A Wish for Peace…and Quiet

canstockphoto8203272Leonardo da Vinci wrote that silence was the best way to strengthen authority. Lincoln suggested that the sin of silence, instead of protest, made cowards of men. Neither was on Facebook or Pinterest, nor could they have envisioned the great equalizing platform of social media, where blowhards get as much airtime as critical thinkers.

I’d written a long draft for my blog about the murders in Paris, which I left unpublished. Often I allow events in the news to pass by my writing with nary a whisper. I am deliberately obtuse at times. Too often we try to draw our connection to tragedy, try to put ourselves in the picture, try to see what it means to us. It rings false to me, like filling the air with anecdotes from the brother of the barber’s cousin who ate at that particular cafe in 1987. Perhaps it is our cry to say me too.

I’ve been on the periphery of tragedy in my life. Sometimes I tell the stories. A murdered grandfather. Suicide by my father and an aunt. A mass campus shooting ending violently in a classroom where I had been the hour before. These are stories that make me, for a few moments, interesting in the eyes of others. It’s the kid performing Over the Rainbow and telling knock-knock jokes at Thanksgiving. It’s the ham and the drama queen waiting at the edges of my ego to break out in tragic dance.

If I wait a little while, bite my tongue, and let the story sink in, my narcissism fades to a gentle murmur. I imagine myself having dinner with friends at a sidewalk cafe. I imagine being at a concert. I imagine walking home on a warm evening. I imagine that moment when it all turns from routine to terrifying. I feel the solidarity of my humanness, sadness and sympathy and anger all at once. I feel empathy.

There is the sentiment that we can let the victims and families know we’re sorry for their loss, but those words fall on grieving, frightened and mostly, deaf ears. I am sorry about the loss of human life anywhere, but saying it to the internet has all the veracity of signing an office sympathy card, accompanied by those trite phrases we use, so that we don’t look like assholes. You’re in our thoughts. Wishing you comfort. Our prayers are with you. I don’t want to fill the air with my nothingness.

The voices of outrage come out in full force, relentless anger directed at them, at us, at anything that’s a moving or easy target. Presidential candidates fall over themselves trying to prove how many people they’d kill in response to this nightmare. Political idealogues and bigots of every persuasion grab hold of the pain and anxiety in vain attempts to support their own version of hate.

This is not my story. This is not my opportunity. This is not my moment on the stage. This is my time to listen, to learn, and to try to comprehend other people’s stories. I don’t stay silent because I don’t care.  I stay silent because, at this moment, nothing I say will make as much difference as listening.


Filed under In the News, Personal

Marlon James and Notes in the Dark

canstockphoto15617395A good story makes you ask better questions. It’s scrawled twice in the margins of my notebook. I took notes last week in a darkened audience, attending a lecture by the 2015 Man Booker Prize winner, Marlon James. He received the award in October for his sprawling, intense novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings.

One of things on my writing hit list this year was to seek out better writers and better writing. I am fortunate to live in a metro area for some of the big name writers who give lectures, but I’ve also watched a lot of videos, listened to audio books and stepped up my reading habits. It isn’t that I’m seeking some sort of osmotic reaction. It’s that I want to live in that world where writing matters, where people value telling really good stories.

While whinging on about this novel I’ve been treading in for the last three years, a writer friend responded with silence. What? She hesitated. “Maybe you should write something else.” As I have done with numerous people, I adamantly held on to the premise that this must be done. This was the novel that was going to teach me how to be a proper novelist. I needed to just work through it. My argument has come to sound hollow and unenthusiastic.

After another mucky, miserable writing session yesterday, I flopped down on the couch. It was time to quit trying to ram through the novel – this door that would magically unlock the novelist within. I’m on a third rewrite and feel like my compulsion to finish and do it right will eventually stop me from writing it at all.

Marlon James shared advice he’d gotten early on: “Write about only three things: what you love, what you hate, and what you’re deeply conflicted about.” 

canstockphoto7418437That quote has been playing in my head repeatedly. The novel I’ve been working on is rooted in the past, in things I once hated and loved and things I’m no longer conflicted about. I wasn’t asking better questions. I was asking questions for which I’d already found answers. It makes sense that I’d be sick of the whole damned thing and unless I could bring something new to the story, it wasn’t worth writing.

