From “The Angel Tree”

From “The Angel Tree”

Trigger warning for those who need it: This is a story about a woman contemplating suicide who gets…distracted. This excerpt begins partway through the story.

Published in the short story collection “Once Upon A Christmastime” (https://www.amazon.com/Once-Upon-Christmastime-Peggy-Perry-ebook/dp/B00KO5Y5DY/)

“There’s another bathroom in the master bedroom at the end of the hall,” Christie said automatically.  Her mind whirled as she was forced to deal with the invasion when she had been set on dying alone in peace. 

The little girl came out of the bathroom with her mother as Edith passed.  As her brothers shoved past them, elbowing each other and slamming the door, little Susanne pulled at her mother’s hand as she peered into the dark kitchen.  “I’m thirsty!”  she cried.  “I want some hot chocolate!  And cookies!”

Her mother hushed her and looked up at Christie, an apologetic smile on her face.  “That’s what we always have on Christmas Eve,” she explained.  “Susanne, honey, we’re not at home.  We’re at…”  She looked up, realizing she didn’t know her hostess’ name.

“Oh, uh, I’m Christie, Christie Wright.  And I can make some hot chocolate, but I don’t have any cookies made.  But I do have some canned food that we can probably make into a meal.”  She went into hostess mode automatically, locking onto something she could deal with.  She went into the kitchen and turned the light on.  The little girl followed her in and began exploring the cabinets she could reach, ignoring her mother’s reprimands. 

“It’s okay, those are childproofed.  My youngest son is the same – aahh!”  Her voice stopped with a gasp.  When Annabelle looked at her, frowning, she shook her head frantically and fumbled with the pan she was putting on the stove.  The little girl wandered out the door and her mother chased after her.  Christie fought for calm as she measured the ingredients with shaking hands. 

She nearly dropped everything as an arm wrapped around her waist and squeezed lightly.  “I put away the vodka and pills,” Edith whispered in her ear.  “Wouldn’t want the children to come upon them.  I put them in the closet up on the highest shelf.  That little girl looks like she might go through all your drawers if she gets away from her mama.  You don’t have a gun around anywhere, do you?”

Christie shook her head numbly.  She had disposed of her husband Rick’s guns as well.  She didn’t need them.

“That’s good.  Do you need any help here, dear?” Edith then said in a normal voice.  “Why don’t we fix something to eat?  I’m sure everybody is hungry.”  She began opening cabinet doors until she found the pantry and began pulling out cans and jars.  She looked in the refrigerator and freezer, but they were empty.  Christie had no need of fresh or frozen food before she left this world.

Edith didn’t seem bothered.  She asked Christie to introduce herself again, since she had missed it on the way to the bathroom.  When Beth came in asking if she could help, Edith put her to work opening various containers, explaining as she went what needed to be done. 

“You got no tree!” young Ricky exclaimed in the living room, outrage in his voice.   “How can you have Christmas without a tree?  You got no decorations at all!  Don’t you believe in Christmas?”

“Does that mean Santa isn’t going to stop here?”  His little sister cried over his parents’ frantic shushing noises.  “How are we going to get presents if he doesn’t stop here?”

“Children, children, he’ll leave the presents at our house, like he does every year!  We just have to wait until the storm is over, and we’ll be able to get home and get your presents.”

“But the lady here won’t get any presents!” their oldest boy Jody complained.  “Why didn’t she get ready for Santa?” 

Christie came out of the kitchen to meet the children’s accusing faces.  She fumbled for an explanation.  “I, uh, I just got here.  I didn’t have time to put anything up.”

Tim peered out the window around the blinds.  “I’d volunteer to go get a tree, but not in that storm!”

Mack looked out the other window.  “Yep,” he agreed with a nod.  “Just going to have to make do this year kids, till we can get home.  If we did have a tree we could make popcorn strings and our own decorations, but looks like that’s a bust.”

Beth came out of the kitchen, holding a tray of cups.  “I remember sharing my first apartment with four other girls.  There was no room for even a tiny tree, and we wound up hanging a paper tree on the wall, and stringing yarn to hang paper ornaments.  It wasn’t half bad.”   She offered everyone a cup of hot chocolate before returning the tray to the kitchen.  She and Edith came out holding their own cups and finding seats on the big roomy couches and chairs in the living room.

“The food should be ready in a few minutes,” Edith told them, and sighed with satisfaction as she sipped her cocoa.  “Hot cocoa and a fireplace and a comfortable seat.  Just what we need on a night like this.”

The children weren’t satisfied.  “We need to make a paper tree,” Jody decided.  “That wall there doesn’t have anything on it.  We can hang a big one there.  You got any paper, lady?”

