Say This While You Sneeze

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This is Forellenschluss. (That sounds like the name of an avante guard movie) I ate this very head of lettuce for dinner the night before last and while I admit that when grown in Oregon it is a little sweeter, it was delicious! This is my all-time favorite lettuce variety.

I just now heard the news that Leonard Nimoy died this morning. That’s one dead person who’s absolutely got to feel all the love sending him off to the next adventure! Like so many others, I loved him and I’m crushed to hear he’s left us earthlings to our own devices.

My toe has neither fallen off nor stopped hurting. I believe the world owes me gratitude for not posting pictures of it.

In my dream one friend set another friend on fire. I had to save the one from the other all while keeping a toddler from accidental death. There was definitely something fiendish about the toddler, something more fiendish than usual. Toddlers are bitches.

I just put make-up on and took a bunch of selfies trying to get just the right one to salute Nimoy and I dropped my camera on a toe on the same foot as the other toe. Might have broken my camera too. Oh well. Worth it.

My coffee has grown cold. I’m playing “Sail” by AWOL Nation loud because it’s the kind of song that needs to be played loud. I also need to play a lot more music loud in general. It always feels so good to get music all up in your veins.

Holding my accordion to take a few pics of myself with it for a friend made me realize the shocking truth – it has become strange to me and my fingers can’t remember what to do.

I just realized I did my “Live Long and Prosper” salute, I did it with my thumb closed. Dammit. Can’t do anything right sometimes. I just re-did it. I can’t have Nimoy thinking I don’t know the proper way to send him off to wherever.

It’s time for me to work on my manuscript for a little while. Then I’ve got to make some notes in my business binder. Then I have to finish sewing a market tote and send it out.

So I will leave you with this: when I was a kid I used to make phasers and protective eye gear out of cardboard, pens, and pieces of plastic packaging and then pretended to be part of Star Trek running through the shrubs and underneath the fig tree on the side of the house. I can’t remember if I played Star Trek with my brother or by myself. Happy memory.

Getting Clarity on Goals

Penny in a basket

I’ve made some minor decisions and adjusted my business plan for my apothecary business and it makes me feel loads better to get some clarity.

First of all, I’m not going to be writing on Stitch and Boots anymore. All my gardening and food posts are going to be here from now on. My whole life will be here on Better Than Bullets just like my whole life used to be on Dustpan Alley. Stitch will still be there as an archive and I might still put recipes on it from time to time because I have the plug in for that on Stitch and don’t feel like adding it here. I’ll be turning off comments so I don’t have to worry about missing that.

Second of all, I will be starting a commercial website for Winters Apothecary. That’s part of why I want to put all my writing in one place again. I need to keep things simple. The Winters Apothecary site will just be my store, not a blog. It will have some writing on it as is appropriate for the store but it won’t be a personal journal of my urban homesteading. All of that will be right here. Winters Apothecary will have my books (see how hopeful I am about my writing career?) and my apothecary goods on it.

I don’t think there’s a “Third of all”. Oh! Well, my Etsy shop name will change to “Winters Apothecary” too. I guess that’s a worthy “third thing”.

Over the years I’ve done this a lot. Changing focus, starting new blogs, new Etsy store names, splitting my interests out. I’ve learned a lot, experimented a lot, and had a lot of fun doing it all. I do feel like it was all to good purpose. I wish Dustpan Alley (the blog) was still out there as an archive. For those who don’t know, we let the domain name lapse and someone bought it so my blog disappeared. We think we can get the content printed for personal archiving use but it will never be available for others and I’m a little sad about that. Dustpan Alley was the very beginning of my blogging online life.

I’ve also come to realize that I have to take it easy with this whole business building thing. It takes time. I has to take time. I’m always so impatient. Building something worthy isn’t a fast endeavor. Coming up with and perfecting labels, logos, recipes, and packaging all takes time. Finding the right suppliers and writing good copy. All of it takes time. Building a store and finding ways to induce people to come and check it out takes a whole lot of time. I need to keep reminding myself of that.

