determined and faithful and then inevitably, about the third week of January, I’d be swept away in a tsunami-esque flu that left me wheezing and listless for a month. That’s not an excuse for no longer going to the gym (although I probably picked up those nasty germs there), but more of a cautionary tale about putting too much faith in the plans we make.

I've made resolutions to write X amount of words or pages every day. I've made resolutions to do this or that with my artwork. And then I don't live up to those resolutions for any number of reasons which mostly relate to unrealistic expectations (such as, that I'm going to magically transform into someone with a mentality other than my own) and the Universe letting me know that for all my swagger, it’s got other plans. And then I laugh. It reminds me of the days back when I was a floundering, failing religious freak (I know, I barely believe it myself). I went to a friend of mine and said something like, “It just doesn’t feel right. I’m not… not… getting it.” Said friend replied, “You're just not reading your Bible enough.” I slunked away, sure that I was condemned to some stark, cold purgatory. Then I stopped, stood straight and said, “Hey. Wait a minute! Just how much is enough?!”

It was in that moment that I began to realize that for all my proclamations, my willingness, my begging for acceptance… I was never going to be any more than me. I was never going to be anyone other than me.

Being the stubborn lass that I am, it only took me another decade to realize that I’m also never going to be any less than me, and that nobody else is ever going to be me. (Ahh, yes… see how that works?)

So, I don’t worry about a year ending or another beginning. I don’t worry about doors closing and opening. Each day is another day and will come with whatever side dish the Universe chooses to serve. Through it all, I try to give the best of me to whatever and whomever comes my way. Every day. No matter what year or time of year it is.

I know that when I wake up on January 1, 2014 it’ll likely feel a whole lot like having awakened on December 31, 2013. Only the numbers will have changed. Those neat, orderly, implacable numbers.

And I’ll still be exactly me. That I can promise.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Full Circle

It seems somehow momentous and profound that today, the 6th anniversary of this blog, is the day I've received my first paycheck for writing. I won't be retiring anytime soon, but I'm a little in awe of the notion that what started as a way to purge the soul gunk has turned into something that puts milk on the cereal.

All this comes on the heels of a couple of months in which I felt that I'd failed at a number of things. No, wait. Put down those raised hands of protest. I didn't say I felt like a failure. I just felt that I'd failed at some stuff. Maybe failed isn't even the right word - I felt as though I wasn't quite living up to various goals. And, hey, that's okay. It's okay to not live up to goals. It's okay to feel as though I'd failed. Every feeling is valid - the significance is in the reactions to those feelings.

Me? I slogged through it. I knew it was just me being me. It was me resetting old traps, only this time I saw where they were and sidestepped.  I gave those traps the ol' "fuck you." And I just kept going. I kept believing. Then something happened. No, a series of things happened. So, it wasn't a big explosion of fireworks or a loud gong or anything like that. It was soft and quiet. It was like going to bed and waking up to the first snowfall of the winter. Y'know what I mean? That feeling that the whole world changed between Leno and Good Morning America.

I was commissioned by three separate people to do three art pieces. I was approached to do some writing for a company. People sought me out for greeting card orders. And dear gods, I was overwhelmed by my own foolish doubting and feelings of unworthiness.

What is success anyway? Is it a mansion? No. Is it a yacht? Nuh uh. (Well, okay, maybe... a yacht wouldn't exactly suck.) Is it flying first class to every destination on my bucket list? Not really. I know for sure it isn't money.

Success, as I discovered (all over again for the first time) is rightfully and only truly measured by the joy one feels. And joy, as always, is a choice.

So, happy anniversary, my little blog. We've come a very long way since those first timid steps on this particular path. Guess what? We just got paid for writing! Dude. I know, right? A very long way, indeed.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


There's a song by Labrinth that's been out for a while now, Beneath Your Beautiful. It's a sweet, kind of average pop song (just my opinion - no need for rancor if you disagree). Nothing to despise, nothing to get all excited about - unless maybe you're suffering through teenage angst. Still, I heard it on the radio the other day and the two main lines of lyrics earwormed their way through my weekend until I really paid attention:

Would you let me see beneath your beautiful? 
Would you let me see beneath your perfect?

We tend to put our best face on for others. It's expected. Most of us are taught that from childhood. I can't tell you how many times I heard my mother say, "You can't go out of the house looking like that! People will think you're an orphan!" Whether it was a smudge on my cheek, rumpled clothes, or even a frown, it didn't matter. Presentation was everything, the whole package.

To this day that lingers. Although I don't get "dolled up" by any stretch of the imagination, when I go out in public, I have on clean clothes and my hair is brushed. And, no matter what else I might be feeling, I try to slap a pleasant expression on my face. ("What happens in this house stays in this house. There's no need for the whole world to know our business!") I'm not alone. Most of us do that to one degree or another. It's just part of our social upbringing.

Ironic then, isn't it? That most of our real selves lies beneath the beautiful and far beyond the perfect. Our humanity is anything but beautiful or perfect - which is what makes us so doggone perfectly beautiful to begin with! It's our messiness that makes us amazing. People see a sweet-smelling, sleeping infant and coo, "Oh, what a perfect little baby..." The baby that, hours before, was born in a storm of ooze and blood and shit and screaming and tears where the real beauty and perfection of life took place.

What if we allow people to see beneath our beautiful and our perfect? And, even better, what if we make a concerted effort to see beneath the beautiful of others? The woman who is perfectly put together was once abused by her ex-husband; the child with the perfect teeth and athletic build has a sister who is dying from leukemia; the buff guy at the gym is worried that he's never enough for anyone; the homeless guy was once somebody's baby; the woman with the bags under her eyes and the rumpled shirt is running the cash register, trying to keep her family together until her husband can find work again; the chubby, uncoordinated kid just wants someone, anyone, to like him.

Beneath the beautiful there are a million different things going on. Beneath the perfect is where we really live. So, why do we try so hard?

Why do I try so hard? Beneath my beautiful is constant self-doubt and self-criticism. Beneath my perfect is the litany Am-I-Getting-It-Right? Beneath my beautiful there isn't a fear of failure (been there, done that, ain't no big deal), but a fear of success. Beneath my perfect is a shy, terrified little girl hoping that someone will understand without her having to explain everything.

Who are you beneath your beautiful? I'm listening.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Divorce Decree

I remember very clearly the first social gathering I went to after my ex and I called it quits. Friends called and asked if I'd like to come to dinner with them and their children. I told them I'd be delighted. Then they asked the question I knew was coming and that I was dreading. "And will Kevin be joining us?" I wasn't ready to spill all the beans, so I politely said no, thank you, and made some excuse about him having a prior commitment.

And, it's like that, isn't it? You get to be known as the couple rather than the individual. I was no longer Barb. I was Barb and Kevin. As if we'd been conjoined. I know. People do that out of politeness. I get it. You don't invite one over for dinner without extending the invitation to the other. I'm the same way. Even though I was trying to, shall we say, re-individualize myself, I still thought of myself as Barb and Kevin.

Maybe it would have been easier if I'd detested him. I didn't. Maybe it would have been easier if he'd hurt me somehow. He hadn't. We had simply reached a point where, it was obvious, both of us were miserable and it wasn't doing either of us any favors to stay together. One of us had to be brave enough to call it quits, and that happened to be me. I took no pleasure in it. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I'd made a commitment and I was about to stand up and tell the world, "Hey. Sorry. I was wrong."

