Weird Compliments Turned Good

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My dad is starting to read Winter; Cricket and Grey. He’s 10 pages in and he says “I think you’re a really good writer”, longish pause while constructing the words that will follow the coming ‘but’ “but it’s dense. It’s not an easy read, you know? It’s dense like a D.H. Lawrence book.”

If you love D.H. Lawrence you’d think that was a wildly fabulous compliment. I don’t.* But more importantly, my dad doesn’t either. I had to laugh because in my dad’s world, writing like D.H. Lawrence is not a plus due to it being literary. He’s never been a big reader. Lately he’s getting into mysteries and that’s cool because it means he’s reading and reading is something I understand whereas I can never understand his love of sports. I love reading mysteries myself. It’s just about my favorite genre. But I do love a lot of literary authors and so from MY perspective it’s great to be told my writing isn’t “easy”.

The important take-away from this (for me) is really that my dad is trying to be supportive and he’s “determined” to finish reading my book. He assured me at least twice that he really will finish it. The other thing is that he’s being honest but trying to phrase it in a way that won’t bludgeon me because what he really wants is to be supportive. I can’t fault him for that.

It got me thinking about genre again and figuring out where my writing fits into the world of books. I know many people say “Just write and don’t worry about genre or word count or labels!” and that’s fine up to a point. Up to the point where you want to sell your story to an agent who will sell it to a publisher or up to that point where you’re self-publishing and promoting your book and potential customers want to know

WHAT KIND OF BOOK IS IT?

If you can’t tell someone what kind of book you’ve written you give them little room to trust your writing. Some professional awareness is necessary. So this is what brings me back to these questions again and again. A person whose tastes run to literary books wants a book that uses language to paint a rich portrait of complex characters and embed you deeply into a world in which there is a strong element of philosophical exploration. They aren’t going to be as easily sold on a dystopian novel in which there’s a Mormon crime boss.

Likewise, someone whose tastes run mostly to mysteries isn’t going to want to linger on turns of phrases that make you stop and think, they’re interested in action and solving one main problem – the crime that has been committed.

There’s lots of cross-over, of course. I believe I’m a cross-genre writer at heart. So that complicates things. My writing doesn’t easily fit into any genre. There are also many readers who have eclectic tastes in reading, such as myself. In recent years I’ve mostly been into reading murder mysteries. The gnarlier the better. I love Connelly, George, and Kellerman. I’ve gone through periods where I read mostly cozy mysteries like Christie. But I’ve also read and enjoyed a great many classics. I also love some literary fiction, though I don’t read much of it any more because there’s a tendency in literary fiction for them to end on depressing notes with either everyone being dead who you rooted for or pretty much emotionally destroyed. I ate that up when I was younger but now I want hope, I want characters to grow through hard times and come out finding something good in the world.

This is not an important or revelatory post. Just another gathering of thoughts on writing. I’m finding myself thinking more about this again as I finally FINALLY find a flow with my writing again. I had an almost 3,000 word day on Wednesday. Yesterday I wrote 526 words into a new chapter. I’m making myself GO with it and not get hung up. I don’t know how long I’ll get to stay home and not go to a day job that sucks away all my writing energy. I need to make use of this time I have. It feels incredible!

Two things my dad said stuck with me particularly, about me trying to build a writing career as a novelist. The first was that he thought I should get my apothecary business to make money so that my writing doesn’t have to. So I don’t have to think about writing to please commercial tastes. That’s not the kind of advice he normally gives. He’s really loving my apothecary business plan, so that’s cool. In the past I would have read into his suggestion that I don’t try to make money on my novels as him not believing that I can succeed as a novelist. But I’m not reading it that way because I know that my dad wants me to succeed. I know he thinks I have writing skills. But he’s not the kind of guy to know how to put much store in finding security of success in the creative fields. He doesn’t know how and it’s uncomfortable to him.

The other thing he said he said because I was talking about how I want to be a career novelist and I don’t necessarily think I can do that with the kind of books I’m writing right now. I was telling him how I always end up asking myself why I don’t write romances. Then I try to write a romance and I can’t keep it light and stick to the tried and true formula. So my dad suggests I use a pen name to write romances with the idea that having a pen name will give me the freedom to write commercially viable romances. My first instinct was to explain to him that if I could write commercially viable romances I would be proud of them because I don’t look down on the genre. But then I realized that it was really a suggestion to help me release whatever inhibitions I might have about writing in a genre that I haven’t yet been able to feel free writing in. It’s kind of genius. Whether he meant it this way or not – I think that writing the novels under a pen name might be just the ticket, but then publish them under my own name.

I would like to know how it feels to write a book in just a few months and writing the way I write normally takes me a lot of time.

Of course, it could turn out that that’s how much time it takes me to write ANYTHING. That’s okay too. I’m beginning to settle into the notion that I’ll never be fast at anything. I never have been. I tried running fast once for the track team and passed out in front of the love of my life.** Slow and steady has always been my pace. Or sometimes slow and not steady. Whatever.

