Category: Writer’s Desk

all about writing, words, fiction, writing projects

Letting the Words go Fallow

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I used to sit down to my blog every day with something to say. At some point everything I had to say became so difficult to discuss in a blog post that I couldn’t face the effort of diving in and dissecting a subject like I used to. Blogs have changed, social media has changed the nature of blog writing. At first blogging felt like a can opener that could rip the world wide open and let light into all the dark corners. Blogging created a geek paradise for those of us who have had a hard time finding our tribe in our own cities. But at some point the blog world started feeling like a cross between high school and a tacky advertising firm.

Writers sometimes have to stop writing in order to breathe, in order to live outside their own heads, in order to refresh and find the new page. I suppose I’ve been going through a lot of that in the past two years. I finally found the personal struggle I don’t feel comfortable sharing a lot of with the world.

And considering I’ve been open about my struggles with suicidal ideation, that’s saying a lot.

In spite of all of this, the urge to sit down here in my small corner of the public universe and talk about everything I’m thinking about, hearing, seeing, and worrying about is super strong. I’ve sat down to write something a million times and tried to unburden my mind only to find that no matter how loud the detritus in my head rattles I can’t shake any of it loose. Over the last ten years I have driven myself to produce ever better content, to become a better editor, a better photographer, to make stronger arguments, and to give something worth stopping for to those who stumble into my universe. Writing here has absolutely made me a much stronger writer, has made me accountable to an audience, has made me see my writing outside of myself.

But I forgot how to simply let myself spill like I used to. I’ve forgotten how to sit down without a specific agenda and let everything tumble out naturally and wildly. I’ve forgotten how to let a subject unwrap itself in a stream of consciousness flood. It’s the difference between only planting things in your garden that you buy at the nursery or seeded yourself on purpose and letting a forest of volunteers burst up out of your soil that you have to cultivate and watch until you discover whether or not you want them to take up permanent residence in your garden. I’m a big fan of volunteer gardening because it’s the only kind of surprise in life that doesn’t fill me with dread.

The most gorgeous pink hollyhock I’ve ever seen sprouted up in my McMinnville garden as a ghost of a previous garden. I’ve never successfully grown a hollyhock on purpose. This one sprouted and I was curious to see what it would become, I had no idea what it was when it first popped up. I let this mysterious thing grow up behind my blueberry bed and I kept waiting to see what it would become, withholding judgment until buds swelled on its stem and I knew it was going to be marvelous. It wasn’t until the buds fully opened that I discovered its true identity.

Sometimes good ideas must germinate in untended fields where they are free to develop un-selfconsciously. I believe great writing happens in this narrow place where wild ideas are allowed to rise from craggy soil but are then pruned and cultivated with great care.

What I’ve been calling writer’s block is nothing more than letting my writing go fallow.

I’m just beginning to understand that during this fallow period I need to let my writing go wild. I need to let it wander, explore, and try new things. I must remove the editorial restrictions necessary for great writing and let it develop awkwardly and gorgeously by turns without imposing my cerebral ideas of what it SHOULD BE. I need to let it be ugly, gnarled, convoluted, and strangled at times. I need to let it go to seed and get weedy.  I need to let it be silly, stupid, shallow, heavy, thick, short, curt, and raw when it wants to be.

It’s in my nature to want to control everything. I have learned to let my garden and my quilting be free from restriction and perfection so that they can instead be meditations of discovery. There are precious few areas in my life where I indulge my childish side and allow curiosity and a sense of adventure lead me forward. Where I allow myself to be unapologetically imperfect and rough.

So many times in my life I’ve written words on paper even when I had absolutely nothing to say because forming letters on a page with a pen was so soul satisfying and necessary to my sense of well-being that it really wasn’t about having something to say. The ink had to always be flowing so that it would be ready when I had something important to say. I kept myself oiled and in practice with a whole lot of stupid nonsense and I never felt shame that I wrote notes like “I’m just writing this because I love to form the letter “a” with my pen on this particular paper”. It was all part and parcel of a much bigger whole. Somewhere along the way I started thinking I could only write when I had something to SAY.

I like to sign my name to things. Not because I really love my name. I’ve had so many last names that my identity isn’t wrapped up in them at all. I like signing my name because when I was a lot younger I worked hard to develop a signature that would be satisfying to scrawl, that would be visually pretty and distinctive and that I would enjoy writing. I get compliments on my signature all the time. People think I’m fancy. The truth is that I waste no opportunity to lushly enjoy forming letters with a pen because I’m in love with my alphabet and my language. That isn’t fancy, that’s geek-love.

There is so much fomenting just under the surface. I’ve had more than one epiphany recently about the projects I’ve been working on that have been unclear and difficult, yet felt too important to ignore. It’s been a little fraught all up in this brain of mine. Now that I’m beginning to understand how important it is for my brain to go fallow I’m relaxing the vigilant anxiety that I’m not moving fast enough, working hard enough, and that I’ll never get to the finish line. At least a little bit.

