… and a Potential Sitcom Pilot

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Imagine a pleasant, if somewhat overcrowded suburbia setting.
The typical three-bedroom ranch on a corner lot, smack in the center of a neighborhood. It would be the hub, probably, if the beleaguered matron of the house didn’t generally flee from most human interaction. An unassuming white house, with a travel trailer, six vehicles crammed in the driveway, and a couple small fishing boats that appeared one day, from somewhere, like magic. The lawn, were it described as an 80’s hair band, would be White Snake. The family is a sassy combination of the Waltons and the Munsters.
The beleaguered matron of the homestead (dreadlocked, pierced, tattooed, with the attention span of a gnat on crack) has fallen ill. Frustrated but responsible (she’s got things to do, dammit, stuff! And whatnots!) she removes herself from the day job to spend several hours at a local urgent care. The struggle to move oxygen had become a losing battle, and her voice had completely disappeared, with nary even a whisper left. She’d tried calling the family doctor, but with the inability to elicit more than the occasional hoarse squeak, they couldn’t grasp her need to make an appointment. Her coworker then called on her behalf, and after much confusion, it turned out they were already booked entirely for that day, but thanked her for calling, very nice, how pleasant of you. They’d call the patient back if the doctor could fit her in, but it didn’t look promising, so she gave up, arranged her desk so it wouldn’t be a mess if she ever made it back to the office, and drove herself (very quietly) to the nearest urgent care. The diagnosis: laryngitis, bronchitis, asthma flare. Once the medications were procured, she went home to bed, hopeful the morning would bring relief, and if Saint Nick was willing, some semblance of a voice.
But the next day was worse, so she opted not to wake. The third day was agitating beyond measure, on account of the aforementioned attention span problems, and the things she needed to do but couldn’t, and the household that was surely headed to the netherworlds in a handbasket without her there to tend it all. Midday, she stumbled into the living space, which was for whatever reason, unbearably bright and noisy, and tried to remember what it felt like to be a human. In fact, she could not recall, but as it was a holiday – July 4th, in fact – she pretended that she did. There seems to be another extra person there that she was previously unaware of, and a small puppy, who, while adorable in its clumsy puppy-ness, is still a surprise. Also, the mom’s mom now shows up, ostensibly to celebrate a holiday, but mostly to keep checking her grown-up child for fever and to make certain she eats something, whether she wants to or not. It should be mentioned here that the mom’s mom has also brought a dog, which, if one were the counting type, would bring the total to five. To recap, that would make ten people, five dogs, and eight guinea pigs, who, for their part, were as delightful and cheery as always. Our quirky matron holds out as long as she can, but the heat and the crowd and what seems to be unbearable crankiness of all the other people in the household drive her, baffled, back to her bedroom at her first opportunity. Sleep is easier. And quieter. And far more understandable.
Now that we’ve gotten the audience’s empathy, the humor strikes.
On the fourth day of the illness, something changed. Each time she coughed, her right side lit with sharp agony. Still no voice. Still exhausted. And though in general fairly stoic regarding physical pain, she worried that the misery in her side was indeed a concern. She tried to ignore it. Tried to medicate it. But as the day wore on, the pain only became worse, and so she ended up back at the urgent care. Turns out, she was exhibiting all the symptoms of a collapsed lung, which meant she had to stay there for roughly 47 years while getting chest x-rays from every imaginable position. But, good news! No collapsed lung. Probably just pulled muscles from the never-ending cough. They switched up her medications and sent her back home.
There had been a freak summer storm while she was gone. The roads had flooded, which required some tricky navigational skills to get back to the house. Our quirky beleaguered matron did not possess those particular skills, however, her husband quite thankfully did. Once home, in the spirit of the long holiday weekend, she determined to get at least one thing on her list accomplished. (Let us reiterate here, that the quirky matron is in fact the owner of a glorious multitude of guinea pigs, as well as three small hysterical dogs. Oh, and four almost-old-enough-to-move-out-on-their-own children. So technically, they are a family of six. But the long time significant other of one of those children also lives there. And it’s possible there is also now an eighth person who, if not exactly living there, still has not left in a long, long time.) She has grand plans to disassemble her guinea pig cages and build newer, bigger, better ones, and believes she can do this without destroying her admittedly pitifully-functioning lungs. She will just sit on the floor and attach grids to one another with zip ties. It is not hard physical labor. It’s really almost resting. She’s sure the urgent care physician would agree.
And after all, her plans for the long holiday weekend had been to finish writing two books, ship several shipments of the last book she released, tune her guitar and practice that, clean the bedroom – clean the entire house, in fact, and organize all the things – as well as finish crocheting that one shawl, and maybe start one other story she’d been thinking of, and do some hardcore shopping for her kid’s quickly approaching open house, as well as rebuild the cages. But she’s settling, and only doing the one thing, after four miserably boring days in bed, and is unsure why nobody else can see how frustrated she really is. She remains quiet on this front, however, as she’s been on a lot of steroids lately, and is aware they sometimes leave her feeling testy and irrational. Also, she still has no voice with which to express her tumultuous feelings.
So with a modicum of assistance, she’s gotten the guinea pig cages taken apart, and now four of the eight pigs now have no home, but just temporarily.
(It seems like it’s taking forever, Yes, I know this, but the set up before the joke drop is ESSENTIAL, people, trust me)
Let’s insert the part here that now with the doubled steroid dose, her already plump cheeks will blow up, resembling a greedy chipmunk, even though she is still really too sick to eat food.
AND THEN
In very quick succession, several things happen at once. One kid and their SO have returned with pizza and breadsticks for dinner and set them on the coffee table. Quirky mom heads to the basement to throw in laundry for her precious guinea pigs, yes, she does their laundry, because she keeps them on fleece bedding, because they are tiny treasures to her heart and THEY ARE WORTH IT, when she recognizes something amiss. There is a great puddle of water coming from beneath the basement staircase, enough water that it has its own current, and she’s not certain but she thought she might have seen a few fish float by. One kid is approximately three feet away from the water, immersed in his video games. “Kid #4!” she whisper shouts. “Do you not see this water?”
“Huh?” is his helpful response.
One dreaded peek around the basement wall confirms her worst fear. The storms have invaded the lower level. The basement is flooding at an alarming rate. “Get up!” she whisper cries. “Towels! Shop vac! Get the electrical stuff up first!” There is furniture, amps, guitars & their paraphernalia, boxes of important things, large rugs, all manner of whatnots and such that definitely should not be getting soaking wet.
“Huh?” he replies once again.
She runs (slowly, on account of the oxygenation problem) to alert the remaining houseful of longterm residents. “Basement is flooding!” she whisper shouts. “Towels! Shop vac! Move, move, move!”
Some, indeed, do move. Some are still eating pizza. Some are chasing the loose guinea pigs. Two have apparently come down with some sickness that renders them unable to Do Things. The hysterical dogs are made more hysterical by the excitement. Quirky Mom’s spouse is extraordinarily displeased at this turn of events. Also astronomically displeased RE: loose guinea pigs, disassembled cages, destroyed kitchen filled with cage parts and tables for cages to rest on, gigantic sheet of corrugated plastic for the base of the new cage that seems to move itself so it’s right where it needs to NOT be, repeatedly, somehow hay has been spilled, loose guinea pigs are surprisingly fast!, where did the rest of the pizza go?, more water is coming in! move, move, move! OH MY GOD, WHY WAS THAT ON THE BASEMENT FLOOR NOW IT’S RUINED!, somebody catch that guinea pig!, sweet lifegiver, Quirky Mom’s gut has now been struck with the massive discontent sometimes brought on by the combination of antibiotics, stupidly high steroid doses, illness, and stress; indeed, the GI tract has been suddenly struck as if it has collided with a Mack truck, but the damp boxes of dampened heirlooms, loose and hysterical animals, cage grids, jars of cable ties, and the like are blocking the route to the bathroom, one kid now thinks they may be about to vomit, spouse is loudly displeased, loudly, VERY LOUDLY displeased, and she can’t stop coughing, her side hurts, her side hurts, her side hurts, sweet Saint Nick –
And of course, this is the moment WHEN HILARITY ENSUES.