Today I pulled down the story board cards, packed up the notepads, filed the drafts in a binder and backed up all my digital records. I’m taking the month off from working on it and diving into another story. Since it’s November and I have some writer friends who have been hemming and hawing about participating in National Novel Writing Month, I’ve had a change of heart and will give in to this particular, peculiar compulsion. A little free range writing might be fun. Or not.


This post by The Bloggess made me laugh so loudly this morning that I woke up my family.

And then that one time on twitter we all just became human and I laughed until I gave myself a headache.

It reminded me of volunteering on kindergarten registration night, when I had to request documentation for enrollment, to include birth certificates. An acquaintance arrived with her kindergartner, older son and a newborn. I smiled and proceeded to ask her for a copy of her birth control. I morphed into the worst volunteer ever, as I had to keep leaving the table to stop laughing and/or dying from embarrassment.

If you wonder how artists spent their days, I just finished a fun read in which I learned that having a wife, servants, a drinking problem and Benzedrine are really the tricks of the creative trade. Having none of those, I did also find that on average, many creative talents worked a solid 3-4 hours a day and spent a lot of time going on walks. I can do that.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, Editor

For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, best wishes!

For those of you not participating, keep your eye roll at the ready, as writers lose their minds but always, always know their word count!


Filed under Creativity, Personal, Uncategorized, Writing

Living in the Land of Anhedonia

canstockphoto28843846The gray slides over me. It is neither friend nor foe. It just is. Like the autumn leaves, my edges curl in and I get as small as possible. I pull back from friends and family. I say less. I go dark. My life becomes one slow, forced choice at a time. Ah, depression, it’s you again.

When I talk about depression, I get a lot of well-meaning advice. Meditation, yoga, therapy, medication. Even in my brightest moments, I resent unsolicited advice. Medicine, in general, messes me up. I take half dosages of everything to prevent intestinal derision and buzzing in my head. I end up with half a headache, half a fever, half a cold, half pregnant (okay, maybe not the last one). Even my depression is half-assed.

For some people, this season kicks in a melancholia that eases at the first snowfall. Melancholy carries a bittersweet richness. It is, for me, a welcome feeling. It feeds my creativity, serves as fertile compost for my soul.

canstockphoto15341298Where I’m at now, is neither bitter nor sweet. It is nothing. The landscape is colorless and flat, but not endless. This is where I am fortunate. I know there is an end. That it will pass. This knowing is a gift. It is my fallow time, like the fields that lay bare in anticipation of next season’s abundance.

I have a lot of friends who suffer from anxiety and depression. They work hard to find a balance of medication and therapy that makes life bearable. For some of them, it’s been years of trial and error. It’s been trial and error for me as well, except I didn’t go to the experts. I can be ridiculous that way. My experts were booze, cigarettes, bad relationships, food, shopping. Then I did the exercise, yoga, therapy thing. I learned new coping strategies. I now have a full toolbox. Which I occasionally ignore.

“Depression lies” is a mantra to remind people in the midst of disordered thinking, that they’re not hearing truth. My depression doesn’t lie. It’s just the worst spin doctor ever. Every thought is taken and turned into something that resembles the truth, with a negative twist. It’s a bad public relations consultant.

canstockphoto11627768I sat through a Halloween event last night. Even on a good day, Halloween is my least favorite holiday. As a kid, while smacking into others on dark sidewalks, wearing my cardboard box/robot costume, I only wanted to go home and eat my candy. Now, as an adult, candy-eating feels like desperation. Let’s stuff those feelings down, until they feel like they might all come up at once. Yes, I’ve already purchased and eaten some of this year’s candy meant for the door. I feel sick.

Surrounded by little Elsas and grownups in Star Wars paraphernalia last night, I felt isolated and dull. My costume was that of a caring parent who delights in the laughter of children and the silliness of grownups. I wanted a drink, a smoke, a dark corner and potentially nachos. Anything not sweet. Anything that would allow me to sink into myself and be alone.

Fortunately, my brain has some off-roading neural pathways that don’t lead to self-destruction. I sent sardonic texts to friends. I watched little blue dinosaurs and witches spin around and giggle and bounce off walls. My isolation melted at the edges. A little color came into the room. I remembered all the costumes my daughter has worn over the years -a police officer, mountain climber, the ladybug, a giraffe suit that blocked her sight making her run into things, fall down and giggle. I breathed deeply.