There’s a big corner I’m approaching. I can feel it. If I think about how big it is I’ll lose my nerve and retreat deep into my sleeping life. I’m trying not to look it in the eye or say it out loud but I know I’ll have to to make it real, to make it rise from its shallow grave where I buried it in a fit of vile fear.

I could die tomorrow.

If I die tomorrow instead of living, I would like to have let my writing, my mind, my childhood, my loves, my thoughts, and my spirit graze freely in a field of wildflowers where weeds are beloved and everything exists on the same level of marvelous. If I die tomorrow instead of living, I’d like to know that my last blog entry wasn’t trying to be more than it is, more than it should be, a pompous studied mess of attempted perfection. If I die tomorrow instead of living, I would like everyone to know that my last thoughts were curious free thoughts without boundaries or fake polish.

If I die tomorrow, I’d like my last words to include a heinous typo that will haunt editorial perfectionists for the rest of time.

I’m not a nice person.

No Wrong Way to Say Goodbye

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There’s a lot of ways we dig graves for the people we used to be, for the people we have loved, for the lives we’ve left behind, and for the thresholds we’ve crossed stitched together with nothing more than booze and frayed embroidery stitches holding our bones up. We dig deep into humus until we reach the hard packed soil underneath, until we hit rocks and flint and moon. We dig until we see the same stars in the dark abyss that we see in the burgeoning night sky.

There’s no wrong way to say goodbye, so let the velvet drapes hang heavy across your mourning, shutting out the thin grim air of death. Cover yourself in wreaths of old roses rich with the incense of crumbling castles shrouded in cool mists you can wear like clothes in your waking dreams. Go ahead, draw and quarter your misery until it has nothing left to scream or bleed. Paint it with blue woad and strike its tatters down until you’re empty of it all.

If you hear the scattering of spirits like raindrops on a tin roof, if you feel the brush of ghost butterflies against your cheek and you need to press it between thin pages of rice paper so it will be preserved in the soft book of time for others to open and discover for themselves in reverent breaths, no one will think less of you. There are as many ways to say goodbye as there are ways to love.

Black band, lavender silks, cascading veils of grief, or candles burning through the night; every urge you have, every instinct that pushes you forward through the dark towards the light is natural. Prostrate yourself against old gravestones or drink yourself half to death if it’s how you need to drag yourself over the finish line.

We all get there in exactly the time it takes us.  If anyone tells you it isn’t fast enough, or you aren’t strong enough, or you aren’t sad enough, or you don’t cry enough, or you don’t pray enough, or you don’t care enough, or you aren’t doing it right: shut them out. Power them down. Sometimes saying “fuck yourself” is the best way to say goodbye.

Wail against the walls that hold you in, shred your nails against the coffin suffocating your sleep, punch fate in the jaw like it tried to grab your bare balls when you thought you were naked alone. Let your underbelly be your strength, let your play be your vocation, let your love push through every grave life digs for you. Rise up through every burial to fly with the mourning doves over branch, under twig, through leaves, until you’ve cleared the canopy of life on earth and exited the atmosphere.

You might not cry tears but at some point you’re going to feel shredded by loss. You’re going to stand out in a thunder storm, drenching and shivering in the cold, and you won’t be able to move or think rationally, and you’ll think you’ll never be able to come in from the wet cold. But you will. Hands will draw you home. Sometimes the hands of strangers, sometimes the hands of those who love you.

I hope when the moment comes to say goodbye you’ll dance and laugh and shriek with joy out in the thick drape of rain. I hope you’ll find the light in the gloom and laugh at the dark that shrinks in your light. I hope you’ll wear your sorrow unapologetically and light votives for fleeing spirits to find their paths home. I hope you’ll come with me to the cantina of the dead and waltz through the empty neighborhoods in our shared nightmares so that we both wake fresh and ready for everything we’ve got left.

 

Rise From Cheap Caskets

night light

I feel a compulsion to write at the end of the year. The last few days are, for me, a time of reflection and accounting. It’s the thing I do. It’s annoying when this time comes around and I’m struggling with something unsayable. Because all I ever want to do is say the unspeakable to take its power for harm away.

The bottle of beer I’m drinking right now has a skunky character I don’t appreciate in beer half as much as I appreciate it in actual skunks.

If I could gather all the words of the world up right now in a loving embrace, that’s what I would do. They are ungatherable as much as some of them are unsayable.

My thoughts tonight are murder on spell-check.

I want to sum up this whole year succinctly and poetically but I find I’m not up to the task.

I cut the corner of my mouth with sharp toast tonight. That’s probably why I’m not up to the task. That’s proof of my general ineptitude.

