Unabridged Me

JUST ANOTHER WRITER

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.

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*** First, I realize my blog appeared to be another abandoned platform. While this was the case temporarily, I am back.

Second, currently I am participating in a flash fiction challenge through NYC Midnight. I had 48 hours to complete a story no more than 1000 words in length. My assigned genre was Sci- Fi. Required setting was a dental office, and I had to use a hard drive in my story. Please read, enjoy, and always I love feedback***

“Second Life”

A dental practice gains new life by partnering with a data storage firm, only for the doctor to discover she made a mistake.

Miriam Young was standing at the receptionist desk, discussing server and disk space with Stacey, who was her file clerk, receptionist, IT helpdesk, and back office staff all in one. Deep in debate about compliance and storage issues, neither of the women noticed the man until he coughed.

“Can we help you?” Miriam inquired, embarrassed they had been talking about the issue in front of a potential client.

“I think I can help you,” said the man, handing over a business card.

Miriam paused a minute, looking at the dark hair on his knuckles, before reaching for the card. Her dental practice made enough money to pay the bills with little remaining, so she rarely entertained salesmen. A peek at the card peaked her curiosity, though.

“Henry Wright, Sales. Data Storage, We Pay You to Mine your Files,” Miriam read as Stacey’s brown eyes strained to read the card.

Miriam looked towards the man, seeking answers from his expressionless face.

“At DataRet Services, we know compliant storage of medical files is costly. Do you have a moment to talk with me somewhere more private?” Henry asked, glancing towards Stacey.

After a moment’s hesitation, Miriam nodded and led the man to her office. In an hour-long conversation, the man explained DataRet Services’ proposal for small medical offices. Since 2035 all digital medical files contained DNA signatures along with medical and familial history, causing compliance regulations to throttle medical offices. Combine regulations with storage issues due to manufacturing shortages of both glass and aluminum, creating significant price increases in hard drive and storage options, small practices like Miriam’s have been hampered. DataRet’s R&D department specialized a cloning process, which allowed the company to create individuals for the difficult colonization process of other planets. Small medical practices stored files of deceased individuals with DataRet, receiving money as the DNA signatures were used as the company saw fit. All files would be available in the case of regulation audits, and DataRet was in good standing with all regulatory agencies regarding their storage methods.

Miriam felt a slight discomfort between her shoulder blades as she listened to his calm voice. “So, the government knows what you are doing?” she asked.

Henry paused, “DataRet is contracted with One World to provide clones for colonization efforts. They don’t look too deeply into how we get our DNA signatures for cloning.”

But his words didn’t ease her anxiety. “I provide you medical files of my dental patients deceased more than a year, and you make clones of them to go live on other worlds. Is this right?”

“Yes.”

She sighed. “How much would you pay me?” Miriam asked, glancing at her desk as if not interested.

Henry wrote down an amount on the back of another card and slid it across to her. Put off by what felt like 21st Century mobster movie formula, she looked at the card. And gasped. The discomfort between her shoulder blades seemed not as important now as the number stunned her. Miriam began reviewing benefits of agreeing while her discomfort with cloning receded.

“These people you make, these clones, they are guaranteed to go to other planets?” Miriam asked.

“The families and friends of the deceased will never run into their loved one’s face, if that’s what you are worried about,” Henry smiled.

She stared at him. After a minute’s hesitation and looking at the number again, Miriam nodded. “Send over a contract.”

*

Miriam stretched her back after she finished deleting the files from her internal hard drive. The external hard drive was sitting on her desk, prepared for DataRet’s courier to pick up later that day. In the past year, Miriam sent files monthly and DataRet paid her just as regularly. Business had never been better for her dental office.

“Miriam, something really weird is happening, and I need you to come here,” Stacey said from her doorway.

Miriam gave one more look towards the external drive sitting on her desk, then nodded and stood up.

“What is it?” she asked Stacey as they moved towards the front of the office.

“Just wait.” Stacey’s voice shook as she walked ahead of Miriam.

As they turned the corner, Miriam looked across the receptionist desk and into the eyes of a man who had been a patient for ten years. She knew this man’s teeth better than her own, having created his dentures as well as seeing him twice a year for regular cleanings.

Until his death 3 years ago.

“Hello, I was wondering if you are accepting new patients? I just moved into town and need to find a new dentist,” the man inquired.

Miriam felt a stabbing between her shoulder blades.

Writing and Rejection

April 4, 2018

It’s inevitable. Rejection is a way of life for authors.

Once in awhile an author has an amazing, unbelievable debut novel that blows everyone out of the water. These novels are published immediately to great acclaim. I can’t think of one now, but I don’t want to exclude the possibility.

However, for most of us writing means rejection.

Last week writers around the world received results in Round 1 of a short story contest. I entered, along with 4000+ other writers. And all but 700 received news they would not be moving forward.

Me included.

During the six weeks between submission and results, I vacillated between absolute certainty I would get into Round 2 and complete belief I would not progress. The second belief proved accurate.

I won’t lie; I was devastated at first.

After talking with friends who write, and people who care, I slowly processed my disappointment. I worked my way through the pain of hearing you are good, but not good enough.

The contest provides feedback from the judges, giving an opportunity for growth and development. The additional information gave me data points of strengths, as well as ways I can make the story stronger.