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Rainne's Ramblings

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Cry Standing Up by Valarie Savage Kinney

Cry Standing Up“We had a crowd at the house that night, and even though I was careful about the frailty of my glass; even though I remembered to hold it just tightly enough to keep my grasp, but not so tightly I caused it any more harm; even though I was cautious about the perspiration dripping down the sides… even so, my glass still broke. It broke in the darkness, the deep of the night so black the stars were barely visible. Just before 1 a.m., when the rest of the world had the audacity to be sleeping, that’s when it happened. And the world continued to slumber, just as it always had, just as if my glass, my special, perfect glass, had not just shattered all over the floor.”

My soul had gone to sleep the day my sister died, and I wasn’t keen…

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“Just” a Creative Dream

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My eldest son is – for one more week – a high school senior. He’s a creative kid, always has been. Creativity and imagination are things I’ve always encouraged in my children. I mean, obviously. I write. I crochet, sew, and make all sorts of crafty things. And let’s be honest, if you’ve ever met me in person, “creative” might be a word you’d use to describe me. (Also potentially suitable: quirky, odd, freak, hippie, pirate, punk, anarchist, bohemian…)
So it pleases my odd little soul when my kids get inspired to be creative. When I see some creative dream lighting a fire within them, leaving them bright-eyed and talking at the speed of light about their new interest. I love it. It always makes me smile.
Last week I attended my son’s senior exit project presentation at his school. He looked sharp in dress pants, dress shoes, button down shirt, suspenders and bow tie, hair carefully combed. He shook the hands of each person on the panel and introduced himself, grinning and maintaining eye contact. Then he stood in front of an audience and went slide by slide through a Power Point presentation he’d made over the course of several days and in a clear, loud voice, discussed his plans to become an actor & musician. He’s already enrolled in a local college for this fall, pursuing an Associates degree in media arts & technology, with plans to transfer to University for a Bachelors in theater & music.
He’s worked the last three years as a service clerk at a local grocery store, pays his own car payment and car insurance, as well as most of his own cell phone bill. He talked about that as well.
After the presentation, the panel – made up of adults, mind you – was allowed to ask him questions about his future plans. Instead of asking him about his dream, most of the questions went like this:
“You know why they call people like that starving artists, right?”
“How do you plan to pay your bills?”
“What will your real job be?”
“I knew a guy once, thought he could be an actor. Waited tables while he waited for his big break. Guess what he’s doing now? Still waiting tables. You want to end up like that?” (This one really struck a nerve with me. Double whammy. Let’s simultaneously shoot down his dream while also shitting on people doing hard, honest work in restaurants. Super inspiring!)
Though my son patiently went back over his plans – a back-up degree so he can work to pay his bills while he auditions and figures out his way along this journey – the remarks didn’t change. It frustrated me to no end. He maintained his composure throughout his presentation, and afterward shook the hand of each panelist again, thanking them for their time.
One of the panelists marked him down several points because he wore tiny silver hoop earrings with his dress clothes.
Here’s the thing: as adults, we’ve got to do better. Teach responsibility and accountability, for certain, but imagination and creativity are just as important in life. Of course bills need to be paid, but is there no room at all for dreams? No stress upon the way passion for an art improves our lives? The way art teaches us empathy, compassion, and personal discipline?
If we spent the same amount of time & energy on encouraging kids & teens to pursue their artistic bents as we spend pounding the idea of becoming another cog in the machine into their heads, we might ignite a revolution.
Imagine that. Oh, wait. Imagining things isn’t directly linked to a paycheck, so it’s obviously not worth doing. Forgive my folly. Must’ve had a bit too much to think.