I can’t decide between ghoulish gray, shitty sepia or bland brown.

This morning, it is apparent that the moment of color has passed and the weather has decided to agree with me. It’s rainy and gray. The irony of my dulled sensory perceptions is that we’re remodeling the kitchen. I am picking paint colors and lighting and a chef (well, in my fantasy kitchen).  I’ve put it aside for the moment. I keep picking tans and grays. When I started the project, I was picking yellows and soft peach colors. Interior design seen through the lens of depression.

So I write here, hoping to let some light in, to relieve the build up of negativity, to say out loud that I know I’m depressed and that I know I’ll be okay. I’m reading a lot. I’m ignoring the phone and emails. I’m pounding nails out of old cabinets. I’m working on the darker scenes in my novel. One thing at a time, and then the next and the next, until the shadows recede and the world goes full color once again.


Filed under Personal

How to Lose Friends and Ignore People: A Dealer’s Fable

It was 1975, the year Squeaky Fromme attempted to assassinate President Ford. It was a volatile year. Charlie Chaplin got knighted and the Watergate gang was convicted. In local news, a crime wave was hitting the grocery store a block from where I lived. A thief was lurking among Safeway’s aisles – dressed like a seven-year old girl. Sometimes in a Girl Scout uniform.

I prowled the aisles, shifty-eyed and indiscriminate in my larcenous hunger. Some days it was the candy near the checkout lanes, but other days, I’d be emboldened by the surplus gum packs down the aisles. I was a second grade shoplifter.

canstockphoto9650094I didn’t take it for myself. I took it for my friends of the future. Friends who would gather about my locker clamoring “I want one, too!” I gained a reputation. I could hook you up. Sometimes it was Tic-Tacs, other days I got a line on some Bits O’ Honey. Kids talked to me, shot me secret smiles in the hallway. I had what they wanted and they provided what I wanted – the illusion of being liked.

The nobility of poverty is bullshit. As one of the shyest, poorest kids in my grade, my character was in need of self-esteem and cash. I didn’t get the whole “being enough on one’s own”.  I was not a likable child. I was quiet, horribly self-conscious and somber. And then there was The Incident, which triggered my life/week in crime.

canstockphoto0952980Spelling test day. October 1975. Substitute teacher – the mean one. The order was always to push our desks apart for tests. Second graders are well-known for their propensity towards plagiarism and skulduggery. We were scattered about the room and given strict instructions to not speak unless spoken to. If we wanted to be spoken to, we must raise our hands. Up to this point, I followed rules. The letter of the law had no spirit.

I’m a bit of a freaky speller, so I smugly finished the test within minutes. I would have savored my success, tapping my eraser on the desk to let the other students know what canstockphoto2706524dunces they were, had it not been for the milk at lunch. I’d held out through recess. I’d held out through reading time. It was time. I raised my hand to go to the bathroom. The teacher wasn’t looking. I raised my hand a little higher, starting to shift in my seat. She kept her back to me. The rule was not to speak. I did not speak. I did, however, pee. And still, I remained silent.

We pushed our desks back together. At seven, child development experts say that children have reached the Age of Reason, when intellectual capacities are more developed, as is the ability to lie. I reasoned that since I was no longer in the same locale, my secret would remain undiscovered, but I had not yet honed my lying skills.

“Who did this?” The teacher shot red angry beams from her eyes. Sparks snapped and crackled off her fingertips. Her hair stood on end and the vein in her neck throbbed. Well, I was seven. She looked scary. She pointed to the large yellow puddle in the middle of the floor.

I raised my hand slowly and her fiery glare zeroed in on me.

Oh – NOW you see my hand, lady?!

canstockphoto12906996I was marched down to the nurse’s office where I was changed into clown clothes or whatever was in the lost and found that day. Do not ask about the underwear. I try not to think about it.

That was the day I turned towards the darkness. A day of singular humiliation. Until a week later, when Martin peed his pants and got sent to the nurse’s office, after which he wore what looked like girl’s bell bottoms all day long. But it was too late by then. I had ground to regain. I had gum to steal.