I know one thing for absolute sure – I need to NOT get another day job or all the writing will simply dry the fuck up and if I can’t write I become a desperate mess of human pulling my saggy remains across the smoking hot rocks on the floor of hell. I have to write. That is the most important thing of all.

*I don’t like D.H. Lawrence’s books. They leave me cold and depressed. But if someone who loved his work compared me to him I’d feel wonderfully complimented because one thing you can say about his work is that it’s beautifully written to make me feel like shit about human beings.

**Turned out not to be the love of my life, but I had a mad crush on him for 3 solid years in elementary. MAD CRUSH.

The Strength of Kindness and Letting Go

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This Saturday was a stressful one in which a lot of people disappointed me by launching an online attack on someone over a case of semantics. I’m not going to talk about the thing that happened or the people involved. I AM going to share some thoughts I’m having right now that were triggered by this extremely upsetting incident because it revealed something about myself:

I have considered myself one of those lucky people who’ve been abused but overcame it and never lets anyone abuse me anymore. But the truth I’m having to look at now is that I have continued to enter into friendships with people who turn out to be abusive to others and I stay in the friendships because I’m scared of the confrontation that might occur should I end it. I’m afraid of being bullied and skewered and abused so I make lots of excuses for friends’ abusive and/or bad behaviors and cling hard to every little scrap of goodness I can in them to explain to myself why I don’t disconnect from such toxic people.

I’m just as afraid of these dominant people as I was of certain grownups in my life who I spent all my time trying to keep calm and happy so I wouldn’t have their unpredictable anger and punishment turned onto me. Which it was anyway.

I had one friend who I remained loyal to even after I found out how racist and angry and destructive she was. I told myself that I owed her my loyalty for having been there for me when no one else was. I told myself I could be friends with her even though she was a racist because I told her not to talk like that around me because I found it offensive. She got a gun eventually and in spite of deep misgivings I stayed friends with her. I told myself that she probably wouldn’t ever turn on me with her gun even though I knew her to be a deeply unstable person in desperate need of psychiatric intervention.

I stayed friends with her for 20 fucking years because I was afraid to cut her out of my life. I was afraid of what she might do to me. I was afraid of what she’d say to me. I was afraid of the drama and confrontation that I’d seen her enact with others. After 20 years I finally decided the risk of cutting her out of my life was better than living with the dread and unpleasantness of staying friends with a person whose values I could never share and who had such hatred in her heart and a punishing and unforgiving nature.

I’m still sometimes scared she checks in on me and will come and kill me in retribution one day. That’s no joke.

That’s the most extreme example, but it’s just one of many such friendships I’ve stayed in because I was scared of getting out. Rarely in fear of physical retribution. Always in fear of verbal retribution.

I know how I get into these relationships but I didn’t see the pattern for what it was and I have never admitted to myself the real reason why I wouldn’t just leave them once I felt uneasy about what kind of people they really were, once I saw their true poverty of character.

Once you have a revelation like this you have to DO something about it. You have to USE it. But then yesterday my friend Sid, who works in the mental health field, reframed it all for me and I want to share it because I have other friends who I think might benefit from hearing this.

  • It’s not a failing to give people the benefit of the doubt even when they disappoint you or others. We all need to be given the benefit of the doubt in our lives from time to time because we all make mistakes.

Working hard to find the good in people when you’ve discovered they’re badly broken is valuable and everyone deserves as much of this as you can afford to give them.

  • Sometimes the friendship and empathy you offer can help a person shed some of their own bitterness and influence their behaviors for the good. Sometimes not. It’s not always for us to know if we make a difference in someone’s life or not. That isn’t the POINT of offering kindness and love to people.

BEING A PERSON WHO WORKS HARD TO SEE THE GOOD IN OTHERS EVEN WHEN THEIR GOOD QUALITIES ARE OBSCURED BY A LOT OF TROUBLING QUALITIES IS VALUABLE. THE WORLD NEEDS A HELL OF A LOT PEOPLE LIKE THIS.

Sid reminds me that the person I am might get me in these unpleasant situations but that it would be a shame to take away from this revelation I’ve had that I should stop extending kindness to people who show destructive patterns of behavior.  She reminds me that it would be a shame to stop giving people the benefit of the doubt as a general rule, because those are qualities desperately needed in the world.

Instead of losing qualities in myself that are good, it would be better to work on empowering myself to leave when I feel I’ve given what I can. The thing to work on is not being afraid of the confrontation sometimes involved in saying “enough” to person. Absolving myself of guilt at abandoning people who are mentally ill like myself, who are as broken as I’ve been. I’m allowed to walk away when it feels unhealthy. It’s okay to walk away from someone when I see them abusing others.

It’s always okay to walk away. I don’t owe anyone anything. No one gets my permanent loyalty just because they were kind to me once or twice. Loyalty is not a blind observance that once given can be abused without fear of defection. At least, if that’s what it is, I’m not interested in loyalty and I need to stop believing I automatically owe it to everyone for the tiniest of reasons.

