Unabridged Me

JUST ANOTHER WRITER

I step outside, avoiding the water puddle on the concrete breezeway as I move my way out into the cloudy day. I should sweep that for my dad when I come back. The rain has stopped for now, and inches of water are either rushing downhill or coming to rest in low spots. I gain the road and turn right, beginning my walk. I always turn right, unless I’m thinking about it and change directions.

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Humidity causing lichen to grow on every surface

The warm moist blanket of air settles around my head and on my shoulders. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought my jacket. Instead of going back, I take off my hood and keep walking. Wet wood and decaying leaves invade my nose, scents heavy with moisture and rot. My eyes search past the houses on my right, seeking the ranch across the valley that has a red barn and white picket fence. The clouds still hang low, and my eyes don’t reach the bottom of the hill.

The asphalt bends to the left, beginning my circle, and my cheeks are slapped with misty fingers of the South’s winter hand. I zip my coat up to the top, huddling my chin a little lower. A neighbor’s steel lawn ornament windmill creaks in a steady rhythm of a paused rain storm.

I hesitate then turn to my left. I will take the long route today. My father and stepmom live in a development on top of a hill; the road is designed in a sideways digital eight sitting on three legs. My father’s house sits on the far right of the eight, with a left turn out of his driveway taking a traveler along the lower right bend and past one leg. The center leg is a switchback road driving off the hill. Walking the eight including the center cross section is one mile. Today I will walk the full eight and two of the three legs. One and a half miles.

The red birds that chirp a nonstop chatter by my dad’s house are missing as I cross the eight. The deep silence pushes my ear drums, wrapping me deep in thoughts as my indifferent eyes mark red brick houses they’ve seen several times over during this vacation.

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Fishing pier of Lake Dardanelle

Yesterday we went into town for lunch and a movie. Designing our day based on Denver time, we ended up with a lot of time to waste. So we took a small drive to Lake Dardanelle, walking around the visitor center and out to the fishing dock. The ecological study of the lake does not interest me much, especially as the visitor center hasn’t changed in the 6 years since my last visit, so I wandered around looking for photo opportunities.

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Leaden day

Maybe I should take more interest in intellectual studies. I love learning about new things, but I’m easily bored. I count the chairs on a front porch I pass, all of them aimed across the road. Chairs for watching, not conversation.

The conversation during our meandering around town and towards the lake was about architecture and old houses. “I really like that house,” I said, trying to peer at a green Queen Anne Victorian with a full wrap around porch while focusing on the car in front of me.

“We could buy it for what we paid for our tiny house, and probably have some left over,” he quipped. “But then, we would have to live in Arkansas.”

My measured steps drive this thought between my ears. We could buy 4 times the house here, in this beautiful housing development on top of a hill. I pass a For Sale sign before bending to the right onto the lower line of the main eight. Vivian could live just down the street from her grandparents, and living in a small town isn’t so bad.

“But then we would have to live in Arkansas.” I shudder.

I mock myself for my elitism, but I acknowledge the reality of his statement. I turn left down the third leg. The South moves at a different pace, at a leisurely jaunt through the week and church on Sundays. Urban hurry is my standard pace.

Bored with houses, my eyes wander beyond to the breathtaking views of valleys and trees. The houses sitting on the inside of the eight are the only ones without a view.

Brown wetness surrounds me. The earth, unable to drink any more water, forces swamps to develop. I fill my lungs to the bottom with damp molecules as I reach the end of the leg, turn around, and head back to the main road. Pausing, I watch water rush from under the road and down an aqueduct made of lichen covered stones to pool in another pond. Ugh, mosquitoes in waiting.

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A bend to the left. Sundays in a secular city are more likely to involve mimosas and brunch than church. I don’t really participate in those, either. Following the road past a low portion filled with water, my ears differentiate the freeway hum and a helicopter. Water pushes through a drainage pipe under me, letting out on the downhill side of the road. I follow the water in its trenched path, past a sodden white farmhouse. No views but water drains away, flooding their neighbors.

Vapor is settling on my hair and cold cheeks, my lungs pulling in film it’s unaccustomed to. I should have brought my inhaler. Wait, no. There’s so much oxygen here, my lungs are doing half the work. Dampness makes my lungs feel like I’m being smothered.

My legs move faster as I cross the eight again, horses who sense the barn is close. I ponder if I should skip the leg closest to my dad’s house and just head home when my brain realizes my feet made that decision 10 steps ago. I continue down the leg, looking at the houses with wide front porches and four car garages.

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Lake Dardanelle, always in view of Arkansas Nuclear One

Summer here would be unbearable. My internal heat pushes against the clamminess of the air, creating a sheen on my exposed skin. The slow pace is a matter of survival for those who live here. The current speed of my legs would not be possible in condensed mugginess.

I would not survive the humidity. My mental health would not survive the banality. There is not enough healthy activity to burn off mania nor urge me out of depression.

I stop before heading down my dad’s jagged, root filled asphalt driveway, sweat meeting dew to create fog on the inside of my glasses. Idyllic for visiting in the winter, this is not the place for us.

I do this every time I travel, wonder if I might want to live where we are visiting.

I saunter down the driveway, my eyes noting the moss and mildew bleeding from mortar between bricks on my dad’ house. I squeegee standing water on the breezeway concrete into the decomposing leaves rotting on a flower garden before stepping into a kitchen warm from holiday cooking.

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“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
Leon C. Megginson

Regardless of where I might travel, adaptability is key to enjoying a trip. Even the best laid plans can go awry, and enjoyable experiences mean going with the flow in the moment. Even if the travel is a short family vacation to Russellville, AR.

Located near the Ozark National Forest, a trip to Russellville usually means

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Mt. Nebo entrance

day hiking trips. Rather than taking a full day to drive and hike in the national forest, we decided on a quick hike at Mount Nebo.

