Everything else, Grief

Milestone Days

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It’s the milestone days that hit the hardest, I think. It sneaks up on me and quite often I can’t figure out why I’m extra emotional until all at once, I remember.

This week has been a big one in terms of milestones.

Yesterday, my biggest little girl turned twenty-two. I was eleven days shy of turning twenty-one the day she was born. I’d had an all natural birth plan written out, which was promptly tossed in the trash when, a month before she was due to be born, my gall bladder decided it needed to come out. I was feverish and in extraordinary pain, and when my doctor told me they were planning an emergency C-section, I was terrified. Family came up immediately, of course. In the end, everything turned out all right. My sister was beyond thrilled to be an auntie. My brother was ecstatic – he and his wife had just welcomed their son two weeks prior. I have the cutest picture of my husband and my brother holding the babies in the hall at the hospital. They both look so very young.

Yesterday was also my last day at a job I really loved. I hadn’t been planning to leave and then all at once, the situation changed. I’d been half-heartedly looking to pick up a second part time job, and an amazing full time opportunity fell from the sky. I couldn’t NOT take it, but man oh man, it was painful to give notice at a job I truly enjoyed. More than the work, I’ll miss my coworkers terribly. It was a difficult decision to make, and I keep wondering if I made the right choice. I know that I did, for the sake of my family, but it still hurts. Lots of tears the last several days, especially yesterday, packing up my desk and walking out for the last time.

Today is my son’s Junior prom. We picked his suit up yesterday – in the brief window of time between when I left my former job, sobbing, and when we were meeting at the restaurant to celebrate my daughter’s birthday – and wow, does my little boy look grown when he puts it on. He’s taller than I am, now, with facial hair and a new (adorable) girlfriend. Time, man. It marches forward at a ridiculous pace. I wish sometimes I could catch moments like this in my hands just so I could hold them for a while longer.

These are the times when it really strikes me that both my siblings are gone. I have no brother or sister to invite to my kid’s birthday party. Or to call and tell about my new job, or how hard it is for me to leave the old one. No siblings to come tonight and see my son all dressed up, looking sharp and posing with his girl for pictures. It feels so wrong that this is the reality. They should be here. 

Tomorrow, my youngest daughter graduates from college. I’m so proud of her. She’s overcome a myriad of obstacles to get to this point, and to see her with her cap and gown, knowing how hard she’s worked to get to this point, fills me with such an indescribable sense of joy. My sister was a hairstylist. Five years ago, when she was on Hospice, my daughter was telling her how she was going to follow in her footsteps and go to cosmetology school. “Just like Aunt Char Char.” My God, would my sister ever be proud to see her walk tomorrow.

It’s been an exhausting and emotional week, all around. I’m overflowing with conflicting emotions. Some days I miss my siblings so much I can’t catch my breath. Tears well up over the smallest moments that trigger memories. It’s like being kicked in the gut without warning.

I didn’t plan it this way, but a while back I made an appointment to get a memorial tattoo for my dad and my siblings. My appointment is next Friday. This morning I was thinking how fitting the timing is. This week has been almost overwhelming in the feelings department. Next week, I’m taking this step forward in my healing process, honoring my lost loved ones with bright and beautiful ink.

It’s the milestone days that hurt the most.

It’s the milestone days that mean the most.

It’s the milestone days that bring me so much joy.

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Everything else, Writing

Rebellious Creativity

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When I was about ten years old, my paternal grandmother started teaching me to crochet. Really all I learned was how to chain and single stitch, and I never learned how to stop, so for a while I made blankets for my Barbie dolls but I couldn’t figure out what to do at the end and eventually I gave it up. About eight years ago, I picked it back up again. Other than that little bit of instruction I received when I was a kid, I’m entirely self-taught.

A while back, I learned about something called freeform crochet. In freeform, you basically do whatever the heck you feel like doing. This idea appealed to me on so many levels. (Hold tight. I’m going to make writing parallels. Be patient.) I started small, making tiny freeform pieces. Then I connected them. And got braver and braver with the things I was willing to try. Now I’ve got this gigantic freeform shawl I wear all the time, and people stop me everywhere I go to ask where I bought it. It delights me to know I made it and it can’t be duplicated.

Here’s the thing, though: I wouldn’t be able to do freeform if I hadn’t learned basic stitches first. I’m not a huge fan of patterns, but I am capable of following them when needed. I wouldn’t be able to do freeform if I hadn’t learned how to do increases and decreases already. Or how to connect granny squares. Or many of the other basic things crochet entails. I’ve been crocheting steadily now for about eight years. At first, my efforts were plain silly-looking. Patterns didn’t make sense. But as with any new skill, you learn. It takes time, but soon enough, it’s second nature. Now I crochet so fast I rarely have to even look down at my fingers while I work. Over the last year, most of what I’ve been crocheting has been freeform. Spirals, mandalas, shawls, random pieces that grow and grow until I figure out what it wants to be. I love the whole idea of not trying to match colors, or stitches, or adhere to a pattern fifty-million other people have made. The point, I suppose, is that in order to break the rules, first you have to learn the rules. I know how to DC2TOG (double crochet 2 together) when I’m crocheting. Since I’ve mastered that, now I can deliberately DC2TOG and then add a bullion stitch to it. Or pull a second color in to it. Or stick it in the middle of six trebles. Or whatever strikes my fancy. In freeform, it doesn’t need to match, or turn out even, or turn into anything at all. I just enjoy what I’m doing in that moment, and see where it goes. No pressure. No need to be certain edges line up. Freeform celebrates crooked art. I like that about it. It’s very… well, freeing.

(The parallel, as promised.)

There’s a lot of writing advice bandied about that goes something like this, “Good writers break the rules.” I believe that to be so. I certainly don’t want to create books that sound exactly like anyone else’s, and I get bored really quickly reading an author that has the same form for every book. By page ten, I’ve figured out the villain, the plot twist, and the ending. No fun. In fact, when I was writing Heckled, I wrote it backward to begin with. Even once I went to chapter one and started writing, I had decided I was going to write that story exactly as I saw it in my head, without consideration for who might read it or who might take issue with it or what the backlash  might be. And there are lots of people who don’t like that book. Of my novels, Heckled is the one I receive the most private messages IN ALL CAPS about what I wrote. That’s okay with me, though. I’m pleased with how that story turned out. It’s real. It’s raw. And more honest than most people probably realize. But I definitely broke some rules during the writing of it.

Breaking the rules is where imagination gets wild. Where creativity and voice really show. Breaking the rules is exciting. But here’s the thing: you can’t deliberately break the rules until you understand the rules. It’s important to study the craft of writing. It’s important to get a handle on how a story should go. (Not how it “must” go.) While I absolutely do not believe there’s only one great way to write a book, there are elements that should probably be present in some form. It’s important to read lots and lots of books of different styles and genres. Older writers. Dead writers. New writers. Read, read, read. When you stumble on something that really strikes you, pay attention to how the writer accomplished that task. Stick that knowledge away for later.