So, I went to the gathering alone. When I got off the subway near their house, I was caught in a torrential downpour. Guess what? I don't believe in umbrellas. I was sopping wet by the time I got to their door. Soaked and nearly manic with delight. I felt energized and free. The eldest son said, "Y'know. I can't really see auras, but if I could see yours, it would probably be glowing. There's something different about you." I laughed and said, "Well, I'm a soggy mess...?" He smiled and said, "Uh huh, and it's as if there's a light shining through all that water." It was the first time I felt I'd made the right decision.

But I'm not here to talk about my divorce. That was over 15 years ago - ancient history.

Recalling that long ago pre-dinner conversation the other day, I thought, what if we did that to all the things we don't like in our lives or about ourselves. What if we got to a point where we said, "Hey. I'm miserable, you're miserable. How about we just go our separate ways?" What if we said that to our addictions, to the stuff that fills our lives and keeps us from our dreams, to the people who suck the energy from us, to endless hours of TV and internet and... anything really. To whatever keeps us from being our authentic selves. How about we just divorce the unnecessary shit that's cluttering our lives?

How about that? Is it pleasant? No. Is it easy? No. But we owe ourselves that much consideration.

We all deserve to shine like raindrops dancing in the streetlight.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Regrettably Yours

Yes, it's been a month and a half since I've posted. I've pondered a few different posts, but they just wouldn't translate. Plus, I've been kind of busy. Plus... I just didn't feel like getting the muscle workout needed for writing gymnastics. For those of you who don't know, writing is hard work. Even so, I've been thinking a lot about writing and getting back to it... and then along came Effy, a delightful, wacky, take-no-prisoners-or-bullshit, artsy friend who proposed Blog Along With Effy as a way to get a bunch of us back in touch with ourselves and, better yet, our writing selves. I'm in. So, I'm going from zero posts to posting every day for the next 30 days.

Haven't I always been an all-or-nothing gal though? You can stop nodding now.

One of the topics I've thought about blogging this past month has been regret. Regret gets a bad rap. People are constantly harping about living without regrets. If we're human at all, living without regret is an impossibility and setting ourselves such a lofty goal will only leave us with... yeah, you guessed it... regret.

1. to feel sorrow or remorse for (an act, fault, disappointment, etc.): He no sooner spoke than he regretted it. 2. to think of with a sense of loss: to regret one's vanished youth.
3. a sense of loss, disappointment, dissatisfaction, etc.
4. a feeling of sorrow or remorse for a fault, act, loss, disappointment, etc.
(Thanks for that,

I think what most people don't realize is that they are putting regret on the same peg as shame, and guilt, and fear. And it doesn't belong there. At all. Whereas shame, guilt, and fear will weigh us down until it is impossible to move, regret is an insight. Hold on just a second and think about that. Regret is an insight.

If, say for instance, I regret that I've never traveled to Ireland, that thought would lead me to, "And why the hell haven't I? Why not? Let's GO!"  Perhaps, in my old age, I'm thinking about the way I treated someone many years ago. I regret that I was not kinder. If time is on our side, I can look that person up, contact them, and say, "Man, I was such an Ass Barnacle... my apologies." (Been there, done that, thank you for nagging me, oh Great Regret!)

I'll say it again, because it was such a revelation to me. Regret is an insight. Regret is useful. Sure, live with regret! I'm living with regret and I love it. Regret for things I've missed, or done, or have neglected... that's what spurs me to action today. Regret is what pushes me beyond fear, shame, and guilt. It's that Jiminy Cricket-y voice that says, "You don't want to feel badly about this any more. Deal with it."

I made decisions that I regret, and I took them as learning experiences. 
I'm human, not perfect, like anybody else.
~Queen Latifah

Anyway, you can quit trying to live without regret. As Mr. Gump would say, "And that was good because, y'know... one less thang." You'll just have to uselessly strive for perfection in some other arena.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

For the Record

A couple of weeks ago I posted a piece titled Now Is Not the Time. In it, I portrayed my father as a monster. While this was the case when he was drinking, it wasn't always the case. Although there was tremendous fear and sadness in my childhood, that wasn't always the case either. So, in honor of Father's Day, I'm setting the record straight.

The other side of my father was a man who was undeniably artistically talented. The other side of him was a man who was mind-blowingly intelligent. He knew stuff, and he knew how to do stuff, and it always appeared to me that it was about 80% instinctive. My father was an uproariously funny man. He had a wealth of idiomatic sayings and colloquialisms that never failed to amuse. My favorite of these, to this day, is "Don't tell your mother. She'll shit little blue bricks with red handles on 'em!" My father had a deep appreciation for nature, for being out in nature, and for the simple beauty of a sunlit day. Many were the times I heard him say, "Sure is a purty day." Always that leftover Ohioan "purty", never "pretty"... and I loved that. My father was a good man, a caring man, a man who was proud of his family.

My father also happened to have a disease called Alcoholism. And that's where the monster lived. In the thirty plus years since he passed away, I have managed to separate the monster from the man. I have grown to understand that he wasn't his disease and his disease wasn't him. I have been able to forgive any wrong. Most importantly, I have been freed to love him. And consequently been freed to love myself (there's a ball of wax for another discussion on another day). I'm not going to dwell on this aspect of him today. I will only say that if you or someone you know has a substance abuse problem, please seek help. Today. Now.

I get my sense of humor from my Dad. That seeing the greasy underside of things, sardonic way that I have? That's all Harold Black. That throwing a joke at the unbearable and making it livable? That's my Dad. I get any artistry that I have from my Dad. Now that I'm becoming more familiar with the artist inside myself, more comfortable with it, I'm really enjoying it. It's allowing me to feel more of a kinship with the man I called Daddoo, the guy who adored his bright-eyed little "Punkin," his Barboo. According to the letter that my Grandma Black wrote to my mother the day after I was born, "Harold was over the moon when he called us at 2 AM to tell us the news..." Over the moon. I can picture him, after pacing for what must have seemed like days, finally having the doctor come out and say, "You have a little girl, Mr. Black." I know he teared up. I know he did whatever gesture qualified as a fist-pump back in 1961.

He was a man who loved to tell people what a talented pian-y player his youngest daughter was. Having suffered his own mental anguish at the hands of the Catholic church and the strict, abusive nuns of his parochial school years, Dad never went to mass with us. The only time I can remember him going to church (other than a wedding or two) was for my First Communion. My Dad attended every play and musical I was in, whether I had a lead roll or not. Point is, for all his drunken ranting, my Dad loved me fiercely. And he was proud of me.

I love him too. I love him even more now. I'd give anything to be able to sit across the table from him tomorrow and say, "Happy Father's Day, Daddoo!" Because I know I'd get to see the thing I've really been missing for the past 31 years - that look of adoration that a man gives his grown-up daughter for somehow, despite of the odds, being the shining woman that she is.


