In the Aftermath

I took one of those silly quizzes on social media yesterday. You know, the ones that ask “What would your Hillbilly name be?” or “What profession should your dog have?” This one was “How Many More Years Do You Have to Live?” I thought it would be a hoot, so I took it. (50 years and 6 months supposedly)

One of the questions was “Which body part do you think is your greatest weakness?” or something like that. It listed arms, legs, mind, and a few other things. I picked emotion.

Emotions have always been my undoing. They probably always will be.

Not that I am an emotional person. I have to be really really happy for someone to know it. And conversely, I have to be really really mad for someone to know it as well. My excitement over things is usually constrained to the comment “good” accompanied by a lopsided grin. I have learned to shut them off … because they matter too much.

In other words, they make my world it’s own private roller coaster.

I’ve been told harboring emotions like this is what makes people either go crazy or take drugs or become addicted to things. My lack of addictions must mean I’m either insane or weird, then. Unless writing or gardening can be called an addiction. Hobbies gone wild … but I digress.

The one thing in my life that can still throw me for a loop is going through any kind of emotional experience. For the first few days, the adrenaline sails me through whatever life brings, but after that, I crash and burn.

I mentioned this to a friend a year or so ago and she gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard. “Give yourself time to grieve.”

At first I thought she was kind of nuts. No one died, at least not this time. I mean if someone did die, I would understand feeling so down and blue. That’s expected. I argued the point.

Then she reminded me, for someone who is sensitive, whose emotions matter so much that they hide them from the world, every event that changes something needs to be given time for grief. That’s why we often feel so down just after some of our biggest accomplishments in life.

Those who rise the highest, fall the farthest … or so I’ve heard …

It seems to hold true in my life. Every award I’ve earned, every time I accomplish something I’ve struggled to do over time, every achievement has been marked by a period of utter and complete sadness where I either sit and stare at a wall or curl up in bed in the dark and hope no one will bother me. It eventually goes away and I return to normal.

But …

I always thought I was nuts. Win an award, go curl up in bed. Accomplish something new, hide in front of the tv. Somehow my image of how the world is supposed to work doesn’t include that scenario … and yet, that’s how I function.

So the most freeing thing in the world was for my friend to say, “It’s okay. Give yourself time to adjust.”

I’m in the middle of adjusting. Blech.

A couple of weeks ago, after trying for over a year and a half, I managed to write a good short story and then another and another. They just rolled out of me. That might not seem great to others but I’ve written novels without blinking an eye and poetry as well, but the short story had me baffled. Try as I might, technique after technique failed me. I’ve literally tried to write over 40 short stories in the past year … and not just a single pass at them. Editing, seeking critique, starting over … nothing clicked. But for some reason it all just coalesced in a single 876 word story.

I was elated. And so I wrote another and another and another. Then I took a deep breath, curled up in my bed, and wished the world away.

I’ve heard all my life that creative people are more sensitive, more emotionally driven. Some of the worlds best seem to follow that pattern, either acting out publicly or falling into a world of drugs and addiction … but there are others, too, like me that sink into a dark place and have to “adjust” to the new world around us, to our own new view on life.

But there are many others, perhaps the ones who have learned the secret of allowing themselves to grieve, that carry on.

For me, life will always be a matter of adjusting, day in and day out. I’ve learned to breathe a lot. Lol. And to remove myself from places I shouldn’t be. And then the emotions settle down faster and I can resume with my world.

I guess if there’s a time to achieve, there’s a time to grieve. A time to do and a time rest. A time to make changes and a time to learn to live with those changes.

And So It Goes

And goes and goes and goes …

Some days I’m pretty sure the only things I can count on in this world are:

1. my cat will camp out on top of my computer

2. my cat will steal bacon off my breakfast plate while I’m pouring juice

3. teenagers are insane

4. logic does not prevail

5. nor does good triumph over evil

6. I will never dance naked in front of strangers (or family … you can breathe easy now)

7. sanity is fleeting

8. a good story is hard to find and even harder to write well

9. and a good writing mentor is even harder to find than that

Sigh.