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Under Pressure

 

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Writing news update: Slim to none.

That’s not entirely true, I guess. I have been writing, although infrequently, and mostly on my phone, since my laptop, Tallulah, has been misbehaving lately. She’s working today, so I’ve been scrambling through my social media, updating things and whatnots and whozits, linking things, writing, transferring the writing from my phone into actual manuscripts, and just generally catching up on all the things I’ve been – for all intents and purposes – neglecting in favor of losing myself in fiction and adopting guinea pigs.

I feel sometimes like I’m the only writer I know that isn’t motivated by money. I mean, obviously, I expect to be paid for my work. I expect any artist to be paid for their work. I also need to make enough money from my books to be able to create more books, and things like formatting, editing, and cover design cost money, as they should. So, yes, I need to make money off my books, but I guess it’s just not my driving force. It’s been a tough year for authors. News of plagiarism, copyright drama, and book thieves has been all over the place, and there’s no doubt it’s discouraging for all of us. So many authors – incredibly talented writers – I  know have been on the brink of throwing in the towel as far as their writing goes, and it’s sad. I hate that there are such unscrupulous people out there. I hate that book pirates feel so entitled to books that they think stealing them is an okay thing to do. I hate that the actions of rotten people affect so many good people just trying to make a living.

I’m not throwing in the towel. I can’t imagine a time when I will ever willingly quit writing. That doesn’t mean I’ll always share the stories I write. Some days are so frustrating I feel like pulling all my stories down and just writing strictly for myself. I don’t really want to do that, but it is extraordinarily discouraging when there is so much negativity and drama going on in the book world. I just want to write, not fight with people or get caught up in drama. I try to keep to my own little corner of the writing world, but even so, drama spreads like wildfire.

But what means even more to me than that kind of nonsense, is getting the chance to interact with those who read and enjoy my books. When a reader sends me a message to tell me they enjoyed my story, or when someone new to my books tells me they love my work because it’s not like anything else they’ve read, or because they see themselves represented in my stories, that makes an enormous difference to me, to my attitude about writing. I’m not the biggest name author out there, and I’ve never intended to be that. I’ve intended to be authentic, to write my stories truthfully and to the best of my ability. I’ve intended to write relatable characters and bust harmful stereotypes about appearances or mental illness. I’ve intended to reach people, so they can know that they are not alone, that at the very least some fictional person has the same thoughts and feelings they have. Representation matters, whether it’s representation of physical appearance, or living through trauma, or mental illness, or some other attribute that makes people feel “other.”

I’m not great about remaining consistent on any social media platform. I’m not great about remaining consistent about blog posts, or churning out new books on a schedule. I’m not even that great at promo stuff, quite often dropping a book with no prior fanfare whatsoever. I’ve got a brain that is simply faulty in some areas, and one of those areas is the ability to focus on one thing consistently. I’ve said before that my writing style tends to be feast or famine and that remains true. It seems like either I’m doing doing doing doing, or absolutely silent. I often fall silent after I finish releasing a new book. I think I just need some time to crawl inside my brain and rest. I do this sort of thing more often now, since I realized how much added stress was contributing to my anxiety and depression struggles. It’s not that I don’t want to release books more often, and it’s not that I don’t want to write. But once I start feeling like I’m getting overwhelmed in every facet of my life, I have to take a few steps back. I have to hunker down. I have to cease putting extra demands on myself. I love writing, but not more than I love my family. Or my own sanity, for that matter. Rest matters, whether it’s mental or physical or both. And it’s a bit easier, I think, to be able to make such decisions when I know my mortgage isn’t riding on the amount of book royalties I’m bringing in.

It’s a pressure I’ve chosen to release myself from, and I feel I enjoy writing more because of it. I know this way isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine. Do I need to bring in money from book sales? Absolutely. If I don’t, I can’t keep making more books. But does the need to make money off my books take priority over my mental health? Nope. I simply cannot allow that.

That said, I have been working a bit on my latest WIPs. Knowing Rogan, the 5th installment in the Secrets of Windy Springs series, has been creeping along, and is currently about 75% finished. The collection of writings on grief I’ve been putting together is just about ready to release, and we recently did a photo shoot for the cover, which I’m super excited about. I’ve also taken a step in a new direction, and launched a Patreon. I’ve set two tiers, one at $1 a month and one at $5 a month. Those who choose to pledge a monthly amount will be rewarded handsomely with boons. And possibly pirates. Sharing matters, truly. It makes a huge difference. I appreciate every single one of you who share my work, write reviews, tell others about my books, etc. I hope some of you will consider joining me on Patreon, because it looks like a cool and different way to interact with everyone.

What else can I update on, other than books? Hhhmmn, well, let’s see. Since my last blog post, I’ve gotten two new tattoos, two new piercings, survived another gray winter in Michigan, adopted two guinea pigs, learned to build them a cage all by me onesie, and have been teaching myself to play guitar. Wait… we may have already talked about me playing guitar. I’m terrible at it, TBH, but my God, is it ever fun to learn!