Any writer worth her salt has learned you shouldn’t use adverbs. Adverbs are devil’s spawn. Putting adverbs in a story is like putting rotted apples out for your fancy luncheon. It’s never okay. Really. Pick up any book about How to Write Things and this advice will always, always be included. So learn to write powerfully without adverbs. Stretch your skills. Use your imagination. Get a solid handle on doing it. It’s important.

Once you’ve got it down pat, break the rule. Because it’s ridiculous to never, ever, ever use an adverb in writing. It’s dumb advice, really. It’s a rule meant to be broken. But only after you know how to write without adverbs should you attempt it. You’ll learn something writing with and without them. Once you’ve learned to slash them completely from your own writing, you’ll notice how many adverbs are too many when you’re reading. You’ll get a feel for how many you can sprinkle in and still pack a punch.

There are so many rules like this that practically beg to be busted into “freeform.” But… but it’s imperative to remember that even the wildest, most rebellious writer on the planet must still adhere to some rules. You can play with grammar. You can’t entirely disregard every grammar rule ever written. Punctuation serves a vital purpose. There are ways to mess with some of it. Some of it, sorry, you really can’t. There are occasions you need to splice a comma. Other times, the words are more powerful as sentence fragments. (Yes, you can write sentence fragments in a book. YES. Absolutely you can. Fight me, bruh.)

Freeform crochet is a beautiful thing. Truly. Look it up on Instagram or Pinterest. It’s just stunning, the art people come up with working freeform.

However.

Even with freeform, there are elements that must be included. You can’t pick up a spool of thread, a block of cheese, and a squeaky dog toy and announce you’re about to make some freeform crochet because there aren’t any rules about it. Well, I guess you could announce it. But it wouldn’t mean anything, because you don’t have the correct tools.

You’re smart. You can draw your own parallels here.

And if you think crochet lessons have nothing to do with storytelling, then explain why long, rambling stories are often referred to as “yarns.”

No, seriously. Explain it.

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Birth Stories, Everything else

Sixteen and Life to Go

Several years ago I committed to writing out the birth stories of each of my children. Probably a task that is long overdue, considering their ages, but I’ve never been what you might call “punctual.”

Today my youngest baby is sixteen. It’s hard to believe, because five minutes ago he was starting kindergarten, but here we are. I remember well my pregnancy and delivery with him, details that probably should have faded by now, but still burn bright in my memory. The pregnancy itself was awful but his birth was my favorite of the four.

In the summer of 2001, we took a family vacation with my parents, siblings and their families to the west side of Michigan. We camped, took the kids to see lighthouses and Lake Michigan, and the trip culminated in a much-anticipated stop at an amusement park, Michigan Adventures. At that time, my children were five, three, and one and a half. I felt fine on the vacation though a little extra tired, but I put that down to the exhaustion of chasing three small children day in and day out. The day we went to the amusement park, I was sitting at a café having a snack. Something had gone wrong – I don’t remember just what, seems like a ride we wanted to go on was broken or something – and out of the blue I started sobbing. I couldn’t stop. Even as I was crying, in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Wow. This is weird. Why am I so upset?”

Upon our return home, I had an appointment with an allergist. He wanted to start me on a regime of medications to help control my very out of control allergy symptoms. But first, he said, he wanted me to take a round of Tetracycline. I hadn’t taken that drug before, so after I picked it up from the pharmacy, I spent some time reading the pamphlet on it. One of the warnings that stuck out to me was all the terrible things it could do to a baby if a pregnant woman took it. At that time in my life, I kept extra pregnancy tests around often. The responsible thing, I thought, would be to take a test before starting that medication. Just to be safe. To put my mind at ease. So I did.

And it was positive. I was stunned.

Everyone I told seemed to think it was funny. My family doctor laughed. My sister laughed. My friends laughed. I didn’t laugh, as my head was generally hanging over the toilet by that point. The fourth go ’round was the worst as far as the hyperemesis went. After multiple trips to the ER for fluids, my doctor finally put in a PICC line and set me up with a home nurse. Halfway through my pregnancy, I switched doctors. Then I was diagnosed with placenta previa. My due date was April 14th and we were seriously considering the possibility that I would need another C-section. However, at the last moment, the previa took care of itself.

My doctor was concerned because my third labor and delivery had gone so fast – three hours, start to finish – and worried I might not make it to the hospital in time once I went into labor. I was cautioned to go in to the hospital if I had any indication labor might be starting and not to wait. April 14th came and went. No contractions. Nothing. Another week came and went. On the 22nd, I had an appointment with my doctor. I was heavy, hot, and aggravated. I very clearly recall demanding he do something to move the situation along. I said something along the lines of, “Listen, buddy, I’m having this baby today whether you help me or not.” He scheduled an induction for later in the afternoon.

We went home. Packed bags for the children and called family members. It was decided we would go out for lunch first, and we all met at a local diner. From there, my parents took the kids home with them, and my husband and I headed back to the hospital. Due to the problems that had plagued all four of my pregnancies, we knew this one would be my last. As such, I had chosen not to learn the gender of the baby beforehand. I wanted to be surprised. My husband couldn’t wait, and had asked the sonographer a few weeks before. He did a decent job keeping it secret, although he did make one slip that he hurriedly covered up. As we waited for my induction to begin, we discussed baby names. We still hadn’t decided on a name for a boy. For a girl, I’d picked out Elyssa Rose.

Finally, it was go time. IV was hooked up. My mom decided to come up and hang out with us. My five-year-old daughter followed her to the car and refused to go back inside the house, so she brought her along. At 6:10 p.m. my doctor broke my water. Shortly after, I expressed to my nurse that labor was definitely rolling along quickly. I did this by grabbing the bed rail with both hands and attempting to yank it off while screaming. She responded by setting the room up for delivery. She called my doctor, who said it couldn’t possibly be happening that fast and he would stop in after a couple of hours.

“How long was your last labor?” she asked me.

“Three hours,” I panted.

Her pace quickened. My screams settled to a repetitive whisper as I lay on my side, still gripping the bed rail and rocking it. “I want drugs this time, I want drugs this time, I want drugs this time, I want drugs this time,” was my mantra. My first baby was an emergency C-section that I wasn’t even awake to experience. My second had a failed epidural, and my third happened so fast there was no time for medication.