The following is a series of cartoons that my Dad drew for me. Someone had given me a cat named Patches. My Dad tolerated, but had no real affinity for cats. So, he sketched these for me in hopes that I would teach the cat something useful, like warbling. These sketches are among my most treasured possessions, and they are a perfect amalgamation of my Dad's brilliant wit and artistic genius.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Parted Out

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I am a part of all that I have met...
My family.
My parents who gave me life, carried me, scared me, scarred me, loved me, ignored me, laughed with me, made sure I had piano lessons and (not always) patiently listened to me practice, and applauded with pride at my recitals even though they'd heard the songs 100 times before.
My siblings who tortured and teased me, but were fierce protectors if anyone tried to mess with me.
The grandparents who loved me, who commanded respect and taught me to show it to all my elders; my Grandpa who taught me to ride my bicycle and my Grandmothers who taught me to cook.
My Aunts and Uncles and cousins who taught me that sometimes what's on the periphery is a steady hand and a warm heart.
The the various extended relatives and old folks at the family reunions of my childhood - the ones who let me sit with them when there were no kids my age to hang with; the ones who pinched my cheeks and told me what pretty blue eyes I had; the ones who flung cards back and forth at each other, all the while making mysterious clucking noises and gasps of exasperation, as they played euchre and pinochle.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The priests, the preachers, the nuns, the zealots, the heretics, the sinners, the doubters, the scholars - all of whom taught me that searching is fine provided you don't go looking any further than your own soul for answers.

I am a part of all that I have met...
My friends throughout the years who have held my smile as surely as they've held my tears.
My friends who consistently give more than they could ever take.
My friends who graciously take, knowing that it pleases me to give.
My friends who hear the song in my heart no matter what tune I'm singing.

I am a part of all that I have met...
Bozo the Clown who made me Belinda of the Day and sealed my 15 minutes of fame when I was 6 years old.
Michael Landon who signed the crumpled rodeo ticket I held in my sweaty, grubby 8 year old hand and then winked at me as he handed it back.
Viktor Petrenko who shook my hand for an extra second and smiled so graciously when I told him what a beautiful skater he is.
Michelle Kwan who signed my program and drew a little heart next to her name.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The lovers I've had over the years, both kind and cruel.
The lovers who made my heart soar wildly when they spoke my name and my skin tingle with a single brush of their fingertips.
The lovers who left me in various ways and made me wonder what I could have done differently.

I am a part of all that I have met...
All of my Hungarian relatives who welcomed me and opened their homes and hearts and country to me.
The old gypsy woman who sat next to me outside the train station in Győr, Hungary - we couldn't speak each other's language, but her toothless smile at being offered half of my piece of meggyes rétes has never left me.
The Hungarian woman who ran up to me on a street in the village of Rabacsanak and asked me to smile because she had never seen someone with braces before.
The fish monger at the Budapest open market who chuckled when I opened my hand full of forints and fillérs and told him to take what he needed because I hadn't been there long enough to figure out the currency yet.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The elderly people for whom I've held doors open and the gentlemen who've held doors open for me.
The old man on the subway who only nodded and sighed with relief when I offered him my seat.
The kid I flipped a quarter to when he didn't have enough to get on the bus, who sheepishly muttered, "thanks" as he made his way past me down the aisle.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The store clerks, the postal workers, the restaurant servers, the overly caffeinated coffee shop vendors, the paper boys, the kids selling cookies and calendars and candies and gift wrap - the millions who have touched the money that I (and who knows how many others) have touched and, perhaps, gave back change that they (and who knows how many others) touched.
The librarian who, the summer I was 10 years old and couldn't be satiated with any amount of written word, said to me, "Boy, you sure do like to read!"

I am a part of all that I have met...
The gravely ill, whose hands I held while wishing with all my heart that my tears had magical properties to heal them.
Those whom I kissed on the forehead one last time, whispering, "It's okay to go. I love you."
The dead, the gone-too-soon, the ones who left me, heart in shards, wondering at the cruelty of the Universe while at the same time feeling thankful that I'd ever even had the opportunity to know them.

I am a part of all that I have met...
My beloved, who changes the way my world spins with a single smile and whose heart breaks whenever I cry about anything.
My beloved, who gives me space to be who I need to be.
My beloved, who supports me, loves me beyond the galaxies and back again, whose touch, as the song says, "sends me".
My beloved, whose deep baritone voice sounds like music even when he's talking about fishing and motors.
My beloved, whose skin is so familiar to me that it's almost as if I've known it all my life, whose scent, by turns, both excites me and makes me feel cozy and sleepy.
My beloved, whose big, rugged hands that are capable of doing so many things amaze me.
My beloved, whose humor leaves me breathless with laughter, and whose intelligence so often leaves me in stunned silence.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The children I've cared for, whose wide-eyed enthusiasm for life taught (and still teach me) that life is to be lived out loud.
The children who've taught me that life is much more interesting if you can imagine a magenta colored sky and green cows and flying cups of cocoa, all the while making up words that Lewis Carroll would delight in.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The teachers who opened wide the halls of knowledge, who took interest in my voracious thirst to learn, and who, as they handed back a paper with an uncharacteristic B grade, were stern enough to say, "Quit screwing around, you're so much smarter than this."
My piano teacher who never gave up on a song, who challenged me with harder music rather than giving me songs she knew I'd be comfortable with, and who, when I choked and forgot where I was in the song I had memorized for the recital, patiently whispered, "Just take a deep breath. Good. Now play. You know this." She had tears in her eyes when I finished and clapped louder than anyone else there, even louder than my parents.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The bosses and co-workers and clients who have, by varying degrees, frustrated me, pissed me off, wore me out, delighted me, made my day easier, made me laugh, and, on occasion, "got" my rather sardonic sense of humor. Especially the ones who have kept in touch and that I now count among my friends.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The doctors and nurses who have seen to my care when necessary.
The doctor who figured out that my appendix had ruptured when I was just a baby, thereby keeping me from death.
The doctor who finally figured out what was wrong with my crappy leg, thereby keeping me from amputation.
The nurse who kept me company at 3 AM when I couldn't sleep, told me funny hospital horror stories, and gave me pizza. That was good medicine.

I am a part of all that I have met...
The fellow up on Mt. Rainier who took my picture.
The lady on the subway who, without asking what was wrong, gave me a tissue when I started crying.
The guy who helped me off the ground outside the grocery store when I tripped over my own stupid feet.
The gent who gave me a winning smile at 6 AM, told me I had a nice truck and left me grinning the rest of the day
The old man who told me one of the best jokes I've ever heard back when I was a bored receptionist
The guy at the ice cream store who nearly made me swoon when he sang Level 42's Something About You and then bowed when I applauded.
The kid who thought I was the funniest grown up he'd ever seen when he caught me dancing in circles in the rain.
The crack whore who played scrabble with me
The musicians, actors, writers, and artists who buoy my own creativity.

Oh, the myriad fantastical, wonderful, amazingly beautiful, crazily lovely, funny, flamboyant, sad, interesting, blessedly weird, annoying, ubiquitous, vivacious, intelligent, mercurial gathering of souls. Oh, this gloriously unwashed crowd. Oh, this ineffably rich gallimaufry of people I have had the unmitigated, immutable, ineffable pleasure to meet.

I am a part of all that I have met, and all that I have met are part of me.