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The Truth About the Valley

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Like an exhaustion that can never be cured by sleep.

Like a chronic agitation brought on by sounds, lights, and fabrics. Nothing is right. Everything is too much.

Like a hungry ache down deep inside, filling every bit of me up with sadness, while somehow also leaving me achingly empty.

Like tears sitting behind my eyes that never get the chance to fall.

That’s what depression feels like.

Like eight solid hours of cracking stupid jokes at work to keep everyone else laughing.

Like belting out the off-key lyrics to songs that once made you feel happy, just in case.

Just in case they bring a tiny bit of happiness once more.

Like teasing and plotting and planning and hoping out loud.

That’s what depression sounds like.

Just over a week ago, my husband’s brother was found dead at his home. At first it was utterly surreal. And then it was a rush of planning and notifying and shopping for appropriate funeral attire because my kids had outgrown their dress clothes. It was walking through fog and knowing what’s coming next. It was being terrified of losing my shit again and knowing there’s no other way through grief but to force my way through it. It was not crying when we heard and it was not crying at the funeral and it was wondering when I’d become such a coldhearted bitch. It was being afraid of falling asleep lest the same nightmares that assaulted  me after my own brother’s death turned up again. It was we can’t do this again, not again, not so soon, we won’t make it. 

And of course, it was making it through anyway. Because that’s what we do. We make it. We have to.

But somehow during the haze of all the things we needed to get done and the requesting time off work for yet another funeral and the trying to be there for my grieving kids and the making frantic phone calls to family members before the sad news hit Facebook and some loved one found out that way, I forgot to refill the medication I need to make my brain work right. I remembered suddenly just before we left for the funeral, so I called it in to my local pharmacy. But we came home late, after the funeral dinner at my church, and we were all sort of stunned still and I forgot about picking it up until after they’d closed for the night. The next morning started with my daughter losing air in her tire, so we let her take our vehicle to work and took hers to get the tire fixed – there’d been a nail in it. Then my son called me, his voice all wobbly, because one of his best friends and his mom had been in a terrible car accident, and he wanted us to drive him up to the hospital so he could sit with his buddy while his mom was in surgery. When the tire had been fixed and we got our daughter’s car back to her place of work, and then made it home to pick up our son, his friend had already gotten a ride home, so my husband took him over there. And nowhere in that flurry of activity did I remember about my medication. I did eventually get it picked up, but not before I’d gone several days without it. How many days? I can’t recall. I’m unsure if that’s what has set off this latest emotional valley. Regardless, it’s here. It’s here. In my bones. In my soul.

But I’m trying. I’m working at remembering to practice self-care. I’m working at remembering to take a shower. To drag my sorry self up in the mornings for work. To pull the cleanest-looking clothes off the floor to dress myself. I’m hoping this valley won’t be a long one, because already every step I take feels as though I’m shuffling through heavy mud. Having half my hair dreadlocked is handy, because yesterday I literally didn’t even hit my hair with a brush before work, I just pulled on a wide headband to cover the mess. I listen to people talking about going to the gym and what foods they can eat on their current fad diets and I quietly remind myself to just take a step, take a step, take one more step.

And I smile. I laugh.

Like a writer furiously writing a new book. Two new books. Three.

Like a weird hippie chick snuggling her dogs and chunky guinea pig.

Like a responsible adult, clocking in at nine and out at five, every day of the week.

Like a responsible parent of kids with a chronic illness, making appointments with the home nurse and scheduling IV pump swaps with the infusion company.

Like a responsible mom hassling the public school principal over my son’s missing English class credit until she does something about it.

That’s what depression looks like.

Every part of me, every cell, feels like it’s been bruised. My hair hurts. My eyelashes hurt. I find it extraordinarily difficult to tell the difference between being tired and just not wanting to be awake any longer.

Isolation is my best trick. I’m better at that than I am at crocheting or sewing or cracking jokes or probably even writing. Isolation is easy. When things hurt too much, my instinct is to cocoon down. I crave silence. I crave solitude. But it’s addictive. I can’t just lock myself away so I can avoid dealing with pain. If I did, I might never come back out. I force myself to return texts. I force myself to answer my ringing phone. I force myself to connect with people. I force myself to go to the grocery store for necessities.

I’ll be fine, as I always am. Even if I fall completely apart again, I’ll glue my broken bits back into some semblance of order and carry on. At some point, I will. But not today. Today I am tired. Today I don’t have the energy to put my broken pieces back together.

Today I’ve been laughing and typing and calming down upset clients who call the office. Today I stopped on my way home from work to pick up a dollar store Barbie doll, because my coworker turned 37 today and told me she’d never gotten a Barbie doll cake when she was a kid but had always wanted one, so I’m typing this piece while waiting for the rainbow sprinkle cakes to cool enough to frost them. It’s been years since I’ve made one but I’m fairly certain I remember how. At least… well, we’ll see. I’m pretty sure I can do it, anyway.

Today I threw together a new book teaser for my fantasy series, and created a silly poll in my FB group, and I ate half a chicken quesadilla at lunch even though I had no desire to eat, because my awesome boss bought us all lunch today. Today I reminded myself that my guinea pig won’t be dead in the morning, even though I always think he will be, because I know that depression and anxiety lie to me all the damn time about things like that. Today I brushed my teeth and put some braids in my hair so I have less hair to brush before work tomorrow. Today I went to the grocery store to get milk. Today I didn’t practice my guitar, because, once again, my kid accidentally busted my strings, but I thought about the way I place my hands for each chord so I don’t forget.