Mount Nebo is located just off Lake Dardanelle and is one of the state parks in Arkansas’ system. At a total elevation of 1,345′, hiking around Mount Nebo does not offer challenges (like how to breathe) faced in other regions with higher elevations. However, the state and federal parks around Russellville offer a large amount of history that cannot be found by hiking a 14,000′ mountain.

Mount Nebo was one of thousands of development sites established and worked on by the men in the Civilian Conservation Corp. Passed by congress in 1933, the CCC was a program developed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and was the most successful part of the president’s New Deal. Putting thousands of young men to work each year, with a total of 3 million participating by the program’s end in 1942, the CCC focused on developing and preserving U.S. natural resources while housing and employing the country’s young men.

Almost 90 years later, the state and federal forests around Russellville have buildings, parks, and trails distinguished by the CCC’s trademark masonry capabilities. Every year I see these monuments of an innovative Great Depression recovery program, and every year I am astounded by the artistry and lasting nature of the work.

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View from the CCC pavilion

After eating a quick picnic lunch at the pavilion, we headed over to the visitor center where we picked up the trail head for the Rim Trail. As suggested by the name, the Rim Trail wanders around the edge of Mount Nebo, providing hikers with a 360* view of the surrounding landscape. After a steep decline from the visitor center, the trail turns to either the left or the right, with left as an easy route to another trail head and right a strenuous route to another trail head.

After a quick discussion, we decided we will head to the left. The hiking party included me, my sister, my husband, and Vivian. The plan included my father and stepmother picking up the hiking party at the trail head where easy became moderate, about 45 minutes along the rim from the visitor center.

With Vivian in the lead, we started off. Although the property belongs to Arkansas,

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CCC mason work

private residencies still exist along the top. The houses cannot be expanded, and no new development can occur, which means all the houses are 1920’s and earlier remodeled construction. The beginning of the Rim Trail takes hikers along the front of the houses, providing an amazing view of the valley and beautifully restored homes.

My sister and I were discussing the ideal location, as long as there were no ice storms, when we came to a fork in the path. Without a pause, my husband starts walking downwards, following a path marked Bench Road Trail. After a beat, I stopped and commented taking a right seemed to take us away from the rim. As is normal with our family, we followed the one most convinced he was right.

We descended down the mountain and into the trees as my sister and I kicked 2″ gray cobblestone that seemed to make a roadbed. Slowly our party of four was separating into two parties of 2 with Vivian walking fast in the lead. I realized as the two in front picked up speed that we were the worst prepared hikers considering our obvious deviation from the plan. Not only did we not bring a snack, I left my water bottle in the car. I mentioned this to my sister. She replied after a thoughtful moment, “we won’t be out here long, and this is an easy walk.”

Vivian and my husband reached a four way sign before my sister and me, and they waited for us to catch up. We were informed we did take a wrong turn, and now we have

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CCC lasting legacy

a choice of four roads. Instead of taking the left road in an effort to cut back up to the original trail, and knowing all three adults were averse to going back the way we came, we decided a right turn towards Observational Point. We remembered driving past the point, so we knew where we would come out.

Lately Vivian has been in a phase where she wants everyone to hold hands “because we are a family, and families hold hands,” so we continued our walk four across down a dirt road marked by blue tree tags. Although we talked about what the blue might signify, we didn’t get our answer until the next divergent path.

Suddenly rising off to our right were moss covered stone slabs. At first, Vivian was just curious to walk up one or two. I was drawn to the stairs but they looked very steep, and my sister is a researcher and needed to know where we would end up. After a quick Google search, we learned Nebo Steps would take us back to the visitor center, were considered strenuous, but the entire hike was only 3/4 mile and we were on a small portion of it.

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Trailblazing

Up the stairs we went. Vivian scampered with energy fueled by excitement as the adults grumbled and made various cryptic remarks about our decision. I kept thinking how history changes perception. We were complaining about the steepness of the steps, but at some point each stone was placed by a worker while standing on a steep hill.

We reached the top successfully and called to alert our ride that we were back where we started. Although we deviated from our intended plan, we saw an amazing aspect of Mount Nebo’s charm. The whole adventure reminded me that wandering can afford us more growth and experience.

Today I enjoyed sleeping in until the late hour of 7 in the morning, accomplished only because there is now a house full of adults who can tag team one hyper 4-year-old.

Yesterday we finished our route from Denver to Russellville, AR, by way of Dallas Love airport. While a direct flight is available, it is needlessly expensive and requires flying on a carrier I refuse to do business with. Despite the 12 hour journey from house to house, the pace of travel was relaxed.

Russellville is a small town located northwest of Little Rock, Arkansas’ state capital.

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Arkansas Nuclear One, the state’s only nuclear plant

Although the town has a local airport, we choose to fly into Little Rock due to availability of flights and carriers. Also located in Russellville is Arkansas Tech University, Arkansas Nuclear One, Tyson Foods, and ConAgra. The town is heavily reliant on manufacturing as the main employer, with half the population earning wages via manufacturing.

Originally the area belonged to the Cherokee tribes as part of their original agreement with the U.S. government. However, in 1828 the Cherokee located in this area were moved to Oklahoma and the region became available for white settlers. In 1834, a settler by the name of P.C. Holledger built the first house of what was to become Russellville.

As a Colorado native, all I  knew of Arkansas during my childhood was it is a state somewhere in the South and where my stepmother grew up. About 10 years ago my father sold his business in Steamboat Springs, and 9 years ago he and my stepmother relocated here to assist her aging mother. Although we visited once before Vivian’s birth, we now come once a year so she can spend time with her grandmother and papa.

Sitting over a dinner of cheesy chicken enchiladas, we discussed what activities we can do. We decided, with our stomachs full of casserole, roller skating was a needed activity.

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Kudzu: smothering the South

I haven’t roller skated since I was 12, and barely once a year then. Yet I am game to try and do almost anything when I’m traveling. According to my stepmom, the roller rink is a small, family owned establishment that is open maybe 2 hours a day and for private birthdays. As she said, “we aren’t really sure the hours, but I know it’s open on Saturday mornings from 10 to 12.”