Writing is such a fickle thing. Writers like to talk about their muse, as if it’s a friend they invite for tea or a weekend at the beach. And yet, writing is 98% perspiration and only 2% inspiration, so the muse is simply another myth created to maintain the mystic of the writer persona … I guess.

I don’t think I have a persona.

That’s okay for a writer. After all we hide behind our stories. We live life through our characters. We act out all those devilishly clever ideas we could never find the strength to do in real life. We don’t need a persona as long as we can create one when it’s needed.

The public has the idea that writers are enormously great at what they do. They write therefore they must be educated and intelligent. Right?

But it seems to me that, like a muse, is only a tiny part of writing. And for some people, it’s not a part at all. I’ve met some enormously talented writers in the last few years with wildly successful novels to their credit. But I’ve also met some enormously bad writers as well with wildly successful novels to their credit.

That’s how it goes.

It doesn’t seem fair and I find myself puzzled over and over when I enter a competition with a beautifully thought out, sweat induced, thoroughly edited piece of writing and, then, something that has nothing to do with the prompt, misspelled words and incomplete sentences wins.

It’s bizarre. It’s like there’s some standard of perfection, that isn’t perfection, that needs to be attained but no one can tell you what that standard is, let alone how to achieve it.

Write from the heart.

Write what matters to you.

Write what you know.

Don’t use omniscient voice.

Only use first person in certain situations.

Always have a plot twist that no one expects.

Always …

Never …

Do …

Don’t …

Every single book on writing, every writing instructor, everyone who’s ever published anything has their own theory on what to do right and what is wrong.

Truth is … there is no right answer in life … or writing. That’s just how it goes. You just have to do your best, work your butt off, and hope, somewhere, at some point in time, you’ll find your own perfection.

My Writing Meme

You know all those writing memes you see on Facebook? The ones with the movie character, typically a hot dude like Sherlock or Loki, pointing a finger and saying “You should be writing!”?

I don’t need one of those.

Instead, I have a cat. A writing cat. A big orange fluffy warm ball of purring fur. (And his protege. Also an orange cat.) His name is Wiggins and I don’t think I’d get any writing done at all without his help.

I’m not really sure how he came to be “the” writing cat in the family. He’s one of eight, after all. He’s not the oldest or the friendliest or the favored or the cuddliest. He’s never figured out how to use a litter box. He’s not a cute little kitten that plays with strings or licks my hair.

So, I guess, really, the only slot left for him was to be THE writing cat. And he’s good at it.

We don’t let our animals sleep with us at night. I know. We’re mean. But I’d be a whole lot meaner if I was woken up fifteen times by a cat jumping in the middle of me.

So, first thing in the morning, when I open my bedroom door, he charges in talking to me, as if spelling out the agenda for the day. He perches on the end of the bed while I dress and go about my morning routine, occasionally rolling around to make sure his scent is everywhere it needs to be. I suppose the pheromones are supposed to inspire my muse or something.

If I then leave the room, which I do every day, he stays on the bed for about fifteen minutes before coming to find me. At which point he sits at my feet and stares at me, wide yellow eyes watching every movement. If I go to another room, he follows pushing in front of my feet and flopping over on the floor in my path, as if to say, “Stop. It’s time to write now.”

On those rare days when I don’t write and actually close my bedroom door again, he lays in the hallway and bangs on my door. I can walk up to him in the hall, even, and he will continue to try to open my door. He’s not trying to find me.

He wants to write.

Of course, I would never encourage such a thing. I mean, he has his own pillow that sits beside me on which he wallows and perches and does his thing. Mainly he sleeps, curled up in a tight ball purring away. But, for good measure, about once an hour, he gets up and flops over my left arm and paws at the keyboard. Since I still don’t speak cat, I haven’t quite figured out what that means. I proceed to type and he eventually turns around and curls back up.

One of these days, I’ll have to write a book about him.

ARGH!!!

Spent the evening arguing, mostly with myself. It’s hard to have an argument with someone who refuses to admit that they don’t know what they are talking about.