Mandrake takes a year to germinate. That’s proof that I know interesting but useless things.

I think us humans forget how to access our power and that’s when we feel old and used up. Mortality is an incontrovertible fact of life, but I think we feel old long before we need to because we let go of the things that powered us when we were young and on fire. The people you meet who are full of passion and fight in their middle age haven’t let go of the string that ties them to the lava roiling in the center of their universe.

I’m going to have to fight this year on my own behalf. I’m going to have to work hard to hold onto myself, to unearth myself from the pile of safety I’ve built around my anxiety.

I’ve been standing on this diving board for a thousand years, paralyzed, trying to talk myself into diving into the tiny shallow pool of spittle below me. Keep thinking I’m gonna die here tonight, but keep waking up still on the diving board every morning. Starting to think I live up here where the air is thin.

Can’t cry myself to sleep if my body’s dry as bones cracking in the heat of the Mohave desert, but I can shed my parts like a broke-down lemon.

This is the time to build new bones, feed the spirit, and rise again from cheap caskets. Look how the light bends to my hope! It bends to all of us at the river’s edge.

 

 

Remembering What Kinds of Novels I Don’t Write

Golden Gate Bridge

I am full of anger today. But I don’t want to talk about it. I just want everyone in the world to know that I’m carrying a sword and it would be unwise to approach me without permission and plenty of warning.

I need to channel this energy into something useful. So far I’ve cleaned the bathroom, the kitchen, and scrubbed the fridge down to try to get rid of the rotting flesh smell some fish juice generated that now smashes me in the nose every time I open my fridge. Cleaning the fish juice up wasn’t enough. So I’ve scrubbed every single shelf (taken out and scrubbed in the sink). I can still smell the dead flesh but it’s weaker.

I want to write but if I try to write my feelings I’ll regret it right now. While I was cleaning I was thinking about how all my writing has continued to stall ever since publishing Cricket and Grey. Book two remains in a state of first draft purgatory. Lately I got a bit of a flow going with Suicide for Beginners but that’s stalled too. What the fuck is wrong? I went back to wondering if I only have one novel in me? I mean, I have 7 novels in the queue just waiting to be written but that won’t come to life the way Cricket and Grey did.

My writer friends are all holding their breath praying that this isn’t one of those big long “I give up on writing forever” jags where I’m impossible to talk to and kind of stress them out because they all go through this occasionally too and some of us definitely think the big-blue-ass-doubts are contagious.

I remembered this thing I keep on forgetting. I’m getting really fucking tired of forgetting this thing. The thing is that I don’t want to write dreadfully personal general fiction novels. I don’t want to write science fiction. I don’t want to write romance. I don’t want to write any novels that are vaguely autobiographical either.

I want to write suspense novels in the style of the 1940’s (through the 60’s) – specifically the suspense written by women authors. The only difference is that I want to write it darker and grittier.

I wrote Cricket and Grey after making this realization for the first time, after spending an intense 4 months writing Jane Doe and not being able to finish it or even figure out where to take it. I had my revelation and wrote Cricket and Grey with a great deal of energy and purpose. It still took me four years from start to finish but I knew where I was going with it the entire time.

Suicide for Beginners first came to me as a general fiction novel about a 35 year old failed suicide who befriends a teen who’s also struggled with suicidal ideation. But this is way too close to home the way I was writing it. Way too personal in a way that isn’t healthy for me. I don’t want to dig inside myself and smear my guts all over my novels. I want to use my experience and knowledge to inform my writing, to flesh out realistic characters, but I don’t want to expose myself.

That’s what my blog is for.

So I was remembering the first time I had this revelation and wondering if I’m going to forget about this between each novel and have to go through the painful process of getting off track and not realizing it? God help me, I’ve been flailing around for two years now not remembering this.

I write suspense novels.

Not who-dunnits, not crime novels, not spy thrillers, not science fiction*, not romances, not cozy books of any kind, not semi-autobiographical fiction, and not humor.

I really wish I wrote humor. I’m just not funny enough.

All this means is that I need to go back to the drawing board and rework my ideas. I’m not calling this a breakthrough because I’ll probably go right back to floundering. But I will call this a good realization that just might get my writing back on track.

I’m still angry and don’t want to talk about it. So perhaps I’ll go watch another classic suspense film for inspiration. I already watched Laura today (with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews). Maybe Netflix has Rebecca?

*Cricket and Grey is dystopian only because it’s set in a dystopian future, but the story is really one of classic suspense in the sense that it’s almost incidental that it’s dystopian. The story isn’t really about the collapse of government or societal structure – it’s about Cricket uncovering the truth about her mother’s murder and the killer, now in danger of being revealed, begins to stalk her. The dystopian world she lives in is the set, not the story.

