Turning the Pages

Tags

, , , , , ,

I think it was my “year off” getting my knees replaced that did it. The tiny Kindle was a sanity-saver (and a hats-off to Project Gutenberg, while we’re on the topic) and I got disconnected from paper books. But then, I haven’t been a big consumer of even paper books since the dissertation. My recovery from that segued into a depressive episode, and when I emerged, I was in a life where I’d read/reread most of my books. (I view libraries as evil guilt-producing crackmasters, and have been known to brag about my current immaculate relationship with Cambridge Public the way people in recovery show off their five-year chips.)

By then, I’d started writing, and I had this idea from some quote somewhere that the more I’d read, then the less I’d write–and I’d risk sounding derivative of the writer. So for quite a while, the most complex prose I had was my daughter’s subscription to Cosmopolitan. (Don’t knock it. It ‘splained how to keep my eye shadow out of the creases. I’m a little sad that my daughter traded up to National Geographic.)

I gradually began to read Victorians and mysteries (and have now discovered Victorian mysteries). But then I got a gig of reading and commenting on other people’s novels, so all of a sudden I was reading for a living. Very weird. Sometimes I get a manuscript that is slick clean classy content–and then I don’t, and have to force myself to sit my ass in the chair for five, ten, fifteen minutes as a whack. Mercifully, I read fast. And eventually, I got used to being a writer too. The whole thing made me pickier about what I’d read for fun.

However, my daughter and I always stop by our favorite bookstore when we’re out, and I pick something out with the best of intentions. It is added to the stack, but every so often one jumps into my purse if the Kindle is charging, or if it’s Neil Gaiman, apparently.

So, there I am with  Neverwhere in the waiting room. My shrink emerges and gushes over *book* reading, claiming that studies have shown there to be superior cognitive benefit from the physicality of the book. I must admit I recall little of the Kindle-corn I’ve been consuming all year, but had put that down to the quality of writing.

My books (Long Leggedy Beasties, Things that Go Bump in the Night, their forthcoming cousins) are non-physical. I’ve been trying not to feel bad about that. This doesn’t help. Sigh.

You’re reading from a screen right now–what do you think?

Cats and Mages 2 (Things that Go Bump in the Night) is born!

Tags

, , , , ,

This is the sequel to Long Leggedy Beasties. Go check it out–check ’em both out–and PLEASE, please: I don’t have a GoFundMe or a Patreon, but I do have two really cool, reasonably priced books that need reviews on Amazon. Thanks for following–I appreciate the energy!

 

https://books.pronoun.com/things-that-go-bump-in-the-night/

Listening to the Silence

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

I have left my noisy urban home for a few days, and am now in a very quiet place. All I can hear other than my own little noises is the dripping of my friend’s cat bowl, which makes a teeny recycling fountain to keep the water fresher. Strange to tell, instead of being relaxing, all this stillness has done is underscore my own disquiet, which I tend to keep buried like a secret shame.

When I realized Things were burbling up from my inner cesspool, I opted to turn off Pandora and stay with the cat bowl and what I call “microcries:” bursts of blubbering that last about 15 to 30 seconds. It’s sort of like crying constipation–that’s all I can get out at a time, although I feel myself to be a very cistern of tears.

As previously noted, I’m a random crier at the best of times, and I’m getting closer to deciphering why, or at least a maybe-why. I think that when it’s triggered by something heartwarming, it’s because my heart is in reality feeling cold and lonely; if the trigger is heroism, I am afraid that I myself am weak and helpless.

I do many things. I sing, draw, make jewelry, mother, befriend, love. But I feel as tottery at most of it as I do when my physical therapist cajoles me into trying to stand on just my right leg. (Almost everybody is a little lopsided at this, but I’m a champ at lop.) The only thing I really have is the writing. The sheeping writing, which fails to make me any money or gain me any renown, and which will likely continue to fail to do either.

All I am is the writing. That’s what’s at the bottom, behind the tears, underneath the depression, and despite the failure.

During this quiet afternoon, I went to the extent of Asking for a Sign, first in what passes in me for silent meditation, and then just talking out loud. So many people tell confident stories of hearing a Voice, either from outside or within–why not me? Although my faith isn’t what I’d call strong, my belief in the possibility of a Higher Power is stronger than my fear that #45 will turn America into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and that’s something, isn’t it? But nobody came to my outreaching self-pity party, leaving me to confront what I have, what I know.