Christie almost told them there was no way they were going to mess up her good wall with tape and tacks, until she realized how stupid it was to care about her wall when she was planning to kill herself.  “Why don’t you just draw a tree on the wall?  That way we can save the paper I’ve got for ornaments.”  The adults protested, but Christie waved her hand dismissively.  “Let me find the kids’ – I mean, some pencils and coloring pens or something.”

She ignored the looks the adults gave each other as she hurried to her children’s bedrooms.  She had to stop inside the boys’ door to pull herself together.  She had not been able to come in here since that night a year ago, and everything was unbearably familiar.  Hurrying to the desk against the wall, she grabbed the trashcan and put all the drawing and coloring utensils she could see into it.  She found some paper and tacks and tape and put those in as well.  Her little girl’s room had glue and glitter and all sorts of stickers.  She found yarn and beads and other craft materials and threw them in.

Taking the can back to the living room, she handed it to the children.  “See what you can do with this.  Don’t worry about making a mess, it will clean up. Excuse me; I have to check on the food.”  She headed for the kitchen.  The sight of the children digging through the materials just like her children always had tore at her heart.

How I Roll

One of the Facebook pages I follow, Novel Encounters, is about several historical romance novelists.  (I only read historical romances.  I’m still working on writing one that popped into my head, which of course doesn’t fit any historical period I know of.  Maybe if I call it a historical fantasy romance adventure…) This week they were asked to describe their writing process, and since all of them are different, it has been fascinating to see how they think and create and do the practical details of bringing their stories out of their brains and onto a published manuscript.  It got me to wondering just how I would describe how I create.

This  is how it usually begins:

I do mental movies of novels. I write a few chapters. Then I go do something else, usually another mental movie of a different story. I come back, read what I’ve written, vaguely feel there’s something not quite right, put it back and run through the movie in my head and discover much has been left on the cutting room floor and many scenes added.

I start thinking in scenes, detailing them in my mind. I think, maybe I should make a note, then it might not change. Now I have a general – well, not outline, really, but mostly a time line of actions and conversations – and as I look closer at each scene, I begin wondering about details like landscape, environment, odors, temperature, what side characters are doing while the main characters are busy at the front of the stage, clothing, food, shelter, etc.

I then begin to look at early scenes and wonder if they should become backstory instead. For example, mentally, I have had several stories begin at the birth or in one case, the rape conception of the main character. Then as the story developed, I began to think it might be better as backstory to be mentioned casually in a conversation between characters. Suddenly what was becoming a very long timeline of scenes shortens and I begin to feel the story is workable.  Crazed sessions of unstoppable typing ensue.

That is how my novels begin.  My short stories come from somewhere I’ve never been able to track down.  For all I know, God just puts them there.  Many times I finish typing and have to read them over to figure out what I wrote.  My two collections in print and ebook right now, Once Upon a Christmastime and Standing Next to a Miracle, are like that. I have a third collection to be titled Angels With Attitude, just about ready to go.  Of course, I’ve been saying that since 2014, I just discovered.  Sheesh!

I am going to try the Scrivener program since it seems to use many of the methods I do for setting out a story idea.  I have heard some published authors can’t stand it, others just love it.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, I’ll go work on that collection of short stories and try to get them out.

The Importance of Self-Education

When I was a senior in high school our school newspaper sponsor, our English teacher, assigned me the job of editing the various articles that would be posted in the local town newspaper.  I’m pretty sure I got the job because I was the best speller.  We posted little ‘what’s been happening’ paragraphs by each grade’s representative reporter and occasionally published poetry.  One introverted girl who rarely spoke offered a pretty decent poem once that I thought would be excellent with just a change to a couple of words.

When I suggested it, though, she blew up.  You would have thought I suggested sacrificing her first born child on Satan’s altar!  It was my first negative reaction to my editing, and I decided if she wanted an inferior version of her work, then so be it.

Later, when I submitted some of my fiction for critique by editors and agents, I understood her reaction.  My writing is my baby!  Nobody knows my story – or poetry – or anything else – like I do.  Nobody can improve my deathless prose (and rhyme)!  Of course, none of it sold.

Then at work, I was assigned to teach some of the worst training material I had ever been forced to use.  I complained so much that of course, they then assigned me to revise it.  Trust me, there is nothing like technical writing for educating a writer.  I was paid to write it and therefore was forced to do it the way my supervisors wanted it, or be able to successfully argue that my way was better.  Since my supervisors generally had college degrees in education, they tended to win more often than I did, until I got some real experience and self-confidence under my belt.

