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 …


A Bully in High Heels with a Public School Job

My Life.

My Choices.

My Mistakes.

My Lessons.

Not Your Business.

Those are the words that greeted me very early this morning as I glared, bleary eyed at a social media site on my phone. I hadn’t slept well given someone’s dog barked all night, and because our neighbors drug business was open and apparently racking up the customers if the amount of traffic speeding by, pausing, revving their engines, and then zooming off again is anything to go from.

I was not amused with any of it. And I had a raging headache.

But these words stuck with me. I’ve thought them many times. I’ve even acted on them from time-to-time in my life. But I’ve never voiced them quite so succinctly.

They couldn’t have been more appropriate for the remainder of my day.

After popping a few pills to dull the head pain, and catching a bit of a morning nap, I bounced up to deal with phone calls from my daughters virtual school. That’s how they do things. Phone calls and emails. No parent teacher conferences. No “back to school” night fundraisers. Just endless multi-peopled phone calls and emails that never seem to produce anything of value. Kind of like the old joke about a Baptist committee … or a government contract employee … (I’ve been both. You can hold your applause til the end. Thanks.)

The best part is that the phone calls were in regard to a matter that my husband was dealing with. Only they wouldn’t call my husband because he wasn’t “listed” as the primary contact or “trained” as a learning coach.

Of course I’m not really sure what being “trained” entails. The only training I received was to be told to visit a web site, register as a user, and then start clicking buttons to see what they would do. Some training.

This morning was about as helpful. After a month of hounding us to schedule our daughter for “placement” tests, three people phoned to tell us that they are waiting to schedule the tests with us now until they can find someone to administer the tests that lives near us, and that they would call us again tomorrow to let us know more. THREE PEOPLE. THREE phone calls. Absolutely NO helpful information of any kind except to tell me that they couldn’t speak to my husband because he wasn’t on the “list”.

I know, what does any of that have to do with bullies or even to do with the meme from Facebook? I’m getting there … hang on.

My other story for the day is more troubling to me … in a parental way.

Nine months ago our daughter signed up to join a girls group. The group was supposed to be meeting in a town where my parents live over an hour away. But once my daughter was actually initiated into the group, we found out that she was supposed to be going to meeting in a completely different town, because the group in my parents town didn’t have enough girls to meet.

That was fine. It was closer for us and the night they met worked into our schedule well.

So, for six months we’ve been driving our daughter to these meetings and overnights and weekend retreats. And she’s been enjoying the time dressing up and being a girly-girl. But for these same six months, the other girls who she initially was supposed to be grouped with haven’t shown up to anything, nor have they been meeting in the other town.

We didn’t worry about it and decided to just join the group we’ve been attending.

So, tonight the group had an initiation and my daughter got to take part in it. She knew her part well and looked beautiful in her formal. The evening went great for everyone. Until it was over …

And then the girls from her original group and two of their mothers cornered my daughter demanding to know why she was participating with this group and when she was going to come back to their group. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t friendly. It was mean.

Despite being dressed in formal gowns with their hair done up in curls with high heels on their feet, they were being bullies. Plain and simple.

It made me angry. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that they were no different than the school officials we dealt with that morning. They wanted to be in control of what we were doing and how we were doing it.

What right do any of these people have to bully us? What right do they have to demand that we do the things they want? These aren’t “rules” or “laws” that they were being bullies about. They are simply choices.

But they are our choices to make. Not theirs.

Since when can a dad not make decisions about school items for their kids?

And when did it become a problem for my daughter to join a social group of her choosing?

With all the hype about educating kids about bullying these days, you’d think someone would have figured out the root cause of all bullying behavior and addressed it by now. But I guess that would be too easy.

It all boils down to control.

And how will we ever fight that as long as the institutions themselves are being bullies?

It all comes down to teaching ourselves and our kids this one thing:

My Life. My choices. My Mistakes. My lessons. Not your problem.

Because, until we are all big enough to stand up and say this, and hear this, and respect this … Bullying will never end.

Pattern Recognition 101: The Invisible Pattern

We all learn by using patterning. It is how the human brain works and forms neural pathways so that we can remember things. If we didn’t have patterning, we would all still be gelatinous blobs crawling along the ocean floor like giant sea cucumbers or something.

Even then, we might still use patterning to find food or avoid predators. I don’t know. Do sea cucumbers have predators? Does something actually eat them on purpose?

