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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Prose, Pain, & Plans

 

There’s something about the change of seasons – especially the transition from summer to autumn – that ignites my  creativity. My brain slides from “yeah, on the weekends I work a bit on that next book” to “yeah, you need to stop sleeping for a few weeks because now we’re crocheting a couple of blankets and maybe a new shawl, sewing a coat, and writing three fiction novels. OH WAIT! NEW IDEA! Okay, now we’re also doing a non-fiction book about learning to live with grief.”

It’s been busy for me, which is probably a good thing, given I’m just about one month from the first anniversary of my brother’s death, and it seems every day assaults me with painful reminders. The last eleven months have probably been about the most agonizing ones of my life, and for a while there I wasn’t certain I was going to be able to get through it. I think I’ve been pretty open about all of that. Last year in August, before my brother was diagnosed, I would never have imagined the following months going the way that they would. So much changed in the blink of an eye. Last year in November, I wasn’t certain I would be able to function even minimally… like, ever again. At all.

Yet, here we are, nearly a year later. No denying it’s been rough. But there’s a lot of beauty, too. A lot of laughter. Much has changed, but change isn’t always terrible. During the crux of the worst of last winter – mentally, I mean – I went through sort of a manic phase where I couldn’t stop moving or creating. I feel as if maybe that was a way my brain was trying to protect itself, flooding every second with creativity. Ideas. Imagination. But it had gotten to a point where holding still, not creating every single second, physically hurt, and I don’t think that was a healthy extreme, either. I was productive, but exhausted.

I wrote and wrote and wrote. Released three books between November and May. And then, although I knew which books I wanted to focus on next, that frantic creative pace slowed way down over the summer, and I began to worry I would not be able to finish another book. Ever. To be honest, though, I generally go through some sort of phase like after writing furiously for a while. It just lasted longer this time, so it started to freak me out. But I’m in it again, now. Not quite the manic, frantic buzz of last winter when the bats had overtaken the belfry and were throwing nightly raves in it, but the typical creative rush I often fall into around the transition to autumn.

I was a little bit worried when I released The Knowing Child in May, because it turned out to be more angst-laden than the first two books. I wasn’t certain how it would be received, but as it happened, it appears to be a favorite amongst my Windy Springs readers. I had planned for the fourth Windy Springs book to be Knowing Rogan, a prequel of sorts featuring Rogan’s early life before he met Keisha. I knew how it would start and exactly how it’ll end, and what will probably happen in the middle, so I’ve been working along on that, though I wouldn’t say with much gusto until here lately. Then I took a break, moved on over to the aliens and turnips (yes) story I started a few years back and which is SO. CLOSE. to finishing, if I could just plow through these last few thousand words. However… a few weeks ago, Captain Dash started talking (as he is wont to do) and would NOT shut up. I thought, well, I’ll just scribble this down, as a jumpstart for later on when I start his book. But his words became a waterfall in my brain and I couldn’t make it stop. So I *might* have to switch the order of books four and five, and release Knowing His Madness first, though doing so will not alter any timelines at all. It’s just not what I expected to be doing.

and then –

And then I had a dream. I know that sounds wonky. But really, what even am I, if not wonky? Anyway. I dreamed the book I was writing was a collection of pieces I’d written on grief since my sister’s death a few years back. I’d asked in my FB group if there might be any interest in such a thing, and the response was surprisingly positive. I toyed around with the idea a bit, then just to sort of see, I started collecting bits and pieces of writings on the subject and lo and behold, I’ve already got about forty-thousand words. Tentative working title is Grief in my Pockets. I’d like to get it out around the holidays this year. We’ll just have to see how that plays out.

It’s awesome when the characters are “talking” as much as they are right now, and there’s so much I want to be writing. But the fact is, I work full time at the law firm, and I live with six other people (and three dogs. and several fish.) in a house that is not a  mansion. Even when I am at home and maybe have time to write, I have no office or really, any quiet space in which to do so which is not a complaint so much as a snippet of reality. So quite often I write sporadically in stolen moments – on my phone during my lunch break at work, or while waiting in the lobby of a doctor’s office, or standing in the kitchen while I’m making dinner. I’ve been aiming for a thousand words a day on any one of my current projects. Some days I hit it, some days I don’t, but that’s always my goal. When  I do finish, then it depends on my editor’s availability, and of course, my limited budget. Even if I finish all four books by the end of this year, there’ s no way I  can afford to publish them all at once. Still, though. I enjoy having all these stories living so vividly in my upstairs. It’s a curious sort of joy.