It was very humbling to realize how much I didn’t know about the technical aspects of writing.  I never got to go to college and graduated from a very small rural school that was unable to provide much of an education.  During my first session of revising the training material, I was totally unprepared for the supervisors’ total dismissal of it and their orders to rewrite it.

I was astonished to discover they wanted me to return and write more training material, but one supervisor told my team bluntly that even though we weren’t perfect, the others who wrote essays for their applications were even worse, and read a few anonymous essays to prove it.  Over the years, my technical knowledge combined with my improved writing skills gained me the name recognition necessary to be allowed to unofficially edit many of the technical procedures we used in our jobs. When I sent in a needed correction to a section because it was either incorrect or made no sense as written, it was accepted without argument.  Many times, it was the way it was written that was the problem.

As a teacher of adults learning new complex procedures for dealing with our job, I quickly discovered that a huge problem was the technical language used.  The instructors, including me,  were experienced and used to the terms and acronyms used on the job.   Since I encouraged questions from the students, not to mention being able to read their expressions, I realized that learning a new language had to be the first step in every training session for new employees.

Once I retired, I didn’t worry about teaching new terms and acronyms to bewildered students or trying to simplify complex procedures into a step by step list that could be easily followed.  I was relieved, thinking that finally, FINALLY, I would have the time to concentrate on my fiction and see about finally getting published.  I began reading various professional writing blogs to see what was selling, by whom, and why.

It didn’t take long before my forehead began wrinkling just like my former students. What were all these terms these writers were using?  Sure, I could look them up in a dictionary, but they didn’t make any sense in the context they were used in the article I was reading.  Nuts.  I had to go back to the basics and learn THEIR language.  Why bother?  Because one very old saying still holds true: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

If you want to write without worrying about being paid for your efforts, you can do it however you wish.  If you want someone to give you money for it, it has to please them. If they ask you about it and you don’t understand the question, it’s up to you to learn the language they are using.  Very few professionals in the publishing business have the time or interest to educate an amateur for free.  They don’t have to.  Writers, even incredibly talented writers, are a dime a dozen.  Sure, some editors probably bitterly regret passing up J. K. Rowling, but life happens.

Don’t think that self-publishing offers a way around that problem.  I have a Kindle, and about 1500 ebooks so far, to go with my print library of several thousand soft and hardbacks.  With ebooks especially buyers can return the book if they don’t like it soon after they buy it.  Most can be previewed and if they are badly written the books may never be bought.

I once bought a book that started out sounding terrific, then evolved into such excruciatingly bad prose, I gave up on the rest of the book.  I was furious.  The book was only about a dollar, but I was angry because the promise of an interesting plot, fascinating characters, and plenty of action was ruined by poor grammar, worse spelling, and ridiculous punctuation.  The only time I have seen worse writing is work by writers who don’t believe in using capitalization, paragraph breaks, or punctuation at all.

I don’t want people criticizing my work for poor writing, so I am learning to write like the authors of books I like to read.  I hope someday to have my work praised by well-known professionals, and if I have to learn their language to understand their criticism, to be able to answer their questions about my work, and to discuss my work in order to improve it, I’ll do it.  I have the Internet.  I may live out in a rural area and still not have transportation and money to get to college classes, but I can still educate myself.  I must, if I want to engage in the conversations I want to, with professional writers and editors and publishers. It’s my responsibility to find a way to make my dreams come true.

 

Not Just a ‘Writer’

I’m not just a writer.  I’m a storyteller.  I started telling stories before I learned my alphabet.  Once I discovered how to read and write, I learned that I could write something on paper and I could show it to others who had not heard me tell the story.  But writing my stories came later when my family could afford the extra paper and pencils.  Poverty sucks.

When I was a child, I was very introverted.  My family members were the only people I could tell my stories to.  When I was in elementary school, recess was an ordeal of loneliness until I started worldbuilding in my head.  It took a while to realize I was interacting with my imaginary world.  I would come out of it to see the other children staring at me.  I had been walking around, miming various actions and moving my mouth silently.  Finally one of them asked me what I was doing, and I began telling him about the sandwich factory I had built.  For some reason – hunger, maybe? – I was fascinated by the thought of automated assembly lines surrounded by machines slicing and stacking and wrapping meat and cheese sandwiches.  I had never seen an assembly line, but I guess we had been studying something on the subject.  Where were all the sandwiches going? I didn’t know and didn’t care.  It was the process that fascinated me.

The other kids thought I was nuts, but they began talking to me more, and I slowly made friends.  It helped me get through school.  Then we moved, and I had to make new friends. Since I was still introverted, it was difficult.  In the fifth grade, our English teacher discovered I had written a story.  I think it was about a horse since she had been reading a chapter a day from a novel about a horse to the class.  My story had several chapters as well, and she read a chapter of it every day to the class.  They did not seem impressed.  But they were happy they did not have to face a quiz about it, so I got no criticism.