We are not alone. We are never alone.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

With Teeth

I am writing once again off of a prompt from the fine folks over at You'll find both the prompt that I received and the one I gave at the end of this post. And now, without further ado...

Annie listened to the wind howl and watched the fire dance to its song. She heard what had to be a pretty good sized limb snap off of a tree outside. She pulled the blanket tighter around her as her thoughts drifted to her Great Grandpa's WWII stories. Grape Pop - a name Annie had bestowed upon him when she was a toddler who thought that great and grape were the same word - had been dead for a decade now. Still, he was never far from Annie's mind. Shivering, she recalled his story about spending most of an entire winter huddled in a foxhole. When she was little and he would mention how that winter had been one "with teeth", Annie couldn't help but picture a small, vicious creature made entirely of snow and baring teeth of tiny, razor-sharp icicles. As if on cue she heard a scurrying noise in the attic and made a mental note to buy mousetraps next time she went shopping.

This winter was definitely one of those kind with teeth. Even on the mountain, four feet of snow in less than a month was a little excessive. She could count on one hand the days that she'd actually had power, and she had already burned through a quarter of a cord of wood. "I'm not complaining," she said to the scurrying noise in the attic. "I love the snow, and I love living here in the middle of nowhere." The noise stopped as if the maker of it was considering her statement, so she continued. "It's just that if I'm going to live without power, I'm going to have to find an old manual typewriter so I can finish writing my book." Scurry. "Hey! There's no need to be that way. I only hate that idea because those things don't come with auto-correct and there's no delete button."

Annie realized that not only was she talking to an unseen rodent, but that she was also imagining that it was giving her cognizant responses. She'd heard of people living alone in the mountains for so long that they went a little, as her nephew would say, "gone-zers." She wondered if Gone-zers knew they were going gone-zers, if there was a moment of clarity when they thought, "I've gotta get off this fuckin' mountain!" They'd step out of their cabins only to be held at bay by an army of rat-sized monsters made of snow, all gnashing their teeth in anticipation of a tasty morsel of human flesh.

Annie shook her head and sighed. She stood up, clutching the blanket around her, and went into the kitchen. She filled the kettle with water and set it to boil on the camp stove that she kept on top of the electric stove that was failing to be any kind of use lately. She opened the cupboard and brought out a mug, tea, sugar, and whisky. Once her concoction was properly brewed and medicated, she took it back to the living room. She curled up on the sofa in front of the fire and held the mug up to her nose. She closed her eyes and let the steam and the scent coming from the mug wrap around her head in warm fingers. She took a first tentative sip and felt the heat from the tea and the whisky burst in her chest and send hot tendrils into her arms and down her torso. "Take that snow monsters," she taunted the imaginary beasts with icicle teeth. "That's right. We're only tasty when we're freezing, aren't we." Scurry. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. We don't need any opinions from the peanut gallery," she yelled up at the ceiling. Scurry. "Defiant little bastard."

Hours later Annie awoke, still wrapped in the blanket on the sofa. The fire had burned down to embers. Light that felt all wrong was filtering through the window. Annie scrubbed at her eyes with her hands and looked again. "Fuck me," she muttered. The light was all wrong because snow had drifted up to the top of the picture window frame. "That's at least a seven foot drift!" She complained to no one in particular. She stoked the remains of the fire, added some kindling, and as it caught added a couple of logs. Then she went to the kitchen and set up the old percolator on the camp stove. It had taken her one power outage to realize that neither man, nor beast, nor snow would keep her from her daily appointed grounds. "Hyuck, hyuck," she muttered at herself. "You so funny."

An hour later, fortified with hot coffee, wearing four layers of clothing, and armed with a shovel and a broom, Annie dug her way from the front porch around to the back of the house where the picture window overlooked the river. She cleared a spot on the patio to stand in, then began sweeping the snow from the window as carefully as she could. "Wouldn't do to knock a hole in the window, kid. Then the snow monsters would have an easy in," she reminded herself. It was a grueling process, complete with the occasional face full of snow depending on the humor of the wind. First she'd sweep some snow from the window, then shovel it away, throwing it up and over the bank of it that was piled against the patio railing. By the time she was done, she was sweating and shivering. It was no longer snowing, but the temperature had dropped at least ten degrees.

With teeth, Annie thought as she shouldered the broom and shovel and made her way back around the side of the house. She left the broom and shovel under the front porch overhang, took the old snow sled that she used for a wood scuttle and made her way toward the woodshed. Once there, she filled the sled as high as she dared with logs, then harnessed the rope at the front of the sled and began to trudge back to the house. It was only about 30 yards, but in four feet of snow and as many layers of clothing, 30 yards had a way of feeling like a quarter mile. Plus, she thought, I'm already whupped from digging out the window.

Annie stumbled slightly, jerking the sled as she did, causing it to ram into her and send her face first into the snow. Half flailing and trying to push herself up, sputtering snow that she had swallowed, she screamed, "Oh, you dirty bastard! You filthy fucking snow monsters!" It was easier to be pissed off at a fictitious creature than to blame herself for being a klutz. Even so, as she felt snow crystals making their way down her neck, the thought flitted briefly, with teeth. "Oh, shut the fuck up." Again to nobody in particular. She managed to get to her feet, gathered and piled the logs that had fallen off back onto the sled, then got it in motion again. She managed to get to the porch without further mishap, but was breathing heavily by the time she pulled the sled in out of the weather and under the overhang. It's so cold that it hurts to breathe, she thought. Like having cold viper teeth in my lungs. Invasive little pricks those monsters.

Annie left the wood where it was on the sled. She'd bring it in later. She needed a break. And more coffee. And dry clothes. "And I'm having popcorn for breakfast. With extra butter! I don't care what any of you have to say about that!" She again addressed the assembly of none, and none argued with her. Half an hour, a mere two layers of dry clothing, and a fresh cup of coffee later, Annie sat in front of the blazing fire, voraciously devouring an enormous bowl of buttery popcorn. With her left hand, the one currently not drenched in butter, she flipped open the magazine article she'd been reading - a fascinating piece about how bees communicate with each other. She heard the scurrying noise again. She looked down at the bowl of popcorn, then looked up at the ceiling. "Oh, you think so! Not a chance. Mine. Mine. Mine, all mine." Scurry. "Whatever. Fuck you."

Annie munched her way through the entire bowl of popcorn and the rest of the bee article. For a while she forgot about snow as she lost herself amid the sound of bees on a warm June day. She forgot about the visitor in the attic. She forgot about snow monsters and icicle teeth as she flipped to the next article, a tear-inducing piece about the healing power of dogs with people suffering from PTSD. So caught up in the piece, she hardly noticed herself setting the empty bowl aside or wiping the butter off her hand onto the old blanket. Once done with the article, she became acutely aware that after a hard workout that morning, she'd been sitting without moving for at least an hour and a half. She felt stiff and her joints popped in angry protest as she shifted. "Medic!" she whimpered, then hissed at the pain in her ankle. She twisted her leg around and looked down. There were two small scrapes. No, that's not right. Tell the truth, they look like puncture marks. But I don't remember being... Her thoughts were interrupted by the scurrying sound. With teeth. "Oh, shut up! Will you really just shut the hell up already about the teeth?!"