Here’s what I want:

Write novels that people buy and read.

Make remedies that people buy and use with a business thriving enough to support my novel-writing but not so thriving I have no time to write.

Still have time to garden, make quilts, preserve food, make fun of everything.

That right there is what I want my life to BE.

Everything I’ve been doing in the past 10 years has fueled me with the expertise, the experience, and the network of people I need by my side to make this happen. Running a brick-and-mortar retail store gave me loads of experience running a business and it WAS growing steadily, though slowly. That’s how it happens. We got out because we didn’t like the store being our whole life. But we were doing it right. I must also point out that I realized one of my long-time fantasies – to have a retail shop. Not everyone takes the opportunity even when it’s in front of them.

That was pretty damn cool.

Getting clarity feels so good.

I have to go to my day-job now. At least today is Thursday which means I have the next three days off.

So Far This Week (the view from Wednesday)

rare rainy day

I miss the rain so much. Come back! Come back to me!

So far this week:

My boss made one of my coworker’s cry.

The toe I didn’t cut off seems not to be made of human flesh.

Humans are gross but also fascinating animals.

I have left Facebook for a while because, PEOPLE.

Raccoons are adorable even if they are fierce and enrage my dog. I wish I could have one as a pet.

I also really strongly want a pig.

On Sunday I made actual progress on my Bad Romance manuscript and it felt so damn good! I haven’t written since, due to the draining day job, but I still feel so happy to have made some progress.

I’ve finished watching all 12 seasons of Murder She Wrote and now have nothing to watch to drain my brain of all its aggressive growling.

I also want a hedgehog.

The tiny baby deadly poisonous snake that bit its person in my nightmare last night actually looked like a tiny baby fish. And then it died.

I’ve been getting more juvenile with my mental insults at people.

I love birds. I love birds so very very much.

I don’t know why, but I think my need to get to know (and hang around) horses is somehow important for my personal growth. I’ve been fantasizing about taking a Greyhound to go visit a friend of mine that I’ve never met in person so I can throw some stitches (she sews professionally) and watch her ride her horses and maybe learn to groom them. She has no idea I’m dreaming of doing this.

In spite of how I sound lately, I truly am fighting to hang onto what vestiges of love I feel for humankind. If I didn’t care and wasn’t trying I wouldn’t be on my news fast and I wouldn’t have shut down my fb account. Humans are capable of good things, they just don’t prefer nurturing that side of themselves. I want to nurture that side of myself.

I can’t find a Jardin de Bagatelle rose at any nursery. This means I need to take a cutting from my friend Sharon and start it from that.

I don’t have enough roses in  my garden/life.

I can never get enough roses.

Bottleneck

glass

I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage in 2 1/2 weeks. I’ve been super grouchy and prickly. I haven’t wanted to be around any humans. Yesterday was a particularly thorny day. Got my feelings hurt on Facebook by a group of people that brought me to tears. I try to wear a thick skin when skating around on social media but sometimes thoughtless spears and careless conversations stab through the softer bits. Not drinking alcohol means a whole layer of protection is missing.

I’m still on a news fast. I’ve been on a news fast for almost 2 months. There’s no way I can let myself go back to reading the news while I’m not drinking. I can’t handle it. I see the headlines so I know what everyone’s getting mental wedgies over but I have clicked on no news links and watched no news programs. I miss The Daily Show a lot. The day I found out Jon Stewart is leaving the show I felt so betrayed and depressed. When the only sane voice in news gives up on us all – it’s pretty much OVER. I realize that someone else will take his place. I also realize that his team will still be there writing and producing a good show, but without him…I can’t even bear to think about it right now.

I have spent a lot of time on my couch under my favorite blanket watching Murder She Wrote. Most days that’s all I can do after I come home from work and take care of Max and do a few dishes. My days off I try to get work done on my apothecary business. But to be honest, I’m just tired all the time.