Also, I came face to face with an aspect of me. My perfectionism gets in the way of trying, of putting myself out there. Constantly. In turn, I am sensitive to critical feedback and rejection of my writing.

Critical feedback and rejection will be an aspect of my life for as long as I write.

There is no going back regarding the choice to write, so I will have to grow up a little. Work on my sensitive nature. Review rejection stats until they are ingrained in my head.

That will take some time.

The important piece is to keep bitterness at bay, remaining open to any opportunity. For now I will look for more contests and continue on my WIP: a short story collection.

Self-Doubt Loves Language

March 9, 2018

It happens to all of us.

Well, maybe not all of us. From all I’ve read, sociopaths and psychopaths do not struggle. Nor do grandiose narcissists. But those extreme examples aside, it happens to all of us.

I’m talking about self-doubt.

It varies by person, by personality, and by occupation. Some occupations leave little room for self-doubt. Namely those that save lives or are involved in split second decision making.

And then there are occupations such as writing, which seems overflowing with those who doubt their abilities and talents. Show me a writer who doesn’t once in a while throw a tantrum, papers flying everywhere (metaphorically in the almost purely digital world), screaming this is shit to anyone who will listen, and I will show you someone who has not really invested in writing. Or hasn’t received a rejection letter.

I know, bold claim.

The reason I say this is because similar to any other combination of art and skill, writing takes a lot of work and is highly subjective. While a writer may develop strong ability to combine words in whatever rules dictate that particular language and form, there is subjectivity in the writer and the reader.

In essence, writers try to pull people into their imaginations, their realities, the way they view the world. And in turn, readers bring their own experiences and understanding. And somewhere in between is language.

A highly imprecise, inexact, difficult combination of symbols and meaning that often fails at its one purpose.

So, taking skill out of the equation, writers will often find themselves deep in the flow of an idea. Spitting out words. Building immense structures of thought and dry walling with all the tricks we are taught. If language is on our side in that moment, we end up with a stable structure we design and change to a more suitable vision.

If language is not on our side, we struggle with a building that lists and tilts no matter how we prop it up. Often ending in abandoned stories and paper flying tantrums. Whether a novice or an expert, self doubt during these times can creep into an ear and take up residence in the back of a writer’s mind.

Speaking horrible thoughts like “that doesn’t make sense.”

“No one wants to read that.”

“What’s the point in that?”

Some writers push through self doubt, post tantrum. Start a new story. Begin a new idea. Or obstinately pound out words until language is malleable. Of course, these are the wise and diligent practitioners of the field.

And then there are others. Of which I am included. We throw our tantrum. We have words with language that would make our grandmothers blush. Then we quit. Let self-doubt have room to take up shop. Build its own workbench of malevolent statements.

I believe this is where writers’ block emerges. Our inability to come to terms with language. Our frustration with disparities between our minds and the expression tools available.

While some might quit forever, others of us are haunted. The urge to write is stronger than the pain of creating meaning with crude cudgels instead of fine carving tools. So we return. At some point we return.

Just as I always come back to writing.

And inevitably we are stronger. Those of us who come back. Our muscles have been worked by tearing apart self-doubt’s workshop. We find new mechanisms of soothing or find opportunities to test the waters in safety.

Or we complete a post that has been sitting in our drafts folder for two weeks.

Regardless, the words always return. The goal for any writer is to become one of the veterans. The time tested writers who know when to set something aside and move on with something else. The ones who do not let tantrums sideline them.

Because for all its crudeness as a tool, language is the only tool available to a writer.

Self-doubt will never leave. So instead we fight. We write drivel. We practice using prompts. We cry and complain to those who listen. And with enough force the inertia recedes and we move forward.

In my experience? My mind is flooded with ideas I refused to create while hosting self-doubt. And I’m left to wonder what amazing things I’ve lost, giving time and space to self-doubt.

Subconscious Weaving

February 16, 2018

I’m a little behind on these posts.

But here we go anyway. Day 2…

02.08.2018

The night was spent in a low to mid grade motel room. Although I can’t say it was absolutely awful (that was for the drive home), it wasn’t exactly pleasant.

The motel room smelled okay, which is the first aspect presented when I open a door. Lights go on, seems decent and not too run down. Though, my Hollywood fed imagination began to run scenarios.

Namely drug deals gone wrong, prostitution busts, and all kinds of down on their luck characters with alcohol and drugs limping along some form of reality avoidance. A world David Lynch explores in his movies.

Meh, it was for one night. I can handle this. Besides, the smell still seemed reasonable.

My eyes will close, shutting out the poorly patched hole in the bathroom door. My vision will no longer view, with an obsessive-compulsive focus, the shoddy handyman work. Such as the towel bar hanging upside down, with the screw on top. Or the failure to sand walls before repainting, causing new paint to flake and peel. My optical organ will miss all these details.

But my sense of smell will continue to feed my brain with non-stop information the entire night.

So, exhausted from a long day driving through semi-arid desert (not my favorite of regions) and having dinner and wine with a relative, I fell into bed.

And slept very little. Not the room’s fault. I rarely sleep well in a new environment. Takes me a few days to feel settled enough to sleep. After a rough night of tossing and turning, punching a motel pillow, I opened grainy eyes to a room that did not benefit from sunlight.