None of my labors were light or easy. There is no parade or trophy for doing it without pain medication. I wanted it. Right then. I couldn’t think of anything else. My nurse paused, watched me carefully for about two minutes, and then called my doctor again. When he arrived, he did so with the statement, “Valarie, I heard you’re giving your nurse a hard time. It can’t possibly be going this fast. Just try to relax.”

He went on to say since he was already there, he would go ahead and check me. I declined to give him permission to touch me until he brought me drugs. He laughed. I maintained my order. He called in the epidural guy, who refused to give me one since I had a latex allergy and something about something in the epidural had latex in it. I sat up, grabbed one bed rail in each hand, and alternated growling, cussing, and wailing in a fashion that caused the epidural guy to hustle. In minutes, he’d given me a shot that numbed all the pertinent areas.

“Now, Valarie, let’s see what all this fuss is about,” my doctor said.

The injection was a blessed relief. I reclined on my pillows. Held my husband’s hand while the doctor did his thing. Suddenly, everything was in high speed.

“Um, Valarie?” my doctor asked.

“Yeah.”

“Whatever you do, don’t push.”

I hadn’t been planning on it right then, but agreed anyway.

“Also, don’t sit up until I get this bed broken down. Head’s already coming out.”

So much for me being overdramatic.

My water had been broken at 6:10 p.m. My baby was born at 7:18 p.m. Start to finish: 68 minutes.

We had another little boy. Obviously, he was perfect. Black hair. Ridiculously adorable.

Nameless.

My husband leaned toward Christopher Caleb. I tended to like names that were slightly unusual and had lots of vowels.

The next morning, I signed the paperwork for a tubal ligation. Two girls, two boys, all under the age of six. Our family was exactly the right size. Because of my surgery, we stayed an extra day at the hospital.

Fun fact: After two days, the birth certificate people quit calling your room and just barge right in, demanding you name your baby for  God’s sake, just call the kid something.

It wasn’t that we hadn’t been trying to agree on a name. We had gone through books and made lists of possibilities. Finally, we made a choice: I would pick the first name, whatever I wanted. My husband would pick the middle name, whatever he wanted.

I held my little black-haired boy in my arms, considering. In my head, I had a short list of favorite names and I turned that list over and over while I decided.

Then it struck me that one of the names I’d liked the best meant “raven.”

Raven. It suited him, with his dark hair.

“Brennan,” I told my husband. “His name is Brennan.” It fit him just right.

My husband chose Christopher for his middle name.

As a baby, Brennan made the funniest facial expressions that kept us in stitches. As a toddler, he was rowdy but so ridiculously cute it was difficult to discipline him. By about age five, we realized he had a rather enjoyable knack for dry humor. His quick wit has continued to flourish over the years, and I can honestly say he’s made us laugh daily since his arrival. A budding conspiracy theorist, he’s down to discuss trivia about Sasquatch, the zombie apocalypse, or aliens at just about any time. He is thoughtful and brave, and has a ready stock of puns to pull out for any imaginable occasion.

It seems impossible that my baby is sixteen today. He is getting taller and has the beginnings of a mustache. His green eyes are identical to mine. His once-black hair has turned to a light brown. He’ll be learning to drive this summer.

He might be getting older, but he’ll always remain my little raven. The surprise baby that completed our family and taught us that life is always better with extra laughter.

I’ve compiled a few funny FB statuses from over the years regarding this kid that have cracked me up. It’s been suggested to me that I write a “Bean Book” someday. (Bean is his nickname).

Bean: Mom, you’re my best pickle!
Me: I’m your… your pickle? What?
Bean: Yeah! BECAUSE I RELISH OUR TIME TOGETHER! I RELISH IT!

Bean: Help me button my sleeves?
Me: I don’t understand why you are getting dressed up before bed, instead of getting into pajamas.
Bean: You don’t know what I do after you go to sleep. For all you know, I go out to parties. Or wrestle bears under my assumed name of Mr. Beast.

Me (plowing through yet another sink full of dishes): I wish I could look at my kitchen counter just once and not have to see a mountain of dirty dishes.
Bean: Yeah, I know what you mean. Maybe we could lay a blanket over them.

Me, at a party today, playing with a delightful dumpling of a baby:
“I like him. Let’s keep him!”
Bean: “He is pretty cute. But is he hypoallergenic?”

Took some Nyquil.
Konked out on the couch for like 30 minutes.
Bean jacked my phone and used it to text the other kids and tell them they were grounded.

Yesterday in a parking lot, Bean suddenly disappeared for a second.
Then he leaped out from behind a car, wielding finger guns at me, and shouted, “Stick ’em up! And give me all your Facebook followers!”

My mom and her bf were over, and mom mentioned he had to get back to Canada for awhile, and jokingly added that she didn’t want him to become an “illegal alien”.
Brennan stared intently for several minutes, and then, narrowing his eyes, he leaned in and whispered to him,
“Tell me everything you know about Area 51.” (he was nine)

Life has certainly been an adventure since he’s come into our lives. Happy sixteenth birthday, Bean.

 

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Everything else, Writing

Art By the Numbers

 

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The important thing, when considering your artistic path, is to figure out how many Facebook likes your page is probably going to get.

I mean, you can’t be an artist without at least five thousand Facebook page likes.

Everyone knows that.

And any artist that was creating art before the advent of social media, well –

I guess they weren’t really artists.

The amount of people who validate your art by commenting on a post is what determines the worth of the piece.

… right?

Maybe take that idea a little deeper. Exactly how many people need to like your art before it becomes “real art?” Ten? A hundred? A thousand? How much profit must be made off an art piece before it becomes “real art?”

Which leads me to another question. How many people need to lay eyes on the art in question before it’s real?

Let’s say two people make the exact same quilt. They spend the same amount of time and money to create it. When finished, the quilts are identical. One sells hers for two thousand dollars. The other keeps his on his bed and enjoys it for the next thirty years, but nobody else ever sees it.

Which one is an artist?

Now, if one is attempting to make a living off creating art, then of course, numbers become the driving force. There’s nothing wrong with that – rent needs to be paid, groceries bought, kids clothed. But the amount of revenue isn’t what decides whether or not a piece of art is real, or if the artist is truly, well, an artist.

If there is a talent, a drive, time spent over making the piece just right – man, that’s creating art. If ideas slam around in your head at night and you’re getting excited over picking up your paintbrush or crochet hook or laptop or musical instrument – that’s art. If the doing of the thing is what makes your soul light up and makes you smile without realizing it – that’s making art.

Life is so extraordinarily brief. If the desire to make art is burning inside you, MAKE IT. Enjoy it. Learn how to do it better. Immerse yourself in the joy that comes when you succumb to creativity. It doesn’t require a certain amount of Facebook likes or comments; it doesn’t require a certain amount of Twitter followers; it doesn’t require a certain amount of cash to exchange hands before your art is real.