Holiday house parties for our family usually means people get up when they want, fix themselves coffee and serve themselves whatever casserole was thrown in the oven by the first riser, and in general be ready by the agreed upon departure time. Since we keep different hours, the shower schedule seems to work out well.

A few minutes before 10 a.m., all but my father are in the car and ready to go. My dad recently had a hip replacement, so his activity is still restricted.

We arrive at the skating rink, and my low expectations are met by the exterior of a cinder block building with signage missing and poorly replaced letters. Entering the building, I almost walk past the ticket booth where we pay for entrance. Standing on the other side of a Plexiglas window with a circle for speaking and handing money through, I look into what appears to be the office. A row of 10 pairs of scissors hang to the right above the ticket seller’s head along a wall, and file cabinets overflow with paperwork and cardboard boxes.

We pay, and we funnel through to the small desk to order our skates. We step around a

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The magic begins in the dark

family sitting directly in front of the counter and give our sizes to the same man who sold us tickets. Picking up skates that look two decades too old, Vivian and I walk towards a bench that sits along a gray cinder block wall surrounding the dingy cement roller rink. The two side walls and back wall are straight, forming a rectangle, while the front is curved, a pony wall separating booths and benches from the rink itself. In the bright mercury light, the rink belongs in a county jail.

Despite the well worn and lackluster appearance, we put on our skates and are excited to begin our adventure. My stepmom sits at a booth while I join my sister in an awkward dance of balance and orientation as we acclimate to wheels.

Having jumped at the chance to skate off with her daddy, Vivian returns to get a walker made of 7 PVC pipes joined into two sides of a cube in a 45* angle. Three wheels allow the pipe to become a support system for brand new skaters.

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An easy ride

Then the lights dim, the music starts, and I remember the magic of skating rinks. There is only so much a business can do with concrete floors and gray walls, but when the black-lights shine on neon wall paintings and the music is blaring, no one cares about the near dilapidated building’s reality.

For two hours we skate in various ways, my husband moving quickly around the outside circle while Vivian shuffles back and forth in the center. I regain my wheel legs, though images of fractured wrists and concussions make unwelcome friends with my consciousness.

Then it is over. Lights come back on, neon magic is broken, and Vivian is left wondering why she can’t keep skating now that she conned us into pushing her and her walker in a faster circle around the edge. The adults of the group are each mentally thanking the restricted hours of the skating rink, as our thighs burn and strain.

The afternoon is spent wasting away, as tomorrow is hiking in one of the many natural parks around Russellville. First solid day is done. Though we are still early into this holiday, I sense how time will slide through my fingers.

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Beep. Beep. Beep.

5 a.m. comes too early. Without opening my eyes, I reach over and press the snooze button.

I play this game for 25 minutes, knowing how much time I can waste before I must face the pre-dawn morning. Since quitting my job, I rarely set an alarm for myself. After all, waking me up is what a 4-year-old does best.

Today is a different situation. We are flying to my father’s house in Arkansas to celebrate

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Lunchtime entertainment

the holidays. Instead of wandering in a hazy, slow morning routine of feeding Vivian and sipping coffee, toiletries need to be packed, puppy needs to be walked and packed for the dog sitter, and a list of last-minute cleaning items that can’t wait seven days sits on the counter.

My normal M.O. is to wait until the last minute on almost every to-do item, then run around in a frantic whirlwind trying to accomplish everything while I ooze anxiety and frustration.

Today I understand the ease and relaxation that not procrastinating provides. Initially the dog sitter was going to be a house sitter as well, so I spent the last week cleaning my house hotel spotless with the fear of a stranger living in my house. Things change, and now the puppy is going on his own vacation.

And I wake to a clean house. Small things like changing cat litter and taking out the trash are finished as I meander about the house enjoying my coffee. Two cups, which is historically unheard of on a travel morning.

With plenty of time and a near spotless house, we walk out the door and head to the airport.

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Greetings from Dallas

After over a decade of planning and arguing, Denver is beginning construction work on the central I-70 corridor. The freeway is the quickest and most direct route to the airport, so we planned on construction delays as well as standard rush hour traffic we’ve come to expect.

We experience neither, as my mom and current airport chauffeur keeps a 75-mph pace most of the way. A pace that continues through the entire airport process, putting us on the concourse with 3 hours to kill before our flight.

Plenty of time for a relaxed breakfast at a trendy Denver restaurant, shopping at a remote location of a local bookstore, and enough time to do a little client writing at the gate.

More time is better when vacation traveling through DIA. The airport is a city. Denver International Airport finished construction in 1995, 16 months behind schedule and $2 billion over budget. In total, the airport cost the Denver metro area $4.8 billion dollars. The first year was riddled with issues including baggage claim malfunctions and debates regarding public art choices. All this aside, the airport is the 5th busiest in the U.S. generating $26 billion dollars with 61.4 million travelers annually. The terminal and 3 concourses are filled with art, culture, and constant renovations including addition of a hotel at one end of the terminal and running a lightrail from downtown.

If you ever visit Denver, make sure to look for our famed demon horse. Despite schedule

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“Blucifer” – Denver’s Blue Mustang

and budget issues, the demon horse continues to receive the most media attention. Not only are the eyes red, but the horse’s head fell on the artist, killing him, while he was working on the commissioned art piece.

At 11:10 we are boarding the plan, and at the schedule departure time we push away from the gates and are on our way. Vivian is self-sufficient regarding entertainment, for the most part, so she plays with her toys as I listen to music.

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Dallas Love decor

We land at Dallas Love airport for a two-hour layover, during which we eat lunch and run body checks and wander through their small play area. Then back into the air for a quick 40-minute jaunt to Little Rock, AR, to start our week-long vacation.

The other day I was driving to my mom’s house. My daughter was in the backseat, as usual, and she was playing an imaginary keyboard on her door. Suddenly, she says to me, “Mom, I’m going to tell you a joke, okay?”