What matters is forgiveness. Forgiveness matters a whole fucking lot in this world. You can forgive a person and walk away from them. Forgiveness doesn’t require that you keep allowing someone to hurt you. But forgiveness requires that you let go of all desire for revenge or retaliation.

Kindness matters as much as forgiveness. Not that people be kind to YOU but that you cultivate kindness towards OTHERS. Kindness is an under-appreciated strength. Buddha knows the strength of showing kindness to your enemies. Jesus knew the strength of kindness. Gandhi knew the power of kindness.

So I’m not going to abandon my strengths just because I sometimes get burned. I will just practice walking away with forgiveness as soon as I need to. I’ll practice not waiting so long to let go when I need to do it for my own peace of heart.

I’m Here For The Music Tonight

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I’m here for the music tonight. Mine, yours, his, hers, theirs; the sound of the dark encroaching on the boundaries of light, the sound of people hitting the floor with fiddles flying, the sound of guitars resurrecting Spanish ghosts. I’m here for all the music.

I’m terrified of silence. Not the silence between myself and the empty room I’m in. I’m terrified of the silence between uneasy people, the silence that squats down on a street with thunder clouds that never break, the silence whose cold breath rushes across my skin without stirring a single hair or locust or ghost.

The silence that lets all the other voices in.

I’m here for the slow song blossoming into morning with the plaintive cry of the grieving dove shifting above us all, remembering before we do the lost notes of our sacred instruments abandoned for brief disillusioned passion.

I’m the grieving dove. I’m the bow of the fiddle. I’m the instrument shed to the ground in exchange for ephemeral passion whose cut-lawn fragrance fades before you can wrap it in your silk veil of prayerful propositions. I’m never sure the grieving is worth the life of the song. Never sure the grieving is worth anything.

I’m the muscle that takes you in and pushes you out of love. I feed you oxygen and blood and at the end of the day I would bleed you out if I could because you never appreciate the small gesture, the small proofs, the boutonniere of passion. You unwrap everything like the cheap chocolate you crave but hate because it makes you sick, because it never tastes quite big enough for you. Because it’s never quite sweet enough for you. Because it never satiates your false hunger.

I’m here for the music.

I am the music.

 

I Set the Bar High Above the Floods

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Writing goal: I want the line between prose and poetry to blur while never losing sight of the story or clarity of character.

How high have you set your bar as a writer?

I want to know if my writer friends and acquaintances have specific goals for the skill level they hope to reach with their writing. Here’s how I asked it on Twitter “Writers: do you have a style or a quality of writing you’re aiming for and do you think you’ll know it when you reach it?”

Some people said that they just try to always improve their work. Some said they aim to be the most “them” they can be. Some said they weren’t sure there was such a thing as a point at which they’d feel satisfied with their skill. Some were most concerned with rhythm and voice. Others have the goal of using the least amount of words necessary to be understood.

I realized after some discussion that while I was really loving the discussion my question sparked it wasn’t quite getting at the question I really meant. My curiosity remains unsatiated and maybe it’s for the best but I’m going to elaborate here at least to explain what sparked my curiosity in the first place.

But first let me make this clear- the question isn’t “how do your goals compare to mine?”.

It’s about your personal yardstick for what you think is great writing and do you have a mark on that yardstick you’re specifically aiming for? Clearly not all writers are. This question is a lot like “Are you a plotter or a winger?”

Barbara Cartland wrote romance novels and throughout her career all her books were pretty much the same quality. I loved them when I was 12 years old for a while but her writing and story telling skills couldn’t hold a candle to those of the other authors I was reading at the time like Scott O’Dell, Margaret L’Engle, C. S. Lewis, and Frances Hodgson Burnett. She wrote bodice rippers that were extremely popular, made herself a fantastic career writing what she wrote, and maybe that’s where she set her writing bar. Maybe that was the POINT of her writing. Maybe the difference between her and the other writers is that she recognized that she could write a certain kind of book that would sell really well and make her a living without having to work as hard at it. She developed formulas for stories that she followed again and again.

But did she never long to write deeper stories? Did she never dream of writing a book that made more beautiful use of language? Did she never want to break the formula to write a story she hadn’t already told 30 times before in almost the exact same way each time?

Did she just stop trying?

Was selling books the only bar she set for herself?

Like mine, her first stories had to have been as green and rough as all first stories are. She had to develop enough skill to get to the point she settled at, but then what happened?

But to ask these questions it is necessary to acknowledge that everyone has different tastes and different ideas of what great writing is. Writing is both a skill and an art and therefore judging it is highly subjective.

Even so, none of you can tell me you don’t recognize that Barbara Cartland’s books reach a much lower bar of writing skill than Barbara Kingsolver’s books do. Even if you despised both those authors you can’t tell me it isn’t obvious that Kingsolver chooses every word carefully and takes great pains to build characters whereas Cartland pumped those romance puppies out with little regard for craft.