Side note, I have decided I will become one of those people who travels with her pillow. Hotels and motels do not think about stomach sleepers when they stock pillows. Understandably, we are a minority. But my neck cannot handle another too fluffy pillow.

I ran through my daily routine, a muscle memory dance of shower and grooming. So mindless is my routine I don’t usually start waking until halfway through my shower.

When at home all writing ideas come flooding through my neurons at this point.

Since I was not at home, all the details of the shower seeped into the crevices of my gray matter, settling in a twitch between my shoulder blades. It’s not the shower was unclean, but the handyman work scratched my consciousness. Not to mention the essence of down on their luck Hollywoodness.

I’m almost positive I still had conditioner in my hair when I hurried into a bare thin towel and a chilly room. A room still smelling decent, I might add. Though cloying at this point. Must have been the air freshener.

All four of us hurried through a barely there continental breakfast and into the car.

The decision was to head north from Gallup and east at Window Rock, driving through the Navajo Nation since the drive was not as arduous. For those not familiar with American history, Navajo Nation is a sovereign nation within the US, though the executive branch of the US government does have some control.

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Visitor Center, Hubbel Trading Post

We stopped at Hubbel Trading Post, a still active trading post that has been in place since the Navajo were allowed to return home. While it’s not difficult to find houses in Colorado decorated in Southwest style, it was fascinating to learn how integral the art of weaving was and is in the Navajo culture.

Watching the woman weave a rug in the visitor center, I was almost tempted to take up rug weaving. Certainly not to that level. The artistry takes a lifetime to develop. But watching the weaving was mesmerizing, meditative.

Unfortunately, I know myself too well. I would take it up with a passion, to just as quickly lose interest.

I did not purchase a Navajo rug. My art tastes run surreal, and I’m not one to purchase something just because I’m there.

While Vivian played with a shop just her size, I learned how respect can overcome cultural differences. Treating people fairly will always outweigh what governments choose to do, what military enacts. Individuals can overcome group think.

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After our picnic lunch, we moved onward. A quick stop at another monument, pueblos in cliffs, before heading down the canyon to Sedona, AZ.

Living in Colorado my whole life has given me a skewed perception of geography. I have lived in or within view of the Rocky Mountains all but four years of my life. Most of our drive was flat flat flat and desert. So much yellow and sage brush for days. Although I would appreciate the sky on the drive back, the drive there felt blah.

Until I realized we were on a high plateau and everything was hidden from view. Rather than driving up into something, like we do in Colorado, we ended up driving down into. I realized my eyes might have been missing mass amounts of beauty, only because my eyes didn’t know what to see.

I cannot say I will ever live in the desert. Still not my region of choice, but I understand the draw for some people. Cut under the yellow yellow yellow and sage brush is layers and layers of red and orange. You only need to know where to look.

The canyon into Sedona was beautiful. The next day we would get to see the full light set the canyon on fire. But for this day, it was food and bed.

And a realization I might have under dressed for the entire vacation. Stay tuned.

For more pictures, my Instagram.

Ready, Set, Go

February 11, 2018

I do not write a travel blog. Rather, I attempt to write a writing blog since I am a writer (at times). But this week traveling is my experience, so I will write about traveling. A family road trip to be precise.

02.07.2018

Today began the road trip. This is an experiment, to see how well Vivian travels. My mom has been biting at the chance to take her only grandchild traveling. Of course, Vivian has only recently been okay away from mom for more than a few mandatory hours. So this trip was to see what kind of traveling Vivian could do.

Plan was to leave at 9 am. My mother was late. Entirely expected. Fortunately, Vivian is not of an age yet where time matters. And I decided this was a vacation. Time does not exist for me.

So into the car we piled and headed south out of Denver. Our destination? Sedona, Arizona. I don’t really  know what to expect, and I think that is a positive. Expectations lead to disappointments, as well as a failure to see what is offered.

The drive down was split into two days, giving credence to the limited capacity of toddlers for containment. The plan is to spend the night in Albuquerque, NM, and drive the rest of the way on the second day. So far so good.

I should note I have been accused of being addicted to my phone. Namely Twitter. While I admit I am more inclined than not to scroll while bored, I don’t think addiction qualifies. However, I stepped to the issued challenge and agreed to not pick up my phone other than to take pictures.

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Pike’s Peak, Colorado 

It was about halfway past Colorado Springs when I realized what was being asked. Not that I mind. For the most part, I skip a lot of what is written on Twitter other than a few favorites. However, I have substituted Twitter for a notepad. I use the platform as a stream of consciousness writing tool.

I had snippets playing through my head all day. Ooo, I should write that. Oh, I need to remember that. Wow, that sentence is awesome. Of course, I forget them as soon as I finish editing in my head. Thus the attraction of Twitter’s nature. I can quickly write them down, record them, and move on with my day.

Oh the gems I lost.

Then again, maybe not gems. Until there is a form of validation for our words, there is no sense of their value.

Writers can, and will, argue this all day. I write for myself, I hear people say. I don’t care what people say, I hear writers discuss. Who cares about opinions of others, writers will lament. Myself included, depending on how I feel about my writing.

But validation is an important piece to any art. Yes, we create for ourselves. Because there is some demon that has taken up residence in our head, haunting us with words. Not just words, sounds. Rhythm. Flow. Context. Meaning. Requiring us to install layer of layer of thought and meaning via words.  Not to mention the obsession for the perfect sentence.