My daughter delivers this statement for two reasons. First, she is putting me on guard that she expects me to laugh. Second, she is telling me I need to focus on what she is saying to time my responses accurately.

My mind focused, I was prepared to laugh at her attempts at joke telling. Which, up to this point, came up a little short in humor as she’s been playing with knock knock templates but failing in delivery and point.

“Red light means go.” After a second delay, I genuinely chuckle.

“Penguins fly around the world.” My laugh gets stronger as my amusement grows.

She delivered a few more, some successful and some not, but overall the experience was better than earlier attempts. We arrived at my mom’s house, and joking was set aside as we immersed ourselves into shortbread cookie baking.

This five minute experience had me thinking about humor, development of humor, and how we gauge and communicate our humor to other people. Because, let’s be honest, most people would not have considered her jokes funny. If I had taken the time to tell my mom the jokes, my mom would have responded with her “oookkaaayyyy,” which translates into I’m not understanding what you are saying, but I don’t want to come out and ask for clarification so I will imply my doubt and confusion without admitting to either.

I’m going to put it out there. In general, I present a very serious and reserved persona. Most people who meet me think I have zero sense of humor. In fact, my husband and I regularly debate the nature of humor. However, I do have a sense of humor.

Unfortunately, it does not suit my environment. Which means I have to observe you, watch your facial expressions and tone of voice, and get a reading on your humor before I begin delivering my own.

Unless you are a personality I find far too tempting, at which point I will begin deadpan assaults. I don’t care if you get it or not, you getting my joke is not the point. If I feel you are high handed and aggressive, you will likely get rapid fire snark from me.

Which brings me back to Vivian’s jokes. While very simple in structure and nature, my daughter has started showing a rudimentary understanding of verbal irony. Which is one of my favorite forms of humor, as well as a favorite literary device.

Unfortunately, irony and it’s sibling satire are not often found in American mainstream humor. We have developed a penchant for slap-stick comedy (one of my least favorite forms of humor), humiliation comedy (I don’t get this one at all. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m referring to Jackass et. al), and observational comedy, which combined with parody, is about as close as we get to irony, satire, and deadpan.

So, how did I develop irony and deadpan as my personal humor when surrounding environment suggested otherwise? Watching Vivian, I think some of it is innate to personality and how we view the world. As far as reinforcement, most of my entertainment was by way of books. When I did watch television, I preferred British and some Canadian shows. Also, I had a fair amount of exposure to Mel Brooks parody.

Both exposure and literary preferences has strengthened my sense of humor.

I watch Vivian test her humor, including what works and what doesn’t depending on audience. She found a gold mine with me when she tested her abilities with irony. However, those didn’t go over as well with her father. So she added a character (Mr. Pickle), told a longer story, and finally hit upon his funny bone with “and then the pickle crossed the road and we ran over it.” Yeah, I don’t get it.

As writers, though, we don’t get to test our audience. And if we do, the results are haphazard at best because we are communicating through words alone.

One of the funniest books I’ve read is 13 1/5 Lives of Captain Bluebearby Walter Moers. If you haven’t read it, you should read it.Though, I won’t vouch for you finding it funny. The reason is the book is layered with wit, satire, irony, and word play. Part of the reason I found the novel hilarious is because the narrator deftly handles irony while naming specific characters, traits, and events after literary terms.

Yet I acknowledge not everyone will be as amused by this series of novels like I was, though I challenge anyone not to be entertained. The novel’s humor depends heavily on the reader’s pre-existing knowledge. Which is the fun, and detriment, of using irony and deadpan.

Luckily, I am not a humor writer. I’m not exactly sure what my genre is, but humor rarely finds a place in what I’ve written so far. If I’m in the right mood, my humor will find a place in my tweets. Not always to the best of responses. I’ve been blocked due to someone misunderstanding my satire.

Even if I chuckle at something, I rarely respond with my own wit. Why? Because I never know if people intended the humor, or if I just find the situation humorous. Without the facial expressions, tone, and body cues I rely on heavily, it’s hard for me to gauge. So instead I play it straight.

Ultimately, humor is something I tend to keep to myself. Instead, I enjoy laughing inside and will watch with anticipation as Vivian tests the waters of humor.

When writing gets in the way

December 3, 2018

So, I’ve done it. Kind of.

What did I do? I finished a novella, which is lengthier than I ever thought I could write. Now I’m done with the first draft, it’s time to edit and shine it up into a precious gemstone, readying it for cover art and marketing, to have an amazing debut into the world.

At least, that’s what is supposed to happen. The poor file has been sitting in a folder, calling out to me as I go about other things.

Unfortunately, the reality of writing tends to get in the way of, well, writing. Let’s take this blog, for example. I started with the best intentions. Wrote diligently, and I saw progress in my writing style, voice, and other people having interest in what I have to say.

And then I stopped. Why? For several reasons. The most pressing is the need for money. Let’s be realistic. Unless independently wealthy, working while writing is a requirement. I am fortunate with my situation, both in not being the sole earner in the household and in being paid to write.

But this is where writing gets in the way of writing. I write marketing content, blog material, and social media for clients. The work provides some income, and I’m closer to what I like doing than in my previous career. However, writing for clients takes time away from writing on personal projects.

So, client writing comes first. Because it’s money. Second in the priority list, at least for me, is writing for contests. Why contests? I prefer a specific contest by NYC Midnight because of the challenge and feedback provided by the judges. Due to my innate tendency for procrastination, the timed and assigned aspect instigate my perfectionist anxiety, bringing about the best in me.

Or the worst. Depends on who you ask.

Plus, along with Twitter, contests have given me a shallow end to step my virgin writer’s toe in and compare myself to the writers of the world. I know, we hear all the time to not compare ourselves to other writers. On one hand, this is true. I would never compare myself to Dickens or Atwood or King. And different writers have different voices, different audiences, and ultimately different goals for their art.

I have accepted my style of writing is not likely to have a large, commercial demand.