Perhaps all I’m really for is the writing. Maybe one or two people will be reached by the words that start at my core and ooze from my fingertips. They will laugh, cry, feel less alone or freakish; they will feel a kindred spirit. My fiction will keep them company for a bit.

What I hear, what I know, is just the writing. And sometimes it is barely enough, but it remains.

Doh! I hate that feeling!

Tags

,

Twice now, it’s happened. I’m reading along in my current piece, looking for typos and generic stupidity, and I get to the end. I pause for an uncertain second, and then I try to scroll down, to read what happens next. Only I haven’t written it.  As things stand, there is no “happens next.”

This leaves me with a confusion of dismay and a sense of having stumbled into the strangest of responsibilities. Oh no! It’s my job to figure that out! How the sheep did that happen?

The first time this occurred, I wrote it off as some amusing random brain event, sort of a backwards déjà vu. But now I’m not so sure.

Is it a deeper me calling to myself as Writer, asking questions I could only hear from myself?

Or should I consult a neurologist?

Tide Change

Tags

, , , , ,

Because I can’t meditate (I am a trauma survivor and get jumpy if I feel myself losing conscious control of my body), I had to find a way to dump stress after the New Year’s heart attack. So I cut back my hours at my day job down to one day a week, and that will stop in May. I will be picking up more editing work, and that will fill the financial gap, but belts will be tightened around here.

I made this decision about a couple of months ago, and have until now been too busy with the editing to do much else–somewhere along the line I acquired the Protestant Work Ethic, damn it to blazes. But now there’s a lull, it’s a gray Tuesday morning, and I’m here in my sweats debating getting another tea so I can finish this post in one sitting instead of going back to bed for a half hour: Now what?

Above my desk is a copy of a Batman meme: It is the crisp and elegant Batman from The Animated Series, pointing his finger at me. The caption reads, “Quit Procrastinating/Work on Your Art.” I’ve put in a decent word count recently–finished the sequel to Long Leggedy Beasties!–and so this Lent I decided to do an hour a day working at visual art. Like most of my Lenten disciplines through the years, it’s most conspicuous for its omission. I did complete the T-shirt design needed for the day job, but that was because I had an external deadline. Other than that–

–I’m blocked. You don’t know how happy I am that I’m at least finding words to put on this screen. I started a weird little story about an autistic girl on a bus, who has just met a mage and his familiar, although she doesn’t know it yet–and I’m stuck. I listened to my beta reader and tore out half of Max’s sequel because I sorta went off topic and threw in the kitchen sink (an age-drenched failing of my work in all media), and now am doing the stare–write a sentence–stare–write three more–stare–wander off method, known to writers everywhere. And don’t get me started on Damascus. I’m just glad I have a solid beta reader to point out the screamingly obvious. Sigh.

I also have to self-pub Max and get him out of my system. I tried finding an agent for him, and nobody bit past the can-I-see-three-pages stage, and those were the agents, I discovered, who reply to all queries that way. (I wish they would just put that in their requirements; it would save a lot of raised hopes.) At least a few people have read Beasties and been kind enough to compliment me on it, so this way Max will get his chance to do some people-pleasing.

I just wish I didn’t feel that doing so means I’m a failure. The market has changed, that’s all, and the good thing that it brings is that some people will read my stuff. Maybe not as many as would if I had a big publisher doing advertising and whatnot, but some.

So much for going back to bed. The 18-pound cat is stretched out on its bottom half and she has a stronger character than I do in terms of my getting up the gumption to remove my loving pet who just wants to be near me. Time to soldier on, watch closely, and try to see what life is saying to me.

If You Wanna Write, You Need to Read

Tags

, , , , , ,

I found this out empirically when teaching a remedial composition class at a small college. The school took composition skills seriously, and thus the remedial class met for 5 hours a week, instead of the usual 3. The kids had been assigned to it because they’d bombed a test, and as I was soon to discover, this test had some flaws.