So there IS, in spite of the subjective nature of writing, a discernible difference in levels of quality in the published world. I wouldn’t divide quality into genres as some would because I think there are high quality writing examples in all of them, not just in “literary”.

Not everyone writes for the same reasons and it’s perfectly fine if reaching a specific bar of quality isn’t among them. There’s no such thing as an invalid or dumb writing goal. Some writers’ whole goal is to tell great stories. Which is a fantastic writing goal.

But what does that mean to them? When they say that, surely they have an idea of how much skill it will take them to write “great stories” because in their taste for reading they’ve rated some books “great” and others not as great. I won’t believe they have no examples of authors or favorite books that inspired them to write, that represent for them the level of writing they want to achieve for themselves. THAT’S the thing I wonder about.

I’m rereading the first draft of my manuscript for book two in my Cricket and Grey series and it’s disheartening as all my first drafts are. It’s a far cry from the final draft of book one. I’m proud of my first novel. I reached a new skill level in finishing that book.

But it doesn’t reach the bar I’ve set for myself. I haven’t yet become a master at my own writing style.

My writing style and my writing skill are evolving together and I get impatient. I know exactly where I want my writing to be, what I want it to be, I’ve seen glimpses of it. I’m not setting out to write at a Pulitzer quality or even a literary one necessarily, but I want to write books that are rich with the minutiae that contribute to the best and the worst moments in life. The little details that act as shorthand in our minds to the larger events. Things like the spicy clean scent of sun-hot carnations in my mother’s garden that remind me how much easier it was to be part of my family when I stood on the outside looking in. Or like how the smell of stale sex on unwashed sheets reminds me of a friend’s slow letting go of dreams. I want to write at a skill level that my stories resonate with the minutiae but are never bogged down by it. It takes a lot of skill to use language evocatively and poetically without ending up sounding like a melodramatic word whore.

People tell me not to be hard on myself or suggest I write short stories for a while until I break free of the writer’s block I’ve experienced the whole time I’ve been working on book two. Or they say I should just let go and be free with my writing. Follow my muse.

How do you know my “muse” isn’t a dream-crushing sociopath trying to burn up all my words with a blow torch? How can you be sure she’s not a serial killer with a fetish for middle aged atheists who carry walnuts around with them everywhere they go?

I know my writer friends are trying to help me shake the burden I’ve put on myself and ease the frustration I express frequently.

But I don’t want to shake the burden.

I want to build the muscle to take it on and break it the fuck open.

One thing I’m not letting myself do is edit while I re-read the first draft because it’s not complete yet. When I get to the middle of the story where the first draft ends I have got to let myself get the rest of the first draft OUT. I know that I have to build a strong scaffolding first. Sure, the walls might be paper thin for a while but you edit that out later and build rooms with beautiful thick strong walls people can have sex behind without their children ever having to hear them in the middle of the night.

I want to become a master writer.

I think I’ve only just become a journeyman writer.

Salad, Experimentation, and Clouds

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I finally cracked open one of my jars of pickled Sun Gold tomatoes. They are definitely not nice to touch or eat on their own. I’m specifically reporting this to Lila and Sean who both would really like pickled ripe cherry tomatoes. I’m sorry to say that the skin is loose and the insides are slimy. I took a chance making the recipe because the book that inspired it makes a dressing out of their pickled ripe cherry tomatoes and I thought it sounded great.

I did NOT add the sugar their recipe called for. I hate sweet pickles and I also really hate sweet dressings. Balsamic dressing being the exception – balsamic vinegar has a sweetness to it I don’t mind. Anyway – I put all of the tomatoes and about half the pickling liquid, and the clove of pickled garlic into a container. I added about a third of a cup of olive oil and then spritzed the whole thing until it got as creamy as possible.

I put it on this salad pictured above (iceberg lettuce, roasted cauliflower, croutons, and kalamata olives). It was really wonderful! Since being laid off of work we’ve been eating so much better now that I have the energy and time to cook.

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While waiting for Philip to get the new labels designed I’m working on making new products to add to my line. I did a batch of cardamom vanilla lip balm that turned out really nice. Last night I worked on doing a grapefruit ginger lip balm. This did not go as well. Citrus essential oil flavor/scent seems to disappear when it hits the warm oils and wax blend. I had to add 4 times as much ginger and citrus oil as the other blends just to get the same super subtle flavor my other lip balms have. This has altered the balance of ingredients so that the balm is now too slick on the lips. I’m going to have to do it over once again and add more coconut oil and wax (the coconut oil is solid at room temp and diff than the others)

Hopefully re-batching one more time won’t weaken the flavor. Hopefully I’ll get it right the third time. It’s kind of annoying having to redo this same batch but at the same time I know I won’t be satisfied until I get it right.

That, my friends, is why you want me as your apothecary.

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I’m really happy right now.