Annie shook off the thought and stumbled into the bathroom to get some antiseptic cream. As she passed the front window, she realized that she still needed to bring in the wood from the sled. If she didn't, she'd only have wet wood to throw on the fire and that wouldn't be good. "Nope, not good at all." She giggled a little hysterically at her own voice. Ankle forgotten, she pulled on her boots, propped open the front door, and stepped out to get the wood. It was already starting to get dark and looming snow clouds weren't helping. She started toward the sled and then stopped in her tracks. Heart palpitating, all the spit dried up in her mouth. There, on top of the logs, was what looked like a tiny snowman. Except that it was hunched over. More of a snow rodent, really, if she thought about it, and oh boy, she sure was thinking about it. She didn't want to see, but even in the relative winter gloom, she could see something else. The thing that had stopped her so suddenly and breathlessly. "No... you don't... it isn't...those are not..." But the glint was unmistakable. Teeth. Sharp teeth. Annie's feet seemed to move on their own, taking her backward toward the front door. Her hand found the latch without her telling it too. Annie's full attention was on the snow (ohgod don't say it because saying it means I'm crazy) monster. With that thought she threw the door open, jumped inside, and slammed the door shut.

She leaned against the door, breathing heavily, eyes shut, for what felt like at least ten minutes. It was long enough for the throbbing in her ankle to come back. Annie heard a strange, high-pitched noise and was nauseated to discover that she was the one making it, and that it was the sound of herself whimpering. She clamped both hands over her mouth in an effort to make it stop and thankfully it worked. I'm not crazy. I'm not crazy. I'm not. Ohfuckohshitohdear. She began crying and that was better. It was a mixture of rage and relief and those were feelings she could understand. She limped into the living room, sat down heavily on the sofa. The bottle of whisky was still sitting on the coffee table where she'd left it the night before. She grabbed the bottle and took a swig. It was just the slap in the face that she needed. "I didn't see that. I'm overly tired and my brain is a little wonky from being snowed in for so long." Scurry. "No! You do not get to weigh in on this!" Scurry "Shut UP!!" Scurry. She began to cry again.

Excerpt from Snohomish County Sheriff's Report, 13 March 2009:
Subject was found after landlord filed eviction notice for non-payment of rent. The body was well preserved due to cold temperatures. There appeared to be bite marks consistent with that of a rodent, however, no visible signs of rodent infestation, such as feces, were found anywhere in the home. Scratched into the wooden coffee table next to the sofa where the body was found, was the phrase, "With teeth."

For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Grace O'Malley gave me this prompt: with teeth.
I gave dailyshorts this prompt: Like sugar and salt.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Now Is Not The Time

I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. My father was in yet another drunken rage. This was easily discernible by the fact that he was loudly reciting his favorite alcohol-fueled litany to one of my older brothers. The litany was, "You're no damned good." There were other epithets and insults thrown in, but that was the catch phrase and it was repeated often. I whispered to my mother, "I want to tell him to shut up and stop being a jerk." She shut me down, saying, "Now is not the time. You can't argue with a drunk. And we don't say shut up."

I wanted to confront him the next day, tell him that I didn't like the way he had talked to my brother. I wanted to tell him that it hurt to hear him talk to anyone in our family like that. He sat, slumped forward at the kitchen table, cup of coffee cooling in front of him, the ever-present cigarette dangling between the index and middle fingers of his right hand. My mother whispered as I walked into the kitchen, "Daddy's not feeling very well." Now is not the time.

Now is not the time took up residence in my mind right next to you're no damned good. Those two phrases together were a vitriolic cocktail that taught me not to speak up for myself.

Years later when I was the teenage subject of a similar drunken rant by my father, I wanted to say, "Shut up! You're being a jerk." But I heard my mother's voice in my head, "Now is not the time." Instead, I ran out the door and spent the night at my boyfriend's house. When I returned the next morning, Dad was in the same slumped position he'd been in so many years ago. This time he was crying. He looked up when I walked into the kitchen, and with breath that still stank of alcohol, blurted out, "Oh, Punkin, I'm so sorry!"

I wanted to tell him that his apology didn't mean anything, but that action would. I wanted to tell him that the hurt I felt wasn't hurt that would go away with a simple "I'm sorry." I wanted to tell him that I'd graduated from thinking of him as a jerk to thinking of him as a fucking drunk asshole, and I wanted to tell him that no daughter should ever want to call her father that. I wanted to tell him that I loved him, that I'd do whatever I could to help him change. But I stood, silent. Now is not the time.

I wanted to tell my school friends about my home life. They thought we were a good, happy, Catholic family. I wanted to tell them what it was really like. I wanted to say that although I was never beaten, some of the things that were said left scars that hurt so badly that it was painful to be alive. I wanted to, but I didn't. I was the friend who went along with whatever the rest of the group wanted to do. I was the friend who knew all the words to all the songs and all the good jokes. Now is not the time.

Shortly before my father died of cancer in 1982, I spent an afternoon at the hospital with him. We held hands, all the unsaid hovering between us. Now is not the time.

I never told my father how I felt. It's only been in the past decade that I feel I've really found my voice. It took a lot of hard work and courage to wave that figurative banner that reads: Now IS the time.

My circle of friends will tell you that I'm fond of saying that I wouldn't change a thing in my life because it's all made me who I am today. And I really like who I am today. Still, I can't help but wonder what would have come of that girl if she'd been allowed to say what she had to say, to take a stand. How much more of a dynamic force would I be? I don't know and it's impossible to speculate. Silly even.

At the very least it has all led me to this moment. Yes, this very moment as I am typing this and hoping someone who needs to read it is reading it. That will make every second of my life worthwhile. You see, bullies aren't always kids on playgrounds or snotty teens writing insults on Facebook. Bullies can be found anywhere and everywhere, no matter what age we are. Bullies can be found at our jobs, in our homes, in our churches, in the parking lot. Everywhere. Sometimes the bullies are even our own parents.

Please. If someone is hurting you, don't listen to the voices saying, "Now is not the time." Speak up. Keep speaking up until someone hears you. Please. Now IS the time.

For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Grace O'Malley gave me this prompt: Now is not the time.
I gave SAM this prompt: I had forgotten all about it, but that fragrance/scent/smell brought it all back.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

All the Difference

Six years ago I woke up to a very different kind of day than today. Six years ago, I was busy saying goodbye to my beloved mate, John who lost his life to cancer.

I've spent this past week being somewhat pensive, reflecting on the myriad changes in my life since then. I am in awe of how changed, changed for the better, my life is.

A couple of weeks ago I was part of two different conversations where "negative" emotions were being discussed. Among those emotions were sorrow, fear, anger, and guilt. Talk centered around getting rid of those emotions. I said, and I believe, that we need those emotions. They are necessary.

Somewhere along the way, we lost our reason. We decided that the only things we should be allowed to feel are positive things. We often refer to unpleasant emotion as baggage, as if it's detritus we stuff in a shopping cart and haul around from place to place, occasionally bumping into others with it. We are quick to try to numb the so-called bad feelings with drugs. We do everything we can to make "bad" go away. We work harder, we play harder, we party harder, all in an attempt to banish what we falsely perceive as "bad."

