Boarders, Volume 7

imagesThe estimates are pouring in, but they keep flowing through like water in a sieve, gathering far below so that I can hardly see them anymore. I’m not even really involved in them. I get it all second-hand from Heidi, who is the captain of this ship. She schedules the meetings, she takes the meetings, she gathers the figures, she crunches the numbers, and she makes the decisions. I’m just the sounding board upon which she bounces off all of the information that she takes in and assimilates.

But it feels like we’re making progress.

I look out the side window here and I see the expanse of land that is ours. It doesn’t quite feel like ours right now because it is empty, save for the swing set on the back edge of the parcel. There is barely any snow on it, so I feel like we’ve already arrived at spring, that the ground can be dug up now, the cellar put in, and the rest of the building raised in a day. I feel like tomorrow we could move in.

But that’s just wishful thinking, of course.

wp-1454880557559.jpgThe reality is that it is still the beginning of February, that the great thaw I am waiting for is still a ways off, and the cellar, and the house with it. Realistically this might still be a while, even until the walls are up and I can imagine the rest of the house falling into place. Perhaps in the spring I will pitch a tent on the land and oversee the progress, squeezing whatever I can out of the workers until a space has been cleared inside of the edifice for a sleeping bag.

That’s the dream.

We have settled into a sort of routine here, in the meantime. I hide when I can. I am a mannequin when I can’t, my face twisted into a smile that could also be a grimace, but I think it looks more like a smile. I wait my turn at the sink, at the oven, at the washer, and at the dryer like a good soldier. I park where I’m told to park, place my slippers side by side in the closet, and keep my music down. I listen to the alarm clock go off on the other side of the house and I know they’re up, and it’s time to start another day.

This is when I wish I had more friends here to do things with. Perhaps soon Heidi and I will take a night off. Maybe we’ll take a moment to go out and paint the town blue, to eat a meal cooked by someone else, and just take some time to talk. It sounds like heaven, but it probably won’t happen. I know when I’ve been bested. No, I won’t accept that. It will happen. Now, to plan…



“Which do you prefer: sunrise or sunset?”

sunset-02It’s funny. I absolutely adore the beautiful colors, the mixes of purple, blue, and gold that blossom at sunset, but I like the idea of sunrise more.

Sunrise means the dawning of a new day, the endless possibilities that I feel in that moment can still happen, the beginning of something that could turn out to be as special as the day portends. I love beginnings, the chance for more to come, that feeling that anything is possible.

But, for sheer beauty, nothing — and I mean nothing — beats the majesty of sunset. It’s a spectacle unmatched in nature, the beautiful iridescence that melts the sky and turns it into an oil painting. It makes me catch my breath when I have a moment to truly drink it in — which is rare, but perhaps it makes it more beautiful still.

The fact that it’s rare, though, speaks to my dismissal of it in favor of other things. My life moves at full speed more often than not, so taking time to stop at sunset and gaze upon the spectacle just doesn’t really enter my mind. The times I’ve seen it have been coincidental. I just happened to be outside when it happened, and it surprised me every single time.

On the other hand, I see sunrise nearly every day. It dovetails nicely with my need to be in the car and on my way to work, so perhaps in that way I take it for granted. Perhaps if I saw it as rarely as sunset I would appreciate it more, but as it stands I don’t take any time to really observe it, to appreciate it for what it is. And that’s a shame.

So I prefer both in their own ways, the one for its sentimental value, and the other for its practical nature, but I don’t appreciate either one, not that often anyway. Maybe I should do it more. I live in a place where both happen every day. Not everyone can say that.


The Apologist, Part 3

“I live a simple life. Unfettered by complex sweets. You think this isn’t me? Don’t be weak. There I go. I’m so sorry.” ~R.E.M.

im-sorry-quotes-i-m-not-perfect-i-make-mistakesI say sorry all the time, but I hardly ever actually mean it. It’s become a reflex, a placeholder that fills the space when I feel judged and I want the feeling to pass. There’s nothing quite like saying sorry and watching the other person’s face soften. It’s a rush, I guess I would say, even if I have no idea what I should even feel sorry for.

Please, and thank you. Remember those? I learned them early on too, and they too became reflexes. Someone did something for me, and if I didn’t say thank you I would hear it from my mother. It would be later, and in private, but I would still hear it, so I said thank you. If I wanted something and I didn’t say please it was going to be a cold day in my house when my mom lit into me.

And sorry was the same, except that it wasn’t. At least for please and thank you I knew the behavioral expectation was legitimate. I knew that please went along with wanting something, and thank you went along with getting something, but sorry was a conundrum because there were no measurable signals that I could count on to alert me when one was necessary.

Sorry pretty quickly became all about reading people. If my mother gave me the “look” I knew a sorry was in order, and pretty quickly. And it had to sound sincere or the question would follow: “What are you sorry for?” To which I would have to find an answer or the sorry became irrelevant. And the answer to that question could never be “I’m sorry for whatever you think I should be sorry for,” or a spanking was in order. I worked hard to avoid the spanking at all costs.