Your art is real when you create it. The quality may change over time. Your abilities will stretch and grow. You’ll try new things. You’ll look back in ten years and groan over your first efforts.

But you will have done it. It will be yours. It isn’t art anyone else can make.

Exactly how many people need to like your art before it becomes “real art?” Ten? A hundred? A thousand?

What if only one person loves it, but they love it so much, they connect with it on such a deep level, your art changes their life?

Is it still worth it for just one person?

And what if that one person is you? If you’re the only one satisfied by the piece you’ve created, is it still real art? Is it still worth doing?

Absolutely.

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Everything else, Writing

Feast or Famine

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Writing is weird. Sometimes difficult. Often joyous.

But always weird.

My brain seems to function on a feast or famine basis when it comes to writing. Right now, I’m writing and writing and even when I’m not writing… I’m still writing. The story is moving along in my mind, I’m hearing the characters, I know exactly where it’s going and where it’s been and where it will be in another five years.

When I’m in this mode, it feels more like I’m a vessel for the characters in my head and I’m more or less transcribing their story. I’m less the puppet master and more the marionette. I love it. Regardless what time of day I’m able to sit down and write, it’s there, right at my fingertips, ready to roll. But it isn’t always this way. Some days, my brain is dry as a desert. Some days, I spend three hours moving a comma. Some days, I can’t stand to even look at my laptop.

And that’s okay.

Social media can be cool, in the sense that it feels as though it brings us closer to those we admire. I mean, twenty years ago I would never have known what Stephen King thought about the president or that he has a dog he calls the Thing of Evil. I would never have known when Diana Gabaldon had a new grandbaby. But as I pull back more and more on social media, as I unfollow and unfriend more and more writers, I find I’m enjoying the act of writing more and more.

I wondered why that was.

Presumably, following and friending other writers should make me feel surrounded by a community of like-minded artists. Supported. Encouraged.

I haven’t found that to be the case.

As much as I love art, as much as I love words and books and writing, as much as I love seeing the creativity of my friends’ minds coming to life, the more I watch their journeys taking shape –

the more I realize other writers stress me out.

Not all of them, of course. I’ve made some wonderful friends over the last few years. But the ones who post obsessively about writing – I find that stressful.

The ones who constantly post how stressed out writing makes them – I find that stressful.

The ones who constantly want something from me – stressful.

The ones who talk about missing out on milestones in their children’s lives, or their wedding anniversary, or their eighty-year-old mother’s birthday party because they were writing or trying to make a deadline or just couldn’t stop editing –

Man, just the thought of these things stresses me out.

Don’t get me wrong. I love writing. I mean, I love writing. When I’m in that zone, when I’m planning twists, when I’m cracking up at a funny scene I’ve written, it’s the best feeling. It makes me feel whole. It’s my passion, one of my greatest joys.

I don’t want it to become one of my stressors. I’ve done the whole writing full-time gig before. I didn’t enjoy it. I felt like I was supposed to. I began to dread writing. I felt anxious that my bills being paid depended on my ability to write enough words in a day.

I see this in other writers as well. When they talk about writing being so stressful they cry over it. When they are so panicked over a deadline or a cover reveal or getting enough reviews they can’t sleep. They are missing out on life because of the stress writing brings to their life. They’ve lost the joy, the passion, the pure wonder of creating a world and people and events in their brain. I don’t want that. I get asked if I hope to make the NYT bestseller list –

the answer is no.

I get asked if I hope to  be able to live on what I make from writing books –

the answer is no.

I get asked if writing is the most important thing in my life –

the answer is no.

Last week, I attended a funeral visitation for a three-year-old child and her twenty-seven-year-old father.

A three-year-old child.

Listen:

I love to write. I’m sad when I can’t. It hurts – physically hurts me when I can’t.

But there is so much more to life than writing.

This year marks twenty-five years since I married my husband. My marriage is more important than writing.

My youngest baby is about to celebrate his sixteenth birthday. A blink of time ago, he was a chubby-cheeked, toothless baby. My oldest child is nearing the end of her Bachelor’s degree program. My middle two children are finding their balance in life as young adults.

I love to read. I love to write. I love to hold the books I’ve created in my hands.

But I don’t love any of that more than I love my kids.

When other writers say things like, “Nothing is more important to me than writing” –

that stresses me out.

Lately I’ve unfollowed or unfriended the bulk of writers I used to interact with. Not the ones I have developed actual friendships with.

And I mean… not Stephen King. Because, obviously.

There is a lot of pressure on writers and artists in general, I think – a notion that says if you don’t want to be the best, be at the top of the list, have bajillions of reviews and followers, then you just don’t want to succeed hard enough.

Maybe. Maybe not.

I guess that depends on what your personal idea of success happens to be.

I accepted a long, long time ago that my brain works differently than other people’s brains do. What I cannot accept is the idea that if I’m not out to make a million, it’s worthless. If I’m not ignoring my family and making writing my number one priority, it’s worthless. If I’m not stressing myself to the breaking point or making my livelihood reliant on it, it’s worthless.

I’m content with my writing at this point. I have a little band of readers who love what I’m doing, who are invested in my characters and have all my books on their shelves. I love not freelancing anymore. I enjoy not being so constantly stressed over deadlines. I am happier writing this way. I’m not making a million dollars. That’s fine – I never intended to.

My vision of success is to continue to write my weird books to the best of my ability for the foreseeable future. I will do what marketing and promo I’m able to do, and let it rest. I trust that the people who need my books will find them.

What I won’t do is be a martyr for my art. I won’t give up everything else in my life for the sake of writing.

I love to read. I love to write. I love making books.

I also love my family. I love to walk barefoot in the grass, and look up at the stars. I love  to sit still and ferret out the meaning behind song lyrics. I love to listen to the rain. I love to hear my children laugh. I love to crochet. I love to try new things. I love to hear my husband tell me about his hopes and dreams. I love to look back at how far we’ve come and think about how far we’re going to go. I love to daydream.

I love to write, and while some days, it feels like my ideas and ability to write is feast or famine –

I don’t believe my dedication to the craft always needs to be one or the other.

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Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

One Step Forward. Three Hundred Sixty Four Steps Back.

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People who know me keep asking if I’m feeling better.

I’m never sure how to answer that question.

What exactly is “better?”

Better from grief? From depression? Anxiety? I don’t know. It’s all tangled up in me and I can’t always pull the different emotions apart.

If the question is, Have you gotten over the deaths of your siblings? Then the answer is no, and I never will, so you might as well stop asking.

If the question is, Are you making any progress at all? Then the answer is, Yeah, I think so.

It feels like I am. In really, really, miniscule ways, I’ve made some progress. For a long time, I felt so raw I could barely stand most of my clothes, so it’s been leggings and soft shirts  most of the winter. But the last few weeks, I’ve been able to wear jeans.