It pertains to writing, as it was with another writer and we were discussing writing techniques.

He asked me to review some of his work on a private group. I did so. Honestly but respectfully. He then decided that he didn’t like what I said. Okay. That’s easy. Don’t ask me to review your work again then. I won’t give you my thoughts on it, objective as they are.

I said nothing that hadn’t been told to him by two or three other people independently. I didn’t even know what they’d told him until after he started arguing. Then I went back and checked. I always check. And double check. And even when I’m positive that I know what I’m talking about and doing something in the correct way, I still ask for help from other writers I trust.

But some people.

Writing is not easy. It takes time and effort to put the right words on the page at the right time in the right order to create a story that speaks to the reader. So I never understand other writers who don’t want to do that. Why spend time writing and creating a story if you’re not going to make it the best it can be?

I don’t know. Maybe I’m the goofball. Maybe I shouldn’t spend so much time worrying over things like passive voice and whether my character can read minds or see through walls. I think those things matter. They matter to me as a reader.

Anyway, I ended the evening with a big ol’ GRRRRRRR.

I hate arguing. It’s pointless really. Most often neither party walks away with anything new, other than a headache, or resolved, other than the determination to show that they were right. I’d rather just ignore the whole thing.

But durn it all. This guy asked for my help.

If you’re going to ask for help, be prepared to accept the help you’re given and at least consider it for more than 2 minutes before you reject it. Otherwise, what is the point in wasting their time?

A Frigid Little Halloween Tale

“It is the main point in the Chenoo stories that this horrible being, this most devilish of devils, is at first human; perhaps an unusually good girl, or youth. From having the heart once chilled, she or he goes on in cruelty, until at last the sufferer eats the heart of another Chenoo, especially a female’s. Then utter wickedness ensues.” The Algonquin Legends of New England, by Charles G. Leland, [1884]

“Giwakwas (or Kee-wakw) are the evil man-eating ice giants of southern Wabanaki legends. According to most legends, a Giwakwa was once a human being who either became possessed by an evil spirit or committed a terrible crime (especially cannibalism or withholding food from a starving person), causing his heart to turn to ice.”
http://www.native-languages.org/giwakwa.htm

Boundary Headwaters Forest
Northwestern Maine
2014

Blake poked an ember in the fire pit with a chiseled stick. Sparks zinged in arcs in every direction, landing in the dirt. The wind caught one and it floated over the campsite, a glowing reddish-orange piece of hell.

He watched as it died away, fading into the vast dark sky.

“Hey, man. I’m glad our parents let us come camping tonight,” his friend Corbin said. “I really didn’t want to take my little brother and sister trick-or-treating again this year.”

Blake poked the sole of his friend’s hiking boot with the smoking stick. “Think of all the candy you’re missing out on.”

“Think of all the whining fairy princesses I’m missing out on,” Corbin said.

“Good point.” Blake chuckled. “Of course I know how to have fun with some of those fairy princesses.” He poked the fire again and dropped a chunk of wood the size of his forearm into the burning pile. Ash puffed in tiny whirlwinds.

“Ew! Little girls bro.”

Blake threw a twig at him. “I’m not a pervert you sicko. I’m talking about the older princesses, like … Haley, maybe.”

Corbin tossed a stick into the fire. “Haley? You’re dreaming again. She wouldn’t touch you with a ten foot pole. She likes jocks, not nerdy do-gooders.” He pulled his jacket on. “Let’s go mess with other campers. It is Halloween, after all.”

“Mess with them how?” Blake leaned back in his camp chair and laced his fingers together over his flat stomach. “It’s quiet hours.”

“You know, scratch on their tents, rattle pots and pans after they go to bed, smash eggs on their cars, pretend to be monsters. We both have hoodies. We can look sinister.”

“Maybe. I don’t want to get into trouble. My parents trust me to do the right thing.” Blake bit his bottom lip. He’d never pranked anyone other than the history teacher in eighth grade, and he’d been a good sport about it. “No throwing eggs or anything and we’re skipping those people with the little kids. I don’t want them to hate camping because of the boogey –”

Footsteps crunched the gravel on the drive pad to the site. The boys peered into the shadows around their truck as a man with wild white hair and a ragged army coat appeared in the light of the fire.