Atheism Versus Spirituality

neighborhood at dusk

I have a Hindu friend with whom I enjoy discussions about spirituality and religion. On a number of occasions she’s got me scrambling to clarify my own views (for myself) and to think earnestly about hers. Most recently she commented that although I’m an atheist, surely I believe in a higher power or some kind of spirituality?

DO I?

My instinct is to shout out: I DO NOT BELIEVE IN ANY HIGHER POWER.

I get stuck on the “higher” part of that concept. But when I really think about it, what I don’t believe in, nay, CAN’T believe in, are deities. There is no part of me that can believe that there are deities with personalities and names and agendas who make decisions about our lives based on our interactions (or lack of interactions) with them or our interactions with each other. I  can’t believe in powers that have mysterious “plans” for all of us that we will never know until things happen to us at which point  we declare that such-and-such deity planned it all along. To me, that’s just as ridiculous as saying (after an event of note occurs in my life) that my dog planned that to happen for me.

I can’t believe that there are powers (above, below, or anywhere) that have rule books for us to follow. Rule books with outrageous rules like not eating certain foods at the same time, or not having sex until a ritual is performed in just such a way that this personality is satisfied that we are its personal performing monkeys.

From all I can tell, all deities are a projection of the humans that believe in them. Kind of like invisible friends that a bunch of people “see” together based on their particular set of needs, fears, and wishes. Deities are so human in their demands, systems of reward and punishment, and narrowly defined paths of “righteousness” that there is nothing particularly more powerful about them than the humans that believe in them, except for, well, the fact that the humans who believe in them believe they’re more powerful.

So, in the classic and most well understood meaning of “atheist” I AM AN ATHEIST.

I don’t believe being an atheist is superior in any way to believing in deities. I don’t think believing in deities is inherently stupid or that only uneducated people can believe in God (as, apparently, quite a few other atheists do). That would be incredibly stupid of ME as there have been many luminaries of thought in this world who believed in a God or Gods of some stripe.

Not all atheists are arrogant assholes and not all religious people are uneducated bigots, reassurances none of us should have to offer each other but DO because otherwise we fear being lumped in with the worst of our respective affiliations.

But as to spirituality…when I start talking about souls and consciousness I start sounding like a proper hippie/agnostic/whatever. I DO believe all beings have spirits. Animals, insects, plants, water, rocks, air. I believe that all souls have some degree of sentience even if humans are incapable of measuring it. Maybe souls are nothing more than commutable energy. Maybe it’s something wonderfully unchartable. It really doesn’t matter that much to me if souls can’t be quantified or qualified by math or by proof. In this way I think I understand the nature of other people’s religious suspension of disbelief.

It’s enough to me that I feel in my bones the residue of history like unsettled ghosts getting drunk 24 hours a day. It’s enough to me that sometimes I can feel energy shift in the air telling me to get the hell out of whatever place I’m in and have later discovered that horrible things happened in the very place I stood feeling the bad shit coming. It’s enough that I can feel and hear all the spirits in the world being torn to shreds with pain as much as I can feel the exuberance of joy that rushes through a thunder storm making me laugh out loud into the bright clash of sound and fury. These are the experiences that deepen my understanding of the world, that allow me to understand poetry. These are the experiences that allow me to respect people who pray to deities, to reach out to them with love because, for all the things that separate us in ideologies and philosophies, what brings us together is so much greater than any of that.

I don’t believe in literal miracles. Literal miracles always strike me as creepy human wishes made liturgical. There is no such thing as immaculate-fucking-inception. For fuck’s sake, REALLY?

(Don’t get me started on my real feelings about Santa Claus.*)

The greatest revelation I may have ever had and probably will ever have again (good god, I peaked early, my friends!) was the time I was attending math and language classes at Santa Rosa Junior College and the sky opened (as it is wont to do) and I suddenly saw everything around me in terms of math. I’m not kidding. Biggest eye-opener in my life. There is nothing that can’t be described with math if you have enough data and math skills. It verges on magical, yet isn’t magic. Math is a language more precise than words  but is structured in sentences and has grammar and all kinds of requirements for agreements with subjects and verbs. Math is as beautiful and as generally misunderstood as poetry is.

I looked all around me and realized that every object, every action, every interaction, every sound, and every thought has a correlating mathematical expression and that’s as close as I ever came to believing in miracles.

This is spirituality to me: Language. Love. Math. Reason. Music. Science. Beer. Poetry. Reciprocity. Interconnectivity. Soil. Avocados. Evolution. Forgiveness.

Peace, out.

 

*Philip knows. Max Knows. Jay knows. Anyone who knows me really well already knows my feelings about Santa Clause and no one wants to hear me say it out loud again.