However, despite our tendency as writers to support and praise each other, there are amazing writers, great writers, okay writers, and then stubborn writers who struggle because their audience is nowhere to be found. I am prone to stubbornness as a general personality trait. So contests and Twitter give me a true perspective of how I rate in the overall world of wordsmithing.

Yes, I include Twitter in my priority list, just under contests. Contests occur once a quarter, at most, while Twitter has become my daily writing exercise. Not only do I write to prompts, sometimes pushing myself, but I watch and read writers and wordsmiths who I admire. I take apart their flash fiction. I try to understand what works about it. Also, I understand what I would do differently or how I would have written the piece. All in attempts to push myself to be a better writer.

On a side note, this can be a dangerous endeavor if a writer’s voice is not fixed. My voice is not fixed. In fact, I can mimic most writing styles pretty well if given enough exposure. While this is a great trait for client writing, it’s a horrible trait for a creative writer. There have been times when I’ve lost myself, and I see it in my stories.

Also, there is the unfortunate marketing aspect as a writer. A lot of new writers are in love with being discovered by a traditional agent or publishing house and making it big with their first book. Why? Well, the prestige, of course. Whose ego doesn’t need that? But aside from that, self and other forms of publishing require a large amount of marketing by a writer.

In fact, I would argue traditional publishing requires a large amount of marketing by a writer. And marketing does not mean blasting your published book in regular timed frequencies on social media. Traditional marketing meant book signings, traveling the country, making yourself available to the public.

Social media has made that a bit easier, in that there is more public readily available. But to be successful, a writer has to interact and engage. Which is a huge weakness of mine. My strong introverted nature, combined with social anxiety and a private nature, puts me at a disadvantage. So yes, Twitter is a priority.

As a quick recap, I have client writing, contest writing, and Twitter writing, all which seem to come ahead of my short story and novella writing. While some might say Twitter should come after my own writing, I disagree for the two above stated reasons.

Which brings us back to my novella. In an ideal world, I would set the piece aside. I would come back to it and begin my editing, putting on lipstick for it’s debut. And then I would begin querying or submitting it to literary journals.

Instead, my priority list takes, well, priority. So I reverted back to my innate flowchart. In my attempt to be more business-like in my approach to submissions and creative writing, I found a contest in a literary journal that accepts excerpts of longer pieces. Waiting until the last minute, and knowing my first draft needs a lot more than red lipstick to be acceptable by literary standards, I focused on one part of my novella as a submission.

Which I completed three days ago.

Will I get back to the other parts of my novella, editing and preparing them for a reunion with the submitted piece? Yes. The resting time is nearing completion, and my mind is ready and willing to make the necessary changes.

In fact, I’m looking into various options for publication. One option I came across is serial publication online, with authors receiving portions of the membership price if individuals subscribe to their writing. I’m hesitant about taking this approach with my debut, but on the other hand it will be a great learning experience.

And it’s time for this project to get bumped up the priority list.

 

… continued…

I look at the three workers, each one lost in their thoughts of what I am implying, as my mind quickly reviews all the things that happened before the primary smudging.

The first night was sleepless, as usual when in a new environment. I rarely sleep in general, and new environments heighten my senses to a restless awareness, and I was prepared for the unknown. The master bedroom had previously been an unused attic, free from human contact, and now filled with more electrical wiring and fancy lights than I knew existed.

Despite anticipating some discomforts and interactions, mostly due to the horrors I had just left in our previous house, I did not foresee the white mist slamming into me, leaving me gasping and cold on the bed, aware of how exposed I was to the yawning wide staircase. 

No need to tell the workers that. Nor do I need to tell them about the interaction in the kitchen while I was standing at the sink washing dishes. Feeling something behind me, I expected my daughter to grab me around my legs and hug me. Instead, she was playing in the mudroom converted into a TV room. Focusing back on the dishes, a slight breeze brushed my left ear as a woman’s tired, mournful sigh caressed my mind. I spun on my toes, to find a modern fridge and re-purposed kitchen turned pantry door staring back at me. I knew this was not my kitchen, not yet. Despite all the design decisions I’ve made, and all the moving and living I was doing, the kitchen belonged to another. 

“Yeah, I have. Voices and things, mostly at the beginning.” I am regretting mentioning anything, as I see unwanted signs in their faces.

“That would explain the dirt,” Jose whispers to the second worker. 

“What’s that?” the foreman asks, fidgeting his back against the brick foundation, causing red dust to paint his uniform. 

“Well, um, we found dirt in holes we had finished cleaning,” the second worker whispers, scratching a grayscale, tattered American flag. 

“Seriously, we would be finished with a hole, come back, and there is dirt in it. We thought maybe the plumbing guy was messin’ with us, putting dirt back in the hole,” Jose confirms as his hands form shapes of the unwanted dirt, “man, if something touches me I’m calling a stop-job.”

For a moment my mind drifts to the man made box, lined with plastic, and covered with a heavy iron slab sitting in the yard. The plumber found it while excavating the sewer line. Nope, keeping my mouth shut on that one. And these guys don’t need to hear about the bones he is finding with each square foot he digs up.

“You wouldn’t be the first, I guess,” I sigh as I stand up, putting my hands on the header to stop my forward progress, “the sellers had a hard time keeping contractors. Crews would show up for a day, work, then never come back.”

I turn from the basement, tiring of this game. I regret saying anything. Watching them come up the stairs, joking and laughing with each other about the creepy space, hazardous stairs, and even the spooky door hidden by a pony wall in our family room, my mind drifts over all my experiences.

We smudged, my daughter and me, after hearing the sigh in my ear. Really, I wasn’t worried about who sighed. But I was worried about things I sensed coming from the rickety exterior door that rested on the other side of a pony wall in the TV room. Both cats refused to go in the room, though it was where most family time was spent. And the master bedroom continued to buzz, forcing me awake and fearful of my dreams. Swallowing my fear, we began our ritual in the basement. Moving through the house and finally out the front door, Vivian and I chanted, asserted, and owned the house. 