Blake stood up, smoking stick in hand. He hadn’t seen this dude wandering around in the daylight. His heart thumped rapidly. “Who are you?”

Corbin stood up beside him. “Yeah. What do you want?”

As the man stepped closer, his sagging wrinkled skin caught the flicker of the light making his face seem to crawl. “I just saw your fire. I was cold.” He took another step. A waft of stale sweat and dead flesh drifted over the campsite. “I’m hungry. Do you have anything to eat?”

Blake hesitated. His mom always told him to help old people, but, who was this man and where had he come from? Whack jobs were everywhere nowadays. He had to be responsible and get home without any problems. “I’m sorry, but we can’t help. Maybe you should talk –”

Corbin moved towards the man. He pinched his nose. “Where did you come from anyway? You smell awful, dude. Go take a shower. They have soap and everything.”

Blake pulled his friend back. “Look, mister. Just go talk to the ranger. I’m sure he … could …” His eyes grew wide as the army coat seemed to grow before his eyes until it fit snuggly around the middle of a pudgy, nearly bald woman. The wrinkled flesh smoothed across the chin and pierced into dimples as she smiled at him. Wisps of grey hair drifted to the ground.

He licked his lips and glanced back at Corbin. “Um, excuse me but, uh, what was that?” Now he wished he’d brought his dad’s gun. Everything useful was packed away for the night in the truck. He waved the pointed stick at her.

Corbin grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Let’s not do something crazy. Who or what are you?”

The woman smiled again and moved closer to the fire, holding her hands into the warmth. One hand was gloved, the other was bare and stained with something black. As she parted her lips to speak, her jagged teeth glinted a pure white. “I told you. I was cold and hungry. Didn’t you bring marshmallows to roast or something? I don’t need much.”

The boys exchanged glances again.

Blake stuck the stick into the throbbing coals. He almost believed she was normal. “Okay, if we give you a couple of marshmallows will you go away?” If he got to the car and their food stash, he could get the axe at least. It would be some kind of protection.

The woman nodded and rubbed her hands together.

He handed his stick to Corbin. His phone screen glowed an eery blue color as he flicked on the flashlight app. No cell reception here. He didn’t even have to look. Making a wide gap around the woman he clicked the locks on the truck and went to the passenger side. He glanced back at the pair at the fire, trying to keep them in his peripheral vision.

The bag of white gooey blobs was on the seat and he picked it up. This was all too weird. Maybe the marshmallows had been laced with something. He opened the metal army ammunition box his grandfather had given him and pulled out his hatchet. He sharpened it that afternoon so he could cut wood, not defend himself. The top of the box clanked shut. He wasn’t sure he could even make himself use it if he had to. She was a woman, or an old man, or something. He swallowed the lump in his throat.

Corbin called out. “Hey. you might want to hold off on the marshmallows and get back here.”

Blake looked up and closed the door on the truck. The army coat laid in a pile on the ground encompassing the feet of a whisper thin child wearing pajamas. He couldn’t tell if it was a girl or a boy. The hair was cropped short and the child hugged their arms around themselves.

“Please take me home. I’m cold and hungry.” The voice was almost a squeak.

Blake circled around them and stood beside his friend again, the axe held tight in one hand. “Look, I don’t know who or what you are but you have to go away. Now.” He tried to raise his voice but it was trembling. “Go on. Go away.”

The child covered it’s face with it’s hands. Whimpers rose in waves, piercing the silence of the campground, until a wail bellowed through the trees rattling even the earth. As the child’s hands fell away, the face morphed into a snarl of large canines stained yellow. All the hair fell to the ground with a violent jolt. The flannel pajamas ripped into shreds as sharp spindly legs burst out in every direction.

Corbin shrieked and dragged at the arm of Blake’s jacket, nearly pulling him over.

Blake held the hatchet over his head, menacing the creature. “Don’t make me use this,” he said. Grabbing the burning stick from the fire, he waved it in front of the now eight foot spider thing in front of him.