I know that my business is going to take a lot of time and a ton of work to turn it into a paying gig, so money might get stressfully tight in a month or two when our surprise cushion from getting some taxes back is gone, but I choose to believe it’s temporary. My old friends here also know that suffering from serious chronic depression means I will still struggle with that in cycles no matter how good things are. That’s just been a fact of life for as long as I know it. My medication makes these inevitable cycles so much milder than they would otherwise be for which I’m deeply thankful.

But right now, this week, the last three weeks, today, I’m simply happy.

All this week I’ve been rereading my manuscript for book 2 of Cricket and Grey and it’s appalling. First drafts are so appallingly bad. I’m forcing myself not to edit. Technically the stuff I’m rereading is all second draft and just as appalling as the first. But I stopped writing the first first draft in the middle of the book. So when I pick up the thread and start writing it again it will be first draft material tacked onto a second draft first half of the book. Don’t worry if that was crazy-convoluted and you don’t follow. The main point here is that I’m  preparing to work on my book again and it feels fan-fucking-tastic!

To be honest, the first draft reads like I’m coddling Cricket and Grey apologetically for making them go through all the horrible shit they went through in book one. Coddling your main characters doesn’t always do them the favors you think it does and it certainly does nothing for readers. I think I needed to get it out of my system.  If you live in a dystopian future in which you can’t afford basic medical care, the government only intervenes with self interest but lets you hang otherwise, and you can’t find a packet of Haribo gummies anywhere – there have to be some comforts like love and friendship, right? A little down time by a late winter fire and a feeling of safety…

Perhaps I’ve been hard on myself with this second book because I know I want it to be even better than the first. I’m proud of my first novel but I see SO MUCH room for tightening up my writing style, for tightening up plot, for enriching the reader’s experience of scent and sound and sight. I think that’s a separate post just on writing.

I’m off to read a little more manuscript and work on that lip balm. I hope you all have a great Thursday!

 

Silent Disclosure Of Imperfection

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Before everything I say, before everything I think, before everything I commit to writing there is a silent disclosure of imperfection you should be able to hear with your heart: I’m a flawed passionate being. I’m in constant flux, constant evolution, a constant state of deconstruction and reconstruction.

I’ve got a broken set of keys to a shady universe. Your keys might look different than mine but they open into the same rooms of despair, of wild love, of earthly hellfire, and humiliation that shifts into peaceful bird cries cleansing dawn air. You might see saving where I see desperate loss in the same room. It’s okay. Hold your heart carefully, I’ll hold mine the same and we’ll find our way to fresh air together.

I know it doesn’t seem possible how I can not believe in God when God is so precious to you. How I can believe there is no divine purpose or plan when it is so vivid for you. I know it doesn’t seem possible that I can embrace your belief while not sharing it. All I can say is that if you can believe in any kind of divinity at all, in any kind of miracle, in the kind of magic that keeps a seven day supply of oil burning for eight days or a crucified Jew to rise from his tomb then you have a place already carved in your heart to  believe that an atheist can love and respect a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Mormon, and every kind of mysticism.

 But dudes, seriously, can we please show Jesus with brown skin as he almost certainly had to have? How is he not beautiful with brown skin? If you can’t love a dark skinned Jesus then you don’t get Jesus AT ALL.

I don’t care about faith. I don’t care about creed. Not when we’re stripped down to the bones of our humanity. When we stand naked and flawed next to each other we are equals. All of us. Doesn’t matter what our ethnicity is, our background, our last names, the schools we’ve attended, the color of our skin, the tradition of our beliefs – we are all equals in everything but in individual character we show through action.

I will drink at your strange fountain and I will invite you to drink at mine. I will lead you to this lean cot in my corner and I will feed you the last crumbs from my pantry because I have to believe that the most important thread of humanity is generosity. I will give you the shirt off my back even if it means I’ll be sunburned before dusk.

I will make fun of humanity, I will find humor in all faiths, in all human frailty, but I promise that when I hear your prayers I’ll grow quiet and let your belief blanket the altitudes, I’ll retreat so that your faith can find expression when you most need it without ridicule or interference.

I struggle every day to root for human beings. This is the hard truth. I rail and cry against the evil I see everywhere perpetrated by humans. I struggle to remember that we’re part of nature, that we’re animals gone feral but not evil, that there’s something good left in us.

I’m going to joke about Jesus. I’m going to joke about Mohammed. I’m going to fucking joke the shit out of L. Ron Hubbard because – there’s no religion or belief I won’t find the humor in. But this isn’t about hate or bigotry. I also joke about myself, my mental illness, my hippie upbringing.

I joke because finding the humor in the every day crap and the miracles I can’t explain and don’t particularly believe in is how I survive.

I am an incredibly flawed person working towards my own personal evolution. There’s no explanation for pure love and good will between people of wildly disparate spiritual and philosophical beliefs so let’s not even try.

Let’s simply practice loving the crap out of all human beings.