But I digress …

I admit, readily, that I am a pattern freak. You might think that would make me a math guru or something, but I’m not at all. I dislike math and always have. For all of its patterns, I find it random and pointless. X as an unknown entity is just fine with me. It’s x. Enough said.

Instead I tend to find patterns where no one else looks … the invisible patterns. The patterns that are left when all the other patterns are stripped away are the ones that blaze into my mind.

And none of them are as obvious as the one left by geologists regarding the recent phenomena of earthquakes plaguing the central United States – Oklahoma, to be exact.

I was born in Oklahoma, raised in Oklahoma, and graduated college in Oklahoma. I have raised my children in Oklahoma. My great grandparents were part of the land runs that settled Oklahoma, even. In other words, I know this state well.

Once, when I was in high school, we had an earthquake. It was bizzare, a loud boom and the whole house vibrated. No one really knew what it was until the next day when the news told us it was an earthquake. Until then, we thought maybe something had exploded somewhere.

Thirty-four years later, I experienced my next earthquake in the state of Oklahoma.

Now that’s not to say that we didn’t have any earthquakes between the two. As I understand it and from geological reports, the state experienced two or three a year most years. That is, two or three tiny little ones that almost no one felt or knew about. Two or three a year.

For the past four years, however, we have been having two or three a day and sometimes, two or three an hour.

That’s quite an uptick in earthquake activity, wouldn’t you say?

When the first ones happened, the geologists in the state were quick to say that they were normal activity from ancient fault lines that ran under the state. It seemed the most logical explanation, even despite the huge amount of oil drilling that was beginning to take place.

But four years later and thousands upon thousands of earthquakes later, that explanation no longer makes sense.

It especially makes no sense when you realize the lack of involvement of the geological data hounds that study earthquakes and seismic events around the world.

A few weeks ago, in northern California, six earthquakes occurred in a small area. They were all well under a 4.0, but, not only did the media report on them in the national press, the geologists were issuing all kinds of warnings about them.

Why did I even notice them, you ask?

Because over the same span of time, less than an hour from where I live, Oklahoma had twelve earthquakes of greater magnitude all on the same day.

Why is that important?

Because not a single media outlet reported it and absolutely no geologists mentioned the matter let alone issued a warning. Not that that’s unusual for the state of Oklahoma. As a matter of fact, it is the norm for here. No one mentions the earthquakes. No one’s studying the earthquakes. They are a non-entity.

Now, to me, that is a pattern. The complete lack of involvement on the part of the specialists is so glaringly obvious here.

You’d think that if an ancient fault line were awakening in the middle of the North American continent geologists of all kinds would be flocking to study it, like paleontologists discovering a new species of dinosaur or something. If I were a geologist, I would be flocking to study it. I mean, earthquakes in California and Alaska and the Pacific rim are normal, expected. Their source is known and somewhat predictable.

Here, in Oklahoma, is a whole new thing. An ancient fault line being reborn in the geological time line. It should be as important as the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

But instead, the news reports are few and far between, the geologists seem bored or uninterested. The silence on the matter is deafening.

Why? Have the geologists figured out that these earthquakes aren’t caused by natural phenomena and are therefore unconcerned about them? Is an ancient fault line that they say is tied into the Yellowstone basin not important enough to study? Or are these being caused by some man-made event, like drilling for oil?

I have learned over my lifetime that the 4 million people in the state of Oklahoma will never rank as important as the 38 million people in the state of California. Our ground shaking that is destroying homes in every single town in the state will never compare to taking out a large vineyard in Napa valley. No one cares if a cow barn is destroyed or the water system in an entire town is compromised in Oklahoma as long as the crop of grapes that produces White Zinfandel is at risk. The world has priorities, after all.

The lack of information is not what bothers me. What bothers me is the lack of truthful information.

We may be a state of mostly farmers and rural small towns, but that doesn’t make us dumb, uneducated, or incapable of understanding the truth when it is presented to us. We see the patterns. We know the data. When is the truth going to be revealed?



When Frustration Turned to Magic

Two year ago about this time, I was introduced to an upcoming class on fiction writing. I had dabbled with it off and on my whole life. And when I say dabbled, I mean I had written a trilogy, published several poems and a short story, and had the beginnings of four other novels. To me, that was dabbling.

I was thrilled with the prospect of learning more about novel writing and eagerly joined the classes.

But my thrill was not long lived. Even though the novels I had written followed all the steps that were laid out by the “famous” author who was teaching the class, nothing I wrote was ever good enough. It was disheartening to be told repeatedly that nothing was good enough without any explanation on how to make it better. All I received were short blunt blurbs written in red ink “You can do better than this” or some other comment as trivial and unhelpful.