I'll let you in on a secret. The people I love best are people who are in touch with all that "bad", who don't try too hard to mask it. Seeing that frailty in them, and seeing them rise above it, is what makes me love them so much more. The open, raw, naked honesty with which they present themselves - that unashamed "here I am in all my ugliness" - is what makes them so beautiful to me. They don't wallow. That wouldn't do for either of us. But they don't hide either.

So, if I have one wish for people, it is that they allow themselves to feel everything - and not just to feel it, but dive into it, look at it long and hard, find some kind of understanding or at least an acknowledgment. As a very astute artist said, we need those dark spaces because they enhance the light spaces.

That I lost someone I loved so much makes me that much more aware of how very sweet and precious is the love that I have now. That pain, that sorrow, that anger, that fear - that just makes me acutely aware of how extraordinary and wonderful my happiness is now. I believe the reason for this is that I allowed myself to fully experience those darker emotions. Rather than try to out run them, I ran to them. I faced them and found that they were only emotions. They couldn't really hurt me unless I let them hurt me.

That's the key here. Yes, let yourself experience and feel everything - you can't make any of it go away no matter how much you want to - just don't let feeling everything rule anything.

That last, precious kiss on the cheek six years ago was bitter and salty. By comparison, this morning's kiss on the cheek was a sun-ripened strawberry. The part of me that allowed beauty to grow from the shit-strewn fields is glad that I know just how sweet both of those kisses are.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

And A Night Bird Trills

oh, the stars
the electric blue pulse
of your lips
pulling my skin
oh, this lifetime
in your hands -
wandering an ageless path,
swimming an ancient sea, then
wrapped in
all the arms and legs
of a thousand gods,
my bones shatter
as a universe
streams within

and a night bird trills

Thursday, April 4, 2013

D is for Dance

When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It's to enjoy each step along the way.
~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

I don't understand people who refuse to dance, who say they can't dance. What they really mean is, "I can't dance like Baryshnikov, so I won't even try." What they're really saying is, "Because it's not perfect, I won't do it at all. Where's the joy in doing something imperfectly?" They fear looking stupid, but really, we all do something that looks stupid every day. So why not make it intentional? Laugh at yourself first and others will join in laughing at themselves.

Even if all you're doing is tapping a foot to the beat of the music, that's dancing. Even if all you're doing is shimmying your shoulders, or swaying, or playing air-guitar, or conducting an invisible symphony... guess what? You're dancing.

I could easily tell you that I can't dance. I've got a gimpy leg. I pretty much have to stand in one spot and sway or pull some funky style with my arms and shoulders. My leaping and cavorting days are long over. Still, I won't say that I can't dance, because I can. Because I do. I let the music take over and work its magic.

Dr. Dyer is right. When I dance I'm not thinking about the next thing. All I'm thinking is, "This feels fine." I'm telling you, dancing is right up there with meditating. It's a very Zen activity. It shuts out everything but the movement and the joy, and therein leaves the dancer rejuvenated.

A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having.
~ V for Vendetta

So, dance. Let the revolution begin.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

C is for Chaos

Amid the chaos just be.

We humans are a silly lot. We try so hard to control things that we have no control over. We try to control things that aren't even important for us to control. We like to be in charge. Then we get anxious and aggravated.

Life comes flying at us from all different directions and we try to organize it. We plan; we schedule; we make agendas. We build houses and garages to keep all our orderliness in one place only to reorganize and clean them on a regular basis. We even try to force nature to conform to our obsessive need for control with our well manicured lawns and geometrically skewed gardens.

The thing is, the thing we seem to forget, is that the axis of life is chaos. It's a messy business we've got going here - some of that is our fault, some of it isn't. Regardless, it just is.

Somewhere along the way we've forgotten how to separate ourselves from the chaos. We've forgotten how to just be.

A couple of weeks ago I was scrambling to get things done. Construction workers across the field were making tremendous noise. I wanted to scream. Then I had this vision of my life being sort of like a hidden objects game. I can drive myself nearly insane looking for objects buried in a picture. Sometimes I have to remind myself that if I just stop searching so hard, sit back and take in the picture as a whole, sometimes the things I'm looking for jump out to be recognized. Even if they don't, at the very least, I'm not letting the game control me.

Chaos. It's there and you're there, but you don't have to be part of it. Take time to sit back and just be. After all, the only thing we can control is ourselves. Sometimes.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B is for Brazen

I don't much like the way my thesaurus treats one of my favorite words, and that word is brazen. It is compared to the following list of words and that makes it sound like it's a bad way to behave: brash, audacious, barefaced, blatant, bold, brassy, cheeky, cocky, contumelious, defiant, flashy, flip, forward, gritty, gutsy, hotshot, immodest, impertinent, impudent, indecent, insolent, loud, meretricious, nervy, overbold, pert, saucy, shameless, smart-alecky, smart-ass, spunky, tawdry, unabashed, unblushing.

When, I ask you, did anybody accomplish anything by being otherwise? Are great strides made by the timid, the shameful, the weak? No. No. And no.

Long ago, a dear friend and I were discussing the possibilities of seducing the men each of us was seeing. I suggested she just plant one on her intended seductee's lips, grab him by the cojones and say, "How about it then?" She replied, "Sure, why not? If you're gonna be a hussy, you might just as well be a brazen hussy."

Considering that so much in this life is about seduction - not in a sexual way, but in the spirit of cajoling, of trying to get your own way - ought we not be brazen about what we want and what we need? I submit, "Yes!" By all means, own what you want out of life. Be proud. Be loud. Be brazen. How else is any one else going to know, much less understand, what you're all about and what you're after?

If you consider it in sexual terms (because, let's face it, that's such an easy analogy), it would be like me sitting on the sofa and expecting my mate to know I really want sex. It doesn't work that way. But if I brazenly tear my shirt off, start walking up the stairs, and say, "I'm going to see if I can knock all the sheets off the bed without using my hands." Well. Brazen wins the day every time.

Be brazen. Approach your life like you mean business.

Live intentionally.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A is for Art

I am joining the folks at Blogging from A to Z for the third year in a row. The challenge is to blog six days of the week, using consecutive letters of the alphabet for each post.

Sure, Art is an obvious choice for me. I thought about  writing (ranting) about apathy. I've done that topic in the past and the only people who enjoy those posts are others who like to rant about apathy. The apathetic just don't care. I pondered agapanthus and Achilles. I thought, "You can't write about art, you silly self-serving wench!" Oh, but I can.

I want to write about art, not because I want to tell people to learn to do it, or find a passion for it or... blah blah blah. I just want folks to appreciate art for what it is. Art is nothing at all but self-expression. That makes every cognitive creature on earth an artist. It doesn't matter whether you're baking cupcakes, writing stories, doing open heart surgery, painting, being a mother, singing, gardening, or what. It just doesn't matter. If you think - if you create anything, you're an artist.

What you do might be appreciated by others or it might not be. As a writer and an artist, I've learned that what others see doesn't really matter. Yes, it's nice if they connect on some level, nicer still if they actually like what you've done. However, ultimately, it's about how you felt doing whatever it is you did. It's about the soul-stirring that occurs when you indulge yourself in that thing. It is that, and nothing more.