It lunged towards him, planting one dagger like foot into the leaf covered ground.

Blake backed up closer to Corbin. But he wanted to stay near the fire. Fire kept away ravenous animals and bad things. At least it was supposed to. That’s how it worked in the movies.

Another monstrous black leg plunged into the ground inches from him.

Instinctively, he slashed out with the hatchet, severing the lower segment.

The demon stumbled towards him, the remaining limb dripping with a blackish ooze knocked him over.

Corbin squealed again and disappeared into the gloom screaming. “We are leaving. Now! Get in the truck. Get in the truck. Get in the truck.”

Another giant leg pierced the earth a few inches from Blake’s head.

He shot a glance to the razor sharp fangs hanging over him. No time to be afraid. No time to run. Fight. Just fight with all the fury you can. He swung the hatchet again, connecting with another leg.

The spider crumpled towards him.

He swung the other direction slicing through two legs at once. Black ooze splattered his face and jacket. The smell of rotting flesh made him gag.

The spider fell into the flames and wailed. The sound reverberated through the ground.

He rolled away and sat up on his knees. His lungs burned. He needed air.

Branches in the trees rattled, at first like the purr of a cat and then faster and louder until it sounded like a hail storm on a rusty metal barn.

He held his hands over his ears, stumbled to his feet, and looked around for Corbin. The night had consumed him, it seemed. Blake turned back to the scorching monster, sizzling alive. It was dying. At least he hoped it was dying.

“Go back to the hell you came from,” he growled.

As suddenly as the child had turned into the spider, the wrinkled face of the old man reappeared. The spindly legs vanished. The fangs shrank into a wretched gasp. The body of the old man writhed in the flames. Remnants of both of his arms and one of his legs jerked violently spattering black ooze like a rain storm.

Blake’s eyes bulged as the groans hushed. He stood staring at the body fueling the flames. Silence hung around him. His arm started to ache and he realized he was holding the hatchet so hard that his fingers were white. White with blood splatters dripping down them.

He threw the hatchet. What had he done? Had he just killed someone? His eyes blurred, dried from the heat of the fire. He closed them. Let this be a dream. Let this be a dream. He sucked in air through his nose and held it as he opened his eyes again. But it wasn’t a dream.

A body lay in front of him, still on fire, black smoke billowing into the night.

He let out his breath and sank to the ground. Hours seemed to pass as the body burned into a blackened carcass. As the first light of morning turned the sky into an azure blue, he looked up. Smoke drifted in wisps from what remained of the head. The ribs pointed like fingers on a hand straight towards him.

As the sun’s first rays sliced through the morning, a glint shined from inside the burned out shell. Blake poked at it with a stick, absently. The glint was solid. Hard. Like ice.

But the old man had just burned in the fire. It couldn’t be ice.

Blake moved to the charred remains and pushed them with his foot. The icy block fell into the ashes. He picked it up. It was ice. How could it be ice? He dropped it and rubbed his hands on his pants backing away.

A breeze danced around him and he hugged his arms. He was cold. Ice cold and shivering. He tugged his jacket tighter and zipped it closed. He was just chillded. That had to be it. He’d light the fire again and find Corbin and everything would be fine.

He turned around to get the lighter from the grill and saw his friend leering around the corner of the tent.

“Hey Corbin, it’s okay. It was just a bad dream. We just scared ourselves.” His teeth started chattering.

Corbin just stared and shook his head. “What … who … where’s Blake?” he asked, whimpering. “Who are you and what did you do to my friend?”

Don’t Challenge Me When I’m Ill

I admit it. When I’m sick, I can be a bear.

Actually, it’s not while I’m sick that I’m such the bear as during the period of recovery that follows. I’m not sure why, but something about having felt so bad for so many days makes me very short tempered and ready to flail anyone who ventures to push me over the line.