Last Thanksgiving, I hosted the family dinner. My niece brought a turkey. It was too heavy to pull out of the oven, so I transferred much of the juice to a big Mason jar. I set it on the windowsill above the kitchen sink. I’ve been looking at that jar for months, disgusted with myself for not taking care of it, but too exhausted and overwhelmed to deal with it. Two weeks ago, I dumped it out and washed it.

Three weeks ago, as I was walking out the front door to take my boys to school, my youngest son said something funny and I heard myself laughing. Like, really laughing out loud. Hard. And I thought to myself, Oh my God, I’m laughing. How long has it been since I laughed last?

My therapist says she’s proud of me. I wonder how I got to a place in my life where it means so much for a therapist to tell me she’s proud of me for doing simple things like leaving my house or washing the dishes.

I’ve gone to dinner at a couple of smallish restaurants without having an anxiety attack. I told the psychiatrist I’ve been seeing about the anxiety attacks that hit when I’m in crowds and she told me to breathe into a paper sack. So that was just phenomenally unhelpful. Glad I’m getting charged nearly $200 for that bit of advice.

Still can’t watch television or read much. I’ve found a few more musicians I can tolerate the sound of, so my playlist has gotten slightly more diverse, but I still listen to the same songs every day. I have no idea what it is about these artists that makes their music tolerable, but for the moment, I’m just glad I can listen to any music at all.

But it feels like in more ways than I’m moving forward in, I’m stumbling back. Anxiety makes me more awkward than usual, and the usual is pretty damn awkward already. I work in a very small office, usually with three other people that I know pretty well. I have my own desk in a room with two other desks, but there’s usually nobody else there when I’m working. So I walked in last Thursday to find a new person had been hired. She seems entirely pleasant, but I was caught off-guard. I couldn’t think of what to do, anxiety had my brain all jumbled up, and even in the best of times, I’m not huge on hugging, especially with people I don’t know. But the new chick is a hugger, so she jumped up to hug me hello and introduce herself. Entirely inadvertently, I jumped backward and flung my hand out like “stop.” Immediately, I attempted to apologize and shook her hand, babbling incoherently about my own inadequacies and anxieties, and generally making the situation even more awkward. Anxiety ballooned this incident in my mind until it was nearly all I could think about. At the end of my shift, as I was walking out, I thought, I need to make this right so it’s not super awkward next week. So I stopped to shake her hand again as I left, and said the most inane thing I probably could have. “Sorry I’m so awkward, but I’m seeing a psychiatrist about it.”

I’m sure that helped matters. First impressions and all that.

My husband surprised me with a night away at a hotel and planned a night at a casino. He said I seemed overwhelmed and needed a break, which was true. The hotel part was awesome but the casino was crowded and smoky and I had to take frequent breaks from the people. I wrote part of my new book out on my phone while my husband played games, so I didn’t have to interact with anyone. The next day was release day for When Knowing Comes, and as I’d decided to go low-key and stress-free as possible, I’d planned a live video in my FB readers group for the event. We came home twenty minutes before the video was to start. My laptop decided to do updates at the last second, which left me in a panic. The FB app on my phone wouldn’t work for no apparent reason. Finally I grabbed my husband’s phone, downloaded FB, and started my live video twenty minutes late, which left me out of breath, anxious, and shaky.

I find I just really need a lot of preparation before I do anything. Time to work up courage. I hate feeling this way. It isn’t what I’m used to and I get frustrated with myself for not being able to get back to “normal.” Which, okay, with me is still pretty weird but even so. I used to be able to roll with the punches when plans changed. I want that part of me back.

Some days, I am anxious all day for no apparent reason. It feels like that sensation when you tip over the top of a rollercoaster hill, all day. All night. And I can’t link it to anything in particular, so I can’t fix the problem and by the time evening comes, all I can think about is going to bed so I can escape that feeling. Going to bed because you’re tired is a very different thing than going to bed because you can’t stand being awake anymore. Either way, though, I wake up over and over and over. I can’t remember what a solid night of sleep feels like.

But on the upside, I’m having less nightmares about my family and pets dying in front of me. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I’ve pulled back more on social media. I’ve unfollowed or left all the groups I was in except my own readers group. Weekly, I cull more “friends.” I’ll continue paring down until I get to what I feel is a manageable number. I understand it hurts people’s feelings, but right now all I can do is try to take care of my brain the best I can. My focus has narrowed to my household, my mom, my job, and writing.

And speaking of writing.

I’m writing. A lot. For so many months, I couldn’t write anything, and that was painful for me. Now, I can’t seem to stop. I’m nearly finished writing the third Windy Springs book, and my mind races with ideas for the fourth.

A lot of the time I feel like all I’m doing is treading water. But hey, at least I’m not drowning anymore.

One step forward. Three-hundred-sixty-four steps back.

But still, a step forward is a step forward. And even one step is better than none.

My website

My books

Everything else, Writing

Blocked.

 

 

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Writers block isn’t real.

It’s just an excuse to be lazy.

Real writers write. Every day.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard some version of these statements. I’m not sure what the people offering this non-advice hope to achieve, but personally, I think such words are extraordinarily detrimental.

For one thing, nobody gets to tell an artist how to do their art. Some people naturally create more in certain seasons. Some artists work a day job (or two, or three) and only get to be creative on weekends. Or every third Thursday. Some artists are single parents, and the idea of creating on a daily basis is so laughable as to be fiction.

Beyond these things, though, is the harmful notion that a struggling person just isn’t trying hard enough. There are all sorts of reasons a creator might be blocked. Maybe they’ve been ill. Maybe there’s been a death in their family. A divorce. Maybe the season of life they are in has them caring for elderly parents around the clock. Depression. Anxiety. Insomnia. Maybe there’s no reason other than that they need a break, and their brain is trying to get that message through to them.

Real writers write. That’s true. You’ve got to write something. You don’t need to write every day, unless that’s the way you work. Pressing unrealistic expectations on someone already barely keeping their head above water isn’t helpful. Despite the overwhelming amount of advice suggesting writers are machines, meant to work every day, all day, without regard to physical or mental health or other difficult outside factors –

You know what? We’re not.

We’re just people. And sometimes being a person is hard. Sometimes the difficulties in life kill our creativity. That doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. That doesn’t mean we’re no longer writers. It means we’re human beings who need a break. And that’s okay.

Take it. Rest. Go outside. Deal with the things you need to deal with. Read. Learn something new. Spend time with your family. Your friends. Laugh. Cry. Heal.

And come back to it. Your story isn’t going to run away because you left it alone for a little while.