I know I’m not going to be like this all the time. I know this fog will lift. I know I’ll move forward. I know I’ll get some energy back. So I guess I’m just in a holding pattern until I can dislodge whatever has been blocking all my words and shake them loose. Every morning before work I open Scrivener and I try to get a few words out. Some mornings it’s like shoving my head into a plastic bag, other mornings I squeeze out a couple hundred words and it feels great. I try not to focus on all those times I wrote 5,000 words in a day.

I’ve found solace in quilting some evenings and have almost finished the quilt my friend Pam sent me over 6 years ago. I’ve also been finding some peace in my front garden. I don’t like my back yard. That’s where the dogs poop and we don’t keep up with scooping it up. It’s over-run with bamboo and oak. But the front garden is all mine. I can sit on the porch to enjoy it. I can do little things to it, plant just a couple of flowers, weed one bucketful, and it makes a big difference because the front is so small.

I’m excited about making more potions. I’m excited about learning to make soap which is the next skill I want to add to my arsenal. I still love living in the house we live in. I’m still incredibly happy to be in Santa Rosa. I love this place. I’m excited that Max is taller than me* and his shadow mustache is growing more distinct. I’m enjoying the last kisses on those baby-soft cheeks of his because they’re going to be rougher soon. I’ve let him mature at his own pace and it’s paying off.

Five years ago I worried so much about his eating issues and now he loves trying new foods and though he still doesn’t like much produce for its own sake, he ate fried plantains not long ago, ate coleslaw on a pulled pork slider, and eats avocado (and sometimes tomato) on hamburgers. He’s become a gourmand just as I predicted he would someday be.

My mom is doing really well. She gets stronger all the time even though she still feels tired a lot. I’m hoping this year will be surgery free for her.

I guess I’m giving all the updates today.

I’m going to pour another cup of coffee and chisel a few more words out of my brain into one of my manuscripts. Later I will be heading to the library to renew my card and find history books on San Francisco in the 1870’s if they have any, and costumes from the same period. I also might look up a book or two on typhoid for fun.

I hope you all have a peaceful day!

*He thinks it bothers me that he got taller than me so don’t break it to him that I enjoy seeing him grow taller.

What Pestilence Killed All The Words Inside Me?

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My Mandarin Orange is blooming.

My fiction writing continues to not happen. I knew this was going to be the case when I had to get a job. That’s why I freaked out for a week making my desk into my own wailing wall. It obviously doesn’t help that I spend a lot of time working on my apothecary business in my off hours. Then I take care of my family.  There’s no time left to get into the writing mode. It’s making me feel like a used up old sock. I just had 4 days off and spent most of it just tired. I did a tiny bit of gardening. Hung out with a couple of friends. My family. And not much else. I did open scrivener with the intent to write and I did torture a couple of sentences to death editing a a chapter of Spring, the next Cricket and Grey book. But there was no energy in it. It feels like all the words are dead inside of me.

Maybe it’s writer’s block. Maybe it’s the general annoyance at having no beer to look forward to. (Haven’t had any alcohol for 2 weeks now). Maybe it’s just a deep funk. The majority of my writer friends are cranking out book after book, some of them writing a book every 3 months. I thank other people’s weird gods for the few writer friends I have whose process is a much slower thing, who stumble and crumble from time to time as I do. Without them I would definitely forget that a lot of the best books in history took years to write. Granted, they had to hand write that shit, but still. These speedy writers just take all the skin off my nose.

I did finally get the first chapter of “Bad Romance” finished. That felt good. This is my effort to write a fun breezy fast book. No need to get all wound up in writing exquisite prose, I just thought it would be really funny to trap a couple of modern people in a bad romance version of historical San Francisco. I thought it would be my writing palate cleanser. I’ll just write like a mad-woman, I said to myself. I’ll just crash right through this book and not care about every goddamn sentence like it, I don’t know, like they all matter individually. FUN! BREEZY! ROMANCE! You can’t tell me that most of the romances I’ve read took a year to finish the first draft or even the whole thing. Those things are whipped out. They follow fairly predictable plots. SO WHY THE FUCK CAN’T I DO THAT?