Grave Digger’s Shovel

Sonoma tree

Give over your tools of anger, there’s no room for them here in the banquet hall of the dead. Give over your strangling ropes and your braided whips of mean discipline, there’s no room for them here in the banquet hall of love. Give over your walls built of soot and silt that crash down on sleeping enemies in suffocating sludge tsunamis. You don’t need any of this artifice to express righteous anger. You don’t need any of this destruction to come right-side up in the morning. Slough off the language of hatred while you  bed deep in the bound hay of summer. Let it go down the devil’s road until it burns without your heart for fuel. Give over to love completely like you’ve got the wings of a thousand doves powering your blood through your arteries and your mind above the highest canopy of trees where you can chase the light and the wind that takes you far away from the gravedigger’s shovel.

Predestination is Lazy and Tiresome

painted vine

My back is trying to go out. My mom is recovering from her hip surgery and might come home today. Chick’s weird ear thing is still a weird ear thing and I don’t think we can afford to fix it. An appointment has been made for aspiration of fluids. I need to be making money. Wait, no! No pressure right now or I’ll curl up into a tight ball of inertia that will eventually implode and become a black hole into which everything will be sucked up and subsumed. The car might be breaking down too. Well, why not?

Bill O’Reilly was my boss in my dream, that’s how you know it was a nightmare.

I’ve been watching The Secret Circle. Another silly witch show. It only ran for one season so not a big run. I wonder why it seems that teen vampires and vampires in general are so much more popular than witches? Personally i find witches more interesting. I loved the Ann Rice treatment of vampires in the 80’s but it got old pretty fast. My friend Catherine posed a question on vampires the other day – how could they father children if they have no living fluids in their bodies? If they have no blood, they must also have no semen. They are, in fact, dead already. I would like to extend that question to this: if they have no flowing blood, how can they possibly get erections? If they can’t get erections, then how can they be having so much sex? These are worthy questions of those creating vampire stories. An explanation is not an unreasonable expectation. If you take a myth and you pervert it to your uses and you make it new, you still need to answer – in some semi-scientific way at least – how your mythical creatures operate and live.

If you create a new mythology based on an old mythology you have to back up your new mythology with some semblance of thought and answers.

One of the things that keeps me from being a real fan of shows involving the supernatural (except for “Supernatural” because of reasons) is the huge theme of predestination and fate. I am so fucking tired of the idea of THE CHOSEN ONE and THE ONE WITH EXTRA POWER BECAUSE OF ANCIENT BLOODLINE and INDIVIDUALS FATED TO BE TOGETHER or INDIVIDUALS ILL-FATED AND ALWAYS STAR-CROSSED AND PINING STUPIDLY FOR EACH OTHER AND ALL THE MELODRAMA OF DYING FOR LOVE AND DON’T YOU KNOW THERE ARE OTHER THINGS IN LIFE AND SOMETIMES WORLD PEACE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ROMANCE?

Humans love this shit. They really love, and apparently crave, the concept of their lives and purpose being decided for them by an unseen force long  before they were born. They love it as much as they love the idea of ancient family royalty. I think it’s total bullshit. (Both predestination and ancient family bloodlines meaning anything other than a nasty tendency towards incest to keep blood “pure”) People love predestination because it means they aren’t responsible for their lives or actions. People love the idea that they were born with a higher purpose. When played out in fiction it’s nearly always means that one person is born evil and another person is born “pure” enough to defeat them. It’s just God and Satan all over again. Infantile bullshit. Simplistic belief in good versus evil. Angels versus demons. Black magic versus white magic.

One thing I appreciate about the show Supernatural is the ambiguous nature of the Angels and the demons. That the angels don’t all agree with each other about their ultimate directives from God, that not all of them even believe that God is still in the building, that not all of them feel humans are worth protecting. And demons are not so cut and dried evil, that they have weaknesses humans can relate to, that they are not all completely evil. It’s still full of predestination and that break-off show they hinted at at the end of Season 10 is all about ancient families. I’m so sick to death of ancient families. Royal families. Special families.

Can we please stop with that bullshit? What I’d like to see is a show about witches that has no royal witch bloodlines. No chosen one. No star crossed lovers. No predestination. I want a show that has myth but without all the religious overtones. I want one that has more realistic characters, where there’s witchery and magic but without the childish themes of good versus evil. How about a show that has curses and spells and interesting characters battling real evil like political corruption and spousal abuse and bigotry? How about witches or other mythical creatures whose power doesn’t come from gods or devils but from the well of humanity and from nature? I’d love to see witches and other mythical creatures taking responsibility for their lives, their actions, and stop looking to blame bad relationships on destiny.