We cannot not create. This is a truth.

However, there is diary writing if it’s just about letting the demon loose from time to time. Artists, writers, musicians… we are so obsessed we choose to try living by way of our demon.

Which requires skill development. And how do we know we’ve mastered a skill? Validation. Feedback and acceptance by our community. Our community of writers who know what we live through, what we exist within, what we struggle with daily.

Not necessarily consumers. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Patrons and consumers are needed to put food in the fridge and heat in our houses. For those of us crazy enough to try and exist by way of the demon, patrons and consumers are necessary. And their purchases are a form of validation. The most important form, if taken in a pragmatic view.

But validation from the writing community provides feedback as to where our skill rates. No one can pick apart a sentence faster than a writer.

So while I was staring out at the semi-arid desert of Southern Colorado, what I thought were written gemstones could have been, in truth, nothing but drivel. Without validation, I know not which I had created. Well, since it was not recorded I didn’t create anything.

Merely passing thoughts as flat barren landscape passed my eyes.

Vivian did well this first day. The great experiment seems to have the desired results, though after the first two hours excitement of traveling had worn off. On all of us, not just Vivian.

At hour three it was time for a long break.

We stopped for lunch in Trinidad, CO. This allowed the toddler to run while the aging adults to stand and creak about, lamenting how stiff our muscles had become. While my mom was focused on telling me where to drive, and the backseat passengers were focused on getting out of the car, I was noting small details.

Trinidad is an old town that has seen a recent influx of population, as has most CO towns. This meant the historical downtown buildings are being renovated, and the narrow streets are made more narrow by construction cones, equipment, and flaggers. While the town on one side of the freeway looked like any number of small towns in Colorado, downtown appeared to have a new lease on life.

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Downtown Trinidad, CO

Colorado is dotted with small towns, from east to west and north to south. As time has moved on, some small towns have dwindled to nearly nothing. A lot has to do with migration away from agriculture towards urban living, though not entirely.

Some small towns are falling by the wayside because they are on the wayside.

Freeway travel has allowed us to drive further faster, goal oriented as we look forward to our end destination. Small towns a few miles off the freeway offer little for distraction. No travelers to buy gas or eat in cafes, and nothing to keep the young around.

I admit, we took freeway the entire way to Albuquerque.

Where we ate a home cooked meal of lasagna at the house of my mom’s cousin. Vivian ran out her energy, and we relaxed while drinking wine and admiring my cousin’s quirkiness. Women of a certain age who live alone are allowed to develop their oddness, and I get to admire and enjoy said oddness without it affecting my life.

Onto one of the local motels, which resembled the Bates Motel. Not in physicality, but in vibe. Oh so many vibes.

Checking in through bullet proof glass by a woman who looked like she couldn’t get rid of us fast enough. Rooms maintained by a handyman who did not know screws of a towel bar go underneath the bar. And badly patched holes in doors and walls.

Only one night. Then we can move on. Across the desert. Notepad-less. Stay tuned.

*Below is a short story I submitted for NYC Midnight’s Short Story Challenge. We are assigned genre, subject, and character and have 2500 words to write a story. Stories must be produced and submitted in 8 days for round 1. Round 1 assignment for this story is mystery/hologram/yoga instructor. Feedback is always welcome*

“Hard Light”

The door opened and Jack Sergeant, a disheveled man in his 30s, walked into his grey office. As he entered, he growled, “coffee.” He pulled his hat off his non-descript brown hair and tossed it onto the desk. Jack sloped into the chair and put his head on the cold desktop in one movement. Minutes later his receptionist came in with his coffee and placed it near his right hand.

“Um.” A muffled reply squeezed past his elbow.

“Whatever,” came the terse response before hips swayed through the door and the hollow wood door slammed shut.

Jack opened one eye to gauge the coffee’s location, wrapped his hands about it, and hefted his head up and back to sitting position. Jack took a swig and grimaced, then pressed the button on his phone.

“What do you want?” Irene snapped.

“Not having to drink tar to start,” he gruffly replied, “And what’s my day look like?”

“You want different coffee, you make it. Also, some woman has been waiting for you. You would have noticed her if you weren’t so hung over.”

Jack eased back his rounded shoulders as he attempted to sit up straighter. Most private investigators had friendly, caring, efficient holograms or humanoids. Instead he had human shrew. Too bad non-humans made him nervous and paranoid.

“Send her in.”

Jack hefted himself to standing as the woman entered his office. Mousy was the first impression on his mind. Brown hair messily thrown into a bun and wearing a suit that looked as if the dry clean only tag had been ignored. She clutched her purse, surveyed the cement walls and steel cabinets, and then looked at him. Jack offered his hand.

“Jack Sergeant, and you are?”

She held his hand as if missing all bones and tendons. “Violet Smith,” she squeaked.

“Please sit, Miss Smith.”

“Missus,” she corrected before looking at the chair he offered. She sat down, her hands white-knuckled, and barely breathed as he sat across from her.

Jack was used to timid women, found them all the time in his profession. As pattern of habit, he rounded his shoulders to make his over 6’ frame seem smaller and less threatening.

“What can I help you with, Missus Smith?” Jack drawled as he squinted against the light. So much damn light.