"The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can."
~Neil Gaiman

Your voice, however that voice is made manifest, is your art. Nobody else can say what you have to say. So, please... say it in whatever way you choose. Be an artist.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hang It All

It seems like nothing in the world gets my attention faster than a hangnail. Y'know... those annoying little bits of flesh that rip, seemingly for no reason at all, from the sides of our fingers? They don't just fall off. They seem to grow roots and cling tenaciously to our fingers. Mine go mostly unnoticed until I catch them on something as I invariably do. Every time I do I make that ouch-hiss noise. Even so, I have to catch them on stuff at least a half a dozen times before I bother to do anything about it.

I'm reluctant to trim off my own flesh, cells that are part of me, living tissue with my DNA markers. I've grown this stuff, y'know? Finally I'll give up and get the little scissors and trim that tiny, antagonizing bit of flesh off. There might be the eensiest bit of blood that beads up at the site. Regardless, as soon as the task is completed, I feel better. I can go about my business without any further hurt-alarms. Hours later, I've forgotten it was ever there.

In much the same way, stuff that hurts us emotionally tends to cling. Hangups rather than hangnails, if you will. We might be past it, damage done, but every now and then we bump up against something and... ouch-hiss. It may even be in passing, something we barely acknowledge as, "Yeah, that hurts." Then something catches hold of it again. It's still there. Still waiting to cause pain.

How can we even think of getting rid of it? The experience was ours. The pain came at a price. It's part of what makes us. So what if, in the middle of a fine, sunny day we suddenly flinch and tear up.

But. What if we were to trim that emotional bit off? What if we simply let that chunk become part of the bigger picture. Because, just like that tiny bit of hangnail flesh, it isn't completely gone, but part of the great pile of discarded tissue that we humans leave behind every second of the day.

We can do that, you know. We can take power over past events. I'm not saying it's easy, I'm just saying that it can be done. We can take that mental hangnail and trim it down to just about nothing. Flick the hurt into the great carpet called That's Life. Tell it, "I acknowledge you, but you no longer get to hurt me."

Then we'd get to continue without distraction, without worrying about bumping into that thing again. Unhindered, we'd dive into the great thing that is happening right now.

I call it Life. All of it.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fault Lines

I am writing again off of a prompt from (details at the end of this piece). I was a little lost in what I wanted to write and how to write it. Then I had an amazing conversation with my dear friend Jacob, let the conversation stew a while, and... well... let loose with this stream of consciousness.

We are all at fault.

We are all at fault for ignoring our wants and needs while catering to the wants and needs of others; for ignoring our dreams in an attempt to dance to what others deem as “right.”

We are all at fault for being everything to someone else and nothing to ourselves.

We are at fault for denying our feelings; for obfuscating the internal voice that says, “I am here. Please hear.”

We are all at fault for forgiving every wrong done to us, every wrong but the wrong we self-inflict; for seeing the best in others and only the worst in ourselves.

We are all at fault for pushing others to exceed limits, yet placing boundaries on ourselves.

We are at fault - concerning ourselves - for not being gentle; for not understanding; for being judgmental and intolerant and impatient.

We are at fault for lying to ourselves; for telling ourselves we don’t matter as much as others; for giving our love away before we figure out how to apply it to the person in the mirror.

We are at fault for seeing beauty in everyone but ourselves; for finding ugly the bodies we've been given to use; for hating our own voices.

We are at fault for using all our energy to fix everybody else without first fixing ourselves; for thinking it is selfish to give ourselves any attention; for disallowing the latitude we need to heal, mourn, rage, fight… change.

We are at fault for not following our passions because they might not be what someone else wants for us, or because they might not fit in with "normal," or because, all the gods forbid, they frighten us.

We are at fault for being afraid of what we have no control over anyway; for letting our fear hold sway.

We are at fault for not valuing our lives; for not realizing the importance of our being here; for disrespecting the impact our very existence has on other lives.

We are at fault for using words like blame, guilt, and, yes, fault, instead of words like responsibility, sensibility, self-accountability. There is a difference. A vast difference.

The fault belongs to all of us.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, kgwaite gave me this prompt: The fault belongs to all of us.
I gave Kurt this prompt: It was the middle of Summer and still 80 degrees at midnight.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Kingdom of Yurts

The Lesser of Two Evils

This week I'm back with, writing from a prompt that you'll find at the end of this post.


If I’m to believe everything my aunt says, and I've never had any reason not to, I was born of insanity. Real honest to goodness, bugs crawling, Bible verses screaming, painting the walls with shit, insanity. My mother insisted she’d never been with a man - a falsehood according to my aunt who, at some wild early 70’s party, watched her drop acid and her gypsy skirt, and spread her legs for an equally stoned guy. To this day we have no idea if my mother’s notion that she got knocked up by an alien was born of the acid trip or of her brand of paranoid schizophrenia. It doesn't matter. Certain that she was carrying an alien baby, she made all sorts of gruesome attempts to harm the fetus, yours truly. Finally someone decided that it was in everyone’s best interest to institutionalize her and strap her down for the duration of her pregnancy.

Seven months into her pregnancy, my mother quit eating and began paraphrasing Bible verses  (according to old therapy footage). Her favorite verses to obfuscate were the beatitudes. You’ll probably think I’m a heartless douche, but I laugh at that old footage. I laugh a lot. How can you not laugh at a woman crying out, in a come-to-Jesus voice, “Blessed are the freak babies, for theirs is the kingdom of yurts!“ Another favorite of mine is, “Blessed are the chicharrones! Yabba dabba doo!“ My excuse for laughing is that it’s like whistling past the graveyard. I mean, if I can laugh at my own mother’s pathetic psychosis, then deep down I’m probably okay, right? If I can be amused at the shear far-fetchedness of it, then I’m not swimming too dangerously close to the deep end. That’s my theory anyway.

Where was I? Right. Seven months pregnant, my mother began to refuse food. Even in the most confused mind there’s a certain type of logic. She knew that if she stopped eating, the alien in her wouldn't have anything to feed off of and with any luck, it would die. What really happened is that my mother went dangerously anemic, both of our heart rates bottomed out, and they ended up taking me c-section just as we rounded into her eighth month. She didn't make it through the operation, which was considered by everyone to be a mercy.

My aunt adopted me the minute I was born. She had planned on raising me anyway from the moment she knew her sister was pregnant. She knew my mother would never be able to care for a child. I can’t imagine being raised by a finer woman. Even the most serious stuff was laced with her brilliant sense of humor. She gave me boundaries, but full reign to explore life within those boundaries. If I showed interest in something, she made sure I had all the right tools to take it as far as I wanted to. When she saw how rapt I was doodling on scraps of paper that she gave me, she insisted we go shopping for decent paper, colored pencils and crayons. At her insistence, any time I turned to a new creative medium, I had the right supplies. She never once suggested that I have a back-up plan in case I failed as an artist.