There should be a moral to this story. I didn’t get caught. I didn’t find a true friend who was uninterested in a sugar high. The store owner didn’t befriend my little bedraggled self. I got tired of being afraid. I wasn’t getting an adrenaline high from the steal, I was getting a rumbling, burbling stomach. Likely the Bit O’ Honey didn’t help (always test your own goods).

Getting tired of being afraid. It’s sometimes as simple and selfish as that. I got tired over the years of dealing with friends who I didn’t really trust. I got tired of worrying about whether or not people thought I was good or smart or kind or friendly enough. I got tired of living life as if it weren’t my own. It’s an amoral fable of the unrealized criminal. The payoff isn’t good enough to justify the anxiety.

Forty years later, I realize that I learned three very important life lessons in 1975.

  • Real friends don’t need to be bribed at the cost of your personal integrity.
  • Speak up on your own behalf. Some rules are just stupid.
  • Go to the restroom whenever you get the chance.


Filed under Humor, Personal

In the Unlikely Event of My Happiness

canstockphoto21074062I’ve been freezing up at the keyboard. This last week freaked me out a bit. In the course of a week, my subscribed followers jumped by 1000+ readers, crossing over the 10,000 mark. The Likes on this Freshly Pressed post exceeded 1400. I answered 300+ comments.

I’d never experienced anything like this in the four years I’ve been blogging. I have to believe that it is because, for the first time ever on this blog, I used the word “clusterfuck”.

I’ve had the thought all week that okay, I’m done. Really, where do I go from here? Does this extra attention mean I need to change my blog theme, open a Twitter account, punch up my rhetoric, Instagram a boob selfie and find a picture from 20 years ago where I look less wrinkly and put it on the blog? What is expected of me now?

Panic. That’s what an introvert does when they get a little attention. The moment of glee morphed into dread over the week. Give me a moment of unmitigated joy and I’ll anxiously stomp on it before someone or something else does. Premeditated squashing.

This is how I move forward, never lingering too long, never resting on laurels, never asking for more. I think about happiness and what that might mean for me. I think about all the well-meaning advice of the attitude-of-gratitude-too-blessed-to-be-stressed crowd. I think, as I often have over the years, what is wrong with me?

canstockphoto15489769It’s easy to be a discontented, restless, and striving person in a world that feeds it. Consumerism is based on fomenting dissatisfaction, while memes of puppies, flowers and Buddhists exhort us to be happy in the moment. Meanwhile, Likes, Hits, Follows, Stars, Views, are all feeding the message that more is better. But more is just more.

When it comes to figuring out what makes a person happy, it gets weird. We are so often told what should/might/will likely make us happy that when it doesn’t, we’re left feeling that there is something wrong with us. I must remind myself what has, historically, been happy-making for me.

Solitude. I am often happiest as a party of one. It’s when I’m working in the garden, dirty from head to toe with sweat dripping into my eyes. Sitting back on my haunches, I notice the flurry of life around me, bees and butterflies and frantic squirrels – and I get to be right in the middle of it. Being part of something greater, I feel the privilege of being alive.

Love. Never one long for sentiment, I feel my attachments like ligaments to bone. A child who makes me see everything all over again. A man who baffles me with patience. Friends who have raucous laughs and who are, when I say “I need to be alone”, understanding, not bruised.

canstockphoto10265804A story. There’s that ending to a book, when I sit back and sigh. Marvelous. The writer was a magician performing sleight of hand. Who wouldn’t want that kind of skill – the ability to take a reader out of themselves?

Odd sources of happiness. I’m happiest when my desk is clean, when I’ve written something that makes me laugh, when I’m in the middle of a run, looking on the verge of a cardiac event, red-faced and dripping with sweat. There are extrinsic things that make me happy: coffee, when I make someone else laugh, live music, and being outdoors.

Like the ten pairs of glasses a middle-aged myopic owns, the things that make me happy have never been where I looked for them. It’s in the looking and striving that causes the disappointment and pain. In never expecting happiness as a given, I find myself constantly surprised.

I think of that unalienable right, in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, to the “pursuit of happiness”. Pursuit suggests a high speed chase, and less a saunter. If happiness requires a chase, it’s getting away. I stroll. I sit on park benches for long periods of time. And when a happy event runs me over, I have to sit with it for a long time to see that it’s a good thing.