Sometimes I regret that first smudging. Afterwards, the house was dead. Like the power had gone off during a storm. There was complete silence, and an off putting sense of nothingness. Even the crows stopped cawing. Sleep refused to return to me. 

Slowly movement came back, the crows returned, and life felt a little more balanced. I had drawn my line in the sand and claimed my house.

It hadn’t lasted maybe 6 months before things became a lot worse for us. My daughter started having imaginary friends, which was normal for her age. Though there was one friend I took an interest in, named Bossy Boy. She would walk around the house with him, telling me they were witch hunting. Until one day she stopped talking about Bossy Boy, naming her imaginary friends after Disney characters. I asked if he was around, and she said no, he’s upstairs sick.

Which is when they came, her new imaginary people. The imaginary people she only referred to as them, who tormented and caused her pain. Making her cry in the car as they told her she couldn’t love her mommy and daddy anymore. Saying horrible things to her as she tried to ignore them. One day while eating lunch I heard my daughter say, “why won’t she talk to us? She needs to talk to us, why won’t she talk to us?”

Confused, I responded, “baby, what are you saying?”

Her cherub face smiled up at me as she said, “nothing, mommy.” Only for her voice to continue in a low hush,”so she does talk. She talks to her, why isn’t she talking to us?”

After hearing my daughter speak in a creaky, hoarse whisper, channeling something that was not her, I called my grandmother-in-law. A Coloradan mix of Spanish and Navajo, my daughter’s namesake has one foot in this world and one foot somewhere else. She said it was time to smudge again, that my daughter had picked up someone… or something. Harmless sighs were no longer on the board, as these ones would make me go crazy in order to have her. A fight for her soul, as my daughter’s abuelita stated in her superstitious yet Catholic sermon way. Unlike our last house, I would take offensive action. I would not sit by as my daughter became a target, and me a victim.

Once again, we started in the basement as I stared down the full length of the crawl space, blowing sage and taking back my house and my daughter. My waking nightmares became worse until we smudged again, she and I making sure to get down vents and into every corner of the crawl space.  

The final time didn’t get rid of everything, but it forced a treaty. The house is still breathing in its own space, separate from us. Bossy Boy plays in the upstairs bedroom, as my daughter factually states, “he likes you. He feels safe.” On the very few random nights she asks me to perform a “monster get out” routine in her bedroom, I am rushed by freezing air escaping her closet. One cat still refuses to move beyond the doorway into the family room, but my black cat now occupies the space with me, moving halfway towards the cellar door before her eyes go wild. We are no longer in open warfare, though the peace agreement for shared living is tenuous. 

No, no need to share this with the workers as they hurry out of my home. After all, I need them to come back tomorrow and finish the job. I brought it up, hoping they would laugh it off and think me silly, unconsciously supporting my desire that nothing is being stirred up with the cellar ground.

Instead, these three construction workers from a town far to the South have substantiated what I sense but want to ignore: something is riled up by our remodeling. I have fought for my home and my daughter, and I’m afraid I will need to fight again. 

 

 

Communal Living (Part I)

November 13, 2018

“Hey, what can I help you with?” The foreman removes his ear buds and looks at me from his sitting position on the dusty root cellar floor.

I move further down the steep, uneven cement stairs as I look at two of the three workers I can see. The foreman stares at me, like I was interrupting their flow. I understand, clients don’t interact much and get in the way when they do.

“So, I’m taking my daughter to dance class. I was wondering when you guys will be finished.”

I edge myself to sitting on the stairs, barely fitting and aware a slight lean forward would tumble me to where the foreman is crouching. The second worker has his back to the crawl space that extends under 2/3 of the house, looking straight across the basement towards me, and finally I can see the third worker standing by a joist support that isn’t attached to the floor. Inside I shudder at all the times my daughter has bounced across the floor upstairs, unsupported. 

“Oh, yeah, we are just waiting on Jose, slow on filling up his buckets,” the foreman and middle worker laugh as they look towards Jose.

I look at the dozen and a half filled buckets, dirt and concrete the three have been hauling up for most of the day. My eyes travel across the expanse of what could be called my basement, for a lack of a better term. No, there is a better term. More like root cellar with a thin sheet of poorly laid concrete, overhead joists cut by unnumbered, poorly done infrastructure remodels and heavily burdened with HVAC and plumbing. Slowly I take in the 2 x 2 holes pockmarking the floor. In another day the holes will be filled in with rock composite, designed to disperse weight of two floors bearing down on 3 steel beams and 9 jacks. 

“Well, we are better off than I thought we would be, ahead of schedule, so we shouldn’t be here on Thursday but for some clean up or concrete checks,” the foreman begins talking his end of day dispatch talk. I catch every other word, distracted by sounds of my daughter while also mesmerized by what has become of the uneven floors. “So, I don’t think we have much more to do.”

“You guys can stay as long as you want. Just saying I won’t be here with you,” I smile. 

“Yeah, well, we are in a good stopping point and probably need to get checked into our hotel, if you don’t mind us leaving the buckets like this.”

“I was wondering if you would drive back down to Monument tonight,” I comment lightly.

Although there are structural companies and firms by the dozens in Denver, this company is from a town that is on the southern edge of halfway between Denver and Colorado Springs, the two main urban areas of Colorado. I don’t know much about Monument other than it’s a bit of a hill sitting on I-25, away from the mountains, so snow storms pick up speed and slam the small town.

Why did I pick a company so far away? Of all the PMs that came to bid work, this one felt the most genuine, honest, and forthright about all my concerns. Choosing a contractor by intuition? Yes, that’s what I do. Plus, they were all about the same price, and this one could do it without me having to play contractor and hire additional companies to move HVAC and plumbing.

“Oh, yeah, well we were actually going to put up cots here if ya didn’t mind,” jokes the second worker, his full beard still well formed after a day of hard labor.

“Sure, you can stay here. But in full disclosure I gotta tell you I’ve smudged this house three times in two years, and there is still stuff going on,” I meet the eyes of the second worker, expressionless. 