Today I got up and I tried. I made myself think of all the positive things I have to look forward to. I have a gift card to Barnes & Noble so I can order new books, and I absolutely love to get books in the mail. I have an upcoming tattoo appointment I’m insanely excited about. I’m thinking about a new piercing. I’m thinking about getting new guitar strings, because I’ve got to teach myself to play the opening part of “Minority” by Green Day. I’ve written a new book that people seem to really like, and more importantly, I’ve written a new book that *I* completely love. I’m so proud of that book. There’s a lot of truth in it. Covered in pirates and magic, but still. It’s there and it’s mine.

Tomorrow I will get up and try again. I will probably wear the same sweater I wear most of the time, because it is soft and has pockets and is weirdly comforting. I will take this silly Barbie cake to work, and I will laugh at some point, and I will check on my guinea pig way too many times, just to make sure he’s fine.

It gets dark here in this valley, but I hold onto the knowledge that sunshine will come again because it always has before. It might take a while, but still. I trust it will come. Until then, I will keep trying.

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My Ridiculous Luck

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I’ve been aware for a long time now that I am somehow a magnet for ridiculous luck, in generally any situation. At this point, it’s a running joke. If there’s a way for things to go wrong, they’ll definitely go out of their way to do it for me. My name gets lost in computer systems. Insurance randomly dropped. Freak illnesses and accidents. I’m fairly certain I hold a world record for the amount of flat tires I’ve had – did I ever tell you guys about my anniversary trip last November? My husband booked us a room at a haunted castle. Halfway there, one of our tires randomly went flat. Located a tire place in the nearest town, but they said it would be hours before they could get my vehicle in, if at all. Stopped at a gas station, loaded the air thing with quarters, it wouldn’t work. Found another tire place, and after an hour the tech came back and said she couldn’t help because she couldn’t get the spare tire lowered. Put air in the tire, and hoped for the best. Back on the expressway, and the tire started losing air at an alarming rate. Pulled off to a rest stop and called a tow truck. An hour and a half later, the tow truck guy showed up and couldn’t help us because somehow the mechanism to release the spare tire had been broken. Basically, we continued stopping to put air in the tire every half hour or so until we reached our destination… only to find, by the time we checked in at the castle, we had missed dinner and the bar was closed. Yep. That’s just my luck.

So I suppose it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to me when, last week, my husband went to leave for work early one morning and our elderly pick up truck refused to start. We’d known its death was coming, eventually, but had hoped to make it a few more months. Regardless, we had to have it towed out of our driveway and began the search for a different vehicle. After work last Friday, we went to a semi-local car dealership and after a few hours, found something we agreed on, although it will mostly be my vehicle to drive to work. It seemed to be going so well, I should have known the Curse was about to manifest itself. And when the sales guy said, “It’s getting late. Here, just take the keys and come back in the morning to finish the paperwork and get the remote start put on,” it was WAY too good to be true.

Saturday morning, Sales Guy called and said  Finance Guy had called in sick, so just to keep the vehicle for the weekend and drop it off early Monday morning. He would give me a loaner car to take to work while the remote start was put on, and we could finish the paperwork when I went to pick it back up. Okay. I could do that. Had some fun with my new vehicle – I mean, it’s been over eleven years since I have purchased a vehicle, so it was kind of exciting – showing it off, syncing my phone to it, setting the stereo stations. And then, as agreed, on Monday morning I got up an hour early to drive it to the dealership and pick up the loaner. I handed over my keys and Sales Guy hands me a different set. “I didn’t get the loaner car set up for you, but here, just take my personal truck. It’s fine.” Which seemed odd, but I didn’t want to be late for work, so I took it. I mean, it had a bunch of empty pop bottles rolling around in it and there was barely any gas in the tank, but whatevs. I met my husband there after work to finish the paperwork and pick up my new vehicle.

We were sitting in Finance Guy’s office, signing page after page, and I realized my name – which has been an improperly spelled burden my entire life – had been misspelled on all the papers. Further, my place of employment was wrong. They took all the paperwork back, redid it, and then we started all over again. We’d just gotten to the last page when my husband spoke up. “Wait,” he said. “This VIN number doesn’t match the one on my wife’s car.”

“What?”  Finance Guy said. “Of course it does.”

My husband – who has a great eye for details – shook his head vehemently. “I’m telling you, it doesn’t. Go look. The sticker is still in the window.”

Finance guy leaves. Comes back. “I’ll be damned. You’re right! It’s a completely different number! I’ve got to go talk to Sales Guy and see what’s going on here.”

We wait. And we wait.

Finally, they both come back into the office. (Get ready, folks. Here comes the punch line.) Sales guy says, “Here’s the thing, Mr. and Mrs. Kinney. Ah… it appears that I inadvertantly sold you a car that has already been sold to someone else.”

My husband was all, “I’m sorry. Come again now?”

“The vehicle has already been sold. You’ll have to return it,” Sales Guy says.

“The hell I will,” replied my husband.

It only got better from there. Sales guy started raising his voice. Husband raised his voice in return. Suddenly, both men are standing and both getting red in the face. Finance Guy tried to jump in to mediate, and Sales Guy told him to sit down and shut up.

At which point I got up and walked out of the office. Hey, I have anxiety. I can’t with all the raised voices. I wandered about for a while, located a vending machine, hoped there might be Xanax but in lieu of such I bought a Kit Kat bar.

After much back and forth, Sales Guy says he has reviewed the dealership’s inventory, and has another vehicle that is the same make, model, year, and color that we can purchase, if everyone can just calm down.