I wasn’t the only one who felt the frustration, but me being me, I was one of the only ones who voiced it, which didn’t help anything.

By six months into the class I was ready to give up writing forever. I didn’t see the point any more. It wasn’t fun. It was boring. The classes were formulaic. The method taught was another “how-to” book. Follow the steps and you will write a novel. Thunk.

Excuse me while I go melt over here.

As a last ditch effort, I signed up for a writing conference at a small community college in an out of the way place. The keynote speaker scheduled was David Morrell.

Me being the newbie to the writing world that I was, and having never been one to know who anyone was anyway whether they were famous or not, I had no idea who this man was. I mean he was coming to speak at this tiny little conference in the middle of nowhere. What was I supposed to expect?

I sat in the auditorium that first night, through the introductions, the music, and the poetry readings … miserable, dejected, certain that it would be the LAST writing conference I ever attended. And as Mr. Morrell was introduced, his accolades drawn out at length, I slouched in my chair ready for a nap.

At the end of the intro, this lithe short elderly man stood up, straightened out the legs on his blue jeans, tugged on the lapel of his jacket, and walked to the mic. He adjusted black rimmed glasses on the nose of his bald head and began speaking.

Until this point, I was completely unimpressed. My reaction – oh yeah, another famous author. oh goody. oh joy.

But within a few words, the deep melodic voice was weaving a tale of a little boy lying under his bed telling himself stories, day dreaming, using magic to disappear in the midst of a terrifying world. The writing friends on either side of me vanished. The flashing exit light, in the corner of my eye, fizzled away. And suddenly, there I was alone listening to him speak about being a writer.

His passion saturated my dying dreams with a hope I had lost along with marriage and babies and sketching out an existence the only way I could, with autism, and cancer, and unexpected deaths, and a gripping poverty that never ends.

And I cried, sitting there in the dark of that auditorium filled with a hundred other souls, tears poured down my face and dripped into my shirt. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak.

Here was an author who wasn’t telling me “how-to” and handing out an outline of step-by-step instructions.

Here was a man showing me how to have passion for doing the one thing I have always loved to do more than anything else in this world.

That day I was born as a writer, the frustration turned into passion, my future the only reality I knew.

I can not say enough about the role passion plays in life, anyone’s life, at any point in time. Without passion, we are but walking zombies waiting on the end. It is what drives us on, picks us up in the middle of the storm, and connects us to other human beings.

I have classmates from high school on my facebook feed that amaze me every single time I read what they are doing. Running, weight lifting, quilting, filling the world with glitter, flitting off to Burning Man, cheering on their kids, teaching, traveling, cooking … it’s all passion that we share and its that passion that makes us who we are. It’s the passion that I see, that I admire, that inspires me to keep going.

A passion I’m not sure I would have found had I not been at that conference and heard that man speak. David Morrell is nothing if not passionate about writing, passionate about teaching other writers … and I hope someday I can be that too and inspire others to be passionate as well.


Being a Decent Human Being

For some years now, we have had a feud with our next door neighbors. They have always seemed to be odd people. Even when my grandparents lived in our house forty years ago, these neighbors were odd. They mow their lawn in the dark, they work on cars at two in the morning, they never have any trash, … and no one ever visits them.

We found out a few years ago that they hoard everything. You know the show about people who are hoarders, whose homes are filled with trash and piles of junk? Yep, those are our neighbors. But unlike most hoarders you see on tv, the outside of their home is immaculate. They are constantly mowing and edging and trimming bits of leaves from bushes.

No joke. She stood outside in her yard last week for more than an hour with a pair of hand clippers trimming bits and pieces of leaves off a bush in her backyard. She’s done it at least four times this year so far.

It’s not like it’s a hedge or a piece of garden sculpture you might see in a formal garden somewhere, either. It’s a big round bush which she’s trimmed to be three feet off the ground and it’s all by itself in the middle of an otherwise completely empty yard of grass. It doesn’t flower or have fruit. It’s just a big round blob of dull green.

But our problem with them goes well beyond their oddities. They’ve plugged electrical extensions into our garage lights, they’ve attached hoses to our outside spigot, they’ve blocked our shared drive over and over and over, they’ve shot at us, they’ve killed our cats, they’ve spit on our children, and the list goes on.

Needless to say, when the woman stood in our driveway, one fist firmly planted on a hip, a finger pointed in my face, and screamed, “You are not a decent human being. No one that has ever lived in your house has been a decent human being.” I was rather puzzled.