“Well,” she started, as she twisted her hands and looked everywhere but at him, “it’s my husband. He’s missing.”

Jack leaned back and took a swig. He wished it was Irish coffee and not Irene’s swill. Despite his whiskey headache, Jack’s gut told him something was inconsistent. His trained eyes focused on her jaw, and he kept his face sympathetic while his eyes were intent on details.

He asked, “How long’s he been missing?”

She shrugged, “Yesterday he left for work and hasn’t been home since. He comes home late at night, maybe a few times a week, but he’s never been gone a whole night.”

Jack rubbed the stubble on his chin, made a decision, and stood up. Violet looked at him in surprise.

“Are you going to help me?” she tremored.

“If he hasn’t shown up in two days, go to the police. I can’t help you, so I think it’s best you leave.”

Violet stared up at him with wide brown eyes, suddenly terrified. This reaction intrigued and confused him, so he sat down and stared at her. For a moment she withstood his look, until she sighed in resignation and looked down.

“My husband is not a nice man. He,” she gulped air and paled. “James is not a nice man. But he supports me. I have no occupation, and without him, I’m out on the street. I don’t know what he does when he leaves our home, but without him I have no home.”

Jack crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her, her demeanor, and the barely visible bruise on her cheekbone. A blush started at her collar as she fidgeted. Uncrossing his arms, he leaned forward. “How do you plan on paying?”

“I … I skim from our grocery money. Have saved up a little, for an emergency. I can pay with that. It’s about $1k. Should be enough, right?” She took a worn envelope from her purse and slid it across desk. Jack picked up the envelope, thumbed through it, then reached into his desk and pulled out paper.

“Write down his employer. Places you might know he likes to go. Any friends. I’ll see if I can find him.” He stared out the window, not focused on the crisscrossing monorails twenty and more stories above ground. She had paid too much for a missing husband. He would regret taking this gig, but money was money.

*

It was early evening by the time Jack exited the monorail station. He had spent the afternoon following Smith’s day. Violet offered nothing other than his job and a hunting buddy from school.

The employer provided little. HR was as he expected, not giving him anything other than he was employed and hadn’t shown up that day. Supervisor said the guy was prone to fights, but he kept his job because he was human. Not many co-workers liked him, but he did his job adequately. No lunch buddies came forward, though co-workers mentioned he walked to a local dive bar every few days.

Jack had better luck at the bar. Bartender was tight lipped. They know better than to bite the hand that feeds, and regulars who spend money are more important than PIs and cops. Drunks were a different story, and the bar anchor at the corner was happy to have company. The old man said Smith was always around with a tall woman, light hair kept tight. Several more regulars confirmed her existence, saying she worked at a yoga studio halfway down the line.

Which is why Jack found himself, irritated and exhausted, about to enter a yoga studio. He avoided these places, shops where most personnel were holograms or humanoid. A tall blond looked up from the receptionist desk as Jack moved into the space filled with woods and incense. He paused, adjusting to the dim lighting. He approached the desk with caution. Rare for an owner to be behind the desk, but the description matched. He asked, “Are you Cheryl Summers?”

“Hello.” A warm smile flashed showing white teeth. “I am not Cheryl Summers. I am a solid light hologram based on Ms. Summer’s image. How can I help you today?”

“I need to speak with Ms. Summers. Is she in?” Jack replied curtly, as he kept space between him and the hologram.

With a smile and a nod, the machine moved through a door behind the desk. After a few minutes, she reappeared with an individual who looked identical. “Ms. Summers?” Jack inquired.

“Yes, I am Ms. Summers,” replied the second woman. Jack assessed her and noted the tall lithe frame and blue eyes. The real Ms. Summers was made of cold steel, as if she were the hologram and not the kind woman who returned to the desk.

Jack introduced himself while showing identification, and Ms. Summers nodded her head and ushered him into the office behind the door.

“Okay, Mr. Sergeant. Why is a PI looking to speak with me?” she droned, as if she had ten thousand things to do other than speak with him.

“Do you know a Mr. James Smith?” Jack asked. He decided a direct approach was best with her.

Cheryl pursed her lips and looked at him with more interest. “Who wants to know?”

“His wife. Man went missing yesterday.”

Amusement lit her eyes as she chuckled and turned her back on him, his presence dismissed. Jack was not the type to lose his patience. He could be sympathetic to a serial killer. But the long day, the lack of whiskey, and Cheryl’s pernicious nature loosened his tongue. “How does a woman like you have a successful yoga studio?”

Cheryl turned around and perused him. She looked at him for the first time since he introduced himself. Jack remained expressionless as she studied. “You’re right. I’m not a yogi. I’m a business woman. Studios make money if managed well. That’s why my instructors are hard light holograms, equipped with the latest deep learning. They are caring and nurturing, require little upkeep once programmed, and save me money and headache of dealing with people.”

“The entire staff is copies of you?”

“Yes, in physicality. Their AI is programmed not to resemble me, for obvious reasons. Once initiated, they have the sensory nerve system of a human. They are warm to the touch and sensitive with clients. The difference is I keep my hologram staff isolated from the real world, ensuring no corruption.”

“Corruption?”

“Deep learning machines rewrite themselves based on environment stimuli. If they are surrounded by hateful individuals, they become hateful. If they are surrounded by caring, they become nurturing. The world out there is hard, and my girls cannot be exposed. Exposure leads to disastrous results.”