When I was about 16 years old I asked her, “Why is it I don’t call you Mom?” It’s the only time I can recall seeing her look troubled, angry almost. She leaned across the table, took both of my hands in hers, and looked me in the eyes. “Sweetheart, I love that I've been able to raise you, love you, have you in my life… but… I’m not your mother. I’m your mother’s very proud sister. You know your mom wasn't right in the head, right? That didn't ever make me love her less. If anything, it made me love her just a bit more. Life with her was always a strange, fascinating adventure. Growing up with someone whose reality was more often than not the land of make-believe? I think I had something valuable that other kids missed out on. Whenever we’d walk to the corner store together for candy, folks would see us skipping hand-in-hand and they’d always give me a look of sympathy. It’s as if they felt sorry for me for being saddled with her. But it wasn't like that. I loved her. I loved the messiness of her.

“So, no. You shouldn't be calling me mom. My sister was your mom. I’m just your adoring auntie. So many of the good things about you, you get from her. You have that envious way of looking at even the most repulsive things with curiosity. You can’t learn enough. And you take all that, chew it up, and spit it back out as some pretty damned terrific art. She did all that too. Before things got really bad for her and she tried self-medicating to stop some of the noise in her head, she used to draw all the time. Wondrous, fantastical things.

“We once saw a dandelion growing up through the rotted carcass of a squirrel. She was enthralled by it. I thought it was gross and wanted to walk away from it as fast as I could. But, she sat right down on the sidewalk, pulled out her sketchpad, and within minutes had sketched this ridiculously cute zombie squirrel complete with a tux and a bouquet of flowers. She was a master at seeing art in the every day.

“I know you've heard all the stories and there’s a lot there that was sad and probably frightening, but celebrate her being your mom. What was it the wise man once said? Unless you know where you've come from, how can you know where you’re headed? Something like that.”

As she drifted into silence, I asked, “What if I end up like her?”

“Oh, darlin’ girl. Maybe she was two tickets short of a carnival ride, but that doesn't have to be you. Besides, do you think you’d be asking questions like that if you were just like her? She never questioned her sanity, or insanity. Everything she experienced was reality for her. Up to and including the alien baby she gave birth to.” Here my aunt favored me one of her famous Joanne Woodward style grins.

I tossed a very similar grin right back at her. “That’s me. Blessed are the freak babies!”

“You bet your sweet yurt!”

Fast forward to 2012, just two weeks shy of my 40th birthday. I was about as glammed up as I’ll ever get in my plain black dress, sensible black pumps, silver earrings and an artsy silver broche resembling one of Dali’s melted clocks. Also, wonder of wonders, my hair was recently brushed and pinned back into something smacking of style. Normally I wouldn't put that much effort into my appearance, but I was the honoree at the Caldecott awards. I was to receive a medal for outstanding illustration of a children’s book. The book was about a critter by the name of Jabbers the Zombie Squirrel. Jabbers, always resplendent in a black tuxedo jacket, carried a bouquet of magic dandelions as he made his way from one outlandish adventure to another in the Kingdom of Yurts.

I stood and made my way across the stage to the podium when my name was announced. The applause was overwhelming and my vision almost went a little swimmy until I saw her. There she was, my elegantly plain, sharp-eyed old auntie, sitting six rows back from center stage. As I waited for the applause to die down so I could give my well-practiced speech, I saw her mouth the words, “Freak baby!” It was my burst of laughter that finally got the crowd to quiet down.

I cleared my throat and began. “Thank you. This story actually began many years before I was born, with two sisters. One sister was much like the rest of us - I refuse to use the word normal. The other sister couldn't differentiate between her reality and ours. My mother was the latter of the two. My mother had a severe mental disorder. In the vernacular of the streets, she was crazy. But maybe she was crazy in the best possible way. It’s because of her that the idea for Jabbers was born at all. I have several old tapes that were filmed during her time in a psych ward, while she was pregnant with me. I will share with you a favorite bit of wisdom taken from my mother during one of those sessions. It is: Blessed are the dandelions. They will never be dismissed as nuts.”


For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Kurt gave me this prompt: "And the stories they told you were true, babe: your mom really went crazy. But that doesn't have to be you." -The Elected, "Greetings in Braille". 

I gave Chelle this prompt: reconsidering

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tell the Story

A few weeks ago I watched Werner Herzog's documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams. (If you have Netflix streaming, it's available there and I highly recommend it.) Cave of Forgotten Dreams is about the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc cave in southern France. The cave, discovered in late 1994, contains some of the earliest known cave paintings. The paintings, dating back approximately 20,000 to 35,000 years, are of various animals as well as one painting of a partial female figure.

I was in awe as the movie unfolded. It's rare that a documentary captivates me so completely that I forget where I am, but this one did. What struck me wasn't just the beauty of the paintings, but that all those tens of thousands of years ago, someone took the time to tell their story and here we are today "reading" that person's (or maybe persons') stories.

It gave me chills and warmed me all at once that someone, way back then, took the time to tell their story. Somebody thought it important enough to paint it on a cave wall in bold images that said, "I am here. This is my day." Whoever it was wanted to tell about the buffalo stampede, and the wild horses, and the lion on the prowl. Whoever it was recognized and bowed to the thought, "This is too big to keep inside. Too profound to keep to myself."

Let's face it, we all have stories to tell and we all have various forms of communication that we use to tell them. An artist paints or draws or sculpts; a writer writes - those are obvious. Most of us tell our stories in other, less obvious ways. We tell our stories in the way we do day-to-day tasks. We laugh, we cry, we share our stories at reunions, at parties, during rounds of chemo, over cups of coffee, shopping for groceries, cooking our meals, hammering nails, sweeping floors... we each tell our own stories in thousands of ways.

Every story lingers in some way, even if we don't see it. Even if it's stuck in a cave that's been obscured by a pile of rocks left by a landslide.

I began this blog over five years ago. At the time I didn't know who would read it or even if anyone would read it. I didn't care. I simply had to get my story out. I had to find a place where I could say, "I am here. This is my day." That was all there was to it. I wasn't worried about being the world's next top author. I wasn't concerned with how many readers/followers I'd end up with. I'm still not.

I know I've neglected this little campfire that I ignited (what feels like) so very long ago. You might be surprised at how often I've stopped by here, thought about writing, then crept away without a word. I have all the standard excuses: I've been busy, I've been concentrating on art, blahblahblah. But what it really came down to is that I've needed time to figure out what story to tell.

See, lately when I've stopped by here it's felt a little bit like going back to a house I used to live in. You know the feeling. You walk through the rooms, familiar with the layout, but everything is different. Everything feels... I don't know... everything feels so that-was-then-this-is-now. So, I've had thoughts of just giving up this blog, of leaving it where it is. But I just can't do that. I thought about revamping it, giving it a different look, feel, purpose. I can't do that either. This blog is my cave. It's still where I throw things on the wall, sometimes with a scream, sometimes with a whisper, sometimes with a simple gesture that says, "I am here. This is my day."

The other day my friend Jacob accused me of being a writer. I say accused because when he says stuff like that, no matter how innocuously, there is weight to it. There's no telltale sycophantic hiss underlying his compliments, just honesty. So, when he said, "You're a writer..." I felt responsible. I felt a call to duty, to honor even.

Mostly I felt like I needed a good, long stretch of smooth wall. The truth is, I have stories a-plenty, just waiting for the telling. Whether I make art out of them or write them or throw them into a stew pot and serve them with bread for dinner doesn't matter. The point is... well... the point is be a good custodian of the cave and tell the damned story.

I am here. This is my day.

To be continued...