I continued writing, the plots changing as I aged.  In the tenth grade, I was writing a teenage romance.  I had a thick spiral notebook dedicated to it.  A couple of weeks before the end of school, our history class teacher had pretty much finished everything on his curriculum and just told us to keep it quiet during class.  I immediately hauled out my notebook and began writing on my story.  The seat to my left was filled by a hulking football player.  He was a nice guy, but physically imposing.  I didn’t realize he was reading the page I was writing until I filled the page and started to turn to the next with my left hand.  He pinned my hand to the desk and leaned over.

I was speechless with shock and mortified by the immediate teasing coming from his friends behind us.  He ignored them and me and finished reading the page.  Then, still silent, he took the notebook away from me, flipped the pages to the story’s beginning, and read the whole thing.  I sat there too terrified to protest.  Luckily he caught up before the end of class.  I had no idea whether he’d let me have it back.  I had no idea what he was thinking as he read it.  It was a teen romance, written by a girl who had never had a boyfriend.  Would he make fun of me? Would he tell me it was trash?  Would he think it was about him?  It wasn’t, but would he be able to tell?

Just before class ended, he finished and handed the notebook back.  He looked at me, a warning clear in his expression.  “Finish it before school is out for the summer,” he said. “I want to read the end of it.”  He got up and left the room, still majestically ignoring his friends as they swarmed after him, demanding to know why he had held hands with me and then read my notebook.  I finished the story.  I did NOT want to find out what would happen if I didn’t.  After he finished it on the last day of school, he finally announced his opinion of it.  “A good story,” he said with an approving nod.  Nothing else, but I didn’t need anything else.

I lost my introverted nature over the next few years, but I never lost my love of story telling.  I wrote stories, I wrote poetry, I wrote songs.  I sent two books to publishers, and the editor told me that the beta readers had really liked them, but it wasn’t quite what the publishers really wanted at the moment.  I had learned about genre publishing by then, so I wasn’t surprised, but I was glad the beta readers had all liked my work.

One day I got the chance to have a science fiction/fantasy work of mine critiqued by a couple of professional writers and several amateurs as part of a science fiction convention.  You paid a fee, you sent in a chapter or short story, and received a copy of their work for you to critique.  I was always taught that if you need to offer criticism, make it constructive or leave it alone.  I learned that not everybody felt that way.

Science fiction and fantasy is such a broad genre most people have their own preferences for a certain kind.  Some have strong likes and dislikes of certain subjects.  At our session, we were supposed to go around the table, offering our critiques of one writer at a time.  The writer under the microscope was not allowed to argue with someone’s opinion, or defend their writing, or even speak until the end.  When mine came up, one amateur writer hated the whole story because it was based on a parallel world.  I didn’t worry about his opinion because that was his only criticism.  He just didn’t like parallel worlds, so he blew off the whole story.  Another young man loved my story.  He told me he couldn’t wait to read the rest of it.  I’m hoping to finally get that thing published soon, so maybe, wherever he is out there, he’ll be able to.

The other amateur writers were more focused on the technical aspects, like grammar and punctuation, and didn’t really have much to say about the story itself.  My work had been totally different from theirs, so I wasn’t surprised.  Then one of the pro writers, a white middle-class suburban mom type, complained that my characters were not believable.  “A teenage prostitute?  Where were her parents?”  Yes, she said that.  Everybody stared at her for a minute, and she looked like she couldn’t figure out why.  I don’t even remember the rest of what she said, I was so flabbergasted by that naive remark.

The other professional writer was a Canadian who wrote urban punk fantasy.  He tore my story to shreds, slapping the manuscript copy on the table.  “Nobody talks like that!” he snapped, and proceeded to vigorously point out how terrible everything else was in my story.  I was speechless about that, too.  Everyone looked vaguely embarrassed as he wound up.  When he was finished and I was allowed to speak to all of their critiques, I just smiled at him and told him I’d work on the dialogue.  I was from the rural southern United States, and he was an urban Canadian with a teenage daughter.  Maybe he didn’t get to listen to the kind of conversations I listened to.  I ignored everything else he said since it sounded like opinion, which didn’t worry me.  I was just pleased that one young man, who was my target audience for that story, really liked it.  That meant I had done it right.

I have had other comments since on many different stories I have written.  One lady told me about one story that she laughed and then she cried and then laughed again.  I said good because I had as well while I was writing it.  One lady told my church that she had not finished one of my books yet, but felt that it had changed her life, and urged all of them to read it.  Whoa!  I’m not sure I meant to do that, but she seemed happier, so I was glad.