So I thought I’d start chapter 2 of the breezy fun romance novel. Maybe even “wing it” like so many of my writer friends do. But then I realized that to describe the streets of North Beach or China Town in the 1870’s I need to do a little research first. At the very least I need to know if all the streets were dirt back then. What was going on there? So this morning I looked up San Francisco on Google images. Know what I discovered?  San Francisco in the late 1800’s is a very dark place if you’re not white. Well, I kind of knew that anyway but the way people talk about SF in the good old gold rush days always makes it sound like everyone could get by if they wanted to.

My main character, Geneva Thoms, is half white and half Miwok who is always being mistaken for a Mexican. The other main character, Simon Wong, is Chinese American, several generations in. So if I plonk those two (plus Geneva’s misogynistic white ex-boyfriend Rick) into late 1800’s San Francisco, they aren’t going to experience the gay* fun side of the city. Now my book is a little less fun.

I love doing research for books. I’m wondering how much research the average romance writer does for each of their books? I feel I need to read a couple of books about opium dens, the racism against Chinese people (what is the “China Town quarantine” all about?), and about both China Town and North Beach specifically as that’s where most of the book will take place. Not so breezy. Not so fast. Not so fun.

The original idea was to set them into a bad romance version of SF, so in theory I can make shit up and not be strictly correct. I can paint a San Francisco based on broad stereotypes and people’s idea of San Francisco as the heart of the wild west (as opposed to the stark reality of it). Prostitutes with hearts of gold and all their teeth and no veneral diseases; villains dressed in all black flashing gold teeth (but probably not missing any), wearing an entire arsenal of weapons; heroes with long silky hair, losing their shirts at random moments so that pert-nosed feisty heroine’s can fight their desire to touch those bulging oily muscles…while my modern main characters scoff and try to figure out how to get back to reality.

I too want to write quick books and this was supposed to be my first quick romance book. For years I’ve thought that maybe I could make an actual living writing romances. This was going to be my first one, my charming debut, my fling with fast writing and lots of fun.

But damn. I just can’t let go of the details. Of getting them right. And funny isn’t my gig. I constantly intend to do funny and end up poking all the light out of the sky and raining darkness down on my characters. Rape, torture, murder, mental illness, sickness, death is where I always end up in my writing, but with happy endings of course. I intended my first novel to be a dystopian version of a Mary Stewart suspense novel. That was my inspiration, if you can believe it. I wanted to be the new Mary Stewart. I wanted to write suspense books that always have some element of romance in them. Intelligent richly written novels of suspense.

I’m meant to be a novelist. I’ve always been a novelist and a poet in my heart. So why is it like pulling my own teeth out with pliers to get even one lousy chapter written in the course of several months? I miss the energy I felt writing my fist novel. I felt the passion and excitement from beginning to end of writing that novel and editing it several times. Where did that fire go? Am I dead inside now?

*as in “carefree” or “happy”.

The Machinery of Family and Industry

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Living an ordinary life requires such an extraordinary weight of toil. Bones ache trying to keep the machinery of family and industry running. Bodies break down faster than hope and every year the effort to keep your mast full of push grows trickier and more fraught with birds tangled in the ropes and broken compasses crushing your internal sense of place and time. Sailing blind for the first time, rushing the moon with the mascot of your dreams speared hard on the bow, still rushing with blood, sends you sprawling with your heart off the deck, deep into the roiling waves, sucking you down and down and deeper down.

Muffled through cotton quilting your grandmother would have made if she’d known how, you can’t open your eyes yet. You can’t wake up yet to this still morning. You can’t lay your wrists open to the knives waiting for you. You have to ask yourself questions you haven’t dared ask before, you’ve got to listen to the voices you’ve tried to drown with the flags that betrayed your allegiance and bit hard into your faith. They wait for you, just beyond this moment, just beyond this light. Wait here, a minute longer, and talk to me. Tell me what ropes hold you under, hold you back, hold you down. Let me study the knots, let me loose your voice and your wrists and your grief.