Let’s practice forgiving the shortcomings of other human beings especially when it costs us to do so.

Let’s practice forgiving our own shortcomings.

Let’s practice love.

Let’s practice peace.

Let’s see the universe through each others’ eyes and leave each other tiny gifts in the darkest corners.

Bible Crossing: Spring Break Part 3

bible crossingDudes. Duuuuuuuuudes! Mormons are serious about their bibles! They even carry them on cross walk signs.

coolest SLC

You will kindly ignore the misspelling of “poncy”. I’ve heard that Salt Lake City is cool but I really couldn’t believe it until I experienced it for myself. This is why it’s important to get out of dodge and see a few things for one’s self.

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We loved this place. First of all, the building is a protected art deco piece of history. Second of all, the food was great. Max tried lots of new stuff and liked some of it. I had a really good grilled cheese sandwich with tomato basil soup and fries. Max had lamb kabobs with tzatziki sauce and really liked it. Philip had a burger.

Max at Lambs

He also had a teriyaki rice bowl with chicken and vegetables. Apparently he now likes rice even when it isn’t in sushi. Loose rice. He wouldn’t eat loose rice even before he got super picky. Rice and pasta were never on his acceptable foods list. I love how much he’s growing with his food exploration. He tried broccoli and cauliflower at this meal too but didn’t like them. I didn’t even ask him to try them. I don’t ask him to try much anymore because his food exploration is largely self-propelled.

steven seagal was here

I was told by a local person to make special note about this building which she saw me admiring and taking pics of:

This building was used for the filming of a Steven Seagal movie recently. They filmed an explosion here.

film site Steven Seagal

She was a proud city-worker and it was really important to her that I include that hot tid-bit with my trip notes. Done!

Squatters

Squatters was the first and last place we ate in Salt Lake city. We love it. They have a beer called “Polygamy”, so how can you not love it?

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Max got to meet E’s nephew who is definitely cut from the same cloth as Max.

a grand time

The last thing I saw in Salt Lake City were these grand treats set out for the unwary and the desperate. I don’t believe there’s a real Mrs. Freshly. That’s a little too on the nose, don’t you think? “Freshly” for something so completely contrary to all notion of “fresh” I know of.

desert dread

I was so taken with the salt flats I could easily have spent a few hours enjoying it. I would have loved to have had time to walk across the expanse of it to the hills in the distance.

Max on the salt flats

Teens are so hard to impress.

Philip at the flats

We got there just after the sun rose. It was so pretty. We got to see the flats at dusk and dawn. That’s pretty cool.

pool of salt water

That’s right, I took 40 billion pictures of the flats. It’s not like I’ll probably ever see it again.

salt filaments  So much texture and color to examine and appreciate!The ART

Look Pam and Elizabeth! I finally saw THE ART! I can finally rest knowing that I have seen it.

walking on salt

Oh, did you think I was done yet? No way. Look at how that looks like snow but isn’t.

wet crust

Wet salt-crusted rocks.

reflections

This is the last pretty sight for hundreds of miles. Bye bye Utah!

salt

Ooops! Hang on, one more salt picture. It’s like if this was the moon and it was covered in salt.

the devil plays here

And then, once again, we had to drive through Lucifer’s junk yard where poets and writers splint the broken bones of mankind’s soul and artists get excited about the almost imperceptible washes of color that cover the brown hills and flats for 400 pitiless miles of desert.

Salt Lake City Surprise: Spring Break Part 2

ominous fairytale

One of the things I enjoyed the most about Salt Lake City were the trees. While it’s situated in a desert state and surrounded by desert, SLC has so many beautiful trees in bloom this time of year or just beginning to bud.

SLC surpriseOnce in J and E’s neighborhood, it’s easy to forget the nightmare of trying to find it through a string of freeways that look like gummy spaghetti thrown down violently on a map.       old truck

There are strange corners in Salt Lake City. Not bad neighborhoods, necessarily, but strange and creepy exits that lead to nowhere and have NO WAY OUT.

wrong exit

J and E live on Capital Hill in the Marmalade District at the “dodgy” end and the hill itself is like a giant wall enclosing it all. There are houses looking down on you that appear to have a slightly hostile stare. Also on that hill is Fort Douglas, an old army base that was built to look over the city and keep an eye on the Mormons back when they were restless to separate from the rest of the country.

slc hill

Like the history of all human beings, Mormon history is full of dark deeds, illicit fornication, and scandal. There is no history involving humans without bloodshed or creepy sex. Doesn’t matter what religion you belong to or if you have no religion at all. Where humans go, so goes the whole neighborhood. Says the birds who click their tongues in disgust as we savage each other and desecrate the planet… but wait – back to sex!

Brigham

The legend of J and E’s house might not be true but we enjoyed believing it and considering how many wives the dude supposedly had, the chances that one of them was housed where we stayed isn’t all that outrageous.