“Oh?”

Cheryl sighed, pursed her lips, and shrugged. “I might as well tell you. Telling you will keep you from talking to my staff and sullying my inventory.” She waved a hand towards a chair. Jack sat and leaned back in his customary non-threatening pose. His hand rubbed the stubble on his jaw.

“James Smith was a despicable, hateful individual. You could say we were a thing, but it wasn’t anything sentimental or romantic. He and I got together because he felt the need to be dominated, and I like to dominate,” she paused, as if she waited for a response. Jack learned long ago to not interrupt a story and remained expressionless. Cheryl continued, “Lately business has been good, so no time for him. He pestered me for one of my girls, and I gave in to make him shut up. He really was a whiner. He took her out a few times, but then I noticed her behavior was changing. She was getting irritable with customers, starting fights with other instructors.”

Cheryl stopped and looked at him. Jack motioned for her to continue. “I don’t know where James is, Mr. Sergeant. Yesterday I told him he and the girl were done. He left. At closing I realized she had left with him. She came back today a wreck, body structure damaged and screaming profanity. Yelling about everyone dies and how can people be so hateful. She was lost to me, so I had her decommissioned.”

Cheryl stood, finished with the conversation. Jack stood as well. “Thank you, Ms. Summers.”

“Whatever. The guy was a creep. I lost an expensive machine because of him. I doubt I will see James again, which I consider a good thing.”

Jack walked towards the office door, confident Cheryl had dismissed him. “Mr. Sergeant?” Jack turned around, peering into the office. “Don’t trust that wife of his. She took the worst of his brutality. What do they say? Beaten dogs learn to bite, then they bite to kill.”

Jack filed away that piece information, and in a neutral tone he replied, “Will do. And where was the place you and he would go?”

Without looking up from her desk she responded, “Some place on the end of the R line. James paid, so I never noticed the name.”

*

Jack entered his office early the next morning, arriving at what some would consider normal business hours. He slept little, his mind busy with a jigsaw puzzle of information. He was left with very few missing pieces. Jack had a feeling he wasn’t going to like the answers. Irene looked up with a sour look, as his presence meant she would have to work. With barely a nod Jack said, “Call up Mrs. Smith and have her come here. Oh, and coffee.”

The customary whatever followed him into his office as he closed the door.

Less than an hour later, Violet walked through the door. Jack stood by the window and observed her before she noticed him against the brightness. First glance said the opposite of mousy. Though hair messy and dressed in faded clothes, this Violet walked with a straighter spine. Once she saw him, the mouse came out of hiding.

“Mrs. Smith, so nice of you to come. Please have a seat. Would you like coffee?” Jack purred as she moved forward to him. Violet looked alarmed but sat. She shook her head no at the offer. “Have you heard from your husband?”

Violet looked at her clenched hands, took a breath, then shook her head again.

“I’m going to get right to it,” Jack stated as he sat down and looked directly into her eyes, “Your husband was having an affair.”

Violet took a breath, relaxed her hands, and sat back with a straighter spine. “No use hiding from you, is it. Yes, I know. An awful woman who works in a yoga studio. Mean woman, just like him. They were perfect for each other.”

Jack sat in silence. He played to win and was patient for his opponent to decide her move.

After five minutes of looking out the window, Violet appeared to decide and continued, “Once I learned of the affair, I did a little of my own digging. The things I found out. Did you know she was a hologram?” her face twisted as if she tasted something bitter, “I couldn’t believe he let her do those things to him. It was only time before they went too far. I expect you found him at that motel they go to, right?”

“You know of the motel?” Jack prompted.

“Oh sure. James sucked at hiding his receipts. A place at the end of the R line.” Jack watched Violet’s eyes, which had become hard and determined. “Well, thank you for your time, Mr. Sergeant. Thank you for finding my husband. Now I have to go make arrangements for his return.” Violet stood, turned, and walked out of Jack’s office.

Jack sat for a moment and contemplated her exit. He wondered if she would realize her error once she was picked up. Then he grabbed the phone and made a direct call. “Detective Humphry? Ya, Jack Sergeant. You might want to send a cruiser down to that old motel at the end of the R. Ya, don’t know what room, might be under James Smith. You’ll want a wagon, too. I’m here when you have questions.”

Jack turned and stared out the window. She was smart, but not cunning, and too impatient to be free. He hated he was made out to be an alibi, but he shrugged. Money was money, and she paid well.

Cliff Jumping

January 20, 2018

In a couple of days it will be one year since I started blogging.

This blog. Different website. Different hosting platform. Different me, but same blog.

I’ve abandoned my original style, my original model, my original plan. Starting the blog was an impulse, and as usual I did it trial and error. Having learned from my errors, I’ve changed websites and platforms. Now I’m moving over blogs I want to keep, reading as I move.

Reading posts I wrote seven months ago is … odd.

About seven months ago I completely changed my life. Joined social media, quit my job, started a business, and have lost my sense of reality no less than three times. No necessarily in that order. And not necessarily cause and effect.

And the blog has archived the change. My thinking then versus now. Me then and me now.

My writing style has changed. For the better. Probably due to Twitter. Being exposed to concise writers. Getting back into the habit of writing. Or maybe writing regularly has meant finding my voice. Getting away from academia.