Strong ego?  You bet.  I love to read what I write.  I like getting good reviews, but bad ones don’t bother me.  I may have to publish my own books, and I don’t make money at it yet, but I’m enjoying myself.  I get to tell stories, and that’s all I want to do.

Dangerous Minds

I love my imagination.  It keeps me from being bored, it helped me survive an impoverished childhood devoid of books and televisions, saved me from shyness, and has shaped my life into something better than a boring rut.  But sometimes, just sometimes, it drives me nuts.

Case in point: We had to get our air conditioning system fixed in our house.  All that was needed was to reattach the ventilation ducts under the house where they separated.  It was fixed, no problem, the house cooled off, we were happy.  The air conditioning unit is next to my bathroom door.  My bedroom is across the hall.  I ALWAYS hear the air conditioner when it is blowing air.

Ever since the repair job, I hear voices coming from the air conditioner.  Sometimes they play music, that really irritating recorder music.  It is just coherent enough to make me originally think I was listening to the television in the living room, but not enough to really tell what is being said.  But it always sounds like several people having a conversation, or perhaps a news show.

The first time it happened I thought my sister was saying something while I was in the bathroom.  As it continued, I realized it was the air conditioner, and I have yet to figure out the cause.  The problem is listening to it at night.  In the dark.  All alone in my bedroom…

I don’t read horror novels (anymore) or watch horror movies (after a few deeply regretted ones).  Normally, I have very few nightmares.  I generally only dream of being overwhelmed when my calendar gets full.  But if I have a hard time falling asleep and start hearing that murmuring coming through my door in the dark…uhhhh.  Bad night ahead.  I’m trying to see if I’ll get used to them.  If I can’t, I’ll have to do something about some white noise or something.  Maybe ear plugs?  I’ll try something out.

Imagination can be a dangerous thing.  When I was a child, my sisters and I would spend many happy hours with our youngest aunt at our grandparents’ rural home.  We entertained ourselves during many summer days taking turns telling stories, or acting out various roles in an imaginary world. But one day our group imagination took a dark turn.

That was the summer of the Boston Strangler.  We rarely saw the television stories, but we listened to the radio and read the newspapers and listened to our parents talk about it.  The story was ripe fodder for our minds.  One hot day, the air was still, our grandfather, the only one left at home to watch over us, fast asleep in the shade.  The house was too cramped and hot to stay inside.  We wandered about from garden to sheds, to barn, trying to decide how to occupy ourselves.

The story began as a slow, sporadic commentary on how quiet it was, progressed to an uneasy awareness of how creepy the silence was, and began to speed along on an uncomfortable awareness of how many hiding places there were and how close they were to us.  We armed ourselves with sticks.  We fed each others’ imaginations like a mob feeds on itself.  In no time at all, we were clutching each other, darting eyes at one building after another, peering at shadows and straining our ears to hear any break in the silence.

The break came, of course, very loudly and suddenly.  A loose shed door banged, whether from a solitary breeze, a passing chicken, or a cat rubbing itself on it.  Who knows?  Who cares?  But suddenly we were several young girls screaming in sudden terror and running as fast as possible to our grandfather, the only available adult.

His natural and very normal irate commentary on being awakened from a comfortable nap by a bunch of silly noisy females calmed us down quickly.  We realized how we had frightened ourselves and laughed weakly, determining to never do that again.  But we stayed around Grandpa for the rest of the day.

That experience taught me a lot about letting my imagination control me.  It taught me a lot about mob psychology.  I don’t want to think what might have happened if we had access to weapons more dangerous than some big sticks.  Fear can turn to the flight or fight syndrome and not everybody runs, not every time.  This has become even more true the older I get.

I channel my imagination as much as possible nowadays into my writing.  I don’t want to dwell on something until paranoia begins to build, becoming dangerous to people around me.  Writing my imaginings helps to understand cause and effect, and the work of adrenaline on the mind.  Working out reactions to fear, anxiety, paranoia, and rage in fictional stories help me deal with tense situations in real life.  For someone who never goes looking for trouble, I’ve had to deal with a good bit.

Using my imagination in reading and writing has definitely helped me deal with real life.  I think that is why teaching a child to read and providing a large library is one of the most important things we can do for our children.  Television and movies can only do so much.  We should always talk to our children as well, discussing the characters’ actions and reactions and deciding whether they were appropriate or not.

Helping a child imagine how they would react in a scary situation helps them avoid panic when they come up against one in real life.  It also helps them avoid making bad decisions in less scary situations, like being pressured into sex, accepting a dare, or facing major changes in their lives.