Luna and BenderLuna and Bender are J and E’s rescue dogs and we had such a good time hanging out with those looney-tune dogs. Such sweeties. You know what I love about dogs? They don’t give a shit who you have sex with or what you do for a living and they really couldn’t be bothered to worry over how Jesus does or doesn’t fit into your life, as long as you are kind to them and feed them and play with them. They don’t care if you have both boobs and a penis or if you had to get a leg amputated to save your life or if you were born with no hair.

hang tight

You can tell most Mormons from non-Mormons even if they’re wearing modern clothes. They have a quality. They have a je-ne-sais-quoi. It’s the same way you can tell I’m a Californian and that I’m liberal.

too bright

Maybe it’s my make-up or my Keen’s that give the show away. Maybe it’s my nose ring and my messenger bag. Probably it’s a combination of factors. Then I open my mouth and give the whole show away to those who haven’t guessed it yet. So yes, you really can spot Mormons in a crowd most of the time. And it’s fun. And I feel a little twinge of guilt saying that and feeling that because Mormons are not a side show. Mormons are not in a zoo. They are not living their life to amuse me.

I have been stared at and pointed to all my life. When people clearly express derision or hatred it hurts me or angers me. But the truth is that if you live and dress differently than the majority of the people around you, they will be curious about you and they will stare. Often it’s simply because you’re interesting and it’s enjoyable to see new and different things and people around us. Sometimes they stare because you’re like a strange dream they had once when they took too much Vicodin and there you are in front of them in all your vibrant weirdness like a flashback. Human curiosity is a beautiful thing. It keeps us asking questions, looking for fresh inspiration, for new horizons, for deeper understanding of our fellow beings.

So what I’m saying is that traveling to Salt Lake City and seeing lots of Mormons is just as interesting to me as hanging out in Paris to watch the parade of French fashion and culture drift past me or as cool as it was to hang out in Old Jerusalem and see the train of medieval looking Christian nuns pass solemnly by after the group of Muslim tourists stopped to get refreshments near our table. People watching is one of my favorite things to do and comes from a place of clean curiosity.

I love trees

So I sat in Temple square watching the crowds walk pass by, picking out the Mormons from the non- Mormons, enjoying the gorgeous trees, the Gothic architecture, and thinking about all the things that bind humans together across belief systems, race, origin, politics, and personal tastes. Salt Lake City is a strange mix of progressive and conservative politics and lifestyles. There’s a lot of opportunity to witness people attempting to find where the middle is between extremes.

Bender and ball

Bender doesn’t have time to think about how religion and politics mix and – well – should never mix. He’s a dog with a ball. The ball may as well be Jesus as far as he’s concerned.

Max and Luna

Luna was skittish around Max the first day of our visit. Bender loved him at once. This is Luna the second morning we stayed with her after she decided Max is awesome.

dogs hanging with Max

J and E are incredible hosts. They always have such wonderful homes – their decorating is warm and full of art and J’s handmade furniture. We always feel at home hanging out with them.

pretty living room

Philip relaxing in the morning before we head out for a walk to down town with Max to get lunch and see what there is to see.

pretty succulents

I clearly need more succulents in my life. I also need to spend a little more time arranging my space so that it’s inviting and inspiring and pretty. This is something I can work on until I have to get a day job again. Today I’m going to work on Winters Apothecary and procuring some needed supplies so I can make more products for the shop while Philip works on making my labels better. So much to do!

Crossing the Great Basin Desert: Spring Break Part 1

dangerous weeds

The last vacation we had was in 2008. We never have the money. In spite of being laid off two weeks ago we decided to take off on a road trip to visit our friends J and E in Salt Lake City during spring break in a spur-of-the-moment decision. To get to Utah from California you have to cross 400 miles of Nevada on the I 80E highway.

400 miles

It looks pretty much like this for all 400 miles. Considering how big the United States is, 400 hundred miles might not seem like much, but believe me – it’s a punishing drive. I’ve been through part of the Mojave desert in California and Nevada and thought that was a thirsty god-forsaken stretch of land but it’s nothing compared to this endless empty stretch of country.

hard living flower

This hearty wildflower/weed was the brightest thing in that desert not including the sun beating down through God’s giant toy magnifying glass of a sky. Did I say God? If I believed in God I would feel abandoned in this landscape.

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I couldn’t quite shake the fear that our clunker of a car would break down somewhere between Fernly and Winnemucca. Too bad if you’re bleeding out from a car wreck, expect to die. Emergency services are all very far away. I admit that I packed food and water as though I expected to get stuck on I 80.

picnic for desperados

This is how I imagine al fresco dining in prison yards to be. I will say that most of the rest stops had decently clean and equipped bathrooms. I can’t say the same for the rest stops on I 5 through California and Oregon. But at this stop I couldn’t bring myself to use them. Truly, I worried I might get murdered in it.

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By the time we made our way to Winnemucca, the only decent habitation along the entire length of that Nevada Highway, it had become our favorite game to come up with epic insults about Nevada to vent our feelings.