The thing that really ruined Grimm for me was the whole Royal family story-line. YAWNFOREVER. It’s so fucking irritating and soapy. I loved all the monsters and fairytale derived creatures – I loved the crime solving and the relationship between Nick and Hank and them having to negotiate between two worlds. I love the trailer full of artifacts and I love Rosalee and Monroe and the herb shop and trying to figure out how to stop spells and I loved how not all the creatures are monsters but beings from another world who have to learn to live with each other. I loved all that. Then they had to muck it up with the usual stupid bloodline bullshit. Did the Hapsburgs teach us all NOTHING? There is nothing noble about “pure” bloodlines. There is no such thing as pure blood and that people think that’s powerful and desirable creeps me out and it says how little we’ve evolved over the last few thousand years. That depresses me.

I’ve got a black kitten named Tonkatsu in my lap as I type this. How fitting is that? He’s purring like he doesn’t know that lots of people think black cats are bad luck and that black cats are harder to adopt out than other cats. Don’t you dare tell him! He’s the sweetest little boy kitten ever! He’s purring madly and he wants to be part of everything going on. He loves to be in human laps and to play and he has the funniest disco swagger EVER.

It’s time for me to get dressed and go visit my mom in the hospital and ice my back some more and think about what a family Grimoire for a fucked up weird 100% impure and un-royal family might look like. What magic might it contain? What myths might come out of such a tome? The most interesting and powerful families, in my opinion, are ones that are full of members from different origins and legends. People of mixed blood are healthier and stronger. That’s a fact of nature. Mixed genes are better. It also means a rainbow of stories and legends and family histories all mashed together. It’s crazier and harder to track and way more interesting.

So here I go. Having a boozeless Friday. May your family be mixed-breed and your future yours to make!

The Destructive Hubris of Humans

the fly up close

Does this picture make you uncomfortable? Itchy? Grossed out? Are you trippin’ on the fact that me and this fly are equally hirsute? Okay, fuck you, I’m hairier than a goddamn fly. It’s body is also a much prettier hue than mine. Fucker. This fly was dying. I find flies intensely irritating but I also have mad respect for how much more important they are to the planet than humans. That’s a true fact. Humans do nothing for the planet’s ecosystem while flies are a vital part of breaking down organic matter into nutritious soil-improving humus that helps plant life flourish. Ants and flies are vitally important, humans aren’t important at all.

All humans contribute to earth is their destructive hubris.

There was a time when at least dead humans fed maggots and ants and could be counted on as fertilizer for plants  but then we, in our hubris, decided that we were too good to rot like other animals. We began to devise ways to avoid returning to the soil naturally and learned to turn our corpses into toxic land mines.

I DO kill flies sometimes when they get in my house and won’t stay out of my face or off of my food. But when I do so, I understand that I’m killing a better creature than myself. It’s not sometimes I celebrate. This dying dude and I shared some poetry together and I let him hang out on my arm as he pleased. I had beer, it was a moment. I later found him on my floor feet skyward.

I’ve gone mentally microscopic. My thoughts have become macro views of an almost invisible universe.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the novels I have in my queue. My urge to work on fiction is strong but not strong enough right now. It’s all percolating. I’ve had the freeing thought that I don’t have to ever work on the stories I’ve semi-mapped out already if a newer more urgent one starts screaming through my mental discomfort.

I had awful nightmares last night. So much going on in them. It’s hard to quantify what made them so disturbing. What made them stressful. If I have one directive with my writing it’s to put the tension and strange terrain of my nightmares into stories, out of my head and into other people’s heads. You probably think I mean to write horror. I do not. I don’t like the horror genre. Incidentally, this might sting some of my writer friends, I have always disliked Lovecraft. I don’t care for monsters and mystical creatures as villains or gore for titillation. Humans are the villains of my nightmares. Humans and chaos and slowing time and the vile sludge of human filth.

Broken-down over-flowing stench-filled public bathrooms have long been a recurring horror in my nightmares.

Rape, torture, dismemberment are other horrors of my nightmares and of my mind. I’ve heard a lot of people on Twitter saying lately that they’re tired of rape being depicted in books, that there’s no need for that. I get not wanting to read rape scenes. I get that women are tired of the rape of women being common.* A lot of people are calling rape in fiction a “device”. I disagree wholeheartedly with this assessment. It’s true that some authors may use rape as a story device. But in a lot of stories, especially by women, this is a depiction of reality. Rape is an inexorably common occurrence, particularly against women, and to stop telling stories that have rape in them is to expunge an enormously life-shaping experience too many people have.

I think rape has been featured in stories so much and continues to be featured because it’s so common in reality. Dwelling on the scenes might be sensationalism at times but I’ve read at least a thousand books in my life and in most books rape is glossed over. So much so that when it’s treated to a dose of reality in books like “The Color Purple” it’s shocking and gutting. I believe this is a more important story for women to tell than the age old story of women being mothers, wanting to be mothers, worshiping motherhood. Good god, we never stop reading stories about women as mothers. The impact of having kids in every possible circumstance. Women as wives. Women as Femme Fatales.