If you aren’t a writer but you know one, and they’ve shared with you that they are blocked, telling them they are making up excuses or being lazy isn’t helpful. Instead, encourage them. Remind them they deserve rest like anyone else.

My website

My books

Bits and Whatnots

The Vacation that Wasn’t.

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Let me tell you a story about how I’ve been living in a hotel for two weeks.

I’m not currently homeless, so don’t worry about that. I have a home, I just can’t go there.

A few weeks ago in the process of moving a file cabinet in our bedroom, we found mold. We called our insurance, who sent out a guy, who sent out a different guy, and then we heard nothing at all for several days. And then one Friday about three in the afternoon, they called and said we had to go, they had People coming out to Do Mold Removal Things.

While it’s probably typically not a hard thing to find a hotel room to stay in, our adjuster had a bit of a problem because our family is larger than what is allowed by law to stay in one room because of fire code hazards, so they had to find a place with two adjoining rooms.

And we needed a place that allowed dogs, because I’ve got two of them.

After much back and forth, the insurance found us a couple rooms at a Holiday Inn Express about a half an hour away from our home. It’s a nice enough place, don’t get me wrong, but the glamour of living in a hotel rubs off pretty quick when you’ve got six people and two dogs in an enclosed space for a long length of time. It’s not that my kids don’t love each other.

It’s that having to share beds and breathe air in the same room together for so many days in a row is turning them into zombies who crave the brains of their siblings.

The additional drive time whenever someone needs to go to school or work is draining our gas money in an insanely fast manner, and while at first it was kind of fun to eat dinner out every night, after two weeks I think we are all craving some of my own spectacular home cooked Burnt Food, or maybe just some cheap spaghetti that I make way too much of and cook way too long.

As a writer and human being who spends probably an unhealthy amount of time in my house and alone, it’s painful to be trapped in a hotel with strangers who want to start random conversations with me. I take my dogs to go out for a pee, someone strikes up some small talk. I sit in a dark corner alone in the morning for breakfast, people bring their conversations over to me and try to pull me in. It’s really a ridiculous amount of talking, to be honest. Like, in the hallways at 7:30 a.m. people smile at me and yell GOOD MORNING like they are some particularly horrible kind of monsters. One early morning as I was sitting alone, eating a biscuit and reading a Stephen King novel, some strange man in Very Ironed Clothes suddenly stuck his face in mine and yelled HAVE A NICE DAY! for no good reason at all. How am I supposed to respond to that kind of nonsense?

It’s a very clean hotel and housekeeping must come in every couple of days to make sure we haven’t trashed the place like the drunken rock stars we are, so every time I get things settled into some semblance of comfortable chaos, they come and straighten and fiddle and scrub until everything is back in order again. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty awful. I cannot create while trapped in this stark, overly organized space. And can we talk about how horrifying it is when housekeeping actually comes in to clean? The night before, my husband and I take out the trash and pick up and try to make like we are halfway decent human beings. Then when the lady does come in to clean, I sit or stand here awkwardly because it feels bizarre to have someone else cleaning up my mess but if I offer to help or give her, I don’t know, a pudding cup or a muffin or something she looks at me weird.  Today when I answered the door, the housekeeper lady asked me if I was going to let my dogs bite her.

Yesterday, the toilet backed up. I waited nearly an hour before I amped up the courage to call the front desk (because hello, it’s more talking to strangers) and then the maintenance guy came and I had to talk more to someone else I don’t know and apologize for making him do this Terrible Thing.

Not one to dwell on doom and gloom, I will admit there are perks:

There is a swimming pool.

The complimentary breakfast is delightful. I’m not certain the eggs are really eggs, but the biscuits taste like they were stolen from the kitchen at KFC, which is not an entirely impossible notion, as there’s a KFC across the parking lot here.

I haven’t had to wash dishes in two weeks.

But I find the idea that I don’t know when I can go home makes me feel really stressed. People keep telling me to treat this like a vacation, but I think those people have likely never been abruptly stuffed into a hotel room with six people and two dogs for an extended period of time.

Last week, my son got really sick and had to spend some time in the ER. He’s doing better now, but I felt I had to ask the universe what bad thing was coming next, because I think we all know that Bad Things come in threes and I like to be prepared.

That was right about when we found out my daughter’s cosmetology school closed, three weeks into her first semester, with no warning. Just a post on the school’s Facebook page stating they were very sorry, don’t come to class tomorrow, they were closing down all 79 campuses. Of course, she’s distraught and we are left trying to find her a new school and deal with her loans and in general, it’s an entirely unpleasant experience.

BUT THEN

It got worse.

When my husband went to pick up dinner last night, we found out that Little Caesar’s is discontinuing their cream cheese dip.

I know. I KNOW. It’s okay, I cried a little bit, too.

I have been working, though. In addition to my regular freelance writing, I’ve gotten a few thousand more words on my current novel, and the other day fiddled around a little bit with a New Shiny Idea, which seasoned writers advise we shouldn’t do when we are writing a novel already, but I don’t understand how to get the voices out of my head if I don’t get them out on the page.

We had a meeting with the contractor a couple of days ago, who cheerfully announced it would likely be another two weeks before we can go home, and that’s barring any problems.

I’m beginning to feel a bit like Bilbo Baggins. This little adventure has been nice and all, but I really just want to go home where I have all my books and my yarn and mountains of dirty dishes in the sink.

By the way, does anybody have a pair of ruby slippers I could borrow?

There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s…

See what this nightmare has done to me? I’m already mixing up fictional characters. I’ll be utterly daft by the time I get to go home.

Probably not the worst things that could happen. I hear all the best writers have lost their minds.

 

Bits and Whatnots, Everything else

Kiss of Pavement

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Last year, you might recall we took the kids camping for a few weeks and ended up living through our own version of A Series of Unfortunate Events. There was a terrible sunburn for me, weeks of miserable hives (also for me), and among other things, a myriad of parts that broke on our trailer. We also found a leak that invited bugs under the floor in one area, and had to cut that piece of linoleum out. Given that, it may seem bizarre we’ve decided to do it again, but we are.

I may be mildly (okay, horrifically) bad luck prone, and my sense of coordination has never been the sort that made athletics a smart idea, but still, we were excited to pack up and travel that ten minutes from home to the campground. Campfire pizza pies and s’mores called to us. Thoughts of swimming, kayaking, and family picnics drew us in. Ever optimistic, I took precautions so I wouldn’t burn and break out in full body hives like the freak of nature that I am. SPF 70 is surprisingly difficult to find, but I hunted until we located a couple bottles of it. I have a thin, silky jacket to help protect me from the sun. Picked up a couple large and ridiculously gaudy sun hats. Two different types of antihistamines.