In the end, I’ve realized that the things that make me happy will likely always make me happy, with an occasional addition, like my current addiction to burritos or meeting fellow writers.

When something happens, like a blog post exploding, I can marvel/freak out in the moment, but then it’s time to get back to being me, a bemused, caffeinated, and sardonic depressive who likes to write. Whee. Let the good times roll.

What makes you happy?


Filed under Blogging, Humor, Personal, Writing

Thank You…Now It’s Time to Get to Work

canstockphoto7404562Thank you to the many bloggers, readers, and writers who stopped by my Freshly Pressed piece “Being Fiction, Instead of Writing It“. I have never experienced that kind of traffic and number of comments on a post before, so it really caught me off guard. I’ve done my best to respond to everyone, but I know sometimes I miss a comment or two.

I appreciated the conversation, the encouragement and the personal experiences that some of you shared. I learned that there are a lot of procrastinating writers out there and that we’ve all read way too much writing advice. This should be somewhat comforting to me, although I’m in a place where the less comfortable I am, the better.

canstockphoto16261737That being said, I’m going to keep this post brief and to the point. I have a novel 3rd draft to finish. I have a short fiction blog to work on and will continue to write weekly posts for The Green Study. When I wrote about my procrastination, it was a way of blowing out the pipes and addressing the situation. I have some writing talent, ambivalent ambition and a lot of excuses that I’ve used up avoiding the work. These things do not a novelist make.

Let’s take the bull by the horns. Today, I’m working on a synopsis and outline for my novel. It’s a little reverse engineering. I was a pantser on the initial novel draft, which has confounded and paralyzed me for the last couple of years. For me to move forward, I need to know where I really want to go. It’s the only way to end procrastination – doing something, anything, that is a step in the right direction. Today.

It might mean catching up on some rest, wrestling with five words, eating slightly better, taking a walk or it could be tackling the mess in the garage or closet. Dear fellow procrastinators, what are you doing today, to contribute to a personal goal, writing or otherwise?


Filed under Personal, Writing

When You Become Your Mother

canstockphoto3193594It’s an odd little thing in our family. All the women, were they men, would be suspected of bomb-plotting or weird porn habits or at least highly awkward social skills. The highly awkward social skills is an actual genetic trait in our family, apparently. A distaste for technology, reclusive living, books or dogs as best friends – classic signs that you will be my mother. Add in a British accent, a predilection for salacious crime novels, a subtle, disapproving pursing of the lips and you will be my grandmother.

For years, I lived blithely with the delusion that I was none of those things. After all, I didn’t marry or have kids young. I joined the Army, set out on my own, made friends along the way, got a college degree, drove in the big cities, married a man who wasn’t abusive, had a kid who wasn’t a surprise or a burden – I was as different as could be. Except I loved my books and my disapproving lip pursing. I could tell myself that mostly, I wasn’t them.

canstockphoto11189770And what was so wrong with alienating all your children, living in seclusion, having awkward exchanges with people who laughed uncomfortably at your dry humor? Why shouldn’t oddly-named dogs and weighty tomes be your friends? Because any child knows that whatever your parentage is, it is completely messed up and you never want to be whatever that is. I’ve met the rare people who adore their parents and I do my best to avoid them at parties.

Over the last year, I’ve had occasion for more social interaction than I think should be necessary for human existence. My façade is slipping. I’ve become slightly more brusque and thoughts that I’d normally keep to myself are leaking out all over the place. I’m alienating people. Isolation is starting to hold appeal. I might adopt a dog and name it Herbal Tea. I have a bestie that is about 530 pages long.

Conversations with my mother have changed. I’ve apologized a lot, because now I get it. There were years when I mocked and teased her about the pack of dogs she had in tow or the fact that she wouldn’t be discovered, if she died, until the smell wafted down the street and one of her dogs wandered down the sidewalk with a pelvic bone. Seriously, we both think that idea is funny. Birds of a feather make macabre jokes together and all that.

Now that I’ve come to this knowledge, I feel that it should bring a certain level of empowerment and freedom. No longer constrained by who I think I should be, I can comfortably settle into who I am. My daughter has already begun to mock me. I’m so proud.


Filed under Humor, Personal