That’s where I’m at, for  the moment. I try to mention my plans now and again on all the different platforms, because I know a lot of folks follow me only in one spot on the vast web. I’m most consistently active in my FB group, which is a delightful mix of eclectic folks much like meself. That’s also where I do live videos and Q & A days, so if you’re interested in that sort of thing –

As always, I’m so thankful for the readers who share my blog posts, my book posts, my newsletters. Thank you for telling others about my work, and for reviewing (Yeah. I notice. Thanks.) Thank you for being excited about what I’m doing, and for sending me messages about how my writing has affected you. It means so much, and I absolutely could not do any of this without you. Onward.

 

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Unpatterned

It seems sometimes as if my brain is hardwired to do the opposite of what it’s told. Though I’ve never been one for conformity, I admit to occasionally wishing I could just make the easier choice. The path more often taken, I suppose.

But I can’t.

This holds true in the art I create, as well. There is a part of me that inherently resists following the pattern. Working inside the box, or whatever you want to call it. I’m more of an outside the box person, I guess. Some days I’m so far outside the box, I can’t see it anymore, not even if I squint real hard. It isn’t that I don’t recognize the value of following where others have trod before. I do. I think I was just born contrary. There’s something in my genetics that pushes me to look at what others are doing and say, “I’ll just figure it out my own damn self,” and that’s generally that. The path more often taken is cleared by thousands of footsteps, wide and easy to walk. I get right to the cusp of it, turn, and force myself through the brush, getting scrapes and knocking my knees on rocks all the way down. It might make a more difficult journey, but I feel more satisfied about what I’ve done, when it gets right down to it.

When I first learned to sew, I was taught how to carefully trim the flimsy pattern, iron it, and pin it to the fabric. It seemed like such a frustrating waste of time. Once I learned the basics, I taught myself to draw patterns on the backs of paper sacks. Of course, mistakes were made. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was doing it myself, learning, growing, figuring it out.

Although I am capable of following crochet patterns, I generally do not use them, and am so much more satisfied with the results when  I create a blanket, shawl, or other piece freeform.

I think I’m much the same way with writing.

Over Labor Day weekend, we took a trip to northern  Michigan, squeezing in some of my son’s senior picture shoots along the way. We stopped at my sister-in-law’s place one day for a visit and to snap some photos, as my brother’s family lives in a cabin that once belonged to my parents, and there was some sentimental value in posing him there. As I stood there with my friend who is the photographer, my mind slipped back in time for a few seconds, and I remembered watching my dad build the large wraparound porch that surrounds the cabin. “He did this with no instructions,” I blurt to my friend. “My dad, I mean. Did you know he built this porch? Bought the wood and did the entire thing himself, with no pattern.”

It really is a beautiful porch. He’d started the work after having both knees replaced. I can easily conjure memories of him kneeling – very slowly – measuring, figuring out his next move.  He probably shouldn’t have spent so much time working on his knees, given the surgeries. But he was nothing if not stubborn.

I might get that from him.

My son leans with his elbows on the porch rail and smiles for the camera. “He built my swingsets that way, too,” I say.

When I was very young, I had a standard swingset, green and yellow striped. Metal poles dug into the ground. Two swings with hard plastic seats. A plastic slide on one end. I cried when I woke up one morning and realized it had been taken out of the ground and loaded on my dad’s trailer. He explained that he was taking my swingset to his brother’s house, so my cousin could have it. I cried again. He promised he would build me an even better swingset.

He did. He started with two giant logs he cemented vertically in the ground. They were painted red. The swings were flat wood, wide, with long chains that took me so high in the air when I really got going that I sometimes worried I might flip right over the top. Instead of a slide, he built a sturdy wooden teeter-totter on one end and on the opposite end, a bar that hung from long chains, with springs at the top of each, so if I took off running from across the yard and grabbed the bar, it would bounce, bounce, bounce.

Years later, he built  another swingset. It  was behind the old cabin  up north, and he built  it for the grandkids. This time, he attached a twirly pool slide to  one end, and the kids had a blast with it. He even built a  little playhouse with its own metal roof. No instructions. I stood there, thinking about the bench swings he had built – I still have one in my front yard – the pole barn. All created from the blueprints he came up with on his own.