Living an ordinary life takes an extraordinary weight of toil. Music  buoys the weary, dulls the repetitive cut across the quick, reminds us why we keep at it when everything feels like suffocating slowly. Take this breath of mine, take my last blood, take the bread I broke into crumbs…take it all. I am nothing without sharing. I am nothing without the music of voices from other rooms. I am nothing without the laughter you can’t help but loose when you feel safe enough.

You don’t need a compass to navigate your way home.

You only need to call to me and I’ll help you fight to shore.

I have no need of lungs, I’ll breathe for you.

Come home to me.

None of the Pieces Match

killer van

I wish everything in life could be reduced to an equation that ends in fruit pie.

Instead, I orchestrate my life carefully to resemble an easy jig-saw puzzle confusing everyone who approaches my board so they never discover that none of the pieces match and most of them are bruised anyway.

I’m the first carnivorous plant that feeds on its own flesh.

I’m the first moth killed by the shadow of its own wings.

I gave all my secrets to a bay tree when I was a kid. I gave it all my tears and shudders of shock. I shouted my nightmares into its leaves, slick with rain, reflecting the last light of my soul. Storms were born in that canopy of sharp herbaceous scented leaves. Storms railed and burnt out in its branches.

Sometimes I think that’s where I left myself.

I wonder if the course of my life would be perverted if that tree were ever cut down.

POV: I Want Your Opinion for this MS

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POINT OF VIEW

Choosing the point of view for my novels is the single most frustrating aspect of writing them. With Cricket and Grey I solved the dilemma by using both. Not a style preferred by all readers but it felt right for that book. It served the story in a way I needed it to. However, I’m working on my Bad Romance manuscript and just like with every novel I have in progress, this is the point that really makes me feel stabby. This particular novel needs to be in one single POV. So I’ve written a short first chapter in 1st and a short first chapter in 3rd.  Here’s what I want to do: show you the first few paragraphs of each version and hear what your preference is. You have to bear in mind that this is merely a first draft which means VERY ROUGH WRITING. So the only thing I want to know is – which version draws you in the most. If neither draws you in at all, don’t comment at all. Ready?

First few paragraphs in 1st person:

The moment our eyes met across the stuffy crowded bar and he grabbed his crotch, licked his lips, and winked at me, I regretted letting my friends drag me to Rick’s place on the night of my homecoming party. I was starting to regret going out at all. The group of friends I’d missed so much while working in Los Angeles seemed different to me now. Maybe because I was thirty two years old and I was getting tired of the bar-hopping lifestyle my friends seemed to be holding onto tightly. By eleven o’clock Kim was barfing into the bathroom trashcan at a bar with the unfortunate name of “Salt Lick”. They all promised me they’d hand Rick’s balls to him if he bothered me, but by the time we reached Frontier, Kim and Suze were licking just about everything that got close enough to their faces for their tongues to reach. Far from protecting me from having to deal with Rick, Suze dragged him to our table as soon as she saw his little performance.

“Look who I found!” she said to him, pointing at me like an exhibit “The little royal highness herself has returned from the south” she tossed back the rest of her drink and burped.

“I knew you’d come crawling back eventually” he said, grinning smugly.

“I’d use those rad psychic skills of yours to save your balls from my knee” I suggested.

“You’re just as hatchet-tongued as ever” he said.

“My works here is dones” Suze said, hiccuping once before wandering off to locate better sport.

“Play your cards right and Suze will lick you without you having to ask for it”

“She’d lick a pile of shit in her condition” he said, looking at Suze’s retreating back.

“That’s what I just said”

He looked down at me with annoyance, opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, and walked off in the casual way he always did.