God gave us our imaginations.  Imagination fuels creativity and comes from the Master Creator Himself.  But like every gift He gives us, it can be misused and twisted.  Read.  Write.  Create.  Work with your children. Don’t let them fall prey to a dangerous mind.

Be Nice or Else…

Have you ever seen that tee shirt for writers?  “Be nice or I’ll put you in my next book”?  I always laughed at that, because I knew exactly what they meant.  Some people annoy you so much you fantasize about killing them off slowly and painfully.  Wonder if any of George R. R. Martin’s associates wound up in his death scenes…

But people don’t need to be annoying to wind up in one of my stories.  I find people endlessly fascinating and often bring different people to mind when I’m writing.  I’ve had two criticisms of my work that just make me shake my head and shrug.  One was an online review of one of my short stories, where the reviewer remarked that the whole story was unbelievable because “people just don’t act like that”.  I told them I was sorry they had never met the sweet caring people in that story, because I had.

Another criticism I received was on the beginning chapters of a novel I am working on.  During a writers’ circle review where we all reviewed each others’ work, the professional writer in charge seemed to be disgusted as he flung my manuscript to the desk and announced “Nobody talks like that!”.  My characters were American teens.  I was astonished, because I know several teens who talk like that.  But he was from a large city and had a teen who had interests far from the hobbies and interests of the teens I knew.  It was interesting to see that the one person in the group who would be the real target market for the book was thrilled with the story and wanted to see more. Hope he sees it when I get it published.

Everybody looks at the world through eyes filtered by their own experiences, upbringing, and opinions.  Readers tend to have broader points of view, and tend to be more open to differences in characters, but occasionally you see a distinctly narrow field of vision in reviews.  If you decide to write a review of any author’s work, try to keep your own point of view in mind.  Try to remember you don’t have personal knowledge of everything in the world.

I’ve met lots and lots of people, and I can see where all of them would fit into stories I’ve got in mind.  I once stood behind several scientists/physicists/professors/engineers (I have no idea which they were, but the conversation was fascinating as they discussed something using words of more than five syllables.)

My aunt Marty was one of my favorite people to listen to, since she had a very interesting life.  “I collect men as a hobby,” she said, explaining her multiple marriages and boyfriends.  She told us her best birthday moment happened when, depressed over being alone on her 30th birthday, she wandered into a bar to drown her sorrows.  When the bartender demanded her identification to prove she was old enough to drink, she was so delighted she grabbed him across the bar and kissed him.

I have a friend who has gone to a local Renaissance Fair for thirty years and became one of the characters there (a wench, often bawdy and outrageous) in a costume she made herself.  She also likes to attend motorcycle rallies and paint fairy land murals on children’s nursery walls for her friends.  She has a vivid personality and a sharp tongue and a loving heart.

I know several cowboys who are the strong silent type who are always willing to help and are devoted to their wives.  I have met the rich, the poor, the famous, and the unknown.  I know people who should be locked away in a dark room so they can finally stop hurting the people around them, and saints who make total strangers want to hug them.  I have met truly eccentric folk who made me laugh, gasp, and watch them closely.  I have known the depressed, the desperate, the broken, and the healed.  I have laughed with and at children and dried their tears.

I love meeting people.  I never know how the meeting will turn out, but I always find it interesting, whether I roll my eyes later or make a note to contact them again.  Even when their opinions don’t agree with mine, they are interesting.  Sometimes I get the chance to shock them out of their comfort zone, and seeing how they deal with that is intriguing.  We are all characters in the Book of Life, and we are all individuals.  God did a good job on us.  We are interesting.

Did you  ever feel a character in a story was based on you?

Cleaning the Windows

I’ve been reading a lot this week about various people and how they cope with their lives.  I live with a younger sister.  We’re both in our fifties now, and our health isn’t too good, so we’re trying to work on it.  She has  a particularly nasty condition that leaves her looking normal on the outside, so people don’t really understand when she says she feels awful.  Having lived with her for over thirty years, I know just how bad it can get.  This week the oak pollen around south Texas has reached near historic levels, according to the weatherman.  Her condition makes her immune system hyper vigilant, so her allergies can wreck her.  Literally.

Her condition manifests with an inflammation of her inner ears.  Her ENT specialist who diagnosed it said everytime it did, more brain cells were cooked in the heat and more of her memory and comprehension would be lost.  She’s more concerned by extreme pain and the dizziness that leaves her staggering around and unable to drive.  She is given a steroid to deal with it, in the hopes that her immune system can be suppressed and the inflammation decreased.  The side effects of that are sleep, swelling, and bad temper.  Since she is trying to lose weight, it is not a good season for her.