We brought only our oldest son with us to help set up, since we were close enough to home to run back once we were finished. Found a nice site with nothing but woods behind us, which is more peaceful than when your rig is surround by others, and what we prefer when camping. Lady Luck, it appeared, was on our side. I knew this trip was going to be great. I even had a new swimsuit I was looking forward to trying out. After we set up the trailer, we went home to finish getting the kids’ things together, and as they were all complaining about their imminent death by starvation, we ordered a couple of pizzas, ate at the house, then left the kids and dogs home while we ran up to buy some groceries.

We’d gotten a rather late start that first day, so we didn’t make it to the grocery store until around 10 p.m., but we were full of adrenaline and happily making plans for cooking out over the weekend. Everything was working out perfectly for us. Even the weather forecast was on our side.

Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Right?

We were back to our house by 11, and it was pitch dark outside. We had purchased some extra food to leave at the house, and our plan was to just drop that off, pick up the kids and the dogs, and get back to the trailer. I hopped out of the car, thought my husband was likely getting exhausted from his long day of work, then setting up the campsite, then grocery shopping, so I decided I’d help him carry in the few groceries to the house.

That’s where it all went wrong.

I turned, rounded the driver’s side of the Yukon, felt a horrendous hot pain going from my right big toe and straight up my leg.

Next thing I knew, I was airborne.

I had forgotten about that part of our driveway that’s got an uneven spot, where some of the concrete has settled down lower than the rest. In the darkness, I didn’t see it.

I struck that part with my right foot, and felt something crack. My first thought was that I had broken my big toe. I felt some kind of crack in the center of it.

My second thought was that I was about to land face first on the pavement.

There was nothing for me to grab on to so I could break my fall. I was too far away from the Yukon to catch hold of anything. My daughter had her back to me and was walking toward the house. My husband was behind the vehicle. No help from any direction.

I landed with a thud on the concrete. I felt the skin rip off my knee and the palm of my left hand.

A single inelegant and rather grunty-sounding word escaped my lips. “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”

My husband hurriedly came around the corner of the vehicle. He stared at me for a moment, then asked, “What are you doing?

(Kissing the pavement, it looked lonely) “Um, I fell.”

“You fell? Over what?”

I begin laughing like a hyena with a dime bag who has just gotten busted by the cops. “Um… think I broke my toe.”

He helped me up and into the house. Once we were in the light, I caught a visual of my mangled right big toe and immediately wished I hadn’t. I plunked down into the part of the couch that has the recliner in it, and put the leg rest up. Ow, ow, ow, ow. The kids crowded around me, worried.

My left hand and knee were scraped up pretty good and my knee was good and bloody. Those were things that hurt, but not terribly. My toe, however, was in an awful lot of pain. I was thinking back to times I have broken other toes, attempting to remember the exact feeling or what the signs and symptoms of a broken toe might be. I closed my eyes, trying to think, but doing so was difficult because, A: jolts of hot pain were biting up the nerves in my legs, causing me to shake, and 2: three of my kids were crowded around me, shouting at me things I guess I have said or maybe yelled at them over the years in the aftermath of an injury.

Kid 1: “I think we need to take her to the urgent care clinic.”

Kid 4: (patting my shoulder frantically) “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay! It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, everything’s okay!”

Kid 3: (plunks his hand down on my thigh, affects a deep and manly voice) “Here, Mom, squeeze my hand. Put your pain into it. I can take it. Squeeze as hard as you can.”

Kid 1: “Get a wash cloth! Somebody get a wash cloth! We need to clean her up!”

Kid 4: “Does anybody know what kind of music she likes? Let’s put on Pandora! Mom, what Pandora do you like?”

Kid 3: “That’s stupid. Shut up. She doesn’t need music right now!”

Kid 4: “MUSIC IS VERY CALMING, I READ ABOUT IT! I’M NOT STUPID!”

Kid 1: “I don’t like the way she’s shaking. I think she’s going into shock.”

Husband: “Just go run her foot under some water, then dump peroxide on it. Kills the germs.”

Kid 1: “She can’t walk! We need to take her to a clinic!”

Me: “Clinics are closed, and I’m not going to ER for this. Just give me a minute here.”

Kid 4: “Parts of her toe are hanging off. Does she know that?”

Kid 3: “Squeeze my hand, Mom. Somebody get her some water! We need water over here!”

Kid 1: “She’s still shaking. I’m worried. Mom? Mom, can you hear me? We need to take her somewhere.”

Husband: “I don’t know. You wanna go somewhere? Your toe is pretty messed up. Needs to be cleaned… and uh, I can’t do that. Um, I think you ripped the nail off.”

Kid 4: (frantically patting my shoulder, my head, my leg) “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

Kid 3: “Here, Mom. I got you some water. Can you sip it? That’s good, that’s good. I got her to take some water!”

Kid 1: “Could she be having a seizure? Did she hit her head?”

Me: “I’m not having a seizure. I just need a minute to calm back down.”

Kid 1: “Okay, I’m going to help you clean up your knee. There’s a lot of blood, but I’ll be very gentle, okay?”

Kid 3: “It’s gonna hurt, Mom. Go ahead, squeeze my hand hard, I can take it.”

Kid 1: “Somebody get a bowl of water to put her foot in. There could be dirt up under that nail.”

Husband: (brings enormous salad bowl full of water)

Me: (gingerly dips foot into water while trying not to look)

*phone rings*

*husband answers*

Apparently kid 2 and her boyfriend are sitting in the dark at the campground getting hassled by security because we thought we would be right over there, but we evidently aren’t, so they are sitting there at midnight with no key to the trailer and no membership card to prove they are actually supposed to be there.

Husband: “Just tell them to call my cell phone then! Oh my God! Why can’t anything ever just go right!”

Kid 4: “Cool. Look at all the blood in the bowl!”

Kid 3: “Shut UP! Don’t tell her there’s blood. It’s okay Mom. There’s hardly no blood. It’s fine, it’s fine.”

Husband: “What bowl do we need for the party tomorrow? For you to take that dessert in?”

Me: “Uh, the blue one. With the lid.”

Kid 1: “Mom can’t talk about making dessert right now! She’s INJURED!”

Kid 4: “Can I play Pokemon Go at the campground?”

Kid 3: “Step back, let me take care of this. I was a Boy Scout. I have first aid training!”

Someone has brought Band-aids and some gauze, so we dry off the mangled toe and hurriedly cover the mess. Once I don’t have to look at it, the pain begins to diminish. The shaking settles down. I’m running through a list in my mind of what medication I have on hand that might help. All I can think of is Motrin and some of the heavy-duty antihistamines, both back at the trailer.

We have three vehicles to get back to the campground, so I know I have to drive. After I get myself composed and my husband has gotten the rest of the stuff we need packed up, I hobble back out to my vehicle. We form a little caravan as we drive through the night. It takes me a little longer to get to the campground than usual, but finally we make it.