Out of a class of about 30, I found that 10% of them had just been having a bad day on the test–they were already writing at an acceptable college level. Having been the bright kid in a group of um, less stellar talents for much of my life, my heart went out to them, and they were my inspiration to keep the class from becoming as horribly boring as it might have been. (Not hard. My glory as a teacher is that I’m not boring. This is also my bete noir, as it stems from my not being as consistent as I should be.)

Anyway, I did some digging (small schools mean you get to know the students) and found that the big difference between my good writers and my awful writers was that the people with skills read. And the more they read, the better their writing was.

So for the last couple of months of class, I broke it down by letter grades. The A’s only had to attend class Monday and Tuesday. B’s got to add Wednesday, and C’s came through Thursday. This left me five or six D’s for Friday, and that was boot camp. Every day, they had to read something, and then write about it. I wasn’t too fussy about the source, as long as it wasn’t some hiphop-esque piece of trash not written in standard English.

The results were impressive: My boot campers pulled themselves up by at least a letter grade, with one guy going from a low D to a satisfactory B. Yeah, extra teacher time. But I’m telling you, it was the reading. These kids might not have been good students, but that didn’t mean they were stupid, and when exposed to the different language that is written English, they soaked it up through their pores. I was so proud, I mighta been their mama.

Now, twenty years later, I review book manuscripts, and I suspect the same pattern exists. Some of these adults–all successful and wealthy enough to afford our firm–need boot camp. And it’s not just the mechanical flaws, it’s basic structural stuff like repeating themselves (occasionally endlessly), failure to shore up their characters beyond two dimensions, and (oh ye gods) saying stuff that shouldn’t need to be said: About 75% of people who have the stirrings of a book within plop out a self-help book, and because (I suspect) all they read are self-help books, and they all take the same classes in juicing and yoga, they all sound the same.

I don’t read self-help books in my personal life, but I’m beginning to suspect that they’re not very well written. What my current boot camp candidates need is structured non-fiction, like popular science books written by scientists who have gotten their degrees from schools we’ve heard from. They also need classic novels written by people who knew how to punctuate. (Start with Angela’s Ashes–it was written by a whip-cracking English teacher.) Until there’s a matrix of written English in the brain, I believe it’s impossible to spit it back out. And I’m not being a snob: We’re talking about basic meaning. If you’re pulling down 70k in your own consulting business, writing a simple sentence that turns out to be gibberish should be a flogging offense.

Not that I’m cranky, heh. I just sweat over everything I write, grateful to my ex-husband for having cured me of comma splices in grad school. Is it wrong to expect the newbies clustering in the doorway to have a little respect for my art and profession?

Season of Epiphany

Tags

, , , , ,

I had a small heart attack a week ago, probably some little clot, and it led to the surprising discovery that my right coronary artery (that’s one of the big ones) was 95% blocked. They squooshed the clot with a balloon, and put in a teeny titanium tube to hold the artery open.

Yikes. Had to process this.

Confession:

Truth to tell, I was so ready to go, except for my being the material support of my kids. What was up with that? Feeling ready to quit. To be beaten. Life always wins, but it shouldn’t cheat that hard, and my Life seemed to hold mostly bad cards.

I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I’d had no perceived purpose in life. Evolution was done with me, so that made the rest of it up to me. Problem was, I had no answers, just a vision of a blank wall coming closer and closer.

Now that I’ve seen the Precipice, I am ever so excited and joyous that I have been given another chance at life.

Another chance. Another life. Washed clean. My sins have been forgiven.

I feel different now. Every beat of the gelatinous sack of vibrating goo is special, sacred, valued, thanked. I love my heart now. This must mean something.

I think part of why I’m so happy is the sense that I mattered to some non-coincidental angel. I have realized that I am, actually, pretty damn cool, and that losing me would have been a Bad Thing.

Yeah, I need to get my books out, but in terms of purpose: If there’s a shortage of something on this Earth, it’s people who maximize their coolness. So why don’t I try to do that? Spread it as far and wide as I can. Try to make the world a better place, one smile at a time.

In return, I am prepared to be delighted with Life, having been shown with a tube of titanium where to look.