Great Basin Desert

Max’s final assessment of Nevada:

NEVADA = SYPHILITIC BAG OF DICKS

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But our insults must be tempered with the fact that I know quite a few very cool people who come from Nevada. Please forgive our violent feelings!

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One of the great things about trips like this is to see with our own eyes the wildly different landscapes that are part of our country. We looked up information on The Great Basin Desert as we drove through it and learned some things about it. My son will never forget Nevada now. He’ll never take trees or water for granted.

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After 400 miles of brown desert, casinos lodged in every available crevice of habitation, and the endless parade of tiny townships that were no more than a handful of dilapidated trailer homes with a broken down barn or store, the salt flats just inside the Utah border were delightfully refreshing. We got there at dusk just in time to see the pink sky reflected in the pale expanse of salt crust.

Irrational Irritation is More Irritating Than Stale Coffee

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Jax, the foster super-kitty caught in a mighty  yawn roar.

As my first week of unemployment comes to a close I have some fears and irritations to chew on along with my not-so-quiet happiness at being home again.

Fear #1: MONEY. Lack of it. I only got a day-job because we really needed the money. I’m so happy to be home every day again but the sharp shadow encroaching on my happiness is knowing how short lived it must necessarily be. Soon I have to look for another part time job, unless by some miracle people really start buying my apothecary products.

Actually, I just spent a half an hour looking at available positions on Craigslist. So it has already begun.

Fear #2: My apothecary website is still unfindable even by a url search. This has never happened to me before and I don’t understand it and an online business relies heavily on one main thing – BEING SEARCHABLE AND FINDABLE ON SEARCH ENGINES. So, fuuuuuuuuck!

Irritation Numero Uno: The company that laid me off is now back in business and have rehired my one friend at that job. That’s not at all what irritates me. I’m relieved she got her job back because even though they treat her horribly she really needs the money. Like, more than I do. She deserves WAY better but at least this will tide her over for now. What irritates me is that I wasn’t offered my job back. I know what you’re thinking “But Bitch, you quit your asshole of a job just last week. What’s your damage?!”* First of all, I actually unquit my job an hour after quitting in hopes that when the dust of our company move settled, things would be much better and I could stay at my job. Second of all, they offered someone their job back who stole confidential documents, padded her time card (and was caught doing both these things, by the way), and who did very little actual work for many months. They offered HER her job back. A shady person who also has the distinction of having caused the company (inadvertently, it must be admitted) to shut down temporarily. They offered her a job back and not me. She pissed off everyone – that’s more people than I pissed off!

So yes, I’m irritated that they value someone who steals, is lazy, and lies more than they value the hard work I did, the honesty I brought to the job, my unwillingness to take advantage of the company even when I was invited to do so on occasion by a person who’s name will remain _________.

What I need to remind myself through my irritation is that while they have dished out the ultimate insult to me, it is also deeply revealing of the owner and the managers’ ethics. I also need to remind myself that if I have to work outside the home I deserve to work for people who share MY ethical standards and who appreciate and respect employees who bring that high standard to their work every day.

In the meantime I have much to work on. I have a lot to do to get my house back in order. I need to clean, organize, and clear the air of fears and irritations. I need to fill it with confidence, order, and love. That’s right, I’m getting all metaphysical on your ass!

I need to find out how to fix the invisibility of my website. I  need to work on my label design some more. It’s not quite right, not quite good enough. I need to sort that out. There are three super important things about making a successful apothecary business and here they are in order of importance:

  1. Make a superb line of products. This is the foundation and heart of a business – the quality of the product being made and offered.
  2. Eye-catching packaging and label. This isn’t just window dressing. This is the difference between being remembered or forgotten. This is the difference between a product being purchased or passed over for a more promising looking product. Before a customer has your product in their hands they only have the image of that product and the copy attached to it to make a decision with.
  3. Visibility/Findability. Your product has to be visible to your target market. Whether you put it on store shelves (I’m not doing wholesale so this won’t be me) or you operate from an online store – customers have to be able to find you.

I have some fantastic products. I’m working on more. But my labels and visibility to my target market are not good. So that’s where I’m at with my business. I’m reminding myself daily that impatience isn’t going to get me where I want to go. Building a good business takes time. There are a lot of details that have to get put in place first. You get there by taking one step at a time. The pressure of needing money might be a useful motivator but I think it can also get in the way of good decision making because if I let it get to me I’ll hurry things that need time to develop, I’ll skip things that shouldn’t be skipped, and I’ll settle in ways that don’t reflect the strong foundation I’m trying to build.

Talking that out made me feel calmer. More focused. How about you? Are you working on something impatiently? Are you battling fears and irritations? How are you dealing with them?

Don’t feel you have to answer. I’m going to go feed my dog, get dressed, and work on labeling as well as write a post on my website that you’ll get to read when the universe/domain handlers/IT people stop hiding it from everyone. Have a great Saturday!

*People don’t talk like that any more, do they?