For one heartbeat there is silence. Confused, the foreman tilts his head as he searches my deadpan face. The second worker, his shirt rolled up to show sleeves of black and grey skulls, tribals, and Americana, stares in my eyes frozen. Jose nervously jokes, “that would explain the shadows,” breaking the spell. 

The foreman jerks towards Jose, and the second worker laughs. I laugh and say, “seriously, guys, I was kinda hoping you hauling out dirt would take care of some of this. After all, this has got to be the creepiest basement and crawl space I’ve ever experienced.”

All three voices chime in a harmony of believing disbelief, as the second worker moves quickly towards Jose. Jose laughs, “damn, man, you’ve had your back to that crawl space most the day. You thought you felt sumthin, maybe you did.” The second worker shakes himself as he sits on a bucket of dirt. 

The foreman looks at me, asking,” have you really experienced things?”

“Yeah, I have. Voices and things, mostly at the beginning.”

The truth is this house called to me, before I could even sense it. In fact, the reason we found this house was because I was being driven mad by our last house. In all rational sense, we shouldn’t have bought the house we were living in. We made it six months before deciding to sell. Denver was still in a crazy real estate frenzy, so we decided if we wanted to get away from our poor housing decision with a little bit of money, we needed to move soon.  

Our real estate agent,  unlike the previous one, is a very smart man. I gave him some of my requirements, and he took me to different areas to test what I said. All in all, he knew I was a neighborhood buyer and not a house buyer. What does that mean? Houses are houses, and I can live in whatever. As long as I’m not going mad. But a neighborhood is beyond everything else. For me, the full environment needs to feel right, otherwise the house will never become my home. Plus, houses I like are found in neighborhoods I like. 

After seeing a few houses, and losing a bidding war on a house not far from here, we were getting a little frustrated. Day by day my sanity was wearing away. Until I received a call to meet our agent at a house under renovation. The minute I stepped from the car, I heard the crows cawing and felt this was our home. 

At the time the house was ripped to studs, lath and plaster torn to shreds and thrown into the crawl space below the floorboards. It didn’t matter. This was my home. The potential I saw. The feeling I sensed. This was my dream home.

Though it really wasn’t. My preferred house is a Craftsman bungalow, complete with full brick porches, pane and stain windows, and solid wood bookcases around coal fireplaces. Second to a bungalow is a beautiful Queen Anne Victorian, complete with bay windows, crown and dentil molding, and a solid keystone above every window. Third is a hardy American four-square, complete with wrap around porch, butler’s pantry, and solid wood trim everywhere. So this house, a simple four room folk Victorian with a 1920’s kitchen and bathroom addition, wasn’t even in the running of my dream homes.

That didn’t matter. The crows called. The walls spoke. This was my house, despite my rational senses stating I saw the potential in the blueprints and I could pick my own colors and I could choose the octagon marble floor and subway tile in the bathroom and I could dictate gray cabinets with open shelves true to Victorian kitchens. This was my house bare boned and empty. 

My house per contract at the end of June. A house we didn’t move into until the end of September. We bought the seller’s reasoning that contractors were hard to find, though come to find out that wasn’t the full story. We bought the surface because it seemed reasonable. After all, two years later and Denver still has more cranes in downtown than the four-state area combined. We played understanding because we had no choice. Our house had sold while we were in Panama, a single buyer offering more than asking, and rent back was not an option. Finding another house was not an option. After all, it was a seller’s market. And this house was my house, the decision was out of my hands.

So we figured it out, living in a loft downtown where energy bombarded me 24/7. We took deep breaths, feigned patience, and ultimately moved in before the house was finished. We reasoned the chaos of the workers was less than the chaos of loft living, and at least we were home. Though that first night made me question if moving here was right. Or maybe this house wasn’t mine, after all. 

To be continued…

*** Below is flash fiction I wrote for a contest by NYC Midnight. Similar to Second Life, I was assigned genre, setting, and an object of significance to the story. Unlike Hard Light, which had 8 days, I received the assignment with a 48 hour deadline. Below is my attempt at a political satire, in a child birth class, with a dog biscuit. Feedback is always welcome. Thanks for reading!***

“Welcome to CSP’s childbirth class. Please find a seat quickly,” an instructor with the name tag Piper made eye contact with all the participants, her brunette bob accentuating the rigid line of her jaw. “Please, we don’t have much time.”

The milling group settled, sitting amongst strangers that would surely become friends. Hesitant smiles and gentle rubbing of bellies belied a shy sense of a shared goal. One by one, each face turned towards the instructor named Piper, silently inquiring to the next step in this mysterious process.

“Hello, and good evening. As you all know, we are here because each one of you is expecting a new family member,” a smile to the giggles of acknowledgement, “and you and your partner are part of a group who strongly believes in social stewardship.”

Each pair nodded to the comment, making eye contact with other participants in the room, now filled with a common goal supported by a shared sense of importance and obligation.

“You are here because you believe being a member of society requires awareness, acknowledgement, and a sense of duty to your fellow person. We believe that starts with the birthing process. How a baby is brought into the world will determine their path regarding stewardship and being a good ally to those mistreated and subject to systemic bigotry. Empathy begins with birth.”

A polite round of applause accentuated the instructor’s speech, with the pregnant participants rubbing their bellies and their partners murmuring in agreement. Piper looked at the eager faces while picking up a dry erase marker. She moved towards a whiteboard, which rested on an easel several feet and to the right of the padded folding chairs. Then she wrote two words and underlined it several times: Offensive Pain.

Turning back to the room, she made eye contact with several women before enunciating in staccato bursts, “the drama we put around childbirth is an offense to the strength of woman. To put on a pretend show, screaming and hollering, is offensive to the doctors and nurses who are just trying to do their jobs, and it’s offensive to our partners who show love and support.”

The nods became more vigorous as Piper’s speech became more emphatic.

“Cultural indoctrination gives permission to this offensive behavior. The fake fact that childbirth is painful is a myth perpetuated by men and the system of bigotry. And playing into this makes secondary victims of everyone around us, including our children.”