 

Season of the New Year

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

The day before New Year’s Eve, I got up from an indulgent post-breakfast nap with my throat on swollen fire. I had a column of nasty pain running up from about where the esophagus hits the stomach, all the way up to my jaw, and it was even going into my left arm a tad.

GERD,” thought I. But it seemed unfair. It had been a small breakfast. And sitting up wasn’t relieving the pressure in my neck. It had never made it to my jaw before. Tried TUMS, tried milk, and sent the kid to the store for Mylanta. By the time he got home, I was feeling some better, but it was still bad. Mylanta did jack. That was when I . . .

. . . started Googling. Heaven forfend I act on impulse and call 911 or something. For GERD? It was most assuredly bad GERD. I’d had most of those symptoms before. But . . .

. . . women and chest pain, we’re weird. Both in the way it hits us, and in the way we handle it. That is to say, our cardiac symptoms are not classic, and ever since menarche, we are conditioned to shrug off pain. Tell you a secret, guys? We think you’re big, wussy babies; we tell jokes behind your backs about how tough you’d be with period cramps. Having a baby, ma’am? Walk it off!

SO there I was, fully dressed and ready to go–and not ready to go. My son, however, snarled at me, which is unlike him, so we . . . called a cab. No fuss here, just GERD.

They let us sit for ten minutes in the ER, which told me the admissions clerk must be just as impressed as I was with my chest pain, especially since I only got about a C+ on the little test she gave me, consisting of male-normed symptoms of The Big One. But they took me in, gave me an EKG–which I aced–and took some blood. I didn’t even ask them why, because that’s what they do: collect samples just-in-case, and send in some brave soul to put in an IV.

Welp, I failed the blood test. The resident was freakin’ perky as he told me that one of my heart enzymes was 50 times normal: My heart muscle had been damaged, and I had had a heart attack. Small, but undeniable.

“Oh, shit,” I said, and started to giggle. I mean, a heart attack? I’m 54. True, I have every other major risk factor except being a smoker (let’s not be excessive here), but it just seemed so surreal.

Because it was a three-day New Year’s weekend, I spent it in the hospital, waiting for the slightly fancier hospital’s center for angioplasty to open on Tuesday. I had many sticky things placed under my left boob and a heparin drip in my inevitably screechy IV. As holidays, despite visits and a good view of the fireworks, it sort of sucked.

Tuesday came, however, and I started off with an echocardiogram, which is a sonogram of the heart. I was a little appalled to learn that the heart doesn’t politely and sedately tap out a simple one-two; it dances sort of gelatinously, and the Doppler picked up several different rhythms, including “du-wacky-du-wacky-du.” What was this thing in my chest, anyway?  Then I had the angiogram.

I thought I’d known what it was and what it was up to.Wrong. Right coronary artery was 95% blocked. In the words of the OR nurse, I was “one cheeseburger away.”

This is having your guardian angel scruff you seconds before you go over a precipice, only it’s THE Precipice, and why not have gone there in the Sooner rather than Later?

Kinda leaves you with a question that wants answering, that does.

Tears, Idle Tears

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

I know not what they mean,

Tears from the depth of some divine despair.

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes, . . .

Listening to k.d. lang’s version of “Hallelujah” at the Canadian winter Olympics and crying my eyes out. No surprise. Loreena McKennit’s “Lady of Shalott” does the same thing to me. The Tennyson version, yep. LOTS of Tennyson (quoted above, ironically), which in this modern day and foreign country is supposed to show my bad taste in poetry.

My YouTube channel is in my blog roll; go there and you’ll see other things that made my fat little chin quiver uncontrollably. (The Marines lip-synching “Hold it Against Me”? Oh hell yeah!) The Muppets singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” probably holds the gold, though. And I don’t feel too bad about “Where the Hell is Matt?” because it does it to at least one of my friends as well.

Times I have cried in my current therapist’s office in the last seven or eight years: 1. I don’t understand this. Strangely, I used to cry at the therapist all the time. Then I found the one who (for lack of a better word) cured me, and after she left–not so much. I have a more collegial relationship with my current therapist, working in mental health as I do. Maybe that’s it–although I’ve cried in front of colleagues. We showed The Pursuit of Happyness at my center one day. I was a soggy tissue basket case. People were polite and did not notice, but I felt kind of stupidly naked.