Clearly, everyone did not immediate just calm down. However, after hours (HOURS!) my husband agreed to take a look at the other vehicle. Of course, by then it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see anything, so Sales Guy had to bring the vehicle around to one of the docks with bright lights so we could investigate it. As it did indeed appear to be exactly the same as the first vehicle, I hung back a bit, waiting for my husband to come to a decision, as he was still fairly agitated at the entire ridiculous situation. For some insane reason, Sales Guy gets the idea to approach me and try to win me over, ostensibly to get my husband to chill abou the whole thing.

“Mrs. Kinney,” he begins, waving his arm and indicating for me to come over and see the car. “I wanted to show you something about this vehicle. Boy, you’re really going to love this!”

With a deep sigh, I walked over to stand near the new new vehicle and waited.

He went on. “You know how when you’re grocery shopping, and you’ve got your arms full of grocery bags, and you’re fumbling about, trying to reach your keys and get the door open and it’s all just so hard?”

I simply stared. Said nothing.

“Well, with this fancy key fob, you don’t even have to put the key in the lock! You can just press the button, and voila! Easy as that! Won’t that be nice for you, when your arms are full of groceries?”

“…uh-huh.”

“And it’s the same pretty color as the first one you picked out! Did you notice that?”

Oh my God.

I waited for a few, just to see if he wanted to also offer me a mop and broom so I’d take the other vehicle. Or a dust rag. Because, I mean, obviously. Silly female that I am. What else might I be doing with my time?

In the end, we agreed to take the second vehicle, which brought another problem, because we had just paid to put a remote start on someone else’s vehicle.

“No problem,” says Sales Guy. “Just tell your wife to bring it here by eight tomorrow morning, and I’ll give her a loaner, and she can come pick it up tomorrow night.”

“Oh, no,” says my husband. “She won’t be doing that. She’s already gotten up an hour early today and driven all the way here, so you could send her off in your truck – with almost no gas in it, mind you – to get the remote start put on. She’s not going to do that again because of your mistake. You can give her a loaner tonight, and we’ll be back tomorrow to pick up the new car.”

Eventually, I did actually get my new vehicle, remote start, fancy key fob and all, and bring it home. The entire thing was exhausting. I might do it again in another decade.

Maybe not. We’ll see.

Full disclosure, I’m about to plug my new book.

The fourth book in the Secrets of Windy Springs series, Knowing His Madness, released on January first. I’m so excited about this book. It’s my all-time favorite to ever have written, quite possibly that I ever will write. Captain Dash’s story is so close to my heart, and I’ve never enjoyed writing anything as much as I did writing this story. I’m so pleased with how it turned out. The fifth installment, Knowing Rogan, will be out, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, by this spring.

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On Writing Strong Women

 

I prefer to write strong women, but not in the way you might think. I’m not a fan of the female characters who don’t show emotion in  some pretense of remaining “strong.” Not a fan of the robotic, two-dimensional females so boring in their supposed strength it becomes impossible to identify with them.

I like writing strong women, because the women I know personally are strong. These are the women who’ve struggled through extraordinary pain and grief, yet continue to get up each morning and do the things that need doing, though their insides may be filled with shards of broken glass. These are the women simply living life as the unique individuals they are: funny, melancholy, frustrated, exhausted, angry, imperfect as they may be. They’re showing up to work at six a.m. even though they’ve got a toddler that kept them up all night, puking and crying. They’re sitting quietly at a funeral home with their best friend, despite the big fight with their spouse and the weird clicking sound their car is now making when they’ve got no money to fix it, because they just spent the last of their paycheck on the heat bill. They’re taking care of their elderly parents, teenage children, exhausted beyond all reason, and still trucking along, doing the best they can in life.

These are the women who have been completely broken at some point, by a disastrous relationship or a catastrophic loss or the demons of their own minds, but finding a way to make it through. Finding a way to push through their tears and go on. These are the women who have balanced on the cusp of the great void, wondering if it’s going to be worth it to get up in the morning, or ever again. They’ve fought through illness, fought through monotony, fought through mountains of laundry and mountains of pain, and still. They show up. And then they show up again, and they keep doing that until they remember how wonderful it feels to genuinely laugh.

They’re in business suits with high heels, or they’re in tank tops and long thrift-store peasant skirts. They’re perfectly coiffed or growing out dreadlocks or it’s all they can do to pile their hair into a messy bun. They’re stay at home mothers or they’re working fifty-plus hours a week, or they’re artists stumbling along, trying to find balance while finding themselves. They’re falling asleep during their nighttime college classes but pushing through, hoping to make something new and better with their lives. They’re gluing the heels back on their favorite pair of boots because there’s no money to buy new ones. They’re eating another peanut butter and jelly sandwich, even though the thought of it makes their stomach turn, they’re so sick of them. They’re making the rent and they’re making dinner and they’re wondering at what point along the way did they forget exactly who they were, and can they ever get that person back?

They’re wondering if it’s going to be worth it to start all over this late in life. They’re worried what other people might think. They’re falling down and getting back up, the way we all do throughout life. They’re laughing and crying and telling people to fuck off, and they’re listening to angry music and falling in love and learning to play guitar for the first time at sixty-five. They’re making big changes and they’re keeping routines exactly the same. They’re raging against the patriarchy and they’re settling in with a book and cup of tea at night, wishing they’d had just the right words to tell their boss off earlier in the day. They mess up and they hate themselves and they love themselves and they start all over. They are weak and they’re strong, quiet and loud, nervous and brash. They are anxious and bold. They are terrified and brave. Broken and courageous. They’re wondering when was the last time they made it through a day without alcohol, and they’re lying on the floor for the second day in a row because remaining upright is just too hard; they’re singing joyfully where everyone can hear them, and they’re realizing they deserve more than what they’ve settled for. They’re finding their own truth and they’re finding Jesus and they’re finding purpose beyond pleasing everyone else.