How could this woman who thought nothing of stealing from us, killing animals at random, and spitting on children even dare to think that I wasn’t a decent human being?

I mean, really. We’ve been foster parents to over seventeen children, adopted a special needs child, taken care of every stray that ever thought of walking across our yard, recycle religiously, refuse to use pesticides or other non-organic substances, take care of the elderly neighbors around us, don’t drink, smoke or use drugs, have never been in trouble with the law, pay our bills on time, and on and on and on. We love our family and friends. Our children mean the world to us …

But we aren’t decent human beings??? Really???

And then it struck me. What are human beings if not indecent, rude, selfish, unforgiving, mean, disrespectful, argumentative, loathsome blobs of flesh and bone? And why would I ever want to be decent at those things?

So, what does it mean to be a “decent human being”?

I guess that all depends on your definition of “decent”.

I guess what is more puzzling to me, is why any of us ever think any other human being we encounter isn’t going to be anything other than perfect? We’re all human. We aren’t gods. We’re going to screw up somewhere along the line. We’re going to piss people off, step on toes, speak in anger, argue about stupid things, disagree, and generally be hateful.

We are human, after all.

But to be decent, in this world, takes something more than that. It takes loving people who hate you, persevering when the odds are against you, finding a place where peace can regenerate your soul. It takes petting a cat, running with your dog, driving your car, growing a tomato, flying a plane, climbing a mountain … and giving everyone else the space to be at peace as well.

Being a decent human being is not a one-size-fits-all garment we can take out of the closet and pull over our head. It is something that grows from within us and shows itself to those who know where to look, to those who want to see.

The Joy of Writing – Finding Things That Don’t Exist

As a fiction writer, I am day-in and day-out creating new worlds for my characters to live in. While a lot of those worlds aren’t too different than the one we currently live in, any good story is going to have some twist and turns that define the construction of the place.

For instance, I’m currently writing a story that involves solving a mystery where people are dying from a poison. While all the symptoms of the deaths mimic a particular poison, it has been ruled out as the cause.

Since I’m a writer and not a chemist, I have no knowledge of what poisons do to a person who comes into contact with them. So I’m googling to find sources.

Today, I was trying to figure out how to re-engineer this particular poison … a process that seems massively complex and I came to assume couldn’t be done without a laboratory and twenty years of work. Of course that makes it a perfect candidate to use in a mystery. How would anyone be able to create a new form of it? And how would authorities then be able to trace it if they did? And it would never be suspected in the first place … the perfect crime …

So, why is my mind boggled that I can’t just do a search and have a website tell me what I want to know? In my mind it’s all completely real and it exists and it can be used and manipulated in the hands of people …

And that’s where the world-building starts. That’s the joy of being a fiction writer!

I Have a Problem

No, it’s not some addiction or other … well, then again, if writing can be an addiction then maybe it is.

My problem is that I can not stop thinking up new ideas for new stories. Everything I see leads me to create a world for it … sometimes several worlds even.

Like the other night, I was helping my daughter with her Chemistry and I happened to glance over at my dresser and think “What would I do if something was living in my top drawer?” and then I proceeded to imagine a small girl opening the dresser and 1) being sucked into it whole by something with a large flat mouth and dagger-like teeth, 2) reach in and bring out a gun and then shoot me while smiling, and 3) pull out a pair of socks and pretend to make sock puppets with them.

At that point my daughter tapped me on the shoulder and I resumed Chemistry, the ideas stuck floating in the haven of my room for another day.

The problem is, by the time “another day” arrives, I’ve had forty-seven more ideas at least that have joined those.

I know, I know. I shouldn’t complain. Some writers struggle to come up with an idea at all. But drawbacks abound in having too many ideas as well.

1) I don’t have enough time in the rest of my life to write all of these stories down.

2) By the time I settle on one thing to write and move forward with it, I’ve had so many other ideas that seem promising that I end up not finishing the first one.

3) Having so many ideas in my head all the time makes me feel frantic, which is not conducive to writing. It works for running but not writing.

I think I read or someone told me at some point that I should write all of my ideas down in a notebook and that way I wouldn’t have to remember them in my head. But my problem with that is I may not have my notebook when I get an idea or I may not be able to write anything down at the time. I have a terrible habit of composing poetry while I’m driving.

It’s kind of bad. Especially if it makes me start bawling. Driving and poetry writing at the same time should probably be banned.

Any other suggestions would be appreciated greatly!!