Indeed, Lord Tennyson, I know not what they mean. Did you?

There are three different types of tears: basal (lubrication), reflex (onions), and psychic (Tennyson). Also known as stress tears, these last release leucine enkephalin, a neurotransmitter and painkiller. Maybe my crying fixation is similar to a bulimic’s vomiting–I feel cleaned out and better after a good cry. (Good cry is defined as one that I don’t try to choke off and which happens by myself–my family knows all about this peculiarity, but it’s still embarrassing.) I have long lashes, and when sodden with saline, every blink deposits a tiny drop on the inner surface of my glasses, like snowy flyspecks. I feel a minor shame and an infinitesimal bit of anger when I clean them off: They are evidence of a behavior I do not understand.

What interests me and confuses me most about my tears is that they are usually evoked by the profoundly beautiful. I remember choking up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a school trip in high school. And let’s not forget perhaps the high point of this: The time I tried to explain it.

It was during that big pre-qualifying exam crunch read in grad school, so I was already under even MORE stress. My (now ex-)husband came into our bedroom and found me sobbing hysterically. I jabbed a finger at Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, and blubbered, “All the little people have left the town, and they’re never coming ba-ack!” Amused, my scientist said, “Yes, dear. Would you like some coffee?”–this being the only possible logical response. Damn thing still makes me cry.

I can’t read moving poetry aloud. Sometimes in choir I have to make my mind a blank while we sing certain passages; I think music is what makes me most susceptible.

I am hereby positing a theory about what I’ll call my idle tears: Although my life is pretty stable right now, it wasn’t always so, and my excellent curative therapist only had two years, so we only scratched the surface of my PTSD from all that childhood trauma. Said trauma was pretty severe–I score a 19 out of 20 on a professional scale of childhood suckage–and maybe it’s still all in there, buried too deep to dream away, but not to cry out.

I just wish I could control them. But maybe the whole point is that I can’t.

 

In Which Our Heroine Chews Through a Strap, Part Two

Tags

, , , ,

(This was sitting in my drafts pile for over a year. “Part One” is somewhere back there on the blog. I have no idea why; it’s still as true today as when it was written, except that there are a few more rays of light, now and then.)

Once upon a time my spiritual jaws were in top form: After long and prayerful consideration, I pushed aside all the “no” and “I can’t,” and entered formal discernment in the Diocese of Baltimore to become an Episcopal priest.

Things went well enough for about half a year, and then my faith was extracted by giant pliers of Life, leaving behind bleeding caverns where I had also once had a home and family (which I admit were fragile to begin with.)

I fell down the rabbit hole: I had been battling too many stressors for too long, and this loss triggered my illness. You can accomplish great things while hypomanic, and I put together my ragged little pieces as best I could and crawled back to grad school, and after some more upheavals, at last I got well, and crawled back out of the hole. All I had left with which to chew God was a lacy bridgework of outward and physical signs criss-crossing the horrific gaps it left in my soul stuff.

I have a good life now–but now that I am comparatively well, I have been grappling with a sad and bitter question: Was my faith only a symptom of my illness, all that joy and sense of purpose just mixed up with the dreaded “religious ideation?” I have recovered from bipolar disorder I and dissociative identity disorder–have I recovered from God as well? Was that extraction not a tooth, but a tumor? Many good and kind people would say so; would congratulate me for coming to my senses. But then why do I feel so sad?

Because I do, and not even Jell-o® Instant Pudding can make it go away. I miss that life. I miss the magic of driving half an hour on a cold spring morning to light the new fire of Easter.

When my faith got pulled, tooth by tooth of it, and I was left sore and still numb in a homeless shelter in New Jersey, I ran into a wise priest who heard my story over tea and gave me permission to be angry with God. I clung to that, both the anger and the permission, and when my head told me to get my ass back to church, I did it, despite the hollowness of that cheated feeling filling my torso. So I joined choir because I knew that shaky as my soul stuff was, my Performer was intact, and it would bring me back to church,

It’s been over ten years, and I have come to love that choir for its own sake. I’ve become a much better singer, but my sense of wonder, of grace, has remained cold and stiff, lying on the margin of my plate unchewed.

Dead or hibernating? And what happens if it comes back?