The seated crowd sat forward on their padded chairs, nodding and whispering the truth of her words. Piper marched around the room, staring into the eyes of each woman attendee as she began to speak faster.

A few women looked towards their partners in discomfort but quickly hid their confusion under Piper’s steady gaze.

“We have been brainwashed. For eons women have been told that childbirth is painful. Why? To make us appear weak. However, as with most indoctrination, women have embraced this myth. Now, we make the poor choice to bring children into an overcrowded world with falsehoods of pain rather than calm empathy for those around us,” Piper held up a dog biscuit, “This is an icon of how some creatures value what others dismiss. With every holler of pain, we treat ourselves and environment as nothing but a dog biscuit.”

Vigorous head nods accentuated her speech, as murmurs became defined exclamations of “yes,” and “that’s right.” One woman in the back looked at her partner and shook her head in disbelief.

“Cultural norms are deeply imbedded in who we are. Only the truly woke can see past their own indoctrination and stake claim to stewardship in the highest order,” Piper exclaimed. The crowd of attendees hummed as whispers became roars of understanding.

All oblivious to the anxious couple, as she held her stomach protectively and he searched for an exit.

“I ask each of you, stand apart in your strength as women. Stand apart and bring forth an empathic being who is aware of the sensitivity of others. Bring forth a child who does not disrespect doctors with screams, and who does not offend nurses with requests for ice chips. Own your body, defy the myth that something naturally yours is painful, and bring forth the newest generation of woke beings!”

He grabbed her hand as they hunched their backs, walking passed enthralled couples unable to take their eyes from the front.

Piper raised her arms, a dog biscuit in each hand, and proclaimed, “take the biscuits from under your chairs. Raise them as your promise to value what all creatures value and bring into the world a child who will not cry at birth. Just as you control your indoctrination, control your child and continue the world in sensitive awareness of others before them! Do not abandon your beliefs in childbirth, like those who abandon in the face of challenge!”

The woman hesitated at the door, pinned by Piper’s direct eye contact.

Unaware of the confrontation, the group of expectant parents raised their arms with dog biscuits in hand, saying as one, “We will not give in to the myth of pain, we will not give offense to others, and we will not allow our children freedom to cry at birth, as they are privileged to live and have no right to cry!”

Gasping with fear and shame, the woman slipped from the room.

Piper lowered her arms and her head, taking a deep breath as the group in front of her swayed and rumbled with a new sense of purpose.

“Class dismissed.”

Character Versus Plot: Which Is More Important?

August 23, 2018

In general, humans do not like ambiguity.

Though there are a few people who can handle a gray existence, their number is far less than those who proclaim to have that comfort. And this tendency extends to everything within comprehension. The need for labels, definitions, categories, and boundaries was necessary at some point for our survival, and these layers are an extension of the black and white, binary trait of needing to know yes or no.

Will I live, or will I die.

And without survival stressors, at least for most of us in the Western world, it’s moved into existential sensibilities. How we view ourselves and our identities.

Just as humans are incapable of conceptualizing reality and layer levels of labels for understanding, writing has it’s own labels, categories, and boundaries. We observe complex humanity, yet we cannot resist falling into camps with a dichotomous structure.

As with most labels, I resist limiting myself by placing boundaries on or categorizing what I write. However, there comes a time when I realize there is a grain of truth despite the exaggerated discussion I usually come across.

One of the dichotomies that has slightly more truth than others, and notice I said slightly, is character versus plot driven writing. The reason I say slightly is there isn’t a true dichotomy. As with any other human trait, there is a complex, dimensional continuum to cover all that is entailed by stating character versus plot.

But in resisting the rabbit hole, I will simplify by stating yes, there are writers who begin their writing with characters. Likewise, yes, there are writers who begin their writing with plot, or external events.

As with most discussions, people like to group up in one camp or the other. Almost any discussion board will have most writers arguing plot based writing is poor writing. In order to entice a reader and have depth of writing, one must develop and build complex characters.

I disagree.

First, poor writing can be found everywhere. In fact, I produce mass amounts of poor writing to create a small gem that I read and reread, amazed the words came from my mind. Whether a writer is plot driven or character driven has very little to do with quality writing.

Second, there is some amazing literature that we all know and love that does not have complex characters.

Third, plot driven writing does not mean characters are not developed or well-thought out complex beings. To be a plot driven writer means the primary focus of action is external events. Usually found in genre writing, such as Mystery, the plot is the device which causes the character to act. Things happen to the character, and the character responds.

In fact, I would argue that most novels and writing is plot driven. Of the categories of conflict, there is only one category that would not require external events precipitating a sequence of decisions in the character. Namely, man vs self.

That is not to say character driven writing excludes all conflicts except man vs. self. That would be a simplistic, dichotomous view of writing. Nor am I stating plot driven writing excludes man vs. self. Again, simplistic view of writing.

Rather, character driven writing focuses on the internal world of a character as primary. Their drives, their motivations, their backstory, and ultimately the progression of the story is tied to exposition of or change within the character.

There is no question as to where I fall in the complex plane of character and plot writing. I am a character writer.

That is not to say I don’t write plot driven stories. I do, it’s inevitable, but the first step in writing for me is to understand my characters. Who they are. My least interesting stories, at least to me, are stories where I haven’t developed a complete profile of my MC’s internal world before writing.

Since I do not outline, my characters decide where the story goes. Their personality decides how the plot develops. Rather than forcing my characters to fit the action of the story, my characters tell me what happens in the story.

In fact, I delayed writing on my current WIP because even though I knew my character, I had no plot in which she could engage. I had nothing for her to do, no canvas on which I could display her and tell a story.

Of course, then I delayed another month because I wasn’t in the mood to write her. The forms procrastination comes in.

But at the end of the day, there are three things stories must have: character(s), plot, and setting. Without any one of these three, a story does not exist.

The degree in which character or plot plays importance for the writer is entirely subjective. And neither one or the other is indicative of poor writing.