Aggression is not my thing, however. I don’t tend to snap. I never hit or throw things. But, as I suppose only a writer can do, I can verbally disarm anyone and leave them gasping for air. But it takes me a long time to reach that point of eruption. I guess when I’ve been ill the pinnacle is easier to reach … and I am far less concerned with being politically correct (or perhaps even polite) at that time.

I think my biggest problem is that I don’t deal with illogical people well … and I tend to find logic loopholes quickly. On ordinary days, I can convince myself to walk away and not say what I’m really thinking. I will avoid the argument, the outcome, the aftermath if at all possible.

But when I’ve been ill … all bets are off.

Over the past several months, my daughter has been involved with a group of girls. I have attended her meetings more than once in an attempt to introduce myself and be involved, to no avail. In four meetings over three months, no one even spoke to me or tried to introduce themselves. So, I continued to take my daughter but quit attending myself.

So then the group starts complaining that they don’t have enough parental involvement and they need people to drive places. But as soon as I volunteer they tell me I can’t drive because none of them have ever met me and they hope I understand the problem. They said if I would get involved and attend the meetings, then I could drive.

I’m guessing I was painted with invisible paint or something for those four meetings I attended. Clearly I didn’t stand up and make myself known very well. Perhaps I should have thrown myself on the floor and kicked and screamed a little or done a dance in the middle of the meeting or brought a penguin with me. Then they might remember me.

Of course, I’ve been sick this week, so their email was not met with the strictest of political correctness coming from my end. Their short four sentence email was returned with an eight paragraph dissertation on my viewpoint of the situation and why I failed to understand the situation.

It probably won’t make any difference at all, but I feel better for having spoken my mind.

 

 

A Fire, A Rock, and a TeePee of Branches

We pulled into camp about 5 PM. Late, I know, for a weekend of building fires and sleeping on rocks. Four camp sites remained among the 80 or so available, and as we pulled into our chosen spot, we felt relieved to have a place to lay our heads.

The decision to do all our cooking over the fire was made unanimously. We could host meetings for pyromaniacs united or something, if such a group existed. Camp fires, blazing orange, coals pulsing, under the black of the city-less sky on a cool fall night are just a fingerprint from heaven in our world.

Too bad we forgot the camp chairs. (It’s better than when we went all the way to Yellowstone and forgot our hatchet and rain gear … ) But we made do with rocks, a milk crate, and the ice chest. Flexibility is the key to a good camping weekend we’ve found. Our son was going to make us a bench with stacked logs and branches, but the setting sun changed the plans.

We made campfire stew for supper, boiled vigorously over hot flames until the potatoes turned to molten white lava … and the poor raccoons didn’t get any. And of course we ate smores. Can’t go camping without marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate, after all.

Of course they’re another excuse to play in the fire … but hey … a girl’s gotta have a hobby.

My favorite part of camping by far, beyond the fire and the way food tastes so much better and listening to everyone breathing as we go to sleep in the tent, is watching the stars. We could even see the Milky Way, that faint cloud-like smear across the dark sky. I never tire of looking up into the abyss.

I’m not sure what draws my attention so keenly, the patterns, the movement, or maybe just the understanding of how small we really are … and yet how much we are loved.

In all of the universe, in all of those millions and billions of stars and potential planets and moons and suns, here we are alive and, as far as we know, alone. The only humans in existence.

The thought makes me stop and wonder, why us? Why here? What is so special about us?

And that one thought makes all the stuff in my life disappear in a moment. The neighbors, the overwhelming decisions, the failures, the successes, the competition, the striving to get it all right all the time that crowd my life day in and day out … They all seem to miraculously shrink into the packages they came in and slide onto the proper shelf. I can breathe again. I can think.

I can just stop.

I suppose this is why people drink or use drugs or do any of those things that make them addicts … so they can feel like they can just stop, that the world will just quit spinning so fast.

The stars are my drug of choice. I guess I’m lucky to have them. Lucky that I can look up and my mind will shut off and I can just be mesmerized by something outside of myself.

Now if someone will just make an air mattress that will stay inflated all night long so I don’t end up with rocks jabbing me in the ribs and hips before morning, I might never leave the camp ground.

Then again, wifi is a thing …