Which I admit made my writing verbose and complicated. Not my professors, the things I read. Basic cannon, which included all the old British greats. Jane Austen as a major author. You can see how that might influence grammar choices.

Put it bluntly, my older posts are long winded.

Yet they show an interesting shift in a major part of my life. I chose to 180 my life experience. I walked to the edge. Which I’m prone to do, apparently needing some element of chaos. But instead of walking away and settling, I jumped.

Hoping I didn’t break every bone in my body on the way down.

I can’t take credit for the courage entirely. I owe my eldest sister her due. I watched her move through her own process. Her results gave me courage.

June 2016, about one year before my life change, we went to Panama. Just long enough for me to think I don’t want to come back. Then again, I’ve always been one to want to be anywhere but where I am.

Despite my lifetime urge, I haven’t moved from the state and country in which I was born. Walk to the edge to peek over, only to turn around and try to buy into reality one more time.

So it was not surprising I felt the urge to become an ex-pat in Panama. We stayed in Casco Viejo, full of history and art and an energy that cannot be found at home. I think most of my friends would have felt claustrophobic walking the old streets. I found myself suffering agoraphobia upon our return.

Took me two weeks to feel like things weren’t too far apart, too open, too big.

While there I observed my sister as she processed through a life realization. My sister is a researcher by nature, yet found herself in tenure track at a university. Focusing on classes and curriculum, in a school she wasn’t aligned with, put immense pressure on her.

And I watched as she processed job security versus doing what she enjoys. Paying bills versus being true to her nature.

At the time I just watched. I had just gone through a period of hating my job, but I was on an upswing. I was implementing a new system, doing more IT work than HR work, creating and building and learning.

Yet observing her, and her ultimate choice to go out on her own, influenced me when it was my time. When I inevitably walked to the edge. And stared down. Granted, life circumstances pushed me. But instead of creeping back and trying to settle my unhappy mind, I jumped.

Actually, I might have backed up and taken a running leap off the edge. I’m sure it appeared that way to anyone watching.

And I haven’t landed yet. My business model completely changed, now resting entirely on writing. Trial and error. Pretty happy my writing is a paying gig. As a family, our net monthly budget is almost zero again. Stressful, but manageable.

But I find I’m not done changing, at all. Every day I learn something new about myself. Think about something differently. See my personality show up in new and astonishing ways.

I’m learning my strengths and weaknesses. Especially in writing. Unleashing my imagination for my own writing is still a block. But I’m learning how to work around them. How to put myself in situations that force my weaknesses to step aside.

I’m learning parts of me I can’t let go. Like intellectual reading and discussion. Social interaction despite my introverted nature. A routine, regardless how minimal.

And I’m learning parts of me I couldn’t wait to shed.

Interesting thing about making drastic life changes. Other things start looking different, too. Even a tree looks different from the other side. Reality falling from the cliff looks different than from atop the cliff.

Reality has shifted, and everything is affected.

This can be a good thing. It can be a bad thing. I reserve judgement until the choices are in front of me. But I have noticed one immutable fact in my psyche. Fear is often the one thing holding me back. And once I swallow down fear, my impulsive and creative nature rarely falters.

In this case, I jumped off one of the largest cliffs imaginable. My fear has been silenced. My natural inclination might become cliff jumping.

Editing in the Way

December 31, 2017

“This is not what we are talking about.”

I just stared, trying to process the adult sentence emerging from a tiny mouth. 

She was right, of course. Vivian was making a point. She preferred one cat over the other, as one is friendlier and a better pet. I was making it a lesson about personalities and boundaries. 

My next move in this game of parenting? I laughed.

Game over. I lost. 

At least this round. Her little face scrunched, and her eyes took a steely angry look. Shut down, you are unworthy of conversation, mom.

I apologized, affirmed her statement was accurate, and moved us past. But that very grown up thought rang a bell in my head. 

How often do I think these words when in a familial argument, or even an intellectual debate? I make a statement, and the response makes my internal voice say, that’s not what we are taking about. 

In moments of little filter, I say as much. Usually with my mom. Usually with attitude of a sixteen year old girl. 

I would like to think the attitude has diminished, but for some reason I believe attitude oozes in interactions with my mom, regardless age.

When in a discussion, it’s easy to miss the point. Especially when opinions and biases are involved. 

On the flip side, we can shut down creative resolutions or new connections when we insist on being detail focused. But this is not what this blog is about. 

Let’s be honest. Words fail at precise communication. Rough for a writer to admit, but language does not do its job sometimes. A writer’s job is to get as close to the emotion or thought as possible, then throw it to readers saying here I tried. 

And if you are a good writer and editor, you succeed. If you are talented but suck at editing, you succeed in a way. If you are a decent writer, readers bring enough of their own worlds to create something with the words.

But this very thought can get in the way of writing. At least for me.

If I have an idea I’m set on, forget it. I will create the most uninteresting, intellectual goop possible. Because anytime I drift, my brain says this is not what we’re talking about. 

I course correct. I edit as I move. I construct form. And… My writing is uninteresting, though well written, crap.

When I jump myself into the primordial ooze, I get something worth reading. 

And the result is not what I thought it would be when I started. What starts as me working on a bench outside a library becomes an announcement of a life changing event. 