I have insulin resistant diabetes and a slowly degenerating back.  This makes it interesting when it becomes dangerous for her to walk and I have to cook and take her meals.  She also is sensitive to light due to migraines during these episodes so she tries to sit in the dark and quiet.  I can’t stand the dark and like music playing most of the time.  It’s a challenge to make her as comfortable as possible while not giving up my life.  Luckily I enjoy challenges.  I consider them brain exercises.  It’s how I got through breast cancer.

Some people, when faced with an obstacle, sit and stare at it and complain to everybody around them about how it is blocking them.  I always wonder what it’s blocking, and become so curious I try to find a way around it to find out.  Zoos frequently try to “enrich” the animals lives by giving them problems they have to work at.  I figure maybe that’s what I’m getting.

This week a Facebook friend of mine remarked on how she was feeling overwhelmed by all the bad things she was seeing and experiencing.  Like many do, she wondered why God was allowing it to happen.  I gave her an excerpt from one of the stories in my next book, just as God gave it to me.

“Why does God allow such evil to exist? How can He allow them to suffer like this?” “Because if you were never allowed to try to stop it, if you were never given the chance to care about others, you would not be His children. You would be potted plants. Maybe, at the most, domesticated pets. Would you prefer that?”

I also cope by reminding myself how much worse it could be.  I am so much better off than many people I know personally.  I thank God every day I don’t have my sister’s problems.  I thank Him for letting me have a pension sufficient to live on, a nice home to live in, insurance to pay for most of my medical bills, and transportation not only for myself but for family that need to go somewhere.  I have lived in much worse circumstances.

I can dream of winning the lottery, writing a best-seller, inheriting a fortune, or even marrying somebody rich.  But they are just dreams.  My day to day life is interesting, rewarding, and creative, which is pretty darned good.  This Easter weekend when the world celebrates the coming of spring, or the renewal of the Hope of the world thanks to an empty cave, or just enjoys a nice festive weekend holiday, try to look at your life in a better light.  Don’t sit around in the gloom, grab some cleaner and polish the windows!  It may at least distract you!

It’s Not Twitter, But…

I never could figure out how people could use just 140 characters to express themselves.  I tend to run on and on and on…well, if you ever read stuff I write you know that.  But one thing I found I really enjoyed was captions.  I love doing photograph albums and writing the captions.  Preparing family photo calendars for Christmas is one long giggle fest for me.  Then a few years ago I got cancer, a type with a very low survival rate.  Being the optimist I am, I decided the day of my diagnosis that the day they declared me cancer free I would get myself a teeshirt that declared “Grim Reaper Reject”.  I did, too.  Then one day I was driving with my sister past our favorite meat palace and got a face full of fragrant hickory smoke.  My sister sighed happily and remarked, “Man, if there’s no barbeque in Heaven, I’m coming back!”

Yesterday I was on the Teespring website reopening the teeshirt sales for those two sayings and my brain started cranking.  We have a Christmas sign on our front door we haven’t changed out yet that has annoyed me from day one.  “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” it says.  It annoyed me because it seemed to say that was the ONLY season He was there for.  Jesus is the reason for EVERY season! Huh, I thought.  That sounds like a teeshirt.  So now it is.

While I was doing that, my mind wandered back to a conversation I had about friendliness.  I have a running joke that I use to describe myself.  I call myself a social slut because I’ll talk to almost anybody.  Hey, I wonder…  Yup.  Another teeshirt.

Unfortunately, these are not open for long.  If you’d like one, check them out quick.  I may, if things work out, wind up getting an inventory of several sizes and sell them myself.  But you don’t have to wait if you don’t want to.  These shirts go up to 5X.

The place to look for them is http://teespring.com/stores/words-are-my-life.  I’ll probably be putting more up there as they come to me.  Sometimes they smack me in the face and sometimes they slip in when I’m not looking.  I hope they amuse, inspire, and just sometimes make you think.

Not So Slowly Slipping Away

I just looked at the clock and got a terrible shock.  It’s almost 11 AM as I write this, and I haven’t even had breakfast yet.  It wouldn’t be so much of a shock if I hadn’t got up as usual this morning with my sister at 3:30 AM.  As I stared at the clock, I tried to think of where my morning had gone and what had kept me so busy I forgot to have breakfast.  I had two cups of coffee before 5 AM, I remember that.  I wasn’t paying too much attention to the news since all they could chatter about was the Oscars, which holds zero interest for me.  I wasn’t reading a book, which can really kill time.  What was I doing?