But books that deal intelligently and honestly with women as the sexual objects of men and as the punching bags of bitter disappointed angry men – WRITTEN BY WOMEN – are still too thin on the ground.

I don’t actually want to read books that are just about women’s experiences of being raped. I want to see stories about women’s lives from a more complete view. I want to know about the violence women experience and how it shapes their lives and most importantly I want to know how they come through it, I want to know how women have become empowered after being crushed.

Life is full of violence. I don’t have any stories to tell that aren’t full of violence too. I don’t have any gentle stories to tell. There are no gentle corners in my head. There are no verdant green spaces full of fairies and flowers and flooded with only love and good and beauty. The brighter the beauty of a thing the darker its corners are in my experience.

Most of my stories don’t have rape in them specifically. One of them does and it’s important. It’s so important to me that I write it but it’s the one story that I’ve written so much for and remains hopelessly tangled and inarticulate. It’s the hardest story to tell of all the stories in my queue.

Until violence against women and abuse of women becomes a rare thing, stories that involve violence and abuse against women remain important. For every woman who remains silent about her experiences out of shame or fear, women writers need to open the way. We need to be telling their stories for them. We need to be exploring how to come away from those violent experiences stronger than we were before we went through them. We need to explore how to stop it from happening to others. We need to explore why it happens. We need to explore the dark tunnels that lead to light.

Not talking about bad things has never fixed a thing. Burying stories because they’re unpleasant gives the unpleasantness all the room it needs to flourish. Silence is never the way forward. Silence is never the way to healing.

I’m not interested in reading stories that use rape or violence as a “device”. But I dare you to find any great story that isn’t propelled forward by either an overt or an implied threat of violence. It’s pretty much the underpinning to all conflict. If not literal violence, then aggression that ruins people. There are no good stories devoid of either aggression or violence. Without one or the other (the one is just one end of a continuum that leads to the other) there can be no conflict. Without conflict there is no tension and no tension means no story to follow.

Sometimes you have to stop listening to the voices of strangers on social media, even of other writers, and trust yourself to write what you need to write and know that someone out there desperately needs you to write it. I write for myself and for that someone who hasn’t yet found their own voice and needs to borrow mine for courage.

Part of this journey of self care is to shut out all the approbation of others, the shoutings and the directives others are pasting all over their own walls and sharing publicly, to paint my own directives, to shout my own truths. To ignore the wider world so that I can listen to the macro world, the almost invisible world around me. I’m shutting out news and activism and babble and rabble – so that I can get to a deeper kind of spiritual activism.

 

 

*IT IS COMMON IN REAL LIFE.

Babushka Nation

happy babushka

Five years ago, wearing my favorite fashion accessory of all time – the Babushka. You’ve all seen this pic a thousand times but sometimes the only picture that will do for a post is an old favorite one.

I’ve always been a rustic old peasant lady at heart. I love simple food best. I need a strong connection to dirt* to feel whole. I love beets. I mean, I LOVE BEETS AND EVERY TIME PEOPLE MAKE SNARKY REFERENCES TO RUSSIANS SMELLING OF BEETS I EXPERIENCE THE FAMILIAR PANG I ALWAYS DO THAT I’M NOT AT ALL RUSSIAN AND ALSO THAT I DON’T EVER SMELL OF BEETS EVEN WHEN I’M ELBOW-DEEP PICKLING THEM.

toothy smile 2

My soul smells of beets, wet dirt, black wool, and rope soles.

Today it was almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I was covered shoulder to shoe in mostly black. Was I uncomfortable? Hell yes. But I could have been naked and I’d have been just as uncomfortable. My pants are long and drapey with an attached over-skirt. It has a Muslim or Indian feel to it. But mostly I felt like an old Greek woman today. An old Greek woman missing her babushka. A babushka is a brilliant accessory. It protects you from religious outrage against bare heads, against scalp sunburn, against the dreaded bad hair day, and it achieves membership in a non-exclusive club of super-gritty street smart women (and perhaps a few men?) who know how to pickle EVERYTHING and throw darts and get a mule to co-operate and other things way more important than world domination or gun ownership.

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Why fight it when you’re finally old enough to pull off the person you’ve always been? I’m fat, middle aged, and I haunt the local farm. I wear mostly black and yet I’ve become too lazy to apply makeup and arrange a babushka over my head? I’ve been an old lady out of context for my whole life UNTIL NOW.

stupid contrast

Many years now I’ve been most at home haunting my local farms. Breathing in the dust of hard dry tractor paths, collecting yellow tomato dust on my dry dirty fingers, saying ridiculous things only geeks or old ladies would say while my vegetables are being weighed. Uncomfortable with my Carson McCullers soul living in a Stephenie Meyer world, finding the farmer’s skull scars oddly attractive, crushing slightly on the farmer’s daughter slowly morphing into the farmer’s son.