I could see Kim trying to swallow another person whole in an epic face-sucking session, and Suze was suggestively licking beer foam off of some girl’s glass while the girl looked on in amazed horror. I was much too sober and suddenly feeling more lonely than I had felt living alone in Los Angeles for the last six years.

I squeezed myself between two people at the bar to order myself a drink.

“Want a lift? You can see better from my lap” offered the man to my left. I sized him up and down slowly, to be sure he noticed.

“I get it, clown, I’m short” I said. The bartender, a thin Asian guy, threw a bar towel over his shoulder and leaned in to take my order.

“I’ll try the Garland Special” I shouted into his ear.

“Feeling desperate, are you?” he asked.

“I beg your pardon!”

“You have to be in a desperate mood to appreciate this one. If you’re not feeling desperation of any kind, may I suggest the Coit Tower Fog instead?”

“Desperate and much too dry. I’ll stick with the Garland Special”

It took him a while to get to my order but when he did I watched with fascination as he made my drink with an economy of energy that still managed to communicate a flourish. What he set in front of me did look like despair itself. The liquor was a muddled brownish color near the bottom with floating bits reminding me of flotsam in the bay. A slightly charred dark brown onion stabbed through with a knotted wooden pick drowned itself under the layer of ice. I fished it out and, without thinking about it, popped it in my mouth. It was a revelation. It tasted of balsamic vinegar with the smallest wisp of rosemary and though it had seemed solid enough in my drink it gave itself to me like a prostitute to her last John. Then I laughed out loud at my own thoughts brought on by a goddamn cocktail onion. The bartender looked over his shoulder in my direction and smiled when I raised my drink to him in salute.

First few paragraphs in 3rd person:

The night was clear and hot. The smell of piss on grimy asphalt wafted from the entrances of every alleyway mixing exotically with the heavy perfume of the drunken crowds stumbling down Comumbus and Broadway. This wasn’t the homecoming Geneva had imagined for herself. She watched Suze and Kim chattering with their heads close together just ahead of her. Her best friends through high school were looking old and slatternly in their tiny dresses and five inch knock-off Louboutins. She felt betrayed by time and memory. The friends she left behind were fun and spirited but now they just looked like unprofessional call girls. They’d criticized her look too.

“Chinos, Eva? Really?” Suze said, looking Geneva up and down.

“They’re not chinos, they’re-”

“Are you gay?” Kim broke in.

“You’ve known me for seventeen years and you don’t know I only date men?”

“If you’re not gay, why wear men’s shoes? You didn’t used to wear men’s shoes” Suze looked like a person who knew they’d asked the clincher of a question and practically licked the cream from her paws while Geneva just stared at her with a distinct chill in her expression.

The whole conversation was ridiculous and yet it bothered Geneva. Her friends didn’t used to be so stupid. The fact that she was wearing Dickies and men’s wing tip shoes didn’t make her look the least bit manly. Even her boyishly narrow hips couldn’t do that. She was wearing her signature style, men’s pants and shoes, a fitted scoop necked tee, antique Victorian garnet chandelier earrings, her dense curls pulled into a messy top knot, and her small wrists were weighted with several gold bracelets. Her dark upward slanting eyes were set off with black liner making them appear bigger than they were. In spite of her lashes being straight and not very long, it was her eyes that most people remembered most about her face. More than they remembered her full lips on which she always wore a shade of crimson lipstick that particularly set off her creamy brown skin.

Geneva didn’t regret moving back to San Francisco. The air here had that inimitable blend of city grime and sea fog that was part of her childhood and after six years of living under the heavy hot smog of Los Angeles, it felt wonderful to breath the fresher city air of home. Even on rare steamy summer nights such as this one, the air was so much cleaner. What she was regretting was letting Suze and Kim take her out. They were determined to end the evening drunk in strangers’ beds. Now they were dragging her to Frontier, the bar her ex-boyfriend owned. No amount of objection deterred her two friends. She thought about abandoning them and heading home to the tiny studio apartment she just moved into. Surely unpacking boxes was better than this.