Ah, now I remember.  I’ve been trying to clear a lot of email, so that takes a while.  Then I got tired of sitting around in my pajamas and went back to my bedroom to get into something warmer and wound up doing some cleaning in there.  Oh, yeah, that definitely ate up a big chunk of time.  It never feels like it, especially when you look around and see how much is still left to do.  I’m a slob, I know.  It drives my sister, who shares the house, nuts, since she is a lot more organized.  Generally, as long as I know the clean clothes are hanging up or are in my dresser drawers, I’m pretty satisfied.  I try to throw the dirty ones in the hamper as I pull them off, but well…

So breakfast – lunch? – brunch, maybe? is now cooking, meat is thawing for later meals (hot soup in freezing weather!), neatening of the house is gradually spreading, and I am working on my blog.  Sorry I haven’t got to it sooner.  Life got in the way, as well as some funerals and deaths of people I knew.

We also had a fire nearby that distracted us over the weekend – I had to call 9-1-1 twice because it kept springing back to life thanks to the unrelenting wind.  The second time was this morning at 4:30 after my sister took off for work and then called to say the flames were high as the car as she drove by.  I don’t think the firefighters wanted to particularly thank me for the call, since the windchill is around 20 degrees right now.  Sorry, guys, but since I’m only one house away across a narrow highway, I’m intent on keeping that thing under control.

Remember that song “Slowly, slowly, slippin’ away”?  When I was working (especially taking phone calls from angry taxpayers) time slowly slipped away with excruciating jerks and pauses.  Long, long pauses while somebody furiously shouts in my ear, swift jerks as breaks dash by.  Now I’m retired, and time seems to fly.  My friends who beat me to retirement mostly told me I would never seem to have the time to do what I wanted.  A very few told me I’d be bored out of my mind.  Can’t say that’s happened yet.  I’m having to make out increasingly lengthening ‘to-do’ lists.

There is the permanent list: Dishes, laundry, cleaning, cooking, shopping, etc.  Then there is the strike one, add three list: Taxes, filing, organizing, meetings, trips, marketing, lots of things done for other people.  Finding time to do my writing is becoming more and more difficult.  I’m having to schedule it, which I never expected.  I just want to get it all done.  I attended a funeral of a guy younger than me this past week, and discovered a friend died 5 days after her 102nd birthday, and two others who were very elderly but not so much.  You never know what will happen next in life, so do things while you can.

My bucket list that I wrote when I was in my early twenties is actually mostly done.  Oddly enough, only the top three remain, and at least one of them will never happen – have children.  Get married?  Maybe if he’s persuasive enough.  Since I’m not even dating, it’s still not likely. I enjoy being single and having a messy bedroom.  Write a best seller?  That’s more doable, and I’m doing my darnedest.  Wish me luck, buy my books, write reviews, and tell your friends!

Who knows, maybe I’ll be at the Oscars someday, watching the movie version win Best Picture.

The Library in the Waiting Room

I’ve been spending a lot of time in doctor’s waiting rooms lately.  Not because of my health, thank goodness, but because I have been providing transportation and companionship to various family members as they meet with their health care providers.  It is always a fascinating experience for me.  It was this morning I began to realize it was fascinating because it is like visiting a library.

Each person there has their own story.  Some will share them willingly, like a book on display.  Some hold theirs close to themselves, like an ancient manuscript in a climate controlled case, hiding from light and air and anything else that might damage them.  Some keep theirs quiet only to find their companions more than willing to tell it to anybody around, much to their dismay.  That situation reminds me a bit of gossip tabloids on display.

Some stories are mysteries, where the main character has no idea what is going on and can only hope the doctor is a good detective.  Some are comedies, born of foolish accidents, told with rolling eyes.  Many are tragedies, tales of pain and long suffering, and read with knowledge of the certain sad ending.  Some are stories of coming joy, read in the movement of a child trying to find room in their mother’s womb.  Some are suspenseful and full of fear, told with a parent’s fearful grip on their child’s hand.  Some are adventures, the ending unknown, each chapter full of twists and turns, but with the main character demonstrating determination and endurance.  Many are inspirational, despite bald heads, obvious exhaustion, and trauma evident in the body, but with smiles and lack of fear on their faces.

The range of reactions to problems is amazing, and a true example of human expression.  Fear, joy, confusion, bewilderment, sadness, grief, anger, guilt, compassion, tolerance, endurance.  Those and many more are found in these office spaces.  Some are found in other places, but there is nowhere like a doctor’s office to find so many in so short a time, often with no masks, no self protection, just a community of humans looking for company or not.

If you find yourself in a doctor’s office sometime, look around.  Strike up conversations.  This is the library of humanity.  Some stories are boring, some are interesting, some are riveting.  You will never know which is which until you can read the dust jackets, and if they are willing, to open the pages.