Nowhere else am I more myself than in the middle of a mile long row of farm tomatoes. Nowhere else am I more myself than when I’m aproned, grimy with vegetable juice, hair covered in a scarf, and singing working class ballads into the hot summer breeze.

That’s a lie. The other time and place I’m most myself is during torrential downpours, out in the open, streaming with mountain water, laughing like a fucking loon and dancing like someone who knows hollow shadows. I AM rain. I AM snow. I AM bird.

I’ve been wearing a babushka since I was a teen. I’ve let it slide lately. Let it fall by the wayside. My national attire is a babushka, a fitted jacket, an ankle length voluminous skirt, Ghillie brogues, and red lipstick. Give me my office, I can rip your soul from your skin if you can’t give me room to breathe.

Just kidding. I don’t have power over you.

Much.

Knowing what you’re made of gives you power over the outcomes of your actions.

I’m not your cheerleader, I’m your grandmother. I tame kittens, make the best spinach pie, can stop your knee from bleeding faster than the ER, and I’ll shed my ghosts so they’ll only haunt you when you most need them. I come with a stick of butter in my spoon and olive oil in my pot.

 

*I’m sorry Dennis, it’s more satisfying sometimes to call it dirt than “soil”. I cringe in your honor every time I say it.

The Wrong Kind of Luminescence

Oakland

If I could live inside music I think I might be okay for always. I wish I could sleep in music, breathe in music, and dream in music. Why must I always sink in the cacophony of human voices instead? Hearing the scratching of souls against blank dark windows for someone to open them when no one answers. I hear the caterwauling of pain all the way through the milky way. Why can’t I snuff out the voices full of pain across the world and get lost in the joy of music?  Maybe the pain of it too, but in music human pain is more bearable because it’s being flung outward across plateaus where it careens into lush mountains or across molten plains of wheat and is sheathed in otherworldly light, baptized into something more holy and healing.

I wasn’t meant to live like this, in fragile skin, with breakable bones, and friable teeth. I was meant to be strong medicine, like retrograde Venus.

This is the wrong kind of luminescence. It’s kindred to the death-mask. The last thoughts and prayers that paralyze the dead under cover of arching oak trees.

What will I have left to say when my bullets are drawn? What will I have left to say when the spirits are dry and the party is over? What will I have left to say now that Mattis is dead and buried and his shadow isn’t even pressing into my nightmares with the calm cool gloves of the gentleman’s touch? What will I have left to say when all the smoke has drifted to the heavens and found I haven’t got a place higher than the short English daisies meeting the sea? What will I have left to say when the last of us is slit open in the bathtub of God’s hot water?

Tonight I can’t even put a dying fly out of its misery. And it hurts that its reached its end in my office. Slowly, covering the surfaces of my desk and skin with mirthless determination. It rests just left of my computer screen, gathering the strength to traverse just a little more wood until it can’t move through the light. So we stare at each other and we understand how alike we are in relation to our vulnerability. I’m careful not to set my beer bottle on its exoskeleton. Its not so careful it doesn’t climb my beer bottle.

I miss when I was more in my body, as much as I fear it. I liked the thrust of a sword to express my determination to keep taking up space. I liked the bees crowding the ivy in the light of the lowering sun. I liked when my foil flashed through semi-dark to cut down the last light. I liked when sleep was an exercise in hope instead of inevitability. I liked when I could meet the dawn with the vigor of a resuscitated hero. Now I slink behind my own shadow like there isn’t a better bigger shadow I can  twist into my excuse for everything.

Rise, motherfuckers, like you’re the breath of Christ and God is real. Rise, motherfuckers, like you’re what God hoped for all along.

I may have buried my voice a little so that I wouldn’t be discovered in time to hear the responses I don’t want to acknowledge. I want the fierce writing and self care habits of my past but with the wisdom of my present. I want for all those lessons to have not been in vain. I want for all of that blood-letting to have been constructive, or at least to have meant something. Anything.

Under the Bakelite weight of this phone I can hear the past recalling itself to order, planning its comeback in tight satin pants and spangles.

This slow poison is how I communicate with the devil of my disorder. You can fuck yourself.Whatever voice is shouting loudest in my head right now is the one I pray to. Fuck loyalty. It’s about who can out-maneuver me in my own head, every single time. I’m crippled by my own fear. I was lost before I hit double digits. Lost in the atmosphere of my own bile and quickened heartbeat. The nightmares were brutal and absolute. They swallowed everything before I knew what everything was. There are memories that require quashing. Memories that can never be unburied without complete annihilation of self. And yet, there they are. Like concrete statues of fact shimmering in the corners of recollection like ghosts.