My grandmother, my dad’s mom, baked, sewed, and crocheted. I asked her once for her pie crust recipe, so I could try my hand at it. She gave me the oddest look and told me she didn’t use a recipe. Ever. I’ve thought and thought, and I can never recall her using a pattern for her crocheted blankets or quilts, either. But they were beautiful.

So this inherent stubborn streak, this bullheaded resistance to following the pattern, maybe I come by that naturally.

It might take me the longer way ’round. I might get a few more scrapes, make a few more mistakes. But the truth is, I enjoy doing it my own way. Over four decades through life, and I can’t see myself changing now. If anything, I’m more set in my contrariness. More determined to forge my way through the woods, while everyone else takes the smooth trail.

It might make for more of a struggle, but the view is so much better.

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Going, going… gone.

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It seems our life has become filled with pets to varying degrees. We’ve got three dogs now. My mom – who tolerated us kids having dogs when we were small but never enjoyed them on any level – has a dog. My daughter and her boyfriend have a 30 gallon tank filled with fish, including one named Ted who is pleasant enough as long as he’s fed regularly, but doesn’t mind gobbling up his small friends if the fish food sprinkles don’t arrive on time.

My brother was an avid animal lover, and couldn’t resist taking in one that was in need. Over the years he’d had cats, dogs, a parrot named Wilma, pygmy goats, rabbits, pigs, ducks, chickens, and I can’t even recall what all else. When he got sick last year, he had a cat and seven dogs. Realizing he was becoming too frail to be able to care for them, he made the heartbreaking decision to rehome some of them, including his own special dog, Beau. My daughter’s boyfriend had hoped to take Beau, but his landlord squelched that idea. However, a pastor friend of my brother’s offered to take Beau in, and that was nice, because he still had opportunities to visit with him on good days. They also had to rehome two of the chihuahuas, and their pit puppy, Jade.

They kept my sister-in-law’s tiny chihuahua, my nephew’s little shih Tzu, and their elderly family dog, Ellie Mae. The chihuahuas were able to find a new home together, which was great. Jade, the pit puppy, went to a friend’s home, and though she was hesitant at first, eventually recognized they were her new people and settled in.

I called my sister-in-law last night to wish her a happy birthday. It was her first one since we lost my brother, and I figured it’d be an especially difficult day for her. In the course of conversation, she mentioned how sad she was about Jade. The last I’d heard of Jade, she’d been doing well in her new home, so I asked what had happened. Apparently, the electrical wiring in the house caught fire, and though the couple were able to rescue their baby from the blaze, they were unable to reach Jade in time, and she perished in the fire.

Some of my brother’s dogs I’ve known since they were pups. I didn’t know Jade well and really had no connection to her. My brother’s family lives a couple of hours away, and Jade was just a baby dog when they had her, so I never got the chance to bond with her. But hearing she’s passed hurts me with a strange, sharp ache. It’s like another little piece of my brother has disappeared, and I hate it. It’s nobody’s fault. The fire was a tragic fluke, and I certainly don’t blame anyone for Jade’s death. Still and all, that pain is there.

Trying to hold on to all the memories is like holding my hand beneath a faucet and trying to catch all the water. Of course the memories are there, but there are so many, over so many years, that the more recent stuff gets shoved to the front. It makes me feel kind of frantic, like I’m losing my family all over again.

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a book about living with grief. It would be a compilation of pieces I’ve written during and after the deaths of my siblings. I don’t know if anyone would actually read it, but it feels like it might be cathartic for me, and I like the idea of having a tangible something with these precious memories in it. I was reading through some of the posts from when my sister died a few years back, and came across one detailing the moment she left this earth. I had written that with four of her children there, and my mom, my aunt, my sister’s ex-husband and her two little dogs perched on her bed, there hadn’t been much space. I had grabbed on to my sister’s ankles as she took her last breaths. Just to touch her skin. So she would know I was there. It was the only part of her I could reach in the crowd.

I had forgotten that. Or maybe I didn’t forget, but the memory was shoved to the back, less urgent than the others.

I don’t want to forget those little things. I don’t want these tiny pieces to float away.

So I think I’m going to do it. Tentative working title is “Grief in my Pockets.”

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