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.

Sit! Stay!

I just saw a terrific post from www.WritingSisters.com  about how to be a writer.  A dog sat before a computer keyboard, and the caption said “First rule of writing: Sit.  Second rule of writing: Stay.”  I have to tell my self that lately.  I’m beginning to think I’ve developed Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.  I’ve been so easily distracted lately it’s driving me crazy.  I wonder if it has to do with the weather.  Or my allergies.  Or my sudden desire to spring clean.  My sister/roommate/mortgage partner would scoff, but I have been doing more cleaning than normal.  I also have health issues in myself and my family to deal with.  I just haven’t been writing as much as I want to, and I need to sit and get words down.  (I can’t say ‘down on paper’ anymore, you know…)

There have been lots of words going through my brain.  Several stories have been writing themselves up there.  Maybe it’s a necessary step before I can get the fingers moving.  I have been talking to several people about writing, as well.  Hopefully they will spread the word and I will make more sales.  I have also been busy learning everything I need to do about setting up this website as a merchant’s page as well so that anybody can buy my books and other items from me easily.  I told my sister I might have to start taking night classes at the local college for business administration.

I have also been working through taxes.  It should be easy for me after thirty years of working there in the trenches, but everything keeps changing and often the most difficult challenge is trying to figure out if the word they use for something means the same thing as the word you’ve always used for it.  This happened at work all the time.  Most of my efforts in writing training materials was spent making sure the students understood the language used in the procedures.

You also have to be super organized if you are trying to reference anything that happened in previous years, and unfortunately, my years of too much work and not enough filing have caught up with me, so I’m trying to do it all now.  I do at least have some decent software to help with that.

Organization is also extremely important when it comes to writing, even if it’s fiction.  I base my Biblical characters’ stories on specific Bible verses, with background details on other research, and it’s vital to be able to look back to the research quickly.  I am so glad I spent the necessary money to get a computer that can handle what I’m asking of it.

Wow, my fingers are cold.  I’ll have to turn the heater back on.  It’s supposed to get warm today, but the sky is still gray and the wind has picked up.  It is Texas, after all, where the weather laughs at weather predictions.  I’ll go get warmer clothes on and try to warm the house up a bit.  I need to get some dishes and floors cleaned, which will help warm me.  But I swear I will be writing in my head, and will get back to the keyboard “toot sweet” ( apparently a phonetic spelling of some French phrase meaning ASAP) and get some more moneymakers done.

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.