Now, though, while sorry is still about reading people, it’s become even more about reading situations. Sometimes a sorry can go a long way if the situation calls for one, regardless of the person who expects the apology. And a sorry when someone isn’t expecting one can be like Christmas — for them, and for me. A written sorry is better than a spoken one, but only if it’s handwritten, not typed or texted. Handwritten sorrys are the equivalent of candy and roses these days.

But that’s not how it should be, is it? A sorry should go a long way because of the actual emotion behind it. A sorry would mean more if I took time to ask what it was that I really did wrong because saying sorry once and thinking the situation’s over is being naive. We all have patterns of behavior, and the only way to break those patterns is to understand that we’re caught in them, to recognize them for what they are and to kill them dead. So before I say sorry the next time I feel the situation coming on I’m going to ask what I did wrong so I can fix it.

Because a sorry isn’t as good when it’s missing an explanation.  At least for me.


69,000 Words Later

ppt_five_wordsI never have a word limit for my novels, not a bar I’m striving to reach before I know, “it’s over.” Sometimes it just comes to me through the narrative itself. It whispers in my ear when it’s time to put it to bed. Other times it hits me at a natural stopping point.

When a good final line comes to you, don’t reject it because you felt like you should have 12 more pages in the bank before the end. Even in Novembers I work hard on getting to my 50,000 word goal, but that doesn’t mean that on the 50,000th word I stop, dead. Even then I write until the book is naturally and organically done.

My first novel was just over 34,000 words, and it suits the book. I feel like it ended just where it needed to end, and even one more word would have ruined the feel of the thing. But my second novel rolled in at over 70,000 words, and that number suited it.

I have another writer friend who only writes 100,000+ word novels because that’s how they come to her, these epic, sweeping, grandiose tomes about everything under the sun. I would describe her as prolific, but I would never have 100,000 words as a goal for myself. If I hit it, then fine, but I won’t go out of my way to try and achieve what I feel would lessen my work. See, it works for her because that’s her writing style, but it’s not mine.

I happen to think that, based on what I’ve written so far, if I get to 75,000 that will probably be the stretching point for me. My latest novel is sitting in Microsoft Word, waiting for me to return and finish it off, and I have to admit that I’m about 4,000 words from its natural and organic end. And when I hit that end I will know it, I will embrace it, and I might even bake a cake for it. That’s been known to happen in the past.

It’s funny too, because I’m teaching my literature students right now about what constitutes a novel, how many words can they expect from a literary masterpiece, and while there are numbers (40,000 words makes an official novel-length) there are rejections to that paradigm from the highest levels of work already in the literary canon (Steinbeck anyone?) so I tell them that if they’re interested in creating written work don’t worry about the numbers.

The numbers will sort themselves out in the end.


Little Wonder

539283_10200768137550917_2012050107_n“Little wonder, you little wonder. You little wonder, little wonder you.” ~David Bowie

I find myself looking back at these pictures of my daughters when they were knee high to an ant, and I wonder how it all happens, this thing called growing up. One minute there they are, my little wonders, my little miracles, and the next my now-7 year old tells me, “Not a baby. A big girl.” And she’s right. My little wonder is now her own slightly bigger wonder. And while I know that’s the way it’s supposed to be, I miss my babies.


Like a God

ManPraising_7574147_sIf we write what we know, then why do I keep penning tales about absent fathers who try to buy their daughters’ affections with gifts? How come I write poems about lost love that still twists the knife in deep every single day even though it’s been ages since that love was manifested? Why is it that I am most at home when I write about pain, and blood, and backstabbing characters with horrible backstories?

I don’t know. Or maybe I do know. It’s easy to write about dysfunction, about families that have no central roots, who behave in nefarious ways because of some sort of disappointment from one to another. It’s second nature to pen characters who wouldn’t know love if it was outlined in neon outside their open window. And that’s not because my life was a neverending wilderness of pain and disappointment. It’s because I convinced myself it was.

That’s one problem with having a wealth of imagination and creativity, the ability to craft characters and situations that aren’t anything that has ever happened to me. I immerse myself in them, in their environments, inside of their very skin, and I look through their eyes to see myself staring back. It’s difficult not to draw that connection, not to feel a kinship with them that goes beyond creator and creation.

I write about dysfunction precisely because it’s not what I know, because it’s probably as far from my insular world as I can get. I wrap it around me like a coat, like a second skin, and I breathe it in, letting it infuse me with its warmth, completing me. It’s the other side of me, the one that I never let out to play for fear that others will judge me, except that through words I can still make it real. It’s not that I want to live through it, but that I want to understand it without living through it.

So I send my characters into the trenches, to fight the battles I know I will never have, to rage against the status quo in a way I will never rage against it, to defeat the ideologies that abound and rescue themselves from what eats them up inside. I take them out of the comfortable confines of my mind and place them at angles to themselves, to fight it out and see who winds up still standing. And I smile over it all like a God who hands out favors to those who don’t deserve it and places wagers on the rest.




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