Every woman I know is a strong woman. Every female character I’ve ever written is a strong woman. Strong women are just people, trying and failing and trying again. They’re you and me. They’re real and raw and scared and angry and joyful. The myth of the “strong woman”, that cardboard cut-out of what the world thinks strength looks like, is a trope that needs breaking.

Strength doesn’t mean you never fall, never cry, never break.

True strength is exhausted persistence, nothing more.

So, yeah. I prefer writing strong women, but not in the way you might think.

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Spark of Recognition

 

I’ve always been a reader, and I’ve always been a misfit. The two don’t always go hand in hand, I know. My mother has often told the story of how, when I was three, I would sit at the table, holding the newspaper upside down, and sobbing because I couldn’t read it. Over the years – and especially since the advent of the internet (yes, I’m that old) – I’ve had the privilege of knowing and loving many other bibliophiles. In junior high, there was a group of us who were consistently devouring L.M. Montgomery books, reading them over and over and discussing them over lunch in the cafeteria. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve been a regular at the local libraries. Love of books and of reading is a beautiful magnet, drawing those of us who adore them together and holding us tight. I’m not usually a super social person; my true circle of friends is quite small and tends not to change much. But all of my close friends love to read. Few things are as enjoyable to me as listening to one of my friends excitedly telling me about a new book they’ve fallen in love with.

The misfit thing, that’s a little different. Though it doesn’t happen often anymore, given my current personal life, I don’t mind being alone. I don’t need groups of people. I don’t crave social interaction. I realized a long, long time ago my brain works differently and my interests don’t always line up with those of other people. And that’s fine, truly. I know what brings me joy, and I know what I like, and I don’t feel like I need to have the permission of anyone else to pursue my passions. As a kid and young teen, I often waffled on presenting my own truth, by turns fighting like hell to blend in to the landscape and being as outrageous as I could possibly be. The longer I stumble through life, the bolder I’ve become. I was quieter, before, in both spirit and truth. I’m not so quiet anymore. Where I once would feel guilty for making others uncomfortable with my interests, manner of dress, or my writing, now I simply look them in the eye and ask why they think I should have to change myself because they’re uncomfortable. Even amongst my friends and acquaintances that tend to buck the norm, I’m often the odd one out. It doesn’t so much bother me anymore, but now and again I do get weary of trying to explain myself. It’s the incessant why? Why? Why? regarding whatever it is I happen to be doing, or how I happen to be dressing, or what my hair looks like (why do people care so much about that, anyway? Isn’t that weird? And perfect strangers will approach me in public and touch my hair without even asking… bizarre. It’s currently half a wild curly mess and half dreadlocks, and I like it that way.) It has taken me some time, but eventually I realized that in much of life, I’m looking at something, and the person next to me is looking at something, and we’re each seeing something completely different. That’s okay, except when I mention what I see, and the person next to me tries to railroad me into their perspective. Why can’t they just accept that I see the world a little differently than they do? The desire to force conformity is so ingrained in most people. Step out of line and they feel compelled to reign you back in, regardless the topic.
I wouldn’t necessarily call it a ‘lonely’ feeling, being this way. I accept it as my version of normal. How others choose to receive me is neither my business nor my problem, unless they make it so. I have a distant relative who – every few years when she sees me at a family function – feels led to make a loud comment along the lines of, “My goodness, just look at you. And your… your clothes, and your (insert arcing motion with hands and distasteful facial expression) hair. Boy, you just don’t care what anyone thinks of you, do you?”
And I mean, she’s right, I don’t, though I know what she’s really saying is, “I don’t understand why you’re so committed to being an embarrassment.” Yeah. She’s always a delight.
But anyway, I guess, more to the point of this post, I’ve been listening to audiobooks quite a bit lately, and I’m currently listening (entirely out of order) to a long series of urban fantasy books. They’re beautifully written, and make my drive to work and back a bit more bearable each day. Throughout the series, there’s this one character I find I really identify with. A week or so ago, there was a passage where this particular character rebuffed a friend who’d been complaining about a band they’d just seen play live. She said, “But don’t you see it’s not about the way they sound? It’s the passion, the lyrics, the heart that’s in the music that I’m listening to.”
It hit me hard, because that’s exactly a sentence I would say. It’s exactly how I feel when I’m asked (again) some version of “why do you do this, why do you like this, why do view this thing the wrong way?” It’s because what *I* see, what *I* hear, what *I’m* focusing on is not the same thing everyone else is. But that doesn’t make it wrong. Truthfully, this one sentence in that entire enormous book struck me with such force, tears sprang to my eyes and I nearly pulled my car over, so momentous was that spark of recognition for me. Because while I don’t necessarily mind being a loner in much of my life, to hear someone – even a fictional someone – with a thought that so closely mimicked my own was a powerful thing. To know I’m not always alone, not the only one with this particular perspective.
See, this is the importance of fiction. At least, to me. There is inherent value in knowing someone, somewhere, is like you. Has felt the same things you’ve felt. Has thought the same things you’ve thought. And this is the importance in making true art, the kind that comes from a place deep inside, not the same superficial, commercially accepted clones that are made over and over. The connection that can be forged between artist and consumer – whether the two ever meet physically or not – is a magic all on its own, and strange though it may be, it holds the power to change a life. It matters.
It matters.