What begins as satirical diologue on writing becomes a short story of manslaughter. 

Here’s the crux of it. Writing is a career full of cliches, everyone supporting us while telling us how to do it better. And most times I nod, say uh huh,  and do it my own way. I’m oppositional like that. 

But once in awhile I have a moment where a cliche clicks, and my writing benefits. Like don’t edit while writing your first draft. When I first heard that I said excuse me? I always read what I’ve written to catch myself up, editing along the way. And that’s how my mind works, keeping track.

However, if I say to myself this is not what I’m talking about while moving through my process? I will write drivel. 

Instead I have to jump in, let the thoughts flow naturally as I read myself, and let the current go where it wants. Otherwise my left hemisphere will doom my writing career before it even starts. 

And be subjected to a toddler’s condescending attitude. 

Pop quiz: is the image convex or concave?

I win mother of the year award. 

And that’s only partly sarcastic. Why? Because I’m that mother who believes in exploring and testing boundaries. Which will inevitably end in injury.

And Monday that injury happened to be a gash in Vivian’s forehead. 

Twice a week Vivian attends preschool, and I get a few hours to workout, work, or just in general get a break. Every day we leave school Vivian walks along a retaining wall, without my assistance. 

This particular day Vivian and I both looked towards a woman we were passing, she missed her step, and her forehead hit brick as her right side stepped off the wall. 

Mom instinct kicked in as I pulled her up, wrapped her in my arms, and began low level triage.

Luckily blood is not something that bothers me. Ever see how much a head wound bleeds?

First goal. Establish if stitches were needed. With my fingers and shirt sleeve, I dabbed the blood as the woman searched her car for tissues and ever present baby wipes. 

I say ever present as every mother, except me, seems to remain well stocked. 

Despite a V shaped gash, Vivian’s wound was superficial at best. However, the goose egg of a bump was rising and turning purple in seconds. Stitches not needed, but ice and comfort of home were necessary. 

Shooing away suggestions of getting a bandage from school, as the bleeding had mostly stopped, I wrapped Vivian in my arms and soothed her screams walking to the car. In no more than a couple minutes from the incident, crying stopped and we were on our way home. 

Once home wound was cleaned, bandaged, and iced, and the injury became a battle scar in which Vivian took pride. 

Which got me thinking. What is the best way to handle a child’s injury? 

Personal response aside, meaning does the parent freak out or become objective, how we are taught to handle our physical and emotional injuries dictates our trauma response as adults. With emotional injuries, I make every attempt to allow Vivian her feelings, talking them through with her when she calms down. 

I do not want my life of emotional repression for her.

I say every attempt because toddlers have intuitive timing for tantrums. Meaning worst time for us is guaranteed tantrum time.

But physical injuries are different. I’m not exactly in the camp of shake it off or ignoring it, since I do think there are repercussions of those messages, but I am definitely not in the swoop-up-and-save camp. Which goes hand in hand with the life in a bubble camp.

Instead my message is usually comfort, ouch that hurts, but pain goes away take a deep breath. Seems consistent with my slight leaning towards rearing a free range child.

But after doctoring and comfort occurred, I started wondering about my own response to physical pain. 

I’ve mentioned before about dislocating my ankle during yard work. Pretty sure I’m mentioned it was not the first time.

I am an injury prone individual, more in my head than the physical world. Childhood was filled with bumps, bruises, and odd injuries like glass in my knee or deviated septum (no broken arms for me).

Outside required medical intervention, pain and injuries were dealt with a things can be worse philosophy. Hey dad, I have a headache. I could break your leg for you. Umm, okay.

As a child I didn’t understand the message of don’t complain, there are worse options. I interpreted it differently, as an adult I think I understand the point. I think.

Life for my body did not get any easier with my ex. Between drinking and fights, my body took quite the beating. With frequent ankle sprains due to uncoordinated walking. 

None of which received medical attention. Sprained ankles hurt like a bitch, but other than ice and drugstore bandages nothing can be done.

To the point now where my tendon serves no purpose in my left ankle, causing my ankle to pop out randomly and on three occasions being dislocated at a 90* angle. 

I went in the first time this happened. Insurance denied an MRI despite a chipped bone. No record of escalating injury. 

Second time, I went in knowing I needed it on record. Since I realigned my ankle myself and the doctor did not see the original injury, diagnosis sprain. Yup, not getting my tendon repaired. 

Third time, no point in going in. Pop it back and ice it up. 

I can’t help but wonder if my message to Vivian, physical pain goes away, isn’t a softer version of life could be worse. Am I teaching my daughter to triage her own injuries, only seeking medical help the first time a severe trauma is experienced?

And I guess those are questions that might never be answered, or not in a way I will notice. Certainly, there can be no proven causation between my parents’ way of handling childhood pain and my own self care choices.

As one friend says, parenting is just one big social experiment. 

Once reality set in, that motherhood was happening for me, I had two goals: her survival to 18, and rearing an empathetic person. And both goals will likely lead to injury and pain. For both of us.

But I will not feel guilty she hurt herself pushing her own boundaries, nor will I likely change my approach. Despite the looks and judgement received. 

Because one thing I’ve learned is this shit is hard. Unless you’ve written a manual, step out of my way. 

And even if you have, I wouldn’t read it anyway. I’m stubborn and obnoxious like that.