Eventually I sleep. I dream of meeting new people and all of them are missing a hand or a foot.

The next day was busy. We had a party to get to, and some shopping that still needed done. I clutched the cart through Wally World, thinking gratefully of the evening, when I could sit in my lawn chair with my throbbing foot up and work on a blanket I’m crocheting. My husband says, “Let’s go look at the bikes.”

Bikes. Sure.

Over the winter, we had been talking about buying new bikes for us. The last time we bought new bikes for ourselves, our 20-year-old daughter was 3 months old.

Sure, I said. Let’s go. I was thinking we could look quick before we left. What could it hurt? I was watching the time, though. I had promised the party host I would come back and help clean up.

Leaning against the cart, I shuffled around the corner to the bike aisle.

And that’s when I saw it.

The most glorious bike that ever happened.

Turquoise and bright yellow, with a matching basket on the front (obviousy to put my yorkie in), it said, “Margaritaville” down the middle bar, and had a small parrot on the handle that squeaked when pushed.

The seat was flowered.

“This one,” I said. “I want it.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, wary. “Are you gonna fall off it and get hurt again?”

“No, no. I’m fine. Get this one. It’s beautiful.”

And it is.

I love it.

But I have to admit, with my history of poor luck and general clumsiness, I was a little worried when I took it for my first ride.

So far, so good.

And I don’t even need that big toe to balance on my bike.

I hope the rest of this trip is entirely uneventful.

Is there some sort of “Uneventful, boring trip” dance we could do, you know, like a rain dance, to keep things smooth and chill for a while? I mean, obviously I can’t do the dance, I’ve got a mangled big toe. But surely someone could be willing. My youngest son seems to suddenly have more energy than he knows what to do with.

If I withheld Pokemon  Go from him for a while, I could probably bribe him to do it.

If my luck suddenly turns around, you’ll know I’ve got an adolescent I’m forcing to dance for me like a little marionette, taunting him with promises of catching a Snorlax if he just dances for me one more time.

Bits and Whatnots

Things that go Bump in the Dark

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One thing I resolve to do more of each year are things that frighten me. I worry (I’m an excellent worrier, really, I could win trophies) about letting scary things hold me back in life, so I tend to force myself through them whether I enjoy them or not. I just like to know I’ve done the thing, whatever the thing might be.

This year so far, I’ve done a few scary things. I’ve given a talk in front of a room full of highschoolers, I’ve been accepted to do a podcast this summer on a horror show, I’ve had a couple of short stories I wrote that pushed me way out of my comfort zone accepted into anthologies. And there are more scary things on the horizon.

I was doing a book signing at a book store in Flint ( yes, THAT Flint, the one with the water) a couple of months ago, and during a lull in traffic I was wandering the store, checking out the shelves. Came across a shelf chock full of Stephen King novels. Now, I read horror, sure, and I’m a great lover of weird Tim Burton films. I write horror and dark fiction, and readers often feel comfortable telling me my brain is twisted and bizarre. I can’t disagree. But there are some lines even I can’t cross, and one of them has always been the Tommyknockers.

I picked it up that day in the bookstore and stared at the cover for a minute. Then I bought it. Hey, it’s important to do the things that frighten you, right?

I first tried to read the Tommyknockers when I was about fifteen. I remember reading the poem at the beginning, somehow immediately memorizing it, and then taking it back to the library. The poem, just that tiny little poem at the front of the book made me sick with terror, and I can’t even express why it did. The lines just ran through my mind on a loop, infesting my waking hours with things better left to the night. Over the years, I have thought about trying to read it again, but even decades later, I’ve never forgotten that poem. Something about it just makes my spine shiver.

Late last night and the night before

Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers,

Knocking at the door.

I want to go out, don’t know if I can

‘Cause I’m so afraid

Of the Tommyknocker man.

Honestly, I can look at the words of the poem and see there is nothing even inherently scary in them. That doesn’t make me feel less scared, though. It’s not something I can explain. But I’m all grown up now, nearing up on forty-one and with adult children of my own. I’ve braved my way through marriage, parenting, family deaths, chronic illness, job losses, appliances breaking, bill money shortages, and one night this year I let my husband drag me to a wild game dinner where I ate a piece of kangaroo. I decided this was the year I would go back to that old fear and smack it in the face. So I bought the book, brought it home and shoved it up on one of my many (many, many, many) bookshelves, and there it sat. Laughing at me. Mocking me. For more than a month. I read a couple of the other books I’d picked up that day at the bookstore first, Dreamcatcher and Bag of Bones. And then, despite my lingering reservations, I picked up the Tommyknockers.

I’m a pretty heavy reader, truth be told, and generally a fairly fast one at that. But this book has taken me about a month to read, and I’m not certain why. Adult responsibilities are one thing, I suppose. With a daughter nearing the end of her senior year, there’s been prom, graduation, and the open house to get ready for, and that’s time consuming. There have been deadlines for the anthologies I’ve agreed to be part of, and all the other things that go along with being a parent. Dishes, laundry, bills, work, chauffeuring, etc. But those things are always there, and I usually read about a book a week. This one just took me longer. I like King’s style, and I liked the book. It’s not my most favorite book of all time, but still a good read.

The weird thing is, I’ve always thought this book was about men in a mine. I don’t know why. I’ve read so many books in my life, it must have just gotten mixed up in my head with something else I’d read. But it’s not about that at all. And it isn’t that scary of a book, really. At least to me. All this time, I’ve been afraid of it, but I was much more terrified reading The Things that Keep us Here by Carla Buckley. So the book, itself, is just not the giant terrifying thing I have always believed it to be.

It’s just the damn poem.

I would read it for a bit at night before going to bed, and then lie there in the darkness, with the words again repeating on loop around my brain. An insistent train on a neverending track. Over and over and over. I’d try counting backward from 100, or focusing on the new book I’m writing, or planning costumes to sew for Ren Faire, but the words of the poem simply echoed louder and louder until that was all I could hear.

I finished the Tommyknockers last night. FINALLY. I picked up The Night Manager from the library yesterday and was itching to start reading it. But I had to finish the Tommyknockers first. So I did. It felt a little anti-climactic, like everyone should notice I’ve done a BIG SCARY THING and applaud me, but I didn’t even feel that excited about it myself.

Life is that way sometimes, I guess. These frightening things we make up in our minds just keep getting bigger and bigger and eventually become a mountain so enormous it seems impossible to ever climb. And then we are left with a choice: either we let the mountain of fear continue to grow, or we summon our courage and decide to start climbing only to find it was really just a little hill, after all.

So I’ve conquered the Tommyknocker hill. Now I’m on to the next mountain.