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Catch 22

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It’s 2018, and individuals with any form of mental illness are encouraged to push past the unrelenting stigma and be open about their struggles. The more we talk about it, the easier it will be to normalize it, right? At least, that’s what we hear.

The reality isn’t always so simple, though.

A few weeks ago, just around the change from summer to autumn, I started having some trouble catching my breath. I’m asthmatic and am blessed with a metric shit ton of seasonal allergies, so I expected it was a bit of an asthma flare. Upped my allergy meds. Broke out a new inhaler.

But it started waking me up from a dead sleep, that feeling of being unable to catch my breath. It felt as though I had to take three or four short breaths in order to get one whole deep breath. I wasn’t coughing. Wasn’t wheezing. But after about a week of this, my husband was concerned and asked me to go get checked out. It was late on a Sunday afternoon, so I went to the Urgent Care nearest us. Filled out the form. Honestly wrote down ‘Wellbutrin’ and ‘Zoloft’ in the spot that asked which medications I took daily.

The doctor comes in, glances at my chart. Says, “I see you take Wellbutrin and Zoloft.”

“Yes.”

“Do you have an anxiety disorder, then?”

Again, my honest answer. “Yes, I do. But this feels like it’s asthma.”

She checked me over briefly. “You’re not coughing.”

“No, I’m not. But my chest is tight, and it’s hard to catch a full breath.”

She looks me up and down. Takes a step backward. (I mean, you stand too close, you catch the crazy, amirite?)  “I think this is an anxiety flare.”

I didn’t even argue. I mean, anxiety is weird, and maybe it was just coming on me differently.  I said usually my anxiety flares come with sweating, hammering heart, panicked thoughts. She responded this could be just an unusual presentation.

I said, “Okay.” That’s it.

She went on. “But I’m not giving you any Xanax today.”

What? “That’s cool, because I didn’t ask you for any.”

“You know that’s addictive, right?” She’s looking down at me then, over her bifocals.

“Okay. But again, I didn’t ask for it.”

“Let me ask you this. How long have you been taking these two medications?”

I think back. “Zoloft, about a year. Wellbutrin since February.”

She nods. “Mmhmn. Okay. And do you know what set off the problem? Anything in particular?”

“Uh, yeah.” I shift uncomfortably on the exam table. The paper crinkles beneath me. “Both of my siblings died, and I had a hard time dealing with that.”

“I see. And what did they die from?”

“Lung cancer.”

“Both of them? Hhmn. Do you think you have lung cancer?”

“Uh… no.”

“I could see why you’d think that, why you would worry you have tumors in your lungs. That would make you paranoid.”

“I’m actually not paranoid. I don’t think I have cancer. I came in with what I thought was an asthma flare.” Now I am getting anxious, and swinging my legs. Getting twitchy. It’s hard to sit still. It’s also getting difficult to look this very judgmental physician in the face, because she’s not listening to me at all and is making a helluva lot of assumptions.

She presses her lips together. Glances down at her clipboard again. “Right. Right. Listen, I know how this works, with people like you. I can tell you flat out, I am not giving you a Xanax prescription. Trust me, I’m doing you a favor.”

“Can I leave now?” I hop off the table. Sling my purse back over my head, so it hangs crosswise. “I’d like to leave.”

“I’m sure you do,” she says. “Since I’m not giving you any medication.”

So, being honest about which medications I take to manage my anxiety disorder automatically makes me, by turns, I guess, a liar, paranoid, a hypochondriac, AND a drug seeker. That’s cool. Super cool. I was so angry when I left, my hands were shaking as I held the steering wheel.

In fact, if she’d had access to the entirety of my medical records and scoured them with a fine tooth comb, she’d have seen zero instances of me abusing substances of any kind. I barely even drink alcohol. And I’ve never in my life even had a Xanax prescription. Never.

Fast forward to the present time. For several years, I’ve had a problem with my left shoulder. I’ve got some joint issues in general, and this shoulder in particular will act up now and again. It begins with pain and stiffness from the shoulder blade and moves into the joint, shoulder, and down the side of my ribcage. Inflammation sets in. If I don’t get something to get the inflammation down, it’ll end up freezing and then I’ve got a real problem, because I spend forty-plus hours a week typing at work, plus, you know, this writing gig I do in my “free time.” So in the spirit of being a responsible adult, I called my family physician on Monday to see if I could get in to see her. I know what I need – either oral steroids or a steroid injection to kill that inflammation. But my doctor is retiring next month, and her receptionist said she’s completely booked until the day she leaves. I was directed to go to the Urgent Care.

Well. That’s cute, right? I’ve been trying to talk myself into going for the last four days. Can’t seem to muster the gumption to go. Because now I feel like if I walk back in there, saying I’ve got pain and need something for the inflammation, it would be just my luck to get the same doctor and she’s going to think I’m there seeking pain killers. Or more Xanax. Or who-the-hell-knows-what. Nope. I just can’t do it. Instead, I’ve been eating handfuls of Motrin every four hours. Icing the shoulder. Applying heat. Doing stretches. Every day the joint locks up more and more.

For as much talk as there is among medical professionals regarding mental health care, how much has really changed? Has anything actually changed? Because it’s sure feeling like being open about my situation only gets me more judgement. More assumptions made. And it’s certainly discouraging me from seeking the medical care I honestly probably need. It’s really frustrating.

If I don’t see out the mental health care I need and take my medication daily, I’m a crumbling mess unable to function and barely able to care for my family. BUT, if I do take my medications and am open about it, apparently it’s assumed I’m a drug-seeking liar out to get my hands on whatever pills I can. How do I win in this situation?

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