Instead she followed behind them reluctantly telling herself that the sooner she faced Rick, the better. Just as they reached the bar, Kim lunged to the nearest trash can and barfed loudly. When she was finished, she wiped her mouth on the back of her hand,and said “Let’s DO this, bitches!” They entered the crowded bar and looked for a table.

Which version draws you in more? I think doing this exercise convinces me that 1st is the strongest.

Full of Emptiness and Thorn

all in the eye

Maybe it’s time to stop writing myself grim lullabies about graves and soft warm webs of earth that suck me down into the heart of everything where I suffocate kindly with the brevity of winter twilight. Breath frozen across lakes of cold fire will become pebbles in your shoes, slowing your steps until you stop and look behind you at the ghost dogging your every step. All you’ll see is the veil of frost my shadow has become. All you’ll see is the bluing of your ragged memory. Time is kinder than you know.

Maybe it’s time to stop writing myself grim lullabies about the graves I’ve dug to bury myself in, lost in blind thickets of brambles where only the wasps dare visit. Under cover of damp leaves, fresh with soft rain, my bones shift restlessly, clattering against each other like new life impatient to breathe in the first dawn. Impatient to taste dappled light and sour fruit and all the other young things. My bones rustling in their nest of soil, rock, and petal attracts the keen hunter threading through the woods. Nothing here, nothing here, I whisper just above the serrated edge of the leaves that hide me. Move along, move along, move along thirsty hunter! My bones are dry as your parched mouth and full of emptiness and thorn.

Maybe it’s time to stop writing myself grim lullabies about the graves at the edge of town where all the homeless people huddle for warmth in the cardboard city built of acrid sweat and torn shoes. Their roofs of thin branches and icicle daggers are nothing more than spider lairs hung between their thin blankets and the feelingless stars. Even when I try to hold their heads in my marrow lap they can’t feel these dead hands. Can’t feel anything but the chill of my heart spread across the winter grass fields in hoarfrost.

Choosing the Open Ended Adventure: Swimming Towards the Ocean

selfies in the sun

I’ve been thinking about choice. The choices I make every day that lead to new choices to make. I’ve been busy listening to other people closely for the last couple of years, more than ever before. Listening to people so hard I can feel the blood pumping through their voices and feel their cells trembling with emotion. The exercise of listening to others has made me listen to myself more closely too. When I find myself criticizing other people’s choices, I look harder at my own. When the things they say make me angry, or terrified, or crushingly hopeless, I listen closer to the words I’m using every day and how they sound to others.

Whatever I find in others, both positive and negative, I always find some of it in myself too. Even if it’s just a weak shadow, I can always find some scrap of everything that lives in the hearts of others in my own. I believe this is because of the interconnectedness of all life on earth and the universality of human experience.

There are very few instances in which we don’t all have a choice in how we act and react to everything in our lives. One of the most important things I’ve learned in life (and I learned it a long time ago) is that not liking the choices you have isn’t the same thing as not having choices. When people say “I didn’t have a choice” what they mean is “I hated all the choices I had and I’m pissed off about it”. It means the choices they had were hard and unpleasant. Everyone is faced with hard choices in their lives at some point. Most of us will face hard choices at frequent intervals in our lives.

I hate it when people use the fact that we all have and make choices to shame those who’ve made what appear to be “poor” choices. I don’t look at choice like that. Who of us hasn’t made the easier choice knowing it might not be the best choice? Who of us hasn’t made choices out of fear or wishful thinking? Who of us hasn’t made choices we regretted? Anyone who claims they haven’t made choices they’ve paid hard for later and regretted, at least for a little while, is lying through their teeth.

Sometimes the choices we make that others criticize for being “poor” are the ones that lead us to the greatest personal growth.

What will help you (and me and everyone) grow the most and find the greatest satisfaction in life, is taking responsibility for the choices we make. This isn’t about being right or wrong. It isn’t about what you should or shouldn’t have done. It’s about acknowledging that you almost always have CHOICE and to make those choices consciously. It’s about forgiving yourself when you make choices you later regret while simultaneously giving yourself permission to make new and different choices every day. It’s about appreciating the rewards of choices you make as much as admitting responsibility for the choices that led you to more pain.

When you choose to do things to take care of yourself, like resting when you need to, like saying “no” to people when they’re asking more of you than you have to give, like spending the money for a good fucking pound of coffee because coffee makes facing every day sweeter even if it means you’ll be eating plain baked potatoes for dinner because you can’t afford both good coffee and a great dinner. Whatever taking care of yourself means, when you choose to take care of yourself, you’ve got to acknowledge that you did that for yourself. That YOU chose to give yourself something you really needed.

I’ve made a lot of hard choices in my life. I remember sometimes thinking “This is total bullshit! This is no choice at all!” and I remember the bitterness that comes with feeling I had no choice. I remember the feeling of powerlessness when faced with terrible and terrifying choices to make.

Feeling powerless isn’t the same as BEING powerless.

Finding the courage to use the power you have is sometimes the greatest challenge in life.

Choice is on my mind a lot this week especially as I near the departure day for a choice I haven’t wanted to make. A choice I’ve avoided making for a long time. I’ve taken steps close to it and retreated in fear. I’ve shared quite a bit of this journey here on this blog but I’ve kept plenty of it private too. I can’t and won’t allow other people’s opinions and prejudices and dogma to steer my ship.

That’s me choosing to protect myself and nurture my fragile courage.

People are scared to acknowledge that they always have choices. They’re scared it’s the same as saying that everything that ever happens to them is their own fault. But that’s not true at all. Other people are constantly making choices that affect our lives too. None of us can (or should be able to) control the choices others make. As our lives are constantly intersecting and overlapping, we create situations for others that they, then, have to decide how to react to or act on. And others create situations that we have to decide how to react or act on.

Acknowledging that you always have choices isn’t about laying blame on yourself for your unhappiness or sorrows or misfortune. It’s about empowering yourself to SEE those choices for what they are. It’s about empowering yourself to make choices more consciously because acknowledging all the choices before you when you’re in the trenches of misery allows you to see all the possible ways out of the trenches. Those choices might be really hard, they might suck, it might hurt your heart (or the hearts of others) to make them, but the person who’s hurt the most when you stumble blindly making decisions out of fear or choosing to NOT make any decisions* is yourself.

So this is what I’m practicing. I keep saying “you”, but I’m talking to myself and about myself most of all. Maybe “you” aren’t ready to hear this shit, or maybe “you” are way far ahead of me and are on to new lessons and meditations on life. That’s cool. But this is where I am right now.

Acknowledging choice is allowing me to be kinder to myself. I’m seeing that I’ve made a lot of crappy decisions that I truly believed were the best I could make at the time. I can look back, with the things I know now, and shake my head and say “you SHOULD have…” but instead I’m just looking back and seeing how I kept moving forward and kept fixing the broke shit with the tools I had. Sometimes I made horrible decisions because I was scared and ended up sacrificing more of myself than I ever thought I’d have to as a consequence. But there’s no shame in that. We all do that. I’m proud of myself for being able to face those decisions and take responsibility for them. Taking responsibility for them helped to set them free. I’m a fallible human being learning new tricks all the time. I don’t float in swamps, my friends. I seek the clean moving water. I seek the streams that lead to creeks that join rivers that rush onwards towards the sea.

I’m terrified of the open ocean even as I’m drawn to it with the pull of the river currents and the moon.

The choice I’ve just made scares me because I don’t know how long this trip is going to be. I don’t know how to pack for it mentally or spiritually. It’s an open-ended adventure. I only know what I’m going to do on Monday.

To all of you who are facing tough situations and having to make tough choices:

Have courage!

Swim for the ocean and let the horizon be your anchor!

I’ll be there too.

*That’s an actual choice people make constantly, to do nothing, to say nothing, to change nothing IS a choice.